My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Exile

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘The Forester Sisters’

Not many realize it, but the Forester Sisters were the first all-female group (defined as three or more members) to have sustained success on Billboard’s Country Singles charts. In fact, they are still the female group boasting the most top ten singles with fifteen.

The Forester Sisters’ first foray came with the eponymous album The Forester Sisters, released in August 1985. The album opens up with the first single “(That’s What You Do) When You’re In Love” which made its chart debut on January 28,1985.The song would reach #10, the first in a string of fourteen consecutive top ten county singles, five of which reached #1. The song is a mid-tempo ballad about forgiveness, written by Terry Skinner, Ken Bell and J. L. Wallace.

Well, the door’s unlocked and the lights still on
And the covers turned down on the bed
And you don’t have to say that you’re sorry anymore
‘Cause honey I believe what you said
If there’s anybody perfect, well, I ain’t seem ’em yet
And we all gotta learn to forgive and forget
That’s what you do when you’re in love, in love
That’s what you do when you’re in love

Next up is “I Fell In Love Again Last Night” , a mid-tempo ballad from the pens of Paul Overstreet and Thom Schuyler. This song was the second single off the album and the group’s first #1 record.

I fell in love again last night
You keep doing everything just right
You’ve got me wrapped around your fingers
And every morning the love still lingers
I fell in love again last night

“Just in Case”, written by J.P. Pennington & Sonny LeMaire of Exile, first saw the light of day on Exile’s 1984 Kentucky Hearts album. An up-tempo ballad, The Forester Sisters released it as their third single and saw it sail to #1:

I saw you walkin’ down the street just the other day
Took one little look at me and turned the other way
Can’t say I blame you but I’d like for you to know
How wrong I was to ever let you go

Just in case, you ever change your mind
If you suddenly decide to give me one more try
I’ll be waiting in the wings, just lookin’ for a sign
Just in case you change your mind

“Reckless Night” by Alice Randall & Mark D. Sanders is a slow ballad about a single mother – the baby the result of a reckless night.

“Dixie Man” by Bell, Skinner & Wallace) is an up-tempo tune with an R&B vibe to it. The song might have made a decent single but with four singles on the album, the group had pushed the limits of the time.

Next up is “Mama’s Never Seen Those Eyes” by Skinner & Wallace, the fourth single from the album and third consecutive #1 record. The song is a mid-tempo ballad and the song that immediately comes to my mind when anyone mentions the Forster Sisters to me.

Mama says I shouldn’t be going with you
Mama says she knows best
You’ll take my heart and break it in two
‘Cause you’re just like all the rest
She says that you’re just a one night man
And you’ll end up hurting me
Aw But I’ve seen something that mama ain’t ever seen

Mama’s never looked into those eyes, felt the way that they hypnotize
She don’t know how they make me feel inside
If Mama ever knew what they do to me I think she’d be surprised
Aw Mama’s never seen those eyes
Mama’s never seen those eyes

“The Missing Part” was written by Paul Overstreet & Don Schlitz and covers a topic that the sisters would revisit from a different slant on a later single. This song is a slow ballad.

“Something Tells Me” from the pens of Chris Waters & Tom Shapiro) is a mid-tempo cautionary ballad about rushing into a relationship

The next track is “Crazy Heart” written by Rick Giles & Steve Bogard. The song is a mid-tempo ballad that I regard as nothing more than album filler, albeit well sung.

The album closes with Bobby Keel & Billy Stone’s composition “Yankee Don’t Go Home”, a slow ballad about a southern girl who has lost her heart to a fellow from up north. Judging to feedback from friends who have heard this song this might have made a decent single

The Forester Sisters would prove to be the group’s most successful album, reaching #4 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. In fact the album would prove to be their only top ten album, although another seven albums would chart. The album has traditional country lyrics and vocals although the accompaniment has that 80s sound in places, particularly when it comes to the keyboards. The musicians on this album are Kenny Bell – acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Sonny Garrish – steel guitar; Owen Hale – drums; Hubert “Hoot” Hester – fiddle, mandolin; Lonnie “Butch” Ledford – bass guitar; Will McFarlane – acoustic guitar; Steve Nathan – keyboards;J. L. Wallace – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards; and John Willis – acoustic guitar. Terry Skinner and J.L. Wallace produced the album and co=wrote two of the singles.

I should note that my copy of the album is on vinyl so the sequence of the songs may vary on other formats. Anyway, I would give this album an A-

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Album Review: Lee Greenwood – ‘Inside Out’

Lee Greenwood’s debut single, ‘It Turns Me Inside Out’, was released on MCA Records in September 1981. It eventually peaked at #17 on the Billboard country chart, but made more of an impact than that position might suggest. Written by Jan Crutchfield, brother of Greenwood’s producer Jerry Crutchfield, it is an excellent song imbued with regret as Lee sings emotionally of his mixed feelings over a breakup:

In a way I guess it’s better
Even though there’s nothin’ good about goodbye
But I know I couldn’t hold you
Now you’ve found the wings and you’ll be groomed to fly

It’s for sure I’m gonna miss you
But I guess that’s what goodbye is all about
In a way I’m glad it’s over
In another way it turns me inside out

Musically the song has a soulful, contemporary vibe, with strings and the now dated backing vocals popular on many recordings of the period.

