My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Harry Stinson

Album Review: Jann Browne – ‘Tell Me Why’

Released in February 1990, Tell Me Why was Jann’s first album as a solo artist after a decade of paying her dues working the taverns and serving a stint with Asleep At The Wheel. As it happens, Tell Me Why would prove to be Jann’s moist successful album, reaching #46 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, and producing her two most successful singles.

The title track was the second single released on the album reaching #18. The song was written by Gail Davies and “Handsome Harry” Stinson and is a song of doubt with sparkling guitar by some fellow named James Burton.

The next track “Ain’t No Train” was co-written by Jann along with Pat Gallagher. I guess you could call it an up-tempo rocker. Albert Lee plays the lead guitar on this track.

“Til A Tear Becomes A Rose” was written by the husband and wife team of Bill & Sharon Foster. I like Jann’s version, but it would become better known as a duet by Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan. James Burton and Byron Berlin are featured in the arrangement. This song could be described as a slight twist on the theme of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man”

“Louisville” is a mid-tempo shuffle written by Jann along with Pat Gallagher. My understanding is that it was featured in the film Pow Wow Highway, but I’ve not seen the film. This song was the forth single released from the album, but it only reached #75.

“Mexican Wind” was the third album single released from the album. The song is yet another Browne-Gallagher collaboration. The song failed to chart, although it is a very nice ballad about heartache and unrequited love. Emmylou Harris provides some lovely harmonies on this song.

Paul Kennerley wrote the harshly pragmatic “Losing You”, a song about a woman coming to terms with a man soon to be gone.

“You Ain’t Down Home” was the first single from the album, reaching #19. Written by Jamie O’Hara, it was one of the first of his songs (perhaps even the first of his songs) to chart. Although not Jann’s biggest hit, it is the best remembered as country cover bands featured the song for over a decade after its release.

You know all the right people
You wear all the right clothes
You got a snappy little sports car all your own
You got the cool conversation on your high tech telephone
But you got one little problem, baby
You ain’t down him

You ain’t down home where the people got their feet on the ground
Down home where there’s plenty of love to go ’round
You got the cool conversation on your high tech telephone
But you got one little problem, baby
You ain’t down home
You got a brand new Jacuzzi
All your credit cards are gold
There ain’t a high class place in town where you ain’t known
You make it all look impressive, yeah you put on quite a show
But you got one little problem, baby
You ain’t down home
You make it all look so impressive, yeah when you’re showin’ all your dough
But you got one little problem, baby
You ain’t down home

Jann reaches deep into the Harlan Howard song bag for “The One You Slip Around With”, a song that Harlan wrote with his then-wife Jan Howard. This song would prove to be Jan Howard’s first major hit in 1959. Jann gives the song the western swing treatment.

The “Queen of Rockabilly”, Wanda Jackson, joins Jann on “I Forgot More (Than You’ll Ever Know) . Written by Cecil Null, the song was a #1 hit for the ill-fated Davis Sisters (a car crash took the life of Betty Jack Davis while the song was still on the charts; Skeeter Davis eventually resumed her career after recovering from her injuries.

Members of “New Grass Revival” join Jann on “Lovebird”, a gentle mid-tempo ballad in which Jann pines for the love of a man who has left her. Iris DeMent provided the high harmonies on this song.

I like Jann Browne a lot, although she is not possessed of the best voice. Her musical tastes and sensitivities make up for much of the missing power in her voice, that plus her ability to select accompanying musicians make all of her recording worthwhile.

This is not her best album (her later Buck Owens tribute deserves that honor), but it is a good album – B+

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Album Review: Various Artists – ‘A Tribute To John D Loudermilk’

John D Loudermilk, a cousin of the legendary Louvin Brothers was a remarkable songwriter and artist in his own right, whose music crossed musical boundaries with eleements of country, rock and pop.
In March 2016 he was honoured by a star-studded tribute concert in Nashville, and selected performances from that occasion have now been released on CD/digital download and DVD. The concert is also set to be broadcast on PBS.

Opener ‘Everybody Knows’, performed by musician/singer/songwriter Harry Stinson, has a hypnotic 1950s pop-meets-Louvin Brothers feel. Singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman delivers the teenage romance ‘Language Of Love’ in a sprightly 50s doowop pop style, also adopted by Lee Roy Parnell in a slightly bluesier fashion on ‘Mr Jones’. Another songwriter paying tribute is Bobby Braddock, who takes on ‘Break My Mind’ quite effectively, accompanied by his own piano. Norro Wilson is also pretty good on the novelty ‘The Great Snowman’.

Bluegrass legend Doyle Lawson and his band Quicksilver race through ‘Blue Train’, which works perfectly with a bluegrass arrangement. Southern rocker Jimmy Hall takes on ‘Bad News’ which again works well in this setting. Buddy Greene, mainly a Christian artist, sings the tongue in cheek story song ‘Big Daddy’s Alabama Bound’; his vocals are limited, but the arrangement is great. John McFee of the Doobie Brothers is passionate on the politically fuelled anthem to the Cherokee nation now restricted to the ‘Indian Reservation’.

