My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Lefty Frizzell

The best reissues of 2018

It wasn’t a great year for reissues but there were some bright spots. As always our British and European friends lead the way. Also, please note that these can take a while for foreign titles to become available from US suppliers, so it may be into 2019 before these are generally available.

In those cities that still have adequate recorded music stores (sadly, a rare commodity these days), it can be a real thrill finding a label you’ve not encountered before reissuing something you’ve spent decades seeking. It can be worthwhile to seek out the foreign affiliates of American labels for recordings that the American affiliate hasn’t reissued. For example, there are Capitol recordings not reissued in the US that are available on the UK or European EMI labels. For the rest of us, scanning the internet remains the best alternative.

Unfortunately as the sales of physical CDs continue to plummet, so does the willingness of labels, domestic and foreign, to invest in reissuing material by second and third tier artists. Still missing in action are the catalogues of such significant artists as Liz Anderson, Wilma Burgess, Johnny Darrell, Jack Greene, The Hager Twins, Freddie Hart, Warner Mack, Kenny Price and David Rogers. While there has been a slight uptick in vinyl sales and reissues, most of that has been of only the very top selling artists (and at $22 to $33 per title).
Anyway …

The British label Jasmine issued a number of worthy country releases:

Billy WalkerWell, Hello There – The Country Chart Hits and More 1954-1962. The album features most of Billy’s biggest Columbia hits in decent sound.

Johnny CashChange of Address – The Single As and Bs 1958-1962. This release is somewhat redundant as it collects the A&B sides of Cash’s first sixteen Columbia singles. The songs are available elsewhere, but it is nice to have the singles all in one place.

Kitty WellsI Heard The Juke Box Playing. This two CD set features Kitty’s 1950s solo hits plus a bunch of (not readily available) duets with the likes of Roy Acuff, Webb Pierce and Red Foley. While much of this material had been available in the past, it had been allowed to slip out of print so it is nice to have it available again.

The Collins KidsRockin’ and Boppin’. Lorrie and Larry Collins were teenage rockabilly artists backed by the cream of California’s country musicians. Their material has been unavailable for quite a while.

Jasmine isn’t specifically a country label with much of their output being R&B and Rock ‘n Roll, but their country reissues are always welcome. Jasmine also issued an early Homer & Jethro collection from their recordings on King Records, a Lee Hazlewood collection and several mixed artists albums during 2018.

Another British label, Ace Records, usually does a nice job with reissues. Unfortunately, 2018 was a sparse year for country reissues with a Johnny Lee Wills reissue (available only as a digital download) being about it this year.

The British Hux label had a light year as far as country reissues was concerned issuing nothing (that I have been able to find), but they did have a mid-2017 release that slipped my notice last year, a nice Dickey Lee reissue comprised of Dickey’s first two RCA albums from 1971 & 1972 in Never Ending Song Of Love / Ashes Of Love. Dickey Lee was far more successful as a songwriter than as a recording artist, but this pair features four of his hits plus some other songs he wrote including “She Thinks I Still Care”.

The British Humphead label has received criticism for using needle drops but they’ve gotten better at the process and in many cases, theirs are the only available (non-remake) recordings by the artist.

In October Humphead issued the Connie Smith collection My Part of Forever (Vol. 1), comprised of mainly her 1970s recording including tracks recorded for Warner Bros., in the mid-1990s, Sugar Hill in 2011, and rare lost radio performances from the early 1970s. Many of these tracks have been previously unavailable – a real find.

Humphead also had released a three CD Ed Bruce collection and a two CD best of the Kentucky Headhunters collection.

The British BGO label finished its reissue series of Charley Pride’s RCA catalogue with its two CD set consisting of The Best of Charley Pride Volumes 1-3 and Charley Pride’s Greatest Hits VI. At this time virtually everything from Charley Pride’s landmark RCA tenure is now available on CD, either from BGO or from other sources.

BGO also released a two CD set of Charlie McCoy’s first four albums on Monument (The Real McCoy / Charlie McCoy / Good Time Charlie / The Fastest Harp In The South). They are good, but rather more harmonica than I care to listen to at one sitting,

Other BGO sets can be found here.

Germany’s Bear Family Records has been the gold standard for reissues; however, this was a rather quiet year on the country side of the business. On the other hand, the one truly significant set released is a doozy. Bear had previously released vinyl and CD boxed sets on the legendary Lefty Frizzell. In October Bear released a greatly expanded twenty CD set titled An Article From Life – The Complete Recordings. The original Bear set was beyond great and if I had unlimited cash reserves I would buy this set which includes the following:

• Every 45, 78, and LP track from Lefty’s entire career. Every unissued session recording
• Newly-discovered demos and non-session recordings
• Newly-researched biography and discography
• Many previously unseen photos from the Frizzell family’s archives
• A new designed 264 page hardcover book!
• Many previously unissued recordings – a total of 12 CDs of music.
• An audio book on 8 CDs with Lefty’s life history, written and read by his brother David.

As for domestic reissues our friend Ken Johnson helps keep the folks at Varese Vintage on the straight and narrow for their country releases. This year Varese only had one country album released which occurred in November, when Varese issued the John Denver collection Leaving On A Jet Plane. This isn’t really country, but Denver was heavily played on country radio., These tracks come from the 1960s when Denver was part of a late edition of the Mitchell Trio and part of the successor group Denver, Boise and Johnson. The collection features John’s first recordings of “Leaving On A Jet Plane”.

Although not really a reissue, Yep Rock released a nice Jim Lauderdale/ Roland White collaboration that had never before been released. We reviewed it in September 2018 here.

Sony Legacy controls the rights to Columbia/CBS, Epic, RCA, Monument and some other labels as well. In May 2018, Sony Legacy released Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s, a nice two CD set of “Outlaw Era” country. The thirty-six song collection is hardly essential but it is a nice introduction to the era, showcasing the obvious artists along with the likes of Marcia Ball, Rodney Crowell, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Willis Alan Ramsey. This label seems to be Willie Nelson’s current label for new material

Omnivore Recordings spent several years releasing the recordings of Buck Owens. In May of this year they released The Complete Capitol Singles: 1967-1970, a two CD set that seems to have completed their coverage of Buck’s peak period. Since then they have issued Country Singer’s Prayer, the never released last Capitol album, and Tom Brumley’s Steelin’ The Show, featuring Buckaroo and Buck Owens tracks on which Tom’s pedal steel was prominently featured. Neither of the latter two albums are essential but the Brumley collection highlights just what a great steel player was Tom Brumley.

Earlier in 2018, Omnivore released a Don Gibson collection featuring most of Don’s hits on Hickory plus some album tracks.

***

I suppose I should again say a few words about the Gusto family of labels. It appears that Gusto still is in the process of redesigning their website, but plenty of product can be found from other on-line vendors or from retail outlets such as Pottery Barn and various truck stops along the Interstates.

As I mentioned previously, with the exception of the numerous gospel recordings made by Porter Wagoner during the last decade of his life, there is little new or original material on the Gusto Family of labels. Essentially, everything Gusto does is a reissue, but they are forever recombining older recordings into new combinations.

Gusto has accumulated the catalogs of King, Starday, Dixie, Federal, Musicor, Step One, Little Darlin’ and various other small independent labels and made available the music of artists that are otherwise largely unavailable. Generally speaking, older material on Gusto’s labels is more likely to be original recordings. This is especially true of bluegrass recordings with artists such as Frank “Hylo” Brown, The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Stringbean and Curley Fox being almost exclusive to Gusto.

After 1970, Gusto’s labels tended to be old age homes for over-the-hill country and R&B artists, and the recordings often were remakes of the artists’ hits of earlier days or a mixture of remakes of hits plus covers of other artists’ hits. These recordings range from inspired to tired and the value of the CDs can be excellent, from the fabulous boxed sets of Reno & Smiley, Mel Street and The Stanley Brothers, to wastes of plastic and oxides with numerous short eight and ten song collections.

To be fair, some of these eight and ten song collections can be worth having, if they represent the only recordings you can find by a particular artist you favor. Just looking at the letter “A” you can find the following: Roy Acuff, Bill Anderson, Lynn Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Leon Ashley, Ernie Ashworth, Chet Atkins and Gene Autry. If you have a favorite first or second tier country artist of the 1960s or 1970s, there is a good chance that Gusto has an album (or at least some tracks) on that artist.

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Introducing: The Malpass Brothers

And the winner of the 2018 CMA Entertainer of the Year is ….. The Malpass Brothers!

Well not really, but if the CMA had a shred of integrity left, the Malpass Brothers would have at least been nominated.  This is not a knock against this year’s winner Keith Urban, who is an excellent rock guitarist (with very little country in his playing) and a passable (but very overrated) vocalist with a decent sense of humor, but having seen both perform, Urban is miles (or kilometers) behind in the ability to entertain.

So who are the Malpass Brothers? According to their website:

As young boys, Christopher and Taylor Malpass soaked up the music of their granddad’s phonograph records. Christopher earned his first talent show trophy at age 7, and Taylor was playing mandolin by the time he was 10. Today, they promote the work and music of classic country artists they treasure while creating new music and making their own mark in the lineage of a rich American cultural heritage.

