My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Larry Gatlin

Album Revew: Janie Fricke – ‘Sleeping With Your Memory’

1981 saw a change of producer for Janie, with Jim Ed Norman taking up the reins from Billy Sherrill for Sleeping With Your Memory. The result was incrased success for her on radio and with the industry – Janie would be named the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1982.

The lead single was ‘Do Me With Love’, written by John Schweers. A bright perky slice of pop-country, this rather charming song (featuring Ricky Skaggs on backing vocals although he is not very audible) was a well-deserved hit, peaking at #4. Its successor, ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby’, was Janie’s first chart topper. It was written by fellow country starlet Deborah Allen with rocker Bruce Channel and Kieran Kane (later half of the O’Kanes). It’s quite a well written song, but the pop-leaning production has dated quite badly, and Janie’s vocals sound like something from musical theater.

Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’ is given a folk-pop-country arrangement which is quite engaging (Ricky Skaggs multi-tasks on this song, contributing fiddle, mandolin and banjo as well as backing vocals), but I’m not quite sure I entirely buy Janie as the folk troubadour of the narrative. The Gibb brothers (the Bee Gees) had some impact on country music by dint of writing songs like ‘Islands In The Stream’ for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, and their ‘Love Me’ is a very nice mid-paced ballad.

Janie sings Larry Gatlin’s sensitive ballad ‘The Heart’ beautifully; Larry and one of his brothers add backing vocals. The arrangement is swathed with strings, and the overall effect is fairly Adult Contemporary in style, but the track is a fine showcase for Janie’s lovely voice. The wistful ballads ‘Always’ and ‘If You Could See Me Now’ are also impeccably sung. The title track is a downbeat ballad about coping with a breakup, and is quite good, though not very country.

‘There’s No Future In The Past’, written by Chick Rains, is a very strong ballad about starting to move on, which I liked a lot despite the early 80s string arrangement. The closing ‘Midnight Words’ is fairly forgettable.

While this is not the more traditional side of country with heavy use of strings and electronic keyboards, it is a good example of its kind with some decent song choices, and Janie was starting to find her own voice.

Grade: B

Advertisements

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Real. Country. Music.’

real country musicWhile his commercial success never equalled his prowess, Gene Watson is one of the great country singers. Furthermore, of all the veterans still performing, his voice has held out the best, and almost unbelievably, he still sounds glorious at over 70. Gene’s producer for the last few projects, Dirk Johnson, does his usual sterling job – few album titles are as accurate about the contents as this one. The songs are all older ones, making this album something of a companion piece to its immediate predecessor, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, and are almost all emotional ballads about lost love, which play to Gene’s strengths as a vocalist.

One does not normally expect to hear a Gene Watson album opening with swelling strings, but his voice soon takes over, and the remainder of the album comprises familiar country arrangements featuring fiddles and steel guitars. ‘Enough For You’ is an excellent Kris Kristofferson tune which first appeared on the latter’s Jesus Was A Capricorn album in 1972. Gene says he first heard it in 1980 in the form of Billie Jo Spears’s cover (from her 1975 album Billie Jo), and has wanted to record it ever since. The suicidal cuckold’s lament is perfectly suited to Watson’s perfectly judged vocal, and is the first single.

‘She Never Got Me Over You’ is the last song Keith Whitley wrote before his untimely death (with the help of Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran). A powerful song about love and obsession, it was recorded a few years ago by Mark Chesnutt, but Gene makes it sound as if it was written just for him. If you want to check out Keith’s original demo, it’s on youtube.

There are two covers of Larry Gatlin songs, both of which were recorded by Elvis in the 70s. The gospel ballad ‘Help Me’ is delicately understated (and may serve as a taster for a new religious album Gene plans to release later this year). ‘Bitter They Are, Harder To Fall’ is a classic heartbreak ballad which Gene actually recorded many years ago on his early album Because You Believed In Me.

Gene revisits a number of other songs he has previously recorded on this album. ‘Old Loves Never Die’ was never a single, but as the title track of one of his most successful albums is perhaps the most familiar to fans. The melancholic ‘Ashes To Ashes’ was on his excellent but often overlooked 1987 alDbum Honky Tonk Crazy (his final Epic release). He covered the superb ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’ (previously cut by George Jones) on his now hard to find 1997 album A Way To Survive; this new steel-led recording is beautiful. He cut Bill Anderson’s ‘When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind’ on his Sings set in 2003; another jealous man’s pain-filled take on love lost but still deeply felt, this is magnificently sung.