Rodney Crowell also rocks it up on ‘Tobacco Road, possibly Loudermilk’s best known song; this is highly enjoyable and one of my favorite tracks. I was less impressed by his wife Claudia Church on the syncopated pop of ‘Sunglasses’.

John Jorgenson of the Desert Rose Band. Jorgenson (who helmed the whole affair) is known for his guitar playing rather than his singing, but his vocals are perfectly adequate on the rocker ‘Midnight Bus’. I very much enjoyed his Desert Rose Bandmate Herb Pederson on ‘It’s My Time’, very much in classic Desert Rose Band style. John Cowan soars on the life-affirming ‘I Wanna Live’.

Rosanne Cash is tender on the lovely ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye’, another highlight. Ricky Skaggs and the Whites team up on two songs. ‘Heaven Fell last Night’ is a lovely romantic ballad sung together by Ricky and wife Sharon, while Ricky takes the lead on the fun Stonewall Jackson hit ‘Waterloo’. I also enjoyed Becky Hobbs on the country hit ‘Talk Back Trembling Lips’.

Emmylou Harris’s voice is sadly showing the signs of age, but she is well supported by the harmony vocals of Pam Rose and Mary Ann Kennedy on ‘Where Are They Gone’. 80s star Deborah Allen also sounds a little worse for wear on her song, the wistful ballad ‘Sad Movies’. Loudermilk’s son Mike doesn’t have much of a voice, but he does his best on a pleasant version of the catchy ‘Abilene’, and is backed by (his own?) delightful guitar work.

I wasn’t previously familiar with Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae, an Americana/folk duo and rela-life married couple. Their version of the part spoken airline tragedy story song ‘Ebony Eyes’ is prettily harmonised although the individual voices are not that strong. Also new to me was Beth Hooker, who delivers a sultry blues version of Turn Me On’. Guests from further afield include Australian fingerpicking guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel on an instrumental track.

This is a worthy tribute which reminds the listener of both the musical breadth and quality of Loudermilk’s oeuvre.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Bobby Bare – ‘Things Change’

After not issuing any albums of new material for over twenty years (1985-2005), Bobby Bare has now issued his third album in the last dozen years. Things Change has a sound more in line with the modern sounds of country music, while offering the sort of story songs that made country music from the period 1940 – 2005 stand apart from most other forms of popular music.

Things Change finds Bobby Bare the songwriter being spotlighted more than was normally the case in the past. Bare has always been a good songwriter, but his focus has always been to find the best songs and focus attention on the writers of those songs. For this album Bare has co-writer credits on five of the songs and was entirely responsible for two other songs.

No doubt radio won’t play this album so there won’t be any hit singles, even though this is an album full of great songs. That said, the album opens up with a song that was an enormous success in Norway in 2012, winning the third Regional Semi-Final stage of Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix 2012 and just missing being selected as Norway’s entrant (out of 800+ entrants) in the Eurovision Song Contest. The version that was so successful in Europe was a duet with Norwegian singer Petter Øien. It is a firm indicator of Bobby’s sustained vocal excellence and popularity in Europe that the Norwegians selected Bare’s song even though it was sung entirely in English. Bobby is a long-time favorite of Norwegian audiences, having toured there frequently since 1964.

The version on the album is not the version that stormed Europe but a recent studio recording. Bare is now 82 years old and brings a mature perspective to the song that perhaps cannot be as effectively told by younger performers:

Cowboy hats will blow off in the wind
Women rule the world, not the men
And things change but then
You turn around and they change again

Things change, don’t blink your eye
‘Cause if you do, they’ll pass you by
About the time you think you’ve locked it in
Things change, then change again

That winter bummed you out, just wait for spring
In the middle of a drought just wait for rain
If you think your life’s run out and you can’t win
There’s no doubt things gonna change again

Things change, don’t blink your eye
‘Cause if you do, they’ll pass you by
About the time you think you’ve locked it in
Things change, then change again

Son, that’s just life, that’s the world we’re living in
That’s the way it’s gonna be ’cause that’s the way it’s always been

Next up is “The End”, a wistful mid-tempo ballad about a love that came unwound.

Bobby teamed up with legendary songwriters Rafe Van Hoy and Billy Burnette to write “Aint No Sure Thing”. As Bobby notes the “the only sure thing is there ain’t no sure things”. This is a mid-tempo semi-rocker.

Bobby co-wrote “The Trouble With Angels” with Robert Deitch. This is a mid-tempo ballad that laments that the trouble with angels is “they never stay, they all fly away“.

Up to this point Bobby had a hand in writing all the songs; however, as noted before, Bobby has a strong appreciation for talented songwriters and he turns to Mary Gauthier for the next two songs.

“I Drink” is a slow ballad that has played itself out many times in many places. Gauthier has described the song as semi-autobiographical:

He’d get home at 5:30
Fix his drink, sit down in his chair
Pick a fight with mama
Complain about us kids getting in his hair

At night he’d sit ‘lone and smoke
I’d see his frown behind his lighter’s flame
Now that same frown’s in my mirror
I got my daddy’s blood inside my veins

Fish swim, birds fly
Daddies yell, mamas cry
Old men sit and think
I drink

“Mercy Now” is a very sad song albeit somewhat uplifting and perhaps even spiritual. It certainly speaks accurately to the human condition:

My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over, it won’t be long, he won’t be around
I love my father, he could use some mercy now

My brother could use a little mercy now
He’s a stranger to freedom, he’s shackled to his fear and his doubt
The pain that he lives in it’s almost more than living will allow
I love my brother, he could use some mercy now

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now

I really was not familiar with Mary Gauthier, but after listening these songs, I’ve made myself a mental note to check out more of her music.

