My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Helen Reddy

Album Review: Barbara Mandrell – ‘This Time I Almost Made It: The Lost Columbia Masters’

81U+RipV8TL._SX522_More than any other performer, Barbara Mandrell is the artist responsible for sparking my interest in country music. Even before there were any local country music radio stations in my area, her weekly TV series was my main source of keeping abreast of what was going on in the world of country music. This was in the early 80s, when she’d just become the first artist to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award a second time. Her contributions to country music were significant, but her catalog has been criminally neglected. Fortunately, that grievance is starting to be addressed. With the reissue of This Time I Almost Made It, courtesy of Real Gone Music, all of Barbara’s solo albums for Columbia are now available on CD.

Barbara was signed to Columbia in 1969 by Billy Sherrill and remained with the label until 1975. During that time, she only released three solo albums, plus a duets album with David Houston. Most major country acts released three albums a year in those days, but like we often see today, the label was waiting for some radio hits before committing to album releases. Her debut album Treat Him Right, was released in 1971 and was a lackluster seller. 1973’s The Midnight Oil reached #8 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, buoyed by the success of the title track which reached #7 in Billboard and #1 in Cashbox, and “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home”, which was Barbara’s first Top 10 hit. By the time This Time I Almost Made It was released in 1974, the momentum she had gained seemed to have been lost again; it only reached #41 on the albums chart. By that time, Barbara might have already initiated talks to negotiate her release from her Columbia contract. If so, the label obviously would have had little interest in promoting her records. At any rate, the quality of the material does not seem to have been the issue.

The title track was written by Sherrill when he realized that they didn’t have enough songs for an album. Though in some respects it may have been an afterthought, it is my favorite track on the album. It’s a beautiful ballad, not particularly country in arrangement but the production is tastefully restrained. It was released as a single in advance of the album, as a follow-up to “The Midnight Oil”, but it charted outside the Top 10 at #12. The second single was “Wonder When My Baby’s Coming Home”, another easy-listening style ballad, although it is a little more country thanks to the inclusion of some steel guitar. I wasn’t previously familiar with this one, but I like it a lot. The background vocals give it a slightly dated feel, though they are a lot less intrusive than many records of the era. This one stalled at #39 and was Barbara’s final single for Columbia.

Barbara is well known for making country versions of R&B songs, occasionally delving too far into R&B territory for my taste in later years but her take on “You’re All I Need to Get By”, which has been a 1968 R&B hit for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, is quite good. She also turned in good performances on some pop songs of the day: “Keep On Singing”, which had been a hit for Helen Reddy, The Bee Gees’ “Words”, and The Beatles’ “Something”, which closes out the original album. She also covered her country colleagues Merle Haggard (“Today I Started Loving You Again”) and Charlie Rich (“A Very Special Love Song”).

This CD would be worth buying for the original album alone, but Real Gone Music has included almost another album’s worth of bonus tracks. There are nine in total, seven of which have never been released before. First up is the very country “I Hope You Love Me”, which was recorded during Barbara’s first session with Columbia in 1969. Written by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, it was included on Tammy’s 1970 album The Ways To Love a Man under the title “I Know”. “You Can Always Come Back”, also recorded in 1969 is a cover of a Curly Putman hit. “Coming Home Solider” had been a 1966 pop hit for Bobby Vinton.

Though the album’s liner notes refer to Barbara’s version as “dramatic”, I found it a bit plodding and it’s my least favorite track on the disc. Although a bit tame, her reading of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)” is much better. It was written by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, who had hired Barbara for a two-week stint in Las Vegas when she was only eleven years old. It’s proof positive that despite her reputation for interpreting pop and R&B material, she was just as adept at tackling traditional country. Ditto for “You Took Him Off My Hands”, a Wynn Stewart/Harlan Howard/Skeets McDonald song that had previously been recorded by Patsy Cline.

Though not one a landmark album in the Mandrell discography, This Time I Almost Made It provides an interesting opportunity to trace Barbara’s development as an artist, and the bonus material is a real treat for her fans. After leaving Columbia, Barbara signed with ABC/Dot, which was later absorbed by MCA. That era of her career, despite being the years of her greatest commercial success, is still largely unavailable on CD aside from a few hits compilations. Hopefully the sales of This Time I Almost Made It will be good enough to entice Universal to finally allowing some of Barbara’s most commercially important recordings a chance to once again see the light of day.

Grade: A

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Ladies Love Outlaws’

ladies love outlawsMany of Waylon’s early albums have been made available during the digital. For some reason one of my very favorite albums, Ladies Love Outlaws, has never been made available except as an mp3. There is a CD available bearing this title but it is not this album, instead being a sampler album of miscellaneous tracks.

Released in September 1972, the album reached #11 on Bilboard’s country album charts despite being relatively bereft of single releases, with only a cover of an old Buck Owens hit “Under Your Spell Again” with wife Jessi Colter being released as a single (it reached #39) .

