My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Keith Whitley

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

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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)

 

Spotlight Artist: Earl Thomas Conley

Born in October 1941, Earl Thomas Conley is the quintessence of the term “late bloomer” as far as becoming a country music star. Although he had some very modest chart success starting in 1975 with GRT Records and again with Warner Brothers in 1979, it wasn’t until Conley reached independent label Sunbird in late 1980, that Earl (or ETC as he was often called) began to achieve real success as a recording artist. By then, he was thirty-nine years old.

Earl Thomas Conley was the oldest and most successful of the triumvirate of somewhat similarly named country artist of the 1980s (the others were Con Hunley and John Conlee), each of whom had very distinctive voices. Earl had an extended run of success, both as a recording artist and as a songwriter. Between 1980 and 2003, he recorded ten studio albums, including seven for RCA. During this same period he charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard country charts, with 18 reaching #1.

Earl was raised in a working class family that had a love for music and the arts, and painting – which he started when he was 10 – was Earl’s first love. At age 14, Earl’s father lost his job with the railroad and Earl went to live with an older sister in Dayton, Ohio, where he continued to paint and develop his skills as an artist. While painting was his first love, Earl’s father had introduced him to music and Earl began to be more aware of it as an influence in his life.

After graduating high school, Earl decided against college, joining the Army instead. While in the Army, Earl became a member a Christian-influenced trio, where his musical talent and vocal ability were first placed on public display. At some point Earl decided that performing might not be a bad way to make a living. Accordingly, he delved more deeply into the classic country sounds of artists such as Merle Haggard and George Jones. During this period Earl first tried his hand at songwriting. In 1968, after his discharge from the Army, Earl began commuting from Dayton to Nashville.

With nothing happening for him in Nashville (and tired of back and forth commuting), Earl moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to be 150 miles closer to the recording industry. While in Nashville on a song-plugging visit in 1973, Earl met Dick Herd, who produced the great Mel Street. This meeting eventually led to the Conley-Herd collaboration on the song “Smokey Mountain Memories”, which Street took into the top 10 in early 1975.

Prior to Street’s recording Earl had moved to Nashville, where he met record producer Nelson Larkin, who signed Earl to his publishing house and helped sign him with independent label GRT in 1974. Larkin placed one of Earl’s songs with his brother Billy Larkin, “Leave It Up to Me”, which Larkin took to #22 in late 1975. Nelson Larkin would produce Earl’s sessions through the end of the 1980s.

GRT released four of Earl’s singles without much success. Meanwhile, Earl placed “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” with Conway Twitty, who took it all the way to the top in 1975, giving Earl his first #1 record as a songwriter.

On the strength of his successful songwriting, Warner Brothers signed Earl to a recording contract. Unfortunately, the three singles Warner Brothers issued in 1979 on ‘Earl Conley’ failed to achieve much traction.

After his stint at Warner Brothers was over, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with producer Nelson Larkin. “Fire & Smoke,” released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40.

The success of “Fire and Smoke” caused RCA to pick up Earl’s contract and purchase the rights to Earl’s Sunbird recordings for release on RCA. Ultimately RCA became his home for the next decade during which time the following songs reached #1:

•“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”
•“Your Love’s On The Line”
•“Holding Her and Loving You”
•“Don’t Make It Easy For Me”
•“Angel In Disguise”
•“Chance of Loving You”
•“Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart it Breaks)”
•“Nobody Fall s Like A Fool”
•“Once In A Blue Moon”
•“I Have Loved You Girl”
•“I Can’t Win For Losing You”
•“That Was A Close One”
•“Right From The Start”
•“What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)”
•“We Believe In Happy Endings” (w/Emmylou Harris)
•“What I’d Say”
•“Love Out Loud”

While Earl Thomas Conley tended to regard himself as a straight country artist, his rather smoky voice helped gain him acceptance across the board. Earl appeared on the television show Soul Train in 1986, and to the best of my knowledge he is the only country artist to be so featured.

