My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Glenn Sutton

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘From The Heart’

Janie Fricke’s third Columbia album (her last to be produced by Billy Sherrill) was only modestly successful. It bears all the hallmarks of its era, but on the best tracks Janie’s beautiful voice shines through. This makes the record’s shortcomings all the more frustrating, as it is so evident that she could have done so much better.

There were two top 30 singles. The first, the very poppy mid-tempo ‘But Love Me’, is marred by horribly intrusive production which makes an otherwise harmless peppy number unlistenable. Infinitely better is Janie’s version of the classic ‘Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)’, which is truly excellent.

Another highlight is the traditional country ballad ‘One Piece At A Time’ (surprisingly written by Randy Jackson). Addressed to the protagonist’s ex, the singer proudly explains how her true love has healed the hurt and banished the memory of her predecessor:

I built a brand new love with the pieces I found
I put him together one piece at a time
What was once yours and his is now his and mine
I’ve erased all those memories that you left behind

‘Some Fools Don’t Ever Learn’ is another very good song with a strong vocal, although some aspects of the production sound dated today.

Unfortunately most of the rest of the album is disposable pop- country, with Janie’s vocals all too frequently breathy and undersung, and songs like ‘Falling For You’ boring and with little or nothing about them one might describe as country.

The vocals are much stronger on ‘My World Begins And Ends With You’, but the song itself is syrupy and bland and the arrangement dated.

‘A Cool September’ (written by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton) is a heavily orchestrated loungy jazz number which Janie sings quite well, but not in a country style at all. The biggest disappointment is with Janie’s lackadaisical cooing treatment of the standard ‘When I Fall In Love’; she has the vocal chops to really deliver on this song, but she fails to dive it any oomph at all. She seems to be trying too hard to sound pretty to invest it with any real emotion. The same goes for . ‘This Ain’r Tennessee And He Ain’t You’ is a good song which sounds a little too much like something from musical theater – carefully and thoughtfully delivered, but a little detached from the song’s raw emotion.

Reba McEntire, another rising star but one who would soon surpass Janie, also recorded ‘Gonna Love Ya (Till The Cows Come Home)’. Janie’s version is pretty but forgettable and lacking in passion.

There were glimmers of potential in this album which pointed to something significantly better than the sum of the album.

Grade: C-

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Take This Job And Shove It’

1977 was the peak of Johnny Paycheck’s career, seeing the success of his signature song, the only chart topping single of his career. The album from which it came was also his most successful, his only platinum record, and was arguably his best. By now Billy Sherrill knew what kind of production suited Paycheck, and he gives him the right backings for this excellent selection of songs.

‘Take This Job And Shove It’, written by fellow Outlaw David Allan Coe, is a true country classic which is still instantly recognisable – and relatable – today. More casual country fans may think of it solely as an assertive blue collar walkout from an underpaid, boring factory job with bosses he despises, but at heart it is a heartbreak song. The narrator’s motivation is the woman he loves. He has been enduring the job he loathes in order to try and make a home for her – but now she has left, he plans on making is true feelings known. Paycheck’s growling delivery is completely convincing. The song had such a popular impact it even loosely inspired a movie a few years later, in which both Paycheck and Coe had cameo roles.

The spoken ‘Colorado Kool-Aid’ is a rather bizarre intended-to-be-funny tale of a bar fight in which the narrator’s Mexican friend cuts off a drunken aggressor’s ear as payback for the latter spitting beer at him:

If you’re ever ridin’ down in south Texas
And decide to stop and drink some Colorado Kool-Aid
And maybe talk to some Mexicans
And you get the urge to get a little tough
You better make damn sure you got your knife-proof ear-muff

Hey, ain’t that right, big man?
I said, ain’t that right, big man?
Ah, hell he can’t hear
Nnot on this side anyway, he ain’t got no ear

It was the B side to the physical single of ‘Take This Job And Shove It’, and it got some airplay in its own right.

The album’s other single, the booze-drenched Bobby Braddock’s ‘Georgia In A Jug’, was less successful, peaking at #17, even though it is an excellent song. Younger fans may know it better from Blake Shelton’s cover. Like ‘Take This Job’, it appears to be one kind of song, in this case a drinking song, with an underlying narrative of heartbreak over the woman who has left. Mexican horns, Caribbean steel drums, and Hawaiian steel are used sparingly, and tastefully, to illustrate the exotic destinations the happy couple will never now visit in real life. A similar alcoholic tour, this time of the US, to try and get over a woman, take space in ‘The Spirits Of St Louis’.

Another superb song, ‘From Cotton To Satin (From Birmingham To Manhattan)’ (covered by Gene Watson a few years later) is about a marriage which founders due to financial pressures. The poor farmer hero scrapes together just enough to take his wife on a vacation to New York City, where she dumps him for a rich man. Ironically, just after she has done so, his Alabama farm turns out to be the site of an oilwell.

‘Barstool Mountain’ was written by Donn Tankersley and Wayne Carson (who recorded it first), and also recorded by Moe Bandy. A classic honky tonk ballad about “drinking away I love you”, it’s another great tune.

‘The Fool Strikes Again’ (written by Steve Davis, Mark Sherrill and Gary Cobb) is a delicate ballad about a loyal wife whose man continually lets her down:

Lady Luck never smiles on those who cheat to win
Every time I get her back
The devil tempts me into sin
And with a smile on his face
The fool strikes again

It was subsequently a single for Charlie Rich, although not a particularly successful one.

‘When I Had A Home To Go’, penned by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton, might depict the same relationship a little later. The wealthy protagonist admits to the bartender,

She loved me more than life itself
But the liquid diet I was on starved our love to death
So it’s not hard to figure out why my baby’s gone
‘Cause when I had a home to go to
I never did go home

Luckily for him, she actually seeks him out in the bar where he has taken refuge, and offers him a second chance, and he has suffered enough to take it up:

So forget the double
Keep the change
And you can call me gone
Cause while I’ve got a home to go to
This time I’m going home

‘The Four F Blues’ is more light hearted, with Paycheck cheerfully playing the field:

I ain’t never seen a woman that didn’t like the 4-F blues

Ooh I like to find ’em, fool ’em, free ’em and forget ’em
And love ’em till they’re satisfied
Then look around for something new

‘The Man From Bowling Green’ is a nice, rather sad story song written by Max D Barnes and Troy Seals., about a naïve young girl seduced by an older man, a musician who moves swiftly on once he has got what he wanted.

This is a great album, which I strongly recommend. If you have nothing else by Johnny Paycheck nin your collection, this is the album to go for. You can find it on a joint CD with Armed And Crazy, and half the tracks from Mr Hag Told My Story, reviews for both which will follow later this week.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘The Ways To Love A Man’

the-ways-to-love-a-manBy the time The Ways To Love A Man, Tammy’s sixth solo album, was released in January 1970, Tammy and producer Billy Sherrill had found and perfected the formula for her recordings. Unlike fellow ‘Nashville Sound’ producers such as Chet Atkins at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca/MCA and Don Law at Columbia, who made considerable use of symphonic strings and choral arrangements, Sherrill’s use of symphonic strings was minimal but his use of background voices was very aggressive indeed. Sherrill also used the steel guitar to shade the musical accompaniment in similar fashion to the way Owen Bradley would use string arrangements.

