My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Johnny Russell

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘The Country Way’

Released in December 1967, Charley’s third album was his first to reach #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums charts and even hit #199 on the all-genres chart, starting a run of fourteen consecutive top ten albums, all but one of which were top five or better.

The album opens up with the Jack Clement composition “Too Hard To Say I’m Sorry”, a plodding ballad that in the hands of (almost) anyone else, would have been a complete misfire. In Charley’s hands this song of self recrimination conveys the story of a man whose pride gets in the way of apologizing and perhaps salvaging the most important relationship in his life.

Just two words were all that she would ask of me
And I could have the world and all it holds for me
Of love and tender care, not the pain and the sorrow
That will be mine tomorrow, but I just can’t seem to say it – I’m sorry

I know exactly what I should do admit I’m wrong, it wouldn’t take long
And she’d forgive me
And I know exactly what I ought to say, but I’m not built that way
Wish that I could say I’m sorry

Next up is another Jack Clement ballad, “The Little Folks”, a song that assesses who the real losers are in a divorce. I’ve heard Willie Nelson perform the song but I’m not if he ever recorded the song.

“Crystal Chandeliers” was written by Ted Harris, but the hit went to the great songwriter Carl Belew. For whatever reason, other than “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”, this has become Charley’s most requested song, even though it was never a Charley Pride single in the USA (I think it was a single for Charley in parts of Europe). Charley would repeat the song in his Live At Panther Hall album released in January 1969.

Oh, the crystal chandeliers light up the paintings on your wall
The marble statuettes are standing stately in the hall
But will the timely crowd that has you laughing loud help you dry your tears
When the new wears off of your crystal chandeliers

“Act Naturally” was a cover of a huge Buck Owens hit from a few years earlier. Johnny Russell wrote the song and certainly saw considerable royalties from the records sold by Buck and The Beatles, let alone all the other covers. Charley’s version is good but not electrifying as was Buck’s version.

“Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger”, a Robertson/Crutchfeld/Clement collaboration, reached #4, his third straight top ten single. This song of a wayward wife just drips with understated irony.

Does my ring hurt your finger when you go out at night?
When I bought it for you, darling, it seemed to be just right
Should I take it to the jeweler so it won’t fit so tight?
Does my ring hurt your finger when you go out at night?

Did you enjoy yourself last night, dear, how was the show?
You know that I don’t mind it when you go
I understand sometimes we all need time alone
But why do you always leave your ring at home?

This is followed by “Mama Don’t Cry For Me” which the underrated Johnny Seay (or Sea) released as a non-charting single a few years later. I really liked Seay’s version, and Charley does a fine job with the song as well, although with a slightly less dramatic reading of the song. Fred Foster and Johnny Wilson wrote this song:

I’ve seen the big fish jumping, mama, I’ve heard crickets sing
And I’ve felt my heart start pounding at the side of New Orleans
I’ve seen the New York City with her lights aglow
I’ve been a lot of places always on the go
I’ve seen most everything I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me …

I’ve climbed the highest mountains covered with snow
I’ve seen most everything I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me
I’m sending you this message, mama, I must say goodbye
I live the life you gave me, mama, I’m not afaid to die

Even though I’m dying, mama, the hands of death are strong
I don’t want you crying, mama, after I’m gone
I’ve seen all of this old world I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me
So mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me

The second single released from this album was the Jerry Foster/Bill Rice collaboration “The Day The World Stood Still”. This ballad of lost love reached #4.

For one day in my life
You brought me happiness
You stopped the lonely world
With all your tenderness

I can’t get over you
I guess I never will
Time was a precious thing
The day the world stood still

The next song, another Jack Clement composition, is one of my favorite Charley Pride recordings. In the middle of the song Charley calls out ‘here’s Big Joe Talbot and his electric Hawaiian steel guitar’ by way of introducing Big Joe’s instrumental break. Charley did not release this song as a single but later in the year, the Jack Clement produced Tompall & The Glaser Brothers released it as a charting single, and they too made the same introduction of Big Joe Talbot (and basically used the same arrangement).

Someday I think I’ll take up thinking and try my best to understand
How she could be loving me forever and leaving on the other hand
Last night I thought I’d see a movie to help me get my thoughts in hand
I think what I saw was the western preacher or James Bond on the other hand
I placed the ring upon one finger of her left hand
The one who said she’d stay forever is gone on the other hand

Next up is a sad ballad about a love that can’t be, written by Country Johnny Mathis. “You Can Tell The World” is pleasant enough listening, but would never be regarded as singles material.

