My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Harry Belafonte

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Country Boy’

Although they are two very different artists, there are some comparisons to be drawn between Don Williams and George Strait. Fans usually knew exactly what they were getting when each artist released a new album; seldom where there any surprises or real creative stretches but the results were always satisfying and performed well commercially. Country Boy was Don Williams’ second album release of 1977 and his fifth overall for ABC/Dot. Released in September, it was produced by Don himself and produced three top 10 hits.

The first of those hits was “I’m Just a Country Boy”, from which the album title is derived. The song dates back to 1954, having been originally recorded by Harry Belafonte. A staid but very pretty ballad written by Fred Kellerman and Marshall Baker, its protagonist laments that his lack of material possessions will prevent him from winning over the object of his affections, who is engaged to someone else. The lyrics paint an effective picture of a simple but peaceful country lifestyle, without resorting to the cliches of today’s redneck pride anthems:

‘I ain’t gonna marry in the fall; I ain’t gonna marry in the spring
Cause I’m in love with a pretty little girl who wears a diamond ring
And I’m just a country boy money have I none
But I’ve got silver in the stars
And gold in morning sun gold in morning sun.’

While this song would be considered too mournful for radio release today, forty years ago audiences and radio programmers loved it and it reached #1 in November. The single’s B-side was a Bob McDill tune called “Louisiana Saturday Night”, a slightly more energetic version of which would go on to be a hit for Mel McDaniel a few years later. While McDaniel’s version remains the definitive one, Williams acquits himself nicely on this one and I could easily imagine his version being a hit as well.

“I’ve Got a Winner in You”, a Williams co-write with Wayland Holyfield, was the second single, which reached #7. Its B-side was another Williams composition “Overlookin’ and Underthinkin'”, a very nice number with a gentle pedal steel track and subtle strings, that is one of my favorites. Another personal favorite is the Bob McDill-penned “Rake and Ramblin’ Man”, about a free-spirit who is forced to settle down by an unplanned pregnancy. To his credit, the protagonist is quite willing to leave behind his bachelor days and embrace the next phase of his life. “Rake and Ramblin’ Man” peaked at #3.

“Sneakin’ Around” is another Williams original about a cheating spouse that I also think had hit potential. The two remaining Williams compositions “Look Around You” and the slightly more pop-leaning “It’s Gotta Magic” are somewhat less effective but still enjoyable. Jim Rushing’s “Too Many Tears (To Make Love Strong)” is pleasant but not particularly memorable.

Peaking at #9 on the albums chart, Country Boy was Don’s lowest-charting album for ABC/Dot since he joined the label three years earlier and this was the last time he would release two LPs in one year. Still, #9 is nothing to sneeze at. Its stripped-down approach was at odds with much of the music of the day but it has aged well and stood the test of time. It is available on a 3-for-1 import CD along with You’re My Best Friend and Harmony, and I highly recommend it.

Grade: A

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Fellow Travelers: Gordon Lightfoot (1938-)

gordon lightfootThis is the sixth in a series of short articles about artists who, although not country artists, were of some importance to country music.

WHO WAS HE?

Gordon Lightfoot arguably is Canada’s most successful folk performer with a long string of pop successes in the United States and Canada and some hits in Australia and the UK as well. Gordon had many hits in Canada before breaking through as a singer in the US, but many of his compositions were made hits by American artists including songs such as “Ribbon of Darkness” (Marty Robbins) and “Early Morning Rain” (Peter, Paul & Mary, George Hamilton IV) . Among the other artists who have recorded Lightfoot’s songs are Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., The Kingston Trio, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Viola Wills, Richie Havens, The Dandy Warhols, Harry Belafonte, Tony Rice, Sandy Denny (with Fotheringay), The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Scott Walker, Sarah McLachlan, John Mellencamp, Toby Keith, Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, The Irish Rovers and Olivia Newton-John.

As a singer, Gordon’s most successful records were “Sundown”, “If You Could Read My Mind” and “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald”, the first two reaching #1 in the US and Canada and the latter (a Canadian #1) reaching #2 in the US despite its six-minute length.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?

