My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: John Conlee

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘My Kind of Livin”

unnamed2005’s My Kind of Livin’ stands as Craig Morgan’s most successful album to date. His second release for Broken Bow, it remains his only album to be certified gold and features his biggest charting singles.

Morgan’s previous album established him as a syrupy balladeer of emotional story songs. He gained moderate traction with hits like “Almost Home” and “Every Friday Afternoon,” but he still hadn’t found his footing. That changed when “That’s What I Love About Sunday” hit radio in November 2004. The warm ballad, with ribbons of dobro and a pure bright melody, skyrocketed to #1. The track held the top spot for four consecutive weeks, went on to become Billboard’s number-one song on the year-end country chart and gave Broken Bow their first multi-week chart topper. I quite like the song, which manages to maintain a spiritual bent while celebrating the Sabbath without overwrought clichés.

I adore the album’s second single, the infectious banjo, fiddle and steel guitar-heavy “Redneck Yacht Club.” The song foreshadows bro-country with themes of summertime, partying and scantly glad women but it mostly focuses on the fun (and innocence) of being out on the lake with your friends and doesn’t even hint at hookups, sex or gender objectification. Listening in to it again for the first time in many years, I’d almost forgotten that a song this country was able to score major radio airplay just a few short years ago. I’m not suggesting “Redneck Yacht Club” is even close to the greatest song ever written, but it illustrates what summertime country music should aspire to sound like. It makes me sick how far we we’ve devolved in the decade since and even more perplexed as to why we even had to change so much in the first place (I’d add Blake Shelton’s “Some Beach,” co-written by Rory Feek, to this conversation, as well).

Morgan co-wrote the album’s third and final single while on tour with Keith Urban with the hopes he would put it on his next project. After cutting the demo, he felt “I Got You” fit his own style and decided to keep it for himself. The song is a somewhat unremarkable uptempo love song that Morgan saves with his sincere vocal and arrangement that borderlines muscular, but saves enough breathing room for the steel guitar to nicely shine through. Those benefits weren’t enough for the song to gain traction, though, and it stalled at #12.

Morgan also had a hand in co-writing six more of the album’s tracks. The album’s title comes from “I’m Country,” a mid-tempo laundry list of southern clichés that has traditional elements but little else by way of appeal. “Ain’t The Way I Wanna Go Out” explores cheating, a scorned husband and murder with cluttered production values that grate on the listener.

“Rain For The Roses” is a workingman’s anthem about The Roses, a farming couple in a southern town. I would’ve enjoyed it more without the title’s cutesy play-on-words and Morgan’s insistence of turning the chorus into a power ballad. “That’s When I’ll Believe That You’re Gone,” returns Morgan to the syrupy emotional ballads from his previous set, with mixed results. The production is good, but the lyric is too middle-of-the-road to reach maximum emotional complexity.

“If You Like That” is reminiscent of turn-of-the-century Mark Chesnutt and is one of the better songs amongst his co-writes. I love the simple arrangement and heartfelt lyric. Morgan’s final co-write “Blame Me” is a terrible duet with John Conlee and Brad Paisley that joins “I’m Country” in wasting space with uninspired southern signifiers.

“Lotta Man (In That Little Boy)” gives a lot away by its title and offers little more as a song. The ballad just isn’t as compelling as it could be with a story that settles for predictable rather than surprising. “Cowboy and Clown” centers around friendship on the rodeo circuit and despite a stupid title is a slightly above average song. The album’s final number, “In My Neighborhood” is nothing more than a ‘where I’m from’ type of song.

My Kind of Livin’ mostly gets the sonic overtones right. I have to give Morgan and his co-producer Phil O’Donnell credit for sticking with production values that lean heavy on actual country instrumentation. That’s unfortunately all for not since they got the music wrong. Besides the three singles, there’s hardly anything here worth salvaging. My Kind of Livin’ isn’t an embarrassingly bad album, it’s just wrought with clichés and tries too hard to play up the southern themes it panders to. This is squarely mid-2000s country lacking in imagination and originality. Check it out if you want to, I always recommend people come to their own conclusions, but it did little for me.

Grade: B-

Artist Spotlight: Craig Morgan

craig-morgan-456nm062411Craig Morgan Greer was born July 17, 1964 in Kingston Springs Tennessee. In his early life he was an army brat, serving on active duty for nine and half years and spending six and half years in the reserves. He got serious about a music career once he returned home to The Volunteer State.

