My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Karen Brooks

Album Review: Many Barnett – ‘Mandy Barnett’

When Asylum Records released Mandy Barnett’s eponymous album Mandy Barnett in 1996, I hoped I was hearing the first in a long string of albums for this excellent vocalist. Mandy was not unknown to me, having made television appearances in conjunction with her role in the play Always … Patsy Cline, starting around 1994 or 1995. Unfortunately, the market shifted away from anything resembling real country music so while Mandy remains active, her solo recordings remain few and far between.

Mandy Barnett would prove to be Mandy’s only successful chart album in terms of singles, but the contents were strong, the voice is terrific and her artistic integrity has been maintained through the years. The album would reach #60 on the country charts (it reached #28 on the Canadian country charts)

The album opens with “Planet of Love”, a song written by the much underappreciated Jim Lauderdale. The song was never a big hit for anyone, but it has been recorded quite a few times. Mandy’s bluesy take reveals a song that Patsy Cline could have done as well as, but not better than, Mandy herself.

 I’ve found a new planet that only I can see

Just came back to get you let’s leave this misery

Nothing can reach us so far from harm’s way

Only sunshine and rainbows every day

We’ve got to get back there hurry up and get your things

The countdown has started go ahead try on these wings

Don’t need no spaceship for what I’m thinking of

Didn’t I tell you that I’d take you to the planet of love

I should mention that this album was produced by Bill Schnee and Kyle Lehing, but clearly,  both understood what Owen Bradley accomplished with Patsy Cline and at times have created an updated version of that sound.

Next up is “Maybe”, a then-contemporary song aimed at getting Mandy some radio airplay. The son was the second single and peaked at #65. Written by Lauderdale, Rodney Crowell, and John Leventhal, the song should have been a hit but perhaps it was too similar to some other songs currently floating about at the time (I could mentally hear Patty Loveless doing this song)

I know how the story ends where everything works out

I get the feelin’ once again that I can’t shake your doubt

Instead of hidin’ from romance

You’re gonna have to take a chance

 

Baby, don’t say Maybe

There’ll be no comin’ back tomorrow, Baby

“Rainy Days” is a gentle ballad sung to perfection. The song, written by Kostas and Pamela Brown Hayes,   is filler but of a high grade.

“Three Days”, from the pen of Willie Nelson, is also filler. The song was a top ten hit for the great Faron Young back in 1962, and k.d. lang took it to #9 on the Canadian country charts in 1990. This is one of my favorite Willie compositions, and while Mandy does an excellent job with the song, the song seems a little more believable from the male perspective. I love the endless time loop perspective of the song – if this isn’t the definition of depression, I don’t know what would qualify

Three days I dread to see arrive

Three days I hate to be alive

Three days filled with tears and sorrow

Yesterday today and tomorrow

 

There are three days I know that I’ll be blue

Three days that I’ll always dream of you

And it does no good to wish these days would end

‘Cause the same three days start over again

“Baby Don’t You Know” was written by Jamie O’Hara has that traditional vibe, accentuated by the walking bass line and I think that I would have tried this as a single as this is just an excellent track. The song has a great sing-along chorus

Baby don’t you know I still love you

Baby don’t you know I still miss you

Baby don’t you know you’re breaking my heart

Oh, oh, oh

Baby don’t you know I still want you

Baby don’t you know I still need you

Baby don’t you know you’re tearing me apart

Kostas and Tony Perez penned “Now That’s All Right with Me”, the first and most successful single released on from the album. This is a very then-contemporary sounding song with late 90s-early 00s country instrumentation including some steel guitar in the background. The song peaked at #43. I don’t recall the song getting much of a promotional push but perhaps my memory is wrong. I only heard the song a few times on the radio.

Karen Brooks and Randy Sharp wrote “A Simple I Love You”, the last and least successful single released from the album. Mandy sings it well, but the song itself is a rather bland string-laden ballad, the only track on the album to heavily feature strings. The song died at #72.