The Ways To Love A Man follows the usual formula with two singles, both of which went to #1, some covers of recent hit singles, and some filler. The album reached #3 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, making it the fifth album to do so (a religious album in 1969 only reached the top twenty).

The album opens with the title track and second single, a song credited to Tammy, Billy Sherrill and Glen Sutton as co-writers. It’s a fairly sappy song that in the hands of another artist wouldn’t be very believable, but the song was crafted with Tammy’s vocals in mind and it soared to the top of the charts.

There are so many ways to love a man and so many things to understand
And if there ever comes a time you decide to change your mind
I’ll need a way to hold you and I can
Cause I’ll know all the ways to love a man
But there’s so many ways to lose a man so quickly
He can slip through your hands
One little thing goes wrong then all at once he’s gone
I’d have no way to hold him like I planned
It takes more than just one way to love a man
With my hands my heart anything I can find
My child my home my soul and my mind
I’ll know that I can hold him yes I can
If I know all the ways to love a man

Next up is “Twelfth of Never”, a late 1950s top ten pop hit in the USA and Australia for Johnny Mathis. The lyrics were written by Jerry Livingston and Paul Francis Webster and appended to an old English folk melody. The song and was recorded by many other artists, most notably Cliff Richard, who had a major hit with the song in the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Holland, Malaysia and Norway during the mid 1960s. My favorite version of the song was that recorded by Glen Campbell on his 1968 album A New Place In The Sun. It’s a very nice song, but not particularly well suited to Tammy’s voice. That said, Tammy and Sherrill acquit themselves well on this crooner ballad.

“I’ll Share My World With You” was a major hit for her then-husband George Jones in 1969. Written by Ben Wilson, the record reached #2 for George when released by Musicor. Tammy is not in George’s league as a singer (very few are) but the song works.

“Enough of A Woman” comes from the husband and wife team of Leon Ashley and Margie Singleton. Both Leon and Margie had some success as singers (Margie as a duet partner for George Jones and Faron Young) but I don’t remember this song being a hit for anyone.

“Singing My Song” was the first single from this album, although it appears that the song may have first appeared on Tammy Wynette’s Greatest Hits which was released just before this album. This song has a triumphant feel that isn’t that characteristic of her music.

Here’s a song I love to sing,
It’s about the man that wears my ring.
And even though he’s tempted, he knows,
I’ll make sure that he gets everything.
‘Cause when he’s cold, he knows I’m warm,
And I warm him in my arms.
And when he’s sad, oh, I make him glad.
And I’m his shelter from the storm.
I’m his song when he feels like singing.
And I swing when he feels like swinging.
I don’t know what I do that’s right,
But it makes him come home at night.
And when he’s home, I make sure he’s never alone.
And that’s why I keep singing my song.

“He’ll Never Take The Place of You” was written by Charlie Daniels, Bob Johnson and Billy Sherrill. The song is a slow ballad and while she does a nice job with it, it’s just album filler. Ditto for “I Know”, a ballad composed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

“Yearning (To Kiss You)” was a hit for George Jones in 1957 (released as a duet with Jeanette Hicks), his first top ten duet single. George co-wrote the song with Eddie Eddings. It’s worth hearing although the original was better. “These Two” was also composed by George and Tammy, another mid-tempo ballad.

“Where Could You Go (But To Her)” is a definite misstep, a Glenn Sutton-Billy Sherrill ballad that was a charting B side hit for David Houston with “Loser’s Cathedral” as the A side. Tammy sings the song alright but Sutton and Sherrill could have done a much better job of rewriting the lyrics to suit the feminine perspective.

“Still Around” was written by Billy Sherrill is another slow ballad. It is a nice song, gently sung by Tammy with perhaps the most subdued production of any song on the album. I think this could have been a successful single for Tammy:

To make you stay I’ll never try
And when you go I will not cry
But for a time I might be found somewhere live still around
But may you find a love that’s true
Someone to love and cherish you
And if you love your whole life through
And may you love as I love you
But if you’ll ever feel alone
With no true love to call your own
And if you’ll need a place to hide
These arms of mine are open wide
And if a troubled love brings you pain
My love is all like summer rain
Always remember I’ll be found still around

A solid effort for ‘The First Lady of Country Music’, a strong A-

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Tammy’s Touch’

tammys-touchThe second of three albums Tammy released in 1970, Tammy’s Touch had two hit singles. The first, ‘I’ll See Him Through’, written by producer Billy Sherrill and Norro Wilson, which peaked at #2, is a beautifully understated subdued ballad about a wife wondering if her marriage which may be on the rocks, but determined to honor the past support he has given her. The arrangement has dated a bit, but Tammy’s vocal is superb.

‘He Loves Me All The Way’ (written by the same pair together with Carmol Taylor) went all the way itself to #1. It is a bouncy tune about a jealous woman doubting her man’s fidelity, apparently unfairly. On the same theme, but with a more downbeat note, ‘Cold Lonely Feeling’, written by Jerry Chesnut, is a very good song about a married woman plagued by doubt.

Also excellent is Curly Putnam’s ‘The Divorce Sale’, using a separating couple’s selloff of unwanted joint possessions to highlight the sadness of the split. It could have been a big hit if released as a single for Tammy. The subdued ‘Our Last Night Together’ is from the point of view of the ‘other woman’ as her affair with a married man comes to an end.

Sherrill’s ‘Too Far Gone’ (best known from Emmylou Harris’s version a few years later) is a beautiful song, and Tammy’s version is lovely. Sherrill wrote ‘A Lighter Shade Of Blue’ (another good song) with Glenn Sutton. A troubled wife-cum-doormat in an on-off relationship is beginning to feel the pain less by repetition, and to love him a little less each time. Sutton and Tammy’s future husband George Richey wrote ‘Love Me, Love Me’, quite a nice romantic ballad. Jerry Crutchfield’s ‘You Make My Skies Turn Blue’ is another pretty love song.

The sultry ‘He Thinks I Love Him’, written by Carmol Taylor, has a potentially intriguing lyric about a controlling husband which is defused by revealing that she does indeed love the man. ‘Run, Woman, Run’ offers advice to a flighty young newlywed thinking of leaving. The heavily orchestrated ‘Daddy Doll’ will be far too saccharine for most modern listeners, but in its own way points out the sadness of divorce for the children involved.

‘It’s Just A Matter Of Time’ is a cover of a 1959 R&B hit for Brook Benton, but Tammy probably recorded it as it was a contemporary country hit for Sonny James; it may be most familiar to country fans from Randy Travis’s 1989 version. Tammy’s take is not particularly distinctive. Finally, ‘Lonely Days (And Nights More Lonely)’ is a pretty good song about separation from a loved one.

This is a very strong album, albeit firmly one of its time. It should appeal to all Tammy Wynette fans.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’

your-good-girls-gonna-go-badTammy’s first single, ‘Apartment #9’, written by Johnny Paycheck, had helped her to get her record deal with Epic Records in 1966, but it was only a modest success, peaking outside the top 40. Mainly due to Tammy’s later superstardom in subsequent years, the song has become a country classic. Laden with steel guitar, it is a doleful tune about a woman abandoned by her lover which is an excellent fit to Tammy’s voice.