Guy Clark was one of the great songwriters and he teamed with Bobby to write “Trophy Girl”. Apparently this was the last song that Clark wrote. The morale of the story is “trophy girls don’t hang around forever.”

The next two songs “Where Did It Go” and “You Got The Light” were both solo efforts by Bobby, the former a slow ballad and the latter a mid-tempo blues rocker. Both are good songs.

The album closes with one of Bare’s signature songs, the ubiquitous “Detroit City”. Written by Mel Tillis and Danny Dill and twice a hit in 1963, the song perhaps catches the despair of homesickness as well as any song ever written. Bobby is joined by Chris Stapleton on this new recording of his classic hit. The major difference between this track and his 1963 version is a more pronounced rhythm track.

I wanna go home, I wanna go home
Oh, how I wanna go home.

Last night I went to sleep in Detroit City
And I dreamed about those cottonfields and home
I dreamed about my mother dear, old papa, sister and brother
I dreamed about that girl who’s been waiting for so long
I wanna go home, I wanna go home, oh, how I wanna go home.

Homefolks think I’m big in Detroit City
From the letters that I write they think I’m fine
But by day I make the cars, by night I make the bars
If only they could read between the lines.

Bobby Bare remains what he has always been, a relaxed but expressive singer, with a wry sense of humor and the ability to make you believe the stories he tells. The voice is a little weathered but fits perfectly with the material. Bare was never about pretense and putting the songs across is all that he really cares about – and as always, he succeeds magnificently.

This album is a solid “A” if ever I heard one.

Credits

01 Things Change (Bobby Bare/Jeff Hyde/ Roger Springer)
02 The End (Bobby Bare / John Pennell)
03 Ain’t No Sure Thing (Bobby Bare/ Rafe Van Hoy / Billy Burnette)
04 The Trouble With Angels (Bobby Bare / Robert Deitch)
05 I Drink (Mary Gauthier / Crit Harmon)
06 Mercy Now (Mary Gauthier)
07 Trophy Girl (Bobby Bare / Guy Clark)
08 Where Did It Go (Bobby Bare)
09 You Got The Light (Bobby Bare)
10 Detroit City (Danny Dill / Mel Tillis) – w/ Chris Stapleton

Produced by Max T Barnes & Jimmy Ritchey
Executive Producer: Shannon Bare
Acoustic Guitars: B James Lowrey, Darrell Scott, Max T Barnes
Drums: Eddie Bayer Jr., Shannon Forrest, Gary Kubal
Electric Guitar: Brent Mason, Max T Barnes
Bass: Jimmie Johnson, David Smith , Glenn Worf
Keys: Tim Atwood, Gary Prim, Mike Rojas, Max T Barnes
Background Vocals: Harry Stinson, Stevie Ray Anderson, Robin Barnes,
Wes Hightower, Coleen Gallagher, Bobby Bare Jr., Max T Barnes,
Danny Sheerin

Official video

2012 Performance Video

Interview, etc

Album Review: Joy Lynn White – ‘Wild Love’

51rfk9fctwlReleased in August 1994, Joy Lynn White’s second album for Columbia basically tanked, not charting at all. Moreover, only one of the two singles released charted at all with the title track reaching #73. To this very day, I remain mystified as to why this album was not her breakthrough to commercial success.

The album opens with “Tonight The Heartache’s On Me”, a song the Dixie Chicks would take to #6 Country/ #46 Pop in 1999.  Composed by Mary Francis, Johnny MacRae and Bob Morrison, I think Joy Lynn gives the song its definitive reading.

Next up is “Bad Loser”, a Bill Lloyd – Pam Tillis tough girl composition that I don’t think Pam ever recorded. Joy Lynn definitely nails the performance. The sing was released as the second single and failed to chart. Although I like the song, I don’t think I would have picked it as a single.

You’re bringing out a side of me I never knew was there
I took pride in cut’n dried goodbyes I never wasted a tear
Living in an easy come easy go world
Look what you’ve done to this girl

I’m a bad loser when love’s worth fightin’ for
I’m a bad loser don’t wanna ever see you walkin’ out my door
This love of ours took me by surprise it wasn’t part of my plans
Hey ain’t it easy sittin’ on the fence and ain’t it hard to make a stand
You took me farther than i’ve ever been
And baby now i’m playing to win

“Too Gone to Care”, written by John Scott Sherrill, is a tender ballad that demonstrates that Joy Lynn can handle more subtle, less rambunctious lyrics as well as she can handle the tougher songs

You see that big old yellow cab is always just a call away
And you can catch a Greyhound just about anytime of day
And all along the harbor ships are slipping out of town
Way out on the runway that’s where the rubber leaves the ground
She keeps thinking that it’s too hard to fake it
When it isn’t there

