My Kind of Country

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

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Classic Rewind: Lacy J Dalton – ‘Crazy Blue Eyes’

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Classic Rewind: Lacy J Dalton – ‘Crazy Crazy Crazy’

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘These Days’

41xt6655asl-_ac_us300_ql65_Released in August 1980, These Days was Crystal Gayle’s  second of three albums recorded for Columbia. Although very successful on Billboard’s Country Albums chart reaching #6 and being certified gold s also definitely NOT a country album. It is also my least favorite of her albums, although there are many redeeming moments. The album seems to run between 80’s lounge and classic pop standards.

The album opens up with “Too Many Lovers”, a #1 record written by Mark True, Ted Lindsay, Sam Hogin. This song is moderately up-tempo with a rock guitar break.  This is followed by “If You Ever Change Your Mind”, a nice ballad written by Parker McGee and Bob Gundry. The instrumentation is basically jazz piano with orchestration. This too reached #1.

“Ain’t No Love In the Heart of The City” is typical cocktail lounge pop. Crystal sings it well but the song itself leaves me cold. Written by Michael Price and Daniel Walsh, the song leans toward modern R&B, as does the next song “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, which I find disappointing as Will Jennings and Joe Sample have decent track records as country songsmiths. With a different arrangement, I might like “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, but the background vocals on the “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)” probably belong on a Patti Labelle record rather than anything recorded by Crystal Gayle, and the Kenny G style sax leaves me completely cold.

Allen Reynolds and Bob McDill usually crafted good songs, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” is no exception. A slow ballad with flute and string accompaniment, I could see this song being released as a single to Adult Contemporary radio. Don Williams recorded the song as an album track but I think Crystal’s version is better, even exquisite.

What a time to turn your back on someone
What a day to be without a friend
What a shame when no-one seems to bother
Who will offer shelter to candles in the wind

And it follows we are only helpless children
Ever changing like sunlight through the trees
It’s a long road we must cling to one another
Help yourselves to each other, that’s the way it’s meant to be

The great Delbert McClinton wrote “Take It Easy’ which proved to be a minor hit for Crystal Gayle, reaching #17. Crystal handles it well but her version pales to the McClinton original, and I suspect grittier female country vocalists such as Gus Hardin, Lacy J Dalton, Gail Davies, Wilma Lee Cooper or Jean Shepard  could have done the song better (not that Wilma Lee or Jean could ever have been persuaded to record this song) .

“I Just Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is another song by Sample and Jennings, this time a mid-tempo blues number , with a traditional jazz accompaniment including clarinet.

“You’ve Almost Got Me Believin'”, by Barbara Wyrick,  sounds like cocktail lounge pop. I really didn’t like this song at all, particularly after the Kenny G-styled sax kicks in. Crystal’s vocal is nice but the song is unworthy.

“Lover Man” is a pop standard classic by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill. American listeners may recall Weill as the composer of “Mack The Knife”, but he penned many fine songs, including this one. While the song is often associated with Ella Fitzgerald, Crystal acquits herself well . The arrangement can be best describe as a very bluesy piece of piano jazz.

I don’t know why but I’m feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissing
Oh, what I’ve been missing
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The night is cold and I’m so alone
I’d give my soul just to call you my own
Got a moon above me
But no one to love me
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The album reaches back to 1934 for its closing number “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, from the pen of Tin Pan Alley writer Harry M. Woods. Harry wrote a number of pop standard classics including “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”,  “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain”, “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye”, and “Try a Little Tenderness”.  The song is performed as an up-tempo traditional jazz number with honky-tonk piano similar to what Joanne Castle, Big Tiny Little or Joe “Fingers” Carr might have played, and a very nice clarinet solo.

Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do
Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do to you

You’re in love
Your heart’s fluttering
All day long
You only stutter
Cause your poor tone
Just will not utter the words
I love you

For me this is a mixed bag. I do like pop standards and traditional jazz balladry, but I don’t care for cocktail lounge jazz. There are some very nice song on this album and some songs about which I am utterly indifferent. There is nothing remotely country on this album. I think the first two and last two songs on this album, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” are the best songs  on the album.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Lacy J. Dalton – ‘Crazy Blue Eyes’

Country Heritage: Lacy J. Dalton

lacy j daltonWith one of the more recognizable voices in the genre, Lacy J. Dalton blazed across the skies of country music during the 1980s, producing a number of memorable songs along the way. While not an overwhelming commercial success (only nine of her songs made the Billboard country Top 10) as an artist she impressed with her heartfelt vocals and gritty song interpretations. People magazine referred to her as “Country’s Bonnie Raitt,” a description with which few would differ.

