My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Keith Whitley

Album Review: Lee Greenwood – ‘A Perfect 10’

The winds of change swept through country music in the late 1980s, with younger stars reviving more traditional sounds. Lee Greenwood’s singles were getting less radio play than they had earlier in the decade, and he must have realised that if he wanted to stay relevant he needed to make some changes. In 1990 he moved from his longstanding label MCA to Capitol, and for his second album for that label (then using the Liberty name), in 1991, he released a duet album with ten female vocalists. They were mainly newcomers the label wanted to promote with a few of Lee’s contemporaries.

The only single was ‘Hopelessly Yours’, a duet with Suzy Bogguss, who was about to make her breakthrough. It peaked at #12 but deserved better, as it is a beautiful song written by the great Keith Whitley and Curly Putnam with hitmaker Don Cook, sung by both vocalists with a wistful tenderness, and tastefully produced with some lovely steel guitar.

One of the label’s biggest stars at the time was Tanya Tucker. ‘We’re Both To Blame’ is a traditional sounding waltz about a couple whose marriage is breaking down – another really lovely track.

All-female bluegrass-country group Wild Rose collaborate on the vibrant up-tempo ‘The Will To Love’, which I enjoyed a great deal.

Karen Staley was better known as a songwriter, but released a couple of excellent albums herself in the 90s. I don’t believe she was ever formally signed to Liberty or Capitol (she certainly didn’t release anything for them), but label boss Jimmy Bowen had produced her 1989 MCA album Wildest Dreams. She has an distinctive and unusually deep voice for a woman, and almost overpowers Greenwood on the brassy ‘I’m Not Missin’ Anything’. Cee Cee Chapman, a Curb artist with another deep alto voice, has a boring song for her duet with Lee, ‘You’re Not Alone’.

Carol Chase has an excellent voice and is well matched to Lee on the enjoyable mid-paced pop-country ‘Looking At A Sure Thing’. ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ is a cover of an R&B classic sung with Donna McElroy, who has provided backing vocals on many country records but is predominantly a gospel singer herself. This version of the song pays not the slightest attempt to sound country, but is pleasant enough listening in its own vein, with a strong soulful vocal from McElroy.

Of the older artists, Lacy J Dalton is wasted on ‘From Now On’, a nice enough but bland MOR ballad which just does not showcase her. Previous duet partner Barbara Mandrell joins Lee for ‘I’d Give Anything’, another dull ballad. Marie Osmond’s pristine vocal on ‘It Wasn’t Love Before’ has phrasing from musical theater.

This is generally a fairly strong album with something for everyone.

Grade: B+

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In Remembrance 30 years later: Keith Whitley — ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’

It’s hard to believe, but 30 years ago today, Keith Whitley passed away from alcohol poisoning at age 33.

Garth Brooks Trisha Yearwood, Mark Chesnutt, Larry Cordle, Caleb Daugherty, Kevin Denney, Tom Buller, Wesley Dennis, Joe Diffie, Corey Farlow, Carl Jackson, Cory and Dustin Keefe, Tracy Lawrence, Mark Wills, Darryl Worley, and Jesse Keith Whitley and Whitley’s widow, Lorrie Morgan will perform in his honor at a special concert event in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s CMA Theatre this evening in Nashville. The event has been organized by Whitley and Morgan. An exhibit dedicated to him has also just opened at the CMHoF. More on the event HERE.

We pause to remember him with his signature song:

Classic Rewind: Wesley Dennis ft Kevin Denney – ‘Between An Old Memory And Me’

In tribute to Keith Whitley:

Week ending 4/13/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: White Lighting — George Jones (Mercury)

1969: Woman Of The World (Leave My World Alone) — Loretta Lynn (Decca)

1979: I Just Fall in Love Again — Anne Murray (Capitol)

1989: I’m No Stranger To The Rain — Keith Whitley (RCA)

1999: How Forever Feels — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2009: It Won’t Be Like This for Long — Darius Rucker (Capitol)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Week ending 4/6/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s 40 Below) — Johnny Horton (Columbia)

1969: Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass — Buck Owens and his Buckaroos (Capitol)

1979: I Just Fall in Love Again — Anne Murray (Capitol)

1989: I’m No Stranger To The Rain — Keith Whitley (RCA)

1999: How Forever Feels — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2009: It Won’t Be Like This for Long — Darius Rucker (Capitol)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Fellow Travelers/Country Heart’

John Conlee’s career was one of the casualties of the wave of young stars emerging in the late 80s swept away the old guard. Columbia having dispensed with his services, he signed a deal with prominent independent label Sixteenth Avenue, which had also recently picked up superstar Charley Pride.