A little less familiar is ‘A Girl I Used To Know’ – not the classic song of that name, but a David Ball song from the latter’s underrated 2004 album Freewheeler. A subtly sad, slow song about poignant memories of lost love with the steel guitar to the fore, it fits nicely with the other material. ‘A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn’ is a wonderful song written by Jim McBride and Roger Murrah which was one of Conway Twitty’s last few singles. Nat Stuckey’s emotional All My Tomorrows’ is another fine song and recording.

The one song not fitting the pattern of slow sad songs is a honky tonker previously recorded by Waylon Jennings and Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘I’ll Find It Where I Can’. One venture away from country territory is a cover of the Nat King Cole hit ‘Ramblin’ Rose’. Although there have been country covers of the song before, none was a big hit. Gene’s version is nice, and he certainly mnages to make it sound like a country song, but insofar as this album has a weak spot, this is it.

This is a superb album of excellent songs by one of the genre’s all time great singers, who is, thankfully, still in possession of his golden voice.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Letting Go … Slow’

51bUlVvWr7LI’ve been a fan of Lorrie Morgan ever since I first saw her video of “Trainwreck of Emotion” on TNN back in 1988. I’ve followed her career ever since, though admittedly not quite as closely since her days as a major label artist ended about 15 years ago. I’ve always felt that the true artists are the ones who continue to make music after they’ve peaked commercially. Morgan certainly falls into that category; she released three solo albums and one collaboration with Pam Tillis in the years since her tenure with BNA Records ended. But post- commercial peak projects are often a mixed bag, particularly for artists who don’t write a lot of their own material. Finding good songs is frequently a challenge – and then there is the added problem of declining vocal power, which often plagues aging artists.

Fortunately, Morgan has overcome both of those obstacles on her latest collection Letting Go … Slow, which was released by Shanachie Entertainment last week. In an interview with Country Universe she said that she spent a considerable amount of time working to get her voice back in shape. The effort has paid off in spades; she sounds better on Letting Go … Slow than she has in years. And although she relies heavily on cover material to compile an album’s worth of songs, she’s managed to dig a little deeper and come up with some gems that are deserving of another listen but have been largely overlooked by the plethora of artists releasing covers albums in recent years. Read more of this post

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Christmas Time’

rhonda vincent christmas timeRhonda Vincent’s music is always worth hearing, so I was keen to hear her new Christmas album. The tasteful acoustic arrangements are bluegrass at its most mellow, with nothing really up-tempo or challenging. The musicians all play impeccably, with Stuart Duncan’s fiddle in particular shining, supplemented on a few tracks by additional strings. Rhonda’s lovely voice is crystal clear and expressive throughout.

Rhonda wrote four brand new songs. The opening ‘Dreaming Of Christmas’ sets the mood nicely with an upbeat depiction of a family celebration. The pleasant ‘Christmas Time At Home’ is on a similar theme. The melancholy title track is a melodic ballad about missing a loved one no longer there to share the joys of Christmas. The ultra-perky ‘Milk And Cookies’ is as up-tempo as the album gets, and rests right on that fine line between fun and annoying, falling over the latter edge at the end when she pops in a product placement for her long time sponsor Martha White.

The most memorable track is a bright and irresistible version of ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’, featuring a starry lineup comprising the Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, an instantly recognisable Bill Anderson whispering the “nine ladies dancing” line, an equally recognisable Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap (not recognisable), Gene Watson, Larry Gatlin, a sweet trio of Jeannie Seely, Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis (on “three French hens”), and child singer Emi Sunshine. This is not usually one of my favorite Christmas songs, but the effervescent mood is absolutely charming.

The other well known secular tune included is ‘Jingle Bells’, which rattles along genially with some super fiddle.

A number of well worn carols fill out the remainder of the tracklist, starting with a reflective reading of ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’. A straightforward reading of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is also nice, with a string quartet accompaniment. ‘Away In A Manger’, ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’ are all beautifully done, but do we really need another version of any of them? Rhonda obviously had difficulty narrowing down her selection of material, because she closes up with a medley of a further seven carols apparently strung together at random, accompanied by solo piano. Standing out among these is an intense vocal on ‘O Holy Night’ and the choice of ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’. Maybe she should have hived this medley off into a completely separate EP.

So this is a lovely sounding bluegrass/acoustic country album, but not necessarily an essential purchase if you’ve already got a lot of Christmas music in your collection.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Glen Campbell and Larry Gatlin – ‘Farther Along’

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Because You Believed In Me’

becauseyouBecause You Believed In Me was Gene’s second major label album, following on the heels of his successful major label debut Love in the Hot Afternoon. While there weren’t any blockbuster hits on the album, the album was the affirmation of the arrival of a superior vocalist with staying power

“Because You Believed In Me” was a song that originally appeared on Gene’s 1969 debut album on the World Wide label. The original recording was good, but Gene had developed as a vocalist in the ensuing five years. Written by the legendary A.L. ‘Doodle’ Owens, this song was a straightforward ballad which reached #20 as a single.