With sincerity, honesty and an utter ease on stage that belies their years, their smooth vocal blend and skillful musicianship layer infectiously into the deep respect they pay to legends who have paved the way. Add the funny, off-the-cuff quips between the two 20-something siblings, and the engaging concert becomes a magnetic time-traveling journey to when a calmer rhythm reigned supreme.

The Malpass Brothers toured with the late Don Helms, former steel guitarist for Hank Williams, have opened for music legend Merle Haggard on multiple tours and appeared on stages from the Shetland Islands to Ryman Auditorium to Merlefest. Gifted musicians and songwriters, the brothers have shared billing with artists including Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Marty Stuart, Doc Watson and more. The title cut video from their “Memory That Bad” album hit CMT Pure Country’s Top Ten.

The above quote gives but a small hint as to what the Malpass Brothers are all about. Although there are other young country traditionalists who are true to the traditions of real country music, most of them are faithful to the traditions of the country music of the 1970s and the new traditionalists movement that kicked off in 1986 and held sway for about 12-15 years. North Carolina natives Chris and Taylor Malpass are torch carriers for the sounds of the country music of the 1950s through 1975 with occasional rockabilly overtones, and a lot of humor in their performances. Chris normally sings lead and Taylor typically plays electric lead and mandolin

After spending about seven years opening for Merle Haggard, the Malpass Brothers started working the bluegrass festivals along with other more normal venues. Although there is nothing at all bluegrass about their music, there is an interesting dynamic at work in the world of bluegrass which is that while there is a schism (of sorts) between the traditionalist “true grass” advocates and more modernist “newgrass” fans, both groups love the music of traditional country artists such as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn and the Louvin Brothers and it rare to find a group in either the truegrass or newgrass camps that does not include the music of the pre-1975 period in their repertoire.

From what I’ve written above, you may think that the Malpass Brothers are nothing more than a covers band, but in fact, their repertoire is a mixture of covers and originals written by the brothers. In fact, their most recent album Live At The Paramount Theatre (taken from a PBS Documentary), features six original tunes along with three Merle Haggard songs, Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got The Money I Got The Time”, Ernst Tubb’s “Walking The Floor Over You” and the Jimmie Rodgers classic from the 1930s (later covered by Crystal Gayle) “Miss The Mississippi and You”.

This album also includes a live performance of their CMT hit “Memory That Bad” which was written by Chris and Taylor Malpass.

For more information check their website: https://themalpassbrothers.com/

Meanwhile, I’ve stacked three of their CDs in my changer and will be listening to some real country music. I will see them again in February 2019

Below are some YouTube clips:

“Hoping That You’re Hoping:”

“Luther Played The Boogie:”

“Half A Mind:”

 

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Cowboy Dreams’

Released in April 2003, Cowboy Dreams was Adam’s fifth album and the second to be certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association signifying sales of 35,000 albums.

The album opens up with the “Love Bug”, the Wayne Kemp-Curtis Wayne penned hit for George Jones in 1965 and George Strait in 1993, both top ten records. It’s a silly song but Adam handles it well.

Next up is “Call It Love” a nice ballad that I could see George Strait having a hit with in his prime

Just Lookin Back On The Life We’ve Made
The Things We’ve Lost The Words To Say
A Million Words Are Not Enough
Call It Love

I Know That Sometimes I Put You Through
More Than I Should Ask Of You
There Must Be A Reason You Don’t Give Up
Call It Love

I Don’t Know What Else To Call It
When All I Wanna Do
Is Grow Old With You
What Else On Earth Can It Be When Every Time You’re With Me
A Simple Touch Tears Me Up
Call It Love

“When Lonely Met Love” is a nice up-tempo dance floor number:

He was empty as a bottle on a Saturday night
She was sweet as a rose that grows in a garden getting good sunlight
As fate would have it, the unlikely happened
In a parking lot, two worlds collide

When lonely met love, they hit it off
Dancing on the ceiling, couldn’t peel them off
Now they’re real tight, it feels real nice
Lonely ain’t looking, lonely no more
Love started popping like a bag of popcorn
When they opened up, when lonely met love

Those good old ballads of booze, women and cheating have been largely banished from modern country music so “Hush”, so this mid-tempo ballad is a refreshing change of pace

He’s looking in the mirror checking out his hair, putting on his cologne
He ain’t shaved since Tuesday but tonight every little whisker’s gone
He’s going out with the perfect wife but she ain’t his own

Chorus:
Hush…can’t talk about it
Hush…dance all around it
Everybody’s doing it old and young
Don’t breath a word cats got your tongue
Huush

She makes the kids breakfast, packs their lunch, sends them on their way
Makes all the beds and cleans up the kitchen loads the TV tray
But that ain’t coffee in the coffee cup gets her through the day

“She Don’t Know It Yet” is a wistful ballad about a man who has not been able to convey to his woman just how much he really loves her

I really love western swing and “Cowboy For A Day” is a nice example with a subject matter similar to Conway Twitty’s “Don’t Call Him A Cowboy” but with a more upbeat message and taken at a much faster tempo. This would be a great dance number

Adam’s voice is in Trace Adkins / Josh Turner territory but the structure of the album reminds me of many of George Strait’s albums, with a nice mix of slow and up-tempo songs.

My digital copy of the album did not include any information concerning songwriting credits, but it is fair to assume that where I haven’t commented, that Adam had a hand in the writing. I really liked “A Little More To It Than That” and “Little Cowboy Dreams” which I assume are Adam’s compositions. The latter is a really cute song, a father’s words to his son:

Dust off your boots, take off your star
Whistle your rocking horse in from the yard
Take off your hat you’ve tamed the wild west
But son even heroes need to get rest

Close your eyes little man it’s been a long day
And your worn out from riding it seems
Let your work in the saddle
All drift away
Into sweet little cowboy dreams

Old-timer that I am my favorite song on the album goes way back to 1965 when Lefty Frizzell recorded the Hank Cochran-Chuck Howard song “A Little Unfair”. Adam doesn’t sound like Lefty and doesn’t try to sound like Lefty but doers a very effective job with the song:

You want me to love just you while you love your share
Ain’t that being a little unfair
It’s me stay home while you stay gone till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

I can’t see how it can be anything for me
What’s mine is yours but what’s yours is yours
That’s how you wanted to be
You want me to wait for you till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

I can’t see how it can be anything for me
What’s mine is yours but what’s yours is yours
That’s how you wanted to be
You want me to wait for you till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

This is a very country album – fiddle, steel guitar, thoughtful lyrics and everything else you would want in a country album.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Workin’ Overtime’

After some time finding his feet, Adam’s first Australian gold selling album was 2001’s Workin’ Overtime. It also won him a Golden Guitar award for Best Album. It thoroughly deserved both, as this is an excellent album.

He wrote or cowrote the lion’s share of the tracks himself for the first time. The title track, ‘Workin’ Overtime (On A Good Time)’ was co-written with fellow Australian Rod McCormack and American country artist David Lee Murphey. This starts out slow and then ramps it up as Adam quits his job in favour of party time.

McCormack and Jerry Salley teamed up with Adam for ‘The Shake Of A Hand’, a sweet song set to a pretty lilting melody with a wistful nostalgia for a more innocent past. The same team produced the charmingly retro western swing ‘Two Steppin’ Fool’, in which Adam offers himself as a replacement for a cheater.

Adam and Rod McCormack were joined by Sonny Tillis to write ‘What It Used To Be’, a lovely sad ballad about the aftermath of a failed relationship. Matt King co-wrote the mid-paced ‘I’ll Drink To That’, a swaggering response to a wife’s ultimatum to stop drinking to excess in which the booze looks like winning:

Hangovers hurt me in the morning
But living with a crazy woman
Sure to give a man a heart attack
So I’ll drink to that
I’ll raise my glass and
Here’s to all the good times that you said we never had
This beer ain’t half as bitter as
This trouble you’ve been causing
With these threats that you’ll be walking
If I touch another drop
I’ll drink to that

Rick Price cowrote two songs with Adam and Rod, both love songs. ‘One Of A Kind’ is a sweet ballad, earnestly delivered by Adam, while ‘Little Bitty Thing Called’ is slighter lyrically but a fun little ditty.

A few covers or outside songs were thrown in. ‘The House That Jack Built’ is a rapid paced Billy Yates/Jerry Salley story song about a young married couple whose ideal picket fence life is broken up when a richer man comes along, with a fiddle dominated arrangement. Steel guitar leads into the superlative ballad ‘One And One And One’, also recorded by Gene Watson. Adam does it full justice as he portrays a man who retires hurt but dignified when he finds his lover two timing him:

The first time I laid eyes on you it was love for me
It never crossed my mind what all I couldn’t see
Now suddenly there’s more than me you’re livin’ for
I go to you and find a stranger at your door

1 + 1 + 1 is one too many
I can’t understand your reasons why
1 + 1 + 1 is one too many
So let me be the one to say goodbye

You say God blessed you with two good men
And you can’t choose
‘Cause in different ways we both mean the world to you
And you’re wonderin’ now if somehow
I could live with that
But God above wouldn’t call this love so I want out

‘She’s Gone, Gone, Gone’ is a Harlan Howard song first recorded by the legendary Lefty Frizzell and then a top 10 country hit for Glen Campbell. It is upbeat musically, belying a sad lyric, and highly enjoyable with a delightful acoustic arrangement. There is a tasteful cover of the Guy Clark classic ‘Boats To Build’.

