My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: George Strait

Week ending 12/10/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

alan_jackson1956 (Sales):Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1956 (Jukebox): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1966: Somebody Like Me — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1976: Good Woman Blues — Mel Tillis (MCA)

1986: It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You — George Strait (MCA)

1996: Little Bitty — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2006: Before He Cheats — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

2016: Blue Ain’t Your Color — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2016 (Airplay): May We All — Florida Georgia Line featuring Tim McGraw (Republic Nashville)

50th CMA Awards: Grading the Twenty Performances

Instead of the typical CMA Awards prediction post, I thought it might be fun to rank the twenty performances, all of which brought something special to the evening. Here they are, in ascending order, with commentary:

20.

imrs-phpBeyoncé Feat. Dixie Chicks – Daddy’s Lessons

The most debated moment of the night was the worst performance in recent CMA history, an embarrassment to country music and the fifty years of the organization. Beyoncé was the antithesis of our genre with her staged antics and complete lack of authenticity. If Dixie Chicks had performed this song alone, like they did on tour, it would’ve been a slam-dunk. They were never the problem. Beyoncé is to blame for this mess.

Grade: F

19.

Kelsea Ballerini – Peter Pan

I feel bad for her. It seems Ballerini never got the memo that this was the CMA Awards and not a sideshow at Magic Kingdom. Everything about this was wrong – the visuals, wind machine and, most of all, the dancers. Once I saw the harness in plain sight, I knew it was over.

Grade: F 

 18.

362x204-q100_121d9e867599857df2132b3b6c77e0c8Luke Bryan – Move

Nashville is perennially behind the trends as evidenced by Bryan’s completely out of place performance. One of only two I purposefully fast forwarded through.

Grade: F 

 17.

Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw – May We All 

Stood out like a sore thumb, for all the wrong reasons. Not even McGraw could redeem this disaster.

Grade: F  

16.

gettyimages-620669440-43407842-8b2a-437b-a6e4-f643a1b5b104Carrie Underwood – Dirty Laundry

The newly minted Female Vocalist of the Year gave the third weakest performance of this year’s nominees. I commend her use of an all-female band, but disliked everything else from the visuals to Underwood’s dancing. It all starts with the song and this one is among her worst.

Grade: D+

15.

Thomas Rhett – Die A Happy Man

The biggest hit of the year gave Thomas Rhett a moment his other radio singles proves he doesn’t deserve. He remained gracious throughout the night, proving he can turn it on when it counts. I just wish it wasn’t an act.

Grade: B- 

14.

362x204-q100_b63432d74b677e29d35917efd7490170Keith Urban – Blue Ain’t Your Color

A perfectly serviceable performance of an above average song. He did nothing to stand out from the pack neither adding to nor distracting from the night’s more significant moments.

Grade: B

13.

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – Different for Girls 

At least Bentley wasn’t showcasing the rowdier side of Black. He and King didn’t do anything to stand out and the whole thing was more middle of the road than anything else.

Grade: B

 12.

landscape-1478192054-gettyimages-620693852Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood – Dolly Parton Tribute 

I have nothing against Parton nor do I deny her incredible legacy as a pioneer in the genre. But it’s time to honor someone else. Parton has been lauded and it’s so old at this point, it’s unspectacular. That’s not to say this wasn’t a great medley, it was. I just wish it had been for someone different, like say, Tanya Tucker.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Mo Pitney – ‘Behind This Guitar’

behind-this-guitar23 year old Mo Pitney from Illinois is chasing on the heels of William Michael Morgan as the latest neotraditional country singer to make a mainstream bid for success. (In a bizarre coincidence, they share a name – Mo is short for Morgan). Mo’s singles haven’t achieved the same level of success as that of his contemporary, but he has been building up some grassroots support as he issues his debut album, produced by veteran Tony Brown. Mo is a talented songwriter as well as a fine singer, and cowrote most of the songs here.

I was pleasantly surprised by the lead single ‘Country’ over 18 months ago, and still enjoy its relaxed feel. The second single ‘Boy And A Girl Thing’ is also very pleasant sounding, augmented by harmonies from Lee Ann Womack; as Razor X noted in his review, it has strong echoes of late George Strait to it. Sadly, neither single (both Pitney co-writes) reached the top 40 on the Billboard country chart. Both follow fairly well travelled ground lyrically, and although unambitious, Mo’s vocals and the gentle country arrangements make them worth hearing. Current single ‘Everywhere’ has a fuller, more contemporary sound, but isn’t terribly interesting, even though it is a cowrite with the great Dean Dillon.

Dillon also co-wrote ‘Take The Chance’, which has a very pretty melody and arrangement, and grows on repeated listens.

