My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jason Allen

Album Review: Jason Allen – ‘Here’s To You’

Texan country singer-songwriter Jason Allen offers some reliably traditional country on his latest album. He has a pleasant, warm voice which works well on these songs, all self-written or co-written. as a writer he also has a gift for melody.

The title track is officially a single, and is quite a nice love song but not the most memorable choice on the album. The likeably melodic mid paced ‘Nightmare And A Dream’ is about struggling the memory of a lost love. ‘End Of the Line’ is also pretty good, with another relationship having run its course.

‘Smooth Talkin’ Lady’ is a mellow tune about falling in love; I could imagine George Strait covering this to good effect. ‘Cowboy’s Dream’ is a short (under two minutes) but sweet slice of western swing.

I really liked the gently melancholy ‘Hope It Rains Today’, where the protagonist asks God to stop his loved one from leaving by sending done some bad weather or even an earthquake. The valedictory ‘I’ll Always Be Yours’ offers a way back for the ex.

‘I Dare You To Love’ is a pretty ballad encouraging kindness and goodwill, saying “you already had a loving heart, now use it”. This is a lovely song with a genuinely inspirational message which seems especially toical right now.

You already had a loving heart, now use it

God gave you a great big heart
Don’t waste it
Try to spread it all around
Let’s face it
When it comes to hate in this world
It’s sad but we’ve got enough
I dare you to change it
I dare you to love

Let’s try to change it
I dare you to love

The uptempo novelty ‘Holy Moly Guacamole’ has energy but it’s a bit silly. ‘Villa’s Horse’ is an entertaining western story song about an outlaw who makes off with the early 20th century Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa’s possessions and steals his girlfriend too.

This is a strong album which I liked a good deal.

Grade: A-

Unexpected places

Les Rochers de Naye, SwitzerlandA week ago I was on top of a mountain in Switzerland. I was startled when in the cafe the music playing in the background turned to Lady Antebellum’s ‘Need You Now’. I was in fact vaguely aware that the single had been released to pop radio in Europe as part of a serious attempt to break the group outside North America, following in the footsteps of Taylor Swift’s international assault on the ears of the tone-deaf. It was still a surprise for me to hear it. On investigation, I find the song is currently rising up the Swiss charts. Many country artists try to break Europe, some with more commitment than others, and success rates vary, but it seems to be working for Lady A, with their AC/melodious pop-influenced sound. The more solidly country rooted Brad Paisley was touring in Europe the same week and actually sold out his first London show before ticket sales were formally announced – I missed out on that due to having already planned the vacation time.

It reminded me of the most unexpected place I ever came across country music (also on vacation). That was in the lovely medieval city of Bruges in Belgium, which I visited a few years ago (probably around 2002 or 2003). On my way to a bus stop I came across a little shop selling country and blues CDs. It was closed at that time, but I took note of the opening hours and returned later, to find it had a pretty left field selection, including some really obscure independent releases. I ended up spending most of my souvenir budget for that trip on a selection of albums, most bought unheard, although in some cases they were ones I had read reviews of previously.

One I remember buying was Real Thing, a 2001 album by songwriter Monty Holmes under the joky band name Monty And The Pythons, for which I had been looking unsuccessfully for some time, having enjoyed Monty’s previous album All I Ever Wanted, released under his own name a few years earlier. It turned out not to be quite as good, but still worth having. I also picked up Rodney Hayden’s debut, coincidentally also entitled The Real Thing (both albums included covers of Chip Taylor’s song of that title), and No Regrets, an early release by the Texan Jamie Richards, whose most recent effort I reviewed recently. These two are both great records I still listen to quite often, and would recommend to anyone who likes real country music.

Others well worth the purchase included Shawn Camp’s Lucky Silver Dollar, and Jason Allen’s Something I Dreamed, plus a highly entertaining, mostly up-tempo album by a young man named Elbert West. From female artists there was a pretty good record by a Hispanic singer named Lydia Miller including early versions of ‘Singing To The Scarecrow’ (later cut by Sara Evans) and ‘Man With A Memory, Woman With A Past’ (subsequently recorded by Joe Nichols), Lisa O’Kane’s rather good, slightly jazzy-country ‘Am I Too Blue’, and a fine record from Leslie Satcher, one of the best songwriters in Nashville showing she has a lovely voice as well.