Although Gordon Lightfoot charted eight times on Billboard’s Country charts, only “Sundown” cracked the top fifteen. His real importance to country music is in the huge number of country artists who recorded his songs. George Hamiliton IV recorded many of his songs on various albums scoring hits with “Steel Rail Blues” and “Early Morning Rain”. As noted above, Marty Robbins scored a #1 hit with “Ribbon of Darkness, a song also recorded by Connie Smith, Jack Greene and countless others. Glen Campbell had a hit with “Wherefore and Why”. Legendary bluegrass artists Mac Wiseman and Tony Rice each recorded entire albums of nothing but Gordon Lightfoot songs. Country albums of the late 1960s and the 1970s frequently included a Gordon Lightfoot song.

Gordon doesn’t seem to have an official website but there is a fan site. The site is a bit disjointed but contains much information about Lightfoot, including tour dates.

Album Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘Right Or Wrong’

Rosanne’s U.S. debut in 1980 was produced by her new husband Rodney Crowell and recorded in their new home in LA. Many of the musicians were Rodney’s former band mates and successors in Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, including Ricky Skaggs singing harmony on six tracks, but the music is several steps away from traditional or even conventional pop-country of the period. The pop-influenced production, no doubt ground-breakingly modern at the time, now sounds very dated, but Rosanne’s voice cuts through the clutter and the eclectic choice of material is pretty solid, if not often very deeply rooted in country music.

Rodney wrote ‘No Memories Hangin’ ‘Round’ and originally intended to record the duet with Rosanne, but decided when the pair attended a Bobby Bare concert that he would be a better choice. Bare was an established star (although one whose chart success tended to be hit or miss) with Outlaw credentials, and he was an admirer of Rodney Crowell’s work, having recently recorded the latter’s ‘Til I Gain Control Again’. The album’s outstanding song was Rosanne’s first hit single, and although it peaked at only #17, is a minor classic. Bare’s rougher vocals complement Rosanne’s velvety tones, and they convince as a couple fighting off the memory of old flames. The production on this track nicely balances a country feel with contemporary sensibilities.

Rodney contributed a further three songs, two of which had previously appeared on Rosanne’s ill-fated German release. There is a good version of ‘Baby, Better Start Turnin’ ‘Em Down’, which had just been a non-charting single for Rodney himself (and would be covered a few years later by Emmylou Harris), and epitomizes the mood of the album with its consideration of modern life. ‘Seeing’s Believing’ is an excellent song which deserves to be better known, with a fine vocal from Rosanne and Emmylou Harris adding a supportive harmony. However, I don’t really like the dreary sound of ‘Anybody’s Darlin’ (Anything But Mine)’.

‘Couldn’t Do Nothing Right’, largely forgotten today, was technically the album’s biggest hit, reaching #15 on Billboard. The production has a Caribbean feel which does not stand up very well today, although it is a well-written song looking back at a failed relationship, penned by singer Karen Brooks (who was to have a short chart career herself in the early 80s) and her husband Texas singer-songwriter Gary P Nunn. I prefer the upbeat ‘Man Smart (Woman Smarter)’, a rather entertaining cover of an old calypso number, originally written by Trinidad’s Norman Span in the 30s but best known from Harry Belafonte’s 50s recording. Emmylou Harris sings harmony again on this proto-girlpower anthem.

The last single, ‘Take Me, Take Me’ peaked at 25. Rosanne’s vocals are soothingly tender on this melodic love song, and Sharon and Cheryl White sing harmony, but the percussion is unbearably intrusive and the song (also previously cut on the German album) doesn’t have much country influence. It was written by Keith Sykes, who also provided the title track, a fairly catchy mid-tempo pop song on a cheating theme.

Rosanne wrote just one of the songs, the pensive AC ballad ‘This Has Happened Before’, which shows her promise as a developing young songwriter and is one of the best tracks, with a pretty tune. She also commits to a spunky cover of her father’s ‘Big River’, which is another highlight.

The album is available on a 2-for-1 reissue CD with Seven Year Ache, also including Rosanne’s cover of ‘Not A Second Time’, an obscure and not very interesting Beatles song which had replaced ‘Baby, Better Start Turnin’ ‘Em Down’ on the European release of the album. It is probably only for Rosanne Cash completists, but includes some material worth hearing. Rosanne and Rodney were carving out their own artistically ambitious path, and if commercial success was limited at this stage, they were setting the pattern for Rosanne’s music over the next few years.

Grade: B