My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Holly Dunn

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.

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Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘Old Enough To Know Better’

A performance of “Restless” by The New Nashville Cats featuring Mark O’Connor, Ricky Skaggs and Steve Wariner at the 1991 CMA Awards proved pivotal in shifting Wade Hayes’ life focus towards a career in country music. He had been signed to an independent label by his father when he was eleven, but the deal fell through when the label filed for bankruptcy.

He dropped out of college and returned to Nashville after seeing that performance and became buddies with songwriter Chick Rains, who introduced Hayes to Don Cook, primarily known at the time for producing the catalog of Brooks & Dunn. With Cook working his connections, Hayes was able to score a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1994.

With Cook in the production chair, Hayes wasted no time and had his debut album Old Enough To Know Better in stores by January 1995. The record was preceded by the title track, which Hayes co-wrote with Rains. The uptempo honky-tonk rocker is 1990s country at its finest, still relevant today and boasts a killer hook “I’m old enough to know better, but I’m still too young to care” that made me take notice instantly as a nine-year-old kid when this song came out.

Hayes hit #1 with that song, a feat he wouldn’t repeat again in his career although he would come close. The fiddle and steel drenched contemporary ballad “I’m Still Dancing With You” followed, peaking at #4. The heartbreaking tale of lost love was an excellent showcase for Hayes’ ability to show palpable emotion with his voice, a talent lost on many of his contemporaries. He would have far stronger showcases for this gift, especially as he grew into himself as an artist, but he was doing very well right out of the gate.

A second uptempo honky-tonk rocker was sent to radio in an effort to repeat the success of the title track. “Don’t Stop,” which would stall at #10, isn’t as strong or relatable as the title track and peaked about where it deserved. It’s still enjoyable to listen to today although the music video seems to have been buried in the archives somewhere out of view.

When thinking about ballads from Old Enough To Know Better, “What I Meant to Say” comes to mind a heck of a lot sooner than “I’m Still Dancing With You” and for good reason. The contemporary ballad is the better song, and while both have emotive vocal performances from Hayes, this is the more believable song. Hayes makes you feel his regret deep inside of you. The song would only peak at #5, which is a shame, as it deserved to at least reach as high as #2.

Cook, as I said, was Brooks & Dunn’s producer, the architect of their now classic sound. So I know how Hayes came to record “Steady As She Goes” although I was unaware the duo released any of their songs for other artists to record. It’s a great uptempo song with an engaging melody brimming with steel guitar. Brooks & Dunn would release their version, on a limited edition, promotional bonus disc as part of the joint marketing of their If You See Her and Reba’s If You See Him albums.

Cook co-wrote “Steady As She Goes” with Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, which is another likely reason it fell into Hayes’ hands. He also co-wrote “Kentucky Bluebird,” which became the title track of the first posthumous collection of songs by Keith Whitley in 1991. It takes a lot of courage to sing a song previously recorded by Whitley, and I do think Hayes was up to the task. It also didn’t hurt he got Patty Loveless to provide pretty audible background vocals on the song.

Another song with pedigree was “Someone Had To Teach You,” a Harlan Howard co-write that found its way to George Strait on his Livin’ It Up album in 1990. It’s another phenomenal song and while both versions are excellent, I’m giving Hayes the edge. He brought an authority to it I feel Strait missed.

Howard co-wrote “Family Reunion” with Rains. The traditional ballad is a killer, with a spellbinding twist. The family reunion is reuniting a dead mother with the father of her child, who the kid tracked down at a cemetery in Denver. There’s speculation this could’ve been a true story for Rains, but I couldn’t corroborate it.

Cook was the sole writer on “Don’t Make Me Come To Tulsa.” The track fit right into the line dance craze sweeping Nashville at the time and was even given a dance remix. The song kind of reminds me of Holly Dunn’s “You Really Had Me Going.” I enjoyed it, and the lyric is good, but the whole aesthetic has lost its appeal 23 years later.

The album ends as its singles cycle began, with a collaboration between Hayes and Rains. “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” was the third of their songs together on the record, besides the title track and “I’m Still Dancing With You.” The mid-tempo ballad follows in the high quality of the rest of the record.

I can count on one hand, with a leftover finger or two, the number of debut albums I would regard as perfect. Old Enough To Know Better is far and away one of those albums. Hayes didn’t waste any time in showcasing the wide breadth of his talents as both a vocalist and a songwriter.

So many artists, I’m specifically thinking of Clay Walker among others, have let me down with debut albums that deliver in terms of singles but fail on every other level with subpar song selections beneath the artist the singles prove them to be. Hayes far exceeded my expectations and makes me regret having purchased On A Good Night when it came out but not going back and adding Old Enough To Know Better to my collection, too.

