My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Kevin Denney

Album Review: Kevin Denney – ‘Something In Between’

something-in-betweenYou may remember Kevin Denney, a neotraditional country artist who had a handful of modestly performing singles on the Lyric Street label in the early years of the new millennium. Since then he has worked as a songwriter, and at last has produced new music of his own. His voicve has echoes of fellow Kentuckian Keith Whitley.

The likeable mid-paced opener ‘I Want The Real Thing’ sets out Kevin’s stall, accepting no substitutes for tasty but unhealthy food, and also rejecting internet romance and video games in favour of real love and playing music.

Tracy Byrd previously recorded ‘Cowboy And A Dancer’ ten years ago, an excellent story song about a pair of life-weary Texans in search of new lives in California, and finding one together. Kevin’s own version is very nice indeed, with a sympathetically delivered vocal.

‘Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody But Me’ is a neatly observed song about a man in a bar, knocking back the drinks and struggling in the aftermath of a breakup.

The philosophical ‘Everybody Just Calm Down’ recommends a slower and more peaceful way of life. The same theme emerges in the relaxed Kenny Chesney style beach song ‘Get A Lotta Living Done’, in which a city guy turned beach bum.

The lilting ‘Even The River’ is a look at a dying small town, where everyone with any ambition wants to leave :

I feel just like that water
Even the river runs away from this town

The sun don’t ever shine around here
It’s always empty lonesome and grey
One old blinking caution light
About the only thing working all day
There’s for sale signs in the windows
And they’re shutting down the mill

The title track is about finding a balance between extremes in life, with a religious twist. ‘Everybody Grew Up But Me’ looks back on childhood and the different paths taken by a group of friends, with the protagonist leading the life of a struggling musician. The gritty ‘Honky Tonk Highway’ also lauds the life of a country musician.

‘I’m That Country’ is a good natured paean to the joys of rural life, which unlike too many songs of this nature does actually sound very traditional country. The musical namedrops, too, are bluegrass and traditional country: Merle Haggard, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and J D Crowe. ‘What Does God Look Like’ is rather a sweet song about children’s understanding of God, although it doesn’t really go anywhere.

The album closes with an acoustic cover of Denney’s biggest hit, ‘That’s Just Jessie’.

This is a very nice, fairly low key album from an artists who deserved to be a much bigger success.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘That’s Why’

thats whyReleased in October 2008, That’s Why continued Craig Morgan’s recent run of success, reaching #8 on Billboard’s country albums chart. Released on BNA, Craig’s first and only album for the label, That’s Why would see four singles released with varying success.

Morgan co-produced the album with Phil O’Donnell and together they wrote the lead-off single (and first track on the album), “Love Remembers”, which became Morgan’s sixth top ten hit in November 2008. The song is a ballad but with somewhat noisy guitars but with the requisite steel and fiddle to qualify this as a country song. Morgan gives a strong but somewhat overwrought reading to the song.

You can forget what love was wearing
When it walked out your front door
Where you fell down to your knees
And you can forget the kind of suitcase
That was packed out on the sidewalk
While you cried there beggin’ please
But love remembers

You can lie and tell yourself
You’re over it and someone else will take love’s place
And this is for the best
You can lie in that bed
In a stranger’s arms reachin’ for comfort
Close your eyes and still get no rest

Cause love remembers
The smell of a summer day
Lying in a hammock over fresh cut grass
And the promise of forever
Yeah love remembers
The sound of the pouring rain
Beatin’ down on the top of a car
On the side of the road
Where it couldn’t wait
Yeah love remembers

Craig Morgan would have a hand in writing six of the tracks on this album, five of them in conjunction with Phil O’ Donnell.

The next song up is “Bonfire”, a very noisy up-tempo with rock guitar accompaniment. The song describes a summer party around a bonfire. The first verse is about the partiers and the second verse tells of an incident in which a police officer arrives to break up the gathering, but decides instead to participate. This was the third single from the album and reached #4. Morgan wrote the song with Kevin Denney, Tom Botkin and Mike Rogers.

