My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Huey Lewis

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘King Of The Road: A Tribute To Roger Miller’

Roger Miller was unique in terms of his all-around abilities as an entertainer. He could write off-beat and humorous songs then turn around and write a masterpiece of a straight ahead ballad. The nearest thing to him in terms of his compositional abilities was Shel Silverstein, but unlike Silverstein, who was a terrible singer, Roger was an outstanding vocalist and musician. People who have heard Roger’s concert in Birchmere, VA, about a year before he died can attest that Roger Miller barely even needed a guitar in order to keep and audience entertained.

Because Roger was so offbeat, tributes to him and his music have been rare – many of his most famous songs barely lend themselves to being covered. One of the few tributes I’ve seen was Tim O’Brien’s O’Brien Party of Seven – Reincarnation: The Songs Of Roger Miller, released about six years ago and featuring members of Tim’s family. It is a great album, but Tim and his family mostly stayed away from the more famous songs, and delved deeper into the Roger Miller catalogue.

King of The Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller
is a two disc set featuring snippets of dialogue from Roger along with covers of 34 of his songs as performed by various artists. The covers of straight ahead country songs work best as few artists have the ability that Roger had to let vocal scats and odd phrasings simply roll of his tongue. Among the odder songs tackled on disc one are “Chug A Lug” (Asleep at The Wheel with Huey Lewis), “Dang Me” (Brad Paisley), “Kansas City Star” (Kacey Musgraves), “You Ought a Be Here With Me” /“I’ve Been A Long Time Leaving” (Alison Krauss & The Cox Family) and In The Summertime” (Shawn Camp /Earls of Leicester) . All of these songs are competently performed but sound a bit forced except Shawn Camp’s take on “In The Summertime” since Camp simply treats the song as a straight ahead county song. The Krauss / Cox song would have been better had they performed it as separate songs and not made a medley of it.

For me the disc one the standouts are Loretta Lynn’s take on “Half A Mind”, a hit for her mentor Ernest Tubb, Mandy Barnett’s “Lock Stock and Teardrops” and the religious song “The Crossing” as performed by Ronnie Dunn and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Dwight Yoakam does a fine job with his co-write “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” but you’d expect no less since it was a hit for him.

Disc two is more of the same, some banter, goofy songs, and some straight ahead ballads. Cake makes a complete mess of “Reincarnation” (the only decent cover I’ve had was by Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle, USMC) and I didn’t like Toad The Wet Sprocket’s take on the old George Jones hit “Nothing Can Stop My Loving You” (also decently covered in the 1970s by Patsy Sledd). Jamey Johnson & Emmylou Harris do a nice job on “Husbands and Wives”.

John Goodman, who never claimed to be a singer, reprises “Guv’ment” from the play Big River. Ringo Starr, also not a compelling singer, gives the right vibe to “Hey Would You Hold It Down?”

For me the two best songs on disc two are the Dolly Parton & Alison Krauss recording of “The Last Word In Lonesome Is Me” and Flatt Lonesome’s exquisite “When Two Worlds Collide”, easily the best performance on the album.

This album offers a good overview of the depth and breadth of the songwriting talents of Roger Miller. While I wasn’t all that impressed with all of the performers on the album, all of them clearly gave their performances their best efforts.

I mostly enjoyed this album and would give it a B+ but if this is your first exposure to Roger Miller, I would strongly suggest picking up one of Roger’s currently available collections of Smash/Mercury recordings.

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Album Review: T. Graham Brown – ‘The Present’

516la3wqenL._SY300_Following 2003’s The Next Right Thing, T. Graham Brown released a second independent album entitled The Present. The sixteen-song set was mostly a collection of cover tunes, some even spiritual in nature.

The title track was the project’s only single. It’s a predictable lyric about living life for today that comes off a bit preachy. There is some audible steel framing the chorus, which is nice to hear, although it is pretty faint.

The cover tunes are the bread and butter of the project. The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” is given a note-for-note reading faithful to the original while his version of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” has somewhat of a Caribbean feel. “You’ve Got A Friend” is treated to a John Mayer-style bluesy arrangement that showcases Brown’s gospel tendencies. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is faithful, too, and even adds a gospel choir to drive the message home.

