My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Graham Lyle

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Lee Roy Parnell’

Lee Roy Parnell’s debut album on Arista Records in 1990 was very different from the neotraditional style which was then at its peak, although not really unique (T Graham Brown was making quite similar music at the time, and doing well). The album was produced by Barry Beckett, a Nashville session man and producer whose roots lay in Muscle Shoals soul, and the combination of producer and artist was a good fit.

Lee Roy’s rise coincided with the fall from favour with country radio of T Graham Brown, who had similar influences and musical stylings. Perhaps there was only room for one, and the newer guy would win out soon, but at the time of this release, Brown was still at his peak.

Lee Roy’s first single, ‘Crocodile Tears, crept into the top 60. It’s a pretty good mid-tempo tune which he wrote himself, in which the protagonist rebuffs his wife’s insincere protestations of love, and at another time might have done better on country radio.

Only marginally more successful, the second single. ‘Oughta Be A Law’ is a chugging mid-tempo country-blues-rock number written by Gary Nicholson with Dan Penn, with a prominent brass section. It is quite catchy, but not very country, and I can see why it didn’t catch on.

Final single ‘Family Tree’ was even less of a success, which is a shame because it is my favourite of the singles. It is a cheerful uptempo song about a family’s prodigal son, who:
Went out on a limb and fell off the family tree.

I quite like ‘Fifty Fifty Love’, a solid tune written by Parnell and Nicholson, with a rhythmic groove which moves along nicely, although the horns are out in force again.

‘Mexican Money’ is an entertaining song about a blue-collar Texan planning to abandon the US, where he can’t make ends meet, to live with his Mexican sweetheart.

The solemn ballad ‘Where Is My Baby Tonight’, written by Troy Seals and Graham Lyle, slows the pace, as does the bluesy love song ‘Down Deep’. ‘Let’s Pretend’ is a soul ballad. ‘You’re Taking Too Long’ picks up the tempo again, but isn’t very interesting. The closing ‘Red Hot’ is old fashioned rock n’ roll.

Overall, this album is well done in its way, but it has quite a loose connection to country music and isn’t really my cup of tea with far too much brass rather than steel guitar. Fans of Lee Roy Parnell may be interested in exploring his earliest recorded work, but it probably isn’t the place to start.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Johnny Cash – ‘Out Among The Stars’

johnnycashThere hasn’t been any shortage of “new” Johnny Cash music in the decade since the Man In Black’s death. But unlike most of those releases, this week’s Out Among The Stars isn’t a reissue, an alternate take, a demo or a recording made during the singer’s declining years when he was long past his vocal peak. Rather, Out Among The Stars is a full-fledged studio album that was mostly recorded in the 1980s and produced by Billy Sherrill. The nearly completed album was discovered two years ago by John Carter Cash, who was in the process of mining the Sony archives while trying to catalog his parents’ extensive discographies. He brought in some additional musicians, including Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller and Carlene Carter, to bring the project to completion. The final product was released last week.

Normally, news of this sort would be cause for great celebration but any excitement about the album had to be tempered with the knowledge that the 1980s were, as even the most die-hard Cash fans will admit , a period in which the singer released mostly less than stellar work. Add to that the fact that Billy Sherrill had been the producer behind “The Chicken In Black”, widely regarded to be one of the worst singles of Cash’s career, and no one was quite sure what to expect.

Considering that Out Among The Stars was mostly recorded in 1984, while Cash’s career was in the middle of a long dry spell and just two years before Columbia dropped him from its roster, it isn’t surprising that the album was forgotten. But those who were braced for the worst will be pleasantly surprised because it is far superior to most of his output from that era. So far the album has produced one non-charting single, “She Used To Love Me a Lot”, which David Allan Coe took to #11 in 1984. It was written by Charles Quillen with Dennis W. Morgan and Kye Fleming. Morgan and Fleming were one of Nashville’s top songwriting teams of the day, having written many hits for Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell and Sylvia.

Many other top 80s songwriters teams are also represented. Ed and Patsy Bruce contributed “After All”, a pop-tinged ballad that was a departure from Johnny’s usual fare and Paul Kennerley and Graham Lyle wrote “Rock and Roll Shoes”. Johnny himself contributed the sentimental “Call Your Mother” and the inspirational “I Came To Believe”, which was written while Johnny was struggling with addiction and completing a stint at the Betty Ford Center. Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman wrote the tongue-in-cheek “If I Told You Who It Was” about a country music fan who has a fling with a female Opry star after changing her flat tire. No names are named, but the lady’s identity is revealed (for those old enough to recognize it) by an uncredited vocal appearance near the end of the song. It’s not Dolly Parton; that’s all I’m going to say.

