My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: LeAnn Rimes

Razor X’s favorite singles of 2013

Compiling a list of my favorite singles is no mean feat these days; I’ve been disengaged from country radio for quite a few years now, with no desire to reconcile, and although I try to keep up with new music, much of it is no longer considered mainstream. As such, I’m at times only vaguely aware of which songs I liked during the year were actually released as singles. I was, however, able to cobble together a list of songs that may not all be great, but are at least tolerable.

10. It Ain’t The Whiskey — Gary Allangaryallan2_v_p

In a better year, this song probably wouldn’t have been even under consideration for my best-of list, but after being disappointed by most of Gary Allan’s recent work, this track is one that I at least can listen to without cringing.

9. Tonight I’m Playing Possum — Randy Travis with Joe Nichols

This is another song for which I could only muster up lukewarm enthusiasm, but even though it doesn’t rank among either Travis’ or Nichols’ best work, it does at least pay tribute to one of the greatest voices country music has ever known.

8. When The Lights Go Out (Tracie’s Song) — Mark Chesnuttmarkchesnutt

A road-weary musician’s heartfelt declaration of love to his better half, this is the type of song I really miss hearing on country radio.

7. Like A Rose - Ashley Monroe

In years gone by, my favorites list would likely have been dominated by female artists. There have been a lot of complaints — with some justification — in recent years that the ladies aren’t getting a fair shake from country radio, but the truth is that most of them haven’t doing anything that is very interesting. Ashley Monroe is a notable exception, but sadly, radio isn’t isn’t taking much notice of her solo work. The title track to her current album is a real stunner that deserves a listen.

6. Borrowed – LeAnn Rimesleannrimes

This semi-autobiographical number, sung from the point of view of an unrepentant adulteress is hands down the best thing LeAnn Rimes has released in years. It’s unfortunate that it failed to chart.

5. Give It All We Got Tonight — George Strait

MCA started a “60 for 60″ campaign to make this single the 60th #1 hit of the then 60-year-old George Strait’s career. The enjoyable midtempo tune only made it to #7 in Billboard — perhaps another victim of the chart’s new methodology — but it did make it to #1 in Mediabase. Regardless of its chart position, it’s well worth a listen.

4. I Got A Car — George StraitGeorge-Strait-9542120-1-402

I usually try not to include an artist more than once on these lists, but I was having that hard a time coming up with ten singles that were worthwhile. It’s a typical circle-of-life story that has become a staple of the Strait catalog.

3. Sweet Annie — Zac Brown BandZac-Brown-Band1

The Zac Brown Band is one of the few bright spots on country radio these days and one of only a handful of acts that consistently delivers.

2. I Wish I Still Smoked Cigarettes — Ronnie Dunn

This one is brand new, so a lot of fans may not have heard it yet. We haven’t reviewed it yet so I won’t say too much about it now, other than to say that after a few very disappointing releases, Ronnie Dunn is back.

1. Wagon Wheel — Darius Ruckerdariusrucker

This Bob Dylan-penned tune about a hitchhiker trying to get home to see his sweetheart is the surprise hit of 2013 and the only decent song to reach #1 this year. I still prefer the Jeremy McComb version, but Rucker’s version is also good. I never expected this one to succeed, partly because it’s a remake of an old song, and partly because songs I like don’t tend to do well on radio these days. I’m glad to have been proven wrong. I wish Rucker would do more music like this and less of the interminably dull stuff he’s been churning out.

Occasional Hope’s favorite singles of 2013

i let her talkCountry radio may have gone from bad to worse this year, but as ever there were a few bright spots – and some great singles away from the mainstream offerings. Here are my favorite singles of 2013:

10. Wagon Wheel – Darius Rucker
A vibrant, charming cover with rootsy production. What a pity the rest of the album was so deadly dull.

9. It Ain’t The Whiskey – Gary Allan
A bit loud, and perhaps rather similar to past songs, but a great vocal makes this worthwhile.

8. Songs About Trucks – Wade Bowen
An emotion I think we can all get behind – no more songs about trucks, please. But this isn’t just a complaint, this song also has a genuine emotional storyline which lets it stand on its own merits.

overnight success7. Overnight Success – Zane Williams
The independent artist explains how to become a country star, overnight (well, after nine or ten years hard work, of course). A fine song, by turns ironic, self-deprecating and good humoured.

