My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Eric Strickland and the B Sides

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2013

This year has seen some excellent albums released. I had to leave off my final top ten fine records by Amber Digby, Ashley Monroe, Jamie Richards, Julie Roberts and Eric Strickland. The most notable thing for me has been the resurgence in artistic terms at least, if not commercial ones, of great female voices. Last year none of my top albums was from a female artist. This year there are four solo women (all excellent writers as well as singers, although one chose to release predominantly covers this time), four male leads, and two mixed duos, and while I don’t like quotas or judging for anything other than the quality of the music, increased diversity of life experience can only be good for the variety of experiences reflected in the music.

10. Old Yellow MoonEmmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell
The long awaited reunion project was a delight, and well worth the wait. Seeing them live was a personal highlight of my year.
Best tracks: ‘Dreaming My Dreams’, ‘Here We Are

roots of my raising gregory9. Roots Of My RaisingThe Clinton Gregory Bluegrass Band
Another project presenting country classics with bluegrass arrangements. Clinton Gregory’s underrated tenor matches his fine fiddle playing, and his excellent vocal interpretations make this one worth hearing.
Best tracks: ‘New Patches’, ‘Roots Of My Raising’, ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’

8. Made To LastJoey + Rory
While not really groundbreaking, the latest from husband and wife duo Joey Martin and Rory Feek contains some beautiful songs, tastefully produced. The couple may slow down their busy schedule next year and they are expecting their first baby together in the spring, but this (and the year’s earlier religious album) will keep fans going.
Best tracks: ‘Just A Cup Of Coffee’, ‘Now That She’s Gone’, ‘50,000 Names’ with a bonus mention for ‘The Preacher And The Stranger’ on Inspired.

showin my roots7. Showin’ My RootsDonna Ulisse
A delightful mix of country and bluegrass on a collection of the songs which inspired Donna. She’s a fine bluegrass singer and songwriter – but her majestic alto is petrfect for traditional country, and setting them against beautifully played bluegrass abackings is the best of both worlds.
Best tracks: ‘If That’s The Way You Feel’, ‘Somebody Somewhere Don’t Know What He’s Missing Tonight’, ‘In The Good Old Days When Times Were Bad’

6. Brothers Of The HighwayDailey & Vincent
The best duo in bluegrass return with their first secular album of new material since 2009. This is spectacular playing and singing, a masterclass in bluegrass.
Best tracks: ‘When I Stop Dreaming’, ‘Hills Of Caroline’, ‘Brothers Of The Highway’

i let her talk5. I Let Her TalkErin Enderlin
It only had nine tracks, which lost it a few points, but the outstanding quality of the songs and Erin’s strong voice meant this forced its way onto my top 10 list.
Best tracks: ‘I Let Her Talk’, ‘Get That At Home’, ‘Last Call’, ‘Monday Morning Church

4. The HighwayHolly Williams
Hank Jr’s daughter comes of age as an artist with this fine singer-sogwriter record. Her sultry voice, the tasteful production and excellent songs combine to make a memorable listening experience.
Best Tracks: ‘Giving Up’, ‘Drinkin’’, ‘Waiting On June

randy3. Influence Vol 1:- The Man I AmRandy Travis
Randy Travis has seemed to be on a downward spiral both personally, with well-publicised troubles with the law and an increasingly concerning alchol problem, and professionally, with his voice showing disturbing signs of deterioration. His health took a turn for the worse this year, but his Haggard-heavy album of classic covers was an unexpected highlight of the year. The man who was at the heart of the revival of more traditional styles of country music in the 1980s reveals his greatest influences, and is back in better voice than he has been for some years. the slightly lopsided selection of material may be a casualty of his health issues – perhaps more recording sessions were planned. I only hope that he recovers and a Volume 2 may be a possibility.
Best tracks: ‘What Have You Got Planned Tonight, Diana’, ‘I’m Always On A Mountain When I Fall’, ‘Someday We’ll Look Back

2. BakersfieldVince Gill and Paul Franklin
I wouldn’t necessarily have associated Vince Gill’s honeyed tenor with the Bakersfield sound, but his labor of love collaboration with steel player Paul Franklin was a revelation. Vince’s heartfelt interpretations of these classics breathes new life into them.
Best tracks: ‘Holding Things Together’, ‘Branded Man’, ‘But I Do’, ‘Together Again