Her real breakthrough came with the title track to her debut album in 1967, which reached #3 on the Billboard country chart. Written by her producer Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton, it is a tongue in cheek riposte to a husband’s partying ways, with the unspoken implication being that he might not care to see his wife behaving the way he does himself, and a little nod to the classic ‘Wild Side Of Life’:

I’m gonna be the swingin’est swinger you’ve ever had
If you like ’em painted up
Powdered up
Then you oughta be glad
‘Cause your good girl’s a-gonna go bad

I’ll even learn to like the taste of whiskey
In fact, you’ll hardly recognize your wife
I’ll buy some brand new clothes and dress up fancy
For my journey to the wilder side of life

As was usual in the 60s, much of the rest of the material comprises covers of current or recent hits for other artists. ‘Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind’) was the current hit for Loretta Lynn (just established as a star); it’s a great song but Tammy’s version is basically a carbon copy of Loretta’s. Hank Cochran’s ‘Don’t Touch Me’ had been a #1 hit for his wife Jeannie Seely, whose career song it would be, the previous year, and was awarded a Grammy in 1967. Tammy’s vocal is exquisite on this yearning song, but once more it is not very different from the original.

Tammy is able to bring a different slant with the covers of hits by male artists: she does a nice job with Jack Greene’s 1966 emotional hit ballad ‘There Goes My Everything’ (another classic, this time from the pen of Dallas Frazier). ‘Walk Through This World With Me’ was the current big hit for Tammy’s future husband George Jones. ‘Almost Persuaded’ was the Grammy-winning career song of David Houston, and as it was written by Sherrill and Sutton, is an unsurprising choice of cover for Tammy; her vocal is outstanding on this song.

Less familiar was ‘Send Me No Roses’, a gently melancholy tune about separation from a married lover:

The doorbell rings
You’re sending roses again
In my room old petals fall
But darling that’s not all
I read your card
Then a million tears begin

Though the love we once knew
Still lives inside of you
The one who holds you now
Won’t set you free
To see me you don’t dare
But roses say you care
Tell her goodbye
Then please return to me
But send me no roses
Please, no more roses

‘I’m Not Mine To Give’ is an excellent song about forbidden love, with Tammy’s conscience preventing anything more:

If I’d met you sooner things might not be the same
But life is one thing you just can’t relive
Please go on without me and find someone to love
It can’t be me cause I’m not mine to give

‘I Wound Easy (But I Heal Fast)’, written by Bonnie Owens, comes from the point of view of the betrayed wife, who knows her husband will stay with her in the end.

This was an excellent debut for Tammy, and one which deservedly set her on the path to superstardom.

Grade: A-

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 7

It seems to me that I never did finish off this series, the last installment being posted on February 11, 2014 (and the installment before that appeared April 9,2013). Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked. This is an expanded and revised version of the February 11, 2014 article which was a rush job :

Shame On The Moon” – Bob Seger
Bob’s 1982 recording of a Rodney Crowell song charted on the country charts in early 1983, reaching #15 in the process. The song was a bigger hit on the pop charts, reaching #2 for four weeks.

Finally” – T. G. Sheppard
He worked for Elvis, sang background for Travis Wammack, and eventually emerged with a solo career worth noting, racking up 42 chart singles from 1974-1991. This 1982 single was one of fourteen #1 record racked up by Sheppard, eleven of them reaching #1 during the 1980s.

Doesn’t Anybody Get High On Love Anymore” – The Shoppe
The Shoppe was a Dallas based band that hung around for years after their 1968 formation. In the early 1980s they had eight chart records, but this was the only one to crack the top forty, reaching #33. They had a record deal with MTM Records in 1985, but that label vanished, taking the Shoppe with them.

Crying My Heart Out Over You” – Ricky Skaggs
Ricky Skaggs was one of the dominant artists of the first half of the 1980s with his bluegrass/country hybrid. Starting with 1981’s “You May See Me Walking” and ending with 1986’s “Love’s Gonna Get You Some Day“, Skaggs ran off sixteen consecutive top ten singles with ten of them reaching number one, This 1982 classic was the first chart topper. Eventually Ricky returned to straight bluegrass, but I like the hybrid recordings better. In my original article I spotlighted “Honey (Open That Door)“, a straight forward country Mel Tillis song recorded by Webb Pierce.

Don’t Stay If You Don’t Love Me” – Patsy Sledd
Stardom never really happened for Patsy, who was a good singer marooned early in her career on a bad label. She was part of the George Jones-Tammy Wynette show in the early 1970s. This song reached #79 in 1987.

“Nice To Be With You” – Slewfoot
This band replaced Alabama as the feature band at the Bowery Club in Myrtle Beach. This was their only chart single, a cover of Gallery’s #4 pop hit from 1972 that reached #85 in 1986.

King Lear” – Cal Smith
The last chart hit for the former Texas Troubadour. This song reached #75 in 1986.

“A Far Cry From You” – Connie Smith
After a six year recording hiatus, the greatest female country recording artist of all time returned with this one-shot single on the Epic label. It’s a great song but received no promotional push at all from the label landing at #71 in 1985. Unfortunately, this single has never appeared on an album.

“The Shuffle Song” – Margo Smith
Exactly as described – a shuffle song that reached #13 for Margo in early 1980. Margo had a brief run of top ten hits in the middle and late 1970s but the string was about over. In my prior article I featured “He Gives Me Diamonds, You Give Me Chills” but The Shuffle song is actually my favorite 80s hit from Margo. She lives in The Villages in Florida and still performs occasionally.

Cheatin’s A Two Way Street” – Sammi Smith
Her last top twenty song from 1981. Sammi only had three top ten hits but made many fine records. This was one of them.

Hasn’t It Been good Together” – Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton
The last chart record for the ‘Singing Ranger’. The record only got to #78 for the 65 year old Snow in 1980 but I couldn’t let pass the opportunity to acknowledge the great career of the most successful Canadian country artist. By any legitimate means of chart tracking, his 1950 hit “I’m Moving On” is still the number one country hit of all time. Hank had perfect diction and was a great guitar player.

Tear-Stained Letter” – Jo-El Sonnier
A late bloomer, this was the forty-two year old Jo-El’s second of two top ten records and my favorite. It reached #8 in 1988. There were brief periods in the past when Cajun music could break through for a hit or two. Eddy Raven was the most successful Cajun artist but most of his material was straight-ahead country.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” – J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt
George Jones charted this record twice, but it’s such a good song it was worth covering. This version went to #27 in 1982. J.D had a big pop hit in 1980 with “You’re Only Lonely” which reached #7.

Honey I Dare You” – Southern Pacific
Southern Pacific was a bunch of guys who previously played with other bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doobie Brothers and Pablo Cruise, making some real good country music in the process. This was one of their four top ten hits of the 1980s. “A Girl Like Emmylou” from 1986 only reached #17 but the song tells you where this band’s heart was located.

Lonely But Only For You” – Sissy Spacek
Loretta Lynn wanted to Spacek to portray her in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, and it turns out that Sissy can really can sing. This song reached #15 in 1983.

Standing Tall” – Billie Jo Spears
Billie Jo Spears, from Beaumont, Texas, was incredibly popular in England and Ireland, where “Blanket On The Ground” and “What I’ve Got In Mind” were top five pop hits in the mid 1970s and she had many more lesser successes. Many of her later albums were not released in the US but she had a substantial US career with thirty-four charted records, including two #1 hits. “Standing Tall” reached #15 in 1980.

