My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jean Shepherd

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘These Days’

41xt6655asl-_ac_us300_ql65_Released in August 1980, These Days was Crystal Gayle’s  second of three albums recorded for Columbia. Although very successful on Billboard’s Country Albums chart reaching #6 and being certified gold s also definitely NOT a country album. It is also my least favorite of her albums, although there are many redeeming moments. The album seems to run between 80’s lounge and classic pop standards.

The album opens up with “Too Many Lovers”, a #1 record written by Mark True, Ted Lindsay, Sam Hogin. This song is moderately up-tempo with a rock guitar break.  This is followed by “If You Ever Change Your Mind”, a nice ballad written by Parker McGee and Bob Gundry. The instrumentation is basically jazz piano with orchestration. This too reached #1.

“Ain’t No Love In the Heart of The City” is typical cocktail lounge pop. Crystal sings it well but the song itself leaves me cold. Written by Michael Price and Daniel Walsh, the song leans toward modern R&B, as does the next song “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, which I find disappointing as Will Jennings and Joe Sample have decent track records as country songsmiths. With a different arrangement, I might like “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, but the background vocals on the “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)” probably belong on a Patti Labelle record rather than anything recorded by Crystal Gayle, and the Kenny G style sax leaves me completely cold.

Allen Reynolds and Bob McDill usually crafted good songs, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” is no exception. A slow ballad with flute and string accompaniment, I could see this song being released as a single to Adult Contemporary radio. Don Williams recorded the song as an album track but I think Crystal’s version is better, even exquisite.

What a time to turn your back on someone
What a day to be without a friend
What a shame when no-one seems to bother
Who will offer shelter to candles in the wind

And it follows we are only helpless children
Ever changing like sunlight through the trees
It’s a long road we must cling to one another
Help yourselves to each other, that’s the way it’s meant to be

The great Delbert McClinton wrote “Take It Easy’ which proved to be a minor hit for Crystal Gayle, reaching #17. Crystal handles it well but her version pales to the McClinton original, and I suspect grittier female country vocalists such as Gus Hardin, Lacy J Dalton, Gail Davies, Wilma Lee Cooper or Jean Shepard  could have done the song better (not that Wilma Lee or Jean could ever have been persuaded to record this song) .

“I Just Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is another song by Sample and Jennings, this time a mid-tempo blues number , with a traditional jazz accompaniment including clarinet.

“You’ve Almost Got Me Believin'”, by Barbara Wyrick,  sounds like cocktail lounge pop. I really didn’t like this song at all, particularly after the Kenny G-styled sax kicks in. Crystal’s vocal is nice but the song is unworthy.

“Lover Man” is a pop standard classic by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill. American listeners may recall Weill as the composer of “Mack The Knife”, but he penned many fine songs, including this one. While the song is often associated with Ella Fitzgerald, Crystal acquits herself well . The arrangement can be best describe as a very bluesy piece of piano jazz.

I don’t know why but I’m feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissing
Oh, what I’ve been missing
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The night is cold and I’m so alone
I’d give my soul just to call you my own
Got a moon above me
But no one to love me
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The album reaches back to 1934 for its closing number “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, from the pen of Tin Pan Alley writer Harry M. Woods. Harry wrote a number of pop standard classics including “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”,  “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain”, “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye”, and “Try a Little Tenderness”.  The song is performed as an up-tempo traditional jazz number with honky-tonk piano similar to what Joanne Castle, Big Tiny Little or Joe “Fingers” Carr might have played, and a very nice clarinet solo.

Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do
Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do to you

You’re in love
Your heart’s fluttering
All day long
You only stutter
Cause your poor tone
Just will not utter the words
I love you

For me this is a mixed bag. I do like pop standards and traditional jazz balladry, but I don’t care for cocktail lounge jazz. There are some very nice song on this album and some songs about which I am utterly indifferent. There is nothing remotely country on this album. I think the first two and last two songs on this album, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” are the best songs  on the album.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind – Brenda Lee – ‘Too Many Rivers’

One of Lee’s many classics, she recorded “Too Many Rivers” with Owen Bradley for Columbia Records in Jan 1964. The B Side of her single “No One,” radio favored this Harlan Howard penned tune to the official single and played it instead.  Lee would have a #13 peaking it with the tune. The Forester Sisters would take the tune up the charts again 22 years later where it would peak at #5.  Many other versions from the likes of Claude Gray, Eddy Arnold, Liz Anderson, Jean Shepherd, and a host of others exist as well.

Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy’

Released in September 1969, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy was Dolly’s third solo effort for RCA and her fourth solo album overall. At this stage of her career, she was still struggling to find her commercial breakthrough, having cracked the Top 20 as a solo artist only once, with the previous year’s “Just Because I’m A Woman.” Whereas her previous two albums had produced only one single each, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy produced three, which suggests that RCA had some faith that they were on the right track. Indeed, it is a more consistent album than its somewhat uneven predecessors, and it charted higher, peaking at #6 on the Billboard country albums chart. However, none of the singles performed well on the charts, most likely due to their depressing and controversial — by 1969 standards — subject matter. Make no mistake, this album is no happy affair. The themes explored range from poverty, infidelity, and illegitimate birth to revenge, murder, suicide and prostitution.

In the first single, “Daddy”, Dolly is a young woman urging her father not to abandon her mother in favor of a woman who is younger than his daughter. One of her weaker efforts up to this point, it was an odd choice for lead single and it failed to gain much traction at radio, though it did manage to crack the Top 40 — the only single from the album to do so.

The second single was a cover of Mac Davis’ controversial “In The Ghetto”, which had been a recent hit for Elvis Presley. It tells the tale of the vicious cycle of crime and poverty in the inner city — a problem which has only worsened over the succeeding four decades. Likely considered too topical for country radio, it died at #50, despite an excellent performance which drew praise from Elvis himself. Equally controversial was the next single, the album’s title track, which tells the story of a young woman who leaves her rural home and the boy she loves for the bright lights of the city, only to find more than she bargained for and ultimately resorting to prostitution to survive. It performed slightly better than “In The Ghetto”, climbing to #45. Despite its commercial failure, it is relatively well known today thanks to its inclusion on a number of “best of” compilations over the years.

In addition to “Daddy” and the title tack, Dolly wrote three more of the album’s twelve tracks. In “Til Death Do Us Part”, the narrator commits suicide upon learning that her husband is leaving her for another woman. “Evening Shade” tells the story of an orphans home, in which the inhabitants seek their revenge by burning the place down while the cruel headmistress is sleeping inside. “Gypsy, Joe and Me” seems like a more lighthearted affair in the beginning, telling the story of a couple of free spirits and their dog. However, both the dog and the narrator’s partner meet with tragic ends, which ultimately leads the narrator to take her own life.

The fallen woman is a recurring theme throughout Parton’s early work, so it was somewhat surprising to learn that “Home For Pete’s Sake” is one of the tunes on the album which she did not write. On the other hand, it’s a little less surprising when one takes into account that this one actually has a happy ending. Unlike Dolly’s later composition “Down From Dover”, which would appear on the following year’s album, the protagonist in Rudy Preston’s “Home For Pete’s Sake” is welcomed home by her family and ex-boyfriend when she falls pregnant after moving to the big city.

Rounding out the set are covers of Joe South’s “Games People Play”, Jean Shepherd’s “We Had All The Good Things Going”, which had been a hit for Jean Shepherd, and Porter Wagoner’s “Big Wind”. While none of these can be said to be happy songs, they range from mid- to up-tempo and thus server to lighten the mood and save the album from becoming a total case of unabated misery.

