My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Kirk Roth

Album Review: Jeff Bates – ‘Me And Conway’

me and conwayWhen Jeff Bates was being played on country radio a few years back he was often heralded as the new Conway Twitty. This latest, self-produced, album was billed as a tribute to the artist, so I was expecting the usual collection of covers, but in fact this album mixes up covers (and not necessarily the most obvious choices) with other material, mainly written by Jeff.

The title track pays tribute to Conway by telling the story of a romance fuelled by a Twitty CD, and is quite good.

Jeff sounds great on a trio of Conway’s big hits: the overtly sexy ‘I’d Love To Lay You Down’, loving tribute to a father’s love ‘That’s My Job’, and the late hit ‘She’s Got A Single thing In Mind’, all of which are impeccably sung versions of excellent songs. My favorite of the covers, though, is the graceful waltz ‘Lost In The Feeling’, a #2 hit for Twitty in 1983. Jeff’s version is lovely.

Delightfully, he recruits Loretta Lynn to duet on ‘After The Fire Is Gone’. Less familiar at least to me was the sultry ‘Don’t Take it Away’, although it was a #1 hit (in 1979); Jeff does his very best Conway impression here and it is a pretty good song, but I admit I would have liked to hear Jeff’s take on a song like ‘Hello Darling’.

A cover of T G Sheppard’s early 80s hit ‘Slow Burn’ is less effective, with intrusive electric guitars in the mix.

Jeff’s new songs were written with Conway Twitty’s style in mind. ‘Sleepin’ In’, written by Jeff with Robert Arthur and Kirk Roth, is a nice celebration of a happy marriage which fits in nicely with the general mood. ‘Heaven Is A Hell Of A Woman’ (written by Jeff with Jason Matthews) is another good new song, with a more soulful feel, particularly in the backing vocals. The same pair’s ‘That Thing We Do’ is less memorable, and perilously close to bro-country with its girl and truck storyline, but at least it has a decent tune.

The emotional ‘If Heaven Had A Phone’ (written by Jeff with Andrew Rollings) expresses the sadness at losing a mother, and is tenderly sung with some lovely steel.

Although it wasn’t quite what I anticipated, this is a very good album which I enjoyed a great deal.

Grade: A

EP Review: Jeff Bates – ‘One Day Closer’

When I heard the lead single and title track of this album a few weeks ago, I was really looking forward to Jeff Bates’s religious album. I was disappointed to find that it was in fact only a six-track EP. (There is also a separate DVD with the same title, which includes live versions of the songs on the EP plus a handful of others.)

Theologically, the “rapture” is posited by some Christian denominations as the bodily lifting to heaven of the righteous in the last days, based on a passing reference in one of the Epistles. This album opens with an imagined narrative of ‘The Rapture’, as previously recorded by Jason Matthews, one of its writers, on his rather good Hicotine album in 2008, but Jeff’s version is better. A simple piano accompanies the testimony of one of those who has had “no time for Jesus” until he finds he has been left behind when his wife and children (in better favor with Heaven) . The vocal is great, and it does have some emotional power, but this is one that doesn’t quite work for me personally.

Jeff co-wrote the other three new songs. I’ve already talked about the mature and lovely title track (which he wrote with Matthews), and this is still my favorite track.

It really won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I was deeply moved by the tear-jerker ‘If You Could See Me Now’, which was written with Robert Arthur and Marcus Franklin Johnson. There is an understated but intensely emotional vocal as Jeff plays the part of an infant who has died and is speaking to his family from heaven:

If you could see me now
You’d see joy and laughter in my eyes
I’m swinging on a swingset in the sky
No you wouldn’t cry if you could see me now
Every single tear would be erased by the love that shines on Jesus’ face
Oh what a place

I never played with my brother and my sisters in the yard
I never was rocked to sleep in my mother’s arms
But the arms that hold me now are the same arms that made me
I know you miss me
I wish you could see your baby

If you could see me now
Even though you’re looking through a broken heart
You wouldn’t bring me back to where you are …

So don’t waste another moment
Worry about what might have been
Jesus loves me and you know I’m with him

It was inspired by the death of a band member’s newborn grandchild.

