My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Jan Crutchfield

Album Review: Lee Greenwood and Barbara Mandrell – ‘Meant For Each Other’

At his commercial peak in 1984, Greenwood was teamed up with MCA labelmate Barbara Mandrell for a duet album. The pairing was a fitting one: both singers had strong, distinctive voices, but were making mainly bland pop-country music. This album, produced by Mandrell’s producer Tom Collins, represents the worst of 1980s MOR-pop-country, with boring songs swathed in strings, tinny synthesizers, and brass, despite some strong vocal performances.

‘To Me’, the single which followed Lee’s enduring ‘God Bless The USA’, is a romantic love song written by Mike Reid and Mack David. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard country chart. The second single was less successful – ironic, because it is one of the better songs on the album. ‘It Should Have Been Love By Now’, written by Jan Crutchfield and Paul Harrison, has a big melody and wistful lyric as a couple call it quits.

Crutchfield and Harrison also wrote the album’s other half-decent track, ‘Now You See Us, Now You Don’t’, a soulful ballad about a breakup. Greenwood wrote ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’, a slow ballad on the same topic, and the very bland and forgettable ‘We Were Meant For Each Other’. Equally bland is the mid-tempo ‘One On One, Eye To Eye, Heart To Heart’.

‘Soft Shoulder’ is an urgent uptempo number about missing a loved one on the road, which is not bad. The pacy ‘Held Over’ is very brassy but quite entertaining. ‘Can’t Get Too Much Of A Good Thing’ is a perky, very pop tune. ‘We’re A Perfect Match’ is similar.

Unless you are a Lee Greenwood or Barbara Mandrell completist, I would avoid this.

Grade: D

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Album Review: Lee Greenwood — ‘You’ve Got A Good Love Comin”

Lee Greenwood was celebrating his first two number one singles when MCA readied his fourth album in May 1984. The project went Gold and spawned three top ten hits, and while the album likely isn’t well-remembered today, it was a game changer in Greenwood’s career.

He received his cultural identity from the album’s first single, the patriotic standard “God Bless The U.S.A.” Greenwood was inspired to write the song, which he recorded in November 1983, as his way of coming to terms with the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 after it entered into Soviet Airspace following a navigation error.

What most people don’t know is, “God Bless The U.S.A.” not only wasn’t a #1 hit, it missed the top 5 entirely, peaking at #7. The song saw a major resurgence in popularity following the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, where it re-entered the country charts and peaked at #16. The song itself is excellent and one of the best ‘country pride’ songs I’ve ever heard. It’s regarded as Greenwood’s signature song and 35 years since its original release, the song hasn’t lost any of its popularity.

As far as singles go, two more followed, with mixed chart success. The strong ballad “Fool’s Gold,” a confessional about a “24 Karat mistake,” hit #3. The title track, funky, mid-tempo, and co-written by Van Stephenson (who would form Blackhawk in the mid-90s) reached #9.

Greenwood co-wrote the soft ballad “Worth It For The Ride” with Jan Crutchfield. The remainder of the album doesn’t have much by way of variety in melody or tempo and fits right within the contemporary stylings found on commercial country records from the era. The most adventurous track is “Lean, Mean Lovin’ Machine,” which has a light disco vibe and female backing vocals.

You’ve Got A Good Love Comin’ is dated to modern ears, but it delivers lyrically. This isn’t the most outstanding collection of songs I’ve ever heard, and the only true masterpiece is “Good Bless The U.S.A.,” but the album itself is solid.

Grade: B

Album Review: Lee Greenwood — ‘Somebody’s Gonna Love You’

Following the success of Lee’s debut album Inside Out, less than a year later MCA, in March 1983, released Lee’s second album Somebody’s Gonna Love You. The album would be Lee’s first top ten country album, reaching #3 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart and reaching #73 on Billboard’s Hot 200.

