My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Keith Whitley

Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘Old Enough To Know Better’

A performance of “Restless” by The New Nashville Cats featuring Mark O’Connor, Ricky Skaggs and Steve Wariner at the 1991 CMA Awards proved pivotal in shifting Wade Hayes’ life focus towards a career in country music. He had been signed to an independent label by his father when he was eleven, but the deal fell through when the label filed for bankruptcy.

He dropped out of college and returned to Nashville after seeing that performance and became buddies with songwriter Chick Rains, who introduced Hayes to Don Cook, primarily known at the time for producing the catalog of Brooks & Dunn. With Cook working his connections, Hayes was able to score a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1994.

With Cook in the production chair, Hayes wasted no time and had his debut album Old Enough To Know Better in stores by January 1995. The record was preceded by the title track, which Hayes co-wrote with Rains. The uptempo honky-tonk rocker is 1990s country at its finest, still relevant today and boasts a killer hook “I’m old enough to know better, but I’m still too young to care” that made me take notice instantly as a nine-year-old kid when this song came out.

Hayes hit #1 with that song, a feat he wouldn’t repeat again in his career although he would come close. The fiddle and steel drenched contemporary ballad “I’m Still Dancing With You” followed, peaking at #4. The heartbreaking tale of lost love was an excellent showcase for Hayes’ ability to show palpable emotion with his voice, a talent lost on many of his contemporaries. He would have far stronger showcases for this gift, especially as he grew into himself as an artist, but he was doing very well right out of the gate.

A second uptempo honky-tonk rocker was sent to radio in an effort to repeat the success of the title track. “Don’t Stop,” which would stall at #10, isn’t as strong or relatable as the title track and peaked about where it deserved. It’s still enjoyable to listen to today although the music video seems to have been buried in the archives somewhere out of view.

When thinking about ballads from Old Enough To Know Better, “What I Meant to Say” comes to mind a heck of a lot sooner than “I’m Still Dancing With You” and for good reason. The contemporary ballad is the better song, and while both have emotive vocal performances from Hayes, this is the more believable song. Hayes makes you feel his regret deep inside of you. The song would only peak at #5, which is a shame, as it deserved to at least reach as high as #2.

Cook, as I said, was Brooks & Dunn’s producer, the architect of their now classic sound. So I know how Hayes came to record “Steady As She Goes” although I was unaware the duo released any of their songs for other artists to record. It’s a great uptempo song with an engaging melody brimming with steel guitar. Brooks & Dunn would release their version, on a limited edition, promotional bonus disc as part of the joint marketing of their If You See Her and Reba’s If You See Him albums.

Cook co-wrote “Steady As She Goes” with Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, which is another likely reason it fell into Hayes’ hands. He also co-wrote “Kentucky Bluebird,” which became the title track of the first posthumous collection of songs by Keith Whitley in 1991. It takes a lot of courage to sing a song previously recorded by Whitley, and I do think Hayes was up to the task. It also didn’t hurt he got Patty Loveless to provide pretty audible background vocals on the song.

Another song with pedigree was “Someone Had To Teach You,” a Harlan Howard co-write that found its way to George Strait on his Livin’ It Up album in 1990. It’s another phenomenal song and while both versions are excellent, I’m giving Hayes the edge. He brought an authority to it I feel Strait missed.

Howard co-wrote “Family Reunion” with Rains. The traditional ballad is a killer, with a spellbinding twist. The family reunion is reuniting a dead mother with the father of her child, who the kid tracked down at a cemetery in Denver. There’s speculation this could’ve been a true story for Rains, but I couldn’t corroborate it.

Cook was the sole writer on “Don’t Make Me Come To Tulsa.” The track fit right into the line dance craze sweeping Nashville at the time and was even given a dance remix. The song kind of reminds me of Holly Dunn’s “You Really Had Me Going.” I enjoyed it, and the lyric is good, but the whole aesthetic has lost its appeal 23 years later.

The album ends as its singles cycle began, with a collaboration between Hayes and Rains. “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” was the third of their songs together on the record, besides the title track and “I’m Still Dancing With You.” The mid-tempo ballad follows in the high quality of the rest of the record.

I can count on one hand, with a leftover finger or two, the number of debut albums I would regard as perfect. Old Enough To Know Better is far and away one of those albums. Hayes didn’t waste any time in showcasing the wide breadth of his talents as both a vocalist and a songwriter.

