My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: John Jarrard

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘I Got A Date’

What was to prove to be the girls’ final secular album was released in 1992.

‘What’ll You Do About Me’ is a vivacious up-tempo song written by Denis Linde. It had been recorded by a number of artists before, most notably Randy Travis on his best selling Always And Forever album, and as an early single for Steve Earle, but had not been a hit when the Forester Sisters tried it as the lead single for this album. Their version is entertaining but feels a little lightweight, and it was largely ignored by country radio. The song was revived a few years later to become a hit at last for Doug Supernaw, who got it to #16.

The title track was the only other single, although again it had limited success. Written by Dave Allen and Tim Bays, it is a rather contemporary jazzy pop tune with little to do with country music, but one with a lot of individuality as the newly single protagonist embarks on dating again. I could imagine this song doing well if someone like Shania Twain had recorded it a few years later. While not to my taste musically, it is well performed and the lyric is nicely observed.

Another up-tempo track with radio potential was ‘Show Me A Woman’, written by the legendary ‘Doodle’ Owens and Doug Johnson. It was later covered by Joe Diffie. The Foresters’ version is rattled out very fast:

Show me a woman who left a man
And I’ll show you a man with a drink in his hand
Doing all he can to survive
I’ll show you a man
You better not let drive

‘Redneck Romeo’ (written by Craig Wiseman and Dave Gibson and later covered by Confederate Railroad) is a tongue in cheek portrait of a good old boy looking for love:

He’s got a hundred keys hangin’ off his jeans
He knows they fit somethin’
But he don’t know what
He’s no cheap date
Spend his whole paycheck
Buyin’ drinks and playin’ that jukebox
Out on the floor he ain’t no square
He’s a romancin’ slow dancin’ Fred Astaire

The Caribbean-tinged story song ‘Wanda’ was written by K T Oslin and Rory Michael Bourke, and is about a women getting over a breakup by going on vacation.

As they often did, the girls included an old pop standard, in the shape of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’.

Much more to my taste is ‘Another Shoulder At The Wheel’, a lovely ballad written by Gary Burr and John Jarrard which is the best track on the album. ‘Help Me Get Over You’, written by Lisa Angelle and Walt Aldridge is another ballad, delicately sad. ‘Their Hearts Are Dancing’, written by Tony Haselden, is a sweet story of an elderly couple whose love has endured. ‘She Makes It Look Easy’ is an admiring, empathetic portrait of a single mom’s life.

This is perhaps my least favorite Forester Sisters album personally, but there are some attractive ballad and the rest is undoubtedly fun, and well done for what it is.

Grade: B

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout Men’

Talkin’ ‘Bout Men was the Forester Sisters’ eighth studio album for Warner Brothers, although it should be noted that this includes a Christmas album an a religious album. Released in March 1991, Talking About Men momentarily broke the downward slope of the previous four albums, reaching #16 on the charts. Four singles were released from the album, with only the sassy title track receiving much traction at radio, reaching #8 each reaching the top ten but none getting any higher than #7.

The album opens with “A Step In The Right Direction” a spritely mid-tempo number written by Rick Bowles, Robert Byrne and Tom Wopat (yes – that Tom Wopat). This track would have made a good follow up to “Men”. The song had previously been released as a single by Judy Taylor about a decade earlier, but that version barely cracked the charts:

Everybody knows that love’s like a swingin’ door
Comes and goes and we’ve all been there before
But you can’t get none till you’re back out on the floor

Well, that’s a step in the step in the right direction
Everybody knows that practice makes perfection
So, come on, let’s make a step in the right direction

“Too Much Fun” was the second single released and the actual follow up to the title track. It tanked only reaching #64. Written by Robert Byrne and Al Shulman, this is not the same song that Daryle Singletary took to #4 a few years later. This song is also a good-time mid-tempo ballad about a woman enjoying being free of a relationship. I would have expected it to do better as a single, but when as Jerry Reed put it, ‘when you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not, you’re not’.

