My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jennifer Kimball

Album Review: Pam Tillis – ‘Every Time’

every timePam’s last 1990s release (in 1998) was co-produced by the arist with Billy Joe Walker Jr. It was her first Arista album not to be certified gold, marking a commercial downturn for her. It may also mark a period of personal turmoil following her divorce from songwriter Bob DiPiero, it is also noticeable that she did not contribute to the songwriting on this album. Her vocals are (as usual) excellent throughout.

There were only two modestly performing singles. ‘I Said A Prayer’, an upbeat Leslie Satcher song given rather poppy production which was Pam’s last top 20 hit, peaked at #12. I personally prefer the prettily melodic title track (penned by Tommy Lee James and Jennifer Kimball), but this one only just squeezed into the top 40.

Leslie Satcher got two more cuts on this album. ‘You Put The Lonely On Me’ is another up-tempo number with an assertive approach and some nice honky tonk piano, which isn’t bad. The best of Satcher’s songs (and one of the two best tracks on the album) is ‘Whiskey On The Wound’, a sad story song about a man whose tangled love life leads him into the deep waters of alcoholism.

The other standout is the magnificent pain-filled steel-led ballad ‘Hurt Myself’, written by Savannah Snow. The protagonist compares her relationship with a toxic ex with other forms of self-destructiveness. ‘A Great Disguise’ is another very good song about hiding the pain of a breakup, which had previously been recorded by Martina McBride. Pam’s interpretation is more subtle than Martina’s powerful belting, but both versions are good.

‘A Whisper And A Scream’, written by Verlon Thompson and Austin Cunningham, is a fine song about striking the right balance in life, which is much better than the title sounds. The insistent mid-tempo ‘Lay The Heartache Down’ written by Jamie O’Hara is also pretty good, with harmonica fills.

‘We Must Be Thinking Alike’ is quite pleasant but ultimately forgettable, while ‘Not Me’ is boring pop filler. ‘After Hours’ is also rather dull.

There are a couple of great tracks and several good ones, but this album as a whole fails to reach the heights of Pam’s best work, and it’s not entirely surprising that it failed to make much of a mark. It’s certainly worth cherrypicking the best tracks on iTunes, but used copies of the CD can be obtained very cheaply.

Grade: B

Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘Rage On’

1988 saw Dan make a sideways move from EMI to its Capitol imprint. Rage On has tasteful Kyle Lehning production and excellent material which combines great melodies with interesting lyrics. Dan was at his commercial and artistic peak, and it continued his hot streak with country radio.

Lead single ‘Addicted’ was Dan’s eighth straight #1 hit. It was written by contemporary folk artist Cheryl Wheeler, but it fits Dan like a glove with its pretty melody and sensitive, insightful lyric. His empathetic vocal is perfect for this bleak third person portrait of a woman who can see her lover is drawing away from her, and her own heart breaking slowly:

She says she feels like she’s addicted to a real bad thing
Always sitting waiting wondering if the phone will ring
She knows she bounces like a yoyo when he pulls her string
It hurts to feel like such a fool
She wants to tell him not to call or come around again
He doesn’t need her at all now the way that she needs him
She’s on the edge about to fall from leaning out and in
And she don’t know which way to move, oh no

She wants to be fair, she couldn’t say
He was ever unkind
But if she could bear to walk away
She thinks he wouldn’t mind

Another fine song, ‘Big Wheels In The Moonlight’ followed it to the top of the charts, and has a much cheerier atmosphere. Set to a lively tune with occasional hand claps, it tells the story of a restless young boy bored with his hometown (“so small, look both ways you could see it all”) and dreaming of a truck driving life. There is an optimistic feel as Dan delivers the song with commitment, and Baillie & the Boys provide backing vocals. It was one of three songs on the album written by the regular partnership of Dan with Bob McDill.

Another McDill collaboration, the title track, ‘They Rage On’, broke Dan’s streak of #1 hits, peaking at #5. With a delicate vocal, Dan sympathetically portrays two sets of desperate lovers – a pair of restless teenagers (“like birds in a cage”) and an older couple having an illicit affair (“she’s lost her youth and he’s lost his dreams”) as they cling on to the one thing that makes them feel alive. The video interpreted the song by showing an interracial couple facing hostility, and perhaps it was this relatively controversial topic (not in the original song) that kept it off the top spot.

