My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Georgia Middleman

Album Review: Joe Nichols – ‘It’s All Good’

Joe Nichols is one of Music Row’s underrated journeymen performers. His sixth studio album, released last week is a mostly quiet affair, more rooted in tradition than the music of most his contemporaries, with a few concessions to contemporary tastes that should give him a shot at some radio airplay. As with his last few albums, he’s opted not to put all his eggs in one basket by using just one producer. This time around Mark Wright shares the honors with Buddy Cannon, with each contributing five tracks.

Things get off to a rocky start with the lead single, “Take It Off” a mediocre number that attempts but does not succeed in recreating the winning formula of 2005’s “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”. Written by Dallas Davidson, Ashley Gorey, and Kelly Lovelace, the song is ultimately done in by the lack of subtlety in the lyrics, namely the part that goes:

You’re a pretty little country thing
But giddy under them cut-off jeans
Take ’em off, come on mama, take ’em off

Presumably these words of poetry are the handiwork of Kelly Lovelace, since they sound like something we’d normally hear from Brad Paisley. Released in August and reviewed by J.R. Journey shortly thereafter, “Take It Off” is currently at #25 on the charts.

The second track, “The More I Look” is a little better. It doesn’t contain any tasteless lyrics, but the production is a little cluttered and loud for my liking. Thankfully, this is the only production misstep on the album. I imagine that this track is earmarked for release as a single at some point, since it seems more radio friendly than most of the other songs on the album. Another likely single is “Somebody’s Mama”, a tune written by David Lee Murphy and Kim Tribble that finds Joe in the midst of covering up a tattoo that reminds him of an old flame. The couple apparently split up because Joe wasn’t ready to settle down:

She used to say all she wanted was babies
And I was too young to slow down
But I figure she’s probably somebody’s mama by now.

He goes on to speculate that she’s also dripping in diamonds and driving an expensive car, which seems odd because nothing else in the lyrics suggests that she was particularly materialistic. On the contrary, the fact that “she used to say all she wanted was babies” suggests quite the opposite. Still, it’s a pleasant song that stands a reasonable chance of success on the charts.

Things improve considerably from the fourth track on, with Joe sounding a lot at times like a younger George Strait, in both his vocal style and choice of material. The Strait influence is particularly evident with the title track written by Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman. “It’s All Good” is the most traditional and the best song on the album and probably not what radio wants, so it will likely linger in obscurity as an album cut. “No Truck, No Boat, No Girl” is also quite good and slightly more radio-friendly. The mood continues to get more mellow as the album progresses, with inoffensive filler like “Never Gonna Get Enough” and “She’s Just Like That.” The closing track “How I Wanna Go”, is a particularly laid-back tune that finds Joe contemplating an easy life on a sailboat with his guitar and lady, and again sounding very much like King George.

Nichols has had inconsistent success on the singles charts and there’s probably not anything here that is going to change that. It’s All Good is not an outstanding album, but it is very good above-average effort that deserves a listen. It is currently on sale for $5.99 at Amazon MP3.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Terri Clark – ‘Pain To Kill’

Released in 2003, after the relatively disappointing commercial performance of Fearless, Pain To Kill marked a change in producer for Terri, with the recruitment of Byron Gallimore, perhaps the leading commercial country producer of the day. It looks as though the label was hedging its bets with regards to the direction of the album, with Gallimore working on half the album, and old standby Keith Stegall being brought back in for the remainder of the material. Byron Gallimore applied a fairly sophisticated pop-country sound to mainly outside songs, and successfully balances Terri’s voice with a radio-friendly sheen.

Keith Stegall, meanwhile, tackled the bulk of Terri’s own songs, with a sound more in keeping with her past work. Gallimore’s tracks front load the set listing (and provided all three of the singles), with most of the Stegall tracks relegated to the second half of the set. Throughout the album, Terri’s vocals sound great and very committed to the material, and there is an overarching theme of relationship troubles and moving on which helps give a cohesive feel to the set as a whole.

The contemporary sounding lead single, ‘I Just Wanna Be Mad’, written by Kelley Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller, made a good start with radio, peaking at #2 in 2002. It is my favorite of the single choices from this album with its convincing and mature lyric about a couple married for seven years (when “some days it feels like 21”) and squabbling over the little things, while affirming the underlying strength of their relationship:

I think I’m right
I think you’re wrong
I’ll probably give in before long
Please don’t make me smile
I just wanna be mad for a while

The woman-on-the-verge-of-leaving whose story is conveyed in ‘Three Mississippi is less successful. While well sung, it’s a rather pop-leaning song written by Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges and Angelo, whose rather uninteresting tune and overdone production drains the emotion from the lyric. It was closer to a flop, only just making the top 30. The life-affirming ‘I Wanna Do It All’ is better, if not very memorable. It took Terri back to the upper reaches of the charts, peaking at #3.

The title track is a radio-friendly mid-tempo number written by Tom Shapiro and Steve Bogard, with a cheery approach to partying away the troubles of life. The very contemporary Matraca Berg/Randy Scruggs song ‘Working Girl’ (comparing an ordinary working woman’s life to glossy media images) was previously recorded by Loretta Lynn. It suits Terri better than it did Loretta, but is still one of my least favorite Terri Clark recordings.