Mel Tillis and Danny Dill provided “I’ll Wander Back To You”. This song is a cover of the Earl Scott single that reached #30 in 1965. It’s a nice, but not terribly exciting, tale of wanderlust:

They say I’m like my daddy, always on the roam
I know he loved my mama but he couldn’t stay at home
I vowed to not be like him but somewhere I went wrong
Cause I’m a thousand miles from nowhere and the girl I love at home
One of these days I’m gonna quit my wandering
One of these days I’ll wander back to you

Younger listeners may remember Ricky Van Shelton’s 1988 #1 single of the Harlan Howard classic “Life Turned Her That Way”. Older listeners may remember the 1967 Mel Tillis recording that just missed the top ten or perhaps an earlier recording by Little Jimmy Dickens. Charley does a very good job with the song.

No one could out-Haggard Merle Haggard on one of his compositions, and Charley couldn’t either. His version of “I Threw Away The Rose” is a pleasant jog-along ballad but nothing more than that.

I liked this album, but think that the song selection was not quite as strong as on his debut album. The vocal choruses remain, but the songs are string-free and the vocal accompaniments are not too obtrusive. Nothing about this album suggest that this is anything but a country album, and while the big blockbuster singles were still on the horizon, it was clear that they were coming.

Grade: A-

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Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘I Like ‘Em Country’

i like em countryLoretta’s fifth album was released in 1966. The material is very much along the same lines as its predecessors, with a lot of covers, but all very high quality. It was the first of her records to have two singles, which may be an indicator of her growing commercial appeal.

The plaintive ‘The Home You’re Tearing Down’, addressed to the other woman who is breaking up the protagonist’s marriage, was a top 10 hit, written for Loretta by Betty Sue Perry. Although it’s not remembered as one of Loretta’s best known hits today, it’s a stellar example of pure country music. Betty Sue also wrote ‘Go On And Go’, an excellent response to the man in the story:

Between your passion and your pride, you’re half a man
I don’t want your kiss without your sweet love too
Go on and go
If you need her like I need you

The controversial ‘Dear Uncle Sam’, the only song on the album written by Loretta, was a bold and topical choice for a single, and peaked at #4. US ground troops had been deployed in Vietnam since March 1965, and in August of that year married men also became subject to conscription, as increasing numbers of US soldiers were needed to fight in that controversial war. Loretta’s emotional song does not debate the merits of the war itself at all, but movingly shows the effects on one woman whose husband is called on to fight, and who is killed in action.

Loretta recorded her brother Jay Lee Webb’s song ‘Today Has Been Day’, a mournful tale of lost love and unsatisfactory refuge in a neon-lit bar. Jay Lee was about to launch his own attempt at a country career.

As usual a lot of covers were included. Ernest Tubb’s ‘It’s Been So Long Darling’ had been a hit for Loretta’s duet partner some 20 years earlier. Loretta’s version of this sweet song about an impending reunion of lovers (whose original context was that of the end of the Second World War) is very good, and is an interesting counterpoint to ‘Dear Uncle Sam’, where the reunion can never happen.

The Hank Williams classic ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’, one of the greatest songs of all time, is always good to hear, and Loretta offers a fine reading. Country standard ‘If Teardrops Were Pennies’ is nicely done too, and Johnny Cash’s ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ gets an energetic workout. ‘Jealous Heart’, another much- recorded tune is also beautifully performed, with some interesting organ backing.

The tongue in cheek ‘Two Mules Pull This Wagon’ was written by Johnny Russell is a highly entertaining song with a housewife complaining that her husband doesn’t appreciate her hard work at home:

Well, you come home most every night as grouchy as can be
And start right in a pickin’ on our little kids and me
I’m sick and tired of hearin’ how your work keeps you a braggin’
Cause you seem to forget big boy that two mules pull this wagon

Yeah two mules pull this wagon
You don’t do it by yourself
I know you’ve got a heavy load
But I give you lots of help
I do my share of pullin’ and I don’t mean to be braggin’
But you seem to forget big boy that two mules pull this wagon

Well, I guess you think while you’re at work I sit and watch TV
But you’d learn different, honey, if you’d spend one day with me
I’m washin’, ironin’, cookin’, sewin’, and find time for your naggin’

The attitude is the kind of song many listeners expect from Loretta, and it is a fine example of its kind.