Morgan worked odd jobs, including stents as a construction worker and security guard, before landing a gig as a demo singer. It led to a recording contract with Atlantic Records, where he released his eponymous debut in 2000. Morgan signed with Broken Bow Records in 2002, a year after Atlantic’s Nashville division shuttered.

He would enjoy his greatest success with the three albums he released for the label. “Almost Home,” the second single from his sophomore album was his first top ten single. His relationship with country radio remained rocky until 2005, when the spiritual “That’s What I Like About Sunday” skyrocketed to #1 for four consecutive weeks. He followed with the #2 “Redneck Yacht Club.”

In 2006, Morgan was awarded the USO Merit Award in recognition of his tireless support for U.S. Soldiers and their families. He’s performed numerous USO Tours and has been active in raising funds for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

2008 was another transitional year for Morgan. He departed Broken Bow in February and signed with BNA Records shortly thereafter. His first single for the label, “Love Remembers,” peaked inside the top 10. He was performing on the military base at Fort Bragg when John Conlee surprised him with an invite to join The Grand Ole Opry. Morgan was formally inducted in late October.

While Morgan never reached those heights again, he enjoyed moderate success until “Still A Little Chicken Left on that Bone” peaked outside the top 30 in 2010. He would leave BNA for Black River shortly after that single tanked.

In recent years he’s enjoyed two top twenty hits: “This Ole Boy” and “Wake Up Lovin’ You” as well as success on the small screen. Morgan is the host (going on seven seasons) of Outdoors Channel’s popular Craig Morgan’s All Access Outdoors, which chronicles his life both on stage and as an avid outdoorsman. In his personal life he resides in Nashville with his wife Karen and their six children.

Morgan’s third album for Black River, A Whole Lot More To Me, will be released early this month. It’s proceeded by the singles “When I’m Gone” and “I’ll Be Home Soon,” which shipped to radio in Mid-May of this year.

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Busted/Doghouse’

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Sunrise’

sunriseShelby Lynne was teamed up with veteran producer Billy Sherrill for her first album in 1989. Her duet with George Jones and a cover of Buck Owens’ ‘Under Your Spell Again’ which had been her solo single debut were left off the tracklisting, which leans a little less traditional than either of those tracks. Shelby was only 20 when the album was released, but sounds considerably older.

Her big booming voice was front and center in ‘The Hurtin’ Side’, the album’s lead single, which just cracked the country top 40. Written by Mike Reid and Rory Michael Bourke, it’s a solid song about facing heartbreak. Reid and Bourke wrote two additional songs on the album, one of which is my favourite: ‘Till You Were Gone’, also recorded by John Conlee, is an agonized expression of regret at love discovered too late:

Every night right about now
I grow uneasy
Kinda restless somehow
It starts out like thunder on a slow steady roll
And I hit the floor half out of control

Baby I wonder if you look the same
Do you have children?
What are their names?
Does the one that you’re with
Need you all night long?
Like I never did
Until you were gone

Their third song, ‘Your Love Stays With me’ is a big ballad, more AC than country, and although it is well performed it doesn’t have a big impact.

The album’s only other single, ‘Little Bits And Pieces’ is a fine ballad recalling a broken relationship, penned by Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran, but unfortunately it did not catch on at radio. It is quite heavily strung and Shelby emotes intensely, perhaps a little too much. ‘Thinking About You Again’ is a slightly more understated but still deeply emotional ballad with a despairing lyric abut failing to move on after a breakup, written by Stephony Smith and Mike Porter.

Sherrill contributed one song, ‘This Time I Almost Made It’, an older song previously recorded by Barbara Mandrell, cited by Shelby as one of her big influences. A yearning cheating song, it had also been recorded by Tammy Wynette with Billy Sherrill at the helm, so perhaps it was his choice for Shelby, whose version stands up well to her illustrious predecessors.

The assertive ‘What About This Girl’, written by Randy Boudreaux with Madeline Stone, picks up the tempo but is not particularly country. The same goes for the bluesy ‘That’s Where It Hurts’, which starts out slow and then turns bold and brassy as she belts out a tale of heartbreak wherever she goes.

A languid jazzy take on Floyd Tillman’s classic ‘I Love You So Much It Hurts’ is effective, but the similarly jazz-inflected version of standard ‘I’m Confessin’’ is a little dull and feels self-indulgent.