He’s gonna tell her he’ll be too late to make it
But she’ll be too gone to care
They got trains down at the station you know they run all night
They got tail lights on the highway that just keep fading out of sight   

 

The next song asks the eternal question “Why Can’t I Stop Loving You”. This is another John Scott Sherrill song ballad, but this song has very traditional country instrumentation (the prior song was a little MOR), but in any event, Ms White again nails the song:

I’ve put away all the pictures
All the old love letters too
There’s nothin’ left here to remind me
Why can’t I stop loving you?
Got back into circulation
Till I found somebody new
But there was always something missing
Why can’t I stop lovin’ you

“Whiskey, Lies and Tears” is the only song on this album that Joy Lynn had a hand in writing. The song is an up-tempo honky-tonker of the kind that Highway 101 sometimes did, and which has disappeared from country radio these days. Joy Lynn strikes me as a better vocalist than either Paulette Carlson or Nikki Nelson.  I wonder if Highway 101 ever considered Joy Lynn for the role. This song would have been my pick for the second single off the album.

The last time I said next time is the last time
And the last time came stumbling in last night
So now it’s time to say goodbye forever
To the whiskey your lies and my tears
Well I’ve almost gone insane…
All the whiskey your lies and my tears

“Wild Love” has bit of a heavy backbeat – I would describe it as more rock than country but it is well sung and melodically solid.   Then again, Dennis Linde always produced solid songs.

Pat McLaughlin wrote “Burning Memories”. This song is not to be mistaken with the Ray Price classic of bygone years, but it is sung well. I would describe the song as a sad country ballad.

“On And On And On” was written by “Whispering Bill” Anderson, one of country music’s great songsmiths. Joy Lynn gives a convincing and timeless interpretation to the song:

And this loneliness goes on and on and on
All the things come to an end
Yes that means we’ll never love again
The end of our love the end of my dreams
The end of almost everything it seems
Except these heartaches these teardrops
And this loneliness goes on and on and on

I’ve heard Bill Anderson sing the song, and Connie Smith recorded the song on her 1967 album Connie Smith Sings Bill Anderson. Connie’s version has the full ‘Nashville Sound’ trappings applied to it. Although Smith is the better vocalist, most modern listeners would probably prefer Joy Lynn White’s version.

The penultimate song is Jim Rushing’s “You Were Right From Your Side”. The song has interesting lyrics and Joy Lynn does a good job with it:

Starin’ out an airport window on a morning hard as stone
Watchin’ a big Delta Bird taxi through the dawn
A lonely chill sweeps over me as that smokin’ liner climbs
You were right from your side I was left from mine
Now you’re gone you’re flying high above the clouds
And I must walk my tears through this faceless crowd
And in the goodbye atmosphere I can hear a thousand times
You were right from your side I was left from mine

The album closes with “I Am Just a Rebel” written by the redoubtable trio of Bob DiPiero, Dennis Robbins and John Scott Sherrill. The trio wrote the song while they were in the band Billy Hill in the late 1980s. Confederate Railroad recorded the song later, but I prefer Joy Lynn’s version to any of the other versions

Being a hillbilly don’t get me down
I like it like that in fact you know it makes me proud
Yeah I’m American made by my ma and pa
Southern born by the grace of God
And I’m bound to be a rebel till they put me in the ground
I am just a rebel can’t you see
Don’t go looking for trouble it just finds me
When I’m a walking down the street people stop and stare
I know they’re talking about me they say there goes that rebel there

Wild Love  enabled Joy Lynn White to show all sides of her personality from tender to tough , from rocker to honky-tonker. With a crack band featuring Paul Worley and Richard Bennett (guitars); Dennis Linde (acoustic & electric guitar, clavinet); Dan Dugmore (electric & steel guitar); Tommy Spurlock (steel guitar); Dennis Robbins (slide guitar); Mike Henderson (guitar); Hank Singer, Blaine Sprouse (fiddles); and  featuring  Harry Stinson, Pat McLaughlin, Cindy Richardson, Hal Ketchum, Nanci Griffith, Suzi Ragsdale (background vocals), Wild Love should have propelled Joy Lynn White to the top.

It didn’t propel her career, but I still love the album and would grade it as a solid A, very close to an A+

Album Review: Wynonna – ‘The Other Side’

the other sideWhile mother Naomi Judd always had strong country sensibilities, daughter Wynonna was always an awkward fit in country music. The Other Side, Wynonna’s fourth solo studio album, finds Wynonna attempting to reposition herself as a bluesy rocker along the lines of Bonnie Raitt, Marcia Ball or Lou Ann Barton.

Wynonna has a very strong voice, more than suitable for the material but somehow this album isn’t all that convincing. I’m not sure if Wynonna was simply finding her footing with this album, or if the somewhat lackluster material is to blame.

The album opens with “When Love Starts Talkin'”, written by Brent Maher, Gary Nicholson and Jamie O’Hara. Released as a single (it reached #13), this up-tempo rocker works fairly well and is probably my second favorite song on the album.