Lacy J. Dalton (born Jill Byrem on October 13, 1946 in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), was born into a musical family. Her father, mother and sister all played musical instruments and sang. Like many of her generation, Dalton’s early influences included the classic country sounds of her youth, the sounds of the folk music revival of the early 60s known as the “Hootenanny” era (artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez), and the jazz/blues of artists such as Billie Holiday and Big Mama Thornton.

Following completion of high school, Dalton briefly attended Brigham Young University. But her restless spirit prevailed, and she dropped out and drifted around the country for a time, eventually arriving in Los Angeles and then Santa Cruz, where she performed as a protest-oriented folksinger. During the later ’60s, she sang with a Bay Area psychedelic rock band called Office, becoming Jill Croston when she married the group’s manager. This marriage did not last long as her husband died in a swimming pool accident.

During the late 1970s Lacy reinvented herself as a country singer adopting the stage name of Lacy J. Dalton. After an initial rock recording on the Harbor label in 1978, in 1979 she landed a recording contract with Columbia after Billy Sherrill heard a demo tape of her singing country music. Her Columbia debut, “Crazy Blue Eyes,” reached #17, followed by her recordings of “Tennessee Waltz” (#18) and “Losing Kind of Love” (#14).

The first three singles helped Lacy win the CMA’s Best New Artist Award. After that, her career kicked into high gear with a string of top ten records that took her through 1983, including “Hard Times” (#7) , “Hillbilly Girl With the Blues” (#8), “Whisper” (#10) and her biggest record “Takin’ It Easy” (#1 Cashbox/#2 Billboard). Everybody Makes Mistakes,” backed with “Wild Turkey,” was a double-sided hit with the A side reaching #5.

While not her biggest hit, 1982’s “16th Avenue” is probably her best remembered song, reaching #7. A 1983 cover of Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)” concluded her visits to the top ten, although she continued to record for Columbia through 1987. The changing tastes of the country music market, away from her ‘blue-eyed soul‘ style toward a more traditional style, greased her slide down the charts. A change of record labels, to Universal in 1989 and Capitol/Liberty in 1990 failed to arrest the slide, although “The Heart” in 1989 and “Black Coffee” in 1990 both reached the top 15, the latter song being her last appearance on the Billboard charts.

Lacy J. Dalton continues to write and record music, and tours the United States and Europe.

You can keep up with Lacy J. Dalton on her website.

Discography

Vinyl
As is always the case, all vinyl is out of print. You can sometimes find her records at used record shops, thrift shops or on the internet. MusicStack seems to be the best source for vinyl on the internet as it is a clearinghouse for many dealers.

Lacy issued nine albums on Columbia. One of these albums is a greatest hits collection, but they are all good albums. Trust me – if you like Lacy’s voice, you’ll like the albums. If you find any albums on Universal, Liberty or Capitol, you may as well buy them too.

CD
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has her Greatest Hits available for $9.95. A ten song CD, this one has ten of her Columbia era songs and indeed is accurately titled. ET also has Best of the Best CD on the King label – same songs but I think these are remakes.

Lacy’s most recent release of new material is a Hank Williams tribute album titled Here’s To Hank. Released in 2010, the album finds Lacy tackling a dozen Hank Sr. classics. While Lacy sticks to the obvious songs such as “Your Cheating Heart”, Hey Good Looking” and “You Win Again”, the fact remains that if (1) you take a really good and soulful singer (2) have her sing twelve of the greatest songs ever written and (3) add an appropriate crew of musicians and careful arrangements by Steven Swinford that update but do not lose the feel of the originals, then you will have a really good album. Such is the case with this album.

Highly recommended to fans of Lacy J Dalton, fans of Hank Sr., and fans of really good country music.

Lacy’s website has a newer CD (from 2004/2008) Last Wild Place which has some newer material plus five of her old hits. This album is (more or less) acoustic.

In late 2012 the Morello label released a two-fer comprised of two of Lacy’s Capitol albums from 1989 and 1990, Survivor/Lacy J. These albums found Lacy writing only three songs, but the lack of original material does not mean lack of quality as there are some imaginative covers to be found here including Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years”, Kris Kristofferson’s “The Heart” and the classic Guy Clark song “Old Friends”. Amazon and Ernest Tubb Record Shop both have this album available.

In the past other CDs have been available including a hits collection on the Capitol/Liberty material.

Amazon has most of Lacy’s material available as digital downloads, but be sure to listen to the samples as some of the tracks are re-makes.

