My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jimmy Buffett

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘Three Good Reasons’

51qlwdksrjl1992’s Three Good Reasons was Crystal Gayle’s final major label album, released during the time that Capitol Nashville was known as Liberty Records. It was a last-ditch effort to get back on the radio. It appeared two years after her last album and six years after her last Top 10 record. Despite exceptionally strong material that was tailor made to appeal to the then-current trends at radio, it was a case of too little, too late. Radio had moved on to younger artists, and Liberty Records at that time neglected everyone on its roster who was not Garth Brooks. As a result, the album received only half-hearted promotion from the label. Only one single — the title track — was released and it did not chart.

The album was produced by Buzz Stone, who had previously produced an album for Riders In The Sky as well as Nanci Griffith’s live album a few years earlier. Whereas Ain’t Gonna Worry had largely been a throwback to Crystal’s early 70s sound, Three Good Reasons was an attempt to modernize her sound. With the possible exception of I’ve Cried The Blue Right Out of My Eyes, which was a compilation of her early work for Decca, it is her most country-sounding album. The fiddle and pedal steel can be heard prominently throughout the album and unlike its ballad-heavy predecessor, it contains plenty of upbeat material.

The title track did receive a fair amount of airplay on my local country radio station. It is an uptempo number about a young mother escaping from a bad marriage, citing “three good reasons to survive” — namely, her two children and herself. It was written by Don Schlitz and David Wingo and probably would have been a big hit if it had been released by a younger artist — or by Crystal herself a few years earlier. The album’s other divorce song, “A Rose Between Two Thorns” is a heartbreaking ballad about a child that feels caught between her feuding parents. “Living In Tears” is another very nice ballad.

Most of the other songs are uptempo numbers from Jackson Leap’s “Why Cry” and Mark Wright and B James Lowry’s “Love To, Can’t Do” to “The Trouble With Me (Is You)” a swing number written by L. Davis Lewis and Kim Williams. Despite the album’s traditional feel, Crystal had not totally abandoned her pop leanings: the mid-tempo “If The Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me” had been a minor country and AC hit for Jimmy Buffett in 1985, and “One Less Set of Footsteps” had been a pop hit for its author Jim Croce in 1973. Crystal’s versions of both songs are well within the bounds of what was considered country in the early 90s.

Three Good Reasons is a perfect example of why commercial success should never be used to evaluate the quality of music. From an artistic standpoint, it is one of her strongest albums and as was pointed out in one of our prior discussions, if she’d changed musical direction a little earlier, she might have extended her chart tenure by a few more years. It’s a shame that this album didn’t succeed because I would have liked to have heard more in this vein from her.

Although Three Good Reasons marked the end of Crystal’s major label career, she did continue to record after she exited Liberty. She recorded a few religious albums, a few albums of traditional pop standards (one of which wa a very worthwhile tribute to Hoagy Carmichael), and a children’s album. An album of classic country covers is reportedly supposed to be released later this year.

Three Good Reasons probably escaped the notice of many fans. It is well worth seeking out. The tracks can be streamed on YouTube, and used copies are available for purchase.

Grade: A

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Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘1994’

merle-haggard-album-19941994 was the second of Merle Haggard’s three albums for Curb Records. It was released four years after Blue Jungle, the biggest gap between projects of Haggard’s career. James Stroud was brought in to produce the album, in an attempt to reverse Haggard’s declining commercial fortunes. At the time, Stroud was one of Nashville’s hottest producers and he seemed to be trying to modernize Merle’s sound for 90s audiences, many of whom were new country fans, introduced to the genre by Garth Brooks. Gone for the most part were the jazz influences that characterized his later releases for Epic, replaced by more mainstream and radio-friendly arrangements. The result was a very solid album, but it was unfortunately not enough to revitalize Merle’s chart career. He had two big strikes against him: his advancing age in an era when more emphasis as being placed on youth and good looks, and his record label, which put little effort into promoting the album. Curb didn’t even want to foot the bill for decent cover art. Many have commented that the album’s cover resembled a tombstone.

Only one single was released from the album, “In My Next Life”, the story of a farmer and his wife looking back on a lifetime of disappointments, written by Max D. Barnes. This is my favorite song on the album, and it probably would have been a Top 10 hit had it been released a few years earlier before veteran artists were swept off the charts. It topped out at #58 and was the second and final Merle Haggard single released by Curb.

Also written by Max D. Barnes is the album’s opening cut “I Am an Island”, which is given a Jimmy Buffett style treatment. It’s a decent song, despite being a bit light on the lyrics, but it’s not really a good fit for Merle, who seems a little out of place singing it. Barnes teamed up with Merle to write the excellent “Way Back In the Mountains” and the filler track “Solid As a Rock”, which would be covered a year later by George Jones and Tammy Wynette for their reunion album.

Merle indulged his penchant for Dixeland jazz on two numbers: the self-penned and very enjoyable “What’s New In New York City” and “Set My Chickens Free”, a good but not great co-write with Richard Smith.

