My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Hoagy Carmichael

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘Three Good Reasons’

51qlwdksrjl1992’s Three Good Reasons was Crystal Gayle’s final major label album, released during the time that Capitol Nashville was known as Liberty Records. It was a last-ditch effort to get back on the radio. It appeared two years after her last album and six years after her last Top 10 record. Despite exceptionally strong material that was tailor made to appeal to the then-current trends at radio, it was a case of too little, too late. Radio had moved on to younger artists, and Liberty Records at that time neglected everyone on its roster who was not Garth Brooks. As a result, the album received only half-hearted promotion from the label. Only one single — the title track — was released and it did not chart.

The album was produced by Buzz Stone, who had previously produced an album for Riders In The Sky as well as Nanci Griffith’s live album a few years earlier. Whereas Ain’t Gonna Worry had largely been a throwback to Crystal’s early 70s sound, Three Good Reasons was an attempt to modernize her sound. With the possible exception of I’ve Cried The Blue Right Out of My Eyes, which was a compilation of her early work for Decca, it is her most country-sounding album. The fiddle and pedal steel can be heard prominently throughout the album and unlike its ballad-heavy predecessor, it contains plenty of upbeat material.

The title track did receive a fair amount of airplay on my local country radio station. It is an uptempo number about a young mother escaping from a bad marriage, citing “three good reasons to survive” — namely, her two children and herself. It was written by Don Schlitz and David Wingo and probably would have been a big hit if it had been released by a younger artist — or by Crystal herself a few years earlier. The album’s other divorce song, “A Rose Between Two Thorns” is a heartbreaking ballad about a child that feels caught between her feuding parents. “Living In Tears” is another very nice ballad.

Most of the other songs are uptempo numbers from Jackson Leap’s “Why Cry” and Mark Wright and B James Lowry’s “Love To, Can’t Do” to “The Trouble With Me (Is You)” a swing number written by L. Davis Lewis and Kim Williams. Despite the album’s traditional feel, Crystal had not totally abandoned her pop leanings: the mid-tempo “If The Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me” had been a minor country and AC hit for Jimmy Buffett in 1985, and “One Less Set of Footsteps” had been a pop hit for its author Jim Croce in 1973. Crystal’s versions of both songs are well within the bounds of what was considered country in the early 90s.

Three Good Reasons is a perfect example of why commercial success should never be used to evaluate the quality of music. From an artistic standpoint, it is one of her strongest albums and as was pointed out in one of our prior discussions, if she’d changed musical direction a little earlier, she might have extended her chart tenure by a few more years. It’s a shame that this album didn’t succeed because I would have liked to have heard more in this vein from her.

Although Three Good Reasons marked the end of Crystal’s major label career, she did continue to record after she exited Liberty. She recorded a few religious albums, a few albums of traditional pop standards (one of which wa a very worthwhile tribute to Hoagy Carmichael), and a children’s album. An album of classic country covers is reportedly supposed to be released later this year.

Three Good Reasons probably escaped the notice of many fans. It is well worth seeking out. The tracks can be streamed on YouTube, and used copies are available for purchase.

Grade: A

Album Review – Willie Nelson – ‘Stardust’

220px-Willie_Nelson_StardustWillie Nelson was one of the biggest artists in country music in the mid-1970s. Red Headed Stranger and Wanted! The Outlaws had solidified his place as a genre superstar, selling at previously unheard of volumes. He also had complete creative control over his music; with Columbia Records allowing him to make whatever records he wanted.

Nelson had been mulling over the idea of making a standards album for a while, even trying to arrange “Stardust” on guitar from sheet music he and his sister Bobbie had, to no avail. By 1977 he was living in the same Malibu, CA Neighborhood as R&B/Soul Musician Booker T. Jones. They became such good friends that Nelson asked Jones to arrange a version of the standard “Moonlight In Vermont” for him. He was so pleased by the results, he asked Jones to produce an entire album of pop standards for him. The pair went into the studio and recorded the project in just nine days early that December.

The resulting album, Stardust, initially had the executives at Columbia Records nervous. A fusion of pop, jazz, folk, and country, the sonic direction of the project bared little resemblance to Nelson’s previous ‘outlaw’ album and thus they feared it wouldn’t sell. The label went forward anyways, releasing the ten-song collection in April 1978.

The label chose Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell’s “Georgia On My Mind” (a hit for Ray Charles in 1960) as the lead single. The song, despite a slow and prodding acoustic guitar-led arrangement, shot to #1 on the country chart. Nelson, who won the 1979 Best Male Country Vocal Performance Grammy for the track, gives a tender and endearing vocal on the recording.

Second single “Blue Skies” followed suit. Jones was smart, giving Nelson a more muscular arrangement to complement his somewhat free flowing vocal. Third and final single “All of Me,” easily the best and peppiest of the album’s singles, peaked at #3.

“Moonlight In Vermont,” the track that started it all, is a very slow jazzy/folk ballad that Nelson sings well. “Stardust” isn’t any livelier although the ethereal aspects of the production give it a gorgeously pleasant quality that nicely frames Nelson’s voice.

The Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me” is aided by a distinctive melody that allows Nelson to give a more structured vocal performance. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is just as good, showing off Nelson’s interpretation skills as a jazz vocalist, with a nice upright bass and harmonica heavy production that suits the song well. “Unchained Melody” could’ve used a little more cadence in the production, allowing Nelson to give a more rhythmic vocal but he gives a nice effort, working with Jones’ arrangement.

“On The Sunny Side of the Street” gives Nelson a nice opportunity to step outside his musical comfort zone and embrace a finger snappin’ jazz style that actually works for his voice and overall persona. “September Song,” meanwhile, is nothing more than a deliberate pop/jazz ballad, although Nelson sings it very well (It peaked at #15 in 1979). The reissue edition includes two more songs – a beautiful folkish take on “Scarlet Ribbons” and a straight up jazz rendition of “I Can See Clearly Now.” Both are very good and compliment the original album very well.

The execs at Columbia had a reason to be scared, as Stardust has a very unapologetic sound. Thankfully their nervousness was quickly put to rest. The album went platinum upon release and spent 540 weeks, ten years, on the top country albums chart and two years in the top 10 of the Billboard 200. Stardust went quintuple (5 million) platinum in 2002 and Nelson performed the entire album live – start to finish – at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles this past August to mark the thirty-fifth anniversary.

Stardust is nothing short of a classic and one of the greatest country albums of all time. I wish I could say it appeals more to my taste, but Jones’ production is too slow and sleepy for me to fully enjoy it. The project could’ve used some more uptempo numbers to even out the heaviness, and I probably would’ve enjoyed it more. But I can still appreciate the project for what it is, and there are some moments of brilliance here from Nelson.

Two Grades:

Personal Grade: C+ (I wish I could enjoy it more – it’s too slow and prodding for me)

On it’s own merit: A (I can fully see why it’s such an amazing album, and Nelson is brilliant here)