My Kind of Country

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

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Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘Wildfire’

Unlike Robert Mizzell, with whom I had some familiarity, Lisa McHugh was totally unknown to me. Wildfire is her third studio album, released in September 2015 on the Sharpe label. Because my purchase was via digital download, the album came with no information beyond the song titles and timings.

Like most country albums from outside the USA, there are a large number of covers of US hits, but why not? Many of the songs are new to their target audiences and those that aren’t new are crowd favorites.

I am surprised that neither of the two earlier reviews mentioned how similar in tone and timbre Ms. McHugh’s voice is to Dolly Parton, especially on certain songs. Obviously, Lisa does not have Dolly’s East Tennessee accent.

The album opens with “Mean”, a Taylor Swift composition. McHugh’s version has a very bluegrass feel to it with banjo and fiddle dominating the mix with some mandolin thrown in. McHugh is very much a superior vocalist to Swift, so I actually enjoyed the song.

Someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

“Bring On the Good Times” is an upbeat, uptempo song with a sing-along quality to it. I’m not entirely sure about the instrumentation but there are portions with either a subdued brass section, or else synthesizers mimicking brass. This song has a 1990s country feel to it, and appears to have become a line dancing favorite.

Next up is “Never Alone”, a piano oriented slow ballad that is a cover of a 2007 Jim Brickman single that featured Lady Antebellum:

May your tears come from laughing
You find friends worth having
With every year passing
They mean more than gold
May you win but stay humble
Smile more than grumble
And know when you stumble
You’re never alone

“57′ Chevrolet” is one of the better known songs of the late great Billie Jo Spears, an artist who was underappreciated in her native USA but was venerated in the UK and Ireland. This is a very nice update of Billie Jo’s 1978 classic, a song numerous Irish artists have covered.

Come and look at this old faded photograph.
Honey, tell me what it brings to mind.
It’s a picture of that ’57 Chevrolet.
I wish that we could ride it one more time.

I still get excited when I think about,
The drive-in picture shows you took me to.
But I don’t recall a lot about the movie stars:
Mostly that old Chevrolet and you

[chorus]
They don’t make cars like they used to.
I wish we still had it today.
The love we first tasted,
The good love we’re still living:

We owe it to that old ’57 Chevrolet.
Remember when we used to park it in the lane,
And listen to the country radio?
We’d hold on to each other while the singer sang,
And we’d stay like that ’til it was time to go

“Wrong Night” was written by Josh Leo and Rick Bowles and was a 1999 single for Reba McEntire. The song reached #6 for Reba:

Suddenly I heard love songs.
Playing real soft on the jukebox.
Somebody ordered up moonlight.
And painted stars all across the sky.
Is it gravity or destiny.
Either way there’s nothing I can do.
Looks like I picked the wrong night.
Not to fall in love with you.

Lisa’s vocal resemblance to Dolly is very pronounced on both “Wrong Night” and the next song “Blue Smoke”, a Dolly Parton song from 2012. This song is given the full bluegrass treatment. I very much like this track.

Blue smoke climbin’ up the mountain
Blue smoke windin’ round the bend
Blue smoke is the name of the heartbreak train
That I am ridin’ in

“Dance With the One” was written by Sam Hogin and Gretchen Peters and featured on Shania Twain’s first major label release for Mercury back in 1993 (before Mutt Lange). When I first heard the song, I thought it would be Shania’s breakthrough song – it wasn’t topping out at #55. Lisa does a nice job with the song.

Well he shines like a penny in a little kid’s hand
When he’s out on a Saturday night
He’s a real go-getter and the best two-stepper you’ll see
But when I’m sittin’ alone at a table for two
Cause he’s already out on the floor
I think about somethin’ that my mama used to say to me

You got to dance with the one that brought you
Stay with the one that want’s you
The one who’s gonna love you when all of the others go home
Don’t let the green grass fool you
Don’t let the moon get to you
Dance with the one that brought you and you can’t go wrong

“Favourite Boyfriend of the Year” comes from the song-bag of the McClymonts, a very attractive Australian sister trio. The McClymont version was a little sassier than McHugh’s version, but she does a fine job with this up-tempo romp. I would have liked Lisa’s voice to be a little more up front in the mix. Again, this sounds like 1990s country to my ears.