The album closes with an ill-advised remake of Merle’s 1977 hit “Ramblin’ Fever”. This version, with its heavy-handed production, sounds as though it were made to appeal to line-dancing fans. It’s just not impossible to improve on the original recording and Haggard and Stroud really shouldn’t have tried. I probably would have enjoyed it if I’d never heard the original.

In the end 1994 was, like its predecessor Blue Jungle, a commercial disappointment that underscored the sad reality that Haggard’s hitmaking days were behind him. While it does not quite reach the very high standards set by Merle’s earlier work, it is a very good album. The production seems a bit dated here and there but for the most part it has aged well. This is another one of those albums that fans may have overlooked, and as such it is another good opportunity to hear something “new” from Merle while he was still in good voice.

Grade: B+

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

Single Review: Blaine Larsen – ‘Missing The Rain’

missing the rainBlaine Larsen is one of those artists who should have been a star. When he emerged a decade ago, just out of high school, his rich voice, neotraditional leanings and mature interpretative skills belied his youth. Originally discovered by songwriter Rory Feek (now of course one half of the much loved duo Joey + Rory), he released two albums on BNA. His biggest hit for BNA was the affecting ‘How Do You Get That Lonely’, about teen suicide, which reached the top 20. Subsequent label woes meant the planed independent third album never materialised, and meanwhile commercial country music took its much lamented turn further away from traditional sounds than ever before.

Although Blaine has taken a step back from the quest for stardom, studying to become a minister, he has released a new single to iTunes, with the proceeds dedicated to the costs of his and his wife’s planned adoption of a third child. In other words, this is a one-off rather than an attempted comeback. (He calls himself a “recovering country music artist” on his twitter account.)

While it’s not the best song ever, it is worth a listen. The fairly simple pretext is of a lovelorn musician playing a season at a Gulf Coast beach location, but missing his Seattle home and sweetheart, noting,

I’ve had my fill of Margaritaville
Even though I’m a big Buffett fan

Perhaps the theme is a little dated now; this might have been a hit for Kenny Chesney a few years ago, but it feels as if it has missed its time. The electric guitar is too loud for my taste, but otherwise the production is pleasant enough on this attractively melodic and well sung tune. It’s not as good as Larsen’s rather good and unfairly overlooked BNA records

Grade: B

Listen here.

Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘Angels and Alcohol’

81S0JZvN9pL._SX522_After a pair of non-commercial albums that found him venturing into gospel and bluegrass, Angels and Alcohol, which was released last week, is both a return to form for Alan Jackson and his strongest collection since he parted ways with Arista Records five years ago.

Like the vast majority of Jackson’s catalog, Angels and Alcohol was produced by Keith Stegall. In many ways it is reminiscent of their best work from the 90s; there are no concessions to current trends and no attempts to chase radio hits. The current single, “Jim and Jack and Hank”, which I reviewed earlier this month, currently resides at #47 on the charts. Despite being a fun and catchy uptempo number, it’s unlikely to rise much higher in the current commercial environment.

Although I stand by the B+ rating I gave the single, I would not include it among one of my favorites from the album, because there are other more substantive songs which which a fluffy lightweight song simply cannot compete. With all due respect to Alan Jackson the songwriter, who penned seven of the album’s songs, my favorites are the three he didn’t write. Troy Jones’ and Greg Becker’s “When God Paints” is a beautiful ballad, with lyrics that are rich with imagery about life’s simple pleasures. Even better is “The One You’re Waiting On” by Adam Wright and Shannon Wright, which finds the protagonist sitting in a bar, admiring his love interest from afar, knowing that he doesn’t stand much of a chance but wondering exactly what she is holding out for. “Gone Before You Met Me”, an uptempo number by Michael White and Michael P. Heeney is about a free spirit who has long since settled down, and when he finds he is still rambling, is relieved to discover that it was only a dream. Country music needs more songs like this.

Jackson’s own compositions are nothing to sneeze at, either. The opening track “You Can Always Come Home” finds him reassuring a child who is about to leave the nest, and the title track is a beautiful ballad that is vintage Alan Jackson. It would have been a huge hit 20 years ago, and even ten years ago it might have been given a fair shot by radio. The closing track “Mexico, Tequila and Me” finds Jackson switching back to Jimmy Buffett mode, and is reminiscent of “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”.

I can’t find anything to complain about with this album. The current crop of singers who are doing their best to ruin country music (and largely succeeding), could learn a lot from Alan Jackson. There are no stretches or surprises here, just good old country music that will not leave Jackson’s fans disappointed. Sometimes that’s enough.

Grade: A

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Drinks After Work’

drinksAs so often with Toby Keith, his latest album is a real mixed bag. The worst comes at the beginning, and is almost enough to write the remainder of the record off unheard. the opening ‘Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up And Hold On’ is absolutely horrible,. It is the new single, and seems like a cynical attempt to regain his commercial mojo by aping the worst trends of modern radio, an autotuned, hip-hop influenced mess complete with token banjo.