Country Heritage Redux: Gus Hardin

One of the more interesting singers of the 1980s was a female singer who went by the name Gus Hardin. While never a big star, she had one of the more distinctive female voices and enjoyed at least a modicum of recording success. Her voice was hard to describe, although some listeners said it reminded them of Bonnie Tyler, while others described it as ‘whisky-soaked.’ Perhaps a more accurate description would be that it was the sort of blues/rock/country/gospel sound sometimes referred to as the ‘Tulsa Sound’ that later, appropriately enough, spawned Garth Brooks – appropriate in that Garth’s sister, Betsy Smittle, sang background vocals for Hardin.

I had the pleasure of seeing her perform only one time, at the Five Seasons Center (now U.S. Cellular Center) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in early 1984, a few weeks after the University of Miami’s stunning victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for their first National Championship. Because the show was a package put on by a local radio station, none of the acts were able to put on a full set (Jim Glaser was also on the bill). I regret that I never had an opportunity to see her again.

Biographical information on Gus Hardin is fairly sketchy, although she is known to have been at least part Cherokee. She was born Carolyn Ann Blankenship on April 9, 1945 in Tulsa, Oklahoma and grew up in the Tulsa area, where she picked up the nickname “Gus” as a teen. After high school, she attended Tulsa University. Although she initially planned on being a teacher of the deaf, marriage, music and a pregnancy derailed that plan.

Hardin seemed to have a tumultuous personal life having been married at least six times, thrice by the time she was 23. Marriage number three was to keyboard player Steve Hardin who had previously played in Jody Miller’s band and later played for Glen Campbell. After their divorce, she retained the last name as her professional name.

She signed a recording contract with RCA during the early 1980s. Her first RCA single, “After The Last Good-Bye”, was a Top 10 country hit in 1983, and several other singles from her albums reached the top 40 over the next few years. None of her solo efforts ever again reached the level of her first single. Although she was named ‘Top New Country Artist’ by Billboard magazine in 1983, it did not lead to great commercial success as her voice was ill-suited for the synthesizer-driven sound of the early to mid 1980s country music. A 1984 duet with fellow RCA recording artist Earl Thomas Conley, “All Tangled Up In Love” reached #8, but other than that, none of her subsequent records even reached the Top 25.

Gus Hardin won the “Best New Female Vocalist” award from the Academy of Country Music in 1984. It should be noted that the Academy of Country Music was much more oriented to west coast based artists during that period.

In all, Hardin charted 10 singles, the last occurring in early 1986 when “What We Gonna Do” peaked at #73. Although she charted over a four year period, all of her recordings for RCA were recorded within a span of less than two years. She released three albums on the RCA label for a total of 25 songs. After her chart career ended, she continued to perform regularly.

Gus Hardin died in a car crash on Highway 20 east of Claremore, Oklahoma on the way home from singing at a Sunset Grill in Tulsa, on February 17, 1996. She was survived by a daughter, Toni.

Year Title Single Peak
1983 “After the Last Goodbye” #10
1983 “If I Didn’t Love You” #26
1983 “Loving You Hurts” #32
1984 “Fallen Angel (Flying High Tonight)” #41
1984 “I Pass” #43
1984 “How Are You Spending My Nights” #52
1985 “All Tangled Up in Love” (w/ Earl T Conley) #8
1985 “My Mind Is On You” #79
1985 “Just as Long as I Have You”(w/ Dave Loggins) #72
1986 “What We Gonna Do” #73

Discography

CD

CD Baby has one CD of Gus Hardin’s material available titled I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can. I am not sure as to the source of the material – it includes a few of her chart hits but the song timings suggest that they are remakes. Still, it’s all that currently is available. CD Baby lets you preview some of the songs and Gus appears to have been in good voice when they were recorded. Their recommendation sidebar says you’ll like her if you are a fan of Janis Joplin or Heart – I don’t like either Joplin or Heart but think a closer analogy would be Lacy J Dalton.

Vinyl

Gus issued three albums on RCA:
Gus Hardin (1983) – a six track mini-LP
Fallen Angel (1984)
Wall Of Tears (1984) – although this album has only eight tracks, this is what RCA was passing off as a full album in those days. During the vinyl era, RCA was always the industry leader in giving you less for your money.

There were some earlier albums on smaller labels. I know of three titles Almost Live, Jukebox Saturday Night and Solid Gold Country, although I’ve never seen (nor heard) any of them.

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 1

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)“ – Alabama
Alabama made excellent music during the 1980s, although the country content of some of it was suspect. Not this song, which is dominated by fiddle. One of the few up-tempo Alabama records that swings rather than rocks.