I’m a little fussy
But I got a little lucky
When the boss from the corner store
He took me out to dinner
And the waiter was a winner
And the boss he was out the door
You’re the one who’s caught my eye
This could be something worth your while

Hey it’s not a waste of time
You’re maybe one of many but you will never
Be the last in line
Hey I’m really glad you’re here cuz you’re one
Of my favourite boyfriends of the year

Nathan Carter (the next artist up in our spotlight) is featured on “You Can’t Make Old Friends”, a quiet ballad that was a Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton duet back in 2013. While Lisa sounds a lot like Dolly, Nathan does not remind me of Kenny Rogers, although he is a fine singer. Anyway the voices blend nicely.

What will I do when you are gone?
Who’s gonna tell me the truth?
Who’s gonna finish the stories I start
The way you always do?

When somebody knocks at the door
Someone new walks in
I will smile and shake their hands,
But you can’t make old friends

You can’t make old friends
Can’t make old friends
It was me and you, since way back when
But you can’t make old friends

Carly Pearce currently has a song on the radio titled “Every Little Thing” but this is NOT that song. The song Lisa McHugh tackles here is the up-tempo #3 Carlene Carter hit from 1993. Lisa’s voice does not have the power of Carlene’s voice (the daughter of country legends June Carter and Carl Smith should have very substantial pipes) but she does an effective job with the song:

I hear songs on the radio
They might be fast or they might be slow
But every song they play’s got me thinkin’ ’bout you
I see a fella walkin’ down the street
He looks at me and he smiles real sweet
But he don’t matter to me
‘Cause I’m thinkin’ ’bout you

Every little dream I dream about you
Every little thought I think about you
Drives me crazy when you go away
I oughta keep you locked up at home
And like a wild horse I want to break you
I love you so much I hate you
Every little thing reminds me of you
Honey when you leave me here all alone

“The Banks of the Ohio” is an old warhorse, a murder ballad that has been covered by everyone from Ernest Stoneman, The Monroe Brothers and Charley Pride to Olivia Newton-John. Lisa gives this song a very slow folk-Celtic treatment after a spoken narrative. It is very nice and does not sound very similar to any other version I recall hearing.

Lisa gives “Livin’ In These Troubled Times” a Celtic/bluegrass touch with accordion, mandolin taking it at a somewhat faster clip than Crystal Gayle did in her 1983 top ten recording of this song, written by Sam Hogin, Roger Cook and Philip Donnelly. It’s probably heresy to say I like Lisa’s version better than the original, but in fact I do.

It takes all the faith that’s in you
Takes your heart and it takes mine
It takes love to be forgiven
Living in these troubled times

When it rains on the range
And it snows in the Spring
You’re reminded again
It’s just a march of the dying
Living in these troubled times

When I saw the song list for the album, I wondered whether this was the Michael Martin Murphey classic about a horse or the Mac Wiseman bluegrass romp or even possibly the Demi Lovato song from a few years back. As it turns out this “Wildfire” is an entirely different song, by someone named John Mayer. It’s taken at a very fast tempo and given a quasi-bluegrass arrangement.

Don’t get up just to get another
You can drink from mine
We can’t leave each other
We can dance with the dead
You can rest your head
On my shoulder if you want to
Get older with me
‘Cause a little bit of summer makes a lot of history

And you look fine, fine, fine
Put your feet up next to mine
We can watch that water line
Get higher and higher
Say, say, say
Ain’t it been some kind of day
You and me been catchin’ on
Like a wildfire

I got a rock from the river in my medicine bag
Magpie feather in his medicine bag

Say, say, say
Ain’t it been some kind of day
You and me been catchin’ on
Like a wildfire

“Thinking Out Loud” comes from the pen of Ed Sheeran. I don’t know anything about Sheeran (or John Mayer, for that matter) except that my stepson says both are good singers. This is a nice song, a slow ballad nicely sung but I don’t like the instrumentation which strikes me as smooth jazz or cocktail lounge R&B

When your legs don’t work like they used to before
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet
Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love
Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks
And darling I will be loving you ’til we’re 70
And baby my heart could still fall as hard at 23
And I’m thinking ’bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways
Maybe just the touch of a hand
Oh me I fall in love with you every single day
And I just wanna tell you I am

So honey now
Take me into your loving arms
Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars
Place your head on my beating heart
I’m thinking out loud
Maybe we found love right where we are

I’m not a huge Dolly Parton fan so I thought that I would find Lisa’s vocal resemblance to Dolly Parton off putting. I should note that the Parton resemblance only shows up on some songs – on other songs she reminds me of Liz Anderson (mother of Lynn Anderson and a fine songwriter). I’ve listened to this album constantly for the last two days and find that I really like it. With the exception of the last song, the instrumentation is solidly country and while the focus is on faster songs, Lisa varies the tempos sufficiently to keep it interesting and sticks within her vocal range.