He decided to ‘Hit The Ground Runnin’’, a nice upbeat tune about moving on with some cheerful accordion. Next up was the reflective ‘River Of Time’, written by Larry Cordle and Jim Rushing (although iTunes miscredits it having confused it with the Judds’ song of the same name). This song looks at the changes in attitude brought as one grows up and older:

I was 16 and strong as a horse
I didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin’
But I knew everything of course
I turned 21 totin’ a gun
And losing some good friends of mine
I was crossing my first dreams of sorrow
On the way down the river of time

This river rolls like a rocket
It don’t meander and wind
Ain’t a power on earth that can stop it
We’re all swept up in the grind
So find your companion
The one that will love you
All the way till the end of the line
It’s the dearest of dreams
In the great scheme of things
Goin’ down the river of time

I woke up at 30 and started to worry
About the glaring mistakes of my past
I still had high aspirations
But I knew that I’d better move fast
Now I’m starin’ at 40 and oh Lordy Lordy
I’m still a long way from the top
I’ve still got the heart but I’m fallin’ apart
Reachin’ the hands of the clock

Both tracks received enough airplay to chart in the 40s.

The third single was ‘Hopelessly Yours’ written by Keith Whitley, Don Cook and Curly Putman. It had been cut a few years earlier by George Jones, and was a bona fide hit a few years later for Lee Greenwood and Suzy Bogguss. Conlee’s version is melancholy and very effective, but despite its quality it got little attention from country radio. The final, non-charting, single was even better. ‘Don’t Get Me Started’ is an emotional ballad written by Hugh Prestwood which portrays the lasting sadness of lost love:

Well, thank you for askin’
I know you mean well
But friend, that’s a story I’d rather not tell
To even begin it would take all night long
And I’d still be right here and she’d still be gone

So don’t get me started
I might never stop
She’s just not a subject that’s easy to drop
There’s dozens of other stories I’ll swap
But don’t get me started on Her
I might never stop

You see, deep in my heart is a dam I have built
For a river of tears over love I have spilled
And the way I make certain that dam will not break
Is to never look back when I’ve made a mistake

Prestwood contributed a number of other tunes to the set. ‘Almost Free’ is about a relationship on the brink:

Last night you pushed me a little too far
I was not coming back when I left in the car
There was a time, an hour or two
I was feeling so free – from you
I picked up a bottle and drove to the Heights
Parked on the ridge and I looked at the lights
The engine was off and the radio on
And the singer sang and I sang along

And I was almost free
There almost wasn’t any you-and-me
I was almost free
Whole new life ahead of me
Almost free

Sunrise rising over the wheel
Bottle’s empty and so is the feel
This car knows it’s the wrong thing to do
But it’s driving me home – to you
Maybe I’m too much in love to be strong
Maybe you knew I’d be back all along
If I could be who you wanted, I would
If I could forget I’d be gone for good

It’s just too hard to walk your line
Maybe baby I’ll cross it next time

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Album Review: John Conlee — ‘Harmony’

When John Conlee released his eighth album, Harmony, in 1986, he was also making his transition from MCA to Columbia. Although he would only release two albums for the label, his hit-making streak continued.

Three singles were released from the album, including the mid-tempo title track, which hit #10. The other two came from prominent artists and had varying quality. Conlee’s seventh and final #1 came courtesy of Dobie Gray’s unspectacular “Got My Heart Set On You.” He much deserved to peak higher than #6 with Guy Clark’s “The Carpenter,” an excellent salute to an everyday working man:

Let us now praise the carpenter and the things that he made

And the way that he lived by the tools of the trade

I can still hear his hammer singing ten-penny time

Working by the hour till the day that he died

 

He was tough as a crowbar, he was quick as a chisel

Fair as a plane and true as a level

He was straight as a chalk line and right as a rule

He was square with the world he took good care of his tools

 

He worked his hands in wood from the crib to the coffin

With a care and a love that you don’t see too often

He built boats out of wood, big boats, he worked in a shipyard

Mansions on the hill and a birdhouse in the backyard

 

He said anything that’s worth cutting down a tree for

Is worth doing right don’t the lord love a two by four

If you asked him how to do something he said like Noah built the Arc

You’ve got to hold your mouth right son and never miss the mark

Piano and steel guitar is an effective backdrop for “Class Reunion,” about a man who finds his reunion notice between his stack of bills. The story is very relatable but the lyric could’ve been sharper. He continues in this territory on “Cars,” a love song between a guy and the “motors and wheels” that get him through life:

She was sittin’ on a car lot looking like a dream

Underneath a string of lights

A 49 model and I was sixteen

But I knew it was love at first sight

 

And the man said, son, I’ll make you a deal

And I knew I had to make her mine

I held my breath and slid behind the wheel

It was my very first time

 

Cars, just motors and wheels

Rubber and glass and steel

Still, I think back over the years

And it sounds strange, I suppose

But it’s cars I remember most

 

She was parked on the street by the First Baptist Church

As we ran down the steps hand in hand

My brand new Chevy waiting there at the curve

And we waved to the crowd and got in

 

Well, the miles went by and so did the years

And I thought that we were doing alright

Till she packed up the kids and picked up the keys

And just drove away one night

 

Well, the years have gone by and a lot of thing changed

I hardly see the kids any more

Took a new job and moved to LA

And bought me a two-seater Porsche

 

There’s lots of pretty girls out here and you know

I could be doing alright

But mostly at night I just drive up the cost

And look at the city lights

The album’s truest country moment comes courtesy of Bobby Braddock’s delightful “She Told Me So,” which seems like it was written for Keith Whitley. Also wonderful is “I’ll Be Seeing You,” which has a downbeat lyric about a guy kicking his woman to the curb set to a rather cheerful ear-catching melody.