An album, produced by Jerry Crutchfield, was released in 1982.

The album’s biggest hit and best song followed, and reached #5. ‘Ring On Her Finger, Time on Her Hands’ was written by Don Goodman, Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose, and relates the story of a neglected wife who turns to an affair. Reba McEntire later covered the song, adapting the lyric to tell it from the woman’s point of view. Greenwood’s original, perhaps more interestingly, has him portraying the cuckolded husband but taking the blame.:

She stood before God, her family and friends
And vowed that she’d never love anyone else again, only me
As pure as her gown of white she stood by my side
And promised that she’d love me till the day she died

Lord, please forgive her even though she lied
‘Cause you’re the only one who knows just how hard she tried

She had a ring on her finger and time on her hands
The woman in her needed the warmth of a man
The gold turned cold in her wedding band
It’s just a ring on your finger when there’s time on your hands

‘She’s Lying’, another Jan Crutchfield song, peaked at #7. It is an emotional, perhaps even overwrought, ballad about a man who knows his wife is cheating but in response lies himself that he believes her. The production is dated but Greenwood sells it vocally.

The final single was ‘Ain’t No Trick (It Takes Magic)’ sounds more R&B than country, and is not to my taste at all, but was another #7 hit.

Greenwood himself wrote three songs. ‘A Love Song’ is a pleasant AC ballad. ‘Thank You For Changing My Life’ is a bit duller, sounding like Kenny Rogers at his most MOR. ‘Home Away From Home’ is quite a good song about the sacrifices of life as a musician on the road.

‘I Don’t Want To Be A Memory is a pretty good mid-tempo song written by Sonny LeMaire and J B Pennington of the group Exile.

Jan Crutchfield contributed another pair of songs. ‘Love Don’t Get No Better Than This’ is a nice love song, and ‘Broken Pieces Of My Heart’ is a regretful ballad about a failed relationship.

This is far from a traditional country album, but it is competently produced and Greenwood has a strong and distinctive voice. The material is quite strong, and this is not a bad album overall.

Grade: B+

Our Country Heritage: The Statler Brothers

It is hard to believe that it has been over 16 years since the Statler Brothers announced their retirement; however when they retired they really meant it. Since 2003 Don Reid has written some books, co-authoring one book with older brother Harold Reid but little else has been heard from Harold and virtually nothing from Phil Balsley. The fourth Statler, Jimmy Fortune was ten years younger than Don Reid and fifteen years younger than Harold Reid and Phil Balsley, so he chose to pursue a solo career. Fortune still performs today, sometimes in conjunction with Dailey & Vincent or other bluegrass acts.

We take country music groups for granted as there have been many successful such acts over the years, with the Oak Ridge Boys, Exile, Restless Heart, Shenandoah, Alabama, Sawyer Brown, Old Dominion and other acts following in the Statler Brothers’ footsteps. While there had been vocal groups before the Statler Brothers, those groups had either been cowboy groups such as The Sons of The Pioneers, The Oklahoma Wranglers (a/k/a The Willis Brothers) and Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage, or else gospel groups such as the Chuck Wagon Gang, The Blackwood Brothers or The Oak Ridge Quartet (from which sprang the Oak Ridge Boys).

Indeed, even the Statler Brothers started out as a gospel group using the name the Kingsmen, changing their name when a west coast group had a hit with a song titled “Louie, Louie”. During this period the group consisted of the Don Reid(lead vocals), Harold Reid (bass vocals), Phil Balsley (harmony vocals) and Lew DeWitt (high tenor vocals). Although the Don usually sang lead vocals, on many songs each member would sing lead on a verse. Because of his unique soaring high tenor, sometimes Lew DeWitt would be the lead on a song.

By that time, the Statler Brothers had already become associated with Johnny Cash and were no longer performing strictly as a gospel group, experimenting with secular music, often novelties. They would remain on the road with Cash from 1963 to 1971 and were signed to Cash’s label Columbia Records from 1964-1969. In 1965 the group scored its biggest ever hit with DeWitt’s “Flowers on the Wall,” which went #2 country / #4 pop was a huge seller internationally and won a Grammy. Subsequent singles for Columbia did not reach that level of success although novelties “Ruthless” and “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too” both reached the top ten.

The Statlers signed to Mercury in 1970, find their sound and milieu almost immediately, aided by expert production by Jerry Kennedy, who had helped resurrect the career of Jerry Lee Lewis. Tapping into America’s longing for more peaceable times, the Statler Brothers embarked on a series of albums, dealing with nostalgia in its many forms, while also embracing more modern themes and occasionally some gospel music. Although the group wrote much of its own material, they also used outside material, both new and old, both country and pop in their quest for quality material. From 1970 through 1982 the group charted 36 singles, 17 of which made the top ten (8 into the top five) and another 10 of which reached the top twenty.

In 1983 Lew DeWitt dropped out of the group after battling Crohn’s disease for many years. DeWitt had been missed a number of dates in 1982 and had spotted Jimmy Fortune as a worthy replacement. When DeWitt dropped out, Fortune slid easily into the group. DeWitt had a brief remission from Crohn’s and pursued a solo career but the remission was brief and by 1990 DeWitt had passed away from complications of the disease.

