My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Hank Cochran

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Cowboy Dreams’

Released in April 2003, Cowboy Dreams was Adam’s fifth album and the second to be certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association signifying sales of 35,000 albums.

The album opens up with the “Love Bug”, the Wayne Kemp-Curtis Wayne penned hit for George Jones in 1965 and George Strait in 1993, both top ten records. It’s a silly song but Adam handles it well.

Next up is “Call It Love” a nice ballad that I could see George Strait having a hit with in his prime

Just Lookin Back On The Life We’ve Made
The Things We’ve Lost The Words To Say
A Million Words Are Not Enough
Call It Love

I Know That Sometimes I Put You Through
More Than I Should Ask Of You
There Must Be A Reason You Don’t Give Up
Call It Love

I Don’t Know What Else To Call It
When All I Wanna Do
Is Grow Old With You
What Else On Earth Can It Be When Every Time You’re With Me
A Simple Touch Tears Me Up
Call It Love

“When Lonely Met Love” is a nice up-tempo dance floor number:

He was empty as a bottle on a Saturday night
She was sweet as a rose that grows in a garden getting good sunlight
As fate would have it, the unlikely happened
In a parking lot, two worlds collide

When lonely met love, they hit it off
Dancing on the ceiling, couldn’t peel them off
Now they’re real tight, it feels real nice
Lonely ain’t looking, lonely no more
Love started popping like a bag of popcorn
When they opened up, when lonely met love

Those good old ballads of booze, women and cheating have been largely banished from modern country music so “Hush”, so this mid-tempo ballad is a refreshing change of pace

He’s looking in the mirror checking out his hair, putting on his cologne
He ain’t shaved since Tuesday but tonight every little whisker’s gone
He’s going out with the perfect wife but she ain’t his own

Chorus:
Hush…can’t talk about it
Hush…dance all around it
Everybody’s doing it old and young
Don’t breath a word cats got your tongue
Huush

She makes the kids breakfast, packs their lunch, sends them on their way
Makes all the beds and cleans up the kitchen loads the TV tray
But that ain’t coffee in the coffee cup gets her through the day

“She Don’t Know It Yet” is a wistful ballad about a man who has not been able to convey to his woman just how much he really loves her

I really love western swing and “Cowboy For A Day” is a nice example with a subject matter similar to Conway Twitty’s “Don’t Call Him A Cowboy” but with a more upbeat message and taken at a much faster tempo. This would be a great dance number

Adam’s voice is in Trace Adkins / Josh Turner territory but the structure of the album reminds me of many of George Strait’s albums, with a nice mix of slow and up-tempo songs.

My digital copy of the album did not include any information concerning songwriting credits, but it is fair to assume that where I haven’t commented, that Adam had a hand in the writing. I really liked “A Little More To It Than That” and “Little Cowboy Dreams” which I assume are Adam’s compositions. The latter is a really cute song, a father’s words to his son:

Dust off your boots, take off your star
Whistle your rocking horse in from the yard
Take off your hat you’ve tamed the wild west
But son even heroes need to get rest

Close your eyes little man it’s been a long day
And your worn out from riding it seems
Let your work in the saddle
All drift away
Into sweet little cowboy dreams

Old-timer that I am my favorite song on the album goes way back to 1965 when Lefty Frizzell recorded the Hank Cochran-Chuck Howard song “A Little Unfair”. Adam doesn’t sound like Lefty and doesn’t try to sound like Lefty but doers a very effective job with the song:

You want me to love just you while you love your share
Ain’t that being a little unfair
It’s me stay home while you stay gone till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

I can’t see how it can be anything for me
What’s mine is yours but what’s yours is yours
That’s how you wanted to be
You want me to wait for you till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

I can’t see how it can be anything for me
What’s mine is yours but what’s yours is yours
That’s how you wanted to be
You want me to wait for you till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

This is a very country album – fiddle, steel guitar, thoughtful lyrics and everything else you would want in a country album.

Grade: A+

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Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘When The Wrong One Loves You Right’

After Wade’s cover of ‘Wichita Lineman’ failed to catch fire, the recording was swiftly removed from his upcoming album. The next single, which became the true lead single for 1998’s When The Wrong One Loves You Right, was much more successful, reaching #5. It is a great story song written by Mark D Sanders and Steve Diamond, about a young Oklahoma couple, told with subtlety. Led in with a wistful fiddle, the narrator is blindsided by his girlfriend’s pregnancy and her subsequent shame-filled choices:

No, she wasn’t showing yet
But she’d be by Christmas time
Up there like a fool
I took for granted it was mine
She never came out and told me I was wrong
But all of a sudden the light came on
The day that she left Tulsa
In a Chevy in a hurry in the pouring down rain
With the caution lights flashing in the passing lane
From a bridge I watched our dreams going down the drain

I guess she thought the truth would end up driving me away
Well, she was wrong
But I never had the chance to say

This is an outstanding song and performance. Unfortunately the title track did not repeat its predecessor’s chart performance, failing to make the top 40. It’s an up-tempo Leslie Satcher song which is actually pretty good.

The mournful undertones in Wade’s voice are perfect for the next single, ‘How Do You Sleep At Night’, written by Jim McBride and Jerry Salley, as he reproaches his ex:

Do you see me when you close your eyes?
How do you sleep at night?

Now your side of the bed’s as cold
As the lies that I believed
I’m at the point when I can’t even trust you in my dreams
Did the way you left me leave you feeling proud?

This time he was rewarded with a #13 peak for what proved to be his last hit single.

Wade’s last single for Columbia was the song originally intended as the album’s title track. ‘Tore Up from the Floor Up’ is an up-tempo honky tonker which is quite good but not very memorable.

Wade co-wrote two of the songs. ‘Are We Having Fun Yet’ (written with Chick Rains and Lonnie Wilson) is a good honky tonk number about a married man who discovers the grass isn’t greener on the party side of life. ‘One More Night With You’, written with Rains and producer Don Cook, is a decent mid-tempo tune about the dreariness of a working life contrasted with a happy love life.

‘Summer Was A Bummer’ is a charming song penned by Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran which Dillon had recorded himself a decade or so earlier and Ty Herndon also cut. It is a closely observed conversational number about a college girl’s coming home to her hometown (and her farm-based sweetheart) after a year away. Wade’s vocal is exquisite, and there is some lovely fiddle.

‘If I Wanted To Forget’ is a beautiful sad ballad written by Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters about not fully letting go of an old love. ‘Mine To Lose’, written by Paul Nelson, Larry Boone and Matt King, is addressed to the protagonist’s ex’s new love, regretting his own past failures, and is another fine song. Lewis Anderson and Jason Sellers wrote the delicate ballad ‘This Is My Heart Talking Now’, a last ditch plea to a loved one not to give up on their relationship.

This record was not as successful commercially as it deserved to be, but it is well worth rediscovering.

Grade: A

Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘On A Good Night’

Released in June 1996, On A Good Night was Wade’s second album on Columbia. Produced by Don Cook, who also sings background on the album, the album climbed to #11 on the country albums chart and reached gold (500,000 sales) status. The album features a Who’s Who of Nashville session musician with Bruce Bouton on steel guitar, Mark Casstevens on acoustic guitar, Rob Hajacos on fiddle, Dennis Burnside on piano and organ, Brent Mason on electric guitar, Glenn Worf on bass guitar and Lonnie Wilson on drums. This is nothing if not a country album.

The album opens up with the title track, written by Larry Boone, Don Cook and Paul Nelson. The first single released from the album, it topped out at #2 on Billboard’s Country chart. The song is a rocking up-tempo romp:

On a good night I could hop in my truck
Round up my friends and with any kind of luck
We could end up howling at a harvest moon
On a good night I could put on my hat
Head down to the honky tonk and dance
But on a real good night I meet a women like you

Brown hair blue eyes once in a life time countrified kind of girl
Heart-breaking chance-taking wild little love making
Shaking up my world
Hey on a good night I can picture the day
All my dreams come true
But on a real good night I meet a women like you

Next up is a nice cover of the Willie Nelson- Hank Cochran collaboration, “Undo The Right”. The original was a top ten hit in 1968 by the ‘Country Caruso’ Johnny Bush. Bush’s recording is one of my top ten all-time favorite recordings. Hayes is no Johnny Bush, but he acquits himself well.

