My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: John Wayne Wiggins

Single Review: Blake Shelton – ‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking?’

Blake Shelton’s latest single (the second from his second Sixpak EP, All About Tonight), is a revival of a song which might so easily have become a hit for one of his rivals. Joe Nichols recorded it a few years a go on his under-rated Real Things set (whose promotion was affected by his treatment for addiction issues), but never released it as a single. Written by Earl Bud Lee with John Wayne Wiggins (briefly a recording artist himself with sister Audrey), this is a sweet love song to a lover the protagonist is not yet completely familiar with, he speculates sweetly how she behaves unobserved. Does she let herself go in relaxation or anger?

There is a sweet fascination with the other which epitomises the early stages of a relationship, where infatuation is just beginning to develop into wanting to know the whole person. In this case she seems to be rather a restrained person in public, and even reserved with her new boyfriend. In the song’s most memorable image, he notes she is someone who will

Hold yourself together like a pair of bookends

She clearly keeps something back from him, and his tenderly expressed desire to know more about her is a promising sign for the longevity of their possible future together.

I think this version is better than Joe Nichols’ original, which was pleasant enough but lacked impact vocally. Here, Blake’s soothingly sultry, seductive vocals on this track bring out the message of the song, with a grainy quality coming out in his voice just once or twice. The lovely scaled-back production gives the languid ballad a very laid back feel which makes it stand out amongst the overwhelmingly up-tempo repertoire of country radio, and a far cry from the power ballads which take the few ballad slots apparently available. I suspect it is only Blake’s current hot hitmaking status that has enabled such a lovely low-key number to be promoted to radio with a genuine chance of becoming a hit.

The newest member of the Opry, Blake is coming off two straight #1 hits, both radio-friendly up-tempo numbers with fairly limited long term appeal. I hope this much quieter, more subtle song can do as well, as it shows a deeper side to him, just as his fiancée Miranda Lambert, famed for her assertive rockers, reached new heights with her summer smash ‘The House That Built Me’. I suspect that his song may possibly hold more appeal for female listeners than his last couple of hits, aimed at a rowdier audience.

Blake is also currently enjoying his first CMA nomination as Male Vocalist of the Year; it was something of a surprise inclusion, and he may be an outside bet for the win next month, but if he continues to produce material in this vein and of this quality, he would be an even more convincing contender for the next round of awards shows, when this song would be considered as part of Blake’s output in the nomination period. I don’t think it is a truly great song, but it is a good one, and the vocal performance is one of Blake’s finest to date.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘Drive’

January 2002 saw the release of Alan’s tenth studio album, which showcases him as a confident singer-songwriter at the height of his commercial success. He is in fine voice, and Keith Stegall does his usual excellent job in the producer’s chair. Drive was the first of Alan’s albums to debut at #1 on the cross genre Billboard Hot 200 chart, despite making no concessions to crossover tastes, and it was named the ACM Album of the Year. But this is a record where one song has an impact which overshadows everything else.

Alan’s masterpiece ‘Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning?)’ defined a nation’s mood in the aftermath of 9/11. Alan had not originally intended to record it at all, but the popular response after he sang it at the CMA Awards in November 2001 led to a studio version being released as a single. When it was a #1 smash hit, it obviously had to be included on his new album. Over eight years on, it has lost none of its emotional impact, either in the studio recording or the original live version, which was added as a bonus to the end of the album, including Vince Gill’s introduction. If nothing else on the album is of quite the same calibre, that is because few songs can approach the perfection of this. Part of what makes it so effective is that it offers no judgment of the various choices he imagines people taking; it is entirely inclusive. It still makes me cry every time I hear it, with its quiet questioning and insistence that love is what really matters in the end:

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?
Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don’t know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?….

Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers?
Stand in line and give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
And thank God you had somebody to love?…

But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love

The song received another accolade by being included (in a cover version by The Wrights, Alan’s nephew and the latter’s wife) as one of the songs illustrating America’s history in Song Of America, a three-CD collection produced for US schools.

Eight of the twelve songs on the album were written solely by Alan. The opening track, and second single, ‘Drive (For Daddy Gene)’, which provides the album title is a very personal nostalgic look back at a childhood spent with his father around boats and cars. Car songs tend to leave me cold, but this one has an engaging warmth impossible to dislike, and it duly headed straight to #1. The car theme is bookended with the final track, the awkwardly scanning ‘First Love’, about his teenage love for his first car, restored to him in 1993. The driving theme is further illustrated in the CD liner notes with appropriate symbols taken from road signs attached to the lyrics of some of the songs.

