My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Johnny Mathis

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Make Mine Country’

Make Mine Country, Charley Pride’s fourth album, was released via RCA Victor in 1968. The album didn’t produce any singles but featured covers of many notable songs that have become classics. It was produced by Chet Atkins along with Jack Clement, Bob Ferguson, and Felton Jarvis.

The album opens with Jack Clement’s “Now I Can Live Again,” a minor hit for Mickey Gilley the previous year. The uptempo track, about a newly-single man finally putting the sorrow behind him, is brimming with sunshine.

“A Word or Two to Mary,” written by Vince Bulla and Peter Cotton, is a ballad between friends in which a man asks his buddy to compose a letter to the woman he’s leaving behind in death. The track, typical of the era, is beyond creepy and has an inappropriate sing-song melody that clashes with the subject matter.

“If You Should Come Back Today” was also recorded by Johnny Paycheck although I couldn’t find the year he released his version. The honky-tonk uptempo number returns the album to the sunny disposition of the opening track, with a lyric (written by Johnny Mathis and Harlan Howard) about a guy who would forgive his ex if she came back into his life.

Clement also solely wrote “Guess Things Happen That Way,” which Johnny Cash took to #1 the year previous. Pride’s version is slicker sounding than Cash’s, which is the sole difference between the recordings.

The album’s fifth song is “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” which appears here seven years before Freddy Fender had an international hit with it. Pride’s version is terrible by comparison, a by-the-numbers take that lacks the nuance Fender was able to find within the lyric.

Make Mine Country continues with Clement’s arrangement of “Banks of the Ohio.” The track, drenched in mandolin, feels rushed and like the song before it, lacks any care to bring the emotional qualities out in the lyric.

“Wings of a Dove” was already eight years old when Pride released his version. It’s a solid take, although the arrangement is far too cheesy for my tastes.

“A Girl I Used To Know” was six years old by 1968, a top 5 hit for George Jones that would top the charts as “Just Someone I Used to Know” in a duet recording by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton the following year. Pride’s version is very good, but hardly an essential take on the song.

“Lie To Me,” which only saw this version by Pride, is another sunny uptempo number. This one is about a guy who wants his woman to confess her love to him, even if she doesn’t truly feel it deep inside.

The regretful “Why Didn’t I Think of That” appears next, with Pride taking on the role of voyeur, watching the way his ex’s new love shows his affection towards her. The track is merely good.

Eight years after Buck Owens took it to #3, Pride unleashes his rendition of “Above and Beyond (The Call of Love).” He handles the song beautifully, allowing it to stand out among the twelve tracks on the album. “Baby Is Gone,” a mid-tempo ballad, closes out the record.

Make Mine Country is a very strong album, with solid takes on some of the hits from the day. Given that it didn’t have any singles, I can only guess it was an obligatory record aimed at fulfilling some clause of his recording contract. I found the album to be bogged down by a few second-rate relationship songs that could’ve been swapped out for a bit more meaty material.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘The Ways To Love A Man’

the-ways-to-love-a-manBy the time The Ways To Love A Man, Tammy’s sixth solo album, was released in January 1970, Tammy and producer Billy Sherrill had found and perfected the formula for her recordings. Unlike fellow ‘Nashville Sound’ producers such as Chet Atkins at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca/MCA and Don Law at Columbia, who made considerable use of symphonic strings and choral arrangements, Sherrill’s use of symphonic strings was minimal but his use of background voices was very aggressive indeed. Sherrill also used the steel guitar to shade the musical accompaniment in similar fashion to the way Owen Bradley would use string arrangements.

The Ways To Love A Man follows the usual formula with two singles, both of which went to #1, some covers of recent hit singles, and some filler. The album reached #3 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, making it the fifth album to do so (a religious album in 1969 only reached the top twenty).

The album opens with the title track and second single, a song credited to Tammy, Billy Sherrill and Glen Sutton as co-writers. It’s a fairly sappy song that in the hands of another artist wouldn’t be very believable, but the song was crafted with Tammy’s vocals in mind and it soared to the top of the charts.

There are so many ways to love a man and so many things to understand
And if there ever comes a time you decide to change your mind
I’ll need a way to hold you and I can
Cause I’ll know all the ways to love a man
But there’s so many ways to lose a man so quickly
He can slip through your hands
One little thing goes wrong then all at once he’s gone
I’d have no way to hold him like I planned
It takes more than just one way to love a man
With my hands my heart anything I can find
My child my home my soul and my mind
I’ll know that I can hold him yes I can
If I know all the ways to love a man

Next up is “Twelfth of Never”, a late 1950s top ten pop hit in the USA and Australia for Johnny Mathis. The lyrics were written by Jerry Livingston and Paul Francis Webster and appended to an old English folk melody. The song and was recorded by many other artists, most notably Cliff Richard, who had a major hit with the song in the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Holland, Malaysia and Norway during the mid 1960s. My favorite version of the song was that recorded by Glen Campbell on his 1968 album A New Place In The Sun. It’s a very nice song, but not particularly well suited to Tammy’s voice. That said, Tammy and Sherrill acquit themselves well on this crooner ballad.

