My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Joe Cocker

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Crazy In Love’

One of the reasons for Conway Twitty’s longevity as an artist was his knack for adapting to new musical trends. In the 1980s, as country music entered the Urban Cowboy era and adopted a slicker, more pop-oriented sound, Conway did likewise, and maintained his position at the top of the charts. His new sound was particularly evident on the Warner/Elektra recordings. Interestingly, though, he did not follow country music’s trend back toward a more traditional sound in the latter half of the decade. For whatever reason, it seemed to work. His albums from this era only sold modestly but he continued to have radio hits, although somewhat less consistently, and remained relevant to the genre.

Crazy In Love was Conway’s first full-length album of the 1990s. He produced it with his wife Dee Henry and MCA label chief Jimmy Bowen. Like his other recent efforts, there is nary a fiddle nor a steel guitar to be found, although the album itself encompasses a variety of styles from pop and R&B to more traditional country fare. The title track and lead single was perhaps his most pop-leaning single ever. It had originally been included on a Joe Cocker album in 1984 and Kim Carnes took it to #13 on the AC charts in 1988. Kenny Rogers had a competing version from his 1990 Love Is Strange album, which reached #9 on the AC charts. Conway’s version reached #2 on the country charts, a position where many of his singles had landed since he’d rejoined MCA in 1987. Written by Randy McCormick and Even Stevens, there is nothing even remotely country about this song, but it is very good nonetheless. The upbeat “I Couldn’t See You Leavin'”, written by Rory Michael Bourke and Ronny Scaife reached #3, making it the last bonafide hit single of Conway’s career. None of his subsequent efforts would chart in the Top 20. There was one last single released from Crazy In Love, though — the traditional-leaning “One Bridge I Didn’t Burn”, which peaked at a disappointing #57, despite being the best song on the album. It is, however, a track that is crying out for the fiddle-and-steel treatment. The album cut “What’s Another Goodbye”, written by Kent Robbins is another very good track that would have benefited from more traditional instrumentation.

I wasn’t as enamored by Conway’s cover of the 1978 Dr. Hook hit “When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman” (another Even Stevens composition) or the slightly overblown power ballad “Just the Thought of Losing You”, written by Michael Bolton and Jonathan Cain. Both are well executed but with so many good country songs available in Nashville at the time (unlike today), one wonders why these two were chosen. The upbeat closing track “Hearts Breakin’ All Over Town” is not bad but is only truly noteworthy because of its co-writer Pam Tillis who was about to enjoy her own commercial breakthrough.

Conway Twitty’s long career saw him embracing a number of different musical styles and as such it is inevitable that everything he did will be to everyone’s taste. While I wouldn’t rate Crazy In Love as highly as his early 70s albums, it is a solid effort for its era. I don’t think I’ve ever truly hated anything Conway Twitty did — aside from his unfortunate treatment of “Danny Boy” during his rock-and-roll days. Crazy In Love is not essential listening, but it is a worthwhile late career effort from a true legend, who truly was the best friend a song ever had.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘We’ve Got Tonight’

1983’s We’ve Got Tonight was Kenny Rogers’ final album for Liberty before moving on to RCA. By this stage of the game, his priority was maintaining his position on the adult contemporary and pop charts; he and his producers having long since figured out that country radio would stick with him regardless of what kind of music he released. That approach is apparent in both the choice of material and the choice of a duet partner to perform the album’s title cut. Instead of partnering again with Dottie West or another well-known country artist, Kenny was matched up with Scottish pop singer Sheena Easton. At the time Easton was signed to Liberty’s parent company EMI. She was best known to American audiences for her hit “9 to 5 (Morning Train)” which had topped the Hot 100 three years earlier. Since then, her chart success had been inconsistent, and pairing her up with Rogers may have been EMI’s attempt to increase her visibility in the US market.

If so, the strategy proved successful. Despite a complete lack of country instrumentation, “We’ve Got Tonight” quickly rose to #1 on the Billboard country charts (Easton’s only entry on that chart) and landed at #2 on the adult contemporary chart. It also reached #6 on the Hot 100, outdoing its composer Bob Seger’s original version, which had reached #13 five years earlier. Although not country, this ballad about a lonely couple seeking to justify and rationalize a one-night stand is a very good song and Rogers’ and Easton’s voices blend well together. One suspects that they might have teamed up again for future projects had Rogers remained with an EMI label.

“We’ve Got Tonight” was followed by another AC ballad “All My Life” another song that I liked though it is not even remotely country. Country radio balked a bit at two AC-leaning ballads in a row; “All My Life” topped out at #13 on the country charts, marking the first time Rogers failed to make the country top 10 since his pre-“Lucille” days. The song performed better on the adult contemporary charts, where it reached #2. It got to #37 on the Hot 100; I’d venture to say that today this is one of Rogers’ least-remembered songs.

