My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jerry Kilgore

Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Stronger Than The Truth’

Back in the 1980s Reba McEntire was the leading female neo-traditionalists as well as the best selling female artist of her generation. Then around the time of her second marriage, to music industry executive Narvel Blackstock, her music began to take a more contemporary turn, one which became more pronounced as the 90s wore on. It brought her a new fanbase and enormous sales, but many of her older or more traditional-leaning fans regretted her choices.

Then a couple of years ago, after Reba’s marriage came to an end she chose to make a wonderful album of religious material, much of which harked back to older times. Now her first studio album is=n several years shows a definite return to traditional country sounds. It has been vaunted her her most country album ever, which I would disagree with – 1984’s My Kind Of Country, whose name inspired this very blog, and 1987’s The Last One To Know, would both fit that description better. But it is undoubtedly a country album, and a very good one, produced by the estimable Buddy Cannon.

For a start, Reba calls on her Oklahoma roots with two fabulous Western Swing number. Opening track ‘Swing All Night With You’ was written by Jon Randall and Sidney Cox, and is a true dancefloor delight. She wrote the equally charming ‘No U In Oklahoma’ herself with Ronnie Dunn and Donna McSpadden.

Many of the songs are slow sad ones. Jonathan has already reviewed the lead single and title track, a subtle song about heartbreak written by Reba’s nice Autumn McEntire and Hannah Blaylock. ‘Tammy Wynette Kind Of Pain’ was written by Brandy Clark, Mark Narmore and Shelley Skidmore, and is another devastating depiction of a broken heart set to a traditional country soundtrack:

‘Standing by your man’
That’s a broken plan
When he breaks your heart and all your trust
With his two cheatin’ hands
So it’s ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’
And you don’t want him to see you cryin’
So you’re ‘crying in the rain’
And this is Tammy Wynette
We’re talkin’ Tammy Wynette kind of pain

There’s a sky full of tears in every single note
And every single word is wine and whiskey soaked
So I guess it’s me and her together in this alone
‘Til I can make it on my own’

Also reflecting on a failed marriage, but from the point of view of the husband, is ‘In His Mind’, which was written by Liz Hengber and Tommy Lee James based on Reba’s idea.

In ‘The Bar’s Getting Lower’, written by Kellys Collins, Erin Enderlin, Liz Hengber and Alex Kline, the unhappy protagonist settles for a one night stand when old dreams of marriage and family haven’t been realised:

Her dreams are disappearin’ like smoke from his cigarette
She hasn’t said yes but she’s thinkin’ she might
The closer it gets to closing time
A lonely heart will take a pick-up line
Anything to get her through the night

‘Cactus In A Coffee Can’ is a heartwrenching story song written by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin, and previously recorded by Jerry Kilgore and Melonie Cannon. Reba’s version is superb, and the arrangement has a mournful feel as we hear the story of a young woman who has been reunited with the drug addict and prostitute mother who gave her up at birth, just before the latter’s death. This might be the highlight of an excellent group of songs.

Another ballad, but a little more sophisticated AC in its feel, ‘The Clown’ is a beautifully detailed story about the horrifying moment of finding out her marriage is over in public, and having to keep a brave face on it. It was written by Dallas Davidson, Hillary Lindsey and James Slater.

The minor-keyed ‘Your Heart’, written by Kellys Collins, has a classical Spanish guitar accompaniment and is atmospheric and moody. Reba sings it beautifully, but it isn’t really a country song.

A couple of more commercial contemporary up-tempo songs are well performed if less to my personal taste, and may be included to appeal to Reba’s younger fans and possibly with an eye on radio play. ‘Storm In A Shot Glass’ is quite catchy in a 90s pop country way. ‘Freedom’ is more of a rock ballad rejoicing over finding love.

The album closes with the gentle piano-led ‘You Never Gave Up On Me’, dedicated to Reba’s late mother.

While not quite as traditional as one might have been led to believe from the publicity, this is definitely the best thing Reba has released in decades. It is highly recommended, and a strong contender already for album of the year.