‘Sometimes You Just Can’t Win’ was written by Smokey Stover, a songwriter and DJ who issued a few honky tonk singles himself (plus a novelty song about Jimmy Hoffa). A wonderful sad song about losing at love, it had been recorded by George Jones a few years earlier.

Most of the album has a timeless classic country feel. Only the vivacious ‘Hurtin’ For Certain’ feels dated, thanks to the backing vocals.

It is available on a 2-4-1 CD with Blue Kentucky Girl. The package is well worth picking up.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Southern Star’

41OBKFV1XkLAlabama arrived on the national stage in 1980 at a time when country music was dominated by crossover acts. By mid-decade, however, the pendulum had swung wildly in the opposite direction and by the end of the decade, many veteran acts had been swept off the charts altogether. Those that survived the tide change were forced to adopt a more traditional sound in order to remain relevant. 1989’s Southern Star was Alabama’s back-to-basics album — sort of. While it was less slickly-produced than most of their earlier albums, a traditional album it is not. The radio singles were carefully crafted to appeal to the change in commercial tastes, but on the album cuts the band continued to explore different styles, including Southern rock and pop.

Southern Star found the band working with a new production team. Gone was Harold Shedd, who had co-produced all of their albums for RCA, and in his place were Barry Beckett; Larry Michael Lee, and Josh Leo. The album continued Alabama’s winning streak on the singles charts, with all four of its singles reaching #1, starting with “Song of the South”, a catchy Bob McDill number that had been recorded several times previously — originally by Bobby Bare, and later by Johnny Russell and Tom T. Hall with Earl Scruggs. Ballads were always a strong point for the band and the excellent “If I Had You”, the album’s second chart-topper was no exception. The uptempo “High Cotton” takes a look back through rose-colored glasses at growing up during the Great Depression, and “Southern Star” gives Alabama an opportunity to showcase their tight harmonies.

The rest of the songs on Southern Star could have appeared on any of Alabama’s previous albums. Though the production is more organic, the songs occasionally stray into different musical territory. “Down On The River” is pleasant if not particularly memorable Southern rock song. “She Can” is pop-flavored number that is somewhat marred by a synthesizer, “Dixie Fire”, featuring Jeff Cook on lead vocals, is similarly dated sounding. “Barefootin'” (another Cook-led effort) is a throwaway number with annoying horns.

The Randy Owen-penned “Ole Baugh Road” is one of the better album cuts. The Spanish-tinged “The Borderline”, with Teddy Gentry singing lead with guest Charlie Daniels, is the album’s biggest creative stretch.

Though not without its missteps, Southern Star proved that Alabama was able to adapt to changing commercial tastes and remain relevant after nearly a decade on charts. It was a great way to close out the decade and the album is still worth listening to today.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘Making Plans’

making plansAfter the underperformance of Love And Honor, Ricky left Columbia, but a move to independent label Vanguard in 1997 saw him making some of his best music. He was reunited with his old producer Steve Buckingham, assisted on this occasion by Marshall Morgan. The sensitive arrangements are laden with fiddle and steel, and put Ricky’s pure voice with its delicate vibrato at the center.

It opens with the lively fiddle-led kissoff ‘Just Say Goodbye’, written by Byron Hill and Joe Chambers. It’s one of my favorite of Ricky’s up-tempo recordings. Chambers also contributed the impassioned ballad ‘I Wish You Were More Like Your Memory’, in which the protagonist can’t get over his ex.

The mid-tempo ‘When The Feeling Goes Away’ is a cover of a rather obscure (but very good) Merle Haggard tune (it was the B-side of the hit single ‘Carolyn’) about surviving a breakup:

Wine is just a shadow that clouds my memory
And a bar is just a hiding place for fools like me
And drunk is just a feeling that keeps my pain away
But I’ll be alright when the feeling goes away

A cover of Mel Street’s classic cheating song ‘Borrowed Angel’ is also great. The title track is a lovely old Johnny Russell song about a relationship about to collapse, which was also recorded by a number of other artists, most recently the Trio of Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

‘He’s Not The Man I Used To Be’ is an excellent song in which the protagonist finds his ex has moved on, and realises the error of his ways. He gets the picture in time to avert such a fate in ‘It Wouldn’t Kill Me’, written by Larry Boone, Paul Nelson and Paul Shapiro, and previously cut by Boone and later covered by Jeff Carson. It’s a great song which deserves to have become a hit on one of its outings, in which the protagonist realises working at keeping the romance alive is worthwhile:

It wouldn’t kill me to tell her that I love her
It wouldn’t kill me to make her feel alive…
It wouldn’t kill me like it would if she ever said goodbye

‘She Needs Me’ is a romantic ballad about an independent woman. ‘Tic Toc’ is a brightly delivered medium-paced number about a relationship about to wind down, with a protagonist who doesn’t sound too upset about it.

