My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Keith Whitley

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary – ‘American Grandstand’

“Traditional country music is a whole different genre,” Vincent said. “A lot of people will say that there is not a market for traditional country music, but I know that is not true as it has its own niche. I did that traditional country album with Gene Watson not long ago, and I found out that there is a tremendous audience out there for traditional country music. Daryle and I have been doing shows together, and he is so much fun. When everybody hears this new album, they will know how special it is.” – Rhonda Vincent discussing American Grandstand. h/t That Nashville Sound

It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since Your Money and My Good Looks, which helped redefine Vincent’s pedigree beyond bluegrass. American Grandstand is a companion album of sorts to the project with Watson, a chance to recreate the magic all over again. Her friendship with Daryle Singletary goes back 23 years when they were labelmates on Giant Records. One of their earliest collaborations, a cover of Keith Whitley’s “Would These Arms Be In Your Way,” appeared on his self-titled debut album. They’ve collaborated frequently through the years, most recently on “We Must’ve Been Out of Our Minds,” from Vincent’s Only Me in 2014.

To say American Grandstand has been a long time coming is an understatement. With the timing finally right, they went into the studio to craft an album that mixes old and new, covers of classic duets interwoven amongst tracks newly-composed. A few of the duets may be oft-covered, but in the care of Vincent and Singletary, are as expertly executed as they’ve ever been. They tackle the mournful nature of “After The Fire Is Gone” with ease and extract the effervesce from “Golden Ring” without issue. “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” is a revelation, one of the strongest collaborative recordings I’ve heard in years.

They also surprise, with a stunning rendition of Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens’ lesser-known “Slowly and Surely.” Also not as famous is George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “One,” which the pair released in 1996. Vincent and Singletary’s serviceable take is the album’s lead single. Other surprises include Harlan Howard’s “Above and Beyond,” which they deliver flawlessly. A third Jones cover, “A Picture of Me (Without You)” is also very good. “Up This Hill and Down,” which originated with The Osborne Brothers, is excellent.

The remainder of the album consists of the new songs, which include a reprise of “We Must Be Out of Our Minds.” These tracks are all ballads, which varying degrees of tempo. “As We Kiss Our World Goodbye,” about the end of a relationship, feels like the kind of track Singletary would’ve recorded back in the mid-1990s. In any other era, “Can’t Live Life” would be cemented as a standard.

If you can believe it, the rest of the album only slightly pails in comparison to the title track, which showcases Vincent as a songwriter (she wrote it solo). The spellbinding ballad is a grand finale of sorts, detailing the tale of duet partners preparing for their final show and the emotions attached to such an ending. I love how Vincent presents the well-worn themes in a new and exciting light.

American Grandstand is everything you would expect from a Vincent and Singletary collaboration, yet it’s even more deeply satisfying than you could even imagine. In a rare move, they actually sang together in the studio, at the instance of Singetary, who knew immediately that recording separately wasn’t going to work. The pair were born to sing together, even if Vincent’s power overtakes Singletary’s understated charm on occasion. He sounds to me like a modern day incarnation of Whitley, with a voice that has deepened over the years. It proves that Whitley’s influence continues to this day, which only makes this record even more special and essential.

I cannot recommend American Grandstand enough.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Michael White – ‘Familiar Ground’

4187bvloazlAs the composer of such songs as Blake Shelton’s “The Baby”, Mark Wills’ “Loving Every Minute” and Michael Ray’s “Kiss You in the Morning”, Michael White has been more successful as a songwriter than as a performer, but he did record briefly for Reprise Records in the early 1990s. Familiar Ground, his sole album for Reprise (or anyone else as far as I can determine) was released in 1992. It produced three chart singles, one of which reached the Top 40, but failed to establish him as recording artist.

Timing is everything. If Familiar Ground were being released today, we’d all be talking about Michael White as a new standard bearer for traditional country music, much in the way that Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan are. But 25 years ago when the music still usually sounded country and there was no shortage of talent, Michael White simply did not stand out from the pack. It’s regrettable because he has a very fine voice, that is reminiscent of Tracy Lawrence, with occasional touches of Aaron Tippin and Keith Whitley.

The lead single “Professional Fool” was the album’s biggest hit and one of the best songs on the album. It peaked at a very respectable-for-a-first-release #32. A more uptempo number may have been a better choice to introduce a new act to radio. Reprise tried that strategy with the next two singles: the title track which was penned by White and “She Likes to Dance”, which peaked at #43 and #63 respectively. “Familiar Ground” is a decent small-town homage, but it’s barely distinguishable from dozens of other similar songs. “She Likes to Dance” is a bit of lightweight fluff.

All of the songs are good, but my favorites are the ballads: “Back to Texarkana”, “If I Had a Mind To”, and “The Boy Next Door” who is overlooked by the object of his affections. I also enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek swing number “One of My Near Mrs.” I can imagine Tracy Lawrence singing this one.

I’d never heard of Michael White prior to preparing for this month’s spotlight feature. I’m very pleased and pleasantly surprised to have come across this overlooked gem. Used cheap copies are readily available.

Grade: A

Album Review: Shane Owens – ‘Where I’m Comin’ From’

where-im-comin-fromCountry traditionalist Shane Owens from Alabama has seen several potential deals fail to work out in the past, but at last he has the opportunity to make his mark with his new album for independent label AmeriMonte. Part of this album was produced by James Stroud for another label which folded, while Ed Seay produced the newer cuts. He has a great, pure country voice, with echoes of Travis and Whitley in his stylings.