I’ve Been Wrong Before” – Deborah Allen
An accomplished songwriter who wrote many hits for others, particularly with Rafe VanHoy, this was one of three top ten tunes for Ms. Allen, reaching #2 in 1984. This is much more country sounding than her other big hit “Baby I Lied”.

Last of The Silver Screen Cowboys” – Rex Allen Jr.
After some success as a pop-country balladeer, Rex Jr. turned increasing to western-themed material as the 1980s rolled along. This was not a big hit, reaching #43 in 1982, but it featured legendary music/film stars Roy Rogers and Rex Allen Sr. on backing vocals.

“Southern Fried” – Bill Anderson
This was Whispering Bill’s first release for Southern Tracks after spending over twenty years recording for Decca/MCA. Bill was no longer a chart force and this song only reached #42 in 1982, but as the chorus notes: “We like Richard Petty, Conway Twitty and the Charlie Daniels Band”.

Indeed we do. Read more of this post

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 2

The 1970s were not my favorite decade for country music but it was the decade in which I did my largest amount of listening to country radio, having the good fortune to have such country giants as WSUN AM- 620 in St. Petersburg, FL, WHOO AM-1090 in Orlando and WCMS AM-1050 in Norfolk, VA for my listening pleasure, plus I could tune in WSM AM – 650 in Nashville at night. I did a lot of shift-work during this decade so my radio was on constantly.

    

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1970s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

Everybody’s Reaching Out For Someone” – Pat Daisy (1972)

Beautiful and blessed with a great voice, she never did break through as a major star since she was buried at RCA behind Connie Smith, Dolly Parton, Dottie West and Skeeter Davis for promotional attention. This song reached #20 on the country chart and #112 on the pop chart and was covered on albums by many country artists. Pat pulled the plug on her own career to raise a family. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Lacy J Dalton – ’16th Avenue’

Classic Rewind: Lacy J Dalton – ‘Adios & Run’

Classic Rewind: Lacy J Dalton – ‘Hillbilly Girl With The Blues’

Album Review: Sunny Sweeney – ‘Heartbreaker’s Hall Of Fame’

Sunny Sweeney began her performing career as a student of improv comedy in New York City.  Fortunately for country music fans, her fellow classmates encouraged her to first pursue a career in music.  After that, Sunny retreated to her Texas hometown, before she made the move to Austin and began playing the local honky tonk circuit.  She was soon writing her own songs and landed a spot on an international tour with Dwight Yoakam.  In 2007, Big Machine Records signed Sweeney to the label and issued her first album, Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame.  Three singles were released, all of which failed to chart.

Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame was recorded at Cherry Ridge Studio in Floresville, Texas, far from Music Row.  It’s no wonder the set failed to generate any radio hits given the album’s overall sound and running themes.  That she really honed her chops playing the honky tonks is evident in both the aesthetic and the themes present in the lyrics here as Texas roadhouse country seems to the most common recurring musical theme among a littering of influences of honky-tonk, traditional country, and embracing Nashville renegades.

‘Refresh My Memory’ is a straight-up country, drown-in-your-sorrows number where the narrator is returning to one of her ex-boyfriends because she knows he’ll at least light a spark in her, even if she knows he’s wrong for her.  It’s been an awful long time since she felt the spark this guy brings to her, or perhaps since she’s felt any sparks at all, and here she implores him to jog her memory a bit

There are plenty of two-steps and genuine barroom honky-tonk with tracks like ‘East Texas Pines’, a rocking lament to days gone by and your current location.  The album’s title track was perhaps its best shot at a mainstream country radio hit, but even it was a long shot. Sunny’s charming drawl, coupled with layers of steel guitar, walking bass lines, and some saucy harmonica playing, keep it firmly rooted in traditional country; radical, you know.  ‘If I Could’ moves at breakneck speed – and shows Sunny to be capable as an auctioneer if nothing else – in a knee-slapping good time of a song.

Proving Sweeney to be a singer’s singer – a characteristic that almost always means quality but also means no commercial appeal for some reason – this album has more than its share of insider songs about the music industry, and even more that just plain espouse the virtues and importance of music to the mind and soul.  ‘Next Big Nothing’ tells of a singer’s struggles and frustrations with the slow pace of success while ‘Slow Swinging Western Tunes’ sings both the praises and the curses of sweet dance hall numbers – ‘play them in reverse and you get yourself a broken heart’.