One of the album’s highlights is the deeply affecting ‘Just A Dog’ (written with Jimmy Melton And Dave Turnbull). It is the story of a stray dog who becomes the protagonist’s best friend. Another favorite is ‘I Met Merle Haggard Today’. Unlike some Haggard tributes, this one makes a (successful) effort to sound like the man himself, with the song structured like some of Haggard’s conversational style numbers, and Mo’s vocal echoing Hag’s stylings. It relates a real life meeting with Mo’s hero in 2013.

The excellent ‘Cleanup On Aisle Five’ (written by Mo with Wil Nance) has a nicely detailed story of a chance encounter with an ex in the supermarket leading to a man’s emotional breakdown:

If I wasn’t standing in that store I might have laid right on that floor and cried

‘Come Do A Little Life’ is a nice mid-tempo everyday love song (written with Nance and Byron Hill); ‘When I’m With You’, written with David Lee Murphy, is along the same lines. ‘Love Her Like I Lost Her’ is a strong song about realising the fragility of life and importance of love, which Mo wrote with bluegrass songwriter Dennis Duff.

Mo has a very strong religious faith, and includes the understated contemporary Christian ‘Give Me Jesus, set to a very stripped down acoustic arrangement. This (written by Fernando Ortega) is one of only two songs Mo did not help to write. The other, oddly enough, is the title track, which was written by Casey Beathard, Don Sampson and Phil O’Donnell, despite sounding as if it must be autobiographical. It’s a charming folky song about being a musician:

Behind this guitar is just a boy who had a dream in his heart
Behind this guitar is just a guy who can’t believe he got this far

Well, I’ve always said that I’ve been blessed
Why me is anybody’s guess
Well, I don’t know
But I’m well aware the man upstairs could have answered any other’s prayers
And let mine go
But thanks to Him, my family, friends, and those that got me where I am
(You know who you are)
And with that in mind the truth is I’m not the only one
Behind this guitar

This is a very promising debut, perhaps a little more traditional and less commercial than that of William Michael Morgan. I do hope that both young men do well in their careers.

Grade: A-

Single Review: George Strait – ‘Goin’ Goin’ Gone’

goin-goin-gone-cover-artBeyond a few dates in Las Vegas with Kacey Musgraves, George Strait has remained dormant for the better part of the last year. Cold Beer Conversation has continued his downward trend as country radio continues to find little room for many with traditional-leanings. In the past few weeks Strait has returned, sitting down with The Dallas Observer (the interviewer, surprisingly, is no relation to me) for a must-read interview and mining his most recent album to release “Goin’ Goin’ Gone,” a honky-tonk rocker co-written by Wyatt Earp and Keith Gattis.

The lyric finds the protagonist down on his luck, with little savings:

I put in my forty and they take out way too much

 

I ain’t got no 401, ain’t got no benefits

They don’t hand out stock options, not down here in the pits

Despite his grim financial situation he is determined to forget his troubles, even if he only digs himself deeper:

I’m overdue so throw it on the card

Bartender, keep it open, I’m just getting started

Come Monday morning, I just might be overdrawn

But it’s Friday night, so, I’m goin’, goin’ gone

Even without a solid foundation, he does find the silver lining:

Might not be the big dream but I guess I can’t complain

It pays the rent but that’s about all that it pays

 

But I’ve got old glory hanging by my front porch light

Might not be the perfect world but then again, it might

Blue-collar anthems, once a staple of country music, have fallen by the wayside as the Nashville Machine went into overdrive to deemphasize the harsh realities of life in modern country songs. At its core, “Goin’ Goin’ Gone” is a drinking song dosed in realism, with the writers gifting us intent behind his need to keep throwing ‘em back.

While I do find the record infectious, and Strait sounds as high-energy as ever, the execution is lacking the uniqueness that would take this single over the top. Plus the arrangement, while excellent, feels a tad loud in the final mix.

“Goin’ Goin’ Gone” may have appeared on Cold Beer Conversation but MCA has serviced it as the promotional push for Strait Out of The Box: Part 2. Strait’s second boxed set (3 CDs), a Wal-Mart exclusive, will be released on November 18. In that case, “Check Yes or No” this is not. But it is very good.