So many artists, I’m specifically thinking of Clay Walker among others, have let me down with debut albums that deliver in terms of singles but fail on every other level with subpar song selections beneath the artist the singles prove them to be. Hayes far exceeded my expectations and makes me regret having purchased On A Good Night when it came out but not going back and adding Old Enough To Know Better to my collection, too.

If you’ve never heard this album or need to hear it again after all these years, I highly recommend putting aside the time to do so. You’ll be glad you did.

Grade: A+


Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘All Because Of You’

Daryle Singletary reunited with the production team behind his debut for his second album, All Because of You, which was released a year later in 1996. He hit the jackpot with lead single “Amen Kind of Love,” an effervescent shuffle that soared to #2. The remains one of my favorite songs from the era and is one I still play frequently.

Neither of the follow-up singles would crack the top 40. “The Used To Be’s” follows the formula set by “Amen Kind of Love,” and even though the novelty lyric wasn’t as strong as its predecessor, the track should’ve had a good chance at the top 20. The final single was the Hank Cochran co-written ballad “Even The Wind,” which was very good.

It’s no secret that Singletary was heavily influenced by Keith Whitley, which is apparent on “Hurt’s Don’t It,” a nice traditional ballad. You hear it again on “He’ll Heal My Broken Heart,” which finds Singletary dipping into the lower part of his register quite nicely.

I didn’t like “My Heart Population You,” which was weak and unremarkable. “Liar, Liar” and “Redneckin’” exemplify the honky-tonk style that was prevalent at the time and the title track showcases the more contemporary stylings popular at the time. “That’s What I Get for Thinkin’” is the strongest ballad on the record.

There’s no doubt that All Because of You is a commercially-minded album and while it showcases Singletary’s traditional inclinations, the material isn’t that strong. The songs are good, but nothing really stands out from the pack beyond “Amen Kind of Love.” I was hoping for more, especially since I adore that song so much.

Grade: B

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Daryle Singletary’

Daryle’s debut album in 1995 was produced by his mentor Randy Travis with James Stroud and David Malloy.

Lead single ‘I’m Living Up To Her Low Expectations’ was not a great start, barely creeping into the top 40, but deserved better. Written by Bob McDill and Tommy Rocco, it’s a cheerful honky tonker about enjoying partying after his wife leaves.

It was followed by what was to prove to be Daryle’s biggest chart success, ‘I Let Her Lie’, a ballad about a cuckolded husband desperate to believe his wife, written by Tim Johnson. Daryle’s vocal is excellent, although the keyboards now sound a bit dated.

It was back to a more light hearted party vibe for ‘Too Much Fun’ which reached #4. Written by former Mercury artist Jeff Knight with Curtis Wright. The final single was one too many, peaking at #50. ‘Workin’ It Out’ (written by Tim Johnson and Brett James) is a beautifully sung ballad with a soothing melody, pleading for a relationship to last.

Another Tim Johnson song, the up-tempo ‘Ordinary Heroes’ compares depressing international headlines with people living day to day. Randy Travis provided one song he wrote with Ron Avis and Jerry Foster. ‘There’s A Cold Spell Moving In’ is an excellent measured ballad anticipating trouble in a relationship. My Heart’s Too Broke (To Pay Attention)’ is a lively western swing number written by Phil Barnhart, Kim Williams and Lonnie Wilson, and previously cut by Mark Chesnutt. Another nice song is the mid-tempo ‘A Love That Never Died’, written by Skip Ewing and Donny Kees.

The two best tracks appear at the end of the album, and both are covers, but of songs which had not been significant hits for others. Rhonda Vincent, then a Giant labelmate, lends her harmonies to the tenderly romantic ‘Would These Arms Be In Your Way’ (a minor single for Keith Whitley, but written by Vern Gosdin with Hank Cochran and Red Lane). This is really lovely. Even better is ‘What Am I Doing There’, which had been recorded a few years earlier by George Jones. It is a gorgeous ballad about being torn between a new love and feelings for an ex. Exquisite fiddle and steel add the final touches to what could potentially have been a career song.

At 24 Daryle had not yet quite matured vocally, and although the album was received well by critics, sales were relatively modest, perhaps because the singles did not truly represent Daryle’s gifts. However, it was a promising start, and I think it is worth catching up wth.

Grade: A-


Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘No Regrets’

Moe Bandy released his first album on Curb Records, No Regrets, in Spring 1988. It was produced by Jerry Kennedy.

