Mark’s second album for MCA was released in 1992, and continued the commercial and artistic success of his debut. Mark and his producer Mark Wright found a great set of songs from some of the best writers around, and recruited backing singers including Vince Gill, Jim Lauderdale and Alison Krauss, although none of them is very prominent in the mix. The production is firmly in the neo-traditional style, but with plenty of commercial appeal.
The first single, ‘Old Flames Have New Names’, was deservedly a top 5 hit. It is a witty slice of wry western swing written by Bobby Braddock and Rafe VanHoy, with our hero returning to his old stomping grounds to find his hopes of rekindling some old romances are all in vain:
I got back in town tonight
Anticipating much delight
I pulled out my black book and called up my old lovers
I got five newlyweds and two expectant mothers
It was followed to radio by a complete change of tone, with a fine revival of the downbeat ‘I’ll Think Of Something’, a Foster & Rice ballad about someone struggling to cope with the end of a relationship. Mark’s beautifully understated vocal conveys the desperation underlying the surface hopefulness of the lyric:
I can’t say today that I’m all right
But by tonight
I’ll think of something
I’ll find so many things to do
That I won’t have the time to think of her
And then if she’s still on my mind
I’ll try to drink enough to drown the hurt
And if that don’t work
I’ll think of something
It had been a Hank Williams Jr top 10 hit from 1974 and Mark’s version did even better, giving the young artist his second #1 hit:
There were two further hit singles from the album, a pair of story songs with contrasting styles, both peaking at #4 on Billboard. Dennis Linde’s ‘Bubba Shot the Jukebox’ was back to the fun side of Mark, with a lively semi-novelty tale of a heartbroken trucker who takes the drastic step of the title when “it played a sad song [and] it made him cry”. The narrator claims the incident was “justifiable homicide”, although:
Now reckless discharge of a gun
That’s what the officers are claiming
Bubba hollered out, “Reckless, Hell!
I hit just where I was aiming.”
The production on this track strikes a rare forced note with the use of a slightly artificial-sounding arrangement from the Nashville String Machine.
The fourth and last single was ‘Old Country’, the one optimistic lyric on the album, and a rather sweet tale (penned by Bobby Harden) about a city girl who finds love only “when ‘Old Country” came to town”, given a pure country treatment with prominent fiddle and soulful vocal:
From Birmingham to Ohio
How they met nobody knows
Every now and then they get together
She used to want to climb the walls
She’d never really been loved at all
Not until Old Country came to town
Harden also wrote Talking To Hank’, a whimsical story of an encounter with what appears to be the ghost of Hank Williams, and the great George Jones (also on MCA at the time) was recruited to add a duet vocal.
‘I’m Not Getting Any Better At Goodbyes’ is a rueful and classic-sounding ballad about a regular loser in love, perhaps surprisingly written by Steve Earle, which I really like. My favorite track on the album, ‘It’s Not Over (If I’m Not Over You)’, is a classic country ballad about clinging to a lost love, written by the album’s producer Mark Wright with Larry Kingston and previously recorded by Reba McEntire on her classic My Kind Of Country in 1984. The protagonist is resigned to his lover leaving – but reminds her that just because it’s over for her, it’s not the case for him.
Wright also contributed the Cajun-style ‘Postpone The Pain’ (co-written with Gary Scruggs). Harlan Howard and Ron Peterson wrote the up-tempo ‘Uptown Downtown’, another entertaining number which could have been a hit. In this one, the protagonist eschews the honky tonks and goes uptown in an attempt to get over his misery, but finds out:
I’m just hangin’ round a better class of losers
It don’t matter if you drink beer or champagne
I’ve only found a better class of losers
Uptown, downtown – misery’s all the same
Yeah the blues are still the blues
Just as hard to lose
Uptown, downtown – misery’s just the same
The album closes with a classic cover, Charlie Rich’s sultry ‘Who Will The Next Fool Be’ which sounds good vocally but is the only track not to really hold my attention.
Like its predecessor, this album sold over a million copies and confirmed Mark as one of the biggest stars of the early 90s. It’s easy to find digitally or as a used CD, and is well worth it.