My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Emmylou Harris

Album Review: Caroline Spence — ‘Mint Condition’

I was first introduced to Caroline Spence when I reviewed her and Robby Hecht’s sublime collaborative album, Two People, last summer. I was immediately hooked on her voice and couldn’t wait to hear more. That “more” has arrived in the form of Mint Condition, her third full-length solo album, produced by Dan Knobler, which is her debut for Rounder Records.

The narratives of personal relationships, which Spence says she’s always been drawn to from a writing perspective, dominate the album thematically. She opens strong with “What You Don’t Know,” in which she hasn’t yet told her man how she truly feels about him. Spence is in a bar with an empty glass in her hand wondering “Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes,” which she answers by saying ‘it might as well be me.’

She shows a beautiful venerably on “Sit Here and Love Me,” in which she confesses to her boyfriend what she needs from him. The sparse ballad, her real-life story, is stunning:

Like the moon in the sky

In the afternoon in July

A little darkness hangs there above me

I know you hate to see me cry

Don’t wanna look you in the eye

I just need you to sit here and love me

 

I’m alright, my dear

I’ve been this way as long as I’ve been here

I don’t need you to solve any problem at all

I just need you to sit here and love me

 

At the bottom of this well

Sometimes it’s hard to tell

If you’re up there or if you can see me

I’m still someone you know

Please recognize my shadow

This is the same place from where I love you deeply

 

I’m alright, my dear

I’ve been this way as long as I’ve been here

I don’t need you to solve any problem at all

I just need you to sit here and love me

Spence, who admits to suffering from anxiety, continues down the same path on “Who Are You,” in which she feels perplexed by her man, who always seems to find her when she’s enduring her darkest moments:

I take comfort in my silence

In an empty house

In leaving town

I take comfort in knowing

It’s not my time yet

But then you show up

 

Have I been betting on the wrong cards my whole life?

Trying to make a fire with the rain outside?

Hiding behind the line between black and white?

You got me asking questions

 

Asking who are you?

Who could know me

But my only one?

Oh, who are you?

 

I don’t take kindly

When you remind me

That I should lighten up

Show myself a little love

I don’t take kindly

To the way you can find me

When I’m trying to hide

And give up the fight

Spence finds herself exploring love on “Till You Find One,” an intriguing waltz, in which she attempts to convince herself she can’t stop fate. The title track came out of a writing exercise, in which she strived to write something good enough for Emmylou Harris to sing. She drew inspiration from her grandmother to craft the gorgeous acoustic ballad, which details a love too good to see fade away. In a twist of fate, Harris joins Spence on the track with her captivating harmonies.

My favorite song on Mint Condition is the album’s emotional centerpiece, “Wait On The Wine,” a soaring ballad where Spence uses the titular beverage to gain enough courage to tell her man how much she loves him. Another favorite, “Song About A City” is a Mary Chapin Carpenter-esque mid-paced number she co-wrote with Ashley Ray. It details her struggle with immortalizing places in her songwriting:

I used to take the train

Upstate to see the colors change

Nothing’s falling quite the same

No matter where I land

This New York City rooftop bar

Just looks up at the same old stars

Thought that I had come so far

But it doesn’t matter where I am

 

I took two steps in Austin

One back in Boston

Tried to love something new

I found a lonesome highway

Brand new skyline

But nothing could change my tune

Wish I could write a song about a city

Instead of songs about you

 

I thought I’d find a brand new leaf

Drive on out to Joshua Tree

Dry those tears in desert heat

But the silence was too loud

I wish that I could make the most

Of the magic on this coast

Can’t see the beauty through the ghost

That I’m still dragging around

Spence managed to do just that on “Angels to Los Angeles,” a sweet ballad detailing a classic runaway narrative about a girl with a dream who’s on her way to do something big to make it a reality. She realizes the reality of that dream on the uptempo “Long Haul,” where she puts her own spin on the life of a musician:

Town after town and it’s all the same

They say expecting something different’s the definition of insane

But here I go, I follow those highway stripes leading the way

Down that fine line between making a living and digging your grave

 

But I just shut up and drive

What else am I gonna do tonight?

I crossed my t’s, I dotted my i’s

And sold my soul to the 1-4-5

Never was looking for the glamour

Know I won’t find it here in Texarkana

Just trying not to lose my mind

‘Cause I’m in it for the long haul

Just feels like a long haul tonight

 

Same thing that keeps you up at night, gets you out of bed

Same thing that keeps you stuck, gets stuck in your head

It’s a funny little addiction with no cure in sight

So I keep breaking everything I’m fixing so I can be fixing to do it tomorrow night

Her long haul has led her to Mint Condition, a captivating collection of personal narratives articulated beautifully. She could’ve varied the tempo a bit throughout and thrown the listener some variety sonically, but what she’s given us is nothing to complain about. Spence is a female singer-songwriter in the truest form, and a woman with a perspective worth celebrating.

Grade: A-

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Classic Rewind: Emmylou Harris – ‘My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy’

Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Home’

It is difficult to assess the merits of this album, partially because of the changes in the reference points by which albums are evaluated and partially because of the firestorm that the Dixie Chicks generated by their future comments while playing a small venue in England.

Many commentators regard this album as the Dixie Chicks masterpiece, and while I am not among them, I do regard this as an excellent album that draws the group closer to a roots sound than their previous major label recordings.