“You’ve Got A Right” is pure filler but it is the album’s most uptempo song. Conlee takes us to Montego Bay, Jamaica on “For A Little While,” and while the setting may be tropical, the downbeat lyric is set to a very contemporary arrangement featuring steel guitars, not steel drums. He concludes the album with “The Day He Turns 65,” a portrait of a man who, on the brink of retirement, must figure out his new life.

Harmony is very much a contemporary country album with solid country production throughout. While there isn’t a truly terrible song to be found, some of the tracks are definitely stronger than others.

Grade: B

Album Review: Midland — ‘Midland’

NOTE: Occasional Hope reviewed this upon release. Paul’s view of the album appears below: 

I know I’m a little late to the party in discovering this late 2017 release but I rarely listen to over-the-air country stations these days.

Other than my brother Sean, who knows my tastes in folk, jazz & pop standards (but knows little about country or bluegrass music), none of my family or friends give me music as a birthday or Christmas present. So much to my surprise, I received this CD at Christmas from a nephew of mine who claimed this to be “old style” country music. Of course, my nephew is only 18 so his idea of “old style” country might have been Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, and Jason Aldean, whereas my definition differs considerably.

Well, it has been a really busy last few weeks for me so it wasn’t until a few days ago that I got around to popping On The Rocks into my CD player (prompted by the fact that I would see my nephew again in two weeks). Much to my surprise, I found myself listening to a real country record, one actually coming out of Nashville.

No, this is not a country record of the sort that could have been played in the classic country period (1944-1978), but it would definitely have fit into the country playlists of the period 1979 – 2005. Instead of a band whose influences were the likes of Eagles, Marshall Tucker and, James Taylor, I was hearing a band that was influenced by Alabama, Diamond Rio, Bellamy Brothers, Clint Black and perhaps John Anderson or Keith Whitley.

I do not know much about this act and perhaps they would tell you of other influences but I can definitely hear traces of the acts cited above. Moreover, this album has the sound of a country album, with prominent steel guitar, audible lyrics and, strong melodies.

Three singles were released to radio. The first single “Drinkin’ Problem” went to #3 on the US Country Airplay chart and went to #1 on Canadian Country chart. The song is an excellent low-key ballad with a good melody and nice steel guitar.

One more night, one more down

One more, one more round

First one in, last one out

Giving this town lots to talk about

They don’t know what they don’t know

 

People say I’ve got a drinkin’ problem

That ain’t no reason to stop

People sayin’ that I’ve hit rock bottom

Just ’cause I’m living on the rocks

It’s a broken hearted thinkin’ problem

So pull that bottle off the wall

People say I got a drinkin’ problem

But I got no problem drinkin’ at all

The second single was “Make A Little” which reached #15 and #12 respectively on the charts referenced above. The song is a mid-tempo rocker that would make a good dance floor number:

 It’s a hard living, tail kicking

Trip that we’re all on, but I’m betting

We can find a little sunshine in the night

It’s a back breaking, soul taking

Road we walk, so what are we waiting for

Baby let’s turn off the lights

‘Cause girl, there’s just not enough love in the world

 

So we should make a little

Generate a little

Maybe even make the world a better place a little

We could turtle dove, Dixie land delight

You know it can’t be wrong when it feels so right

It all comes down to you and me, girl

There’s just not enough love in the world

So we should make a little

Then make a little more tonight

The final single was “Burn Out” which reached #11 on The US Country Airplay chart but inexplicably just barely cracked the forty in Canada. This is probably my favorite song on the album

Watchin’ cigarettes burn out

‘Til all the neon gets turned out

There’s nothing left but empty glasses now

It’s all flashes now

Smokin’ memory that ain’t nothin’ but ashes

In the low lights

These done-me-wrong songs hit me so right

I was so on fire for you it hurts how

Fast a cigarette can burn out

I think that the following two songs would have made good singles: “Electric Rodeo:”

 It’s a lonely road

Two for the pain and three for the show

You put your life on hold chasin’ layaway dreams

That ain’t all they seem

With a hotel heart just tryin’ to find a spark

 

Electric rodeo

We’re paintin’ on our suits

We’re pluggin’ in our boots

We’re ridin’ high tonight

On Acapulco gold

And the rhinestones shine

Just as bright as diamonds

Underneath the lights

Electric rodeo

and “Out of Sight:”