Shelby’s voice and emotional intensity belied her youth, and this was an interesting debut. Although she did draw on the heritage of country music, her eclectic tastes and the fact that her retro tastes leaned more to the Nashville Sound and other genres, I wonder if she would have done better if she had been five or ten years older rather than making her debut during the heyday of the neotraditional movement. If you have eclectic tastes this is worth picking up: the vocals are strong, the songs pretty good, and the production suits her. But it was a little out of place in 1989.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘A Lot Of Things Different’

This Bill Anderson/Dean Dillon song is probably best known by Kenny Chesney.

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Clinging To A Saving Hand’

Week ending 5/31/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

melba1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: My Heart Skips A Beat — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: No Charge — Melba Montgomery (Elektra)

1984: As Long As I’m Rockin’ With You — John Conlee (MCA)

1994: Don’t Take The Girl — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2004: Redneck Woman — Gretchen Wilson (Epic)

2014: Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2014 (Airplay): Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘I’m Only In It For The Love’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Old School’

Week ending 1/25/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

John Conlee1954 (Sales): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Love’s Gonna Live Here — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: I Love — Tom T. Hall (Mercury)

1984: In My Eyes — John Conlee (MCA)

1994: Wild One — Faith Hill (Warner Bros.)

2004: There Goes My Life — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2014: Drink A Beer — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2014 (Airplay): Stay — Florida Georgia Line(Republic Nashville)

Week ending 9/14/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

GHIV1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1963: Abilene — George Hamilton IV (RCA)

1973: You’ve Never Been This Far Before — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1983: I’m Only In It For The Love — John Conlee (MCA)

1993: Thank God For You — Sawyer Brown (Curb)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Little Bit Of Everything — Keith Urban (Capitol)

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Amazing Grace’

Week ending 5/25/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

tanya1953 (Sales): Mexican Joe — Jim Reeves (Abbott)

1953 (Jukebox): No Help Wanted — The Carlisles (Mercury)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Your Cheatin’ Heart — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Still — Bill Anderson (Decca)

1973: What’s Your Mama’s Name — Tanya Tucker (Columbia)

1983: Common Man — John Conlee (MCA)

1993: I Love The Way You Love Me — John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic)

2003: Three Wooden Crosses — Randy Travis (Word/Curb)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Get Your Shine On — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Backside Of 30/Rose Colored Glasses’

Country Heritage: John Conlee

john conleeDuring the 1980s there was considerable confusion among casual listeners due to the presence of three male singers with somewhat similar names: Earl Thomas Conley, Con Hunley and John Conlee. All three had distinctive voices, all three emerged during the late 1970s, and all three had chart runs that basically died out by the end of the 1980s (although Earl Thomas Conley had one last burst of success in 1991).

This article is about John Conlee, who ranks with Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins among my wife Kay’s favorite country singers.

John Conlee was born on August 11, 1946 in Versailles, Kentucky, the son of a tobacco farmer. As a child John learned to play the guitar, and by age 10 he was appearing on a local radio show. Although interested in many styles of music (he also performed with a barbershop quartet), John did not start out as a professional entertainer, instead becoming a licensed mortician, a trade he worked for six years. From there he worked as a disc jockey at local area radio stations, eventually moving to Nashville in 1971. In 1976, Conlee’s demo tape secured him a contract with ABC Records.

The first few singles failed to chart on Billboard, including the initial release of “Back Side of Thirty” (which, however, reached # 83 on Cashbox). These initial singles did well enough in some local markets to keep ABC issuing singles on him.

The big breakthrough came in the late spring of 1978 when ABC released “Rose Colored Glasses,” a song Conlee wrote. The song peaked in different markets at different times during its 20 week run resulting in it reaching only #5 on Billboard and #3 on Cashbox on its way to becoming one of John’s signature songs. The follow up “Lady Lay Down” reached #1 on both Billboard and Cashbox. Then, striking while the iron was hot, ABC re-released “Back Side of Thirty” which this time reached #1 on both Billboard and Cashbox. Subsequent singles were issued on MCA which had absorbed ABC and Dot, but Conlee’s success continued with 14 of the next 17 singles reaching Billboard’s top ten and seven of the singles reaching #1 on one or more of the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World’s country charts. Included in this list of singles were such memorable tunes as “Miss Emily’s Picture,” “I Don’t Remember Loving You” and John’s other signature songs “Common Man” and “Working Man.”