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Moving backstage

Former Wrecker Jessica Harp surprised many by her recent announcement that she was leaving her record label and abandoning hopes of a solo career in favour of becoming a full time songwriter. While retaining rather more dignity than Jason Michael Carroll’s unforgettable but rather sad “Arista and I are going our seperate [sic] ways! They called and said they would be moving forward without me!” this may be a case of jumping before she was pushed, as Jessica’s solo singles had failed to set the charts alight, although her now ex-label has chosen to release her album digitally as a parting gift for her fans.

Time will tell whether she will be successful in her new course. She would hardly be the first Nashville songwriter to start out wanting to be an artist in her own right, or indeed the first to enjoy a short chart career.

Dean Dillon’s distinctive turn of phrase has made him one of the most sought-after writers in the past 20 years. With a voice as quirky and distinctive as his writing, he started out as a singer. A string of singles on RCA were minor hits in the late 70s and early 80s, including the first versions of his own songs ‘Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her’ and ‘Famous Last Words Of A Fool’. The former was a top 30 hit, the latter failed to make the top 50, but neither had the chart impact they deserved – or that they had when George Strait covered them. The label also teamed Dean up with honky tonker Gary Stewart as a duo, releasing one full length album and a six track EP. Those early RCA recordings (both solo and duet) are virtually all now available on one CD. A successful run as a songwriter followed, but he had not given up his dreams of solo stardom, and in 1988 he signed to Capitol. Two albums for that label, and two more for Atlantic, failed to quite take off. The critical moment arrived when he planned to release ‘Easy Come Easy Go’ as a single – and found Strait wanted to record the song. He relinquished the song, and settled down to life as a writer for others.

I’ve never really understood why Larry Boone’s solo career never took off. He was signed to Mercury in the late 80s, and later Columbia; he was good looking, had a great voice, and was an excellent songwriter. But only a few of his singles charted, the most successful being his #10 ‘Don’t Give Candy To A Stranger’ which was our Classic Rewind a week ago. Luckily, he had that songwriting talent to fall back on.

Skip Ewing was another recording artist to enjoy a handful of hit singles in the late 80s, then turn to writing them for others when his own chart career wound down. He had much more success in the latter capacity, writing multiple #1s. He made a return to the airwaves in his own right as Reba’s duet partner on the radio version of ‘Every Other Weekend’.

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Album Review: Ron Williams – ‘The Longer You’re Gone’

The Longer You're GoneRon Williams, son of the often underrated Leona Williams and one-time stepson of Merle Haggard, has a nice voice with a warm tone and soft timbre which is very pleasing. His third album, produced by Eddie Kilroy, on Ah-Ha Music Group, is solidly country, with some lovely fiddle from Rob Hajacos, and 80s star Janie Fricke guests on backing vocals. Williams is not a writer, unlike his mother, but he and his producer have found some excellent songs for this record.

Bill Anderson contributed three very good songs to the set, starting with the outstanding title track co-written with Jim Collins, a soulful ballad about the increasing regrets about a broken relationship after the event, as the protagonist starts to remember the good things he misses rather than the fights and bad times, concluding,
“It’s a funny thing about a memory
The longer you’re gone
The better our love used to be”

Just as good is the ironic reproach to a former love now dating another guy, written by Bill with Don Cook, ‘You Should Have More Respect For The Dead’:

“Can’t you see you’re killing me
Your happiness is messing up my head
I’ve died a thousand times since I threw away your love
You should have more respect for the dead”

Anderson and Cook joined up with Matt Jenkins to write ‘The F Words’ about a man whose cheating ex wants him back, but,

“I can’t say the F words
Forgive and forget”

Another highlight is the cover of ‘Where The Tall Grass Grows’, recorded previously by George Jones on his 1991 album And Along Came Jones, and also covered by Ricky Van Shelton on 1994’s Love And Honor. While Ron is not in quite the same league as Jones (few are), he tackles the fine song with an honest emotion, as he depicts a house that is no longer a home, with haunting steel and lonesome fiddle.

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