The substitution of Fortune into the lineup added an additional quality songwriter and provided a brief upsurge in the group’s fortunes. While the group had consistently been near the top of the charts only “Do You Know You Are My Sunshine” had reached #1 for the Statlers while DeWitt was in the group. The group would have three more #1 singles, all on songs penned by Fortune (“Elizabeth”, “My Only Love”, and “Too Much On My Heart” but after 1985, radio increasingly turned to younger acts – the last top ten record would be “More Than A Name On The Wall” (about a mother visiting the Vietnam War Memorial to see her son’s name).

Although radio lost interest, The Nashville Network (TNN) did not, and the group hosted a television series for 1991-1998. Although the show’s ratings remained high throughout, new ownership really had no interest in country music and discarded most of TNN’s programming.

The Statler Brothers were the first vocal group to have sustained success in country music (I should note that the Oak Ridge Boys pre-date the Statler Brothers, but they remained a gospel group until 1977). While modern-day country acts seem unaware of the Statler Brothers, their influence on bluegrass has been strong, with Dailey & Vincent being strong proponents of their music and always including several Statler songs in live performance. The Statler Brothers were probably the first country music act to transfer the genre’s tendency toward nostalgia from a rural to a suburban setting. Kurt Vonnegut referred to them as “America’s Poets”. Moreover, the group stayed together unlike many groups which seemed to have a revolving door of group members.

Discography 

Vinyl records were the format in which recordings for the Lew Dewitt years were issue. The material on Columbia is pleasant, but the group was still finding its way. I have all of the Mercury albums featuring Lew DeWitt and I regard all of them as priceless treasures. Unfortunately, most of the CDs featuring DeWitt are anthologies that also include the Jimmy Fortune years. The Statler Brothers website does have a four-CD set featuring the group’s first eight albums on Mercury – it sells for $49.95. It is a little pricey but if all you have heard is the radio hits, this is a great place to examine the depth and breadth of the group’s talent.

Actually, I could make the same comment about the Jimmy Fortune years – mostly it is anthologies that are available, but because Jimmy’s entire tenure with the group falls into the digital era, used CDs can be found with a little effort. I will say that the albums of the Jimmy Fortune period tend to be less interesting as albums, although the singles remained strong. I would stay away from the Farewell Concert album which sounds very rushed as if the boys couldn’t wait for the show to be over.

The Statlers continued to issue some recordings after their tenure with Mercury (later Polygram) was over. Some of these recordings can be found on their website.                                                         

Week ending 1/13/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales): Great Balls of Fire — Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun) 

1958 (Disc Jockeys): The Story of My Life — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1968: For Loving You — Bill Anderson & Jan Howard (Decca)

1978: Take This Job and Shove It — Johnny Paycheck (Epic)

1988: I Can’t Get Close Enough — Exile (Epic)

1998: A Broken Wing — Martina McBride (RCA Nashville) 

2008: Our SongTaylor Swift (Big Machine)

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

2018 (Airplay): Like I Loved You — Brett Young (Big Machine)

Week ending 9/9/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On — Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: Your Tender Loving Care — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1977Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1987: She’s Too Good to Be True — Exile (Epic)

1997: She’s Got It All — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2007: These Are My People — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): No Such Thing As a Broken Heart — Old Dominion (RCA)

In Memoriam: Mark Gray (1952-2016)

Singer/Songwriter Mark Gray has passed, aged 64. The onetime member of Exile wrote ‘The Closer You Get,’ which was recorded by Alabama and hit #1 in 1983. Another notable recording, ‘Sometimes When We Touch’ paired him with last month’s spotlight artist Tammy Wynette. The song peaked at #6 in 1985. It would be her final Top Ten charting single. His biggest solo single, “Please Be Love” peaked at #7 the same year.

 

Week ending 11/5/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

ray-price1956 (Sales): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1956 (Jukebox): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Open Up Your Heart — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1976: Among My Souvenirs — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1986: It’ll Be Me — Exile (Epic)

1996: Like the Rain — Clint Black (RCA)

2006: Every Mile a Memory — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2016: Setting the World on Fire — Kenny Chesney featuring Pink (Blue Chair/Columbia)

2016 (Airplay):Setting the World on Fire — Kenny Chesney featuring Pink (Blue Chair/Columbia)

Spotlight Artist: Lonestar

lonestarFor many years, the prototypical country group took the form of a gospel quartet or quintet, modeled after such gospel favorites as the Jordanaires, The Old Hickory Singers, The Oak Ridge Quartet or the Blackwood Brothers. These groups were strictly vocal groups, with some sort of instrumental accompaniment, often nothing more than someone playing the piano. It was rare that the group handled its own instrumentals, other than perhaps the original version of the Sons of The Pioneers; and aside from western groups such as the Sons of The Pioneers, the repertoire was almost entirely gospel.

The first group to venture off into mostly secular music was the Statler Brothers in 1965, with the electrifying hit “Flowers On The Wall”. The Statler Brothers were strictly a vocal group, although the great Lew DeWitt played some acoustic guitar. In 1976, the Statlers were followed by the Oak Ridge Boys (formerly the Oak Ridge Quartet). Like the Statler Brothers, the Oak Ridge Boys were a gospel quartet that went secular. Both groups tended to strongly resemble the gospel groups from which they had arisen, and both groups had all four members vocals featured prominently.