With the possible exception of “Bring On the Good Times” for which I could not find any information, all of the songs are covers of earlier recordings. That does not bother me in the least as I’ve always preferred a cover of a great song, than a recording of an unworthy new song.

I’d give this album an “A” – with a better arrangement on the the last song, I’d be tempted to give it an “A+”

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Week ending 9/16/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On — Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun)

1957 (Disc Jockeys) (tie): Fraulein — Bobby Helms (Decca)
My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You — Ray Price (Columbia)

1967: My Elusive Dreams — David Houston & Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1977Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1987: Make No Mistake, She’s Mine — Kenny Rogers & Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1997: She’s Got It All — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2007: More Than a Memory — Garth Brooks (Big Machine/Pearl)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Small Town Boy — Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow)

Album Revew: Janie Fricke – ‘Sleeping With Your Memory’

1981 saw a change of producer for Janie, with Jim Ed Norman taking up the reins from Billy Sherrill for Sleeping With Your Memory. The result was incrased success for her on radio and with the industry – Janie would be named the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1982.

The lead single was ‘Do Me With Love’, written by John Schweers. A bright perky slice of pop-country, this rather charming song (featuring Ricky Skaggs on backing vocals although he is not very audible) was a well-deserved hit, peaking at #4. Its successor, ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby’, was Janie’s first chart topper. It was written by fellow country starlet Deborah Allen with rocker Bruce Channel and Kieran Kane (later half of the O’Kanes). It’s quite a well written song, but the pop-leaning production has dated quite badly, and Janie’s vocals sound like something from musical theater.

Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’ is given a folk-pop-country arrangement which is quite engaging (Ricky Skaggs multi-tasks on this song, contributing fiddle, mandolin and banjo as well as backing vocals), but I’m not quite sure I entirely buy Janie as the folk troubadour of the narrative. The Gibb brothers (the Bee Gees) had some impact on country music by dint of writing songs like ‘Islands In The Stream’ for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, and their ‘Love Me’ is a very nice mid-paced ballad.

Janie sings Larry Gatlin’s sensitive ballad ‘The Heart’ beautifully; Larry and one of his brothers add backing vocals. The arrangement is swathed with strings, and the overall effect is fairly Adult Contemporary in style, but the track is a fine showcase for Janie’s lovely voice. The wistful ballads ‘Always’ and ‘If You Could See Me Now’ are also impeccably sung. The title track is a downbeat ballad about coping with a breakup, and is quite good, though not very country.

‘There’s No Future In The Past’, written by Chick Rains, is a very strong ballad about starting to move on, which I liked a lot despite the early 80s string arrangement. The closing ‘Midnight Words’ is fairly forgettable.

While this is not the more traditional side of country with heavy use of strings and electronic keyboards, it is a good example of its kind with some decent song choices, and Janie was starting to find her own voice.

Grade: B

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Expressions’

Don Williams released his eighth album, Expressions, in August 1978. He co-produced the album, once again, with Garth Fundis.

Expressions contains three of Williams’ most iconic singles. “Tulsa Time,” written by Danny Flowers, is a honky-tonk barnburner that took Williams out of his signature sound with ease and sophistication. He was back in his comfort zone for the beautiful self-penned “Lay Down Beside Me,” one of his most beloved ballads. The final single, Bob McDill’s “It Must Be Love” was another gorgeous uptempo number. “Tulsa Time” and “It Must Be Love” hit #1 while “Lay Down Beside Me” peaked at #3.

The singles each have versions by other artists. Eric Clapton and Pistol Annies both have versions of “Tulsa Time” and Alan Jackson brought “It Must Be Love” back to #1 in 2000. Kenny Rogers lent his voice to “Lay Down Beside Me,” as did Alison Krauss, in an ill-advised duet with rock singer John Waite.

“I Would Like to See You Again” is a lovely mid-tempo ballad accented beautifully with gentle mandolin flourishes. “You’ve Got a Hold on Me,” about a love gone by, is an AC-leaning mid-tempo number with nice accents of steel.

“Tears of the Lonely” is a lush ballad with striking piano and ear-catching percussion. “All I’m Missing Is You” picks up the tempo nicely and tells the story of a guy who does the things he used to do with an old love, missing her all-the-while. “Give It to Me” is a nice, lush song about love. He showcases his exceptional talents as a vocalist on the masterful “When I’m With You,” one of the strongest of the album’s ten songs.