In his autobiography Waylon says that RCA released the album without his consent and he regarded most of the tracks as being little more than demos or ‘scratch’ tracks. That may be true, but Waylon’s demos are superior to 90% of what I hear on the radio these days.

The album opens with the title track, written by Lee Clayton, which was never issued as a single by Waylon, although the song received considerable airplay in my area. Jimmy Rabbitt & The Renegades had a marginally successful single with the song in 1980. Waylon and Jessi are mentioned in one of the verses of the song.

Jessi liked Cadillacs and diamonds on her hands
Waymore had a reputation as a lady’s man
Then one night, her light of love finally gave a sign
Jessi parked her Cadillac and got herself in line

‘Cause ladies love outlaws
Like babies love a bunch of stray dogs
Ladies touch babies like a banker touches gold
Outlaws touch ladies somewhere deep down in their soul

Next up is a cover of the Three Dog Night song “Never Been To Spain”. The song and arrangement fit Waylon’s voice well, but the vocal clearly is not intended as a final vocal. Hoyt Axton wrote the song.

“Sure Didn’t Take Him Long” is a Waylon Jennings composition about the rounder who stole his woman.

My long and lean and hungry looks really used to turn her on
Till she found two hundred pounds or true love muscle and bone
I made up my mind to keep what was mine, he made up my mind I was wrong
To take my Ann took a hell of a man but it sure didn’t take him too long

“Crazy Arms” is one of the great country songs, a major hit for Ray Price and a song that has been recorded by dozens of country artists. Waylon’s steel guitar player Ralph Mooney co-wrote the song and I think Waylon included the song on the album as a tribute to him.

“Revelation” is simply the best song on the album, although releasing religious songs as singles in the early 1970s was normally a career killer. Bobby Braddock wrote the song, which Joe Nichols included on an album a few years ago. Joe’s version is good but no one will ever top Waylon’s dramatic version

Somewhere in Vietnam a 19-year-old soldier walked out of a barroom
And he said “I must be seeing things, that bourbon hit me like a baseball bat”
In Belfast Ireland a little lady dropped her shovel in her garden
She raced across the yard and ask her neighbor Mrs Clancy what was that

In Memphis Tennessee a teacher raised the window closest to the river
And the children in her classroom swore they’d heard a choir singing down the street
In Washington DC a private secretary’s lips began to quiver
And the President just put aside his papers and rose quickly to his feet

I lay in a cheap motel in the arms of someone else’s woman
When a loud explosion rocked the room and turned the morning into night
I jumped out of bed and ran into the street with hardly any clothes on
As the sky lit up my heart stood still and I could feel my face was turnin’ white

All at once the clouds rolled back and there stood Jesus Christ in all his glory
And I realized the saddest eyes I’d ever seen were lookin’ straight at me
I guess I was awakened by the penetrating sounds of my own screamin’
And it didn’t take me long to stumble out of bed and fall down on my knees
As tears rolled down my face I cried dear God I’m thankful I was only dreamin’
And if I never go to hell, Lord, it’ll be because you scared it out of me

Larry Collins and Alex Harvey wrote “Delta Dawn”, which was Tanya Tucker’s debut single in 1972, and was an international pop hit for Helen Reddy in 1973. Because of those two versions, listeners tend to think of the song as a ‘female’ song but Waylon sings it well with the right amount of empathy in his vocals.

“Frisco Depot was a Mickey Newbury song that Waylons tackles with aplomb. The song is a slow ballad with steel guitar and acoustic guitar dominating the mix

“Thanks”, co-written by Irish folk singer Phil Coulter and Scottish folk singer Bill Martin, is a quiet folk song, or perhaps a song of praise for one of life’s more important treasures:

Sunday morning in the valley we would gather for the service
Emily Jane would run to meet me, she’d smile at papa kinda nervous
All the people came from miles around, I can still hear the sound
As they sang thanks to the Lord for the sun up in the sky
For the corn that’s growing high and for the child that didn’t die
Thanks to the Lord for the crops and for the farm
For the strength in my right arm and for keepin’ us from harm
Thanks, thanks, thanks, thanks, thanks, to the Lord for a girl like Emily Jane

“I Think It’s Time She Learned” is credited to Waylon Jennings and Mirriam Eddy (aka Jessi Colter). The song features a nice steel guitar introduction by Ralph Mooney, and is a song about a man leaving a woman who never returned his love for her.

How many times must I tell her
How many times must I say
I won’t be around to pick her up again
From now on she’ll have to find her own way.

How many years have I loved her
While she stood by so unconcerned
But the things she don’t know I’ll teach her when I go
She’s been wrong and I think it’s time she learned.

The album closed with the Buck Owens-Dusty Rhodes classic “Under Your Spell Again”, performed as a duet with wife Jessi Colter.

