My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jerry Crutchfield

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+

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘The Country Way’

Released in December 1967, Charley’s third album was his first to reach #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums charts and even hit #199 on the all-genres chart, starting a run of fourteen consecutive top ten albums, all but one of which were top five or better.

The album opens up with the Jack Clement composition “Too Hard To Say I’m Sorry”, a plodding ballad that in the hands of (almost) anyone else, would have been a complete misfire. In Charley’s hands this song of self recrimination conveys the story of a man whose pride gets in the way of apologizing and perhaps salvaging the most important relationship in his life.

Just two words were all that she would ask of me
And I could have the world and all it holds for me
Of love and tender care, not the pain and the sorrow
That will be mine tomorrow, but I just can’t seem to say it – I’m sorry

I know exactly what I should do admit I’m wrong, it wouldn’t take long
And she’d forgive me
And I know exactly what I ought to say, but I’m not built that way
Wish that I could say I’m sorry

Next up is another Jack Clement ballad, “The Little Folks”, a song that assesses who the real losers are in a divorce. I’ve heard Willie Nelson perform the song but I’m not if he ever recorded the song.

“Crystal Chandeliers” was written by Ted Harris, but the hit went to the great songwriter Carl Belew. For whatever reason, other than “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”, this has become Charley’s most requested song, even though it was never a Charley Pride single in the USA (I think it was a single for Charley in parts of Europe). Charley would repeat the song in his Live At Panther Hall album released in January 1969.

Oh, the crystal chandeliers light up the paintings on your wall
The marble statuettes are standing stately in the hall
But will the timely crowd that has you laughing loud help you dry your tears
When the new wears off of your crystal chandeliers

“Act Naturally” was a cover of a huge Buck Owens hit from a few years earlier. Johnny Russell wrote the song and certainly saw considerable royalties from the records sold by Buck and The Beatles, let alone all the other covers. Charley’s version is good but not electrifying as was Buck’s version.

“Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger”, a Robertson/Crutchfeld/Clement collaboration, reached #4, his third straight top ten single. This song of a wayward wife just drips with understated irony.

Does my ring hurt your finger when you go out at night?
When I bought it for you, darling, it seemed to be just right
Should I take it to the jeweler so it won’t fit so tight?
Does my ring hurt your finger when you go out at night?

Did you enjoy yourself last night, dear, how was the show?
You know that I don’t mind it when you go
I understand sometimes we all need time alone
But why do you always leave your ring at home?

This is followed by “Mama Don’t Cry For Me” which the underrated Johnny Seay (or Sea) released as a non-charting single a few years later. I really liked Seay’s version, and Charley does a fine job with the song as well, although with a slightly less dramatic reading of the song. Fred Foster and Johnny Wilson wrote this song:

I’ve seen the big fish jumping, mama, I’ve heard crickets sing
And I’ve felt my heart start pounding at the side of New Orleans
I’ve seen the New York City with her lights aglow
I’ve been a lot of places always on the go
I’ve seen most everything I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me …

I’ve climbed the highest mountains covered with snow
I’ve seen most everything I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me
I’m sending you this message, mama, I must say goodbye
I live the life you gave me, mama, I’m not afaid to die

Even though I’m dying, mama, the hands of death are strong
I don’t want you crying, mama, after I’m gone
I’ve seen all of this old world I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me
So mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me

The second single released from this album was the Jerry Foster/Bill Rice collaboration “The Day The World Stood Still”. This ballad of lost love reached #4.

For one day in my life
You brought me happiness
You stopped the lonely world
With all your tenderness

I can’t get over you
I guess I never will
Time was a precious thing
The day the world stood still

The next song, another Jack Clement composition, is one of my favorite Charley Pride recordings. In the middle of the song Charley calls out ‘here’s Big Joe Talbot and his electric Hawaiian steel guitar’ by way of introducing Big Joe’s instrumental break. Charley did not release this song as a single but later in the year, the Jack Clement produced Tompall & The Glaser Brothers released it as a charting single, and they too made the same introduction of Big Joe Talbot (and basically used the same arrangement).