At this point I should mention that this album went through several different releases. “Bonfire” was NOT on the first release of the album, replaced by “Summer Sundown”. Listeners who picked up the album upon its initial release will also notice that the songs are sequenced somewhat differently than I am describing. Cracker Barrel Restaurants released a version of the album with three bonus tracks including “Summer Sundown” and the previously unreleased “You” and “Evel Knievel”.

Kerry Kurt Phillips, Chris DuBois wrote the stoic “This Ain’t Nothing”, in which a newspaper reporter interviews an old man about a tornado that destroyed his house. The old man tells of the real losses in his life – his father, his brother, a good friend and his left hand during a battle in Vietnam, and his wife of fifty years – and explains that losing the house is nothing because unlike the other losses in his life, the house can be replaced. This song was released as the fourth single in 2010 and reached #13 country airplay / #83 pop. I think it is the best song on the album. I should note that this song was not on the CD release of the album, which featured a much juvenile song in “Every Red Light”.

“And last year, I watched my lovin’ wife
` Of fifty years waste away and die
And I held her hand ’til her heart of gold stopped pumpin’
So, this ain’t nothin'”

He said, “I learned at an early age
There’s things that matter, and there’s things that don’t
So if you’re waitin’ here for me to cry
I hate to disappoint you boy, but I won’t”

Then he reached down in the rubble and picked up a photograph
Wiped the dirt off of it with the hand that he still had
He put it to his lips and he said, “Man she was somethin’
But, this ain’t nothin'”

Dave Turnbull joins Morgan & O’Donnell as co-writers of the title track “That’s Why” an uplifting mid-tempo ballad that should have been released as a single.

My alarm goes off early,
Can’t afford to be late.
If I don’t get a move on then I won’t get paid.
So I throw back those covers and get my butt out of bed.
It’s still dark when im leavin’ so I let my lady sleep.
I know her and them babies are countin on me
To put food on the table and keep this roof over our head.

Prior to this album, most of Craig’s hits had been up-tempo numbers (such as “Redneck Yacht Club” and “I Got You”) but most of this album is taken at slower tempos. The last track on my copy of album is the gospel-tinged “Ordinary Angels”, complete with a choir. It is a very nice song, one that could easily be true to life for military veteran Craig Morgan.

It could be a waitress at coffee shop you never saw before
A soldier that’s just coming home from fighting in the war
We all got a little superman ready to take a fly
And save a life, oh save a life
Take a look around and you’ll see ordinary angels

It could be someone walking down the street
A stranger on a bus
A little kid on his way to school or any one of us
We all got a little superman ready to take a fly
And save a life, oh save a life
Take a look around and you’ll see ordinary angels

Unfortunately everything else on the album strikes me as filler, although someone at the label thought that track five, “God Must Really Love Me”, would make a good second single. It reached #26 breaking Craig’s string of seven consecutive top twelve hits.

“Sticks”, for example, reminds me of Craig’s 2007 top ten hit “International Harvester”, but it is not as good. The rest is just nondescript filler, neither terrible nor terribly interesting.

That’s Why is a decent album, particularly in the reissued versions. Still, this would be the last Craig Morgan album I would purchase, since it seemed that the promise of the first album was being wasted with pop-country production slathered upon it. I feel that Craig would make a really good traditional country artist. As a modern pop-country artist, Craig Morgan is just another good artist. Perhaps when he has given up on chart success, an album worthy of his debut album will emerge.

C+

Below is the track listing of the version of the album I reviewed:

01. Love Remembers – writers: Craig Morgan, Phil O’Donnell
02. Bonfire – writers; Morgan, Kevin Denney, Mike Rogers, Tom Botkin
03. This Ain’t Nothin’ – writers; Kerry Kurt Phillips, Chris DuBois
04. That’s Why – writers: Morgan, O’Donnell, David Turnbull
05. God Must Really Love Me: -writers Jim Collins, Troy Verges
06. Lookin’ Back with You – writers: James, Morgan, O’Donnell
07. Sticks – writers: Galen Griffin, Gary Hannan, Morgan, O’Donnell
08. It Took a Woman – writers: Jimmy Melton, Turnbull
09. Planet Her – writers: Kirby, Morgan, O’Donnell
10. Ordinary Angels – writers: Angelo Petraglia, S. Olsen, R. Supa