The title track and previous single is a little better; it talks convincingly about responding to the mundanity of office work but is a bit limited melodically as is too often the case with Toby’s songs, and the invented word “conversate” jars. ‘Before We Knew They Were Good’ is a look back at youth and its careless dismissal of hidden potential. ‘‘Whole Lot More Than That’ isn’t very original, but is quite enjoyable. ‘Show Me What You’re Workin’ With’ is a catchy but cluttered and lyrically lightweight throwaway number.

Taking things up a notch, I definitely enjoyed ‘Little Miss Tear Stain’, a wry and catchy little song about encountering an ex who departed in anger:

You’re still hot, girl, as a firecracker
Cause you were smokin’ when you pulled out
I know that hell ain’t freezin’ over
But it might be chillin out by now

Sweet little Miss Tear Stain
Would you entertain
The thought of maybe having a talk?
Could we ever get back together,
Or is never still a good time to call?

‘I’ll Probably Be Out Fishin’’ is also good, the ironic plaint of a man with no luck at all. First he is jilted by his high school sweetheart in favour of his best friend while he is in the Navy, then he gets laid off from his civilian job just after he gets that big promotion. He concludes:

What’s a guy to say
Whart’s a guy to do
I could paint this old town red tonight
And still wake up with the blues
Good luck is bound to find me
When it comes around again
But I’ll probably be out fishin’
When my ship comes in

There is a western swing feel to ‘Last Living Cowboy’, a fond tribute to an 80 something, which is rather good, while ‘Hard Way to Make An Easy Living’ honors a hard working man.

The best song on the album, ‘The Other Side Of Him’ is an emotional ballad as the protagonist observes his ex with a new love, allowing Toby to exercise both his booming baritone and his too-rarely exercised interpretative gifts. The production is a bit heavier than necessary in places.

Three tracks are only on the deluxe version. Of these, the best and most believable is ‘Chuckie’s Gone’, which bids farewell to former bandmate, bass player Chuck Goff, who was killed in a car crash earlier this year. This is genuinely heartfelt. The mostly-spoken ‘Call A Marine’ feels a bit like pandering, but is well done (but not for an underage audience). The album closes with a forgettable cover of Jimmy Buffett’s ‘Margaritaville’ in duet with rocker Sammy Hagar; which bizarrely cuts off half way through the running time.

In summary, this is pretty typical Toby Keith. If you usually like his work, you’ll like this, but there’s little to attract the more casual fan.

Grade: B-

Week ending 10/5/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

tanya1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1963: Abilene — George Hamilton IV (RCA)

1973: Blood Red and Goin’ Down — Tanya Tucker (Columbia)

1983: New Looks From An Old Lover — B.J. Thomas (Columbia)

1993: Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up) — Garth Brooks (Liberty)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Night Train — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Week ending 9/21/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

garth-brooks1953 (Sales): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1963: Abilene — George Hamilton IV (RCA)

1973: You’ve Never Been This Far Before — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1983: Night Games — Charley Pride (RCA)

1993: Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up) — Garth Brooks (Liberty)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Round Here — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

Week ending 9/14/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

GHIV1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1963: Abilene — George Hamilton IV (RCA)

1973: You’ve Never Been This Far Before — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1983: I’m Only In It For The Love — John Conlee (MCA)

1993: Thank God For You — Sawyer Brown (Curb)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Little Bit Of Everything — Keith Urban (Capitol)

Week ending 9/7/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

sawyerbrown1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1963: Ring of Fire — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1973: Everybody’s Had The Blues — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1983: A Fire I Can’t Put Out — George Strait (MCA)

1993: Thank God For You — Sawyer Brown (Curb)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Little Bit Of Everything — Keith Urban (Capitol)

Week ending 8/31/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

ronnie-mcdowell1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Rub-A-Dub-Dub — Hank Thompson (Capitol)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1963: Ring of Fire — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1973: Everybody’s Had The Blues — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1983: You’re Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation — Ronnie McDowell (Epic)

1993: Can’t Break It To My Heart — Tracy Lawrence (Atlantic)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Don’t Ya — Brett Eldredge (Atlantic)

Week ending 8/24/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Doug+Stone1953 (Sales): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Jukebox): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1963: Ring of Fire — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1973: Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man — Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn (MCA)

1983: Love Song — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1993: Why Didn’t I Think Of That — Doug Stone (Epic)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Don’t Ya — Brett Eldredge (Atlantic)

Week ending 8/17/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Janie Fricke1953 (Sales): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1953 (Jukebox): Mexican Joe — Jim Reeves (Abbott)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1963: Ring of Fire — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1973: Trip To Heaven — Freddie Hart & The Heartbeats (Capitol)

1983: He’s a Heartache (Looking For a Place to Happen) — Janie Fricke (Columbia)

1993: It Sure Is Monday — Mark Chesnutt (MCA)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Runnin’ Outta Moonlight — Randy Houser (Stoney Creek)