The album loses steam as it tails off with the last three tracks. ‘Our Love’ and the optimistic ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ (the album’s sole, non-charting, single) are pleasant but forgettable. Sandwiching the pair, the regretful ‘The Best Thing I Had Goin’’ is actually pretty good, but not as memorable as the bulk of the album.

This album has been overlooked because it was released towards the end of Ricky’s career and as an exclusive Walmart offering, but it’s well worth tracking down used copies.

Grade: A

Album Review: Tom T. Hall and Earl Scruggs – ‘The Storyteller And The Banjo Man’

banjo manHall’s career began to slow down in the later 1970s. In 1978 he left longtime label Mercury for RCA. After a few albums for that label, he moved again to Columbia in 1982, where he returned to his bluegrass roots. Teaming up with the legendary Earl Scruggs, who shares the vocals as well as playing some plangent banjo, the pair deliver a set of mainly older songs.

There were two singles released, although neither performed very well – unsurprisingly, as pop influences were pushing out more traditional sounds and bluegrass in particular had been largely banished from country radio apart from Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris.

The much-married protagonist ‘There Ain’t No Country Music On This Jukebox’ complains,

I guess them boys and girls in Nashville ran out of something to say,

leaving him to listen to music that makes his “beer go flat”. He offers inspiration from his own life:

I bet they’d write a hundred country songs.

The bouncy ‘Song Of The South’(written by Bob McDill) had been recoded prevosuly by Bobby Bare and Johnny Russell is best known from Alabama’s cover which topped the country charts in 1988. The cheery vocals give this a singalong feel which bely the dark undertone of some of the lyrics, with a mother who was “old at 35”.

There is a more nostalgic look back at times past in ‘Engineers Don’t Wave From Trains Anymore’, a new Hall-penned song. It’s a bit of a shame that he didn’t write more for this record, as Hall was always a better songwriter than he was a vocalist.

Much of the material comprises older songs. I liked the gloomy and very authentic sound of the traditional ‘Shackles And Chains’, which Halls everyman persona works well on. ‘Don’t This Road Look Rough And Rocky’ is sad and gentle with an imaginative arrangement. ‘Lover’s Farewell’ is a subdued message from a dying man.

‘Lonesome Valley’ is straightforward bluegrass gospel complete with the traditional quartet vocal arrangement.

90s country fans will know ‘Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler’ from Travis Tritt’s ramped up version. This is a more conventional bluegrass version. The much-recorded ‘Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms’ gets a lively workout, also in standard bluegrass style.

The country classic ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud Loud Music)’ is one of my favorite songs, and it sounds good with Scruggs’ banjo dominating the arrangement. ‘No Expectations’ is another fine song with a plaintive vocal.

This is a great opportunity to hear the legendary Scruggs playing banjo, and the songs and arrangements are all flawless, but Hall really isn’t in the top flight of vocalists.

Grade: B+

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 6

Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

Memory Machine“– Jack Quist
This 1982 song about a jukebox reached #52. I don’t know anything about Jack Quist other than that he originally was from Salt Lake City, but I am familiar with the song’s writer Ted Harris as he wrote such classics as “Paper Mansions” and “Crystal Chandeliers”.

eddie rabbittOn Second Thought” – Eddie Rabbitt
Released in 1989, this song peaked at #1 in early 1990. This was Eddie’s most traditional sounding hit and my favorite of all of Eddie’s recordings.

Don’t It Make Ya Wanna Dance” – Bonnie Raitt
This song was from the soundtrack of Urban Cowboy and reached #42.

Right Hand Man” – Eddy Raven

Eddy had sixteen consecutive top ten records from 1984-1989. This song is my favorite although it only reached #3. Eddy would have five #1 records during the decade with “Joe Knows How To Live” and “Bayou Boys” being the biggest hits.