The same team (plus Kirk Roth) composed the far less memorable ‘Living Stones’ a tribute to those individuals who help in times of trouble. It drags a bit despite a gritty vocal.

There are two well-worn traditional numbers. Jeff gives a slow intense reading of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’. It’s not my favorite version of the song, but it offers a very convincing portrayal of a weary soul; where it falters a little, at least for me, is in lacking the sense of joy at finally reaching heaven’s rest. Black gospel style backing vocals come in quite effectively towards the end of the song, as they do on a rocked up and rather leaden take on ‘Life’s RailwayTo Heaven’, the record’s least successful moment.

This is a little more uneven record than I was hoping for, not to mention much shorter, but there are some great moments nonetheless.

Grade: B+

Some hidden treasures of 2010

I restricted my top 10 singles list for the year to tracks which were formally released as singles, but a lot of the best music of the year was hidden away on albums. So to finish up our review of the year in country music, here are my favorite tracks from albums released this year. I’ve restricted the selection to one per artist (not counting duets), and I’ve excluded the albums which made it to my top 10 albums list to avoid too much duplication and to prevent the list being too long.

20. Trace Adkins – ‘Still Love You’ (Cowboy’s Back In Town)
Moving to Toby Keith’s label seems to have encouraged the talented but often artistically misguided Trace Adkins to give in to his worst instincts, but there is still some decent material on his latest album. This ballad swearing enduring love (written by love song specialist Jeff Bates with Robert Arthur and Kirk Roth) is a little heavily orchestrated, but has a great, understated vocal from one of the best voices around. It’s a shame the rest of the album wasn’t up to the same standard.

19. Gretchen Wilson – ‘I’m Only Human’ (I Got Your Country Right Here)
Gretchen has just scored an unexpected Grammy nomination for ‘I’d Love To Be Your Last’ from her self-released I Got Your Country Right Here, prompting general bewilderment from country fans online. But while that track isn’t bad, this song is rather better, a plaintive bar-room tale of a woman trying to resist the temptation of dalliance with a married man, which Gretchen wrote with Vicky McGehee, Dave Berg and Rivers Rutherford.

18. Jon Wolfe – ‘Play Me Something I Can Drink To’ (It All Happened In A Honky Tonk)
If you think Easton Corbin sounds like George Strait, you need to check out the Strait stylings of Jon Wolfe on his strong independent debut album. I particularly liked this classic country style bar room song (written by Kevin Brandt and Bobby Terry) about a guy seeking to get his broken heart temporarily cured by whiskey and a jukebox stocked with Hank and Jones.

17. Jamie Richards – ‘Half Drunk’ (Sideways)
A great song from a Texas-based artist about trying to get over an ex by drinking, but running out of money halfway through.

16. Miss Leslie – ‘Turn Around’ (Wrong Is What I Do Best)
A lovely steel-led heartbreak ballad written by honky tonker Miss Leslie herself, but sounding as though it could be a forgotten classic from the 60s.

15. Shawn Camp – ‘Clear As A Bell’ (1994)
This lovely song was my favorite from Shawn’s “lost” album which was resurrected from the Warner Bros vaults this year.

14. Zac Brown Band – ‘Martin’ (You Get What You Give)
Jamey Johnson personified a guitar in the title track of The Guitar Song, but Zac Brown sang a love song about one on their latest release. Charming and unusual.

13. Gary Allan – ‘No Regrets’ (Get Off On The Pain)
I’ve been disappointed by Gary’s musical direction over the past couple of albums, but the heartbreaking honesty of this touching song expressing his feelings about his late wife (which he wrote with the help of Jon Randall and Jaime Hanna) was a reminder of his excellent early work.