Grade: A+

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Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Live, Laugh, Love’

live laugh loveAs the 90s drew to an end, Clay stopped working with former producer James Stroud. His blandly titled 1999 album was co-produced by the artist with Doug Johnson, and saw the artist moving in a more R&B direction.

Lead single ‘She’s Always Right’ (written by Lonestar’s Richie McDonald with Ed Hill and Phil Barnhart) is a rather bland contemporary ballad about a happy marriage. Clay sings it soulfully, but the song isn’t at all memorable. It reached #16 on the Billboard country chart. The theme is repeated later on the album with the very similar ‘Woman Thing’, written by Larry Boone, Tracy Lawrence and Paul Nelson.

The beachy title track was a little more successful, peaking just outside the top 10. Written by Gary Nicholson and Allen Shamblin, it has Caribbean instrumentation and a syncopated vocal which haven’t worn well.

The album’s biggest hit at #3, ‘The Chain Of Love’, written by Rory Lee Feek and Jonnie Barnett, marked returned to more conventional country territory. The warm hearted story song offers a sweet tale of kindness from strangers.

The self penned big ballad ‘Once In A Lifetime Love’ wasn’t really a country song, and although Clay sings it well, at the turn of the millennium that was still enough to deny it any chart action when it was the album’s last single. Clay and his co-writer Jason Greene also contributed the pleasant but dull ‘Lose Some Sleep Tonight’ and the disastrously ill-judged ‘Cold Hearted’, a feeble attempt at an R&B song which falls completely flat.

‘This Time Love’ is a soul-drenched ballad which is okay on its own terms, but has nothing to do with country music.

‘If A Man Ain’t Thinking (‘Bout His Woman)’, written by Buddy Brock, Debi Cochran and Jerry Kilgore, on the other hand, is a country song, and very good. The mid-paced ‘It Ain’t Called Heartland (For Nothin’)’ is also quite enjoyable.

The best song is a cover of Earl Thomas Conley’s ‘Holding Her And Loving You’. Clay doesn’t bring anything new, but he sings it with emotion.

Clay sings with great commitment and enthusiasm on this album, but not much of it can really be classified as country. Listeners with more eclectic tastes may like this better than I did.

Grade: C-

Album Review: Johnny Lee – ‘You Ain’t Never Been To Texas’

you aint never been to texasIt has been many years since Johnny Lee has released an entire album of new material. Born in 1946 in Texas City, Texas, Johnny was a good journeyman county singer playing the honky-tonks of his native Texas, with moderate recording success for GRT records between 1976- 1978 with five charting singles, with Johnny’s “Country Party” (a country cover of Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party”) reaching #15. Along the way Johnny became friend with Mickey Gilley and worked Mickey Gilley, on tour and at Gilley’s Club in Pasadena, Texas. The soundtrack from the 1980 hit movie Urban Cowboy, which was largely shot at Gilley’s, catapulted Lee to fame. The record spawned several hit singles, including Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love.”

In addition to “Lookin’ for Love”, Lee had five songs reach the top of the Billboard country singles chart: “One In A Million” (1980), “Bet Your Heart On Me” (1981), “The Yellow Rose” (1984), and “You Could Have Heard A Heartbreak” (1984). His other major hits include “Pickin’ Up Strangers” (1981), “Prisoner of Hope” (1981), “Cherokee Fiddle”, “Sounds Like Love”, “Hey Bartender” (1983), “Rollin’ Lonely”, and “Save The Last Chance” (1985).

The top twenty hits ceased at the end of 1985 but Johnny had some additional smaller hits through 1989, at which point he disappeared from the charts. Johnny continued to tour and as his hit recordings fell out of print, we occasionally released new recordings of his older hits with some newer material mixed in.

Johnny’s new album has a decidedly country album with a few songs having a distinct western swing feel to it, with Mike Johnson & Scotty Sanders on steel guitar and Brent Mason on lead guitar and an unacknowledged fiddle player.

