My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jack White

Album Review: Joshua Hedley – ‘Mr Jukebox’

Joshua Hedley is the latest young singer to steep himself in the sounds of country music of the past. Signed to rock star Jack White’s private label, his debut album was produced by Skyler Wilson and Jordan (son of Kyle) Lehning. This is not merely traditional, it is self-consciously (sometimes too much so) retro-traditional, to the point, at times, of pastiche. While the songs are mostly newly composed (mostly by Hedley himself), they would not be remotely out of place in a record made in 1963.

Joshua has a strong, deep voice with a touch of vibrato, which is showcased best on the opening track. This is a genuinely superb ballad laced with steel guitar. The protagonist encounters an ex he has done wrong, after many years; she has moved on and he not only hasn’t, he has no wish to do so.

The title track is an excellent shuffle which serves as a tribute to the great country music of the era the album salutes. Also great is the ballad ‘This Time’.

Joshua takes on the Bakersfield Sound in ‘These Walls’, another very good song about a broken heart.

‘I Never (Shed A Tear)’ is a mid paced song about a broken heart again, and denial of the same. This one doesn’t suit Hedley’s voice as well as other songs, with the emotion flattened out, and the retro backing voices just sound dated rather than retro-cool. ‘Let’s Take A Vacation’ is a dreamy ballad edging into a more sophisticated countrypolitan style, while ‘Weird Thought Thinker’ has a western feel.

‘Don’t Waste Your Tears’ is heavily strung but the song, another ballad, suits the lower ranges of Hedley’s voice extremely well. ‘Let Them Talk’ is a more hardcore honky tonk tune which is highly enjoyable, with fun male call and response backing vocals. It is all too short, at under two minutes.

Listening to this record, I feel the lack of a duet or two – I’d love to hear Joshua taming up with someone like Amber Digby.

The only misstep comes at the end of the set, with the only cover, a flat version of the Disney classic ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’.

Overall, though, despite the occasional sense of deliberate copying, this is an excellent album which I recommend to all more traditional country fans.

Grade: A-

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Single Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ b/w ‘High on a Mountain of Love’

51bARUV4GWLDwight Yoakam’s latest effort comes to us courtesy of Third Man Records, a niche label specializing in vinyl releases that was founded by Jack White in 2001. The 7″ single was released last week, with White himself producing. Both the A and B sides of the record are remakes of songs whose origins are from outside of country music. Written by Tommy Boyce and Steve Venet, ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ was originally a 1966 album cut for The Monkees. I’d never heard it before but it works reasonably well as a rockabilly number and is not all that different from a lot of Yoakam’s other rock-tinged offerings. It’s a decent song, but probably not one I would have chosen to resurrect for a single release. I prefer the B side of the record, ‘High on a Mountain of Love’, which was recorded by a number of pop acts in the 1960s. It was also a #1 country hit for Charley Pride in 1981. I remember listening to and greatly enjoying that version when I was growing up.

Both songs are pleasant enough and well performed by Dwight, but Jack White is not my favorite producer and his choices here had tremendous negative impact on my ability to enjoy either song. The arrangements on ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ are cluttered and busy. ‘High on a Mountain of Love’ is better in that respect, but one has to almost strain in order to hear Dwight’s vocals over the music. This is also true, to a somewhat lesser extent on the A side of the record. Both recordings have a very tinny low fidelity sound, which I suspect was deliberate and probably a way to tie into the “vinyl is cool” mentality. They sound like they were recorded in a garage. I didn’t like that production approach when White used it with Loretta Lynn and I don’t like it now. Both of these tracks would have been a whole lot better if they had been recorded in a more conventional manner.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams’

In his lifetime Hank Williams was keen to be recognised as a songwriter and grateful for pop covers f his work. in the years since his tragic and self-induced death, his songs have been covered from artists across the This album presents a dozen songs based on lyrics or scraps of lyrics left by Hank Williams, which have been completed by contemporary artists. It is an interesting project if a controversial one, and I would have liked it to be clearer what each participant contributed to the creative process. The tunes are all newly composed; the lyrics apparently range from completed lyrics which need only the music to be added (‘The Love That Faded’, the original manuscript lyric for which is the only one to be reproduced in the liner notes) to just a couple of lines serving as springboard for a modern songwriter’s inspiration. Each artist also uses his or her usual producer and their own selection of studio musicians.