“The Room” was written by Chris Waters and Tom Shapiro. Chris is the brother of the late Holly Dunn and produced many of her records. The song is a slow ballad, rather introspective song of getting over the loss of love. It makes a nice change of pace but would not have made a good single.

Wade collaborated with Chick Rains and the redoubtable Bill Anderson on the up-tempo “It’s Over My Head” . The song was released as the third single from the album and topped out at #46. It’s a good song, well sung and I do not understand why it failed to do better:

That just goes to show how crazy love can be
Look at us now baby who would have thought it
I don’t know why you chose me

It’s over my head and I’m six feet tall
This beats anything I ever saw
Well I don’t see what you see in me at all
It’s over my head and I’m six feet tall

Marty Stuart and Chick Rains wrote “ I Still Do”. The song is a medium-slow ballad that I think could have made an effective single. This is not the same song that was a top twenty country hit for Bill Medley in 1984.

Don Cook and Chick Rains teamed up for “My Side of Town”, an up-tempo rocker that serves well to keep tempos appropriately varied on the album.

Wade Hayes and Chick Rains wrote “Where Do I Go To Start All Over”. Released as the second single from the album, the song stiffed, only reaching #42. It’s a nice ballad but and I’m not sure why it didn’t do better, especially since the previous five singles all went top ten or better.

I drove around last night, and tried with all my might
To leave the past behind, cause you stayed on my mind
So I stopped for a drink, I never stopped to think
That it wouldn’t work, It just made it worse
So I came on back home, I hadn’t changed a thing
And sat here all alone, missing you and wondering

Where do I go to start all over
From your memory
Where do I go to start all over
When in your arms is where I won’t be

“Our Time Is Coming was written by Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn and appeared on their Hard Workin’ Man album. The song is a dramatic ballad that Wade does masterfully – in fact it is my favorite song on the album, and I much prefer Wade’s recording to that of Brooks & Dunn.

Times are hard and the money’s tight
Day to day we fight that fight
Nothing new, it’s the same old grind
Uphill all the way

Boss man says forget the raise
Preacher says to keep the faith
Good things come to those who wait
Tomorrow’s another day

Our time is coming
When or where the good Lord only knows
Our time is coming
When this road we’re on will turn to a street of gold

Long as we keep love alive
Something tells me we’ll survive
It’s the little things that’ll get us by
And hold us together

I feel it when you hold me close
Baby we got more than most
Steady through the highs and lows
We’ll go on forever

The album closes with “Hurts Don’t It”, a ballad from the pens of Sam Hogin, Jim McBride & Greg Holland, and the mid-tempo semi-autobiographical “This Is the Life for Me” that Hayes penned with Chick Rains & Gary Nicholson. Dennis Burnside’s piano is well featured on this track.

I really liked this album and would give it an A-.

I am sure that Wade and producer Don Cook was greatly disappointed by the poor chart performance of the last two singles from the album. Accordingly they tried something different.

Unfortunately, that effort failed miserably. As I sit here writing this article I am listening to the single release that effectively killed Wade Hayes’ career at country radio. Intended as the initial single for the next album When The Wrong One Loves You Right, radio reaction to Wade’s cover of the old Glen Campbell hit “Wichita Lineman” single was so negative that the single was withdrawn (it peaked at #55) and ultimately did not appear on that album.

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘That’s Why I Sing This Way’

By the end of the 90s, Daryle’s hits had dried up at radio as the industry moved away from his pure country sound, and Giant decided to drop him from the label. He moved to independent label Koch Records, and released Now And Again, an album which mixed his Giant hits with a handful of new songs (including two of his own co-writes, the title track and ‘I’ve Thought Of Everything’, a very good mournful ballad which is worth downloading).

2002 saw Daryle pay tribute to his roots with a set of mainly classic country covers. Not everyone likes this kind of project, but if nothing else it proves definitively that Daryle was a great country singer who would have been an enormous star had he been born a few decades earlier.

Two singles were released, both peaking in the 40s. The title track was the album’s sole new song, and was written by the great Max D Barnes. Set to a cheerful mid-tempo, the tongue-in-cheek song recalls a childhood devotion to country music:

My mama used to tell me
“Son, you better get your work done
Your Daddy’s coming home at five
And if you ain’t all through with the chores you gotta do
Boy, I’m gonna tan you alive”

I was glued to the radio, listening to my hero
Singing them sad old songs
Singing them sadder than a one car funeral
Nobody sings like Jones

I’d take that old kitchen broom up to my room
And I’d play it like an old guitar
Or sit out on the porch tryin’ to sing like George
Dreaming of becoming a star

Well, things I never did when I was just a kid
Made me what I am today
You see, Mama used to whoop me with a George Jones album
That’s why I sing this way

‘I’d Love To Lay You Down’, Daryle’s last ever charting single, is a sensual love song to a wife, which is a cover of a Conway Twitty hit.

George Jones, namechecked in the title track, also receives tribute in the form of a cover of, not one of his heartbreak classics, but his trustingly romantic ‘Walk Through This World With Me’, a hit in 1967. The arrangement is gorgeous, with piano, steel and fiddle prominent, and Jones himself sings harmony.

Merle Haggard makes a guest appearance on his ‘Make Up And Faded Blue Jeans’, in the form of a couple of lines near the end. Johnny Paycheck provides a similar cameo on one of the highlights, an intense version of ‘Old Violin’; the fiddle on this is suitably beautiful.

John Wesley Ryles is one of the most ubiquitous of backing singers in Nashville, but he started out as an artist in his own right, with the song ‘Kay’, a top 10 hit in 1968, when he was only 17 years old. Daryle’s version of this fine song about the man left behind to a life driving a cab, when his sweetheart makes it big in country music is excellent, and Ryles adds harmonies.

Rhonda Vincent joins Daryle on a superb version of one of my favorite classic country duets, ‘After The Fire Is Gone’. The final guest, Dwight Yoakam, plays the part of Don Rich on the Buck Owens classic ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here Again’. Daryle also covers Buck’s Hank-Cochran-penned hit ‘A-11’ in authentic style. I think Darrin Vincent may be among the backing vocalists here.

A measured version of ‘Long Black Veil’, a mournful ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’ and ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)’ are all also highlights.

Grade: A

This album set the tone for the remainder of Daryle’s career, focussing on great traditional style country music. We have reviewed all his subsequent albums.

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘All Because Of You’

Daryle Singletary reunited with the production team behind his debut for his second album, All Because of You, which was released a year later in 1996. He hit the jackpot with lead single “Amen Kind of Love,” an effervescent shuffle that soared to #2. The remains one of my favorite songs from the era and is one I still play frequently.

Neither of the follow-up singles would crack the top 40. “The Used To Be’s” follows the formula set by “Amen Kind of Love,” and even though the novelty lyric wasn’t as strong as its predecessor, the track should’ve had a good chance at the top 20. The final single was the Hank Cochran co-written ballad “Even The Wind,” which was very good.

It’s no secret that Singletary was heavily influenced by Keith Whitley, which is apparent on “Hurt’s Don’t It,” a nice traditional ballad. You hear it again on “He’ll Heal My Broken Heart,” which finds Singletary dipping into the lower part of his register quite nicely.

I didn’t like “My Heart Population You,” which was weak and unremarkable. “Liar, Liar” and “Redneckin’” exemplify the honky-tonk style that was prevalent at the time and the title track showcases the more contemporary stylings popular at the time. “That’s What I Get for Thinkin’” is the strongest ballad on the record.

There’s no doubt that All Because of You is a commercially-minded album and while it showcases Singletary’s traditional inclinations, the material isn’t that strong. The songs are good, but nothing really stands out from the pack beyond “Amen Kind of Love.” I was hoping for more, especially since I adore that song so much.

Grade: B

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Daryle Singletary’

Daryle’s debut album in 1995 was produced by his mentor Randy Travis with James Stroud and David Malloy.

Lead single ‘I’m Living Up To Her Low Expectations’ was not a great start, barely creeping into the top 40, but deserved better. Written by Bob McDill and Tommy Rocco, it’s a cheerful honky tonker about enjoying partying after his wife leaves.

It was followed by what was to prove to be Daryle’s biggest chart success, ‘I Let Her Lie’, a ballad about a cuckolded husband desperate to believe his wife, written by Tim Johnson. Daryle’s vocal is excellent, although the keyboards now sound a bit dated.

