My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Joe Ely

Album Review: Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers – ‘Hold My Beer vol. 1’

hold my beerWade Bowen and Randy Rogers are both artists who have flirted with mainstream success and major labels but have now returned to their Texas roots. They have toured together for years, and Lloyd Maines has produced their first duo album together. The result is on the country end of Texas Red Dirt, and is thoroughly enjoyable with some excellent songs.

The enjoyable buddyish ‘In The Next Life’ sees the pair sharing their musical experiences in Nashville and Texas, a good humoured review of good times and bad they cheerfully conclude:

All you need is one good friend
And in the next life
We wanna be ourselves again

More seriously they set out their stall with ‘Standards’, which deals with the problems with the music business in Nashville, and their own need to stay true to themselves:

Record man came and sat me down
He said, “I got some songs for you
There’s one about a dirt road
I really think you oughta do”
So I gave it a listen
And it wasn’t all that bad
But it ain’t me so I shook my head
That’s all there is to that

Well he just smiled
And he rolled his eyes
He said “How can I make you see?
We just need one big hit
The rest’ll be history
If we could find a way to compromise
You could be the next big star”
I said, “Man you might be right
But I don’t care if you are

I don’t have hits
I’ve got standards
Tell me how can I sell out
If I barely sell at all?”

Also excellent is the gently paced western story song ‘El Dorado’, the story of a weary ‘old desperado’ who is dying alone:

That is the fate of the old desperado
Better the angels to claim you than the long ride alone
Someone would have long ago found El Dorado
So good luck to you, cowboy, I’m moving on

Moving into sad song territory, ‘Til It Does’ is a rueful song about that realisation too late that a neglected loved one is about to reach breaking point:

She always wanted me to want her
Now I will
She always needed me to come home
Now I know
How that feels
These days I’m seein’ things
In ways that only missin’ her reveals

You don’t want the way it is
‘Til you’re wishin’ for the way it was
That’s how a heartache finds afool
It don’t happen ‘til it does

‘Hangin’ Out In Bars’ has a more upbeat feel musically, but is equally heartbroken musically, as the protagonist drinks away his unhappiness trying to get over his ex.

The pair take on western swing with the tongue in cheek ‘Good Luck With That’ about unwise decisions in life.

While there are no poor songs here, ‘Ladybug’ is a bit of a throwaway, but is still quite catchy and pleasant sounding.

There are a few covers mixed in with the new songs, including two Haggard tunes. The relaxed ‘It’s Been A Great Afternoon’ about the aftermath of a big night out fits in nicely, while the resigned ‘Reasons To Quit’ is best known from Haggard’s duet with Willie Nelson, and is excellent here. ‘I Had My Hopes Up High’ is a pleasant, energetic mid-tempo story song by Joe Ely, about a young man leaving home and the colourful characters he meets while hitchhiking.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable album, and one I warmly recommend to anyone who likes real country music.

Grade: A

Album Review: Kelly Willis – ‘Bang Bang’

KellyWillisBangBangThe early 1990s were an interesting time for Kelly Willis. Razor X, in his review of her debut, motioned that Willis was signed to MCA in 1989 in an effort to expand the definition of country music. In accordance with her musical output at the time, MCA also went all out with a marketing campaign that saw Willis gaining national exposure both on news magazines and in movies, where she scored bit parts.

While the efforts at maximizing her exposure were well received, Willis never really caught on with the mainstream nor was she able to sell many records. That being said, MCA continued to try and her sophomore album Bang Bang was released just a year after Well Traveled Love. Produced once again by Tony Brown, the album contained a variety of songs from a mix of both left of center and mainstream songwriters.

For the album’s lead single, MCA went with “Baby Take A Piece of My Heart,” an excellent uptempo tune Willis co-wrote with Kostas, a male songwriter who was in high demand at the time. The tune, which peaked at #58, is Willis’ only charting song from her tenure with MCA and easily her best known single from this period of her career.

The second and third singles failed to chart. Kostas and Willis’ husband Mas Palermo co-wrote “The Heart That Love Forgot,” a mid-tempo guitar and drum centric number that is more Texas than Nashville country. Texas country singer/songwriter Joe Ely self-penned “Settle For Love,” an upbeat rocker that perfectly showcases Willis’ biting twang. While both are excellent songs, neither was in line with the radio trends of the era making it unsurprising they didn’t catch on.

The remainder of Bang Bang features mostly uptempo rockers that are heavy on drums, and while light on commercial country, are excellent just the same. “I’ll Try Again” is a honky-tonk rocker while “Too Much To Ask” and “Standing By The River” borrow from Gram Parsons’ signature style. The title track rocks just as hard although Brown smartly adds steel and electric guitars to give it needed spice.

My main complaint with Bang Bang lies with Brown’s production. His slick arrangements drown Willis’ distinctive voice when they should’ve been highlighting it instead. Problem is, as evidenced by “Sincerely (Too Late to Turn Back Now),” Willis hadn’t yet found voice as an artist. As good as the Steve Earle and Robert Earl Keen ballad is, her vocal isn’t nearly as confident as it would be if she recorded it today. The same is true for the sinister “Not Afraid of the Dark,” which seems out of place in comparison to the rest of the album.

Those concerns are elevated on “Hidden Things,” which proves she was already a gifted vocalist in 1991, and while she might not have completely understood how to best use her talents, she could turn in a stellar performance if given the right vehicle. Unlike the majority of the Bang Bang Brown’s production actually aids the track and frames her quite nicely.

It’s always a pleasure to go back and listen to early music from gifted artists, especially recordings made before they found their authentic voice within the industry. In the twenty-three years since Bang Bang it’s remarkable how much Willis has grown which is even more astonishing given that she was a knockout vocalist back then, too. This might not be the most essential album in her collection but it provides a fine listening experience and comes recommended for those looking to fully understand Willis as an artist.

Grade: A-