EP Review: William Michael Morgan – ‘William Michael Morgan’

william michael morganOccasionally my faith in the future of mainstream country music is revived. That’s when an artist like William Michael Morgan emerges, signed to a major label (in this case Warner Brothers). When Razor X reviewed his debut single ‘I Met A Girl’ last year he praised Morgan’s song and country credentials, while noting, correctly, that the song was ‘generic and unmemorable’. It is saved by Morgan’s voice, which has tonal echoes of Keith Whitley, and his tender commitment to the song which makes it quite convincing. The single is slowly making its way up the chart, and has sold over 30,000 downleads, prompting Warner Brothers to issue this six-track EP, which gives us the chance to hear how he stands as an artist beyond that one song.

I was concerned when the record opened with the love song ‘Vinyl, which is similarly pleasant but underwhelming, and suffers from too many repeats of the word ‘girl’. It was written by Wade Kirby, Ashley Gorley, and Carson Chamberlain. ‘Beer Drinker’ (written by Wynn Varble, David Lee and Don Poythress ) raises the tempo a little, and is bearable potential radio fodder but a little dittyish and over-produced, at least by the standards of this record. None of these songs is bad, just not likely to set the world on fire.

But the second half of the set is much more like it. ‘Lonesomeville’ is an excellent sad song written by Morgan with Mark Sherrill, Ash Underwood, and former Lyric Street artist Trent Tomlinson, A steel guitar dominates the arrangement, complementing Morgan’s classic country vocal.

Just as good, the plaintive ‘Cheap Cologne’ has the protagonist sleeplessly fretting over the too-obvious signs of his wife’s infidelity:

She’ll get in from God knows where
I’ll smell that honky tonk in her hair
I don’t know if there someone she’s holdin’
But my suspicion keeps on growing
And a shower won’t cover it up when she gets home
She don’t smoke cigarettes and I don’t wear cheap cologne

But tonight she’s in for a surprise as he plans to be gone before she gets home. This song was written by Jimmy Ritchey, Odie Blackmon and another ex-Lyric Street performer who sadly never quite made it, Kevin Denney. (Incidentally I understand Denney is planning on releasing new music himself in the near future.)

Finally, the valedictory ‘Back Street Driver’ (written by Robert Counts, Nicolette Hayford, and Matt Willis) is a father’s good luck message for a departing son starting out on his new life:

There’s a Bible on the dash and a map tucked in the door
I can’t be your back seat driver any more

The only disturbing note is that he feels the need to pack a baseball bat in the back.

This is a very promising debut from an artist I very much hope to hear more from.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Kevin Denney – ‘That’s Just Jessie’

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2015

so this is lifeIt’s been a solid year rather than an outstanding one, with a number of interesting albums released but few really exciting ones. But any of my top 10 is well worth hearing.

angels and alcohol10. Alan Jackson – ‘Angels And Alcohol

The veteran star is reliable as ever with his latest release. It may break no new ground, but it’s good country music, and that’s something we always need more of.
Highlights: ‘Angels and Alcohol’, ‘The One You’re Waiting On’, ‘You Can Always Come Home

pageant material9. Kacey Musgraves – ‘Pageant Material
Unlike many, I actually preferred this to Kacey’s lauded debut because I found the production choices more sympathetic to her voice.
Highlights: ‘Pageant Material’, ‘Biscuits’, ‘Late To The Party

cold beer conversation8. George Strait – ‘Cold Beer Conversation
He may have retired from touring, and have lost his golden touch with country radio – but like Alan Jackson, George Strait is still making fine music. A solid classy album.
Highlights: ‘Something Going Down’, ‘Everything I See’, ‘Even When I Can’t Feel It’.

brennen leigh sings lefty frizzell7. Brennen Leigh – ‘Sings Lefty Frizzell
Only just released, this lovely tribute to one of the cornerstones of country music made a late charge up my best of the year list. A true delight. Brennen also teamed up this year with bluegrass singer Brandon Rickman and singer/fiddler Jenee Fleenor in a trio project called Antique Persuasion, which released a delightful acoustic tribute to the Carter Family in August which almost made this list, and a recent Christmas EP.