Chain Gang” – Bobby Lee Springfield
More successful as a songwriter than as a performer, Springfield had two chart sings in 1987 with “Hank Drank” (#75) and “Chain Gang” (#66) which was NOT the Sam Cooke hit. Bobby Lee was both too country and too rockabilly for what was charting at the time. I really liked All Fired Up, the one album Epic released on him.

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Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘Tracy Byrd’

Tracy byrd debut

Most of Tracy’s self-titled debut album, released in 1993, was produced by Keith Stegall in solidly neotraditional vein. However when the pleasant but somewhat anonymous initial single, ‘That’s The Thing About A Memory’ failed to make much traction, and he went back into the studio with label head Tony Brown to add three further tracks, which included the next two singles.

A cover of Johnny Paycheck’s hit ’Someone To Give My Love To’ (like the previous effort) showed off his deep voice and underlined his traditionalist credentials, but didn’t quite crack the top 40, and like its predecessor it didn’t really stand out. The big break came with single number three, ‘Holdin’ Heaven’ becoming the artist’s first charte topper. A very commercial rhythmic number with line dance potential it is not particularly memorable now

A fourths ingle, ‘Why Don’t That Telephone Ring’ then flopped just inside the top 40. That’s a shame because it’s an excellent mature ballad about man clinging on to a forlorn hope that his relationship is not over, which is the best of the three singles to my ears.

‘An Out Of Control Raging Fire’ (the third track produced by Tony Brown) is a duet with Dawn Sears, who was another rising star at the time. Both vocalists sing beautifully on the tune (which was later recorded by Patty Loveless with Travis Tritt).

My favorite trick, however, is the fabulous shuffle ‘Hat Trick’, written by Jim Weatherly and Glenn Sutton. The protagonist responds with wry resignation as he gets thrown out by his ex:

Now I ain’t no magician
Can’t change the way things are
I can’t make you love me if its not in the cards
I can’t wave a magic wand and make you want me near
But I can do a hat trick
I’ll put it on and disappear

I quite liked his cover of the western swing ‘Talk To Me Texas’, although it lacks the character of Keith Whitley’s version. Much the same goes for ‘Back In The Swing Of Things’, which was written by Vern Gosdin, Dean Dillon and Buddy cannon, and which Gosdin later cut himself.

At this stage of his career Tracy had not quite found his own voice as an artist. In particular the regret-filled ‘Why’ and ‘Edge Of A Memory’ are both excellent songs which sound as though Tracy is trying a little too hard to sound like George Strait (one of his big influences).

While this is not an essential purchase, it was a promising debut, and you can find used copies very cheaply. Or just download ‘Hat Trick’.

Grade: B

Favorite Country Songs of the 1980s: Part 7

honey i dare youIt’s been a while since my last installment of this series. Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

Shame On The Moon” – Bob Seger
Bob’s 1982 recording of a Rodney Crowell song charted on the country charts in early 1983, reaching #15 in the process. The song was a bigger hit on the pop charts, reaching #2 for four weeks.

Doesn’t Anybody Get High On Love Anymore” – The Shoppe
The Shoppe was a Dallas based band that hung around for years after their 1968 formation. In the early 1980s they had eight chart records, but this was the only one to crack the top forty, reaching #33. They had a record deal with MTM Records in 1985, but that label vanished, taking the Shoppe with them.

Honey (Open That Door)” – Ricky Skaggs
The early 1980s belonged to Ricky Skaggs as he racked up eight #1 records before the end of 1984. Some of his records were bluegrass/country hybrids, others, like this cover of Mel Tillis-penned Webb Pierce record were more straightforward country. This record topped the charts in 1984 and had a very amusing video to accompany it.

A Far Cry From You” – Connie Smith
After disappearing from the charts for six years, Connie emerged with this excellent single in 1985. Epic didn’t give the record much of a promotional push so it only reached #71, but it was one of my ten favorite records for the year 1985.

He Gives Me Diamonds, You Give Me Chills”– Margo Smith
Margo Smith has a short run of chart success in the late 1970s but by the end of the decade her run was almost over. This 1980 record would stall at #52 and other than a pair of duets with Rex Allen Jr., she would not see the top forty again. Margo is still an active performer and lives in the Villages, FL. When she’s feeling well, she can still yodel with the best of them.

Cheatin’s A Two Way Street”– Sammi Smith
Sammi’s last top twenty record, reaching #16 in 1981. Sammi should have become a much bigger star than she did.

Tear-Stained Letter” – Jo-el Sonnier
This Cajun accordion player had two top ten records for RCA in 1988 before fading away. Cajun has never been mainstream so he didn’t figure to have too many hits (and he didn’t). This record reached #9 and the one before it “No More One More Time” reached 7. Nothing else reached the top twenty.

Hasn’t It Been Good Together” – Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton
Hank’s eighty-fifth chart hit and the very last singles chart appearance for ‘The Singing Ranger’. This song crept to #80 in 1980. Hank would only record one more time after the album from which this album was issued, a duet album with Willie Nelson a few years later. Read more of this post

Album Review: Ricky Skaggs – ‘Comin’ Home To Stay’

By 1988 the influx of new, traditionally rooted talent which had come with the rise of the New Traditionalists in the late 80s had squeezed room on radio playlists for more established artists, and for the first time since he burst into the mainstream, a Ricky Skaggs album did not score any top 10 hits.

Lead single ‘I’m Tired’ was a remake of an old Webb Pierce hit penned by Mel Tillis and Ray Price. It hit #3 for Pierce in 1957, but Ricky’s excellent cover disappointingly only made it to #18. It deserved to do better, as did the next single. Another classic cover, a steel-led version of Stonewall Jackson’s ‘Angel On My Mind) That’s Why I’m Walking’ failed to scrape into the top 30. That was a real shame, because it is an excellent, somber interpretation of an excellent song, which is my favorite track on this album.

Top 20 hit ‘Thanks Again’ is a warm-hearted message to loving parents written by Jim Rushing, with a stripped down backing with Ricky’s own acoustic guitar the sole instrument. Perhaps surprisingly, a peak of #17 made this appealing but not obviously commercial number the album’s biggest chart success.

Paul Overstreet’s ‘Old Kind Of Love’, the final single, celebrated a perceived revival of old fashioned family values and squeaked into the top 30. It is quite charming with an attractive melody, but feels rather naive lyrically.

The overall mood of this record is one celebrating family and married life. ‘Lord She Sure Is Good At Lovin’ Me’ was written by the period’s superstar, Randy Travis, with Paul Overstreet, and is rather good at portraying domestic bliss, with added conviction lent by using wife Sharon White’s honeyed voice on harmony.

As with his previous album, Ricky included a romantic duet with Sharon. The pretty tune and heartfelt delivery of ‘Home Is Wherever You Are’ is, a sweet ballad written by Wayland Patton, make this one another winner. Her family band The Whites also sing on a traditionally styled gospel quartet. Catchy but lyrically uncompromising, ‘If You Don’t Believe The Bible’ was written by Carl Jackson and Glenn Sutton, and has only acoustic guitars backing the singers.

There is a bit less bluegrass influence than usual, but the album takes its title from the sole (electric) bluegrass number, Jimmy Martin’s bouncily playful ‘Hold Whatcha Got’. A cover of western swing classic ‘San Antonio Rose’ is competent and entertaining but unambitious and ultimately forgettable.