6. Stripes – Brandy Clark
The witty song isn’t the best on the singer-songwriter’s excellent album 12 Stories, but it’s highly entertaining nonetheless. It’s a pity it hasn’t got more mainstream attention.

what are you listening to5. What Are You Listening To – Chris Stapleton
A very tastefully arranged recording, a well written song, and intensely emotional vocal. It wasn’t as successful as I had hoped it would be, and the singer-songwriter and former SteelDriver still awaits release of his solo album for Mercury, but it’s a fine and memorable record.

4. I Got A Car – George Strait
The story song about a couple’s journey from first meeting to starting a family, written by Keith Gattis and Tom Douglas, was an obvious single choice from George’s current album. It is packed full of charm, and shows the veteran (unexpectedly named the CMA Entertainer of the year) still has commercial potential.

3. Could It Be – Charlie Worsham
A debut single from a young artist with a fresh, youthful sound. Utterly charming. I wasn’t as taken by the album, but the single (which reached #13 on the country airplay chart) stands up as one of the more refreshing moments on country radio this year.

borrowed2. Borrowed – LeAnn Rimes
A cheating song from LeAnn’s somewhat controversial Spitfire album. Her mature vocals are beautiful, and the self-penned song draws with an unsparing honesty on LeAnn’s own experiences with her early relationship with her current husband, when both were married to others. The song’s complicated emotions didn’t help LeAnn’s increasingly chequered image, but it’s a fine and deeply truthful song – what country music is all about. The production is delicately sensitive and allows the vocals to shine.

1. I Let Her Talk – Erin Enderlin
A fantastic story song from the singer-songwriter, this beautifully realised tale narrates a bar room encounter between two women drowing their troubles. In an unexpected twist the meeting turns out to be between a man’s wife (the narrator) and his clueless “careless drunk” lover. Erin wrote the song with the great Leslie Satcher, and it is perfectly constructed. This was the promotional single for Erin’s independent album of the same name, and although it received limited mainstream attention it was absolutely the best single of the year for me.

Christmas Rewind: LeAnn Rimes – ‘O Holy Night’

Album Review: Julie Roberts – ‘Good Wine & Bad Decisions’

good wine and bad decisionsIt’s nearly 10 years since Julie Roberts first appeared on the radar of country fans, and in the years since she’s endured more reverses than many artists, including losing her major label deal, losing her home in the Nashville floods, being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and last year being passed up for The Voice. Her career never quite fulfilled the promise of her distinctive emotion-filled voice; even her biggest hit, ‘Break Down Here’, barely cracked the top 20 even though it sold over half a million copies. I loved her two Mercury albums, but was left a little disappointed by her independent album a couple of years ago. Now, she has been signed to a revived Sun Records, and has new music.

Jason Collum co-produces and co-wrote many of the songs with Julie. The result is much stronger than her last record. Collum’s production is often low-key, mixing the country torch balladry at which Julie has always shone, with occasional rock and soul influences, but always allows Julie’s trademark sultry vocals to take center stage.

The outstanding song is ‘Daddy Doesn’t Pray’, written by Chris Stapleton. This is a very touching tribute to a religious father after his death. I also rather liked the album’s other religious song, the longing ‘Arms Of Jesus’, backed by subtle strains of churchy piano and organ.

Steve Earle’s ‘I’m Not Getting Any Better At Goodbyes’ (recorded in the early 90s by Mark Chesnutt) is a reminder that Earle, better known for his country rock and political songs, can write a stunning country ballad when he chooses, and Julie does the song full justice.

‘He Made A Woman Out Of Me’ is a Bobbie Gentry cover, and the production and arrangement of a southern teenager’s sexual awakening. The vocal is convincing enough for it to be an enjoyable track, although the production is like the original to the point of sounding like a pastiche.

Buddy Miller harmonises on his own ‘Gasoline & Matches’. Julie sturdy version is less frenetic than others I have heard, including the recent cut by LeAnn Rimes, allowing the lyrics more prominence. This is a very good recording which grows the more you hear it.