Three singles were released from the album, but the bigger news was the single that wasn’t released. Lee Greenwood was the country first singer to record the sappy “Wind Beneath My Wings” and MCA’s plan was to have the song released as the second single from the album. Unfortunately, Gary Morris (or someone associated with Morris) heard Lee’s recording and raced to get the song released while Lee’s first single “I.O.U.” was still riding the charts. While Morris had a top ten country hit with the song, and other luminaries such as Roger Whitaker, Lou Rawls, and Bette Midler had successful recordings of the song, Lee’s version remains my favorite, being less whiney than the other versions.

“I.O.U”, written by Kerry Chater and Austin Roberts, was the first single released from the album and was an across the board success, reaching #6 country, #4 A/C, #4 Canadian Country and #53 pop. The song may be one of the greatest and most meaningful love songs everYou believe, that I’ve changed your life forever.

And you’re never gonna find another somebody like me.

And you wish you had more than just a lifetime,

To give back all I’ve given you, and that’s what you believe.

 

But I owe you, the sunlight in the morning,

And the nights of honest lovin’,

That time can’t take away.

And I owe you, more than life now, more than ever.

I know it’s the sweetest debt,

I’ll ever have to pay.

The next two singles released gave Lee his first two #1 country singles. Rafe Van Hoy & Don Cook’s “Somebody’s Gonna Love You” is a man telling a female acquaintance of what could be:

Lonely lady living down the hall

Don’t you have any friends at all

I never hear a knocking at your door

Could it be you just don’t try anymore?

You’ve been hurt so seriously

You act so cold but it’s so easy to see

You’re a waste of real good love

But you can’t hide or run fast enough

 

Somebody’s gonna love you, no matter what you do

Somebody’s gonna find all the pieces of a broken heart

Hidden inside of you

Somebody’s gonna touch you, it’s just a matter of time

Jan Crutchfield’s “Going Going Gone” is a quintessential losing the girl song. Crutchfield seemingly had this subgenre gown pat as he also wrote “Statue of A Fool.”

Lonely lady living down the hall

Don’t you have any friends at all

I never hear a knocking at your door

Could it be you just don’t try anymore?

You’ve been hurt so seriously

You act so cold but it’s so easy to see

You’re a waste of real good love

But you can’t hide or run fast enough

 

Somebody’s gonna love you, no matter what you do

Somebody’s gonna find all the pieces of a broken heart

Hidden inside of you

Somebody’s gonna touch you, it’s just a matter of time

The remaining songs on the album are slow to mid-tempo ballads, basically well-performed filler. The instrumentation is standard 1980s country with choruses and electric piano but far more country sounding than many albums of the period, and at no point does the backing detract from Greenwood’s vocals. Greenwood is in good voice throughout

B+

Album Review: Lee Greenwood – ‘Inside Out’

Lee Greenwood’s debut single, ‘It Turns Me Inside Out’, was released on MCA Records in September 1981. It eventually peaked at #17 on the Billboard country chart, but made more of an impact than that position might suggest. Written by Jan Crutchfield, brother of Greenwood’s producer Jerry Crutchfield, it is an excellent song imbued with regret as Lee sings emotionally of his mixed feelings over a breakup:

In a way I guess it’s better
Even though there’s nothin’ good about goodbye
But I know I couldn’t hold you
Now you’ve found the wings and you’ll be groomed to fly

It’s for sure I’m gonna miss you
But I guess that’s what goodbye is all about
In a way I’m glad it’s over
In another way it turns me inside out

Musically the song has a soulful, contemporary vibe, with strings and the now dated backing vocals popular on many recordings of the period.

An album, produced by Jerry Crutchfield, was released in 1982.

The album’s biggest hit and best song followed, and reached #5. ‘Ring On Her Finger, Time on Her Hands’ was written by Don Goodman, Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose, and relates the story of a neglected wife who turns to an affair. Reba McEntire later covered the song, adapting the lyric to tell it from the woman’s point of view. Greenwood’s original, perhaps more interestingly, has him portraying the cuckolded husband but taking the blame.:

She stood before God, her family and friends
And vowed that she’d never love anyone else again, only me
As pure as her gown of white she stood by my side
And promised that she’d love me till the day she died

Lord, please forgive her even though she lied
‘Cause you’re the only one who knows just how hard she tried

She had a ring on her finger and time on her hands
The woman in her needed the warmth of a man
The gold turned cold in her wedding band
It’s just a ring on your finger when there’s time on your hands

‘She’s Lying’, another Jan Crutchfield song, peaked at #7. It is an emotional, perhaps even overwrought, ballad about a man who knows his wife is cheating but in response lies himself that he believes her. The production is dated but Greenwood sells it vocally.

