My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: L Russell Brown

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Love Is Everything’

love is everythingNow 61, George Strait may be giving up touring next year, but he still seems to be keen on continuing his recording career. As with everything he has done in the past decade, he has co-produced his latest album with Tony Brown, and there are no indications he is running out of steam. The pair know just what works for Strait and his fans, and while there are no real surprises here, it’s an accomplished record which will be well received by the fans.

Lead single ‘Give It All We Got Tonight’ is a rather dull and generic song with irritatingly tinny echoes in the production, written by Mark Bright, Phil O’Donnell and Tim James. It sounds exactly like an attempt at getting some radio attention. Luckily it’s done the job, giving George his 60th chart-topper; better still, it’s the only dud.

The outstanding song is ‘Blue Melodies’, a sad slow song written by Keith Gattis and one Wyatt Earp (yes, really). Loaded with steel guitar and fiddle, this is classic country heartbreak as a songwriter struggles to find the right words to convey his feelings. His sweetheart loves the sad songs, but he admits this will end up “a sad song, that’s too sad to sing” if she isn’t persuaded to return. His years of experience stand him in good stead here, as the phrasing is impeccable. This is absolutely lovely.

Gattis also contributed another pair of songs to the album. The engaging story song ‘I Got A Car’, written with Tom Douglas, narrates a romance from roadside pickup to starting a family together, and is quite charming, although the production gets a little busy towards the end. It would probably work as a single. ‘Sittin’ On The Fence’, a co-write with Roger Creager, is another good song. It is about a man undecided whether to make the move to save a relationship (even though he knows he’d be a “damn fool to let her go”).

Also very good, ‘You Don’t Know What You’re Missing’, written by Chris Stapleton and Al Anderson, reports a bar room conversation comparing one man’s complaints about mundane problems in his family life, to his drinking companion’s real heartaches. ‘I Thought I Heard My Heart Sing’ (by Bill Kenner and L Russell Brown) is an enjoyably bouncy number about the euphoria of falling in love which has a delightfully retro feel.

In the warmhearted ‘When Love Comes Around Again’, penned by Monty Holmes, Donny Kees and Jeff Silvey, Strait offers an older man’s hard-won experience of recovering from a broken heart to find new love, to counsel a younger friend going through it all for the first time. This might be another good single. The title track (written by Casey Beathard and Pat McLaughlin) is a little bland lyrically, but the laidback vocal and generous emotion work well.

‘I Just Can’t Go On Dying Like This’ is a rare solo composition by Strait, and is an impressive sad country ballad. It is an older song which was one of the artist’s first, pre-fame, singles back in 1976, and was also recorded as a bonus on the Strait Out Of The Box box set. The latest version is significantly different from its predecessors, completely reinventing it by slowed down from a honky tonker into a mature ballad which is very fine indeed. He was joined by son Bubba to write ‘That’s What Breaking Hearts Do’, which is a decent song but the vocal feels a bit perfunctory. Father and son teamed up with old friend Dean Dillon for two further songs. ‘The Night Is Young’, a cheerfully delivered invitation to a wife for a long night out (and in), and is quite good, featuring horns.

The more serious ‘I Believe’ is a sensitive, strings-swathed, response to the tragic events at Newtown, Connecticut, last year, capturing the sadness felt across the world at such a horrific incident.

The album closes with the valedictory ‘When The Credits Roll’, written by Randy Montana, Steve Bogard and Kyle Jacobs. I don’t know how much longer Strait plans to continue recording, but this feels intended to evoke images of his life and career as the latter comes to an end. However, it doesn’t quite convince, because George has never really come across as the rebel presented in the lyrics, and the production is a bit cluttered.

This isn’t Strait’s best ever record – that would be quite an achievement – but it’s solid fare with plenty of good songs and one outstanding one. It’s the best mainstream record I’ve heard in a while.

Grade: A-

Album Review: David Ball – ‘Sparkle City’

I’ve always liked David Ball’s music, but it’s been a while since he saw any chart action; 2001’s ‘Riding With Private Malone’ was his only hit after 1995 and he is now recording for the independent Red Dirt Music Company/E1. His last album was a tribute to the classic sounds of country music, dating from the 1950s to the late 80s, with only one original song, but this time he has composed all the material himself.

The overall feel of the record leans to a jazzy swinging Texas groove without much variation. It would go down well live (and is probably a good representation of his live show, not least because he is backed by a core of his own touring band, the Pioneer Playboys, supplemented by outside musicians where required). However, it sounds a little samey over the length of a record with too many of the songs blending together, particularly when coupled with a lack of variety in the subjects tackled. Many of the lyrics are variations on a theme of the restless drifter unwilling ever to settle down, but none of the songs resonates as much as, say, the similarly themed ‘Freewheeler’, title track of David’s last original record in 2004 and one of my favorites of his.

The album opens with the entertaining but unsubtle double entendre of ‘Hot Water Pipe’, which was a winter single for David.  The following ‘Country Boy Boogie’ (my least favourite track) has a good groove but is not very interesting lyrically and has annoyingly shouty background vocals in the chorus.

The repetitive ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ is back to the slight jazzy western swing feel as the protagonist makes an unconvincing suggestion that maybe tomorrow he’ll change his restless ways (although I like the line playfully blaming his restless ways on being “born under a green traffic light”) . ‘Smiling In The Morning’ has the frankly unlikable protagonist leaving a short-term lover (not to mention the country – a rather extreme way of avoiding commitment), although I do like the tune.  ‘Back To Alabama’ is better, with its prodigal protagonist dreaming of going home, and a sultry bluesy feel, but by the time we get to the forgettable ‘On Top Of The World’ the groove is sounding a bit tired and very far from sparkling.

There are a few songs which break from the template. I like the rambler’s defence, ‘Just Along For The Ride’, with its loping western feel and melancholy undertones to David’s vocal (even when he talks of winning in Las Vegas), which is reminiscent of the best of David’s past work. There is a similar feel to the lovely ‘Tulsa’, overtly relaxed but layered with an underlying sense of regret, with a musician planning to up sticks and move to LA, “chasing a dream” and wistfully saying,

I hope someday they say good things about me and my song
Hope LA’s glad to see me
Tulsa won’t even know I’m gone

Most of the songs are solo compositions, but three were co-written with L Russell Brown, and they are among the best on the record.  ‘What’ll I Do If I Don’t Have You’, a plaintive last-ditch appeal to a lover planning to leave, has a simple charm and irresistibly sing along melody, and a subtle string arrangement adds to the effect.  The Tex-Mex ‘Houston Again’ may be yet another song about a rambling man not wanting to settle down, but is more interesting than the rest with an actual story – the narrator is running away from Houston because there’s a pretty girl and potential father-in-law there hoping to “rope me in and tie me down”.  It scans badly with an awkward line break in the middle of the word grandchildren, but that aside is one of my favorite tracks.

The last of the co-writes, ‘So Long’ closes the album appropriately with an attractive sounding temporary goodbye song.

I am enjoying listening to this record, but its doesn’t appeal as much as David Ball’s older music.

Grade: B