Although it isn’t one of my favorites from this haul, recent events have led me to return to Living In Your World, an uncompromisingly hard country/Bakersfield style CD by a then-unknown Arizona singer-songwriter named Troy Olsen which was produced in California by James Intveld, and featuring Jay Dee Maness (late of the Desert Rose Band) on steel. This showed some promise, but I didn’t hear of him again until recently; he’s spent a number of years honing his craft and eventually got signed to a major label deal with EMI. His debut single for the label, ‘Summer Thing’, is a generic and frankly boring summertime-themed number, and to be honest it would probably have passed me by altogether if I hadn’t recognised his name. Based on that early record, acquired by chance, I do at least feel confident that here is an artist who is genuinely a country singer rather than a pop singer in a cowboy hat, albeit one without the most distinctive of voices, and hope that the material improves – and that he hasn’t had to make too many compromises for the sake of a major label deal.

Where have you been most surprised to hear a country song played in public, or found a country record on sale?

Album Review: Miss Leslie – ‘Wrong Is What I Do Best’

This blog’s very first Spotlight Artist, back in January 2009, was the independent neotraditionalist Miss Leslie, who has just released her fourth album. She is not as great a vocalist as Amber Digby (to whom she can be compared in many respects) , but she has the advantage over her of being a songwriter. She has written all but one of the 14 songs on this album, and they are all pretty solid songs in the traditional honky tonk style. The instrumental backing is positively drenched with Miss Leslie’s own fiddle and her husband Ricky Davis on steel, and this record is a sheer joy to listen to from start to finish.

Miss Leslie balances her musical diet of hard honky tonk music and themes rooted in the traditions of country music, with the sensibility and experiences of a 21st century woman in what she calls a ‘patriarchal world’ in the liner notes. These contemporary attitudes are evident from the opening track ‘I Need Me (A Whole Lot More Than I Need You)’ as the protagonist determinedly reclaims some self-respect when she decides she’s better off single and lonely than trying to be what her lover wants.

The theme almost bookends the set, as towards the end of the album we see someone defeated in the same battle. ‘She Gave Up On Herself’ tells the story of a woman who gives too much of herself to the man “she thought she needed so bad” and loses “the best thing she had”, her sense of self. The protagonist of ‘I Can’t Live With You, But I Can’t Love Without You’, is determined not to make that mistake, as she struggles to cope with a difficult relationship, where love is not enough to make everything okay.

Modern technology makes an appearance in the irresistible up-tempo tale of the ‘Drunk Dialer’, who incessantly calls, voicemails and texts her unfortunate sober and sleeping friends through the early hours of the morning. The vibrant title track balances traditional themes with the modern world, with Miss Leslie boldly claiming the honky tonking attitude more usually associated with male performers:

You say that it’s wrong
You’re tired of me leavin’
You’re tired of my late nights
Drunk fights
And mornings without a sound
You got one thing right
I’ve stopped believing
And it makes no sense at all
For me to stick around

Because wrong is what I do best
If I’m not good enough for you
I’ve got one choice left
I try to do what’s right but I end up wrong
And I’m tired of failing all your tests
Because wrong is what I do best

A little more conventionally, ‘Anyone’ is a neat little swipe at an ex who claimed anyone would be better than her, and finds out the hard way he’s wrong:

Anyone could love him and I hear he’s had a few
Yet he still goes on searching for just anyone that will do
So he’s found out that not anyone could be everything he needs
He’s not looking for just anyone
He’s just looking for me

Sad songs and broken hearts are the life blood of country music, and I love the classic sounding heartbreak ballad ‘Turn Around’, where Leslie begs her man not to leave, with copious steel and a beautiful tune. In the deeply resigned ‘All You Do Is Make Me Cry’ the protagonist has given up, realizing there’s no point talking it over any more. ‘There’s Two People Here Not Talking’ is a wry look at a couple not communicating.

