My Kind of Country

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

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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-

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Spotlight Artist: Dixie Chicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EP Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Re-Imagined’

While the craze of mainstream country stars collaborating with mainstream pop acts has garnered major attention, and rightfully so, another trend has been making waves but leaving far too little a wake. In August 2016, Suzy Bogguss released Aces Redux, a complete re-recording of her classic album in the lush acoustic style she favored in recent years. Dixie Chicks completely overhauled the arrangements on their songs for their MMXVI tour and companion concert album. Mary Chapin Carpenter reexamined parts of her back catalog on Sometimes Just The Sky this past March. Rodney Crowell has Acoustic Classics coming out the middle of next month.

Artists re-recording their hits have been going on since the beginning of recorded music. A recent cause for this is a little-known fact that when artists switch record labels, they don’t get to take the masters and rights to their discography with them. In other words, the artists entire back catalog is the sole property of their former home, especially if it was a major label.

Those re-recorded songs are typically sung as facsimiles of the original hit recording with the hopes a gullible music buying public won’t be able to tell the difference. Very often it’s those re-recordings that make their way onto digital platforms, especially if the artist’s original music hasn’t been licensed by their record label for release in that format.

What’s going on here is entirely different and completely by choice. These albums aren’t merely gimmicky cash grabs but thoughtful reexaminations of songs, and in this case of Rodney Crowell different songs entirely. For his new album, he completely re-wrote “Shame On The Moon.” He felt his original composition, which was a massive hit for Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band in 1982, wasn’t composed with the depth and complexity he would bring to the song today.

In the case of LeAnn Rimes and her new five-track EP Re-Imagined, she reworked these songs for her Remnants tour last year and decided to commit them to record. Although I’ve been somewhat of a rabid fan of her music since the very beginning, I haven’t been paying too much attention to her lately. This release broke the short drought, which I’m also sure it was intended to do.  

She opens the collection with “How Do I Live.” Her original version, from 1997, is still one of the cleanest and most masterful pop records I’ve ever heard. She transforms Diane Warren’s lyric into a piano ballad, which might work for some people, but it didn’t work for me. I really don’t care for Rimes in this style, which always comes off heavy, slow and prodding.

I had actually forgotten what the original version of “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” sounded like, the one featured on the Coyote Ugly soundtrack in 2000. Listening to it again, it’s clearly influenced by Britney Spears’ debut from a year earlier. I’m more familiar with the dance remix, which worked on an international scale as I’m sure Curb intended at the time. This new version, taken live from a concert, has more in common with the remix but features actually instrumentation.

Rimes’ original version of “Blue,” from 1996, is arguably still the greatest record she’s ever made. She gave it new life, in collaboration with The Time Jumpers, on Lady & Gentlemen in 2011. For this version, also taken live from a concert, she goes full-on jazz but doesn’t sacrifice the trademark yodel or the song’s traditional country roots.

The revelation, as far as her hit records are concerned, is “One Way Ticket (Because I Can).” Rimes gives the song a gorgeously soft acoustic arrangement stripping the song of any smoke and mirrors. It’s truly impressive what she does with the song, alone, without backup singers to give her a lift. Rimes still has it more than 22 years later.

The final track is one of the two songs from Spitfire that elude to the cheating scandal that soured her reputation with the public and ended her first marriage. “Borrowed” was originally produced by Rimes’ long-time collaborator Darrell Brown, who also oversaw this EP. The track was already in this style so nothing about the arrangement really changed.

However, this version is a duet with Stevie Nicks. Rimes and Nicks harmonize throughout the song, which is a mistake given the lyrical content. I’m also a huge fan of Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, so I’m saying this with love, but Nicks’ voice isn’t what it used to be but either is Don Henley’s. The age on Nicks’ rasp, which is far too low now, is just unappealing.

The majority of this EP feels utterly unnecessary and in place of new music, not really worth much of anyone’s time. Rimes’ voice has changed, too, which she claimed in a 2013 lawsuit was the result of botched dental work. She still has incredible range, which I noted when I reviewed “How To Kiss A Boy” in November 2016, but the clarity is gone.

I still recommend checking it out, especially if you’re a fan of Rimes’ work, to hear this new addition to her musical legacy.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Glen Campbell – ‘Letter To Home’

letter to homeFor his second Atlantic album, 1984’s Letter To Home, Glen turned to a new producer, Harold Shedd, and something of a new approach, deliberately aiming the album at mainstream country radio.