Grade: B+

Week ending 10/8/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

51qnfes7xbl-_ss5001956 (Sales): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys):Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Almost Persuaded — David Houston (Epic)

1976: Here’s Some Love — Tanya Tucker (MCA)

1986: Always Have, Always Will — Janie Fricke (Columbia)

1996: So Much For Pretending — Bryan White (Asylum)

2006: Give It Away — George Strait (MCA)

2016: Forever Country — Artists of Then, Now & Forever (MCA)

2016 (Airplay): You Look Like I Need a Drink — Justin Moore (Valory)

Spotlight Artist: Asleep At the Wheel

asleep-at-the-wheel-1970Whatever the actual origins of Asleep At The Wheel, the holistic origins of the band date back to the decision by Merle Haggard in late 1969 to record a tribute album to the music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. At the time Haggard was the top dog in country music, with every single and album rising to the top of the country charts, and enough clout with his label Capitol to be allowed to record some albums of lesser commercial potential.

During the 1930s and 1940s Bob Wills had led hot string bands (the term “western swing” would become common after 1944) both large and small with success that sometimes dwarfed that of the more mainstream country artists. During the 1950s Wills toured with smaller units and by the 1960s, Wills usually travelled with a vocalist and used house bands that really did not understand his music. His health started failing in the 1960s, and in 1969 he suffered a stroke that forever robbed him of his ability to play the fiddle.

Haggard took the Wills project so seriously that he learned to play fiddle for the album and enlisted six former members of the Texas Playboys to join his band The Strangers in recording the album A Tribute To The Best Damn Fiddle Player in The World (or My Salute To Bob Wills). The album, recorded in April 1970, was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world in November 1969. The album sold reasonably well, reaching #2 on Billboard’ s Country Albums Chart (and #58 pop), and despite having no singles released from the album, the album would influence upcoming artists such as Commander Cody and George Strait and our October Spotlight artists Asleep At The Wheel.

Asleep At The Wheel (“AATW”) was formed in 1969 in West Virginia by a couple of Jewish fellows from the Philadelphia area named Ray Benson Seifert (aka Ray Benson) and Rueben Gosfield (aka Lucky Oceans). The band moved from West Virginia to San Francisco at the behest of Commander Cody. AATW was originally a country–rock band but switched gears upon hearing the Haggard album described above, becoming great students and disciples of the Wills art form now known as western swing. By the time the first album (Comin’ Right At Ya) was released in 1973, the transformation to being a western swing band had already been completed.

The band moved from West Virginia to San Francisco at the behest of Commander Cody but in 1974 Willie Nelson convinced the band that they should be headquartered in Austin, Texas. They have remained a part of the Austin music scene through the present day.

AATW has been comprised of anywhere from eight to fifteen musicians during its long history. As might be expected for a band that has been touring for forty-five plus years, there has been substantial turnover in personnel with band members coming and going (and sometimes coming back). The initial crew included Ray Benson, Lucky Oceans, Leroy Preston and female singer Chris O’Connell, but while only the 6’7” Ray Benson remains, the musicians that he has enlisted have always been top-notch performers. While in many bands the lead singer hogs the spotlight, whether on record or on stage, Benson has always shared the spotlight. Taking the lead from Merle Haggard, AATW has often toured with member of the Texas Playboys as part of the group.

Like Bob Wills before them, AATW finds its repertoire from a number of roots music sources, including classic western swing repertoire, original compositions, blues, “jump blues”, big band swing, jazz, roots rock, honky-tonk country and even pop standards. The core, of course, remains western swing, but virtually anything can become western swing in their capable hands.

AATW has recorded for many labels over the years with many different singers and musicians. Consequently, even if an AATW album features songs that they have recorded previously, the recording is likely to sound quite different from other AATW recordings of the same song. AATW has toured with many of the biggest names in music including Bob Dylan and George Strait, and served has the backup band for the “Last of The Breed” tour with Ray Price, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. They have appeared on television and in movies, written for theater plays, have won many awards and issued many fine albums
We will be reviewing a representative sample of the AATW’s studio albums, but be sure to check out their live albums and DVDs. Also many AATW alumni have gone on to be successful session musicians and/or have successful solo careers.

We trust you have and will enjoy the music of our October Spotlight Artists Asleep At The Wheel.

Week ending 10/1/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

10751524064_de215b568c_b1956 (Sales): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys):Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Almost Persuaded — David Houston (Epic)

1976: If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time — Willie Nelson (Columbia)

1986: In Love — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1996: So Much For Pretending — Bryan White (Asylum)

2006: Give It Away — George Strait (MCA)

2016: Peter Pan — Kelsea Ballerini (Black River)

2016 (Airplay): Different For Girls — Dierks Bentley featuring Elle King (Capitol)

Week ending 8/27/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

tgsheppard02-280x336-21956 (Sales): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1956 (Jukebox): I Walk The Line/Get Rhythm — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys):Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Almost Persuaded — David Houston (Epic)

1976: Bring It On Home to Me — Mickey Gilley (Playboy)

1986: Strong Heart – T.G. Sheppard (Columbia)

