My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: John Lindley

Album Review: Musicians Against Childhood Cancer – ‘Life Goes On’

Musicians Against Childhood Cancer is the umbrella name for an annual charity concert by some of the best current bluegrass musicians. In 2006 a compilation of tracks recorded at the concert over the years was released in aid of St Jude’s Hospital, and this sequel contains performances from more recent years. The music was all recorded live but the excellent mixing would not be out of place in a studio set. The musicianship is without exception superb, as one might expect, and this is a fine bluegrass sampler in its own right, with a range of subject matter. The two CD-set includes a generous 39 tracks.

The outstanding track as far as I’m concerned is Bradley Walker’s cover of ‘Revelation’, a somber Bobby Braddock vision of the Second Coming which was originally recorded by Waylon Jennings and more recently served as the title track of an album by Joe Nichols. Walker’s superb 2006 debut album Highway Of Dreams has been far too long waiting for a follow up and it is good to hear him again. He is accompanied by a simple acoustic guitar backing allowing the bleakness of the song to take center stage.

I’m a fan of the compelling sibling harmony of the Gibson Brothers, and they contribute the fascinating ‘Ragged Man’, a tale of bitter sibling rivalry. The brother who is reduced to homeless poverty while the brother once preferred by their mother now rolls in riches, rails against “that golden boy” and warns him to “watch his back”. I’m also a big fan of Brandon Rickman’s soulful voice, and he teams up with bandmates from the Lonesome River band for a beautifully judged reading of the traditional ‘Rain And Snow’. Later the Lonesome River Band provide one of the best instrumentals on offer, the lively ‘Struttin’ To Ferrum’, which holds the attention all the way through.

Rhonda Vincent sings a simple but lovely, plaintive version of the traditional ‘The Water Is Wide’. She also sings harmony on Kenny and Amanda Smith’s take on gospel classic ‘Shouting Time In Heaven’. Marty Raybon is excellent on the gloomy Harlan Howard song ‘The Water So Cold’ (once recorded by country star Stonewall Jackson), which sounds made for bluegrass. Read more of this post

Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Full Circle’

This Is Me, the follow-up to Wind In the Wire, revived Randy’s career after that side-project, with four top 10 hits including the chart-topping ‘Whisper My Name’. Surprisingly, though, his next album was a commercial disappointment, with none of the singles doing at all well. Released in August 1996, Full Circle was produced as usual by Kyle Lehning, but the sound is a little fuller than on their previous work together. Randy’s resonant baritone is at its best, and the material is generally high quality.

The first two singles, ‘Are We In Trouble Now’ and ‘Would I’ both faltered in the 20s. The former is a well-written ballad about falling in love which was rather surprisingly written by British rock guitarist Mark Knopfler. (Knofler has had a longstanding interest in country music, and has recorded albums with Emmylou Harris and Chet Atkins.) Randy gives it a sensitive, tender delivery worthy of a much bigger hit. The up-tempo ‘Would I’, on the other hand, is pleasant but forgettable, and frankly makes me think of the songs criticised in Alan Jackson’s ‘Three Minute Positive Not Too Country Uptempo Love Song’ from a few years later.

‘If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another’ is a much more entertaining, personality-infused up-tempo number, co-written by Joe Stampley (best known for his Moe & Joe duets with Moe Bandy), and not picking this as a single feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. It could have made the basis of an amusing video too.

The excellent ‘Price To Pay’ (written by Trey Bruce and Craig Wiseman) was perhaps just a little too downbeat to succeed in a period when pop influences were once more gaining ground on country radio. A cheating song, the remorseful protagonist regrets having ever let it start, when it would have been so much easier to call a halt:

Your heart wasn’t mine to take
Mine wasn’t mine to give
And love wasn’t ours to say
I shoulda let you go when I could
When the memories weren’t so many or so good
And one night was such a small price to pay

It barely charted despite being the best of the three singles, and that signalled the end of Randy’s time with Warner Brothers, at least for a while.

The atmospheric opener ‘Highway Junkie’, written by blue-collar singer-songwriter Chris Knight with Sam and Annie Tate, sets the portrait of a trucker using his focus on life on the road to get over heartbreak against a muscular beat. The song namechecks Roger Miller and his classic ‘King Of The Road’, and quite fittingly later in the record there is a loping cover of that very song, which also appeared on the soundtrack of the movie Traveller.

