My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Lee Roy Parnell

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘A Tribute To John D Loudermilk’

John D Loudermilk, a cousin of the legendary Louvin Brothers was a remarkable songwriter and artist in his own right, whose music crossed musical boundaries with eleements of country, rock and pop.
In March 2016 he was honoured by a star-studded tribute concert in Nashville, and selected performances from that occasion have now been released on CD/digital download and DVD. The concert is also set to be broadcast on PBS.

Opener ‘Everybody Knows’, performed by musician/singer/songwriter Harry Stinson, has a hypnotic 1950s pop-meets-Louvin Brothers feel. Singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman delivers the teenage romance ‘Language Of Love’ in a sprightly 50s doowop pop style, also adopted by Lee Roy Parnell in a slightly bluesier fashion on ‘Mr Jones’. Another songwriter paying tribute is Bobby Braddock, who takes on ‘Break My Mind’ quite effectively, accompanied by his own piano. Norro Wilson is also pretty good on the novelty ‘The Great Snowman’.

Bluegrass legend Doyle Lawson and his band Quicksilver race through ‘Blue Train’, which works perfectly with a bluegrass arrangement. Southern rocker Jimmy Hall takes on ‘Bad News’ which again works well in this setting. Buddy Greene, mainly a Christian artist, sings the tongue in cheek story song ‘Big Daddy’s Alabama Bound’; his vocals are limited, but the arrangement is great. John McFee of the Doobie Brothers is passionate on the politically fuelled anthem to the Cherokee nation now restricted to the ‘Indian Reservation’.

Rodney Crowell also rocks it up on ‘Tobacco Road, possibly Loudermilk’s best known song; this is highly enjoyable and one of my favorite tracks. I was less impressed by his wife Claudia Church on the syncopated pop of ‘Sunglasses’.

John Jorgenson of the Desert Rose Band. Jorgenson (who helmed the whole affair) is known for his guitar playing rather than his singing, but his vocals are perfectly adequate on the rocker ‘Midnight Bus’. I very much enjoyed his Desert Rose Bandmate Herb Pederson on ‘It’s My Time’, very much in classic Desert Rose Band style. John Cowan soars on the life-affirming ‘I Wanna Live’.

Rosanne Cash is tender on the lovely ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye’, another highlight. Ricky Skaggs and the Whites team up on two songs. ‘Heaven Fell last Night’ is a lovely romantic ballad sung together by Ricky and wife Sharon, while Ricky takes the lead on the fun Stonewall Jackson hit ‘Waterloo’. I also enjoyed Becky Hobbs on the country hit ‘Talk Back Trembling Lips’.

Emmylou Harris’s voice is sadly showing the signs of age, but she is well supported by the harmony vocals of Pam Rose and Mary Ann Kennedy on ‘Where Are They Gone’. 80s star Deborah Allen also sounds a little worse for wear on her song, the wistful ballad ‘Sad Movies’. Loudermilk’s son Mike doesn’t have much of a voice, but he does his best on a pleasant version of the catchy ‘Abilene’, and is backed by (his own?) delightful guitar work.

I wasn’t previously familiar with Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae, an Americana/folk duo and rela-life married couple. Their version of the part spoken airline tragedy story song ‘Ebony Eyes’ is prettily harmonised although the individual voices are not that strong. Also new to me was Beth Hooker, who delivers a sultry blues version of Turn Me On’. Guests from further afield include Australian fingerpicking guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel on an instrumental track.

This is a worthy tribute which reminds the listener of both the musical breadth and quality of Loudermilk’s oeuvre.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: T. Graham Brown – ‘You Can’t Take It With You’

T._Graham_Brown_-_You_Can't_Take_It_With_YouYou Can’t Take It With You, released in 1991, marked T. Graham Brown’s final album for Capitol Nashville. While the album came on the heels of his top ten duet with Tanya Tucker, “Don’t Go Out,” it failed to produce any notable singles and was the first CD of his career not to chart.

