My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Kenny Loggins

Album Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Today Is Christmas’

today is christmasLeAnn Rimes has often had one foot in country and one in pop, but as she has struggled to find her audience the last few years she has concentrated more on her country roots with the lovely Vince Gill-produced covers album Lady And Gentleman and the personal Spitfire. Unfortunately on her new Christmas album she has reverted to pop and jazz, and while some of it is well done (some isn’t), none of it is country, which is a disappointment for me . Very brassy production overwhelms a rather bizarre selection of material, although I do have to give her some credit for not repeating the same handful of songs which appear on every other Christmas album. It’s just a shame the result does not pay off better. Also featured instrumentally to better (though non-country) effect is the legendary Booker T Jones on B3 organ and Wurlitzer.

Particularly dreadful is ‘Must Be Santa’, a 1960 pop hit which is a noisy mess dominated by a brass section, and whose admittedly silly lyrics LeAnn dashes out so fast it sounds as if the whole track gas been speeded up artificially. The title track, newly penned by LeAnn and her regular collaborator Darrell Brown, is apparently this year’s Christmas theme for NBC’s Today show. It may work in context as a glorified jingle but it’s very irritating as a standalone song, even in a Christmas party setting.

A cover of Kenny Loggins’ seasonal 1970s soft rock hit ‘Celebrate Me Home’, performed as a duet with pop star Gavin De Graw, is inoffensive but exceptionally boring. A second new Rimes/Brown tune, ‘I Still Believe in Santa Claus’ is bearable but bland MOR. LeAnn’s version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ is very well sung, but isn’t one of my favourite Christmas songs.

A perky version of ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ in medley with Frosty The Snowman’ is quite entertaining, with LeAnn showing off her jazz scatting. The brass instruments are jettisoned here. LeAnn recruits R&B star Aloe Blacc as her duet partner on ‘That Spirit Of Christmas’, originally recorded by Ray Charles. This mellow soul tune works very well, and I enjoyed it.

‘We Need A Little Christmas’ is a loungy ballad from Broadway musical Mame, which LeAnn sings very well, backed by a restrained piano and string arrangement. The similar ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ (originally composed for A Charlie Brown Christmas) is good too, with an accomplished and tender vocal and delicate arrangement. I really liked this.

My favorite track is Brandi Carlile’s ‘The Heartache Can Wait’, a beautiful, understated ballad about holding on to a relationship through one last Christmas. LeAnn’s vocal is excellent, bearing favorable comparison with the very best of her work, and is sympathetically backed by a tasteful string arrangement. It feels a bit out of place in the midst of the party atmosphere which dominates on the album, but is outstanding, and would work on a non-Christmas record. I would definitely recommend this track.

Scottish New Years tune ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and a medley of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ and ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ sound lovely aurally, although she takes too many liberties with the melodies, which are unrecognisable in places.

This is a jazzy pop album rather than a country one, so it wasn’t really to my taste as a whole, but there are some tracks I enjoyed.

Grade: B-

Album Review: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy’

ngdb uncle charlieThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band began in the 1960s as a southern California folk rock band. They limited success before temporarily disbanding in 1969. After renegotiating their contract with Liberty Records, they were given more artistic freedom, and the changes were immediately apparent in 1970’s Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy, which saw the band moving in a more country direction.

Country rock bands originating from California were nothing new, but the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band took things a step further by incorporating into their music instruments that were closely associated with bluegrass and country music, and featuring them prominently. While blending of genres is commonplace today, it was quite revolutionary in 1970. The eclectic Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy is equal parts country, bluegrass, folk, and rock. It features both original music and cover versions of other artists’ work, as well as reinterpretations of old folk songs that had long been in the public domain. At times, particularly when the band starts to harmonize, the sound is something akin to the Beach Boys with banjos.

The Uncle Charlie referenced in the album’s title was a relative of producer Bill McEuen’s wife. He was born in Texas in 1886 and performs a brief folk song “Jesse James”, recorded in 1963, on which he plays harmonica and gets his dog Teddy to howl along. He also gives two brief interviews, which are mildly interesting on the first listen.

