My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jason Boland

Hidden gems of 2018

Here are my favorite album tracks of the year, omitting the albums which made my best albums of the year list.

10. Jay Bragg – ‘The Dreamer’ (from Honky Tonk Dream)
Honky tonker Bragg’s debut album may be only eight tracks, but it’s a strong collection. Best of the bunch is this pensive reflection on how strongly rooted a love is.

9. Kathy Mattea – ‘Mercy Now’ (from Pretty Bird)
A spare, tender version of Mary Gauthier’s song.

8. Jason Boland & The Stragglers – ‘Hard Times Are Relative’ (from Hard Times Are Relative)
A moving story song about a pair of young siblings supporting one another.

7. Catherine Britt – ‘The River And The Gum’ (from Catherine Britt & The Cold Cold Hearts)
Australia’s Catherine Britt retruned to her traditional roots for her latest album. This folk-country ballad is a delight.

6. Ashley McBryde – ‘Girl Goin’ Nowhere’ (from Girl Going Nowhere)
An excellent, thoughtful song about the lif of a struggling musician and what makes it worthwhile. It should get some more attention this coming year, as the track has just been announced as Ashley’s new single.

5. Joshua Hedley – ‘Counting All My Tears’ (from Mr Jukebox)
Very retro, and very good. This sounds like a forgotten classic from the early 1960s.

4. Mandy Barnett – ‘Lock Stock And Teardrops’ (from Various Artists, King Of The Road: A Tribute To Roger Miller)
An exquisite version of a classic.

3. Cody Jinks – ‘Somewhere Between I Love You And I’m Leavin’’ (from Lifers)
A strong song about a relationship on the verge from a rather mixed album.

2. Pistol Annies – ‘When I Was His Wife’ (from Interstate Gospel)
The trio’s latest album didn’t qute make my top 10 of the year, but it is a strong and artistically ambitious collection. The barbed lyric of the best song on the album, set to a sweetly vulnerable country melody, reflects on an acrimonious divorce.

1. Oak Ridge Boys – ‘If I Die Drinking’ (from 17th Avenue Revival)
A magisterial gospel reading of a wonderful song previously recorded by its co-writer Vince Gill. (The other writer was Ashley Monroe.)

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Album Review: Jason Boland and the Stragglers – ‘Hard Times Are Relative’

Jason Boland and the Stragglers are usually reliable purveyors of country music infused with a little Red Dirt attitude.

The opening ‘I Don’t Deserve You’ is a pretty good midpaced love song. Sunny Sweeney’s harmony vocal adds charm.

The lovely title track is a sweet story song about a pair of orphaned siblings looking out for one another in the 1930s. This is the best song on the album.

Also great is the solid honky tonker ‘Right Where I Began’, with a protagonist taking refuge in country music and a one night stand for temporary relief from his heartbreak:

Ol’ George sings a leaving song where the cowboy rides away
Hey, Ronnie’s got me figured out
She’s back on my mind to stay
And old Jones said “He stopped lovin’ her”
I hope that ain’t today
So I’ll sit back down on the stool and let the jukebox play

I got Jack Daniels by the handle
My best Bud’s in the can
Some Wild-ass Turkey sittin’ next to me
Talkin’ ’bout the plan
But I’ll find a wife for the night and I’ll be her lovin’ man
Then tomorrow morning I’ll take her home and I’ll be right where I began

My next favorite is nostalgic waltz ‘Do You Remember When’, which reflects on “progress”:

Folks might still waltz around dusty dancefloors
But three quarter time’s never played anymore
And shameless promotions may get the place full
So drunk girls can ride a mechanical bull

Everyone talks about good old dancehalls
Then make for the tourist traps and shopping malls
Oh, how I wish this was all a bad dream
We’d wake up and Bob Wills would still be the King

Who would’ve thought it could happen so fast –
The reckless abandonment of all our past?
In one generation forget who we are?
So let’s talk politics and religion in bars

‘Predestined’ is a nice philosophical song with a soothing melody and somewhat unclear lyrics, and ‘Going Going Gone’ is also pretty good.

‘Searching For You’ has a jazzy feel with slightly haphazard doo-wop style backing vocals which is quite catchy but not entirely to my taste. ‘Grandfather’s Theme’ is rather more progressive jazz, and sounds a bit weird to be honest. The musicianship is impressive, but it feels self indulgent. ‘Dee Dee OD’d’ is a rocker which is apparently about the punk band the Ramones. ‘Tattoo Of A Bruise’ is not very interesting and is also quite rock influenced. The set closes with a cover of Van Morrisons folk-rock ‘Bulbs’.

