My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jimmy Yeary

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Cold Beer Conversation’

cold beer conversationAlbums these days are usually announced well in advance, with much anxious testing of the waters and delays if singles under-perform. So it was a big shock when George Strait suddenly released his new album on iTunes with just a few days’ notice. It is his first album since retiring from the road, although he simultaneously announced a short Vegas residency.

‘Let It Go’, the first single, sadly showed that country radio has moved on [from real country music] and there is no longer a place for the most consistent hitmaker of the past 35 years. A relaxed tune about taking life as it comes, it was written by Strait with son Bubba and Keith Gattis.

The same trio teamed up with old friend Dean Dillon to write one of the standout songs. ‘Everything I See’, a touching tribute to Strait’s late father John Byron Strait, who died in 2013. The tasteful production support the thoughtful lyrics. Dillon also wrote the gently philosophical defence of faith and optimism, ‘Even When I Can’t Feel It’, with Ben Hayslip and Lee Miller.

The title track, and new single, was written by Hayslip with Jimmy Yeary and Al Anderson, and is a nicely observed conversational number expressing more homespun philosophy. There is a delightful Western Swing confection (written by George and Bubba with Wil Nance and Bob Regan), ‘It Takes All Kinds’, on the theme of mutual tolerance.

Jamey Johnson contributed a couple of songs. The tongue-in-cheek jazzy ode to booze which is ‘Cheaper Than A Shrink’, written with Bill Anderson and Buddy Cannon, was previously recorded by Joe Nichols and is pretty good. Johnson’s other song here, written with Tom Shapiro, ‘Something Going Down’, is a gorgeously seductive and tender love song.

The gently regretful ‘Wish You Well’ is set on a Mexican island resort, with the protagonist set on drinking away his regrets over lost love.

The one real mis-step, ‘Rock Paper Scissors’, written by Bubba with Casey Beathard and Monty Criswell, has a loud rock arrangement which completely overwhelms George’s vocals on what might be a decent breakup song underneath the noise. The Keith Gattis song. ‘It Was Love’ is also over produced in terms of my personal taste, but that fact rather fits the lyrics, which deal with the overpowering nature of young love.

I really liked the mid-tempo ‘Goin’ Goin’ Gone’, a Gattis co-write with Wyatt Earp. It deals with partying over the weekend as a way to forget the protagonist can barely make ends meet on his weekly wage. A likeable bar room chorus adds to the everyman atmosphere:

I put in my forty and they take out way too much
The same old story, same old brown-bag homemade lunch
Might not be the big dream but I guess I can’t complain
It pays the rent but that’s about all that it pays…
Ain’t got no 401
Ain’t got no benefits
They don’t hand out stock options
Not down here in the pits
But I got Ol’ Glory hanging by my front porch light
Might not be the perfect world
But then again, it might

..
I’m overdue so throw it on the card
Bartender, keep it open
I’m just gettin’ started
Come Monday mornin’ I just might be overdrawn
But it’s Friday night so I’m goin’, goin’… gone

The mid-tempo ‘Stop And Drink’ is another celebration of drinking as a way of coping with the annoyances of everyday life.

‘Take Me To Texas’, written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, was originally recorded for the soundtrack to Texas Rising, a TV miniseries dramatising the Texan Revolution against Mexico in the 1830s. It works okay as a standalone song, expressing pride in the
protagonists’ Texas family roots.

Grade: A

Album Review: Dean Brody – ‘Dirt’

Canadian Dean Brody’s third album sees him building on his past work with a few moves in new directions.  He wrote all the songs, with pretty good results, but his main strength is his voice, which has a quite delicious tone which can elevate mediocre material and make it listenable.

For instance, the title track, a co-write with Nashville-based songwriters Marty Dodson and Jimmy Yeary, is a pleasant sounding but lyrically unmemorable about the joys of mud, from childhood to romance with a female rodeo rider, and ending with an oddly cheery anticipation of the grave.  The vocal, however, makes it far more enjoyable than most country living songs.  ‘Rural Route #3’ is an affectionately delivered tribute to rural living which is better than most of its kind because it is detailed enough to feel real, and deeply rooted in personal experience, and once more a beautiful sounding vocal.  ‘Canadian Girls’, while not particularly interesting, is similarly precise, with his portrait in the verses of a specific girl who grew up watching hockey and playing winter sports before veering off in the chorus into something more general.

Dean’s voice sounds lovely on the pretty ‘Underneath The Apple Trees’, a wistfully sweet invocation to an undiscovered future love, which is one of my favorites.  ‘Flowers In Her Hands’ is also charming, a story song with a delicate arrangement about a childhood friendship which grows into love (although he has trouble saying the words) and eventually tragic loss.  ‘Nowhere USA’ is a more mysterious and dramatic story song with an armed woman who picks up a man on the highway.