At the time of the album’s release in 2002, the world of country music was in turmoil. Slick pop acts like Shania Twain, Martine Mc Bride and Faith Hill were still near their commercial peak, while the neo-traditionalist had lost steam, slowly being replaced by the vapid bro-country that plagued the genre until recently. Conversely, there was a brief resurgence in bluegrass and pre-bluegrass acoustic string band music fuels by the runaway success of the movie Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?

Symptomatic of the cross purposes to which the fan base and the radio stations worked, radio barely played anything from the movie Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? The Dixie Chicks chose to ignore this divide, releasing an album that in places would have fit into a roots classification, but in other places was something else entirely.

Five songs received airplay from Home:

“Long Time Gone”                                     #2 country / #7 pop

“Landslide”                                                       #2 country / #7 pop / #1 adult contemporary

“Travelin’ Soldier”                                     #1 country / #26 pop

“Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”     #48 country

“Top of The World”                                     did not chart

“Top of The World” was too long for radio to play it, moreover, it was released after the unfortunate comments about President Bush turned many thoughtful Americans, whether or not supporters of Bush.

This album is mostly covers of material written by others. In that vein, the album opens up with “Long Time Gone”. The song, written by Darrell Scott, was originally recorded by Scott on his 2000 album Real Time and tells the story about a young man who left his family and went to Nashville to become a musician. Eventually, he treks back home and settles down to raise a family. The song’s last verse criticizes contemporary country music as being shallow, and despite the upbeat melody, the song’s lyrics are very pessimistic indeed.

Next up is a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”. There is something terribly appropriate about this cover because the Fleetwood Mac story closely parallels that of the Dixie Chicks in that Fleetwood Mac started out as one thing (a brilliant blues-rock group), changed members and form into a basic pop-rock group, and pretended that the prior version of the group never existed. The song was written by Stevie Nicks, who was not a member of the group’s original lineup,

Bruce Robison’s “Travelin’ Soldier” is probably the best song on the album, a sad song about the correspondence between a soldier and his girlfriend, and his eventual death in combat. The song was first recorded by the writer and later, in altered form by Ty England, but the Dixie Chicks rendition is by far the best version of the song. At the time the group recorded the song Bruce Robinson was the brother-in-law of Emily Robison.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag of covers and originals a bunch of good songs well performed and thoroughly country in sound and instrumentation. Both Martie and Emily are excellent musicians and the supporting cast includes Lloyd Maines on steel guitar and bluegrass wizards Brian Sutton (guitar) Adam Steffey (mandolin), Chris Thile (mandolin solos) plus Emmylou Harris on vocal harmonies. You couldn’t ask for better.

Of the remaining tracks, my favorite is the humorous “White Trash Wedding”. Written by the three members of the group, the song depicts a scenario that has played itself out many times over the years, but does so with humor:

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

You finally took my hand

You finally took my hand

It took a nip of gin

But you finally took my hand

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

Mama don’t approve

Mama don’t approve

Daddy says he’s the best in town

And mama don’t approve

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

Baby’s on its way

Baby’s on its way

Say I do and kiss me quick

‘Cause baby’s on its way

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

There are a few misfires on the album (“Godspeed and “I Believe in Love” are pretty pedestrian and rather uninteresting) but even the misfires are not terrible and the net impression is of an album that contains both serious and amusing material performed with great flair.

A-

Classic Rewind: Emmylou Harris ft Jon Randall – ‘Hello Stranger’

Classic Rewind: Emmylous Harris with Vince Gill and the Time Jumpers – ‘Making Believe/Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down’

Classic Rewind: Emmylou Harris – ‘My Songbird’

My Kind of Country turns 10

Do you remember where you were exactly ten years ago? Barack Obama has just defeated John McCain to win his first of two-terms as our 44th President. The United States was beginning to feel the effects of the Great Recession. On our radios, a hot new group out of Georgia was dominating the charts. This week in 2008, Zac Brown Band logged their first of two consecutive weeks at #1 with their debut single “Chicken Fried.” On the album’s chart, it was Taylor Swift’s just-released Fearless, logging its third consecutive week at #1, with no signs of slowing down.

In the country blogosphere, J.R. Journey launched My Kind of Country. Our little blog was born ten years ago tomorrow on Dec. 8, 2008. On that day, J.R. wrote:

Welcome to the My Kind Of Country blog.  Here, you will find reviews, editorials, and discussions about the country music we love – our kind of country.  The idea is simple:  rather than write lots of negative reviews about the new music that’s coming out – because let’s face it, much of what comes out of Nashville and your country radio dial is crap – we are going to write about the music we love.  The music that moves us, drives us, and makes us laugh and cry; the music that touches us.  Not that we will spend our time posting fangirl gushes about a select group of artists that are among our favorites.  To the contrary, we intend to post about the music we love and tell you why we love it, and of course, how we think it could be improved upon.

It’s been an ambitious mission from the start. Erik wrote our first album review, a glowing critique of LeAnn Rimes’ Family, on Dec. 10. Our first spotlight artist? Oh, that was Miss Leslie and her Juke-Jointers in January 2009. Through the years we’ve seen many writers retire their individual perspectives on country music, from our friends Erik, Rainbow, Chris Dean, Megan Morrow, and Razor X to our fearless leader himself, J.R.

