My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Lefty Frizzell

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-

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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

Album Review: Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – ‘Django & Jimmie’

django and jimmieDjango & Jimmie is the latest endeavor by the ageless comrades Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. While the title suggests an album of songs made famous by Django Reinhart and Jimmie Rodgers, the Django part of the equation would be impossible to pull off since Django was a Gypsy guitarist whose musical compositions were instrumentals, “Nuages” being the most famous.

Instead what we have is an album of interesting songs, mostly new but some old, and taken from a variety of sources.

The Django connection for Willie Nelson is quite strong; you can hear it every time Willie plays his guitar. While Willie is an excellent guitar player, he is not in Django’s class (almost no one is) but listen to some Django recordings and you will know why Willie’s guitar playing sounds like it does.

As for Merle’s connection to Jimmie Rodgers, Merle and those such as Lefty Frizzell who influenced Merle, grew up with the music of Jimmie Rodgers. At the height of his commercial prowess in 1969 (he released six albums in 1969), Merle felt strongly enough about the music of Jimmie Rodgers that he recorded a two album set that he got Capitol Records to release. Ken Nelson, Merle’s producer must have cringed at the idea of releasing a two album set of blues, yodels, thirties pop music, Hawaiian music and parlor songs but release it he did. Nelson also put Rodgers’ “California Blues” as the B side to “Hungry Eyes”.

Surprisingly, the title song “Django and Jimmie” was not written by either Willie or Merle, coming instead from the pens of Jimmy Melton & Jeff Prince. In this jog-along ballad, Willie and Merle discuss where their styles came from

W

illie I’m a kid with a guitar
Trying to play “Nuages”, when they ask
Where does your style come from?

Merle I know what you mean
‘Cause I learned to sing
Listening to blue, yodel number one

Willie We love Hank and Lefty
Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, and Johnny Cash
But if we had to pinpoint
The start of who we are
Or who we go by

Both The Django and Jimmie
Paris, Mississippi
A young singing brakeman
A jazz playing gypsy
Might not have been
A Merle or a Willie
If not for a Django and Jimmie

The rest of the album really has nothing to do with Django or Jimmie, except to the extent that Django and Jimmie flavor all of their music.

“It’s All Going To Pot” has nothing to do with marijuana but instead comments on the general state of the world and the state of their own lives. The song was written by Buddy Cannon, Jamey Johnson and Larry Shell with Jamey joining Merle and Willie in vocalizing. The song is very upbeat in tempo with some Mariachi horns (played by Jamey Johnson):

Well, it’s all going to pot
Whether we like it or not
The best I can tell
The world’s gone to hell
And we’re sure gonna miss it a lot
All of the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee
It just couldn’t hit the spot
I gotta hundred dollar bill, friend
You can keep your pills
‘Cause it’s all going to pot

“Unfair Weather Friend” is a gentle ballad about friendship. Penned by Marla Cannon-Goodman and Ward Davis, the song is the flip of the concept of fair weather friends.

“Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash” is a recent Merle Haggard composition on which Merle and Willie and Bobby Bare swap lyrics and stories about Johnny Cash. The song is an affectionate look back at their departed friend. This is another jog-along ballad that probably cannot be covered in a believable manner by anyone else. Here’s one of Willie’s verses:

Well now Johnny Cash wore black attire
And he fell into that Ring of Fire
He came up swinging like a Boy Named Sue
And he married June Carter and he [?] too
He wrote his songs from deep within
And he hit the stage with a crooked grin
He and I were both Highwaymen
And that record became a smash
Well I’m missing ol’ Johnny Cash

Here’s Bobby Bare’s verse:

Johnny Cash never walked no line
Johnny Cash never did no time, but
When he sang a Folsom Prison Blues
You knew good and well he’d paid his dues
True, he always dressed in black
But he loved folks and they loved him back
Carried his pills in a brown paper sack
Well I don’t care if they found his stash
I’m missin’ old Johnny Cash

Shawn Camp and Marv Green wrote “Live This Long” and I suspect that they wrote it specifically for this album. Another slow ballad, this song look backward at life and what might have done differently if the narrators had known that they would live this long.

“Alice In Hula Land” is a Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon co-write. As performed here, the song is yet another slow ballad, but with a very Hawaiian sound. As best as I can tell, this song is about a groupie, although I may be very mistaken in my interpretation.

Alice in Hulaland
Come sit here on the front row
And get close to the sound
As close as you can
Are you there for the melody?
There for the lyrics?
Or just for the boys in the band?

“Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” is the Bob Dylan classic from treated as a straight-ahead country ballad with steel guitar featured prominently (Mike Johnson &/or Dan Dugmore) and harmonica by Mickey Raphael featured at points in the song also.

“Family Bible” was one of Willie’s first successful songs. Willie sold the rights to the song so the songwriter credits read Claude Gray, Paul Buskirk and Walt Breeland. Merle sings the verses on this song while Willie limits himself to playing the guitar and singing harmony on the choruses. THis is a very nice recording, perhaps my favorite recording of the song.

WIllie Nelson and Buddy Cannon collaborated on “It’s Only Money”. I don’t know who Renato Caranto is, but his saxophone work. Mike Johnson’s dobro and Jim “Moose” Brown’s keyboards really shine on this up-tempo song.