Someday I think I’ll take up thinking and try my best to understand
How she could be loving me forever and leaving on the other hand
Last night I thought I’d see a movie to help me get my thoughts in hand
I think what I saw was the western preacher or James Bond on the other hand
I placed the ring upon one finger of her left hand
The one who said she’d stay forever is gone on the other hand

Next up is a sad ballad about a love that can’t be, written by Country Johnny Mathis. “You Can Tell The World” is pleasant enough listening, but would never be regarded as singles material.

Mel Tillis and Danny Dill provided “I’ll Wander Back To You”. This song is a cover of the Earl Scott single that reached #30 in 1965. It’s a nice, but not terribly exciting, tale of wanderlust:

They say I’m like my daddy, always on the roam
I know he loved my mama but he couldn’t stay at home
I vowed to not be like him but somewhere I went wrong
Cause I’m a thousand miles from nowhere and the girl I love at home
One of these days I’m gonna quit my wandering
One of these days I’ll wander back to you

Younger listeners may remember Ricky Van Shelton’s 1988 #1 single of the Harlan Howard classic “Life Turned Her That Way”. Older listeners may remember the 1967 Mel Tillis recording that just missed the top ten or perhaps an earlier recording by Little Jimmy Dickens. Charley does a very good job with the song.

No one could out-Haggard Merle Haggard on one of his compositions, and Charley couldn’t either. His version of “I Threw Away The Rose” is a pleasant jog-along ballad but nothing more than that.

I liked this album, but think that the song selection was not quite as strong as on his debut album. The vocal choruses remain, but the songs are string-free and the vocal accompaniments are not too obtrusive. Nothing about this album suggest that this is anything but a country album, and while the big blockbuster singles were still on the horizon, it was clear that they were coming.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Tammy’s Touch’

tammys-touchThe second of three albums Tammy released in 1970, Tammy’s Touch had two hit singles. The first, ‘I’ll See Him Through’, written by producer Billy Sherrill and Norro Wilson, which peaked at #2, is a beautifully understated subdued ballad about a wife wondering if her marriage which may be on the rocks, but determined to honor the past support he has given her. The arrangement has dated a bit, but Tammy’s vocal is superb.

‘He Loves Me All The Way’ (written by the same pair together with Carmol Taylor) went all the way itself to #1. It is a bouncy tune about a jealous woman doubting her man’s fidelity, apparently unfairly. On the same theme, but with a more downbeat note, ‘Cold Lonely Feeling’, written by Jerry Chesnut, is a very good song about a married woman plagued by doubt.

Also excellent is Curly Putnam’s ‘The Divorce Sale’, using a separating couple’s selloff of unwanted joint possessions to highlight the sadness of the split. It could have been a big hit if released as a single for Tammy. The subdued ‘Our Last Night Together’ is from the point of view of the ‘other woman’ as her affair with a married man comes to an end.

Sherrill’s ‘Too Far Gone’ (best known from Emmylou Harris’s version a few years later) is a beautiful song, and Tammy’s version is lovely. Sherrill wrote ‘A Lighter Shade Of Blue’ (another good song) with Glenn Sutton. A troubled wife-cum-doormat in an on-off relationship is beginning to feel the pain less by repetition, and to love him a little less each time. Sutton and Tammy’s future husband George Richey wrote ‘Love Me, Love Me’, quite a nice romantic ballad. Jerry Crutchfield’s ‘You Make My Skies Turn Blue’ is another pretty love song.

The sultry ‘He Thinks I Love Him’, written by Carmol Taylor, has a potentially intriguing lyric about a controlling husband which is defused by revealing that she does indeed love the man. ‘Run, Woman, Run’ offers advice to a flighty young newlywed thinking of leaving. The heavily orchestrated ‘Daddy Doll’ will be far too saccharine for most modern listeners, but in its own way points out the sadness of divorce for the children involved.