Chart success basically ran out for Earl at the end of the 1980s although there were some decent chart hits through 1992, including the 1991 recording of “Brotherly Love” a duet with Keith Whitley released after Keith’s death.

Since then, Earl has continued to tour occasionally and write songs but has done relatively little recording, with a seven year recording hiatus 1991-1997. This hiatus was due to a number of factors, including vocal problems, disenchantment with record label politics, road fatigue and mental burnout. Earl finally emerged with another album in 1998, Perpetual Emotion, aided and abetted by long-time friends Randy Scruggs and Curly Corwin. His last albums were Should Have Been Over By Now, released in 2003, and Live at Billy Bob’s, released in 2005.

Earl is now 76 years old and no longer maintains a website, although he does maintain a Facebook page. Earl retired from performing about a year ago.

Various artists continue to record his songs, and Blake Shelton released Earl’s “All Over Me” as a single in 2002. Earl has always eschewed fads, not becoming a ‘hat act’ during the late 1980s and continuing to write thoughtful, non-gimmicky songs.

The digital age has seen much of Earl’s recorded legacy restored to the catalogue, so finding his songs should not be difficult. We hope you enjoy discovering (or rediscovering) the music of our very distinctive Spotlight vocalist Earl Thomas Conley.

Album Review: Tim Culpepper – ‘DUI (Drinkin’ Under The Influence)’

I loved Mississippi-born, Alabama-raised Tim Culpepper’s solidly traditional Pourin’ Whiskey On Pain half a dozen years ago, and I was delighted to see he had released a follow-up. This is real country music, sung by a man with a great classic country baritone. The prodiction is solid with fiddle, steel guitar and honky on piano. He wrote most of the songs with his wife Jeanette Marie.

The opener ‘Drove Her Away’ is a regretful look at a relationship killed by the man’s poor choices. ‘Another Way To Try’ is a slow ballad about drinking to soothe the pain of a woman leaving.

‘She Only Loves Me’ is about being the lady’s fallback option when no one else is available.

The best song is the almost-title track, ‘Under The Influence’. This is a wonderful tribute to classic country music:

I love to hear some Haggard
Lord he sounds so good with beer
When that jukebox plays some Jones and Strait
You can always find me here
So put on Whitley’s stuff
I’ll slide my barstool up
And you can pour me a shot that’s strong
Cause I’m under the influence of hardcore country songs

I wanna hear a crying steel guitar
A fiddle and a five piece band
Give me an ice cold brew
Three chords and the truth
About the workin’ and the common man
I’m hooked on tradition
Inebriated by the honky tonks
And I’m under the influence of hardcore country songs

They didn’t sell their soul for fire and smoke just to be superstars
That’s why I love those legends
They stayed true to who they are
So crank up Hank and turn up Vern
Put on Gene and drink along
Cause I’m under the influence of hardcore country songs

There is a cameo appearance by fellow traditionalist Ken Mellons. Fabulous.

The power of music is also a central element to ‘Thirsty’ (which Tim and his wife wrote with Jacob Bryant), where the protagonist takes refuges from a hot day and missing his loved one in a bar room with a jukebox, with Keith Whitley the final resort. Another great song.

In another song Tim personifies the ‘Sad Ole Country Song’, “a reminder of love gone wrong”.

Tim recounts his life in music with a mixture of fondness and wry regret for his lack of stardom, all inspired by ‘Daddy’s Old Guitar’, while he would

Sing my songs to empty barstools for hardly any pay
But I sing them anyway

The final song (a cowrite with Jeff “Hoot” Gibson) addresses the state of both the USA and country music in ‘Take Back Our Country Again’

Jesus and Jack Daniels are in high demand
Politicians try to sell us on their progressive plans

They force feed us music on our radio
Killin’ tradition down on Music Row
While they’re gaining ground we’re losing control
Bring on the fiddle, a little misery and gin
And let’s take back our country again

There is some particularly lovely fiddle on this track.

My only regrets about this record are that there are only eight tracks and hat it’s been so long in the making.

Grade: A

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