I thought I had my life worked out
I thought I knew what it was all about
Then love started talkin’
Your love started talkin’

I had my mind on the open road
I thought I knew where I wanted to go
Then love started talkin’
Your love started talkin’

Kevin Welch wrote “The Other Side”, a rather bland ballad. It’s not bad just nothing special. I think I would like the track better without the vocal background singers.

So, you’re at the end of your wits
The end of your rope
You just can’t fix
Everything that’s broke
Got to turn it loose, babe
Hey, just let it ride

“Love Like That” (Gary Nicholson, Al Anderson, Benmont Tench) is much better, a mid-tempo rocker that failed to chart when released as a single, which mystifies me since it my favorite track on the album. The song features some nice slide guitar work by Steuart Smith.

You might tell me to mind my business
But I’ve been watchin’ and I’ve been a witness
To the things you do and say and the games you play
You better start cutting the man some slack
Or he’s gonna leave and he won’t be back
One day you’re gonna chase him away
If you keep on yankin’ that chain
Honey, if I was in your shoes
I tell you what I would do

CHORUS
If I had a love like that
A real fine love like that
I’d be treatin’ him right
And never do him any wrong
If you’re gonna do like that
With a good love like that
Sister, just like that you’re gonna wake up
And find him gone

“The Kind of Fool Love Makes” (Brenda Lee, Michael McDonald, Dave Powelson) is a dull ballad, pleasant but nothing more.

“Troubled Heart And A Troubled Mind” (Wynonna Judd, Brent Maher, O’Hara) is a nice up-tempo blues that would have made a good single. Again Steuart Smith shines on guitar

A troubled heart and a troubled mind
Is all I’m gonna leave behind
I’m movin’ on down the line
Don’t shout me down I’m doin’ fine
You’ve been hard and heavy on my soul
Gotta lighten the load and let you go
Life’s too short, ain’t got the time
For a troubled heart and a troubled mind

“Don’t You Throw That Mojo on Me” (Mark Selby, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Tia Sillers) features Kenny Wayne Shepherd on electric guitar and has Wynonna harmonizing with herself. I think this song would have made a good single.

“Come Some Rainy Day” (Billy Kirsch, Bat McGrath) was released as a single and reached #14. A gentle ballad, this may be Wynonna’s most effective vocal on a slower song. For my money, Wynonna’s better songs tend to be the faster songs. While I am not a big fan of the Nashville String Machine, the use of the NSM is subdued and greatly augments Wynonna’s vocal on this song.

“Love’s Funny That Way” (Tina Arena, Dean McTaggart, David Tyson) finds Wynonna over-singing the song slightly. At 4:46, the song is about a minute too long, since the dragging ending adds nothing to the song.

“The Wyld Unknown” (Cliff Downs, David Pack) is a mid-tempo rocker is that Wynonna sings effectively. I can’t say that the lyrics say anything important but it makes for a good album track.

Next up is “Why Now” (Downs, Pack, James Newton Howard) is another slow ballad dragging in at a flatulent four minutes and forty-nine seconds. A trimmed down version of this song would probably be better. The lyrics are actually pretty decent:

Somewhere off
In a distant dream
You were long ago
Like a memory

Now you’re back
Standing here
Sayin’ all the words
You think I want to hear

Did you finally realize
What I knew all along
That you never needed me
Until I was gone

“We Can’t Unmake Love” (Will Robinson, Aaron Saine) finds Wynonna singing a duet with John Berry, an artist with an excellent voice but somewhat addicted to tediously slow ballads. Having said that, I must admit that this is a pretty nice effort.

“Always Will” (Harry Stinson, John Hadley) was released as a single, reaching #45. The song has a very Celtic feel to it with Tammy Rogers on fiddle and Hunter Lee on Uillean pipes. At nearly five minutes, the song was a bit too long for radio to have had much interest in the song.

For me this album was a very mixed bag. The one word I would not use to describe it is “country”. I would give it a C+ but it is a very up and down C+. Some songs I like a lot, others I found boring. There was nothing on the album I loved, and nothing I hated.

Album Review: Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives – ‘The Gospel Music of Marty Stuart’

martystuartGospel albums, like Christmas albums, tend to all contain the same handful of songs, regardless of who the artist is, but Marty Stuart wisely avoids this trap with his new collection, The Gospel Music of Marty Stuart, which was released last month as part of the Gaither Gospel Series. The songs encompass a variety of styles from rockabilly and blues to country and a few straightforward hymns as well.

Backed by his Fabulous Superlatives and joined by guests Harry Stinson, Kenny Vaughan, and Connie Smith, Stuart has managed to put together a collection of tunes that even diehard secularists should enjoy. While the lyrics are overtly and unapologetically Christian, the arrangements themselves are diverse and not strictly a collection of “church songs”. I have quite a few gospel albums in my music collection, but most of the tunes here were new to me.

The album opens with the rockabilly number “99 and 1/2 Won’t Do” and is followed by the bluesy “Don’t Leave Home Without Jesus”. “Greystone Chapel” is a remake of a tune from Johnny Cash’s 1968 album Live at Folsom Prison. The most traditonal number on the album is the closing tune “The Unseen Hand”, which also appeared on Stuart’s 2005 gospel album Soul’s Chapel.