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Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Savin’ The Honky Tonk’

After the relative commercial failure of Thank God For Believers, Mark’s label forced him to record the Aerosmith song ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’. While this was a big hit, it undoubtedly alienated much of his core fan base, and his career never really recovered. One more album for MCA (the underrated Lost In The Feeling), and a sole release for Columbia (the lackluster Mark Chesnutt), failed to recapture his commercial glories, and Mark was relegated to the minor leagues of independent labels.

Yet the loss of his last major label deal turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Mark as he was enabled to produce some of the best music of his career. His first venture into independent territory (on Vivaton Records) marked a deliberate reclamation of traditional country now that he was free of major label constraints and the need to produce radio fodder. Savin’ The Honky Tonk, released in 2004, is formally dedicated to “all the Honky Tonks and all the bands playing the hard core country music”, and it is almost a concept album with only a handful of the generous 15 tracks not on the theme. Jimmy Ritchey’s production is solid, and Mark’s vocals are great throughout.

The record reached #23 on Billboard – the same peak as Mark Chesnutt, which had benefitted from more radio play thanks to the #11 hit ‘She Was’ – and the first two singles at least did better than his last two for Columbia. While these were only modest successes by his own standards, it’s always been harder for artists on small labels to get played on radio at all, let alone charting inside the top 40.

The lead single, a tongue-in-cheek ode to alcohol, ‘The Lord Loves The Drinkin’ Man’, was one of two songs from the pen of Texas artist Kevin Fowler. The protagonist defies his mother and preacher, both saying he’ll never get to Heaven if he keeps on drinking, by saying,

I hear that He can turn the water into wine
Any man can do that is a good friend of mine
I’ve been baptised in beer, I’m here to testify
I was speaking in tongues when I came home last night
Some folks say I’m living in sin
But I know the Lord loves the drinkin’ man

The single charted well for an independent release, making the country top 40.

Fowler’s other cut here, the resolutely secular ‘Beer, Bait & Ammo’, has also been recorded by Sammy Kershaw and George Jones, and is an ode to a useful country store with “everything any old beer-drinkin’ hell-raisin’ bona fide redneck needs”.

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Album Review: Sarah Buxton – ‘Sarah Buxton’

Sarah Buxton seems to have been around for ages, but in fact this is her debut album. It has taken her label, Lyric Street, so long to get her to this point, because radio has been surprisingly resistant to her brand of bright pop-country despite her releasing some very good songs as singles. Five of the tracks here were previously digitally released as part of a digital EP Almost My Record as long ago as 2007, and these older tracks are the ones I enjoyed the most which is discouraging in regards to her future direction. Sarah’s distinctive throaty voice with a hint of gravel is very listenable, and she is a talented writer.

The best songs are perhaps the most familiar. The best known is ‘Stupid Boy’, which Keith Urban covered a few years ago. The reproach to the folly of a man and the damage he has done to his girlfriend (and to his own chances of happiness) by constraining her comes across a little differently from a woman’s voice than it did in Keith’s more forceful version. It is a well-written song (composed by Sarah with Dave Berg and Deanna Bryant) and although it doesn’t sound very country structurally it is well worth hearing:

She laid her heart and soul right in your hands
And you stole her every dream
And you crushed her plans
She never even knew she had a choice
That’s what happens
When the only voice she hears is tellin’ her she can’t
Stupid boy

Berg also helped to write (together with Jeremy Stover and Georgia Middleman) Sarah’s debut single, the sweetly nostalgic look back at lost ‘Innocence’, which is full of charm as she reminiscences about teenage romance and the girl she was. The vocals sound a little compressed, though, at times on this track.

The former single ‘Space’ is delivered a little breathy but is a fine song with a bitter edge, written by Sarah with husband-and-wife team Lari White and Chuck Cannon, about a man unwilling to commit:

Does it make you feel free
Make you feel young
How does it feel not to need anyone
You say you want space
Well, I’ll give you space

You need your own bed
You need your own room
How about an island
I bet you could find one
On the dark side of the moon

Then you won’t have to deal
With anything real
Cause I won’t be here
I’ll just disappear

This is by far my favorite track.

Australian Jedd Hughes is prominently billed singing harmony on a number of tracks here, with a full-scale duet on his own pretty love song ‘Big Blue Sky’ which closes the set and is the only song not written or co-written by Sarah. ‘Wings’, another of the songs with Jedd on harmony, is pleasant but forgettable.

I like the optimistic autobiographical opening track ‘American Daughters’ which Sarah wrote with Bob DiPiero. It strikes a nice balance between country and pop influences, with a pretty tune, although the spoken list of places borders on shouting.

The bright recent single ‘Outside My Window’ (Sarah’s biggest hit to date) is a bit too far in the pop direction for me, and the newly recorded ‘Radio Love’ (with Jedd) and ‘For Real’ are even more so, and over-produced to boot, and do not interest me at all. ‘Love Like Heaven’ (featuring Sarah on harmonica) meanwhile is warmer and more engaging although it is not the strongest of lyrics. I don’t care for the self-consciously chirpy and occasionally shouty ‘That Kind Of Day’ with its too-many squealed heys and yeahs, although Sarah sounds engagingly like Dolly when she sing-speaks, and the lyric is better than the production. This track palls quickly.

Sarah is a very talented artist with a distinctive sound who deserves to do well, even if her chosen style is not altogether to my taste. It is hard to see where her career will lead her, though, as the best tracks on this album have already been released to radio and failed to make a major impact.

Grade: B-

Sarah’s debut is available everywhere, in CD form and digitally from amazon for only $5.99.