I would have picked “If I’m A Fool For Leaving (I’d Be Twice The Fool To Stay)” for release as a single. Written by Skip Graves and Little Jimmy Dickens, the song showcases the fiddle of Buddy Spicher and the steel guitar of Lloyd Green to good effect, coupled with a superb vocal. This track is my favorite track on the album but, of course, I like my country music a little more country than most.

This morning I am leaving, I’ve been up all night long
You’re right I’m tired of waiting for you to come home
I’ve begged and tried to change you but you’ve grown worse each day
If I’m a fool for leaving I’d be twice the fool to stay

Larry Gatlin penned and had a minor hit in 1974 with “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall”, a great song that was also recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Anne Murray and Dottie West and various others. This is the best rendition of the song, bar none, although I would have preferred that they not used a fade-out ending for the song.

“My World Left Town” is a fairly typical my-girl-left-me song written by Tom Ghent and R. Paul, that in the hands of a typical artist would be nothing special. With a nice fiddle and steel arrangement and Gene’s vocals, the song is elevated beyond that. It’s not an immortal classic, but the song reaches its full potential with this recording.

Roger Miller penned “Sorry Willie” and while it is sometimes thought to be about Willie Nelson (and Roger & Willie recorded the song on their Old Friends album), I don’t think Roger would ever have visualized Willie Nelson as the loser portrayed in this song. The song is a slow ballad with the piano of Hargis ‘Pig’ Robbins being a highlight of the arrangement.

See her dancing see there Willie see how reckless she is
She’s a wild one as everyone knows
Why what’s wrong Willie why you’re cryin’ what have I done
Sorry Willie I didn’t know you didn’t know

And I wouldn’t have said all those things that I’d known
That she was your darling your sweetheart your own
Don’t ask how well I know her I might lie I don’t know
Sorry Willie I didn’t know you didn’t know

Canadian Ray Griff was a prominent singer-songwriter of the late 1960s – mid 1970s. Although he had some mostly mid-chart success as a vocalist on the American Country charts (he was a far bigger star in his native Canada with 41 chart records), his U.S. success came in the form of the hits that he wrote for others such as Faron Young, George Hamilton IV and Jerry Lee Lewis. Gene rounded up four of Ray’s songs for this album. “How Good A Bad Woman Feels” would have made a good single.

I’d forgotten how good a real passion can be
In a honky tonk girl’s warm embrace
I’d forgotten the sound of a woman’s soft sigh
And that how-did-you look on her face

Griff’s “Her Body Couldn’t Keep You (Off My Mind)” was the second single released from this album. It stalled at #52, but perhaps Capitol learned something from the relative failure of this song because the next twelve singles all made the top twenty (mostly) the top ten. I not sure what it was they learned because I though this was a pretty good song.

I could call her up again tonight
And chances are she’ll see me
She’d be ready like she was the other time
She was willing with her warm red lips
And she kept nothing from me
But her body couldn’t keep you off my mind

Her body couldn’t drive my love for you out of my sight
Her kisses weren’t enough to make me wanna spend the night
It’s been two long years since I came home
And found your goodbye letter
Still I can’t get over what you left behind
I tried turning to a woman who was burning up with passion
But her body couldn’t keep you off my mind

Hank Cochran was the writer on “When You Turned Loose (I Fell Apart) “, a slow ballad that to me is just another good Hank Cochran song made better by Gene’s vocals.

Yes I’m down and might be here forever
I could get up but I don’t have the heart
‘Cause you’re all that held me together
And when you turn loose I fell apart

And baby I can’t get me back together
‘Cause without you I don’t even want to start
‘Cause you’re all that held me together
And when you turn loose I fell apart

A pair of Ray Griff compositions, “Hey Louella” and “Then You Came Along” close out the album.
“Hey Louella” is an up-tempo number with a Cajun feel to it. It’s fun but it’s a song that any half decent singer could have sung and doesn’t really give Gene a chance to demonstrate his vocal prowess. “Then You Came Along” is a nice jog-along ballad of the kind that Gene always performs well.