Although traditionalists like to claim Cash as one of their own, The Man In Black was no purist and frequently pushed the boundaries of the genre. In this collection he sticks close to his country roots, and unlike many of his records, there is plenty of steel guitar on this album. Among the most traditional tunes are two excellent duets with June Carter Cash — “Baby, Ride Easy” and a cover of Tommy Collins’ “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time”. Johnny sounds relaxed and refreshed on these tracks, and June is also in fine vocal form. “Baby, Come Easy” features harmony vocals by Carlene Carter and “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time” features some excellent picking by Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Bryan Sutton. Waylon Jennings joins Johnny for a faithful-to-the-original cover of the Hank Snow classic “I’m Movin’ On”. Jennings’ presence elevates a performance that otherwise wouldn’t be particularly memorable.

The album closes with a remixed version of “She Used To Love Me A Lot” that was produced by Elvis Costello. Not surprisingly, this version isn’t country but it is in keeping with some of Cash’s genre-pushing efforts. It doesn’t really add anything to the album, however, and I could have done without it. “I Came To Believe” would have been a more appropriate closing track, but that is the only negative thing I can say about an otherwise exceptional album.

It is unlikely that Out Among The Stars would have fared well commercially had it been released thirty years ago. It was not then and is not now what mainstream Nashville wanted. It won’t produce any big radio hits, but now there is a greater appreciation of Johnny Cash than there was in 1984. Sony is giving the release the promotional effort it deserves and I imagine it will sell quite well.

Grade: A+

Album Review: The Judds – ‘Heartland’

The duo’s third full length album was released in February 1987.  It largely continued on the same pattern as their exceptionally successful earlier records, and continued their hot streak on the charts, although the material as a whole was not as strong.  The lead single was a cover of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ featuring sultry lead vocals from Wynonna backed by the Jordanaires, who had also sung on Elvis Presley’s 1956 hit version.  Surprisingly, it broke their string of #1 hits, peaking at #10, but after this sidestep, it was back to the chart toppers with each of the three remaining singles released from the album.

The hypnotically catchy ‘I Know Where I’m Going’ is a confident and playful invitation to share the protagonist’s start of a new life, written by producer Brent Maher  with Craig Bickhardt and Don Schlitz,  which was a natural for radio and is still irrestistible listening.  It was followed by the contrasting melodic ballad ‘Maybe Your Baby’s Got the Blues’, written by Troy Seals and Graham Lyle.  Wynonna’s lead vocal is tenderly sympathetic as she offers romantic advice to save a relationship, supported by the subtly faint strains of an organ.

Finally, the funky ‘Turn It Loose’, another successful Maher/Bickhardt/Schlitz collaboration, is a lively love song to music.  It is largely enjoyable apart from Wynonna’s occasional grunt.  Schlitz and Maher teamed up with Don Potter to write the pleasant ‘Why Don’t You Believe Me’, while Maher, Potter and Bickhardt came up with the similar ‘I’m Falling In Love’.  Wynonna’s lead vocals on both songs are excellent, but the songs themselves, while melodic, are forgettable.

‘Cow Cow Boogie’ is a jazzy take on cowboy songs.  This is not a favorite of mine, but was definitely an interesting experiment which few other mainstream stars would have tackled.  The gentle family reminiscences of ‘Old Pictures’ (written by K T Oslin (about to make her own breakthrough with her signature song ‘80s Ladies’) with Jerry Gillespie), set to a pretty melody, make for very pleasing listening, and although the keyboards sound slightly dated, the delicate harmonies are still a delight.

While most of the album reveals other musical influences, the duo affirmed their country roots with an exquisite reading of ‘The Sweetest Gift (A Mother’s Smile)’, which is the outstanding moment musically. Supplemented by a heavenly third harmony from Emmylou Harris on the chorus, this is an absolutely beautiful reading of the tragic tale of ‘an erring but precious son’ and the grieving mother whose loving visit cheers his prison travail.  This is worth downloading even if the rest of the album does not appeal.

Including only nine tracks even on the CD version made this a rather mean spirited release from RCA even by their standard.  Notwithstanding this, it was commercially very successful, the string of #1 hits and the band’s fanbase helping to propel it to platinum level sales.  It was also used as the springboard for an attempt to break the Judds to international audiences.  Under the title Give A Little Love, the European release added Paul Kennerley’s insistent title track, which was at the time unreleased in the US but was later to appear on their Greatest Hits and was then a #2 country hit for the duo, together with five of the six tracks from their six track debut EP, omitting only ‘Mama He’s Crazy’.  Unfortunately this version is no longer easy to find, as it is much better value with the added material.

Heartland continued the Judds’ run as one of the top acts in country music and certainly the genre’s pre-eminent duo.  However, musically, it did not really break any new ground.

Grade: B (A for the European version)