Vince Gill guests on the lonesome ballad ‘Old Strings’, which Julie sings beautifully as she agonises over her continuing feelings for an ex. A lovely melancholy feel and tasteful arrangement make this another highlight.

The seductive ‘Keep Me Up All Night’, addressed to a husband who has let the romance fade, which Julie originally wrote for her debut album a decade ago with Kent Blazy and Cory Batten, but never recorded, is pretty good, and was worth pulling off the shelves.

The title track is an excellent song about a one-night stand with an old flame, regretted almost before it takes place. This should be ideal for Julie’s sultry voice, but unfortunately her pitch sounds noticeably off in places.

‘I’ll Close My Eyes’ is another excellent song about a woman refusing to acknowledge her husband is leaving, with a soothing melody and an understated acoustic arrangement. ‘Old Habit’ is another instant classic, a despairing ballad about facing the last vestiges of a relationship, with a desperate Julie realising her lover is treating her as a convenience. The phrasing and emotional interpretation are beautifully judged.

Some of the material stretches the boundaries a little. The harmonica-led bluesy country-rock of ‘If I Were You’, addressed to a neglectful lover by his partner in adultery, is quite catchy, with a heavy drum beat anchoring the rhythm; the harmonica is played by Willie Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael. The rocking ‘When It’s Over’ is not quite as good, seemingly at odds with the downbeat lyric and not quite right for Julie’s voice. The minor keyed ‘Bones’ is a fairly faithful cover of a song from British retro-soul singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka. It’s not country, but Julie sings it well and it is certainly an interesting choice. The bluesy soul of ‘Wrong About You’ works better for me.

The liner notes are in unreadably tiny print and essentially useless. The music, however, is mostly very good; a little more adventurous than her major label work, and a definite advance on her last release. if you’ve missed Julie’s bluesy voice, this is a very worthwhile purchase or download.

Grade: A

Album Review – Brandy Clark – ’12 Stories’

1052311_591462260874890_775508162_oIf you’ve been paying attention to country music in 2013, there’s likely one name on the tip of your tongue: Brandy Clark. The buzz about the songwriter behind such hits as “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “Better Dig Two” has been at fever pitch, and it’s easy to understand why with just one listen to her debut record.

Clark has stolen the Linda Ronstadt rulebook that Trisha Yearwood and company made famous in the 1990s, rewritten it, and crafted an album that borrows from, yet improves on, the past, all while introducing an artist who is completely and uniquely herself. With 12 Stories Clark has re-drafted the textbook on how to evolve, and not change, the country genre.

At its core 12 Stories is an exercise in immaculate songwriting. Clark has an innate ability to take hefty subjects and morph them into delicious slices of black comedy, skewing the stories to forgo the ache in an effort to focus on creating little vignettes that play like some of the best episodes of television.

My favorite of these is “Hungover,” a Sara Evans-like co-write with Shane McAnally and Jessie Jo Dillon about a woman’s realization that her drunken man isn’t going to change. Also stunning is “The Day She Got Divorced,” a wonderfully addicting day-in-the-life about a woman’s itinerary the day her marriage officially ends. Reba had it on All The Women I Am and it was my favorite track on that project three years ago.

“Stripes”, the album’s lead single, is the new standard-bearer for cheating songs, with the woman declaring ‘there’s no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion” as she ponders killing her husband, stopping only because “I don’t look good in orange and I hate stripes”. Clark (along with McAnally and Matt Jenkins) has co-written one hell of a clever song, and while the premise is laid on a little thick it works surprisingly well.

“Crazy Women” was an excellent yet low-charting single for LeAnn Rimes (from Lady & Gentlemen), and Clark’s version is good, but lacks the punch of personality Rimes brought to her recording. In addition, “Get High,” the only song Clark wrote solo (and the oldest composition on the album) suffers from a weak hook (‘sometimes the only way to get by is to get high’) that leaves the chorus feeling underdeveloped.

What elevates 12 Stories into an echelon of masterworks is the emotional depth Clark brings to the project. She elegantly weaves a series of ballads between the vignettes that rank among the finest moments on a country album this decade.