Overall, there is about half of an excellent album, and half one I’m not especially interested in.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Jason Boland & The Stragglers – ‘False Accuser’s Lament’

You may recognise the classic song this is a sequel to:

You didn’t have a good time: songs about struggling with alcohol

The recent unfortunate news of Randy Travis’s apparently alcohol-fuelled decline has prompted me to bring together these songs about people struggling to give up alcohol.

Randy’s own recording of ‘You Didn’t Have A Good Time’ from his last studio album, 2008’s Around The Bend, now seems heartbreakingly prescient – or an early warning to himself of a problem that he was, one assumes, aware of. The song starts from the standpoint that the first step in tackling the problem is acknowledging its existence:

I bet you don’t remember
Kneeling in that bathroom stall
Praying for salvation
And cursing alcohol
Then went right back to drinking
Like everything was fine
Let’s be honest with each other
You didn’t have a good time

So take a good hard look in the mirror
And drink that image down
I’m truth that you can’t run from
I’m the conscience you can’t drown
And the happiness you want so bad
You ain’t gonna find
Until you start believing
You didn’t have a good time

When you woke up this morning
I guess you just assumed
That you got something out of
The empty bottles in this room
There ain’t an angel that can save you
When you’re listening to the wine
And the demons they won’t tell you
You didn’t have a good time

Trace Adkins ‘Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink’ offers an equally somber warning of the gradual fall from casual social drinking into the prison of addiction, with its melancholy warning, “sometimes a drink takes the man”. (Co-writer Larry Cordle has also recorded a superb version of the song, but Trace’s magnificent vocal edges his cut ahead.)

The same theme appears in George Jones’s bitingly honest ‘A Drunk Can’t Be A Man’, from his 1976 album Alone Again, when he was still drinking heavily himself. In this third person story, George sings of a man whose life is utterly miserable thanks to his drinking but “seems proud to have the devil for his guide”.

Sometimes it seems like a miracle that Jones is still alive in his 80s, given his chequered history with alcohol. This history has been frequently acknowledged in his choice of songs like ‘Wine (You’ve Used Me Long Enough)’, the agonized ‘Wean Me’, ‘If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)‘, I’ve Aged Twenty Years In Five’,  ‘Ol’ George Stopped Drinking Today’, and the rueful admission of ‘Wine Colored Roses’. In 1999 it was also the subject of his last solo top 30 hit ‘Choices’, a bleak Billy Yates song about the lifelong effect of bad decisions and putting drinking above those who loved him.

Jones following a 1978 DUI arrest.

One of my uncles was (and I would say he still is) an alcoholic, and while struggling with his problem in his 20s he spent some time living with his older married half-brother (my parents, before I was born). I’ve left out a whole range of songs about the impact of an alcoholic relative on his or her spouse and family, but the role of a loved one in supporting someone through the hard times is also important, and dealt with in a number of country songs. One of my favorites is ‘I’m Trying’, recorded both by Diamond Rio in duet with Chely Wright, and more recently solo by Martina McBride, which movingly shows the middle of the struggle, with a loved one trying to support the drinker.

Someone who can’t admit their problem to their loved ones is clearly not in good shape to turn the corner. Now-disbanded trio Trick Pony were best known for main lead singer Heidi Newfield, but one of their best songs (‘The Devil And Me’), sung by one of her male bandmates, dealt with the struggles of an alcoholic, shamefacedly hiding his used bottles from his wife and children, and confessing,

I’ve battled with the bottle all alone for years

Bleak though the basic situation is, he still hopes things can turn around, affirming in the last verse and chorus:

I’m hoping for a miracle
I know that I can change
No, I’m not giving up
I know there’ll come a day

When I’m not too tired to fight it
Or too ashamed to pray
And I know the Lord won’t be bored
With the promises I’ve made
I won’t live here with my secret
Where no one else can see
No, I won’t keep it
Between the devil and me

Sometimes it takes a catastrophic incident to prompt a change of heart. 80s star T. Graham Brown has recorded a moving plea to God from a man who has reached rock bottom for help to turn the ‘Wine Into Water’. In the brilliant Leslie Satcher song ‘From Your Knees’ (recorded by Matt King  (with Patty Loveless on harmony), later by John Conlee, and ironically, also by Randy Travis on Around The Bend), a wife tired of her man’s “cheating and drinking” finally leaves after 17 years, forcing him to face the truth:

Right then and there in an old sinner’s prayer
He told things he’d kept in the dark
There was no use in lying
Cause the man who was listening
Could see every room in his heart

Sometimes a man can change on his own
But sometimes I tell you it takes

Empty closets and empty drawers
And a tearful confession on the kitchen floor
And burning memories in the fireplace
He had waited too late to say he was wrong

Brother, you would not believe
What you can see from your knees

Another song from his own repertoire Travis might be advised to pay attention to, now he seems to have reached his own rock bottom point.

