My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Garth Fundis

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Hearts In Armor’

Trisha’s second album, released in 1992, is still my favorite. Garth Fundis’s production is sympathetic, with a number of special guests who support the record without overwhelming it. Trisha, who I regard as one of the most naturally gifted vocalists in country music and a subtle and tasteful interpreter of emotion, was at the peak of her vocal powers and interpretative ability, and the song selection was excellent.

The hypnotically bluesy lead single ‘The Wrong Side of Memphis’ (written by Gary Harrison and Matraca Berg) was a big hit, peaking at #5, with a semi-autobiographical tale of a young singer on her way to Nashville. The instrumentation is punchy without being over-produced, with harmony vocalists including Raul Malo, whose Mavericks’ bandmate Robert Reynolds was shortly to become Trisha’s second husband. It is atypical of the album as a whole, which is focussed on failed and failing relationships, a theme perhaps resulting from Trisha’s own recent divorce from her first husband.

Harrison also co-wrote (with Tim Mensy) ‘Nearest Distant Shore’, a beautiful ballad addressed empathetically to a friend (or perhaps to the protagonist’s inner self) trapped in a destructive relationship, and advising:

You vowed you would not fail
But this ain’t success
It’s a living hell
There’s nothing left to lose
You’re already alone

Swim to the nearest distant shore
There’s only so much a heart can endure
You gave it your best
Forgive yourself
You can’t hold on anymore
It’s not as far as it might seem
Now it’s time to let go of old dreams
Every heart for itself
Swim to the nearest distant shore

Trisha perfectly conveys the intensity of the emotions here without ever seeming melodramatic, supported by Garth Brooks’ harmony.

The second single, and the album’s biggest hit, adhered to the general mood, while being less obviously personal. The exquisitely sung ‘Walkaway Joe’, featuring a harmony vocal from former Eagle Don Henley, tells the cautionary tale of a young girl who makes a catastrophic choice of boyfriend (“the wrong kind of paradise”). Ignoring her mother’s words of warning, she finds out the hard way when he robs a gas station and then abandons her. It peaked at #2 on Billboard, making it the album’s biggest hit, and was nominated for a Grammy.

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Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Trisha Yearwood’

To kick off our run-down of Trisha Yearwood’s albums, here’s a guest contribution from long-time friend of My Kind of Country, Michael Allan. Stay tuned for more on Trisha Yearwood this month. – J.R. Journey

Produced by Garth Fundis and released on the premier country label of the 90s, MCA, Trisha Yearwood’s eponymous debut album is also her most commercially successful studio release. It peaked at #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, #31 on the all-genre Billboard 200 and is certified double platinum. It also served as an excellent predictor of what was to come over the next couple of decades and remains one of the strongest debut albums ever released by a masterful song interpreter.

The album kicks off with her debut single, “She’s in Love with the Boy” which rocketed to the top of the charts, making Yearwood only the second female to ever score a #1 hit with her debut single. Driven by an instantly memorable chorus, “She’s in Love with the Boy” is an up-tempo story song about the small town love of Katie and Tommy. Rejected by Kenny Rogers before finding its way to Yearwood, I can’t think of a better example of the right song finding the right artist. An immediate classic, it unfortunately also seems to be the only memory many radio stations seem to have of her catalogue today. Too bad; they’re missing out on the more than 100 great songs that followed this track over the next 20 years and will be reviewed as Trisha Yearwood month continues at MKoC.

Fourth single and second track on the album, “The Woman Before Me”, covers the effect the titular character has had on our vocalist’s man. With a slight AC feel to it, Yearwood’s voice is in fine form and “The Woman Before Me” is fairly representative of what many of her ballad hits sound like.  The third track was also the album’s third single. “That’s What I Like About You” is a fun number, sort of like the lyrics of Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” meeting the sound of Yearwood’s own “Wrong Side of Memphis”.

The second single released from the album is up next. Written by Pat Alger and Garth Brooks, with the latter also singing background vocals, “Like We Never Had a Broken Heart” is a tender, piano laden love song. As a listener, one might even feel like they’re intruding on something sexy. Perhaps a sign of what lay ahead for the future couple?

