My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jackson Leap

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: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Almost Goodbye’

In 1993, country music was a hot commodity.  And so was Mark Chesnutt.  His first 2 major label albums had gone platinum, and his first 9 single releases to country radio had all cracked the top 10.  As an artist on Music Row’s most powerful label in the early 90s – MCA was also home to George Strait, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, Wynonna, etc. – Mark was getting tons of media exposure and was making a name for himself as a respectable country crooner, with a penchant for the traditional.

It’s safe to say that when Almost Goodbye was released 17 years ago this month, Mark Chesnutt was about as high as his commercial star ever rose.  It holds the distinction as Chesnutt’s most successful album, peaking at #6 on the Country Albums chart, mostly propelled by the 3 consecutive number-one singles.  The album’s fourth single, a cover of Don Gibson’s 1972 chart-topper, stalled at #21 and ended Chesnutt’s run of a dozen straight top 10 single releases.

Opening the set is Dennis Linde’s ‘It Sure Is Monday’, an up-tempo blue-collar anthem that finds the narrator recovering ‘from another wild weekend’.  A recurrent favorite on radio still today, it’s one of the least dated productions on the album, even if the lyrics get a bit mundane around the second or third listen.

The album’s second single is a great country power ballad, with a hint of Nashville Sound strings added to the mix.  This is a song that could have easily been overwrought by a loud or overbearing vocal, but Chesnutt delivers the lyric with a cool bravado that is never lost in the music or the background singers, owning the lyric with his Texas tenor.

‘I Just Wanted You To Know’ is akin to the sound Clint Black brought to country music with its meaty melody and honky-tonk feel.  In this, a man is remembering his days with an old flame, telling how he re-lives the memories literally driving down memory lane.  It was the album’s third single, and third consecutive chart-topper.

Don Gibson took the song ‘Woman (Sensuous Woman)’ – written by the incomparable Gary “Flip” Paxton – all the way to #1 in 1972.  But in 1994, Mark Chesnutt’s fiddle-laced version stalled at #21 on the Country Singles chart, and is virtually forgotten today.  I had even forgotten about it until I began this review.  I won’t take anything away from Gibson’s original, but I much prefer Chesnutt’s vocal and the surrounding instrumentation, mostly sans the overly loud backing vocalists on the Gibson recording.

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Carrying Your Love With Me’

Carrying Your LoveGeorge Strait’s 1997 album Carrying Your Love With Me came out when he was at the peak of his commercial success. It followed up the triple platinum Blue Clear Sky, released the previous year, and achieved the same status itself (the last of his studio albums to do so to date). It was also the first of his albums to reach the top of the Billboard album charts across all genres.

The last single from Blue Clear Sky, the excellent traditional-sounding ‘King Of The Mountain’, had been a flop by George’s standards, barely squeezing into the top 20, making it only his third single ever not to make the top 10. The label may have been concerned that this was a sign that George’s run at the top was coming to an end, and they made sure that the first two singles from the new album were more radio-friendly. The first, the relaxed and melodic ‘One Night At A Time’, filled the bill well enough to not only go to #1 on the country charts, but to gain some pop airplay as well. Written by Roger Cook, Eddie Kilgallon and Earl Bud Lee, the song seems designed for George’s crooning style, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that the lyric is actually a cheating song, and not one burdened with guilt. It was followed to the top of the chart by the title track, a laid-back love song set to a charming tune written by Jeff Stevens and Steve Bogard. Neither song stands today among Strait’s all-time classics, but George sounds great. In much the same musical style, but rather dull, is Jackson Leap’s ‘She’ll Leave You With A Smile’, a warning to a friend about a heartless woman, which is one of three tracks embellished with a subtle string arrangement.

The third single was a cover of Vern Gosdin’s classic ‘Today My World Slipped Away’, one of the orchestrated numbers, which reached #3 (seven slots higher than the original managed back in 1982). It is a wonderful song, imbued with intense sadness at the end of a marriage, and George gives it a perfectly restrained reading which is almost as good as the original. That he falls just a little short is no criticism of George Strait, but a tribute to the greatness of Gosdin. The third track with strings is Bobby Braddock’s ‘The Nerve’, which I was surprised wasn’t releasd as a single. The story is a little unfocused as it has brief snapshots of the narrator’s love story, that of his parents, and finally a look back several generations to the ancestor who first came to America and fell in love with an Indian girl, with not quite enough of any one of those stories, but it has a sweet feel, a pretty tune and a tender vocal, which should all have worked well on radio.

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Album Review: Reba McEntire, ‘Have I Got A Deal For You’

Have I Got A Deal For YouReba’s third album for MCA, released in July 1985, saw her on a roll both commercially and artistically. She had just won her first CMA Female Vocalist of the Year title in 1984, and was to win again in 1985 thanks partly to the success of this album. Her rich voice is at its best, and she exercises it on a selection of excellent songs, including a couple she wrote herself. Have I Got A Deal For You was also Reba’s first production credit, alongside the experienced Jimmy Bowen – an important step in her career development, at a time when not that many artists were co-producing their records. The record feels like a natural progression from its predecessor, My Kind Of Country, retaining the traditional feel, with some lovely fiddle from the legendary Johnny Gimble, and steel from Weldon Myrick, but using newly written songs where the latter had mixed old and new.

Only two singles were released, both reaching the top 10: the fiddle-heavy western swing of the title track, written by Michael P Heeney and Jackson Leap is enjoyable if one of the lesser moments here, and reached #6. The excellent and memorable ‘Only In My Mind’, one of the few songs Reba has written, got one spot higher, and deserved to do better still. It tells of the heartstopping moment when with “a move that would have made the wind stand still”, the protagonist’s husband asks her an unexpected question. The answer he gets is a devastating one:

“He said, ‘Have you ever cheated on me?’
I said, ‘Only in my mind’.”

Not an answer designed to make him feel any better, and delivered in a perfectly nuanced manner by Reba as she then addresses the man to whom she has an emotional connection she feels her husband could never understand. Reba also co-wrote ‘She’s The One Loving You Now’ with David Anthony and Leigh Reynolds, where a downbeat lyric sounds almost inappropriately cheery.

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