12 stories
1. 12 StoriesBrandy Clark

The songwriter has been very successful in recent years selling her songs to more mainstream acts, but it turns out she kept her best songs for her own album. She serves up a dozen believable slices of life on her debut album, a pointed reminder that at its best country music is the genre which records real lives in troubled times. Ranging from the quirky wit of single ‘Stripes’ to dark cheating songs like ‘What’ll Keep Me Out Of Heaven’, and taking in the soothing sweetness of ‘Hold My Hand’ and ‘Just Like Him’, this is one of those rare albums without a weak track, and one which demonstrates that contemporary country can be great. Brandy also has a rich, expressive voice. Much-deserved critical acclaim has not yet been matched by sales – but this is an outstanding record.
Best tracks: ‘What’ll Keep Me Out Of Heaven’, ‘In Some Corner’, ‘Take A Little Pill’, ‘Pray to Jesus’, ‘Just Like Him

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Album Review: Eric Strickland and the B Sides – ‘I’m Bad For You’

i'm bad for youI enjoyed this North Carolina group’s debut album last year so much it made my top 10 list for the year. I am delighted to report that the follow up is of a similar quality. I was also pleased to hea a fiddle added to the lineup.

The driving Waylonesque ‘The Whiskey Seems To Always Change My Mind’ oozes retro but convincing outlaw attitude, with a wry lyric about a straight and narrow kind of who gets pulled off the straight and narrow by drinking. It makes an exciting opening to the record. The similarly paced but slightly more Southern rock title track gets a bit repetitive.

The outstanding track is the waltz ‘Angel Like You’, which reminds me of some of Jamey Johnson’s best work. The story song tells the story of a hard working couple, both working 50- hour weeks and still not making ends meet, but whose love sustains them. It’s rooted in reality with its admissions of fights and the man’s temptation to turn to crime, rejected because he knows it would make him “less of a man”. Some pretty fiddle adds the final touch. Lovely.

Also inspired by the reality of today’s harsh economic climate, ‘Crude Oil Blues’ interestingly marries its modern message (complaining about gas prices) to an authentic Jimmie Rodgers style yodelling country blues.

Another contemporary lyric combined with more retro sound is the fast paced cautionary tale of ‘Methamphetamines’. This one sounds like Jerry Reed with added harmonica, and portrays a man’s descent into addiction and prison.

On a more traditional theme, ‘Heartache Hall Of Shame’ is a honky tonk shuffle with a musician narrator lamenting his foolish jettisoning of a lover for his band and the vain hopes of fame. Another shuffle, the poignant ‘Unwanted’ tells sympathetically of a has-been country singer, a man who is a

Used to be full of shattered dreams that never quite came true
He was top of the line back in his prime a hero for me and you
Now his songs have been forgotten and his name got lost in time
And now he drowns in memories and the liquor and the wine

‘So Easy’ is more personally painful as the protagonist quizzes his loved one about her new love interest, and just where he went wrong. It is the emotional equivalent of picking at a wound, and the rawness of the emotion has an intensity which makes it hit hard.

Drinking is the remedy for a broken heart in ‘Brandy On My Mind’, written by band member Gary Braddy (Brandy is the girl who did the damage, not the drink). Another broken man narrates ‘Not Enough’, as he fights an alcohol problem:

I’m a brother to the blues and a cousin to the rain
My best friends are Jim Beam and Jack Daniels
They’ve always seemed to help me with the pain
My woman says she can believe my drinking
My drinkin’ can’t believe she’d say those things
It’s pointless for me to fight
Cause she won’t be home tonight
And I realise I’ve been talking to myself

Up to now I’ve always been half crazy
But I think that I’ve finally lost my mind

The album closes with two live cuts: an effective cover of Waylon’s ‘Lucille (You Won’t Do Your Daddy’s Will)’, and a retread ‘18 Wheels Of Hell On The Highway’ from his previous album, which is fine, although it wasn’t one of my favorite tracks from that record.

This is highly recommended to anyone who wants to hear some solid, well-written and performed honky tonk music.