Two singles were released from the project. “With This Ring,” a piano and horn mid-tempo number peaked at #31 while the title track, a ballad, failed to chart. Both singles displayed welcomed restraint in their respective styles and were excellent showcases for Brown vocally.

The remainder of You Can’t Take It With You is nicely balanced between uptempo tunes and delicately produced ballads. “Love At Work” is an excellently slinky horn drenched number while “Just A Woman” turns up the piano and drums for a rocking good time that foreshadows what was to come later in the decade. The electric guitar work on “Shaky Ground,” a wail of a rocker, lays the groundwork for songs like Tim McGraw’s “Real Good Man,” a pretty awful tune. Brown’s recording isn’t that bad as the production is nicely contained and doesn’t overshadow the track overall. “Bolt Out of the Blue” wouldn’t have been out of place on a Brooks & Dunn record and is actually quite listenable despite being a bit generic.

“The Rock” is a pretty good ballad but suffers from production that’s too bland and a vocal from Brown that lacks the subtly and tenderness needed to pull the song off. “Sweet Believer” has a better balance between vocal and production, but the horns and faux R&B stylings are cheesy. “You’re Everything She Couldn’t Be” follows the same pattern and in this mix is just more of the same. “Pillow of Mercy” is actually very good although it probably would’ve been more interesting if someone like Lee Roy Parnell had sang it instead.

After the horrible mess that was Brilliant Conversationalist, I was very pleasantly surprised when I actually enjoyed You Can’t Take It With You a lot. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but it shows Brown as an artist trying to pull of substance through quality songs with good production. The bland ballads could’ve used a nice dose of fiddle to make them stand out more and the rockers aren’t Vegas-y at all. This isn’t an outstanding or even a great album, but as far as Brown is concerned, it’s a huge achievement.

Grade: B

Album Review: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘Love and Honor’

Love_and_Honor_(Ricky_Van_Shelton_album_-_cover_art)Twenty years ago, Ricky Van Shelton was in a period of transition. His seventh album of original material, Love and Honor was his first without longtime producer Steve Buckingham. It also marked his final project for Columbia Nashville, his label home for seven years, and stands as his most recent album to place on Billboard’s Country Album’s Chart.

By now, Shelton’s mainstream popularity had begun to fade. He hadn’t scored a number one hit in three years, and while he scored big with a soundtrack single in 1992, he was a regular fixture just inside the top 30. As per usual mainstream trends had changed, moving away from the neo-traditional sounds that dominated in the early part of the decade and replacing them with a contemporary sound mixing numbers primed for line dancing along with lush balladry and pop-influenced compositions.

So Buckingham was swapped out for Blake Chancey and Paul Worley, who placed him squarely within that sound. “Wherever She Is,” the first single, was a slice of rock-influenced country not unlike the type of material Lee Roy Parnell was known for at the time. The efforts in modernization didn’t pay off and the James House/John Jarrard written tune stalled at #49.

Radio didn’t bite on the second and final single either. The Dennis Linde-penned “Lola’s Love” suffered because it wasn’t a commercial country recording at all with its Elvis-like rockabilly beat. The track itself is rather enjoyable and Shelton commits fully with his energetic vocal.

As is his trademark, Shelton includes a couple of nods to the genre’s past. “Thanks A Lot” is his version of the Ernest Tubb classic. Shelton speeds up the melody, and while the production doesn’t allow his vocal to truly shine, he gives the lyric a fine reading. “Love and Honor,” a cover of the early 1970s Merle Haggard song, doesn’t make a single concession and is therefore excellent. The traditional-minded arrangement is glorious, with ample steel and fiddle to frame Shelton’s pitch-perfect vocal. Originally recorded by George Jones and Vern Gosdin, “Where The Tall Grass Grows” is a simple story song with a slight list-like feel that doesn’t appeal to me lyrically but has a nice steel laced production.