She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)” – Jerry Reed
There are few artists that could get away with recording a song with such a title but Jerry Reed was that one of a kind who could. The song reached #1 in 1982, one of Jerry’s few #1 records. There are those who consider Jerry to have been the best guitar player ever (Chet Atkins among them). Jerry passed away a few years ago perhaps depriving the genre of its greatest all-around talent.

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Favorite country songs of the 1970s, Part 9

Some more songs that I liked, one song per artist, not necessarily the biggest hit. As always, I consider myself free to comment on other songs by the artist.

Arkansas”– Teddy & Doyle Wilburn (1972)
The last chart hit for a duo that was of more importance as businessmen than as recording artists. This song got to #47 (#29 on Cashbox). The Wilburns remained important for many years to follow through their publishing companies and other enterprises. One of their protégées, Patty Loveless is still actively recording and performing.

One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” – Little David Wilkins(1975)
This song got to #11; it figures that an equally large performer, Johnny Russell, was his closest friend in the business.

“We Should Be Together”– Don Williams (1974)
This was Don’s first top five recording. The single issued immediately prior to this “Come Early Morning” b/w ”Amanda” was a double sided hit , with the two sides splitting the airplay. This record was issued on the small JMI label – within a year Don would be signed by a major label and his career would jet into the stratosphere.

Why Don’t You Love Me” – Hank Williams(1976)
I don’t know why MGM reissued this 1950 single that spent 10 weeks at #1 in its original release. It only got to #61 this time around, but any excuse to list a Hank Williams single is welcome.

“Eleven Roses” – Hank Williams, Jr. (1972)
This Darrell McCall-penned song spent two weeks at #1. I was torn between listing this song or “I’ll Think of Something”, which Mark Chesnutt took to #1 in 1992. The pre-outlaw Hank Jr. was a pretty good straight ahead country singer.

“He Will Break Your Heart” – Johnny Williams (1972)
Johnny Williams was a soul singer from Chicago. This song reached #68. Country audiences became familiar with this song as Johnny Paycheck recorded it in 1971 on his first album for Epic. Although Billboard did not track album cuts at the time, country DJs gave the song so many spins off Paycheck’s album that I was sure that that Epic would issue the song as a Paycheck single.

“Country Girl With Hot Pants On” – Leona Williams (1972)
Great singer/songwriter, better remembered as one of the Hag’s ex-wives. While it’s been 26 years since she charted, she still is issuing great albums for the Heart of Texas label. ”Country Girl With Hot Pants On” only reached #52 but did much better in some markets. Her biggest hit was “The Bull and the Beaver” which reached #8 in 1978.

“I Wanna Go Country” – Otis Williams and The Midnight Cowboys (1971)
One of several black singers to attempt to follow Charley Pride, this all-black band from the Cincinnati area was led by the former lead singer of The Charms, who had several pop hits during the 1950s including “Hearts of Stone”. This was the only record to chart country but it, and the album from which it came, were both excellent.

“The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down“ – Tex Williams (1972)

Tex was a big star during the 1940s, both as part of Spade Cooley’s band and on his own, with a mega-hit with “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette)“ which went #1 country (16 weeks) and pop (6 weeks) in 1947. This amusing story reached #29 Billboard /#18 Cashbox, his last real hit. Tex died in 1985 of lung cancer.

“Ida Red” – Bob Wills (1976)
New version of Bob’s 1938 hit – reached #99 for one week. Bob had chart hits throughout the 1940s. His most famous song, “New San Antonio Rose, was nearing the end of its pop chart run when Billboard started their country charts on January 1, 1944. Had the charts been started six months earlier the song would have spent many weeks at #1.

“There’s A Song On The Jukebox” – David Wills (1975)
This was one of two top ten records for Wills, a protégé of Charlie Rich, who produced his first three singles. I don’t hear any resemblance to Rich, but he was a fine singer.

“Do It To Someone You Love” – Norro Wilson (1970)
The only top twenty record for one of Nashville’s leading producers and songwriters. Charlie Rich had huge hits with his “The Most Beautiful Girl”, “Very Special Love Song” and “I Love My Friend”.

“Johnny’s Cash and Charley’s Pride” – Mac Wiseman (1970)
Mac is probably the best bluegrass vocalist – ever. Known as ‘The Voice With A Heart’, this amusing record went top forty, a major feat for 50 year old bluegrass artist.

“The Wonders You Perform” – Tammy Wynette (1971)
Just a song I happen to like. This record reached #1 on Record World and #2 on Cashbox.