It was not until Alabama came to prominence in 1980 that the modern day concept of a country group entered the public conscience. Alabama was comprised of three cousins (Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook) plus a very talented outsider in drummer Mark Herndon. Unlike other country groups, Alabama had a designated lead vocalist in Randy Owen, with the other members providing instrumental support and taking an occasional lead vocal, mostly on album cuts.

Alabama proved to be hugely successful with dozens of #1 singles and millions of albums sold. Soon additional similarly structure groups would arise such as Atlanta (1983), Exile (1983), Restless Heart (1985), Shenandoah (1987), Diamond Rio (1991), and Little Texas (1991).

Of course, every trend and/or fad runs its course and Lonestar (1992) would prove to be the last really successful band of the wave that started with Alabama.

Lonestar was unusual in that as they originally were constructed, Lonestar had two singers who perceived of themselves as the lead vocalist of the group. Richie McDonald was the lead vocalist but bass player John Rich also sang some leads (mostly on album tracks) and would be booted out of the group after the second album.

Lonestar would prove to have staying power, releasing eleven studio albums (five reached gold or platinum status) and enjoying a large number of hit singles including nine that reached #1 and another nine that landed in the country top ten. One of their #1 singles, “Amazed” also reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for two weeks sandwiched between singles by Savage Garden and Destiny’s Child, and it charted in the United Kingdom.

Although the top ten singles ceased in 2006, Lonestar is still around having just issued a new album. Richie McDonald left the group for a while, but has since returned and the band once again consists of Richie McDonald on lead vocals and piano, Michael Britt on lead guitar, backing vocals, Keech Rainwater banging on the drums and Dean Sams on keyboards, acoustic guitar and backing vocal. This is essentially the original group minus John Rich.

Lonestar has a website and is playing a full schedule of road appearances. They still sound good, and if you liked them during their 1990s heydays, you’ll like them now.

So sit back as enjoy our Spotlight review of the one of the leading country groups of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

Week ending 3/19/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

220px-Louvin_Brothers1956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): I Forgot to Remember to Forget/Mystery Train — Elvis Presley (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby — The Louvin Brothers (Capitol)

1966: Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line — Buck Owens & The Buckaroos (Capitol)

1976: The Roots of My Raising — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1986: I Could Get Used To You — Exile (Epic)

1996: The Beaches of Cheyenne — Garth Brooks (Capitol)

2006: Living In Fast Forward — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2016: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2016 (Airplay): We Went — Randy Houser (Stoney Creek)

Album Review: Highway 101 – ‘Bing Bang Boom’

bing bang boomAlthough one tends to think of Paulette Carlson as the female voice of Highway 101, the fact is that Nikki Nelson has been the face of Highway 101 for far longer than Paulette Carlson. In fact Nelson has been with the group for as a long as Paulette Carlson and Chrislyn Lee combined.

Bing Bang Boom marked the debut of Nikki Nelson as the lead singer of Highway 101. While her predecessor had a more distinctive (and at times quite annoying) voice, I think Nikki’s voice is better and that she had more potential to make it as a solo act than did Carlson. Unfortunately the material on this album is not quite as strong as on the first three albums so this album did not have the impact of the first three albums

The first single for Nikki Nelson was Hugh Prestwood’s “Bing Bang Boom” an up-tempo romp that charted at #14, exactly the same spot that Carlson’s last single had attained. I think that under different circumstances that this single would have done better, but I think that the market had already turned away from Highway 101’s sound as the last two Carlson singles both failed to reach the top ten

Gather around me and lend an ear
‘Cause I got somethin’ you ought to hear
I’m tellin’ you that you ought to fear
A certain kind of love
Now it can strike in the day or night
And just as quick as a rattler’s bite
You’ve got a case of love at first sight
And it’s what you’re dyin’ of

It’s just bing bang boom, one two three
You’re feelin’ normal as you can be
And then bing bang boom, lickety split
It doesn’t come on bit by bit
It gets instantly in full swing
And it’s bing bang boom

Unfortunately, “Bing Bang Boom” would prove to be the last to twenty single for Highway 101.

The next track comes from the pen of Michael Henderson, “Wherever You Are”, a bluesy ballad of a love gone astray. Nikki really nails the vocals – the song might have made a good single. Then again, the third track, “The Blame” (from Cactus Moser, Paul Nelson, and Gene Nelson) was the second single selected, it was an excellent ballad and it died at #31. This is actually my favorite Highway 101 song, one on which Nikki proves to be the absolute master of the slow ballad

Guess I could say you never held me close,
Those certain nights I needed you the most.
But you could say that I gave up before the love was gone,
and whose to say who was right or wrong.
You’ve got your side and I’ve got mine –
the truth lies in between,
No matter how the story’s told the end is still the same.
It’s a game that’s played by fools,
and it only has one rule.
It’s not whether you win or lose,
It’s how you lay the blame.

The next track is from the pens of Cactus Moser, Gary Chapman and Michael James, anther up-tempo romp titled “Storm of Live”. I think this would have made a good single.