Highlights: ‘I Love You A Thousand Ways’, ‘Mom And Dad’s Waltz’, ‘How Far Down Can I Go’, ‘You Gotta Be Putting Me On

throwback6. Kevin Moon – ‘Throwback
A fabulous traditional country album from an unknown singer with a great voice. It’s a wonderful reminder of what country music used to be, with guest turns from artists including John Anderson, Rhonda Vincent and Ken Mellons. If there had only been a few more original tunes of the same quality, this would have been even higher in my year-end list.

Highlights: ‘The Storms Of Life’ (with Daryle Singletary), ‘Tennessee Courage’ (with Kevin Denney, Wesley Dennis and Billy Droze), ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’ (with Doug Stone).

pocket full of keys5. Dale Ann Bradley – ‘Pocket Full Of Keys
Dale Ann has a pure, beautiful voice, and is one of my favorite bluegrass vocalists. This gorgeous effort shows her at her very best.

Highlights: ‘I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again’, ‘The Stranger’, ‘Pocket Full Of Keys’.

traveller4. Chris Stapleton – ‘Traveler
Chris Stapleton’s triple triumph at the recent CMA awards, and subsequent sales spike, was one of the most unexpected in country music history. Although he was formerly lead singer of the SteelDrivers, and has been a very successful songwriter for years, he had rather flown under the radar as far as mainstream acknowledgement went. His solo debut album is a very strong piece of work, showcasing his bluesy, soulful vocals. I don’t love every track – occasionally his more esoteric leanings to blues and rock wander too far from country music for me – but when he’s at his best, he is magnificent.

Highlights: ‘Whiskey And You’, ‘Nobody To Blame’, ‘Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore’.

the underdog3. Aaron Watson – ‘The Underdog
Texan Watson has been steadily plugging on for a decade or so, and his latest album is as good as anything he’s done, with a powerful depiction of Johnny Cash at his turning point and a reflection on the state of country music. Solid Texas country music which deserves a mainstream hearing.
Highlights: ‘The Prayer’, ‘Fence Post’, ‘Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song)’.

the blade2. Ashley Monroe – ‘The Blade
A fine album by one of the best artists currently on a major label – even if that label isn’t bothering to push her work at radio. The title track in particular is exquisite.
Highlights: ‘The Blade’, ‘If The Devil Don’t Want Me’, ‘Dixie’, ‘I’m Good At Leaving’.

so this is life1. Courtney Patton – ‘So This Is Life
A lovely mature piece of work from a fine singer-songwriter, loaded with gorgeous country waltzes. For my money this is the most consistently great album of the year.
Highlights: ‘Little Black Dress’, ‘Need For Wanting’, ‘Killing Time

Album Review: Kevin Moon – ‘Throwback’

throwbackWhen reviewing the year’s releases for my end of year lists, I realised that I never reviewed this album properly. As the album’s title hints, Alabaman Kevin Moon is a thorough going traditionalist who could have been a big star if he had been around in the late 80s or early 90s – the era of most of the songs on this album. He has a fabulous country voice with rich tones and characterful inflections, and he stands up well against the stars who guest on this album.

He teamed up with Ken Mellons (who he sounds very like) to rework the latter’s ‘Honky Tonk Teachers’. It’s an appropriate choice with its loving tribute to the great country singers of the past, and this version is great.

Kevin pays tribute to the late Keith Whitley a number of times, starting with a nice version of ‘Til A Tear Becomes A Rose’, with Rhonda Vincent taking Lorrie Morgan’s duet part. This is one track where the original is better, but it is a beautiful song with a lovely melody. Whitley wrote ‘Hopelessly Yours’, recorded by John Conlee, George Jones, and Lee Greenwood/Suzy Bogguss. Moon’s cover is an emotional duet with young singer Mary Sarah. The heartbreaking ‘Tennessee Courage’ serves as tribute to both Whitley and to Vern Gosdin, and is performed with two artists who should have been stars, Wesley Dennis and Kevin Denney, and a younger singer I hadn’t previously come across but who bears further investigation, Billy Droze.