Jarrard also contributed “Been There, Done That” a typical for the period honky-tonk number that served as filler. Larry Boone, who worked with the likes of Don Williams and Tracy Lawrence, wrote “Then for Them” a somewhat cheesy ballad that would’ve been better suited for an artist looking to launch their career, and likely would’ve been a big hit. Shelton handles the song very well although the generic production pulls him down quite a bit.

Deryl Dodd, who would release his debut album two years later, co-wrote “I Thought I’d Heard It All,” a traditional leaning ballad that would’ve been a standout album track on an Alan Jackson album, but comes off middle of the road in Shelton’s hands. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but Jackson would’ve given the lyric far more passion. Russell Smith, who penned Shelton’s “Keep It Between The Lines,” shows up here with “Baby, Take A Picture,” a fiddle-heavy line-dance number. The brisk tune is excellent even if Chancey and Worley didn’t account for the passing of time.

“Complicated” is a Bill LaBounty rocker in line with the type of track Shelton excels in selling wonderfully. The harmonica heavy production and Shelton’s vocal are perfect, but the lyric underwhelms and feels filler-y. “Love Without You” is a beautiful sentiment that Shelton, along with the heaping fiddle and steel, conveys excellently.

Love and Honor was an above average album for its time and sounds mostly pleasing today with the fiddle and steel that abound on almost every track. It’s surprising how Columbia Nashville chose the radio offerings, as there were far more radio-friendly numbers than the ones chosen. But with Shelton’s weaning popularity, he probably wouldn’t have been able to regain his footing anyways. On the whole, Love and Honor is a very good collection of songs and worth a listen even just for the nostalgia trip of reminding yourself how far country music has eroded in such a short amount of time.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Daddies And Daughters’

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Back To The Well’

back to the wellFor his last record to date, released in 2006 on Universal South, Lee Roy Parnell followed the pattern set by its predecessor and indulged his blues/soul roots without even lip service to country music.

The pattern is established by the funky bluesy title track, which has a strong groove but is a bit busy for me. There are, however, four very worthwhile tracks.

‘Old Soul’, the best song on the album (written by Lee Roy with Tony Arata and also recordfed by Patty Loveless), is a laconic ballad with a tastefully understated arrangement, depicting a teenage mother forced to grow up too soon and leave behind the carefree dreams of youth. A tasteful arrangement supports the sensitive lyric.

I also quite liked ‘Don’t Water It Down’, which offers a brassy take on some homespun philosophy with some cool piano and gospel-style backing vocals. It’s not very deep, but there is a charming exuberance which sells it.

‘Daddies And Daughters’ (the only attempt at a radio single and another Arata co-write) is a tender and heartfelt tribute to a paternal relationship, which sounds very personal. Parnell’s own daughter adds backing vocals.

‘Saving Grace’ is a pretty love ballad with inspirational elements.

The rest all blurs boringly together for me. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this, as it’s well performed and good of its kind. It just doesn’t work for me.

Grade: C

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Tell The Truth’

tellthetruth2001’s Tell The Truth was Lee Roy Parnell’s first post-major label release, the one that obstensibly “freed” him to record whatever he wanted without regard to commercial concerns. It is no surprise that the album isn’t particularly country; even in his hit-making days Parnell was no traditionalist. Tell The Truth is a combination of delta blues, blues rock, boogie, and blue-eyed soul but has only the loosest connection to country music. Lee Roy co-wrote nine of the album’s ten tracks and produced the project along with John Kunz. He was joined by a number of guest artists, none of whom are connected to mainstream country, but all of whom are highly respected in their own genres.

Albums like this are always difficult to review. The credits of Tell The Truth contain the names of some of music’s most respected musicians and songwriters, but this type of music is really not my cup of tea and I found listening to it to be quite a chore. Overly long songs always annoy me, even when they are songs that I like. Many of the tracks on Tell The Truth clock in at more than five, six or even seven minutes. The album produced one single, “South By Southwest”, performed as a duet with Delbert McClinton, who seems to have been an inspiration for the entire project. The single failed to chart, not suprisingly since it doesn’t fit in comfortably with any major radio format.