Clothes ain’t in the closet, shoes ain’t under the bed

I should’ve believed her when she said what she said

“You’ll never change I know you never will”

I just sat there watching tailights rollin’ over the hill

I called her mama and I called her best friend

They said “She called it quits, so boy don’t call here again”

Up and down these streets lookin’ for her car

Tried to make it back home, but ended up at the bar

 

She’s gone (she’s gone, so long) never coming back

So gone (so gone, so gone) the train went off the track

And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put me and my baby back together again

So long (she’s gone, so long) that’s the way it goes

She’s gone (so long, so long) and everybody knows

That I’m going crazy one night at a time

She’s out of sight and I’m out of my mind

The band consists of Jess Carson (acoustic guitar & background vocals), Cameron Duddy – (bass guitar & background vocals) and Mark Wystrach (lead vocals), with all three members being involved in the writing of eleven of the thirteen songs with Carson being involved as a co-writer on all thirteen songs, with an occasional assist from outside sources. The band is supplemented by some of Nashville’s finest studio musicians with Paul Franklin and Dan Dugmore swapping steel guitar duties, often carrying the melody line.

While I do not regard any of the tracks on the album as being timeless classics, I at least liked all of the tracks on the album since I never hit ‘skip’ on any of them. If you wonder whatever happened to that good country music of my early-to-middle adulthood youth (i.e. through the late 1970s and the 1990s), then give this CD a listen. I look forward to their next album.

Classic Rewind: Michael Ray, Carly Pearce, and Ricky Skaggs — ‘When You Say Nothing At All’

Two stars from the newest generation, who also happened to just get engaged, are joined by Skaggs on a Keith Whitley classic:

Week ending 12/29/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: City Lights — Ray Price (Columbia)

1968: Wichita Lineman — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1978: The Gambler — Kenny Rogers (United Artists)

1988: When You Say Nothing At All — Keith Whitley (RCA)

1998: You’re Easy On The Eyes — Terri Clark (Mercury)

2008: Roll With Me — Montgomery Gentry (Columbia Nashville)

2018: Speechless — Dan + Shay (Warner Nashville)

2018 (Airplay): Speechless — Dan + Shay (Warner Nashville)

 

Week ending 12/22/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: City Lights — Ray Price (Columbia)

1968: Wichita Lineman — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1978: The Gambler — Kenny Rogers (United Artists)

1988: When You Say Nothing At All — Keith Whitley (RCA)

1998: Husbands and Wives — Brooks & Dunn (Arista Nashville)

2008: Roll With Me — Montgomery Gentry (Columbia Nashville)

2018: Speechless — Dan + Shay (Warner Nashville)

2018 (Airplay): Speechless — Dan + Shay (Warner Nashville)

 

Album Review: Kayla Ray – ‘Yesterday & Me’

Singer-songwriter Kayla Ray’s lovely second album was released back in May. This has been such a busy year I haven’t had time to review as much music as I would have liked, but starting to consider my albums of the year I thought this really needed to be covered in detail. Tastefully produced by Jason Eady in traditional country style with plenty of steel guitar and fiddle, the record showcases her rich voice and outstanding songwriting. Growing up in Texas, she spent some time working with legendary fiddler Johnny Gimble, and Johnny’s son Dick plays bass on this album.

Kayla wrote most of the songs herself. One of the exceptions is the engrossing story song ‘Rockport’, which opens the album and sets the tone. It tells the tale of two lovers whose hard backgrounds in Arkansas overshadow their lives. The other is one of my favorite tracks, a gorgeously steel-laden ultra-traditional Keith Whitley song called ‘Once A Week Cheaters’. It is a duet with Colton Hawkins, who has a great, mournful voice and I would like to hear more from.

My favorite of Kayla’s own songs is the weary litany of ‘Things Only Years Can Teach A Woman’. ‘Fair Warning’, an outstanding introspective story song about an abusive relationship.
Another duet, this time with an older-sounding female vocalist called Tifni Simons, ‘Red River Valley’s Run Dry’ is another absorbing story song with nice fiddle.

‘Magnolias In Springtime’ is a slow ballad about a country singer who has unexpectedly found the joy of love, with a number of song titles quoted.

In the title track she regrets the changes time has brought to a relationship. ‘Camel Blues’ ponders a breakup where fault lies on both sides. The sultry ‘I’m Still A Woman’ is the agonised lament of a troubled woman.

The tempo picks up with ‘Hell Of A Day To Drink All Night’, where Kayla’s tone shifts from its usual mellow warmth to raucous as she rattles her way through a hangover. The rapid paced ‘Pills’ lauds the local pharmacy and prescription medicines, somewhat tongue in cheek.

Finally, ‘1963’ pays a fond tribute to Kayla’s grandparents.