Week ending 8/10/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

etc1953 (Sales): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1953 (Jukebox): Rub-A-Dub-Dub — Hank Thompson (Capitol)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1963: Ring of Fire — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1973: Lord, Mr. Ford — Jerry Reed (RCA)

1983: Your Love’s On The Line — Earl Thomas Conley (RCA)

1993: Chattahoochie — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Runnin’ Outta Moonlight — Randy Houser (Stoney Creek)

Album Review: Lorrie Morgan & Sammy Kershaw – ‘I Finally Found Someone’

Sammy Kershaw and fellow country star Lorrie Morgan joined forces both personally and professionally in 2001. The pair married that year and also collaborated on a one-off project for RCA that was released shortly after the major label phase of both artists’ careers had ended. It wasn’t the first time they’d worked together; both had been members of George Jones’ road band in the early 80s, and they’d made occasional guest appearances on each other’s albums. One of those efforts, “Maybe Not Tonight” was a minor hit in 1999.

On the surface, a joint album from two of the most underrated stars of the 1990s seemed like a good idea; however, they were under-served by mostly second-rate material and the overall result is a rather dull and lackluster affair. The album consists of 12 tracks overall, six duets and three solo performances from each, and yielded only one charting single — the Jimmy Buffet-esque “He Drinks Tequila”, one of the few uptempo numbers in a very ballad-heavy and surprisingly AC-leaning album. It peaked at #39. The interminably dull title track, a remake of a Barbra Streisand and Bryan Adams duet, was released as the second single, followed by “Sad City”, a Kershaw solo effort.

Among the duet numbers, “I Can’t Think of Anything But You”, a very nice ballad co-written by Skip Ewing, David Feritta and Alan Rich, is a highlight, as is “That’s Where I’ll Be”, an original number penned by Kershaw and Morgan. As far as the solo efforts are concerned, Lorrie’s selections are far better than Sammy’s. Particularly good are two introspective numbers in which she reflects on her fading youth — “29 Again” and her own composition, the excellent “I Must Be Gettin’ Older.” Kerhsaw’s solo performances are mostly disappointing; the non-charting single “Sad City”, which is by no means a great song, is the best of the bunch. He does a decent job on the pop standard “What A Wonderful World”, but one wonders why he chose to cover this song that really didn’t need to be remade again, particularly when there were only three solo numbers allotted to him on the album. The self-penned “Sugar” is truly terrible and makes one grateful that most of Kershaw’s catalog was supplied by outside songwriters.

One of the big surprises is how middle-of-the-road the song selections are. Morgan had occasionally ventured into AC-territory and the country music had definitely moved in a more pop direction by 2001, but both artists were known for their traditional leanings. Morgan had recently ended her association with BNA Records, citing her frustration with label pushing her in a more pop direction as a primary reason.

I Finally Found Someone did manage to reach #13 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, despite a lack of interest from radio and the fading popularity of both Morgan and Kershaw, but it is largely forgotten today and is an album that only diehard fans will bother to seek out.

Grade: C+

Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘Thirty Miles West’

Listening to a new Alan Jackson album is much like watching a John Wayne movie; one pretty much knows what to expect and there are very seldom any big surprises, yet when it’s over, one usually feels satisfied and fully entertained. His latest effort, Thirty Miles West, is his first release on his own imprint, through a new arrangement with EMI Nashville. Despite the label change, the album’s content is still very much in the same vein as most of his Arista albums. Longtime collaborator Keith Stegall is once again in the producer’s chair.

Radio seems to have cooled towards Jackson lately; aside from his guest appearance on the Zac Brown Band’s #1 hit “As She’s Walking Away”, he hasn’t scored a Top 10 hit in three years, and the first of Thirty Miles West’s two advance singles, the self-penned “Long Way To Go”, failed to reach the Top 20. A catchy, fun, if somewhat unoriginal Jimmy Buffett-style summertime song, it deserved to chart higher than its #24 peak. The current single “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore” currently sits at #26. It is a very nice break-up ballad written by Adam Wright and Jay Knowles, in which the male protagonist graciously offers to take the blame for the relationship’s failure.

One of my favorite tracks is the energetic bluegrass-tinged “Dixie Highway”, which features a guest appearance by Zac Brown. It’s the best of the six songs that Alan wrote for the album. At nearly seven and a half minutes, it is too long to be a single, though a heavily edited version might eventually be released to radio. I also quite “Life Keeps Bringing Me Down”, which is a real toe-tapper and not a mournful ballad as the title suggests.

The album does contain a few missteps; Alan’s compositions “Everything But The Wings” and “Look Her In The Eyes and Lie” aren’t quite up to his usual standard. Likewise, “She Don’t Get High” — which despite its title isn’t about a recovering addict — is a bit pedestrian; however, it is just middle-of-the-road enough that it might have a shot at being well received at radio.