‘Woman, You Won’t Break Mine’ is an offbeat love song giving an ultimatum to a tough female rodeo rider who defied her mother’s dreams of pretty dresses and is trying to slow down her romance:

You went and broke your mama’s heart
But woman, you won’t break mine

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this solidly enjoyable album, which I prefer to its immediate predecessor, but there isn’t anything really standing out either, and the satisfied mood feels a little too comfortable to have an emotional impact. Combined with the lack of big hits, it is no real surprise that it did not sell quite as well as Ricky’s previous work. It is still worth getting if you can find a cheap copy.

Grade: B+

Country Heritage Redux: Liz and Lynn Anderson

An updated version of an article previously published by The 9513:

There have been a number of country singers named Anderson who have graced the genre. During the 1960s and 1970s “Whispering” Bill Anderson placed an impressive number of songs on the charts, both as a songwriter and as a performer. John Anderson graced the scene during the 1980s and 1990s, mostly as a performer. Concurrently Pete Anderson served as a musician, songwriter, producer and performer. What this group of Andersons has in common is that none of them are related to each other.

Such is not the case with the subjects of this article. Liz Anderson and her daughter Lynn both had success on the country music charts and as live performers, although Lynn is one of the true superstars of the genre whereas Liz was basically a good journeyman performer. Liz, however, had enormous success as a songwriter. Liz’s husband (and Lynn’s father), Casey Anderson, also was involved in music, working mostly behind the scenes.

Born in 1930 in Roseau, Minnesota, but raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Liz married Casey Anderson in 1946 after Casey’s return from military service. The following year their daughter Lynn was born. Eventually the family moved to California where our story begins.

Liz was a relatively late entrant to the music business, not really getting her career in high gear until the early 1960s when she started traveling to Nashville. During this period Liz recorded demos and wrote many songs. Things started rolling in 1961 when Del Reeves recorded “Be Quiet Mind” and reached fifth gear in 1964 when Roy Drusky recorded “Pick of the Week”. In 1965, Merle Haggard recorded her song “All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers”, which was to be his first top ten hit, reaching #7 (Roy Drusky also recorded the song – his version reached #6). Liz won a BMI award for this song.

Also during 1965, Chet Atkins signed Liz to a recording deal with RCA. Liz’s first two singles, “Go Now , Pay Later” (#23) and “So Much For Me, So Much For You” (#45) both charted and her third single, “Game of Triangles”, with label-mates Bobby Bare and Norma Jean, became a Top 5 hit. Her next solo release, “The Wife of the Party reached #22 and then in April 1967, Anderson again had a Top 5 Country hit with “Mama Spank”. This was to be Liz’s last top twenty recording, although she continued to chart for a few more years, switching to Epic in 1971. Among Anderson’s other popular recordings were “Tiny Tears” (#24 -1967), “Thanks A Lot For Tryin’ Anyway” (#40 – 1968), her duet with daughter Lynn, “Mother May I (#21 -1968) and “Husband Hunting” (#26 -1970).

Although she would never say so, I believe that Liz’s fall from the top of the charts can be explained in two words: Lynn Anderson. It appears that, starting in 1966, Liz was funneling her best material to her daughter Lynn. Eight of the songs on Lynn’s first album, Ride Ride Ride, were written by Liz (one a co-write with Casey) including three of the four charting singles. Liz also wrote four of the songs on Lynn’s second album, Promises, Promises and five of the songs on Lynn’s third album, Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Although her own hit records were relatively few, Liz Anderson had a significant impact on the country charts as a songwriter. Here are some of the songs she wrote that were recorded by other artists and reached the top forty of Billboard’s Country Charts:

“Strangers” – Merle Haggard (#10) and Roy Drusky (#6) both in 1965
“Be Quiet Mind” – Del Reeves (#9 – 1961) and Ott Stephens (#23 – 1964)
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” – Lynn Anderson (#12 – 1968)
“Flattery Will Get You Everywhere” – Lynn Anderson (#11-1969)
“Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart” – Conway Twitty (#18 – 1966)
“I Cried All the Way to the Bank” – Norma Jean (#21-1965)
“(I’m a Lonesome) Fugitive” – Merle Haggard (#1-1967, Hag’s first of 38 Billboard #1s)
This song was a co-write with husband Casey Anderson
“If I Kiss You” – Lynn Anderson (#5-1967)
“Just Between the Two of Us” recorded by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens (#28-1964)
“Promises, Promises” – Lynn Anderson (#4 Billboard, #1 Record World – 1968)
“Ride Ride Ride” – Lynn Anderson (#38 – 1966) and Brenda Lee (#37 pop -1966)

LYNN ANDERSON is, of course the better known of this pair. Lynn reached superstar status during the late 1960s and early 1970s. For the decade of the 1970s, Lynn ranks fourth among female singers, behind Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Lynn was born in 1947, making her mother Liz just over 17 years old when Lynn was born. Although born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Casey & Liz moved to California while Lynn was still small. Lynn first became interested in singing around the age of six, but her first Anderson became interested in singing at the young age of six, but she had her first success equestrian activities winning many trophies in and around California including becoming the California Horse Show Queen in 1966. Lynn remains active in equestrian pursuits to this very day, having achieved great success as a rider and breeder.

Being the daughter of two songwriters, Lynn took naturally to performing, landing roles on local television programs, singing background harmony on her mother’s demo recordings and working at KROY Radio in Sacramento. On one of her mother’s trips to Nashville, Lynn traveled with her to Nashville and was allowed to participate in an informal hotel room sing-a-long with various country singers such as Freddie Hart and Merle Haggard, among others. It is reported that Slim Williamson, owner of Chart Records, was present at the informal jam session and invited Lynn to record for Chart, which she did from 1966-1969. While signed to Chart, Lynn came to the attention of Lawrence Welk, who signed her for the 1967-1968 season. While with Welk, Lynn appeared on the television show and toured with the show’s touring company. During 1968, Lynn married Glenn Sutton, a noteworthy songwriter who wrote David Houston’s mega-hit “Almost Persuaded”.

Many people are under the impression that the Lynn Anderson story begins with her million selling hit “Rose Garden” and her Glen Sutton-produced recordings on Columbia. That impression is quite mistaken in that by the time Lynn signed with Columbia in 1970, she had already recorded thirteen charting records, four of which were top ten records with “Promises, Promises” reaching #1 on Record World (#4 Billboard) and “That’s A No No” reaching #1 on Cash Box (#2 Billboard) and another five records reaching the top twenty, not bad for an artist signed to a minor label. During the Chart years, much of Lynn’s material was penned by Liz Anderson. Even after the switch to Columbia, one or two of Liz’s compositions appeared on each of Lynn’s albums except Rose Garden, until near the end of her tenure with Columbia . Although Liz and Lynn were signed to different labels, in 1967 and 1968 Chart had some sort of manufacturing and distribution deal with Chart that enabled the mother-daughter duets.

Lynn’s first single for Columbia was the lively “Stay There Til I Get There” which reached #7, despite Chart issuing a competing single, a cover of Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” that reached #16. Her next single “No Love At All” only reached #15 (it would be a pop hit for BJ Thomas the following year) as it was sandwiched by two more Chart releases “Rocky Top” and “I’m Alright” both of which hit the top twenty. During this period Chart would add trumpets and strings to existing Lynn Anderson tracks before issuing then as singles, apparently to make them sound more like her current Columbia output.