If you’ve never heard this album or need to hear it again after all these years, I highly recommend putting aside the time to do so. You’ll be glad you did.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Labor of Love’

Like most other veteran acts, Janie Fricke was struggling to remain commercially relevant as the 1980s drew to a close. After scoring her final #1 hit, “Always Have, Always Will” in 1986, she suffered a sharp decline in her chart success, from which she never recovered. Although she had shifted to a more traditional sound, Labor of Love, her major label swan song, still had its share of songs that were more pop-leaning than radio was interested in at the time.

Two singles were released from the album – ironically the two weakest songs on the disc and neither one reached the Top 40. “Love Is One of Those Words”, from the usually reliable songwriting team of Holly Dunn, Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters, is a rather lackluster synthesizer-heavy ballad that was completely out of step with the more traditional fare being offered on radio. It peaked at #56. The second single was the Dave Loggins composition “Give ‘em My Number” which is probably my least favorite single of Fricke’s career. It attempts to be bluesy and sassy, and while she skillfully pulled off that style a few years earlier with “Always Have, Always Will” this time around her performance seems forced and the song just does not work for her. It charted a little higher than “Love Is One of Those Words”, landing at #43. It would be Janie’s final single for Columbia Records. Fortunately, the rest of the album is much better. It’s tempting to point fingers at the label for choosing the wrong singles but even if they had made different choices, it likely would have made little difference. Radio had moved on to newer artists and was finished with Janie Fricke, no matter what kind of musical choices she made.

“What Are You Doing Here With Me” is a very pretty ballad from the husband and wife songwriting team of Bill Rice and Mary Sharon Rice. It casts Janie as the other woman – or perhaps a would-be other woman, the extent to which the relationship has progressed is unclear. At any rate she has grown weary of listening to her partner singing the praises of his perfect wife and family, and rightly asks him if things are so wonderful at home, “What are you doing here with me?” “Walking On the Moon” is an upbeat tune about young love and was country enough to have had hit single potential. It is my favorite song on the album and likely would have been a hit if Janie had stumbled across it a few years earlier.
A handful of other songs on the album were recorded by other artists at one stage or another. “I Can’t Help The Way That I Don’t Feel” had appeared on Sylvia’s 1985 album One Step Closer. It’s the type of ballad that is best served by minimal production, and that is where Janie’s version falters. It starts off well but the chorus is too bombastic. “One of Those Things” would become a Top 10 hit for one of its writers, Pam Tillis, in another two years. Janie’s version compares admirably to Pam’s. I would have released it as a single. She also does a stellar job on the album’s closing track, Steve Earle’s “My Old Friend the Blues”, which would later appear on a Patty Loveless album.

One other song, “Last Thing I Didn’t Do”, though not one of my favorites, is noteworthy as one Janie’s very few songwriting credits. She wrote the song with Randy Jackson, who I believe was her former manager and ex-husband (and not the former American Idol judge). Aside from this bit of trivia, there’s nothing particularly interesting about the song itself.

Labor of Love is a solid, if slightly uneven capstone to Janie’s major label career. Although none of its songs qualify as essential listening, it’s still an album that Janie’s fans will want to give a spin, if they haven’t already.


Grade: B+

Album Review: Lari White – ‘Lead Me Not’

lari-whiteLead Me Not was Lari White’s debut album, released in 1993 on the RCA label. This was Lari’s second stab at major label stardom as her prize for winning the television talent show Star Search in 1988 was a recording contract with Capitol Records.

Unfortunately the single released on Capitol (“Flying Above the Rain”) went nowhere and she was released by Capital . A person of many talents, including songwriting, Lari marked time by joining Ronnie Milsap’s publishing house, took acting lessons and performed in local theatre productions. In 1991 after attending an ASCAP showcase Rodney Crowell invited her to perform in his band. White signed to RCA, which brings us to this album, which Rodney Crowell produced.

Lead Me Not spotlights Lari’s vocal prowess and her talents as a songwriter as Lari wrote or co-wrote eight of the ten tracks on the album. The album only reached #36 on Billboard’s Heat Chart and missed charting on the Country Albums chart; however, all three of the singles released charted country (none cracked the top forty).

The album opens up with “Itty Bitty Single Solitary Piece of My Heart’, a co-write with John Rotch. The title sounds as if it would be a novelty number, but the song is actually a bluesy ballad warning off a would-be suitor. Jerry Douglas on dobro is featured prominently in the arrangement.

Chorus:

So you won’t get a taste of this, not even a kiss
The fact that your middle name is heartache is no coincidence
You made a livin’ out of lovin’ and leavin’ ‘em to fall apart
So now you better understand youi’ll never lay one hand on one
Itty bitty little single solitary piece o’ my heart

Next up is “Just Thinking” a romantic piece of cocktail jazz, written by Lari, and one that perhaps would have made a good single is pushed to another genre such as Lite Jazz or Adult Contemporary. Bergan White (no relation) arranged the string accompaniment as provided by the Nashville String Machine.

“Lay Around and Love On You” was written by Bobby David and David Gillon. Released as the third single, the song reached #68 on the country charts. The song isn’t remotely country having a strong New Orleans R&B vibe. It’s a great song, and if released during the mid 1970s or early 1980s, likely would have been a hit.