Rick Bowles and Barbara Wyrick teamed up to write “That Makes One of Us”, the third single released from the album. The single did not chart. The song has acoustic instrumentation with a dobro introduction, and is a slow ballad about a relationship that is ending because only one is trying to keep it going. The song sounds like something the McCarter Sisters or The Judds (in their earlier days) might have recorded:

You’ve made up your mind
We don’t want the same thing
And that we won’t change things
Wishing there were ways
And there’s no use staying together
Nothing lasts forever
That’s what you say

And that makes one of us not in love
And that makes one of us who can’t give up
If you can walk away from the life we’ve made
Then that makes one of us

I still believe we’ve got something worth saving
I keep hoping and praying for another chance
You’ve held my heart and your gonna break it
Cause you wanna make it
A part of your past

Byrne and Shulman teamed up to write “Men”, the first single released from the album and the laast top ten single for the group, reaching #8. The song succeeded despite not truly fitting in with the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement that had taken over the genre. “Men” is a smart song that likely would have charted higher had it been released a few years earlier:

They buy you dinner, open your door
Other then that, what are they good for?
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men
They all want a girl just like the girl
That married dear old dad, they make me so mad

Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men
Well, you can’t beat ’em up ’cause they’re bigger then you
You can’t live with ’em and you just can’t shoot ’em
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men

They love their toys, they make their noise
Nothing but a bunch of overgrown boys
Men! I’m talking ’bout men
If you give ’em what they want, they never fall in love
Don’t give ’em nothin’, they can’t get enough

Men! I’m talking ’bout men
Well, you can’t beat ’em up ’cause they’re bigger then you
You can’t live with ’em and you just can’t shoot ’em
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men

“Sombody Else’s Moon”is a nice ballad written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Kent Robbins. This is not the same song that would be a top five hit for Collin Raye in 1993.

“It’s Getting Around” was written by Sandy Ramos and Bob Regan is an mid-tempo song with dobro leading the way for the acoustic accompaniment. It is a nice track that might have made a decent song. What’s getting around, of course, is goodbye.

Next up is “You Take Me For Granted”, a classic written by Leona Williams while she was married to Merle Haggard. It’s a great song that Haggard took to #1, and that Leona recorded several times over the years. The Forester Sisters have a nice take on the song, but it is not a knock on them to say that they are neither a nuanced as Haggard, nor as soulful as Leona Williams:

My legs and my feet
Have walked ’till they can’t hardly move from tryin’ to please you
And my back is sore
From bendin’ over backwards to just lay the world at your door.
I’ve tried so hard to keep a smile on a sad face while deep down
It’s breakin’ my heart
And as sure as the sun shines I’ll be a lifetime
Not knowin’ if I’ve done my part

‘Cause you take me for granted And it’s breakin’ my heart
As sure as the sunshines I’ll be a lifetime
Not knowin’ if I’ve done my part.

“The Blues Don’t Stand A Chance” is a slow ballad written by Gary Burr and Jack Sundred. The song is about a strong relationship that endures despite separation.

Tim Nichols and Jimmy Stewart combined to write “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled”, the third single released from the album. The song did not chart, and I’m not sure the reggae beat helped matters with country audiences. The lyric could be described as folk-gospel. I like the song but would have not chosen it for single release.

“What About Tonight” closes out the album. Written by John Jarrard and J.D. Martin, the song is a slow ballad that I regard as album filler. The highlight of the song is some nice steel guitar work by Bruce Bouton.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Men would prove to be the last big hurrah for the Forester Sisters. The title track would not only be the last top ten single but would also be the last single to crack the top fifty. Noteworthy musicians on the album include Bruce Bouton on steel and dobro, Rob Hajacos on fiddle, and Guy Higginbotham on saxophone.

I liked the album but it was definitely going against the prevailing trends at the time of its release. My favorite song on the album is “Step In The Right Direction” followed by “Men”. I would give the album a B+.

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘Perfume, Ribbon & Pearls’

The girls’ second album was released in 1986, recorded at Muscle Shoals with Terry Skinner and J L Wallace producing. It was not quite as successful as their debut, with only one hit single, but it is a strong effort overall.

The sole single, ‘Lonely Alone’, is a nice regretful ballad written by J D Martin and John Jarrard with a pretty melody, featuring Kim Forester on lead vocals and her sisters relegated to the chorus. The production now sounds a bit dated with synthesizer and strings, but it did well at the time, peaking at #2.