1996: Carried Away — George Strait (MCA)

2006: If You’re Goin’ Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows) — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Head Over Boots — Jon Pardi (Capitol)

Week ending 8/20/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

2bbe1af719cf21075727072bdd66bd0c1956 (Sales): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1956 (Jukebox): I Walk The Line— Johnny Cash (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys):Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Almost Persuaded — David Houston (Epic)

1976: Say It Again — Don Williams (ABC/Dot)

1986: You’re The Last Thing I Needed Tonight — John Schneider (MCA)

1996: Carried Away — George Strait (MCA)

2006: If You’re Goin’ Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows) — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Fix — Chris Lane (Big Loud)

Week ending 8/13/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

Screen shot 2013-01-16 at 3.46.42 PM1956 (Sales): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1956 (Jukebox): I Want You, I Need You, I Love You — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys):Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Almost Persuaded — David Houston (Epic)

1976: Golden Ring — George Jones & Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1986: Rockin’ with the Rhythm of the Rain — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1996: Carried Away — George Strait (MCA)

2006: If You’re Goin’ Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows) — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Record Year — Eric Church (EMI Nashville)

Week ending 8/6/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

Rhett_Akins_185691956 (Sales): Crazy Arms/You Done Me Wrong — Ray Price (Columbia)

1956 (Jukebox): I Walk The Line/Get Rhythm — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys):Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Think of Me — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1976: Teddy Bear — Red Sovine (Starday)

1986: Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her — George Strait (MCA)

1996: Don’t Get Me Started — Rhett Akins (Decca)

2006: The World — Brad Paisley (Arista)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Rumor Has It’

Clay_Walker_-_Rumor_Has_ItWalker released his fourth album in the spring of 1997. It was his first project since revealing his diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis. For Rumor Has It, Walker’s mission was to be loyal to the fans by recording the best songs he could and putting out hit records.

To that end the title track, a co-write with M. Jason Greene was issued as the lead single. It follows in the footsteps of his brilliant uptempo numbers, but is more slick than raw. His sixth and final number one, it’s among my favorite of his singles.

He followed with what has become his most critically panned single to date, the cloying “One, Two, I Love You.” I always enjoyed the fiddle-laced production but agree that consensus has been reached regarding Ed Hill and Bucky Jones’ lyric. The song peaked at #18.

Walker rebounded into the top 5 with “Watch This,” a slightly cheesy love song that hasn’t aged well in nineteen years. He followed with his most left-of-center single to date, “Then What,” a loose dose of Caribbean Country that rocketed to #2 (I was shocked it didn’t top the charts). Likely his signature song, “Then What” has enjoyed a long life as a recurrent and is probably his best-remembered hit today.

The album features just two more songs Walker had a hand in composing. He solely wrote “Country Boy and City Girl,” a pleasant love song about an opposites attract romance. “That’s Us,” another love song, was co-written with Tim Mensy.

“I’d Say That’s Right” is a brisk fiddle-soaked love song. “Heart Over Head Over Heels” plays up the charm factor yet feels like it’s a leftover from his previous album and not styled with distinct 1997 production (which is far from a bad thing). “You’ll Never Hear The End of It” is yet another uptempo love song. I do love the overall vibe of “I Need A Margarita,” but the lyric is cheesy as hell.

Walker’s comments regarding finding the best songs he could confirmed what I unfortunately know for sure. Those sentiments usually mean we’re going to a generic album dosed with a radio-friendly sheen, which is certainly true in this case.

Walker has opted to go with an album loaded with similar sounding love songs, which comes off as too pleasing. Beyond the title track and “Then What” there just isn’t anything here to set him apart or show any real attempts at artistry. He never truly broke through and its easy to see why – his albums just weren’t at an a-list level.

But he’s still one of my favorite country singers. Rumor Has It isn’t the worst country album I’ve ever heard, far from it, but it does suffer from an overtly commercial sheen that drags it down a few notches.

(By the way, you HAVE TO, check out or reacquaint yourself with the videos for “Rumor Has It” and “Watch This.” If anything, Walker gave us brilliant documents of the late 1990s while trying to be George Strait’s little brother. At least he loosen up with “Then What”).

Grade: B-

Dixie Chicks Live: long time gone, but back once again

imageIf there was ever a time for Dixie Chicks to mount a comeback tour in the United States, it would be now, while we’re in the midst of the most decisive presidential election in our nation’s history. Dixie Chicks are a political band, for better or worse, and not just because they register folks to vote in the concession area before, during and after each show.

The election does play a role, albeit a small one, in this latest production. The MMXVI Tour, as it’s being called, exists to commemorate the watershed moment Natalie Maines replaced Laura Lynch as lead singer twenty years ago. The success that followed forever changed the trajectory of mainstream country music, although this show, fierce country-tinged rock, spends more time ignoring that legacy than honoring it.

