My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jessi Colter

The 10 best reissues of 2011

I probably spent more money on reissues of old music this year than I did on new music, although I purchased lots of new music. Here is my list of the best reissues of 2011 – just one man’s opinion, listed in no particular order.  No fellow travelers such as Americana, just real country music (at least in my top ten).

 

JESSI COLTER – I’M JESSI COLTER / DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

The Australian label Raven, has issued a number of American country music albums, usually in the form of two-fers. Here Raven presents two albums from the talented Jessi Colter, mother of modern day artist Shooter Jennings and widow of legendary performer Waylon Jennings. While Jessi wasn’t the most prolific recording artist and is actually well served by several of the anthologies available, it is nice to have two of her Capitol albums available, as she originally conceived them.

Her first album for Capitol Records, I’M JESSI COLTER (1975), spawned the #1 Country / #5 Pop hit “I’m Not Lisa” and the follow-up hit “What’s Happened To Blue Eyes”. The album was produced by Waylon Jennings, and features many of the musicians who played on his albums (Reggie Young, Weldon Myrick, Ritchie Albright, Jim Gordon ) but no one would ever mistake the arrangements as anything that would ever appear on a Waylon album, as he deftly tailors the production to fit his bride’s  individual talents. An early take on “Storms Never Last” minus Waylon, is my favorite track on the album. DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH (1976) wasn’t quite as successful reaching #4 on the Country chart and yielding the hits “I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name” (No.29 Country) and “You Hung the Moon (Didn’t You Waylon?)”. The title track “Diamond in the Rough” gives Jessi a chance to stretch and show her blues sensibilities.

This set includes a nice and informative booklet and three bonus tracks from a later Capitol album. If you have no Jessi Colter in your collection, this is a good starting point. Read more of this post

Randy finds religion: the Christian albums of Randy Travis

Randy’s second and last effort for DreamWorks, the uninspired and over-produced A Man Ain’t Made Of Stone, fell pretty flat both artistically and commercially. Perhaps in response to that, the new millennium saw a major change. He returned to the Warner group for his first religious album (released on Word/Warner Brothers/Curb), Inspirational Journey, in 2000. Surprisingly what appeared at the time to be a one-off detour turned into a whole new career for him.

Kyle Lehning returned to the producer’s chair, and this is basically Christian country music of a very high quality. Randy sounds very sincere and is in great voice throughout, and this is a fine collection which most country fans would enjoy if they can live with the subject matter.

‘Baptism’ (written by Mickey Cates is an atmospheric and affectionate picture of an east Texas river baptism, and is a highlight. Randy had previously guested on a duet version with Kenny Chesney on the latter’s Everywhere We Go; that version served principally to show how infinitely superior Randy’s voice was to Kenny’s. The solo version is better, with a gospel choir some way down in the mix. It was released as the album’s sole single, but barely charted.

My favorite is the traditional country plea to ‘Doctor Jesus’, laced with fiddle and steel, and previously recorded by the underrated Ken Mellons. Randy’s emotional vocal convincingly portrays a man at the bottom and in need of help from “the best healer around”.

Randy’s personal commitment to the project is reflected in the fact that he wrote three of the songs. The best of these is ‘The Carpenter’ (about Jesus) which he wrote with Chip Taylor and Ron Avis; the song features guest vocals from Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter and is very likeable. His other two compositions (the slow, churchy ‘I Am Going’ and ‘Walk With Me’ work less well for me. But even the lesser material like these songs, the opening ‘Shallow Water’ and the subdued ‘See Myself In You’ sound good. ‘Feet On The Rock’ is up-tempo churchy gospel which is quite enjoyable.

The insistent Ron Block song ‘Which Way Will You Choose’ is very catchy with dancing fiddle and a very strong vocal. ‘Drive Another Nail’ is an effective story song about a retired carpenter who sees the light. ‘Don’t Ever Sell Your Saddle’ (from the pens of Kim Tribble and Brian Whiteside) has a warm, nuanced vocal, and could easily have fitted on one of Randy’s secular albums, with its comforting collection of life advice from a father – advice the man didn’t always take himself. The album closes with a very slow take on the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, recorded in memory of Randy’s late mother and his father in law, but I feel the arrangement drags a bit.