‘Beauty’s In The Eye (Of The Beerholder)’ is a comic drinking song which is good fun.

The album closes with a very fine version of Chris Wall’s modern classic ‘I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight’, most recently recorded by Sunny Sweeney.

Adam is in great voice on this record, and the material is all high quality. I recommend this wholeheartedly.

Grade: A

Album Review: Adam Harvey — ‘Sugar Talk’

Adam Harvey released his third album, Sugar Talk, in late August 1999. Much like Occasional Hope noted in her review last week, there isn’t much information about the album online although I was able to find it on Apple Music.

The album is comprised of fourteen tracks. Wikipedia lists two singles. “Treat Me Like A Dog” is a ruckus barnburner about a man who wants a woman who will love and forgive him despite his flaws, much the same way people love everything about their pets. “I Blame You” is a nice power ballad where a man blames his woman for all the riches in his life.

When researching “Gypsy Queen,” I found out it is an old Australian song from the 1970s and became Harvey’s first number one hit. The track is excellent, dosed in mandolin and has a nice sing-song-y melody. “When I’m Drinking” is a playful honky-tonk rocker about a man who’s let the bottle have a grip on his life.

“Hold on my Heart” is another barnburner, in which Harvey sings about a woman who has “a hold on my heart and I hope she never let’s go.” The title track follows the same uptempo formula, with slight variations.

Harvey is a keen observer on “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance,” in which he predicts the woman he’s watching on the dance floor will become his girl. It’s probably not a sequel, but the next track in sequence is “Caroline.” In the chorus he sings, “when I’m with you I lose my mind.”

The last of the high-octane moments is “It’s Still Love,” which is very good but feels slightly generic. “When You Love Somebody” is a nice contemporary ballad. “Love Listens” falls at mid-tempo, with generous steel guitar throughout and a smoother vocal from Harvey.

Harvey also includes three songs I recognize as being recorded by other artists. When I played “Don’t Tell Me (You’re Not in Love)” I recognized it immediately, but didn’t know where I’d heard it before. It turns out George Strait included it as an album track on The Road Less Traveled three years after Harvey released it here.

He gives himself a tall order singing Lefty Frizzell’s “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” which was famously covered twice by Keith Whitley. Harvey’s version is very good and holds its own against the others.

The final cover, “Goodnight Sweetheart,” was originally recorded by Joe Diffie in 1992 before being picked up as the title track and second single from country singer turned Texas real estate agent David Kersh’s debut album. It peaked at #6 for him in 1996. Harvey’s version is excellent, tender, and makes me believe this is a song Whitley would’ve likely recorded had he lived.

I was unfamiliar with Adam Harvey before writing this review. Sugar Talk is a very strong album with some excellent moments throughout. He goes a bit too heavy on the light uptempo material but kills it when he slows things down. In addition to Apple Music, Sugar Talk is all available on iTunes. I recommend checking it out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Live in Branson MO, USA ‘

Back in 1993, Delta Music issued four albums in their Live in Branson MO, USA series. While I think the intent was to go farther, only albums on Johnny Paycheck, Faron Young, Connie Smith and Moe Bandy were ever released.

Live albums are always a bit of a gamble; some of them are quite good, others are a waste of material. Moe Bandy Live in Branson MO, USA is a pretty decent album; moreover, at the time it was issued it was the only live recording available of Moe as a solo artist (I believe that is still the case).

Moe is accompanied by the following musicians on this recording from June 26, 1992. The album was recorded at the Moe Bandy Americana Theatre, so which of these musicians were members, if any, of these were members of Moe’s road band, I cannot say:

Phil Coontz – leader & steel guitar
John Clark – fiddle, accordion, steel & acoustic guitar, mandolin
Scooter Hill – acoustic guitar, harmonica, keyboards & harmony vocals
John Parmenter – accordion, fiddle & harmony vocals
Kris Spencer – harmony vocals
Ed Synan – piano, synthesizer & harmony vocals
Shawn Tull – guitar & harmony vocals
Tony Walter – bass & harmony vocals
Terri Williams – vocals

Whatever the case, these musicians do a nice job of presenting Moe in a country context.

The album opens with “Another Day, Another Dollar”, the Wynn Stewart classic which is used to give the band a chance to show off. Moe sings the first verse and the chorus.

Next up is Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon” which hit #21 for Moe in 1982. The song was long familiar to audiences through the Ian & Sylvia, Judy Collins and Chris LeDoux recordings (plus it was an album track on countless albums by other artists). Suzy Bogguss would have a slightly bigger hit with the song a few years later.

“Hey Joe” was written by Boudleaux Bryant and was initially a hit for Carl Smith, the father of Carlene Carter and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Carl took the song to #1 for eight weeks in 1953, the first of many #1 records written by Boudleaux Bryant. Moe &Joe (Stampley) reached the top ten with the song in 1981. This version is an up-tempo straight ahead version that I like better than the Moe & Joe duet.

“It’s A Cheating Situation” written by Curly Putman and Sonny Throckmorton, was one of Moe’s two #1 singles (Record World & Canada RPM). Terri Williams fills the Janie Fricke role here – she’s not as accomplished a singer as Fricke but acquits herself quite well.

“Rodeo Romeo” a typical Bandy song that reached #10 in 1981, is up next, followed by the first of two Moe Bandy compositions in “Many Mansions”, about a down and out homeless person’s faith in what is to follow:

Hope is a thing with feathers that perches on the soul
Said the homeless young man standing there strong against the cold
I reached into my pocket, said a penny for your poetry
But when I handed him a dollar bill he was shaking his head at me
And he said these words to me

In my Father’s house are many mansions
Though tonight some make their beds along the streets
Where I’ve seen lives still by winters bitter chill
In my Father’s house there’s a mansion for me

“The Horse You Can’t Ride” is an interesting song composed by Blake Mevis. Moe had this song on one of his albums, so it has not been widely heard but I think it is a compelling song. I think maybe Garth Brooks should hunt down this song and record it.

His boots were all beat up from the dust and the weather.
His face and hands were tanned like sun dried leather.
He rolled a Bull Durham reefer, as he thumbed my diesel down.
He said he had just blew Dallas on the first wind out of town.

He must have read my face, I didn’t think it was showing.
Anyway that old cow poke had a way of knowing.
He said judging from the way your broken up inside.
My guess would be that you just found that horse that you can’t ride.

We all find that horse that we can’t ride.
He kicks you in the heart and leaves you laying in your pride.
But every cowboy worth his salt knows its worth a little hide.
To fall and get back up on that horse that he can’t ride.

He said son now I have done an awful lot of living.
It’s too late for me to ever be forgiven.
The devil holds the mortgage on my saddle and my soul.
‘Cause I left heaven crying on a ranch in El Paso.

We split a pint or two by the time we got to Austin.
He told me how he loved it and then he told me how he lost it.
When nothing meets nowhere with nowhere.
I stopped and let him down.

He said son now this is where you are headed,
If you don’t turn this rig around..
We all find that horse that we can’t ride.
He kicks you in the heart and leaves you laying in your pride.
But every cowboy worth his salt knows it’s worth a little hide.
To fall and get back up on that horse that he can’t ride

This is followed by “Hank Williams You Wrote My Life”, a quintessential Moe Bandy song if ever there was one.

Moe Bandy didn’t seem to write a lot of songs but the ones he did right were quite good. “My Wish For You” is about a father’s wishes for his child’s well-being.

The album closes with three of Moe’s later, less hard-core country hits, plus an early hit. The later hits are “You Haven’t Heard The Last of Me” (#11 – 1987), “Till I’m Too Old To Grow Young” (#6 – 1987) and Moe’s last top ten hit “Americana” (#8 – 1988). Because Moe did not have an orchestra, these recordings have a more solidly country sound than the post-Columbia albums from which these songs were taken. Sandwiched in between these numbers is an early GRC hit, written by Lefty Frizzell, “Bandy The Rodeo Clown.”

The only real criticism I have of this album is that on a few songs, I would have preferred that Moe’s voice be a little more front and center in the mix. A few of the tracks, most notably “My Wish For You” have a quasi-acoustic setting.

This is a really fine and enjoyable album that shows off the range of Moe’s talents, and is the only exemplar of Moe’s live show of which I am aware.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘She’s Not Really Cheatin’ (She’s Just Getting Even)’

1982 saw the release of She’s Not Really Cheatin’ (She’s Just Getting Even). Moe’s biggest hit in three years, the mid-paced title track is a pointed narrative about a wife who gets her revenge on a cheating husband by copying him. Written by Ron Shaffer, it peaked at #4. The album’s second single, ‘Only If There Is Another You’, which reached #12, is an earnestly sweet declaration of eternal fidelity.