Time for me to go to work again
But all I want to do is
Lay around and love on you
Seven thirty, but I don’t care
What you’re doing is gonna keep me here
‘Cause all I want to do is
Lay around and love on you

Lay around and love
Lay around and love on you
You’ve got me so turned on
Honey, I can’t turn you loose
Hope nobody calls
Got the phone off the hook
We’re gonna try everything in the book
All I want to do is
Lay around and love on you

“Lead Me Not” was the second single from the album. Written by Lari, the song has a strong gospel feel to the arrangement, not surprisingly since the title is a play on a familiar religious theme. Nice saxophone work by the appropriately named Jim Horn is the highlight of the arrangement.

Well, I should have been home hours ago
I always lose track of the time
I’ll just hold up this wall while I try to recall
A thought from the back of my mind
Oh yeah I remember, it began with a wink
When you caught me looking at you

So don’t ask me if you can buy me a drink
I know what you’re trying to do
Lead me not into temptation
I already know the road all too well
Lead me not into temptation
I can find it all by myself

This is followed by another Lari White solo composition “Made To Be Broken” a lovely, well performed easy-listening ballad.

“What A Woman Wants” was the first single and biggest hit on the album reaching #44. Lari co-wrote this with soon-to-be husband Chuck Cannon (they married in 1994 and are still married, with two daughters). This song deals with the changing roles in society and the effort to try to explain to men what women today want. The song is taken at a quick tempo, and frankly I am surprised that the song wasn’t a bigger hit.

Come here darlin’, let me whisper in your ear
A precious little secret that I think you need to hear
With the way the women’s movement’s always making the news
I can see how a man might get confused
Now a woman doesn’t mind a man holding the door
But slaving in some kitchen ain’t what God made a woman for
We’ve come a long way baby, but way down deep we’re still the same
What a woman wants will never change

What a woman wants is to be treated like a queen
By a man who deserves to be treated like a king
What a woman wants, what keeps her holding on
Is a loving man who understands what a woman wants

The seventh track features a Suzi Ragsdale and Verlon Thompson composition “Anything Goes”. The song has a definite Mexican flair. Verlon’s career as a recording artist never took off, but he remains a prominent songwriter and instrumentalist.

It took until track eight to reach a song that I would regard as truly being country music, that song being “When The Lights Are Low”, a song Lari co-wrote with Chris Waters (bother of Holly Dunn). This song features classic steel guitar work by Tommy Spurlock, fiddle by Jonathan Yudkin and a great vocal by Lari. The song is a prototypical country ballad with lyrics any fans of traditional country music could enjoy and should have been released as the first single. While I don’t know whether or not this would have been a big hit at radio, at least it would have pegged Lari as a legitimate country artist. As it was, if I were a DJ dealing with Lari’s first three RCA singles, I would not known how to classify her (Con Hunley had the much same problem fifteen years earlier).

In the dark I’m just part of the crowd
It’s hard to tell who it is I’m there without
In some tall stranger’s arms
Your memory’s not so clear
I can cry all night long
‘Cause no one sees the tears
Where the lights are low

Where the jukebox plays
The saddest song it knows
Through a smoky haze
Since you’ve been gone
That’s where I go
‘Cause everything looks better
Where the lights are low

Lari collaborated with her future husband again on “Don’t Leave Me Lonely”, another easy listening/adult contemporary ballad. It’s a nice song, well sung but again not especially country. As on track two, Bergan White arranged the string accompaniment as provided by the Nashville String Machine.

The album closes as it began, with a Lari White – John Rotch collaboration in “Good Good Love”. As with the opening number with is a bluesy R&B tinged ballad, with gospel overtones in the production.

If you want a good good love
Hold on when the times are bad
‘Cause if you jump ship when trouble hits
Good for nothin’ is all you’ll have
You gotta anchor down in the winds of doubt
You can’t give in and you can’t bail out
If the water’s high hold your head above
And hang on for that good good love

When love sets sail it’s always a sunny day
And when the skies are blue it’s so easy to make love stay
But when the clouds roll in and the ship begins to strain
You gotta try a little harder
Go on, test the water
‘Cause the air is so much sweeter
After a real good rain

This album features a bewildering array of instruments: bells, bongos, cowbells, dobro, fiddle – you name it, it is probably on here somewhere.

I purchased the album on the recommendation of a friend. I really liked the album but I wasn’t sure where to place it in my collection, finally settling on filing it with my pop/rock/ R&B records. Lead Me Not is a very good album that I would not hesitate to recommend as fans of varying forms of music can find things to like about this album. On this album Lari White reveals herself as a very talented songwriter and vocalist, albeit one not easily pigeonholed. Her breakthrough would occur on her next album, and wouldn’t last long but her music is worth the search.

I would give this album an A-

She still performs and maintains a website where you can purchase most of her music.

Breaking News: RIP Holly Dunn

The sad news has been broken that Holly Dunn has died of cancer aged 59.