Two more Kostas songs follow, “I’ll Just Pretend” and “What’s Good For You” (with Kelly Willis as co-writer). The former is a gentle and wistful medium slow ballad; the latter is a bit more up-tempo and a bit more of a downer. Both are excellent songs and well sung.

“Wayfaring Stranger” is one of the great folk/gospel classics, that first appeared in the early to mid-1800s. I’ve heard many versions of the song with many and varied verses. Below is a “standard” version of the lyrics (insofar as any version can be called standard) that is pretty similar to Mandy’s version. This song features very sparse instrumentation

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger

Traveling through a world of woe

But there’s no sickness, toil or danger

In that fair land to which I go

 

I’m going there to see my father

I’m going there no more to roam

I am just going over Jordan

I am just going over home

 

I know dark clouds will gather round me

I know my way is rough and steep

But beautiful fields lie just before me

Where God’s redeemed their vigils keep

 

I’m going home to see my mother

She said she’d meet me when I come

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

I’m just a going over home

It is clear that the producers of this album were trying for radio success with this album. The singles are all good – worth about a B+ but the tracks where the producers let Mandy follow her own inclinations are excellent – an easy A+. I would give this album an A and I still pull it out occasionally and listen to it.

The album is available as a digital download. If you want an actual CD, a later Warner Brothers release titled Many Barnett: The Platinum Collection contains nine of the ten songs on this album and eleven of the twelve songs on her second album I’ve Got A Right To Cry.

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Album Review – Holly Dunn – ‘Getting It Dunn’

HollyDunnGettingItDunnA year after releasing her first retrospective, Holly Dunn returned with the album that would serve as closure to the commercial phase of her career. Getting It Dunn was released in June 1992 and spawned four singles, none of which cracked the top 40 on the charts.

Mel Tillis’ mid-tempo honky-tonker “No Love Have I,” served as the first single, peaking at #67. Despite a generous helping of steel, and Dunn’s impeccable vocal, the track didn’t chart higher although it deserved to. The Dunn/Chris Waters/Tom Shapiro penned “As Long As You Belong To Me” charted next, peaking at #68. The mid-tempo rocker had a confident vocal from Dunn, although it just wasn’t commercial enough to pop in the current radio climate. “Golden Years,” the third and final single, did slightly better, peaking at #51. A co-write by Gretchen Peters and Sam Hogin, the track is wonderful despite the somewhat sappy string section heard throughout.

The album’s other notable track is “You Say You Will,” composed by Verlon Thompson and Beth Nielsen Chapman. Dunn’s version of the bluesy Dobro infused number appeared just two months before Trisha Yearwood’s take on her own Hearts in Armor album. Both versions are remarkably similar and equally as good, although Yearwood turned in a slightly more polished take, which helped the pensive tune reach #12 in early 1993. Warner Brothers didn’t release Dunn’s version as a single.

Dunn’s usual co-writers Waters and Shapiro helped her write a few other tunes for the project. “Let Go” is somewhat light, with an engaging drumbeat and muscular electric guitar heard throughout. Steel and synth ballad “I’ve Heard It All” is a revelation, with Dunn playing the part of a jilted lover done with excuses. “You Can Have Him,” marks similar territory and is the best of three, with an engaging beat, and polish that had it ripe to be a single.

Shapiro teamed up with Michael Garvin and Bucky Jones to write “I Laughed Until I Cried,” a fabulous break-up power ballad with one of Dunn’s most emotion filled vocals on the whole album. Craig Wiseman co-wrote “If Your Heart Can’t Do The Talking” with Lynn Langham. The steel and dobro infused mid-tempo number is excellent and wouldn’t have been out of place on one of Yearwood’s early albums. Wally Wilson and Mike Henderson composed “Half A Million Teardrops,” another mid-tempo number and one more example of the excellent recordings found on Getting It Dunn. Karen Brooks and Randy Sharp’s “A Simple I Love You” rounds out the album, and Dunn provides the project’s standout vocal. I love the steel on this, too, although the rest of the production is a touch heavy-handed.