There are no great artistic stretches here; Jackson remains fully within his comfort zone for the entire album. However, it is a solid and entertaining album that holds its own against Alan’s impressive back catalog. Sometimes that’s all that the listener wants, especially in an era in which country music is increasingly overwhelmed by over-the-top pop and rock. It remains to be seen if Thirty Miles West can revive Alan’s radio career, but even if it does not, it is one of this year’s better efforts and is worth buying.

Grade: B+

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 2

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wreaked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.


“Walk On By“– Donna Fargo
A nice cover of the 1961 Leroy Van Dyke hit, by the time this record was released Donna had already pulled back on her career due to being stricken with Multiple Sclerosis in 1979. Released in March 1980, the song reached #43. Donna is still alive and you can find out more about her at her website www.donnafargo.com


“Crying Over You” – Rosie Flores

Rosie’s never had much chart success but this self-proclaimed ‘Rockabilly Filly’ is a popular concert draw and a dynamic live performer. This song was her career chart highwater reaching #51 in 1987.

“Just In Case ” 
The Forester Sisters
Katie, Kim, June and Christie had a five year run of top ten hits from 1985 through 1989 with fourteen straight top ten records, including this song, their second of five number one records . Released in 1985, this topped the charts in early 1986.

“Crazy Over You”– Foster & Lloyd
Songwriters Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd joined forces as a duo in 1987. This was their first and biggest chart record reaching #4 in the summer of 1987.

“Always Have, Always Will” – Janie Frickie (or Janie Fricke)

This 1986 #1 was her ninth (and last) #1 record. This bluesy number was an excellent record coming after a long string of successful but insubstantial fluff. A former session singer, Janie’s career hit high gear during the 1980s, a decade which saw her tally 26 chart records with 17 top ten records and eight #1s.

“Beer Joint Fever” – Allen Frizzell

A younger brother of both Lefty and David Frizzell, Allen today writes and sings predominantly Christian music, although he will perform a Lefty Frizzell tribute (omitting Lefty’s rowdier songs). This song charted in 1981 – the follow up was titled “She’s Livin’ It Up (and I’m Drinkin’ ‘Em Down)”, neither of them songs Allen would dream of performing today.

“I’m Gonna Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home” – David Frizzell
The early 1980s were David Frizzell’s commercial peak, both as a solo artist and as part of a duet with Shelly West. This unforgettable 1982 novelty was David’s sole #1 record, although my personal David Frizzell favorites were the follow up “Lost My Baby Blues” and his 1999 recording of “Murder On Music Row”.

“You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma” – David Frizzell & Shelly West

A huge record, this song came from the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can and topped the charts in early 1981

“Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer To You)” – Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers

After a dominant streak from 1975 in which seven songs reached #1 on one or more of the major charts, Larry and his brothers hit a rough patch in which their singles charted, but few reached the top ten. Finally in late 1983 this song reached #1, and kicked off a brief resurgence fueled by a large infusion of western swing. The two records that followed this record (“Denver” and “The Lady Takes The Cowboy Every Time”) would have made Bob Wills proud.

“You and I” – Crystal Gayle & Eddie Rabbitt

Crytal Gayle had a run of thirty-four top ten records that ran from 1974 to 1987. I’m not that big a Crystal Gayle fan but I really liked her 1982 duet with Eddie Rabbitt which reached #1 country / #7 pop.

“Somebody’s Knocking” – Terri Gibbs

Released in 1980, this song peaked at #8 (#13 pop / #3 AC) in early 1989. Blind since birth, Terri really wasn’t a country singer and soon headed to gospel music . This was her biggest hit, one of four top twenty records.

“Sweet Sensuous Sensations” – Don Gibson
Not a big hit, this was Don’s next-to-last chart record, reaching a peak of #42 in April 1980. Don’s chart career ran from 1956-1981. His influence as a songwriter is still felt today.

“Oklahoma Borderline” – Vince Gill
It took Vince a while for his solo career to take off after leaving Pure Prairie League. This song reached #9 in early 1986 and was his second top ten recording. The really big hits would start in 1990 with “When I Call Your Name”.

“A Headache Tomorrow (Or A Heartache Tonight)” – Mickey Gilley
Mickey Gilley was a second cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart as his piano playing amply demonstrates. This song reached #1 in 1981. Mickey’s long string of hits consisted of some original material (such as this song and “Doo-Wah Days”) and some covers of pop hits such as his next record “You Don’t Know Me” (a cover of a Ray Charles hit covering an Eddy Arnold hit) and prior hits “True Love Ways” and “Stand By Me”.

“White Freight Liner Blues” – Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Jimmie Dale Gilmore looks like a renegade hippie from the sixties and sounds like one of my honky-tonk specialist from the fifties. He’s never had much chart success (this song reached # 72 in 1988) but his albums are terrific and his vocals solid country through and through. Probably the most underrated performer of my generation.