We highlighted Holly’s music in March 2014.

She is probably best remembered for her Father’s Day favorite ‘Daddy’s Hands’:

Album Review: Lonestar – ‘Lonestar’

lonestarLonestar kicked off their recording career with the eponymous album Lonestar. Released in October 1995, the album hit the streets on the strength of the successful single “Tequila Talkin’” which was released in August 1995 and reached #8. There would be four more singles issued after the album was released. The album received mixed reviews upon its release, more than a few critics viewing the band as a lightweight version of Shenandoah, a comparison I did not feel to be very valid.

The album was definitely decent honky-tonk country music, with the band augmented by a solid corps of Nashville session men such as Bruce Bouton (pedal steel ), Mark Casstevens (acoustic guitar), Brent Mason (electric guitar) and Rob Hajacos (fiddle) and such distinguished vocal harmonists as Curtis Young and John Wesley Ryles. Unless otherwise stated, Richie McDonald handles the vocals on the singles.

The album opens up with the up-tempo ballad “Heartbroke Every Day” from the pens of Bill LaBounty, Cam King and Rick Vincent. This album track featured John Rich on lead vocals, and would be the fifth single released, reaching #18. I like Rich’s vocal, which has a bit of a bluegrass feel to it.

Why do I do this to myself
Why do I want the one that wants somebody else
Don’t you know
I’d get my heart broke every day if I could

Why do I always take the fall
I’d rather have you hurtin’ me than not have you at all
Don’t you know
I’d get my heart broke every day if I could
If I could
Don’t you know
I’d get my heart broke every day if I could

Track two was the first single released, “Tequila Talkin’” penned by Bill LaBounty and Chris Waters (the brother of Holly Dunn). This single reached #8, the first top ten recording for the group:

I don’t know what they put in Cuervo that got me to say those things
Usually I wouldn’t care so much or make such a scene
But seeing you there in that dress you were wearing just drove me right out of my head
So don’t hold me responsible for anything I might’ve said

It was just the tequila talkin’
When I told you I’m still not over you
I get a little sentimental when I’ve had one or two
And that tear in my eye was the salt and the lime
Not the memory of you walkin’
If I said I’m still in love with you
It was just the tequila talkin’

John Rich, Don Cook and Wally Wilson wrote “I Love The Way You Do That’ – a good song but the intro sounds too much like the intro to track two.

“Running Away With My Heart” was penned by Michael Britt, Sam Hogin and Mark D Sanders. This would be the third single released from the album and would reach #8. This song is a mid-tempo ballad, which features some nice steel guitar work by Bruce Bouton.

Hey Buddy can you get me some faster wheels
I got a heartache nippin’ at my heels
I’ll be hurtin’ if she gets a big head start
First that girl stole my attention
Not to mention all my affection
Now she’s running away with my heart

“What Would It Take” was written by Billy Lawson, Larry Boone and Paul Nelson, and is a slow ballad with heavy Nashville Sound string accompaniment of the kind that Billy Sherrill used with George Jones and David Houston. I think that this song, issued 15-20 years earlier, could have been a big single, but by 1995 it was very much an anachronism.

I held the world in my arms
I threw away the moon for the stars
Couldn’t see the forest for the trees
Couldn’t see the love in front of me

What would it take to take me back
Rebuild that bridge, retrace my tracks
I would give all I own
For one little stepping stone
What would it take to take me back

The redoubtable trio of John Rich, Larry Boone and Paul Nelson contributed “Does Your Daddy Know About Me”, an up-tempo honky-tonk song with solid steel and fiddle accompaniment that would have made a good single:

Well you say your daddy is a real cool dude and you keep no secrets from him
Well he knows you got a wild hair, knows your kinda out there and knows about your crazy friends
And he done found out about the night you snuck out with the Cadillac keys
But darlin’ does your daddy know about me

Well he knows you been skippin’ them Sunday School meetings
He’s heard how fast you drive
Knows you got an attitude, seen your little tattoo, but he lets all that slide
And I bet my boots that he think he knows you from A to Z
But darlin’ does your daddy know about me

Billy Lawson’s “Ragtop Cadillac” probably was very popular with line dancers. The lyrics are nothing special but it has a rhythm and feel very similar to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”.

“No News” was the second single and the first #1 record for the group reaching #1 in both the US and Canada. The song was written by Phil Barnhart, Sam Hogin, and Mark D. Sanders, and tells the story about a man whose woman has left him without telling him.

She said “It’s just a woman thing” and pulled out of the drive
I said not to worry I’m an understanding guy
I’ve heard that when you love someone you gotta let ’em go
She hollered “When I find myself you’ll be the first to know”
Ooh no news

I learned to do the laundry, feed the cat, and clean the house
I promised to be patient while she worked her problems out
When she packed her bags, her destination wasn’t clear
But I sensed that her intentions were honest and sincere
Ooh no news

Chick Rains has written a number of fine songs, but “Paradise Knife and Gun Club” is nothing special, a dance number that makes for a decent album track.