This is an excellent album, leaning to the more introspective side, but pure country in its backings and arrangements.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Keith Whitley – ‘When You Say Nothing At All’

Album Review: Adam Harvey — ‘Can’t Settle for Less’

Adam Harvey released his sixth album, Can’t Settle for Less, in January 2005. It peaked at #20 on the Australian Country Album chart.

Among the album’s 13 tracks are six songs recorded by other artists in the States and likely unfamiliar to Harvey’s audiences Down Under. He opens with a brilliant take on Don Williams’ “I’ve Been Loved By The Best,” a mid-tempo stunner about a man and his recent love.

“I Want My Rib Back” is a silly and somewhat obscure song Keith Whitley had recorded for the Blake Mevis produced follow-up to LA to Miami that was never released. His version eventually saw the light of day on Kentucky Bluebird before the song found its way to Kenny Chesney on his Capricorn debut, In My Wildest Dreams. Harvey does well with the song, which has never been one of my favorites.

“Cadillac Tears” was originally recorded by Kevin Denney for his self-titled debut in 2002. The uptempo honky tonker is gorgeous and finds a woman wallowing that she’s single, despite being very well off financially from her previous lover. “Lady Lay Down” was a #1 single for John Conlee from his Rose Colored Glasses album in 1978. The traditional ballad is wonderful, although a bit slicker than I would’ve expected from Harvey.

“Orphan of the Road” is an old Johnny Cash song about a cowboy and a carnie girl, and their one-time three-day stand. The track is exquisite, with Harvey turning in a revelatory performance framed in a simple acoustic arrangement. “Life Don’t Have To Mean Nothing At All” was written by Tom T. Hall and covered by Joe Nichols on Man With A Memory in 2002. The song itself is charming, and Harvey turns in a fabulous performance of it.

The rest of the album’s tracks are original and credited to Harvey. “That’s Just How She Gets” is an amusing look at a woman’s behavior when her man stumbles home drunk. “The Biggest Fool” is an ear-catching mid-tempo ballad with a seductive traditional arrangement. “God Made Beer” is the first real inane track on the album, which scores points for its working man undertones, but suffers from an unintelligent lyric. “Doghouse” is also a bit silly.

“That’s What You Call A Friend” is a tasteful yet somewhat predictable mid-tempo ballad. “Missing Heroes” is a contemporary traditional ballad typical of the era. “Once Upon A Long Time Gone” is a gorgeous ballad set to an old-time-y country arrangement. Harvey’s vocal is spellbinding. This is the kind of song I could see Lee Ann Womack recording.

Can’t Settle for Less truly is an incredible album of originals mixed between well-chosen songs sung by other artists. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty darn close to it. Harvey reminds me a lot of Josh Turner, especially on this album. He has a very similar tone to his voice that is very appealing. This album is also available on Apple Music and iTunes and is well worth checking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Adam Harvey — ‘Sugar Talk’

Adam Harvey released his third album, Sugar Talk, in late August 1999. Much like Occasional Hope noted in her review last week, there isn’t much information about the album online although I was able to find it on Apple Music.

The album is comprised of fourteen tracks. Wikipedia lists two singles. “Treat Me Like A Dog” is a ruckus barnburner about a man who wants a woman who will love and forgive him despite his flaws, much the same way people love everything about their pets. “I Blame You” is a nice power ballad where a man blames his woman for all the riches in his life.

When researching “Gypsy Queen,” I found out it is an old Australian song from the 1970s and became Harvey’s first number one hit. The track is excellent, dosed in mandolin and has a nice sing-song-y melody. “When I’m Drinking” is a playful honky-tonk rocker about a man who’s let the bottle have a grip on his life.

“Hold on my Heart” is another barnburner, in which Harvey sings about a woman who has “a hold on my heart and I hope she never let’s go.” The title track follows the same uptempo formula, with slight variations.

Harvey is a keen observer on “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance,” in which he predicts the woman he’s watching on the dance floor will become his girl. It’s probably not a sequel, but the next track in sequence is “Caroline.” In the chorus he sings, “when I’m with you I lose my mind.”

The last of the high-octane moments is “It’s Still Love,” which is very good but feels slightly generic. “When You Love Somebody” is a nice contemporary ballad. “Love Listens” falls at mid-tempo, with generous steel guitar throughout and a smoother vocal from Harvey.

Harvey also includes three songs I recognize as being recorded by other artists. When I played “Don’t Tell Me (You’re Not in Love)” I recognized it immediately, but didn’t know where I’d heard it before. It turns out George Strait included it as an album track on The Road Less Traveled three years after Harvey released it here.

He gives himself a tall order singing Lefty Frizzell’s “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” which was famously covered twice by Keith Whitley. Harvey’s version is very good and holds its own against the others.

The final cover, “Goodnight Sweetheart,” was originally recorded by Joe Diffie in 1992 before being picked up as the title track and second single from country singer turned Texas real estate agent David Kersh’s debut album. It peaked at #6 for him in 1996. Harvey’s version is excellent, tender, and makes me believe this is a song Whitley would’ve likely recorded had he lived.