It was back to a more light hearted party vibe for ‘Too Much Fun’ which reached #4. Written by former Mercury artist Jeff Knight with Curtis Wright. The final single was one too many, peaking at #50. ‘Workin’ It Out’ (written by Tim Johnson and Brett James) is a beautifully sung ballad with a soothing melody, pleading for a relationship to last.

Another Tim Johnson song, the up-tempo ‘Ordinary Heroes’ compares depressing international headlines with people living day to day. Randy Travis provided one song he wrote with Ron Avis and Jerry Foster. ‘There’s A Cold Spell Moving In’ is an excellent measured ballad anticipating trouble in a relationship. My Heart’s Too Broke (To Pay Attention)’ is a lively western swing number written by Phil Barnhart, Kim Williams and Lonnie Wilson, and previously cut by Mark Chesnutt. Another nice song is the mid-tempo ‘A Love That Never Died’, written by Skip Ewing and Donny Kees.

The two best tracks appear at the end of the album, and both are covers, but of songs which had not been significant hits for others. Rhonda Vincent, then a Giant labelmate, lends her harmonies to the tenderly romantic ‘Would These Arms Be In Your Way’ (a minor single for Keith Whitley, but written by Vern Gosdin with Hank Cochran and Red Lane). This is really lovely. Even better is ‘What Am I Doing There’, which had been recorded a few years earlier by George Jones. It is a gorgeous ballad about being torn between a new love and feelings for an ex. Exquisite fiddle and steel add the final touches to what could potentially have been a career song.

At 24 Daryle had not yet quite matured vocally, and although the album was received well by critics, sales were relatively modest, perhaps because the singles did not truly represent Daryle’s gifts. However, it was a promising start, and I think it is worth catching up wth.

Grade: A-

Razor X’s Top Albums of 2017

Another year has come and gone, and once again we lament the deplorable state of mainstream country music, while pointing out a few glimmers of hope that will never be heard on the radio. Among this year’s highlights are:

10. Dailey & Vincent – ‘Patriots and Poets’

Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent had quite a year, which included being inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry in March, followed by the release of one of the best bluegrass albums of the year. This generous sample of bluegrass and spiritual tunes is the perfect showcase for the duo’s trademark harmonies.

9. Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary – ‘American Grandstand’

Not to be outdone, Darrin’s big sister Rhonda also turned in a stellar collection, teaming up this time with her former label mate Daryle Singletary. Although heavily reliant on cover material, there are some new songs here as well. This is a real treat for those who are starved for some real country music.

8. Charley Pride – ‘Music In My Heart’

The legendary Charley Pride returned after a six-year recording hiatus, with one of the strongest offerings of his post-major label career. Sirius XM subscribers who listen to Willie’s Roadhouse will no doubt be familiar with “You’re Still In These Crazy Arms of Mine”, which was my favorite song on the album. Like the Vincent/Singletary album, this one has its share of remakes but there’s not a weak one to be found.

7. Reba McEntire – ‘Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope’

Reba McEntire is my favorite female singer, but I’ve been disappointed with her offerings over the last decade more times than I care to remember. This double album which is divided evenly between traditional hymns and more contemporary inspirational songs shows that when commercial considerations are cast aside, Reba is still in a class all by herself. I’m cautiously optimistic that this album is a sign that she’s finally stopped chasing chart success and ready to release some worthwhile material again.

6. Sunny Sweeney – ‘Trophy’

While it’s regrettable that Sunny Sweeney never enjoyed the mainstream success she deserved, getting out of her major label deal was the best thing that ever happened to her from a creative standpoint. While Concrete was a bit too eclectic for my liking, Trophy gets it just right and is her best offering since Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame. “Bottle By My Bed”, which she co-wrote with Lori McKenna, would be a monster hit in a sane world.

5. Alison Krauss – ‘Windy City’

Alison Krauss is another artist with whom I’d become a bit disillusioned, but she redeemed herself nicely with this collection of cover songs, which aren’t quite classics for the most part, but deserved to be introduced to a new audience. This is the best album she’s done in years — arguably the best of her career.

4. Zephaniah OHora with the 18 Wheelers – ‘This Highway’

This collection of original material which recreates the Bakersfield and countrypolitan sounds of the 60s was a pleasant surprise. Although it could have benefited from a little more variety in tempo, this a wonderful album and I hope that it is the first of many from this native of Brooklyn.

3. & 2. Chris Stapleton: ‘From A Room: Volumes 1 & 2’

These widely anticipated follow-ups to 2015’s Traveller were presumably intended to be a double album, but Mercury Records seems to have gotten cold feet about the sales potential of a double set, so they split it into two separate releases. Both discs feature very sparse production and gorgeous harmonies from Chris’ wife Morgane Hayes-Stapleton. With a heavy blues influence, theses albums are not traditional country, but there are a perfect antidote to the overproduced pop masquerading as country music on the radio today. I liked the second volume slightly better than the first.

1. Willie Nelson and The Boys: ‘Willie’s Stash, Volume 2’

This collection finds the Red-Headed Stranger teaming up with his two sons Lukas and Micah and digging deeply into the catalog of Hank Williams. Despite their youth, the younger Nelsons show obvious enthusiasm for the material, proving that Willie raised those boys right. This was a pleasure from start to finish. My favorite track was the Hank Cochran-penned “Can I Sleep In Your Arms”, which was hit for Cochran’s then-wife Jeannie Seely in 1973 and later recorded by Willie for his Red-Headed Stranger album.

Album Review: Willie Nelson and The Boys: ‘Willie’s Stash, Volume 2’

This collection is a follow-up to Willie Nelson’s 2014 collaboration his sister Bobbie, December Day:  Willie’s Stash, Volume 1.   This time around Willie is teamed up with his two youngest sons, Micah and Lukas, who join him on eleven country classics and one contemporary number that leans heavily on the Hank Williams catalog.

Material-wise, there are no real surprises here.   As always when Willie Nelson records cover material, the unknown is always how much Willie will deviate from the originals.  In the case of this album, the answer is not much.   The seven Williams songs are handled reverently.   The two younger Nelsons, despite their youth, show great enthusiasm for the material and one gets the distinct impression that they have great respect and passion for, it and that these are not just a bunch of old songs that Dad forced them to record.    The three Nelsons harmonize well together, as family groups typically do, and there are some fantastic steel guitar solos courtesy of Mike Johnson.  Rarely have these old chestnuts sounded so energetic.

The one thing that did surprise me is how good Willie’s voice sounds throughout the album, with little signs of the wear-and-tear that has been apparent on some of his recent work.  From what I can gather, these recordings were made in 2011 and 2012, so that partially explains it.  However, his voice is noticeably stronger than it was on 2010’s Country Music collection for Rounder.  Whatever the reason, it’s good to hear Willie in such good vocal form.

This album could have been titled The Nelsons Sing Hank, since some of country music’s famous Hanks wrote the marjority of the album’s songs.  In addition to the seven Williams numbers (“Move It On Over”, “Mind Your Own Business”, “ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” , “Cold Cold Heart”, “Mansion on the Hill”, and “Why Don’t You Love Me”), the album contains a remake of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On”, Hank Locklin’s “Send Me The Pillow You Dream On”, and Hank Cochran’s “Can I Sleep In Your Arms”, which is my favorite song on the album.  Set to the melody of “Red River Valley”, it was a hit in 1973 for Cochran’s then-wife Jeannie Seely, and it was later recorded by Willie for his Red Headed Stranger album in 1975.

The album is rounded out by a cover of Willie’s original composition “Healing Hands of Time” and a modern-folk tune “My Tears Fall” written by singer/songwriter Alyssa Miller.  This contemporary number fits in surprisingly wel l with these old classics and doesn’t sound out of place at all next to them.

Buddy Cannon’s production is tastefully understated and for the most part the album has a sitting around the living room jam-session type feel to it.  I cannot find any fault with it, other than to say I wish it had been released as a double album.   I highly recommend it without reservation.

Grade:  A+

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Saddle The Wind’

The rise of the New Traditionalists in the late 1980s meant that the sooth pop-country which had served Janie well earlier in the decade was sounding dated. Janie was also now over 40, as younger artists came forward, and radio abandoned her, with no really successful singles from her 1987 album After Midnight. She took on the challenge with gusto, adapting to a much more traditional country style for 1988’s Saddle The Wind, with the help of producer Steve Buckingham. She was still, incidentally, using the new spelling of Frickie, which she had adopted for Black And White.