Co-written by Hal Ketchum and one of the most commercially successful songwriters of the decade (and whose well she would revisit later), Kostas, “Fools Like Me” is a bluesy, smoldering piece that I can almost envision Yearwood singing in a smoky lounge somewhere. The song has the vibe of a torch song from another era.

Written by Brooks and Mark D. Sanders, “Victim of the Game” rivals Brooks’ own version from his No Fences album. The aspects of heartbreak are universal and there’s a twist at the end a la Tanya Tucker’s “It Won’t Be Me”. The themes are classic, but Yearwood sells them as new.  “When Goodbye Was a Word” is a ballad with a dreamlike, fantastical essence to it and the clarity of Yearwood’s voice is impressive.

In “The Whisper of Your Heart” Yearwood’s powerhouse vocals again sell some rather unremarkable lyrics. They’re good, but in lesser hands, the song’s common “Daddy/Grandpa/Bartender/Wise Old Man Told Me So” theme might fall flat.

After the feisty “You Done Me Wong (And That Ain’t Right)”, “Lonesome Dove” closes the album. The track is a final display of Yearwood’s ability to sing with conviction, perfect tone and pitch and to go from whisper to full throttled wail in a matter of seconds.

Recorded in 1990 and released in the summer of 1991, it’s hard to believe that Trisha Yearwood was only in her mid twenties at the time of her debut. The astounding control of her instrument on some well-chosen songs is a pretty good description of Trisha Yearwood’s career. This was only the beginning.

Grade: B+

The album is still widely available at amazon.

Album Review: Keith Whitley – ‘Kentucky Bluebird’

Kentucky BluebirdRCA had a lot of unreleased Keith Whitley recordings in the vaults, and in 1991 the label got his last producer, Garth Fundis, to work on a number of these, leading to the release of Kentucky Bluebird. The album is a bit of a hodgepodge, comprising a mixture of these re-produced tracks, snippets from radio interviews of primarily historical interest, and a few tracks from Keith’s earlier RCA albums. A total of 15 tracks are listed, but only eight were new songs. The material is not of such a consistently high material as his two masterworks, Don’t Close Your Eyes or I Wonder Do You Think Of Me, but Garth Fundis did a pretty good job making it sound like a reasonably cohesive project.

Five tracks were taken from the sessions for the jettisoned album Keith recorded with Blake Mevis as a follow-up to LA To Miami, with new backings recorded under Fundis’ oversight. The label obviously regarded these as the most commercial tracks, and two were picked as singles to promote the album. The more successful of these was ‘Brotherly Love’, a duet with Earl Thomas Conley, which reached #2 on Billboard. Conley was rather a curious choice of duet partner, as although he had been a massive star in the 80s, he was at the tail-end of his hitmaking career, he was quite a bit older than Keith, and his soulful style had little in common with Keith’s traditional country and bluegrass influences. However, their voices blend together surprisingly well on a touching if slightly sentimental tale of brotherhood.

Keith’s last ever hit single (making #15) was the pleasantly inoffensive but rather forgettable pop-country ballad ‘Somebody’s Doin’ Me Right’, written by Fred Knobloch, Paul Overstreet and Dan Tyler. It feels rather like an out-take from LA To Miami, as does the undistinguished stuttering rocker ‘Going Home’, which was written by Troy Seals and actor John Schneider (who had himself been pursuing a career in country music with some success in the 80s). You can see why Keith was not altogether happy with the album they were planned for.

The best of the Mevis-originating tracks is the rather lovely ‘That’s Where I Want To Take Our Love’, written by Dean Dillon (who later recorded it himself) and the legendary Hank Cochran. Keith gives a beautifully tender interpretation of this reflective dream of settling down and making a home in the country: “They’ll know just what country means ‘fore they go off to town”, he sings of his imagined future children.

RCA had never given Keith much opportunity to record his own songs, but he did write songs, and three tracks here are based on demos he recorded for his publishing company, Tree, although only two of them are songs he co-wrote himself. ‘Backbone Job’ was written by Keith with Kix Brooks, and has a jaunty tune belying a serious lyric about searching for honest manual work in a hi-tech world.