This is followed up by a cover of a Tammy Wynette classic, “Til I Get It Right”. Nikki gives the song a nice reading, but she doesn’t have the essential tear in the voice that unique to Tammy Wynette.

Michael Henderson wrote the next two numbers “Restless Kind” and “Honky Tonk Baby”, both decent album tracks but nothing more. “Honky Tonk Baby” has a bit of a retro or rockabilly feel to it and was actually issued as the fourth single, dying at #54.

“River of Tears” , written by Cactus Moser and Eric Silver, would have been a hit if released during the late 1960s or early 1970s. In my mind, I can hear Rhonda Vincent doing this song as a bluegrass ballad.

“Baby, I’m Missing You” was the third single off the album, reaching #22. The song was written by Steve Seskin and Nancy Montgomery. It is a nice song that would have gone top ten a few years earlier.

The album closes with “Desperate” (co-written by Cactus Moser), and Joy White’s “Big City Bound”, both good album tracks. “Big City Bound” has an arrangement that reminds me strongly of John Anderson’s 1981 hit “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal”.

I would rate this album as a B+. I don’t really think the band lost anything with the change of female vocalist. If anything, Nikki Nelson’s presence probably enabled the band to tackle a greater variety of material in live performance. I think the real issue here is shelf life. Highway 101 had a four year shelf life as hitmakers, and had already experienced significant falloff even before Carlson left the band, with each album charting a little lower than the previous album (#7, #8, #22 and then #29 for the Greatest Hits album. This pattern is eerily similar to the pattern for acts such as SKO/SKB, Desert Rose, Exile and Restless Heart.

Highway 101 still tours occasionally – look for them if they hit your town.

Week ending 11/21/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

Chris+Stapleton+Celebs+O+Music+Awards+Nashville+YXyP6PSnHqll1955 (Sales): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Love, Love, Love — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose — Little Jimmy Dickens (Columbia)

1975: Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way/Bob Wills is Still the King — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1985: Hang On to Your Heart — Exile (Epic)

1995: Check Yes or No — George Strait (MCA)

2005: Better Life — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2015: Tennessee Whiskey — Chris Stapleton (Mercury)

2015 (Airplay): Break Up With Him — Old Dominion (ReeSmack/RCA)

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Mountain Music’

mountain musicThe band’s third album for RCA, 1982’s Mountain Music, was produced by the band with Nashville veteran Harold Shedd. It continued the recipe as before, with similarly successful results.

All three singles were chart toppers, starting with the title track. Opening with the strains of a solo harmonica (played by Michael Douchette), and then a short verbal imitation of an elderly countryman by the band’s roadie Bob Martin, Randy Owen’s song, inspired by his memories of growing up in the shadow of Lookout Mountain, Alabama, paints an idyllic picture of a rural Southern childhood. It is an unexpectedly charming mixture of country-rock and bluegrass influences, with bright effervescent fiddle alongside the electric guitar. There are great harmonies, with Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook getting a few solo lines to boot.

The second single was competently performed but not at all country sounding (and not to my taste). ‘Take Me Down’ was a cover of a failed pop single by the band Exile (who soon afterwards decamped to country music) also got some pop airplay for Alabama, reaching the top 20 on that chart.

Finally, ‘Close Enough To Perfect’ is a very nice romantic ballad, with a sweet string arrangement.

There are a couple of excellent songs among the remaining tracks. The dramatic ‘Words At Twenty Paces’, which applies Western movie metaphors to a troubled romance, was written by troubadour High Moffatt:

Just like a Western movie
A challenge has been made
A shot was fired in anger
And pride stepped off the train
Won’t we ever stop this
Killin’ me and you,
Till our hearts are up on Boot Hill
And there’s nothing we can do.

Words at twenty paces,
Anger at high noon
This house ain’t big enough for both of us
it’s comin’ soon
We’ll finish off our happiness
And run hope out of town
With words at twenty paces, Lord,
It’s love we’re gunnin’ down.

How did we ever lose
The dreams we used to share?
The gentle touch, the words of love,
The way we used to care
Sometimes your words
Cut like a bullet in my side
Oh, which is more important
Wounded hearts or wounded pride?

I got my ammunition
I know you got yours too
We know each other’s weakness
Lord, the damage we can do
Why can’t we just step aside
And put our guns away
Let love come like a cavalry
Ride in and save the day

Had it been recorded a few years later, it would have been prime fodder for a video treatment. The arrangement is contemporary country, and works well.

‘Changes Comin’ On’ was written by Dean Dillon, Buddy Cannon and Jimmy Darrell, and chronicles the changes in music and American society since the 1960s. It is an excellent song, and Alabama’s version is great – for the first three and a half minutes. Unfortunately, the track then goes “on and on and on” (as they sing themselves) for the same length of time again, without actually going anywhere. Pointless and self indulgent.

Jeff Cook’s vocals are mediocre compared with those of his cousin Randy Owen, but he got his chance to sing lead on two songs here, both heavier of the rock than country. His own ‘Lovin’ You Is Killin’ Me’ is no better than average, while a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River’ is dull. Neither song is helped by the monotonous vocal.

