American Faces was John Conlee’s ninth studio album, and second for Columbia. Released in February 1987, the album reached #16 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, his last top twenty-five album, all of his previous albums having reached at least #22. Three singles were released from the album in “Domestic Life” (#4), “Mama’s Rockin’ Chair” (#11) and “Living Like There’s No Tomorrow” (#55). After “Mama’s Rockin’ Chair” no John Conlee single would ever again reach the top forty.
Although by this time Conlee had established himself as a major country artist with a long string of hits, the country music market was becoming increasingly youth-oriented and at forty-one years of age, Conlee didn’t fit the “handsome hunks and sweet young things” profile that Nashville was marketing at the time. Too bad, as the quality of Conlee’s recorded output remained high.
The album opens with “Domestic Life”, Conlee’s last top ten hit. That song, with its saxophone riffs and lyrics addressing typical Conlee concerns like everyday life and dreams, is a worthy addition to his canon of hits.
Cruising in my Station Wagon
Trying to keep my muffler from dragging
Sometimes it seems so defeating
As I’m hustling to make it to the Cub Scout meeting
I dream about Mexico
Where all the pretty people go
But we’re on a budget that just won’t budge
Not much money but a whole lot of love
Living that domestic life
Happy children and a pretty wife
Our Cocker Spaniel’s always having puppies
How could anybody be so lucky?
“Slow Passin’ Time” is a quiet ballad about the passage of time with a mildly Caribbean feel to the arrangement. The song would have made a good single, as evidenced by Anne Murray’s Top 40 success with the song a few years later
We both had our dreams when we left that sleepy little town behind
Things have gotten so mixed up, I tell you I’ve forgotten mine
It all had something to do with money and a better way of life
When that old alarm goes off it’s getting hard to open our eyes
Oh, but somewhere in my mem’ry the afternoon sun’s hangin’ in the trees
And the sun is comin’ up from the gulf coast on a sultry breeze
You and me, we’re together in a porch-swing state of mind
Lovin’ each other to the rhythm of slow-passin’ time
“Love Crazy Love” features some nice saxophone lines in the accompaniment
“American Faces” is one of those nostalgic songs that would have likely been a hit if released as a single after 9/11. The song is a medium slow ballad. “American Faces” might have seemed like a cynical flag-waver in the hands of a less capable vocalist, but Conlee sings it confidently and comfortably giving the song a finely nuanced performance.
Met a black man down in Memphis with lines on his face that looked like the Mississippi
He was the son of a slave, the father of a PhD
He’d squint his eyes at the new day sun, spit tobacco from a toothless gum
And say “Boys, it’s a good day to be free”
American faces I have seen, American voices I have listened to
They’re a lot like me and you
They’re all red, white or blue
American faces I have seen
Saw a veteran in a halfway house, a monkey on his back and the whole world on his shoulder
On his dresser was a medal and a picture of a long lost friend
He’d won a purple heart when he lost his mind but he’s kept his dreams since 69
That one day he’ll be coming home again
“Faded Brown Eyes” is a very slow ballad that I regard as filler. It is an okay song about a life of disappointment and a faded relationship.
“Mama’s Rockin’ Chair” is one in a long list of “mother songs” and stalled just shy of the Top Ten. It is deserved a better fate. It describes a trip many of us remember taking
When I think of my childhood days
Growing up in the small town USA
The fondest of my many memories
Is that a front porch rocking chair
And all of us children gathered there
Waiting our turn to climb up on Mama’s knee
With her imagination
Around the world she’d take us
With the stories of the places she knew we’d never see
In Mama’s rocking chair
She could a take us anywhere
To a tropical island
Or a snow covered mountain
Or a desert caravan
“It’s Not Easy Being Fifteen” is an interesting song about the difficulties in the passage of the teen years. The song is a slow ballad bears repeated listening.
“I Can Sail To China” is a slow ballad about a man experiencing a breakup. The catch line is ‘I can sail to China on the tears I’ve cried for you’. I like the song as an album cut.
I do not know why “Living Like There’s No Tomorrow (Finally Got to Me Tonight)” was chosen as the album’s third single as I regard it as one of the weaker songs on the album in terms of commercial appeal, as it just wasn’t what radio was playing at the time, although five or six years earlier (think Con Hunley) it would have fit in better. The arrangement is good (nice saxophone work), the song has a strong blues feel to it and Conlee sings it well. The song died at #55, a harbinger of things to come for Conlee.
The album closes with “Right Down To The Memories”, another nostalgic ballad, this one of a man looking back with great fondness at this life with his partner.
Time turns the ashes into diamonds
And then the diamonds into dust
But even time can’t steal the magic
That’s here between the two of us
‘Cause I love you right down to the memories
And I need you right now in my arms
You’ll always be the greatest gift that God has ever given me
Right down to the memories
This album wasn’t Conlee’s strongest album, but John Conlee is always an effective singer and always treats his songs with respect. I would give this album a B+
Track List & Songwriters
Domestic Life (Martin/Harrison)
Slow Passin’ Time (Rocco / Burke / Black)
Love Crazy Love (Deborah Allen / Rafe Van Hoy)
American Faces (Nelson / Nelson / Boone)
Faded Brown Eyes (Reid / Martin)
Mama’s Rockin’ Chair (MacRae / Menzies)
It’s Not Easy Being Fifteen (Curtis)
I Can Sail To China (Grazier)
Living Like There’s No Tomorrow (McBride / Murrah)
Right Down To The Memories (Bogard / Giles)