The same writer (D Miller) contributed another pair of songs. ‘Our Love Could Burn Atlanta Down Again’ is a nice mid-tempo love song. ‘The All American Dream’, a co-write with the young Kent Blazy, is a sunny patriotic tune:

I drink Kentucky whiskey
I love California wine
My old car’s from Detroit
And suits my taste just fine
My boots were made in Texas
This song’s from Tennessee
I’m proud of my country
And what it’s done for me

You’re lookin’ at a believer in the all American dream
From a small farm in Texas to singin’ on TV
There ain’t a thing we can’t do
Nothing we can’t be
As long as we’re believers in the all American dream

Every single thing I own says made in USA
I don’t buy those products with names that I can’t say
We may be having hard times
But brother we’re still free
I’m glad I’m living in the land of opportunity

‘He’s Taking My Place At Your Place’ is a wistful lament for lost love, now that the ex he thought he could go back to isn’t interested any more. ‘Your Memory Is Showing All Over Me’ is a steel laced ballad about the shadow of the past preventing the protagonist from moving on.

The more contemporary ‘An Angel Like You’ is a mid tempo attempt to pick up a girl, slightly marred by intrusive backing vocals from the Jordanaires. The perky ‘Can I Pick You Up’ is a bit more effective.

My favorite track is the wonderful tribute to Moe’s traditional country roots, ‘Hank And Lefty Raised My Country Soul’, written by Dallas Frazier and Doodle Owens. This was a cover of a minor hit for Stoney Edwards in the early 70s. (Incidentally the song was later rewritten to pay tribute to George Jones and Merle Haggard; a pre-fame Alan Jackson recorded it.)

I also like the pacy ‘Jesus In A Nashville Jail’, in which a failed country singer finds God after “the bottle got the best and the blues got the rest of me”.

This is a very good album, but not one of Moe’s very best. It was released on a 2-4-1 CD with the excellent It’s A Cheating Situation, and the combination is well worth tracking down.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Bandy The Rodeo Clown’

Moe Bandy’s third (and final) album on GRC was Bandy The Rodeo Clown. Released in 1975, the album was the least successful of Moe’s three GRC albums, reaching only #27 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, but the title track (and only single from the album) proved to be Moe’s biggest hit to-date, reaching #7 in the USA and #4 in Canada. The album was a hard-core country fan’s fantasy with such stalwart musicians as Charlie McCoy, Bobby Thompson, Bob Moore, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Leo Jackson, Jimmy Capps, Johnny Gimble, Kenny Malone, Weldon Myrick and Dave Kirby present to ‘keep it country’.

I’m sure that many thought that Moe penned the title track, which was the first track on the album; however, the song actually came for the golden pens of Lefty Frizzell and Whitey Shfer. The story of a rodeo rider toppled by lost love, and winding up a rodeo clown, Moe is entirely believable as he sings the song.

Who was once a bull hooking son of a gun
Now who keeps a pint hid out behind chute number one
Who was riding high till a pretty girl rode him to the ground
Any kid knows where to find me
I’m Bandy The Rodeo Clown

Next up is “Somewhere There’s A Woman”, penned by Rex Gosdin and Les Reed. This song is a standard jog-long ballad that Moe handles well. This is followed by “Give Me Liberty (Or Give Me All Your Love)”, a ballad about a guy who is losing his girlfriend to her old lover.

“Nobody’s Waiting For Me” is a sad slow ballad about a down and outer, what used to be known as a weeper. This song was written by Whitey Shafer – it’s a good song and in the hands of George Jones, it might have been hit single material – but otherwise it is just an album track.

Side one closes with “I Stop And Get Up (To Go Out Of My Mind)”, a mid-tempo ballad with some nice harmonica by Charlie McCoy and fiddle by Johnny Gimble.

Side two opens up with an old warhorse in Don Gibson’s “Oh, Lonesome Me”. I’ve heard better versions, but Moe does an acceptable job with the song. Eddy Raven, who has been enjoying renaissance in bluegrass, penned “I Sure Don’t Need That Memory Tonight”. It’s a decent ballad but nothing more. Better is another Raven tune “Fais Do-Do”, a Cajun-flavored tune that I would liked better had it been taken at a slightly faster tempo. At a faster tempo this song would have made a good single. Yet another Raven song follows in ”Goodbye On Your Mind”, another mid-tempo ballad.

The album closes with “Signs Of A Woman Gone” by Rex Gosdin and Les Reed. The song is slightly up-tempo and while I find the presence of the Jordanaires in the introduction slightly distracting, Bobby Thompson’s fine banjo redeems the song as does Weldon Myrick’s fine steel guitar.

This is a solid country album, well sung by Moe with a solid country band. The problem with the album is two-fold: not enough tempo variation, and generally solid but unexciting songs. I do not mind listening to this album, but only the title track was worthy of single release. The first two GRT albums were better but I would still give this album a solid ‘B’.

After this album, Moe would be signed by Columbia, which purchased Moe’s back GRC catalogue. While Moe would not go on to have enormous success as an album seller, he would crank out a steady stream of successful singles for the next thirteen years.

February Spotlight Artist: Moe Bandy

Marion “Moe” Bandy was born in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1944, and moved to San Antonio, Texas, at the age of six. His grandfather had known and worked with country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers on the Mississippi railways, while both Moe’s parents were musical, and his father had a part time country band. As a teenager, Moe’s main interest was rodeo riding, until he was 18 and had endured one broken bone too many, when he turned seriously to music. His brother Mike continued to ride competitively.

He had a day job in a sheet metal factory (working for his dad) while playing small local venues with his band, and getting some work on local TV. However, he did not make a real breakthrough until 1973, when Ray Baker, a music publisher and aspiring record producer, who had been impressed by demo recordings, encouraged him to move to Nashville. Moe’s musical partnership with Baker kickstarted both their careers, as Baker would go on to work with Connie Smith, Merle Haggard and a young George Strait.

Moe issued an independent single, ‘I Just Started Hating Cheating Songs Today’ on the Footprint label, and songs about drinking and cheating became something of a signature theme for him. His contract was then picked up by a slightly larger independent label, GRC, who released three albums and a number of hit singles. Country legend Lefty Frizzell was another to be impressed by the singer, and write a song especially for him (‘Bandy The Rodeo Clown’).

This success gave Moe a springboard to greater things, and he signed to Columbia Records in 1976. He enjoyed a string of hit singles, although perhaps surprisingly only one went all the way to #1. From 1979 he also had a side project as a largely comic duo with labelmate Joe Stampley. He also had individual duet hits with Janie Fricke and the underrated Becky Hobbs.
In the 1980s Moe’s hardcore traditional style relaxed a little. Declining sales saw Columbia drop him in 1985 after nine years on the label, and a shortlived deal with MCA saw him chart again but failed to revive his career significantly. A couple of albums on Curb were the end of his commercial streak, but he was one of the artists to see the appeal of his own permanent show at Branson, Missouri.

In recent years he has been touring with Gene Watson, and he has just released an autobiography, Lucky Me. https://moebandybook.com/
We hope you enjoy our coverage of Moe Bandy’s music this month.

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – ‘Travelling Shoes’

Produced by Wayne Thorose, Robert Mizzell’s latest offering was released late last year. As usual, there is a heavy reliance on cover material, although he largely avoided covering song that have been overdone already. That complaint aside, there is little to gripe about here; this is a solid collection of the kind of country music that rarely gets made anymore on this side of the Atlantic.

The title track is Sawyer Brown tune dating back to the band’s 1992 Cafe on the Corner album. Mizzell also covers Lefty Frizzell (“Gone, Gone, Gone” written by Harlan Howard), Johnny Cash (“Greystone Chapel” from 1968’s Live at Folsom Prison), Mel Street (“Borrowed Angel”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Why Me Lord”), as well as more contemporary artists such as Josh Turner (“Firecracker”) and Phil Vassar (“Like I Never Loved Before”). He acquits himself nicely on all of these, although “Firecracker” is not one of my favorite Josh Turner songs. “Like I Never Loved Before” is a pop-tinged power ballad, and though well done, seems out of place on this otherwise very traditional album. However, the best cover on this album is “Her Carried Her Memory”, an obscure Bradley Walker number dating back to 2006. This is a great song that deserves to be better known than it is.

“Day Job” was written and originally recorded by Gord Bamford, an Australian country singer who was raised in Canada and has enjoyed some success there. Mizzell’s version enjoyed some success on the Irish charts. It’s a fun song, whose central theme is one to which most of us can relate:

This crazy day job, it ain’t no thrill
But it makes those ends meet and pays my bills
I ain’t complainin’, but it ain’t right
‘Cause my old day job, is ruining my night life.

This is a song that could have bit a big hit in the US for someone if it had come along 20 years earlier.