Richie McDonald and Kyle Green co-wrote “When Cowboys Didn’t Dance”, the only song McDonald had a part in writing. The song was the fourth single from the album reaching only #45 (but #18 in Canada). I don’t think I would have released this song as a single, although it makes a decent enough album track.

This would be one of two albums issued by the original lineup of Richie McDonald (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), John Rich (bass, vocals), Michael Britt (lead guitar, background vocals), Keech Rainwater (drums), and Dean Sams (keyboards). Other than John Rich’s contributions, the band relied on outside writers for material. Richie McDonald would emerge as a co-writer on subsequent albums, but I have doubts as to how essential were his contributions to the process.

I would give this album a B+. Of five Lonestar studio albums in my collection, this one is the one I listen to with the greatest frequency as it is the most consistently good album of the bunch.

Classic Rewind: Holly Dunn – ‘Burning Wheel’

Our thoughts and prayers are with Holly Dunn as she battles a rare and aggressive form of ovarian cancer. She was diagnosed in March and is currently seeking treatment for the disease in New Mexico, where she’s been living to focus on her art since 2003. You can find out more, here: http://bit.ly/2bYyilb.

Classic Rewind: Holly Dunn – ‘The Blue Rose Of Texas’

Classic Rewind: Holly Dunn – ‘That’s What Your Love Does To Me/Traveler’s Prayer’

Classic Rewind: New Grass Revival – ‘Love Someone Like Me’

The progressive bluegrass/country band sing a Holly Dunn/Radney Foster song which was later a hit for Dunn:

Album Review: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Workin’ Band’

workinbandWith the release of 1988’s Workin’ Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band began to wind down its most commercially successful decade. It was the band’s final “regular” album of the decade and its last for Warner Bros.; the following year’s album and their Universal debut would be the much-acclaimed and guest star-studded Will The Circle Be Unbroken?, Volume II which we reviewed in April 2009 .

Like the previous year’s Hold On, Workin’ Band was produced by Josh Leo. It produced three Top 10 singles, beginning with “Workin’ Man (Nowhere To Go)”, a #4 peaking hit that despite its uptempo arrangement, dealt with the plight of American farmers who were displaced after losing their farms at auction. It was followed by another uptempo, radio-friendly number “I’ve Been Lookin'”, which reached #2. Both songs were penned by band members: Jimmie Fadden wrote “Workin’ Man” and Jimmy Ibbotson and Jeff Hanna penned “I’ve Been Lookin'”. The third single, “Down That Road Tonight” was written by Jeff Hanna with Josh Leo and Wendy Waldman. My least favorite of the three singles, “Down That Road Tonight” contains just a hint of the blues. It reached #6 and marks the second-to-last time The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band would score a Top 10 hit (“When It Goes” from the Circle II collection became their final Top 10 in 1990).

Two of the album’s tunes were later covered by other artists. Holly Dunn released a very similar version of “Thunder and Lightnin'” a year later and Lorrie Morgan recorded a much slicker version of “Soldier of Love” in 1996, which pales in comparison to NGDB’s rendition.

Band member Bob Carpenter contributed two of his original compositions to the project: “Baby Blues”, a co-write with Wendy Waldman and “A Lot Like Me”. Both are departures from the band’s usual sound. Carpenter takes over as lead vocalist and though he is not as gifted a singer as his bandmates, he is effective on both tunes, particularly the rock-infused “A Lot Like Me”, that I liked a lot more than I expected to.

Workin’ Band was always one of my favorite Nitty Gritty Dirt Band albums. I bought it on cassette when it was released in 1988, but never upgraded it to CD. Consequently, I had not heard it in a very long time, but it has held up surprisingly well and I found that I enjoyed it as much as I did over quarter-century ago.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Holly Dunn – ‘Cowboys Are My Weakness’

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Leave One Bridge Standing’

leave one bridge standingHolly’s second album for River North turned out to be her last mainstream ever.  The production leans a little too far in the Shania Twain style pop country vein which was making the most waves at country radio at the time for my tastes, but Holly’s vocals are on point.  More of a problem is that the songs are nothing special.

Too many of the songs are generic pop country of the most disposable kind.  To be honest they don’t sound that bad compared to the worst excesses of today’s radio hits – but that’s a pretty low bar, and they’re still pretty boring.  The title track was the only attempt at a single.  A rather undistinguished mid-tempo song, it failed to chart, and that turned out to be Holy’s swansong as a singles artist.

There are a few tracks I do like.  ‘Whatshisname’ is the best of the up-tempo songs, a playful dismissal of an ex she can’t even remember.  ‘That Never Stopped Me’ is a fairly generic song, but has some nice honky tonk piano and a committed personality-filled vocal which make it listenable.

‘Talking Goodbye’ is a very good ballad advising a friend against abandoning marriage for the lonely life of a single woman, with the benefit of her own bitter experience.  This is by far the best track on the album, with a fine vocal and an arrangement dominated by fiddle and steel, and definitely worth downloading.