I won’t begin to assert I’m an historian on all things MKoC. I joined the team in June 2011 after I had become enamored with their Spotlight Artist coverage of Emmylou Harris in April. After reading a few of their reviews, I digitally downloaded her solo albums from the 1970s and composed a post on my own blog, entitled “New Artist Obsession: Emmylou Harris.” I had included a link to their coverage, which garnered the attention of J.R. and Razor X. I had no idea how impressed J.R. would be with my work, nor was I gunning for anyone’s attention. Shortly thereafter he sent me an email and asked me to join the team, an honor I accepted happily and excitedly. My first post was a single review for Julie Roberts’ “NASCAR Party” that ruffled a few feathers with her publicity team. I then contributed two single reviews to their Randy Travis coverage that month, among other reviews, and was off to the races.

But this isn’t solely about me. My Kind of Country has and always will be about a passionate group of fans sharing their thoughts and perspectives on country music with a critical ear. Two of our longest contributing writers, Razor X, and Occasional Hope, became members of the team in Feb. 2009. Razor’s first post, “Rediscovering Forgotten Gems” found him taking a look back at albums, with a focus on Randy Travis, he had the urge to revisit. Occasional Hope introduced herself to readers through “Finding Country,” in which she shared how she came to love country music. Paul W. Dennis joined just before I did in 2011. The 9513 had just shuttered and J.R. asked him to continue his Country Heritage series with us. His first post was “Country Heritage: Gary Stewart – A Short Life Of Trouble (1944-2003).”

A while back, a friend had asked me if they could take a look at work on MKoC and even proceeded to print it out in order to read it (yes, I also thought that was strange). In doing so, he made a comment I’ve never forgotten. He said the blog had a really great title and I instantly knew what he meant. He didn’t say it, but he was referring to the idea that as a group of writers we’re each sharing the country music we love individually, writing pieces that reflect our love of the genre, not just getting assigned albums and singles we may or may not care enough about to compose a thoughtful post. I hadn’t looked at it that way, but he was correct in every sense of the word.

I also often think about how hard it is to keep a blog going and just how many have come and gone in the ten years we’ve been alive. It’s easy for readers to overlook the fact that our positions as staff writers aren’t our full or even part-time jobs. MKoC is a labor of love we create out of passion for country music. It takes a village to keep a blog vital, which is why The 9513 and Country California have ceased publication. Engine 145 only ended once Juli Thanki received a prestigious position with The Tennessan, which has led to exciting opportunities for her in 2019. Ken Morton, Jr’s That Nashville Sound is still going strong and  Country Universe is still around, after 14 years, albeit in an abbreviated form.

Little did J.R. realize in his inaugural post when he wrote: “much of what comes out of Nashville and your country radio dial is crap.” He never could’ve known the assault on the very ideals of commercial country music that was coming down the line with bro-country and whatever the heck you call what’s followed in its wake. It’s ironic, at least to me, that the peak years for country blogging have coincided with the continued release of literally the worst music our beloved genre has ever produced. At least we’ve learned there are alternatives and still some pretty awesome music being made if you know where to look.

I know this post is long, but heck, you only celebrate your tenth anniversary once. We would not be here if it wasn’t for our continued passion for country music, but even more importantly, our readers. Thank you for continuing to make us and our writing a part of your lives. Please continue to comment and engage with us on our posts. We always love reading and responding to whatever you have to say.

Onward.

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘King Of The Road: A Tribute To Roger Miller’

Roger Miller was unique in terms of his all-around abilities as an entertainer. He could write off-beat and humorous songs then turn around and write a masterpiece of a straight ahead ballad. The nearest thing to him in terms of his compositional abilities was Shel Silverstein, but unlike Silverstein, who was a terrible singer, Roger was an outstanding vocalist and musician. People who have heard Roger’s concert in Birchmere, VA, about a year before he died can attest that Roger Miller barely even needed a guitar in order to keep and audience entertained.

Because Roger was so offbeat, tributes to him and his music have been rare – many of his most famous songs barely lend themselves to being covered. One of the few tributes I’ve seen was Tim O’Brien’s O’Brien Party of Seven – Reincarnation: The Songs Of Roger Miller, released about six years ago and featuring members of Tim’s family. It is a great album, but Tim and his family mostly stayed away from the more famous songs, and delved deeper into the Roger Miller catalogue.

King of The Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller
is a two disc set featuring snippets of dialogue from Roger along with covers of 34 of his songs as performed by various artists. The covers of straight ahead country songs work best as few artists have the ability that Roger had to let vocal scats and odd phrasings simply roll of his tongue. Among the odder songs tackled on disc one are “Chug A Lug” (Asleep at The Wheel with Huey Lewis), “Dang Me” (Brad Paisley), “Kansas City Star” (Kacey Musgraves), “You Ought a Be Here With Me” /“I’ve Been A Long Time Leaving” (Alison Krauss & The Cox Family) and In The Summertime” (Shawn Camp /Earls of Leicester) . All of these songs are competently performed but sound a bit forced except Shawn Camp’s take on “In The Summertime” since Camp simply treats the song as a straight ahead county song. The Krauss / Cox song would have been better had they performed it as separate songs and not made a medley of it.