In the mildly amusing ‘That’s Your Cousin’, a potential new romance is thwarted when a young courting couple find out they are distantly related.  An alarmed father warns them,

You don’t wanna go swimmin’ in the same gene pool

Don’t be touching

That’s your cousin

The shock news “broke the law of attraction almost instantly”.  In the coda, the girl ends up deciding international online dating is the safest option.

‘Losing My Balance’ is an attractive sounding but somewhat fillerish contemporary country love song.  The conversational ‘The Sleeping Bag Song’ sets up a weekend campout to revive a tired romance, and is okay.  ‘Bob Marley’ is less successful, with a meandering melody and uninteresting lyric about bonding with a grandmother.

‘It’s Friday’ is a cheerful Celtic drinking song featuring rough-edged fellow-Canadian folk rock band Great Big Sea, about partying at the end of the working week, which is fun and an unexpected change of pace.

The songs are good, but Brody’s voice is what really sets this album apart.

Grade: B+

Album Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Lady & Gentlemen’

When LeAnn Rimes made her impressive debut aged just 13, she did so with a vintage song originally written for Patsy Cline. Her career subsequently veered popwards, with LeAnn often not seeming to be certain of her own musical identity. Most recently she has been producing solid pop-country, but her chart career has been overshadowed by a tangled personal life. So I was intrigued to hear that she might be returning to country classics – at least, until I heard the first single. I hated LeAnn’s manically speeded up and overwrought version of John Anderson’s hit ‘Swingin’, and was left gloomy about the album’s likely direction, despite Vince Gill being named as the producer. (He is in fact joined in that task on the bulk of the record by Justin Niebank, Darrell Brown (LeAnn’s regular co-writer) and John Hobbs, with Gill, Brown and Leann responsible for the arrangements). Happily, the end result is much better than I feared it might be, with the awful, misconceived assault on ‘Swingin’ the only track I really dislike.

There are a couple of other tracks which don’t quite work for me: a horn-accompanied and passionately sung ‘16 Tons’ sounds great if you don’t listen to the words, but is completely unconvincing as a working man’s anthem. Her reworking of producer Vince’s great ‘When I Call Your Name’ as a jazz-soul song wanders too far from the original melody and emotion for me, but is very accomplished in its way and will appeal to some.

Freddy Fender’s Tex-Mex ‘Wasted Days And Wasted Nights’ in contrast has a lovely retro, slightly loungy feel, with lovely phrasing and a small section sung in Spanish. I also enjoyed a new, mature version of her own first hit ‘Blue’, featuring Vince Gill’s side band the Time Jumpers. I enjoyed LeAnn’s enthusiastic take on Waylon’s ‘The Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line’, given a gender rewrite as ‘The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line’. The Waylon/Willie hit ‘A Good Hearted Woman’ is speeded up a bit too much, but still quite enjoyable, expressed in the first person. John Conlee’s ‘Rose Colored Glasses’ is well sung but lacks the intensity of emotion of the original, although the production is more tasteful.

There are three outstanding tracks. While she cannot quite match George Jones on the hallowed ground of ‘He Stopped Loving her Today’, she gives a beautifully understated reading which works extremely well, with Vince adding harmony on the chorus. This is the one which best reveals LeAnn’s growth as an interpreter. A measured, emotional version of Haggard’s depiction of being trapped in an unhappy marriage where ‘I Can’t Be Myself’ is superb. LeAnn’s seductive and emotional plea to ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’ is almost as good.

Haggard’s ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’ (one of three afterthoughts produced by LeAnn with Darrell Brown) was a good addition to the tracklist. On first hearing I thought it paled in comparison to both the original and Emmylou Harris’s defiant cover, but over repeated listens, I have grown to appreciate the sense of defeat and regret in LeAnn’s version.

The other two are brand new songs, which have both been tried, and failed, as radio singles. They are out of place here, sounding much more contemporary, and they contradict the original conceit of the album, the idea that these were all “men’s songs” given a new interpretation by LeAnn. The aggressive Miranda Lambert style gender war of ‘Crazy Women’, written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Jessie Jo Dillon suffers from a cluttered modern production and rather limited melody, while the gentler but still contemporary ‘Give’, written by Jimmy Yeary and Connie Harrington has a well meaning message and is pleasant sounding but a little dull.

Interestingly, this is one of very few modern albums to get a vinyl release alongside CD and digital availability. Sales so far are reportedly low, which is a shame, because this is LeAnn’s best work for some time, and for me it fulfils for the first time the potential she had as a phenomenal teenager. Her vocals are great, and her sometimes muddy diction has also improved.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Rick Trevino – ‘Whole Town Blue’

Back in 2003 the Texas-born Hispanic country artist Rick Trevino (a talented but inconsistent hit maker in the ’90s) released In My Dreams on Warner Brothers, produced by Raul Malo of the Mavericks. It didn’t sell very well, and the follow-up, also produced by Malo, was shelved. Now, following their resurrection of Shawn Camp’s 1994 last year, Warner Brothers have plucked this out of their vaults to finally see the light of day. And (like Camp’s record) it was well worth reviving, proving to be substantially better than its immediate predecessor.

