My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jerry Laseter

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘All I Want’

Once Tim had made his commercial breakthrough, he was able to be a little more adventurous with his third album in 1995. This marks the point at which one can call Tim McGraw an artist rather than just a singer. The song quality was good, but the production (orchstrated as before by James Stroud and Byron Gallimore) lacks subtlety and leans a little too heavily to electric guitars front and center. Although sales were less than for its predecessor, Tim had found a firm place on country radio, as evidenced by five top 5 singles, two of them #1s.

Lead single, the silly but somehow irresistibly catchy ditty ‘I Like It, I Love It’ (complete with a nod to the Big Bopper), was Tim’s third #1. It also had some pop airplay. The singalong nature of the song for once makes crowd noise acceptable. This song should probably fall in the guilty pleasure category, but I don’t even feel guilty about it.

The rather good emotional string-laden ballad ‘Can’t Be Really Gone’, written by Gary Burr, fell just short, peaking at #2. Tim is not one of the best vocalists around, but this is one of his better efforts, with a real emotional commitment to this song about a man in denial about the permanence of his wife’s leaving. Title track ‘All I Want Is A Life’ is an up-tempo rocker without much melody and with too-loud and now dated sounding production, but a relatable lyric about struggling with poverty and aspirations for something more. It was the least successful of the album’s singles, but still peaked at #5.

Also a bit heavily produced but less obtrusively so, ‘She Never Lets It Go To Her Heart’ was another chart-topper, written by the hitmaking team of Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters. The mid-tempo ‘Maybe We Should Just Sleep On It’ (written by Jerry Laseter and Kerry Kurt Phillips) also did well, peaking at #4. These two are okay but not outstanding, and there was better material on the album, such as the relatively understated ballad ‘The Great Divide’, written by Brett Beavers. This is a very good depiction of a couple trapped in a tired marriage, who would rather pay attention to their respective book and TV show than one another. There is still hope their love can be rekindled.

‘I Didn’t Ask And She Didn’t Say’ is a nicely observed song, written by Reese Wilson, Van Stephenson and Tony Martin. Flight delays lead to an awkward encounter with a long-past ex, where the real questions remain unanswered. Tim’s voice has an urgency in it betraying the protagonist’s suppressed passion as he recalls past happiness, before they part with everything unresolved:

We said our goodbyes
Swore we’d stay in touch
Then we went our separate ways
Knowing no one ever does

‘When She Wakes Up (And Finds Me Gone)’ is another mature song with complex emotions which is well sung by Tim, but would have worked better for me with more stripped down production. The extended electric guitar solo at the end is excessive and adds nothing worthwhile. ‘Don’t Mention Memphis’ is another good song about a breakup, written by Bill LaBounty and Rand Bishop, but the rhythm is abit jerky and the track is over-produced. The impassioned ‘You Got The Wrong Man’ is also quite entertaining if rather processed sounding, as Tim tries to persuade a woman burnt by love before that he isn’t like the man who broke her heart.

Then there are a couple of real missteps. ‘Renegade’ is a boring rocker with Tim unconvincing as a rebel. ‘That’s Just Me’ is a southern/country boy pride number written by Deryl Dodd which sounds musically a little like a slightly slower ‘Indian Outlaw’. Dodd recorded it himself a couple of years later when making his Columbia Records debut.

Overall, the material selected here was a major advance for Tim McGraw, but the production choices are less palatable. Tim had found his musical direction, and if it was a long way from the traditionalism of his first album, it held a lot of appeal for country radio and cemented his fanbase. Triple platinum sales meant this was not quite as successful as its predecessor, but it is a better, more mature work. Better still, from Tim’s point of view, while topuring in support of the album, he fell in love with opening act Faith Hill, and by the time his next album came out he would be a husband and father.

Used copies are available very cheaply.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Not a Moment Too Soon’

If Tim McGraw’s debut album, with its three under-performing singles were released in the current decade, we would not likely hear from him again for another five years. But in the 90s, even Curb artists cranked out albums on a regular basis. Not a Moment Too Soon, Tim’s sophomore effort appeared eleven months after its predecessor, and marked the beginning of his commercial success, thanks in no small part to its controversial lead single.