Weeds-inspired “Pray To Jesus” is a timeless anthem for the working poor that doesn’t stereotype or judge. It acts an affirmation that we’re all just trying to better ourselves from within, because the fix doesn’t come from the outside world. It’s the lone socially conscious track on 12 Stories and currently the best song of its kind from this somewhat forgotten sub-genre.

“What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven” is a reflection on the pull between right and wrong framed around two married individuals who are about to cheat on their spouses. Clark is able to get inside the woman’s psyche – “I don’t know what scares me most, the ride up, or the ride down” - in way that’s both ordinary and extraordinary; exercising both arguments while letting the listener make their own conclusions. The simple beauty recalls Matraca Berg’s “Lying To The Moon.”

Clark and “What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven” co-writer Mark Stephen Jones teamed up again on “Hold My Hand,” the story of a couple running into his alluring ex-lover, only to have his current love plead for definition in their relationship. Meanwhile “In Some Corner” spins another side of the “Last Call”/”Keep It To Yourself” drunken dialing saga that amazingly hasn’t been played out yet. It’s Clark’s turn to show her moment of weakness and she’s praying he doesn’t call, as she can’t refuse his advances.

The strongest track on 12 Stories comes at the end, with an all too common narrative about a woman who marries the mirror image of her always-absent father. “Just Like Him” (co-written with Dillon and McAnally) beautifully hits upon the unspoken truth that people marry at the level of their self-esteem, thinking they’re only worth the same-gender role models (or lack thereof) they grew up around. The conviction Clark brings to this song is remarkable, showcasing her incredible knack at crafting tales purely from observation – her dad is the antithesis of this character.

In truth Clark brings that conviction to the entire project. As a child of the 90s, I came of age in the era when music such as this was the rule and not the exception, when artists were allowed to have real problems that were bigger than which truck was going to transport some beer keg to lake whatever down some dirt road littered with bikini-clad country girls.

It makes me sick that every record label in Nashville (even two that confessed to loving it) passed on releasing 12 Stories but I’m glad an independent label in Texas picked it up. This is music that needs to be heard. I urge you to pick up a copy, as it’s well worth the money, and time spent listening. Clark is the most important singer/songwriter to come around in a long, long time and 12 Stories is the best album of its kind I’ve heard in many, many years.

Grade: A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Album Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Spitfire’

spitfireLeAnn Rimes’ chart fortunes have been wildly inconsistent since she emerged on the country scene as a 13-year old. Her turbulent private life has also exposed her to a great deal of public criticism in recent years with her romance with new husband Eddie Cibrian breaking up two existing marriages and the home of two small children. Her excellent Vince Gill-produced covers album reignited my interest in her as an artist, and now she returns with her first records of all-new material in some years. She wrote many of the songs with her co-producer and frequent collaborator Darrell Brown, and it is the most personal and honest material she has ever recorded. She acknowledges that on the album cover, giving it the subtitle “the truth, in no particular order”. In other words, it is effectively a concept album about her affair, divorce and remarriage – meaty reality-based material which makes it a rare example of its kind in today’s market. Musically it’s not as traditional as Lady And Gentlemen but it is recognizably country music, with breathing space for LeAnn’s vocals.

The best songs are the more reflective ones where she shows some self-awareness. Candid cheating songs used to be a staple of country music but have fallen out of favor in recent years. ‘Borrowed’ is a guilt-ridden cheating song set during the affair, this one addressed to her new lover and dealing with her jealousy of his wife.

The remorseful ballad ‘What Have I Done’ (perhaps the outstanding song on the album) addresses the wrong she has done to her first love, who is “not her last”. It is an excellent song with a beautiful melody, with Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski adding harmonies and subtle steel and fiddle.

What have I done?
I broke the sweetest heart
Of the only man that’s ever loved me

I don’t know what I’ve become
I need to get back to where I’m from
Gotta smash every mirror in this empty house
Cause like you I don’t want to see myself
Oh, what have I done?

Both of these songs were released as singles late last year, but have failed to chart.

The haunting ‘Where I Stood’ (written by Australian AC singer-songwriter Missy Higgins) tackles the same theme, opening with the words “I don’t know what I’ve done” as she faces the loss of her husband and contemplates his finding someone new.