Although I didn’t care for much of Tell The Truth, it does contain some songs that I did enjoy. In general, the ballads and the quieter numbers were the ones I enjoyed more: “Breaking Down Slow”, on which Parnell was joined by blues singer Bonnie Bramlett was nice, as were the title track (a co-write with Tony Arata), and the Gretchen Peters-penned “Love’s Been Rough On Me”. I also enjoyed the rollicking gospel number “Brand New Feeling”, performed with the Mississippi Mass Choir.

Although Tell The Truth doesn’t really coincide with my personal taste, the talent of Lee Roy Parnell, the supporting musicians and the songwriters is not in question. Parnell is in good voice and the songs are all well produced and well performed, if you like this sort of thing. It’s worth seeking out if you’re looking for a change of pace record, but fans like me who would just prefer to keep it country will probably want to pass on this one.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘South By South West’

Single Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘She Won’t Be Lonely Long’

Hits_and_Highways_AheadLee Roy Parnell wrapped his major label career in 1999 after Career Records folded back into Arista and released Hits and Highways Ahead, Parnell’s sole career retrospective. At just twelve tracks, it featured his biggest hits over the past nine years and unsurprisingly left off any offerings that didn’t ignite at radio.

To help promote the album, which like all of Parnell’s other works didn’t chart very high, the label released a single. “She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” written by Bob McDill, didn’t reverse Parnell’s commercial fortunes and became his final single to chart, peaking at #57.

Over the years I’ve found that many of the songs I really enjoy were written by McDill, who in turn is one of my favorite writers. His “Gone Country,” and Alan Jackson’s subsequent hit recording is one of my favorite singles of the 90s. It’s a masterpiece through and through. So I wasn’t surprised McDill also penned one of my favorite Parnell recordings, “On The Road.”

“She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” which isn’t to be confused with Clay Walker’s 2010 hit, sadly cannot be added to my list of favorite McDill songs. Lyrically, the song is ok, with the story of a woman coming out of a breakup lonely, but not for long.

My problem is the production, which retains Parnell’s signature electric guitar, but smothers the track in a Texas-styled arrangement far too Delbert McClinton for my tastes. This style of country isn’t in my sonic wheelhouse, so I have to really, really like it for songs in this vein to hit me just right. Also, nothing about this track is commercially country by 1999 standards either, so I’m amazed it charted at all.

Parnell had a great tenure on Arista and Career Records, with some excellent material to show for it. “She Won’t Be Lonely Long” is far from that standard, and a low note for which to end the commercial phase of his career.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Heart’s Desire’

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Every Night’s A Saturday Night’

LeeroysaturdayLee Roy Parnell released his fifth album, Every Night’s A Saturday Night, in June 1997. Parnell co-produced the project, his second release for Arista imprint Career Records, along with his touring band The Hot Links.

The album produced three singles yet failed to generate any top ten hits. Parnell and Gary Nicholson co-wrote “Lucky Me, Lucky You,” which peaked at #35 and “All That Matters Anymore,” which stalled at #50. Sandwiched between them was “You Can’t Get There From Here,” written by Tony Arata, which reached #39. While I’m not crazy about the final single, the other two are excellent, and deserved to further Parnell’s radio career for at least another year.

George Strait covered Parnell and Cris Moore’s “One Foot In Front of the Other” on It Just Comes Natural in 2006. Parnell’s vocal on the original is far less energetic than Strait’s, but the overall track is quite good. Trisha Yearwood joins Parnell on “Better Word for Love,” a surprisingly tender ballad. Her background vocal contributions to the track are wasted as she’s barely audible, and the song wouldn’t demand a close listen if she wasn’t a part of it.

Parnell dives back into the Bob McDill songbook and pulls out “Tender Touch,” a steel and electric guitar soaked mid-tempo ballad that lacks the special touch McDill usually gives his compositions. He also revives Merle Haggard’s “Honky Tonk Night Time Man” from 1974. Parnell presents his version in Jam Band style, complete with electric guitar, but also stays true to Haggard’s original. It’s an excellent cover based on his mix alone.

