My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Gene Johnson

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘Close To The Edge’

Diamond Rio’s second album was rush-released in October 1992. It was produced as before by Monty Powell and Tim Dubois along broadly similar lines to its predecessor. Although not quite as consitently high quality as the songs on their debut, the chosen material showcases the band’s trademark harmonies and sparkling playing well. Although, apparently they had only a month to pick the songs, and felt they had fallen short of their debut, everything is presented with verve and I think it stands up well today.

The first two singles had downbeat lyrics about failed relationships. The ballad ‘In A Week Or Two’ (one of my favorite tracks) was received well at radio and hit #2. The rueful protagonist has been blindsided when he kept on putting off those romantic gestures, only to find his lover loses patience and leaves him. Equally regretful in the face of a vanished lover, the bouncily catchy ‘Oh Me, Oh My Sweet Baby’ was another top 5 hit, with particularly strong harmonies and picking. The perky ‘This Romeo Ain’t Got Julie Yet’ about a thwarted teenage couple (co-written by the lead guitarist Jimmy Olander), the slightest of the album’s singles, did less well, peaking at an unlucky 13.

My favorite of the singles then disappointingly failed to crack the top 20. Set to an understated but pretty tune, it offers a pensive reflection on the lost innocence of childhood:

When we knew Jesus was the answer
And Elvis was the King
‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Rock Of Ages’
Were the songs we learned/loved to sing
Innocence went out of style
We just watched it go
Yesterday got left beneath
The dust of Sawmill Road

We learn the protagonist’s brother was mentally destroyed by service in Vietnam, and he keeps minimal contact with the sister, who now has three failed marriages behind her. Only the narrator remains living in the eponymous ‘Sawmill Road’, where the three siblings “were raised up on the path of righteousness” so long ago. The song was written by the band’s keyboard player Dan Truman with Sam Hogin and Jim McBride.

It leads appropriately into an appeal to the lonely and lost in life, ‘Calling All Hearts (Come Back Home)’, an idealistic number written by Monty Powell, Kent Blazy and Wade Kimes, which I also like a lot.

My absolute favorite track, though, is the high lonesome ‘Demons And Angels’. Written by former singer Judy Rodman and Ronnie Samoset, the song portrays the intense struggle of a man(and his wife) fighting his addiction to alcohol,

He swore it was over and all in his past
A few hours later his hand’s round a glass
A voice on the left says,
“There’s peace in the wine”
From the right a voice whispers,
“Don’t do it this time”
When he looks for the answer
Down in his heart
Demons and angels tear him apart

There’s not much that’s sweeter
Than a new life begun
Ain’t much that’s sadder
Than a promise undone
He stares at the bottle,
Longs for her arms
While demons and angels tear him apart

‘Old Weakness (Coming On Strong)’ is not the song of that title recorded by both Tanya Tucker and Patty Loveless, but an intensely sung ballad about struggling with the thought of encountering an old flame he’s not really over, written by Powell with Chapin Hartford. A cheery riposte to old friends comparing the fun of bachelor life to the protagonist’s newlywed happiness, ‘It Does Get Better Than This’ is unremarkable lyrically, but is lifted by the charming vocal and instrumental performance, and could be a hit today.

The love songs ‘I Was Meant To Be With You’ (co-written by Dubois and Powell with Debi Cochran and Diamond Rio’s lead singer Marty Roe) and Jimmy Olander’s ‘Nothing In This World’ (co-written with Eric Silver) are pleasant filler, performed exceptionally well. The upbeat title track (written by the band’s mandolin and occasional fiddle player Gene Johnson with Carl Jackson) is also fairly forgettable lyrically, but it has a great groove and lets the band show off their chops , closing the album on a high.

The record has been certified gold, so it did not sell quite as well as their debut. However, despite the band’s own misgivings about the quality of the material, I think it compares pretty well, and there are some outstanding moments. Cheap used copies are easy to find, and it is also available digitally.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘Diamond Rio’

Diamond Rio’s eponymous debut album was released 20 years ago this month.  The disc catapulted the band to country stardom when their first single, the infectious “Meet In The Middle” became the first chart-topping debut by a group in the history of Country Singles chart.  Four more singles hit the top 10 and the album went on to sell more than a million copies.  It also introduced the melodic energetic sound of Diamond Rio, and showcased the band’s tight musicianship on record.

“Meet In The Middle” features Tim DuBois’ bouncy production in a lyric that simply celebrates compromise, and uses the sweet story of a boy and girl meeting halfway between their homes as the analogy of meeting halfway once again as a means to end their future squabbles.  Marty Roe’s solid vocal hits as hard as the snappy drums and Gene Johnson’s mandolin make for a great track, which sailed to #1 for 2 weeks.

Also making waves at radio was the bluesy “Mirror Mirror”, with its clever wicked queen hook it became the band’s second top 5.  Also hitting the top 5 is the blistering “Norma Jean Riley”, with its dry humor and talking instruments, it recalls the best of Alan Jackson’s similar witty tunes.  Sandwiched in between that pair at radio is the elegant “Mama Don’t Forget to Pray For Me”, which recounts a traveling musician calling home to talk to his folks.  It’s memorable melody and heartstring subject matter pushed it to #9 on the charts.

The final single – and my favorite track – is the smart and direct second person narrative “Nowhere Bound”.  This mid-tempo gem sounds like it would be at home in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s songbook, right down to its wry lyrics:

Where to now, do you know?
One thing’s for certain, gonna reap just what you sow
And all you planted was heartache and pain
Don’t look now, but it looks like rain

“Nowhere Bound” was written by co-producer Monty Powell and Jule Edders, and went to #7 on the singles chart in 1992.

Also notable are the tale of two top-notch musicians dueling for the title of “best around” in the fast-paced “Ballad of Billy and Conley (The Proof’s in the Pickin’)”, which allows the boys to show off their dexterity with their respective instruments, much like the closing instrumental track “Poultry Promenade”.  The driving “Pick Me Up” tells of a man who feels lower than bottom – “pick me up so I can fall again” – and is set to another infectious melody.

Produced by Tim DuBois and Monty Powell, Diamond Rio’s debut album served to not only kickstart the band’s hit-making career, it also served as the template that would come to characterize the band’s sound, with their own crack musicianship in the studio, tight harmonies, and breezy melodies.  Diamond Rio is a great showcase of ’90s country at its best.

Grade: A

Buy it from amazon.