12. Jolie Holliday – ‘I’ll Try Anything’ (Lucky Enough)
A gorgeous cover of a sad song previously recorded by its co-writer Amber Dotson about struggling to cope with lost love. I can’t find a link for you to listen to the studio version, but here she is singing it live (after a nice version of ‘San Antonio Rose’. And as a bonus, here she is singing ‘Golden Ring’ live with Randy Travis.

11. Curly Putman – ‘Green Green Grass Of Home’ (Write ‘Em Sad – Sing ‘Em Lonesome)
The songwriter’s own version of his classic prisoner’s dream is as convincing as any version I’ve herd of this celebrated song.

10. Toby Keith – ‘Sundown‘ (Bullets In The Gun, deluxe version)
Toby is always a bit hit and miss for me, but this surprisingly restrained live version of the sultry folk-country classic is a definite hit.

9. Darin & Brooke Aldridge – ‘The Last Thing On His Mind’ (Darin & Brooke Aldridge)
I loved this husband and wife team’s sweet bluegrass album and this somber Easter song (written by Dennis K Duff) was the highlight for me.

8. Teea Goans – ‘I Don’t Do Bridges Anymore’ (The Way I Remember It)
Teea Goans’ retro independent release featured this lovely classic-styled ballad, written by Jim McBride, Don Poythress and Jerry Salley. Her voice is sweet but not that distinctive, but this breakup song is definitely worth hearing.

7. Catherine Britt – ‘Sweet Emmylou’ (Catherine Britt)
The Australian singer’s latest album was a bit hit and miss for me, but there were some very strong moments, including Catherine’s lovely version of her tribute to the healing power of the music of Emmylou Harris, which she wrote some years ago with Rory Feek. It has been released as a single in Australia.

6. Bill Anderson – ‘The Songwriters’ (Songwriter)
My favorite comic song of the year is the legendary Bill Anderson’s celebration (more or less) of songwriters’ lives, complete with the protagonist’s mother’s preference for a career as drug dealer for her son. Bill isn’t much of a singer, but this song (co-written with Gordie Sampson)is irresistible.

5. Randy Kohrs – ‘Die On The Vine’ (Quicksand)
One of the first songs to grab my attention this year was this lovely song warning a son against taking refuges from trouble in alcohol, written by famed dobro player and songwriter Randy Kohrs with Dennis Goodwin.

4. James Dupre – ‘Ring On The Bar’ (It’s All Happening)
I loved this sensitively sung low-key mid-tempo Byron Hill/Brent Baxter song about a man trying to figure out what happened to his marriage from youtube discovery James’s independent debut album, produced by Kyle Lehning.

3. Lee Ann Womack – ‘Liars Lie’ (Country Strong soundtrack)
I’m beginning to get impatient for a new album from Lee Ann, and this soundtrack cut has really whetted my appetite. This excellent song, written by Sally Barris, Morgane Hayes and Liz Rose, and the combination of Lee Ann’s beautiful vocals and the harmony from Charlie Pate, a pure country production (thanks to Lee Ann’s husband Frank Liddell and Chuck Ainlay), and a fine song make this a sheer delight.

2. Chris Young – ‘Chiseled In Stone’ (Voices EP)
Song for song, this young neotraditionalist’s three song EP of covers was the most impressive release of the year, allowing Chris to exercise his outstanding baritone voice on really top quality material – something sadly missing on his two full length albums. This Vern Gosdin song was my favorite of the three, but his takes on Keith Whitley’s ‘I’m Over You’ and John Anderson’s ‘Swingin’ were also great.

1. Alan Jackson ft Lee Ann Womack – ‘Til The End’ (Freight Train)
This particular treasure is not very well hidden, as although it hasn’t been released as a single it gained sufficient attention to get a well-deserved nomination as Musical Event of the Year at the recent CMA awards. This exquisite reading of another Vern Gosdin classic was by far the best thing on Alan’s latest (and possibly last) album for Arista.

Do you have any special favorite album tracks from this year which haven’t gained the attention they deserve?