Guy Clark co-wrote “Baton Rouge,” an excellent country shuffle that suffers from Parnell’s unexpectedly weak vocal. The title track is a typical workingman’s rocker and the album’s lone instrumental, the bluesy “Mama Screw Your Wig On Tight,” was nominated for a Grammy.

Judging from the co-producing credit from Parnell’s road band, I expected Every Night’s A Saturday Night to retain the live energy of a concert, thus being excessively rock in nature. That’s probably a fact of the changes within the genre in the past seventeen years. I was pleasantly taken aback by how clean this album sounds, crisp and comfortable. Not every lyrical composition is a memorable masterpiece, but the overall quality of Parnell’s fifth album is very high.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘On The Road’

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘I’m Holding My Own’

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘We All Get Lucky Sometimes’

we all get lucky sometimesLee Roy Parnell’s fourth album saw him repeating the pattern of the records which had seen him enjoy commercial success. There was one backroom change, though: a sideways move from Arista proper to the subsidiary imprint Career Records.

The lead single ‘A Little Bit Of You’ is a mid-tempo love song with a radio-friendly tune, written by hitmakers Trey Bruce and Craig Wiseman. It just missed the top spot on the charts, peaking at #2. ‘When A Woman Loves A Man peaked ten spots lower, at #12, but I think it’s a better song. A classy soulful ballad, it features Trisha Yearwood’s backing vocals, although they’re quite low in the mix.

‘Heart’s Desire’ was another big hit, reaching #3. It’s an excellent example of one of Parnell’s slower numbers, rhythmic and blusey but not overwhelmingly so, with a mellow feel. ‘Givin’ Water To A Drownin’ Man’ proved to be Parnell’s last top 20 hit. It’s another strong track in Parnell’s wheelhouse, although the Merle Haggard namedrop seems rather random. The title track also got some airplay but didn’t make the top 40. It’s a mid-to-up-tempo chugger, stronger on groove than substance, but enjoyable enough.

‘Saved By The Grace Of Your Love’ is a gentle ballad written by Parnell with Mike Reid, which is very pretty. ‘I Had To Let It Go’ is a pretty good story song involving losing a loved one and giving up booze.

The Delbert McClinton/Gary Nicholson song ‘Squeeze Me In’ is best known to country fans from Trisha Yearwood’s version. Parnell’s take is okay (and there’s some great piano), but I like Trisha’s better.

‘Knock Yourself Out’ has a blues groove which is quite catchy with call-and-response vocals and is quite enjoyable without being very memorable. It would have worked well live. ‘If The House Is Rockin’ is a straightforward slice of rock ‘n roll with exuberant honky tonk piano.

The album closes out with an instrumental; featuring accordion great Flaco Jiminez. Not my thing, but impressive playing.

Overall, a solid album which should appeal to anyone who likes the singles.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘On The Road’

ontheroad1993’s On The Road was Lee Roy Parnell’s third studio album and his last to be released on the main Arista label (subsequent releases would bear the Career imprint, an Arista subsidiary). Scott Hendricks, who had co-produced Parnell’s previous album, took over sole production duties, while Lee Roy shared songwriting credits on six of the album’s ten tracks. Unlike most of his 90s contemporaries, Parnell was neither a New Traditionalist nor a huge record seller. He did, however, score a handful of enduring radio hits, the most memorable of which is the Bob McDill-penned title track, which deals with three different instances of people who are ready to leave their unfulfilling lives behind in exchange for adventure into the unknown. Released in August of 1993, it was a perfect summertime single and it eventually peaked at #6. It’s one of my favorite Lee Roy Parnell songs.