The results range from the excellent to the dire, with some in between. The artists include both country singers-songwriters and those from other genres with a longstanding appreciation for country music and Hank Williams in particular, with Bob Dylan the first to be approached. Perhaps unsurprisingly those artists with a deeper grounding in country music have produced results more in keeping with the original, and more to my personal taste.

The best track is Alan Jackson’s ‘You’ve Been Lonesome Too’, which opens the set and manages to sound genuinely inspired by Hank, helped along by Keith Stegall’s sensitively authentic production, the excellent recreation of the Drifting Cowboys by the likes of Stuart Duncan and Paul Franklin and Alan’s straightforward reading. It really doesn’t feel like pastiche, but a genuine unknown Hank Williams song, and one which stands up in its own right as an excellent song.

Vice Gill and Rodney Crowell collaborated on ‘I Hope You Shed A Million Tears’, and perform the song together. The Drifting Cowboys’ Don Helms provides added authenticity by guesting on steel on what must have been one of his last recording sessions (he died in 2008). Gill’s sweet vocal is interspersed with Crowell’s narration – the latter sounds more authentically Hank, but Gill sounds lovely and the final result is a fine song in its own right. I loved Crowell’s line, “I loved you like there’s no tomorrow, then found out that there’s not“. Merle Haggard tackles Hank’s religious side, giving a simple retelling of ‘The Sermon On The Mount’ an attractive melody.

Patty Loveless and husband Emory Gordy Jr carried out the writing duties on, and Patty sings the up-tempo ‘You’re Through Fooling Me’, which is highly enjoyable and sounds convincingly like a hillbilly song from the late 1940s if not necessarily a Hank Williams song. It would have fitted in well on either of her last two albums.

These four songs are the ones for country fans to download if going the digital route, and are all well worth adding to your digital library.

Hank’s grand daughter Holly Williams gives the family’s seal of approval to the project, and is repsosible for another highlight, although like a number of the artists included, her melody, while perfectly attractive, does not sound quite like a Hank Williams song. She delivers a smoothly sultry vocal on ‘Blue Is My Heart’, which is a very strong song in its own right, supported by her father on (uncredited) harmony. Norah Jones’s song, ‘How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart’ has a jazz-based tune and a stripped down production set to the acoustic guitars of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, who also add tasteful harmonies. It is pleasant listening but ultimately lightweight, without the emotional intensity the lyrics demand. Lucinda Williams’s effort, ‘I’m So Happy I Found You’, has the opposite problem – a positive love song which sounds more like a dirge.

I was bored by Sheryl Crow’s ‘Angel Mine’ on first listen, but the multi-tracked vocals give it a folky feel which works quite well. Levon Helm’s distinctive vocal on ‘You’ll Never Again Be Mine’ (co-written with Helm’s producer Larry Campbell) has a nice old-time feel, backed up nicely by the backing vocals of Amy Helm and Teresa Williams, but is not the most interesting song.

The songs completed and sung by Bob Dylan (‘The Love That Faded’) and Jack White (‘You Know That I Know’) suffer from both gentlemen’s limited (to put it kindly) vocal ability, although they are both good songs. I would have really enjoyed ‘You Know That I Know’, an accusatory cheating song, if only a more competent singer had been allowed to front the performance, as White is awful. Dylan is not much better, but the sensitive production of his track is some recompense. His son Jakob is an unimpressive and bland vocalist and the melody of his song, ‘Oh Mama, Come Home’, lacks the urgency of the lyric.

Multi-artist tributes or concept albums always tend to be hit and miss, and this is no exception. There are enough tracks which work for this to be worth hearing.

Grade: B

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Van Lear Rose’

Van Lear Rose was to Loretta Lynn what the Rick Rubin-produced American Recordings were to Johnny Cash: a late-career release that earned almost universal critical acclaim and a resurgence in popularity. Released in 2004 and produced by Jack White of The White Stripes, it blends elements of alternative rock with Loretta’s brand of traditional country, and if nothing else, it is a bold experiment in bucking the mainstream musical trends of the 2000s. Loretta was the sole songwriter on twelve of the album’s thirteen tracks, and co-wrote the remaining track (“Little Red Shoes”) with White, marking the first time in her career that she had a hand in writing every song on an album.