“I’ll Share My World With You” was a major hit for her then-husband George Jones in 1969. Written by Ben Wilson, the record reached #2 for George when released by Musicor. Tammy is not in George’s league as a singer (very few are) but the song works.

“Enough of A Woman” comes from the husband and wife team of Leon Ashley and Margie Singleton. Both Leon and Margie had some success as singers (Margie as a duet partner for George Jones and Faron Young) but I don’t remember this song being a hit for anyone.

“Singing My Song” was the first single from this album, although it appears that the song may have first appeared on Tammy Wynette’s Greatest Hits which was released just before this album. This song has a triumphant feel that isn’t that characteristic of her music.

Here’s a song I love to sing,
It’s about the man that wears my ring.
And even though he’s tempted, he knows,
I’ll make sure that he gets everything.
‘Cause when he’s cold, he knows I’m warm,
And I warm him in my arms.
And when he’s sad, oh, I make him glad.
And I’m his shelter from the storm.
I’m his song when he feels like singing.
And I swing when he feels like swinging.
I don’t know what I do that’s right,
But it makes him come home at night.
And when he’s home, I make sure he’s never alone.
And that’s why I keep singing my song.

“He’ll Never Take The Place of You” was written by Charlie Daniels, Bob Johnson and Billy Sherrill. The song is a slow ballad and while she does a nice job with it, it’s just album filler. Ditto for “I Know”, a ballad composed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

“Yearning (To Kiss You)” was a hit for George Jones in 1957 (released as a duet with Jeanette Hicks), his first top ten duet single. George co-wrote the song with Eddie Eddings. It’s worth hearing although the original was better. “These Two” was also composed by George and Tammy, another mid-tempo ballad.

“Where Could You Go (But To Her)” is a definite misstep, a Glenn Sutton-Billy Sherrill ballad that was a charting B side hit for David Houston with “Loser’s Cathedral” as the A side. Tammy sings the song alright but Sutton and Sherrill could have done a much better job of rewriting the lyrics to suit the feminine perspective.

“Still Around” was written by Billy Sherrill is another slow ballad. It is a nice song, gently sung by Tammy with perhaps the most subdued production of any song on the album. I think this could have been a successful single for Tammy:

To make you stay I’ll never try
And when you go I will not cry
But for a time I might be found somewhere live still around
But may you find a love that’s true
Someone to love and cherish you
And if you love your whole life through
And may you love as I love you
But if you’ll ever feel alone
With no true love to call your own
And if you’ll need a place to hide
These arms of mine are open wide
And if a troubled love brings you pain
My love is all like summer rain
Always remember I’ll be found still around

A solid effort for ‘The First Lady of Country Music’, a strong A-

Album Review: Shenandoah – ‘Christmas Comes Alive’

christmascomesaliveThe new six-track EP Christmas Comes Alive marks the first time in 18 years that Marty Raybon and Shenandoah have recorded together. Coincidentally, their last album together was also a Christmas collection. Christmas Comes Alive consists of mostly new material — some of which they wanted to include on their 1996 album, but Capitol insisted on an album of Christmas classics. After a lengthy delay, the original material has finally seen the light of day.

The EP’s opening track is “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, which was written by drummer Mike McGuire, who produced the EP with Marty Raybon. It starts out as the familiar children’s nursery rhyme, but it quickly establishes that the little lamb’s name was Jesus. It’s followed by the title track, written by Marty Raybon, Bud McGuire, and Kim Williams. An upbeat number about Santa’s elves preparing for the big day, it is one of the songs that the group had wanted to include on their Christmas album for Capitol.

“Good Ole Fashioned Christmas” and “Family Tree” both revisit familiar themes of family, tradition and traveling home for Christmas. Both are good, if not particularly memorable. The album’s standout track is the closing number “Lullabies In Bethelehem”, a Mike McGuire co-write with Mark Narmore that tells the story of Nativity from the point of view of another traveler to Bethlehem, who took the last room at the inn and would have gladly given it up had he known how desperately it was needed by Mary and Joseph.

The collections sole traditional tune is a very nice rendition of “The First Noel” which fits in very nicely with the newer tunes. There are no Johnny Mathis or Nat King Cole style songs here. No strings or orchestras, just plenty of fiddle, dobro and banjo, the kind of country sound one expects from Shenandoah.