“Indian Outlaw” is not a great song, but it does feature some mean fiddle-playing, reminiscent of of Charlie Daniels, which helped it to stand out from the pack. But it was the song’s lyrics, said to be demeaning to Native Americans, that offended those who make it a point to get offended by this sort of thing. Though some radio stations refused to play it, the controversy brought the single invaluable publicity, and propelled it into the Top 10 where it peaked at #8, and also earned it gold certification in an era when country singles rarely sold in the hundreds of thousands. The lyrics are inane, to be sure, but are firmly tongue-in-cheek, and the melody itself is rather catchy. To their credit, McGraw and Curb stood their ground and refused to back down to those who demanded that the single be pulled from the airwaves. The record stuck its finger right in the eye of the PC crowd, and for that reason alone I was pleased to see it succeed.

Unfortunately, “Indian Outlaw” was followed by “Don’t Take The Girl”, which managed to climb all the way to #1 despite being one of the era’s most annoying songs. Its contrived and overly sentimental lyrics and McGraw’s exaggerated twang grate on the ears. I always thought that Tim’s delivery sounded inauthentic in those days — one could say he was the Jennifer Nettles of that era — and the gradual disappearance of his twang over the years confirms this suspicion. Fortunately, the remaining three singles were much better. “Down on the Farm” written by Jerry Laseter and Kerry Kurt Phillips is not a cover of the Charley Pride tune from 1985. It’s a generic and somewhat forgettable tune that had the advantage of being released before rural pride anthems began to rule the airwaves. It just missed the top spot, peaking at #2. I quite like the remaining two singles, the title track which became Tim’s second #1 hit and “Refried Dreams” which reached #5.

Outside of the singles, there isn’t much else of interest here, just generic filler, the best of which is “Give It To Me Strait” a tribute of sorts to George Strait, though I have my doubts that he ever really one of Tim’s musical heroes. Still, the lyrics are entertaining:

Give it to me Strait, sing ‘Am I Blue’ while I sit here and cry
And tell my how my baby’s gotten so good at goodbye
It’s going to take a fireman to put this old flame out
So come on, give it to me Strait before I come unwound

There ain’t one country singer
That ain’t good for a a bad heartache
And for me there’s nothing smoother
Than a good stiff shot of Strait.

Guess this was before Tim became enamored with Def Leppard, Nelly, and Ne-Yo.

Not a Moment Too Soon went on to sell six million copies and was named Album of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in 1994. It is available at bargain prices at Amazon.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Gary Alan – ‘Smoke Rings In The Dark’

Gary’s label, Decca, folded in 1998, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for his career. Gary, together with the majority of his labelmates (which included Lee Ann Womack and Mark Chesnutt), were transferred to sister label MCA. That meant a change in producer. Mark Wright remained on board, but Byron Hill was relegated to associate producer, with the experienced Tony Brown taking charge. He helped bring a smoother, more commercial sound, with a more layered production and the use of strings. Radio success continued to be mixed, but sales were good, and Smoke Rings In The Dark, released in October 1998, became Gary’s first platinum album.

The outstanding title track, released as the first single, only reached #12 on Billboard, but is one of Gary’s best-remembered hits. Written by Rivers Rutherford and Houston Robert, it marked a stylistic development for Gary heralded by the previous album’s ‘Baby I Will’. It sounds dreamy and sexy, belying a pain-filled lyric about the dying embers of a relationship:

I’ve tried to make you love me
You’ve tried to find a spark
Of the flame that burned
But somehow turned to
Smoke rings in the dark

The loneliness within me
Takes a heavy toll
Cause it burns as slow as whiskey
Through an empty aching soul
And the night is like a dagger
Long and cold and sharp
As I sit here on the front steps
Blowing smoke rings in the dark

I’m not gonna wake you
I’ll go easy on your heart
I’ll just touch your face and drift away
Like smoke rings in the dark

This is one of Gary’s finest moments on record and by far the best track on the album.

His inconsistent streak with radio persisted, as the follow-up, the intense Jamie O’Hara-penned ‘Lovin’ You Against My Will’ stagnated in the 30s. While it is a good song with a slow burning appeal, it lacks melodic interest and the vocals sound a little processed.

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