Finally in late 1970, “Rose Garden” was released. A somewhat unusual choice for a single as it seemed to be (1) told from a masculine perspective and (2) was penned by pop/rock songwriter Joe South, this single made it clear to the public which label was providing the current Lynn Anderson as it soared to #1 for five weeks, reaching #4 on the pop charts and selling over a million copies in the process. The record also went to #1 in Canada, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland, reached #3 in England and went top ten in a number of other countries.

Lynn’s follow up to “Rose Garden” was “You’re My Man” penned by husband Glen Sutton which spent two weeks at #1. While Chart continued to release old material as singles throughout 1971, the only Chart release to reach the top twenty was Lynn’s cover of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. As for the Columbia releases, from “Rose Garden” until the end of 1974, Lynn had an terrific run of success as twelve of thirteen singles made the top ten with five Billboard #1s (“Rose Garden”, “You’re My Man”, “How Can I Unlove You”, “Keep Me In Mind” and “What a Man My Man Is”) plus a Cashbox #1 (“Top of The World) and a Record World #1 (“Cry”). Along the way ten of Lynn’s songs crossed over onto the pop charts. She won a Grammy in 1971 for “Rose Garden” and was the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year for 1971.

After 1975, Lynn continued to record, but she really didn’t fit the outlaw movement that came into vogue during the second half of the 1970s (although she was undoubtedly more comfortable on a horse than any of the outlaws). Consequently the really big hits tailed off although there were still nine top twenty hits to follow with her 1979 hit “Isn’t It Always Love” reaching #10 and her late 1983 duet with Gary Morris “You’re Welcome To Tonight” reaching #9. Her marriage to Glenn Sutton came undone in 1977. Her tenure at Columbia ended in 1980 and she did not chart during 1981 and 1982. In 1983 she emerged on Permian Records and later recorded for Mercury (also, there was a duet with Ed Bruce on RCA).

After falling off the charts in 1989, Lynn continued in equestrian activities where she has one 16 national and eight world titles. Never fully retired from recording or performing music, Lynn issued a bluegrass album in 2004. Since 2006 she has been involved in recording for her mother’s Showboat label.

Lynn has been married twice. She had two children with second husband Harold Stream III, whom she divorced in 1982. At last report she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with long-time boyfriend Mentor Williams, a songwriter who wrote “Drift Away”, a huge hit for both Dobie Gray and Narvel Felts

DISCOGRAPHY

Liz Anderson
As always, all vinyl is out of print. Liz recorded eight albums for RCA, plus an album on the Tudor label released in 1983. Liz’s RCA albums all feature songs that she wrote alone or with Casey as co-writer. I assume that the Tudor album My Last Rose contains some of her compositions, but I cannot be certain of this.

Liz also recorded four singles for Epic, all of which charted, none of which made the top fifty. The most interesting of these was the single “Astrology”. Unfortunately, Epic never collected these onto an album.

Unfortunately, none of Liz’s vinyl output has made it onto CD. Liz does have her own record label Showboat Records and has issued several CDs of relatively new material. Liz and Casey can be heard on the Sons of the Guns CD and on the CD titled The Cowgirl Way .
Liz also has available a couple of holiday CDs.

Liz is an accommodating sort, and at my request she put together a greatest hits collection for me several years ago. Her available recorded output is to be found at http://www.showboatrecords.com/

Liz Anderson was hospitalized October 27, 2011, due to complications from heart and lung disease. No other information currently is available.

Lynn Anderson

VINYL

Lynn had a very prolific career during the vinyl era. Chart issued 13 albums of which three albums were compilations. Her Chart career contains a lot less of the ‘country cocktail’ that characterized her Columbia recordings and more straight-ahead country. My favorite Lynn Anderson recordings come from this period. All of the Chart Albums are worthwhile, and all feature songs written by her mother. Look for Songs My Mother Wrote which features Lynn singing her mother’s most famous songs.

Columbia released twenty studio albums on Lynn Anderson. Additionally, a Christmas album and several compilation albums were released. Greatest Hits contains most of the biggest hits; Greatest Hits Volume 2 is mostly lesser hits documenting Lynn’s slide down the charts. As far as the various albums go, if you like the ‘country cocktail’ production, you’ll like all of Lynn’s Columbia albums. Lynn was always adventurous in her choice of material, sampling material from various genres of music in order to avoid becoming stale.

After leaving Columbia, Lynn issued two more vinyl albums: 1983’s Back on the Permian label and the 1988 effort What She Does Best on Mercury. The Permian album contains Lynn’s last top ten hit “You’re Welcome To Tonight” and the Mercury album contains her last top twenty-five single, a remake of the Drifters classic “Under The Boardwalk” . Both albums vary considerably from the sound of her Columbia albums.

COMPACT DISC
Currently there are several Lynn Anderson CDs available. Collectors Choice Music has issued Greatest Hits which gathers eight of her Chart label hits with sixteen of her Columbia hits – this is the best currently available collection. The Columbia/Legacy 16 Biggest Hits has two of the Chart hits along with fourteen Columbia hits. Her 2004 project The Bluegrass Sessions is still in print and finds Lynn in good voice as she recasts her biggest hits as bluegrass. Collectibles has reissued two of Lynn’s Columbia albums on one CD – the albums Rose Garden/You’re My Man were the two biggest albums of her career. Although now out of print, you may be able to find the two outstanding collections issued by the now defunct Renaissance label – Anthology – The Chart Years and Anthology – The Columbia Years. There is also available a Lynn Anderson – Live At Billy Bob’ Texas which showcases Lynn in a live setting. Plus, there are two albums of western music recorded for her mother’s label , Cowgirl and Cowgirl 2.

You may be able to find some other CDs of Lynn’s recordings. Beware of the off-labels (Dominion, Delta, Country Stars, etc) as these will normally feature remakes of the earlier hit recordings.

There are , however, two off-label CDs worth checking out :
(1) Laser Light CD Cowboy’s Sweetheart that features original recordings of cowboy and western songs. Issued in 1992, it finds Lynn in good voice and is a worthwhile acquisition
(2) Lynn Anderson Live At Billy Bob’s Texas, a good representation of what it is like to attend a live Lynn Anderson concert

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has a listing for a CD released on 9/26/11 by TBird titled Rose Garden – Country Hits 1970-1979. This import contains twenty-one songs and appears to be original Columbia recordings.
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Country Heritage Redux: David Rogers (1936-1993)

An updated version of an article originally published by The 9513:

David Rogers (1936-1993) is proof of the adage that it’s great to be on a major label, but only if the label is truly behind you.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, during the depths of the Great Depression, Rogers began playing guitar when he was eleven, and shortly thereafter began appearing in local bands. He successfully auditioned for Roger Miller in 1956, but was drafted before getting the opportunity to join Miller’s band.

In 1962, after Rogers’ was discharged from the service, he landed a regular gig at the Egyptian Ballroom–a gig which lasted several years. While performing there he recorded a demo tape which eventually came to the attention of Frank Jones at Columbia, and a recording contract was not far behind.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s Columbia was home to a great many country artists, including Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Carl Smith, Stonewall Jackson, Lefty Frizzell, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Carl Butler & Pearl, Lynn Anderson, Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Duncan, Barbara Fairchild and a host of other minor artists. The label also controlled significant back catalogs on artists such as Ted Daffan, Gene Autry, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills.