Expressions captures a master at the height of their prowess when the artistic and the commercial are in near perfect balance. He also won his only industry awards as a result of this album – CMA Male Vocalist of the Year (1978) and ACM Single Record of the Year (“Tulsa Time,” 1979).

Expressions is as close to a flawless album as I’ve ever heard, from an artist who has never hit a sour note in his career. It’s just an exceptional record through and through.

Grade: A+

Week ending 4/15/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): There You Go/Train of Love — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1967: Lonely Again — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1977: Lucille — Kenny Rogers (United Artists)

1987: You’ve Got the Touch — Alabama (RCA)

1997: Rumor Has It — Clay Walker (Giant)

2007: Last Dollar (Fly Away) — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Fast — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Somewhere In The Night’

When discussing country music released in the late 1980s, it’s almost customary to frame it within the context of the new traditionalist movement. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that not every artist releasing albums at that time adhered to the sound ushered in by Randy Travis on Storms of Life. Acts like Alabama, K.T. Oslin, Rosanne Cash and others were sticking with the pop-country sound that had dominated the better part of the decade. These artists were not only going against the trend, they were dominating at radio alongside everyone else.

You can easily add Sawyer Brown to this category, as well. Their fourth album, Somewhere In The Night, arrived in May 1987 under the direction of Ron Chancey. He had taken over for Randy Scruggs who wouldn’t produce a Sawyer Brown album until The Boys Are Back, two years later. Many know Chancey’s son Blake from his notable production work with David Ball, Dixie Chicks, Montgomery Gentry and Gretchen Wilson in the 1990s-2000s.

Sawyer Brown wasn’t exactly dominating at this point in their career. When Somewhere In The Night was released, the band was on a streak of six consecutive singles missing the top 10. Their most recent, “Savin’ The Honey for the Honeymoon” has petered out at #58. They needed a reverse in fortunes, and while this wasn’t the album to get them there, it did give them a slight reprieve with radio.

The title track, co-written by Don Cook and Rafe VanHoy, had originally appeared on the Oak Ridge Boys classic Fancy Free six years earlier. Sawyer Brown’s version retains a 1980s sheen, complete with dated harmonies and synth piano, but is otherwise an excellent and restrained ballad. The track peaked at #29.

The album’s biggest success came when second single “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine” peaked at #2. The ballad, co-written by Mike Geiger and Woody Mullis, is a wonderful example of the other side of late 1980s country music. While it might sound a bit dated today, the production is nicely restrained with Chancey framing their harmonies beautifully.

Kix Brooks, Kenneth Beal, and Bill McClelland are responsible for the album’s final single, “Old Photographs,” which stalled at #27. The lush ballad isn’t a strong one, a bit of filler that never would’ve made it as a single in any other era.

“In This Town,” co-written by Tom Shapiro and Michael Garvin, would’ve made a fantastic choice for a single, and probably would’ve sailed up the charts behind “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine.” Everything about the ballad is on point, from the melody to the harmonies.

Somewhere In The Night contains its share of uptempo material, so it’s curious why the label didn’t see fit to break the ballad fatigue with one of these tracks. Two such songs were solely penned by Dennis Linde. “Dr. Rock N. Roll” is a slice of catchy slick pop while “Lola’s Love” is a nice dose of country-rock. The latter is the better song, and as a single for Ricky Van Shelton from his 1994 album Love and Honor, it peaked at #62. Linde also wrote “Still Life In Blue,” a mid-tempo ballad with dated accents of synth-pop.

The percussion-heavy “Little Red Caboose” was written by Steve Gibson and Dave Loggins and recorded by Lee Greenwood on his 1985 release, Love Will Find Its Way To You. The results are catchy and brimming with personality.

“Still Hold On” was originally released by its co-writer Kim Carnes in 1981 and Kenny Rogers in 1985. The ballad soars, thanks to Mark Miller’s vocal, which is an outstanding example of pathos that hints at the gravitas he would bring to the band’s 1990s hits “All These Years” and “Treat Her Right.”

The final track, “A Mighty Big Broom” was written solely by Miller. It’s the album’s most adventurous track, with a rock-leaning arrangement and a silly lyric.

When approaching Somewhere In The Night, I fully expected not to be able to pick out the Sawyer Brown I know from this set of songs. I came to the band like all my country music, in 1996, long after “The Walk” had revolutionized their sound and grounded them with depth and substance. So I was surprised I could hear subtle hints of what the band would eventually become, on this album. It’s a stellar project through and through, with a nice batch of above average material.

