My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Greg Cole

Album Review: Wesley Dennis – ‘Country Enough’

Back in 1995, Wesley Dennis was a bright new hope for country music. Signed to Mercury Records, he got exposure opening shows for Alan Jackson, but never quite broke through himself. His closest to a hit single was the excellent ‘I Don’t Know (But I’ve Been Told)’, which peaked at a disappointing #46, and after the release of three singles and one album, Wesley went home to Alabama. He may not have achieved commercial success, but I was a big fan of his music, and disappointed that he subsequently disappeared into obscurity. A couple of years ago, I named him in my list of “the ones who got away” – artists who seemed to be on the road to stardom but who never made it as far as they deserved.

So I was thrilled to find that after 17 years, he was recording again. His rich voice and fine interpretative skills have not diminished with time. The material on his new record is generally high quality, with half of it written by the artist (with no need for assitsance from elsewhere). It is solidly traditional honky tonk country which should appeal to anyone lamenting the state of the music today, tastefully produced by Greg Cole.

Wesley wrote six new songs for this project. The title track is a fiddle-led critique of modern radio which should strike a chord with many listeners:

I used to listen to the radio
But now I don’t
It sounds too much like rock and roll
No matter what is on
I can call up my local station to request “Faded Love”
They tell me, “That’s too country”
Well, you ain’t country enough

He then harks back to the disappointment of losing his record deal:

I figured things were going well
Until that telephone rang
They said, “We don’t know how to promote you
So we’re gonna give you up
The fact is you’re just way too country”
Son, you ain’t country enough

I spend a lot of my time hoping
Someday that sound will come back
In the meantime I’ll keep playing
My old cassettes and my old 8-tracks
Can’t help but voice my own opinion
I love what I love
Even this song that I am singing
It ain’t country enough

A classic Vern Gosdin style heartbreak ballad, ‘A Month Of Sundays’ dwells on the difficulty in getting over someone who has left, and is probably the best of Wesley’s new compositions. ‘Sun, Surf, And the Sand (And My Ties)’ is slightly awkwardly phrased but shows how to make a beach setting work for a country song – have the protagonist crying over his lost love while observing happiness all around, making his own sadness, “so far from paradise”, all the more poignant.

In a more positive mood, ‘You’ is a pretty romantic ballad, clearly inspired by Wesley’s wife Jan, and which I like a lot. ‘That Dog Won’t Hunt’, a sardonic kissoff to an ex who has come crawling back, is quite entertaining. The playful ‘Ring that Belle’ is more fillerish but not bad.

Wesley pays tribute to his influences by including a handful of classic covers. The best of these is a very fine version of the Keith Whitley hit ‘Lady’s Choice’, a gorgeous heartbreaker written by Bill and Sharon Rice. It’s not quite up to Whitley’s sublime version, but that is a very high bar, and Wesley’s version is very good indeed. He duets with Canadian traditionalist Brian Mallery on ‘Brotherly Love’, a sentimental fraternal hit for Whitley with Earl Thomas Conley. A more obscure choice is ‘Final Touches’, which was the title track of Conway Twitty’s final album; it’s not my favorite track, but makes a nice change of pace.

‘Lovin’ On Back Streets’ is done as a duet with Wesley’s mother; a cheating song is a curious choice for singing with a family member, and Mrs Dennis’s voice shows the signs of age in its tone and timbre, but she can hold a tune well enough, and shows some nice phrasing. It is such a great song it is always worth hearing in any case. Mrs Dennis also gets one solo, on another classic, ‘When A Tingle Becomes A Chill’, which has some lovely steel and fiddle.

The album closes with revamped versions of Wesley’s three Mercury singles – ‘I Don’t Know (But I’ve Been Told’, the guilt-filled cheating song ‘Don’t Make Me Feel At Home’ and ‘Who’s Countin’’ – all excellent songs which sound as good here as they did on Wesley’s debut.

This is an extremely welcome return for an artist, and one I’ve been waiting for ever since he left Mercury.

Grade: A

Listen to the album and order a copy from Wesley’s website.

Album Review: Brian Mallery – ‘Living My Dream’

Brian Mallery may be an obscure independent artist from New Brunswick, Canada, but he has a great coutry voice and some impressive friends. Solidly in the traditional country style with a vocal style emulating that of Vern Gosdin, this is apparently the artist’s third release. It was produced by Greg Cole and recorded in Nashville, and the backings are loaded with fiddle and steel which make it a joy to listen to.

The record opens with lovely fiddle and then a classic sounding country baritone lets loose on ‘Don’t Let Life Get You Down’, a simple but rather inspiring song about surviving bad times, which Brian wrote after suffering a serious accident in 2006. The warm empathetic vocal sells the song completely. Nothing else is quite as heartwarming, but there is some other good material.

‘Separate Ways’, another fine Mallery original, co-written with Andre McGraw, is a lost-love ballad, with the former lover of a bride puzzled at the way the couple’s love has ended, as he realizes showing up at the wedding wasn’t such a good idea. There is more disconsolate heartbreak in ‘Someone To Hold’, with the hardworking narrator gazing at his reflection and regretting neglecting his wife’s emotional needs because he was so busy working.