Lead single ‘Country Never Goes Out Of Style’, the video for which features a cameo by Randy Travis, is a nice song about passing trends and what really lasts. The title track is a fond but unsentimental tribute to growing up in a remote rural location, 8 miles from the nearest grocery store.

‘All The Beer In Alabama’ reflects on a failed marriage, where the protagonist admits his flaws, but is hurt that she wrongfully believes he cheated on her, when

All the beer in Alabama couldn’t get me drunk enough
To even think twice about someone else’s love

This track has a more modern country feel, with an electric guitar prominent.

‘Country Boy Can’ has somewhat cliche’d lyrics addressed to a potential love interest from the city, but Shane’s likable vocal and the low key arrangement save it.

In the gentle ‘Blame It On A Woman’ he has recast his life thanks to falling in love, and the tender vocal sells the song.

He turns to hard core traditional country with the punning ‘Alcohol Of Fame’, about a man who takes refuge in the bottle after losing at love, and lapses into alcoholism.

‘God And The Ground She Walked On’ is a moving story song about an elderly man who is lost without his late wife but still feels her presence . Another emotional story song, ’19’, is about a Marine who threw over a college scholarship to join up after 9/11, “trying to hold on to his American dreams”, until he pays the ultimate price to save a comrade.

The up-tempo ‘Chicken Truck’ is an obscure early John Anderson album track which just escapes being categorised as a novelty song. An unexpected choice of cover, Shane’s version features a guest appearance from Anderson and is highly entertaining. An even less familiar cover, Linda Hargrove’s ‘Nashville You Ain’t Hollywood’ chides the industry for abandoning its values in favour of glitz – a message even more marked today than in the 70s.

This is an excellent album from a fine singer. I warmly recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘Somebody Loves You’

51jizvcqjml-_ss500After several years of struggling, Crystal Gayle finally enjoyed her breakthrough Top 10 hit with 1974’s “Wrong Road Again”. The two subsequent singles from her debut album both failed build on that success, however, which must have been cause for concern at the time. She rebounded nicely, however, with her sophomore album, which was released in 1975. “Somebody Loves You”, one of three tracks penned by producer Allen Reynolds, reached #8. The album’s second single, “I’ll Get Over You”, the first of several hits written for her by Richard Leigh, became her first chart-topper in early 1976. The simple melody and lyric, beautifully sung, has always been one of my favorites.

Somebody Loves You followed the same basic formula as Crystal’s prior album — more polished than the music that hardcore traditionalists like big sister Loretta were putting out — but still quite country in comparison to Crystal’s later work. Allen Reynolds’ songs are among the best in the collection: the traditional-leaning “Before I’m Over You” and the oft-recorded “Dreaming My Dreams With You” which was made famous by Waylon Jennings. Crystal branches out a bit with the bluesy “Sweet Baby On My Mind”, which sounds very similar to “Night Life”, a 1963 hit for Ray Price penned by Willie Nelson. “I Want To Lose Me In You” by Jim Rushing and Marshall Chapman is a pretty but lyrically light number. The same could be said about “High Time”, which is little more than catchy album filler, but Lloyd Green’s steel guitar gives it a little extra oomph. Crystal and her husband Bill Gatzimos wrote one track for the album, the pleasant but forgettable “Coming Closer”.

Somebody Loves You was an important album in Crystal Gayle’s discography. It finally set her on track for consistent commercial success; during the next decade only two of her singles missed the Top 10. The album is also notable for some of its session personnel: the aforementioned steel guitar great Lloyd Green and background vocalists Janie Fricke, who would go on to have a successful solo career of her own, and Garth Funds, who later became a famous producer for Keith Whitley and Trisha Yearwood, among others.

This is a good album for those who are interested in hearing Crystal’s music before she started enjoying crossover success.

Grade: A

Christmas Album Review: Chris Young – ‘It Must Be Christmas’

it-must-be-christmasChris Young has arguably the best voice of any male country singer currently signed to a major label. It’s a shame that of late years his musical choices have been disappointing as he chases commercial success at the expense of artistry. Happily, while his new Christmas album isn’t particularly country, it leans in the direction of, well, traditional Christmas music, rather than the bro-country he has been led astray by before.

Chris’s warm baritone voice is perfectly showcased tenderly crooning ‘The Christmas Song’ and ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ shoots for the same territory, but I found it just a little dull.

The Phil Spector-penned (i.e. 60s pop) ‘Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)’ is cheery and Christmassy with an arrangement dominated by bells, and surprisingly enjoyable. Chris’s vocal commitment also lifts the lightweight ‘Holy Jolly Christmas’; this gets a brassy arrangement.

The outstanding moment comes with a gorgeous duet with Alan Jackson on the Keith Whitley Christmas classic ‘There’s A New Kid In Town’, which is just lovely. Brad Paisley guests on a nice sincere take on ‘The First Noel’. ‘Silent Night’ has one of the most beautiful melodies of any carol/Christmas tune, and is almost impossible to mess up. Chris sings it beautifully, with 90s R&B boyband Boyz II Men used sparingly to provide ethereal harmonies on the chorus. The end result is extremely effective.