“If I Could Only Dance With You” – Jim Glaser

A part of the famous trio Tompall and The Glaser Brothers, Jim’s voice was midway in range between brothers Chuck and Tompall with significant overlap on both ends.  Also, Jim was part of the vocal trio on Marty Robbin’s classic hit “El Paso” and wrote the pop hit “Woman, Woman” (#4 pop hit for Gary Puckett and The Union Gap).  Jim released a number of chart records under his own name form 1968-1977, but his real success began after Tompall & The Glaser Brothers split up (again) in 1982 and Jim signed with Noble Vision Records. After the first three records for Noble Vision went top thirty, this 1984 single reached #10. The follow up “You’re Getting To Me Again” went to #1 but then Noble Vision started having financial problems. Jim would subsequently sign with MCA in 1985 but the momentum had been lost (not to mention that by then Jim was already 47 years old).

“Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” – Tompall & The Glaser Brothers

Tompall and The Glaser Brothers were one of the most impressive live singing groups to ever take the stage. Unfortunately, their stage show did not translate into recording success. The group was together from 1959 until about 1974, recording many fine records but only one top ten hit in “Rings” which reached Record World’s #1 slot in 1971. The group briefly reunited in 1980 and had their career record with this Kris Kristofferson song which reached #2 Billboard / #1 Cashbox in 1980.

“Today My World Slipped Away” – Vern Gosdin

Recorded for the small AMI label, this gem reached #10 in early 1983, just as AMI was going down the toilet. It’s hard for me to pick out just one favorite Vern Gosdin song, but this one would be in my top three. From here Vern would go to another small label Compleat where he would have his biggest hit in 1987’s “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight”).

“Diamonds In The Dust”- Mark Gray

Mark Gray and Vince Gill were the two young male singers most highly touted to make it big in the early 1980s. Both were associated with bands that had some success (Mark was a member of Exile for a few years, Vince a member of Pure Prairie League). Then Nashville took a traditionalist turn leaving Gray, not as versatile a performer as Vince Gill, stranded. Still, Gray almost made it. This song was Gray’s third top ten record, reaching #9 in late 1984. The follow up “Sometimes When We Touch”, a nice duet with Tammy Wynette reached #6. Then came the Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, et al floodwaters of 1986.

“When A Man Loves A Woman” – Jack Grayson

Nice 1981 cover of a #1 pop hit for Percy Sledge in 1966. This song peaked at #18 in early 1982. This was Grayson’s only top twenty recording out of thirteen charted records.

“The Jukebox Never Plays Home Sweet Home” – Jack Greene
This 1983 single barely cracked the top 100 for Jack but it was a pretty good recording that probably would have been a big hit had Jack recorded it a dozen years earlier. This was Jack’s thirty-third chart record. He would have three more before fading off the charts for good. His 1966 single was #1 for seven weeks in 1966-1967 and was the CMA Single of The Year in 1967. Jack also took home the Male Vocalist honors for 1967. Jack is now 82 years old and still performs, but mostly on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

“I.O.U.”– Lee Greenwood

This single reached #6 in 1983, his fourth consecutive top ten single, and still my favorite Lee Greenwood song. Lee was the first artist to record “Wind Beneath My Wings” and had it planned as the second single from the I.O.U album. Gary Morris dashed into the studio and got his version recorded and released before “I.O.U.” finished its chart run. Lee’ version was better (and better than the pop version that came out in 1989).

“Lone Star State of Mind” – Nanci Griffith

Nanci is a fine songwriter/poet having written many fine songs. As a singer, she’s not much. This song reached #36 in 1987, her biggest chart hit of the 1980s. She did a nice recording of “Love At The Five & Dime”, but even that song was better in a cover version, as recorded by Kathy Mattea.

“Still The Same” – Bonnie Guitar

Nine years after her last chart entry and twenty years after her last top forty recording , country music’s ‘Renaissance Woman’ snuck onto the charts in 1989 with a nice version of a Bob Dylan song.

“Trains Make Me Lonesome”– Marty Haggard
Marty’s career almost ended before it started when he picked up a hitch hiker who shot him and left him for dead. A long recovery followed with an extended period of recovery. This song reached #57 in 1988 for the soon to be defunct MTM label. Written by Paul Overstreet and Thom Schuyler, this song was recorded by a number of artists including George Strait on his 1992 album Holding My Own. Marty’s version is better and would have been a big hit had it been released in 1958 rather than 1988.

“A Better Love Next Time – Merle Haggard

This was Merle’s 100th chart single reaching #4 in 1989. What else is there to say?

“Song of The South” – Tom T. Hall & Earl Scruggs

Tom T. Hall’s days as a hit maker were largely over by 1982 and Earl Scruggs never was a hit maker – he was of far greater importance than that. These two music masters combined for a wonderful album titled The Storyteller and The Banjo Man in 1982 from which emerged this single. Alabama would have a big hit with this song a few years later but the Alabama version lacks the personality and charm of this rendition.

“She Says” – George Hamilton V

The only chart record for the son of George Hamilton IV, this tune reached #75 in early 1988.

“There’s Still A Lot of Love In San Antone” – Connie Hanson with Darrell McCall

A cover of Darrell’s 1974 hit, this version peaked at # 64 in early 1983.