The final single was ‘Ain’t No Trick (It Takes Magic)’ sounds more R&B than country, and is not to my taste at all, but was another #7 hit.

Greenwood himself wrote three songs. ‘A Love Song’ is a pleasant AC ballad. ‘Thank You For Changing My Life’ is a bit duller, sounding like Kenny Rogers at his most MOR. ‘Home Away From Home’ is quite a good song about the sacrifices of life as a musician on the road.

‘I Don’t Want To Be A Memory is a pretty good mid-tempo song written by Sonny LeMaire and J B Pennington of the group Exile.

Jan Crutchfield contributed another pair of songs. ‘Love Don’t Get No Better Than This’ is a nice love song, and ‘Broken Pieces Of My Heart’ is a regretful ballad about a failed relationship.

This is far from a traditional country album, but it is competently produced and Greenwood has a strong and distinctive voice. The material is quite strong, and this is not a bad album overall.

Grade: B+

Spotlight Artist: Lee Greenwood

In many ways, Lee Greenwood has had an unusual career in music. Born in 1942, Lee was only a month shy of 39 years old when his first chart single was released on September 19, 1981. This was preceded by a five year run as a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas and as a lounge singer. Older folks in the Orlando (FL) will remember television commercials that Lee did for a local Toyota dealership, although I don’t believe that he ever lived in the Orlando area.

Lee had been knocking about the music business for nineteen years before his big breakthrough, forming his own band in 1962, later working for Opry star Del Reeves. In 1979, Lee was “discovered” by Larry McFaden, bandleader and bassist for Mel Tillis. Greenwood was signed in 1981 by the Nashville division of the MCA label and McFaden became his manager.

Lee’s voice is reminiscent of Kenny Rogers, and while he never became a superstar like Rogers, he did have substantial success for a little over a decade with seven #1 records between 1983 and 1986, and with thirty-three chart records during the 1980s and 1990s. According to Billboard, Lee Greenwood was the 25th most popular country artist of the 1980s. He was an excellent singer and an excellent musician.

Lee’s first single, the Jan Crutchfield-penned “It Turns Me Inside Out”, reached #17 on Billboard’s country charts. Apparently Crutchfield (best known as the writer of “Statue of A Fool”) had initially offered the song to Kenny Rogers, but Kenny rejected the song. The next single “Ring on Her Finger, Time on Her Hands” reached #5, starting a string of eighteen consecutive top ten singles.

Like Martina McBride, Lee Greenwood is best known for a song that was not initially one of his bigger hits. “God Bless The USA” only reached #7 on its initial release in May 1984. The song has endured, however, and continued to sell over the years, eventually selling over a million copies. These days the song has become a standard, performed at events held on holidays such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day and numerous other occasions. The song has been covered numerous times including by Dolly Parton, Beyonce’ Knowles and many country and A/C artists. I suspect the song will retain its popularity for a long time to come.

This month we will examine the career of Lee Greenwood, a talented singer, musician and songwriter, whose music has held up well over the years.

Willie Nelson: The early years

country favoritesWillie Nelson, alone among his contemporaries, continues to be an active and prolific recording artist. Not only is he releasing albums at a pace that would leave today’s stars thoroughly exhausted, but Willie continues to make guest appearances on the albums of other artists, famous and unknown alike.

The eighty year old Nelson continues to tour relentlessly, something he has been doing in one form or another for over fifty years.

Prior to “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”, most knew Willie Nelson (if they knew of him at all) as the man who wrote “Hello Walls” for Faron Young and “Crazy” for Patsy Cline, and some songs that other singers had success recording.

Outside of his home state of Texas, the public consciousness of Willie Nelson as a performer basically dates back to the two albums Willie recorded for Atlantic in the early 1970s after which time he moved to Columbia for his recording heyday. This article will discuss the major label albums issued before then.