Grade: A

Occasional Hope’s Top Albums of 2012

It’s not been a bad year for country music – as long as you ignore the charts and mainstream country radio. My #1 album of the year was released on a major label but with no singles success, and most of my other selections came from independent labels, although some of the names will be familiar. Just missing the cut were, among others, albums from Joey + Rory (some delicious moments but more hit and miss than their previous efforts), Terri Clark’s classic covers, the always reliable Alan Jackson, Kathy Mattea, and current star Dierks Bentley.

For full reviews, and purchase details, click on the links in the album title and artist name respectively.

10. Alive At Brushy Mountain PenitentiaryMark Collie

The live prison album was recorded in 2001, but only escaped the vaults of MCA this year. It was worth the wait, with an energetic set of suitably themed mainly original songs.

Best tracks: ‘I Could’ve Gone Right’, ‘Rose Covered Garden’, ‘Maybe Mexico’, ‘On The Day I Die‘.

marty raybon9. Southern Roots And Branches: Yesterday and TodayMarty Raybon

Former Shenandoah lead singer Marty Raybon released a pair of albums this year. This, the secular one of the pair, was the better, with Marty’s smoky voice sounding as good as ever on a bluegrass influenced set including the odd reworking of a few Shenandoah hits.

Best tracks: ‘Long Hard Road’, ‘Big Pain’, ‘Ghost In This House’, ‘Get Up In Jesus’ Name’.

8. Honky Tonk Till I DieEric Strickland and the B Sides

Solidly enjoyable, unpretentious honky-tonk with some great original songs written by the North Carolinian lead singer. It may be obscure, but it’s really good.

Best tracks: ‘Haggard And Hell’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Standing In The Headlights’, ‘Womankind‘.

wesley dennis7. Country EnoughWesley Dennis

An excellent return from one of the best singers who never made it. The former Mercury Records artist has a classic country voice and has written some fine songs for this independent releases.

Best tracks: ‘A Month Of Sundays’, ‘Lady’s Choice’, ‘That Dog Won’t Hunt’, ‘Sun, Surf And The Sand (And My Ties)‘.

6. The Time JumpersThe Time Jumpers

The part-time supergroup featuring Vince Gill and Dawn Sears came up with a delightful confection of country, jazz and western swing for their first studio alum together. The musicianship sparkles and this is a real celebration of the joy of making music.

Best tracks: ‘So Far Apart’, ‘Three Sides To Every Story’, ‘The Woman Of My Dreams’, ‘Someone Had To Teach You’.

gene watson5. Best Of The BestGene Watson

I wasn’t sure whether to include this album in my list but in the end the quality shone through and I had to keep it in. A veteran star who still has the vocal goods to shame most of his younger, more commercially successful rivals, Gene Watson has chosen to revisit some of his best-loved recordings for this release. I would really have preferred new material from him, but this is just a lovely listening experience.

Best tracks: ‘Farewell Party’, ‘What She Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Her’, ‘Nothing Sure Looked Good On You’, ‘Between This Time And The Next Time’.

4. Pourin’ Whiskey On PainTim Culpepper

The unknown newcomer gave me my most pleasant surprise this year with his traditional sound and some excellent songs.

Best tracks: ‘One More For The Road’, ‘When Misery Finds Company’, ‘Pourin’ Whiskey On Pain’, ‘Toss And Turn’.

jason eady3. AM Country HeavenJason Eady

I called this a “low-key delight” when I reviewed it earlier this year, and my judgment stands. This mature thoughtful record has no weak spots at all. Patty Loveless duetting on one track is an unexpected bonus.

Best tracks (though everything is worth hearing): ‘AM Country Heaven’, ‘Man On A Mountain’ (with Patty Loveless), ‘Water Into Wine’, ‘Old Guitar And Me’.

2. Too Much Ain’t EnoughClinton Gregory

Sweet voiced singer/fiddler Clinton Gregory is back after years of silence with a lovely set of mainly sad songs.

Best tracks: ‘Too Much Ain’t Enough’, ‘Too Country For Nashville’, ‘Has Love Taken Its Toll?’, ‘Chase Away The Lonely’.

jamey johnson21. Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank CochranJamey Johnson

It was obvious as soon as I listened to this album that it was going to be this year’s highlight. Songs by one of the greatest country songwriters ever, performed by Jamey Johnson and some of his friends including legends like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Price and Emmylou Harris, and more recent stars like Lee Ann Womack, Ronnie Dunn and George Strait. From the exquisite opening notes of ‘Make The World Go Away’, with Alison Krauss’s angelically sweet counterpoint to Jamey’s gruff tenderness, every single song here is a gem, and almost every track is excellent. This really is an outstanding album.