Brown has a lot in common sonically with Huey Lewis, so it’s appropriate that he’d cover a Lewis’ tune. “Whole Lotta Lovin’” is treated in Brown’s signature style and he does a great job firmly within his comfort zone. “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” differs very little from the original yet Brown gives a spirited performance opposed to just phoning it in. “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” fits in lyrically with the rest of the album, but comes off very Vegas and Branson-esque, which is far from a compliment. “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” is a bit cheesy despite flourishes of organ throughout.

The Present, as a whole, isn’t a terribly enjoyable album and feels like a random covers project and not a cohesive set. Brown does sound comfortable with the material but there’s a feeling of – why? – hanging over the whole album. Once an artist goes independent it’s hard to find even respectable material, so I fully understand why he’d go this route, but that isn’t an excuse for turning in pointless covers that add nothing to any of the songs.

Grade: B-

Album Review: T. Graham Brown – ‘Brilliant Conversationalist’

UnknownT. Graham Brown released his second album for Capitol Nashville, Brilliant Conversationalist, in 1987. He reteamed with producer Bud Logan and scored three top ten hits from the project.

Horns and piano drench the title track, which hit number 9. Brown gives a commanding performance on the tune about a guy picking up a girl in a bar. “She Couldn’t Love Me Anymore,” a contemporary styled tune, peaked at number four. Brown’s gruff vocal cuts through the shellac, which isn’t pleasant enough to save the overall recording. Capitol saved the best single, “Last Resort” for last. The most restrained of the three, but still contemporary, Graham sells the story with ease. Like its predecessor, the track also topped out at number four.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag of upbeat jams mixed with a couple of ballads that display very little trademarks of actual country music. “RFD 30529” chugs along courtesy of electric guitar riffs and synthesizers that weren’t out of place with some of the pop styles of the day. “Save That Dress” is terrible, a contrived lyric about a guy pleading for his girlfriend to save some items from being sold at a yard sale, mostly because they’re skimpy or low cut. “Talkin’ To It” sounds like nothing more than a bad karaoke rip-off of Huey Lewis and The News. “Walk on Water” is more restrained, but still not much better.

The ballads are far more listenable, but that isn’t saying much. “Anything to Lose” goes the gospel route, while “The Power of Love” is far more AC than country. From that angle it isn’t half bad. His cover of “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay” is okay, but the ocean sound effects are more cheesy than effective.

Simply put, Brilliant Conversationalist has so little to do with country music, New Traditionalist or otherwise, I’m surprised it was marketed to the genre at all. Brown has a good voice, but the horns and synthesizers are so out of place and cheesy to my ears, twenty-seven years later. This project is long forgotten because it wasn’t very good to begin with, and save one or two songs, isn’t worth revisiting. You shouldn’t judge a product by its cover, but in this case, I think it says it all.

Grade: C

Album Review: John Cowan – ‘Sixty’

sixtyJohn Cowan is best known to country fans as the lead singer of New Grass Revival in the late 1980s, but he is a musician with broad tastes, and this latest solo album covers a number of bases.

‘The Things I Haven’t Done’ (featuring bluegrass banjoist Alison Brown) mixes bluegrass the country-rock of the 1960s/70s. The plaintive song looks back at a life’s choices. ‘Why Are You Crying’ is in similar vein, with an airy Cowan vocal, and is played by Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, and John Mcfee of the Doobie Brothers (who also produces). ‘Rising From The Ashes’ is a bit less memorable, but quite pleasant.

My favourite track is an inspired cover of the Marty Robbins’ hit ‘Devil Woman’. Cowan’s vocal is spectacular and I love this. His voice also soars on the beautiful ‘Feel Like Going Home’, backed by a melodic, churchy piano. A sultry Dixieland jazz version of ‘Miss The Mississippi (And You)’ works well and is something of a grower.

‘Helplessness Blues’ is a curious 60s style folk-rock number, with some weird sound effects and hippyish lyrics, but that soulful voice saves it.