There is also a decent amount of original material on the album, the best of which is “She’s On The Way” an upbeat number that Mizzell wrote himself about his new wife and daughter. This was the first time he recorded one of his own compositions and I look forward to hearing more in the future. “John Deere Beer” is a fun and somewhat lyrically light summer song that was hit for Robert in Ireland in 2015. On a more serious note, “City of Shreveport” is a nice tribute to Robert’s hometown, and “Two Rooms and a Kitchen” is a typical Irish country song about spending time at Grandma’s house. It might pass for an American country song if its references to digging spuds and drying turf (to fuel the fire) didn’t betray its origins.

The album closes with a remake of Mizzell’s 2010 hit “Mama Courtney”, his tribute to the foster parents who raised him in Louisiana. The tempo is slowed down considerably and it’s done as a piano ballad but the new arrangement is quite effective.

Although Travelling Shoes contains a fair amount of remakes, they are all well done, and thanks to its generous 15 tracks, there is also a decent amount of new material. The album comes across as a bit incohesive — at times it seems like a hits compilation since the songs don’t always share a common theme; however, I enjoyed listening to this more than anything else that I’ve heard lately, with the possible exception of Zephaniah OHora’s album. I’m very glad to have discovered Robert Mizzell and I will make it a point to continue following his career.

Grade: A

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – ‘Mama’s Rocking Chair’

2011 was a good year for Louisiana Born Irish country singer Robert Mizzell. He was inducted into the Shreveport Walk of Stars, which recognizes achievement in the world of country music, and is the highest honor his home city could bestow upon him. He also released his eighth album, Mama’s Rocking Chair, a collection of thirteen songs, many of which were classic country covers.

Among the tracks are three George Jones songs from his years recording for Musicor. The earliest, “Things Have Gone to Pieces,” written by Leon Payne, was his first single for the label, peaking at #9. Mizzell gives an excellent reading of the ballad, which nicely stands up to Jones’ recording. The other two were culled from Jones’ 1970 album Will You Visit Me On Sunday. The title track, written by Dallas Frazier is about a prison inmate and the woman he loves on the outside. Charlie Walker’s “Rosie Bokay,” tells the story of a man falls for an enigmatic bartender. Both are also excellent and devoid of the intrusive touches on Jones’ versions.

The jaunty “Sick, Sober and Sorry” was a duet for Lefty Frizzell and Johnny Bond in 1951. Mizzell reprises it here, beautifully, as a duet with Martin Cleary. John Prine’s “Grandpa Was A Carpenter” is newer, first seeing release by him in 1973 and again in 1989 from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 2. Mizzell once again turns in an equally wonderful performance. Also very good is his version of Rodney Crowell’s “Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight,” which came to prominence through recordings by Emmylou Harris and The Oak Ridge Boys.

The plight of Irish immigrants in the 1950s is covered on “Paddy,” an Irish folk ballad given a traditional arrangement. Also gut wrenching is “The Orphan Train,” a brutal ballad. The title track, a mid-tempo fiddle drenched ballad, is another excellent story song. “What We Don’t Have” and “Can You Hear Me Now” are pure honky-tonk.

Also featured on Mama’s Rocking Chair is Mizzell’s biggest hit to date at the time, the upbeat “I Ain’t Fallin’ for That” and “Cajun Dance,” a fiddle heavy ode to his Louisiana heritage written specifically for him by Peter McKeever. Of the two,“Cajun Dance,” which opens the album, is the stronger song, which recalls the line dance craze of the early 1990s.

Mama’s Rocking Chair, as a whole, does a great job of mixing both old and new cohesively. I thought it was a bit too clean and precise in execution, but it’s a fine album worth checking out. Individual tracks are available on YouTube and the album is also on Itunes.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Mr Hag Told My Story’

Nowadays when a tribute album is released, often it is more of a multi-artist gala event than an honest tribute with many of those paying tribute being mere poseurs. This was not always the case. Prior to the Urban Cowboy movement, it was common to see single artist albums that paid tribute to another artist. Kitty Wells, Faron Young and Del Reeves paid tribute to Jim Reeves. Similarly, Stonewall Jackson, Ernest Tubb and Charley Pride issued Hank Williams tribute albums and Loretta Lynn cut a tribute album to Patsy Cline. Even the great Merle Haggard issued tribute albums to Bob Wills and Jimmie Rodgers, as did Willie Nelson with his a salute to Lefty Frizzell. Most of these single artist tribute albums were sincere tributes, but they were seldom innovative or particularly soulful endeavors, just albums of adequate cover versions.

Mr. Hag Told My Story is different. For one thing Paycheck, a somewhat kindred spirit to Haggard, inhabits these songs, making them very personal indeed. Moreover, instead of merely recording a collection of Haggard’s hits, Paycheck goes deep catalog, recording some relatively obscure songs that were mostly album tracks for Haggard.

While Haggard and Paycheck had some similarities such as tough childhoods which resulted in both being hellions during their younger years, Haggard outgrew his demons and never was regarded as being part of the outlaw movement. This may be at least partially due to Haggard’s producer at Capitol, Ken Nelson, giving Haggard free reign to release some very personal albums with less commercial viability. Consequently, Haggard did not have much cause for rebellion.

I am not convinced that Johnny Paycheck ever truly conquered his demons, except when he grew too old to continue his self-destructive ways.

Haggard was a huge star with over 20 years of sustained chart success while Paycheck had three scattered periods of success scattered over a 15 year period. Both were successful songwriters and both got started in the bands of the biggest stars of the time.

For a brief period of time Haggard and Paycheck recorded for the same label, Epic, toured together and were able to record together.

Released in 1981, Mr. Hag Told My Story is an album of moody and/or introspective songs all of which were written by Haggard except for “Carolyn” a Haggard hit written by Tommy Collins. There were no hit singles released from the album, but there are a lot of classic performances, with Haggard’s band The Strangers providing much of the instrumental backing.

The structure of the album is that Paycheck introduces each of the songs with a spoken introduction. Haggard himself weaves in and out of the album, sometimes as a lead or harmony singer, sometimes as part of a conversation and sometimes playing his guitar. Make no mistake – this is a Johnny Paycheck album but Haggard’s presence is significant.

The album opens up with “(I’m) Turning Off A Memory”, the B-side of Haggard’s 1971 hit “Grandma Harp”. This is a great song that I think should have been an A-side for Haggard. Haggard adds some asides and sings on the choruses and takes on one of the verses.

You can find me in a dim lighted bar room
If your coldness should ever turn warm
But the chances of you ever changing
Are as slim as your two loving arms

So I’m turning off a memory
As quickly as time will allow
Yes, I’m turning off a memory
And the wine seems to help me somehow

“I’ve Got A Yearning” was an album track on Haggard’s 1978 Capitol album Eleven Winners. Taken slightly up-tempo, the song is another tale of loneliness:

I’ve got a yearning to hold you tight
A burning desire I live with day and night
Everything I lose keeps on hanging on
This feeling isn’t leaving and by now it should be gone.

I keep on thinking those thoughts that keep making me want you all the time
I should be trying to find me a way I can drive you from my mind
I know that you wanted to give and I know that you gave all you could
Wish I could accept what is over and done with for good.

Tommy Collins wrote “Carolyn”, a classic song of frustration and angst, that Haggard took to the top of the charts in 1972. Here Paycheck sings the verses and Haggard does the narrations. Don Markham’s horns give the song a more jazzy feeling than on Haggard’s earlier single.

Yes, Carolyn, a man will do that sometimes on his own
And sometimes when he’s lonely
I believe a man will do that sometimes out of spite
But Carolyn, a man will do that always
When he’s treated bad at home

“I’ll Leave the Bottle on the Bar” comes from Haggard’s 1968 album Sing Me Back Home. This song is another featuring a quicker tempo. The steel guitar sounds like that of Big Jim Murphy, Paycheck’s regular steel guitarist:

A loser doesn’t always know he’s losing
Till he’s lost the game and it’s too late to win
I hope I’ll call in time and you’ll forgive me
‘Cause I want so much to come back home again
And I’ll leave the bottle on the bar
If you’ll take me back to start anew
I’ll leave the bottle on the bar
I’ll sober up and come back home to you

I’m not sure that “All Night Lady” was ever issued on a Merle Haggard album. This song is about Death Row, not the first time Haggard wrote about the subject. Paycheck does a masterful job of singing the song.

Through the window he sits watching his last sunset
Like a blackout curtain closing out the light
It’s now he needs someone’s arms around him
Yes it’s now he needs someone to help him through the night

An all night lady
One who loves me
And won’t leave me when daylight comes
One who’ll stay with me until my life is done

At 9 AM they’re going to lead him to the death-house
And at 10 AM they’ll lay his soul to rest
I can see them giving him his last supper
I can hear him giving them his last request

“I Can’t Hold Myself in Line” was the only single issued from the album, dying at #41. The song originally appeared on Haggard’s Pride in What I Am album released in 1969. This song is basically a very bluesy conversation between Haggard and Paycheck, with twin steel by Jim Murphy and Norm Hamlet, plus some very funky lead guitar by Roy Nichols and terrific horns played by Don Markham.