‘It’s Just A Matter Of Time’ is a cover of a 1959 R&B hit for Brook Benton, but Tammy probably recorded it as it was a contemporary country hit for Sonny James; it may be most familiar to country fans from Randy Travis’s 1989 version. Tammy’s take is not particularly distinctive. Finally, ‘Lonely Days (And Nights More Lonely)’ is a pretty good song about separation from a loved one.

This is a very strong album, albeit firmly one of its time. It should appeal to all Tammy Wynette fans.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Tracy Bird – ‘No Ordinary Man’

TracybyrdnomIn the wake of the success of “Holdin’ Heaven” Tracy Byrd readied his sophomore album, No Ordinary Man, for release a year later in 1994. Country and pop songwriter / musician Jerry Crutchfield,  handled the production duties, taking over from Tony Brown and Keith Stegall, and gave the project a straightforward mainstream sound that worked well with fans and radio programmers alike.

The first single was Byron Hill and Wayne Tester’s “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous,” a delightful honky-tonker about a couple being filmed for a television show that peaked at #4, The lyric may be clichéd and try too hard to paint the scenario of this couple, but the overall track exudes a likeable charm that remains enduring more than twenty years later.

The line dance craze sweeping the country music nation at the time give rise to such numbers as second single “Watermelon Crawl,” which also peaked at #4 as a result. The song, about a Watermelon festival in Georgia, is corny and dated but hasn’t aged as horribly as other such songs and is still listenable today.

“The First Step,” the third straight sound-alike honky-tonker to be released from No Ordinary Man impacted radio next. Another line dance song this one may’ve peaked at #5, but unlike the previous two, it’s hardly remembered today (I’ve never even heard it before). Line dance burn out, and the fact this number is pure filler, is likely to blame for this track’s demise. The production doesn’t help either, as it’s indistinguishable from Garth Brooks’ “American Honky-Tonk Bar Association” from a year earlier.

MCA Records at the time didn’t want to release the biggest hit from No Ordinary Man as a single, but Byrd pushed, citing crowd reaction in his argument. Byrd won and “The Keeper Of The Stars” was released in February 1995. An instant classic, the gentle acoustic and steel guitar accentuated love song quickly raced to #2, became an anthem for weddings, and won its writers (Dicky Lee, Danny Mayo, and Karen Staley) CMA Song of the Year that fall.

The single version of “Keeper of the Stars” was different from the one featured on No Ordinary Man. Byrd re-recorded the track because he felt he sang it better in a lower key. This second version, the one he sang in concert, was also used in the accompanying music video for the song. Byrd would re-record the song again in 2001 when he was signed to RCA Records.

The remainder of No Ordinary Man focused heavily on uptempo numbers no different than the majority of the singles. “Right About Now” and “Pink Flamingos” are throwaway filler while “You Just Don’t Know How Good You’ve Got It” is noticeable only because Crutchfield gave it a honky-tonk arrangement not far removed from Alan Jackson’s classic style.

The remaining two – the title track and “Redneck Roses” are Byrd co-writes. The title track is a convincing cowboy number not far removed from Mark Chesnutt’s trademark style while “Redneck Roses” is the album’s lone neotraditional number and an excellent one at that.

With two million copies sold, No Ordinary Man reversed Byrd’s commercial fortunes by planting him squarely within the line dance craze and the fever surrounding rockin’ honky-tonkers. Unfortunately that sound doesn’t make for a great listening experience as the album lacked the lyrical and sonic verity needed to help it stand above the fray. But as a commercial product it couldn’t have been much hotter or more successful.

Grade: B

Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘Fired Up’

One of the signs of an artist in trouble is when someone who has consistently written a fair proportion of his own material suddenly drops it in favor of (often inferior) material from outside. Another is moving to a hot new producer in search of the latest sound. It rarely works, and it didn’t work for Dan Seals in 1994. For Dan’s second and final release for Warner Brothers, he left Kyle Lehning in favor of Jerry Crutchfield and a punchier more contemporary sound which just didn’t suit Dan’s natural style.