There are two new songs, both co-written by Chris, but frankly neither is particularly memorable. ‘Under The Weather’ is quite a pleasant love song set at Christmas time, but the title track is chock full of clichés.

Production is mostly nicely understated, supporting Young’s excellent vocals. This is an excellent choice to play while entertaining your non-country loving family members this Christmas.

Grade: A

Album Review: Curtis Grimes – Undeniably Country’

undeniably-countryTexan neotraditionalist Curtis Grimes had a run on The Voice a few years ago, but his main musical success has been regionally. Produced by Trent Willmon, this new release is his most traditionally rooted by far, and it is well worth hearing.

Curtis is clearly an enormous Keith Whitley fan, showing his natural good taste. In ‘If You Ask Me’, a beautifully sung but otherwise ordinary statement of country philosophy-cum-love song, he is clearly referring to him when he says “The best of country music died in 1989”.

‘Everything Hank Did But Die’ was one of the songs recorded by Keith Whitley and never released (probably because it was thought to be a little too close to home to do so posthumously). Curtis sounds very much like Keith in his vocal stylings on this track, and it is great to finally hear a full produced version of the tune (Keith’s demo can be found on youtube.)

Old Hank was my hero, since I was a kid.
And I grew up relivin’ all the crazy things he did.
Whiskey drinkin’, honky tonk singin’, stayin’ out all night,
Livin’ hard and dyin’ young was just a way of life.

I’ve done everything Hank did but die
And it ain’t because I did not try
Sometimes it amazes me that I got out alive
‘Cause I’ve done everything Hank did but die

I didn’t know how dangerous that lost highway could be
Till one too many whiskey binges brought me to my knees
I saw the light that very night
Ol’ Hank is still the King
But I found out that I don’t have to kill myself to sing

Great song, excellent performance.

Much in the same vein is the somber ‘Had A Thing’, a superb self-written song in which he considers pain, sin, the life of a musician, and final salvation:

I had a thing for whiskey, women and weed
Seemed to be ‘bout all I’d ever need
Three vices with a visegrip on
Wouldn’t numb the pain for me…

I had a thing for a guitar and old dime bars
They can pay the rent or tear a home apart…

I had all I ever wanted
Thought I wanted a whole lot more
It takes a heavy toll on a Lone Star troubadour
When the price you pay ain’t worth the things you lose along the way
You come crawlin’ back to lay in the bed you made

I had a thing for sad old country songs
Tuggin’ on your heartstrings one by one
Puttin’ into words the way it feels to be alone

But having reached this low point, enduring religious faith saves him in the end, as the melody syncs into an outro of ‘Amazing Grace’.

He continues the religious mood with ‘Born To Die’, a nice song about Jesus.

The pacy shuffle ‘Right About Now’ is a highly entertaining song written in the second person, addressed to a stubborn man who prefers clinging to his hurstpride to backing down:

Well you were in the right and she was in the wrong
And sometimes a man’s gotta stand on principle…
You really kinda miss her but
You don’t wanta let her know
All you gotta do to bring her back is apologize
But hey, what’s a fella got if he ain’t got his pride

Right about now she’s out on the town
Without a reason not to be havin’ her a good time
And right about now
One of your pals is buyin’ her a third (fourth, fifth) round of applepie moonshine
You bit the bullet
You stuck to your guns
And I bet by golly you’re proud
You sure got somethin’ to be right about now

He ends wryly with the thought that the woman he has made cry has got the last laugh:

If you think she’s about to do you wrong
You just might be correct
You drew that line and she crossed it
I think you got yourself an Ex

‘Ten Year Town’ tackles Nashville and the state of country music:

I came out here so I could write and sing
Not rap on stage wearing skinny jeans

The lead single, ‘From Where I’m Standing’ is a mellow sounding romantic ballad written by Thomas Rhett, Chris Janson and Jaron Boyer, which is much better than one might expect with those origins. It’s attractive melodically, although the lyrics are a little cliche’d. ‘Put My Money On That’ is a bit generic and the album’s weakest entry, but it is pleasant enough listening.

The only real disappointment is that there are only eight tracks.

Grade: A

Listen here.

50th CMA Awards: Grading the Twenty Performances

Instead of the typical CMA Awards prediction post, I thought it might be fun to rank the twenty performances, all of which brought something special to the evening. Here they are, in ascending order, with commentary:

20.

imrs-phpBeyoncé Feat. Dixie Chicks – Daddy’s Lessons

The most debated moment of the night was the worst performance in recent CMA history, an embarrassment to country music and the fifty years of the organization. Beyoncé was the antithesis of our genre with her staged antics and complete lack of authenticity. If Dixie Chicks had performed this song alone, like they did on tour, it would’ve been a slam-dunk. They were never the problem. Beyoncé is to blame for this mess.

Grade: F

19.

Kelsea Ballerini – Peter Pan

I feel bad for her. It seems Ballerini never got the memo that this was the CMA Awards and not a sideshow at Magic Kingdom. Everything about this was wrong – the visuals, wind machine and, most of all, the dancers. Once I saw the harness in plain sight, I knew it was over.

Grade: F 

 18.

362x204-q100_121d9e867599857df2132b3b6c77e0c8Luke Bryan – Move

Nashville is perennially behind the trends as evidenced by Bryan’s completely out of place performance. One of only two I purposefully fast forwarded through.

