My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: John Rich

Album Review: John Anderson – ‘Bigger Hands’

bigger handsAfter an unsuccessful attempt at another comeback in 2007 with the John Rich-produced Easy Money, John Anderson’s latest album Bigger Hands was released last month on the small label Country Crossing. It reunites him with co-producer James Stroud, who produced his early 90s records, and the result is mostly fairly understated, and is generally more sympathetic to John’s voice and style than Easy Money. John is in great voice, and wrote all the material with a variety of co-writers.

The most immediately familiar song here is John’s version of ‘Shuttin’ Detroit Down’, which he co-wrote with John Rich, who of course had a hit single with the song earlier this year. I always liked the song itself, and thought it a laudable response to current economic issues, but I was distinctly underwhelmed by Rich’s disconnected vocal. John Anderson always commits 100% to his material, and has a history of recording this type of subject matter, going all the way back to ‘Havin’ Hard Times’ on his debut album almost 30 years ago. It should come as no surprise that I vastly prefer his take on the song to that of his co-writer; John Anderson’s stronger voice and more intense approach give the lyric a massive added punch. I really believe him when he sings here about being “fightin’ mad” about the situation. It seems a shame that John Rich’s release of the song as a single has prevented Anderson from doing so.

Instead, the label is pushing the more frivolous ‘Cold Coffee And Hot Beer’, written with longtime collaborator Lionel A Delmore. Since Warner Brothers couldn’t get John back on the radio a couple of years ago, his new indie label may not have much hope, no matter how good the material, which is, in the words of this song, “a cryin’ shame, like cold coffee and hot beer”. It is a highly entertaining song whose narrator is fabulously hopeless at all aspects of life as he laments the loss of his wife; not only can he not make coffee or put his beer in the refrigerator, he can’t manage washing up the cups, and it seems that she brought in the paycheck too. No wonder she left.

The familiar theme of honky tonking is represented by the cheerful, if rather generic, ode to ‘Bar Room Country’, as John paints the picture of a “jumpin’ honky tonk on the county line“, the sort of place where “every night’s like Saturday night“. Much better (and a track which would have been a big hit if recorded at John’s commercial peak) is the witty chugging opening track, ‘How Can I Be So Thirsty’, written with fellow-veteran Billy Joe Walker and the younger songwriter/artist Jerrod Niemann. Here John utters a ironic complaint about a well-deserved hangover – “How can I be so thirsty, after all I drank last night?” he asks plaintively, after listing all the reasons why.

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Spotlight Artist: John Anderson

tn_JohnAndersonJohn Anderson has been one of the most distinctive voices in country music for nearly 30 years, and although his career has seen more ups and downs than some of his contemporaries, it has endured and his latest album, Bigger Hands was released last month. He is one of my personal favorites, and I am pleased to announce that he is our Spotlight Artist for July.

John David Anderson was born in Florida on December 13, 1954. He grew up listening to and playing rock music until he discovered Merle Haggard when he was 15. He moved to Nashville as a teenager, and signed to Warner Brothers in 1977. His career took a few years to get going, and his debut album was released in 1980. In the early 80s, John Anderson was one of a handful of hard country voices in the Urban Cowboy wilderness, and he released a string of great albums and singles.

This period came to a close after the massive success of his single ‘Swingin” in 1983. He started to incorporate more rock and pop influences in his material, and although he had reverted to a straight country style by the end of the decade, he had lost his commercial appeal, despite several major labels’ efforts.

It was time for yet another a new label (BNA) and a comeback, and in 1992 he had another breakthrough with his first #1 hit in nine years, ‘Straight Tequila Night’, followed by ‘Seminole Wind’. He remained a consistent chart presence for the next few years, although his star faded again in the second half of the decade.

He returned to Warner Brothers in 2007 with a John Rich-produced album which failed to give him another career resurgence, and is now recording for an independent label.