The rocked up title track ‘All Fired Up’ was the only single to chart at all, peaking at a miserable #66. Previously recorded by rockabilly throwback Bobby Lee Springfield, who co-wrote it, on his 1987 album of the same title, it’s a bit poppy but quite entertaining with genuine energy, although his voice sounds a little thin. They were clearly trying to recapture the chart success of ‘L.O.A.’, but the very poor ‘Love Thing – boring repetitive lyric, very little melody as well as very pop-orientated production – understandably failed to make any impact at all, and with a whimper rather than a bang, Dan ended his major label career. ‘Call Me Up’ is another forgettable pop number entirely unsuited to Dan’s voice and style, while Jesse Winchester’s ‘Gentleman Of Leisure’ is a badly produced and not very interesting song about wanting to do nothing.

There are two decent ballads up to Dan’s usual standards, which are well worth downloading. ‘A Rose From Another Garden’, written by Joe Doyle and Glen Davies, has a very pretty melody which allows Dan’s voice to soar, allied to a brooding poetic lyric about a man suspicious of his wife’s interests elsewhere as their own love fades:

Is she tending to a rose from another garden
While ours slowly grows dry
Is she tending to a rose from another garden
Letting our love die on the vine

A beautifully subtle vocal is perfect for this song, by far the best on the record.

‘Still Reelin’ (From Those Rock ‘n Roll Days)’ is the only song Dan wrote (with Allen Shamblin), and it’s a fine song, a gently nostalgic look back at youth and memories of being inspired by seeing the young Elvis on television.

The up-tempo ‘Hillbilly Fever’ (written by Joe Doyle and Todd Wilkes) is actually quite good, but in the light of today’s massive overuse of the theme, feels a bit generic about being tired of city life. The quite catchy ‘When’ was written by Robert Ellis Orrall and Gilles Godard, and Ricky Skaggs recorded it the following year on his album Solid Ground.

‘Jayney’ is a pleasant pop-country ballad written by Johnny Nestor, a little more interesting than the frankly dull ‘A Good Place To Be’, a Rory Michael Bourke/Charlie Black ballad about satisfaction with one’s life, without much energy or passion.

It’s still easy to find, but I would recommend digitally cherrypicking the best tracks.

Grade: C

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Step Right Up 1970-1979: A Critical Anthology’

George had become disillusioned with Pappy Daily’s business practices. His marriage to Tammy Wynette in 1969 encouraged him to make the momentous decision to move to her label Epic, and to co-opt her producer Billy Sherrill. George was forced to buy himself out of his Musicor contract, but it was money well spent, even though his chart record remained somewhat inconsistent. George’s move to Epic saw him at the peak of his vocal prowess, married to Billy Sherrill’s smooth, Nashville Sound production.

This superb compilation contains six of George’s last tracks for Musicor, and over 20 of the finest tracks he recorded in his first eight years on Epic. These were the years of his troubled marriage to and divorce from Tammy Wynette, and the years his intensifying battles with drugs and alcohol earned him the inglorious nickname ‘No Show Jones’ and saw his health break down, but in the studio George Jones was creating magic and leading up to what many will call his finest moment on record. Step Right Up mixes classic hits with some well-chosen lesser known album cuts. The material is almost uniformly great here, concentrating on the sad songs at which George Jones has always excelled. Vocally George does not put a foot wrong, although some aspects of the production, mainly the backing vocals, now sound a little dated. The only reason to debate whether this album is worth buying is whether you might not try to get hold of the constituent albums, at least some of which are available on CD reissues.