The first album out of the box was … And Then I Wrote which was released on the Liberty label in September 1962. This album featured “Touch Me” as the single (it reached #7 on Billboard’s country chart) and featured some songs that other artists had recorded with some success such as “Hello Walls” and “Three Days” (Faron Young), “Crazy” (Patsy Cline), “Funny How Time Slips Away” (Joe Hinton, Billy Walker). Although not released as a singles, “Mr. Record Man” and “Darkness On The Face of The Earth” would become songs associated with Willie, and “Undo The Right” would be a top ten hit for long-time friend Johnny Bush in 1968 (Johnny Bush and Willie Nelson were both in Ray Price’s band the Cherokee Cowboys during the early 1960s, and played in each others bands at various points in time). “The Part Where I Cry” was the other single release from this album.

… And Then I Wrote was not a terribly successful album but it was the first opportunity most had to hear Willie’s quirky phrasing. Although marred by Liberty’s version of the ‘Nashville Sound’, it is certainly an interesting album.

Willie’s second and final album for Liberty was Here’s Willie Nelson. This album featured five songs that Willie wrote (“Half A Man”, “Lonely Little Mansion”, “Take My Word”, “The Way You See Me” and “Home Motel”). The originals compositions were nothing special – only “Half A Man” attracted much attention from other artists – but among the covers are the Fred Rose composition “Roly Poly” (a successful recording for Bob Wills and for Jim Reeves) and Rex Griffin’s “The Last Letter”.

There were no Country Album charts until 1964. Neither of the two Liberty albums made the pop charts.

From Liberty, Willie very briefly moved to Monument Records, with no success (I’m not sure if any tracks actually were released at the time). Some of these songs were released in 1980 on a two album set titled The Winning Hand featuring Brenda Lee, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson and released to cash in on the popularity of Dolly and Willie. All four artists had recorded for Monument in the past, and Kristofferson and Lee recorded additional vocals to create duets (and some existing tracks were edited together to create duets). Twelve of the twenty tracks were duets, and despite the contrived origins of the project, it was critically well received and well worth owning.

Willie’s immense songwriting talents attracted the attention of Chester Burton (“Chet”) Atkins”, the head honcho of RCA’s Nashville operations, and he was signed to RCA.

There is the misconception that Willie Nelson’s RCA albums found Willie buried by syrupy string arrangements and soulless background choruses. While it is true that RCA was never really sure what to do with Willie, the reality is that only the occasional track suffered from over production. Unlike Decca where Owen Bradley buried his more traditional artist such as Webb Pierce and Ernest Tubb with unnecessary choral arrangements, Chet and his other producers went much lighter on the embellishments. Although what we would deem the classic ‘Willie and Family’ sound never completely emerged on the RCA recordings, many of Willie’s albums had relatively sparse production. In fact, when Mickey Raphael produced and released the 17 track Naked Willie album in 2009, an album in which he removed excess production off Willie’s RCA tracks, he probably corralled about 80% of the tracks on which the production could be deemed excessive. Whether or not RCA could turn Willie into a star, his records always featured some of the best musicians and arrangers on the planet.

Country Willie – His Own Songs features twelve songs Willie wrote or co-wrote. Some of the songs were also on his major label debut, but I prefer the RCA take on the ‘Nashville Sound’ to that of Liberty. The songs are great and Willie is in good voice.. Songs included are “One Day at a Time” (not the Marilyn Sellars/Cristy Lane gospel hit of the 1970s), “My Own Peculiar Way”, “Night Life”, “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Healing Hands of Time”, “Darkness on the Face of the Earth”, “Hello Walls”, .”Are You Sure”, “Mr. Record Man”, “It Should Be Easier Now”, “So Much to Do” and “Within Your Crowd”. Pickers include Jerry Kennedy and Jerry Reed, and steel guitar is featured on some of the tracks. This could be considered a ‘best of’ compilation of Willie’s songs (not recordings) up to this point in time. This album reached #14 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.