Paul Leblanc ‘s rueful ‘I Can’t Live’ has a man regretting having laughed at the prospect of life without his loved one. ‘What I Leave Behind’ is a rather touching song about the loneliness of being a touring musician leaving a wife at home.

The originals are counter balanced by some classic covers which indicate Mallery’s influences and pay tribute to some of his heroes without attempting a new interpretation. However, the songs picked are (mostly) such great songs, they are good to hear again anyway. There is a sincerely delivered version of John Conlee’s classic ‘Rose Colored Glasses’, with Brian’s vocal closely patterned after the sublime original. Vern Gosdin is obviously the biggest influence on Brian’s vocals. The mid-tempo ‘I Can Tell By The Way You Dance’ was a chart topper for Gosdin in 1984; Mallery is not as good as Gosdin, of course, and it is only an average song, amking it the most disposable track.

Things take a better turn when the fabulous Ken Mellons duets on ‘Chiseled In Stone’, playing the bereaved old man with his trademark intense emotion, which helps raise this one to not far below the original. It is a real highlight of the record. Daryle Singletary (another underrated singer I love) harmonises on a version of ‘Tennessee Whiskey’, a hit for George Jones (and also once cut by Gosdin). Singletary also duets on a cheerful buddyish drinking song about friendship, with the Canadian and the southerner finding common ground despite their geographical differences, over “the perfect Friday night”, ‘Hot Hands And Cold Beer’ – naturally it also involves “real country music”. Their voices are quite similar and blend well. Mallery wrote this one with Larry Wayne Clark.

‘Hillbilly Water’ is a catchy and cheerful sounding tribute to the fresh spring water of the hills (and by inference to the remembered innocence of childhood), written by Clark and David Lloyd, with rhythmic banjo and sprightly fiddle:

I’m working 9 to 5 in a hive of stone and steel
With a thirst inside no dry martini can fill
I wanna get my cup
Fill it up from a spring in a holler
And drink a deep long drink of that hillbilly water

The sardonic tale of ‘Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud’ is credited to Larry Wayne Clark, Chris Young, and Marc Rossi. It portrays a young man who has left his country home and abandoned his mother’s good advice:

A good man is judged by his handshake
So smile when you offer you hand
Say a prayer every day and put a little away
Any time that you can

So I’m shaking hands with the devil tonight
In a bar room that’s smoky and loud
What I put away is a fifth every day
If she could just see her boy now,
Lord, would mama be proud?

This is an excellent album which I enjoyed a great deal. You can listen to samples and order the CD from the artist’s website.

Grade: A

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Rockin’ In The Country’

Daryle SingletaryDaryle Singletary is a man with a genuinely great voice, who might have been one of the best of the neotraditional country singers of the 1990s in terms of sheer vocal ability. Sadly, his chart career was based on fairly mediocre material, and he only had three top 5 hits. I only really got interested in him when he released the excellent Ain’t It The Truth in 1998, which was not a commercial success and proved to be his last on a major label.

This decade, he has released two albums mainly consisting of high-quality covers, but now he is back with an album of original material on E1 Music (the independent label formerly known as Koch).

I was concerned about the likely quality of the material and direction of the album when I heard the title, but I need not have been concerned. The album, produced by Greg Cole, who was responsible for Daryle’s covers sets, with label executive Chuck Rhodes, is pretty solid country throughout, and complements Daryle’s rich, textured voice well. Although the songs are not all instant classics, they are almost all good, with a couple of real highlights.

The title track is indeed as rocking as Daryle gets, which is to say uptempo country with a very faint southern rock flavor, the latter mainly courtesy of Charlie Daniels’ sizzling fiddle solo and occasional vocal interjections. The song itself is a fun number written by Paul Overstreet and Sonny Tillis about a farmer who forestalls foreclosure on his land by giving up the actual farm (selling the cows to a neighbor and building a stage in place of the barn), and putting on weekly country music shows there instead. It pays off for our hero big time – “they say the old coot’s got a million stashed”.

The most unusual track, and one which seems to be made for a video, is ‘She Sure Looks Good In Black’, written by Dale Dodson and Billy Lawson. This opens with an old country preacher (played by Christian music artist and Nashville session musician Gordon Mote) speaking at what turns out to be the funeral of the narrator, and telling us that the lady in the front row broke up with the deceased just a few weeks earlier; then we get a couple of lines from ‘Amazing Grace’ sung acapella in the voice of an elderly choir member (performed by Glen Duncan), before Daryle starts singing in the persona of the corpse. This may be my favorite track, as Daryle’s classic country voice tells us to a suitably mournful tune (with Rhonda Vincent on harmonies),

“My mama hates her, my daddy blames her,
My sister swears it’s all an act
But if she had wore [sic] red
She could have raised the dead
But my Lord, that woman sure looks good in black”

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