George’s first single of the 70s, as he approached the end of his time with Musicor, was ‘Where Grass Won’t Grow’, a bleak, echoey tale of rural poverty in Tennessee,

Trying to grow corn and cotton on ground so poor that grass won’t grow

culminating in the death of the protagonist’s wife, buried in that same soil. The song, written by George’s old friend and drinking partner Earl Montgomery, was perhaps too downbeat to chart higher than the lower reaches of the top 30, but its quality led it to become regarded as a classic Jones record.

The exquisite expression of emotional devastation in ‘A Good Year For The Roses’ (written by Jerry Chestnut) is one of George’s most masterly vocal performances, reaching #2 on Billboard.

A handful of less well-known late Musicor cuts are also included. The tender steel-laced ballad of love for the protagonist’s motherless child, ‘She’s Mine’, co-written by George with Jack Ripley, was a top 10 hit. Slightly less successful, peaking at #13, was a great Dallas Frazier/Sanger D Shafer composition ‘Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong’, in which George manfully tries to pretend everything’s alright and his wife isn’t cheating on him, unusually featuring the Jones Boys’ backing. Another Dallas Frazier song (this time with A L Owens), ‘She’s As Close As I Can Get To Loving You’, has another great lead vocal, but is marred by excessive Nashville Sound backing vocals. Wayne Kemp’s ballad ‘Image Of Me’ has the protagonist confessing his shame that he has “dragged down” a simple old-fashioned country girl and made her into a honky-tonk angel, with another very fine vocal performance. Earl Montgomery’s ‘Right Won’t Touch A Hand’, a passionate confession of regret for jealousy which destroyed a relationship, was yet another top 10 hit in 1971.

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Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Complicated’

TanyaTuckerComplicatedRainy walks, a midnight talk, dance me on your feet
Hold me close, don’t let go, all I’ll ever need
Is a single rose, a kiss hello, that smile upon your face
The tender way, you say my name takes my breath away
Little things

The first single released from Tanya Tucker’s 1997 album, Complicated, was the romantic ‘Little Things’ which finds the singer appreciating all the small things her man does for her like walking with her in the rain and making her laugh.  It climbed to the #9 position on the country charts and is Tucker’s last appearance in the top 10 to date.  A second single and my favorite from the album was ‘Ridin’ Out the Heartache’. The tune is another of the countless ‘leaving in a car’ songs that dotted the country charts a decade ago.  This catchy tune about driving south in a ’66 Chevrolet stalled at #45 and no subsequent singles were released.  Despite being one the top 10-played artists on country radio in 1996, the next would prove to be Tanya’s last successful year with radio.

It’s worth mentioning that Tanya sued Capitol Records in 1998 for $300,000.  The suit – which reportedly began when Capitol refused to finance a music video for the second single – centered on the label’s lack of promotion for the album and accused the label of focusing all its efforts on another artist.  The suit never named the other artist, but Garth Brooks had just the year before orchestrated a takeover at the label, ousting long-time chief Scott Hendricks for Pat Quigley, said to be hand-picked by Brooks.  Tucker also asked to be let out of her contract with Capitol.

In Tanya’s defense, she did turn in a quality album to the label, plenty worth promoting.  Just after the first two tracks, which are the two singles, comes the melancholy ‘It Hurts Like Love’.  This is followed by the swinging ‘I Don’t Believe That’s How You Feel’, written by Harlan Howard and Kostas, it’s a forgive-me number done up in Cajun style.  ‘By The Way’ makes use of the double-entendre.  The verses begin each statement with ‘by the way’ using the phrase as a opening to each observation.  Then in the chorus, it’s used to tell how the singer assures her man she knows he loves her ‘by the way you smile’.

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Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Soon’


Continuing with our Tanya Tucker coverage, this review was written by a guest contributor, Michael, who is also a frequent commenter here at My Kind of Country.