Grade: A

Week ending 4/8/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): There You Go/Train of Love — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1967: Walk Through This World With Me — George Jones (Musicor)

1977: Lucille — Kenny Rogers (United Artists)

1987: Ocean Front Property — George Strait (MCA)

1997: (This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing — Trace Adkins (Capitol)

2007: Beer In Mexico — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Dirt On My Boots — Jon Pardi (Capitol)

Album Review: Lonestar – ‘Lonely Grill’

41mmbvjspklFor their third outing, Lonestar joined forces with a new production team consisting of Dann Huff, Sam Ramage and Bob Wright. The result was a slicker and more pop-oriented sound and the best-selling album of the band’s career with more than three million units sold in the United States alone.

The lead single was the beat-driven, lyrically light party song “Saturday Night”, with a chorus consisting of song’s title being spelled out repetitively. Such a terrible song would be a monster hit today, but in the pre-bro country era, radio wasn’t impressed and it died at #47. I had never heard it before and did not even know it had been a single.

“Saturday Night” may have underperformed, but the album’s subsequent singles all rose to #1. The best-remembered of these is “Amazed”, the band’s signature tune which was also a huge crossover hit, reaching #1 on the Hot 100 — marking the first time a country act occupied that slot since Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton scored a #1 pop hit with “Islands in the Stream” in 1983. “Smile”, “What About Now” and “Tell Her” were the remaining singles. All of them rank among Lonestar’s best loved hits, and deservedly so. These songs solidified Lonestar’s position as one of the era’s most successful — perhaps THE most successful — country bands. The upbeat “What About Now” is a nice change of pace from the ballads. “Smile” and “Tell Her” are a little more AC-leaning than I would like, but both are decent songs.

The album cuts are a little more of a mixed bag. I enjoyed the reggae-flavored Don Henry-Benmont Tench number “Don’t Let’s Talk About Lisa” and “I’ve Gotta Find You”, written by Richie McDonald with Ron Harbin and Marty Dodson. None of the other tracks are particularly memorable, with the exception of the closing number which is an acoustic remake of Lonestar’s earlier hit “Everything’s Changed”, which proves that a gifted vocalist and a good song can shine without the aid of glossy production.

Lonely Grill is a must-have for diehard Lonestar fans, but more casual listeners will probably be just as happy with their Greatest Hits package.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Kenny Rogers and Lee Ann Womack – ‘Every Time Two Fools Collide’

The song starts a couple of minutes in:

Classic Rewind: Dottie West – ‘Every Word I Write’

Week ending 5/28/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

Kenny-Rogers-19821956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Heartbreak Hotel — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1966: Distant Drums — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1976: After All the Good is Gone — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1986: Tomb of the Unknown Love — Kenny Rogers (RCA)

1996: My Maria — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2006: Why — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Somewhere on a Beach — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

Week ending 1/16/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

faith_hill_2010_01956 (Sales): Sixteen Tons — Tennessee Ernie Ford (Capitol)

1956 (Jukebox): Sixteen Tons — Tennessee Ernie Ford (Capitol)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): <Love, Love, Love — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1966: Giddyup Go — Red Sovine (Starday)

1976: Convoy — C.W. McCall (MGM)

1986: Morning Desire — Kenny Rogers (RCA)

1996: It Matters to Me — Faith Hill (Warner Bros.)

2006: She Let Herself Go — George Strait (MCA)

2016: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2016 (Airplay): Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Week ending 8/29/15: # singles this week in country music history

do-not-reuse-glen-campbell-1970-bb35-billboard-650-21955 (Sales): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Yes, Mr. Peters — Roy Drusky & Priscilla Mitchell (Mercury)

1975: Rhinestone Cowboy — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1985: Real Love — Dolly Parton with Kenny Rogers (RCA)

1995: You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: House Party — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Loving You Easy — Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground/BLMG/Republic)

Album Review: Dale Ann Bradley – ‘Pocket Full Of Keys’

pocket full of keysDale Ann Bradley’s exquisite, crystalline voice has led to her winning the IBMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year title no less than five times. She may not be as well known among country fans as Alison Krauss or Rhonda Vincent, but she certainly deserves to be. For the first time she has produced her own album, and the result is the best record she has ever made. She draws largely on her deprived childhood in a rural part of Kentucky lacking safe electricity and running water

Although it sounds as if it might be an ancient Appalachian folk tune, ‘The Stranger’ is a song Dolly Parton wrote for Kenny Rogers. It tells the tragic tale of an abandoned pregnant woman whose lover returns far too late, only to be rejected by the grown child. Dale Ann sings it beautifully.