I enjoyed all twelve of the album’s songs but a few stand out as favorites: the stripped-down “The Master Is Waiting”, featuring Harry Stinson as lead vocalist, the pedal-steel laced “Walking My Lord Up Calvary’s Hill” performed by Connie Smith, and the revival-style “He Turned The Water Into Wine”, one of two songs on the album with which I was previously familiar (the other is “Just A Little Talk With Jesus”).

Like all Marty Stuart albums, this collection contains excellent musicianship and fabulous harmonies throughout. It is billed as a live album, but it is not a concert album; rather it is performed live in the studio without an audience. The album appears to have been made on the cheap, but that only adds to its charm, giving it a sitting-around-the-living-room feel.

Religious albums aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there is much here to like for those willing to keep an open mind. It is well worth giving a try.

Grade: A

Country Heritage: Gail Davies

Gail DaviesDuring the late winter & early spring of 1979, listeners of country radio were treated to the unusual strains of “Someone Is Looking For Someone Like You”. Amidst the clutter of the last vestiges of the Outlaw Movement, the dying gasps of the Nashville Sound and the nascent Urban Cowboy movement, this lilting and beautiful melody was unlike anything else being played. Released on the independent Lifesong label, the song suffered from spotty distribution (which turned into no distribution at all when Lifesong’s distribution deal fell apart) yet made it to #11 on Billboard’s Country Chart. For Gail Davies, this song turned out to be her career breakthrough, leading to a record deal with Warner Brothers.

Gail Davies (originally Patricia Gail Dickerson) was born into a musical family in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, on June 5, 1948. Her father, Tex Dickerson, was a country singer who occasionally appeared on the Louisiana Hayride. When Davies was five, her parents divorced and her mother took her and her two brothers to the Seattle area. At some point, her mother remarried and she and her brothers were adopted by their stepfather, Darby Davies, and took his surname. One of her brothers was Ron Davies, a renown songwriter and performer, who wrote songs that were recorded by such luminaries as David Bowie, Three Dog Night, Joe Cocker, Dave Edmunds, Jerry Jeff Walker and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

After graduating from high school in 1966, Davies moved to Los Angeles where she was briefly married to a jazz musician. After her divorce, she found work as a session singer at A&M studios. While at A&M she was befriended by songwriter Joni Mitchell and A&M recording engineer Henry Lewy who introduced her to the production end of the business, where she was able to sit in on a number of noteworthy recording sessions, including a John Lennon session that was being produced by Phil Spector.

Things moved rapidly for Davies, and by 1974 she was touring with the legendary Roger Miller and made her national television debut as his duet partner in 1974 singing on the Merv Griffin Show. During this period, she began writing songs and signed with EMI Publishing in 1975. Her first major success as a songwriter came when Ava Barber, a regular cast member of television’s Lawrence Welk Show, had a hit single with “Bucket to the South,” which reached #14 in 1978 on the Billboard Country Chart. This led to a contract with CBS/Lifesong Records in 1978 and the release of her first album simply entitled Gail Davies. Read more of this post

Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Wild Angels’

wild angelsMartina McBride is one of the most technically gifted vocalists in country music, and her style was ideally suited to the 90s with its mix of contemporary shine and more traditional elements (although the latter tended to reduce over time), good songs, and great vocals. Her third album, 1995’s Wild Angels, would seal her star status. Martina took a co-production credit this time alongside Paul Worley and Ed Seay, who had helmed her earlier work. Her vocals are superb throughout this album, and almost every song sounds as though it could have been a successful single. Bookending the set by opening with a baby’s cry and ending with studio chatter, however, is pretentious, self-indulgent and pointless.

The lead single, the charmingly hopeful ‘Safe In The Arms Of Love’, dreams about the prospects of true love some time in the future. A pretty arrangement with an almost Celtic feel and airy backing vocals from co-writers Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose (the third writer was Pat Bunch) contrast nicely with Martina’s powerful lead vocal. It was a cover of a song which was originally recorded by Baillie & The Boys and had been a Canadian country hit for Michelle Wright, but Martina’s version is my favorite. Peaking at #4 on Billboard, it was her second biggest hit to date.

The sunny title track was the second single, and while the efficiently glossy surface of this well-written contemporary country song (written by Matraca Berg, Gary Harrison and Harry Stinson) somehow sounds a little soulless to me, it was very radio-friendly and became Martina’s first #1 hit.

Surprisingly, the last couple of singles failed to repeat this success, even though they are siginifiantly better songs. ‘Phones Are Ringing All Over Town’ is a dramatic ballad (written by Marc Beeson, Kim Vassy and David McKechnie) about a complacent cheating husband’s discovery that he has crossed one line too many and the marriage is over with “nothing to be said”. It was only just a top 30 hit despite the excellence of both song and vocal.

‘Swingin’ Doors’ only just crept into the top 40, but deserved much better. Written by Chapin Hartford, Bobby Boyd and Jim Foster, it is a ballsy, sardonic response to a man the protagonist realizes has been stringing her along with empty promises. The doors to her heart are about to be closed to him. Banked harmonies help to sell the song’s defiance.