After “Blue Highway” failed to hit the top ten in 1985, Conlee rebounded with “Old School” which reached the top five and was Conlee’s swan song with MCA. “Old School” is said to have introduced the phrase “old school” into the popular vernacular.

A switch to Columbia in 1986 kicked off four more top ten tunes in “Harmony” (#10), “Got My Heart Set On Your (#1), “The Carpenter” (a fine Guy Clark tune that went to #6) and “Domestic Life” (#4). After that, there were to be no more top ten tunes for Conlee, although “Mama’s Rocking Chair” reached #11 in 1987. Subsequent singles failed to crack the top forty. By the end of 1987, John Conlee was off Columbia, by now 41 years old and not what Columbia was looking for to compete with the next generation of singers.

No singles were issued by Conlee during 1988, during which time John signed with 16th Avenue Records, a short-lived independent label. None of John’s four singles on 16th Avenue reached the top forty, although his final single “Doghouse” had ‘hit’ written all over it–had it been issued on MCA during John’s hot streak of the early eighties, it would have been a sure-fire top ten and likely #1 record. Still as Jerry Reed once put it “when you’re hot, you’re hot, when you’re not, you’re not …

When 16th Avenue went under, John Conlee’s career as a charting artist was over. The final tally for John’s career was thirty-two chart records with twenty-two reaching the top ten and eleven songs reaching #1 on either the Billboard, Cashbox and/or Record World charts.

John Conlee continues to perform to this day. He was one of the initial supporters of Farm Aid, and has been a supporter of Feed The Children–when John performs his hit “Busted”, his fans usually throw money onstage, with John collecting the money to donate to Feed the Children. At last count more than $250,000 had been collected and donated. For John’s schedule of upcoming tour dates you can check his official website http://www.johnconlee.com/index.html

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You didn’t have a good time: songs about struggling with alcohol

The recent unfortunate news of Randy Travis’s apparently alcohol-fuelled decline has prompted me to bring together these songs about people struggling to give up alcohol.

Randy’s own recording of ‘You Didn’t Have A Good Time’ from his last studio album, 2008’s Around The Bend, now seems heartbreakingly prescient – or an early warning to himself of a problem that he was, one assumes, aware of. The song starts from the standpoint that the first step in tackling the problem is acknowledging its existence:

I bet you don’t remember
Kneeling in that bathroom stall
Praying for salvation
And cursing alcohol
Then went right back to drinking
Like everything was fine
Let’s be honest with each other
You didn’t have a good time

So take a good hard look in the mirror
And drink that image down
I’m truth that you can’t run from
I’m the conscience you can’t drown
And the happiness you want so bad
You ain’t gonna find
Until you start believing
You didn’t have a good time

When you woke up this morning
I guess you just assumed
That you got something out of
The empty bottles in this room
There ain’t an angel that can save you
When you’re listening to the wine
And the demons they won’t tell you
You didn’t have a good time

Trace Adkins ‘Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink’ offers an equally somber warning of the gradual fall from casual social drinking into the prison of addiction, with its melancholy warning, “sometimes a drink takes the man”. (Co-writer Larry Cordle has also recorded a superb version of the song, but Trace’s magnificent vocal edges his cut ahead.)

The same theme appears in George Jones’s bitingly honest ‘A Drunk Can’t Be A Man’, from his 1976 album Alone Again, when he was still drinking heavily himself. In this third person story, George sings of a man whose life is utterly miserable thanks to his drinking but “seems proud to have the devil for his guide”.

Sometimes it seems like a miracle that Jones is still alive in his 80s, given his chequered history with alcohol. This history has been frequently acknowledged in his choice of songs like ‘Wine (You’ve Used Me Long Enough)’, the agonized ‘Wean Me’, ‘If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)‘, I’ve Aged Twenty Years In Five’,  ‘Ol’ George Stopped Drinking Today’, and the rueful admission of ‘Wine Colored Roses’. In 1999 it was also the subject of his last solo top 30 hit ‘Choices’, a bleak Billy Yates song about the lifelong effect of bad decisions and putting drinking above those who loved him.

Jones following a 1978 DUI arrest.