When I was a boy, my mom and I scored front row seats to a Tanya Tucker concert but she cancelled the show.  My mother never forgave her, and I won’t tell you the name she still uses to refer to Tucker today, but I couldn’t stay mad at Tanya for long after purchasing this CD. In fact, along with Martina McBride’s The Way That I Am, Soon was one of the very first CDs I ever bought. A twelve-year-old’s well spent allowance money at Target became an investment that continues to pay off today

This was six years before Faith Hill was rolling around in the sheets for the music video to “Breathe” and long before Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles took on the role of a mistress that stands up for herself, there was “Soon”. In the summer of 1993 Tanya Tucker released the scandalous, racy video for the first single and title track of her upcoming album Soon. The steamy clip featured Tucker and her lover thrashing around in bed and was banned from daytime airings on CMT and TNN.  In fact, a search for the video on YouTube today requires age verification to watch it and be warned, it may still make you blush. Using the third person point-of-view, Tucker tells the story of a woman who has had a summer tryst with a married man. He has promised her that he will leave his wife soon but by Christmas he has still not followed through on his word and she spends the holiday alone. She finds no answer when she calls him and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, as a teenager, the chorus after this verse was featured on my outgoing answering machine message for awhile.

Soon, I can’t talk to you right now
Soon, you’ll hear a beep and you know how to play this game
Leave your number and your name
And I promise I’ll call back … soon

By the final verse our protagonist has a renewed sense of strength and independence and has turned the tables on the man. Her New Year’s resolution is to make herself unavailable to him when he calls or comes by. Tucker’s voice conveys the heartache of what should be an unlikable character’s story and makes her sympathetic. “Soon” peaked at number two on the Billboard charts and none of Tucker’s singles in the in the 16 years since its release has reached a higher summit.

The second single released from the album was “We Don’t Have To Do This”. It just missed the top 10, stalling at number 11. The lush ballad is about a breakup that could have never been predicted at the beginning of the relationship. However, Tucker wonders if saying goodbye is even necessary at all. She gives one last emotional plea to save the relationship from their pride. Should all of the time, energy and effort they have put into it be in vain? Breakups are almost always messy. When is something worth fighting for and when is it time to let it go? Even when ending it is the right thing to do, it can still hurt. There may be relief but it could be clouded with a sense of failure. When it’s over, all we can do is hang onto our memories of the good times. Tucker sings with such passion that it makes me root for her and in the end, I hope they didn’t say goodbye.

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Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Tennessee Woman’

TanyaTuckerTennesseeWomanReleased in March 1990, Tennessee Woman was another consistent album which sustained Tanya’s run at the top, marrying together commercial radio-friendly appeal with artistic merit. Jerry Crutchfield was at the helm once more for another good selection of sassy pop-country and sensitive ballads.

The energetic mid-tempo first single, ‘Walkin’ Shoes’, written by Emmylou Harris’s ex-husband Paul Kennerley, falls into the former category. It is more about vibe than lyrical depth, although there are a couple of good lines, as Tanya shows off her independent side, leaving the guy who doesn’t treat her right, wearing her punning “it’s-all-overcoat” as well as the titular “walking shoes”. It was perfect for radio, and yet another top 5 hit for Tanya (#3 on Billboard).

The next single, ‘Don’t Go Out’, teamed Tanya up with the raspy-voiced, blues-influenced T Graham Brown, who combines very well with Tanya. The song was written by Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd, who had recorded the song themselves (as ‘Don’t Go Out With Him’). Reworking the song as a duet gives it a new dimension, as both Tanya and her duet partner swap lines warning each other against dating someone else. It is not a traditional country record by any means, but is still very good, and reached #5 on Billboard.