Another star not currently available to help out is Randy Travis, so Travis’s one-time protégé Daryle Singletary helps out on an excellent version of ‘The Storms Of Life’. Conway Twitty’s son Michael assists on the sentimental ‘That’s My Job’.

John Anderson guests on his early 90s comeback hit. ‘Straight Tequila Night’ – again, I prefer the original, but this is still good. Marty Raybon’s voice blends beautifully with Moon’s on a lovely version of Shenandoah’s ‘Moon Over Georgia’. Doug Stone still sounds good on a version of his ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’. ‘You’ve Got To Stand For Something’ features Aaron Tippin, but is less forceful than the original.

A couple of new songs are included. ‘Low Key’ dreams about a much-needed beach vacation, mixing a steel guitar dominated arrangement with Spanish-influenced guitar, and is nicely done. The title track strings together quotes from a selection of great country classics and calls for some throwback country, “with some drinkin’, cheatin’ lyin’, leavin’”, and is quite clever.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album from a young man with a lot of talent. The lack of originality in making most of the material cover songs is ameliorated by making them duets with, in most cases the original stars.

Grade: A

Album Review: Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time – ‘All Star Duets’

all star duetsOne of my favorite songwriters, Larry Cordle’s latest album has been a long time in the making. he has teamed up with a selection of stars to recreate some of his big hits as a songwriter in a tasteful bluegrass setting, backed by Larry’s bluegrass band Lonesome Standard Time and a few added guests. Recording sessions have taken place at intervals over the past decade, and the album was first announced for release a couple of years ago. But the wait was worth it, because this is a truly lovely record filled with great songs.

Alison Krauss recorded Cordle’s ‘Two Highways’ as a teenager; revisiting the song as a mature adult she brings a fuller vocal, and the result is shimmeringly lovely. It’s actually the oldest composition here, having been written in 1977 when the young Larry Cordle was stuck in a job he hated and dreaming of music. Ricky Skaggs was Cordle’s earliest big supporter, and his recording of ‘Highway 40 Blues’ (also written in the late 70s) was his breakthrough as a songwriter. Skaggs revisits the song (one of many great Cordle songs he has recorded over the years) here, playing his mandolin as well as sharing the vocals. Skaggs’ 1983 #1 hit version made Cordle a name to be reckoned with, and as he puts it in the liner notes, “changed his life”.

I was a bit dismissive of Garth Brooks’ recording of ‘Against The Grain’ when I reviewed ‘Ropin’ The Wind’ recently, but the breezier bluegrass version he guests on here is much more enjoyable, although it’s still one of my less favourite tracks here. Much better is the beautiful high lonesome ‘Lonesome Dove’, which like ‘Against The Grain’ was written with Carl Jackson. Trisha Yearwood, who recorded it on her debut album, and is at her glorious best singing it here.

Dierks Bentley is an engaging guest on a version of the wry ‘You Can’t Take It With You When You Go’, which was a single for the great Gene Watson towards the end of his major label career. It is one of Cordle’s many collaborations with his friend Larry Shell. They wrote several songs here, including the most recently written song, the modern classic ‘Murder On Music Row’, which seems more topical every year. The guest vocalists are minor 90s star Daryle Singletary and the very underrated Kevin Denney, both of whom were regarded as “too country” for country music. Daryle is one of the best traditional country singers out there, and I’ve long regretted that Denney hasn’t recorded again since his one and only album in 2002. They do a great, heartfelt job, on this version. It is, incidentally, unfortunate that Denney’s name is mis-spelled on the cover. The liner notes (also available digitally) are otherwise excellent and informative, with a little discussion of how each song was written and picked up for recording.