I’m going off of the deep end
And I’m slowly losing my mind
And I disagree with the way (ha-ha) I’m living
But I can’t hold myself in line

You give me no reason for my drinkin’
But I can’t stand myself at times
And you’re better off to just leave and forget me
Cause I can’t hold myself in line

“Yesterday’s News Just Hit Home Today” is another bluesy track with the sage advice that ‘being a fool is one thing, but not knowing you’re a fool is another thing’.

“You Don’t Have Very Far to Go” was a Haggard co-write with Red Simpson that first surfaced on Haggard’s 1967 album Branded Man. I thought at the time that it would have made a good single for Haggard but then, most of his sixties albums were full of good singles material. Johnny gives it a more honky-tonk treatment that Hag had given it.

You always find the way to hurt my pride
If I’m not crying you’re not satisfied
And I don’t know why you want to hurt me so
If you’re tryin’ to break my heart
You don’t have very far to go
You don’t have very far to go

Before the heartache begins
I already feel the sadness
Of a heartbreak settin’ in
I don’t know why you want to hurt me so
If you’re tryin’ to break my heart
You don’t have very far to go

“No More You and Me” is a fairly generic honky-tonk ballad, executed perfectly by Paycheck.

The album closes with the bluesy title track “Someone Told My Story”:

I played a brand-new record on the jukebox
And I scarcely could believe the song I heard
It told of how you left me for another
It was almost like I’d written every word

Someone told my story in a song
The lyrics told of happiness and home
And then it told of how you’ve done me wrong

Someone told my story in a song
The writer must’ve seen the way you done me
For he told it all and never missed a line
He told of swinging doors and the jukebox

And he even knew I almost lost my mind
Someone told my story in a song

After listening to this album, I think you’d have to say that Haggard definitely told Paycheck’s story in his songs. This album is my favorite of the post-Little Darlin’ Johnny Paycheck. Really, how could this miss?

The great songs of Merle Haggard, as sung by Johnny Paycheck with an amplified version of Haggard’s Strangers providing most of the instrumental backing and Hag himself joining in at times.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Mike Bentley & Cumberland Gap Connection – ‘Mike Bentley & Cumberland Gap Connection’

mike bentley cumberland gap connectionThe bluegrass band Cumberland Gap Connection, now slightly rebranded by featuring the name of its lead singer and chief songwriter, and with an almost completely new lineup, has strong country influences behind the traditional bluegrass instrumentation. Bentley’s smooth lead vocal and a solid collection of songs make this album well worth tracking down.

‘Truck Drivin’ opens the album with a soulfully sung depiction of a truck driver’s life, as he heads home after a trip away. Bentley’s own ‘Coal Miner’s Dance’ offers a somber look at a miner’s dangerous life with a tragic culmination. The emotional ‘Chill Of A Late Frost’ (written by Shannon Slaughter) bewails the hard life of a farmer.

Slaughter also co-wrote (with Gerald Ellenburg) ‘Giving Up On You’, a sad song with a soothing melody which really suits Bentley’s voice. Nice harmonies, too, help to make this track a real winner.

The talented Bentley wrote four of the songs altogether. ‘Better Days’ is a fine song about a relationship on the edge. He teamed up with Terry Foust and Daniel Salyer to write the inspirational ‘He Knows My Name’, which is about a homeless ‘lost soul’ who nonetheless has inner peace. Together with Mark Brinkman they wrote ‘She Don’t Talk To The Moon’, another portrait in song, this one about an elderly woman with her feet on the ground and her heart set on heaven.

Terry Foust wrote ‘Back To Carolina’ with Ray Edwards; this picks up the pace with its optimistic tale of a an starting over by going back home. Also up-tempo, the good-humored ‘Old Steamboats And Trains’, written by Edwards and Larry Joe Cox, offers a travelogue. The upbeat ‘I Hear Kentucky Callin’ Me’ is very pretty.

Bentley is a big fan of the late great Keith Whitley, and he pays tribute here with a lovely version of the Lefty Frizzell classic Keith made his own, ‘I Never Go Round Mirrors’.

The record closes with an accappella hymn, ‘When I Make My Last Move’, sung solo by Bentley.

This is a highly enjoyable album, generally low key and mellow, centring on Bentley’s warm voice. It is recommended to anyone who likes the overlap between country and bluegrass.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘Chill Factor’

chill factorMerle Haggard turned fifty shortly before Chill Factor was released in October 1987. To those of us who remember when the blues and jazz were still influences on country music (rather than the hip-hop and rock that seem to be today’s influences) this album is an overlooked treasure out of the Merle Haggard catalogue. The album is compromised of eleven songs of which Merle wrote six by himself, with three co-writes and two songs from outside sources.

I’m not sure, but I think this was the first complete Merle Haggard album recorded without longtime Stranger Roy Nichols (1932-2001) on lead guitar. Roy, who was a truly great guitar player, and a quintessential part of the Merle Haggard sound, retired in early 1987 due to health issues.

The album opens with the title track, a solo Haggard composition. “Chill Factor” is a very melancholy song about a down period in the singer’s life. Taken at a slow tempo the song features horns and winds during the last third of the song and comes to a fade ending. “Chill Factor” was the first single from the album and reached #9 on the Billboard country chart:

The long nights get longer
And I wish a friend would come by
The forecast is zero
And the chill factor is high

“Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star”, another Haggard composition, was the second single released from the album. It would prove to be Merle’s final #1 single. A mid-tempo song, the song finds the narrator wishing upon a star.

Like two ships on the ocean
We drifted apart …

Twinkle twinkle lucky star
Can you send me luck from where you are
Can you make a rainbow shine that far
Twinkle twinkle lucky star

“Man From Another Town” is yet another melancholy song, this time from the pens of Haggard and his most frequent co-writer at the time, Freddy Powers, This song reflects on relationship that should not be in that the man is thirty years older than the woman.

The great Hank Cochran wrote “We Never Touch At All”, a song that would have been a #1 record if it had been released twenty years earlier. The song features a 1960s style country accompaniment with excellent steel guitar by longtime Stranger Norm Hamlet. The song was released as the third single from the album and reached #22. The song is about a relationship that is slowly unraveling. I think it is the best song on the album:

Are we afraid we’ll wind up alone
Is this the tie that keeps us hanging on
Why don’t we just stay out
While we can still climb the wall
We hardly ever talk
And we never touch at all

“You Babe” was the fourth and final single pulled from this album, reaching #23. The song is a mid-tempo ballad, full of hope, by a man who has found what was truly important. The comes from the pen of Sanger D “Whitey” Shafer who was a friend and co-writer with Lefty Frizzell:

And if there’s nothin’ else I do
To spend my whole life through
Lovin’ you, babe, you babe
I’ll always be in command
Just as long as I’m the man
Lovin’ you, babe, you babe

“Thanking The Good Lord” is an upbeat and up-tempo written ny Merle and T.A. Lane:

The pieces are all falling together
The picture is coming in view
When I thought the end was upon me
I found my purpose in you

And let the power that made
Help me to prosper and be fair in all things that I do
The love I’ve been needin’ I just found in your heart
And I’m thanking the good Lord for you

I could easily see Leon Redbone recording “After DarK”, a very jazzy and reflective mid-tempo song with some instrumental breaks that give sax and trumpet player Don Markham a chance to stretch out.

Merle’s solo composition “1929” opens up with some nice dobro playing by Norm Hamlet, and the general feel of the instrumental accompaniment sounds like something that the legendary “Blue Yodeler” Jimmie Rodgers (aka “the father of country music” or the “Singing Brakeman”) would have felt perfectly comfortable singing. This song looks to possible bad times ahead. Like many of Jimmie’s songs, some Memphis style horns kick in during the latter part of the song:

All my life I’ve heard about hard depression days
They so resemble times we’re living now
And old news of yesteryear sounds like yesterday
And hunger lines always look the same somehow

Are we living now or is it 1929
A dollar bill ain’t worth one thin dime
And tricks are sometimes played upon the mind
Are we living now or 1929

I can really relate to “Thirty Again”, a slow introspective ballad with a hint of a chuckle in the vocal. Like several of the songs on this album, this song straddles the border between country and jazz.

Similar to the narrator of the song I don’t think I’d care to be a teenager again but thirty sounds like a good age to be.

Youth should be saved for the last
But it’s wasted on the young and fast…

Wish I could be thirty again
Wish time didn’t wrinkle my skin
They say life begins at fifty
We’ve been lied to my friend
And I just wish I could be
Thirty again

The album closes up with a pair of fairly traditional country ballads.

“I Don’t Have Any Love Around” opens with a fiddle and steel guitar introduction and generally keeps the feel of slow traditional country music ballad. I could see this song as a single during the 1950-1975 heyday of the genre.

“More Than This Old Heart Can Take” is a typical barroom crying-in-your-beer song, a solid mid-tempo country ballad with plenty of fiddle and dobro and an ageless story:

You walk into his arms before my very eyes
You can’t even wait to be somewhere alone
The ties that bind have broken loose and I’m about to break
Loving you is more than this old heart can take

There was a place in time when I was always on your mind
And now I’m nothing more than just a fool
I thought that I was strong enough to live with my mistake
But loving you is more than this old heart can take

I mentioned that this was the first full Haggard album to be missing Roy Nichols. In his place we have the great Grady Martin handling much of the lead guitar work. I think Martin’s presence lends itself to the jazzy feel Haggard seemed to be seeking with this album.