With that array of artists (which doesn’t even count those on sister label Epic), there simply wasn’t much promotional oomph left for the likes of an aging bar-band singer, and so the recording of Roger’s albums was left to independent producer Pete Drake.

Drake, a great steel player famous for his “talking” steel guitar, used the “Country Cocktail” production style of Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton on Rogers’ records. Background vocals and symphonic strings were heavy, but because of Drake’s personal instrumental specialty, steel guitar played a far more prominent role than in the typical Sherrill or Sutton production.

Rogers’ first single, “Forgiven Fruit,” was release in 1967, but failed to chart. The next single, “I’d Be Your Fool Again,” checked in at #69, and the one after that, “I’m In Love With My Wife,” (bundled with “Tessie’s Bar Mystery”) finally cracked the top 40. Progress was slow but steady. In 1969, “A World Called You” hit #23. Meanwhile, Rogers made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry and started appearing regularly on the WWVA (Wheeling, WV) Big Jamboree, where I first heard him many Saturday nights on the radio.

Rogers’ breakthrough hit was 1970′s “I Wake Up In Heaven”, which peaked at #19 on the Cashbox Country Chart (Billboard had it at #26). The song was very strong in selected regional markets, hitting #1 in places like Orlando, FL, and Norfolk VA. The follow-up single, “She Don’t Make Me Cry” (#19 Billboard / #4 Cashbox) continued the upward momentum, and “Ruby You’re Warm” held place (#21 Billboard / #13 Cashbox).

According to Billboard, the next single, 1972′s “Need You,” was Rogers’biggest hit, reaching #9 (it went to #5 on Cashbox and, again, hit #1 in many markets). (“Need You” was a remake of the 1958 Donnie Owens pop hit and is, in fact, my favorite David Rogers recording.)

After that peak, Columbia apparently lost interest in Rogers as his next two singles barely cracked the top 40 on either Billboard or Cashbox. By 1973, Rogers was off Columbia and had signed with Atlantic Records, hardly a power in the world of country music, though the label was trying to penetrate the country market as they signed Willie Nelson at this time.

Atlantic actually had more success with Rogers than with Nelson –- Rogers achieved one top ten single with the late 1973 single “Loving You Has Changed My Life,” which peaked at #9 on both Billboard and Cashbox in January 1974.

Both Nelson and Rogers were gone from Atlantic by the end of 1974. Nelson, of course, went on to bigger and better things, but Rogers would slowly fade from the public eye. After recording one album for United Artists, he moved on to a series of minor labels including Republic, Kari, Music Master and Hal Kat, where he charted singles until 1984, with only 1979′s “Darling” cracking the top twenty.

Recordings

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, none of David Rogers’ albums have ever been issued on CD, so you’ll need to do vinyl hunting (there may be some digital download available).

The three Columbia albums (A World Called You, She Don’t Make Me Cry and Need You) are quite good, especially the latter two. The Atlantic albums, which were again produced by Pete Drake, are also worthwhile, though they differ from the Columbia albums in that most of the “Country Cocktail” trappings were abandoned.

My favorite album from the Atlantic years is Farewell To The Ryman, issued in 1973 to commemorate the Opry’s move to Opryland. The track-list is a cornucopia of classic country songs: “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Great Speckled Bird,” “I’m Movin’ On,” “I Can’t Help It,” “Walking The Floor Over You,” “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On,” “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” “Release Me,” “Mexican Joe,” “Wondering,”, “I Walk The Line,” and “Satisfied Mind.”

Aside from the Republic records, Music Master issued one Rogers album titled The Best of David Rogers, a two record set comprised of 11 re-makes of his Columbia and Atlantic hits and nine new songs written by Harold Shields. The new songs aren’t bad; two of them–”Hold Me” and “Crown Prince of the Barroom”–charted, and the remakes are decent, finding Rogers in good voice.

In addition to the albums David Rogers charted 37 of the 45 rpm singles plus there are an untold number of uncharted singles. Used record stores may carry some of these records but the best place to look is http://www.musicstack.com

Happy hunting!

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Taken’

It was a surprise when Rhonda Vincent, probably the leading female bluegrass singer of this millennium, announced earlier this year that she had left Rounder after ten years, in favour of releasing her latest album on her own label. She has now released her first independent release.

It opens brightly with the sprightly and unforgiving ‘The Court Of Love’, written by Mike O’Reilly. Rhonda firmly tells her erring man he should go:

“To a prison full of broken hearts
That’s where you’ll do your time”

Lying and cheating earns him a life sentence without her, too, as she refuses to believe his professions of love and penitence.

As predominantly a country fan, it is perhaps unsurprising that my favorite tracks (other than the aforementioned The Court Of Love’) are the country songs given a bluegrass treatment. ‘Back On My Mind’, about struggling with an old love despite trying to move on with the protagonist’s life, was a big hit for Ronnie Milsap back in 1979, it is well suited to Rhonda’s voice with its almost piercing clarity.

I also enjoyed a revival of Barbara Mandrell’s 1971 top 10 hit about a trucker’s fiancee anxiously awaiting her man’s return armed with a ring: ‘Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home’ (written by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton). The bluegrass makeover works surprisingly well.

Things take a more sophisticated turn with ‘A Little At A Time’, a downbeat contemporary country ballad about a relationship which the protagonist senses is about to come to an end, co-written by former Curb artist Amy Dalley with Tony Martin and Tom Shapiro. It’s very well executed, but takes a little longer for its qualities to emerge than some of the other tracks. The title track is a beautifully sung and played but rather boring AC love ballad, featuring a harmony vocal from 80s pop star Richard Marx.

In contrast, ‘God Is Watching’ is a delightful traditional slice of handclapping bluegrass gospel sung with the band. Rhonda teams up with her talented daughters Sally Berry and Tensel Sandker to sing a close harmony trio (with swapped leads) on a charming Roger Brown song which sounds like a traditional Appalachian folk number, ‘When The Bloom Is Off The Rose’. The girls’ band Next Best Thing also gets a maternal plug in the liner notes, and they sound as though they’re worth looking out for in the future.

The low-key murder ballad ‘In The Garden By The Fountain’ (also written by Brown) is also lovely sounding with a heavenly harmony line from Dolly Parton which really lifts it, belying the grim theme. Rhonda herself co-wrote ‘Song Of A Whippoorwill’, about the bird, and again the melody is attractive but the song is of limited interest.

The Rage, Rhonda’s band, co-produced the record with her as well as providing the core of the backing, and although there are no instrumental tracks this time, they get their own showcase on ‘Ragin’ Live For You Tonight’, a celebration of their musicianship and live show written by three of the band members. The song served as the title track on Rhonda’s 2005 live album http://www.amazon.com/Ragin-Live-Rhonda-Vincent/dp/B0007GAEO4 and I imagine it goes down a storm live. It also allows Rhonda to put in a plug for her longtime sponsor Martha White. The company appears to be contributing to the costs of the album, a model which other artists planning on following the same route might be tempted to adopt. In return, the CD includes a recipe leaflet complete with Rhonda’s seal of approval. They also get a product placement in the charmingly nostalgic ‘Sweet Summertime’.

Rhonda also had one really bad idea when making this record, and it materialises at the end of the record. Listening through this album for the first time, as the final track opened I thought ‘You Must Have A Dream’ was a pretty, if Disneyesque and slightly anodyne, inspirational song with a lovely vocal from Rhonda, but then the children started singing. Not only is there a child chorus (never something I am enthusiastic about), but two of the verses feature solo and duet vocals by child singers (who are frankly not very good). There may well be a story behind this inclusion, but the end result is really awful.