One of my uncles was (and I would say he still is) an alcoholic, and while struggling with his problem in his 20s he spent some time living with his older married half-brother (my parents, before I was born). I’ve left out a whole range of songs about the impact of an alcoholic relative on his or her spouse and family, but the role of a loved one in supporting someone through the hard times is also important, and dealt with in a number of country songs. One of my favorites is ‘I’m Trying’, recorded both by Diamond Rio in duet with Chely Wright, and more recently solo by Martina McBride, which movingly shows the middle of the struggle, with a loved one trying to support the drinker.

Someone who can’t admit their problem to their loved ones is clearly not in good shape to turn the corner. Now-disbanded trio Trick Pony were best known for main lead singer Heidi Newfield, but one of their best songs (‘The Devil And Me’), sung by one of her male bandmates, dealt with the struggles of an alcoholic, shamefacedly hiding his used bottles from his wife and children, and confessing,

I’ve battled with the bottle all alone for years

Bleak though the basic situation is, he still hopes things can turn around, affirming in the last verse and chorus:

I’m hoping for a miracle
I know that I can change
No, I’m not giving up
I know there’ll come a day

When I’m not too tired to fight it
Or too ashamed to pray
And I know the Lord won’t be bored
With the promises I’ve made
I won’t live here with my secret
Where no one else can see
No, I won’t keep it
Between the devil and me

Sometimes it takes a catastrophic incident to prompt a change of heart. 80s star T. Graham Brown has recorded a moving plea to God from a man who has reached rock bottom for help to turn the ‘Wine Into Water’. In the brilliant Leslie Satcher song ‘From Your Knees’ (recorded by Matt King  (with Patty Loveless on harmony), later by John Conlee, and ironically, also by Randy Travis on Around The Bend), a wife tired of her man’s “cheating and drinking” finally leaves after 17 years, forcing him to face the truth:

Right then and there in an old sinner’s prayer
He told things he’d kept in the dark
There was no use in lying
Cause the man who was listening
Could see every room in his heart

Sometimes a man can change on his own
But sometimes I tell you it takes

Empty closets and empty drawers
And a tearful confession on the kitchen floor
And burning memories in the fireplace
He had waited too late to say he was wrong

Brother, you would not believe
What you can see from your knees

Another song from his own repertoire Travis might be advised to pay attention to, now he seems to have reached his own rock bottom point.

Before he discovered the beach, Kenny Chesney recorded some strong material, and one of the best was the earnest ‘That’s Why I’m Here’, a #2 hit in 1998. A mature reflection on the damage done to a life “when you lose control”, this seems to have a happy ending as the protagonist has learned his lesson and started attending AA meetings.

However, some damage cannot be undone, as we see from a couple of songs dealing with the effects of addiction to drugs rather than alchol. The video for Jeff Bates’ emotional ‘One Second Chance’ ties it in with his own former drug problem, while Jamey Johnson’s stunning ‘High Cost Of Living’ is one of the finest songs of its kind as it portrays someone whose addiction led to throwing away everything good in his life. Billy Yates’ minor hit ‘Flowers’ (subsequently covered by Chris Young) deals with the literally sobering aftermath of a drunk driving incident in which the protagonist killed his wife or girlfriend; change comes too late. Gravel-voiced singer-songwriter Bobby Pinson included several compelling songs referring to the drunk-driving death of a high school friend on his underrated album Man Like Me ( ‘Don’t Ask Me How I Know’, ‘A Man Like Me’ and ‘I Thought That’s Who I Was’), the culminating effect of which sounds autobiographical. In ‘One More Believer’ on the same album he looks back to a sordid past passing out drunk before finding salvation through the love of a good woman.

Joe Nichols, another star who has struggled with substance abuse in real life, chose to record ‘An Old Friend of Mine’, a moving low key confessional of the day a man gives up drinking:

I never thought I’d be strong enough to leave it all behind
But today I said goodbye to an old friend of mine…
And I heard freedom ring when that bottle hit the floor
And I just walked away not needing anymore

Yet it’s still a struggle to maintain sobriety after making that commitment. My uncle stopped drinking over 40 years ago, but still attends AA meetings regularly and can’t touch a single drop of alcohol in case it sets off the cravings again. George Jones has had the odd lapse in recent years, and it’s well documented that Randy Travis had issues with drinking among other wild behaviour as a teenager before straightening up, so his current woes may be a resurgence of a longstanding underlying problem.