The tender love song ‘The Wonder Of Love’ is also good, while ‘We’ve Got The Love’ is nicely sung, if unmemorable.  Although the production lacks subtlety, I quite liked Don’t Break The Wings’, thanks largely to Holly’s warm hearted vocal.  The song offers advice to someone entering on a new relationship not to cling to tight:

Don’t break the wings of the one you love

Help them learn to fly

She closes the circle of her career by ending the album with her own version of the 80s pop-country of ‘I’m Not Through Loving You Yet’, a song she wrote for Louise Mandrell in her early days in Nashville.

Holly did record one more record, a Christian one which is not easy to find at a reasonable price, in 2003.  That same year she announced her retirement from music in order to concentrate on her other love, painting.  This last secular album makes a rather disappointing closing chapter to her career.  It is available cheaply, but my recommendation would be just to download ‘Talking Goodbye’ and possibly one or two other tracks.

Grade: C+

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Life, Love And All The Stages’

Her stint at Warner Bros. now over, Holly Dunn once again found herself the flagship artist at a fledgling label when she signed with the newly-formed Nashville division of Chicago-based River North Records. In order to regain her lost commercial momentum, she needed to really knock one out of the park, but unfortunately, 1995’s Life, Love And All The Stages is not the home run she needed.

hollydunnlifeloveFor the first time since 1987’s Cornerstone, her brother Chris Waters was not on board as a co-producer, although he continued to be Holly’s songwriting partner and had a hand in writing nine of the album’s ten tracks, most of them with Holly and their usual collaborator Tom Shapiro. Unfortunately, this time around the songwriting team didn’t seem to have a lot to say, despite the three-year gap since Holly’s previous album. Little about the album’s ten songs is compelling or memorable and the project could have benefited greatly by including some tunes from outside songwriters. Replacing Waters as Holly’s co-producer was Joe Thomas. The album is tastefully produced and Holly’s voice is in good form, but the material is not particularly exciting. It is more contemporary-sounding than most of Holly’s previous work, reflecting country music’s shift away from traditional sounds that began in the mid-nineties.

Only one of the album’s singles, “I Am Who I Am”, actually charted. It reached #56, outperforming most of the singles from Holly’s previous effort Getting It Dunn. “Cowboys Are My Weakness” — a Dunn/Shapiro/Waters composition and not the same song that Trisha Yearwood recorded more than a decade later — and “It’s Not About Blame” were the album’s two non-charting singles. These three tracks are the album’s strongest, so River North appears to have made the correct choices in selecting singles, but they were not strong enough to gain any traction at radio. I enjoyed “Rock-a-Billy”, which Holly wrote by herself, although it is a bit fluffy in the lyrics department.

Overall, Life, Love And All The Stages is a pleasant-sounding album, but one that one tends to play in the background while doing other things and not remember much about afterwards. It is little more than a footnote in the Dunn discography. Cheap used copies are still available, and though the album is not essential listening, it is certainly worth the small outlay of cash required to obtain it.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Holly Dunn – ‘There Goes My Heart Again’

Album Review – Holly Dunn – ‘Getting It Dunn’

HollyDunnGettingItDunnA year after releasing her first retrospective, Holly Dunn returned with the album that would serve as closure to the commercial phase of her career. Getting It Dunn was released in June 1992 and spawned four singles, none of which cracked the top 40 on the charts.

Mel Tillis’ mid-tempo honky-tonker “No Love Have I,” served as the first single, peaking at #67. Despite a generous helping of steel, and Dunn’s impeccable vocal, the track didn’t chart higher although it deserved to. The Dunn/Chris Waters/Tom Shapiro penned “As Long As You Belong To Me” charted next, peaking at #68. The mid-tempo rocker had a confident vocal from Dunn, although it just wasn’t commercial enough to pop in the current radio climate. “Golden Years,” the third and final single, did slightly better, peaking at #51. A co-write by Gretchen Peters and Sam Hogin, the track is wonderful despite the somewhat sappy string section heard throughout.

The album’s other notable track is “You Say You Will,” composed by Verlon Thompson and Beth Nielsen Chapman. Dunn’s version of the bluesy Dobro infused number appeared just two months before Trisha Yearwood’s take on her own Hearts in Armor album. Both versions are remarkably similar and equally as good, although Yearwood turned in a slightly more polished take, which helped the pensive tune reach #12 in early 1993. Warner Brothers didn’t release Dunn’s version as a single.

Dunn’s usual co-writers Waters and Shapiro helped her write a few other tunes for the project. “Let Go” is somewhat light, with an engaging drumbeat and muscular electric guitar heard throughout. Steel and synth ballad “I’ve Heard It All” is a revelation, with Dunn playing the part of a jilted lover done with excuses. “You Can Have Him,” marks similar territory and is the best of three, with an engaging beat, and polish that had it ripe to be a single.