Holly Dunn will always be a quandary to me. Her vocal and songwriting abilities are outstanding, but the production on her records was always lacking in that little bit of extra polish that would’ve sent her over the top to the leagues of say a Trisha Yearwood or a Kathy Mattea. But that isn’t to suggest her music was lacking in any particular way to be less than excellent, it just wasn’t always embraceable by country radio and their standards at the time. But, thankfully, commercial prospects aren’t everything, and Getting It Dunn is another glorious addition to her already wonderful discography.

Grade: A

Week ending 2/23/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Blake_Shelton_21953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox): I Let The Stars Get In My Eyes — Goldie Hill (Decca)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): No Help Wanted — The Carlisles (Mercury)

1963: Don’t Let Me Cross Me Over — Carl Butler & Pearl (Columbia)

1973: I Wonder If They Ever Think Of Me — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1983: Faking Love — T.G. Sheppard and Karen Brooks (Warner Bros./Curb)

1993: Can I Trust You With My Heart — Travis Tritt (Warner Bros.)

2003: The Baby — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

2013: Wanted — Hunter Hayes (Atlantic)

2013 (Airplay): Better Dig Two — The Band Perry (Republic Nashville)

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 1

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, 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.

If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)“ – Alabama
Alabama made excellent music during the 1980s, although the country content of some of it was suspect. Not this song, which is dominated by fiddle. One of the few up-tempo Alabama records that swings rather than rocks.

I’ve Been Wrong Before” – Deborah Allen
An accomplished songwriter who wrote many hits for others, particularly with Rafe VanHoy, this was one of three top ten tunes for Ms. Allen, reaching #2 in 1984. This is much more country sounding than her other big hit “Baby I Lied”.

Last of The Silver Screen Cowboys” – Rex Allen Jr.
After some success as a pop-country balladeer, Rex Jr. turned increasing to western-themed material as the 1980s rolled along. This was not a big hit, reaching #43 in 1982, but it featured legendary music/film stars Roy Rogers and Rex Allen Sr. on backing vocals.

“Southern Fried” – Bill Anderson
This was Whispering Bill’s first release for Southern Tracks after spending over twenty years recording for Decca/MCA. Bill was no longer a chart force and this song only reached #42 in 1982, but as the chorus notes: “We like Richard Petty, Conway Twitty and the Charlie Daniels Band”.

Indeed we do. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Reba McEntire – ‘The Last One To Know’

This classic Reba hit was a #1 in 1987. It was Matraca Berg’s second major hit as a writer (after 1983’s ‘Faking Love’ for T G Sheppard and Karen Brooks).

Album Review: Matraca Berg – ‘Lying to the Moon’

Matraca Berg’s first success in country music came in 1983 when she was 19 years old and co-wrote “Faking Love” with Bobby Braddock, which became a #1 for T.G. Sheppard and Karen Brooks. Her next big success came four years later when Reba McEntire scored a #1 hit with “The Last One to Know”, which Berg had co-written with Jane Mariash. Matraca became a recording artist when she landed a deal with RCA in 1990. Lying to the Moon, her first project for the label, was produced by Josh Leo and Wendy Waldman, and consisted of ten top-notch songs, all of which Matraca had a hand in writing.

It isn’t clear to me why the album didn’t enjoy more commercial success. While not quite in the same league as Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood, Matraca was an above-average vocalist and was reasonably attractive — and therefore, marketable. The material, which was first-rate and designed to appeal to mainstream listeners, was certainly not at fault. Nevertheless, Lying to the Moon was only moderately successful. “Baby, Walk On”, the first single, is not the strongest or most original song on the disc, but it was an uptempo number that was well within the constraints of what country radio was playing at the time. The follow-up, “The Things You Left Undone”, which I like much better, is another uptempo number about an independent-minded woman who is picking up the pieces and getting on with her life after the end of a relationship. At the time, I really thought this one would be a huge hit, but like its predecessor, it peaked at #36. The two songs, which were co-written with frequent collaborator Ronnie Samoset, are Berg’s highest charting singles as a recording artist. The jazzy “I Got It Bad”, which finds her waiting for the phone to ring and obsessing over a new love interest only reached #43, and the excellent “I Must Have Been Crazy”, which which she’s fighting off madness — without much success — after another bad break-up, died at #55.