A heavy drumbeat leads into the less subtle ‘I Do Now’, which again addresses her cheating, but with less evident remorse, with LeAnn taking comfort in listening to Hank Williams and Merle Haggard but unfortunately not borrowing from them stylistically, instead going for a rock-influenced mid-tempo sound without much melody.

‘A Waste Is A Terrible Thing To Mind’ is another fine song written by LeAnn, as she ponders over her choices. It is one of the most traditional sounding songs on the album. Her diction is a bit muddy on this one (a problem she has sometimes suffered from in the past) so it takes some concentration to decipher the story, but it recounts the protagonist’s regret at separating from husband or lover:

I threw him out like the trash one night
The dumbest thing I’ve ever done
He was the best thing that I’ll ever find
Yeah, a waste is a terrible thing to mind

Darrell Brown contributed ‘Who We Really Are’ (a co-write with Sarah Buxton), a pretty ballad on which Leann’s vocals sound nice but again the words (about discovering oneself through the vicissitudes of love) are hard to make out.

The aggressive ‘Spitfire’ lets loose against a rival in love, and is a little spiteful, calling her rival not only a “dirty little liar” but a brainless one. It’s a brave choice as the album opener and title track as it doesn’t paint LeAnn in the best light and the obviously autobiographical nature of the material elsewhere makes this open to interpretation as a personal attack on her husband’s former wife, so making it the entry into the album could antagonize some listeners (but perhaps those most offended won’t be listening anyway, on principle?). Divorced from its likely context, it’s not a bad song in assertive vein.

She definitely addresses her husband’s ex-wife elsewhere, claiming to be ‘Just A Girl Like You’, acknowledging “he may break my heart too”, but I didn’t like this one much – it feels a bit disingenuous, there is far too much vocal noodling and the instrumentation has a slightly tinny feel. ‘You’ve Ruined Me’ also sounds a bit over-produced and over-wrought vocally.

Buddy and Julie Miller’s frenetic ‘Gasoline And Matches’ is done as a duet with rock singer Rob Thomas, and is quite entertaining, although it definitely leans more in the rock direction than country; rock guitarist Jeff Beck also guests. In the context of this album, it presumably reflects the passion wrought by her relationship with her new husband.

The equally fast-paced ‘You Ain’t Right’ written by Liz Rose with another husband-and-wife team, Chris Stapleton and Morgane Hayes, has a hardworking woman complaining about her layabout man’s lack of effort. It’s a good song, but lacks melody and feels out of place thematically.

I assume the judgmental ‘God Tales Care Of Your Kind’ is an older song as it was written with Leann’s ex-husband Dean Sheremet; it too seems a curious choice for this record unless she is addressing it to herself. Finally ‘Bottle’ is surprisingly bland for a Gary Burr tune.

It seems fairly clear that LeAnn’s personal life has caused a backlash against her music, and this album (apparently her last for Curb) will probably not get the radio play it needs to do well commercially. However, it is a serious artistic work rooted in real life. Perhaps a little too much so at times.

Grade: B+

Single Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Borrowed’

borrowedWhereas many female artists in her situation would have chosen to ignore the elephant in the room, LeAnn Rimes has tackled the subject of her own infidelity head on with her latest single release. ‘Borrowed’, which was written by Rimes along with Darrell Brown and David Baerwald, is the advance single from her upcoming album Spitfire, which is slated to be released in the spring. It’s a bold move, and one potentially fraught with peril, as country radio and its audience may very well view the record as an attempt to capitalize on her recent tabloid notoriety.

‘Borrowed’ is sung from the point of the view of an unrepentant other woman, who knows her lover doesn’t belong to her, but she doesn’t want to give him back. Putting LeAnn’s personal conduct aside, and judging the song on its own merits, ‘Borrowed’ is the best single that she’s released in years. It’s a much more understated performance than we’re used to hearing from her, with an acoustic guitar and a gentle steel guitar providing the main instrumentation. There is the usual problem of LeAnn’s inability to clearly enunciate her words, but aside from that there’s little here that I can find fault with.