Gene would go on to bigger and better things, but this album maintained the momentum from his major label debut album. Although I’ve pointed out their contribution in conjunction with specific songs, the contributions of Buddy Spicher, Lloyd Green and Pig Robbins to the overall sound of the recording cannot be overstated. There are vestiges of the ‘Nashville Sound’ production (strings and choruses) but those are kept to a minimum and are unobtrusive. Capitol released this album in May 1976. Currently it is available on CD paired with Beautiful Country, an album that will be reviewed next.

Grade: A

Country Heritage: Stonewall Jackson (1932- )

Never a country music superstar, Stonewall Jackson is the kind of “Joe Lunch Bucket” journeyman performer that hit the road for decades, always performing good country music, always keeping to what he did best and never disappointing an audience. He never had any delusions about his crossover potential, and when such an opportunity actually presented itself in 1959 on the heels of “Waterloo”, he made no effort to turn his career in a pop direction.

Stonewall Jackson’s back story is an unusual one for a singer in that he submitted a demo tape to Wesley Rose of Acuff-Rose publishing, and Wesley landed Stonewall slot on the Grand Ole Opry before he even had a landed a recording contract. Something about Stonewall’s sincerity and rural phrasing appealed to Wesley and to Ernest Tubb, who took Stonewall on the road with him. Before long, he was signed to Columbia Records, where he would remain until 1972.

The first single out of the box, 1958’s “Don’t Be Angry”, written by Stonewall’s brother Wade, failed to chart but impressed a lot of people. The next single, the George Jones-penned “Life To Go” reached #2 in early 1959. Then came “Waterloo”. The late 1950s and early 1960s were a period in which historical and quasi-historical songs were in vogue. Songs such as “Battle of New Orleans”, “Sink The Bismarck”, “Ten Thousand Drums” , “P.T. 109” and “Johnny Reb” were all hits, along with rather lengthy story songs, the best remembered of which was “El Paso”.

Released in June 1959, “Waterloo” , debuted at #9, moved up to #5, spent five weeks at #2, then moved into the top spot where it stayed for five weeks before sliding to #2, then #3, #4 and #5. Eighteen of its nineteen chart weeks were spent in the top ten. The flip side, “Smoke Along The Tracks”, reached #24 (Dwight Yoakam had a nice recording of the song years later), and “Waterloo” itself reached #4 on Billboard’s Pop Charts. It also charted on the British pop charts.

Hot on the heels of “Waterloo”, Columbia issued the first Stonewall Jackson album The Dynamic Stonewall Jackson, an album which featured five chart singles – his first three chart hits, plus two singles drawn from the album in “Why I’m Walkin’ “ and “Mary Don’t You Weep” . Although currently out of print, Columbia has kept it in print (occasionally under a different title) for much of the last fifty years.

Stonewall Jackson probably came along at the wrong time for he never lost that hard country edge or his rural Georgia accent, so as time wore on and the “Nashville Sound” came to dominate country music, his music became out of synch with what was happening in Nashville. He continued charting until 1973, and with the right song, he could still have the occasional big hit, but never had more than two consecutive top ten records. Between 1958 and 1973 Stonewall Jackson charted forty-four times. There were two #1 records in “Waterloo” and 1963’s “B.J. The D.J.”, nine more that reached the top ten including a re-release of “Don’t Be Angry” in 1964 that reached #4.

The prime of Stonewall Jackson’s career was 1958-1965. During this period 1965 Stonewall recorded a number of classic singles in addition to those previously mentioned. “A Wound Time Can’t Erase” reached #3 in 1962 and has been covered many times. “I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water” reached #8 in 1967, and became a top twenty pop hit the next year for Johnny Rivers.

After 1965 Stonewall charted nineteen records but only two made the top ten “(Help) Stamp Out Loneliness” which reached #5 in 1967 (the duo of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood covered the song for the pop market) and his cover of Lobo’s “You and Me and A Dog Named Boo” which reached #7 in 1971, after a drought in which eleven straight singles failed to get as high as #15, four of them not even cracking the top forty. Stonewall reportedly was opposed to recording Lobo’s song and parted ways with Columbia after three more singles, none of which reached the top fifty.

Signed to MGM, Stonewall made his last chart appearance with the single “Herman Schwartz” which reached #41 in autumn of 1973. The tracks, which included remakes of some of his earlier hits, were leased to other labels and have been reissued over the years. GRT released an album of these tracks in 1976.

After 1973 there would be no further major label recordings from Stonewall Jackson other than reissues. An album released as part of Pete Drake’s First Generation label series Stars of the Grand Ole Opry featured an excellent recording of “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal” that was as good as (or better than) any other version of the song. Jackson landed with a revived Little Darlin’ label in 1979, where two albums were issued that were a mixed bag of remakes and new material. Although he had no hits, songs such as “The Alcohol of Fame” and “The Pint of No Return” represented honky-tonk music in its purest form.