Like its predecessor, with which the CD release pairs it a two-on-one basis, this album has a strong stylistic feeling of the Mavericks, although Trevino’s voice is very different from Malo’s Orbisonesque tenor. The arrangements are basically country-rooted, with Mexican flourishes (lots of mariachi horns) and some strings, making a very consistent musical palette. Trevino wrote most of the generally high quality material with one or both of Malo or Alan Miller, but one of the exceptions is the standout track.

‘Separate Ways’ is a downbeat piano-led ballad with a big soaring chorus and delicate string arrangement, written by Bill Anderson, Jimmy Yeary and Wally Wilson. Starting as a closely observed third person look at a couple, once so close, and their breakup, we see how:

The road that they were ridin’ split in two

Separate ways, his and hers
A love that went from great to good to bad to worse
Separate lives, what a waste
The last thing they ever did together was go their separate ways

The narrator is scared by this example (eventually revealed in the last line of the second verse to be his parents) and promises to work at his own relationship “every day”. The song is perfectly constructed and impressively sung, and it should have been a big hit in 2007, when it was released as a single but didn’t reach the top 40.

The only other outside song comes from the hands of Rodney Crowell. His ballad ‘Loving You Makes Me A Better Man’ is pleasant enough, with very Malo-ish vocal inflections, but the production doesn’t quite work for me, with its multi-tracked vocals.

Rick’s current single is the cheerful Tex-Mex ‘Better In Texas’, in which the protagonist abandons his Mexican sweetheart for a new love in Texas, deciding:

I know everything is better here in Texas

Now Mexico aint nothing but a memory
Pleasant as it might have been, it’s gone
I’d rather be here north of the border
The place where I belong

The exuberant mariachi horns work well on this track.

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Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Tougher Than Nails’

After the loss of his Monument deal, Joe signed to the indie label Broken Bow, for whom he released one album in 2004. He shared production duties with Lonnie Wilson and Buddy Cannon.

He was still a viable hit maker on country radio, even on a minor label, and the title track (a religious song) reached the top 20. Written by Phil O’Donnell, Max T Barnes and Kendell Marvel, it links a modern story (a little boy beaten up by bullies) to the example of Jesus. Perhaps not the most innovative of lyrics, but it is well done, as the father advises his boy against revenge:

Let me tell you a little story about the toughest man I know
Hit him and he just turned the other cheek
But don’t think for a minute he was weak
Cause in the end he showed them he was anything but frail
They hammered him to a cross
But He was tougher than nails

Later on the album, Joe takes the opposite message from a rather different role model in the tongue-in-cheek ‘What Would Waylon Do’, featuring a guest vocal from George Jones (doing his best Waylon impersonation). It was written by Leslie Satcher and Wynn Varble about the tribulations of being a touring musician, and was apparently initially inspired by an incident at a real Waylon Jennings concert when the promoter declined to pay him:

There’s blue cheese in the greenroom
What are we supposed to eat?
And the opening act’s a polka band
And they can’t keep a beat

Now the sheriff’s got the drug dogs
Tearing up our bus
We’re just hillbilly singers
I think he’s profiling us
And now he wants an autograph
And a free t-shirt or two
Well, what would Waylon do?

The second single, ‘If I Could Only Bring You Back’ (selected by the label owner and written by Frank Myers and Chip Davis) failed to make much of an impact. That was radio’s loss, as it was a beautifully interpreted, if rather sad and downbeat tale of bereavement, with understated string section. The protagonist declares he would be willing to give up all his worldly goods, if only the impossible could happen, but:

There’s no words I can say
Not a prayer I can pray
No road that you can take
Back to my arms

I would even take your place
If I could only bring you back

The December-set ‘This Time Last Year’, written by Giles Godard, Bobby Tomberlin and Robbie Wittkowski, has a similar feeling of loss. ‘Good News, Bad News’, written by Danny Wells and Chris Wallin, is even better, a sensitively delivered ballad about struggling with getting over lost love with nothing to look forward to but more of the same:

I’d unfeel the way I feel
If it would make you ungone
Gotta stop livin’ in the past
Look forward and not back
This getting used to go goin’ on without you
Is gonna take some time
The good news is tomorrow’s another day
But the bad news is tomorrow’s another day

Joe wrote five of the twelve tracks, including a rare solo composition, ‘Movin’ Train’, a song about an unsettling relationship which I can imagine bluegrass-style.

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