In addition to Christmas Comes Alive, Marty Raybon and Shenandoah are reportedly working on more new music, which is expected to be released next year. If it is as good as this collection, then 2015 is already starting to look like a good year for country music.

Grade: A

Fellow Travelers: Gordon Lightfoot (1938-)

gordon lightfootThis is the sixth in a series of short articles about artists who, although not country artists, were of some importance to country music.

WHO WAS HE?

Gordon Lightfoot arguably is Canada’s most successful folk performer with a long string of pop successes in the United States and Canada and some hits in Australia and the UK as well. Gordon had many hits in Canada before breaking through as a singer in the US, but many of his compositions were made hits by American artists including songs such as “Ribbon of Darkness” (Marty Robbins) and “Early Morning Rain” (Peter, Paul & Mary, George Hamilton IV) . Among the other artists who have recorded Lightfoot’s songs are Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., The Kingston Trio, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Viola Wills, Richie Havens, The Dandy Warhols, Harry Belafonte, Tony Rice, Sandy Denny (with Fotheringay), The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Scott Walker, Sarah McLachlan, John Mellencamp, Toby Keith, Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, The Irish Rovers and Olivia Newton-John.

As a singer, Gordon’s most successful records were “Sundown”, “If You Could Read My Mind” and “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald”, the first two reaching #1 in the US and Canada and the latter (a Canadian #1) reaching #2 in the US despite its six-minute length.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?

Although Gordon Lightfoot charted eight times on Billboard’s Country charts, only “Sundown” cracked the top fifteen. His real importance to country music is in the huge number of country artists who recorded his songs. George Hamiliton IV recorded many of his songs on various albums scoring hits with “Steel Rail Blues” and “Early Morning Rain”. As noted above, Marty Robbins scored a #1 hit with “Ribbon of Darkness, a song also recorded by Connie Smith, Jack Greene and countless others. Glen Campbell had a hit with “Wherefore and Why”. Legendary bluegrass artists Mac Wiseman and Tony Rice each recorded entire albums of nothing but Gordon Lightfoot songs. Country albums of the late 1960s and the 1970s frequently included a Gordon Lightfoot song.

Gordon doesn’t seem to have an official website but there is a fan site. The site is a bit disjointed but contains much information about Lightfoot, including tour dates.

Album Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘The Season For Romance’

Following the immense crossover success of “I Hope You Dance”, MCA Records continued to push Lee Ann Womack further in the pop direction, hoping to make her into a pop diva like Shania Twain or Faith Hill. Something Worth Leaving Behind, released in August 2002, bore very little resemblance to country music and was both a critical and commercial disaster. Two months later, Lee Ann released a Christmas collection, which also had little to no connection to country music. While it’s not uncommon for country stars to go for a more traditional pop or big band sound on holiday collections, the timing of The Season For Romance, on the heels of Something Worth Leaving Behind, added to the perception that what Lee Ann was leaving behind were her country roots.

Many people are nostalgic for Christmas music in the vein of Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Johnny Mathis, even if this isn’t the type of music they normally listen to throughout the year. In the past, country stars such as Vince Gill, Lorrie Morgan, and Martina McBride have attempted to recreate those sounds on their holiday albums, and it’s often been quite effective. But unfortunately, this is decidedly not the case with The Season For Romance. Seldom have I heard an album where the singer seemed so ill at ease with the material as is the case here. Throughout the entire album, Lee Ann seems to be working too hard to erase her Texas accent, and too often seems to be competing with the orchestra rather than singing with it. Songs such as “Let It Snow” and “Winter Wonderland” sound as though Lee Ann recorded the vocal track without any knowledge of the type of arrangements or instrumentation that would be used with it.

The album’s worst track is the remake of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, which has never been one of my favorite songs. A pop standard dating back to the 1940s, its best known version is probably Dean Martin’s 1966 recording (Martina McBride’s duet vocals were added in 2006). Lee Ann is joined by Harry Connick, Jr. I may perhaps be a little biased since I’ve never particularly liked this song, but I found Lee Ann’s very breathy performance that tries too hard to be sexy, to be quite annoying.

I don’t mind so much that this isn’t a country album; my main gripe is that Lee Ann seems uncomfortable and out of her element throughout most of it. The sole exception is “The Man With the Bag”, which is the one song on which she really seems to be engaged and enjoying herself. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “Silent Night” aren’t bad — though I could have done without the distracting saxophone on the latter — but this is, for the most part, a lackluster and poorly executed project. I really hate to pan a Christmas album, particularly one from an artist whose work I usually admire, but I found this album very painful to listen to. Lee Ann is capable of much, much better and hopefully one day she’ll release a better Christmas album.

Grade: D