The final single (and my favourite), ‘Cry On The Shoulder Of The Road’ peaked at 26. It is in fact one of my favorite Martina McBride recordings ever. It was written by Matraca Berg and Tim Krekel, and portrays a woman whose marriage has reached such a desperate state she just leaves with no destination in mind:

Rollin’ out of Bakersfield
My own private hell on wheels
But this time I’m gone for good…

It makes me feel a little low
Steel guitar on the radio
when its kind of scary teh way these truckers fly
So this is how leaving feels
Drinking coffee and making deals
With the One above to get me through the night

Cause there ain’t no telling what I’ll find
But I might as well move on down the line
There ain’t no comfort to be found in your zip code
I’d rather break down on the highway
With no one to share my load
Cry on the shoulder of the road

Levon Helm’s harmony lends a California country-rock feel to the chorus, while Martina’s full blooded vocal makes her sound vulnerable but determined to make her way, and a tasteful arrangement with steel guitar.

The contemporary sounding mid-tempo ‘A Great Disguise’ has Martina hiding her heartbreak behind “smoke and ice”, with a big emotional chorus. ‘Beyond The Blue’ is quite a pretty song about looking forward to getting past the sorrow of a breakup, and both are quite good.

‘All The Things We’ve Never Done’ (written by Craig Bickhardt and Jeff Pennig) is a gentle love song comparing possible missed opportunities in life with a supportive love. The similarly themed ‘You’ve Been Driving All The Time’ was overtly dedicated to Martina’s husband, whose support had been so instrumental in building her career; it is a sweet if slightly sentimental love song which affirms,

It takes a real man to take a back seat to a woman.

Another love song from the Bunch/Rose/Kennedy writing team, ‘Born To Give My Love To You’ is quite pretty with a string arrangement and multitrack harmonies from Rose and Martina herself.

An energetic cover of ‘Two More Bottles Of Wine’, the Delbert McClinton song best known by Emmylou Harris, is pretty good with a rocking vocal, some fabulous honky tonk piano from John Hobbs, and proves Martina wasn’t just a great balladeer.

This album exemplifies pop-country at its best – good, sometimes great songs, great vocals, and a production which while glossy, is not pretending to be a rock band. The overall mood is of female self-confidence and survival. Even the breakup songs focus on the woman moving on, and this positive image of being a strong woman may have been key to Martina’s success at a time when women in country music were doing better as a group than ever before.

Grade: A

Album Review: Ricky Skaggs – ‘Kentucky Thunder’

By 1989 Ricky Skaggs was no longer the hottest commodity in country music; the New Traditionalist movement had produced a lot of new and younger competition, and Ricky’s sales and radio airplay figures suffered as a result. However, he closed out the decade of his greatest commercial success with one of the finest albums of his career.

For the first time, he worked with a co-producer — Steve Buckingham — perhaps in part because Ricky was busy producing Dolly Parton’s White Limozeen album at the same time. Dolly’s chart resurgence seems to have rubbed off on Ricky; shortly after her album dropped he scored a #1 hit with “Lovin’ Only Me”, his first chart topper since “Cajun Moon” three years earlier. It was also to be the last #1 hit of his career. However, he did reach the Top 5 one last time with Kentucky Thunder’s second single “Let It Be You”, an excellent ballad written by Kevin Welch and Harry Stinson.

Skaggs was seemingly back in the good graces of country radio, but his renewed success proved to be only temporary. From this point on, none of his records cracked the Top 10. There were, however, three more singles released from Kentucky Thunder: “Heartbreak Hurricane”, which reached #13, “Hummingbird”, which peaked at #20, and the #25-charting “He Was On To Something (So He Made You).” All of them are quite good but my favorite of the three is the energetic “Hummingbird”, which had appeared a few years earlier on a Restless Heart album. One of that band’s more country sounding numbers, it was written by band member Greg Jennings with Tim DuBois.

As far as the tracks that weren’t released as singles are concerned, the best are the grass-is-always-greener themed “The Fields of Home”, “Lonesome For You” (both written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell), “Casting My Shadow In The Road”, and the ballad “When I Love”, which was written by Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet, one of the hottest songwriting teams in country music at that time.

Kentucky Thunder
lacks the bluegrass flourishes of Ricky’s earlier work, but it is an excellent example of late-80s traditional country. It briefly reversed his decline on the singles chart, it did little to improve his sales figures. Its sole flaw is its brevity; it clocks in at just under 30 minutes, despite the inclusion of an atypical-for-the-era eleventh track (the spiritual “Saviour, Save Me From Myself”). It’s difficult to find, except at absurd prices, but presumably it will join Ricky’s other Epic albums in re-release on Skaggs Family Records. When it does, grab it; it’s well worth it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives – ‘Cool Country Favorites’

After 2003’s Country Music, the major label phase of Marty Stuart’s career ended.  He began to release music on his own Superlative label (initially in conjunction with Universal South),  and issued a pair of critically acclaimed concept albums, followed by a duets compilation and a live album recorded at the Ryman Auditorium.  2008’s Cool Country Favorites is a transition album that serves as a gateway to the traditional sounding music he is making today.