“Never Been To Spain” is the weakest track on the album mostly because of the rough vocals, and even it isn’t a bad track.

I’m calling this an A- because there are little finishing touches that could have greatly improved the album.

Discussion: Ten essential albums

I recently retired a group of CDs that have lived primarily in my car for the past year or so, and thus have been greatly overplayed. While flipping through my collection for albums to replace them with, I had one of those rude awakening moments when I came across one album in particular and realized that it has been almost twenty-five years since its release. I’ve had it since it first came out, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. It’s an album that I can’t imagine ever being without, and it inspired me to put together a list of other albums that I’ve had for longer than I care to admit, that I’ve always enjoyed and still play all the way through on a regular basis.

In putting together the list, I decided to limit it to studio albums that I’ve had for at least twenty years. I’ve been listening to country music for much longer than that, but in the beginning when I was still too young to earn my own money, I was somewhat limited in what I could buy so my purchases in those days tended to be hits compilations. For that reason, some of the usual suspects — Haggard, Jones, Wynette and Parton don’t appear on the list. So, without further adieu, here are my selections, in no particular order, for the ten most essential albums in my collection:

1. Keith Whitley Don’t Close Your Eyes (1988). I had heard a few of Keith Whitley’s songs on the radio prior to the release of this album, but I wasn’t really aware of who he was until the title track became his breakthrough hit. Up to that point, his material wasn’t always worthy of his considerable vocal talent, but everything about this album was just perfect. The follow-up, I greatly prefer it to his follow-up album, the posthumously released I Wonder Do You Think of Me.

2. Randy Travis — Storms of Life (1986). All that needs to be said about this album is that it changed the course of country music. It’s arguably the greatest country album released during my lifetime, and indisputably the most important. What more needs to be said?

3. Anne Murray — Let’s Keep It That Way (1978). I didn’t actually get this one in 1978, but I did buy it on cassette sometime in the early 80s and later bought it again when it was released on CD many years later. While never primarily a country artist, Anne was one of my gateways to country music back in the days when country radio stations were virtually non-existent in the north. The album included “You Needed Me”, one of the biggest hits of Anne’s career, and her only record to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. Aside from that, however, it is one of her more overtly country efforts. It was the first of ten Murray albums to be produced by Jim Ed Norman, who later went on to run Warner Bros’ Nashville division.

4. Barbara Mandrell — I’ll Be Your Jukebox Tonight (1988). By the late 80s, the New Traditionalist movement was in full force and many veteran acts had been swept off the charts. Many of the artists who had enjoyed great success with crossover material tried to adapt by releasing more traditional material. After a lengthy dry spell, Mandrell looked as though she were poised to defy the odds and reclaim her throne at the top of the charts. Her excellent cover of Ray Price’s “I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today” reached #5, but unfortunately it was her last appearance in the Top 10. Though it doesn’t contain any of her signature hits, I’ll Be Your Jukebox Tonight is the finest album of her career.

5. Willie Nelson — Always On My Mind (1982). Prior to the release of this album, I wasn’t much of a Willie fan, but he won me over with the title track, which had previously been recorded by both Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee. Willie’s version was one of the biggest hits of 1982 (has it really been 30 years?!?) and became his signature tune. The album also includes excellent cover versions of “Let It Be Me”, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and a remake of his own “The Party’s Over”.

6. Reba McEntire — Whoever’s In New England (1986). It’s hard to pick a favorite Reba album from this era, because all of her work during this period was excellent. Whoever’s In New England marked a move back to a slightly more contemporary sound, following two ultra-traditional albums, 1984’s My Kind of Country and 1985’s Have I Got a Deal For You. Whoever’s In New England became her first gold album and the beautiful title track earned her a Grammy award.

7. Tanya Tucker — What Do I Do With Me (1991). I’ve been a Tanya Tucker fan for longer than I can remember. I can remember singing along to “Delta Dawn” when I was about four years old, though it was probably the Helen Reddy version that was getting played on local radio stations at the time. I bought and wore out quite a few of her hits compilations on cassette, and I also won an autographed copy of 1982 LP Changes, her only release for Arista Records. She had been a guest on a late-night syndicated radio show called Hot Country Nights. I remember trying to stay awake for it but I fell asleep before her segment of the program aired. She left some copies of her album, however, which were offered as prizes in a contest the next night. I got mine for correctly identifying Charlene Tilton as the spouse of Johnny Lee. However, it is her platinum-selling 1991 album that is her finest and the one that I play all the way through most often. It seems like it was released only yesterday, but on the other hand, it does seem like a very long time since music this good was heard regularly on country radio.