Diamond Rio contribute duet and harmony vocals on Cordle and Shell’s ‘Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me’, which was one of my favorite of the band’s hit songs, and is another real highlight here. The gently melancholy tune is perfect for the emotional yet stoic lyric about the strains of life on the road, and the arrangement is beautiful. Less well known, but a very beautiful song written by the pair which deserves to be known better is the wistful ‘The Fields of Home’, which Ricky Skaggs recorded on Kentucky Thunder in 1989, and which feels like a sequel to ‘Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me’. Kenny Chesney appears as the duet partner here, and does a superb job exuding understated regret; I really wish he would return to this style of music.

Bluegrass giant Del McCoury guests on the playful ‘The Bigger The Fool’ (The Harder The Fall)’, which Chesney recorded on his first album (when he was a neotraditional youngster and had not yet gained fame and fortune or discovered the beach). The charming tune is one of two co-writes with Jim Rushing, the other being ‘Lonesome Standard Time’, which gave its name to Cordle’s band. Kathy Mattea, who had a hit with it, duets with Cordle here.

He teamed up with two great female songwriters, Leslie Satcher and the veteran Melba Montgomery, to write ‘Cure For The Common Heartache’. Terri Clark recorded it in the late 90s, and sounds great duetting with Cordle – it’s much better than anything on her current solo release. Cordle wrote ‘Rough Around The Edges’ for Travis Tritt with J P Pennington and Les Taylor from country-rockers Exile; it sounds much better in this energised bluegrass version, featuring Tritt.

This is a superb album, collecting an excellent set of songs and performing them with taste and heart.

Grade: A

Album Review: Lonesome River Band – ‘Still Learning’

The Lonesome River Band is one of those bluegrass bands which has been going for a long time with a changing cast of members. Their new Rural Rhythm release features some excellent playing (something which almost goes without saying) and a varied selection of songs. Lead vocals are split between high tenor and mandolin player Andy Ball and the distinctive and emotionally expressive voice of guitarist Brandon Rickman. Both are accomplished singers, but my personal preference is for Brandon’s voice with its interesting textures and his sensitive phrasing. Banjoist and band leader Sammy Shelor and bass player Mike Anglin lend harmony vocals, and the non-singing Mike Hartgrove plays fiddle. The instrumental work is impeccable throughout, and showed off to best effect on the sparkling ‘Pretty Little Girl’, a traditional instrumental arranged by Sammy Shelor, which closes the set.

Brandon takes the lead on the excellent opening track ‘Record Time Machine’, one of two songs written by Marvin E Clark. The song recalls being inspired by a Chet Atkins record to a life of music,

That old RCA phonograph record time machine
It took me to the places that were only in my dreams…
I could somehow see the future as I listened to the past

Clark also wrote the wistful ‘Telling Me You Love Me Again’, in which the protagonist spends his time fantasizing about his ex’s return,

Somewhere over every rainbow
Just around every bend
You’re standing there with open arms
Telling me you love me again

There is an excellent cover (with the protagonist age adjusted) of Merle Haggard’s ‘Red Bandana’, a country hit in 1979 about a teenage sweetheart manfully trying to support her musician husband,

You look like you ought to be somebody’s wife somewhere
You ain’t never going to be no Bobbie McGee but you’re trying to…

Every time you leave the stage I know you’ve had your fill
And I wonder why you grew up and I never will

The slight but enjoyable up-tempo ‘Any Old Time’ (written by one-time Lyric Street artist Kevin Denney with Tom Botkin and Mike Rogers) has the strongest harmonies, and Brandon singing in the higher part of his range as he offers to wait for the girl he loves,

Any old time you get lonely

Brandon himself teamed up with Denney and Carson Chamberlain to write ‘As Wild As I Get’, a mature expression of growing up and settling down, a theme which was at the heart of his solo album (which I recommended last year). It’s often hard to make domestic happiness interesting in a song, but this seems to be a gift of Brandon’s, both as a singer and a writer, and this song has a real charm and is beautifully phrased. He also wrote the equally pleasing and sincerely delivered mid-tempo title track, about maturity, settling down and working at being the man his loved one deserves, with the humility to admit he still has something to learn.