The first time I listened to this I was a little disappointed overall with the material, but listening in-depth allows the subtle qualities to shine through. The vocals are spot-on throughout, apart from the children, and the backing is superb. This one is definitely worth checking out.

Grade: B

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Step Right Up 1970-1979: A Critical Anthology’

George had become disillusioned with Pappy Daily’s business practices. His marriage to Tammy Wynette in 1969 encouraged him to make the momentous decision to move to her label Epic, and to co-opt her producer Billy Sherrill. George was forced to buy himself out of his Musicor contract, but it was money well spent, even though his chart record remained somewhat inconsistent. George’s move to Epic saw him at the peak of his vocal prowess, married to Billy Sherrill’s smooth, Nashville Sound production.

This superb compilation contains six of George’s last tracks for Musicor, and over 20 of the finest tracks he recorded in his first eight years on Epic. These were the years of his troubled marriage to and divorce from Tammy Wynette, and the years his intensifying battles with drugs and alcohol earned him the inglorious nickname ‘No Show Jones’ and saw his health break down, but in the studio George Jones was creating magic and leading up to what many will call his finest moment on record. Step Right Up mixes classic hits with some well-chosen lesser known album cuts. The material is almost uniformly great here, concentrating on the sad songs at which George Jones has always excelled. Vocally George does not put a foot wrong, although some aspects of the production, mainly the backing vocals, now sound a little dated. The only reason to debate whether this album is worth buying is whether you might not try to get hold of the constituent albums, at least some of which are available on CD reissues.

George’s first single of the 70s, as he approached the end of his time with Musicor, was ‘Where Grass Won’t Grow’, a bleak, echoey tale of rural poverty in Tennessee,

Trying to grow corn and cotton on ground so poor that grass won’t grow

culminating in the death of the protagonist’s wife, buried in that same soil. The song, written by George’s old friend and drinking partner Earl Montgomery, was perhaps too downbeat to chart higher than the lower reaches of the top 30, but its quality led it to become regarded as a classic Jones record.

The exquisite expression of emotional devastation in ‘A Good Year For The Roses’ (written by Jerry Chestnut) is one of George’s most masterly vocal performances, reaching #2 on Billboard.

A handful of less well-known late Musicor cuts are also included. The tender steel-laced ballad of love for the protagonist’s motherless child, ‘She’s Mine’, co-written by George with Jack Ripley, was a top 10 hit. Slightly less successful, peaking at #13, was a great Dallas Frazier/Sanger D Shafer composition ‘Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong’, in which George manfully tries to pretend everything’s alright and his wife isn’t cheating on him, unusually featuring the Jones Boys’ backing. Another Dallas Frazier song (this time with A L Owens), ‘She’s As Close As I Can Get To Loving You’, has another great lead vocal, but is marred by excessive Nashville Sound backing vocals. Wayne Kemp’s ballad ‘Image Of Me’ has the protagonist confessing his shame that he has “dragged down” a simple old-fashioned country girl and made her into a honky-tonk angel, with another very fine vocal performance. Earl Montgomery’s ‘Right Won’t Touch A Hand’, a passionate confession of regret for jealousy which destroyed a relationship, was yet another top 10 hit in 1971.

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Album Review: Gary Allan – ‘Used Heart For Sale’

Country music enjoyed a huge renaissance with the New Traditionalist movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but by the mid-90s, it had begun to backslide and the lines between country and pop once again became more blurred. Gary Allan’s 1996 debut for Decca Records was a notable exception to the rule. Produced by Mark Wright and Byron Hill, Used Heart For Sale is a throwback to the Bakersfield sound, reflecting Gary’s traditionalist leanings and the experience he gained while paying his dues in southern California’s honkytonks.

Things got off to a strong start with the lead single “Her Man.” Previously recorded by Waylon Jennings but not released as a single, Gary’s version of the Kent Robbins tune reached #7 on the Billboard country singles chart. Unfortunately, none of the subsequent singles — “Living In A House Full of Love”, “From Where I’m Sitting” and “Forever And A Day” — fared as well on the charts. None of them managed to crack the Top 40, probably due in part to Gary’s newcomer status; he was not yet an “automatic add” at country radio. Another obstacle was that country radio had begun to resist playing traditional-based music, a trend that continues to the present day. However, it is safe to assume that “From Where I’m Sitting” would have been a monster hit had it been released by one its co-writers, Garth Brooks. It’s one of the less traditional songs — and one of the weakest — on the album, but Garth’s star power would likely have carried it to the top of the charts. In the hands of a newcomer like Gary Allan, however, it faltered and stalled at #43. It’s a rather forgettable ballad, most likely chosen as a single based on the Brooks connection.

Used Heart For Sale boasts a strong roster of songwriters: George Ducas, Jim Lauderdale, John Levanthal (aka Mr. Rosanne Cash), Faron Young, Billy Sherrill, and Glenn Sutton all made contributions, as did producers Byron Hill and Mark Wright. Gary himself shared songwriting credits with Jake Kelly on the title track, which is one of my favorites from the album. Sherrill and Sutton wrote “Living In A House Full Of Love,” which had been a Top 5 hit for David Houston in 1965. Gary’s version of the Faron Young classic “Wine Me Up” is another highlight of the album. Tanya Tucker included it on her recent covers album, which got me to thinking that she’d be an ideal duet partner for Gary.

The bluesy “Wake Up Screaming” closes the album. It’s the least traditional-sounding song in this collection, foreshadowing a style that Gary would use more frequently in subsequent albums. This one would have fit perfectly on 1999’s Smoke Rings In The Dark, perhaps more comfortably than it fits on this album.

Despite producing only one bonafide hit, Used Heart For Sale sold respectably, earning gold certification from the RIAA. Not as well known as Gary’s later albums, it is an overlooked gem in his discography. Decca Nashville folded in 1998, but Gary was transferred to the roster of Decca’s parent label, MCA which re-released Used Heart For Sale. It is still in print and is available both digitally and in CD form from retailers such as Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Amber Digby – ‘Another Way To Live’

Amber Digby has earned herself a reputation as one of the finest young singers of traditional country music. Her fourth album is produced by the artist herself with husband Randy Lindley and Justin Trevino, like last year’s excellent Passion, Pride And What Might Have Been, with the same reliable production values reminiscent of the best 1960s country with lashings of fiddle and steel and a song selection policy majoring in heartbreak.

This record marks a departure of sorts in that hitherto, Amber has recorded almost exclusively revivals of older songs. Now for the first time she includes three songs she has co-written herself, but they remain firmly in the honky tonk tradition. The best of these is ‘After It Breaks’, which she wrote with Dan Powers, a classic-sounding emotional sad song with a genuinely affecting vocal performance:

With you I dealt with heartache at every turn
I witnessed true love all but crash and burn
Maybe now my soul will find the time
To get rest and find some peace of mind
Since you don’t come around here anymore
Cause I’ve cried over you just long enough
To wash away the pain no one can touch
Now gettin’ over you should be easy to take
Cause a heart don’t hurt as much after it breaks

This lovely song is the highlight of the album. Had it been written in 1965, it might now be regarded as a country classic.

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