Before he discovered the beach, Kenny Chesney recorded some strong material, and one of the best was the earnest ‘That’s Why I’m Here’, a #2 hit in 1998. A mature reflection on the damage done to a life “when you lose control”, this seems to have a happy ending as the protagonist has learned his lesson and started attending AA meetings.

However, some damage cannot be undone, as we see from a couple of songs dealing with the effects of addiction to drugs rather than alchol. The video for Jeff Bates’ emotional ‘One Second Chance’ ties it in with his own former drug problem, while Jamey Johnson’s stunning ‘High Cost Of Living’ is one of the finest songs of its kind as it portrays someone whose addiction led to throwing away everything good in his life. Billy Yates’ minor hit ‘Flowers’ (subsequently covered by Chris Young) deals with the literally sobering aftermath of a drunk driving incident in which the protagonist killed his wife or girlfriend; change comes too late. Gravel-voiced singer-songwriter Bobby Pinson included several compelling songs referring to the drunk-driving death of a high school friend on his underrated album Man Like Me ( ‘Don’t Ask Me How I Know’, ‘A Man Like Me’ and ‘I Thought That’s Who I Was’), the culminating effect of which sounds autobiographical. In ‘One More Believer’ on the same album he looks back to a sordid past passing out drunk before finding salvation through the love of a good woman.

Joe Nichols, another star who has struggled with substance abuse in real life, chose to record ‘An Old Friend of Mine’, a moving low key confessional of the day a man gives up drinking:

I never thought I’d be strong enough to leave it all behind
But today I said goodbye to an old friend of mine…
And I heard freedom ring when that bottle hit the floor
And I just walked away not needing anymore

Yet it’s still a struggle to maintain sobriety after making that commitment. My uncle stopped drinking over 40 years ago, but still attends AA meetings regularly and can’t touch a single drop of alcohol in case it sets off the cravings again. George Jones has had the odd lapse in recent years, and it’s well documented that Randy Travis had issues with drinking among other wild behaviour as a teenager before straightening up, so his current woes may be a resurgence of a longstanding underlying problem.

Collin Raye’s hit ‘Little Rock’ shows an alcoholic trying hard to make a fresh start and making a good beginning, but only 19 days into his sobriety there’s clearly a long way to go (although his record is 10 days and counting ahead of the protagonist of George Strait’s recent single ‘Drinkin’ Man’. Co-written with Dean Dillon who has had his own issues with alcohol in the past, this searing portrait of a man whose problems go back to his early teens unfortunately proved to be a bit too close to reality for today’s country radio and became the lowest charting single of Strait’s career.  It remains one of the best singles of 2012.

Texan Jason Boland’s ‘Bottle By My Bed’, looking back on the time when “my life was as empty as the bottle by my bed,” also talks about all the false starts, when “each time was the last time, that’s what I always said”, but has the protagonist now on safer ground.

Finally, if anyone reading this thinks they have a problem: please get help. For information and resources, visit the AA.org and Al Anon websites for help for you and/or your loved ones.

Album Review: Jason Boland & the Stragglers – ‘Rancho Alto’

Jason Boland is a singer-songwriter with a poet’s heart, and with his band the Stragglers, is one of the acts in the Texas Red Dirt movement most deeply rooted in country music. His latest album, released on APEX/Thirty Tigers, is not quite as strong as his last studio album, 2008’s Comal County Blue, but is still a good collection. Boland wrote almost all the material, and his songwriting is consistently impressive and substantial. The album was recorded in Austin with Lloyd Maines producing, although the artist’s work is clearly rooted in his home state of Oklahoma.

The best song here is the gripping ‘False Accuser’s Lament’, an intriguing reinterpretation of ‘Long Black Veil’ from the point of view of the witness who claimed the narrator of the original song was the killer. The tune is new, but there are enough lyrical nods to the Marijohn Wilkin/Danny Dill-penned country classic to make its origins obvious. Tormented nightly by guilt, he reveals that he was paid off (with ‘the price of a new plow’) by the banker husband of the woman who would have been the convicted man’s alibi. In this version he knew of his wife’s affair but couldn’t face it all coming out in public, effectively making the framed man’s sacrifice pointless. Our narrator admits bleakly,

Father please forgive me for I falsely testified
They had me swear upon the Bible and I lied

The pensive ‘Obsessed’ dwells on an intense but fated relationship. The almost-melancholy ‘Between 11 And 2’ shows us a pair of lost souls eventually finding one another in the dead hours of the night. Jason wrote it with Noah Jeffries, who also plays fiddle and mandolin. The same pair wrote ‘Pushing Luck’, a rockier number where a potentially interesting story of a resentful lawbreaker feels overwhelmed by too-heavy production, not helped by the relative lack of melody.