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Album Review – Keith Whitley – ‘I Wonder Do You Think Of Me’

iwonderdoyou...I Wonder Do You Think Of Me was the first posthumous release for Keith. It was the album he was working on at the time of his death, the planned follow-up to his breakthrough Don’t Close Your Eyes. Inevitably, his death lent an additional poignancy to the songs when audiences first heard them. Even now, it is hard to completely separate the album from the circumstances of its release. Even though Keith did not write any of the songs included, many of them seem to strike a chord with his life. He clearly had a strong input into the selection of material, and he got a co-production credit with Garth Fundis.

Only three singles ended up being released to promote the album, the first being the title track, which reached #1. This excellent song by the legendary Sanger D. Shafer is really a wistful appeal to an old high-school girlfriend who “just drifted away” when they graduated, but the title, and Keith’s delicately mournful delivery, made it eerily appropriate as a tribute to him. The song has a copyright date of 1986, and I understand it was originally considered for inclusion on LA To Miami.

The label seem not to have wanted to capitalize too much on the personal tragedy, because their pick for a follow-up single was the most optimistic song on the album. The mid-tempo ‘It Ain’t Nothin”, a paean to the love of one’s spouse making up for all the troubles in life, was Keith’s last #1 hit. It is pleasant enough, but lacks the emotional impact of the best of Keith’s work; he was at his best when singing a sad country song.

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Tributes to Keith Whitley

Statue of Keith in Eliot County Memory Garden, Kentucky

Statue of Keith in Eliot County Memory Garden, Kentucky

Twenty years ago today country music lost one of its own to an alcohol overdose. Singer/songwriter and talented player Keith Whitley died at age 33, May 9, 1989. Garth Fundis, one of Keith’s producers, says in a tribute blog post on CMT.com by Edward Morris,”Twenty years is a long time to miss someone, but I’ll never get past the ‘what might have been’ for my pal, Keith Whitley.”

Thoughts and prayers continue to go out to Keith’s friends and family.

Also check out our own tribute to Keith.

Let us know of other tributes you find.

Album Review: Keith Whitley — ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’

dontcloseyoureyes1985’s L.A. to Miami provided Keith Whitley with some badly needed radio hits, but the slick pop-oriented production didn’t sit well with him. Wanting to return to his traditional country roots, he asked RCA executive Joe Galante to shelve the follow-up album that was nearly ready to release and to allow him to start working on a new album that was more in line with his musical tastes. Galante agreed, and Keith chose Garth Fundis to be his co-producer. The result was 1988’s Don’t Close Your Eyes, which was Whitley’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful album up to that time.

Two tracks from the scrapped album were salvaged and released as singles to maintain Whitley’s presence on the radio while he and Fundis were working on the new album. “Would These Arms Be In Your Way”, which featured harmony vocals by Vern Gosdin (one of the song’s co-writers) and Emmylou Harris peaked at #36 on the Billboard country singles chart in 1987. It was followed by “Some Old Side Road” which reached #16. Both of these tracks were eventually included on the new album, though “Would These Arms Be In Your Way” appeared only on the CD version.

The album opens with the mid-tempo “Flying Colors”, which is a decent song, but not quite up to the standards of the rest of the album. The second track “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”  is one of my favorites.  Co-written by Keith with Curly Putman and Don Cook, it’s one of the few instances in which Keith recorded a song he’d written himself. In this interview with TNN’s Shelly Mangrum, he mentioned that it was being considered for release as a single, but that never happened.

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Spotlight Artist: Keith Whitley (July 1, 1955 – May 9, 1989)

keithwhitleyLast month we spotlighted the Class of ’89, noting the many creative and commercial triumphs that occurred during that landmark year for country music. The same year brought one of country music’s great tragedies — the untimely death of Keith Whitley from alcohol poisoning. May 9th marks the 20th anniversary of that sad day. This month My Kind of Country will spotlight Keith Whitley and look back at the great musical legacy he left behind.

Jesse Keith Whitley was born in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, on July 1, 1955. Many sources cite 1954 as the year of his birth, but 1955 is what is engraved on his headstone. When young Keith was a teenager, he entered a talent contest with his brother Dwight. Also entered in the contest was another teenage prodigy by the name of Ricky Skaggs. The two became lifelong friends. Together, they became the opening act for the bluegrass band The Clinch Mountain Boys. Whitley went on to play and sing for the bluegrass band J.D. Crowe and the New South. The group released an album in 1982 called Somewhere Between, featuring Whitley on lead vocals. The album eventually led to a solo deal for Whitley with RCA Records.