Elsewhere, we share the story of a lovelorn woman with a crush on the guitarist playing in her local bar ‘Every Tuesday Night’, with its wider resonance:

Love is just a memory for a broken heart
As you try hard to forget who you have known
But a honky tonk can cure what pulls us all apart
For we’re fools who once a week rely on songs to turn us on

There is clearly going to be a happier ending for the couple in the engaging ‘Let’s Start Over’, as independent traditional country artist Jason Allen joins her on a very retro-styled let’s-get-back-together duet which is very pleasing, with their voices blending well.

There really isn’t a track here I don’t like; the closest is the up-tempo ‘Lie Lie Lie’, which is just okay but doesn’t stick in the mind. The dramatic closing track ‘The Last Time I Drank’ is the confession by a woman who kills her child drunk driving. This may verge a little on the melodramatic, but it is emotionally convincing, and is part of a long tradition of tragic songs of this kind in country music.

The one song Leslie did not write herself comes from her sister Hilary Sloan, and moves out of the honky tonks. ‘Some Things They Can’t Take Away’ is a serious and heartfelt response to the economic downturn, based on its impact on one person. This deeply emotional, sympathetically delivered, song is the highlight of the record, urging a loved one who can’t find work and is struggling to make ends meet, to hold on to their undying human spirit:

Hold on to the little that’s left of your pride
Keep it close to you deep down inside
And remember there’s one who will love you always
Some things they can’t take away

You imagined that you’d find a better life here
Couldn’t get no worse, this must be your year
If you could only break even, then you’d be okay
But you’re back to begging – you’d do anything

Miss Leslie is an artist who is getting better with every release, and this album is thoroughly recommended to anyone who enjoys the more traditional honky tonk end of country music.

Grade: A

You can listen to and buy the Wrong Is What I Do Best from Miss Leslie’s official site.

Album Review: Billy Yates – ‘Bill’s Barber Shop’

billyyates7Billy Yates managed just one top 40 hit with ‘Flowers’ back in 1997, but since losing his major label deal he has released a string of records on his own MOD label, as well as forging a successful songwriting career.

Billy’s music is firmly rooted in mainstream traditional country. His voice is not exceptional, but it is good with a pleasing twang, and he is a very accomplished writer with a good ear for playful lyrics, writing or co-writing all the material on his latest effort. It opens promisingly with the plaintive honky tonking ‘Famous For Being Your Fool’, in which the protagonist, formerly happy in obscurity, finds himself a public laughing stock thanks to the woman he is hopelessly in thrall to.

Several songs tackle faltering relationships with an undercurrent of suspicion. The best of the songs tackling this theme is the slow ‘Tell Me I’m Wrong’, written with Carson Chamberlain and Billy Ryan, as a husband vainly hopes he may be reading wrongly all the signs of a woman on her way out of the marriage:

“That note you left was hard to read
Through the teardrops in my eyes
I think it said you’d rather be alone
Tell me I’m wrong

You can say I’m crazy, that I’ve lost my mind
Tell me what I’m seeing is a sign I’m going blind
And those bags sitting right there by the back door
Lead me to believe that you don’t love me any more”

Well, yes. Equally desperate not to see what is in plain view to everyone else is the protagonist of ‘I Just Can’t See It’, written with Irene Kelley, who admits,

“If I look for trouble, then trouble is what I’ll find”

but claims he “can’t see a single cloud up in the sky”, before finally declaring:

My love is strong and that will never change
And that is why I look the other way.”

The protagonist of the neatly constructed ‘Get Ready, Get Set, She’s Gone’, is a little more prepared for heartbreak, as he engages in a conversation with his heart:

“Get ready, ’cause we’re about to break
Get set for the steps she’s about to take
Hold on, be steady,
One of us has to be strong
Get ready, get set, she’s gone.”

The mid-tempo ‘It Goes Without Sayin”, written with John Raney, is the most contemporary sounding song, and is probably my least favorite as Billy seems to be glossing over the heartbreak beneath the lyric. Much more convincing is the straightforward heartbreak of the one solo composition on the set, as the subdued protagonist tries to conceal ‘This Pain Inside Of Me’ from the woman who has caused it.

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