The concerted effort to appeal to country radio paid off. The first single, a nicely performed and tastefully arranged cover of J. D. Souther’s ‘Faithless Love’, was a top 10 country hit – Glen’s first since the theme song from movie ‘Any Which Way You Can’ in 1980. it was also the first time the song had been a hit single for anyone, although it was a decade old, having been cut by Linda Ronstadt on her classic Heart Like A Wheel album.

It was followed by Glen’s biggest country hit since 1977 – the #4 peak of ‘A Lady Like You’. This song, written by Jim Weatherly and Keith Stegall, is a solemn AC leaning ballad with a pretty tune. The somewhat tinny keyboard backing has dated a bit, but the vocal is impeccable. Disappointingly ‘(Love Always) Letter To Home’, a charming Carl Jackson song which lent its title to the album and which was released as the album’s last single, only made it to #14.

The beautiful Paul Kennerley ballad ‘I’ll Be Faithful To You’ has been recorded by others, including Don Williams and Marie Osmond, and even making an appearance on the third volume of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’ (featuring Kennerley’s former wife Emmylou Harris), but I don’t believe anyone ever released it as a single, which definitely seems like a missed opportunity, because it’s a lovely song. Glen’s version may just be the best of all of them, sincerely sweet and tender, and deeply romantic.

He reflects on the vicissitudes of stardom in a brace of tunes. The wistful lullaby ‘Goodnight Lady’ (written by Buddy Cannon and Steve Nobels) is pretty, as it voices a touring musician’s wistful longing for the loved one back home. ‘After The Glitter Fades’, about the loneliness lying behind stardom, is a cover of a minor pop hit for Stevie Nicks, one of the members of rock band Fleetwood Mac. It suits Glen pretty well. ‘Tennessee’, a Micheal Smotherman-penned tribute to the state, is a bit repetitive melodically but has an attractive feel to it

The mid-tempo ‘Leavin’ Eyes’ is very dated mid-80s country pop, although Glen does invest it with some energy. It was the first cut for its writer, Ted Hewitt. The beaty ‘Scene Of The Crime’, written by Carl Jackson and T Kuenster, also has a dated arrangement, but is quite catchy.

The set ends with an ethereal version of ‘An American Trilogy’, Mickey Newbury’s medley of three historic tunes reflecting American history and the long shadow cast by the Civil War: the now controversial ‘Dixie’, the spiritual-turned 1960s Civil Rights anthem, ‘All My Trials’, and the Battle Hymn Of The Republic.

This is a pretty good album, but one which does not stand with the very best of Glen’s work – apart from the gorgeous ‘I’ll be Faithful To You’, which I would recommend to anyone.

Grade: A-

Concert Review: Little Big Town at the South Shore Music Circus

IMG_3747They may be from the Boondocks, But Little Big Town have sailed their Pontoon into a rock and roll Tornado.

If their recent show at the South Shore Music Circus proves anything, it’s that the quartet known for simple backwoods arrangements complimenting their airtight harmonies have morphed into a band solely focused on succeeding in the current “country music” landscape.

They made their way to the rounded stage like rock stars filing into a stadium, Kimberly Schlapman’s head of tight blond curls visible a mile away. Karen Fairchild, modeling denim short-shorts, knee high leather boots, and a gold sparkle jacket launched into pulsating set opener “Leave The Light On,” a track from the band’s upcoming Pain Killer due Oct 21. The band and crowd embraced a little “Day Drinking” shortly thereafter, which worked in the environment despite missing the snare drums utilized in award show performances of the track.

The foursome focused most heavily on their work produced by Jay Joyce, a response to the lukewarm reception of their most recent Wayne Kirkpatrick-produced set, 2010’s The Reason Why. Apart from down playing their country credentials, their work with Joyce is far more guitar heavy, which afford them to gave the banjos and mandolins a break for most of the evening.

Pain Killer got a generous showcase, a risk seeing as no one, not even me, has heard the album yet. They played more than half the album and while most of the tracks ran together, I could hear something special in the title track and Schlapman’s vocal showcase on “Save Your Sin.”