The waltz ‘Every Moment I’m Gone’ is a rather lovely declaration of love by an ageing rambler, perhaps a seafarer, for the one waiting at home, which has a very old folk feel to the lyrics. The atmospheric playing of pedal steel dominates on ‘Forever Together Again’ (written by Roger Ray, pedal steel and dobro player in the Stragglers), a warmhearted tribute to a cowboy bar room crowd.

‘Down Here In The Hole’ is a strong song about working in a coalmine with some memorable lines and prominent fiddle. I also like ‘Fences’ with its fiddle-led instrumentation and singing melody, and the brooding if sometimes obscure lyric lamenting, I think, the fate of Native Americans:

She was there for the taking, there were promises made
But smallpox and whiskey were a mighty bad trade

All I see now are fences
The cards turn a profit but the people are gone
Theses old holes in the highway are so brutal on bones
You don’t dance with who brought you, it’s a lonesome walk home

The attractive ‘Mary Ellen’s Greenhouse’ paints an affectionate picture about making music with old friends in a welcoming place, based on a rehearsal place of Boland’s youth.

There are a couple of external covers. Bob Childers wrote ‘Woody’s Road’, a tribute to Woody Guthrie, ‘a rambling friend of man’. Finally, The part-spoken ‘Farmer’s Luck’ (written by Greg Jacobs) is another real highlight. It tells the story of a government-funded reservoir in Oklahoma which drowns a farmer’s land in the 1960s, set to a jaunty rhythm as the narrator’s grandfather, a small farmer complains to the bureaucrats and businessmen,

Well, you don’t know nothing about farming
You don’t know nothing about soil
You live up there in Tulsa and make your living off of oil…

They’re gonna dam the Deep Fork River and damn the farmer’s luck

This is an interesting and worthwhile release by an excellent songwriter.

Grade: A-

Some hidden treasures of the decade

At the end of last year, I shared a list of my favorite 50 singles of the decade. Some of them were big hits, others more obscure, but at least in theory they got some attention at the time. Now that the decade is well and truly over, I thought I would mention some hidden treasures – album tracks that you probably only heard if you’re a fan of the artist, and purchased the full album. Some of them are from albums and artists that were more successful than others. I’ve omitted anything that made it to radio (even if it wasn’t a hit) as I considered those for my last list, and I have also left out anything from an album which made our collective Albums of The Decade list, although I have included tracks from other albums by artists who appeared on both of those lists. I have restricted my list to one track per artist named.

40. ‘Cold All The Time’ – Irene Kelley (from Thunderbird, 2004)
Songwriter Irene Kelley has released a couple of very good independent albums, showcasing her own very beautiful voice as well as her songs. This is a gently resolute song about a woman stuck in a bad relationship, summoning up the courage to make a move.

39. ‘All I Want’ – Darius Rucker (from Learn To Live, 2008)
There is still a chance that this might make it to the airwaves, as Darius’s platinum country debut is his current release. As a whole, the material was a little disappointing, but this great song is definitely worth hearing, and not only because it’s the mos country song on the album. It’s a jaundiced kiss-off to an ex, offering her everything as “all I want you to leave me is alone”.

38. ‘I Met Jesus In A Bar’ – Jim Lauderdale (from Country Super Hits Volume 1, 2006)
Songwriter Jim Lauderdale has released a number of albums of his own, in more than one country sub-genre, and in 2006 he issued two CDs on one day: one country, the other bluegrass. This great co-write with Leslie Satcher, a melancholy-tinged song about God and booze, also recorded by Aaron Watson, comes from the country one.

37. ‘A Train Not Running’ – Chris Knight (from The Jealous Kind, 2003)
Singer-songwriter Chris Knight co-wrote this downbeat first-person tale of love and a mining town’s economic failure with Stacy Dean Campbell, who also recorded a version of the song.

36. ‘Same Old Song’ – Blake Shelton (from Blake Shelton, 2001)
These days, Blake seems to attract more attention for his girlfriend Miranda Lambert and his Tweeting than for his own music. This song, written by Blake’s producer Bobby Braddock back in 1989, is an appeal for country songs to cover new ground and real stories.