Grade: F 

 17.

Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw – May We All 

Stood out like a sore thumb, for all the wrong reasons. Not even McGraw could redeem this disaster.

Grade: F  

16.

gettyimages-620669440-43407842-8b2a-437b-a6e4-f643a1b5b104Carrie Underwood – Dirty Laundry

The newly minted Female Vocalist of the Year gave the third weakest performance of this year’s nominees. I commend her use of an all-female band, but disliked everything else from the visuals to Underwood’s dancing. It all starts with the song and this one is among her worst.

Grade: D+

15.

Thomas Rhett – Die A Happy Man

The biggest hit of the year gave Thomas Rhett a moment his other radio singles proves he doesn’t deserve. He remained gracious throughout the night, proving he can turn it on when it counts. I just wish it wasn’t an act.

Grade: B- 

14.

362x204-q100_b63432d74b677e29d35917efd7490170Keith Urban – Blue Ain’t Your Color

A perfectly serviceable performance of an above average song. He did nothing to stand out from the pack neither adding to nor distracting from the night’s more significant moments.

Grade: B

13.

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – Different for Girls 

At least Bentley wasn’t showcasing the rowdier side of Black. He and King didn’t do anything to stand out and the whole thing was more middle of the road than anything else.

Grade: B

 12.

landscape-1478192054-gettyimages-620693852Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood – Dolly Parton Tribute 

I have nothing against Parton nor do I deny her incredible legacy as a pioneer in the genre. But it’s time to honor someone else. Parton has been lauded and it’s so old at this point, it’s unspectacular. That’s not to say this wasn’t a great medley, it was. I just wish it had been for someone different, like say, Tanya Tucker.

Grade: B

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Classic Rewind: Keith Whitley – ‘She’s Making Plans’

Album Review: William Michael Morgan – ‘Vinyl’

51yqdhejaxl-_ss500I don’t get excited about too many new country artists these days; I’ve long since given up hope that a modern day Randy Travis will come along and save a genre that is teetering on the edge of the abyss. Those hopes are occasionally revived when a new traditional-sounding artist emerges, usually only to be quickly dashed when the artist fails to gain any commercial traction and either fades into oblivion or sells out starts following the latest trends. Only time will tell if William Michael Morgan is the latest to follow that pattern or if he will be the exception to the rule.

I’ve been looking forward to Morgan’s debut album ever since his EP was released last spring and reviewed by Occasional Hope. The EP’s six tracks all appear again on here, along with five new tunes. These days, anything that isn’t bro-country is worthwhile, but even against such lowered standards, Vinyl is a solid effort. Storms of Life it is not; in too many instances Morgan and his producers (Jimmy Ritchey and Scott Hendricks) play it safe by making some artistic compromises, but it is still a big step forward for traditional country music and the people who love it.

To date, only one single — the somewhat bland “I Met a Girl” has been released. Released just over a year ago, it landed at #3 on the airplay chart and at #10 on the Billboard’s primary country singles chart, and it’s somewhat surprising that no follow-up singles were released prior the full album hitting the streets. There are a pair of good contenders: the catchy opening track “People Like Me”, which finds Morgan well aware, and in fact proud of, the class distinctions between himself and those who are economically better off. The equally catchy and steel-drenched “Missing”, which finds him looking forward to going off the grid for a bit, seems like it would also be well received by radio. Those are the two best of the previously unreleased tracks. The poignant “I Know Who He Is”, about a loved one — possibly a father or grandfather — who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, is a good song but unfortunately some EDM element managed to find their way into the production. “Something to Drink About” is an even more egregious example in its use of EDM, but it is a throwaway tune regardless of its questionable production choices. I did not care for the bluesy “Spend It All on You” at all.

As far as the previously released tracks are concerned, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the title track. I found its overuse of the word “girl” to be quite grating. This is one of those songs that features the pedal steel prominently, in the hope that the listener will not notice that it’s not a very country song. The coming of age tune “Backseat Driver” isn’t bad, but the electric guitar needs to be toned down a bit. On the other hand, “Lonesomeville” (a Morgan co-write) is excellent and reminiscent of Keith Whitley. “Cheap Cologne” in which Morgan is cast as a cuckolded husband is also very good.

Overall, Vinyl is a bit of a mixed bag but there is more here to like than to dislike. William Michael Morgan is an artist that traditionalists really ought to support; artists like him need to succeed if there is to be any hope at all for the future of our genre.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Kevin Denney – ‘Something In Between’

something-in-betweenYou may remember Kevin Denney, a neotraditional country artist who had a handful of modestly performing singles on the Lyric Street label in the early years of the new millennium. Since then he has worked as a songwriter, and at last has produced new music of his own. His voicve has echoes of fellow Kentuckian Keith Whitley.

The likeable mid-paced opener ‘I Want The Real Thing’ sets out Kevin’s stall, accepting no substitutes for tasty but unhealthy food, and also rejecting internet romance and video games in favour of real love and playing music.

Tracy Byrd previously recorded ‘Cowboy And A Dancer’ ten years ago, an excellent story song about a pair of life-weary Texans in search of new lives in California, and finding one together. Kevin’s own version is very nice indeed, with a sympathetically delivered vocal.

‘Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody But Me’ is a neatly observed song about a man in a bar, knocking back the drinks and struggling in the aftermath of a breakup.