Unfortunately, I can’t include myself in the considerably large camp that loves this album. While I don’t actively dislike it, I don’t share most critics’ opinion that the musical styles of Lynn and White always mesh well. The songs themselves are all solid and well written. The production is both the album’s greatest strength and its greatest flaw. White made a conscious effort to avoid the slick, cookie-cutter type of production that had become prevalent in 21st century Nashville, and for that I applaud him. However, at times the album is not quite polished enough, sounding like it was recorded in someone’s garage, and on a few occasions, White’s production choices are a distraction that overwhelm Loretta’s vocal performance, badly marring otherwise very good songs.

The title track is a perfect case in point. It tells the story of the courtship of Loretta’s parents. It starts off fairly quietly with Loretta singing with an electric guitar accompaniment. By the second verse, drums and some steel guitar licks are added to the mix. While not guilty of overproduction, it’s a tad too loud. I would have preferred a quieter, more acoustic arrangement similar to the treatment that “Miss Being Mrs.”, a song that appears near the end of the album, receives. On this track, Loretta talks about her loneliness that comes with widowhood, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. The stripped-down arrangement is quite effective, and “Miss Being Mrs.” is easily the highlight of the album.

Another track on which the production becomes overwhelming is “Have Mercy”. While not lyrically deep, it’s a good song in which Loretta gives a remarkable vocal performance that finds her sounding much younger than her nearly 70 years, but it is ruined by the loud, indulgent rock-tinged production that dominates the final 40 or so seconds of the song. But perhaps the best example of the production getting in the way of the song is “Little Red Shoes.” On this track, the lyrics are spoken, rather than sung. It recalls a story that Loretta told in her second memoir, about a serious illness she suffered when she was a year old, and a pair of red shoes that Loretta’s desperate mother shoplifted because she couldn’t afford to buy them for her daughter. The poignancy of the story is totally lost due to White’s cluttered production which seems to be competing with, rather than accompanying, Lynn’s storytelling. It’s my least favorite track on the album, along with “Portland, Oregon”, a duet with Jack White that on which Loretta strays farther from her country roots than she ever had in the past. This track is not to my taste at all; it was downright jarring the first time I listened to it, but I’m apparently in the minority since the song won a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals in 2005.

The remaining songs on the album are more conventional. It’s easy to imagine “God Makes No Mistakes” , “Women’s Prison”, “Trouble On The Line” and “Mrs Leroy Brown” appearing on Loretta’s 1970s albums, albeit in more polished form. “Family Tree” finds her treading familiar territory, confronting the other woman in her husband’s life. Unlike songs like “Fist City” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man”, “Family Tree” reveals a more mature Loretta, who isn’t looking for a fight this time around:

No, I didn’t come to fight
If he was a better man I might
But I wouldn’t dirty my hands on trash like you.
Bring out the babies’ daddy, that’s who they’ve come to see
Not the woman that’s burnin’ down our family tree

In addition to the aforementioned Grammy for Best Country Collaboration for Vocals, Van Lear Rose won the 2005 Grammy for Best Country Album. It reached #2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, making it Loretta’s highest charting album since 1977’s I Remember Patsy, which also peaked at #2. Van Lear Rose also reached #24 on the Billboard 200, becoming the most successful crossover album of Loretta’s career, despite receiving no support from mainstream country radio.

Though Van Lear Rose is not my favorite Loretta Lynn album, both Loretta and Jack White deserve credit for their willingness to experiment instead of delivering a phoned-in performance, as many artists at this stage of their careers might have done. I have never tried harder to like an album than I have with this one. I thought that with repeated listenings, I’d come to appreciate it as much as everyone else seems to, but I’ve come to accept that many of the production choices are just not to my taste. If “Little Red Shoes” and “Portland, Oregon” could have been thrown out, and Owen Bradley brought back from the dead to produce the remaining tracks, I probably would have loved it. However, despite its flaws, it is an important entry in Loretta’s discography and stands as a testament to the fact that it’s never too late to break the mold and experiment a little.

Van Lear Rose is readily available from Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: B-

Spotlight Artist: Loretta Lynn (Part 2)

The 1970s were Loretta Lynn’s most productive and most successful decade. She opened the decade by releasing her signature hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “After The Fire Is Gone”, the first of a long string of successful duets with Conway Twitty. In 1972, she won her second Female Vocalist of the Year award from the Country Music Association. She’d previously won in 1967; Tammy Wynette took the trophy home for the next three years, and in 1971 it was awarded to Lynn Anderson. Conway and Loretta also took home the Vocal Duo of the Year trophy in 1972, but the icing on the cake that year was when Loretta Lynn became the first female artist to become the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year. To commemorate the occasion, her label released an album in 1973 called Entertainer of the Year, which produced another #1 hit, “Rated X”. It was Loretta’s first release on the MCA label, which had purchased Decca and absorbed its artist roster. In 1973 she also became the first country artist to grace the cover of Newsweek.