My favorite track and perhaps the best known is the beautiful title track, which features a haunting cello solo. Berg re-recorded the song for her second album, The Speed of Grace, a pop effort that was released in 1994. In between those two versions, Trisha Yearwood covered it for her The Song Remembers When album, which was released in 1993. The original version resurfaced on a compilation album in 1999. RCA released it as a single and had a video produced, but by that time Berg’s career momentum had been lost and the record failed to chart.

A handful of the other tracks showcase Matraca’s considerable talent as a songwriter and a storyteller. “Calico Plains”, written with Mike Noble, tells the story of two young girls growing up in the midwest. Abilena has big dreams and is planning to leave her hometown to pursue them, while her friend, who acts as the song’s narrator makes her promise to write. Then Abilena falls pregnant and is forced to marry the baby’s father. Several years and a few children later, it is the narrator who is leaving to pursue bigger and better things and promising to write to Abilena. “Appalachian Rain”, which features harmony vocals from Emmylou Harris, tells of a young unwed mother who is forced to leave her Appalachian home to spare her family’s honor, and “Alice in the Looking Glass” tells the story of a lonely middle-aged hairdresser who was once a homecoming queen, who puts on a brave face for her customers.

My least favorite track is the album closer “Dancin’ on the Wire”, which Berg co-wrote with producers Leo and Waldman. The lyrics are on the shallow side and this is the one instance on the entire album where the production is a bit heavy-handed.

It’s a shame that this album didn’t fare better at radio and retail, though Matraca’s subsequent career decisions suggest that even if it had, her commercial success would not have been long-lived. RCA refused to release her next album because they felt it didn’t have enough mainstream appeal, and her next effort The Speed of Grace, was released by the label’s pop division, and Matraca’s subsequent albums appeared infrequently on smaller, now-defunct labels. Lying to the Moon is out of print in CD form but used copies can be found very cheaply. It is not to be confused with the 1999 compilation album Lying to the Moon & Other Stories, which contains eight of the orginal album’s ten tracks. It too can be purchased very inexpensively used and might be a slightly better value.

Spotlight Artists: Female Singer-songwriters

For our March spotlight, we’re taking a look at four distinct country songwriters who all, at one point or another, found themselves on the cusp of stardom when they scored major label deals. None would be superstars in their own right, but their songs would be turned into some of the greatest country records of the last thirty years by some of the best female (and sometimes male) voices the genre has to offer.

In celebration of the release of Gretchen Peters Hello Cruel World and Matraca Berg’s The Dreaming Fields we’re taking a look at:


Nanci Griffith

Nanci Griffith’s life hasn’t been without its struggles. Born Nanci Caroline Griffith on July 6, 1953 in Seguin, Texas, she suffered a tragic loss when her boyfriend was killed in a motorcycle accident the night of their senior prom. His loss forever altered her life and became a big inspiration to her songwriting. Griffith has since survived both breast (1996) and Thyroid (1999) cancer.

As an artist, she released her debut album There’s A Light Beyond These Woods in 1978.  She would release four albums (none of which charted) before Kathy Mattea brought her fame after her version of Griffith’s “Love At The Five and Dime” peaked at #3 in 1986.

This success led to a deal with MCA Records. Lone Star State Of Mind was released in 1987. The title track would peak at #36 and the album would peak at #23. Tony Brown would also produce the follow-up, Little Love Affairs, released in 1988. It would also chart, although not as successfully. Griffith’s deal with MCA would span just three more albums, two (One Fair Summer Evening and Storms) of which charted quite low.