Kim also took the lead on three other songs, including ‘Heartache Headed My Way’, the mid-paced song which provides the album’s title. Written by Bob and Barbara Morrison, this should have been a single as it has an intriguing mix of youthful confidence and the willingness to take a few risks rather than mom’s good advice:

Mama get out those shiny black shoes and the dress you cut too low
Get out the perfume and ribbons and pearls and tell this girl what she should know
I’ m tired of wasting my youth and my time
On men going nowhere fast
The ones with neatly combed hair and striped ties
Their future’s as dull as their past

Yes, I’m looking for a hard time of romance and fun
And I’m hoping to find it tonight with someone
I’m looking for trouble and blues on the run
And a heartache’s headed my way
I’ll say
A heartache’s headed my way

I know I’ve got years yet to settle for less
For a home and a dog and a white picket fence
Roast in the oven and clothes on the line
And a life that’s full of good common sense
Forget everything you advised me to do
I need some excitement not a lesson or two
After it’s over I’ll listen to you
Mama please listen to me

‘Somebody’s Breakin’ A Heart’, written by the album’s producers, is well sung by Kim and has an interesting lyric about overhearing a couple breaking up, but the heavy beat of the arrangement makes it sound like filler. The up-tempo ‘Drawn To The Fire’ was written by a pre-fame Pam Tillis and Stan Webb; Pam actually released the song herself as the B-side of several of her Warner Bros singles in 1986-7.

June and Christy got one lead vocal each. June sings ‘Heartless Night’, a fine song by Craig Bickhardt and Michael Brook which was later covered by Baillie & The Boys. Christy takes on the Supremes’ Motown classic ‘Back In My Arms Again’; it is pleasant enough filler although with little country about it.

The sisters’ strongest vocalist, Kathy, took lead on the remaining four tracks, including the best track. ‘That’s Easy For You To Say’ is a beautiful measured ballad written by Bob McDill and Paul Harrison, a gentle reproach to the man breaking her heart:

You say “sit down” and you reach for my hand
You’re trying your best to be kind
You say “it’s goodbye but it’s all for the best
These things just happen sometimes”
You tell me that life will go on
And we’ll both forget before long

Well that’s easy for you to say
With the lonely nights that I’m gonna face
It’s so hard to see it that way
You tell me that we’ll both be okay
That’s easy for you to say

‘Blame It On The Moon’ is quite nice and opener ‘100 % Chance Of Blue’ is okay. The Randy Albright song ‘You Were The One’ is pretty sounding with a pointed message to an ex.

The album as a whole makes for very pleasant listening.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Alabama – ’40 Hour Week’

40 hour weekIf I’m not mistaken, 40 Hour Week was the first album to be released as a CD on initial release, rather than only on vinyl and/or cassette, a strong indicator of just how popular the band had become. In 1985 relatively few country acts were being released on CD.

40 Hour Week was the band’s sixth RCA album and also represents a creative turn for the band in that earlier albums had focused on love songs and songs of the idyllic rural South, whereas 40 Hour Week is somewhat grittier and opens with two anthems celebrating the working person, before reverting to the usual pattern.

The album opens with the title track, written by the redoubtable trio of Dave Loggins, Lisa Silver & Don Schlitz. An excellent song that soared to #1 on August 3, 1985, giving Alabama its 17th consecutive #1 single (breaking the previous Billboard record held by Sonny James. The song is definitely a salute to working people:

There are people in this country
Who work hard every day
Not for fame or fortune do they strive
But the fruits of their labor
Are worth more than their pay
And it’s time a few of them were recognized.

Hello Detroit auto workers,
Let me thank you for your time
You work a forty hour week for a livin’,
Just to send it on down the line

Hello Pittsburgh steel mill workers,
Let me thank you for your time
You work a forty hour week for a livin’,
Just to send it on down the line.

Track two is “Can’t Keep A Good Man Down”, written by Bob Corbin, whose Corbin-Hanner band had some marginal success during the early 1980s.The song was the third single released from the album and reached #1.

Track three, “There’s No Way”, written by Lisa Palas, Will Robinson and John Jarrard, was the first single released from the album and reached #1 , becoming Alabama’s 16th consecutive #1, tying Sonny James; record for consecutive #1s.

As I lay by your side and hold you tonight
I want you to understand,
This love that I feel is so right and so real,
I realize how lucky I am.
And should you ever wonder if my love is true,
There’s something that I want to make clear to you.

There’s no way I can make it without you,
There’s no way that I’d even try.
If I had to survive without you in my life,
I know I wouldn’t last a day.
Oh babe, there’s no way.

Next up is “Down On Longboat Key”, a pleasant piece of album filler written by Dennis Morgan and Steve Davis. The song is a jog-along ballad about where a guy promised to take his girl.