The hits kept coming; it was during this period that Loretta released “One’s On The Way”, “I Wanna Be Free”, “You’re Lookin’ At Country”, and “Love Is The Foundation”, among others. In 1975 she released “The Pill”, her most controversial record, completely eclipsing the controversy that had surrounded “Rated X” two years earlier. Believed to be the first song about birth control, “The Pill” was considered very risque and was banned by many radio stations. Nevertheless, it managed to crack the Top 5.

During the early part of the 70s, Loretta severed her ties with the Wilburn Brothers. As her song publishers, they owned the rights to all of her compositions and Loretta saw very little in financial renumeration. While the matter was being fought out in court, Loretta stopped writing songs altogether, rather than to continue lining the Wiburns’ pockets. As a result, the music she released in the latter part of the 70s had a more polished, pop influenced sound in comparison to her earlier work.

In 1976, Loretta published her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, which became a New York Times bestseller. A film based on the book was released in 1980, earning some high-profile mainstream attention for Loretta, and an Academy Award for Sissy Spacek for her portrayal of the country star. Tommy Lee Jones co-starred as Mooney. As the 70s came to a close, she was named Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music.

The 1980s were marred by the beginnings of a career decline and personal tragedy. It was the age of the Urban Cowboy, and Loretta’s style of country had begun to fall out of favor with country radio. Her records continued to chart, but she was no longer consistently making the Top 10 with her solo efforts. “I Lie” became her final Top 10 solo hit in 1982. She fought with her label, which wanted to push her in a more pop direction. She refused to renew her contract; MCA eventually relented, but by that time it was clear that Loretta’s reign at the top of the charts was over. She racked up her final Top 20 hit, “Heart Don’t Do This To Me” in 1985, and in 1988 she released her final album for MCA. That same year she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

A few years earlier, in 1984, Loretta’s 34-year-old son, Jack Benny Lynn drowned in a river near the family ranch. In her second book, Loretta says that she believes she suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of this tragedy, but she did not receive any medical treatment for it. She became less focused on her career, and although she continued to tour, she recorded less frequently.

Loretta spent most of the 1990s out of the spotlight. She no longer had a record deal and she stopped touring for the most part in order to care for Mooney, whose health had begun to fail. In 1993 she collaborated with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette for the Honky Tonk Angels album. Though it received virtually no radio airplay, the album reached #6 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned gold certification. In 1995 she did a brief series for TNN called Loretta Lynn & Friends. Mooney Lynn died in 1996 from complications from diabetes.

In 2000, Loretta released her first solo album in twelve years, titled Still Country. It was produced by Randy Scruggs and released on the Audium label. The lead single, “Country In My Genes”, on which she was joined by half of Nashville on the chorus, received enough airplay to reach #72 in Billboard. The subsequent singles, which included “I Can’t Hear The Music”, which she’d written as a tribute to Mooney, did not chart. Despite being largely ignored by country radio, the album was generally well received by critics. However, it was her next album, 2004’s Van Lear Rose, that is considered her true comeback. Produced by Jack White of the White Stripes, it was an interesting fusion of country and alternative rock and a radical departure from her previous work. At nearly 70 years of age, Loretta Lynn was suddenly hip again. Van Lear Rose earned her two Grammy Awards in 2005: one for Best Country Album, and one for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for “Portland, Oregon”, a duet with producer Jack White.

In between Still Country and Van Lear Rose, Loretta found time to publish a second autobiography, Still Woman Enough in 2002. In 2001, CMT ranked her at #3, behind Patsy Cline (#1) and Tammy Wynette (#2) on their 40 Greatest Women of Country Music special. She was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 2003, and in 2008 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010.

At age 75, Loretta is showing no signs of slowing down. She remains a concert draw and is reportedly working on two new albums which will tentatively be released later this year, though no dates have been announced.

The term legend is used much too freely these days, but Loretta Lynn truly belongs to an elite inner circle of performers, without whom it is difficult to imagine what country music would have been like. We hope that you will enjoy our look back at the life and career of a woman who has become an American icon, and who is arguably the most important female artist in the history of country music.