It remains to be seen if country radio will forgive Rimes for her transgressions, but even if they do, ‘Borrowed’ faces an uphill climb, as a quiet ballad sung by a female in atmosphere that prefers loud, redneck anthems sung by men. Another artist without LeAnn’s personal baggage might stand a better chance, but I suspect that there will be a backlash against this song, which is a shame because it’s the first thing that Rimes has done in quite some time that is even remotely interesting.

Listen to it here.

Grade: B+

Single Review: Miranda Lambert – ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’

miranda lambert - mama's broken heart“Mama’s Broken Heart” was written by some of my favorite songwriters currently working in Nashville. Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark have co-written a handful of my personal favorites in the past few years – LeAnn Rimes’ “Crazy Women”, Reba McEntire’s “Cry”, The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” – and the song’s third co-writer Kasey Musgraves is currently on the charts with one of the best country singles in the last ten years. When you figure in the reigning three-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Miranda Lambert singing their words, this single is off to a running start with a considerable pedigree. And it almost lives up to all that promise.

Synthetic rhythms and sliding guitar licks frame Lambert as she sings the cheeky verses  - “Word got around to the barflies and the baptists/My mama’s phone started ringin’ off the hook” – that tell of a girl wearing her heartbreak on her sleeve and reacting to it with less than the southern gentility with which she was raised.  It’s off to a good start. But wait for the Wall of Miranda Lambert Sound to blight an otherwise flawless record. The song’s plot is salvaged because the verses are kept to a bare-beat minimum, allowing the quick-on-the-trigger lyric the first draw. Too bad the chorus is beat and whipped until any remnants of what was probably a sweet little melody are long gone.

Production missteps aside, “Mama” will inject a much-needed bit of sinister excitement to country radio’s drab playlists. This is a good thing.

Grade: B

Listen

Christmas Rewind: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’

Week ending 11/17/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Eddy Arnold – Turn The World Around (RCA)

1972: Charley Pride – A Sunshiny Day (RCA Victor)

1977: Elvis Presley – Elvis In Concert (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Garth Brooks – The Chase (Capitol)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (Curb)

2002: Rascal Flatts – Melt (Lyric Street)

2007: The Eagles – Long Road Out Of Eden (Lost Highway)

2012: Taylor Swift – Red (Big Machine)

Week ending 11/10/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Eddy Arnold – Turn The World Around (RCA)

1972: Charley Pride – A Sunshiny Day (RCA Victor)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: George Strait – Greatest Hits Volume 2 (MCA Nashville)

1992: Garth Brooks – The Chase (Capitol)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (Curb)

2002: Faith Hill – Cry (Warner Brothers)

2007: Carrie Underwood – Carnival Ride (Arista/19)

2012: Taylor Swift – Red (Big Machine)

Week ending 11/3/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Buck Owens and His Buckaroos – Your Tender Loving Care (Capitol)

1972: Charley Pride – A Sunshiny Day (RCA Victor)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Garth Brooks – The Chase (Capitol)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (Curb)

2002: Faith Hill – Cry (Warner Brothers)

2007: Rascal Flatts – Still Feels Good (Lyric Street)

2012: Little Big Town – Tornado (Capitol)

Week ending 10/27/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Biliie Joe (Capitol)

1972: Charley Pride – A Sunshiny Day (RCA Victor)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Garth Brooks – The Chase (Capitol)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (Curb)

2002: Elvis Presley- 30 #1 Hits (RCA)

2007: Rascal Flatts- Still Feels Good (Lyric Street)

2012: Little Big Town – Tornado (Capitol)

Week ending 10/20/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Biliie Joe (Capitol)

1972: Charley Pride – A Sunshiny Day (RCA Victor)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Garth Brooks – The Chase (Capitol)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (Curb)

2002: Elvis Presley- 30 #1 Hits (RCA)

2007: Rascal Flatts- Still Feels Good (Lyric Street)

2012: Little Big Town – Tornado (Capitol)

Week ending 10/13/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Biliie Joe (Capitol)

1972: Charley Pride – A Sunshiny Day (RCA Victor)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Garth Brooks – The Chase (Capitol)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (Curb)

2002: Elvis Presley- 30 #1 Hits (RCA)

2007: Rascal Flatts- Still Feels Good (Lyric Street)

