My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jim Hoke

Album Review: Toby Keith – ’35 MPH Town’

61O6h-fMNSL._SS280Although you won’t hear these songs on radio, Toby having committed the great sin of growing older (54) than the current target demographic of country radio, Toby has released his best album in many years.

35 MPH Town reflects the weltanschauung of a more mature artist. Although the drinking songs are still present, they do not dominate the album.

The opening track, and first song released as a single is “Drunk Americans” , the only song on that album that Toby didn’t write or co-write. While I don’t think it is a great song, had it come along a decade earlier, it would have been a top five single. Released in 2014, it reached #27 on the country airplay charts. The instrumentation has somewhat of a Cajun feel to it

We ain’t East, we ain’t West
We ain’t left, we ain’t right
We ain’t black, we ain’t white
We just came here to drink
We’re all mud flap suburbans
All ball caps and turbans
All prom queens and strippers
Where the whole kitchen sink and then here,
We’re the same, everyone knows your name

“Good Gets Here” is next and it is a typical Toby Keith country rocker, complete with machine gun lead guitar and some horn accompaniment. The song is about a man who knows he’s not top shelf but is still good enough that some woman will find him interesting.

The title track was the second single, a somewhat jaded look back at life in a small town and how it has degenerated. The song reached #42 on the country airplay charts but did not chart on the country sales charts:’

Oh we can’t blame the babies for growing up lazy
And crazy it ain’t them that let them down
If they ain’t stealing, they’re suing
Why work when we’ll give it to ‘em
It’s right there in the bible that we don’t put out
Spare the rod and you’ll sour
A thirty five mile an hour town

“Rum is the Reason” is a country song with steel drums present throughout, creating a song that sounds like Bertie Higgins or Jimmy Buffett might have sung it. The song postulates that alcohol was the reason leaders of the past (Davey Crockett, Pancho Villa, Stalin, Hitler and more) couldn’t hold power for long due to the alcohol. “Rum is the reason pirates never ruled the world,” indeed. This would have made a good single thirty years ago. Whether it would chart today is uncertain, but it is a good song.

“What She Left Behind” is a mid-tempo break up song about a relationship that suddenly fell apart. The narrator details the things, real and ephemeral, that she left behind to torment him with memories of the past. This is a very good song that I would like to see released as a single

“10 Foot Pole” is another song about the end of a relationship ending, but much less nostalgic than the previous song. The song is an upbeat rocker – “burning it up like Bonnie and Clyde …”

A well executed heartbreak ballad follows with “Haggard, Hank & Her.” The steel guitar of Russ Pahl shines throughout this slow ballad. The combination of alcohol , Haggard and Hank always serves as a catalyst for releasing emotions.

Speaking of Jimmy Buffett, “Sailboat for Sale” features Buffett in a duet with Keith. Jim Hoke’s accordion gently breezes through this song of how they got drunk and traded their fishing boat for a sailboat.

“Every Time I Drink I Fall in Love” is an upbeat country song about one-night stands and fair warning that he will indeed leave in the morning. It’s a song self-aware of its immature recklessness.

The final song is “Beautiful Stranger”, It is a sentimental ballad that was recently released as the third single and it really deserves to be a major hit. The theme is about a couple rekindling the passion. The tempo is slow with a heavy dose of acoustic guitar and violins. Far more mature than most of the offerings on county radio, the song is an appropriate close to the album and our spotlight on Toby Keith.

You give in and the night begins with the red wine kiss
I whisper something crazy about your shoes
You hush me and you crush me with your fingertips
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this side of you

Beautiful stranger In the candle light
God must have told you that I needed this tonight
I’ve longed for this feeling alone here in the dark
With a beautiful stranger in my arms

There a window moon and and old love tune playing soft and low
Takes me back, I’ve always loved that song
I pull you in and there’s comfort in the shape we make
Wrapped up in each other all night long

My only complaint about 35 MPH Town is that the album contains only ten songs. Good thing that all of the songs range from very good to excellent.

Toby Keith has had a substantial career that has not always been properly acknowledged, an after-effect of his dust up with the media darling Chixie Tricks (or whatever their name was). After only George Strait and possibly Alan Jackson, Toby Keith has been the most significant and most consistent country artist of the last twenty-five years. I haven’t liked everything he’s released, but I’ve liked almost everything, and given his prodigious output, that’s saying a lot. This album is worth an A as is his career.

Grade: A

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Album Review: Raul Malo – ‘After Hours’

51tOoPsggiLThere is always risk in releasing an album of “covers”. First, the possibility always exists that the material is too familiar to attract much attention. Second, there is the risk of being unfavorably compared to the earlier versions of the material being covered.

