My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Joan Baez

Country Heritage: Lacy J. Dalton

lacy j daltonWith one of the more recognizable voices in the genre, Lacy J. Dalton blazed across the skies of country music during the 1980s, producing a number of memorable songs along the way. While not an overwhelming commercial success (only nine of her songs made the Billboard country Top 10) as an artist she impressed with her heartfelt vocals and gritty song interpretations. People magazine referred to her as “Country’s Bonnie Raitt,” a description with which few would differ.

Lacy J. Dalton (born Jill Byrem on October 13, 1946 in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), was born into a musical family. Her father, mother and sister all played musical instruments and sang. Like many of her generation, Dalton’s early influences included the classic country sounds of her youth, the sounds of the folk music revival of the early 60s known as the “Hootenanny” era (artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez), and the jazz/blues of artists such as Billie Holiday and Big Mama Thornton.

Following completion of high school, Dalton briefly attended Brigham Young University. But her restless spirit prevailed, and she dropped out and drifted around the country for a time, eventually arriving in Los Angeles and then Santa Cruz, where she performed as a protest-oriented folksinger. During the later ’60s, she sang with a Bay Area psychedelic rock band called Office, becoming Jill Croston when she married the group’s manager. This marriage did not last long as her husband died in a swimming pool accident.

During the late 1970s Lacy reinvented herself as a country singer adopting the stage name of Lacy J. Dalton. After an initial rock recording on the Harbor label in 1978, in 1979 she landed a recording contract with Columbia after Billy Sherrill heard a demo tape of her singing country music. Her Columbia debut, “Crazy Blue Eyes,” reached #17, followed by her recordings of “Tennessee Waltz” (#18) and “Losing Kind of Love” (#14).

The first three singles helped Lacy win the CMA’s Best New Artist Award. After that, her career kicked into high gear with a string of top ten records that took her through 1983, including “Hard Times” (#7) , “Hillbilly Girl With the Blues” (#8), “Whisper” (#10) and her biggest record “Takin’ It Easy” (#1 Cashbox/#2 Billboard). Everybody Makes Mistakes,” backed with “Wild Turkey,” was a double-sided hit with the A side reaching #5.

While not her biggest hit, 1982’s “16th Avenue” is probably her best remembered song, reaching #7. A 1983 cover of Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)” concluded her visits to the top ten, although she continued to record for Columbia through 1987. The changing tastes of the country music market, away from her ‘blue-eyed soul‘ style toward a more traditional style, greased her slide down the charts. A change of record labels, to Universal in 1989 and Capitol/Liberty in 1990 failed to arrest the slide, although “The Heart” in 1989 and “Black Coffee” in 1990 both reached the top 15, the latter song being her last appearance on the Billboard charts.

Lacy J. Dalton continues to write and record music, and tours the United States and Europe.

You can keep up with Lacy J. Dalton on her website.

Discography

Vinyl
As is always the case, all vinyl is out of print. You can sometimes find her records at used record shops, thrift shops or on the internet. MusicStack seems to be the best source for vinyl on the internet as it is a clearinghouse for many dealers.

Lacy issued nine albums on Columbia. One of these albums is a greatest hits collection, but they are all good albums. Trust me – if you like Lacy’s voice, you’ll like the albums. If you find any albums on Universal, Liberty or Capitol, you may as well buy them too.

CD
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has her Greatest Hits available for $9.95. A ten song CD, this one has ten of her Columbia era songs and indeed is accurately titled. ET also has Best of the Best CD on the King label – same songs but I think these are remakes.

Lacy’s most recent release of new material is a Hank Williams tribute album titled Here’s To Hank. Released in 2010, the album finds Lacy tackling a dozen Hank Sr. classics. While Lacy sticks to the obvious songs such as “Your Cheating Heart”, Hey Good Looking” and “You Win Again”, the fact remains that if (1) you take a really good and soulful singer (2) have her sing twelve of the greatest songs ever written and (3) add an appropriate crew of musicians and careful arrangements by Steven Swinford that update but do not lose the feel of the originals, then you will have a really good album. Such is the case with this album.

Highly recommended to fans of Lacy J Dalton, fans of Hank Sr., and fans of really good country music.

Lacy’s website has a newer CD (from 2004/2008) Last Wild Place which has some newer material plus five of her old hits. This album is (more or less) acoustic.