“On The Road” was followed by another big hit, Tony Arata’s “I’m Holding My Own”, a midtempo number that was released in January 1994. It reached #3. He seemed to be on a roll as far as radio was concerned, but the album’s subsequent singles, both remakes of older country hits, didn’t fare as well. He beefed up his country credentials with a cover of the Hank Williams classic “Take These Chains From My Heart”, which is performed as a duet with Ronnie Dunn. I don’t ever remember hearing this on the radio and was surprised to learn that had been a single, and although not a huge hit it peaked at a very respectable #17. Even in the more traditional 90s, Hank Williams was a little too retro for country radio. His voice and Dunn’s blend together well and listeners who aren’t paying close attention might fail to notice that there are two people singing the song.

The album’s fourth and final single was a remake of “The Power of Love”, one of Charley Pride’s least country-sounding records, but a good choice for Parnell’s soulful voice. This one should have been a bigger hit, but it stalled at #51, far below the #9 peak of Pride’s original version from a decade earlier.

In another one of the album’s best songs, “Straight and Narrow”, Lee Roy and co-writer Tony Haselden rationalize — and make a compelling case for — occasionally skipping church in order to go fishing and other pursuits of life’s simple pleasures. The bluesy party anthem “Fresh Coat of Paint” is also quite good.

The album does contain two duds, both of which are Parnell co-writes with Gary Nicholson. “Straight Shooter” is a bit of bubble gum pop that sounds like a leftover from the Urban Cowboy days, while “Wasted Time”, in addition to being just plain dull, is based on the false premise that “there is no such thing as wasted time.” Well, yes, actually, there is. While neither of these are terrible songs, they both fall into the category of non-descript filler.

While not an oustanding album, On The Road is a good example of Lee Roy Parnell at his commercial peak. Cheap copies are readily available and it’s worth a listen.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell & Shelby Lynne – ‘Who Will The Next Fool Be’

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Love Without Mercy’

220px-LoveWithoutMercyTo record his sophomore album Lee Parnell stuck with producer Barry Beckett although Scott Hendricks, who most recently has been producing Blake Shelton’s post-Bobby Braddock work, joined him. Love Without Mercy would be Parnell’s breakthrough release containing three top ten singles despite peaking at #66 on Billboard’s country albums chart.

Lead single “The Rock,” where Parnell sounds like a slightly less powerful Ronnie Dunn, failed to ignite (peaking at #50) despite no obvious shortcomings. The contemporary ballad was perfectly inline with commercial trends in 1992 and I quite like the lush tenderness Parnell brings to the proceedings.

He finally scored his breakthrough hit with “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am,” an excellent rocker written by Al Carmichael and Gary Griffin. The #2 peaking song succeeds on Parnell’s rough vocal and slide guitar that doesn’t overwhelm the track at all. The infectious melody was all over the radio when I was a kid and I love it as much today as I did then.

Arista’s next single choice was the title track, a Don Pfrimmer and Mike Reid ballad originally recorded by Oak Ridge Boys in 1987. Reid, who topped the charts with “Walk On Faith” two years prior, released his own version the same year as Parnell. The bluesy ballad, which peaked at #8 for Parnell, is an excellent song perfectly suited for Parnell’s voice. Oak Ridge Boys version is great, too, but somewhat dated.

The album’s final single, the infectiously upbeat “Tender Moment” matched “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am,” peaking at #2 in Mid-1993. It’s another fantastically commercial moment for Parnell, succeeding on the brilliant melody, and among my favorite of his singles.

The rest of Love Without Mercy skews towards uptempo rocks including the Parnell co-wrote “Road Scholar,” a semi-autobiographical tale about a man who got his education in honky-tonks, that features Delbert McClinton. The bluesy Texas Rock isn’t my favorite, but the predictable lyric does give the track some needed substance.

“Night After Night” finds Parnell as a man consumed by the memory of his ex and the whole thing is as predictable as it is muscular. “Roller Coaster” is slightly better although I wish it retained even more country elements beyond the audible steel guitar. “Ain’t No Short Way Home” is a pre-curser to the ‘Bro-Country’ of today with its mentioning of trucks and women, and while it’s light years better in quality than today’s dreck, its still too generic for me.