Whitley’s RCA debut was the mini-LP A Hard Act To Follow, which was released in 1984. The mini-LP didn’t make much of an impact on the charts. The lead single “Turn Me To Love” peaked at #59 on the Billboard country singles chart. It’s worth noting that the harmony vocals on this recording were provided by an unknown and unsigned singer by the name of Patty Loveless. Despite his very traditional voice, heavily influenced by Carter Stanley and Lefty Frizzell, RCA was pushing Whitley in a more country-pop direction, which was evident on his next project.

A Hard Act to Follow was followed up in 1985 by the album L.A. to Miami. Featuring a more contemporary sound, the album provided Keith with his first top 20 single, “Miami, My Amy”, followed by three top 10 hits: “Ten Feet Away”, “Homecoming ’63”, and “Hard Livin’.” The pop influences were still dominant, although the album also contained two more traditional songs: “On the Other Hand” and “Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her”, which went on to become huge hits for Randy Travis and George Strait, respectively.

During this time, Whitley met and married Grand Ole Opry star Lorrie Morgan. Their son, Jesse Keith Whitley, Jr. was born in June 1987. Whitley was also working on a new album for RCA. The project was near completion, but he was unsatisfied with the way it was turning out. He approached label head Joe Galante, and asked for and received permission to shelve the project and start over again. He was also granted the right to have a bigger say in the production of his records.

Whitley teamed up with a new producer, Garth Fundis, and began working on a new album. The result was Don’t Close Your Eyes, his most traditional album yet for RCA. The title track not only went to #1, it was Billboard’s #1 country record of the year in 1988. The album also produced two more #1 hits for Whitley, and was certified gold.

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Album Review: Matt Jenkins – Quarter of a Century: The Acoustic Sessions

Matt Jenkins

Matt Jenkins

Matt Jenkins is a singer/songwriter from Texas. He came to Nashville a few years ago and was signed to Universal South by Tony Brown and Tim DuBois. He released a few singles that failed to catch on at radio, and was eventually dropped from the Universal South roster after Brown and DuBois departed the label. He then spent some time concentrating on his songwriting. Eight of his compositions appear on last year’s Quarter of A Century, a self-released EP.

All eight songs are simply arranged, recorded live in the studio, consisting of Jenkins and Mark Selby, who produced the EP, playing acoustic guitar. Jenkins, of course, is the lead vocalist, while Selby provides background vocals, as does Tia Sillers on the title track. This type of stripped-down arrangement works very well because it allows the listener to concentrate on the lyrics without the distractions of heavy-handed production and other studio bells and whistles.

“Want You Back”, the opening track, is not, as the title suggests, a song about a man begging his departing lover to return. Rather, the lyrics say:

I want you back in that Cadillac Eldorado backing out of the drive,
Leaving like there’s no tomorrow,
Back on that interstate, racing like the night you left me,
Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, foot on the gas,
That’s the way I want you back.

The first time I listened to this song, I was immediately reminded of Skip Ewing. Jenkins has a similar voice, and Ewing’s influence can be heard in his songwriting, particularly on songs like “Heaven (Back By Tonight)” (my favorite track on the disc) and “I’ll Remember For You”, a touching story about a man who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and his grandson’s pledge to remember all the stories his grandpa had told him over the years. Other tracks, such as “Going Nowhere” and “Some Kind of Sexy” are reminiscent of James Taylor. I later found out when I checked Jenkins’ MySpace page, that both Ewing and Taylor are among the artists listed as his influences.

I’ve made no secret of my dislike for the vast majority of the music coming out of Nashville these days. Listening to this EP gives me hope that all is not yet lost. Jenkins’ singing and songwriting are both stellar. My only criticism of this set is that it is a bit ballad-heavy. It does contain some mid-tempo numbers — “Want You Back”, “Back To You” and the title track — but it could benefit from the addition of a few uptempo numbers. Jenkins is reportedly currently working on a new project with Garth Fundis, who has produced such great acts as Keith Whitley, Don Williams, Trisha Yearwood, and Sugarland. Hopefully a new record deal will soon follow. Matt Jenkins is too good to languish in obscurity.

Quarter of a Century can be purchased at Jenkins’ MySpace page. Some of his other songs can be streamed there as well.

Grade: A –