The balance skewed Taking The Long Way-heavy (although “Easy Silence, complete with a lyrical video, and the unexpected and rarely performed “Silent House” were fabulous), which allowed banjos, fiddles and dobros to act as accents opposed to centerpieces for the majority of the evening. But this being a Dixie Chicks show, they honored their past with fiery renditions of “Sin Wagon,” “Wide Open Spaces,” “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” “Mississippi” and “Not Ready To Make Nice.” Lush renditions of “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Landslide” were also excellent, while the latter had a beautiful backdrop containing reflective images of the Chicks’ heads.

The rock theme was matched by the black and white set, minimal yet powerful, which hit you in the face with lights and sound as Dixie Chicks took the stage for the one-two punch of “The Long Way Around” and “Lubbock or Leave It.” They added significant muscle to the uptempos from Home, giving “Truth No. 2” and “Long Time Gone” a charge of energy unmatched by their humble acoustic beginnings.

The show is broken into two separate sections at the conclusion of highlight “Goodbye Earl,” and is bridged by a black-and-white car chase in which the ladies race to the sounds of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades.” They returned with the night’s strongest segment, an acoustic set that hinted at their beginnings (“Traveling Soldier” and “White Trash Wedding”) while nicely showing where they could go with a cover of Beyoncé’s “Daddy’s Lessons,” from her recently released Lemonade. (They excluded their brilliant reading of Patty Griffin’s “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida,” for obvious reasons). They concluded this portion with an instrumental they concocted that had Maines banging a single drum framed in bluegrass beats.

FullSizeRenderThey skewed the presidential race jib-jab style on “Ready To Run,” my favorite moment of the whole show, which ended with red, white and blue confetti festively blanketing the audience. The eluded to Donald Trump just twice more; giving him devil horns during “Goodbye Earl” and when Maines said she’d protect a bug that had flown on stage by ‘building a wall’ around it.

It actually wasn’t Trump, but the recently deceased Prince that dominated the evening. They set the stage for the evening with him singing “Let’s Go Crazy” (after a video about wrongly incarcerated inmates, Dixie Chicks trivia questions and a random selections of Maines’ always colorful tweets) and treated the crowd to a stunning cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that brought fourth unforeseen colors in Maines’ voice soaked in a backdrop of his giant purple symbol. They ended the evening with Ben Harper’s “Better Way,” which they dedicated to the Pulse Nightclub victims in Orlando.

This Mansfield, MA stop on their tour was my fourth time seeing Dixie Chicks live. I saw them open for George Strait in 1999 and headline their own Top of The World (2003) and Accidents and Accusations (2006) tours. I was supposed to see them open for Eagles in 2010 at Gillette Stadium, but an unforeseen engagement got in the way. Each show has been dramatically different from the last, providing its own distinct flavors and textures.

While I’ll likely always regard their 2003 outing as their finest, this show wasn’t without considerable charms. The Chicks haven’t lost an ounce of the spunk they’ve cultivated over the past twenty years. They may have been pushing a bit too hard – the show was much louder than it needed to be – but the true essence of Dixie Chicks came through wonderfully. They’ve only gotten better, which is a testament to their incredible prowess. Ten years was a long time, but it was certainly worth the agonizing wait.

Week ending 6/18/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

hqdefault-61956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Heartbreak Hotel — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1966: Take Good Care of Her — Sonny James (Capitol)

1976: I’ll Get Over You — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1986: Life’s Highway — Steve Wariner (MCA)

1996: Blue Clear Sky — George Strait (MCA)

2006: Summertime — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): T-Shirt — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Week ending 6/11/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

6ed60564e3c8840a18860e94616bbd651956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Heartbreak Hotel — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1966: Distant Drums — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1976: One Piece at a Time — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1986: Happy, Happy Birthday Baby — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1996: Blue Clear Sky — George Strait (MCA)

2006: Settle For a Slowdown — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Came Here To Forget — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Classic Rewind: George Strait – ‘Honky Tonk Crazy’

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘Out Among the Stars’

51kVTtcVzZL._SS280Out Among the Stars was Merle Haggard’s second album release of 1986. It was arguably the least successful album of his Epic years, and holds the dubious distinction of being only one of two albums from that era (the other being 1985’s live album Amber Waves of Grain) that failed to produce any Top 10 hits.