After Hours mostly avoids the first risk by focusing on material from before 1973, ensuring that most of the audience will not be terribly familiar with the material. The second risk is more problematic as there are some definite misfires in the tempos at which some of the songs are performed.

The album opens with “Welcome To My World”, a ballad generally associated with either “Gentleman” Jim Reeves or Dean Martin, two of the premier balladeers of the twentieth century. Jim Reeves had a smooth, velvety voice capable of conveying warmth like few others (Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Ray Price) ever could. Dean Martin was the King of Cool with great warmth but a more casual feel to his vocals than Reeves could achieve. If you have not heard either Reeves or Martin perform this song, then you will really like Malo’s performance. Raul does not have the warmth of his predecessors, but does an admirable job with the song and the accompaniment is excellent.

“(Now and Then) There’s A Fool Such As I” is a slight misstep, taken at a tempo that is too fast and bouncy for the sad lyrics. This song was a big hit for Hank Snow in 1952 and was covered by some guy named Elvis Presley (himself a big Hank Snow fan) a few years later. A honky-tonk style piano takes a break in the song but the basic arrangement is big band swing.

Malo gets back on track with the Kris Kristofferson classic “For The Good Times”, a song which revitalized Ray Price’s career in the early 1970s. Again, I prefer Ray’s version, but Raul’s take is very nice.
Steel Guitar is heard on this song toward the very end of the song

The two newest songs on the album come from the pen of Dwight Yoakam. The first of these is “Pocket of A Clown”, a song that just missed the top twenty for Dwight in 1994 (it reached #4 on the Canadian country chart). Raul’s arrangement is a little slower than the original and has a 40s/50s feel to the horn arrangements.

“Crying Time” was written by Buck Owens, who regarded the song as album filler. A few years later Ray Charles resurrected the song causing Buck to add it to his set list (usually as part of a medley). It’s a great song, and Malo does it justice, although he can’t deliver it with the same soul that Ray did (no one else could either).

A serious misstep follows with the Hank Williams classic “Cold Cold Heart”. It certainly is possible to treat the song as a pop song (Tony Bennett sold millions of copies with his cover) but here the tempo is much too fast and much too happy for such a morose set of lyrics

“You Can Depend On Me” is the oldest song on the album written sometime before 1931 by Charles Carpenter, Louis Dunlap and jazz piano great Earl “Fatha” Hines. The song was recorded by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Nat King Cole. In 1961 Brenda Lee took it to #6 on the pop charts. Malo handles this song quite effectively. The basic arrangement would be that of cocktail lounge jazz.

Oh if you ever, if you ever need a friend
I’ll be right by your side until the end
And you can depend on me
You can depend on me

My favorite song on the album is “Husbands and Wives”, which was written by Roger Miller and went top five country, #2 adult contemporary and top thirty pop for Roger in 1966. Subsequently, the duo of David Frizzell and Shelly West had a top twenty county hit with it in 1981, and Brooks & Dunn took it to #1 country and #36 pop in 1998. This song features steel guitar as part of the instrumentation, the only truly country sounding song of the album. For me, it as a toss-up whether Neil Diamond’s album track from his 1971 album Stones or Raul’s version on this album is my favorite version of this song.

The angry words, spoken in haste
Such a waste of two lives
It’s my belief, pride is the chief cause and the decline
In the number of husbands and wives

Speaking of Roger Miller, one of the last songs Roger wrote was a co-write with Dwight Yoakam on “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” a #7 country hit for Yoakam in 1991. Again, Malo uses an arrangement very similar to Dwight’s original and performs the song well. There are horns on this track and they serve to create a swinging effect, even though the tempo is no faster than the Yoakam original.

The album closes with a very nice rendition of the Hy Heath-Fred Rose composition “Take These Chains From My Heart”, best known as a posthumous #1 hit for Hank Williams in 1953, and in 1963, a #8 pop hit Ray Charles (Ray’s version also reached #5 in the UK). The accompaniment on this final track starts out with just a single guitar then expands with the subsequent verses, but remains at all times uncluttered, with tasteful saxophone and piano solos between the vocals.

After Hours is an enjoyable album which I would rate as good, but not great, as it is marred by the tempo errors noted above. Malo is in good voice throughout and he is accompanied by what could be essentially described as a jazz quintet of himself on guitar, Robert Chevrier on piano, Jay Weaver on bass, Tom Lewis on drums and Jim Hoke on sax, clarinet and steel guitar. The album was recorded live, with only Hoke being overdubbed occasionally (it’s tough to play three instruments simultaneously). Malo and producer Evan York, keep the focus on the melodies and lyrics, never obscuring either.

Grade: B+