Tornado made up the majority of what was left and tracks like “Pavement Ends,” “Front Porch Thing,” and “On Fire Tonight” fit in perfectly with the vibe of the evening. “Pontoon” had the whole crowd singing along and “Your Side of the Bed” was as effective live as on the album. “Sober,” which I expected to be treated more acoustically, was a slight disappointment, but the magic of the track shone through. Fairchild traded her sparkle coat for long leathery fringe to croon “Tornado,” a set highlight.

I did appreciate how they sprinkled in subtle nods to the past ten years, gifting the crowed with “Little White Church” and “A Little More You.” I had completely forgotten about “A Little More You” and was happy when they resurrected it. “Boondocks,” easily the band’s signature song, came towards the end of the evening with a drum heavy beginning that rendered the track almost unrecognizable at first.

At one point Fairchild commented on this being their second ever performance on a revolving stage (they played the Cape Cod Melody Tent the night before) and how they were nervous about letting down the audience with their lack of production.

After introducing their band, the group commented on their history as a band and how 2014 marks twenty-five years together. The women talked about how IMG_3751Fairchild and Jimi Westbrook went to college together and their first meeting with Phillip Sweet. Instead of logically launching into “I’m With The Band,” which they didn’t play, they gave us a couple of tracks that influenced them. First was a stripped down almost bluesy cover of the Oak Ridge Boys classic “Elvira” that got such an inventive take from the band, it took until the chorus before I knew what they were singing. The other track that influenced them was Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” a logical choice seeing as they’re always being compared. In fact, when I was playing Fleetwood Mac’s The Dance live album a while back, I thought it was Little Big Town on opener “The Chain.”

At the encore they turned the spotlight on Lori McKenna, who helped write tracks on their most recent albums. Hailing from Stoughton, MA, McKenna is ours as much as she is a nationally recognized singer/songwriter. She was brought on stage to sing a new song “Humble and Kind.”

Just because the show was steeped far more in rock and roll than what most would consider country music didn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable or a huge disappointment. Did I long for them to grace us with an acoustic set? Yes, I did. But they are still exceptionally talented and perfectly showcased it during their set. Little Big Town worked the stage brilliantly, a job mostly regulated to Sweet who threw many a guitar pick into the crowd and was, no pun intended, sweet to the audience the whole show. I was thrilled that I finally got to them, and it was an added bonus that it occurred at my favorite music venue, a place I would’ve deemed far too small for them at this point in their careers.

Singer/Songwriter Sara Haze opened the show with a thirty-minute set focused on originals and “Riot,” a song she had cut by Rascal Flatts on their latest album. Haze, who had a guy accompanying her on guitar, was very good although a little too indistinctive. Haze also joined Little Big Town on stage during the encore.

Album Review: Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings – ‘Waylon & Willie’

waylon & willieNothing more typifies the Outlaw Movement in country music than the multi-artist compilation Wanted! The Outlaws in 1975. One of the singles from that album was a live version of ‘Good Hearted Woman’, written and sung by Willie with his good friend Waylon Jennings (who had already had a solo hit with the song). That #1 hit was followed a few years later by a full length duet album by the pair in 1978. In many ways it is quite an experimental modern sounding record, with the artists given full creative control. They produced the record together, and generally swap lead lines on most of the songs, with a handful of solos.

‘The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want To Get Over You)’ is one of those exceptions, with a solo vocal from Waylon. If it seems curious that this served as the album’s first single, it may be explained by the fact that the record was released on RCA, to which Waylon was still signed as a solo artist. It was written by soul songwriter/producer Chips Moman (who also wrote Waylon’s iconic ‘Luckenbach, Texas’). It’s not really a favourite of mine, more for the rather tinny sound of the eponymous instrument then for the song itself, which has quite a nice melancholic feel. It perched at the top of the Billboard country singles chart for two weeks.

The next single and another #1 hit was a genuine duet, and is much more to my taste. ‘Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’, written by Ed Bruce and his wife Patsy, became a favourite live tune for the duo. The singalong chorus may sound celebratory, but the verses make this rather a wistful song about the complex characters of men drawn to the cowboy life, with an ironic undertone not dispelling the sense of a wearied honesty which imbues the song.

‘I Can Get Off On You’ is a quirky love song co-written by Waylon and Willie saying the woman in question is better than various drugs or alcohol. The cheerful laundry list of illegal substances the protagonist has clearly experienced in volume in the past might make this hard to get past radio gatekeepers nowadays, but things were more relaxed in some respects in the late 70s, and it was another chart-topper for the duo.