Collin Raye’s hit ‘Little Rock’ shows an alcoholic trying hard to make a fresh start and making a good beginning, but only 19 days into his sobriety there’s clearly a long way to go (although his record is 10 days and counting ahead of the protagonist of George Strait’s recent single ‘Drinkin’ Man’. Co-written with Dean Dillon who has had his own issues with alcohol in the past, this searing portrait of a man whose problems go back to his early teens unfortunately proved to be a bit too close to reality for today’s country radio and became the lowest charting single of Strait’s career.  It remains one of the best singles of 2012.

Texan Jason Boland’s ‘Bottle By My Bed’, looking back on the time when “my life was as empty as the bottle by my bed,” also talks about all the false starts, when “each time was the last time, that’s what I always said”, but has the protagonist now on safer ground.

Finally, if anyone reading this thinks they have a problem: please get help. For information and resources, visit the AA.org and Al Anon websites for help for you and/or your loved ones.

Single Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘5-1-5-0’

Having been beaten to the punch by Bradley Gaskin with ‘Diamonds Make Babies’, in my opinion the second best song on Dierks Bentley’s latest album (after his #1 hit ‘Home’), Dierks has turned for his own new single to the unusually titled ‘5-1-5-0’, written by the artist with regular collaborators Brett and Jim Beavers. The record is rapidly making its way up the charts and well on its way to becoming the third straight #1 hit from Home.

Lyrically, it uses the California Police Code for an insane person to symbolise the intensity of the protagonist’s obsessive feelings for his new love. It isn’t as effective as past songs comparing the madness of love to clinical insanity, such as John Conlee’s unforgettable ‘I Don’t Remember Loving You’, Dolly’s ‘Daddy Come And Get Me’, or Porter Wagoner’s controversial ‘Rubber Room’. Partly that’s because the mood is more frivolous, and Dierks doesn’t really seem to take it seriously – this comes across as the excuse for a fun song. The lightweight atmosphere is underlined by the odd reference to the police as “po-po”.

On the plus side, the record sounds very good with engaging vocals and attractive instrumentation despite a rather limited melody. There is a breezy carefree feel to the bluegrass-influenced arrangement which suit Dierks’s voice and may make this work across the summer airwaves. It’s also a refreshing change from radio’s usual fare, musically. But lyrically, it falls well short of Dierks’ better material, and this is a disappointing choice of single for me, and a disconcerting sequel to the far superior ‘Home’.

Grade: C+

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 1

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)“ – Alabama
Alabama made excellent music during the 1980s, although the country content of some of it was suspect. Not this song, which is dominated by fiddle. One of the few up-tempo Alabama records that swings rather than rocks.

I’ve Been Wrong Before” – Deborah Allen
An accomplished songwriter who wrote many hits for others, particularly with Rafe VanHoy, this was one of three top ten tunes for Ms. Allen, reaching #2 in 1984. This is much more country sounding than her other big hit “Baby I Lied”.

Last of The Silver Screen Cowboys” – Rex Allen Jr.
After some success as a pop-country balladeer, Rex Jr. turned increasing to western-themed material as the 1980s rolled along. This was not a big hit, reaching #43 in 1982, but it featured legendary music/film stars Roy Rogers and Rex Allen Sr. on backing vocals.

“Southern Fried” – Bill Anderson
This was Whispering Bill’s first release for Southern Tracks after spending over twenty years recording for Decca/MCA. Bill was no longer a chart force and this song only reached #42 in 1982, but as the chorus notes: “We like Richard Petty, Conway Twitty and the Charlie Daniels Band”.

Indeed we do. Read more of this post

Album Review: Brian Mallery – ‘Living My Dream’

Brian Mallery may be an obscure independent artist from New Brunswick, Canada, but he has a great coutry voice and some impressive friends. Solidly in the traditional country style with a vocal style emulating that of Vern Gosdin, this is apparently the artist’s third release. It was produced by Greg Cole and recorded in Nashville, and the backings are loaded with fiddle and steel which make it a joy to listen to.

The record opens with lovely fiddle and then a classic sounding country baritone lets loose on ‘Don’t Let Life Get You Down’, a simple but rather inspiring song about surviving bad times, which Brian wrote after suffering a serious accident in 2006. The warm empathetic vocal sells the song completely. Nothing else is quite as heartwarming, but there is some other good material.