There were three singles to promote this album. Unfortunately, none did very well, but they are all excellent songs, beautifully sung and unmistakeably real country. ‘Where Does Love Go (When It’s Gone)’ is a brisk Peter Rowan song with a bright upbeat feel despite a lyric pondering the reasons for a breakup.

‘I’ll Walk Before I’ll Crawl’ is a lovely mid-paced ballad (written by Gidget Baird and Linda Buell) gives a cheating husband an ultimatum. The third and last single, ‘Heart’, was written by the ultra-successful writing team of Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet. It is an excellent song about a woman desperately tempted to cheat on her husband.

On a somewhat similar theme, Hank Cochran’s classic ‘Don’t Touch Me (If You Don’t Love Me)’ explores the draw of sexual desire knowing the loved one cannot offer what the protagonist needs:

Your hand is like a torch each time you touch me
That look in your eye pulls me apart
So don’t open the door to heaven if I can’t come in
No, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Your kiss is like a drink when I am thirsty
Oh and I’m thirsty for you with all my heart
But don’t love me, then act as though we’ve never kissed
Oh, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Janie’s intense vocal is superlative on this song.

Several other classic covers are also included. Willie Nelson’s ballad The Healing Hands Of Time’ is another true classic song given an exquisite vocal, with some tasteful steel and piano. The album opens with a sprightly version of the Western Swing ‘Sugar Moon’ which is delightful, and Janie also revives the up-tempo ‘Crazy Dreams’, one of Patsy Cline’s lesser known early recordings.

‘I’m Not That Good At Goodbye’, a much recorded song written by Bob McDill and Don Williams, has another excellent vocal from Janie. ‘If I Were Only Her Tonight’, written by McDill with Bucky Jones and Dickey Lee, is another fine song about unrequited love and the pull of an old flame.

There is a Marty Robbins Mexican flavor to the title track, with Spanish guitar accompanying a story song written by the album’s producer Buckingham, about a star-crossed border romance with a bandido.

Janie had a truly lovely voice, but at her commercial peak she was too often buried under poppy production. In this album she finally married her voice to great production and songs, making this by far her best work. I would recommend it to anyone.

Grade: A+

Album Review: ‘The Little Darlin’ Sound of Johnny Paycheck: On His Way’

In our spotlight feature, normally we review an artist’s albums in chronological order, not necessarily reviewing all albums released but those reviewed will be in order of release date. For Johnny Paycheck’s earliest albums, that is not a practical approach. In the case of the pre-Little Darlin’ recordings, no albums were released, just singles with many of the tracks not released until later. Johnny’s Little Darlin’ albums were released as albums; however, Little Darlin’ was but a bit player in the market with limited distribution. Many avid country music fans never saw one of these albums for sale in a store. Moreover, all of these albums were released during the 1960s so they are long out of print. Even finding used copies in acceptable condition is a real challenge. For instance, as this is written (Memorial Day), musicstack.com has one copy of the album The Lovin’ Machine listed for sale in VG+ condition at a price of $31.00. As a result of the above, for the pre-1970s Johnny Paycheck we will be reviewing some of the collections that have become available during the digital era.

Around 2005 Little Darlin’s legendary owner/producer Aubrey Mayhew resurrected his long defunct label via an arrangement with Koch. Little Darlin’ might be accurately described as an ‘outlaw’ label since its mid-1960s country output is truly renegade, recorded at a time when Nashville was awash in strings and choral arrangements. Instead of lush and lavish production, Little Darlin’ went for hard country sounds played by hard country musicians. Johnny Paycheck: On His Way was released in January 2005, the second release of Paycheck’s Little Darlin’ material on Koch. The album is composed of some singles Paycheck released while on the label, along with some album tracks. The album leads off with “I’d Rather Be Your Fool”, the first single released on the label. It failed to chart but received a little airplay around Nashville.

The second track, Hank Cochran’s classic “A-11” was originally recorded by Buck Owens on his Together Again/My Heart Skips A Beat album released in 1964. Buck did a really nice job with the song but did not release it as a single. Johnny had heard the song and thought it would make a good single for him. The record charted at #15 on Record World, and would set the template for future recordings – hardcore electric guitar and fiddle (usually Buddy Spicher but sometimes augmented with Tommy Jackson) with a very hard-edged steel guitar sound. Although not featured on “A-11”, on subsequent recordings Lloyd Green would play steel and lead the band. Track three is “Where In The World” is an album track. Track four is the single “Heartbreak Tennessee” which reached #39 on Record World.

The first four tracks set the tone for this album. Although not long on hits, this album features hard core country occasionally with desperate lyrics such as “I’m Barely Hanging On” penned by rockabilly legend ‘Groovy’ Joe Poovey:

It’s just my luck that I’ll have to exist
In a world where I just survive
I’m still breathing so I guess
That means I’m still alive
But no one could tell it by the image that they see
Since I let go of you I’m barely hanging on to me.

I quit looking into mirrors I such a sorry sight
How did I get so distorted so young in life
The worst of you has finally got the best of me
Since I let go of you I’m barely hanging on to me.

This particular collection does not feature Johnny’s most desperate (or demented) material; that would arrive a little later. What this album does feature is country music that is unmistakably country. The Johnny Paycheck – Aubrey Mayhew penned “The Meanest Jukebox In Town” is a fine example:

Each dime that goes into that jukebox

A little stream of life drains from my heart

The blues songs mixed with blue lights from that jukebox
 J
Just destroys and tears my world apart


Yes that’s the meanest jukebox in town


Each dream I try to build it crumbles to the ground

And since she’s gone

The only thing that keeps me hanging around

Is the meanest jukebox in town



You may ask yourself why don’t I leave here

Then ask yourself where would I go

Cause in this dim lit bar are my memories

And each song reminds me she once loved me so

The first three singles were issued on the Hilltop label, a label that could give Paycheck little promotional support. Subsequent singles would be issued on Little Darlin’, a label Mayhew created specifically to promote Paycheck’s recordings.

The album closes with the first single issued on the Little Darlin’ label, Larry Kingston’s “The Loving Machine”. Billboard and Record World both had this single reach #8, Paycheck’s first top ten recording.

The minute that I saw her
I knew I just had to have her
So I asked if I could take her for a spin’

When I heard her engine purrin’
And I saw her tail-light blinkin’
I knew I’d never be the same again

So I drove her ’round the corner
Up the street and down the highway
Showin’ off to everybody that I seen

[Chorus ]
She’s a streamlined, sleek lookin’
Smooth runnin’, fast movin’
Breathtakin’ lovin’ machine

Paycheck was indeed on his way. To modern ears, this music may seem unfamiliar, perhaps even alien. Certainly no artist recording over the last thirty years has recorded anything as hardcore as these recordings. This collection is a good starting point for younger listeners who wish to explore Paycheck’s early recordings. It hints at the intensity that Paycheck would develop very soon thereafter.

This collection was released by Little Darlin’ / Koch in 2005. I would call this collection a solid A-.

Album Review: Jeannie Seely – ‘Written In Song’

61wcxdrzxl-_ss500Grand Ole Opry star Jeannie Seely, best known for her 1966 hit “Don’t Touch Me”, enjoyed only moderate success as a recording artist, but many do not realize that she is also an accomplished songwriter. Written In Song, her latest collection, was released last month. It consists of 14 tracks, all of which were written or co-written by Seely. Twelve of the songs were previously recorded by other artists, while two were newly written for this project. None of them, however, had ever been recorded by Jeannie herself, until now.

In the 1960s, Monument Records had marketed Seely as “Miss Country Soul”, which was likely in part an acknowledgement that her initial success had occurred outside the realm of country music. “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is”, the oldest song on this album had been a 1964 R&B hit for Irma Thomas. The other 13 selections are strictly country. At age 76, Seely’s voice is a little rough around the ages at times, but not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the album.

I have to admit that I wasn’t previously familiar with any of the songs on this album. “Leavin’ and Sayin’ Goodbye” was a Top 10 hit for Faron Young in 1971 and had also been recorded by The Time Jumpers. Kenny and Tessa Sears, widower and daughter of the late Dawn Sears, join Jeannie on this track, which is one of the album’s standouts. Aside from that, none of the others seem to have been major hits that are well remembered today. I suspect that most of them were album cuts that were never released as singles. Nevertheless, they are all worthy of another listen. My favorite tracks are “Senses”, a co-write with Glen Campbell that features local harmonies by Marty Stuart and Connie Smith, “Sometimes I Do”, which had been recorded by Ernest Tubb, and “Enough to Lie”, which had been recorded by Ray Price. On a number that had been recorded by her old duet partner Jack Greene, Seely promises “You don’t need me, but you will.”