“After The Last Goodbye ” – Gus Hardin

This 1983 recording was the only solo top ten for the smoky voiced Ms. Hardin. A longtime favorite in Tulsa, Gus broke through with a major label contract (RCA) and charted eight solo singles and two duets. Released in 1984, her duet with Earl Thomas Conley “All Tangled Up In Love” peaked at #8 in early 1985. Her 1985 duet with David Loggins “Just As Long As I Have You” reached #72.

“I’m Moving On ” – Emmylou Harris
Emmylou had 26 top ten recordings between 1975 and 1988. This 1983 live cover of Hank Snow’s 1950 hit (in fact, the biggest chart hit in the history of country music) reached #5. During the 1980s, most of Emmylou’s best recordings were duets – “That Loving You Feelin’ Again” (with Roy Orbison) and “If I Needed You” (with Don Williams) come readily to mind, but there were more.

“Sure Thing” – Freddie Hart

After a hugely successful first half of the 1970s, Freddie hits got progressively smaller. By 1979 Freddie had been dropped by Capitol and signed by Sunbird, the same label that launched Earl Thomas Conley. The label failed to re-launch Freddie’s career but did provide a few good recordings, including this song, which reached #15 in 1980 and would prove to be Freddie’s last top twenty hit.

“Key Largo” – Bertie Higgins

Just when it seemed that the ‘Gulf & Western’ subgenre had been strip mined of hits by Jimmy Buffett, along comes this nostalgic hit which became a #8 pop hit in 1982 (topped out at #50 on the country chart).

“Whiskey, If You Were A Woman” – Highway 101

Highway 101 exploded onto the country music scene in January 1987 running off a string of ten consecutive top tens through early 1990. This one is my personal favorite with Paulette Carlson’s voice seemingly tailor made for the song, which reached #2 in 1987. Typical story – Carlson left the band in late 1990 seeking solo stardom and the band never recovered its momentum (plus Carlson did not succeed as a solo act). I was torn between this song and one of the group’s #1 hits “Somewhere Tonight”.

“Jones On The Jukebox” – Becky Hobbs
The inability of the Hobbs to break through at radio has always bugged me. Other than a duet with Moe Bandy (“Let’s Get Over Them Together” – #10 in 1983), Ms Hobbs was unable to break the top thirty. The closest she got was this song, which peaked at #31 in 1988.

“Texas Ida Red” – David Houston
David’s 60th (and next to last) chart record, this recording peaked at #69 on the small Excelsior label in 1981. This was a pretty good western swing record. Houston would have one more chart record in 1989. His 1966 hit “Almost Persuaded” was (according to Billboard) the biggest chart record of the last fifty years, spending nine weeks at #1.

“All American Redneck” – Randy Howard
#84 in 1983 – what more need I say.

“Til You And Your Lover Are Lovers Again” – Engelbert Humperdinck

Engelbert is one of the truly great vocalists of my generation. His greatest decade was the 1960s when he made international huge pop hits out of country classics such as “Release Me”, “There Goes My Everything” and “Am I That Easy To Forget” as well as covering other country songs on his albums. This song peaked at #39 in 1983.

“Oh Girl” – Con Hunley

This cover of a Chi-Lites hit from 1972 reached #12 in 1982 and featured the Oak Ridge Boys on backing vocals. Con’s voice was too smoky and too distinctive to have achieved much success during the early 1980s but this was a fine recording, even if not very country. Con’s biggest hit came the year before when “What’s New With You” peaked at #11.

“Talk To Me Loneliness” – Cindy Hurt

This song reached #35 in 1982. Her biggest hit was “Don’t Come Knocking” which topped out at #28 earlier in the year. Cindy charted seven records between 1981 and 1983, then disappeared.

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 1

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)“ – Alabama
Alabama made excellent music during the 1980s, although the country content of some of it was suspect. Not this song, which is dominated by fiddle. One of the few up-tempo Alabama records that swings rather than rocks.

I’ve Been Wrong Before” – Deborah Allen
An accomplished songwriter who wrote many hits for others, particularly with Rafe VanHoy, this was one of three top ten tunes for Ms. Allen, reaching #2 in 1984. This is much more country sounding than her other big hit “Baby I Lied”.

Last of The Silver Screen Cowboys” – Rex Allen Jr.
After some success as a pop-country balladeer, Rex Jr. turned increasing to western-themed material as the 1980s rolled along. This was not a big hit, reaching #43 in 1982, but it featured legendary music/film stars Roy Rogers and Rex Allen Sr. on backing vocals.

“Southern Fried” – Bill Anderson
This was Whispering Bill’s first release for Southern Tracks after spending over twenty years recording for Decca/MCA. Bill was no longer a chart force and this song only reached #42 in 1982, but as the chorus notes: “We like Richard Petty, Conway Twitty and the Charlie Daniels Band”.