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Moving backstage

Former Wrecker Jessica Harp surprised many by her recent announcement that she was leaving her record label and abandoning hopes of a solo career in favour of becoming a full time songwriter. While retaining rather more dignity than Jason Michael Carroll’s unforgettable but rather sad “Arista and I are going our seperate [sic] ways! They called and said they would be moving forward without me!” this may be a case of jumping before she was pushed, as Jessica’s solo singles had failed to set the charts alight, although her now ex-label has chosen to release her album digitally as a parting gift for her fans.

Time will tell whether she will be successful in her new course. She would hardly be the first Nashville songwriter to start out wanting to be an artist in her own right, or indeed the first to enjoy a short chart career.

Dean Dillon’s distinctive turn of phrase has made him one of the most sought-after writers in the past 20 years. With a voice as quirky and distinctive as his writing, he started out as a singer. A string of singles on RCA were minor hits in the late 70s and early 80s, including the first versions of his own songs ‘Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her’ and ‘Famous Last Words Of A Fool’. The former was a top 30 hit, the latter failed to make the top 50, but neither had the chart impact they deserved – or that they had when George Strait covered them. The label also teamed Dean up with honky tonker Gary Stewart as a duo, releasing one full length album and a six track EP. Those early RCA recordings (both solo and duet) are virtually all now available on one CD. A successful run as a songwriter followed, but he had not given up his dreams of solo stardom, and in 1988 he signed to Capitol. Two albums for that label, and two more for Atlantic, failed to quite take off. The critical moment arrived when he planned to release ‘Easy Come Easy Go’ as a single – and found Strait wanted to record the song. He relinquished the song, and settled down to life as a writer for others.

I’ve never really understood why Larry Boone’s solo career never took off. He was signed to Mercury in the late 80s, and later Columbia; he was good looking, had a great voice, and was an excellent songwriter. But only a few of his singles charted, the most successful being his #10 ‘Don’t Give Candy To A Stranger’ which was our Classic Rewind a week ago. Luckily, he had that songwriting talent to fall back on.

Skip Ewing was another recording artist to enjoy a handful of hit singles in the late 80s, then turn to writing them for others when his own chart career wound down. He had much more success in the latter capacity, writing multiple #1s. He made a return to the airwaves in his own right as Reba’s duet partner on the radio version of ‘Every Other Weekend’.

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Album Review: Sonny Burgess – ‘Have You Got A Song Like That?’

Texan Sonny Burgess is one of those relatively obscure artists who are still making traditionally-rooted country music. This is his third album, and although it was released some months ago, has only recently come my way. It is produced by successful songwriter Kerry Kurt Phillips, who does a fine job. Sonny’s voice is light but pleasant.

Things get off to a solid start with the amusing honky tonker ‘Beer-i-cide’, a song about the perils of drunken (and music-fuelled) behavior, written by Sam Tate, Kathleen Wright and Greg Barnhill:

Well there’s a biker in the corner who thinks I stole his girl
And man I swear he’s itchin’ for a fight
If this bar would just stop spinning like some gin soaked tilt-a-whirl
I’d show him who’s the big dog here tonight

There’s a tiny little Johnny telling me to walk the line
Tiny Waylon’s yellin’ “hit him from behind”
I put that bottle to my lips before I follow him outside
And it’s got the whole bar betting that I’m committin’ beer-i-cide

Well now I guess I should be leaving cause they’re turning off the lights
And my eye’s gone down enough that I can see
I might stumble home a broken man but there’s one ray of hope
That six-pack waitin’ in the fridge for me

And now Hank senior’s on my shoulder singing “Bless your cheatin’ heart “
Meanwhile Johnny’s telling Waylon “told you so”
I take that bottle from my lips to kiss my next ex-wife goodbye
I’ve used all the rope she’s given
I’m committing beer-i-cide

And I really will be sorry, least until tomorrow night
When once more I’ll be here sitting
Still committing beer-i-cide

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Album Review: Deryl Dodd – ‘Together Again’

Together AgainTexan singer-songwriter Deryl Dodd emerged in 1996 with his excellent One Ride In Vegas album on Columbia. He had a couple of top 40 hits, a cover of ‘That’s How I Got To Memphis’ and ‘A Bitter End’, before his career was derailed by serious illness. He never regained the lost momentum, and eventually lost his record deal after his third album for Columbia failed to produce any hit singles. He continued making music, and has released several albums on independent labels, of which the latest is Together Again, released by Smith Entertainment.