The album’s two new numbers allow Jeannie’s sense of humor to shine through. “Who Needs You” casts her in the role of a jilted lover, who is comforting herself with alcohol and shopping — standard operating procedure for a country song. Then comes the song’s final verse which discloses that she’s been enjoying a little marijuana as well. It’s hardly a shocking revelation in this day in age — and as Seely points out in her spoken disclaimer before starting the final verse, it’s legal now in many states — but it sure wasn’t what I was expecting to hear on this album. The closing number is “We’re Still Hanging In There, Ain’t We Jessi”, which name drops the names of many famous women of country music — from Audrey Williams and Jan Howard to Tammy Wynette and Jessi Colter — who survived difficult relationships with some of country music’s famous men. Her own failed marriage to Hank Cochran is also referenced, all in an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek manner. Jan Howard and Jessi Colter both lend their voices to the track.

Written In Song is a surprisingly fresh-sounding album. It’s mostly traditional country, with plenty of fiddle and some fine steel guitar work, but it manages to avoid sounding retro despite the fact that many of the songs are fifty or more years old. I’m sure that many listeners, like me, will be hearing these songs for the first time. If it is something you don’t want to spend money on, it is available on streaming services such as Amazon Unlimited and is worth checking out.

Grade: B+

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-

Album Review: Lorraine Jordan and Caroline Road – ‘Country Grass’

country-grass-2016If you like real country music, the kind that was played before 2005, with meaningful lyrics written by master craftsmen like Dallas Frazier, Cindy Walker, Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, Merle Haggard and Tom T Hall, where do you go to hear it live?

Unless you live in Texas, your best choice is to visit a bluegrass festival. Today’s bluegrass acts are vitally concerned about finding good songs, regardless of the copyright dates. They are not concerned about the feeding and watering of mediocre songwriters simply because they are part of the pool of co-writers. A typical bluegrass group will include anywhere from 20% upwards of classic country songs in their repertoire.

Exhibit number one is the most recent album, Country Grass, by Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road. This album is a bit of an outlier, because all of the songs are classic country, but one listen to this album and you will plainly hear that the legacy of 60s-90s country music is in good hands.

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road are a veteran act, having performed at the bluegrass festivals for over fifteen years. Lorraine plays mandolin and handles most of the lead vocals. She is joined by Ben Greene (banjo), Josh Goforth (fiddle), Brad Hudson (dobro) and Jason Moore (upright bass).

In putting this album together of classic country songs, Lorraine assembled a fine cast of guest stars, obtaining the services of the original artist where possible.

The album opens up with the Kentucky Headhunters’ song “Runnin’ Water”, a track from the Kentucky Headhunters’ fourth album. Doug Phelps of the Kentucky Headhunters sings lead on this entertaining track with bandmate Richard Young contributing harmony vocals. This track is straight ahead bluegrass.

Eddy Raven had a #1 record in 1984 with “I Got Mexico” and he chips in with the lead vocals on a track that is more bluegrass flavored than actual bluegrass.

“Darned If I Don’t, Danged If I Do” was a Shenandoah song. Shenandoah’s lead sing Marty Raybon has spent much of the last decade on the bluegrass circuit performing bluegrass versions of Shenandoah hits with his band Full Circle. The song is done in overdrive, but Marty remains one of the premier vocalists.

John Conlee is a long-time Opry veteran who had a decade (1978-1987) long run of top ten hits, including his 1983 #1 hit “Common Man”, taken at about the same tempo as his 1983 hit. Brad Hudson takes a verse of the lead vocal.

country-grass-2015Crystal Gayle had a #1 Country / #18 Pop hit in 1978 with “Waiting For The Times To Get Better”. Crystal and Lorraine trade verses on this one, an elegant sounding song and arrangement.

Lee Greenwood had a #1 record with “Dixie Road” in 1985. Unfortunately, Lee’s voice has eroded over the years so having Troy Pope sing a verse is welcome.

Jim Ed Brown has a top twenty recording of “You Can Have Her” back in 1967. This was probably one of Jim Ed’s last recording before his recent death, but he was in very fine voice indeed. Tommy Long takes part of a verse and harmonizes on this jazzy ballad.

“Boogie Grass Band” was a big hit for Conway Twitty in 1978, the title explaining the feel of the song completely. Unfortunately, Conway has been gone for over twenty years so Lorraine simply got everyone involved in this project to take short vocal turns, preserving the original tempo.

Randy Travis was in no shape to perform so Tommy Long handles the vocals on “Digging Up Bones”. Meanwhile T. G. Sheppard is still with us, so he and Tommy Long handle the vocals on “Do You Want To Go To Heaven”. The instrumentation here is bluegrass, but the tempo remains that of the country ballad that T.G. took to #1 in 1980.

Jesse Keith Whitley is the son of Lorrie Morgan and the late great Keith Whitley. Jesse sounds quite similar to his father and acquits himself well on “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. Jeannette Williams contributes gorgeous harmony vocals to this track which is taken at the same tempo as Keith’s original.

It would be hard to conceive of a bigger country/pop hit than Joe South’s “Rose Garden”, taken to the top of the charts in 1970-1971 by Lynn Anderson. Not only did the song top the country and pop charts in the USA, it went top four or better in nine foreign countries. Lynn Anderson and Lorraine Jordan share the lead vocals on this song, which probably sounds the least similar to the original of all the tracks on this album. Lynn passed away last summer, so this is one of the last tracks (perhaps the last track) she ever recorded.

Lorraine’s band shines on the last track of the album “Last Date”. Although there were several sets of lyrics appended to Floyd Cramer’s piano classic, I don’t really like any of the lyrics I’ve heard, so I appreciate that this was left as an instrumental.

I picked up this disc about a month ago and it has been in heavy rotation in my CD player since them. I was inspired to write this when Jonathan Pappalardo posted a video of John Anderson singing with Lorraine and Carolina Road. John is not on the original (2015) version of the album, but his performance can be purchased on Lorraine’s website http://www.carolinaroadband.com/, and is on the new re-released version.

Even if you do not particularly care for bluegrass you might really like this album, chock full of solid country gold songs, fine vocals and exquisite musicianship. I give it an A-, docking it very slightly for the eroded voices of a few of the guests.

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Love And Music’

love and musicLove And Music was the tenth duet album by Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton. Released in July 1973, only one single was released from the album, a cover of a Carl Smith oldie from 1951, “If Teardrops Were Pennies”, a song which Carl took to #8, but Porter and Dolly took to #3. As always, Bob Ferguson is listed as the producer.

The album opens up with “If Teardrops Were Pennies”. I don’t happen to own a vinyl copy of this album, but I’ve seen it and if I recall correctly Carl Butler, who wrote this song, also wrote the liner notes to this album. The song is a mid-tempo romp that Porter & Dolly do very well indeed, although I also like Carl Smith’s version of the song and the recordings that Carl & Pearl Butler made of the song.

If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold
I’d have all the treasures my pockets would hold
I’d be oh so wealthy with treasures untold
If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold

An acre of diamonds I’d offer to you
A solid gold mansion, an airplane or two
This whole world would be yours to have and to hold
If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold

Next up is the first of four Porter Wagoner tunes on the album “Sounds of Night” a gentle ballad with a nice fiddle intro by Mack Magaha. The song describes the lonely sounds of night (whippoorwills, church bells) and how they translate to human emotions

I don’t know much about Howard Tuck, other than what I found in his obituary (http://www.mywebtimes.com/obituaries/howard-red-tuck/article_e67fea9d-9ee8-5b24-8d2c-e7e5cf4e0300.html ) but his song “Laugh The Years Away” is a good song that would have made a good single. The song is a humorous look at married life, happy even if not blessed with material wealth.

A corporation owns the factory I work in
Someone else owns the house we call our home
The bank owns the car we drive around
And we’ve got something we can call our own

We’ve got love happiness surrounds us
And we thank the Lord for every single day
And with love we’ll always have each other
And together we can laugh the years away

Next up is the first of four Dolly Parton tunes on this album “You”, a rather bland ballad of domestic bliss.