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The 25 best albums of the decade

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been compiling a list of our favorite albums of the past decade. We each prepared a list of our 10 favorites, and then we attempted to trim the combined list down to 25 and rank them. There was surprisingly little overlap, and I think it’s safe to say that the final list is quite different from what any of us would have come up with individually. So, without further ado, here are the 25 best albums of the decade, as we see it:

25. Elizabeth Cook — Hey Y’all (Warner Bros, 2002)

Elizabeth Cook was too country for country even in 2002 with her engaging major-label debut. My favourite track is ‘You Move Too Fast’, followed by the charming ‘Everyday Sunshine’, the comparison of her career to that of ‘Dolly’, the sweet ‘Mama, You Wanted To Be A Singer Too’, the singalong about the ‘Stupid Things’ love will make you do, and the irrepressibly optimistic ‘God’s Got A Plan’. — Occasional Hope

24. Wynonna — Her Story: Scenes From a Lifetime (Mercury/Curb, 2005)

Wynonna took an autobiographical approach to her 2005 tour, and the show was filmed and recorded for a live DVD/CD combo set. Beginning with her musical journey as one half of The Judds, Wynonna affectionately recalls her days on the road with her Mom, before moving on to the solo side of her music career, revisiting classic Judds hits like ‘Girls Night Out’ and ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’. The banter in between the songs is reason enough to own the set, but Wynonna’s live take on her own songs like ‘That Was Yesterday’, ‘I Want To Know What love Is’, and ‘Is It Over Yet’ are flawless. — J.R.

23. Bobby Pinson — Man Like Me (RCA, 2005)

This was the richest debut album of the decade, although few record buyers agreed, and singer-songwriter Bobby soon lost his deal with RCA. His gravelly voice had genuine character and emotional depth; perhaps it was too much of an acquired taste for radio beyond one minor hit single. Great overlooked tracks include the reflective title track, showing how hard experiences made the man, the testimony of a sinner saved by a woman’s love in ‘One More Believer’, ‘Ford Fairlane’, perhaps my favorite song of all time about a car, and the wry ‘Started A Band’ about struggling to make it as a musician. — Occasional Hope

22. Brad Paisley — Time Well Wasted (Arista, 2005)

After three promising but somewhat uneven albums, things finally came together with Paisley’s fourth release. This was the first album he released that I felt compelled to buy. It opens with the obligatory novelty tune (“Alcohol”) but it also contains one of the strongest entries in his catalog to date, “When I Get Where I’m Going” which features beautiful harmony vocals by Dolly Parton. — Razor X

21. Sugarland — Love On The Inside (Mercury, 2007)

Masterpiece. That’s the best word I can find to decribe this album. But mere words cannot begin to explain how much I love this album, or how many times I’ve played it in the past 18 months. Jennifer Nettles said it was a set of songs that would play well from ‘Saturday night to Sunday morning’, but I have to disagree. I can’t think of any day of the week, or any time of day this near-perfect set doesn’t play well. With sharp songwriting set among a myriad of subjects, while Nettles wraps her distinctive pipes around the always-catchy lyrics, Love On The Inside is still the best studio album I’ve heard in my years listening to country music, with songs like ‘Genevieve’, ‘Very Last Country Song’, and ‘Fall Into Me’ all getting hundreds of spins in my library. I’ve liked all the singles sent to radio too. — J.R.

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The bottle that pours the wine: Songs about songwriting

Stephanie DavisIt’s always about the song in country music. Whether the writer sings the song or not, a topic Razor X raised last week, the song itself is what everything else ultimately depends on. One of the things I love about country music is the range of subjects it tackles, but the thing most songwriters know the most about is, of course, writing songs.  So it should come as no surprise that some writers have chosen to reflect on that process within their work: the nature of inspiration; the way lives and pain are transmuted into art; and complaining about or celebrating the state of the music industry. Self-referential, perhaps – but also a fascinating insight into songwriters’ thoughts about the songs they write. So here are some of my favorite songs on the theme.

‘Sixteenth Avenue’, the ultimate tribute to the professional songwriters of Music Row, written by one of their own, Thom Schuyler, and made famous by Lacy J Dalton, speaks briefly of the magical moment of inspiration when some struggling writer finds the perfect words:
One night in some empty room where no curtains ever hung
Like a miracle some golden words rolled off someone’s tongue

Another nod to the idea that the music comes from some place beyond is expressed in David Ball’s lovely ‘The Bottle That Pours The Wine’, which he wrote with Allen Shamblin for his 1996 album Starlite Lounge, as he answers a young fan asking where the songs come from:
“I’m just a bottle that pours the wine
A fragile vessel for melody and rhyme

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