The delicate and metaphorical title track (a self-penned number) is about discovering one’s true self and strength in adversity. Jim Lauderdale comes on board as duet partner on ‘Hard Lesson Road’, which looks back at the experiences one learns painfully from, with some lovely fiddle

‘Rachel, Pack Your Sunday Clothes’ is a somber message urging an absent child to be reconciled while her father is still alive. The emotive story song ‘Soldiers, Lovers And Dreamers’ is about idealistic young love derailed by harsh reality.

‘Sweet Hour Of Prayer’ is a heavenly ballad, while ‘I’ll Live On Somewhere’ is a bluegrass gospel quartetled by Dale Ann.

The traditional ‘Sweetheart Of The Pines’ is classic high lonesome at its best, while there is a lovely version of the country classic ‘I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again’, which is a highlight. ‘Til I Hear it From You’ is a cover of a 90s rock song; Dale Ann’s exquisite voice remakes the song in her own image, but it is still one of my less favourite tracks.

The pacier material is a bit less memorable and showcases Dale Ann’s extraordinarily beautiful voice less well, but songs like ‘Ain’t It Funny’, a philosophical acceptance of the end of a love affair, and ‘Talking To The Moon’ are still solid fare.

This is an outstanding bluegrass album which should have equal appeal to fans of acoustic country.

Grade: A

My reissues wish list – part 1: Kapp, Mercury and Plantation/Sun

portergibson

roger millerIt should be no surprise to anyone that my tastes in country music run very traditional. While much of the music of the “New Traditionalists” movement of 1986-1999 remains available, as it should since it was digitally recorded, the music of the “Old Traditionalists (roughly 1925-1975) is another story.

When radio converted to digital starting in 1986, most radio stations, particularly FM stations, refused to play anything that was not on compact disc. As a result, a country oldie to these stations meant Alabama, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap and Kenny Rogers (artists whose back catalogue made it to digital formats) while the likes of such superstars as Charley Pride, Sonny James, Ray Price, Carl Smith, Ernest Tubb and Webb Pierce were lost to posterity.

Over time, the older country music began to be available, although often the availability was that of a four plus discs sets from Bear Family that was decidedly overkill for all but the most diehard fans. I am not knocking Bear, which in recent years has begun to issue some single disc collections. The Bear sets are as good as humanly imaginable, terrific sound, fabulous books and many of the discs have 85-87 minutes of music. They are great, but they run $22-$25 per disc.

Eventually more reissue labels emerged, mostly in Europe where the copyright laws had copyright protection lapse after fifty years. This changed recently to 70 years resulting in slowdown in reissues. I think recordings made in 1963 or later have the new 70 year copyright protection.

American record labels started to mine their back catalogues after 1991, but generally only for their biggest stars. A number of decent box sets have been issued, but again, only on the biggest stars.

Enough with my complaining – let’s start with a couple of relatively minor labels, in the first of a new series.

KAPP RECORDS

Kapp was a minor label that was eventually purchased by MCA. The biggest star on the label was pop balladeer Jack Jones, truly a fine singer. In the world of country music it was more of a launching pad for new artists and a resting place for over-the-hill singers.

Bobby Helms (“My Special Angel” & “Fraulein“) was on the label after his pop success waned. One could put together a nice CD of his Kapp recordings.

After many years of knocking about, Freddie Hart landed on Kapp. While I regard Freddie’s Kapp material as his best, he really had no big hits. Eventually Hart landed at Capital where “Easy Loving” made him an ‘overnight’ star. Kapp issued six albums on Freddie Hart, plus a hits collection. The six studio albums probably could fit on a nice two CD set

Mel Tillis released nine albums (plus two hit collections) while on Kapp. It’s not his best material but there were some classic songs (“Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town” / “Something Special” / “All Right (I’ll Sign The Papers)” / “Who’s Julie” / “Goodbye Wheeling” / “Life Turned Her That Way” / “Stateside“/ “Heart Over Mind“) that were as good as anything he ever recorded elsewhere, A nice set with about sixty songs would suffice.

Ernest Tubb was sure that Cal Smith would be a star someday. Someday was about six years later. Meanwhile Kapp released seven albums plus a hits collection on Cal. One of Cal’s Kapp hits (“Drinking Champagne” would be a big hit for George Strait many years later. After a long wait, a decent collection of Cal’s MCA/Decca hit eventually emerged but none of his Kapp classics are available. Cal had some really good songs including “Drinking Champagne”, “You Can’t Housebreak A Tomcat“, “Destination Atlanta G.A“, and “Heaven Is Just A Touch Away“.