2012: Little Big Town – Tornado (Capitol)

Week ending 9/29/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Johnny Cash – Greatest Hits Volume 1 (Columbia)

1972: Charley Pride – A Sunshiny Day (RCA Victor)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (Curb)

2002: Dixie Chicks- Home (Sony)

2007: Kenny Chesney- Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates (RCA)

2012: Little Big Town – Tornado (Capitol)

Week ending 9/8/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Wynn Stewart – It’s Such A Pretty World Today (Capitol)

1972: Donna Fargo – Happiest Girl In The Whole U.S.A. (Dot)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Hank Williams Jr. – Born To Boogie (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – Blue (Curb)

2002: Toby Keith- Unleashed (Dreamworks)

2007: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2012: Dustin Lynch – Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow)

Country Heritage: 25 from the ’80s

This article will focus on some artists who either had a very short period of great success or had an extended run of near-success. In other words, I cannot justify an entire article on any of them.

Deborah Allen was born in 1953 in Memphis, and probably has had greater success as a songwriter, having written hits for artists including Tanya Tucker, Sheena Easton and Janie Fricke. As a performer, RCA had the bright idea of dubbing her voice onto old Jim Reeves recordings to create duets. The three duets released as singles – “Don’t Let Me Cross Over,” “Oh, How I Miss You Tonight” and “Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me” – all went Top 10 in 1979-80. As a solo artist, Allen charted 10 times with three Top 10 singles: “Baby I Lied” (1983–#4), “I’ve Been Wrong Before” (1984–#2) and “I Hurt For You” (1984–#10).

Baillie and The Boys were a late 80s act which charted 10 times between 1987 and 1991 before disappearing from the charts. Seven of their hit records went Top 10, with “(I Wish I Had A) Heart of Stone” (1989–#4) being the biggest. Kathie Baillie was the lead singer, and while initially a trio, the group became a duo in 1988 with few people able to tell the difference.

Debby Boone is one of two answers to a trivia question – name the two families that have had a #1 pop record in each of three consecutive generations. One answer is obvious – the Nelson family – big band leader Ozzie Nelson (“And Then Some”, 1935), Rick Nelson (“Poor Little Fool”, 1958 and “Traveling Man”, 1960) and Rick’s sons Gunnar and Matthew Nelson (recording, under the name Nelson, “Love and Affection”, 1990).
The Nelson family answer works top down and bottom up as the members of the chain are all blood relatives. In the case of Debby Boone’s family, it only works top down. Debby (“You Light Up My Life“, 1977), father Pat Boone (seven #1s from 1955-1961 including “Love Letters In The Sand“) and grandfather Red Foley – no blood relation to Pat Boone but a blood relation of Debby’s (“Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy”, 1950).

Debby Boone may be a direct direct descendant of the American pioneer Daniel Boone. She is distantly related to two stars of American television, Richard Boone (Have Gun, Will Travel, Hec Ramsey) and Randy Boone, (The Virginian and Cimarron Strip).

Enough with the trivia – Debby charted on the country charts thirteen times from 1977-1981 although most of those were pop records that happened to chart country. Starting in 1979 Debby started consciously recording for country markets. “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own” reached #11 in early 1979. The next three records did relatively nothing but the first single issued in 1980 “Are You On The Road To Loving Me Again” finally made it to the top. She would chart four more singles before turning to gospel/Christian music.

Larry Boone is best known as a songwriter, having cuts by Kathy Mattea, Don Williams, Tracy Lawrence, Rick Trevino, George Strait, Shenandoah, Marie Osmond and Lonestar. As a singer, he wasn’t terribly distinctive – sort of a George Strait-lite.  Boone charted 14 singles from 1986-93, with only 1988’s “Don’t Give Candy To A Stranger” reaching the Top 10. The other Top 20 singles were “I Just Called To Say Goodbye Again” and a remake of “Wine Me Up” – both of which reached their peak chart positions in 1989.

Dean Dillon charted 20 times from 1979-93, with his biggest hit being “Nobody In His Right Mind (Would’ve Left Her)” which reached #25 in November, 1980. During 1982 and 83, RCA paired Dillon with fading star Gary Stewart, hoping for the kind of magic that was later achieved when Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn were paired together. No real hits came of this collaboration, but the recordings were quite interesting and are available on CD.