The philosophical ‘Everybody Just Calm Down’ recommends a slower and more peaceful way of life. The same theme emerges in the relaxed Kenny Chesney style beach song ‘Get A Lotta Living Done’, in which a city guy turned beach bum.

The lilting ‘Even The River’ is a look at a dying small town, where everyone with any ambition wants to leave :

I feel just like that water
Even the river runs away from this town

The sun don’t ever shine around here
It’s always empty lonesome and grey
One old blinking caution light
About the only thing working all day
There’s for sale signs in the windows
And they’re shutting down the mill

The title track is about finding a balance between extremes in life, with a religious twist. ‘Everybody Grew Up But Me’ looks back on childhood and the different paths taken by a group of friends, with the protagonist leading the life of a struggling musician. The gritty ‘Honky Tonk Highway’ also lauds the life of a country musician.

‘I’m That Country’ is a good natured paean to the joys of rural life, which unlike too many songs of this nature does actually sound very traditional country. The musical namedrops, too, are bluegrass and traditional country: Merle Haggard, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and J D Crowe. ‘What Does God Look Like’ is rather a sweet song about children’s understanding of God, although it doesn’t really go anywhere.

The album closes with an acoustic cover of Denney’s biggest hit, ‘That’s Just Jessie’.

This is a very nice, fairly low key album from an artists who deserved to be a much bigger success.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Lorraine Jordan and Caroline Road – ‘Country Grass’

country-grass-2016If you like real country music, the kind that was played before 2005, with meaningful lyrics written by master craftsmen like Dallas Frazier, Cindy Walker, Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, Merle Haggard and Tom T Hall, where do you go to hear it live?

Unless you live in Texas, your best choice is to visit a bluegrass festival. Today’s bluegrass acts are vitally concerned about finding good songs, regardless of the copyright dates. They are not concerned about the feeding and watering of mediocre songwriters simply because they are part of the pool of co-writers. A typical bluegrass group will include anywhere from 20% upwards of classic country songs in their repertoire.

Exhibit number one is the most recent album, Country Grass, by Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road. This album is a bit of an outlier, because all of the songs are classic country, but one listen to this album and you will plainly hear that the legacy of 60s-90s country music is in good hands.

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road are a veteran act, having performed at the bluegrass festivals for over fifteen years. Lorraine plays mandolin and handles most of the lead vocals. She is joined by Ben Greene (banjo), Josh Goforth (fiddle), Brad Hudson (dobro) and Jason Moore (upright bass).

In putting this album together of classic country songs, Lorraine assembled a fine cast of guest stars, obtaining the services of the original artist where possible.

The album opens up with the Kentucky Headhunters’ song “Runnin’ Water”, a track from the Kentucky Headhunters’ fourth album. Doug Phelps of the Kentucky Headhunters sings lead on this entertaining track with bandmate Richard Young contributing harmony vocals. This track is straight ahead bluegrass.

Eddy Raven had a #1 record in 1984 with “I Got Mexico” and he chips in with the lead vocals on a track that is more bluegrass flavored than actual bluegrass.

“Darned If I Don’t, Danged If I Do” was a Shenandoah song. Shenandoah’s lead sing Marty Raybon has spent much of the last decade on the bluegrass circuit performing bluegrass versions of Shenandoah hits with his band Full Circle. The song is done in overdrive, but Marty remains one of the premier vocalists.

John Conlee is a long-time Opry veteran who had a decade (1978-1987) long run of top ten hits, including his 1983 #1 hit “Common Man”, taken at about the same tempo as his 1983 hit. Brad Hudson takes a verse of the lead vocal.

country-grass-2015Crystal Gayle had a #1 Country / #18 Pop hit in 1978 with “Waiting For The Times To Get Better”. Crystal and Lorraine trade verses on this one, an elegant sounding song and arrangement.

Lee Greenwood had a #1 record with “Dixie Road” in 1985. Unfortunately, Lee’s voice has eroded over the years so having Troy Pope sing a verse is welcome.

Jim Ed Brown has a top twenty recording of “You Can Have Her” back in 1967. This was probably one of Jim Ed’s last recording before his recent death, but he was in very fine voice indeed. Tommy Long takes part of a verse and harmonizes on this jazzy ballad.

“Boogie Grass Band” was a big hit for Conway Twitty in 1978, the title explaining the feel of the song completely. Unfortunately, Conway has been gone for over twenty years so Lorraine simply got everyone involved in this project to take short vocal turns, preserving the original tempo.

Randy Travis was in no shape to perform so Tommy Long handles the vocals on “Digging Up Bones”. Meanwhile T. G. Sheppard is still with us, so he and Tommy Long handle the vocals on “Do You Want To Go To Heaven”. The instrumentation here is bluegrass, but the tempo remains that of the country ballad that T.G. took to #1 in 1980.

Jesse Keith Whitley is the son of Lorrie Morgan and the late great Keith Whitley. Jesse sounds quite similar to his father and acquits himself well on “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. Jeannette Williams contributes gorgeous harmony vocals to this track which is taken at the same tempo as Keith’s original.

It would be hard to conceive of a bigger country/pop hit than Joe South’s “Rose Garden”, taken to the top of the charts in 1970-1971 by Lynn Anderson. Not only did the song top the country and pop charts in the USA, it went top four or better in nine foreign countries. Lynn Anderson and Lorraine Jordan share the lead vocals on this song, which probably sounds the least similar to the original of all the tracks on this album. Lynn passed away last summer, so this is one of the last tracks (perhaps the last track) she ever recorded.