Readers who have been following our coverage this month will have noticed a shift in Merle’s sound; this phase of his career was very heavy on ballads and he’d begun to incorporate more jazz elements and instrumentation — including saxophone and horns — into his music. Out Among the Stars is largely a (temporary) reversal of that trend, for the simple reason that the majority of the tracks had been recorded several years earlier while Haggard was signed to MCA. Apparently CBS (then the parent company of Epic Records) was concerned that Merle’s former label would begin mining their vaults and releasing singles which would then be in direct competition with his current output for radio airplay. As a pre-emptive move, CBS bought the rights to several of Merle’s unreleased MCA recordings. Songs purchased from that arrangement make up the majority of the tracks on Out Among the Stars; only three tunes — the title track, “The Show’s Almost Over” and a remake of the old David Houston hit “Almost Persuaded” — were new recordings for this project.

Out Among the Stars is the product of no less than five producers, including Merle himself, and it comes as no surprise that an album comprised mostly of outtakes from recording sessions over a long period of time, is a somewhat incohesive and uneven affair. CBS’ concerns about competition from these tracks seems largely unfounded; while none of them are bad, they are in no way in the same league as Haggard’s best output, and that is likely the reason they had shelved in the first place.

The title track was the first of the album’s two singles. Written by Adam Mitchell, it was somewhat of a departure for Haggard. The production was more contemporary for the era, relying more on keyboards and vocal choruses and less on the Telecaster, fiddle and steel. The story of an angry and economically disadvantaged young man who dies during a botched robbery attempt may have been too heavy for radio; it peaked at #21, becoming one of a very few Haggard singles that did not at least crack the Top 20. The production is bit dated today, but sadly the lyrics sound as though they could have been ripped from today’s headlines. The second single fared even worse. “Almost Persuaded” had been a monster hit for David Houston twenty years earlier. Its co-writer and original producer Billy Sherrill also produced the Haggard version. Merle does a great job with the song, but the song had been recorded by many people over the years, and it seems like a strange choice for a single. However, one does have to bear in mind that during the New Traditionalist era, many old chestnuts were dusted off and presented to a new generation of fans by current artists. However, “Almost Persuaded” still has a dated countrypolitan feel to it, particularly with the strings near the end of the song. Radio didn’t embrace it and died at #58.

The rest of the album is a rather mixed bag. It’s pretty easy to pick out to identify the old MCA recordings,like “Love Keeps Hanging On”, “Why Can’t I Cry” and “Love Don’t Hurt Every Time” which have a “Red Bandana” or “My Own Kind of Hat” feel to them — particularly on the electric guitar solos. They are all pleasant to listen to but not particularly memorable. The exceptions are a Dixieland jazz version of “Pennies from Heaven”, “Bleachers” – a Haggard composition about an aging athlete ready to step out of the spotlight — and “Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa”, a Red Lane composition that would later be recorded by Merle’s son Noel, and which would go on to become an almost Top 10 hit (peaking at #11) for George Strait in 2003.

The material on Out Among the Stars may not be among Merle’s best, but every Haggard album is precious, particularly in the wake of his recent death. The album has largely been forgotten so it presents a good opportunity for many fans to hear something “new” from Merle while he was still in peak vocal form.

Grade: B

Retro Album Review: John Anderson – ‘Easy Money’ (2007)

easy moneyBack in the days writing for the 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

John Anderson and George Strait are about the only two with a high profile left from the generation of male singers that came to prominence in the early 1980s. Obviously Strait has been the more successful but John Anderson is the superior balladeer.

Here, John Anderson returns with his first CD of new recordings in several years, this time with John Rich of Big & Rich serving as producer. Fortunately. Rich stays largely out of the way and lets Anderson focus on that which he does best, as seven of the CD’s eleven songs are ballads.

First, some consumer advice. Upon inserting the CD into your player, troll over to track 11, “Willie’s Guitar” and give it a few listens as John, Merle Haggard (vocal) and Willie Nelson (vocal & a guitar solo) work their magic on this wistful tale which, curiously enough, wasn’t written by either John, Merle or Willie. No matter, as writers John Phillips and Ray Stephenson certainly caught the quintessential sense of heartbreak and resignation.

First the “bad”: the uptempo songs “Easy Money” , “Funky Country” and “If Her Lovin’ Don’t Kill Me” are merely okay – worth 3 or 3.5 stars each. These three songs are the ones on which the John Rich “Muzik Mafia” sound is the most in evidence.

Now the really good: The fourth uptempo number, however, “Brown Liquor” is really excellent, on a par with John’s best uptempo numbers like “Black Sheep”, “Chicken Truck” or “Swingin'”.