Willie’s solo version of the intense ‘If You Can Touch Her At All’ peaked at #5. The song, penned by Lee Clayton, is about a relationship with a woman by turns passionate and prudish. George Jones later covered it as a duet with Lynn Anderson, but it works better seen solely from the man’s standpoint.

A couple of the songs from Phases And Stages make an appearance here in duet versions. The travelling musician’s theme song ‘Pick Up The Tempo’ works well on this project, while ‘It’s Not Supposed To Be That Way’ is lovely. Also great, ‘A Couple More Years’ is an excellent serious song about maturity, written by Dennis Locorriere and Shel Silverstein. Both Willie and Waylon are at their best vocally here.

Waylon takes the lead on ‘Lookin’ For A Feeling’ which is a bit dull. Even more boring is ‘Gold Dust Woman’, a Fleetwood Mac cover sung by Waylon solo, without much melody. It was omitted from the first CD reissue of the album in 2002, along with two Kris Kristofferson songs. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ is no loss, and ‘The Year 2003 Minus 25’ with its apparently prescient depiction of a war with the Arabs over gas (presumably inspired by the repeated gas crises of the 70s) makes for uncomfortable listening.

However, the other Kristofferson song, ‘Don’t Cuss The Fiddle’, is much better – and also has a current day resonance with its message of tolerance towards fellow artists

I scandalized my brother
While admitting that he sang some pretty songs
I’d heard that he’d been scandalizing me
And, Lord, I knew that that was wrong
Now I’m lookin’ at it over something cool
and feelin’ fool enough to see
What I had called my brother on
Now he had every right to call on me

Don’t ever cuss that fiddle, boy
Unless you want that fiddle out of tune
That picker there in trouble, boy
Ain’t nothing but another side of you
If we ever get to heaven, boys
It ain’t because we ain’t done nothin’ wrong
We’re in this gig together
So let’s settle down and steal each other’s songs

I found a wounded brother
Drinkin’ bitterly away the afternoon
And soon enough he turned on me
Like he’d done every face in that saloon
Well, we cussed him to the ground
And said he couldn’t even steal a decent song
But soon as it was spoken
We was sad enough to wish that we were wrong

make sure you get the full length album including this song.

Amusingly they then throw in a few lines from Waylon and Willie’s hit duet ‘Good Hearted Woman’ as the track comes to an end.

The album was incredibly successful for the period, and has now been certified double platinum. Two less successful sequels, WWII and Take It To The Limit, emerged in 1982 and 1983 respectively, the former with Waylon at the fore, the latter focussing on Willie. But the first of their three duet records is by far the best.

Grade: A

Album Review – The O’Kanes – ‘Tired of the Runnin’

In 1988, The O’Kanes followed up their successful debut album with Tired of the Runnin’ which continued their short hot streak on the charts. It would also mark their commercial peak, as a third album, Imagine That, would come without much fanfare in 1990.

The first single, “One True Love” would peak just inside the top 5 in 1988. The tune perfectly showcases the duos distinct harmonies and features snarly guitar riffs that recall the California rock sounds of Fleetwood Mac and has echoes of Linda Ronstadt in the drum work. The production works to frame the duo vocally, but the lightness of the lyrical bed ultimately leave the song feeling a tiny bit less than memorable.

The second single, “Blue Love” marked the end in their streak of top ten singles, peaking at #10 in 1988. Written by the duo, the song stands as a warning to love and its effects on the human psyche:

One day, your love is, one day your love is, so true

Next day, you’re changin’, next day, you changin’, your mood

I just can’t take it, I just can’t take your blue love

A much better song than the first single, “Blue Love” succeeds on its sing-a-long melody and fusion of lead guitar and drumbeats. Vocally, it seems, the duo are channeling Buddy Holly and as a package the whole thing works.

A third single, “Rocky Road” was also released in 1988 but only managed to peak at #71. That radio ignored the tune isn’t entirely surprising; the nearly seven minute harmonica laced ballad about going down the “rocky road of love” was just out of step enough with the neotraditionalism favored by country radio at the time. But it’s still an outstanding track by all accounts and the folksy production is as delightful to listen to today as it was nearly 25 years ago.