Lorraine’s band shines on the last track of the album “Last Date”. Although there were several sets of lyrics appended to Floyd Cramer’s piano classic, I don’t really like any of the lyrics I’ve heard, so I appreciate that this was left as an instrumental.

I picked up this disc about a month ago and it has been in heavy rotation in my CD player since them. I was inspired to write this when Jonathan Pappalardo posted a video of John Anderson singing with Lorraine and Carolina Road. John is not on the original (2015) version of the album, but his performance can be purchased on Lorraine’s website http://www.carolinaroadband.com/, and is on the new re-released version.

Even if you do not particularly care for bluegrass you might really like this album, chock full of solid country gold songs, fine vocals and exquisite musicianship. I give it an A-, docking it very slightly for the eroded voices of a few of the guests.

Classic Rewind: Keith Whitley – ‘Turn Me To Love’

Album Review: Mike Bentley & Cumberland Gap Connection – ‘Mike Bentley & Cumberland Gap Connection’

mike bentley cumberland gap connectionThe bluegrass band Cumberland Gap Connection, now slightly rebranded by featuring the name of its lead singer and chief songwriter, and with an almost completely new lineup, has strong country influences behind the traditional bluegrass instrumentation. Bentley’s smooth lead vocal and a solid collection of songs make this album well worth tracking down.

‘Truck Drivin’ opens the album with a soulfully sung depiction of a truck driver’s life, as he heads home after a trip away. Bentley’s own ‘Coal Miner’s Dance’ offers a somber look at a miner’s dangerous life with a tragic culmination. The emotional ‘Chill Of A Late Frost’ (written by Shannon Slaughter) bewails the hard life of a farmer.

Slaughter also co-wrote (with Gerald Ellenburg) ‘Giving Up On You’, a sad song with a soothing melody which really suits Bentley’s voice. Nice harmonies, too, help to make this track a real winner.

The talented Bentley wrote four of the songs altogether. ‘Better Days’ is a fine song about a relationship on the edge. He teamed up with Terry Foust and Daniel Salyer to write the inspirational ‘He Knows My Name’, which is about a homeless ‘lost soul’ who nonetheless has inner peace. Together with Mark Brinkman they wrote ‘She Don’t Talk To The Moon’, another portrait in song, this one about an elderly woman with her feet on the ground and her heart set on heaven.

Terry Foust wrote ‘Back To Carolina’ with Ray Edwards; this picks up the pace with its optimistic tale of a an starting over by going back home. Also up-tempo, the good-humored ‘Old Steamboats And Trains’, written by Edwards and Larry Joe Cox, offers a travelogue. The upbeat ‘I Hear Kentucky Callin’ Me’ is very pretty.

Bentley is a big fan of the late great Keith Whitley, and he pays tribute here with a lovely version of the Lefty Frizzell classic Keith made his own, ‘I Never Go Round Mirrors’.

The record closes with an accappella hymn, ‘When I Make My Last Move’, sung solo by Bentley.

This is a highly enjoyable album, generally low key and mellow, centring on Bentley’s warm voice. It is recommended to anyone who likes the overlap between country and bluegrass.

Grade: A-

Retro Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Straight From The Heart (2007)

straight from the heartBack in the days writing for the 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

Daryle Singletary never managed to become a megastar, mostly because he has too much soul and integrity for today’s Nashville. Simply put, Daryl is “too country”.

This album picks up where Daryl’s 2002 album That’s Why I Sing This Way left off, with one original song “I Still Sing This Way”, one cover of a recent hit, the Larry Cordle-penned Rebecca Lynn Howard hit “Jesus and Bartenders”, and ten classic country covers sung with feeling.

The cover songs are as follows:

“The Bottle Let Me Down” – a Merle Haggard hit from 1966

“Black Sheep” (w/John Anderson) – a #1 for John Anderson in 1983

“Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” – a #1 for Don Williams in 1977

“Promises” – a minor Randy Travis hit which Randy co-wrote

“I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail” (w/Ricky Skaggs) – a Buck Owens classic from 1965

“These Days I Barely Get By” – a top ten George Jones record

“Miami, My Amy” – Keith Whitley’s first top twenty record from 1986

“Lovin’ On Back Streets” – a #5 record for Mel Street in 1973. Like Daryle , Mel Street was ‘too country’, and like Daryle, he was a fine, emotive singer.

“Fifteen Years Ago” – Conway Twitty’s immediate follow up to “Hello Darling”, I always thought that Conway’s performance was better than the song’s rather maudlin lyric. Daryle also handles it well, although it’s still a silly song.

“We’re Gonna Hold On” (w/Rhonda Vincent)- a George & Tammy classic from 1973 that comes off very well. No surprise, really since Rhonda is a superior singer to Tammy, and Daryle hold up his end of the bargain.

The presence of legendary pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins lends a strong sense of authenticity. Best of all no electronic keyboards or synthesizers – this is real country music played on real country instruments.

I’ve heard a bunch of good albums this year and this was my favorite album so far this year, better even, than the Nelson – Haggard – Price collaboration. This is not to say that Singletary is quite in their league as a singer, but his pipes are at least 30 years younger and in better shape.