Teddy Gentry takes the lead on his own ‘Never Be One’, a sentimental ode to a toddler daughter, which is sweet to the border of saccharine. The child makes a small cameo appearance. In a complete change of tone, the faux sexy ‘You Turn Me On’ (written by Gentry and Owen) features an overdone Conway Twitty impersonation (although Randy sings the verses pleasantly enough).

The record closes with the enjoyably rowdy ‘Gonna Have A Party, written by Kieran Kane (future member of The O’Kanes’), 60s rocker Bruce Channel, and Cliff Cochran.

Mountain Music was the group’s first album to hit the platinum mark, and has now sold five times that. It’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of material, but has some pretty good tracks.

Grade: B+

Spotlight Artist: Alabama

alabamaA long time ago, back in 1969, there were three cousins in Fort Payne, Alabama, who decided to form a band. The band kept practicing and perfecting their craft, eventually becoming a proficient bar band, traveling the southeastern US and landing an extended gig at the Bowery in Myrtle Beach, SC. For part of this period they used the name Wildcounty but eventually the band became known simply as ‘Alabama’. They not only wrote some of their own material, but came up with a unique sound that eventually attracted the interest of the Dallas-based MDJ label. The release in 1979 on MDJ of “My Home’s In Alabama” reached #17 and got the folks at RCA Records interested in them, so much so that they signed to RCA in March 1980, beginning an extended period of huge success.

At the time they arrived on the national scene in 1980, I was not a big fan of the band, but as time went by, I developed a strong respect for the band and a deeper appreciation of their music and their status as trailblazers in vocal group country music.

This is not to say that there had not been vocal groups in country music before. Far from it, as groups such as the Sons of The Pioneers, The Willis Brothers, The Four Guys, The Oak Ridge Boys and, most notably, the Statler Brothers had been having considerable success for years before Alabama arrived.

The Willis Brothers and Sons of the Pioneers came out of the western (or western movies) tradition and really are separate and distinct from mainstream country music. The Four Guys, The Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers came out of the gospel music traditions, and even when performing mainstream country music they frequently still sounded like gospel groups. In the case of the Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers, when commercial country success abandoned them, they turned back to recording more gospel music.

Alabama was unique. They did not arise out of the western or gospel traditions but were a bar band that played in front of noisy barroom audiences, wrote their own material, covered the likes of Merle Haggard, and developed a synthesis of soft rock and country music that brought a new audience to country music. That new audience was a younger audience that had grown up on rock music but perhaps felt that rock had become too weird or perhaps simply had grown up with both rock music and country music and appreciated the synthesis that Alabama had developed.

Unlike most rock music of the time, Alabama’s music was both melodious and harmonious. Unlike most country music of the 1960s and 1970s, Alabama’s music was good dance music in a way that the music of Jimmy Dickens, Roy Drusky and Jim Reeves never could be. Plus Alabama had three really good vocalists, even if RCA insisted that Randy Owen be the lead vocalist on most tracks.

In addition to bringing a younger audience to country music, they were a huge influence on the genre as over the next decade, more and more vocal bands entered the scene, cautiously at first with Atlanta coming on the scene in early 1983, followed by more significant bands such as Exile, Restless Heart, Shenandoah, Diamond Rio, Sawyer Brown and many others.

Alabama would have an uninterrupted run of success from 1980 thru 1999, after which time the top ten hits ceased. Along the way they would enjoy thirty-three #1 singles with six other singles reaching #2, six more reaching #3 and two more getting stranded at #4. Many of their singles reached #1 in Canada including a few late 1990s singles that did not reach #1 in the US (eh?).

Alabama was lead singer Randy Owen (b. 1949) and his cousins, Teddy Gentry (b. 1952) and Jeff Cook (b. 1949). For many years it was thought by most fans that drummer Mark Herndon was a member of the group, but years after the group retired, it was revealed that he was but a paid employee of the group.

Some of my older comrades may disagree, but when I listened to Alabama’s music, I always felt that I was listening to country music, if a somewhat different form of the genre. There are many album tracks which have a far more traditional sound than some of the singles. There are fiddles and steel guitars on many tracks and while the three members of Alabama were good songwriters, they did not hesitate to record good outside material.

Join us as we look back at the career of Alabama.

Week ending 7/11/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

tanya-tucker1955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): A Satisfied Mind — Porter Wagoner (RCA)

1965: Before You Go — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: Lizzie and the Rainman — Tanya Tucker (MCA)

1985: She’s a Miracle — Exile (Epic)

1995: Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident) — John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic)

2005: Fast Cars and Freedom — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Sangria — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 7

It seems to me that I never did finish off this series, the last installment being posted on February 11, 2014 (and the installment before that appeared April 9,2013). Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked. This is an expanded and revised version of the February 11, 2014 article which was a rush job :

Shame On The Moon” – Bob Seger
Bob’s 1982 recording of a Rodney Crowell song charted on the country charts in early 1983, reaching #15 in the process. The song was a bigger hit on the pop charts, reaching #2 for four weeks.

Finally” – T. G. Sheppard
He worked for Elvis, sang background for Travis Wammack, and eventually emerged with a solo career worth noting, racking up 42 chart singles from 1974-1991. This 1982 single was one of fourteen #1 record racked up by Sheppard, eleven of them reaching #1 during the 1980s.

