My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jimmy Olander

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘I Made It’

i made itIt has been several years since Diamond Rio were last in the studio, and more since they made a country record (their last effort was a Christian Contemporary effort which lacked the band’s signature harmonies). Their self-released return was an unexpected surprise.

Unfortunately, a couple of songs in, I was wondering if they had lost the plot completely. The opening ‘I Love This Song’ is a piece of mid-tempo fluff which would be bearable if forgettable, but is marred by bizarre vocal interjections; it was previously an unsuccessful single for its co-writer Marcel. ‘Ride The Range’ is a weird self-indulgent experimental melange; it has country instrumentation, but does not sound country structurally or melodically , with semi-spoken vocals and a rudimentary lyric. I strongly disliked it, and scheduling the record’s worst songs at the start unbalances it as a whole. Luckily, things improve.

The pop-country ‘Crazy Life’ is not very interesting, despite a perky arrangement, with oddly syncopated vocals. ‘Lay Your Lovin’ On Me’ has a similar bouncy feel but is much catchier and more entertaining, and I rather enjoyed it.

The title track is much better. Co-written by band member and album producer Jimmy Olander with Josh Shilling and Michael Dulaney, it is a charming ballad reminiscing about Olander’s arrival in Nashville as an aspiring musician, which turns half way through into an AC-leaning love song to his wife. The romantic ‘I Can’t Think Of Anything But You’ (a Skip Ewing co-write) is a cover of a song formerly recorded as a duet by Sammy Kershaw and Lorrie Morgan, and is quite nicely done.

The album’s outstanding song does see the group back at their best. ‘Beckett’s Back Forty Acres’ is a delightful story song with an acoustic arrangement, about a local farmer who makes it big by a secret (and illegal) crop – but eventually gets hauled away by the police. Ashley Gorley, Michael Rossi and Hugh Bryan Simpson wrote the song, and this track is well worth downloading.

The love song ‘If You’re Willing’ is typical Diamond Rio mid-tempo fare, an enjoyable track written by Jason Sellers and Stewart Harris. ‘I’ll Wait For You’ is also quite attractive.

‘Findin’ My Way Back Home’ was the single released from Lee Ann Womack’s ‘lost’ unreleased album in 2006. LAW’s version of the Craig Wiseman/Chris Stapleton song had something of an Americana-meets-pop feel to it which didn’t really work. The Diamond Rio version is a bit more more organic, and more successful.

The beautiful ‘Walking By Beauty’, written by Patrick Jason Matthews and Jason White, was inspired by an experiment undertaken in 2007 by acclaimed classical violinist Joshua Bell, when he busked in a Washington DC Metro station to see who would pay attention. Bell guests on the track, whose profits are devoted to the doTerra Healing Hands Foundation.

This is definitely a mixed bag, but on the whole the good outweighs the bad.

Grade: B

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘The Reason’

Country music has always happily mixed the sacred with the secular, and country musicians have often included religious songs on their records, or released fully fledged Christian albums. With their secular country career floundering in the new millennium and having lost their deal with Arista, Diamond Rio moved to Christian label Word. Although they had previously recorded some religious material in their own style, rather than making a Christian country record for Word, they chose instead to follow the template of Christian radio with 2009’s The Reason. The end result is far from satisfactory, and deeply disappointing.

It is, in fact, extremely disappointing musically, with the band’s trademark harmonies replaced by anonymous praise and worship band unison singing buried some way back in the mix, although lead singer Marty Roe is in good voice and sounds invested in the material. The band’s sparkling instrumental playing is also absent, sounding flat and generic, while the songs themselves are all rather the same.

Band members did at least contribute to the album by co-writing most of the material assisted by some names which are unfamiliar to me but who are, I presume, Contemporary Christian songwriters. Marty Roe and Jimmy Olander co-wrote six of the songs with their new friends. The single ‘God Is There’ is a little over-dramatic, and the production is heavy-handed and has too much echo. When I originally heard this I was very disappointed with their new direction; but it is, sadly, actually one of the better tracks, as Marty tells us God is present even in the hardest moments of life.

The title track has a nice low-key piano intro, passionate lyric about a penitent sinner who has turned to God, and a heartfelt lead vocal from Roe, but by the chorus it develops into something more like a church modern praise song. The very pop-oriented and over-produced ‘This Is My Life’ (the second single) is almost unlistenable thanks to the technological production tricks. ‘Wherever I Am’ and ‘Into Your Hands’ are decent songs of their kind with likeable vocal performances from Roe, but, once more, the overall mix is far too heavily processed, especially on the latter. ‘Just Love’ is even less listenable.

‘Moments Of Heaven On Earth’ (written by the band’s piano/keyboard player Dan Truman with Don Pfrimmer) is a pleasant pop song about marital love with a bit of religion tacked on in the second verse. Bassist Dana Williams co-wrote the idealistic ‘What Are We Gonna Do Now’, which is not bad.