The churchy gospel ‘Happiness’, featuring Sam Bush from New Grass Revival, and Bonnie Bramlett on vocals, rambles a bit but its questioning but soulful vocal is compelling:
Now that I’ve found peace at last
Tell me, Jesus, will it last?

‘Who’s Gonna Cry For You’ features Alison Krauss, but wasn’t what I expected from that collaboration, rather it’s a slow bluesy soul song with brass backings, with Alison barely audible. It was well done of its kind, but I was disappointed because I would have loved to have heard the pair of them on a high lonesome bluegrass song.

‘Sugar Babe’ is basically an instrumental with a few vocal spots inserted, allowing Cowan to showcase the playing of friends including Sam Bush, Ray Benson, John Jorgenson (from the Desert Rose Band) and rock harmonica player Huey Lewis.

This eclectic album is not quite what I expected, but it is beautifully sung and played, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘Unbelievable’

The band’s last release of the 1990s was 1998’s Unbelievable. They were a well-established act by now, and had released their first Greatest Hits set. The new album was slick but played on the group’s strengths to create a radio-friendly yet organic blend. The songs (none of which were written by band members) range from great to mediocre. But even when the material falls short, as it does at times, the record always sounds good, thanks to the band’s harmonies, playing, and the slick but not overdone production (courtesy of the band with Michael D Clute).

The first two singles were both big hits. The one truly great song on the album, the devastating bereavement ballad ‘You’re Gone’, opened the album’s campaign on the singles chart, where it peaked at #4. The disconsolate narrator opens strikingly,

I said “Hello, I think I’m broken”

That facetious initial pickup line draws us into the soaring chorus, set in the present day, when he really is partly broken by the loss of his loved one:

Now I know God has His reasons
But sometimes it’s hard to see them
When I awake and find that you’re not there…

I bless the day I met you
And I thank God that He let you
Lay beside me for a moment that lives on
And the good news is I’m better
For the time we spent together
And the bad news is you’re gone

The song was written by Jon Vezner (husband of Kathy Mattea) and pop songwriter Paul Williams, and remains one of my favorite Diamond Rio recordings, with a beautiful, understated emotion expressed in Marty Roe’s vocal.

The lyrically slight but energetic, charming, and very catchy title track (penned by reliable hit makers Al Anderson and Jeffrey Steele) did even better, just missing the top spot. Disappointingly, the third and last single was then a flop. The understated ‘I Know How The River Feels’ (previously cut by Ty Herndon) failed to make the top 30, making it the band’s worst performing single to date. While its languid pace was admittedly not very radio-friendly, it has a sensitive vocal, pretty tune and tasteful string arrangement, which make it worth listening to.

The frustrated plea to Love, ‘What More Do You Want From Me?’, written by Bob Regan and Mark D Sanders, is very catchy and another favorite of mine. It had been the sole (and non-charting) single from Rhonda Vincent’s very underrated Trouble Free album a year or two earlier. Both versions are great, but Diamond Rio’s harmonies give this version an added force. Also good is the tuneful Bill and Sharon Rice ballad ‘Long Way Back’, in which the protagonist regrets his past choices a little too late to save his relationship, and is stuck brooding in a cafe.

‘Two Pump Texaco’ (written by Michael Dulaney and Neil Thrasher) is a nicely detailed and affectionate laid-back portrait of a country boy who is the third generation in his family to work at the titular gas station. The young man in this song is much more fleshed out as a character, and hence much more realistic, than those on most of today’s radio offerings playing on rural life.

Unfortunately, there is more than a little filler. ‘Miss That Girl’, ‘Hold Me Now’, and the closing ‘(I Will) Start all Over Again’ are all nicely sung, well-played and prettily harmonized, but completely forgettable. ‘I Thought I’d Seen Everything’ is a dull love ballad, written by Shania Twain’s husband Mutt Lange and 80s rocker Huey Lewis, lifted only by the harmonies.

Overall, then, this is certainly not the band’s best work, but it is pleasant listening, with some shining moments, particularly ‘You’re Gone’. It sold well enough, and has been certified gold. It is easy to get hold of cheap copies, but it may be an example of a record best digitally cherry-picked.

Grade: B