In late 2012 the Morello label released a two-fer comprised of two of Lacy’s Capitol albums from 1989 and 1990, Survivor/Lacy J. These albums found Lacy writing only three songs, but the lack of original material does not mean lack of quality as there are some imaginative covers to be found here including Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years”, Kris Kristofferson’s “The Heart” and the classic Guy Clark song “Old Friends”. Amazon and Ernest Tubb Record Shop both have this album available.

In the past other CDs have been available including a hits collection on the Capitol/Liberty material.

Amazon has most of Lacy’s material available as digital downloads, but be sure to listen to the samples as some of the tracks are re-makes.

Random playlist 4

In the months that I’ve been compiling these lists of my current listening habits, I’ve noticed that a core group of acts have remained in my ears, though the material I’ve chosen from them has been different.  I’ve been neglectful to the new music in my collection this summer so you won’t find any reflections on new releases this time. Still, yet another season goes by and I’m left with another set of recent heavy-rotation tracks in my music library, and I’d like to share them with you.

Alan Jackson – “There Goes” … This comes from one of Jackson’s best albums yet, 1997’s Everything I Love. Hard as it may be for another artist to top the title track from that set, Jackson did it just two releases later with “There Goes” – and has since hit a new high-water mark countless times.  The barroom-inspired easy sway of the melody here draws the listener in much the same way the narrator sings about the woman who’s hooked him.  A rolling steel guitar accompaniment and crying fiddles keep with the melancholy nature of the song, even when the lyrics – “I’m still pretendin’ I don’t need you/I won’t let you know you’re killin’ me” – make you smile.  This is genuine country music pathos at its finest.

Reba McEntire – “Please Come To Boston” … Like her earlier hit with the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown”, Reba does a gender-reversal, and of course a narrative reversal in the process, when she tackles Dave Loggins’ 1974 #1 pop hit.  Singing from the other side of the wanderlust, the singer here plays the role of the sensible hometown girl with invitations aplenty from a rambling man, who summons her from Boston, Denver, and finally L.A. Each time she says no. But it’s in flipping pronouns on the song’s powerhouse bridge that McEntire changes things around, and becomes a pining-for-him protagonist when she reveals “Of all the dreams he’s lost or found and all that I ain’t got/He still needs to lean to, somebody he can sing to“.  She continues to turn down his calls to join him, but the tenderness of her tough love opens up the possibility for a happy ending – something the Loggins version never had.  Joan Baez and other females had done all this before, but none came close to Reba’s believability.

Rosanne and Johnny Cash – “That’s How I Got To Memphis” … Maybe it was the allure of Memphis over Boston or L.A. that changes the story, as the singer here elects to follow her love interest to destinations far away.  But she didn’t come here by his side. In this oft-recorded Tom T. Hall narrative, she’s followed the only trail she knows. Returning to the life her love interest knew before her knew her, she’s sure she’ll find him and be able to tell him all the things she wanted to say all along, and of course rescue him from his troubles.  Not just the engaging story told, it’s the elder Cash’s commanding vocal on the final verse and a walking bass line melody that keep this track repeating on my players.

Wynonna Judd- “No On Else On Earth” … Even the most brazen of us have a weakness. After all, the Texas Ranger himself finally succumbed to Alex Cahill. Rocks, fences, and keeping your senses are futile defenses sometimes. Wynonna Judd’s third single as a solo artist quickly introduced her with a signature sound that was all her own and an attitude never heard on those old Judds records.  Even 19 years later, no other tune in the singer’s catalog recalls what her fans would come to know Wynonna for in later years: rocking guitars, cool-as-ice lyrics, and her falsetto-into-growling vocals.

Jo Dee Messina – “Heads Carolina, Tails California” … Like Wynonna, Jo Dee Messina captured her musical essence with an early single. This – Messina’s first out of the chute and a #2 hit in 1996 – caught the lightning of the singer’s effervescent and spunky personality in a bottle, and combined it with an irresistibly reckless spirit.  The in-your-face mix of instruments that makes up the production here went out with the new millennium, which is a shame since this sounds as fresh today as 15 years ago. As was intended, it still leaves me feeling ready to pack a bag and hit the road.

Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams” … “Thunder only happens when it’s raining …”  Saying that line out loud 34 years after the rock supergroup hit the top of the Hot 100 with this Stevie Nicks-penned track, the words fall flat on the tongue in the most sanctimonious way. And certainly the production, heavy with synthetic bass lines and distorting harmonies, has lost a lot of its original sheen, leaving the song a dusty chestnut in the annals of classic rock.  But it’s in Nicks’ bemused performance and the all-inclusive theme that makes it worth repeating. No matter if you’re the one who says “you want your freedom” or the one giving it, after listening, you’ll never again call it quits without listening carefully “to the sound of your loneliness“.

Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Stones In The Road’

Following the multi-platinum success of 1992’s Come On, Come On, Mary Chapin Carpenter released her fifth album, Stones In The Road in October 1994. Though it didn’t sell as well as its predecessor, it was quite successful at both retail and radio, racking up sales in excess of 2 million units and spawning Mary Chapin’s one and only #1 country hit, “Shut Up And Kiss Me.” It also added two more Grammys to her growing awards collection, one for Best Country Album and Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “Shut Up And Kiss Me.” Longtime collaborator John Jennings once again assumed co-production duties.

I’m at a loss to think of another album that balances commercial considerations with art as skillfully as this one. Just country enough to fall within the constraints of radio, the album also serves up a generous amount of folk. The opening track, the Celtic-tinged “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” is my favorite. Like all of the other songs on the album, it was written by Mary Chapin, and originally recorded by Joan Baez two years earlier. The melody reminds me of “Saw You Running”, written by Irish songwriter Thom Moore and recorded by Mary Black at approximately the same time that Stones In The Road was released. “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” was released as the album’s fourth and final single, signaling a growing willingness on the part of Mary Chapin and the Sony brass to push the boundaries at country radio. In retrospect, however, it may have been a misstep as the record stalled at #45 and none of Carpenter’s subsequent single releases performed particularly well on the charts.

After “Why Walk When You Can Fly?”, the album changes pace somewhat abruptly with “House of Cards”, a more radio-friendly tune that peaked at #21. This is a play-it-safe tune for Carpenter, similar in style to some of her earlier hits such as “The Hard Way” and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.” “House of Cards” is followed by the title track, a beautifully written tune in which Mary Chapin recalls her school days in the first verse, the Robert F. Kennedy assassination and the turbulence of the 1960s in the second, and the increasingly hectic pace of modern life in the third. The stones in the road start out as diamonds in the dust in the opening verse, but by the end of the song, Carpenter laments, they “leave a mark from whence they came.” Too heavy for radio, it comes as no surprise that “Stones In The Road” was not released as a single.

Another highlight is the mid-tempo “A Keeper For Every Flame,” which seems as though it should have been a candidate for single release. It is followed by another mid-tempo number, “Tender When I Want To Be”, which holds the dubious distinction of being the last Mary Chapin Carpenter single to ever reach the The Top 10, peaking at #6. Next up is the aforementioned “Shut Up And Kiss Me”, which despite being the biggest hit on this album, is actually one of my least favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter songs, at least as far as the big hits are concerned.

“The Last Word” is another one of my favorites, second only to “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” After this point, the album unfortunately becomes very ballad-heavy, more folk-oriented, and often borders on tedious. “Jubilee”, another Celtic-flavored number, is the only song after the seventh track, that I truly enjoyed. “John Doe No. 24”, tells the true story of a blind, deaf, and mute man who was found wandering the streets of Jacksonville, Illinois in 1945 and spent the next 48 years in state mental health institutions until his death in 1993. Though well written, it is possibly the most depressing song I have ever heard. Like most of the songs on the second half of the album, it drones on for way too long, clocking in at a whopping five minutes and 44 seconds.

As always, Mary Chapin’s songwriting is stellar, as is the production. There is nothing among these 13 tracks that can be said to be even close to traditional country, but the album still manages to appeal to country fans. It also won Mary Chapin a considerable number of new non-country fans. In addition to its double-platinum sales in the United States, it sold 100,000 units in Canada, earning platinum status there, and like Come On, Come On, it earned silver status in the United Kingdom, for sales excess of 60,000 units in that country. The album’s biggest flaw lies in its sequencing; the first half is enjoyable enough, but the overabundance of ballads (and long ones at that) in the second half caused me to lose interest in it. This is one of those albums that needs to be shuffle-played, in order to get a better mix of ballads and uptempo songs.

Grade: B+

Stones In The Road is readily available on CD and in digital form from Amazon and iTunes.