Fortunately for Dillon, he is a far better songwriter than singer. His hits as a writer include George Jones’ “Tennessee Whiskey,” and more than a dozen George Strait Top 10s. In fact, Strait has recorded over 50 of Dillon’s songs, ensuring that the wolf will never again knock at Dean Dillon’s door.

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Album Review – Sweethearts of the Rodeo – ‘Rodeo Waltz’

Much like Patty Loveless’s Sleepless Nights and LeAnn Rimes’s Lady & Gentleman, Rodeo Waltz is an album comprised mainly of classic country covers. Released in 1993, it marked the duo’s debut for Sugar Hill Records. Although it didn’t produce any singles, it offered a simple honky-tonk sound that still holds up well today.

The album opens with a spirited cover of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm” that benefits from the abundance of petal steel and fiddle flourishes throughout and the distinct drum beat. While they stick moderately close to Cash’s original recording, save for updating the sound, they keep the sing-a-long nature of the song intact.

They continue to honor tradition with the rest of the covers, too. Don Robertson and Hal Blair’s “Please Help Me I’m Falling” is turned into a gorgeous mandolin soaked ballad and their sultry take on Tex Ritter and Frank Harford’s “Long Time Gone” brings a new appreciation to story of a woman anticipating their man’s reaction to their leaving.

Equally as well executed is their take on Gordon Lightfoot’s folksy “Steel Rail Blues” which benefits greatly from the use of harmonica and gently persistent drumbeat. I love how they seem to build on Lightfoot’s original recording by infusing the song with a bit more energy. I also enjoy their folksy almost mountain-y reading of Jesse Winchester’s “Brand New Tennessee Waltz.” It isn’t my favorite of the cover tunes included here but it’s enhanced by the sweet vocal and use of fiddle throughout.

They also do a fine job covering Robbie Robertson’s “Broken Arrow.” Known primarily as a pop song done by Rod Stewart, the sisters exceed in turning it into a country song complete with fiddle and harmonica. I love the melody and the use of mandolin to give the musical accompaniment some life.

Placed among the cover tunes is a crop of original songs, led by Don Shultz’s “Things Grow” which is their ode to life on a farm and small town existence. It isn’t as cringe worthy as that particular sub-genre today, but I’m not jumping up and down at the inclusion of them exploring that theme. Betty Harrison’s “Hoping That You’re Hoping” is better musically, but the song lacks any substance in the lyrics and is forgettable today.

I wasn’t aware they had their own version of “Jenny Dreamed of Trains,” which Janis’s then husband Vince Gill wrote with Guy Clark. Gill did an excellent job when he recorded the song on High Lonesome Sound and they do a stellar version here. The sweet story of the girl Jenny (presumably written about their daughter) and her love of trains over dolls is a great lyric.

“Bluegrass Boy,” written by Gill with Shultz is an engaging love song about a guy this girl once knew and while good, it comes off a tad underwhelming. There’s nothing wrong with the song at all – it just isn’t up to the material on the rest of the project. Same goes for the traditional “Deep River Blues” arranged by Gill. I enjoyed the swampy vibe and touches of harmonica but the whole thing was a tad underwhelming. But the album turns around with the great “There One Morning.”

Rodeo Waltz is a fine country album of both well-chosen covers and original material. I can easily see why there weren’t any singles despite strong material – it just doesn’t have a sound that sits right on radio playlists. But like most non-commercial country projects, it demands to be heard. This album is widely available digitally (from Amazon and iTunes) and is worth seeking out for a listen.

Grade: B+

Occasional Hope’s Top 10 Albums of 2011

2011 wasn’t the best year for country, but there was still some very good music to be found if you looked for it.  Just missing the cut for my personal top 10 were fine records by the excellent Sunny Sweeney, country chart debutant Craig Campbell, independent artist Justin Haigh, blue collar bluegrass newcomer Scott Holstein, the compelling close harmonies of the Gibson Brothers,  and an enjoyable if not groundbreaking live set from Amber Digby which flew under the radar.

So what did make my cut? Read more of this post

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