Best tracks: hard to pin down, but if I must then ‘Would These Arms Be In Your Way’ solo; ‘Make The World Go Away’ with Alison Krauss; ‘You Wouldn’t Know Love’ with Ray Price; and ‘Don’t Touch Me’ with Emmylou Harris.

Album Review: Eric Strickland and the B Sides – ‘Honky Tonk Till I Die’

These days it seems easier to find excellent country records on independent labels than on major ones. North Carolina’s Eric Strickland and his band the B Sides produce tightly played solid honky-tonk music with a slight outlaw edge, which is highly enjoyable throughout. There is no fiddle, but plenty of steel. But what lifts their album above others of the kind is the excellent songwriting (all of which comes courtesy of lead singer and guitarist Strickland).

The title track is a defiant celebration of the joys of the honky-tonk life despite its health implications. ‘Standing In The Headlights’ is a fine and thoughtful song about the struggles of life as a musician, which has a lot of appeal:

Just cause I’m from nothing don’t mean I’m nothing

A small town boy with big town dreams

Chasin’ rainbows neath the neon

Ain’t as easy it seems

You put your heart into the music

You pour your soul into your songs

Then you realize they just don’t get it

And you’re out there all alone

‘My First Love’ is also good, with fond memories about growing up with the love of country music leading into a career as a musician. It leads into the hidden track ‘Drinking Whiskey’, a regretful steel-laced contemplation of a lost love, where drink doesn’t erase the memory.

The dark ‘Freedom’ is excellent, a steel-loaded, downbeat portrait of a man in the most intense despair, and on the verge of, perhaps, suicide:

He sits on the edge of a bed by the window watching the world go by

Nobody knows just how close he is to the end of his life

Holding a picture of a woman he loves in his shaking hands

He once quit drinking

But today he’s been thinking

About starting again

And it’s hard to keep on pretending

That the pain ain’t real any more

There’s just enough time to share all his feelings

Before freedom comes knocking on his door

He stares at the phone on the nightstand beside him

Wondering who he could call

But no one can help this fight with himself

So he throws it against the wall

He picks up a pen and writes her a letter

Explaining it all

There’ll be no more crying over all of her lying

Cause the hammer will soon fall

And it’s hard to keep on pretending

That the pain ain’t real any more

There’s just enough time to share all his feelings

Before freedom comes knocking on his door

Just as good is the outstanding ‘Haggard And Hell’, which with more agonized steel places the heartbroken protagonist at a crossroads.

While it is the least distinguished song here, ‘Her’ is an okay love song about a nice girl in love with a man who happily admits he is ‘tattooed white trash, I’m a real low-life’ – but can’t be as bad as he paints himself, given the unquestioning support of his loved one. The sardonic ‘Womankind’ has a more jaundiced approach verging on misogyny after the protagonist falls for a heartless beauty:

Woman, kind?

No, I don’t think so

She broke my heart and left me here to die

It’s not right, but she done me like she wants to

I’m sorry if I don’t believe in woman kind

I also enjoyed ‘Shine Down On Me’, with snatches of harmonica. The protagonist works a dead-end job for not much reward with no obvious end in sight, but retains an optimistic outlook on life.

There are a couple of trucking songs neatly sequenced together two-thirds of the way through the set list. ‘18 Wheels Of Hell On The Highway’ is fairly standard fare reminiscent of the genre’s 70’s heyday, but ‘The Day The Truckers Shut this Country Down’ is pretty good, championing the vital work of transporting goods across the US, with twangy, punchy lead guitar and supporting steel.

My only criticism is with the cheap packaging of the CD, which omits two songs (‘Standing In The Headlights’ and ‘Drinking Whiskey’) from the track listing (although the CD itself has a cool vinyl-effect image printed on it.

Sample the title track on youtube.

This excellent record is available digitally everywhere, with the CD available from CDBaby.

Grade: A