“All Because of You,” another drum and mandolin soaked track is a love letter to the woman who has made life all the better:

Look at me feeling good

Who’d have thought I ever would

See my dreams come to light

See the dark turning bright

For the first time I feel more than good

All because of you

The hopeful message is another album standout and a delight to listen to. The catchy melody draws in the listener making them want to hear the song until the end.

Another great song is the Celtic flavored “If I Could Be There” which was covered by Emmylou Harris on her Live At the Ryman album from 1992. The sparse production made up of fiddle, mandolin and guitars works like magic to frame the duo vocally and draws the listener into the story of a person’s obligation to their work taking precedence over where they wish they could be:

If I could be there

I’d be there tonight comforting you

This road I’m on is so far away, too far away

If God would grant me wings to fly

I’d be in your arms by and by

If I could be there

I’d be there tonight comforting you

The funky “Highway 55,” which opens with a distinct plucking of strings, was nothing like I was expecting. I love the overall mood of the track and the harmonies elevate it to a higher level. Plus the overall sound is very reminiscent of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. But in context with the rest of the project, it doesn’t quite work.

Much like “Highway 55,” “All My Heart” features a similar funky arrangement but it’s paired with a somewhat haunting vocal. In comparison to the rest of the album the song is a little strange and stands out because of it. It’s safe to say it isn’t one of my favorite songs on the project.

Another weird song, “Isn’t That So” has somewhat of a party vibe suggested by what appears to be steel drums in the opening. Like “All My Heart,” this song also doesn’t gel with the rest of the project.

The bluegrass heavy title track features a driving melody in sharp contrast to the story of a fatherless boy. The story is quite effective and does a nice of job of outlining the effects of growing up without a father figure. I wasn’t sold on the contrast in lyrics and production at first, but the fast-paced melody succeeds in highlighting the fact this guy is still running his way through life sort of as a vagabond.

The album nicely picks up again with “I’m Lonely” which retains the sound featured on the singles. It’s hard to see why this wasn’t released instead of “Rocky Road” as it most likely would’ve extended the duo’s time in the top 10 by at least one more song.

All and all Tired of the Runnin’ is an above average collection of music from an underrated duo with a short chart life. I hadn’t heard their music prior to writing this review and liked most of what I heard. Unfortunately the album is out of print, but it’s worth seeking out a copy if you can find it.

Grade: B+ 

Random playlist 4

In the months that I’ve been compiling these lists of my current listening habits, I’ve noticed that a core group of acts have remained in my ears, though the material I’ve chosen from them has been different.  I’ve been neglectful to the new music in my collection this summer so you won’t find any reflections on new releases this time. Still, yet another season goes by and I’m left with another set of recent heavy-rotation tracks in my music library, and I’d like to share them with you.

Alan Jackson – “There Goes” … This comes from one of Jackson’s best albums yet, 1997’s Everything I Love. Hard as it may be for another artist to top the title track from that set, Jackson did it just two releases later with “There Goes” – and has since hit a new high-water mark countless times.  The barroom-inspired easy sway of the melody here draws the listener in much the same way the narrator sings about the woman who’s hooked him.  A rolling steel guitar accompaniment and crying fiddles keep with the melancholy nature of the song, even when the lyrics – “I’m still pretendin’ I don’t need you/I won’t let you know you’re killin’ me” – make you smile.  This is genuine country music pathos at its finest.

Reba McEntire – “Please Come To Boston” … Like her earlier hit with the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown”, Reba does a gender-reversal, and of course a narrative reversal in the process, when she tackles Dave Loggins’ 1974 #1 pop hit.  Singing from the other side of the wanderlust, the singer here plays the role of the sensible hometown girl with invitations aplenty from a rambling man, who summons her from Boston, Denver, and finally L.A. Each time she says no. But it’s in flipping pronouns on the song’s powerhouse bridge that McEntire changes things around, and becomes a pining-for-him protagonist when she reveals “Of all the dreams he’s lost or found and all that I ain’t got/He still needs to lean to, somebody he can sing to“.  She continues to turn down his calls to join him, but the tenderness of her tough love opens up the possibility for a happy ending – something the Loggins version never had.  Joan Baez and other females had done all this before, but none came close to Reba’s believability.