She sits and stares out the window at the water
Every night down at Longy’s Cafe
All alone she sips her Pina Colada
Talking to herself dreaming time away
The story is that a dark haired sailor
Stole her heart many years ago
He promised her he’d come back and take her
Around the world, bring her hills of gold

“Louisiana Moon”, a Larry Shell – Dan Mitchell composition is more album filler. It is pleasant enough, mildly reminiscent of Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses” in both subject matter and sound, but not nearly as funky.

The sixth track, “I Want To Know You Before We Make Love”, was written by Becky Hobbs and Candy Parton and would have made a good single for Alabama. The song is a romantic ballad that, for whatever reason, remained an album cut. Hearing its hit potential, the great Conway Twitty took it to #2 in 1987.

Sometimes all you need is someone to hold you
Sometimes that’s all you’re looking for
But I’d like to take the time to get to know you
‘Cause I don’t want this time to be like all the times before.

I want to know you before I make love to you
I want to show you all of my heart
And when I look into those eyes
I want to feel the love inside, you
I want to know you before we make love.

I’ve learned from all those lonely nights with strangers
It takes time for real love to be found
I feel the invitation of your body
But I’d like to look inside your soul before I lay you down.

I didn’t sense any fireworks in Alabama’s recording of “Fireworks” . I regard this as the weakest song on the album.

Jeff Cook delivers the lead vocals on “(She Won’t Have A Thing To Do With) Nobody But Me”, a good mid-tempo ballad written by Dean Dillon, Buzz Rabin & “Flash” Gordon. Jeff’s vocals seem a bit off from his usual standard on this particular performance. It is still worth hearing, as is the slow ballad “As Right Now” on which co-writer Teddy Gentry takes the lead vocals.

The album closes out with the John Jarrard – Kent Robbins penned “If It Ain’t Dixie (It Won’t Do)” an ode the South that closes with an extended jam at the end. It’s a good song but the excessive length guaranteed that it would not be released as a single. I think shortening the song and increasing the tempo would have greatly improved the song. As a lifelong Southerner, I identify with the lyrics but the execution was off a bit as far as I’m concerned

O

h, I love those Colorado Rockies
And that big starry Montana sky
And the lights of San Francisco
On a California night
Enjoyed those ballgames in Chicago
On those windy afternoons
It’s a big beautiful country
But I’m never home too soon
If it ain’t Dixie, it won’t do

If it ain’t Dixie, it don’t feel quite like home
My southern blood runs deep and true
I’ve had good times
North of the line
I’ve got a lot of good friends, too
But if it ain’t Dixie, it won’t do
It won’t do

My memory may be failing me, but I seem to recall that all of the singles released had accompanying music videos. I don’t think that was true of any of their other albums

I would give this album an A-. While I regard the three singles released to all be A+ material, the rest of the album would rate a B+ in my estimation. My opinion notwithstanding, this was the top selling country album of 1985.

Album Review: Jo Dee Messina – ‘Jo Dee Messina’

jo dee messinaThis album is one of those that has stuck with me over the years, even thou the herself artist didn’t. That’s not usual in that many artists have one great album or perhaps a few great songs in them or have managed to accumulate a few great songs from other sources. After that they struggle to find material.

For instance I always regarded the debut albums of Clint Black, Randy Travis and Charley Pride as being their best albums (of course these three went on to much further success). Others have been but a flash in the pan.

Jo Dee falls somewhere between long term super star and flash in the pan. Thus was not her most successful album (subsequent albums received more promotional push from Curb), but song for song, I think it is her strongest album.

The album opens with Jo Dee’s second single, “You’re Not In Kansas Anymore”, a Zack Turner – Tim Nichols composition which reached #7. A mid-tempo ballad and a bit of a cautionary tale, well sung.

He said “I grew up in Wichita
In a Mayberry kind of town”
He never liked overalls
Or haulin’ hay ’til sundown
He said he dreamed about L.A.
As he plowed away the day on an old John Deere
I said “Boy let me warn you
In southern California there’s some fast trains here”

You’re not in Kansas anymore
Can’t be too careful that’s for sure
City lights will led you on
Morning comes and they’ll be gone
So write my number on your wall
You can call me anytime at all
I’m so happy now boy
You’re not in Kansas anymore

Next up is “On A Wing and A Prayer”, written by Walt Aldridge and Jo Dee about a relationship that is unraveling. This tune is another mid-tempo ballad.

“He’d Never Seen Julie Cry’ comes from redoubtable songsmiths Leslie Satcher and Max T Barnes. THis song is about a relationship untended too long, a slow ballad that was the fourth single from the album, reaching #64.

