My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Kye Fleming

Album Review: Johnny Cash – ‘Out Among The Stars’

johnnycashThere hasn’t been any shortage of “new” Johnny Cash music in the decade since the Man In Black’s death. But unlike most of those releases, this week’s Out Among The Stars isn’t a reissue, an alternate take, a demo or a recording made during the singer’s declining years when he was long past his vocal peak. Rather, Out Among The Stars is a full-fledged studio album that was mostly recorded in the 1980s and produced by Billy Sherrill. The nearly completed album was discovered two years ago by John Carter Cash, who was in the process of mining the Sony archives while trying to catalog his parents’ extensive discographies. He brought in some additional musicians, including Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller and Carlene Carter, to bring the project to completion. The final product was released last week.

Normally, news of this sort would be cause for great celebration but any excitement about the album had to be tempered with the knowledge that the 1980s were, as even the most die-hard Cash fans will admit , a period in which the singer released mostly less than stellar work. Add to that the fact that Billy Sherrill had been the producer behind “The Chicken In Black”, widely regarded to be one of the worst singles of Cash’s career, and no one was quite sure what to expect.

Considering that Out Among The Stars was mostly recorded in 1984, while Cash’s career was in the middle of a long dry spell and just two years before Columbia dropped him from its roster, it isn’t surprising that the album was forgotten. But those who were braced for the worst will be pleasantly surprised because it is far superior to most of his output from that era. So far the album has produced one non-charting single, “She Used To Love Me a Lot”, which David Allan Coe took to #11 in 1984. It was written by Charles Quillen with Dennis W. Morgan and Kye Fleming. Morgan and Fleming were one of Nashville’s top songwriting teams of the day, having written many hits for Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell and Sylvia.

Many other top 80s songwriters teams are also represented. Ed and Patsy Bruce contributed “After All”, a pop-tinged ballad that was a departure from Johnny’s usual fare and Paul Kennerley and Graham Lyle wrote “Rock and Roll Shoes”. Johnny himself contributed the sentimental “Call Your Mother” and the inspirational “I Came To Believe”, which was written while Johnny was struggling with addiction and completing a stint at the Betty Ford Center. Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman wrote the tongue-in-cheek “If I Told You Who It Was” about a country music fan who has a fling with a female Opry star after changing her flat tire. No names are named, but the lady’s identity is revealed (for those old enough to recognize it) by an uncredited vocal appearance near the end of the song. It’s not Dolly Parton; that’s all I’m going to say.

Although traditionalists like to claim Cash as one of their own, The Man In Black was no purist and frequently pushed the boundaries of the genre. In this collection he sticks close to his country roots, and unlike many of his records, there is plenty of steel guitar on this album. Among the most traditional tunes are two excellent duets with June Carter Cash — “Baby, Ride Easy” and a cover of Tommy Collins’ “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time”. Johnny sounds relaxed and refreshed on these tracks, and June is also in fine vocal form. “Baby, Come Easy” features harmony vocals by Carlene Carter and “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time” features some excellent picking by Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Bryan Sutton. Waylon Jennings joins Johnny for a faithful-to-the-original cover of the Hank Snow classic “I’m Movin’ On”. Jennings’ presence elevates a performance that otherwise wouldn’t be particularly memorable.

The album closes with a remixed version of “She Used To Love Me A Lot” that was produced by Elvis Costello. Not surprisingly, this version isn’t country but it is in keeping with some of Cash’s genre-pushing efforts. It doesn’t really add anything to the album, however, and I could have done without it. “I Came To Believe” would have been a more appropriate closing track, but that is the only negative thing I can say about an otherwise exceptional album.

It is unlikely that Out Among The Stars would have fared well commercially had it been released thirty years ago. It was not then and is not now what mainstream Nashville wanted. It won’t produce any big radio hits, but now there is a greater appreciation of Johnny Cash than there was in 1984. Sony is giving the release the promotional effort it deserves and I imagine it will sell quite well.

Grade: A+

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Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘Super Hits’

Steve Wariner didn’t become a staple at country radio until he signed with MCA in 1984, though he was already a veteran recording artist with six years and 17 charting singles under his belt. Released in 1998 and originally intended as a budget release, Super Hits anthologizes the portion of his catalog controlled by BMG (now Sony) Music. It consists primarily of his early recordings for RCA, along with a few tracks from his early 90s stint with Arista Records. It is the only currently available compilation of his early hits.

These recordings are very much a product of their time, which unfortunately means heavily pop-influenced 80s production that sounds quite dated to modern listeners. However, the songs themselves are quite good, and since Steve was experiencing his first chart successes at about the same time I became interested in country music, they hold great nostalgia value for me.

Wariner had been playing bass guitar in Dottie West’s band for seven years by the time he inked his deal with RCA in 1978. His first release for the label was “I’m Already Taken”, which peaked at #63 and is not included in this collection. A string of low-charting singles followed before he cracked the Top 40 for the first time with 1980’s “Your Memory”, which is the earliest hit included here. Written by Charles Quillen and John Schweers, and produced by Norro Wilson and Tony Brown, “Your Memory” climbed all the way to #7. Its successor, “By Now” did slightly better, reaching #6. “All Roads Lead To You”, produced by Tom Collins who was well known at the time for his work with Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell, became Steve’s first #1 hit in 1981. It was written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan, who penned many of Mandrell’s early 80s hits, as well as Sylvia’s 1982 smash “Nobody”. Telling the story of a road construction worker struggling in vain to forget about his lost love, “All Roads Lead To You” was one of my very favorite songs from this era. I still like it, though I don’t think quite as highly of it now as I did at the time.

After “All Roads Lead To You”, Wariner’s chart success became inconsistent. “Kansas City Lights”, which was also produced by Collins, stalled at #15, but in spite of its failure to crack the Top 10, it is probably the best remembered of his RCA hits. It was followed by three singles that all failed to crack the Top 20.

In spite of Steve’s success at radio, RCA resisted releasing an album for four years, utilizing a tactic that has more or less become standard operating procedure for major labels today. When they finally did get around to releasing an album, 1982’s Steve Wariner, it consisted of six singles, including all of the aforementioned songs. His second album, 1983’s Midnight Fire, found him once again utilizing the services of Norro Wilson and Tony Brown. Midnight Fire produced two Top 5 hits, the title track and “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers”, as well as “Why Goodbye” which peaked at #12. These tracks sound more country – a fiddle can actually be heard on “Midnight Fire”! – and have aged better than his earlier releases. These represent Wariner’s final commercial successes for RCA. He departed the label for MCA shortly thereafter. RCA released a Greatest Hits collection that included two new tracks that went nowhere on the charts. In 1986, RCA finally got around to releasing Down In Tennessee, which had been recorded in 1978 and intended to be Steve’s debut album.

The remaining three tracks on this album were recorded for Arista in the early 90s, and represent a marked change in style from the RCA recordings. “Leave Him Out Of This”, Steve’s first release for Arista in 1991, reached #6. His remake of Bill Anderson’s “The Tips Of My Fingers” climbed to #3 and is one of the finest recordings of Wariner’s career. Completing the set is “If I Didn’t Love You”, a #8 hit from Steve’s second Arista album, 1993’s Drive.

While most of these tracks are not essential listening except for the die-hard fan, they do provide an interesting look at Steve’s development as an artist.

Grade: B

Super Hits is available on CD from third party sellers on Amazon at ridiculous prices and can be downloaded for a more reasonable $5.99.