It was relatively unusual in those days for a Kenny Rogers album to produce more than two singles, but Liberty sent a third track from this collection to radio. “Scarlet Fever” was perhaps a response to “All My Life’s” lack of success on the country charts. My favorite song on the album, it is one of the albums few nods to country music and marks a return of sorts to story songs like “Lucille”, “The Gambler” and “Coward of the County”. It tells the story of a middle-aged man who is infatuated with a much younger exotic dancer that he sees at a gentleman’s nightclub. It charted at #5 country but saw no action on the AC charts.

The upbeat rock-tinged “Farther I Go” was probably country enough by 1983 standards to have had a reasonable shot at country radio. The only other cut with any country appeal is “What I Learned From Loving You”; Lynn Anderson had a competing version on the charts at the time. Her rendition reached #18 and was something of a comeback hit for her. Randy Goodrum’s “No Dreams” is a very nice ballad that was probably too pop for country radio but could have been a bit hit on the AC charts.

The album closes with a “You Are So Beautiful”, a nice ballad that had previously been rendered unlistenable by Joe Cocker’s rough-as-sandpaper vocals. It’s too bad Kenny didn’t get to this one first.

Albums like this are always difficult to evaluate. It’s more pop than country, but that was hardly unexpected from Kenny Rogers by this stage of his career. I’d become interested in his music a few years earlier from listening to my father’s vinyl copy of his 1980 Greatest Hits album. We’ve Got Tonight was the second (after Love Will Turn You Around) Rogers studio album that I’d ever bought. It’s one that’s been with me for a long time and I’ve always found it enjoyable despite its pop leanings. It has certainly aged better than most of the albums in Rogers’ UA/Liberty catalog.

Grade: B

Album Review: Kathy Mattea – ‘Lonesome Standard Time’

1992’s Lonesome Standard Time saw Kathy working with a new producer, Brent Maher, probably best known for his work with the Judds in the 80s. Happily, this didn’t change the overall style, and Kathy was able to maintain her usual standard of high-quality material with a strongly non-mainstream feel.

The punchy title track, written by Jim Rushing and Larry Cordle, draws on the high lonesome tradition of bluegrass to portray the sad emotions of a broken heart, when the sound of a “crying fiddle is the sweetest sound on earth”. The lead single, it just failed to break into the top 10 but is a great track with a committed, energized vocal which opens the album with a real bang.

The pensive ballad ‘Standing Knee Deep In A River (Dying Of Thirst)’ contemplates losing touch with friends not treasured enough. A mature lyric and string laden production make this a bit more AC than most of her work, but the lovely tune, sensitive vocal, and wise lyrics (penned by Bucky Jones, Dickey Lee and Bob McDill) would stand out in any company. Its genre crossing capacity is shown by the fact that blues-rock musician Joe Cocker covered the song in 1994, followed by country veteran Don Williams in 1995. Kathy’s version was the album’s second single and just squeezed into the top 20.

Equally thoughtful, the spiritual ‘Seeds’ (which peaked at #50) takes a philosophical look at human potential, declaring,

We start the same
But where we land
Is sometimes fertile soil
And sometimes sand
We’re all just seeds
In God’s hands

The final single, Nanci Griffith’s uplifting ‘Listen To The Radio’, where country radio acts as the protagonist’s friend and companion while she drives away from her man, performed even more poorly despite being packed full of vocal character – not to mention the presence of Eagle Bernie Leadon on guitar.

The sardonic and catchy ‘Lonely At The Bottom’ had recently been recorded by former duet partner Tim O’Brien in his shortlived attempt at a solo country career. The protagonist is talking to an old friend who has found success has not brought happiness; unfortunately, Kathy informs him, poverty has brought nothing better either. A great acoustic arrangement, Kathy’s playful interpretation supported by call and response backing vocals make this highly enjoyable.

‘Forgive And Forget’ is a mid-tempo Kieran Kane song which sounds potentially radio friendly, and had previously appeared on Kane’s underrated 1993 solo Atlantic album Find My Way Home following the breakup of The O’Kanes. A lively, confident cover of ‘Amarillo’ is also highly entertaining.

The gentle ‘Last Night I Dreamed Of Loving You’ is a beautiful song by country-folk poet-songwriter Hugh Moffatt, given a delicately stripped down production, with the haunting harmonies of Tim O’Brien balancing the raw emotion of the lead vocal.

There are just a couple of tracks which fail to sparkle. ‘Slow Boat’, written by Kathy’s husband Jon Vezner with George Teren is pretty and laidback but a little forgettable. ‘33, 45, 78 (Record Time)’ takes a metaphorical look back at the passing of time.

Despite the relatively disappointing performance of teh singles, sales were good, and it was Kathy’s fourth successive gold record. The limited airplay may mean, however, that more casual fans may have missed out on an excellent album. Luckily, you can make up for that, as used copies are available very cheaply.

Grade: A