Porter’s “Wasting Love” also would have made a good single, an up-tempo song about a couple growing apart. While the lyrics are good, the strength of the song is the melody.

“Come To Me” is a slow, serious ballad, that essentially finds Porter and Dolly trading verses. The song is inspirational without being religious. The song had no potential as a single, but it is a nice song.

Porter co-wrote “Love Is Out Tonight” with Tom Pick. The song is a slow ballad with very vivid imagery.

As blue skies and daylight darken into night
Surrounding us with beauty as the stars make their light
They spell out our names all the stars up above
As they flicker and shine like letters of love

Then a warm breath of air whispers through the trees
As the leaves on their branches have blown to the breeze
Ripples of water seemed to echo the sound
Love’s out tonight there’s love all around

Small drops of dew act as nature’s perfume
Placing its fragrance on all that’s in blue
While I hold you so close your lips touching mine
With nature all around us watching our love entwine

Porter Wagoner penned “In The Presence of You”. The song features a nice piano intro to a slow ballad of a people who cannot find the right words to say to each other, although they love each other deeply.

In the presence of you I wonder
Why I can’t say the things that I want to
All the pretty words that I planned to say when I’m with you
I lose them in the presence of you

Your nearness makes my voice tremble
There’s a weakness that I feel through and through
Searching for words to describe how I love you
Don’t come easy in the presence of you

Dolly penned “I Get Lonesome By Myself”, another of Dolly’s lonesome little girl songs. In this song the narrator stumbles across the daughter he abandoned a few years back. Dolly’s part is spoken in a somewhat creepy effort at a six year old girl’s voice.

The album closes with the forth Dolly Parton composition “There Will Always Be Music”, a nice capstone to the album.

As the farmer works the fields he sings a song
The songbirds in the trees sing along
And the wind makes melodies as it whistles through the trees
Man’s burdens are made lighter with a song

There’ll always be music as long as there’s a story to be told
There’ll always be music cause music is the voice of the song
There’ll always be music

Dolly Parton has a well deserved reputation as a songwriter, but Porter was no slouch either, although neither Porter nor Dolly would rank up there with Cindy Walker, Dallas Frazier, Harlan Howard or Hank Cochran. On this album at least, Porter’s songs are stronger than Dolly’s.

This is a pretty decent album, although not necessarily one of their better albums. As Jonathan Pappalardo noted in his excellent review of The Right Combination/Burning The Midnight Oil, “[w]hile none of these songs have truly amounted to anything, they combine to make a fine collection on their own”.

My feelings exactly – B+

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘Chill Factor’

chill factorMerle Haggard turned fifty shortly before Chill Factor was released in October 1987. To those of us who remember when the blues and jazz were still influences on country music (rather than the hip-hop and rock that seem to be today’s influences) this album is an overlooked treasure out of the Merle Haggard catalogue. The album is compromised of eleven songs of which Merle wrote six by himself, with three co-writes and two songs from outside sources.

I’m not sure, but I think this was the first complete Merle Haggard album recorded without longtime Stranger Roy Nichols (1932-2001) on lead guitar. Roy, who was a truly great guitar player, and a quintessential part of the Merle Haggard sound, retired in early 1987 due to health issues.

The album opens with the title track, a solo Haggard composition. “Chill Factor” is a very melancholy song about a down period in the singer’s life. Taken at a slow tempo the song features horns and winds during the last third of the song and comes to a fade ending. “Chill Factor” was the first single from the album and reached #9 on the Billboard country chart:

The long nights get longer
And I wish a friend would come by
The forecast is zero
And the chill factor is high

“Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star”, another Haggard composition, was the second single released from the album. It would prove to be Merle’s final #1 single. A mid-tempo song, the song finds the narrator wishing upon a star.

Like two ships on the ocean
We drifted apart …

Twinkle twinkle lucky star
Can you send me luck from where you are
Can you make a rainbow shine that far
Twinkle twinkle lucky star

“Man From Another Town” is yet another melancholy song, this time from the pens of Haggard and his most frequent co-writer at the time, Freddy Powers, This song reflects on relationship that should not be in that the man is thirty years older than the woman.

The great Hank Cochran wrote “We Never Touch At All”, a song that would have been a #1 record if it had been released twenty years earlier. The song features a 1960s style country accompaniment with excellent steel guitar by longtime Stranger Norm Hamlet. The song was released as the third single from the album and reached #22. The song is about a relationship that is slowly unraveling. I think it is the best song on the album:

Are we afraid we’ll wind up alone
Is this the tie that keeps us hanging on
Why don’t we just stay out
While we can still climb the wall
We hardly ever talk
And we never touch at all

“You Babe” was the fourth and final single pulled from this album, reaching #23. The song is a mid-tempo ballad, full of hope, by a man who has found what was truly important. The comes from the pen of Sanger D “Whitey” Shafer who was a friend and co-writer with Lefty Frizzell:

And if there’s nothin’ else I do
To spend my whole life through
Lovin’ you, babe, you babe
I’ll always be in command
Just as long as I’m the man
Lovin’ you, babe, you babe

“Thanking The Good Lord” is an upbeat and up-tempo written ny Merle and T.A. Lane:

The pieces are all falling together
The picture is coming in view
When I thought the end was upon me
I found my purpose in you

And let the power that made
Help me to prosper and be fair in all things that I do
The love I’ve been needin’ I just found in your heart
And I’m thanking the good Lord for you

I could easily see Leon Redbone recording “After DarK”, a very jazzy and reflective mid-tempo song with some instrumental breaks that give sax and trumpet player Don Markham a chance to stretch out.

Merle’s solo composition “1929” opens up with some nice dobro playing by Norm Hamlet, and the general feel of the instrumental accompaniment sounds like something that the legendary “Blue Yodeler” Jimmie Rodgers (aka “the father of country music” or the “Singing Brakeman”) would have felt perfectly comfortable singing. This song looks to possible bad times ahead. Like many of Jimmie’s songs, some Memphis style horns kick in during the latter part of the song:

All my life I’ve heard about hard depression days
They so resemble times we’re living now
And old news of yesteryear sounds like yesterday
And hunger lines always look the same somehow

Are we living now or is it 1929
A dollar bill ain’t worth one thin dime
And tricks are sometimes played upon the mind
Are we living now or 1929

I can really relate to “Thirty Again”, a slow introspective ballad with a hint of a chuckle in the vocal. Like several of the songs on this album, this song straddles the border between country and jazz.

Similar to the narrator of the song I don’t think I’d care to be a teenager again but thirty sounds like a good age to be.

Youth should be saved for the last
But it’s wasted on the young and fast…

Wish I could be thirty again
Wish time didn’t wrinkle my skin
They say life begins at fifty
We’ve been lied to my friend
And I just wish I could be
Thirty again

The album closes up with a pair of fairly traditional country ballads.

“I Don’t Have Any Love Around” opens with a fiddle and steel guitar introduction and generally keeps the feel of slow traditional country music ballad. I could see this song as a single during the 1950-1975 heyday of the genre.

“More Than This Old Heart Can Take” is a typical barroom crying-in-your-beer song, a solid mid-tempo country ballad with plenty of fiddle and dobro and an ageless story:

You walk into his arms before my very eyes
You can’t even wait to be somewhere alone
The ties that bind have broken loose and I’m about to break
Loving you is more than this old heart can take

There was a place in time when I was always on your mind
And now I’m nothing more than just a fool
I thought that I was strong enough to live with my mistake
But loving you is more than this old heart can take

I mentioned that this was the first full Haggard album to be missing Roy Nichols. In his place we have the great Grady Martin handling much of the lead guitar work. I think Martin’s presence lends itself to the jazzy feel Haggard seemed to be seeking with this album.

As for the album itself, I think that the album accurately reflects the roller coaster ride that Merle was experiencing at the time. He had one marriage (to Leona Williams) break rather acrimoniously, but at the point this album was released, Hag was a relative newlywed having married Debbie Parret in 1985, a marriage that would last until 1991. Like many veteran artists, he was having a hard time getting radio play as the singles from this album would prove. In all, Merle is revealed as being clear-minded and perceptive, with some nostalgic longings, but still firmly rooted in the present . When initially released this album received mixed reviews, (but remember that jazz has always been an anathema to rock audiences – there was even a band calling itself Johnny Hates Jazz) and most music critics had no feel for jazz in any form.