His heart was tougher than a piece of leather
Had a will carved out of stone
He was stallion who had thrown every rider
No woman could seem to hang on
He didn’t know that it was over
He thought, he could make it right
But then again, he’d never seen Julie cry

He never thought that love would hit him
Like a train comin’ out of the dark
He never thought a friend would hand him back
The keys to his own heart

“Do You Wanna Make Something of It” comes from the pens of Terry Anderson and Bob DiPiero. This is both the first track on the album in which the steel guitar prominently figures into the mix and the first up-tempo song on the album. This song was released as the third single on the album and only reached #53, which at the time stunned me as I thought it had top ten written all over it. It did reach #29 on the Canadian country charts. This may be Jo Dee’s best vocal performance on the album.

There’s a little bitty flame burnin’ deep in my heart
You wanna make something of it?
Oh, do you feel the same, maybe just a little spark?
You wanna make something of it?
Do you wanna turn it into somethin’
That’s a burnin’ like a ragin’ fire out of control?
Well, I’m waitin’ for you tell me what you wanna do
You wanna make something of it?

“Let It Go” by Jamie Kyle, Ron Bloom, and Will Rambeaux, is a mid-tempo philosophical ballad ballad about moving on after the end of a relationship. Not bad but nothing special.

“Heads Carolina, Tails California”, a Tim Nichols – Mark D. Sanders was Jo Dee’s debut single and for my money, her best song. The song went to #1 at radio stations throughout the mid-Atlantic area and reached #2 on Billboard’s national country chart, #3 on the Canadian country chart and also hit Billboard’s all-genre Hot 200 at #111. The song is an up-tempo semi-rocker in which the narrator just wants to get out of town and head somewhere else – anywhere will do as long as her lover comes with her.

Baby, what do you say, we just get lost
Leave this one horse town like two rebels without a cause
I’ve got people in Boston, ain’t your daddy still in Des Moines ?
We can pack up tomorrow, tonight, let’s flip a coin

Heads Carolina, tails California
Somewhere greener, somewhere warmer
Up in the mountains, down by the ocean
Where it don’t matter, as long as we’re goin’
Somewhere together, I’ve got a quarter
Heads Carolina, tails California

“Walk To The Light” written by Walt Aldridge is not a religious song but it has something of a religious feel to it. The song is a medium fast ballad about moving forward after a breakup

I’ve never been one to believe much in ghosts
But to tell you the truth now, my mind is not closed
I’ve heard there are souls that are lost in between
Somewhere they’re goin’ and the places they’ve been
That sounds a lot like a woman I know
Her love is long gone but she will not let go
Somebody oughtta take her by the hand and tell her
Don’t be afraid, just walk to the light
Let go of the past and get on with your life
Someone is waiting out in the night
Ashes to ashes, walk to the light

“I Didn’t Have to Leave You” is a slow ballad written by Jill Wood about a woman trying to fight off the efforts of her lover’s ex to try to win him back. The song is very strong and would have made a good single.

Remember me
The one who picked up all the pieces, me
The one whose love for you increases everyday
And it won’t go away like she did
Remember her

The one who left your heart abandoned, her
Well she’s back again and I can’t stand it
It hurts ’cause with her tears all glistening
She’s got you listening to her promises
Well remember this

I didn’t have to leave you to love you
I didn’t have to lose you first to want you more than ever
I didn’t have to leave you to love you
I didn’t have to see if I could tear your world apart
And still win back your heart
I didn’t have to leave you to love you
I loved you from the start

“Every Little Girl’s Dream”, written by Dave Loggins and Kenny Mims is a nice medium-fast song, a little too superficial but a nice album track.

The album closes with “Another Shoulder At The Wheel” an upbeat song from Gary Burr and John Jarrard. Nice country production with tasteful steel guitar and a truly meaningful lyric about the way life should be

In my path, there are stones
I could never roll away alone
There are times when I wake
And my knees will tremble and shake
But there’s someone who cares
And when I need you, you’ll be there
Another shoulder at the wheel to see me through
When the road is long and the tears are real
When I’m past the point of giving up
There’s nothing like the feel, of another shoulder at the wheel

At the time I purchased this album in February 1996, I found myself hoping against hope that she would not give in to pressures to make her sound less country. The electric guitars on this album are more rock than country guitars but they are subdued. The steel guitar and dobro of Sonny Garrish and fiddle of Glen Duncan are appropriately spotlighted.