The first single from the record was the #8 peaking “Americana,” which marked Bandy’s final time inside the top ten. The mid-paced ballad is earnest in its depiction of American pride.

Two more singles were released. “Ashes In The Wind” is a pleasant ballad about a burned-out love affair that died at #47. “I Just Can’t Say No To You” is a string-laced ballad that fared better, hitting #21.

The album stays in a contemporary vein that was popular at the time, for those who weren’t strictly following the new traditionalist movement. I read that Bandy was criticized during this era of his career for straying so far from his roots at a time when his classic style was as popular as ever.

No Regrets doesn’t boast many notable tracks, and the uptempo material is kept to a minimum. The only exception was the piano-heavy title track, a jive, that doesn’t owe much to country music but does have some wonderful licks throughout. “Nobody Gets Off in this Town” was subsequently recorded by Garth Brooks on his debut album a year later. Bandy’s take on the song, which is very reminiscent of something Keith Whitley would’ve recorded, is excellent and worth seeking out. “The Champion” is another strong addition to the long lineage of rodeo songs in the genre, although I found the lyric could’ve been written more sharply.

This album is neither here nor there as a whole. It’s very pleasant to listen to, but there really isn’t anything truly exceptional about it.

Grade: B


Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Classics 3’

Star of the late 70s and early 80s and current Opry favorite John Conlee has released two previous versions of ‘Classics’, mixing new versions of his hits with new material. Most of the hits were covered on the first two sets, so the bulk jof material here is new, with only a few of his later hit singles.

‘Working Man’, originally a top 10 hit in 1985, is a mellow sounding song about ordinary blue-collar lives struggling to make ends meet. The biggest hit was ‘Got My Heart Set On You’, a mid-tempo pop-country tune which reached #1 in 1986, and which was co-written by Dobie Gray, best known for his song ‘Drift Away’. It is a pleasant love song, but not really worthy of reviving, and has a dated sounding brassy arrangement. Guy Clark’s ‘The Carpenter’ is a much better song, and was a top 10 hit for John in January 1987.

‘Living Like There’s No Tomorrow’ was John’s final single for Columbia, but failed to dent the charts, as it had done when Keith Whitley recorded it a few years earlier. That was a shame in both cases, as it is a great classic country heartbreak ballad about regretting walking out (written by Jim McBride and Roger Murrah). The brass on this version is a bit overblown but the vocal is great: I admit to still preferring the Whitley version. ‘Could You Love Me (One More Time)’ was also both a cover (a Stanley Brothers classic) and a less successful single for John, but from earlier in his career (top 30 in 1981). John sings it beautifully here with a nicely understated production.

Other songs will be familiar from other versions. Joey + Rory’s ‘Bible And A Belt’ works really well for John Conlee’s emotional vocal. I also enjoyed a committed cover of Haggard’s ‘Jesus Take A Hold’, but was less enthralled by ‘The Rock’, which was on one of George Jones’s last records, and which has a more bluesy arrangement here.

There are two songs written by Hugh Prestwood. ‘Learning How To Love’ is a graceful piano ballad with a tasteful string arrangement about the long shadow of a difficult childhood and its impact on adult relationship. More controversial is ‘Unborn Voice’, an uncompromising song from the point of view of the unborn child whose mother is evidently contemplating abortion. It’s not subtle, and the production is fiddly, but it moved me.

Sometime I hear music drifting through these walls
And sometimes I hear voices echo down these halls
Sometimes I hear what sounds like hope all twisted up with fear
And sometimes I hear laughter all tangled up with tears…

I sometimes have this dream of love
And sometimes I could swear
That I hear God whisper to me
There’s a place for me out there

I wonder who this judge is
Who is making up her mind
I wonder if her justice
Is maybe just too blind

She has no idea how much we’re just the same
Maybe she will have mercy
Maybe not
I hear it’s beautiful out there and I’d like a shot

‘Lonely Don’t Know When To Leave’ is an excellent sad ballad written by Leslie Satcher. The mid-tempo ‘The Shade’ fondly recalls childhood memories.

It’s always hard to grade albums involving extensive re-workings of older songs, but I mostly enjoyed this set although some cherrypickimg might be advised.