He has several advantages over other artists who have been cut loose by a major label: a strong, distinctive voice which marks out his material, and good songwriting ability which means he need not rely on seeking out more successful singers’ rejects from Music Row. He co-produced his 2004 album Stronger Proof (also recommended), but this is the first time he has tackled production duties on his own. He has done a capable job, I suspect on a tight budget, which is not obvious from the results. Deryl uses his road band throughout the sessions, bringing in outside musicians where required, and he plays acoustic guitar himself. The overall feel is modern Texas country, with the electric guitar quite strongly in evidence, but not overwhelming the material or Deryl’s compelling voice with its interesting inflections.

Deryl has written virtually all the songs, sometimes with other writers. They are pretty good on the whole, but there is no individual standout comparable to the finest moments on his previous albums. The best song is the title track, a sparkling cover of the Buck Owens classic where Deryl successfully combines a modern sound which is still respectful to the original. A very authentic Buck-influenced solo vocal, but lacking the characteristic harmony of the original, plays against a prominent electric guitar.

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Album Review: Brandon Rickman – ‘Young Man, Old Soul’

Brandon RickmanBrandon Rickman is a very talented bluegrass singer and guitarist, with a grittily soulful voice which is very distinctive. Although this is his debut solo album (on the always-admirable Rural Rhythm Records), he has spent some time as lead singer for the Lonesome River Band. Rickman co-produces with Jimmy Metts, and they have made a record with a surprisingly full acoustic bluegrass sound, despite the small number of musicians; many tracks just feature Brandon’s voice and guitar, although others feature members of the Lonesome River Band and other musician friends. Brandon also co-writes almost all the material.

The album immediately seizes attention with the arresting opening track, ‘Always Have, Always Will’, an excellent song which Brandon wrote with Chris Stapleton of the SteelDrivers. This portrays a man who cannot stop drinking and lives with the cost, as he declares his undying love for the woman who could not live with it:
I’ve fought it time and time again
But the whiskey always wins
I got regrets I try to kill
I always have and I always will …
I know the Devil way too well
But I knew the price when I made the deal.”

The song is well complemented by the arrangement, with some fine playing, especially from Aaron McDaris on banjo and Jenee’ Fleenor on fiddle.

Two songs are written with Craig Market. ‘Here Comes That Feeling Again’ is a rather good country song about a love that should be over, but somehow keeps sneaking back into his heart “out of nowhere, out of thin air, it just comes rolling in like an old song”. Even better is ‘What I Know Now’, a thoughtful reflection on past mistakes and growing up, delivered very simply, just Brandon and his guitar:
“I don’t like to dwell on what I’ve done wrong in my life
Chalk it up to being young and full of youthful pride
You can’t go back – and I know that – but if I could, somehow,
I might’ve stayed a little longer, loved a little stronger, done right where I done wrong
If I knew then what I know now.”

Another introspective take on growing older comes with ‘So Long 20s’ as Brandon hails turning 30, again in very low-key style. He wrote this song with one-time Lyric Street country act Kevin Denney, and shares feeling which will be all-too-familiar to most of us:
“The older I get, the more I’m afraid
It’s not my age that scares me, it’s how fast I got here …
Seems like I laid down, took a nap around 18
Woke up this morning like it was all a dream.”

Buddy Owens helped Brandon write the less interesting ‘Wide Spot In The Road’, about a small hometown. I preferred the similarly themed ‘I Take The Backroads’, written with Jerry Salley (who also contributes harmonies), which has the protagonist returning home to a town which has changed out of recognition, thanks to a new freeway. Salley also co-wrote (with Brandon and Justin David) the regret-filled tribute to a prodigal’s loving mother, ‘Wearing Her Knees Out Over Me’, which is one of my favorite tracks.

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