Jo Dee would go on to have some #1 singles and more successful chart albums but this remains my favorite. I have heard all of Jo Dee’s albums, but other than her Greatest Hits album released in 2003, this would be the last Jo Dee Messina album I would purchase (someone gave me Delicious Surprise for Christmas in 2005 because they remembered I had like Joe Diffie’s “My Give A Damn’s Busted” on his 2001 album In Another World).

The songs, vocal performance and production combine to make this album a very solid A.

Album Review: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘Love and Honor’

Love_and_Honor_(Ricky_Van_Shelton_album_-_cover_art)Twenty years ago, Ricky Van Shelton was in a period of transition. His seventh album of original material, Love and Honor was his first without longtime producer Steve Buckingham. It also marked his final project for Columbia Nashville, his label home for seven years, and stands as his most recent album to place on Billboard’s Country Album’s Chart.

By now, Shelton’s mainstream popularity had begun to fade. He hadn’t scored a number one hit in three years, and while he scored big with a soundtrack single in 1992, he was a regular fixture just inside the top 30. As per usual mainstream trends had changed, moving away from the neo-traditional sounds that dominated in the early part of the decade and replacing them with a contemporary sound mixing numbers primed for line dancing along with lush balladry and pop-influenced compositions.

So Buckingham was swapped out for Blake Chancey and Paul Worley, who placed him squarely within that sound. “Wherever She Is,” the first single, was a slice of rock-influenced country not unlike the type of material Lee Roy Parnell was known for at the time. The efforts in modernization didn’t pay off and the James House/John Jarrard written tune stalled at #49.

Radio didn’t bite on the second and final single either. The Dennis Linde-penned “Lola’s Love” suffered because it wasn’t a commercial country recording at all with its Elvis-like rockabilly beat. The track itself is rather enjoyable and Shelton commits fully with his energetic vocal.

As is his trademark, Shelton includes a couple of nods to the genre’s past. “Thanks A Lot” is his version of the Ernest Tubb classic. Shelton speeds up the melody, and while the production doesn’t allow his vocal to truly shine, he gives the lyric a fine reading. “Love and Honor,” a cover of the early 1970s Merle Haggard song, doesn’t make a single concession and is therefore excellent. The traditional-minded arrangement is glorious, with ample steel and fiddle to frame Shelton’s pitch-perfect vocal. Originally recorded by George Jones and Vern Gosdin, “Where The Tall Grass Grows” is a simple story song with a slight list-like feel that doesn’t appeal to me lyrically but has a nice steel laced production.

Jarrard also contributed “Been There, Done That” a typical for the period honky-tonk number that served as filler. Larry Boone, who worked with the likes of Don Williams and Tracy Lawrence, wrote “Then for Them” a somewhat cheesy ballad that would’ve been better suited for an artist looking to launch their career, and likely would’ve been a big hit. Shelton handles the song very well although the generic production pulls him down quite a bit.

Deryl Dodd, who would release his debut album two years later, co-wrote “I Thought I’d Heard It All,” a traditional leaning ballad that would’ve been a standout album track on an Alan Jackson album, but comes off middle of the road in Shelton’s hands. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but Jackson would’ve given the lyric far more passion. Russell Smith, who penned Shelton’s “Keep It Between The Lines,” shows up here with “Baby, Take A Picture,” a fiddle-heavy line-dance number. The brisk tune is excellent even if Chancey and Worley didn’t account for the passing of time.

“Complicated” is a Bill LaBounty rocker in line with the type of track Shelton excels in selling wonderfully. The harmonica heavy production and Shelton’s vocal are perfect, but the lyric underwhelms and feels filler-y. “Love Without You” is a beautiful sentiment that Shelton, along with the heaping fiddle and steel, conveys excellently.

Love and Honor was an above average album for its time and sounds mostly pleasing today with the fiddle and steel that abound on almost every track. It’s surprising how Columbia Nashville chose the radio offerings, as there were far more radio-friendly numbers than the ones chosen. But with Shelton’s weaning popularity, he probably wouldn’t have been able to regain his footing anyways. On the whole, Love and Honor is a very good collection of songs and worth a listen even just for the nostalgia trip of reminding yourself how far country music has eroded in such a short amount of time.

Grade: B

Album Review – Collin Raye – ‘I Think About You’

Rayethink1995 was a good year for Collin Raye. Coming off the success of Extremes, he released I Think About You in late August. Like its three predecessors, it received a platinum certification and retained John Hobbs as producer (Ed Seay and Paul Worley co-produced).