I was unfamiliar with Adam Harvey before writing this review. Sugar Talk is a very strong album with some excellent moments throughout. He goes a bit too heavy on the light uptempo material but kills it when he slows things down. In addition to Apple Music, Sugar Talk is all available on iTunes. I recommend checking it out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Second Time Around’

Typically Australian County albums tend to be a mixture of original compositions and covers of Nashville hits. Second Time Around is no exception but it is quite an enjoyable album. Adam’s expressive baritone makes for pleasant listening, and the backing on this album is solidly country.

Unfortunately, my digital download of this album did not come with lyric sheets or, songwriter credits or musician credits. If I don’t mention the songwriter, that means I don’t know who wrote the song, but it is likely that either Adam or another Australian artist would have the songwriting honors.

The album opens with “He Lives My Dream”, an oft-told story about the restlessness of the itinerant musician. In this case the singer’s bus breaks down and while waiting he sees a young family exiting church services. I’m usually not that fond of narrations, but the opening narrative sets up the song nicely.

“Been There Done That” finds the singer seeing an ex-girlfriend at a barroom. She tries to chat him up – but this time he’s not having any.

“Tequila Sunrise” is Adam’s cover of an Eagles’ song. If you liked the song generally, you will like Adam’s rendition, which is laid back and melodic.

“I think I’ll Have Another Bourbon” is a kind of generic drinking song, a slow ballad about a woman who has left him and who he can’t get over. Some interesting harmonica work dominates the bluesy backing.

From this point forward Adam covers some of the greatest songs in the American country music canon.

Adam is no Merle Haggard but “Fightin’ Side Of Me” is effectively presented, as is “Sad Songs And Waltzes”, a song written by Willie Nelson but perhaps better remembered from the Keith Whitley cover version.

“Big Bad John” is one of those songs that everyone over the age of fifty-five has heard, whether or not they listen to country music. Adam’s version pales in comparison to the Jimmy Dean original. The song is not a novelty song, but there is a certain ambiance to the song that no one else has ever managed to duplicate.

Better is “Hello Darlin’“, Adam’s cover of the Conway Twitty classic from 1970. Adam’s deep baritone seems expressly made for the song.

Chris Wall never made it as a mainstream country singer, although he had some success as a songwriter. “Trashy Women” was recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1989 and Wall put the song on his superlative album Honky Tonk Heart in 1990, it wasn’t until Confederate Railroad recorded the song a few years later that the song became a top ten country hit. Wall’s song has remained a staple of bar bands since then. Adam does a fine job with the song. I love this song:

Well I was raised in a sophisticated kind of style
But my taste in music and women drove my folks half wild
Mom and Dad had a plan for me, it was debutantes and symphonies
But I like my music hot and my women wild

You see I like my women just a tad on the trashy side
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed
Too much lipstick and too much rouge
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused
I like my women just a tad on the trashy side

Well you should have seen the look on the face of my Dad and Mom
When I showed up at the door with my date for the senior prom
They said, “Pardon us son, she ain’t no kid,
That’s a cocktail waitress in a Dolly Parton wig”
I said, “I know, ain’t she great, Dad?

They say opposites attract, well I don’t agree
I need a woman that’s as tacky as me

Covering a Vern Gosdin classic is an impossible task as there is no way you can sing the song better than “The Voice” did. That said, Adam does a very nice job with “Is It Raining At Your House”.

I do not know the source of “I’d Be Worse off” but I really like the song with kind of a folk-country ballad with some nice harmonica accompaniment. I don’t know if this a single “Down Under” but if it wasn’t, it should have been.

The album closes with the Don Williams classic “I Believe In You” . The arrangement is a clone of the Don Williams original but with a bit more steel guitar.

To an American listener, this album may feel too familiar, but please remember that Adam Harvey was recording the album for Australian audiences, to whom these may have been mostly new songs. At any rate, it is a good album, Adam sings well, I like the band and the arrangements and this would be in the B+ / A= minus range for me.

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Yours Truly’

Richard Landis, who was best known at the time for his work with Lorrie Morgan, produced Earl Thomas Conley’s eighth studio album, Yours Truly, released in June 1991. It was Conley’s final album for RCA, his final to chart (it peaked at #53), and his first not to produce a #1 hit since he joined the label ten years earlier.

The album was preceded by “Shadow of a Doubt,” an excellent and engaging uptempo rocker co-written by actor and singer Tom Wopat. It peaked at #8 yet deserved to go much higher.

The second single “Brotherly Love” was a duet he had recorded with Keith Whitley back in 1987 for the intended follow-up album to L.A. To Miami Whitley had recorded with his producer at the time, Blake Mevis. He convinced RCA to shelve the project, leaving the recordings unreleased.

