My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Gary Scruggs

Album Review: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume III’

will the circle 317 years passed between the original Will The Circle Be Unbroken and Volume II. 13 years after that, in 2002, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band decided it was time for a third instalment, which they released on Capitol. It did not make as much of a stir as either of the previous instalments, but is still a pretty solid collection of bluegrass and oldtime music with some guests old and new.

The opening ‘Take Me In Your Lifeboat’ is beaty bluegrass gospel performed with Del McCoury and his sons. The McCourys are back on the secular ‘Love Please Come Home’, which is well done but not memorable.

I preferred the contributions from bluegrass great Jimmy Martin (1927-2005), who had taken part in both previous versions, and who belies his age with confident upbeat performances here. He sings his own ‘Hold Whatcha Got’ (which Ricky Skaggs had made into a hit in the late 80s), and also the lively ‘Save It, Save It’.

In contrast, June Carter Cash (1929-2003) takes the lead vocal on the Carter Family’s ‘Diamonds In The Rough’, with Earl Scruggs on banjo. She does not sound at all well, and indeed died the following year. Although Johnny Cash (1932-2003) was also in poor health, he sounds much better than his wife on a self-penned tribute to the late Maybelle and Sara Carter, ‘Tears In The Holston River.

Willie Nelson, not involved in previous versions, gets two cuts here. Willie sounds good on ‘Goodnight Irene’, but the tracks is irredeemably ruined by the presence of duet partner Tom Petty. Petty is out of tune and the harmony is embarrassingly dissonant. A cheery Nelson version of ‘Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms’ is better although it does feel a bit perfunctory.

Dwight Yoakam (another newcomer to the series) is great on his two tracks. He shows his Kentucky roots on the mournful and authentic ‘Some Dark Holler’. He is outstanding on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘Wheels’, which he makes sound like. Vince Gill’s ‘All Prayed Up’ is an excellent piece of up-tempo bluegrass gospel.

Emmylou Harris sings her ex-husband Paul Kennerley’s ‘I’ll Be Faithful To You’, a sweet declaration of eternal love, exquisitely. She also duets with Matraca Berg (Mrs Jeff Hanna) on Berg’s folk-styleode to the river running through Nashville, ‘Oh Cumberland’. Alison Krauss exercises her angelic tones on ‘Catfish John’.

Iris Dement sings beautifully on her own nostalgic ‘Mama’s Opry’. Ricky Skaggs and Rodney Dillard team up for the pacy folk of ‘There Is A Time’. Band members’sons Jaime Hanna and Jonathan McEuen (who were the duo Hanna-McEuen at the time) are a bit limp for me on ‘The Lowlands’, a folky Gary Scruggs song.

Sam Bush takes it high mountain lonesome on Carter Stanley’s ‘Lonesome River’. ‘Milk Cow Blues’ is taken back to its blues roots and features Josh Graves and Doc Watson. Watson also sings the traditional ‘I Am A Pilgrim’. More contemporary is ‘I Find Jesus’, penned by Jimmy Ibbotson. ‘Roll The Stone Away’ (written by Jeff Hanna with Marcus Hummon) uses religious imagery but it is a bit dull. The Nashville Bluegrass Band take on A. P. Carter’s ‘I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome which is OK.

Gravel-voiced bluesman Taj Mahal and legendary fiddler Vassar Clements guest on the good-humored ‘Fishin’ Blues, which is mildly amusing. Taj Mahal and Alison Krauss guest on this album’s take on the title song which falls rather flat with Alison sounding a bit squeaky and therest of them dull and lifeless.

This album lacks the groundbreaking nature of Volume I, and the cosy atmosphere of either previous set, making more of a standard collection of older material. There are definitely some tracks well worth hearing, and I’d still be interested if there was a Volume 4.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss – ‘Moment Of Truth’

moment of truthSuzy’s stunning and very traditional debut album, Somewhere Between (which I reviewed a couple of years ago as part of our look back at the Class of ’89) was a critical success but performed less well commercially, with just one top 20 hit single. She turned to a much more contemporary sound for her follow-up, which she produced herself with label boss Jimmy Bowen. (Trivia note: her production company, Loyal Dutchess, was named for her beloved dog.) However, the album failed to catch fire with radio listeners, with both singles flopping badly.

The midpaced ‘Under The Gun’ is written by Hugh Prestwood, and is an okay song, but Suzy doesn’t have the forcefulness required to make the Western movie cowboy shootout metaphor sound convincing. She was much better suited to ‘All Things Made New Again’ is a soothing ballad, which is very pretty and one of the more traditional sounding songs with Rob Hajacos’s fiddle prominent in the mix. It was written by Dan Seals and Rafe VanHoy, and Seals also sings backing vocals.

The record does not offer much variety in tempo, with the bulk of the material consisting of mellow ballads. The melodies are generally strong, and Suzy’s vocals are sweet throughout, and although the production leans more AC than neotraditional, it is tastefully understated, so even the less interesting songs sound pleasant.

‘My Side Of the Story’ is one of the best of the songs, a pensive ballad about coming to terms with a breakup, written by Suzy with her husband Doug Crider, with a sensitive vocal as Suzy tells her husband wearily it’s over, accepting that he may see the reasons differently:

It’s too late to talk about it
You never wanted to before
You still don’t understand me
But it doesn’t matter anymore

In the excellent ‘As If I Didn’t Know’ (a Mel Tillis song, but perhaps surprisingly another contemporary ballad) Suzy contemplates the inevitable end of her relationship in what feels like a prequel to ‘My Side Of The Story’. Here the woman knows it is really over, but is clinging to her pretense that everything is okay.

The title track (penned by Steve Bogard and Rick Giles) is a soothing love song with a very pretty tune led by a Spanish guitar.

‘Wild Horses’ is a subtle and interesting story song written by Verlon Thompson and Rhonda Fleming but as with ‘Under The Gun’, Suzy’s performance sounds too tame. ‘Fear Of Flying’, written by Suzy with Gary Scruggs, is almost the only time the pace picks up, but it isn’t a very interesting song. ‘Burning Down’ has a bluesy feel, but again is a rather boring song.

The remaining songs are pleasant enough but just rather dull and forgettable.

I remember being disappointed by this when it first came out as it seemed like a step down from her debut. But it was clearly more in the vein that Suzy herself wanted to follow, as the mellow ballad sound set a template for much of her subsequent music, and it has worn quite well. Although it is rather one-paced there are some nice songs here, and Suzy’s lovely voice always sounds good. However, the record’s poor commercial performance meant that her undeniable talent notwithstanding, Suzy was very lucky to get another chance to break through with a third album.

Grade: B

Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Longnecks & Short Stories’

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.

Grade: A

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.