While not a best-seller, the album did sufficiently well for Randy to decide to follow it up with another, which was to do rather better. 2002’s gold-certified Rise And Shine is notable for the inclusion of Randy’s last solo hit, the outstanding story song ‘Three Wooden Crosses’. Written by Doug Johnson and Kim Williams and masterfully interpreted, it was Randy’s first #1 in nine years, and was named CMA Song of the Year. It was not the start of a career resurgence, though, as the follow-up single, ‘Pray For the Fish’, a lively but rather slight tale of a river baptism, failed to crack the top 40.

Also excellent is the tender ‘Raise Her Up’, written by Robb Royer and Rivers Rutherford, which might perhaps have built on the success of ‘Three Wooden Crosses’ if it had been sent to radio. This is the voice of a fatherless boy who grows up to become loving stepfather to a similar child, comparing their story to that of Joseph and Jesus.

The Rory Lee/Paul Overstreet song ‘When Mama Prayed’ is a tenderly sung tribute to the power of prayer; the heroine’s prayers bring her irreligious husband and drunk son to see the light. It’s a nice take on an oft-told tale, and one which resonated with Randy given his past. Similarly, the deathbed-set ‘If You Only Knew’ is an unexceptional lyric lifted to a new level by Randy’s vocal although the string arrangement and choir-like backing vocals are a bit stifling. ‘Valley Of Pain’, written by Rob Mathes and Allen Shamblin, is a good depiction of someone holding on to their faith through a bad patch. ‘The Gift’, written by Phillip Moore and Ray Scott, is rather a nice Christmas song:

“On our Savior’s birthday
We got the gift”

Randy co-wrote six of the 13 songs. They are all perfectly listenable and clearly heartfelt, but not that memorable out of context. The best is the dark envisioning of the Second Coming in ‘Jerusalem’s Cry’, with Randy’s vocals at their most gravelly, although it is probably the least “country” track on the album.

There was also an accompanying DVD with a short (20 minute) documentary about Randy, who talks about horses, his wild youth and his religion, with Kyle Lehning also contributing. There are clips of Randy performing, in the studio, and a lot of him riding horses.

Worship & Faith in 2003 was a reverently sung collection of hymns, traditional spiritual songs and one or two modern worship songs, given an all-acoustic country production. I enjoy listening to it a great deal, but there isn’t anything here for the non-religious listener. One song which particularly stands out is ‘I’ll Fly Away’ thanks to Joy Lynn White’s distinctive harmonies, while John Anderson duets on a serious version of ‘Just A Closer Walk with Thee’. It did well, selling gold again.

Passing Through, released a year later, is actually not a religious record, and was billed as a return to secular music. However, it was still on Christian label Word in association with Curb and Warners, and had nothing on it likely to offend Christian music fans, and in fact won a Dove Award. Lead single ‘Four Walls’ is, unfortunately, not the country classic but an affectionate story of a rural family united in love. It is pleasant and well sung, but rather dull, and I can see why it didn’t spark at radio. It had been recorded back in 2001, together with several other songs included on the new album. ‘That Was Us’ (also recorded by Tracy Lawrence) fondly recalls a bunch of rural teenage delinquents who grow up to prove their hearts are in the right place, and might have gone down better at radio. ‘Pick Up The Oars And Row’, written by Jamie O’Hara, is a sympathetic song addressed to a woman let down by a lying man, which is very good. The subdued ‘My Daddy Never Was’ is an excellent slice of life written by Tony Lane, about a divorced man working hard to be “the daddy my daddy never was” and reflecting on his own failings; Randy’s voice cracks in places but this only suits the defeated mood of the song. Dennis Linde’s ‘Train Long Gone’ stands out with wailing harmonica and train sounds, but doesn’t quite work for me.