Grade: A+

EP Review: Post Monroe – ‘Post Monroe’

post monroeThe latest female trio in country music, Post Monroe consists of two one-time Nashville Star contestants, Whitney Duncan (who had a short deal with Warner Brothers and a hit duet with Kenny Rogers) and Ashlee Hewitt (married to Jesse Keith Whitley, son of Lorrie Morgan and Keith Whitley), who have teamed up with Shelby McLeod. Their new EP, produced by Lady Antebellum’s Dave Haywood and Chuck Ainlay (who worked on the Pistol Annies projects). The sound is pop country, but with more country than pop.

The single ‘Red Hot American Summer’ has a nice banjo lead-in but a rather cliche’d lyric about rural partying which sounds as though it was written for radio. All three girls wrote this with Blair Daly. The three were joined by Dave Haywood and Dave Thompson to write ‘Dixie Dust’, which looks back nostalgically at a small town Southern upbringing and is pretty good.

The other songs are all Whitney Duncan co-writes. The best song by far (unfortunately marred by some clashing percussion) is ‘Lucky One’, which she wrote with Kelly Collins. This reflects on a bullet missed as the protagonist is not jealous her toxic ex has a new love, but deeply grateful:

She’s thinking she stole my man
But I’m the lucky one
Maybe I should buy her a shot
Yeah I owe that girl a lot
For being everything I’m not
Cause I’m the lucky one

No more crying
No more of your lying
Now I am stronger for the things you put me through…

My toughest lesson was you
You burned me like 80 proof
But I came out shining like new
Cause I’m the lucky one

‘Hell On Me’, is a ballad Whitney wrote with Chris Tompkins. The production is a bit jarring on the chorus, but it is pretty good with a melancholy undertow as the narrator falls for a new guy while knowing it is going to end badly.

‘Half Hearted’ is quite a nice song demanding commitment from a lover, but one which ironically lacks real emotional conviction in its delivery. Whitney wrote this one with bandmate Ashlee Hewitt, and with Greg Decker.

I quite enjoyed this release, although I would have preferred a slightly more stripped down production. But it’s a pretty fair step in the right direction.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Keith Whitley ft Allen Frizzell – ‘I Never Go Round Mirrors’

EP Review: William Michael Morgan – ‘William Michael Morgan’

william michael morganOccasionally my faith in the future of mainstream country music is revived. That’s when an artist like William Michael Morgan emerges, signed to a major label (in this case Warner Brothers). When Razor X reviewed his debut single ‘I Met A Girl’ last year he praised Morgan’s song and country credentials, while noting, correctly, that the song was ‘generic and unmemorable’. It is saved by Morgan’s voice, which has tonal echoes of Keith Whitley, and his tender commitment to the song which makes it quite convincing. The single is slowly making its way up the chart, and has sold over 30,000 downleads, prompting Warner Brothers to issue this six-track EP, which gives us the chance to hear how he stands as an artist beyond that one song.

I was concerned when the record opened with the love song ‘Vinyl, which is similarly pleasant but underwhelming, and suffers from too many repeats of the word ‘girl’. It was written by Wade Kirby, Ashley Gorley, and Carson Chamberlain. ‘Beer Drinker’ (written by Wynn Varble, David Lee and Don Poythress ) raises the tempo a little, and is bearable potential radio fodder but a little dittyish and over-produced, at least by the standards of this record. None of these songs is bad, just not likely to set the world on fire.

But the second half of the set is much more like it. ‘Lonesomeville’ is an excellent sad song written by Morgan with Mark Sherrill, Ash Underwood, and former Lyric Street artist Trent Tomlinson, A steel guitar dominates the arrangement, complementing Morgan’s classic country vocal.

Just as good, the plaintive ‘Cheap Cologne’ has the protagonist sleeplessly fretting over the too-obvious signs of his wife’s infidelity:

She’ll get in from God knows where
I’ll smell that honky tonk in her hair
I don’t know if there someone she’s holdin’
But my suspicion keeps on growing
And a shower won’t cover it up when she gets home
She don’t smoke cigarettes and I don’t wear cheap cologne

But tonight she’s in for a surprise as he plans to be gone before she gets home. This song was written by Jimmy Ritchey, Odie Blackmon and another ex-Lyric Street performer who sadly never quite made it, Kevin Denney. (Incidentally I understand Denney is planning on releasing new music himself in the near future.)

Finally, the valedictory ‘Back Street Driver’ (written by Robert Counts, Nicolette Hayford, and Matt Willis) is a father’s good luck message for a departing son starting out on his new life:

There’s a Bible on the dash and a map tucked in the door
I can’t be your back seat driver any more

The only disturbing note is that he feels the need to pack a baseball bat in the back.

This is a very promising debut from an artist I very much hope to hear more from.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Real. Country. Music.’

real country musicWhile his commercial success never equalled his prowess, Gene Watson is one of the great country singers. Furthermore, of all the veterans still performing, his voice has held out the best, and almost unbelievably, he still sounds glorious at over 70. Gene’s producer for the last few projects, Dirk Johnson, does his usual sterling job – few album titles are as accurate about the contents as this one. The songs are all older ones, making this album something of a companion piece to its immediate predecessor, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, and are almost all emotional ballads about lost love, which play to Gene’s strengths as a vocalist.