Doesn’t Anybody Get High On Love Anymore” – The Shoppe
The Shoppe was a Dallas based band that hung around for years after their 1968 formation. In the early 1980s they had eight chart records, but this was the only one to crack the top forty, reaching #33. They had a record deal with MTM Records in 1985, but that label vanished, taking the Shoppe with them.

Crying My Heart Out Over You” – Ricky Skaggs
Ricky Skaggs was one of the dominant artists of the first half of the 1980s with his bluegrass/country hybrid. Starting with 1981’s “You May See Me Walking” and ending with 1986’s “Love’s Gonna Get You Some Day“, Skaggs ran off sixteen consecutive top ten singles with ten of them reaching number one, This 1982 classic was the first chart topper. Eventually Ricky returned to straight bluegrass, but I like the hybrid recordings better. In my original article I spotlighted “Honey (Open That Door)“, a straight forward country Mel Tillis song recorded by Webb Pierce.

Don’t Stay If You Don’t Love Me” – Patsy Sledd
Stardom never really happened for Patsy, who was a good singer marooned early in her career on a bad label. She was part of the George Jones-Tammy Wynette show in the early 1970s. This song reached #79 in 1987.

“Nice To Be With You” – Slewfoot
This band replaced Alabama as the feature band at the Bowery Club in Myrtle Beach. This was their only chart single, a cover of Gallery’s #4 pop hit from 1972 that reached #85 in 1986.

King Lear” – Cal Smith
The last chart hit for the former Texas Troubadour. This song reached #75 in 1986.

“A Far Cry From You” – Connie Smith
After a six year recording hiatus, the greatest female country recording artist of all time returned with this one-shot single on the Epic label. It’s a great song but received no promotional push at all from the label landing at #71 in 1985. Unfortunately, this single has never appeared on an album.

“The Shuffle Song” – Margo Smith
Exactly as described – a shuffle song that reached #13 for Margo in early 1980. Margo had a brief run of top ten hits in the middle and late 1970s but the string was about over. In my prior article I featured “He Gives Me Diamonds, You Give Me Chills” but The Shuffle song is actually my favorite 80s hit from Margo. She lives in The Villages in Florida and still performs occasionally.

Cheatin’s A Two Way Street” – Sammi Smith
Her last top twenty song from 1981. Sammi only had three top ten hits but made many fine records. This was one of them.

Hasn’t It Been good Together” – Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton
The last chart record for the ‘Singing Ranger’. The record only got to #78 for the 65 year old Snow in 1980 but I couldn’t let pass the opportunity to acknowledge the great career of the most successful Canadian country artist. By any legitimate means of chart tracking, his 1950 hit “I’m Moving On” is still the number one country hit of all time. Hank had perfect diction and was a great guitar player.

Tear-Stained Letter” – Jo-El Sonnier
A late bloomer, this was the forty-two year old Jo-El’s second of two top ten records and my favorite. It reached #8 in 1988. There were brief periods in the past when Cajun music could break through for a hit or two. Eddy Raven was the most successful Cajun artist but most of his material was straight-ahead country.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” – J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt
George Jones charted this record twice, but it’s such a good song it was worth covering. This version went to #27 in 1982. J.D had a big pop hit in 1980 with “You’re Only Lonely” which reached #7.

Honey I Dare You” – Southern Pacific
Southern Pacific was a bunch of guys who previously played with other bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doobie Brothers and Pablo Cruise, making some real good country music in the process. This was one of their four top ten hits of the 1980s. “A Girl Like Emmylou” from 1986 only reached #17 but the song tells you where this band’s heart was located.

Lonely But Only For You” – Sissy Spacek
Loretta Lynn wanted to Spacek to portray her in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, and it turns out that Sissy can really can sing. This song reached #15 in 1983.

Standing Tall” – Billie Jo Spears
Billie Jo Spears, from Beaumont, Texas, was incredibly popular in England and Ireland, where “Blanket On The Ground” and “What I’ve Got In Mind” were top five pop hits in the mid 1970s and she had many more lesser successes. Many of her later albums were not released in the US but she had a substantial US career with thirty-four charted records, including two #1 hits. “Standing Tall” reached #15 in 1980.

Chain Gang” – Bobby Lee Springfield
More successful as a songwriter than as a performer, Springfield had two chart sings in 1987 with “Hank Drank” (#75) and “Chain Gang” (#66) which was NOT the Sam Cooke hit. Bobby Lee was both too country and too rockabilly for what was charting at the time. I really liked All Fired Up, the one album Epic released on him.