The album’s cover art shows the cabin in Tennessee where Dolly grew up, and the gentleman posing as The Blue Ridge Mountain Boy is none other than Dolly’s husband, the reclusive Carl Dean. Bob Ferguson was credited as producer, but in reality, like all of Parton’s work from this era, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy was produced by her mentor Porter Wagoner. At the time, RCA would only allow employees of the label to produce, so Ferguson got the credit even though he was rarely present in the studio when Parton and Wagoner were recording.

Bleak and somber though the subject matter may be, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy is first rate from beginning to end and is worthy of a remastering and re-release. Unfortunately, it has never been released on CD, though used vinyl copies can be purchased. In addition, most the album’s tracks can be found on various hits compilations, and many of them can be individually downloaded.

Grade: A

Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘I Am Ready’

During his six-year stint with MCA Records, Steve Wariner racked up an impressive eight #1 hits, and all of his single releases during that period made the Top 10, with the exception of “There For A While”, his final release for the label. But despite his success at radio, his album sales remained modest. By the time he signed with Arista in 1991, he was ready, as his debut album for the label boldly proclaimed, to finally take his career to the next level. He teamed up with Scott Hendricks and Tim DuBois, for I Am Ready, which sounds fresher and more energized than Steve’s last few albums for MCA.

Steve wrote or co-wrote half of the album’s ten songs, though the biggest hits were provided by outside songrwiters. First up was “Leave Him Out Of This”, a passionate plea to a lover to let go of the past. Written by Walt Aldridge and Susan Longacre, the steel guitar-drenched track with background vocals provided by Vince Gill, climbed to #6 in Billboard. It was succeeded by a cover of Bill Anderson’s 1960 hit “The Tips Of My Fingers”. The song had been recorded many times in the past. Anderson’s original version had peaked at #7. In 1963, Roy Clark resurrected it and took it to #10, and in 1975 Jean Shepherd took it to #16. Steve’s version, like Eddy Arnold’s 1966 rendition, reached #3. It’s my favorite track on the album and the best single of Wariner’s career. “A Woman Loves” didn’t score quite as high, peaking at #9, but it is probably the best remembered track from this collection, thanks to a lot of recurrent airplay.

Two more singles were released — the presumably autobiographical or at least semi-autobiographical “Crash Course In The Blues” and the beautiful but not radio-friendly ballad “Like A River To The Sea”. Both singles peaked in the 30s. Steve had a hand in writing both, and was in fact the sole writer of “Like A River To The Sea”. Both tracks also allowed him to show off his guitar-playing skills.

Over the years, Steve’s music has had a tendency to lean strongly towards adult contemporary at times. By and large this is not the case with I Am Ready, with the exception of “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right”, a very generic and nondescript number that is the weakest link in this collection. The others, such as the opening track “On My Heart Again” to “When Will I Let Go” are solid mainstream 90s country, though “My, How The Time Don’t Fly” is a bit on the bland side.

The underrated gem in this collection is “Gone Out Of My Mind”, a new-at-the-time number that sounds like it hails from a bygone era. Written by Bob Morrison, Gene Dobbins and Michael Huffman, it is the most traditional song on the album. It was covered by Doug Stone in 1998 for the multi-artist collection Tribute To Tradition, but sadly, it failed to crack the Top 40. I prefer Doug’s version to Steve’s, but this is a beautiful song no matter who is singing it, the type of song that made me fall in love with country music.

Country music in the early 90s was just beginning to flex its commercial muscle, and Steve like most other artists who were still getting radio airplay at the time, benefited from the rising tide. After 13 years as a major label recording artist, he finally scored a gold album. The fact that an album that only reached #28 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart could sell 500,000 units is a somewhat grim reminder of how much stronger country album sales were 20 years ago than they are now.

I Am Ready
is Steve Wariner at his very best. If there is only room for one of his studio albums in your collection, this is the one to get. It is still easy to obtain from Amazon and used copies are very inexpensive.

Grade: A