Country Favorites – Willie Nelson Style is one of my two favorite RCA albums. This 1966 album was recorded with members of Ernest Tubb’s legendary Texas Troubadours, augmented by fiddler Wade Ray and pianist Hargus Robbins. Willie and Wade, of course were regulars on ET’s syndicated television show and the use of the Troubadours and the lack of the ‘Nashville Sound’ trappings made for a swinging set of western swing and honky-tonk classics. This version of the Texas Troubadours included Buddy Charleton (steel), Jack Drake (bass), Jack Greene (drums) , Leon Rhodes (lead guitar) and Cal Smith (rhythm guitar) augmented by Wade Ray and pianist Hargus Robbins. This album reached #9 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart .

Standout tracks on this album include “My Window Faces The South”, “Columbus Stockade Blues” and “San Antonio Rose” but the entire album is good. Willie sounds comfortable and relaxed on this entire set and his vocals, while sometimes an awkward fit , reflect the fun he was having performing with this collection of musicians , who were not credited on the initial release. A truncated version of this album was released on RCA Camden in 1970 as Columbus Stockade Blues.

Country Music Concert was recorded live in 1966 at Panther Hall in Dallas Texas, one of two live albums RCA would record there (the other was 1968’s Charley Pride Live at Panther Hall). This live performance featured Willie on guitar and vocals backed by his band members, Johnny Bush on drums and Wade Ray playing bass guitar. This album is my other favorite RCA album, again featuring Willie uncluttered by strings and choruses, singing mostly his own songs, but with a few covers. The album opens with Willie introducing the band and then starts with the music with a pair of long medleys in “Mr. Record Man”/”Hello Walls”/ “One Day At A Time” and “The Last Letter”/ “Half A Man”. To me the highlights of the album are Willie’s take on Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” and his own “I Never Cared For You” and “Night Life”. This album reached #32 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.

Make Way For Willie Nelson is a mixed bag of original compositions and covers. Released in 1967, some of the recordings are a bit overproduced and the album produced no real hits. The quasi-title track “Make Way For A Better Man” is one of those songs only Willie Nelson would write:

Hear me talkin’ now you tried to make her happy you couldn’t make her happy
Make way for a better man than you
You tried your brand of lovin’ she couldn’t stand your lovin’

Make way for a better man than you
I held back cause you and I were friends
But old buddy this is where our friendship ends
I’m takin’ over now those signals she keeps sendin’ means your romance is endin’
Make way for a better man than you

Willie’s own composition “One In A Row” reached #19 two years before this album was released. Notable covers on the album include “Born To Lose” and “Mansion On The Hill”. This album reached #9 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.

“The Party’s Over” and Other Great Willie Nelson Songs featured the title song, which while never a big hit, was made famous by the late Don Meredith, one of the original trio of announcers for ABC Monday Night Football. When the result of the games was already determined (regardless of the time left in the game) Don would sing this song. “The Party’s Over” reached #24 for Willie, in a somewhat overproduced version. The rest of the album could be described as moody and downbeat. This album also reached #9 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.

Good Ol’ Country Singin’ was released on RCA’s budget Camden label in January 1968. RCA sometimes used the Camden label to release truncated versions of older albums, but RCA also used it to release material that would not be released on the main label. This album is the latter but RCA actually issued a single from the album, “Blackjack County Chain”, which reached #21. My favorite track on the album is a classic weeper “You Ought To Hear Me Cry”. Billboard did not chart budget albums.

Texas In My Soul was Willie’s 1968 tribute to his home state of Texas. Three of the songs, “Waltz Across Texas”, “There’s A Little Bit of Everything In Texas” and “Texas In My Soul” were songs performed by and associated with Ernest Tubb. “Who Put All My Ex’s In Texas” was one of the first songs written by Eddie Rabbitt to be recorded. This album reached #9 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.

Good Times is a little different and finds Willie breaking away from ‘The Nashville Sound’ mold to some extent. Other than Mickey Newbury’s “Sweet Memories” and the Jan Crutchfield-Wayne Moss composition “Down To Our Last Goodbye”, all of the songs were written or co-written by Willie. The title track has very minimal production. This album reached #29 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.