For me the disc one the standouts are Loretta Lynn’s take on “Half A Mind”, a hit for her mentor Ernest Tubb, Mandy Barnett’s “Lock Stock and Teardrops” and the religious song “The Crossing” as performed by Ronnie Dunn and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Dwight Yoakam does a fine job with his co-write “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” but you’d expect no less since it was a hit for him.

Disc two is more of the same, some banter, goofy songs, and some straight ahead ballads. Cake makes a complete mess of “Reincarnation” (the only decent cover I’ve had was by Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle, USMC) and I didn’t like Toad The Wet Sprocket’s take on the old George Jones hit “Nothing Can Stop My Loving You” (also decently covered in the 1970s by Patsy Sledd). Jamey Johnson & Emmylou Harris do a nice job on “Husbands and Wives”.

John Goodman, who never claimed to be a singer, reprises “Guv’ment” from the play Big River. Ringo Starr, also not a compelling singer, gives the right vibe to “Hey Would You Hold It Down?”

For me the two best songs on disc two are the Dolly Parton & Alison Krauss recording of “The Last Word In Lonesome Is Me” and Flatt Lonesome’s exquisite “When Two Worlds Collide”, easily the best performance on the album.

This album offers a good overview of the depth and breadth of the songwriting talents of Roger Miller. While I wasn’t all that impressed with all of the performers on the album, all of them clearly gave their performances their best efforts.

I mostly enjoyed this album and would give it a B+ but if this is your first exposure to Roger Miller, I would strongly suggest picking up one of Roger’s currently available collections of Smash/Mercury recordings.

Classic Rewind: Emmylou Harris – ‘Lady Of The Rose’

A very young pre-fame Emmylou:

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘The Nashville Tapes’

Adam headed to Nashville to record his latest album in the legendary Studio A, built by Cowboy Jack Clement. Nash Chambers, son of Bill and brother of Kasey, produced. Adam wrote or co-wrote much of the material. He states his musical credo in the charming ‘I’d Rather Be A Highwayman’, happy to play in bars for the sake of the music

Smoky rooms and dimlit nights
Tucked among the neon lights
I play the soundtrack while they drink
But I’m not as lonely as you think
These country songs I live and breathe
Fuel to burn the fire in me
They simply let me be myself
I’m not sayin’ I don’t care for rock and roll
But it don’t feel the same way in my soul

I’d rather be a Highwayman than a Rolling Stone
I’d rather be singing to a barstool some cowboy’s sittin’ on
So nothing makes me give a damn
More than country music can
I’d rather be a Highwayman than a Rolling Stone

Empty faces come in here for the friendly atmosphere
Music seems to wash their cares away
There’s freedom in these country songs I play
Now, I may never make it rich
By the time I call it quits
Not every rainbow ends in gold
But I’ll still be singing as the final curtains close

The power of country music also informs ‘What A Song Can Do’, with its tender recollection of a father where music was the only bond.

They can make you laugh, help you cry
Take you to a place in time that you once knew
Sing you home or say goodbye
Change your mind or change your life
It’s true
Ain’t it funny what a song can do?

The Last Post on ANZAC Day
Or when I hear Amazing Grace or He Stopped Loving Her Today

(For the benefit of anyone unfamiliar with it, ANZAC Day commemorates the sacrifice of Australian and New Zealand soldiers in the First World War, especially at Gallipoli in 1915, and is hugely important in Australian culture.)

Adam pays fond tribute to Willie Nelson with the Bill Chambers co-write ‘When Willie’s Gone’. Mickey Raphael provides harmonica on a track musically recalling ‘On The Road Again’. Raphael also shines on the excellent ‘Less Of A Thinking Man’, about making problems worse by brooding over them.

Another mainstay of Australian country music, Troy Cassar-Daly, helped Adam to write ‘We’ll Have To Drink Our Way Out Of This’. This is a great country song about drinking to get over a woman and the state of the world alike. Adam draws on his Australian heritage in his duet with another Aussie star, Lee Kernaghan, on Slim Dusty’s classic folk-country singalong ‘Three Rivers Hotel’, set in an itinerant railway workers’ tavern. Kernaghan’s Australian accent is much stronger than Adam’s, underlining the character of the song. ‘Those Holden Days’, written by Stewart French, presumably another Australian, is gently nostalgic about a teenager’s first car whose manufacturer has now ceased making cars.

There are a handful of other, less predictable, covers. ‘Never Be Anyone Else But You’ was a pop hit for Ricky Nelson in the late 50s, but has been done in a country style before by Emmylou Harris. Adam’s version is likeably catchy. Neil Diamond’s ‘Solitary Man’ is less successful, pitched in too low a key for Adam’s voice, but is a rare misstep.

‘This Lovin’ You’ is a sweet love song inspired by Adam’s wife. ‘Lucky’ recounts life advice from an old mentor. The mid-tempo ‘Anything You Want Me To’ combines both themes, with a wife thanked for helping him fulfil his potential.

Harvey is one of my favorite Australian country singers, thanks to his hugely listenable deep baritone voice and traditional leaning instincts. This album is excellent and I strongly recommend it.