Shapiro teamed up with Michael Garvin and Bucky Jones to write “I Laughed Until I Cried,” a fabulous break-up power ballad with one of Dunn’s most emotion filled vocals on the whole album. Craig Wiseman co-wrote “If Your Heart Can’t Do The Talking” with Lynn Langham. The steel and dobro infused mid-tempo number is excellent and wouldn’t have been out of place on one of Yearwood’s early albums. Wally Wilson and Mike Henderson composed “Half A Million Teardrops,” another mid-tempo number and one more example of the excellent recordings found on Getting It Dunn. Karen Brooks and Randy Sharp’s “A Simple I Love You” rounds out the album, and Dunn provides the project’s standout vocal. I love the steel on this, too, although the rest of the production is a touch heavy-handed.

Holly Dunn will always be a quandary to me. Her vocal and songwriting abilities are outstanding, but the production on her records was always lacking in that little bit of extra polish that would’ve sent her over the top to the leagues of say a Trisha Yearwood or a Kathy Mattea. But that isn’t to suggest her music was lacking in any particular way to be less than excellent, it just wasn’t always embraceable by country radio and their standards at the time. But, thankfully, commercial prospects aren’t everything, and Getting It Dunn is another glorious addition to her already wonderful discography.

Grade: A

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Heart Full Of Love’

Holly’s 1990 follow up to The Blue Rose of Texas, which she produced with brother Chris Waters, was not quite as good as the latter, but is a fine effort nonetheless, with a lot of variety in tempo, style and subject matter, while Holly is in great voice.

Holly’s solo composition, ‘My Anniversary For Being A Fool’ is a lovely sad waltz as the protagonist remembers just how she threw away a true love.  Beautifully and delicately sung, with a prominent steel guitar behind her, it was the first single, but performed surprisingly,and undeservingly, poorly.  She regained traction with ‘You Really Had Me Going’, an up-tempo Dunn/Waters/Tom Shapiro song which became Holly’s first chart topper.  The rock n roll electric guitar solo from Brent Mason is unexpected, but doesn’t overwhelm the song.

The title track was the final single, but only just crept into the top 20.  A mid-tempo love song written by hitmaker Kostas, it is quite pleasant without being at all memorable.

‘The Light In The Window Went Out’ is an excellent song, in which the once-faithful protagonist gives up at last on her complacent ex who thinks he can pick up where he left off:

You thought I’d just keep hanging on

Love like a candle burns down to nothing

When it’s left untended too long

It was written by Holly and Chris with Ron Hellard.  The ironic ‘Temporary Loss Of Memory’ (penned by Holly and Chris with Lonnie Wilson) about a brief pause in a heartbreak is in a more contemporary vein, and isn’t bad.

The usual Waters/Dunn/Shapiro team exercised their social conscience with an emotional look at a homeless family for whom ‘No Place Is Home’.  Some may feel it tries a little too hard to make the hearer feel guilty, but it is clearly heartfelt and beautifully sung.

Waters and Shapiro teamed up with Charlie Black to write ‘My Old Love In New Mexico’, a wistful ballad about missing someone, with pretty Spanish guitar backing Holly.

There are many songs called ‘Home’ out there’; Karla Bonoff’s song of that name, which Holly recorded here, is one of the prettiest with a lovely melody and sweetly yearning vocal.  Just beautiful.

There is a sultry cover of the Marty Robbins classic ‘Don’t Worry’ with backing vocals from the Jordanaires recalling the original era.

The closing ‘Broken Heartland’ has a more contemporary vibe and lacks the emotion implied by the lyrics, but it is the only real misstep.

This was followed by a Greatest Hits album (Milestones), which brought a slowdown as her career suffered from the controversy over that album’s single ‘Maybe I Mean Yes’, which some thought inadvertently made light of the very serious date rape issue.

Cheap copies of Heart Full Of Love are easy to find and well worth acquiring.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Holly Dunn ft Dolly Parton – ‘Daddy’s Hands’

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘The Blue Rose of Texas’

HollyDunnTheBlueRoseofTexasShortly after the dissolution of MTM Records, Holly Dunn landed a contract with Warner Bros. and her career enjoyed a resurgence from both an artistic and commercial standpoint. Her Warner Bros. debut, 1989’s The Blue Rose of Texas was produced by Holly and her brother and songwriting partner Chris Waters, and is by far the finest album of her career. Her first single for her new label was “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” which she wrote with Waters and Tom Shapiro. The uptempo number, which finds her frustrated by an overly cautious new love interest, became her first Billboard #1 hit in May 1989. It’s one of the few concessions to radio in what is mostly a very traditional album. Another uptempo number “There Goes My Heart Again”, which features background vocals by Joe Diffie who co-wrote the tune with Lonnie Wilson and Wayne Perry, was the album’s second single, which peaked at #4.