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Week ending 3/21/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

16174412_1287061723731955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: Before The Next Teardrop Falls — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: Crazy For Your Love — Exile (Epic)

1995: This Woman And This Man — Clay Walker (Giant)

2005: Nothin’ To Lose — Josh Gracin (Lyric Street)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Just Gettin’ Started — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Week ending 11/22/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

tomthall1_h1954 (Sales): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me) — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: Country Is — Tom T. Hall (Mercury)

1984: Give Me One More Chance — Exile (Epic)

1994: Shut Up And Kiss Me — Mary-Chapin Carpenter (Columbia)

2004: In A Real Love — Phil Vassar (Arista)

2014: Something In The Water — Carrie Underwood (Arista Nashville)

2014 (Airplay): Neon Light — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Album Review: Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time – ‘All Star Duets’

all star duetsOne of my favorite songwriters, Larry Cordle’s latest album has been a long time in the making. he has teamed up with a selection of stars to recreate some of his big hits as a songwriter in a tasteful bluegrass setting, backed by Larry’s bluegrass band Lonesome Standard Time and a few added guests. Recording sessions have taken place at intervals over the past decade, and the album was first announced for release a couple of years ago. But the wait was worth it, because this is a truly lovely record filled with great songs.

Alison Krauss recorded Cordle’s ‘Two Highways’ as a teenager; revisiting the song as a mature adult she brings a fuller vocal, and the result is shimmeringly lovely. It’s actually the oldest composition here, having been written in 1977 when the young Larry Cordle was stuck in a job he hated and dreaming of music. Ricky Skaggs was Cordle’s earliest big supporter, and his recording of ‘Highway 40 Blues’ (also written in the late 70s) was his breakthrough as a songwriter. Skaggs revisits the song (one of many great Cordle songs he has recorded over the years) here, playing his mandolin as well as sharing the vocals. Skaggs’ 1983 #1 hit version made Cordle a name to be reckoned with, and as he puts it in the liner notes, “changed his life”.

I was a bit dismissive of Garth Brooks’ recording of ‘Against The Grain’ when I reviewed ‘Ropin’ The Wind’ recently, but the breezier bluegrass version he guests on here is much more enjoyable, although it’s still one of my less favourite tracks here. Much better is the beautiful high lonesome ‘Lonesome Dove’, which like ‘Against The Grain’ was written with Carl Jackson. Trisha Yearwood, who recorded it on her debut album, and is at her glorious best singing it here.

Dierks Bentley is an engaging guest on a version of the wry ‘You Can’t Take It With You When You Go’, which was a single for the great Gene Watson towards the end of his major label career. It is one of Cordle’s many collaborations with his friend Larry Shell. They wrote several songs here, including the most recently written song, the modern classic ‘Murder On Music Row’, which seems more topical every year. The guest vocalists are minor 90s star Daryle Singletary and the very underrated Kevin Denney, both of whom were regarded as “too country” for country music. Daryle is one of the best traditional country singers out there, and I’ve long regretted that Denney hasn’t recorded again since his one and only album in 2002. They do a great, heartfelt job, on this version. It is, incidentally, unfortunate that Denney’s name is mis-spelled on the cover. The liner notes (also available digitally) are otherwise excellent and informative, with a little discussion of how each song was written and picked up for recording.

Diamond Rio contribute duet and harmony vocals on Cordle and Shell’s ‘Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me’, which was one of my favorite of the band’s hit songs, and is another real highlight here. The gently melancholy tune is perfect for the emotional yet stoic lyric about the strains of life on the road, and the arrangement is beautiful. Less well known, but a very beautiful song written by the pair which deserves to be known better is the wistful ‘The Fields of Home’, which Ricky Skaggs recorded on Kentucky Thunder in 1989, and which feels like a sequel to ‘Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me’. Kenny Chesney appears as the duet partner here, and does a superb job exuding understated regret; I really wish he would return to this style of music.

Bluegrass giant Del McCoury guests on the playful ‘The Bigger The Fool’ (The Harder The Fall)’, which Chesney recorded on his first album (when he was a neotraditional youngster and had not yet gained fame and fortune or discovered the beach). The charming tune is one of two co-writes with Jim Rushing, the other being ‘Lonesome Standard Time’, which gave its name to Cordle’s band. Kathy Mattea, who had a hit with it, duets with Cordle here.

He teamed up with two great female songwriters, Leslie Satcher and the veteran Melba Montgomery, to write ‘Cure For The Common Heartache’. Terri Clark recorded it in the late 90s, and sounds great duetting with Cordle – it’s much better than anything on her current solo release. Cordle wrote ‘Rough Around The Edges’ for Travis Tritt with J P Pennington and Les Taylor from country-rockers Exile; it sounds much better in this energised bluegrass version, featuring Tritt.

This is a superb album, collecting an excellent set of songs and performing them with taste and heart.

Grade: A

Week ending 7/19/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

rogermiller1_2501954 (Sales): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Jukebox): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1964: Dang Me — Roger Miller (Smash)

1974: He Thinks I Still Care — Anne Murray (Capitol)

1984: I Don’t Want to Be a Memory — Exile (Epic)

1994: Foolish Pride — Travis Tritt (Warner Bros.)

2004: Live Like You Were Dying — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2014: Beachin‘ — Jake Owen (RCA)

2014 (Airplay): Beachin‘ — Jake Owen (RCA)

Week ending 3/8/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

Exile1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox) (tie): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)
There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Saginaw, Michigan — Lefty Frizzell (Columbia)

1974: Another Lonely Song — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1984: Woke Up In Love — Exile (Epic)

1994: I Just Wanted You To Know — Mark Chesnutt (MCA)

2004: American Soldier — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2014: Chillin’ It — Cole Swindell (Warner Bros.)

2014 (Airplay): When She Says Baby — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)