Also doing well on radio was ‘It Won’t Be Me’, another almost playful song about a painful lesson Tanya just won’t face up to, written by Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters:
“To see her fall apart would be more than I could bear
I’m just too close to that girl in the mirror there
Somebody’s got to tell her, she’s got to let him go –
But it won’t be me”

With the final single release from the album, the label turned to the anguished reproach of ‘Oh What It Did To Me’, a more traditional country waltz. My personal favorite of the singles, although it was the least successful, just missing the top 10, it is an excellent song written by producer Jerry Crutchfield, as the protagonist is betrayed by a cheating spouse trying to sweep it all under the carpet:
“You say when she held you, it did nothing to you,
But oh, what it did to me!
You say when she kissed you, you didn’t feel a thing,
But I felt enough for all three”

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Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Strong Enough To Bend’

TanyaTuckerStrongEnoughtoBendTanya’s third release for Capitol, in 1988, showed no signs of a creative or commercial slowdown, even though she finally admitted that year that she had alcohol and cocaine addictions, and went into rehab.

Strong Enough To Bend is one of my favorite Tanya Tucker albums. Produced as before by Jerry Crutchfield, it features some very good songs, and shows Tanya at her best vocally. She commits 100% even to the less stellar material. For some reason it was recorded in the Bahamas, but the usual top Nashville session musicians were imported to play on the record.

The title track and lead-off single, written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Don Schlitz, was a charming piece comparing a lasting relationship to a tree which bends in the wind instead of breaking:
“Sway with the wind ’til the storm is gone
Like a tree out in the back yard
That never has been broken by the wind
Our love will last forever
If we’re strong enough to bend.”

It is the kind of song which might sound sappy performed by a more sentimental singer, but Tanya tackles it briskly enough to let the message sound rooted in experience. It was to be Tanya’s last #1 hit.

Tanya took a completely different approach in the track which was picked to follow it on the charts, the positively raunchy ‘Highway Robbery’. This semi-novelty song has Tanya stopped from speeding and claiming the (perfectly good) excuse that she was doing it only so she could hunt down the hot blue-eyed guy who “stole my heart from a moving car” when he passed her some miles back down the road. “He oughta do time in my arms for what he’s done”, she claims, evidently to no effect, as by the fadeout at the end of the song she’s abandoned him in favor of making eyes at the (lucky?) patrolman. The story is entertaining if silly, but too heavily produced for my taste, but was a big (#2) hit. Also successful despite being very over-produced was my least favorite track, the boring and pop-sounding ‘Call On Me’, which reached #4.

The final single released from the album, the touching ‘Daddy And Home’, was less successful, but is actually the highlight of the album. Altough it is not typical of Tanya’s best-known material, it is one of her finest moments artistically. It is a beautifully restrained and tender take on an old Jimmie Rodgers classic about homesickness and a child’s love for an aging father, which Tanya dedicated to her own father, a major influence on her career.

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Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Girls Like Me’

girlslikemeIn 1982, Tanya Tucker left MCA Records and signed as the new flagship artist for Arista Records, which was trying to break into the country market. There were no other country artists on the label at the time, and Arista had no infrastructure in Nashville, so it was poorly equipped to market country music. The album, 1982’s Changes, was a commercial failure, producing only one top ten hit, “Feel Right”. Two subsequent singles failed to crack the top 20, and Tanya Tucker disappeared from the country charts.

After a three-year hiatus from recording, and now without a record deal, Tucker was ready to get back in the game, only to find that her partying lifestyle, and her highly publicized abusive relationship with Glen Campbell from a few years earlier, had taken their toll on her reputation. No one in Nashville wanted to have anything to do with her. Even Billy Sherrill, the man who had discovered her, refused to help.

Fortunately for Tanya, Jerry Crutchfield, who had produced some of her early albums for MCA, was willing to help her obtain a new recording contract. Mercury Records was willing to offer her a contract but was unwilling to provide a sufficient budget to make a first-rate album. Crutchfield fared better when he approached Capitol Records. After a lot of persuading and negotiating, Tanya was signed to a contract with Capitol, but it was only a one album deal. This was the album that would make or break her career.

Fate was on Tucker’s side, because the album that resulted from this contract was 1986’s Girls Like Me, which revived Tanya’s career and set the stage for her to become one of the top female acts in country music for the rest of the 1980s and 1990s.