The final McDill co-write is one of relatively few country songs to have a New York setting. ‘Long Long Island Nights’ is the portrait a successful model who is just a small town girl at heart, in need of love.

Dan wrote two socially conscious songs alone. In ‘Factory Town’, he tackles a town dependent on one employer which is about to shut, playing the part of one factory worker, bewildered by the situation. ‘Those’ is an idealistic plea to help out one’s neighbours, in both material and emotional ways:

Then the world would be a better place for living
More forgiving every day
If those that have learned how to hold their own
Could help those who are slipping away

Those who have loved and lost everything
Could help those who have never loved at all
Those that are free now, no longer feel the pain,
Could help those who are still behind the wall

John Scott Sherrill’s superb ‘Five Generations of Rock County Wilsons’ is my equal favorite track with ‘Addicted’. The melancholy testament of a man whose childhood home is about to be lost to strip mining, Dan’s version is deeply affecting, channelling sadness rather than the outrage of John Anderson’s more forceful later cut, and he gives it a palpable sense of defeat which interprets the song effectively.

And I said “mMama forgive me but I’m almost glad
That you’re not here today
After five generations of Rock County Wilsons
To see the last 50 acres in the hands of somebody
Who’d actually blow it away”

The addition of a recorder in the instrumental section gives it a wistful old-fashioned air which works rather well.

‘Twenty Four Hour Love’ is a quietly catchy number Dan wrote with Mac MacAnally; a gentle love song from a working man who is not normally good at expressing his emotions. ‘Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice’ was written by K. T. Oslin, and is a solid song with a disillusioned Dan quietly determined to move on. A little more on the pop-country side, ‘A Heartache Just Around The Bend’ was written by Paul Davis and Jennifer Kimball, and while pleasant, is the closest the record comes to filler.

Kimball wrote the downbeat ballad ‘Maybe I’m Missing You Now’ with Blackie Farrell, which has more of an impact. Here Dan ruefully regrets separating from his wife:

We made a promise for better or worse
Well, this is the worse that I’ve been
I’ve run out of reasons to hide anyhow
Maybe I’m missing you now

This is my personal favorite of Dan Seals’ albums, and is well worth adding to your collection. It’s easy to find used, or you could wait until the 2on1 with Dan’s country debut Rebel Heart appears in October.

Grade: A

Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘On The Front Line’

By the mid-80s, country music had moved decidedly in a more traditional direction, but Dan Seals’ albums continued to follow the same basic template of combining pop and AC-leaning songs with a handful of more traditional fare. It appears that Seals and producer Kyle Lehning were not fixing what wasn’t broken and with little wonder; 1985’s Won’t Be Blue Anymore had reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned gold certification. The following year’s On The Front Line didn’t sell quite as well, but it did produce three #1 singles, just as its predecessor had.

Seals had a hand in writing seven of the album’s ten songs, which are mostly ballads and mid-tempo numbers with typical 80s style pop-country production which may have seemed very cutting edge at the time but hasn’t aged very well. This is most evident on the title track (my least favorite in this collection) and “I Will Be There”, which was written by Jennifer Kimball (who had also co-written Seals’ smash it “Bop”) and Tom Snow. “I Will Be There” is a very good song, but I’d really like to hear it without the heavy-handed synthesizer. It was the album’s second #1 hit single, following the ballad “You Still Move Me”, a Seals original composition, to the top of the charts. Though it did not cross over to the adult contemporary charts, “You Still Move Me” sounds like Seals and Lehning might have had a crossover hit in mind when they recorded it. It’s a beautiful song that has held up better than some of the album’s other tracks. Dan also wrote the collection’s third #1 hit, “Three Time Loser”, one of the album’s few uptempo numbers. More rooted in traditional country, it’s my favorite of the album’s three singles.

As far as the album cuts are concerned, there are a number of gems, including “I’m Still Strung Out On You”, a simple traditional number that Dan co-wrote with Wendy Waldman, which seems like it would have been well received by country radio at the time. “Fewer Threads Than These” is a very nice ballad that Holly Dunn would cover the following year, and “Guitar Man Out of Control” is a rockabilly-flavored number that sounds like something that Travis Tritt would have — and should have — recorded. The album ends on a high note with “Lullaby”, written by Seals and Rafe VanHoy, on which Dan is brilliantly paired with Emmylou Harris. Their voices work very well together and it’s a shame that they didn’t collaborate more often.

