My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Joe Barnhill

Album Review: Gary Allan – ‘Set You Free’

set you freeGary Allan’s career seemed to be on a bit of slowdown, with his last top 10 single coming in 2007. Gary has responded by turning to a variety of producers, often a ploy of the artist in decline and desperate to get another hit, but on the whole it seems to have worked. The result is probably the artist’s most sonically adventurous album to date, which is a mixed blessing, but after an initial sense of disappointment on my first hearing, I’ve warmed to the record more than I was expecting.

His biggest hit single in years, the resigned ‘Every Storm Runs Out Of Rain’, is a good song in a contemporary vein. The production (overseen by Gary with Greg Droman) is adventurous and a long way from Gary’s earliest traditional leanings, but not unattractive (apart from an echo which I could do without but is only used a couple of times). It places Gary’s best plaintive vocal at the heart of the track, supported by an effective harmony from co-writer Hillary Lindsey. This is the song which give the album its title.

Gary and Droman also produced ‘You Without Me’, a weary reflection on dealing with having split from someone the protagonist still loves, which Gary wrote with John Lancaster and Rachel Proctor, with another fine vocal. ‘Sand In My Soul’, their third collaboration, on the other hand, is a boring Warren Brothers song about depression on the beach, with a weird echoey sound. The bluesy rocker ‘Bones’, written by Keith Gattis, has an interesting lyric but it sounds like a loud tuneless mess. Disappointingly it is one of the songs flagged on the CD packaging as a likely single.

Gary turned to Mark Wright to help with a further three tracks. The best of these is ‘Hungover Heart’ which is a solid number despite a sometimes heavy hand with the electric guitars. Gary’s vulnerable vocal is perfect for the song, written by Matt Warren and James Leblanc. Gary’s own ‘No Worries’ is bland and boring reggae-lite which sounds like a Kenny Chesney reject, with irritatingly whispery, echoey production. ‘Good As New’ closes the album with an air of philosophical resignation, and is okay but a little over-produced.

The producer with the biggest role is Jay Joyce, best known for his work with Eric Church, and although I was concerned that I wouldn’t care for his work with Gary, it turns out to be better then expected. The best track on the album is one of his production efforts, is the downbeat ‘It Ain’t The Whiskey’, which showcases Gary’s grainy voice and is reminiscent of his best work, and where the production choices are inventive in a mostly good way (although the last instrumental break is pointlessly loud). An unusual opening with the faint sound of an organ leads into the body of the song, in which Gary declares to an AA meeting “in the church of the broken people” that depression is the root of his addiction, and

It ain’t the whiskey that’s killing me

The song was written by Greg Barnhill, Jim Daddario and Cole Degges.

Joyce also does a good job with the chugging ‘Tough Goodbye’, about a commitment-phobe with some qualms about breaking up with his latest victim. Penned by Josh Thompson and Tony Martin, the song is pretty good and gets a committed delivery from Gary, with an interesting ending where he suddenly sounds more vulnerable and even regretful. It might make a good single.

‘Drop’, another likely single does have a compelling, sexy vocal, but the song is just okay and the instrumental arrangement and production don’t really appeal to me, although it might work on radio. The mid-tempo ‘Pieces’ (written by Gary with Odie Blackmon and Sarah Burton) isn’t bad but is a bit loud, while ‘One More Time’, written by Gary with Hillary Lindsey and Matt Warren, is inoffensive but boring.

Overall, I think this album is a distinct improvement over his last couple of albums, although the quality of the material is not up to his classic work.

Grade: B

Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘Faith In You’

Steve’s third and last Capitol album was released in 2000. The overall style leans towards the contemporary end of country, with Steve’s smooth vocals and guitar skills to the fore. He wrote or co-wrote all the songs, played various guitars, and also produced the record. The overall style leans towards the contemporary end of country, and it is mostly successful.

The lead single was a duet with Clint Black on ‘Been There’, a likeable but rather throwaway number with a brass section. Clint also produced this track, co-wrote the song, and contributed a generous helping of his trademark harmonica. The song was the album’s only big hit, peaking at #5, and had already appeared on Clint’s 1999 D’lectrified, an all-acoustic return to form for the latter.

The title track was a sweet declaration of true love written with veteran Bill Anderson, with a tasteful string arrangement and tender vocal. It performed surprisingly poorly as the second single, barely cracking the top 30, but is a low-key gem. The last single saw Steve reunited with Garth Brooks on the jazzy ‘Katie Wants A Fast One’, which Steve wrote with Rick Carnes. It too failed to reach the top 20 despite the star assistance, and was his last hit. It’s not one I like much – all sound and no intensity, with the groove seeming more important than the song, and another horn arrangement.

Another famous friend, Rodney Crowell, helped to write the thoughtful ‘Longer Letter Later’, which portrays a man regretting his past decisions and struggling to put his feelings into words for his ex. A faintly Spanish feel to the arrangement, with accordion and castanets, adds musical interest to the quiet melody.

Bill Anderson co-wrote the infectious mid-tempo ‘Make It Look Easy’, which refers to various individuals who are great at what they do, and ruefully compares their skill to the protagonist’s failure to get over a failed love affair. The choice of superstars leans fairly heavily to sports stars; oddly no country singers are named (Ray Charles gets the sole singing spot, although Steve’s mentor Chet Atkins gets a nod for his guitar skills). I’m not sure the metaphor quite hangs together, but the song sounds pleasant enough. Bill, Steve, and Sharon Vaughn co-wrote the cheerful and irresistibly sing along love song ‘Blinded’, which should have been a single.

‘I Just Do’ (another love song) is a charming lightly swinging piece, which showcases the playing of “the Nashville Super Players”. This is the only solo composition, other than ‘Bloodlines’, the completely instrumental cut which closes the album. This is billed as a duet with Steve’s son Ryan and is very much a family affair, featuring Steve and Ryan on electric guitar, with Steve’s brother Terry adding support on baritone guitar, and only drummer Harry Stinson from outside the family.

I also like the attractive mid-tempo ‘It Wouldn’t Be Love’, written with Joe Barnhill, which reflects on the potential pain of love. ‘Turn In The Road’ is a melodic ballad (also with strings) about a mother’s comforting advice to her son in adversity, written with Jim Witter. These are nice but unexceptional songs lifted by Steve’s sensitive interpretation and beautiful voice, as is ‘Waiting In The Wings’ (written with Billy Kirsch). This is a story song about a youngest son marginalized in his own family, whose dreams sustain him.

Opening track ‘High Time’ is a rather dull pop-country number co-written by Steve with Marcus Hummon and Annie Roboff with intrusive backing vocals, but this is the only low point on the record, and even this does have a nice instrumental break to recommend it. Hummon’s songwriting is better showcased with the pensive reflection on relationship breakdown, ‘I Wish I Were A Train’.

Sales were as disappointing as radio play, and this was sadly to prove Steve’s final major label release.

Grade: B+

Cheap used copies are easy to find.