“Lonesome Love List” is an up-tempo western swing number written by Wil Nance, Ted Hewitt and Jerry Kilgore, that I think would make a good single.

Next up is the Rafe Van Hoy composition” What’s Forever For”, a song that Michael Martin Murphey took to #1 in 1982. Johnny Lee’s version compares favorably to Murphey’s version.

“Who’s Left, Who’s Right” is country ballad written by Bill White and Allen Ross. It’s a bit moralistic but still a nice country ballad.

“Deep Water” is a classic western swing number, written by Bob Wills and successfully covered many times by such classic singers as Carl Smith and Gene Watson. Buddy Hyatt plays some classic swing piano.

“Never Been To Texas” was written by Roger Springer Tony Raymee & Jerry Lane. The song extols the virtues of Texas. The song has a solid seventies-eighties production.

“Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” was a 1973 hit for the great Ray Price, Ray’s last #1 record. Johnny is not Ray Price but his version holds up well. The song was written by Jim Weatherly and later poached by Gladys Knight & The Pips who took it to #1 on the R&B charts.

“Good Lovin’ Woman Bad” was written by Bill White, Mark Morton and Gary Lloyd – it sounds like a song that could have been a hit in the mid-1980s.

“Wish That I Could Love That Way Again” was co-written by Johnny Lee and Tony Raymee, Johnny’s only writing credit on the album. If Brooks & Dunn ever reunite to record another album they should cover this song.

“2 Steps From The Blues”, written by Don D. Robey & John Riley Brown, finds Johnny invading T. Graham Brown territory, complete with horns.

Mel Besher and Bobby Taylor teamed up to write the nice ballad “Who Did You Love”.

“Bullets First” by Kelly Kerning and Tony Raymee is an anti-gun control song (“if you’re coming for my guns, I’ll give them to you bullets first”).

“Worth Watching” by Tony Raymee and Trey Matthew, recounts the moments in a life worth watching.

I would like this album more if Johnny had spent more time exploring western swing, but all of the cuts are country, all of the songs are good, and Johnny Lee is in good voice throughout.

A-

Classic Rewind: Jerry Kilgore – ‘Love Trip’

His top 40 hit from 1999:

Album Review: Jerry Kilgore – ‘Telephone, TX’

Jerry Kilgore enjoyed a short major label career just over a decade ago with the top 40 hit ‘Love Trip’ but is probably better known as co-writer of Tracy Byrd’s hit ‘Love Lessons’. His excellent 2007 self-release Loaded & Empty got him some attention, and has now been followed up with another fine record.

The steel-drenched production (by the artist with James Mitchell) has only fiddle missing from the pure country mix and is an aural delight with a relaxed Strait-style feel on much of the material. Jerry’s voice isn’t the most distinctive, but it is nice and he has mature, lovely phrasing. The songs were all written or co-written by Jerry, and are all pretty solid lyrically, while he has a great knack for writing melodies, and there is a good mix of moods and tempos.

It opens well with ‘Can’t Hide A Heartache’, an excellent song offering sympathy and hope for the future to a heartbroken woman. The advice is backed up by the personal experience given in the ensuing song, the mellow ‘Life Goes On’, about getting over someone, with time having done its healing job and the worst now well in the past.

‘Places To Go’ has a similar slow laid back and faintly melancholic feel and insidiously attractive melody, portraying a restless drifter not quite sure what he is ultimately looking for, as he admits he “might be looking for something that just can’t be found”. But he’s moving on anyway,

Cause I got places to go and people to leave
The highway is callin’ my name as we speak
I’m not one to quiet the call of the road, don’t you know?

Brother and sister duo Nicole and Jonathan Broussard sing backing vocals.