Grade: B+


Single Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘Woman, Amen’

It’s no secret that Dierks Bentley is coming off of his most shamelessly commercial era with Black. The album was his worst performing record to date, launching just two number one hits before it faded into oblivion. You’re forgiven if you didn’t even know the title track and “What The Hell Did I Say” were singles. The latter was his worst performing single since “Bourbon In Kentucky” and marks just the second time he’s peaked outside the Top 30 in fifteen years.

Bentley is attempting to reverse these declining fortunes with “Woman, Amen” the first single from his forthcoming album, The Mountain. The record, he says under his newly-grown scruffy beard, is a hybrid of Up On The Ridge and Black with the roots elements shining through a bit more prominently then he had expected.

“Woman, Amen” is a love song dedicated to his wife Cassidy. While the song works within that context, it hardly says much of anything substantive and relies heavily on repetition to flush out its three-minute runtime. I will give Bentley credit for turning in something more aligned within his wheelhouse, but I’m not feeling the personal elements he’s been stressing when discussing the song. “Something That We Do” or even “Tell Lorrie I Love Her,” this most certainly is not, but it’s also 2018 — that ship has long since sailed.

This first taste of the Up on the Ridge/Black hybrid also isn’t pulling any punches sonically. He may lean into elements of roots, but this is straight up rock and intrusively loud, especially on the chorus, where Bentley has to shout in order to be heard.

Most hope the old Bentley will show up this time around. With “Woman, Amen” he seems to be moving in that direction, but I’m not buying it yet. “Woman, Amen” is certainly different from his more recent fare, but he has a long way to go to truly return to form.

Grade: C+


Album Review: Teea Goans – ‘Swing, Shuffle And Sway’

Continuing our catch-up of some of the great 2017 albums we didn’t get round to reviewing, the fourth album released by modern traditionalist and Opry favourite Teea Goans may be her best yet. Teea has an excellent clear, sweet voice, with strong emotional interpretative skills.

Much of the material consists of covers, but Teea avoids ground which is too well worn. One of the best known songs is a lovely cover of the Don Gibson-penned Ronnie Milsap classic ‘(I’d Be) A Legend In My Time’, which has a stunning vocal and classy arrangement led by steel guitar with some tasteful strings added in. Country standard ‘You Don’t Know Me’ is a perfect fit for Teea.

Teea’s version of the opener ‘Go Down Swingin’’ (originally a minor hit for the all-girl group Wild Rose in 1990) is on the jazzier side of western swing with a bit of scatting thrown in at the start. ‘Steel Guitar Rag’ is an old Bob Wills tune which Tees performs vivaciously.

Previously cut by Ray Price (one of Teea’s primary influences) and Gene Watson, ‘A Way To Survive’ is a great traditional country shuffle, with some lovely fiddle and steel. ‘Heart Over Mind’ is a fine Mel Tllis song which was a hit for him in 1970.

She recruits 90s star Mark Wills as her duet partner on a charmingly playful take on ‘It Ain’t Nothin’’, which completely reinvents the Keith Whitley hit. A mid-tempo Don Williams hit from the 1980s, ‘That’s The Thing About Love’ is more adult contemporary than country, but well sung. ‘Tell Me I’m Crazy’ is a ballad which was recorded in the 90s by both Dawn Sears and Shelby Lynne. Teea’s version has an innocent sweetness belying the desperation of the lyrics.

‘Just Because She Always Has’ is a delicately sung ballad offering a gentle warning to a neglectful but complacent husband that things might be about to change. This beautiful song may be my favorite track.

Churchy piano leads into the confident handclapping gospel of ‘I Know The Lord Will Stand By Me’. In a more contemporary style is the emotional ballad ‘Mercy walked In’.

This is an excellent album which I strongly recommend.

Grade: A+


Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Howard & David’

The Bellamy Brothers released their tenth album in partnership between MCA Nashville and Curb Records in 1985. The record was produced by Emory Gordy Jr and Jimmy Bowen.