I liked this album when it was initially issued and I like it even more today – I regard it as a solid A.

Merle Haggard – vocals, guitar, background vocals
Biff Adam – drums / Jim Belken – fiddle
Gary Church – trombone / Steve Gibson – guitar
Norm Hamlet – dobro, pedal steel guitar
Jim Haas – background vocals / Jon Joice – background vocals
Bonnie Owens – background vocals
Red Lane – guitar Mike Leech – bass
Don Markham – saxophone, trumpet
Grady Martin – guitar / Clint Strong – guitar
Bobby Wayne – guitar / Mark Yeary – keyboards

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Real. Country. Music.’

real country musicWhile his commercial success never equalled his prowess, Gene Watson is one of the great country singers. Furthermore, of all the veterans still performing, his voice has held out the best, and almost unbelievably, he still sounds glorious at over 70. Gene’s producer for the last few projects, Dirk Johnson, does his usual sterling job – few album titles are as accurate about the contents as this one. The songs are all older ones, making this album something of a companion piece to its immediate predecessor, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, and are almost all emotional ballads about lost love, which play to Gene’s strengths as a vocalist.

One does not normally expect to hear a Gene Watson album opening with swelling strings, but his voice soon takes over, and the remainder of the album comprises familiar country arrangements featuring fiddles and steel guitars. ‘Enough For You’ is an excellent Kris Kristofferson tune which first appeared on the latter’s Jesus Was A Capricorn album in 1972. Gene says he first heard it in 1980 in the form of Billie Jo Spears’s cover (from her 1975 album Billie Jo), and has wanted to record it ever since. The suicidal cuckold’s lament is perfectly suited to Watson’s perfectly judged vocal, and is the first single.

‘She Never Got Me Over You’ is the last song Keith Whitley wrote before his untimely death (with the help of Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran). A powerful song about love and obsession, it was recorded a few years ago by Mark Chesnutt, but Gene makes it sound as if it was written just for him. If you want to check out Keith’s original demo, it’s on youtube.

There are two covers of Larry Gatlin songs, both of which were recorded by Elvis in the 70s. The gospel ballad ‘Help Me’ is delicately understated (and may serve as a taster for a new religious album Gene plans to release later this year). ‘Bitter They Are, Harder To Fall’ is a classic heartbreak ballad which Gene actually recorded many years ago on his early album Because You Believed In Me.

Gene revisits a number of other songs he has previously recorded on this album. ‘Old Loves Never Die’ was never a single, but as the title track of one of his most successful albums is perhaps the most familiar to fans. The melancholic ‘Ashes To Ashes’ was on his excellent but often overlooked 1987 alDbum Honky Tonk Crazy (his final Epic release). He covered the superb ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’ (previously cut by George Jones) on his now hard to find 1997 album A Way To Survive; this new steel-led recording is beautiful. He cut Bill Anderson’s ‘When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind’ on his Sings set in 2003; another jealous man’s pain-filled take on love lost but still deeply felt, this is magnificently sung.

A little less familiar is ‘A Girl I Used To Know’ – not the classic song of that name, but a David Ball song from the latter’s underrated 2004 album Freewheeler. A subtly sad, slow song about poignant memories of lost love with the steel guitar to the fore, it fits nicely with the other material. ‘A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn’ is a wonderful song written by Jim McBride and Roger Murrah which was one of Conway Twitty’s last few singles. Nat Stuckey’s emotional All My Tomorrows’ is another fine song and recording.

The one song not fitting the pattern of slow sad songs is a honky tonker previously recorded by Waylon Jennings and Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘I’ll Find It Where I Can’. One venture away from country territory is a cover of the Nat King Cole hit ‘Ramblin’ Rose’. Although there have been country covers of the song before, none was a big hit. Gene’s version is nice, and he certainly mnages to make it sound like a country song, but insofar as this album has a weak spot, this is it.

This is a superb album of excellent songs by one of the genre’s all time great singers, who is, thankfully, still in possession of his golden voice.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Only The Greatest’

only the greatestThe title of Only The Greatest, released in 1968, may suggest a compilation, but in fact it was another new album, produced as before by Chet Atkins. The material focuses on broken hearts.

the initial single, ‘Walk On Out Of My Mind’ was Waylon’s iggest hit to date, reaching #5 on Billboard.

The album’s best remembered track was the booming assertive second single, #2 hit ‘Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line’, the first real example of his mature style. This stands up today as an all-time classic.

The next best song is the Hank Cochran ballad ‘You’ll Think Of Me’, addressed to the protagonist’s ex-wife’s new husband, warning him of what lies ahead:

When the new wears off
And the glamor’s gone
But the ties that bind
Keep holdin’ on –
And they’re strong

You’ll think of me being with her
Like I thought of her
Being with them and you
And God knows who
You’re happy now but wait and see
When she treats you
Like she’s treated me
As you wake to see
Who the next will be
You’ll think of me

The perky ‘California Sunshine’, written by Harlan Howard has the lovelorn protagonist heading west to get over a heartbreak by finding new love. Waylon’s vocal is solid and committed, but the production has dated a bit.

Waylon shows his skills as a tender ballad singer on the Jerry Chesnut-penned ‘Weakness In A Man’. The Nashville Sound backing vocals, while dated, actually work quite well on this song, in which a disturbing threat of murdering his straying wife is masked by a gentle melody.

Waylon co-wrote just a couple of tunes: the pleasant sounding if lyrically doleful ‘Sorrow (Breaks A Man Down)’ is okay, but I really enjoyed the mid-tempo ‘Wave Goodbye To Me’, which he wrote with Don Bowman and Jackson King.

‘Christina’ is a Spanish-flavored number in the style of Marty Robbins, with bright horns. Red Lane wrote ‘Walk On Out Of My Mind’, a sad song about the aftermath of a breakup. ‘Such A Waste Of Love’ is a downbeat tune written by Bobby Bare, while ‘Long Gone’ is a Jerry Reed cover, and quite enjoyable.

One misstep is a cover of pop singer-songwriter Neil Diamond’s ‘Kentucky Woman’, which just doesn’t translate into a country song – Waylon’s version is very similar to the original. While not precisely a misstep, Waylon’s perfectly good version of the beautiful ‘Too Far Gone’ (written by the late Billy Sherrill) pales a little in comparison to Emmylou Harris’s cover a few years later.

On the whole, though, this is a very good album which shows Waylon developing into the artist he was to become.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Sunrise’

sunriseShelby Lynne was teamed up with veteran producer Billy Sherrill for her first album in 1989. Her duet with George Jones and a cover of Buck Owens’ ‘Under Your Spell Again’ which had been her solo single debut were left off the tracklisting, which leans a little less traditional than either of those tracks. Shelby was only 20 when the album was released, but sounds considerably older.

Her big booming voice was front and center in ‘The Hurtin’ Side’, the album’s lead single, which just cracked the country top 40. Written by Mike Reid and Rory Michael Bourke, it’s a solid song about facing heartbreak. Reid and Bourke wrote two additional songs on the album, one of which is my favourite: ‘Till You Were Gone’, also recorded by John Conlee, is an agonized expression of regret at love discovered too late:

Every night right about now
I grow uneasy
Kinda restless somehow
It starts out like thunder on a slow steady roll
And I hit the floor half out of control

Baby I wonder if you look the same
Do you have children?
What are their names?
Does the one that you’re with
Need you all night long?
Like I never did
Until you were gone

Their third song, ‘Your Love Stays With me’ is a big ballad, more AC than country, and although it is well performed it doesn’t have a big impact.

The album’s only other single, ‘Little Bits And Pieces’ is a fine ballad recalling a broken relationship, penned by Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran, but unfortunately it did not catch on at radio. It is quite heavily strung and Shelby emotes intensely, perhaps a little too much. ‘Thinking About You Again’ is a slightly more understated but still deeply emotional ballad with a despairing lyric abut failing to move on after a breakup, written by Stephony Smith and Mike Porter.

Sherrill contributed one song, ‘This Time I Almost Made It’, an older song previously recorded by Barbara Mandrell, cited by Shelby as one of her big influences. A yearning cheating song, it had also been recorded by Tammy Wynette with Billy Sherrill at the helm, so perhaps it was his choice for Shelby, whose version stands up well to her illustrious predecessors.