A number of well known names appear among the songwriting credits: Michael Nesmith of The Monkees wrote the bluegrass-flavored opening number “Some of Shelly’s Blues”, which became a minor pop hit, peaking at #64, and “Propiniquity”, which is one of my favorites on the disc. Kenny Loggins wrote another the album’s singles, the more rock-oriented “House at Pooh’s Corner” which name-drops several of the characters from A.A. Milne’s well loved children’s stories. It reached #53 pop. The album’s biggest hit and the band’s best known song to this day is their cover of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr Bojangles”, which reached #9 on the Hot 100. It didn’t garner enough attention from mainstream country outlets to make the country charts but that may have been due to the way the record and the band in general, were marketed. It certainly sounded country enough, even by 1971 standards, to have fit into the country radio format.

NGDB member Jeff Hanna wrote “Cure”, which is another one of my favorites and songwriter Randy Newman supplied the very nice “Livin’ Without You”. The NGDB members show themselves to be very adept bluegrass musicians, which is somewhat surprising given their West Coast origins. The 2003 reissue of the album includes a grassed-up version of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “What Goes On”, which Beatles aficinados probably hate but I quite liked. I don’t like the rock-oriented numbers quite as much but they didn’t really detract from my overall enjoyment of the album.

In between the country and rock numbers are a number of traditional folk and bluegrass numbers, usually performed instrumentally, which help give the album a “sitting around the living room” feel, and providing the template for the future and better remembered Will The Circle Be Unbroken trilogy, the first volume of which would appear two years later.

Aside from “Mr. Bojangles”, there isn’t a whole lot among the album’s 23 tracks that will be familiar to most modern listeners, but the album is well worth a listen.

Grade: A

Album Review: Clint Black – ‘D’lectrified’

clintblackClint Black’s swan song for RCA was the first album he produced by himself and arguably his most ambitious. As the title suggests, D’lectrified was recorded entirely with acoustic instruments, but rest assured, it is no quiet, stripped-down unplugged affair. By implementing a variety of instruments not usually used in country music — such as the clarinet, various saxophones and percussion, as well as a string section — he achieves a rich, full sound which causes the listener to sometimes forget that no electric instruments were used.

The album is also a departure from Clint’s usual practice of writing or co-writing every song. There is a great deal of cover material here and his choices are quite eclectic — from The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Bob Away My Blues” which opens the album, to Leon Russell’s “Dixie Lullaby” (done as a duet with Bruce Hornsby) and the novelty tune “Ode To the Galaxy”, which is quite likely the first time a major country music star covered Monty Python. A slightly re-worked version of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” appears as a tribute to Waylon Jennings, whose name is substituted for Hank’s in the title and lyrics. None of these tunes are in the vein of what fans had come to expect from Black, but all of them were quite well done.

The rest of the album is more conventional. Clint’s wife Lisa Hartman Black joined him on the sentimental and AC-leaning “When I Said I Do”, which was the album’s first single. I remember cringing upon learning that Clint’s wife would be his duet partner. I was unaware that she had released four unsuccessful pop albums between 1976 and 1987. Though she was no Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton, she was a better vocalist than I’d expected. Radio loved the record, and it quickly rose to #1. It was Lisa’s first chart-topper and Clint’s last. It also reached #31 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album’s second single was “Been There”, on which Clint is joined by his co-writer Steve Wariner. Released in January 2000, it reached #5, becoming the last Top 10 hit of Clint’s career.

The album’s best track by far is “Love She Can’t Live Without”, a Black co-write with Skip Ewing. It should have been a monster hit, but it stalled at #30. I suspect that with Clint’s contract with RCA about to expire, the label did little to promote the record. The album’s weakest cut is “Harmony”, a duet with co-writer Kenny Loggins. A sappy and syrupy affair that plods along for nearly five and a half minutes, it is the album’s sole dud and quite possibly the worst thing Black ever recorded.

The remainder of D’lectrified consists primarily of re-worked versions of some of Clint’s earlier hits, such as “Burn One Down” and “No Time To Kill”. Both were done in a bluesy, jam-session style, which ironically are quite loud for acoustic recordings and Clint seems to be struggling at times to be heard over the arrangements. Neither holds its own against its original hit version; however, an acoustic guitar-led instrumental version of “Something That We Do”, which appears as a hidden track at the end of the album is quite nice.

Unlike all of Clint’s previous albums, D’lectrified failed to attain platinum status, though it did earn gold certification (his last studio album to do so). After the album was released, Black left RCA to found his own label, Equity Music Group, which was meant to introduce a new business model to the music industry by allowing artists to keep a greater share of the profits they generated. The experiment did not succeed, and neither did any of Clint’s recordings for the fledgling label. D’lectrified, his last truly successful album, was an adventurous project and is worth seeking out.

Grade: A