In 1991, the vocals Whitley and Conley had recorded for “Brotherly Love” were rescued and given a new arraignment by Whitley’s next producer, Garth Fundis. The track served as the lead single for his first official posthumous release, Kentucky Bluebird. It peaked at #2 and was nominated for the CMA Vocal Event of the Year award in 1992, where it lost to “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For A Long, Long Time)” by Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt.

In a recently unearthed interview Whitley gave to Ralph Emory in 1987, before the album with Mevis was shelved, in fact it was even due for a September release when they spoke, Whitley said it was Joe Galante’s (The head of RCA) idea he record a duet with a male artist on the label. Galante suggested Conley. The excellent ballad, about “a bond that brother’s know” had originally been recorded by Moe Bandy in 1989 and Billy Dean in 1990. Whitley and Conley’s version was the first and only time the song had been recorded as a duet.

Conley’s commercial fortunes would greatly diminish after “Brotherly Love.” His next two singles would be his last to chart, although neither would peak very high. “Hard Days and Honky Tonk Nights,” which he co-wrote with Randy Scruggs, was a rather strong song, buried in production that was dosed in fiddle, yet just too loud. “If Only Your Eyes Could Lie” was a wonderful steel-drenched ballad in his classic style, updated for modern times. The single peaked at 36 and 74 respectively.

The ballad “You Got Me Now” opens the album as a bridge between his classic sonic textures and the updated sound Landis brought to the record. The song is unspectacular but good. “One of Those Days” is also solid, but it lacks a layer of emotion from Conley. The dobro-infused “Keep My Heart On The Line” is an infectious mid-tempo number that wouldn’t have been out of place in Whitley’s hands at all.

The cleverly titled “You’re The Perfect Picture (To Fit My Frame of Mind)” is easily the most traditional I’ve ever heard Conley, and the results are spectacular. This uptempo honky-tonker just might be the best moment he ever committed to record. “Borrowed Money” sounds like something John Anderson might have recorded at the time, and while the two artists are hardly alike, Conley does exceptionally well with this song. “I Want To Be Loved Back” is good, but the distracting, cheesy, and unnecessary backing vocalists are incredibly jarring.

Yours Truly is an excellent album, which to my ears, has aged remarkably well. I love seeing artists with a somewhat updated sound and Conley shines here. “Brotherly Love” is the standout track and well deserved big hit. Go to YouTube and stream everything else. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘The Heart Of It All’

Released at the heart of the New Traditional era in 1988, The Heart Of It All did not stray too far from ETC’s accustomed wheelpath, although producers Emory Gordy Jr and Randy Scruggs made sure the arrangements were a bit less AC than previously. He was still a reliable hitmaker beloved by country radio, with singles destined to reach #1, and the first four singles from this album followed the pattern.

The lead single is a nice ballad written by Bob McDill and Paul Harrison about a woman tied to an unworthy husband, who she loves regardless. ETC’s hushed vocals are lovely, and the production fairly restrained.

Harmonies from Emmylou Harris make any song better, and the next single was the lovely duet ‘We Believe In Happy Endings’, another McDill song about keeping a marriage going, but a more positive one. It had been a top 10 solo hit for Johnny Rodriguez a decade earlier. This is one of my favorite ETC recordings.

‘What I’d Say’, written by Robert Byrne and Will Robinson, is another excellent ballad. This one faces up to the immediate afterbreak of a breakup, with the protagonist uncertain how he would react if he met her unexpectedly.

What would prove to be Earl’s very last #1 hit was Thom Schuyler’s ‘Love Out Loud’. A more upbeat tempo enlivens a sincerely sung song about an inarticulate man who nevertheless loves his lady. It is my least favorite of the singles from this album, but not a bad song.

The long run of #1 and 2 hits, dating back to 1982’s ‘Somewhere Between Right And Wrong’ was to come to a juddering halt with this album’s fifth single, which peaked at a very disappointing #26. It was the first time ETC had attempted more than four from one album, but the main problem may have been the underlying shifts in country radio. He would experience only two more top 10s, one of which was a posthumous duet with Keith Whitley. ‘You Must Not Be Drinking Enough’ is actually a fine song which deserved better, and more traditional sounding than much of ETC’s oeuvre (despite being a Don Henley cover). A soulful vocal is backed up with steel guitar as ETC offers advice to a lovelorn friend, or perhaps himself:

You keep telling yourself she means nothing
Maybe you should call her bluff
You don’t really believe it
You must not be drinking enough …

You keep telling yourself you can take it
Telling yourself that you’re tough
But you still want to hold her
Must not be drinking enough

You’re not drinking enough to wash away old memories
And there ain’t enough whiskey in Texas
To keep you from begging “please, please, please”
She passed on your passion, stepped on your pride,
Turns out you ain’t quite so tough
Cause you still want to hold her
You must not be drinking enough

The rambunctious ‘Finally Friday’ would be a single for George Jones a few years later. ETC’s version is more restrained, but the accordion-led production lends it a happy Cajun feel which works pretty well.

