My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Frank Dycus

Album Review: Gary Alan – ‘Smoke Rings In The Dark’

Gary’s label, Decca, folded in 1998, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for his career. Gary, together with the majority of his labelmates (which included Lee Ann Womack and Mark Chesnutt), were transferred to sister label MCA. That meant a change in producer. Mark Wright remained on board, but Byron Hill was relegated to associate producer, with the experienced Tony Brown taking charge. He helped bring a smoother, more commercial sound, with a more layered production and the use of strings. Radio success continued to be mixed, but sales were good, and Smoke Rings In The Dark, released in October 1998, became Gary’s first platinum album.

The outstanding title track, released as the first single, only reached #12 on Billboard, but is one of Gary’s best-remembered hits. Written by Rivers Rutherford and Houston Robert, it marked a stylistic development for Gary heralded by the previous album’s ‘Baby I Will’. It sounds dreamy and sexy, belying a pain-filled lyric about the dying embers of a relationship:

I’ve tried to make you love me
You’ve tried to find a spark
Of the flame that burned
But somehow turned to
Smoke rings in the dark

The loneliness within me
Takes a heavy toll
Cause it burns as slow as whiskey
Through an empty aching soul
And the night is like a dagger
Long and cold and sharp
As I sit here on the front steps
Blowing smoke rings in the dark

I’m not gonna wake you
I’ll go easy on your heart
I’ll just touch your face and drift away
Like smoke rings in the dark

This is one of Gary’s finest moments on record and by far the best track on the album.

His inconsistent streak with radio persisted, as the follow-up, the intense Jamie O’Hara-penned ‘Lovin’ You Against My Will’ stagnated in the 30s. While it is a good song with a slow burning appeal, it lacks melodic interest and the vocals sound a little processed.

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Strait From The Heart’

straitfromtheheartGeorge Strait’s sophomore effort finds him repeating the same winning formula of his debut, from teaming up once again with producer Blake Mevis, to working a pun based on his last name into the album title. Released in June 1982, Strait From The Heart attempts to strike a balance between Strait’s traditional country roots and the Urban Cowboy sound that was prevalent in the early 80s.

“Fool Hearted Memory”, written by Byron Hill and Blake Mevis was the album’s first single. Released a month in advance of the album, this mid-tempo number holds the distinction of being the first in what was to become a very long string of #1 hits for George Strait. It was his fourth single release in total, and the third to peak inside the Top 10. By this time, Strait was beginning to develop a solid reputation as a traditionalist singer, so the next single release, took some by surprise. “Marina Del Rey” was written by Dean Dillon and Frank Dycus, and no one was more surprised than they when Strait fell in love with the song. They’d figured he wouldn’t be interested in this contemporary-sounding romantic ballad. A big departure from Strait’s previous work, “Marina Del Rey” employed a full string section, while the fiddle and steel that had figured so prominently on his earlier singles took a back seat. Despite being more in line with what radio was playing at the time, “Marina Del Rey” didn’t perform quite as well on the charts as Strait’s previous two singles, missing the Top 5, but still peaking at a very respectable #6. Though it was a pivotal record in Strait’s career at the time, “Marina Del Rey” hasn’t aged as well as most of his other hits; the production sounds dated to modern ears, particularly the singing seagull sound effect employed at the end, which is something that Strait objected to at the time. “Blake promised me that he would take the singing bird out at the end of it, which he didn’t do,” Strait said. ” And I’ve always hated that.”
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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Strait Country’

Strait CountryIt was clear right from the start that George Strait was going to be a big star, when his very first MCA single, ‘Unwound’, was a top 10 hit in 1981. It was one of no fewer than six songs on his debut album, Strait Country, to be co-written by Dean Dillon, then a young singer-songwriter with a handful of minor hits of his own on rival label RCA. He was to become the songwriter most associated with Strait’s early success. ‘Unwound’ and the second single, ‘Down And Out’, which was a little less successful, only reaching #16, were both written by the songwriting partnership of Dillon with Frank Dycus, whose contribution has probably been overlooked in comparison.

Both singles were uncompromisingly country, at a time when pop-influenced sounds were battling with more traditional ones after the success of the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. ‘Unwound’ is a hard country lament shot through with piercing fiddle, as the narrator sets in for a night’s drinking in response to his wife seeing through all the lies, complaining “that woman that I had wrapped around my finger just come unwound”. The wilder ‘Down And Out’ continues the theme, with the protagonist really settling in to his night’s drinking, as he explains:

“Well, I’m out on a tear, ’cause she’s tearin’ me apart
If I look rough on the outside you oughta see my heart.”

Dillon and Dycus also wrote the closing track, ‘Her Goodbye Hit Me In The Heart’, a less memorable but still decent song about a tough guy who finds a woman leaving hits him harder than he expected. They also teamed up with the album’s producer, Blake Mevis, to write ‘Friday Night Fever’, a good-humored tale of a husband enjoying a weekly night out while his homebody wife stays in watching Dallas on the TV.

The couple in ‘She’s Playing Hell Trying To Get Me To Heaven’, written by Dean Dillon again, this time with Charles Quillen and David Wills, are more conflicted about their differing tastes in life, as our protagonist tells us without much regret:

“Well, I promised to go to church with her about a month of Sundays ago
Well, here it is, Sunday again, and I ain’t been once in a row ….

There’s only 10 commandments but I’ve broke at least 11
She’s playing hell trying to get me to heaven.”

I’m a big fan of Dean Dillon as a songwriter, but he probably got one credit too many on this album, with the inclusion of ‘I Get Along With You’. The only remarkable thing about this pleasant but forgettable song is that it took five writers, including Dillon and Dycus, to create, and while George’s vocal is warm, the backing vocals on the track are rather dated.

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The bottle that pours the wine: Songs about songwriting

Stephanie DavisIt’s always about the song in country music. Whether the writer sings the song or not, a topic Razor X raised last week, the song itself is what everything else ultimately depends on. One of the things I love about country music is the range of subjects it tackles, but the thing most songwriters know the most about is, of course, writing songs.  So it should come as no surprise that some writers have chosen to reflect on that process within their work: the nature of inspiration; the way lives and pain are transmuted into art; and complaining about or celebrating the state of the music industry. Self-referential, perhaps – but also a fascinating insight into songwriters’ thoughts about the songs they write. So here are some of my favorite songs on the theme.

‘Sixteenth Avenue’, the ultimate tribute to the professional songwriters of Music Row, written by one of their own, Thom Schuyler, and made famous by Lacy J Dalton, speaks briefly of the magical moment of inspiration when some struggling writer finds the perfect words:
One night in some empty room where no curtains ever hung
Like a miracle some golden words rolled off someone’s tongue

Another nod to the idea that the music comes from some place beyond is expressed in David Ball’s lovely ‘The Bottle That Pours The Wine’, which he wrote with Allen Shamblin for his 1996 album Starlite Lounge, as he answers a young fan asking where the songs come from:
“I’m just a bottle that pours the wine
A fragile vessel for melody and rhyme

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