‘Separate Ways’, another fine Mallery original, co-written with Andre McGraw, is a lost-love ballad, with the former lover of a bride puzzled at the way the couple’s love has ended, as he realizes showing up at the wedding wasn’t such a good idea. There is more disconsolate heartbreak in ‘Someone To Hold’, with the hardworking narrator gazing at his reflection and regretting neglecting his wife’s emotional needs because he was so busy working.

Paul Leblanc ‘s rueful ‘I Can’t Live’ has a man regretting having laughed at the prospect of life without his loved one. ‘What I Leave Behind’ is a rather touching song about the loneliness of being a touring musician leaving a wife at home.

The originals are counter balanced by some classic covers which indicate Mallery’s influences and pay tribute to some of his heroes without attempting a new interpretation. However, the songs picked are (mostly) such great songs, they are good to hear again anyway. There is a sincerely delivered version of John Conlee’s classic ‘Rose Colored Glasses’, with Brian’s vocal closely patterned after the sublime original. Vern Gosdin is obviously the biggest influence on Brian’s vocals. The mid-tempo ‘I Can Tell By The Way You Dance’ was a chart topper for Gosdin in 1984; Mallery is not as good as Gosdin, of course, and it is only an average song, amking it the most disposable track.

Things take a better turn when the fabulous Ken Mellons duets on ‘Chiseled In Stone’, playing the bereaved old man with his trademark intense emotion, which helps raise this one to not far below the original. It is a real highlight of the record. Daryle Singletary (another underrated singer I love) harmonises on a version of ‘Tennessee Whiskey’, a hit for George Jones (and also once cut by Gosdin). Singletary also duets on a cheerful buddyish drinking song about friendship, with the Canadian and the southerner finding common ground despite their geographical differences, over “the perfect Friday night”, ‘Hot Hands And Cold Beer’ – naturally it also involves “real country music”. Their voices are quite similar and blend well. Mallery wrote this one with Larry Wayne Clark.

‘Hillbilly Water’ is a catchy and cheerful sounding tribute to the fresh spring water of the hills (and by inference to the remembered innocence of childhood), written by Clark and David Lloyd, with rhythmic banjo and sprightly fiddle:

I’m working 9 to 5 in a hive of stone and steel
With a thirst inside no dry martini can fill
I wanna get my cup
Fill it up from a spring in a holler
And drink a deep long drink of that hillbilly water

The sardonic tale of ‘Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud’ is credited to Larry Wayne Clark, Chris Young, and Marc Rossi. It portrays a young man who has left his country home and abandoned his mother’s good advice:

A good man is judged by his handshake
So smile when you offer you hand
Say a prayer every day and put a little away
Any time that you can

So I’m shaking hands with the devil tonight
In a bar room that’s smoky and loud
What I put away is a fifth every day
If she could just see her boy now,
Lord, would mama be proud?

This is an excellent album which I enjoyed a great deal. You can listen to samples and order the CD from the artist’s website.

Grade: A

25 Greatest Live Country Albums

All readers of this website are fans of recorded music. I would assume that most also enjoy seeing and hearing music performed live. After all, there is electricity which permeates a live performance, the interaction of performer and audience coupled with the ambiance of the venue. Tempos are usually faster, there is banter between the performer and the band and/or audience, and often songs are performed that never are recorded by the artist.

That said, it can be very difficult to capture that electricity and the landscape is littered with poor live recordings, victims of either poor recording technology, poor venue acoustics or sub-par backing bands (I had a cassette copy – probably a bootleg – of a live Chuck Berry performance in France where he was backed by what was essentially a polka band, complete with tuba and accordion). Below is my  listing of the greatest live country albums.  My list is solid country, without too many fellow travelers such as Americana or alt-country artists. I may admire John Prine and Townes Van Zandt as songwriters but I cannot stand to listen to either of them sing. The less said about the Eagles and Gram Parsons, the better.  In putting my list together, I’ve limited any given artist to one album, although I may comment on other live albums issued by the artist.

Yes, I know that bluegrass and western swing are underrepresented in my list as are modern era artists, although if I expanded to a top forty list, I’d have albums by Alabama, Tracy Lawrence, Tom T. Hall, Brad Paisley, The Osborne Brothers, Glen Campbell, Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, Rhonda Vincent and Hank Williams to include. Moreover, over time there have been improvements in recording technology and the sound of live recordings has improved, so sonically, some of the albums I’ve left off will sound better than some I’ve included.

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