Of the newly recorded material, the overly sentimental and part-spoken ‘Angels’ (a tribute to mothers) was the second attempt at a single, and another mis-step. I much prefer ‘Running Blind’, written by Roger Ferris. At a truck stop in New Mexico, a cashier gives the narrator some salutary advice about heading back home to the girl left crying at home, set to a punchy rhythm and Charlie McCoy’s harmonica. The swingy ‘My Poor Old Heart’ (written by Shawn Camp and Gary Harrison) and the gently philosophical ‘Right On Time (from Al Anderson and Sharon Vaughn) are also pretty good. The album title comes from the fiddle-led ‘A Place To Hang My Hat’, written by Shawn Camp, Byron Hill and Brice Long, the only religious song. Randy wrote a couple of tender love ballads, ‘I’m Your Man’ with piano and steel in the foreground, and ‘I Can See It In Your Eyes’(a co-write with Matthew Hague), with heavenly harmony on the chorus from Liana Manis.

Sales of Passing Through were disappointing, and Randy turned to hardcore religious music with Glory Train. This is mainly religious numbers from a variety of American musical traditions, with a handful of contemporary church worship songs, and has the least country feel of any of Randy’s albums, although the fiddle is prominent on a number of tracks. His vocals still compel attention on the mainly up-tempo material (apart from a pointless version of ‘He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands’ which has nothing to interest the listener). Highlights include the title track, a black gospel classic from the 1930s given a country makeover with swirling fiddle and harmonica; a warm version of ‘Precious Memories’, a slowed-down take on ‘Were You There’, the insistent gospel of ‘Jesus On The Mainline’, ‘Oh Death’, and ‘Are You Washed In The Blood’. The Blind Boys of Alabama guest on two gospel tracks, and contemporary Christian group the Crabb Family on another. The least effective track is a pointless sing along of ‘He’s Go the Whole World In His Hands’.

Randy’s religious detour produced some fine music, even if it was a little frustrating for fans of his secular music. All these albums are easy to get hold of.

Grades:

Inspirational Journey: A
Rise And Shine: B+
Worship And Faith: A-
Passing Through: B+
Glory Train: B

The Blue Against The Grey: Remembering the Civil War

150 years ago today, Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina, marking the first military action in the bloodiest conflict in American history. From 1861 to 1865, the Civil War divided the nation, states and even family members, and its repercussions are still felt to the present day. It has been romanticized like no other era in US history — particularly in the South — having been the topic of countless novels, films and songs over the years. Country artists in particular have frequently commemorated it.

Johnny Cash, one of country music’s greatest storytellers, told of how the war divided families and pitted brother against brother when he offered up this medley in a 1969 installment of his ABC variety show:

The First Battle of Bull Run, fought on July 21, 1861 resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Union Army and quickly laid to rest any hopes harbored by either side that the conflict would be over quickly, as Johnny Horton recalled:


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Album Review: Aaron Watson – ‘The Road & The Rodeo’

Texas-based Aaron Watson is one of the best kept secrets of Texas country music, less Red Dirt and more what used to be mainstream country. His voice has a cracked warmth and character, and he is a talented songwriter to boot, writing most of the songs without outside assistance. Although I don’t feel the material here quite matches up to the best of his songs from previous efforts, it is generally very good. This album, Aaron’s tenth overall, was recorded mainly in Austin. I can’t see any producer credits, so assume Aaron filled that role himself.

The title track (written by Aaron with Mark Sissel) is just a minute-long introduction setting the scene and bringing in the themes of a life making music with a cowboy twist, all for love of music – “I don’t do it for the money, I can’t blame the fame”. This is the motif of the record. It segues straight into ‘The Road’, written by Elliot Park, a midtempo fiddle led warning not to mistake the route for the destination, voiced by a personification of the metaphorical road itself:

I’m a million miles before you
I’m a million miles behind
I’ll take you straight and narrow
I’ll ramble and I’ll wind
So curse my broken brimstone or kiss my bricks of gold
I’m not the reason
I’m just the road

The awkward phrase “knees and hands” (inserted thus to allow for a rhyme) jars a little, but this is a memorable song based on an arresting image.

The excellent closing track ‘After The Rodeo’ (the highlight of the album), written by Don Rollins and new Capitol/EMI artist Troy Olsen, tells the story of an over-the-hill cowboy contemplating retirement:

Does a shooting star miss the sky when it hits the ground?
And how long can a woman go on lovin’ you if you’re not around?
The years are flying faster now
So tell me how eight seconds feels so slow
And I wonder where old cowboys go after the rodeo

It is the road, though, that forms the principal focus. ‘The Things You’ll Do’ opens as an ebullient up-tempo look at life as at touring musician on the road, rough bars and bar fights, sleeping in vans and not getting paid are quenching his love for making music. The second verse translates the message to sacrifices made for love of a woman.