The assertive ‘What About This Girl’, written by Randy Boudreaux with Madeline Stone, picks up the tempo but is not particularly country. The same goes for the bluesy ‘That’s Where It Hurts’, which starts out slow and then turns bold and brassy as she belts out a tale of heartbreak wherever she goes.

A languid jazzy take on Floyd Tillman’s classic ‘I Love You So Much It Hurts’ is effective, but the similarly jazz-inflected version of standard ‘I’m Confessin’’ is a little dull and feels self-indulgent.

Shelby’s voice and emotional intensity belied her youth, and this was an interesting debut. Although she did draw on the heritage of country music, her eclectic tastes and the fact that her retro tastes leaned more to the Nashville Sound and other genres, I wonder if she would have done better if she had been five or ten years older rather than making her debut during the heyday of the neotraditional movement. If you have eclectic tastes this is worth picking up: the vocals are strong, the songs pretty good, and the production suits her. But it was a little out of place in 1989.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Dean Dillon – ‘I’ve Learned To Live’

i've learned to liveMost fans will know Dean Dillon as a fine songwriter, who cranks out hits for other artists. Unfortunately, this album will do nothing to dispel that notion. By the time this album came along in 1989, Dillon had already largely figured out his fate in life (although he still harbored some delusions of grandeur as a singer) and mostly had quit trying to save his best material for himself. I’ve Learned To Live consists largely of material he had not been able to pitch elsewhere. That is not to say that there aren’t some good songs here, just that the material with real hit potential had already been channeled to George Strait, Vern Gosdin and other top-shelf artists. That said, I really enjoyed this album, which I regard as his best solo effort.

The album opens up with “Just In Time” an up-tempo song co-written with Frank Dycus. There is some nice mandolin playing on the track by Randy Scruggs.

“Changes Comin’ On” is a slow ballad that probably is the best song on the album. Co-written with Jimmy Darrell and Buddy Cannon. Alabama and Gene Watson recorded this song on albums.

Well, I’m still hooked on Haggard
But the Beatles can’t come back like we hoped they would
In Memphis, Tennessee, King is gone
As I put my kids to bed, oh, I wonder what lies ahead for them to see
‘Cause I can feel the change comin’ on

I can feel changes comin’ on
People still are singin’ different songs
They’re searchin’ for the place where they belong
I can feel changes comin’ on

“Who Do You Think You Are”, co-written with Frank Dycus, is a nice ballad that would have made a good single for someone.

“Don’t You Even Think About Leaving” features the great Tanya Tucker duetting with Dean. The song is quick, sassy and well suited for a duet. Johnny Gimble plays fiddle as only he can.

“I’ve Learned To Live”, co-written with Frank Dycus, is a nice ballad that Shelby Lynne also recorded. Dean does a nice job with the song

Like a child lost in the wilderness I knew not where to go
Surrounded by the emptiness of a love that left me cold
I stumbled through the darkness of nights that have no stars
And days that have no sunshine to warm my naked heart

Like a bird in flight brought down by stones from an unknown assailant’s sling
A stranger took you from my arms and I lost everything
In days to come I nearly ran out of ways to stay alive
But through it all I never lost the will to survive

But I’m not over you and I doubt that I’ll ever be
So I’ve learned to live and you won’t be the death of me oh no
Yes I’ve learned to live and I’m doing well but I’m not over you

“It’s Love That Makes You Sexy” was one of two singles issued from the album. It’s not a bad song (actually the Dean Dillon / Frank Dycus pairing didn’t write any bad songs) but Dean just wasn’t a marketable singer. Despite Sonny Garrish’s nice steel guitar work, this one died at #61 in 1989.

The next single “Back In The Swing of Things” fared even worse, dying at #89 (it reached #70 on the Canadian Country charts). Dean’s version of the song really does swing – with Johnny Gimble on fiddle and Sonny Garrish on steel, how can it not swing? Co-writer Vern Gosdin also recorded the song on an album. The song really should have been a hit – I would rate it as the second best song on the album.

Hank Cochran collaborated with Dean on “Summer Was A Bummer”. It’s a nice song but nothing special.

“Her Thinkin’ I’m Doin’ Her Wrong” sounds like a country song from the 1965-1975 period with the steel guitar serving as the lead instrument with Johnny Gimble lending a few flourishes with his fiddle. Glenn Martin co-wrote this song and also wrote a bunch of hits for people like Charley Pride and Merle Haggard, either of whom would have had a hit on this song during their heydays.

Her thinkin’ I’m a doin’ her wrong
Ain’t a doin’ me right

The album closes with “Holdin’ Pattern, a nice ballad that Dean sings well.

Dean’s prior album Slick Nickel reeked of 1980s production values. In contrast, this album has more authentically country production with but slight traces of the sound that characterized the early 1980s. He has an ace fiddle player in Johnny Gimble, a superb steel player in Sonny Garrish, a multi-instrumental wizard in Randy Scruggs, and a solid second fiddler in Paul Anastasio. Unfortunately, if this album couldn’t produce any hits for Dean, it would seem unlikely that he could ever break through as an artist. I’d give this album a B+.

Spotlight Artist: Dean Dillon

dean dillonIn his classic 1973 album Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies, Bobby sings a song titled “Sure Hit Songwriter’s Pen”, a story of how the narrator wrote hit song after hit song, until he lost his pen. After that he could no longer write any hits. I’m not sure that is what happened to Bare, but after this album, which featured two #1 singles, Bobby Bare never again had a top ten record.

Rest assured that the pen, although lost, wasn’t destroyed. It eventually found its way into the hands of our April artist of the month Dean Dillon. Dean studied his craft and associated with the best songwriters going (Frank Dycus, Hank Cochran, Linda Hargrove and Vern Gosdin among them). He mastered the art of co-writing but remained capable of writing a song completely himself. Although he had aspirations of being a country music star with hit records and grand tours, at some point Dean realized that for him, fame and fortune would come in the form of writing hits for other artists.

Born in 1955 as Larry Dean Flynn, Dean Dillon first came to the consciousness of the American public through a pair of collaborative albums on RCA with fading honky-tonk renegade Gary Stewart. Brotherly Love, released in 1982, reached #23 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart and Those Were The Days, released in 1983, reached #54. A total of five singles were released from the two albums – all of them charted, but none of them cracked the top 40.

After leaving RCA, Dean would be a few years before he landed another record deal. Meanwhile, he paid the rent and the groceries through his successful songwriting. In the late seventies Dean did the unthinkable and pitched his best songs to an unknown artist making his first album for MCA. That unknown artist, George Strait, wound up recording six of Dean’s songs for his debut album, including his first hit “Unwound”, which reached #6. Over the course of time, Strait would record many of Dean’s songs. As of October 2013, the total was 54 songs, many of them huge hits for Strait.

Another of his early efforts was a co-written song (with Hank Williams Jr, Gary Stewart and Tanya Tucker) titled “Leave Them Boys Alone”. Released in 1983, the song reached #6 for the unlikely trio of Hank Williams, Jr., Waylon Jennings and Ernest Tubb. Another song, “Tennessee Whiskey”, was a hit twice, once for David Allen Coe and once for George Jones.

During his early years Dean still had aspirations of being a successful performer, but his first four solo albums didn’t sell, his singles only charted in the lower reaches of the chart and his live performances weren’t grossing the money he had hoped. In 1992, Dean had high hopes for the song “Easy Come, Easy Go”, a track on one of his Atlantic albums; however, up to this point in his career none of Dean’s singles had charted at higher than #25 (“Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her” in 1980 – later a #1 hit for Strait in 1986) and nothing since 1980 had charted higher than #39.

Married with small children that he didn’t see nearly enough, Dillon found himself at a crossroads in his career. When George Strait asked for the rights to “Easy Come, Easy Go” for release as a single, Dean did the math and determined that a George Strait single that reached #1 was worth $100K+ whereas a Dean Dillon single charting in the mid-50s was worth almost nothing. Accordingly, Dean gave George the song, gave up his recording contract and settled into becoming a full time songwriter. It was a very wise decision. Dean Dillon is not a bad singer but I am certain that the many George Strait recordings of Dean Dillon songs are all better than Dean’s recordings of the same songs are or would have been. Dean would probably agree.

Below is a partial list of the songs Dean Dillon has had a hand in writing: Read more of this post