As for the album itself, I think that the album accurately reflects the roller coaster ride that Merle was experiencing at the time. He had one marriage (to Leona Williams) break rather acrimoniously, but at the point this album was released, Hag was a relative newlywed having married Debbie Parret in 1985, a marriage that would last until 1991. Like many veteran artists, he was having a hard time getting radio play as the singles from this album would prove. In all, Merle is revealed as being clear-minded and perceptive, with some nostalgic longings, but still firmly rooted in the present . When initially released this album received mixed reviews, (but remember that jazz has always been an anathema to rock audiences – there was even a band calling itself Johnny Hates Jazz) and most music critics had no feel for jazz in any form.

I liked this album when it was initially issued and I like it even more today – I regard it as a solid A.

Merle Haggard – vocals, guitar, background vocals
Biff Adam – drums / Jim Belken – fiddle
Gary Church – trombone / Steve Gibson – guitar
Norm Hamlet – dobro, pedal steel guitar
Jim Haas – background vocals / Jon Joice – background vocals
Bonnie Owens – background vocals
Red Lane – guitar Mike Leech – bass
Don Markham – saxophone, trumpet
Grady Martin – guitar / Clint Strong – guitar
Bobby Wayne – guitar / Mark Yeary – keyboards

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’

51f3QpNJP2L._SS280The early 1980s were a prolific time for Merle Haggard. The beginning of the new decade saw him releasing two new albums for MCA and then fulfilling his contract for the label with a live album and a Gospel collection before signing with Epic in 1981. Then over the next two years he released two regular solo albums, a Christmas album and duet albums with both George Jones and Willie Nelson. 1983’s That’s the Way Love Goes was his third (excluding the Christmas collection) solo album for Epic and his sixth album overall for the label.

Hag co-produced the album with Ray Baker. Never one to follow trends, Haggard had avoided the era’s propensity towards overproduction. That’s the Way Love Goes is a collection of ten laid-back ballads, the type of album that would not gain any traction at radio today, if it even managed to get made at all. It wasn’t exactly in sync with the commercial tastes of its time, either; the production is tastefully understated throughout. It did however, perform quite well commercially, spawning three hit singles, two of which were chart-toppers. The album also marked the beginning a mellowing of Merle’s sound and he began experimenting with adding horns and saxophones to the mix, something that would characterize his music for the remainder of the decade.

Commercially Haggard was riding high, but he was entering an era that would be very dark for him personally, involving both marital and substance abuse problems. His rocky marriage to Leona Williams finally ended that year, and it seems to have been foreshadowed in a few of the album’s songs, particularly the bleak and introspective lead single “What Am I Gonna Do (With the Rest of My Life)”, a self-penned number that landed at #3. He also penned “Someday When Things Are Good” with his soon-to-be ex-wife Leona. The #1 hit finds him contemplating walking out on his marriage, but unable to find the right time to do it.

Sandwiched in between these two hits is a remake of “That’s the Way Love Goes”, a Lefty Frizzell and Sanger D. Shafer composition that had been a #1hit for Johnny Rodriguez in 1973. Hag also took the tune to the top of the charts and it remains one of my favorites of his recordings from this era.

There are no uptempo songs on this album and for that reason some may find it a bit difficult to listen to all the way through. However, they are all well done and for the most part they have aged well with the possible exception of Red Lane’s “Carryin’ Fire”, which has a dated-sounding keyboard intro. “The Last Boat of the Day”, also penned by Lane with Hank Cochran has a subtle Calypso feel to it and is a bit of an artistic stretch for Merle. Beach songs were not yet a staple of mainstream country and this one stands head and shoulders over almost ever contemporary example I can think of.

Merle had a hand in writing all of the remaining songs on the album. I particularly liked “(I’m Gonna Paint Me) A Bed of Roses”, which finds him trying to make the best of things after a break-up. It has a radio-friendly feel and might have been a hit, but it was highly unusual to release more than three singles from an album in those days. “Don’t Seem Like We’ve Been Together All Our Lives” is about a long-term relationship that is still going well — decidedly at odds with Merle’s real-life situation at the time. “If You Hated Me” is possibly semi-autobiographical, a song in which he questions how bad things would have been if his wife had hated him, considering how badly she treated him when she supposedly loved him. I like this one a lot. Red Lane and Dean Holloway were the co-writers. The album closer “I Think I’ll Stay” is a bluesy number that close with an extended jam session.

Overall, That’s the Way Love Goes is very good, but it does not quite rise to the level of Big City and Going Where the Lonely Go. It is not great but it is very good and worth investigating.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Keith Whitley ft Allen Frizzell – ‘I Never Go Round Mirrors’

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr – ‘The World Of Hank Williams Jr’

the world of hank williams jrIn our look at Hank Jr’s early career we have been concentrating on material which is mostly out of print and unlikely to be released digitally. If your appetite has been whetted, and your budget doesn’t stretch to the big box set Paul recommended yesterday, you need to look at the few compilations available. The budget option is this 20-track CD originally released by a German label in 1996. The songs are all covers of classic country songs, well produced and sung but not really essential. They do make a reasonably priced introduction to this era of Hank Williams Jr’s work, although the selection of material is a bit unbalanced, and it would have been nice to have some original material.

Half a dozen tracks come from the album of Johnny Cash covers Hank Jr did in 1970
https://mykindofcountry.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/35756/ : a pleasant but sleepy cover of ‘Ring Of Fire’ fails to excite. ‘I Walk the Line’ is solid, and ‘Folsom Prison Blues works well apart from the self-referential lyric changes which made me roll my eyes. ‘I Guess Things Happen That Way’ is also very good, and ‘Give My Love To Rose’ is excellent. ‘Understand Your Man’ is another decent cut.

Two of his duets with Lois Johnson are included, the Everly Brothers’ ‘So Sad’, and country classic ‘Together Again’, both very nicely done.

Pop star Connie Francis joined Hank less successfully on another Everly Brothers’ tune, ‘Bye Bye Love’. Their voices do not combine very effectively, with a somber vocal from Hank contrasting with a bouncier one from Connie and a Nashville Sound orchestrated backing. The mismatch is even more marked on an ill-judged ‘Singing The Blues’ with Connie entirely too perky, with Jr sounding like he is copying his dad’s vocal stylings. She is better on ‘Please Help Me, I’m Falling’, which is prettily performed.

The sophisticated ballad ‘Make The World Go Away’ is smothered with strings and backing singers, but there is a fine vocal from Hank. ‘Sweet Dreams’ gets the same treatment, with a very strong, emotional vocal. ‘There Goes My Everything’ is pretty good, too. The sole song of his father’s is ‘Your Cheatin Heart’ is pretty good vocally, with a Nashville Soundproduction.

The Gold Rush tale ‘North To Alaska’ is highly entertaining and suits the robustness of Hank’s voice. Lefty Frizzell’s ‘I Love You A Thousand Ways’ is lovely, while Hank Jr is extremely good on a tasteful and believable take on ‘The Long Black Veil’. A brave take on ‘The Window Up Above’ is surprisingly good.

The tragic story of death in ‘The Blizzard’ feels a bit dated now (but currently topical given the weather conditions in part of the US).

I enjoyed listening to the cuts on this compilation, but I don’t think I’d pick them over the originals. However, as one of the few available records covering Hank Jr’s early years, it may be worth checking out.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Hank Williams – ‘Living Proof’

living proofBy 1974 Hank Jr was a mature vocalist but not a consistent hitmaker, with 1972’s ‘Eleven Roses’ remaining his sole #1 hit. Produced by MGM executive Jim Vienneau, Living Proof (often billed as featuring its big hit ‘I’ll Think Of Something’) showcases Hank Williams Jr at his traditional country best, before his change in direction.

The title track, ‘I’ll Think Of Something’, became familiar to a later generation of fans when it was covered by 90s star Mark Chesnutt who took the Bill Foster/Jerry Rice tune to the top of the charts in 1992. It was not quite such a big hit for Hank Jr, whose cut peaked at #7. I must confess that I prefer Chesnutt’s version, but Hank Jr’s original, swathed in strings, is still a fine recording with an emotional vocal and Hank trying out the bottom reaches of his voice.

The self-penned follow up ‘Angels Are Hard To Find’ reached the top 20. The earnest vocal works well and it’s a decent song the artist was to revisit later in his career.

He had not yet shaken off his father’s legacy altogether, and the album includes a very nice cover of ‘I Just Don’t Like This Kind Of Living’ treated very much like the original. There’s a certain uneasy frisson hearing Hank Jr singing a song his father wrote about his rocky marriage to his mother, though perhaps not as much as with the posthumous duet of the song recorded a decade earlier, but it is an excellent performance of a great song. He draws equally effectively on another country legend of his father’s generation with Lefty Frizzell’s ‘Confused’, with Hank Jr’s vocal inflections strongly influenced by Frizzell’s. (The song was the B-side of Frizzell’s 1965 hit ‘She’s Gone, Gone, Gone’.)