Suprisingly, Warner Bros. opted not to release any further singles from the album, despite a warm reception from radio. One track, “No One Takes The Train Anymore”, a ballad beautifully written by Chris Waters and exquisitely performed by Holly, was included on her 1991 greatest hits package Milestones. It became a single in 1991 in the aftermath of the “Maybe I Mean Yes” debacle, but overshadowed by controversy of its predecessor, it became the first Holly Dunn single not to chart. Despite its lack of commercial success, it has always been one of my favorites. It finds Dunn pondering an impending breakup and lamenting the fact that the fast pace of modern life, which includes traveling by car or plane rather than sea or rail, leaves little opportunity for the party that is leaving to change his mind.

The album’s remaining songs are exceptionally strong, even though none of them were released as singles. Approximately half of them were written by one or more members of the Dunn/Waters/Shapiro team with the rest being supplied by some well known outside songwriters. It’s hard to pick favorites, but if pressed I would narrow the list down to three: the Dunn/Waters/Shapiro-written title track, which includes some excellent electric guitar work, the Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet song “There’s No Heart So Strong”, and “Most of All, Why”, which contains some beautiful harmonizing by its writer Dolly Parton. Originally included on Dolly’s 1975 album The Seeker/We Used To, the regret-filled ballad asks the poignant questions:

How did we get here,
Where did it start,
When did we walk out of each other’s hearts?
Where did we lose it,
How did love die,
When, where and how, but most of all, why?

I like all of Dunn’s albums, but this is the one that I play all the way through most often. It’s one of the ten essential albums I’d want with me if I were stranded on a desert island and I’ve never quite understood why it didn’t sell better than it did. I don’t think it is still in print, but copies are still available on Amazon. Pick one up while you still can.

Grade: A+

Album Review – Holly Dunn – ‘Across The Rio Grande’

HollyDunnAcrosstheRioGrandeFor her third MTM release Across The Rio Grande, Holly Dunn took a co-producing credit for the first time, working with Tommy West (who produced her previous two releases) and Warren Peterson. Her career was also gaining traction by the time this was released in 1988 and she was now in the good graces of country radio.

Chick Rains and Bill Caswell penned the first single, “That’s What Your Love Does To Me.” The track is an excellent dobro infused uptempo number oozing with charm and personality from Dunn who’s voice is the perfect vehicle for the song. Radio and the fans agreed and the song made it to #5. Michael Johnson and the Forester Sisters also recorded versions of the song around the same time.

Slightly less successful was the second and final single, the #11 peaking “(It’s Always Gonna Be) Someday.” With country music in the thick of the new traditionalist movement by 1988, I would’ve thought this would’ve done much better, maybe even peaking higher than “That’s What Your Love Does To Me.” Could it have been the backup singers or Dunn retro style that was the issue? The song is surely excellent on its own merits even if it may’ve been a little too retro even for 1988.

Dunn and her “(It’s Always Gonna Be) Someday” co-writers Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters teamed up to write three other songs for the project. “City Limit” is a wonderful uptempo number dosed in fiddle with a rather engaging drumbeat. Dunn does a wonderful job vocally too, bringing out the song’s infectious charm. “Have A Heart” is the same sort of dobro infused track and Dunn does a wonderful job here as well. The best of the four is “If Nobody Knew My Name,” an album highlight thanks to gorgeous high lonesome harmonies from Cheryl and Sharon White. The production on the ballad, light guitars and fiddle, is impeccable, too.

“Lonesome Highway” found Dunn teaming up with Budd Lee to write a mid-tempo dobro centric number that was another of the stronger songs on the project and possibly my favorite thing on the whole album thanks in part to the production and Dunn’s vocal delivery. Dunn’s final co-write came courtesy of “On The Wings of an Angel,” which she wrote with Don Schlitz. Her crystal-clear voice is the perfect counterpart to the striking fiddle-laced production.

Billy Joel, three years before he gave Garth Brooks the okay to record “Shameless,” had a country connection with Dunn, who included his “Travelin’ Prayer” on this album. Originally released on Joel’s 1973 album Piano Man, “Travlin’ Prayer” has a chugging beat similar to Gram Parson’s “Luxury Liner.” Dunn veers little from Joel’s recording although she does convert it into a bluegrass song, which works well. Dunn’s vocal is incredible, too, as she’s able to keep up with the rapid fire pace of the song with ease.

Mandolin riffs are front and center on Shapiro and Waters’ “The Stronger The Tie.” The spiritual number is reminiscent of something Kathy Mattea would record and quite good even if it leans in a more contemporary vein. Spanish infused “Just Across The Rio Grande,” the album’s title track, is excellent although somewhat thematically out of place.

Across The Rio Grande is a wonderful album complete with many stellar moments from Dunn. The album isn’t as commercial as the albums her contemporaries were releasing at the time, but its still full of excellent songs with nice production and Dunn’s beautiful voice. Across The Rio Grande definitely has a late 80s sheen to it and thus it hasn’t aged as gracefully as it could’ve, but that doesn’t hinder the listener’s enjoyment at all. It’s also a shame the album is out of print as it’s a worthwhile addition to any record collection.

Grade: A