Rosanne and Johnny Cash – “That’s How I Got To Memphis” … Maybe it was the allure of Memphis over Boston or L.A. that changes the story, as the singer here elects to follow her love interest to destinations far away.  But she didn’t come here by his side. In this oft-recorded Tom T. Hall narrative, she’s followed the only trail she knows. Returning to the life her love interest knew before her knew her, she’s sure she’ll find him and be able to tell him all the things she wanted to say all along, and of course rescue him from his troubles.  Not just the engaging story told, it’s the elder Cash’s commanding vocal on the final verse and a walking bass line melody that keep this track repeating on my players.

Wynonna Judd- “No On Else On Earth” … Even the most brazen of us have a weakness. After all, the Texas Ranger himself finally succumbed to Alex Cahill. Rocks, fences, and keeping your senses are futile defenses sometimes. Wynonna Judd’s third single as a solo artist quickly introduced her with a signature sound that was all her own and an attitude never heard on those old Judds records.  Even 19 years later, no other tune in the singer’s catalog recalls what her fans would come to know Wynonna for in later years: rocking guitars, cool-as-ice lyrics, and her falsetto-into-growling vocals.

Jo Dee Messina – “Heads Carolina, Tails California” … Like Wynonna, Jo Dee Messina captured her musical essence with an early single. This – Messina’s first out of the chute and a #2 hit in 1996 – caught the lightning of the singer’s effervescent and spunky personality in a bottle, and combined it with an irresistibly reckless spirit.  The in-your-face mix of instruments that makes up the production here went out with the new millennium, which is a shame since this sounds as fresh today as 15 years ago. As was intended, it still leaves me feeling ready to pack a bag and hit the road.

Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams” … “Thunder only happens when it’s raining …”  Saying that line out loud 34 years after the rock supergroup hit the top of the Hot 100 with this Stevie Nicks-penned track, the words fall flat on the tongue in the most sanctimonious way. And certainly the production, heavy with synthetic bass lines and distorting harmonies, has lost a lot of its original sheen, leaving the song a dusty chestnut in the annals of classic rock.  But it’s in Nicks’ bemused performance and the all-inclusive theme that makes it worth repeating. No matter if you’re the one who says “you want your freedom” or the one giving it, after listening, you’ll never again call it quits without listening carefully “to the sound of your loneliness“.

EP Review: Chris Young – ‘Voices’

It’s no secret that I have been deeply disappointed for the most part with the direction that mainstream country music has taken in the past few years. There has been little regard for tradition among artists and radio programmers alike, as the genre has moved slowly but steadily away from its roots and closer and closer towards mainstream pop. “Who’s gonna fill their shoes?” asked George Jones, about country music’s legends, back in 1985. At the time and for quite a few years thereafter there seemed to be plenty of able singers waiting in the wings to carry on the tradition, but one by one they disappeared from the limelight and from radio playlists. From the famed Class of ’89, only Alan Jackson maintains a regular presence on country radio.

It’s enough to make a hardcore country fan give up altogether on the mainstream and retreat to the Americana camp or make do with listening to oldies for entertainment. But just when it all seems like a lost cause, there appears a glimmer of hope. Chris Young has been one of the few promising prospects in recent years. He won Nashville Star in 2005, which led to a record deal with RCA. His 2006 debut album, though solid, didn’t garner a lot of attention from radio. His commercial fortunes have improved considerably, though, with his sophomore effort, which has produced two #1 hits so far, including this week’s chart-topper, “The Man I Want To Be.”

Last week Young released a three-track digital EP called Voices, which pays tribute to some of the artists who influenced him. In an era where country stars are more likely to name Bon Jovi and Fleetwood Mac as influences than Haggard and Jones, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear a young up-and-comer name Keith Whitley, John Anderson, and Vern Gosdin as his musical heroes. Voices contains a track from each of these artists’ catalogs: Whitley’s “I’m Over You”, Anderson’s “Swingin'”, and Gosdin’s “Chiseled In Stone”. All are simple, acoustic arrangements that nicely showcase Young’s powerhouse voice. “Swingin'”, in particular, is a pleasant surprise. Never one of my favorite songs, Young’s stripped-down version is good enough to make me reconsider my opinion of the song. Both “I’m Over You” and “Chiseled In Stone” make a strong case that Young is the rightful heir to Whitley and Gosdin. Let’s hope that he is able to continue to come up with strong material and that radio continues to embrace it. Chris Young just may be the man who will lead mainstream country music out of the pop-flavored wilderness.

Grade: A+

Voices is available exclusively through iTunes and is highly recommended.