Grade: A

Week ending 9/29/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Bird Dog / Devoted To You — Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Harper Valley P.T.A. — Jeannie C. Riley (Plantation)

1978: Heartbreaker — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1988: We Believe In Happy Endings — Earl Thomas Conley and Emmylou Harris (RCA)

1998: How Long Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista Nashville)

2008: Do You Believe Me Now? — Jimmy Wayne (Valory Music Group)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Hotel Key — Old Dominion (RCA)

Classic Rewind: Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch – ‘Green Pastures’

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Planet Of Love’

Jim Lauderdale was already a successful songwriter when he secured his first album deal with Reprise Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. His debut album in 1991 was produced by Rodney Crowell and John Leventhal, and Lauderdale wrote every song, mostly with Leventhal.

The label tried three singles, none of which saw any chart action. ‘Maybe’, co-written by Lauderdale and Leventhal with Crowell, may not have been the best choice to launch Lauderdale as a solo artist. It is a decent mid-tempo song with an optimistic message about taking a chance in love, but it is not very interesting musically.

‘I Wasn’t Fooling Around’ is much more on the mark, and it is a shame it didn’t get airplay. A great traditional country shuffle, it was picked up by George Strait a couple of years later. The third single, ‘Wake Up Screaming’, is a minor keyed country rock number later recorded by Gary Allan on his debut album, but I don’t’ particularly like it.

Other artists also saw potential hits from this album’s set list. My favorite is ‘The King Of Broken Hearts’, later covered by George Strait, and still later by Lee Ann Womack. This is a loving tribute to George Jones and Gram Parsons, ornamented by tasteful steel guitar from Glen D. Hardin. Emmylou Harris adds harmonies. ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’ was another Strait pick, and was also recorded by Jann Browne. It’s a very good song about a breakup, but I prefer both the covers to Lauderdale’s own version.

The jazzy and sophisticated title track was covered by Mandy Barnett and the pre-Natalie Maines incarnation of the Dixie Chicks. The soulful ‘What You Don’t Know’ was later recorded by Jon Randall.

‘Heaven’s Flame’ is a midpaced warning against a femme fatale. ‘Bless Her Heart’ is a low-key love song and is rather sweet, with gospel style backing vocals. The valedictory ‘My Last Request’ is slow and sad, with Rodney Crowell adding a prominent harmony.

Lauderdale’s main problem as an artist was that his vocals were not strong enough. He may also have been a bit too eclectic. However, he is a great songwriter, and this album has a lot to offer, especially if you have more adventurous tastes.

Grade: B

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘The Heart Of It All’

Released at the heart of the New Traditional era in 1988, The Heart Of It All did not stray too far from ETC’s accustomed wheelpath, although producers Emory Gordy Jr and Randy Scruggs made sure the arrangements were a bit less AC than previously. He was still a reliable hitmaker beloved by country radio, with singles destined to reach #1, and the first four singles from this album followed the pattern.

The lead single is a nice ballad written by Bob McDill and Paul Harrison about a woman tied to an unworthy husband, who she loves regardless. ETC’s hushed vocals are lovely, and the production fairly restrained.

Harmonies from Emmylou Harris make any song better, and the next single was the lovely duet ‘We Believe In Happy Endings’, another McDill song about keeping a marriage going, but a more positive one. It had been a top 10 solo hit for Johnny Rodriguez a decade earlier. This is one of my favorite ETC recordings.

‘What I’d Say’, written by Robert Byrne and Will Robinson, is another excellent ballad. This one faces up to the immediate afterbreak of a breakup, with the protagonist uncertain how he would react if he met her unexpectedly.

What would prove to be Earl’s very last #1 hit was Thom Schuyler’s ‘Love Out Loud’. A more upbeat tempo enlivens a sincerely sung song about an inarticulate man who nevertheless loves his lady. It is my least favorite of the singles from this album, but not a bad song.

The long run of #1 and 2 hits, dating back to 1982’s ‘Somewhere Between Right And Wrong’ was to come to a juddering halt with this album’s fifth single, which peaked at a very disappointing #26. It was the first time ETC had attempted more than four from one album, but the main problem may have been the underlying shifts in country radio. He would experience only two more top 10s, one of which was a posthumous duet with Keith Whitley. ‘You Must Not Be Drinking Enough’ is actually a fine song which deserved better, and more traditional sounding than much of ETC’s oeuvre (despite being a Don Henley cover). A soulful vocal is backed up with steel guitar as ETC offers advice to a lovelorn friend, or perhaps himself:

You keep telling yourself she means nothing
Maybe you should call her bluff
You don’t really believe it
You must not be drinking enough …

You keep telling yourself you can take it
Telling yourself that you’re tough
But you still want to hold her
Must not be drinking enough

You’re not drinking enough to wash away old memories
And there ain’t enough whiskey in Texas
To keep you from begging “please, please, please”
She passed on your passion, stepped on your pride,
Turns out you ain’t quite so tough
Cause you still want to hold her
You must not be drinking enough

The rambunctious ‘Finally Friday’ would be a single for George Jones a few years later. ETC’s version is more restrained, but the accordion-led production lends it a happy Cajun feel which works pretty well.

ETC co-wrote three songs, two of them with producer Randy Scruggs. The title track, ‘Too Far From The Heart Of It All’, is quite a pretty ballad on a religious theme although the meaning is not very clear. ‘Carol’ is a tender, thoughtful ballad about a man who regrets having left his wife years ago:

If I could turn back time to yesterday
I’d be coming home this time to stay …
I guess I never felt this way before
Feeling like a stranger at my own door
I wouldn’t have to ask you how you’ve been
And I wouldn’t have to fall in love again

Carol
No one has replaced you
I’ve never looked a day beyond goodbye
And Carol
Time could not erase you
It’s only made me wish I’d never tried

Guess some of us just don’t know when to stop
Reaching out for something we ain’t got

‘No Chance, No Dance’, written with Robert Byrne, is a brassy uptempo tune about not playing things safe.