One does not normally expect to hear a Gene Watson album opening with swelling strings, but his voice soon takes over, and the remainder of the album comprises familiar country arrangements featuring fiddles and steel guitars. ‘Enough For You’ is an excellent Kris Kristofferson tune which first appeared on the latter’s Jesus Was A Capricorn album in 1972. Gene says he first heard it in 1980 in the form of Billie Jo Spears’s cover (from her 1975 album Billie Jo), and has wanted to record it ever since. The suicidal cuckold’s lament is perfectly suited to Watson’s perfectly judged vocal, and is the first single.

‘She Never Got Me Over You’ is the last song Keith Whitley wrote before his untimely death (with the help of Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran). A powerful song about love and obsession, it was recorded a few years ago by Mark Chesnutt, but Gene makes it sound as if it was written just for him. If you want to check out Keith’s original demo, it’s on youtube.

There are two covers of Larry Gatlin songs, both of which were recorded by Elvis in the 70s. The gospel ballad ‘Help Me’ is delicately understated (and may serve as a taster for a new religious album Gene plans to release later this year). ‘Bitter They Are, Harder To Fall’ is a classic heartbreak ballad which Gene actually recorded many years ago on his early album Because You Believed In Me.

Gene revisits a number of other songs he has previously recorded on this album. ‘Old Loves Never Die’ was never a single, but as the title track of one of his most successful albums is perhaps the most familiar to fans. The melancholic ‘Ashes To Ashes’ was on his excellent but often overlooked 1987 alDbum Honky Tonk Crazy (his final Epic release). He covered the superb ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’ (previously cut by George Jones) on his now hard to find 1997 album A Way To Survive; this new steel-led recording is beautiful. He cut Bill Anderson’s ‘When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind’ on his Sings set in 2003; another jealous man’s pain-filled take on love lost but still deeply felt, this is magnificently sung.

A little less familiar is ‘A Girl I Used To Know’ – not the classic song of that name, but a David Ball song from the latter’s underrated 2004 album Freewheeler. A subtly sad, slow song about poignant memories of lost love with the steel guitar to the fore, it fits nicely with the other material. ‘A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn’ is a wonderful song written by Jim McBride and Roger Murrah which was one of Conway Twitty’s last few singles. Nat Stuckey’s emotional All My Tomorrows’ is another fine song and recording.

The one song not fitting the pattern of slow sad songs is a honky tonker previously recorded by Waylon Jennings and Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘I’ll Find It Where I Can’. One venture away from country territory is a cover of the Nat King Cole hit ‘Ramblin’ Rose’. Although there have been country covers of the song before, none was a big hit. Gene’s version is nice, and he certainly mnages to make it sound like a country song, but insofar as this album has a weak spot, this is it.

This is a superb album of excellent songs by one of the genre’s all time great singers, who is, thankfully, still in possession of his golden voice.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Kevin Moon – ‘Throwback’

throwbackWhen reviewing the year’s releases for my end of year lists, I realised that I never reviewed this album properly. As the album’s title hints, Alabaman Kevin Moon is a thorough going traditionalist who could have been a big star if he had been around in the late 80s or early 90s – the era of most of the songs on this album. He has a fabulous country voice with rich tones and characterful inflections, and he stands up well against the stars who guest on this album.

He teamed up with Ken Mellons (who he sounds very like) to rework the latter’s ‘Honky Tonk Teachers’. It’s an appropriate choice with its loving tribute to the great country singers of the past, and this version is great.

Kevin pays tribute to the late Keith Whitley a number of times, starting with a nice version of ‘Til A Tear Becomes A Rose’, with Rhonda Vincent taking Lorrie Morgan’s duet part. This is one track where the original is better, but it is a beautiful song with a lovely melody. Whitley wrote ‘Hopelessly Yours’, recorded by John Conlee, George Jones, and Lee Greenwood/Suzy Bogguss. Moon’s cover is an emotional duet with young singer Mary Sarah. The heartbreaking ‘Tennessee Courage’ serves as tribute to both Whitley and to Vern Gosdin, and is performed with two artists who should have been stars, Wesley Dennis and Kevin Denney, and a younger singer I hadn’t previously come across but who bears further investigation, Billy Droze.

Another star not currently available to help out is Randy Travis, so Travis’s one-time protégé Daryle Singletary helps out on an excellent version of ‘The Storms Of Life’. Conway Twitty’s son Michael assists on the sentimental ‘That’s My Job’.

John Anderson guests on his early 90s comeback hit. ‘Straight Tequila Night’ – again, I prefer the original, but this is still good. Marty Raybon’s voice blends beautifully with Moon’s on a lovely version of Shenandoah’s ‘Moon Over Georgia’. Doug Stone still sounds good on a version of his ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’. ‘You’ve Got To Stand For Something’ features Aaron Tippin, but is less forceful than the original.

A couple of new songs are included. ‘Low Key’ dreams about a much-needed beach vacation, mixing a steel guitar dominated arrangement with Spanish-influenced guitar, and is nicely done. The title track strings together quotes from a selection of great country classics and calls for some throwback country, “with some drinkin’, cheatin’ lyin’, leavin’”, and is quite clever.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album from a young man with a lot of talent. The lack of originality in making most of the material cover songs is ameliorated by making them duets with, in most cases the original stars.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Keith Whitley – ‘Miami, My Amy’