I Think About You was instrumental in shaping my country music identity as it was one of the first country projects I was exposed to as a kid, and remains my third favorite country album to this day (behind Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On, Come On and Dixie Chicks Home). The hits from this project have a special quality I’ve never been able to duplicate with any other artists’ work.

Mark Alan Springer and Shane Smith co-wrote the #2 peaking lead single, “One Boy, One Girl,” a fantastically touching ballad centered around the full-circle love affair between a couple. The ending of the story is a bit predicable, but Raye gives the type of touching performance only he could bring to a ballad, and both Dan Digmore and Paul Franklin drench the number in gorgeous pedal steel.

Even better is “Not That Different,” Karen Taylor-Good and Joie Scott’s song about indifference that climbed to #3. I love how the song builds, starting out as a simple piano ballad and building to its drum-infused conclusion with the bridge. The lyric, both simple and brilliant, is fine testament to the powers of fate, and probably my favorite on the whole album:

She could hardly argue

With his pure and simple logic

But logic never could convince a heart

She had always dreamed of loving someone more exotic

And he just didn’t seem to fit the part

So she searched for greener pastures

But never could forget

What he whispered when she left

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Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Trouble Free’

Rhonda’s second Giant album took broadly the same approach as its predecessor. Producers James Stroud and Richard Landis provide sympathetic backings for Rhonda’s sparkling vocals. Sadly, however, country radio had begun its move in a poppier direction following the crossover success of Shania Twain, and Rhonda’s music was just a little too traditional for the time.

‘What More Do You Want From Me?’ (written by Bob Regan and Mark D. Sanders) was the only single, and it failed to gain enough airplay to chart. That was a shame, because it’s an excellent up-tempo song with some attitude and banked harmonies as Rhonda bemoans her lot to the personification of Love.

The opening ‘Somebody’, written by Al Anderson and Robert Ellis Orrall, sounds as though it was recorded with an eye on chart potential. It is well sung but feels a bit generic (despite Alison Krauss’s harmony), and is the only disappointing moment. Another song written by Orrall, this time with Curtis Wright and Billy Spencer, the wistful lost-love ‘If I Could Stop Loving You’, is better.

‘It Ain’t Nothin’ New’ is a lovely duet with Randy Travis, written by Larry Cordle, Larry Shell and Betty Keys. Randy’s voice is at its best, and the pair’s voices meld extremely well, while the song is a sweet look at the hard work developing a relationship and keeping it alive once the shine has worn off a little, and affirming their love. It is one of my favorite tracks, with some beautiful fiddle. The love song ‘You Beat All I’ve Ever Seen’ was written by the winning combination of hitmaking songwriter Kostas, veteran Melba Montgomery, and Kathy Louvin (daughter of Ira). It has a pretty melody and a sweet and sincerely delivered lyric.

Melba Montgomery wrote ‘An Old Memory (Found Its Way Back Home Again)’ with Jerry Salley. This is a delightful up-tempo number with Rhonda wryly facing the revival of feelings she thought she had left behind, with an unexpectedly cheerful feel as she attacks the lyric, comparing her ex’s memory to
an old dog that you drop off just outside of town, uninvited, comin’ back anyhow.

The vibrant up-tempo title track was written by Carl Jackson and Jerry Salley, and is also highly enjoyable. Rhonda triumphantly denies that her ex’s departure has caused her any sleepless nights. The sunny ‘The Blues Ain’t Workin’ On Me’ was written by George Teren and Tom Shapiro, and features a cameo from Dolly Parton on harmony.

‘When I’m Through Fallin’ Apart’ written by Michael Huffman, Gene Dobbins and Bob Morrison, is another good song, with Rhonda deferring a promising new prospect for new romance until she has got over the last one.

The John Jarrard/Kenny Beard-penned ballad ‘At The Corner Of Walk And Don’t Walk’ has a lovely traditional feel and tune with some atmospheric steel guitar underpinning the melancholic mood, although the metaphor feels a little forced. The underlying story, with the protagonist calling from a payphone as she has second thoughts about leaving, and uncertain whether her future lies with or without her lover, is still good, and Rhonda’s vocal is excellent, making this another favourite of mine.

The album was no more successful than its predecessor, and it marked the end of Rhonda’s flirtation with mainstream country music. It is however, a very fine album which has a lot to appeal to country fans.