The excellent ‘Getting Over You’ should have been a single, as it is an outstanding song about a man whose heart breaks so badly he ends up committing suicide:

I sold my car to buy more wine
I hocked my watch
I’ve lost all track of time
Days with you went by so fast
Now I’m tryin’ to relive the past
You don’t know what I’ve been through
Getting over you

I’ve tried to love other women
But I can’t
You’ve really made a mess
Out of what used to be a man
I thought I’d drowned the fire in others
But you’re still my only lover
You don’t know what I’ve been through
Getting over you

I got some pills from a old doctor friend
The bottle said one every 12 hours for pain
But this pain I feel ain’t small
That’s why I took them one and all
It was something I had to do
To get over you

‘She Was Just Something To Do’ is an excellent cheating song, although the excuse may not have gone down too well the protagonist’s wife.

‘How Long Will You Keep Coming Back to Me’ is a country ballad written by Lamar Morris and Ronnie Hughes, and is pretty good. ‘Before You Fell Out Of Love With Me’ adopts the Nashville Sound in its arrangement, but again is a good song underneath, sung well. ‘Where She Left Off’ is another excellent heartbreak song with a string arrangement and a powerful vocal.

‘All I Had to Do’ is an easy-listening style sophisticated ballad with a downbeat lyric about heartbreak and a highly orchestrated backing.

This album may not appeal to fans of Hank Jr’s rock influenced material, and certain elements of the production have dated, but it remains an excellent record.

Grade: A

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2015

so this is lifeIt’s been a solid year rather than an outstanding one, with a number of interesting albums released but few really exciting ones. But any of my top 10 is well worth hearing.

angels and alcohol10. Alan Jackson – ‘Angels And Alcohol

The veteran star is reliable as ever with his latest release. It may break no new ground, but it’s good country music, and that’s something we always need more of.
Highlights: ‘Angels and Alcohol’, ‘The One You’re Waiting On’, ‘You Can Always Come Home

pageant material9. Kacey Musgraves – ‘Pageant Material
Unlike many, I actually preferred this to Kacey’s lauded debut because I found the production choices more sympathetic to her voice.
Highlights: ‘Pageant Material’, ‘Biscuits’, ‘Late To The Party

cold beer conversation8. George Strait – ‘Cold Beer Conversation
He may have retired from touring, and have lost his golden touch with country radio – but like Alan Jackson, George Strait is still making fine music. A solid classy album.
Highlights: ‘Something Going Down’, ‘Everything I See’, ‘Even When I Can’t Feel It’.

brennen leigh sings lefty frizzell7. Brennen Leigh – ‘Sings Lefty Frizzell
Only just released, this lovely tribute to one of the cornerstones of country music made a late charge up my best of the year list. A true delight. Brennen also teamed up this year with bluegrass singer Brandon Rickman and singer/fiddler Jenee Fleenor in a trio project called Antique Persuasion, which released a delightful acoustic tribute to the Carter Family in August which almost made this list, and a recent Christmas EP.

Highlights: ‘I Love You A Thousand Ways’, ‘Mom And Dad’s Waltz’, ‘How Far Down Can I Go’, ‘You Gotta Be Putting Me On

throwback6. Kevin Moon – ‘Throwback
A fabulous traditional country album from an unknown singer with a great voice. It’s a wonderful reminder of what country music used to be, with guest turns from artists including John Anderson, Rhonda Vincent and Ken Mellons. If there had only been a few more original tunes of the same quality, this would have been even higher in my year-end list.

Highlights: ‘The Storms Of Life’ (with Daryle Singletary), ‘Tennessee Courage’ (with Kevin Denney, Wesley Dennis and Billy Droze), ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’ (with Doug Stone).

pocket full of keys5. Dale Ann Bradley – ‘Pocket Full Of Keys
Dale Ann has a pure, beautiful voice, and is one of my favorite bluegrass vocalists. This gorgeous effort shows her at her very best.

Highlights: ‘I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again’, ‘The Stranger’, ‘Pocket Full Of Keys’.

traveller4. Chris Stapleton – ‘Traveler
Chris Stapleton’s triple triumph at the recent CMA awards, and subsequent sales spike, was one of the most unexpected in country music history. Although he was formerly lead singer of the SteelDrivers, and has been a very successful songwriter for years, he had rather flown under the radar as far as mainstream acknowledgement went. His solo debut album is a very strong piece of work, showcasing his bluesy, soulful vocals. I don’t love every track – occasionally his more esoteric leanings to blues and rock wander too far from country music for me – but when he’s at his best, he is magnificent.

Highlights: ‘Whiskey And You’, ‘Nobody To Blame’, ‘Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore’.

the underdog3. Aaron Watson – ‘The Underdog
Texan Watson has been steadily plugging on for a decade or so, and his latest album is as good as anything he’s done, with a powerful depiction of Johnny Cash at his turning point and a reflection on the state of country music. Solid Texas country music which deserves a mainstream hearing.
Highlights: ‘The Prayer’, ‘Fence Post’, ‘Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song)’.

the blade2. Ashley Monroe – ‘The Blade
A fine album by one of the best artists currently on a major label – even if that label isn’t bothering to push her work at radio. The title track in particular is exquisite.
Highlights: ‘The Blade’, ‘If The Devil Don’t Want Me’, ‘Dixie’, ‘I’m Good At Leaving’.

so this is life1. Courtney Patton – ‘So This Is Life
A lovely mature piece of work from a fine singer-songwriter, loaded with gorgeous country waltzes. For my money this is the most consistently great album of the year.
Highlights: ‘Little Black Dress’, ‘Need For Wanting’, ‘Killing Time

Album Review: Brennen Leigh – ‘Sings Lefty Frizzell’

brennen leigh sings lefty frizzellLefty Frizzell is one of the great names of country music, a major influence on Merle Haggard and many others, and he used to be spoken of in the same terms as Hank Williams. But increasingly he seems to be just a name to younger artists, so it is a particular pleasure to see his legacy granted this kind of tribute. Brennen Leigh is a fine singer-songwriter in her own right, with a folky and slightly quirky edge. Tackling these classic tunes shows her to be a fine singer as well, who has improved since she made her last record. Lovely authentic arrangements redolent of the 1950s and 60s show how since a project this is.

One deliberate choice which (for me) detracts slightly from Brennen’s treatment of some of the songs is her refusal to change any of the gender specific words. This is most intrusive in the classic story song ‘Saginaw, Michigan’. Brennen sings the song beautifully, and she sounds great, but she just doesn’t convince as the poor boy who is the protagonist. The lesser known ‘My Baby Is A Tramp’ is another man’s song, about a cheating woman from the wrong side of the tracks who the protagonist loves anyway:

Friend you better treat her like a lady
How I love this tramp that I call baby

Her daddy’s doing life in a pen in Illinois
Her mama had eleven most unwelcome girls and boys
She was born by accident, raised in the slums
Surrounded by hustlers, rushers and bums
Yeah my baby is a tramp and a cheater
She can’t change no matter how I treat her
And even though I know she’ll always be
No one had better call her that but me

‘You Don’t Have To Be Present To Win’ is a ballad in which the (male) protagonist relaises that his beloved is still hung up on her ex. It’s a fine song, although I found the backing vocals a touch intrusive, and the key may be a little bit lower than ideal for Brennen’s voice. The charming ‘You Want Everything But Me’ chastises a lover who is more interested in material goods, and the gender switch works well, apart from the purchase of dresses.

Some songs work perfectly. Brennen’s version of Lefty’s first #1, ‘I Love You A Thousand Ways’ is just lovely. One of my favourite Frizzell songs, the sweet but not saccharine tribute to loving parents, ‘Mom And Dad’s Waltz’, is also gorgeous. The stripped down ‘When It Comes To Measuring Love’ also about parental love.

The melancholic ballad ‘How Far Down Can I Go’ is another highlight, a sad tale of someone felled by the combination of lost love and drink. ‘Don’t Stay Away Til Love Grows Cold’ is, perhaps, a little old fashioned for some listeners, but is a very nice love song.

Raising the tempo, ‘Mama’ is western swing with a Christmas setting. ‘You Gotta Be Putting Me On’ has a jazzy feel and wry lyric as the protagonist politely declines to take back an errant spouse:

I even left the key where it oughta be
But you forgot your way back home
You say you went down south to see your rich uncle
Trying to get us a loan…

Well it’s strange to me
I can’t see why you didn’t use the phone
It just cost you a dime to ease my mind
And let me know when you would be back home
“The phone was busy every time you called
I was always gone
And you were thinking ‘bout me constantly”
Well, you gotta be putting me on

‘Run Em Off’ is about jealousy and possessiveness; it is treated playfully, but the lyric is actually a little threatening. ‘What You Gonna Do Leroy’ is slightly odd, with an ethereal lead vocal and retro backing vocals and effects which didn’t quite work for me.

Overall, though, this album is a labor of love which I loved.

Grade: A