“Back In My Arms Again” retains more of the country elements Parnell brought to the singles, and is an improvement over the other album cuts as a result. “Done Deal” is the best non-single and follows the formula of “The Rock” and the title track.

Love Without Mercy is a typical boom years country album that focuses on some outstanding singles while populating the album with a fair share of filler. Nothing here is horrible, but the magic of “What Kind of Fool” and “Tender Moment” isn’t repeated beyond those two cuts. But the album as a whole is still listenable and worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Oughta Be A Law’

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Lee Roy Parnell’

Lee Roy Parnell’s debut album on Arista Records in 1990 was very different from the neotraditional style which was then at its peak, although not really unique (T Graham Brown was making quite similar music at the time, and doing well). The album was produced by Barry Beckett, a Nashville session man and producer whose roots lay in Muscle Shoals soul, and the combination of producer and artist was a good fit.

Lee Roy’s rise coincided with the fall from favour with country radio of T Graham Brown, who had similar influences and musical stylings. Perhaps there was only room for one, and the newer guy would win out soon, but at the time of this release, Brown was still at his peak.

Lee Roy’s first single, ‘Crocodile Tears, crept into the top 60. It’s a pretty good mid-tempo tune which he wrote himself, in which the protagonist rebuffs his wife’s insincere protestations of love, and at another time might have done better on country radio.

Only marginally more successful, the second single. ‘Oughta Be A Law’ is a chugging mid-tempo country-blues-rock number written by Gary Nicholson with Dan Penn, with a prominent brass section. It is quite catchy, but not very country, and I can see why it didn’t catch on.

Final single ‘Family Tree’ was even less of a success, which is a shame because it is my favourite of the singles. It is a cheerful uptempo song about a family’s prodigal son, who:
Went out on a limb and fell off the family tree.

I quite like ‘Fifty Fifty Love’, a solid tune written by Parnell and Nicholson, with a rhythmic groove which moves along nicely, although the horns are out in force again.

‘Mexican Money’ is an entertaining song about a blue-collar Texan planning to abandon the US, where he can’t make ends meet, to live with his Mexican sweetheart.

The solemn ballad ‘Where Is My Baby Tonight’, written by Troy Seals and Graham Lyle, slows the pace, as does the bluesy love song ‘Down Deep’. ‘Let’s Pretend’ is a soul ballad. ‘You’re Taking Too Long’ picks up the tempo again, but isn’t very interesting. The closing ‘Red Hot’ is old fashioned rock n’ roll.

Overall, this album is well done in its way, but it has quite a loose connection to country music and isn’t really my cup of tea with far too much brass rather than steel guitar. Fans of Lee Roy Parnell may be interested in exploring his earliest recorded work, but it probably isn’t the place to start.

Grade: B

Album Review: Collin Raye – ‘Extremes’

extremesMainstay John Hobbs was joined by Ed Seay and Paul Worley to produce Collin’s third album, extremes. There was a concerted effort to expand Collin’s range with more rocking material, an artistic mistake in my opinion, but it was rewarded with commercial success, with five top 10 hits and platinum sales.

Collin screams out the first single, Lee Roy Parnell’s ‘That’s My Story’, a husband’s attempts to brazen out blatant lies to his wife. The amusing tale would have worked well for Parnell (and the arrangement and production are very much in his style, but it really doesn’t suit Collin’s voice, even though it was a #6 hit for him. The album’s only chart-topper, the fourth single, ‘My Kind of Girl’ is also a screamer, but a lyrically boring one.

Happily, the album also contains some beautiful ballads more in Collin’s style. Although it peaked just short of the top slot on the charts, ‘Little Rock’ may be the most important song ever recorded by Collin Raye, with its abashed, clear sighted depiction of a recovering alcoholic doing his best to cope with the loss of his wife as well as maintaining his sobriety. Written by Tom Douglas, perhaps it could do without the swelling strings, although the song’s strength is undiminished.