Over the years he has produced some great country music, much of it self-written, and we look forward to sharing some of it with you over the next month. He has also ventured into some territory not often covered by country artists, such as environmental issues and the plight of Native Americans. Most of his back catalog has been re-released in recent years, so if we inspire you to investigate John Anderson’s music, you should be able to do so fairly easily.

Are record labels stupid, or is it just radio?

radioLately I’ve noticed that the worst songs seem to be picked for release as singles from a number of artists.  Alongside that, labels seem to be increasingly confused about how best to promote albums, with songs being announced as the next single from a given artist, and then hurriedly replaced by something else.  It all seems like a terrible muddle.  What’s going wrong?

Our March spotlight artist Eric Church has released one of the poorest songs on his new album as its lead single.  A particularly egregious example is Tim McGraw.  His label, Curb,  released a ridiculous number of singles – seven – from his last studio album, 2007’s Let It Go.  How, then, have they managed to miss the one song on that set that’s really worth hearing, ‘Between The River And Me’?  George Strait released the unimpressive ‘River Of Love’ as the third single from Troubadour when he could have released the memorably quirky ‘House With No Doors’ or the duet with Patty Loveless on ‘House Of Cash’.  There are plenty more examples.

Trace Adkins and his label have taken something of a middle course with his current album, X.  The two singles released so far, ‘Muddy Water’ and ‘Marry For Money’ are perfectly listenable, but they really aren’t the outstanding tracks, either.  Will anyone who isn’t already a fan ever get the chance to hear great songs like ‘I Can’t Outrun You’, ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’, or ‘Sometimes A Man takes A Drink’?  Warner Brothers seems to have abandoned Randy Travis’ Around The Bend in favor of his new hits collection, I Told You So – understandable enough, and to be fair the singles from Around The Bend made no radio impact, but that means they are apparently not even going to try with the stunning ‘You Didn’t Have A Good Time’.

Then last year we saw two of the most commercially successful of today’s artists – Keith Urban and Brad Paisley – release singles taken from older projects rather than either something from their then current album or a new song to herald an upcoming 2009 release.

We’ve also seen record labels second-guessing themselves at the last minute, by not only announcing one song as a single, but going to the trouble and not-inconsiderable expense of making a video for it, and then changing their minds and offering another song as the single instead.  Sometimes they pretend there was never any intention of making the song they have made a video for the official single (as with Eric Church’s ‘Lightning’), but I’m not sure I’m convinced.

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Songs for a recession

recessionMy brother was laid off last week, for the second time in a year.  That’s the kind of thing that brings the state of the global economy really close to home, even though he’s been fortunate enough to find something else to move on to.

One of the great things about country music has always been that it’s rooted in real life. You can pretty much find a song for every occasion somewhere in the genre, even if in recent years mainstream releases have largely focused on the feel-good at the expense of deeper material.  I had been wondering when the first songs about the current situation were going to emerge, and whether radio would be prepared to adapt.  

John Rich’s new single, ‘Shuttin’ Detroit Down’, seems to be being received well on radio.  I’m not much of a fan of the self-regarding, self-aggrandizing John Rich, but I am impressed with this song, which really captures what I think many people feel.  My problem with the single is, unfortunately, Rich’s vocal performance, which to my ears signally lacks the anger of the lyric.  It ends up feeling unconvincing.  I rather wish he had passed it to someone else to sing, rather than using it to springboard his solo career.

So I was looking around my record collection for older songs where the song and performance combine better on the same theme.  It is arguably the case that period provided the crucible which produced country music as a distinct genre – after the first flowering of recordings of hillbilly, blues, gospel and folk music in the 1920s.  Songs from that period and subsequent periods still strike a chord today.

After thinking about this for a while, I’ve come up with the following short list of less familiar songs on the subject.  I’ve tried to avoid picking the obvious songs, with a couple of exceptions, and also songs about longterm rural poverty, which although an  important part of country music’s heritage, weren’t quite what I was looking for this time.

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