My Own Peculiar Way, released in 1969, features eight Willie Nelson compositions (one, “Any Old Arms Won’t Do”, co-written with Hank Cochran) plus an exceptional cover John Hartford’s “Natural To Be Gone”. The title track wasn’t a hit, but it is quintessential Willie. This album reached #39 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart (are you seeing a pattern?).

Both Sides Now was released in 1970 and is basically a covers album with Willie penning only three of the eleven tracks. This album included two songs from the Roy Acuff catalogue (“Wabash Cannonball”, “Pins and Needles In My Heart”), a song from the Ray Price hit list (“Crazy Arms”) plus covers of pop songs “Both Sides Now” (penned by Joni Mitchell but a hit for Judy Collins) and and “Everybody’s Talking” (penned by Fred Neil but a hit for Nilsson). The single from this album was penned by soon-to be-ex-wife Shirley Nelson and reached #42. The now familiar “Bloody Mary Morning” makes its debut here – it would be re-recorded and released as a single after Willie moved to Atlantic.

While I like this album, it is a disjointed affair and Willie’s unusual phrasing on some of the songs won’t be to everybody’s taste. “Crazy Arms” features steel guitar and a walking base line whereas “Both Sides Now” features little more than a guitar. This album did not chart.

Laying My Burdens Down also was released in 1970 but by this time RCA had given up on having Willie score any hit singles. The title track reached #68 and the over-produced “I’m A Memory” would reach #28 and would be Willie’s last top fifty chart appearance while signed to RCA. This album is mostly composed of Willie originals but isn’t his best work. This album did not chart.

Willie Nelson and Family is a collection of songs released in 1971 as performed by Willie and the beginnings of his family band. Paul English was on board playing drums as was his sister Bobbie Nelson playing the piano. This album would set the template for future albums. Songs include the Willie Nelson-Hank Cochran collaboration “What Can You Do To Me Now” along with Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, Hank Sr.’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain”, Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again”, plus some Nelson originals. This album reached #43 on Billboard Country albums chart.

Released with no fanfare in September 1971, Yesterday’s Wine contains some of Willie’s finest songs, and is Willie’s first concept album. The album contains the full complement of RCA’s finest session players but sounds surprisingly spare at times. The album has a deeply philosophical and religious feel to it without being too preachy (the premise is the life of an ‘Imperfect Man’ from birth to the day of his death). The single released from the album “Yesterday’s Wine” b/w “Me and Paul” barely dented the charts, but both are still loved and remembered today:

Miracles appear in the strangest of places
Fancy me finding you here
The last time I saw you was just out of Houston
Let me sit down, let me buy you a beer

Your presence is welcome with me and my friend here
This is a hangout of mine
We come here quite often and listen to music
And to taste yesterday’s wine

Yesterday’s wine, yesterday’s wine
Aging with time, like yesterday’s wine
Yesterday’s wine, yesterday’s wine
We’re aging with time, like yesterday’s wine

“Family Bible”, a song Willie wrote but sold in order to keep eating, makes an appearance here. This album did not chart.

There would be a couple more RCA albums, and RCA would re-release various permutations and combinations of old material after Willie hit it big in the middle 1970s (including an album an which Danny Davis and The Nashville Brass were overdubbed onto ten of Willie’s songs, but by the end of 1971 it was clear that Willie would need to look elsewhere if he was to achieve success as a recording artist.

It should be noted that RCA issued several singles on Willie that either never made it onto an album, or made it onto an album years later. Two notable examples were “Johnny One Time” which hit #36 for Willie in 1968 and was a minor pop hit for Brenda Lee in 1969, and “Bring Me Sunshine” which reached #13 in 1968 but wasn’t on an album until the 1974 RCA Camden release Spotlight On Willie.

In the digital age, there are plenty of good collections covering Willie’s earlier years, both anthologies and reissues of individual albums. For the obsessive Willie Nelson fan, Bear Family has issued an eight CD set with 219 recordings. That’s overkill for all but diehard fans, but there are numerous good anthologies available. There is also Naked Willie for those who would like to have multiple versions of some of Willie’s RCA recordings.