After 1980 Stonewall Jackson recorded rarely, although he continues to perform occasionally. He was involved in some litigation over the Opry’s non-use of its veteran talent, litigation which was recently settled and finds him back performing occasionally on the Opry.

DISCOGRAPHY

VINYL
All vinyl is, of course, out of print. Columbia issued seventeen albums, including three hit collections and a live recording recorded on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. There were also three budget reissues on the Harmony label. Stonewall never gave in to pop trends, so his albums will appeal to those who love traditional country music. Two especially noteworthy albums are The Great Old Songs (1968), a collection of songs from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, and A Tribute To Hank Williams (1969).

Stonewall also never gave in to any pressures to be politically correct so you will find among his albums songs with titles such as “Knock Off Your Naggin’ “, “Blues Plus Booze (Means I Lose)” and “The Minute Men (Are Turning In Their Graves)”.

After leaving Columbia in 1972, Stonewall issued some tracks for major label album on MGM (which have been reissued on various reissue labels). After that it has been minor labels where he mostly re-recorded old hits with long gaps between recordings and an eventual descent into an undeserved obscurity.

CD
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has available nine titles. The crown jewel, of course is the four disc Bear Family set Waterloo that covers roughly the first 70% of Stonewall’s career (through 1967) on Columbia, including most of the biggest hits. There are several discs of Columbia material, and the recordings for MGM, First Generation and Little Darlin’ are actually currently in print, sometimes on mish-mash anthologies or as stand-alone collections.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop actually released the last CD of new recordings made by Jackson. Released around 2000, but recorded over a period of about a decade Stonewall Jackson And Friends: A Tribute features sixteen of Stonewall’s biggest hits, some religious tunes, and about fifty guest artists ranging from old-timers like Roy Acuff, Grandpa Jones and Mac Wiseman, to newer artists such as Alison Krauss, Joe Diffie, Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks. The recording of “Waterloo” features Stonewall singing with Garth Brooks, Larry Gatlin and Joe Diffie, with seemingly a cast of thousands on the chorus (actually 26 different acts make up the chorus). It’s not quintessential Stonewall Jackson, but I love the disc anyway

BOOK
Stonewall Jackson had a rather rough and abusive upbringing, which he details in his short and long out-of-print autobiography From The Bottom Up. Released in 1991, it is only 134 pages long and really doesn’t deal with his career much. It is a good and inspiring story, if you can find a copy

Classic Rewind: Larry Gatlin – ‘I’ve Done Enough Dying Today’

Album Review: Aaron Watson – ‘The Road & The Rodeo’

Texas-based Aaron Watson is one of the best kept secrets of Texas country music, less Red Dirt and more what used to be mainstream country. His voice has a cracked warmth and character, and he is a talented songwriter to boot, writing most of the songs without outside assistance. Although I don’t feel the material here quite matches up to the best of his songs from previous efforts, it is generally very good. This album, Aaron’s tenth overall, was recorded mainly in Austin. I can’t see any producer credits, so assume Aaron filled that role himself.

The title track (written by Aaron with Mark Sissel) is just a minute-long introduction setting the scene and bringing in the themes of a life making music with a cowboy twist, all for love of music – “I don’t do it for the money, I can’t blame the fame”. This is the motif of the record. It segues straight into ‘The Road’, written by Elliot Park, a midtempo fiddle led warning not to mistake the route for the destination, voiced by a personification of the metaphorical road itself:

I’m a million miles before you
I’m a million miles behind
I’ll take you straight and narrow
I’ll ramble and I’ll wind
So curse my broken brimstone or kiss my bricks of gold
I’m not the reason
I’m just the road

The awkward phrase “knees and hands” (inserted thus to allow for a rhyme) jars a little, but this is a memorable song based on an arresting image.

The excellent closing track ‘After The Rodeo’ (the highlight of the album), written by Don Rollins and new Capitol/EMI artist Troy Olsen, tells the story of an over-the-hill cowboy contemplating retirement:

Does a shooting star miss the sky when it hits the ground?
And how long can a woman go on lovin’ you if you’re not around?
The years are flying faster now
So tell me how eight seconds feels so slow
And I wonder where old cowboys go after the rodeo

It is the road, though, that forms the principal focus. ‘The Things You’ll Do’ opens as an ebullient up-tempo look at life as at touring musician on the road, rough bars and bar fights, sleeping in vans and not getting paid are quenching his love for making music. The second verse translates the message to sacrifices made for love of a woman.

Read more of this post