The 1990s would bring further success. Suzy Bogguss had a #9 peaking hit in 1992 with “Outbound Plane,” a song Griffith co-wrote with Tom Russell. In 1994, Griffith won her first (and only) Grammy award, Best Contemporary Folk Album for Other Voices, Other Rooms; a collection of songs that inspired her.

Griffiths has a new album, her first since 2009’s The Loving Kind. Although not yet released in the United States, Intersection is available in the UK.

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Album Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘Right Or Wrong’

Rosanne’s U.S. debut in 1980 was produced by her new husband Rodney Crowell and recorded in their new home in LA. Many of the musicians were Rodney’s former band mates and successors in Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, including Ricky Skaggs singing harmony on six tracks, but the music is several steps away from traditional or even conventional pop-country of the period. The pop-influenced production, no doubt ground-breakingly modern at the time, now sounds very dated, but Rosanne’s voice cuts through the clutter and the eclectic choice of material is pretty solid, if not often very deeply rooted in country music.

Rodney wrote ‘No Memories Hangin’ ‘Round’ and originally intended to record the duet with Rosanne, but decided when the pair attended a Bobby Bare concert that he would be a better choice. Bare was an established star (although one whose chart success tended to be hit or miss) with Outlaw credentials, and he was an admirer of Rodney Crowell’s work, having recently recorded the latter’s ‘Til I Gain Control Again’. The album’s outstanding song was Rosanne’s first hit single, and although it peaked at only #17, is a minor classic. Bare’s rougher vocals complement Rosanne’s velvety tones, and they convince as a couple fighting off the memory of old flames. The production on this track nicely balances a country feel with contemporary sensibilities.

Rodney contributed a further three songs, two of which had previously appeared on Rosanne’s ill-fated German release. There is a good version of ‘Baby, Better Start Turnin’ ‘Em Down’, which had just been a non-charting single for Rodney himself (and would be covered a few years later by Emmylou Harris), and epitomizes the mood of the album with its consideration of modern life. ‘Seeing’s Believing’ is an excellent song which deserves to be better known, with a fine vocal from Rosanne and Emmylou Harris adding a supportive harmony. However, I don’t really like the dreary sound of ‘Anybody’s Darlin’ (Anything But Mine)’.

‘Couldn’t Do Nothing Right’, largely forgotten today, was technically the album’s biggest hit, reaching #15 on Billboard. The production has a Caribbean feel which does not stand up very well today, although it is a well-written song looking back at a failed relationship, penned by singer Karen Brooks (who was to have a short chart career herself in the early 80s) and her husband Texas singer-songwriter Gary P Nunn. I prefer the upbeat ‘Man Smart (Woman Smarter)’, a rather entertaining cover of an old calypso number, originally written by Trinidad’s Norman Span in the 30s but best known from Harry Belafonte’s 50s recording. Emmylou Harris sings harmony again on this proto-girlpower anthem.

The last single, ‘Take Me, Take Me’ peaked at 25. Rosanne’s vocals are soothingly tender on this melodic love song, and Sharon and Cheryl White sing harmony, but the percussion is unbearably intrusive and the song (also previously cut on the German album) doesn’t have much country influence. It was written by Keith Sykes, who also provided the title track, a fairly catchy mid-tempo pop song on a cheating theme.

Rosanne wrote just one of the songs, the pensive AC ballad ‘This Has Happened Before’, which shows her promise as a developing young songwriter and is one of the best tracks, with a pretty tune. She also commits to a spunky cover of her father’s ‘Big River’, which is another highlight.

The album is available on a 2-for-1 reissue CD with Seven Year Ache, also including Rosanne’s cover of ‘Not A Second Time’, an obscure and not very interesting Beatles song which had replaced ‘Baby, Better Start Turnin’ ‘Em Down’ on the European release of the album. It is probably only for Rosanne Cash completists, but includes some material worth hearing. Rosanne and Rodney were carving out their own artistically ambitious path, and if commercial success was limited at this stage, they were setting the pattern for Rosanne’s music over the next few years.

Grade: B