My favorite track is the melancholy lost love ‘Man Of My Word’, which peaked at #8. Written by Allen Shamblin and Gary Burr, it is a beautiful song in which the protagonist’s fidelity outlasts her loss (perhaps her death), gently paced and set to a lovely melody, with a subtle interpretation by Raye.

I’ll go to my grave with this torch held high
But just once I wish I’d told you a lie

When I said my love would last for all time
And no one would take your place
Well, if that promise was the last sound you heard
Well, you know I kept it
I’m a man of my word

The final single, #4 hit ‘If I Were You’ is a big ballad written by Hobbs with Chris Farren with a heavily strung arrangement. It’s quite prettily done, but not very memorable.

The best of the up-tempos is the fast story song ‘To The Border And Beyond’, which Collin wrote. Some wildly sawing fiddle backs up a frenetic vocal as Collin spits out the story of the outlaw Dugan. ‘Nothin’ A Little Love Won’t Cure’ is another rocker, and is an okay song written by the curious partnership of Rick Bowles, Don Cook and Larry Boone.

Written by Craig Wiseman and James Dean Hicks, the warm-hearted tale of a mother’s farewell gift of ‘A Bible And A Bus Ticket Home’ to a teenager leaving home with Nashville dreams, is tenderly sung and a definite highlight.

A cover of the classic ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ sounds very pretty, while ‘Angel Of No Mercy’ is another love song with a lovely melody, both ideally suited to Collin’s voice.

Despite some missteps Extremes is still a worthwhile purchase, especially as it can be obtained cheaply.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘Steal Another Day’

Following a hit-making three album run with Capitol, Steve Wariner turned next to the indie label SelecTone for his first new release after a three-year hiatus. Steve has used the small label for each of his subsequent releases, including this month’s Guitar Laboratory.

Proving himself once again handy with an ax, the up-tempos here are mostly used to showcase what Wariner learned at the feet of Chet Atkins. Love is the consistent theme on Steal Another Day, be it blossoming, in full force, unrequited, or in the past, these songs all share the same heartstring sentiments. But Wariner has always been able to shake the heartstring branch of the tree without dripping the sap all over you. And he does that here.

Writing or co-writing each of the 11 new tracks, Wariner and co-writers rely heavily on the same mid-tempo melody for many songs, making them interchangeable and forgettable. ‘Welcome To This World’ and the title track are the worst of such offenders. It’s in the jam-session productions that Wariner and company shine. ‘Kiss Me Anyway’ has a swampy blues influence, and tells of giving over to “an addiction, a hopeless affliction” of a love affair. ‘Carmelita’, written with Lee Roy Parnell, swings with precision, while lead single ‘I’m Your Man’ falters with its calypso beat, but the winning charm of the lyric saves it.

‘Snowfall On The Sand’ tells the story of a boy waiting for his father to return “when the first snow came”. It has a touching, if predictable, ending, but plods along at too slow a pace for country radio to take to it. It died as the album’s second and final single. The fiddle-laced ‘I Really Don’t Have Anything’ sounds reminiscent of early-era Alan Jackson, and is the standout among the set’s new songs. In the mostly acoustic ‘Forever In My Heart’, subtitled ‘For Chet’, Wariner sweetly sings of never forgetting those who touched our lives.

As lots of artists do when they team up with a new record label, Wariner re-recorded some of his old hits here. The updated versions feature more modern musicianship than their 80s counterparts, but seem to lack the vocal intensity of the originals. Performing these hits for two decades didn’t sharpen Wariner’s interpretation, and I recommend sticking to the originals for each of the five tracks reprised here. With a generous 16 tracks on the disc, you don’t feel short-changed by their inclusion since we’re still given plenty of new music to go with the redundant retreads.

Steal Another Day didn’t reignite Steve Wariner’s association with radio – neither single charted outside the 50s – nor did it restore him to gold-selling status. But Wariner was never a blockbuster act anyway. He worked best in his own quiet mode, cranking out quality songs, complete with blistering guitar work and his smooth crooning vocals. This album succeeds in doing all those things, and shows Wariner to still be at the top of his game.

Grade: B

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