Aside from the John & Merle & Willie offering, John has six really, really good solo ballads; in fact, I don’t think John Anderson has ever done wrong by a ballad in his life. For me the highlights are “A Woman Knows”, a sensitive John Rich-Julie Roberts penned ballad along the lines of Johnny Darrell’s 1969 hit “A Woman Without Love” and John Anderson’s song about about a woman’s threat to her wayward husband that she’ll give him “Something To Drink About”. “Weeds” penned by Anderson and his late friend Lionel Delmore, might prove to be the favorite ballad from the CD for many listeners.

All in all, a very pleasant surprise as I was having nightmares about how a John Rich-produced CD might sound. Fortunately, it sounds like John Anderson being John Anderson, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Grade: A

Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘Midnight and Lonesome’

51BcEdcn+IL2002’s Midnight and Lonesome was Buddy Miller’s most successful solo album to date. It was the first to chart (reaching a modest #50), in no small part due to the success of the previous year’s duets project with wife Julie. He produced the album himself. He and Julie wrote some of the album’s songs, but separately and together but there are also a fair number of songs, including covers, provided by outside songwriters. Though mostly a country effort, it does find him delving into rock and blues, with somewhat mixed results. I was a bit worried after hearing the opening track, “The Price of Love”, a rock-leaning Everly Brothers tune with which I was previously unfamiliar. Fortunately, things get back on track with the second track “Wild Card”, which he and Julie wrote, which finds him turning up the twang. It sounds very much like a number Hank Williams might have recorded in the early 50s.

One of the album’s best moments is the third track “I Can’t Get Over You”, a beautiful steel-laced ballad written by Julie Miller, with delicately understated harmony vocals provided by Lee Ann Womack. It is topped only by another ballad – “A Showman’s Life”, written by Jesse Winchester. Previously recorded by Gary Allan with Willie Nelson and George Strait with Faith Hill, it describes the hardship and loneliness experienced by musicians on the road. Buddy is joined by Emmylou Harris and the result is nothing short of magic. It easily trumps both the Allan/Nelson and Strait/Hill versions (although both of those are also quite good).

The mournful lyrics and high-lonesome harmonies (provided by Julie) of the title track are at odds with its up-tempo pace but it works surprisingly well.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with “When It Comes To You”, a bluesy number written by Buddy and Julie with Jim Lauderdale. It sounds like something Conway Twitty might have scored a big hit with in the early 80s. It’s not a bad song but it is marred beyond redemption by the production. It has a decidedly low-fidelity sound; the vocals are muffled as though Buddy were singing through some sort of filter. I found it very distracting. Another bluesy number, a cover of Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love”, works much better. It’s a bit of an artistic stretch for Buddy, but one that pays off nicely. I’m not familiar with the original version and my first impression was that the melody was very similar to Ray Price’s “Night Life”.

The Cajun-flavored “Oh Fait Pitie D’Amour (Lord Have Mercy on Me)” provides another interesting change of pace, although it’s not particularly memorable.

Another highlight is the closing track “Quecreek”, an acoustic folk-leaning ballad which finds Buddy accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and Julie’s harmony vocals. Slightly reminiscent of Merle Travis’ classic “Dark as a Dungeon”, it tells the true story of a coal mining accident in Pennsylvania.. The nation waited with baited breath when nine miners were trapped for 77 hours between July 24 and July 28, 2002. Miraculously, all nine were rescued and Buddy’s emotional retelling of the ordeal likens their recovery to Christ’s Resurrection.

Midnight and Lonesome was nominated for Album of the Year in 2003 by the Americana Music Association. Though it did not win, it is a stellar collection (“The Price of Love” and “When It Comes to You” nothwithstanding). It is perhaps most accurately described as a roots album but country is the predominant influence.

Grade: A –

Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘Poison Love’

51qFXeDUyiL._AA320_QL65_Buddy Miller and I are contemporaries, Buddy being five months younger than I am, meaning that we probably listened to a lot of the same music growing up. If this album is any indication, I am certain that we did.

Under slightly different circumstances he might have been a country star during the 1970s like Johnny Rodriguez (ten months older than Buddy) or during the 1980s like George Strait (four months older than Buddy). Instead Buddy took a while to reach solo artist status, working for years in various bands for various other stars, most notably Emmylou Harris.

Poison Love might be categorized as a country album or as an Americana album, although with steel guitar on nine of the thirteen tracks, I’m inclined to call it country. Miller actually covers three classic country tunes on the album, but I initially thought there were a couple of more since several of the songs Buddy composed used the titles of old country classics (song titles cannot be copyrighted), those being being “Draggin’ The River” and “I Can’t Help It”.