MERCURY RECORDS

Foreign labels have done a good job of getting Jerry Lee Lewis and Tom T. Hall back into circulation, but Dave Dudley and Roy Drusky have been badly neglected. Mercury had an additional label, Smash, but artists occasionally moved from Smash to Mercury in midstream.

Mercury released eighteen albums plus three hits collections on Dave Dudley and all we have available is one stinking CD collection with twelve songs on it, two of the tracks being remakes of “Six Days On The Road” and “Cowboy Boots”. Dave had thirty-one chart hits for Mercury. C’mon, if nothing else a nice two CD set with the thirty-one chart hits plus some key album cuts. The King of The Truckers deserves no less – so beloved by truck drivers was Dave that the Teamsters Union gave Dave a gold union membership card.

Roy Drusky was a smooth voiced balladeer who had over forty chart records, eight with Decca and thirty two with Mercury. Same comment applies to Ray as applies to Dave Dudley – a nice two disc set is needed.

Roger Miller may have been the most talented performer to ever record in the country music genre. Roger barely even need a guitar to keep folks entertained. Back in 1991 & 1992 Polygram (the label that purchased Mercury ) issued a pair of two twenty song CDs, one featuring songs Roger wrote that were hits for other artist and the other featuring Roger’s hits. Eventually a modest boxed set was issued, but those are long out of print. Although they were good efforts, Roger’s albums deserve to be reissued intact.

PLANTATION/SUN INTERNATIONAL

During the late 1960s – early 1970s, Plantation became kind of an old folks’ home for country artists on the way down. Many a fading star re-recorded their greatest hits for label owner Shelby Singleton. For many of these older artists, it was the only way for them to keep their music available for their fans. Webb Pierce, Jimmie Davis, Jimmy C. Newman, Hank Locklin, Charlie Walker, Kitty Wells, Dave Dudley and Roy Drusky were among the artists that had twenty song cassettes issued, and for some artists, there was some new material recorded. I don’t think Plantation has much more than thirty or so songs recorded for these veteran artists (except Webb Pierce), so they should just take everything they have on a given artist and issue a CD. True, the original recording were better but all of these recordings were at least decent.

I do not pretend that this is an exhaustive list as there are many more artists whose artistry justifies more than is currently available. I noticed that Country Universe recently posted a Wish List segment on their Daily Top Five Feature. This series was not inspired by their article as I had this nearly completed before they posted their feature.

Album Review: Country Music of Your Life

country-music_good-brightTime-Warner has long been a trusted name for providing excellently re-mastered music in various genres of music. Country music fans may remember the Country USA series that covered each year for the period 1950-1972 with 24 songs, including some interesting songs that weren’t necessarily the biggest hits (usually because they weren’t on major labels).

The R&B market was covered by a similar series and the Easy Listening market hit the jackpot with the Your Hit Parade series that exhaustive covered the years 1940-1960 by year plus a bunch of CDs that grouped music together by theme or topic and extended the series into the 1960s, I don’t know whether or not I have the entire Your Hit Parade series but I do have forty-one CDs of the series covering about 1000 recordings.

Subsequent Time-Life series have featured the same digital mastering and useful notes but have been less exhaustive in scope. The Contemporary Country series would cover a three or four year period with a single disc of 22 songs, so the lesser known and minor label songs largely were gone. The latest Time-Life series is a collaboration with Music of Your Life, a radio format largely devoted to the easy listening/adult contemporary music market. Time-Life has collaborated before with Music of Your Life in assembling CDs of the music usually associated with the format. The actual label for this set is Star Vista/Time Warner.

Titled Country Music of Your Life, this latest set is a group of five two-CD sets in standard CD jewel boxes that hold two CDs. The booklet in the jewel box gives only the songwriting and publisher credits and billboard chart information . Additional information is contained in the 36 page book enclosed in the box. The titles of the CD sets are Talking In Your Sleep, Satin Sheets, I Believe In You, For The Good Times and Sweet Country Ballads. All but the last set are named after a song featured on one of the discs of the set.

By and large the first four sets are just random assortments of songs. All of the songs are big hits performed by the artists that enjoyed the hit, and the songs cover a wide range of dates. The first set has Hank Williams’ posthumous 1953 hit “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Kenny Rogers’ 1980 hit “Lady” with sixteen of the tracks from the 1970s. The second set follows a similar pattern with Lefty Frizzell replacing Hank Williams as the token early 1950s representative.