Her first single for Capitol was “One Love At A Time”. It was radio friendly and her most solidly country single in years. Written by Paul Overstreet and Paul Davis, who would go on to write many more hits for her, it peaked at #3 on the Billboard country singles chart. The second single, “Just Another Love” written by Paul Davis, went all the way to #1. By now, everyone knew that Tanya Tucker was back. Two subsequent singles also made the top 10; “I’ll Come Back As Another Woman”, a tale of a woman who vows revenge on the man who jilted her, peaked at #2, while the beautiful ballad “It’s Only Over For You” reached #8.

This was one of those albums that contained a number of tracks that were strong enough to have been released to radio, and if the album had been released ten years later, it likely would have spawned more than four singles. “Fool, Fool Heart” is a ballad similar in style to “It’s Only Over For You” and “Somebody To Care” is similar in style to songs like “Love Me Like You Used To” and “Strong Enough To Bend”, which would become big hits for Tanya in the future.

For years, the title track was my least favorite song on the album, despite having been written by the extremely talented Matraca Berg and Ronnie Samoset. It tells the story of a woman who’s been disappointed in love more than a few times, and though she fears that “maybe love was never meant to be for girls like me”, she refuses to abandon hope altogether. It is the least country track on the album; the production is more contemporary and the song has a slightly bluesy feel to it. As a result, it always seemed to be a little out of place on this album. It wasn’t until I was listening to it again to prepare for this review that I began to appreciate what a well-written and beautifully crafted song this really is, even though it is not as catchy and radio-friendly as most of Tucker’s other work.

Though not traditional country, the album manages not to fall into the trap of heavy-handed production that marred so many other 80s releases, much to the credit of producer Jerry Crutchfield. Girls Like Me peaked at #20 on the Billboard country albums chart, and although it did not earn gold certification, it is one of the most important albums in Tucker’s catalog, because it reinvigorated her stagnant career. Without it, her career would have been over, and the country music landscape in the late 80s and the 90s would have been much different and not nearly as enjoyable.

Grade: A

Girls Like Me is out of print in CD form, but it can be purchased digitally at iTunes or Amazon.

Listen to Girls Like Me at Last FM.

Spotlight Artist: Tanya Tucker

tanyatucker12-x600Like most males of my generation, I had a serious schoolboy crush on Olivia Newton-John, but she was replaced rather quickly in my affections by Tanya Tucker. Nearly 30 years later, Tanya remains one of my very favorite country music performers, so I am pleased to announce that she is our spotlight artist for the month of June.

Tanya Denise Tucker was born on October 10, 1958 in Seminole, Texas. By the time she was 13, she had become a major country music star, having been signed to a Columbia Records recording contract by Billy Sherrill, and having reached the #6 position on Billboard’s country singles chart with her first outing, “Delta Dawn”.

Despite her tender age, Tucker became known for releasing what her future producer Jerry Crutchfield described as a series of “hot and sweaty” songs, tackling a variety of very adult topics, including mental illness, alcoholism, illegitimacy, rape, and murder. A switch to MCA Records in 1975 resulted in material with less heavy themes, but despite some initial success, it also marked the beginnings of a series of personal problems and a career decline.

By the mid-1980s, she had been written off as a has-been. Her credibility was in tatters and she was without a recording contract when Jerry Crutchfield persuaded a very reluctant Jim Fogelsong, Director of A&R at Capitol Records, to give Tanya one more chance. Tanya proved that she could still deliver the goods when “One Love At A Time”, her first single for Capitol, peaked at #3 on the Billboard chart in 1986. She remained a fixture at the top of the charts and on the Capitol Nashville roster through the late 1990s.

Today, Tanya Tucker is one of a very small group of performers who can lay claim to have had chart success spanning four decades. On June 30th, Saguaro Road Records will release My Turn , her first album in seven years. I hope you’ll join us as we look back at the career highs and lows, and the triumphs and missteps of this very interesting living legend and country music icon.