On The Front Line was Dan Seals’ last album for EMI America before that imprint was folded into the larger Capitol label. CD copies are hard to come by and tend to be expensive; however, it is available for download and is worth a listen despite the sometimes dated-sounding production.

Grade: B

Album Review – Dan Seals – ‘Won’t Be Blue Anymore’

For 1985’s Won’t Be Blue Anymore, Dan Seals moved from Liberty to Capitol where he would record his next four albums. He retained producer Kyle Lehning, but brought in Paul Worley to assist this time around.  The results were spectacular, as Won’t Be Blue Anymore became Seals’ first #1 album, as well as his initial release to turn out three consecutive #1 singles, the beginning in a string of nine straight chart toppers.

Lead single “Meet Me In Montana” found Seals teaming up with Marie Osmond, who was enjoying a string of moderate success herself on Capitol/Curb at the time. Written by Paul Davis following a visit to Kalispell, Montana, his idea of the perfect place for a romantic rendezvous, the song was Seals’ first chart topper and Osmond’s second, after “Paper Roses” in 1973. It also won the pair CMA Duo of the Year honors in 1986. I love the simple elegance of the song, and Osmond’s gorgeous vocal. They play their individual parts perfectly.

Even more successful was the project’s sophomore single, Paul Davis and Jennifer Kimball’s “Bop,” a horn drenched number that also peaked at #42 on the U.S. Hot 100 and #10 on the Adult Contemporary charts. A testament to the song’s popularity, it won CMA Single of the Year honors despite some very formidable competition.  I’ve always enjoyed “Bop,” probably the campiest record not recorded by Dolly Parton at the time. The story of wanting to go dancing with your lady is timeless, as is Seals’ vocal, and they help offset the cheesy horns just enough to keep the track from feeling grating.

“Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold),” the third single, is by far the strongest of the three and perfectly showcases Seals in his signature acoustic style. Co-written by Seals and Bob McDill, “Glitters” wins because of its touching story, about the relationship between a father and daughter who are dealing with her absentee mother:

Little Casey she’s still growing and she’s started asking questions
And there’s certain things a man just doesn’t know
Her birthday came and you never even called
I guess we never cross your mind at all

Written by Seals, “Headin’ West” is an excellent dobro-accentuated bluegrass thumper that wouldn’t be out-of-place on Zac Brown Band’s Uncaged. It’s rare to hear such an upbeat track from Seals, and he pulls this style off with ease.  The title track, another Seals original, finds him channeling of the era Ricky Skaggs, with spectacular results. I love the inviting nature of the naked dobro opening, the way it exquisitely frames his straightforward vocal.  I also love John D. Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road”, if only for the sinister sounding opening. The intriguing mystery of the shadowy opening music bed lends itself perfectly to the overall track and invites the listener in to hear the whole song.

Won’t Be Blue Anymore missteps in the middle, turning in mediocre variations on well-worn themes. “Your Love,” composed by Beckie Foster and Tommy Rocco, is a typical your-love-saved-me type ballad, while Wendy Waldman and Donny Lowery’s “You Plant Your Fields” is a boring ode to farm life.  “Still A Little Bit of Love,” from the pens of Jim Scott and Walker Inglehart, is the most pop-leaning track in both production and vocal performance, and while good, its only noteworthy for extrapolating a slick performance from the dobro. “So Easy To Need” is much the same, another good track, but nothing truly outstanding.

“City Kind of Girl” closes the album on a strong note, and uses the same guitar lick Rosanne Cash would employ on “If You Change Your Mind” from Kings Record Shop two years later. Written by Robert Gundry, “City Kind of Girl” is another age-old theme, country boy dating city girl, but Seals infuses it with sincerity, and his twangy vocal helps set it apart from the rest in this sub-genre.

Overall, Won’t Be Blue Anymore is a wonderful collection of songs and the first true showcase of Seals’ artistic excellence. A testament to Seals’ vision as an artist, most of these songs still hold up well today and unlike some of his previous solo efforts, this remains essential listening. The physical album is out of print, but easily available digitally.

Grade: A