Byrne teamed up with Tom Brasfield to write ‘I Love he Way he Left You’, an AC leaning ballad hoping a woman who has been hurt by a previous relationship will end up with him.

This is one of ETC’s best albums and it is definitely worth checking out.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Earl Thomas Conley

Born in October 1941, Earl Thomas Conley is the quintessence of the term “late bloomer” as far as becoming a country music star. Although he had some very modest chart success starting in 1975 with GRT Records and again with Warner Brothers in 1979, it wasn’t until Conley reached independent label Sunbird in late 1980, that Earl (or ETC as he was often called) began to achieve real success as a recording artist. By then, he was thirty-nine years old.

Earl Thomas Conley was the oldest and most successful of the triumvirate of somewhat similarly named country artist of the 1980s (the others were Con Hunley and John Conlee), each of whom had very distinctive voices. Earl had an extended run of success, both as a recording artist and as a songwriter. Between 1980 and 2003, he recorded ten studio albums, including seven for RCA. During this same period he charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard country charts, with 18 reaching #1.

Earl was raised in a working class family that had a love for music and the arts, and painting – which he started when he was 10 – was Earl’s first love. At age 14, Earl’s father lost his job with the railroad and Earl went to live with an older sister in Dayton, Ohio, where he continued to paint and develop his skills as an artist. While painting was his first love, Earl’s father had introduced him to music and Earl began to be more aware of it as an influence in his life.

After graduating high school, Earl decided against college, joining the Army instead. While in the Army, Earl became a member a Christian-influenced trio, where his musical talent and vocal ability were first placed on public display. At some point Earl decided that performing might not be a bad way to make a living. Accordingly, he delved more deeply into the classic country sounds of artists such as Merle Haggard and George Jones. During this period Earl first tried his hand at songwriting. In 1968, after his discharge from the Army, Earl began commuting from Dayton to Nashville.

With nothing happening for him in Nashville (and tired of back and forth commuting), Earl moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to be 150 miles closer to the recording industry. While in Nashville on a song-plugging visit in 1973, Earl met Dick Herd, who produced the great Mel Street. This meeting eventually led to the Conley-Herd collaboration on the song “Smokey Mountain Memories”, which Street took into the top 10 in early 1975.

Prior to Street’s recording Earl had moved to Nashville, where he met record producer Nelson Larkin, who signed Earl to his publishing house and helped sign him with independent label GRT in 1974. Larkin placed one of Earl’s songs with his brother Billy Larkin, “Leave It Up to Me”, which Larkin took to #22 in late 1975. Nelson Larkin would produce Earl’s sessions through the end of the 1980s.

GRT released four of Earl’s singles without much success. Meanwhile, Earl placed “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” with Conway Twitty, who took it all the way to the top in 1975, giving Earl his first #1 record as a songwriter.

On the strength of his successful songwriting, Warner Brothers signed Earl to a recording contract. Unfortunately, the three singles Warner Brothers issued in 1979 on ‘Earl Conley’ failed to achieve much traction.

After his stint at Warner Brothers was over, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with producer Nelson Larkin. “Fire & Smoke,” released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40.

The success of “Fire and Smoke” caused RCA to pick up Earl’s contract and purchase the rights to Earl’s Sunbird recordings for release on RCA. Ultimately RCA became his home for the next decade during which time the following songs reached #1:

•“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”
•“Your Love’s On The Line”
•“Holding Her and Loving You”
•“Don’t Make It Easy For Me”
•“Angel In Disguise”
•“Chance of Loving You”
•“Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart it Breaks)”
•“Nobody Fall s Like A Fool”
•“Once In A Blue Moon”
•“I Have Loved You Girl”
•“I Can’t Win For Losing You”
•“That Was A Close One”
•“Right From The Start”
•“What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)”
•“We Believe In Happy Endings” (w/Emmylou Harris)
•“What I’d Say”
•“Love Out Loud”

While Earl Thomas Conley tended to regard himself as a straight country artist, his rather smoky voice helped gain him acceptance across the board. Earl appeared on the television show Soul Train in 1986, and to the best of my knowledge he is the only country artist to be so featured.

Chart success basically ran out for Earl at the end of the 1980s although there were some decent chart hits through 1992, including the 1991 recording of “Brotherly Love” a duet with Keith Whitley released after Keith’s death.

Since then, Earl has continued to tour occasionally and write songs but has done relatively little recording, with a seven year recording hiatus 1991-1997. This hiatus was due to a number of factors, including vocal problems, disenchantment with record label politics, road fatigue and mental burnout. Earl finally emerged with another album in 1998, Perpetual Emotion, aided and abetted by long-time friends Randy Scruggs and Curly Corwin. His last albums were Should Have Been Over By Now, released in 2003, and Live at Billy Bob’s, released in 2005.

Earl is now 76 years old and no longer maintains a website, although he does maintain a Facebook page. Earl retired from performing about a year ago.