The album opens up with a song composed by Roger Miller and George Jones titled “Nothing Can Stop Me”. I don’t think George ever issued this as a single, so I think it possible that Buddy came to the song via an early 1970s recording by Patsy Sledd, who was an opening act for George and Tammy when they had their Plantation Music Park in Lakeland, Florida. Anyway, Buddy does a nice job with this up-tempo country number. Fiddle and steel guitar abound along with electric guitar the way it should be played. If you want to hear a quintessentially happy upbeat country romp, this song is it:

I gotta get up, I gotta get goin’, rain or shine, sleetin’ or snowin’
Nothing can stop me, stop me, stop my loving you
Wander through woods, climb a high mountain
Love’s in my heart like water’s in a fountain
Nothing can stop me, stop me, stop my loving you

Cross the fire, walk through the river, you’ll be the taker and I’ll be the giver
I’ll give you lovin’, lovin’, honey that’s what I’ll do
Climb a big wall, I’d tear into pieces, I gotta get to your loving kisses
Nothing can stop me, stop me, stop my loving you

 Next up is “100 Million Little Bombs”, definitely not a country song:

Three dollar bombs a 100 thousand more

Steps of a child and the ground explodes

You can’t clear one before another reloads

To ratchet up the ante again.
They’re cheap and they’re simple

They’re green and black

They’ll take you right down on a one way track

We’ve gone so far now that we can’t get back

And we still won’t stop this train


The sound of the song is pleasant enough, although the song is too political for country radio, even today. This is followed up by “Don’t Tell Me” a more conventional country song. Both of these songs were composed by Buddy and his wife Julie Miller and feature harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris.
    
 The title track is “Poison Love” a Johnnie Wright and Jack Anglin classic (Johnnie was Kitty Wells’ husband for 60+ years). Johnnie & Jack did the song with a rumba beat whereas Buddy’s instrumentation is more that of Cajun music. It’s a great recording, possibly my favorite track on the album. Steve Earle sings with Buddy on this track.

Next up is a Buddy & Julie Miller collaboration, “Baby Don’t Let Me Down”. I like the song although I think the electric organ adds nothing to the song:

Start up the engine and get back home

Hurry go tell mother

Johnny got a gun to shoot a squirrel

He put down your brother

Daddy ain’t nowhere to be found
 It’s getting way past midnight

Momma she’s left here to cry alone

While I steal a kiss in the moonlight


”Love Grows Wild” is another Buddy and Julie co-write, this one with a more bluegrassy feel thank to Tammy Rogers on fiddle and mandolin.

Jim Lauderdale joined Buddy in writing “Love In The Ruins” a very country number with plenty of fiddle and steel:

Love in the ruins

After the fall

What were we doing not thinking at all

I’ll take the chair for there’s no one to blame

Someone just called me or was that just your name

But regret is a debt that I just can’t pay

Cause it would be more than I could ever make

Turn left when we get to that place in the road

Or we’ll be on the one we shouldn’t take

“Draggin’ The River” is a pretty good song, although not as good as the Warner Mack song of the same title. A bit morose, this song can be interpreted in several ways, so I’ll let you pik your own interpretation. This song strikes me as more Americana than county:

Go down to the water and listen for a sound

Something like the moaning of a dove

That’s where I do my crying while I’m searching for a sign

Draggin’ the river of our love
Did she bear some secret sorrow I could never know
 T
hat why my heart was not enough
 Now she’s left me looking for a trace of what we had

Draggin’ the river of our love

If you think the Roosevelt Jameson composition “That’s How Strong My Love Is” seems familiar, you are probably correct, as the song was a powerful song in the hands of both the original recording artist O.V. Wright (1964), and the soulful titan who covered it in 1965, Otis Redding. It would be nearly impossible to be as soulful as either Wright or Redding, and Buddy certainly isn’t, but he gives the song a very convincing interpretation. The song has been recorded numerous times and Buddy’s version stacks up well against any of the other covers I’ve heard (Rolling Stones, Hollies, Percy Sledge, Bryan Ferry, Taj Mahal):

I’ll be the weeping willow drowning in my tears
And you can go swimming when you’re here
I’ll be the rainbow when the tears have gone
Wrap you in my colors and keep you warm

‘Cause that’s how strong my love is
That’s how strong my love is
That’s how strong my love is
That’s how strong my love is

The album closes out with a pair of Buddy and Julie collaborations in “Lonesome For You” and “I Can’t Help It” and a Buddy Miller co-write with Jim Lauderdale on “Love Snuck Up”. All three songs hew country.

Everything considered Poison Love is a solid country album, for a person who would have few actual hits but would ultimate carve a wide path in country music. The of the thirteen songs are solidly country, and the other three are close enough to country that even a diehard traditionalist such as myself found the album entirely satisfying. Great songs, great musician and some pretty good vocalists.

Grade: A+