As the title suggests, Cool Country Favorites is a tribute to country music,  with bluegrass, rockabilly,  and traditional country all represented.  It contains a number of covers of country and folk standards,  Marty’s take on classics by Johnny Cash (“Big River”) and George Jones (“Old, Old House”), and some instrumentals such as “La Tingo Tango” (the theme song to Marty’s RFD-TV show) and “Buckaroo”.   He even takes a back seat on a couple of tracks and allows his Fabulous Superlatives to shine.  “The Apostle” Paul Martin sings the lead vocals on “Bluegrass Express” and Harry Stinson sings on a very nice bluegrass version of Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd”.   “Carol Lee” sounds like a 1950s Chuck Berry tune, but it was actually written and performed by “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan.

A number of the songs on the album appear elsewhere in Stuart’s discography.  Both Porter Wagoner’s “A Satisfied Mind” and “Sundown In Nashville” appeared on 2003’s Country Music.  The latter would be remade again for Marty’s current album.  “Truck Drivin’ Blues”,  on which Marty name-checks his wife Connie Smith, is one of only two Stuart-penned songs on the album.  It too was remade for his latest release.

The album’s two standout tracks are Marty’s rendition of the George Jones classic “Old, Old House”, and the hauntingly beautiful, stripped-down “Dark Bird”, which Marty wrote as a tribute to Johnny Cash.  It closes the album on a quiet, thoughtful, and beautiful note.

Unfortunately and surprisingly, Cool Country Favorites is difficult to find.  It is unavailable digitally and I was unable to find any new or used copies on Amazon.  As such, it is in danger of being forgotten.  If you do manage to locate a copy at a reasonable price, grab it.

Grade: A-

 

Classic Rewind: Marty Stuart and Vince Gill – ‘Rank Strangers’

Marty and Vince take on a Stanley Brothers classic. The third singer is Harry Stinson, whose name you might recognise from album liner notes:

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Thinkin’ About You’

Released in February 1995, Trisha Yearwood’s follow-up to the platinum-selling The Song Remembers When is in some respect a back-to-basics project. Like its predecessor, Thinkin’ About You is highly polished, though not overproduced, and allows Yearwood to kick up her heels just a bit more than the ballad-heavy Song Remembers When.

Garth Fundis once again assumes production duties, with Harry Stinson acting as co-producer on the album’s advance single, “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl).” Written by Matraca Berg and Alice Randall, “XXX’s and OOO’s” became Trisha’s second #1 hit, and her first since her debut single “She’s In Love With the Boy” nearly four years earlier. MCA had stopped promoting The Song Remembers When after sending only two singles to radio. “XXX’s and OOO’s” raced up the charts more quickly than anyone expected, leaving the label with somewhat of a dilemma when there was no album ready to cash in on the single’s success. Five months after “XXX’s and OOO’s” reached the top spot in Billboard, an album was finally released. Fortunately, the delay did not result in any loss of sales momentum, thanks to the success of the title track, which was released as the album’s second single. It also reached #1.

The next single, a cover of Melissa Etheridge’s “You Can Sleep While I Drive” didn’t fare as well on the charts, stalling at #23. It’s somewhat similar to Trisha’s earlier hit “Walkaway Joe”, and perhaps for that reason it didn’t have a lot of traction at radio. Or perhaps there were too many other ballads on the charts at the time; at any rate, it is one of the album’s highlights, beautifully sung and tastefully produced, and it deserved more attention than it received.

Trisha returned to the Top 10 with “I Wanna Go Too Far” which reached #9. This is one of those songs that is forgotten as soon as it falls off the charts; I didn’t even remember that it had been a single until I started preparing for this review. The album’s fourth and final single, a cover of Gretchen Peters’ “On A Bus To St. Cloud” died at #59, becoming the first Trisha Yearwood single to peak outside the Top 40. A critical favorite, it is a well-crafted record that was probably a poor choice for a single. Piano led, and with a string section provided by The Nashville String Machine, it’s not the type of song that historically has done well at country radio. However, Yearwood and MCA deserve some credit for thinking outside the box and sending an atypical choice to radio.

Travel is a recurring theme throughout this album — by car, as seen in “You Can Sleep While I Drive”, by bus as seen in “On A Bus To St. Cloud”, and by train on “O Mexico”, which would have been one of my choices for a single release. The production is understated, and Trisha resists falling into the trap of oversinging. One can easily imagine this song being performed more loudly and bombastically by, say, Faith Hill or Martina McBride, but Yearwood’s subtle interpretation is extremely effective in conveying the protagonist’s sense of loneliness and solitude to the listener.

On several occasions, The Song Remembers When came dangerously close to adult contemporary territory. The production on Thinkin’ About You is just as glossy, but it finds Trisha more firmly in the country camp. This is most evident on the tracks “The Restless Kind”, which is my favorite on the album, and the album closer, a tasteful cover of the Tammy Wynette classic “Till I Get It Right”, which resurfaced a few years later when it was included on a tribute album following Wynette’s death. It was one of a few standouts on that somewhat disappointing collection, and it is the perfect note on which to end Thinkin’ About You.

Though its singles performed inconsistently at radio, Thinkin’ About You did well at retail, reaching #3 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, and earning platinum certification for sales in excess of one million units. It is still widely available from retailers such as Amazon and iTunes.


Grade: A-