Grade: A

Album Review: James Dupre – ‘It’s All Happening’

Louisiana paramedic James Dupre has become something of a youtube phenomenon with his covers of country classics.  He has now managed to use that exposure to record an album in Nashville, produced by Kyle Lehning and Jerry Douglas (who also contributes dobro and lap steel), with a fine set of musicians and some well-chosen songs, mostly from Nashville songwriters.  Most are set to a broadly similar slowish-mid-tempo, with a laid back feel.  James has a warm voice with a pleasing tone and relaxed style with phrasing which is often reminiscent of Alan Jackson or Don Williams.

The outstanding song is the melancholy ‘Ring On The Bar’, written by Byron Hill and Brent Baxter, a beautifully constructed lyric set to a beautiful, gentle melody, about the aftermath of a failed marriage which opens the set.  The title hook refers in the opening verse to the watermark left by the protagonist’s beer as he thinks over his situation, and later to the wedding ring he abandons there:

There’s a ring on the bar
One that’s shiny and gold
The symbol of a promise
And the heart that he broke

It’s the one thing she left
When she packed up the car
It was light on her finger
Now it’s heavy on his heart

And the ring shines bright in the colored light
Of a lonesome neon star
When its closing time he’ll leave the hurt behind
With a tip in the jar and the ring on the bar

That bartender’s gonna think someone forgot it
And he’ll wonder who could be that big a fool

Another fine song on the theme of a man struggling with the aftermath of a failed relationship is ‘Alright Tonight’, written by Tom Douglas and Casey Beathard:

I can’t stand to think of you with anybody else
There ain’t a bottle or a bar so far that seems to help
Today was not a good day to convince myself that I’m alright
Hey but I’m alright tonight

I guess I really should have called before
I showed up drunk at your front door
I had to see with my own eyes
That you’re alright tonight

Perfectly understated in its conflicting emotions, we really don’t believe him when he says that he’s “alright”, tonight or at any other time.

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Album Review: John Anderson – ‘Blue Skies Again’

Blue Skies AgainAfter the monster hit that was ‘Swinging’ the only way was down for John Anderson. He continued to incorporate pop and rock influences in his music for few years after All The People Are Talking, with diminishing returns both commercially and artistically. He was still hitting the top 10 sporadically, but in 1987 the time came to move on from Warner Brothers and try a new start, with a new label (MCA), new producer (Jimmy Bowen), and new sound (back to country, albeit less hardcore than his earliest work). The appropriately titled Blue Skies Again was the first of John’s comeback attempts.

The leadoff single, ‘When Your Yellow Brick Road Turns Blue’, failed to crack the top 40, although it is an excellent song with a beautiful melody with nods to ‘Over The Rainbow’, and has one of John’s finest vocal performances, as he portrays a husband offering unconditional love to a restless wife in the process of leaving him to pursue her dreams:
“You say that somewhere over the rainbow there’s a star that youve been wishing on
Well, is the grass really all that greener than here where you belong?
I hope that you find what you’re after and all of your dreams come true
But remember that I’ll always be here when your yellow brick road turns blue.”

John’s most successful single on MCA was ‘Somewhere Between Ragged And Right’, a duet with Waylon Jennings which Jennings wrote with Roger Murrah. The only song on the album to venture away from relationship themes, it sets out a series of interesting similes but offers no real resolution:
“We’re all polyester poets and pickers of a kind
With far too many questions for the answers in our minds…
Like a busload of taxi drivers learning how to fly
We’re on automatic pilot driftin’ through our lives.”
Sadly, the pairing of two of the most iconic and distinctive voices in country music doesn’t really work, as the two make no attempt to blend and seem to be fighting for precedence on the lines where they sing together.

The third and last single from the album was ‘It’s Hard To Keep This Ship Together’, which John wrote with Fred Carter Jr. It was the closest track to the more rock-influenced sound of recent years, but failed to make an impact at radio; not altogether surprising, as not only had the tide of commercial country music moved in the direction of the neotraditionalists, but the song itself is not very interesting. The metaphor of stormy weather addressed to a rocky relationship works better in the post-breakup title track, a mournful ballad written by Michael P Heeney with some sweet fiddle from Joe Spivey.

‘There’s Nothing Left For Me To Take For Granted’, written by John with Lionel A Delmore is another gloomy look at the aftermath of a broken relationship, and is a very good song as the protagonist finds all the couple’s old friends want nothing to do with him, and “the hardest part for me is stayin’ sober., and livin’ inthe past with broken dreams”. On a more positive note, John wrote a cheerful mid-tempo love song with his wife Jamie, ‘Just For You’. It is not particularly memorable, but pleasant filler.

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