Various artists continue to record his songs, and Blake Shelton released Earl’s “All Over Me” as a single in 2002. Earl has always eschewed fads, not becoming a ‘hat act’ during the late 1980s and continuing to write thoughtful, non-gimmicky songs.

The digital age has seen much of Earl’s recorded legacy restored to the catalogue, so finding his songs should not be difficult. We hope you enjoy discovering (or rediscovering) the music of our very distinctive Spotlight vocalist Earl Thomas Conley.

Classic Rewind: Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton – ‘My Dear Companion’

Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Acoustic Classics’

Rodney Crowell has decided to revisit a number of his best known songs in acoustic format.

The poetic ‘Earthbound’ from 2003 sounds very like the original recording. ‘Anything But Tame’ comes from his 2012 collaboration with poet Mary Karr, is similar but a little more stripped down, but it is a song I admire rather than love.

First recorded by Rodney in 1978, and made famous by near-contemporary covers by Emmylou Harris, and the Oak Ridge Boys (for whom it was a #1 hit in 1979), the new version is ‘Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight’ is taken at a more relaxed pace than any of the previous versions I have heard. The dominant accordion makes it feel full of Cajun atmosphere, and I enjoyed this take. The remake of the same era’s ‘Ain’t Living Long Like This’ feels less essential.

Less familiar to country fans, ‘Shame On The Moon’ was recorded by Rodney in 1981, and was a pop hit for Bob Seger the following year. Rodney has revised the actual song for this project, but it remains one of the more pop-styed tunes in Crowell’s repertoire.

The up-tempo ‘Lovin’ All Night’, a top 10 hit for Rodney in 1992, and later covered by Patty Loveless, is a country rocker which gets a vibrant acoustic reworking.

There is a lovely reading of the tender ballad ‘Making Memories Of Us’, a big hit for Keith Urban. A solemn string arrangement is the perfect accompaniment. The same treatment is afforded to ‘Please Remember Me’, a hit for Tim McGraw.

At the heart of the album are three songs from my favorite of Rodney’s albums, and his most commercially successful, 1988’s Diamonds And Dirt. In fact they are three of that album’s record breaking run of five straight #1 hits. The upbeat ‘I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried’ was the first of the three, followed by the tongue-in-cheek Guy Clark co-write ‘She’s Crazy For Leavin’’. My favorite is the lovely ballad ‘After All This Time’.

‘Tennessee Wedding’ is a new song which Rodney wrote for his daughter’s wedding, from the point of view of his new son in law.

Tis is a very pleasing album showcasing Rodney Crowell as a songwriter. It may not be an essential purchase if you already have all his recorded work, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Grade: A

A half-dozen songs that never really were big hits (but may have been famous)

It is not so much true since the late 1970s but in all genres of music (except rock) there was a strong tendency for songs that were really big hits to be covered by many artists.

Here we will be looking at three really well-known country songs that never really were major hits for anyone, yet were so frequently covered that they became well-known hits, two songs that had Billboard not discontinued its regional charts, would have been recognized as big regional hits, and one song that was a huge copyright for a well known singer that isn’t well known and never charted at all.

1) Back in 1968, I purchased a few 45 rpm records. Lacking the patience to fool around with flipping records every 2:35, I soon switched to purchase of LPs. Among the few 45s that I purchased was Merle Haggard’s “The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde”. This record certainly was a hit reaching #1 on the Billboard and Record World country charts, but the B side was the revelation for me.

Back then I often didn’t get around to playing the B side of a 45 until later, but Dad had the Branded Man album that Haggard had issued the year before and every song on it was really good, so I flipped over the single to find one of the truly great country songs in “Today I Started Loving You Again”,

Back then Billboard did not usually track B sides and album tracks, so as far as Billboard is concerned the real hit on the song was Sammi Smith’s single from 1975 that reached #9. Kenny Rogers, Arthur Prysock and Emmylou Harris all issued singles that failed to crack the top forty. Record World, which did track B sides, had Haggard’s version reach #25.

I have no idea how many artists recorded “Today I Started Loving You Again” as an album track. Certainly, dozens of country artists did it (I probably have thirty country albums from the late 1968-1972 period that contain the song) and untold numbers of singers from other genres such as pop singer Al Martino, R&B singers Bobby Bland and Bettye Swann. I still hear country bands perform the song to this very day. For me, it’s a song I memorized on first hearing it and it has stuck in my memory since then

 What a fool I was to think I could get by

With only these few millions tears I cry

I should have known the worst was yet to come

And that crying time for me had just begun

2) Almost as well known as “Today I Started Loving You Again” is “Silver Wings”, which was an album track on Hag’s 1970 album A Portrait of Merle Haggard and was the flipside of “Working Man Blues. I can basically make the same comments about “Silver Wings” as I did about “Today I Started Loving You Again”. I heard the song frequently on the radio, but it never charted for Haggard. In fact, the only time the song ever charted was by the Hager Twins, Jim and Jon, who took it to #59 in late 1970.