8. George Strait — Livin’ It Up (1990). As with many of the other artists on this list, most of my early George Strait albums were hits packages. The first studio album of his I ever had was a homemade copy of 1987’s Ocean Front Property, which a friend had given me. I got a CD player for Christmas in 1988 and got his If You Ain’t Lovin’, You Ain’t Livin’ album through Columbia House shortly thereafter. But it is Livin’ It Up that I come back to most often.

9. Patty Loveless — Honky Tonk Angel (1988). This was the first Patty Loveless album I ever owned. At the time it seemed like her commercial breakthrough — it contains her first two #1 hits “Timber, I’m Falling In Love” and “Chains” — but it was really only scratching the surface of what was to come in the following decade following her switch from MCA to Epic. My favorite track on this album and the reason I bought it was “Don’t Toss Us Away”, which features harmony vocals by Rodney Crowell. MCA had thought this would be her first #1, but it only got to #5. Despite its more than respectable chart performance, it’s not one of her better remembered records today.

10. Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn — Making Believe (1988). Conway and Loretta stopped recording together in the early 80s when Conway moved to Elektra Records, which was later absorbed by Warner Bros. At that time, it was still relatively uncommon for artists on different labels to record together. When Conway rejoined MCA in 1987, it was announced that he and Loretta would once again record together. This album was their one and only reunion in the studio. It consisted of five previously released tracks and five newly recorded cover versions of country standards such as “Release Me”, “Half as Much”, “Please Help Me, I’m Falling”, “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” and the title track. But despite being only half a new album, the magic was still there. This is another album I wore out on cassette before buying it on CD.

What are some of the albums in your collection that you consider to essential listening, and that you can’t imagine being without?

Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Eleven’

In recent years Martina McBride has struggled to remain commercially relevant. Having landed only one Top 10 hit in the past seven years, she left her longtime label RCA last year in the hopes of reviving her flagging career. Unfortunately, the move to Republic Nashville has done little to change her commercial fortunes, as it has become apparent that her chart decline is due not to any neglectfulness on the part of RCA, but to her seeming inability to select decent material. She shares co-writing credits on six of Eleven’s tracks, the most she’s ever contributed to a single album, but for the most part this doesn’t result any measurable improvement over her other recent efforts.

When an artist ends a long term relationship with the label where she scored her greatest achievements, it can signal a bold new change in direction or a continued long period of stagnation. In Martina’s case, it’s definitely a case of the latter, as Eleven is more or less in the same vein as her last few, very lackluster albums for RCA. Her debut single for Republic Nashville, “Teenage Daughters”, offered a brief glimmer of hope that she might be getting her mojo back, but those hopes were quickly dashed as rest of the album is mostly a relapse back into the bubblegum pop she’s been peddling since 2006.

Though not a great song by any means, “Teenage Daughters” showed a spunkier side of Martina, which we’ve not seen in quite some time. Written by McBride and the Warren Brothers, the song deals with the challenges of raising adolescent daughters and was in no doubt inspired by Martina’s real-life experiences. The record peaked at #17. It was followed by what appears to be the intended centerpiece of the album, the God-awful “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”, the most shameless attempt to manipulate the listener’s emotions to hit the airwaves since “God’s Will”. McBride and producer Byron Gallimore were likely hoping for a big power ballad hit that explores serious issues, in the vein of “Concrete Angel” or “A Broken Wing”. The problem is that the lyrics lack any subtlety whatsoever. It’s currently at #19 on the charts, but since most radio listeners really don’t want to hear songs about people suffering from cancer, I’ll wager that this one isn’t going to go much higher.

Most of the other tracks on the album, from the opening track “One Night” to the annoyingly sing-songy “Always Be This Way” and “Broken Umbrella” sound like throwbacks to 1970s-era Top 40 AM radio, reminiscent of the poorer efforts of artists like Helen Reddy, The Carpenters or The Captain and Tennille.

Despite these considerable drawbacks, Eleven does have its brighter moments. Though not very country, “Marry Me”, a cover of last year’s minor adult-contemporary hit by the pop/rock group Train, is quite pleasant. It is performed with the song’s writer and Train’s lead singer Pat Monahan. The bluesy “Whatcha Gonna Do”, written by Rachel Thibodeau, Rebecca Lynn Howard and Jason Sever also works quite well and I’m guessing that it will eventually be released as a single. And things improve considerably with the album’s last three tracks, “Summer of Love”, “When You Love a Sinner” and the stunningly beautiful closing track “Long Distance Lullaby”, which Martina co-wrote with Mark Irwin and Josh Kear. These three numbers are the album’s best tracks, and serve as a reward of sorts for having persevered through the earlier tracks.

Having been disappointed by Martina’s previous three albums, I wasn’t expecting Eleven to be an outstanding effort, and it definitely isn’t, but it’s worth the $4.99 that Amazon MP3 is currently asking for it (the version with digital liner notes is $9.49). A deluxe version with four bonus tracks and three music videos is available exlusively from Target stores.

Grade: C