35. ‘If I Hadn’t Reached For The Stars’ – Bradley Walker (from Highway Of Dreams, 2006)
It’s probably a sign of the times that Bradley Walker, who I would classify as a classic traditional country singer in the Haggard/Travis style, had to release his excellent debut album on a bluegrass label. This love song (written by Carl Jackson and previously recorded by Jon Randall) is all about finding happiness through not achieving stardom.

34. ‘Between The River And Me’ – Tim McGraw (from Let It Go, 2007)
Tim McGraw is not one of my favorite singers, but he does often have a knack for picking interesting material. It was a travesty that the best track on his 2007 album was never released as a single, especially when far less deserving material took its place. It’s a brooding story song narrated by the teenage son of a woman whose knack seems to be picking the wrong kind of man, in this case one who beats her. The son turns to murder, down by the river.

33. ‘Three Sheets In The Wind’ – Randy Archer (from Shots In The Dark, 2005)
In the early 9s, Randy Archer was one half of the duo Archer Park,who tried and failed to challenge Brooks & Dunn. His partner in that enterprise is now part of The Parks. Meanwhile, Randy released a very good independent album which has been overlooked. My favorite track is this sad tale of a wife tearing up a husband’s penitent note of apology and leaving regardless.

32. ‘It Looked Good On Paper’ – Randy Kohrs featuring Dolly Paton (from I’m Torn, 2007)
A forlorn lost-love ballad from dobro player Kohrs featuring exquisite high harmonies from Dolly. the ret o the record is very good, too – and you can listen to it all on last.fm.

31. ‘Mental Revenge’ – Pam Tillis (from It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis, 2002)
After her mainstream stardom wound down, 90s star Pam Tillis took the opportunity to record a real labor of love: a tribute album to her father Mel. This bitter diatribe to an ex is my favorite track.

30. ‘You Don’t Love God If You Don’t Love Your Neighbour’ – Rhonda Vincent (from The Storm Still Rages, 2001)
A traditional country-bluegrass-gospel quartet take on a classic rebuke to religious hypocrites, written by Carl Story. The track isn’t the best showcase of Rhonda’s lovely voice, but it’s a great recording of a fine song with a pointed message.

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Album Review: Jackson Taylor & The Sinners – ‘Aces ‘N Eights’

Aces n EightsSinger-songwriter Jackson Taylor was born in Texas as one of 11 children of a migrant laborer, and raised wherever his father found work. I picked up his 2007 album Dark Days earlier this year, and was impressed by it. He has followed that up this year with a new release for Smith Entertainment, which encapsulates his musical mix of rocking Outlaw-inspired country with an edge (sometimes too much of an edge). He does not have the greatest voice, but it conveys his songs well, capable of both aggressive attack and surprising tenderness.

The album is topped and tailed by two versions of the same song, the rocking honky tonker ‘Back On The Bottle’. The first version opens the set with a bang as Jackson swaps verses with Dale Watson on this declaration of falling off the wagon when a woman dumps him; the closing one is a little more low-key and features a Swedish country band called The Taylors who apparently started out as a Jackson Taylor tribute act (hence their name), and do themselves credit here. Both versions are good, and the song packs quite a punch:

“I’m back to drinkin’ and driving all the ones I love away
I’m back on the bottle, back to the bad old days”

The opening version is followed by the similarly themed and sounding ‘Ball & Chain’, written by Mike Ness, a punk musician with a sideline in dirty funky attitude-infused country in the vein of Hank III. It is performed here as another duet, this time with Texas singer-songwriter Jason Boland. Ness also wrote ‘Highway 101’, which is a little too far down the rock road for my taste. Jackson himself wrote all the other songs, and proves himself a very talented songwriter, albeit too inclined at times to shock apparently for the sake of it.

The album bears a parental advisory warning thanks to two songs. ‘Country Song’ is a profanity-strewn rant at the country music industry (not sparing other genres, either). The underlying sentiments are mostly fine (who doesn’t despise ‘spiky-haired half assed popstar wannabes’ pretending to be country singers?), but frankly I would have preferred an expurgated and perhaps a less aggressive version. The other deliberate attempt to court controversy is ‘Cocaine’, a defiant and rather shouty spiel to an ex about using drugs, booze and ‘dirty girls’ (complete with tasteless pornographic sound effects) to get over her. I really disliked this one. The only other track I didn’t care for was the repetitive ‘Sex Love And Texas’.

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