Indeed we do. Read more of this post

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: part 1

A revised and expanded version of a post first published on The 9513:

The 1970s were not my favorite decade for country music but it was the decade in which I did my largest amount of listening to country radio, having the good fortune to have such country giants as WSUN AM- 620 in St. Petersburg, FL, WHOO AM-1090 in Orlando and WCMS AM-1050 in Norfolk, VA for my listening pleasure, plus I could tune in WSM AM – 650 in Nashville at night. I did a lot of shift-work during this decade so my radio was on constantly.  This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1970s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

Cowboy Convention” – Buddy Alan

A silly record with some great trumpet work, “Cowboy Convention” is a cover of a Lovin’ Spoonful record from the mid 60s, about the villains of the silent movie era who were always tying Sweet Nell to the railroad track. The Buddy Alan title credit on the label is misleading as this is really a Buddy Alan/Don Rich duet with the Buckaroos. Buddy Alan, of course, is the son of Buck Owens. Read more of this post

Album Review: Joey + Rory – ‘A Farmhouse Christmas’

Everybody’s favourite country music couple are the perfect pair to share their Christmas festivities with us. This album, their third on Sugar Hill, is designed to accompany their special seasonal live show, which sounds like the perfect evening to get you in the holiday spirit.

‘It’s Christmas Time’, last year’s charming holiday single from the duo, is a sweetly sung and neatly observed expression of the stress and joy of preparing for a family Christmas. It was written by Rory, and has typically lovely sounding production from Carl Jackson, who was responsible for their two previous albums. He was obviously busy this year, as the newly recorded material has been placed in the hands of Gary Paczosa, who has done the engineering on recent albums by the likes of Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss. His production work is excellent, and if not quite as sparkling as that provided by Carl Jackson, it is lovely and clean and focuses attention on Joey’s lovely voice. Musicians are sadly uncredited, but I was particularly struck by some nice fiddle work. The excellent Rounder artist Bradley Walker sings backing vocals on most of the album, and it would be good to hear news of a new album from him in the near future. (Incidentally, he has a track on the Mark Twain project recently produced by Carl Jackson.)

There is less self-composed material than usual for the pair, but more original songs than is customary on Christmas albums, which have a tendency to rehash the same old songs year after year. Here there are just three well known numbers, all worth revisiting. The warmth of Joey’s vocal lends a hopeful undertone to Haggard’s desperate and still-topical ‘If We Make It Through December’. For once the sweetness verges on too much, compared to the bleak original, but is counterbalanced by a gruff cameo appearance from Hag himself. Joey sings a plaintive version of the classic ‘Blue Christmas’, and she and Rory swap verses on a sincere version of ‘Away In A Manger’. The remainder of the material is either new or not very well known.

The saucy western swing ‘I Know What Santa’s Getting For Christmas’ was written by Garth Brooks and Kent Blazy but does not appear to have been previously recorded. Garth did however record ‘The Gift’, a Stephanie Davis story song on his multiple platinum Beyond The Season Christmas album almost 20 years ago. The sweet story of a little Mexican girl who nurses an injured bird back to health and sets it free as her gift to Jesus is well revived here with an attractive retro western feel, and ends with what sounds like the genuine recorded singing of a nightingale. ‘The Diamond O’ is another good Stephanie Davis song, this one about a cowboy Christmas, which allows Joey to try out her yodel.

Rory takes the lead on more songs than usual. By far the best of these is the understated ‘Remember Me, which he wrote with Tim Johnson. Rory takes the role of Jesus reminding us what the celebrations are really about, and this is one of my favourite tracks on the album. In complete contrast, I also enjoyed the bouncy and very secular ‘Come Sit On Santa Claus’ Lap’, written by Shawn Camp and Brice Long with a few lyric changes personalizing it for the couple. This is just fun.

He also sings the piano-led ‘What The Hell (It’s The Holidays)’, an amusing bluesy number written by Wynn Varble and Frank Rogers about the temptations of the Christmas table to a dieter, but one which really demands a more charismatic lead vocal. (Having been entertained by natural comedian Varble’s run on CMT’s Next Superstar this year, I’d rather like to hear his version.) Rory shows more personality on ‘Let It Snow (Somewhere Else)’, a slight but pleasant and cheery tale of a Christmas in the Caribbean, which seems to be this year’s Christmas single (at least, there’s a video). It was written by Rory with Tom Johnson and James Slater and sounds as though it was intended for a Kenny Chesney Christmas album, complete with Jimmy Buffett reference. Rory sounds a little like Garth Brooks on this, the album’s most disposable track (although it is quite cleverly constructed).

Joey is back on lead on the optimistic ‘Another Wonderful Christmas’ which ends the record on the same theme as it opened with ‘It’s Christmas Time’. With its many references to the foibles of their own family and friends, this is perhaps just a little too personal to work more widely.

Overall, this is the kind of Christmas project one would expect from Joey + Rory, sweet but not saccharine, with a helping of humor, and there is a pretty good and un-hackneyed selection of material. It may not get much play in my home eleven months out of twelve, but I can see this as a standby for Christmases to come.

Grade: B+