David Bellamy solely wrote lead single “Old Hippie,” which is my absolute favorite song the duo has ever released. David’s brilliant character sketch follows an unnamed man staring down forty disenfranchised by the changing times:

He turned thirty-five last Sunday

In his hair he found some gray

But he still ain’t changed his lifestyle

He likes it better the old way

So he grows a little garden in the backyard by the fence

He’s consuming what he’s growing nowadays in self defense

He get’s out there in the twilight zone

Sometimes when it just don’t make no sense


Yeh he gets off on country music

‘Cause disco left him cold

He’s got young friends into new wave

But he’s just too frigging old

And he dreams at night of Woodstock

And the day John Lennon died

How the music made him happy

And the silence made him cry

Yea he thinks of John sometimes

And he has to wonder why


He’s an old hippie

And he don’t know what to do

Should he hang on to the old

Should he grab on to the new

He’s an old hippie

This new life is just a bust

He ain’t trying to change nobody

He’s just trying real hard to adjust


He was sure back in the sixties

That everyone was hip

Then they sent him off to Vietnam

On his senior trip

And they force him to become a man

While he was still a boy

And behind each wave of tragedy

He waited for the joy

Now this world may change around him

But he just can’t change no more

The song peaked at #2. The Bellamy Brothers would revisit this character again, on two subsequent occasions. “Old Hippie (The Sequel)” came ten years later (1995) and updated the story to reveal the guy still felt disenfranchised by society but had softened since marrying and having kids. He would convert to Christianity eleven years later (2007) in “Old Hippie III (Saved),” featured on a gospel-themed project they released.

Another excellent number, “The Single Man and His Wife” is the story of an adulterer who takes advantage of his woman by stepping outside his marriage for loveless companionship with other women. “Everybody’s Somebody’s Darlin’” is also very good, although the production is a bit dated to modern ears.

“I’m Gonna Hurt Her On The Radio” was released that same year by David Allan Coe in the song’s original version. Charley Pride would take it to #13 in 1987 under the title “I’m Gonna Love Her On The Radio” and Shenandoah would release their version in 1989. Keith Whitley’s take on the song surfaced on Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album in 1994. All the versions seem to be about comparable to one another, with little variation. To that end, Howard and David cope with the song extremely well.

The remaining singles, which both peaked at #2, weren’t that great, either. “I’d Lie To You For Your Love” is a very good song that suffers from a horrendous arrangement that hasn’t aged particularly well. “Feelin’ That Feelin’” is lightweight filler.

Howard and David do a subpar job on “Wheels,” the Dave Loggins’ composition Restless Heart would take to #1 in 1987. “Seasons of the Wind” and “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” are also unremarkable. “Jeannie Rae” is at least something different, and decidedly upbeat, but I didn’t care for it at all.

Howard and David is an uneven album with some bright spots along the way. I have a feeling that a number of these tracks would’ve been better had they been treated with more tasteful production in the vein of “Old Hippie” or “The Single Man and His Wife.” This isn’t a bad album at all, but the majority of it feels forgettable after listening to it just once.

Grade: B 


Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘House On Old Lonesome Road’

House On Old Lonesome Road was Conway Twitty’s third album since returning to MCA Nashville after six albums with Warner Bros. The record was released in 1989 and spawned three singles.

The lead radio offering, “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind.” was a forceful Walt Aidridge-penned ballad that peaked at #2. The title track, a ballad reminiscent of “That’s My Job,” hit #19. “Who’s Gonna Know,” another bland ballad, stalled at #51.

Clinton Gregory had a #25 hit with “Play, Ruby, Play,” an excellent mid-paced number co-written by Tony Brown and Troy Seals when he released it in 1992. Twitty’s version provides the album with a much-desired change of pace. “Private Part of My Heart,” another Seals co-write (this time with Max D. Barnes), returns the album to the sounds of mid-1980s country somewhat successfully. “Pieces of You,” which Barnes co-wrote with Skip Ewing, is far and away the record’s most traditional number, with lovely doses of fiddle throughout.

“Too White To Sing The Blues,” co-written by Lacy J. Dalton, is reminiscent of Waylon Jennings. Karen Staley and Gary Harrison co-wrote the jaunty and ear-catching “Take Me Home to Mama,” a nice slice of modern honky-tonk. “Child With Child” is another of the sappy ballads for which Twitty had come to be known for during this period of his career. “Nobody Can Fill Your Shoes” feels a step out of touch and sounds just a couple years out of date.

I’m going to go out on a limb and reveal how truly out of touch I am. Given that House On Old Lonesome Road was released in 1989, at the height of the new-traditionalist movement, I had fully expected an album not unlike what Keith Whitley and Don Williams were turning out at the time. What I got instead was a kaleidoscope of sounds and textures attempting to showcase Twitty in the many different lights for which he found success that decade. There isn’t any truly outstanding number among these 10 tracks, although Gregory had the good sense to revive “Play, Ruby, Play.”

Grade: B


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:


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


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 


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 


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  


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+


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- 


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


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


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, 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.