Another very good song is ‘Long On Lonely (Short On Pride)’, written by venerable songwriting team of Bob McDill, Dickey Lee, and Bucky Jones. The weary protagonist appeals to his former lover:

I won’t say I love you, don’t know if it’s true
I will say I need you, God knows I do

Randy revived an old song he had written (with John Lindley) and recorded back in the Randy Ray days, ‘The Future Mister Me’. This mournful response to a failed relationship was well worth revisiting, and is quite beautifully sung by a defeated sounding narrator, who has obviously caused his share of problems for his ex wife but is now wishing her luck with her new man. He also wrote two more songs for the album. ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ (written with Ron Avis, the driver of Randy’s tour bus) is excellent. In this intense ballad, the protagonist is desperate for his chance-met ex not to see him crying at the sight of her with her new love. The tender love song ‘I Can Almost Hear Her Wings’ was written with Buck Moore and Eddie Lee, and is lovely.

The beaty ‘Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me’ is enjoyable enough, but lacks much of a melody and is one of the weaker moments. The album closes with the philosophical and relaxed sounding ‘Ants On A Log’, written by Skip Ewing and Donny Kees.

Full Circle is easy to find cheap. Although it was not a commercial success for Randy, it is underrated and worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Old 8 x 10’

Following up Always & Forever, which enjoyed at 43 week run at #1 on the Billboard Top Country Ablums chart and sold more than 5 million copies, must have seemed like a daunting task. 1988’s Old 8 x 10 was Randy Travis’ attempt to recreate the magic, and though it is an enjoyable album, it is slightly uneven and just misses the mark of equaling its predecessor’s artistic and commercial success.

Like Always & Forever, Old 8 x 10 was produced by Kyle Lehning and spawned four singles. Three of them reached the #1 spot. First up was the laid-back “Honky Tonk Moon”, written by Dennis O’Rourke, on which Travis sounds relaxed and at ease. Following “Honky Tonk Moon” to the top of the charts was the slightly fluffy “Deeper Than The Holler” by Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet. Unfortunately, this is one of the team’s weaker compositions, which can’t hold its own against their other classics such as “On The Other Hand” and “Forever and Ever, Amen”. Better is the whimsical “Is It Still Over”, which was the third single and my favorite song on the album. The Ken Bell and Larry Hendley tune became Randy’s seventh consecutive #1 hit, and his ninth #1 overall.

Up to this point, beginning with the re-release of “On The Other Hand”, all of Randy’s singles had reached #1 with the exception of “There’s No Place Like Home”, which peaked at #2. This winning streak was interrupted by “Promises”, which Randy wrote with John Lindley. Featuring only Randy’s voice and a single acoustic guitar, it reached #17 in early 1989. Some saw it as the beginning of the end of Randy’s reign at the top of the charts (wrongly, as it turned out), but in actuality, records like this one have always been a hard sell with radio, and the fact that it was played at all is a testament to the tremendous star power Randy wielded at the time. I found it somewhat dull at the time and was amazed at one critic in particular who referred to it as the best single release of Travis’ career up to that point. It is only in the past few years that I can truly appreciate this understated work of art for the masterpiece that it is. I’m still not sure that I consider it his very best performance, but it’s close and it stands as a textbook example of why quality can’t be assessed by chart performance alone.

Among the album cuts are a few gems, such as “The Blues In Black and White” and the excellent “We Ain’t Out Of Love Yet” which should have been released as a single. But unlike Randy’s first two albums, Old 8 x 10 includes a few missteps, such as “Written In Stone” and the title track, which is particularly weak in comparison to the rest of the album’s material.

Old 8 x 10 sold 2 million units, less than either Storms of Life or Always & Forever. However, in the pre-Garth and pre-Soundscan era, sales of 5 million units were virtually unheard of in country music, so it probably wasn’t realistic to expect Travis to maintain that level of success. The album’s double-platinum success was more than respectable, and it still holds up today as one of the stronger album’s in Randy’s catalog. It appears to be out of print in CD form but it can be purchased at a slight premium from third-party sellers at Amazon, or downloaded from Amazon or iTunes.

Grade: A-