 Silver wings shining in the sunlight

Roaring engines headed somewhere in flight

They’re taking you away, leaving me lonely

Silver wings slowly fading out of sight

“Don’t leave me,” I cried

Don’t take that airplane ride

But you locked me out of your mind

Left me standing here behind

3) Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote many famous songs that were big hits for the likes of the Everly Brothers, Carl Smith, Jimmie Dickens and countless others. While “Bye Bye Love” surely is their best-remembered song, I suspect that “Rocky Top” may be their second most famous song. The bluegrass duo of Sonny & Bobby Osborne got the song up to #33 on Billboard’s country chart in 1968 and Lynn Anderson got it to #17 in 1975 but that is it as far as chart success is concerned. The song ’s fame has spread far and wide beyond its limited chart placements it is an official Tennessee State Song, it is the University of Tennessee’s unofficial fight song, and has been recorded hundreds of times. The progressive bluegrass duo of Doug Dillard & Gene Clark (with Donna Washburn on vocals) issued the song in 1969, and that remains my favorite version of the song. Artists as diverse as Phish, Buck Owens, and Conway Twitty have recorded the song. Everybody knows the song and everybody sings along whenever the song is played

 Rocky Top you’ll always be

Home Sweet Home to me

Good ol’ Rocky Top

Rocky Top Tennessee

Rocky Top Tennessee

4) Bob Luman’s 1969 recording of “Come On Home And Sing The Blues To Daddy” probably was a regional hit in the southern states, reaching #24 on Billboard’s country charts (it reached #13 on Record World). Written by Ray Corbin, Luman’s record was featured in heavy rotation as a oldie when I returned to the US in August 1971; during its chart run WHOO DJ Clay Daniels told me that it often was the most requested song on the station and I know from personal experience that nearly every county cover band in Central Florida kept it in their playlist for a good decade after the song’s chart run.

Charley Pride, Wynn Stewart, Waylon Jennings and Bobby Bare recorded the song as an album track (so did many others) and I have heard Waylon and Bare perform it on stage.

 I hear say your new romance has faded

Just the way ours did some time ago

I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve waited

For you to tell me that you’ve missed me so

Come on home and sing the blues to daddy

If things don’t work out the way you planned

Come on home and sing the blues to daddy

Tell it all to one who understands

Just like a child that’s found a brand new plaything

Each one is more fun than those before

But there’s a faithful one that’s always waiting

To be picked up and kicked around some more

5) Nobody much remembers Pat Daisy, and RCA artist who got lost in the shuffle at RCA, but her recording of “Everybody’s Reaching Out for Someone” reached #20 on the Billboard country chart in 1972 (it reached #13 on Record World). Written by legendary songwriter Dickey Lee, the song reached #1 on the WHOO and WSUN Countdowns and I suspect that the tale for both Luman’s song and Daisy’s song is that either a station played the song and played it a lot, or simply never added the song at all (or perhaps added a different recording of the song). Whatever the case, the song was recorded by numerous artists including Lynn Anderson, Brenda Lee, Dickey Lee and Kitty Wells

Everybody’s reaching out for someone

Everybody’s knocking at some door

And long before I ever found you

You’re the one that I was reaching for

 

Just like the trees along the river bend

Lift up the branches to the sun above

We spent our lifetimes reaching for a friend

Cause everybody reach someone to love

 

And everybody’s reaching out …

Interestingly enough the song was revived in 1993 when the Cox Family recorded the song as the title cut for their first album on Rounder. The album was produced by Alison Krauss, and through their efforts, the song made its way into the bluegrass repertoire, where it is occasionally heard to this day.

6) Until “Harper Valley PTA” was released on August 24, 1968, Tom T Hall’s biggest copyright was a song that you may have never heard. By 1968 Tom had written a number a number of hits for other artists, including Johnny Wright’s #1 country hit “Hello Vietnam”, and had written a couple of minor hits for himself. “Hello Vietnam” received no pop airplay and sales of county singles in that era could be 50,000 copies.

On September 25, 1965, The Statler Brothers released a Tom T. Hall song as the B side of their debut single for Columbia. The single, “Flowers On The Wall” went #2 country, #4 pop and #1 in Canada, selling nearly a million copies in the process. The album Flowers On The Wall also sold well and for each 45 or album sold, Tom T Hall picked up a songwriting royalty. The song “Billy Christian” did not receive much airplay (I heard it a few times on WCMS) but I’m sure it helped keep the wolves away from Tom T’s door

It’s a pretty good song and is (or has been) available in a digital format

 If you’re listenin’ Billy Christian come on home

Are you listening Billy Christian if you are then go on home

Everything is like you left it she spends all the time alone

All that music never thrills her like it did when you were there

 

Go on home Billy Christian if you care

What a team they were together Billy Christian and his wife

People loved to hear them singin’ that was their success in life

But the eyes of Billy Christian were the wild and wandering kind

 

Now Billy’s wife sings solo all the time

Are you listening Billy Christian…

All the fellows tried to date me but she never blinked an eye

Every night she sings her same sad song and cries

 

Now where is Billy Christian does he ever hear the song

Does Billy Christian know he’s welcome home

Are you listening Billy Christian…

Go on home Billy Christian if you care

Week ending 6/16/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: All I Have To Do Is Dream / Claudette — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Oh Lonesome Me — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1968: I Wanna Live — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1978: Two More Bottles of Wine — Emmylou Harris (Warner Bros.)

1988: I Told You So — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1998: I Just Want To Dance With You — George Strait (MCA Nashville)

2008: I’m Still A Guy — Brad Paisley (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Woman, Amen — Dierks Bentley (Capitol Nashville)

 

Classic Rewind: Emmylou Harris – ‘My Songbird’