“Goin’ Steady” – Faron Young (1971)
A remake of his 1952 smash, this speeded up version is probably my favorite Faron Young track. From 1969 to 1971, Faron had six songs reach #1 on one or more of the major charts. “Step Aside”, “Leavin’ And Sayin’ Goodbye” and “Four In The Morning” were also classic songs from this period.

Classic Rewind: Johnny Russell – ‘Redneck, White Socks And Blue Ribbon Beer’

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 3

The 1970s were not my favorite decade for country music but it was the decade in which I did my largest amount of listening to country radio, having the good fortune to have such country giants as WSUN AM- 620 in St. Petersburg, FL, WHOO AM-1090 in Orlando and WCMS AM-1050 in Norfolk, VA for my listening pleasure, plus I could tune in WSM AM – 650 in Nashville at night. I did a lot of shift-work during this decade so my radio was on constantly.

    

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1970s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records

Silver Wings” – Jim & Jon Hager (1970)

Since Hag issued the song as a B side (“Workin’ Man Blues” was the A side), this version is the only charting version of Hag’s classic. The Hager Twins do a nice job with the song, although it only reached #59 on the charts . Fans of Hee Haw will remember this duo well.

I Can’t Be Myself” – Merle Haggard (1970)

My all-time favorite Merle Haggard recording, this song went to #1 on Cashbox. Frankly, picking an all-time favorite Hag song is a hopeless proposition as he is the most consistently great artist of all time. Hag wrote about fifty #1 songs, the most of any songwriter. The flip side of this record “Sidewalks of Chicago” also received a lot of airplay and likely would be in my top ten favorite Haggard recordings.   Read more of this post

Razor X’s Top 10 Albums of 2011

2011 was actually a slightly better year for country music than the past several years, though you’d never know it from listening to country radio. A lot of my old favorites released new albums this year, so it was a little easier than usual for me to find new music to listen to. Here are my favorite releases of 2011:

10. Working in Tennessee — Merle Haggard
While the material was not quite up to the standards of last year’s I Am What I Am, Haggard shows that he’s not ready to hang up his guitar just yet. Though he’s well past his vocal peak, his music is still worth listening to. An eclectic set that runs from Dixieland Jazz to more contemporary fare, with some social commentary and Hag’s views on the current state of country music, this set deserved more attention than it received. It is currently available for download for $4.99 at Amazon.

9. Remember Me, Volume 1 — Willie Nelson
This set picks up where last year’s Country Music left off, and even includes a re-recording of a track (a cover of Porter Wagoner’s “Satisfied Mind”) that appeared on that 2010 release. The album consists entirely of cover material, some of which Willie had recorded in the past, and none of which are his original compositions. It is to traditional country music what his Stardust collection was to pre-rock-and-roll pop. As the title suggests, a second volume is planned for sometime in 2012.

8. Neon — Chris Young
Chris Young is easily the best of the new male singers to emerge in the past few years, but his material has tended to be somewhat inconsistent. Neon is a huge step in the right direction.

7. Better Day — Dolly Parton
I was little skeptical when I first heard about this release, thinking that the last thing country music needs is another set of accentuate-the-positive songs, but Dolly pulls off this project quite well. She wrote all 12 tracks (one is a co-write with Mac Davis), and the lead single “Together You and I” is a remake of one of her old duets with Porter Wagoner. Overall, it’s a much stronger and more consistent set than her previous studio release, 2008’s Backwoods Barbie.

6. Where Country Grows — Ashton Shepherd
I really wanted to love Ashton’s debut album, 2008’s Sounds So Good, but found the material lacking in a lot of cases. After three long years, she finally released her sophomore disc, which is much more to my liking than the first. She’s tweaked her sound just enough to appeal to current commercial tastes, but sadly, the marketplace doesn’t seem to be paying much attention. If you haven’t heard this album yet, “Look It Up”. It’s currently available for download for $4.99 from Amazon.

5. Guitar Slinger — Vince Gill
The follow-up to These Days was long overdue but well worth the wait. As usual, Gill covers a wide range of musical territory from blues and contemporary Christian to adult contemporary and more mainstream county fare. But no matter what the label, it’s excellent music from start to finish.