The fifth set would please any fan of traditional country music (aside for the two Elvis Presley tracks, one a cover of “Green Green Grass of Home”). This set includes such gems as “Crazy Arms”, “Once A Day”, “Ring of Fire”, “Walk Through This World With Me” and “Please Help Me I’m Falling”. In theory the set consists of four two-CD sets with the fifth set as a “free bonus” (the television advertising was misleading). Accordingly, the enclosed book, although truly excellent, only covers the first four sets. The book is concise and well-written, giving interesting tidbits of information about the song and/or the performance, there are eight full page photographs of some of the stars (I think they reversed the image of the Glen Campbell photograph, which I recognized as the cover photo from Glen’s Wichita Lineman album) . Here’s an example of the book’s tidbits, this one about Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night”:

“Whatever criticism that had been leveled against Nashville’s conservative approach to how records sounded, there’s no question that the songs themselves were getting edgier. Sammi Smith moved to Music City in 1967 and befriended songwriter Kris Kristofferson. County fans bought into the sexual frankness of ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’; the single went gold,earning Grammys for both Smith and Kristofferson. Smith’s record also boosted Kristofferson’s reputation as one of the best songwriters of his generation.”

Here’s another, this one on Waylon Jennings’ “Amanda”:

“Bob McDill called ‘Amanda’ an apology to his wife, Nan, and it almost became the hit that got away for Waylon Jennings. McDill sent the demo to Waylon’s office, where it got lost. Jennings, who first heard the song when Don Williams’s version came out in 1973, recorded ‘Amanda’ for his 1974 album The Ramblin’ Man. RCA added overdubs nearly five years later; the “new and improved” ‘Amanda’ gave Waylon his seventh No. 1 hit as a solo artist.”

The booklet in the jewel box for the fifth or “bonus” set is flawed in that it only gives information for the first disc in the set.

If you are new to country music and suspect that there is more to the genre than Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and (ugh) Florida Georgia Line, this set is a good starting point. With the notable exceptions of Ernest Tubb, Carl Smith and Webb Pierce, most of the most significant artists of the period 1952-1988 are represented here, even if there is a bit more Elvis Presley and Olivia Newton-John than I feel is justified. The sound quality is terrific – you won’t hear better recordings of these songs.
Apparently there is a deluxe edition available for purchase which features 270 songs on eighteen discs. In either version the discs average 15 songs per CD (30 songs per set) and cost about $15 per disc or $30 per two disc set. Payment installments are available.

I would give the following grades:

Sound Quality:    A+
Book & Booklets:  A-
Song Selection:  B-
Value:   B-

The song lists as well as ordering information can be found at the Time-Life website.

Week ending 4/4/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

craigmorgan4-x6001955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: King of the Road — Roger Miller (Smash)

1975: The Bargain Store — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1985: Crazy — Kenny Rogers (RCA)

1995: Thinkin’ About You — Trisha Yearwood (MCA)

2005: That’s What I Love About Sunday — Craig Morgan (Broken Bow)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Ain’t Worth The Whiskey — Cole Swindle (Warner Bros.)

Week ending 12/20/14: #1 albums this week in country music history

garth brooks - garth brooks and the magic of christmas1964: Buck Owens- Together Again (Capitol)

1969: Charley Pride – The Best of Charley Pride (RCA Victor)

1974: John Denver – Back Home Again (RCA)

1979: Kenny Rogers – Kenny (United Artists)

1984: Willie Nelson –  City of New Orleans (Columbia)

1989: Randy Travis – No Holdin’ Back (Warner Brothers)

1994: Tim McGraw – Not a Moment Too Soon (Curb)

1999: Garth Brooks – Garth Brooks and the Magic of Christmas (Capitol)

2004: Shania Twain – Greatest Hits (Mercury)

2009: Taylor Swift – Fearless (Big Machine)

2014: Garth Brooks – Man Against Machine (RCA/Pearl)

Christmas Rewind: Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton – ‘The Greatest Gift Of All’

Week ending 12/13/14: #1 albums this week in country music history

buck owens - together again1964: Buck Owens- Together Again (Capitol)

1969: Johnny Cash – At San Quentin (Columbia)

1974: Merle Haggard – Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album (Capitol)

1979: Kenny Rogers – Kenny (United Artists)

1984: Willie Nelson –  City of New Orleans (Columbia)

1989: Randy Travis – No Holdin’ Back (Warner Brothers)

1994: Tim McGraw – Not a Moment Too Soon (Curb)

1999: Shania Twain – Come On Over (Mercury)

2004: Shania Twain – Greatest Hits (Mercury)

2009: Taylor Swift – Fearless (Big Machine)

2014: Garth Brooks – Man Against Machine (RCA/Pearl)