ETC co-wrote three songs, two of them with producer Randy Scruggs. The title track, ‘Too Far From The Heart Of It All’, is quite a pretty ballad on a religious theme although the meaning is not very clear. ‘Carol’ is a tender, thoughtful ballad about a man who regrets having left his wife years ago:

If I could turn back time to yesterday
I’d be coming home this time to stay …
I guess I never felt this way before
Feeling like a stranger at my own door
I wouldn’t have to ask you how you’ve been
And I wouldn’t have to fall in love again

Carol
No one has replaced you
I’ve never looked a day beyond goodbye
And Carol
Time could not erase you
It’s only made me wish I’d never tried

Guess some of us just don’t know when to stop
Reaching out for something we ain’t got

‘No Chance, No Dance’, written with Robert Byrne, is a brassy uptempo tune about not playing things safe.

Byrne teamed up with Tom Brasfield to write ‘I Love he Way he Left You’, an AC leaning ballad hoping a woman who has been hurt by a previous relationship will end up with him.

This is one of ETC’s best albums and it is definitely worth checking out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Treading Water’

Released in October 1984, Treading Water was ETC’s fourth and most successful RCA album, peaking at #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. By late 1984 Nashville had moved past the Urban Cowboy sludge into more traditional sounds. While the “New Traditionalist” movement was still eighteen months away, newer artists such as Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley were pointing the way back to more traditional sounds, and some veteran artists such as George Jones and Merle Haggard had seen some career regeneration, as had (briefly) the Kendalls.

The album opens with “Too Hot To Handle”, a non-single that sounds more energetic than most of Earl’s recordings. This is followed by “Love Don’t Care”, a #1 single that was the third single released from the album and “Labor of Love”, a quiet ballad about a relationship that is disintegrating.

“Your Love Says All There Is” is an album track that seems rather generic and too similar to other recent ETC songs. It is an okay song but certainly not worthy of single release.

Y

ou keep talking with your body
And to your every move I can relate
Cause I’ve been feeling what you’re thinking
And I guess your love says all there is to say

This party started in your arms tonight
And I can see forever in your eyes
Without a word you put me in my placeo Your love says all there is, your love says all there is to say

Similarly “Love’s On The Move Again” seems a bit familiar but the use of real piano and steel is certainly welcome.

“Chance of Loving You” was the first single released from the album, a #1 single that was co-written with Randy Scruggs. The song is taken at mid-tempo with a lyric than commands attention.

Like a young and courageous fool
Ready to take on the night
You came dressed to kill all of the boys
And it looks like you’ve done enough right

You say that love is your only rule
It kinda comes from the heart
When it all comes down to what lovers do
You fall in love and just fall apart

But that’s the chance you take with a lonely heart
That’s the price you pay with a lonely heart
That’s the game you play when there’s nothin’ to loose
And I could never refuse the chance of lovin’ you

“Honor Bound” was the second single from the album, another #1 hit. The song is a dramatic song about a wife who is taking her vows seriously; however, both the wife and the narrator know that from her perspective that the flame has gone out of the relationship. There is a nice sax break in the song.

Nothing’s been said, nothing’s been done
It’s hard to see a difference between the rising and the setting sun
But I can feel a change, it’s there in her touch
It’s subtle but it’s deep and it hurts us both so much
Me, because I’m losing her and her because she feels

She’s honor bound, bound by promise that she made so long ago
But I love her so much that I can’t let her know I know
Oh, I know her pure heart made that promise
Honestly, oh, but how long can her honor keep her bound to me

I think “Treading Water” is the best song on the album but it was not released as a single. The tale of a fellow who gets the girl (briefly) whenever she is on the rebound, the narrator is beginning to rebel against his role in the matter.

“Feels Like A Saturday Night” could have been a rowdy song in the hands of another singer. ETC never truly sounds rowdy, but the song has a nice beat to it and is probably one of the few ETC songs suitable for dancing.

The album closes with the up-tempo “Turn This Bus Around”.

This is probably my favorite Earl Thomas Conley album on RCA. I’d give this album a B+, but it would prove to be the last ETC album I would purchase for many years as I realized that I liked Conley as an artist, but did not love his music and did not often pull it out to play. Most of my Conley albums were on cassette tape and as CD became the dominant media, I purchased some hit collections but little else more, until a few years ago. He’s a fine artist and is worth discovering, especially for one with less traditional tastes than mine.

Week ending 8/11/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958:  Guess Things Happen That Way / Come In Stranger — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Folsom Prison Blues — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1978: You Don’t Love Me Anymore — Eddy Rabbitt (Elektra)

1988: Don’t Close Your Eyes — Keith Whitley (RCA)

1998: There’s Your Trouble — Dixie Chicks (Monument)

2008: Good Time — Alan Jackson (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Mercy — Brett Young (Big Machine)