Randy Kohrs provides backing vocals on ‘Leavin’ Feelin’’, another tale of a serial leaver who gets a “cold lonesome feeling” whenever permanency is on offer, set to a lovely tune with plenty of steel guitar. Elsewhere, we learn the perils of sticking around after breaking someone’s heart, especially living in a small town where ‘Everybody Knows Me’, not to mention the girl. The mournful ‘The Truth’ looks at the reasons behind a breakup:

People will believe what they want to
No matter what you say or do
There’s three sides to every story
Your side, my side and the truth

‘If Ya Wanna Keep Your Beer Cold’ is a sardonic honky tonker, warning against a beautiful woman in a bar:

She’s the coolest woman that I’ve ever seen
That good looking woman’s only good for one thing
You shoulda kept your distance
Cause she tore you all apart
If ya wanna keep your beer cold
Put it next to her heart

Don’t need no cooler
Don’t need no Frigidaire
No ice is necessary long as she’s near

A similar jaundiced mood appears in the amusing irony of ‘Born Rich’:

How in the world did he get her?
A strange little dude with a beautiful girl
Bet his daddy’s got money
Bought him the car that he drives
Bank account the size of Texas gets ‘em every time

Here’s a guy like me sittin’ here all alone
Hell, I can barely pay my bar tab
Got nobody I’m takin’ home
But I caught her lookin’ at me
While she’s a-hangin’ all over him
Who’s she tryin to fool?
We all know what it is
Wish I had been born rich
Instead of so damn good lookin’

I keep holding out hope that some day I will find
A looker of my own looking for a leading man type
Somebody who’ll want me for my body and not my billfold
Until she comes along I’ll feed my own ego

Someone like Toby Keith could have a big hit with this song.

The enjoyable self-confident swingy ‘Do My Own Thing’ is about being comfortable with yourself even if it isn’t “the in thing”. ‘Ain’t On the Menu’ is a cute love letter to a waitress the bashful protagonist has had a crush on for the past year. ‘Right Where You Belong’ is a mellow love ballad set just after the couple have spent their first night together.

In ‘Cinnamon Bay’ the protagonist is ready for a change of scenery and invites his sweetheart along to a beach trip. It’s pleasant with a pretty melody, and while the lyric is nothing special, it’s nice to hear a beach song that actually sounds country.

The memorable title track is quite different from the rest of the record, a sexy southern gothic story song about an illicit affair with a married woman. Jerry growls it out, using the lowest part of his vocal register, and giving ist a sense of urgency and impending doom, although the secret is still in the bag as we end the song.

Gonna Telephone, Texas, just as fast I can
There’s a woman who’s down there with too much time on her hands
Sure as death and taxes she’s in need of a man
I only know I gotta get there
Before she gets out of hand…

Leavin’ Telephone, TX, just as fast as I can
Keepin’ love under cover
Feelin’ guilty as sin
Leavin Telephone, TX, as she’s sneakin back in
Never know just how long til she’s callin’ again

I enjoyed this record a lot, and it’s worth checking out. You can sample it via Youtube.

Grade: B+

Songs about adoption

Lisa as babyI was adopted as a baby, and because of that the subject has always drawn me in fiction. In fact I’ve read some really bad books and watched some bad TV purely because of the topic. One of the things I appreciate most in country music is the range of topics it covers, and I feel inspired to bring together some of the best songs I’ve heard over the years on the subject of adoption.

Actually, one area that seems a bit lacking is songs about the experience of the adopted child. One of the few that does start from that point is Jeff Bates’ autobiographical ‘Rainbow Man’, title track of his 2003 debut album. Although the song goes on to talk about race and the American melting pot, I definitely identify with Jeff’s questioning of his identity.

Moving on to adulthood, I love the story song ‘Cactus In A Coffee Can’, a delicately realized third-person tale of a plane encounter with a young woman who has been reunited with a drug-addict birth mother just before the mother’s death. I first heard it ten years ago from Jerry Kilgore on his Love Trip album on the short-lived Virgin country imprint, and it was beautifully revived by the excellent Melonie Cannon on her most recent album, And The Wheels Turn. You can check both versions out on last.fm. There’s also a version available by Steve Seskin, who co-wrote the song with Allen Shamblin, where his more fragile vocals add a certain vulnerability.

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