4. Here For A Good Time — George Strait
I can’t remember a time when George Strait wasn’t at the top of the country charts. He’s been a constant presence for 30 years, and as such he is sometimes taken for granted. He hasn’t gotten a lot of critical acclaim in recent years, and admittedly, his last couple of albums didn’t compare with most of his earlier work. Here For A Good Time is his strongest effort since 2005’s Somewhere Down In Texas, and despite the title, is not a collection of party tunes. There is upbeat fare to be sure, but there are also darker and more serious offerings, such as “Drinkin’ Man”, “A Showman’s Life”, and “Poison”. For most of his career, Strait was well known for not writing the overwhelming majority of the songs he recorded, but he and his son Bubba wrote seven of the eleven tracks here, usually collaborating with Dean Dillon and Bobby Boyd.

3. Your Money and My Good Looks — Rhonda Vincent & Gene Watson
Two of country music’s best and most underrated artists teamed up for this project, which is a pure delight to listen to from beginning to end. It mixes a little bit of the old with a little bit of the new, but it is 100% pure country from beginning to end. No fancy studio trickery will be found here, just some excellent, well sung songs. My favorite tracks are the covers of Vern Gosdin’s “Till The End” and “This Wanting You”, which appeared on George Jones’ 1999 album Cold Hard Truth.

2. Hell on Heels — Pistol Annies
This collection from Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angeleena Presley has got to be the year’s most pleasant surprise. I really wasn’t expecting much but this ended up being one of my most-played albums of the year. Despite Lambert’s current popularity — or perhaps because of it — the album isn’t getting a lot of attention from radio. Hopefully radio’s tepid response and the demands of the group members’ solo careers won’t prevent another Pistol Annies collection from being released before too long.

1. Long Line of Heartaches — Connie Smith
I rarely get excited about upcoming album releases anymore, but this was a definite exception. It’s difficult not to get excited about a new Connie Smith album, since they are such infrequent events; Long Line of Heartaches was her first new album in 13 years, and prior to that there was a 20-year gap between albums. It was produced by Smith’s husband Marty Stuart, and like his Ghost Train (my #1 pick of 2010), it was recorded in the famous RCA Studio B, where so many of Connie’s classic hits from the 1960s and 1970s were laid on tape. Half of the album’s songs were written by Smith and Stuart, with the remainder coming from the pens of legends such as Harlan Howard, Dallas Frazier and Johnny Russell. It simply does not get any better than this. It is currently available for download for $4.99 at Amazon.

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Right Or Wrong’

george strait right or wrongIn October 1983, the month and year I was born, George Strait was riding a wave of success from his first 2 albums, the second housing his first set fo chart-toppers, when his third album, Right Or Wrong, was released.  It would be his first #1 charting album, and continue his hot streak on the Country Singles chart as all 3 singles from this record would reach the top spot.  Right Or Wrong was Strait’s first teaming with producer Ray Baker, and his last that doesn’t list George Strait as a co-producr, and despite the album’s success, it would be their only collaboration – Strait would team with label-head Jimmy Bowen for the rest of his 1980s releases.

The lead single was also used to make George’s first music video.  ‘You Look So Good In Love’ is a romantic-sounding ballad about a man who is observing his former lover as she shines in the arms of another man.  The spoken-word bridge was something Strait rejected at first, but apparently the producer won out and it stayed in the song.  But he had similar feelings about the music video, saying years later that he “lobbied to get that thing pulled off the air so no one would ever have to watch it again.”  He also credits the making of that first music video with his aversion to music videos, a medium George Strait has notably ignored throughout his career.  ‘You Look So Good In Love’ shot to the top of the charts, becoming his third single to reach the summit.

The album’s title cut would become the album’s second-single, and second consecutive chart-topper.  The song itself is a jazz tune dating back to the early 1920s, and has been recorded by dozens of singers.  Bob Wills had long been performing the song, and had recorded a version of his own.  But it was Strait’s recording that made the song famous again – becoming the biggest hit recording the the western swing standard and winning the songwriter, Haven Gillespie, an ASCAP Award for it, some 65 years after it was written.

‘Let’s Fall To Pieces Together’ is a crying honky-tonk number with a hard intro, ‘Pardon me, you left your tears on the jukebox, and I’m afraid they got mixed up with mine‘.  The fiddle-laden number sounds as good today as it did 26 years ago and is still one of my favorite Strait singles.  It’s also one of the first instances of him employing the easy crooning style he would become known for in later years.  The tune was written by Dickey Lee, Tommy Rocco, and the legendary Johnny Russell.

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