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Classic Rewind: Waylon Jennings & Jessi Colter – ‘Honky Tonk Angels’

CD Giveaway: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Outlaw’

Congratulations to:  Dee, Jake, Lorendasue, Adam, and Stephanie.  We’ll be contacting you shortly to get your shipping information.  Thanks for commenting everybody, and we hope you come back for our George Jones Spotlight all throughout August.

The Outlaw movement, which reached the peak of its popularity in the late 1970s, was a backlash against the then-prevalent Nashville Sound. The two most famous outlaws were Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, both Nashville veterans whose careers skyrocketed when they were given creative control, which they used to challenge the conventional wisdom of the day. Other famous outlaws included David Allan Coe, Tompall Glaser, Hank Williams Jr., Kris Kristofferson, and Jessi Colter. The first country album to earn platinum certifcation was a 1976 compilation album released by RCA called Wanted! The Outlaws, which included tracks from Waylon, Willie, Glaser and Colter.

Our June spotlight artist Mark Chesnutt pays tribute to these musical outlaws with his latest album Outlaw, which I reviewed earlier this month. It’s an interesting project for Mark, since he generally has not been thought of as a part of any outlaw movement. So that leads us to the question:

Who are today’s Outlaws and why are they considered as such? Five lucky people who answer that question between now and midnight on June 30 will win a copy of Mark Chesnutt’s Outlaw CD.

Just a recommendation …

terriclark1I’ve written about this song on various occasions before in comments on other sites.  But, here is my official recommendation for ‘Nashville Girls’. The track was recorded back in March 2008 for Terri’s album, In My Next Life – scheduled to be released April 29, 2008.  It features guest vocals from Reba, Sara Evans, and Martina McBride.

Steel guitars kick off this clever novelty number all about Nashville girls, how they’ll never go out of style and why they ‘have big hair for a reason’ even imploring them to ‘tease them curls, jack em up to Jesus’.  We all cried when Tammy Wynette died – and Terri admits it here.  And how dare her L.A. friends laugh at that.  So here’s to Loretta, Dolly, Patsy, Emmylou, Jessi, June, Tammy, and all the other fine ladies that made country music great.  How could they go out of style?

The singles from the album, ‘Dirty Girl’ and ‘In My Next Life’ barely cracked the top 40 on the U.S. country charts peaking at #30 and #36, respectively.  However, both did well in Clark’s native homeland of Canada.   The former going all the way to #1.  So, in November 2008, the singer announced she was leaving BNA Records to pursue her career in Canada and hinted at the prospect of creating her own label.  Maybe the song will surface one day on her future albums.  Until then, here’s my recommended track for the weekend.

Listen to Terri Clark with Reba, Sara Evans, and Martina McBride – ‘Nashville Girls’

Country’s greatest duos

 

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner

Few things satisfy a country music fan more than when two of one’s favorite solo performers announce plans to go into the studio and record together.  Country music has a long and rich history of producing collaborations with such great chemistry that they threatened to overshadow the solo work of the same artists. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see country music stars pairing up to do duets on a regular basis anymore. Nowadays, Tim and Faith, or Reba and Vince, or Kenny and Dolly, will make guest appearances on one another’s albums but they generally don’t make duet albums anymore – or if they do, it’s a one time or very occasional special event.

Today, a duo is more likely to be two performers that perform exclusively together as an act – i.e., Brooks & Dunn, Sugarland, or Joey + Rory, as opposed to the old days when Conway and Loretta, George and Tammy, and Porter and Dolly regularly released duet albums concurrently with their solo work. Growing up I can remember listening to such classic pairings as Waylon & Willie, Waylon and Jessi, Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, and David Frizzell and Shelly West, in addition to the aforementioned Conway and Loretta, and George and Tammy. And then later, there were duos that collaborated less frequently, like Kenny and Dolly, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart. Most of the Porter and Dolly duets were out of print and off the radio by the time I got into country music, but when some of their work was finally released on CD, it was like finding a long lost treasure.

Who are some of your favorite duos?