Worship song ‘Reaching For Me’ is boring, but the other outside songs are better. ‘My God Does’, written by Sarah Buxton, Craig Wiseman and Bob DiPiero, is the only track to sound anything the band’s earlier work, and, while not their best work, is pretty good, and the most listenable track here. ‘In God We Still Trust’ (written by Bud Lee and Bill and Kim Nash) adds a little patriotism by affirming the US to be a Christian nation at heart. They had previously recorded this on their Greatest Hits Vol 2.

Bizarrely, this fundamentally misjudged project, won the band their first ever Grammy (for Best Southern Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album, although I certainly can’t detect much country or bluegrass). If you love the quintessential sound of Diamond Rio, you’ll barely recognize them here, with everything that made the group’s music distinctive missing.

Grade: D

If you’re still interested, used copies are available exceptionally cheaply for such a recent release.

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘Close To The Edge’

Diamond Rio’s second album was rush-released in October 1992. It was produced as before by Monty Powell and Tim Dubois along broadly similar lines to its predecessor. Although not quite as consitently high quality as the songs on their debut, the chosen material showcases the band’s trademark harmonies and sparkling playing well. Although, apparently they had only a month to pick the songs, and felt they had fallen short of their debut, everything is presented with verve and I think it stands up well today.

The first two singles had downbeat lyrics about failed relationships. The ballad ‘In A Week Or Two’ (one of my favorite tracks) was received well at radio and hit #2. The rueful protagonist has been blindsided when he kept on putting off those romantic gestures, only to find his lover loses patience and leaves him. Equally regretful in the face of a vanished lover, the bouncily catchy ‘Oh Me, Oh My Sweet Baby’ was another top 5 hit, with particularly strong harmonies and picking. The perky ‘This Romeo Ain’t Got Julie Yet’ about a thwarted teenage couple (co-written by the lead guitarist Jimmy Olander), the slightest of the album’s singles, did less well, peaking at an unlucky 13.

My favorite of the singles then disappointingly failed to crack the top 20. Set to an understated but pretty tune, it offers a pensive reflection on the lost innocence of childhood:

When we knew Jesus was the answer
And Elvis was the King
‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Rock Of Ages’
Were the songs we learned/loved to sing
Innocence went out of style
We just watched it go
Yesterday got left beneath
The dust of Sawmill Road

We learn the protagonist’s brother was mentally destroyed by service in Vietnam, and he keeps minimal contact with the sister, who now has three failed marriages behind her. Only the narrator remains living in the eponymous ‘Sawmill Road’, where the three siblings “were raised up on the path of righteousness” so long ago. The song was written by the band’s keyboard player Dan Truman with Sam Hogin and Jim McBride.

It leads appropriately into an appeal to the lonely and lost in life, ‘Calling All Hearts (Come Back Home)’, an idealistic number written by Monty Powell, Kent Blazy and Wade Kimes, which I also like a lot.

My absolute favorite track, though, is the high lonesome ‘Demons And Angels’. Written by former singer Judy Rodman and Ronnie Samoset, the song portrays the intense struggle of a man(and his wife) fighting his addiction to alcohol,

He swore it was over and all in his past
A few hours later his hand’s round a glass
A voice on the left says,
“There’s peace in the wine”
From the right a voice whispers,
“Don’t do it this time”
When he looks for the answer
Down in his heart
Demons and angels tear him apart

There’s not much that’s sweeter
Than a new life begun
Ain’t much that’s sadder
Than a promise undone
He stares at the bottle,
Longs for her arms
While demons and angels tear him apart

‘Old Weakness (Coming On Strong)’ is not the song of that title recorded by both Tanya Tucker and Patty Loveless, but an intensely sung ballad about struggling with the thought of encountering an old flame he’s not really over, written by Powell with Chapin Hartford. A cheery riposte to old friends comparing the fun of bachelor life to the protagonist’s newlywed happiness, ‘It Does Get Better Than This’ is unremarkable lyrically, but is lifted by the charming vocal and instrumental performance, and could be a hit today.

The love songs ‘I Was Meant To Be With You’ (co-written by Dubois and Powell with Debi Cochran and Diamond Rio’s lead singer Marty Roe) and Jimmy Olander’s ‘Nothing In This World’ (co-written with Eric Silver) are pleasant filler, performed exceptionally well. The upbeat title track (written by the band’s mandolin and occasional fiddle player Gene Johnson with Carl Jackson) is also fairly forgettable lyrically, but it has a great groove and lets the band show off their chops , closing the album on a high.

The record has been certified gold, so it did not sell quite as well as their debut. However, despite the band’s own misgivings about the quality of the material, I think it compares pretty well, and there are some outstanding moments. Cheap used copies are easy to find, and it is also available digitally.

Grade: A-