“Swinging Doors” was a huge Merle Haggard hit in 1966. If you ever wondered how Willie Nelson would tackle the song, here’s your chance to find out. Willie and Merle swap verses on this one.

“This Is Where Dreams Come To Die” is yet another Willie Nelson – Buddy Cannon composition. This slow ballad would make a lovely single in a less brain-dead musical environment.

This is where dreams come to die
This is where dreams come to die
Then they fly back to heaven
But this is where dreams come to die

They’re fun when you dream them
Everyone is laughing at you
And it’s fun, watching them wonder
And all of the dreams are coming true

“Somewhere Between” is a old Merle Haggard song from 1967, an album track from his 1967 album Branded Man. Suzy Bogguss had a nice recording of the song about twenty years ago, but the song never has been a big hit for anyone, being mostly relegated to being an album track on countless albums. Willie sings the vocals on this one.

Somewhere between your heart and mine
There’s a window that I can’t see through
There’s a wall so high that it reaches the sky
Somewhere between me and you

I love you so much, I can’t let you go
And sometimes, I believe you love me
But somewhere between your heart and mine
There’s a door without any key

Yet another Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon song is next, a cowboy western ballad titled “Driving The Herd”. The subject matter seems self-explanatory, but the song can be interpreted either as a song about a cattle drive, or a song about a singer gauging his audience.

The album closes with “The Only Man Wilder Than Me”, another recent Merle Haggard composition that could be about either Merle or Willie in their younger days. The tempo is that of a slow ballad.

This album is fine – although older, Willie’s voice is in better shape than Haggard’s, but the band is tight, the songs are very good and the songs are treated with proper respect. It’s pretty clear that neither artist has an ego problem because the ebb and flow between Willie and Merle couldn’t be better

Grade: A-

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘Call Me Insane’

call me insaneI always look forward to listening to a new Dale Watson album and thus far I’ve never been disappointed with his recorded output. Call Me Insane proves to be no exception.

I thoroughly enjoyed this album, although as a diehard western swing/Texas swing fan, I was a little disappointed to see very little evidence of swing in this album. This is an album of honky-tonk music with a strong Bakersfield flavor. Don’t call it country, though, because Dale definitely doesn’t want his music associated with the tepid and insipid stuff currently heard on country radio and television shows like American Idol. Dale recently reiterated this on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition program.

The opening track is “A Day At A Timer” an up-tempo honky-tonker about taking life a day at a time. Danny Levin takes a nice piano solo and Don Pawlak shines on steel guitar

Next up is a “Bug Ya for Love” is a more mid-tempo country song about the pursuit of an unattached woman. Although light-hearted and humorous, the humorless feminists would probably label it a stalker song. The song features extended piano and steel instrumental breaks.
“Burden of the Cross” is the most interesting song on the album, a somber ballad about a roadside memorial being removed to make room for a highway expansion. As most know by now, Dale’s fiancée lost her life in a car accident, and I suspect that Dale was compelled to write this song, Although not so stated in the lyric, the narrator goes back at night and replaces the memorial.

When I heard the instrumental introduction to “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach, Texas”, I thought I would be hearing “Let’s Chase Each Other Around The Room” but the melody changes up and what we have is a song dedicated to the small Texas town, Waylon Jennings made famous several decades ago . Watson extols the town’s simple charms and a fine woman. on this you can hear the strong influence of Lefty Frizzell on Dale’s vocals.

Songs such as “Crocodile Tears” were staples of classic country music – the same old story of a lover that has died and a heartbroken lover trying to convince himself that his ex still loves him.

“Jonesin’ For Jones” is a tribute to the departed king of the honky-tonkers, George Jones. This upbeat song finds Dale wanting to see the George perform again. As Dale puts it ‘thank God that his music still lives on’. Amen to that! The lyrics name a number of George’ song and there are musical signatures of several songs, most notably “White Lightning”. I think George would really like this song.

“I’m Through Hurtin’” finds our hero seeking pain relief through a night on the town. I love the steel guitar work on this mid-tempo ballad, This is followed by the title track “Call Me Insane” a very slow ballad about a man who hopes for a better end to relationships than he has experienced in the past. He retains hope even though it may be insane to do so. Dale’s vocals are very nuanced and full of intospection. The use of trombone, sax and trumpet as accents is masterfully handled.

“Heaven’s Gonna Have a Honky Tonk” is honky-tonker about Dale’s concept of heaven and his thanks for being allowed to live the life he lives.

I read in the good book
Heaven is a place
Where the only thing we’ll have
Is all we’ll want
If he said it
Then it’s true
Well I’ve got news for you
Heaven’s gonna have a honky-tonk

I’m not really wild about songs sung in two languages. For instance I always preferred Jack Greene’s original version of “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” to Freddy Fender’s later bilingual version (that Greene was a far superior vocalist also figured into the equation). That said, “Tienes Cabeza de Palo” is a nice changeup. The Bing translator translates this a ‘You Have A Stick Head’ but I suspect it means something like ‘You’re hard headed’) Mariachi horns highlight the production.

“I Owe It All to You” is a ballad in which Dale thanks his woman’s ex for being such a jerk that she ended the relationship . “Forever Valentine” is an ideal ballad with which to follow up the previous song.

Dale picks up the tempo again with “Hot Dang” a song that compares falling in love with a sunny day. The melody reminds me at times of “The Race Is On” and the song is a bit of a throwaway.

Up to this point all of the songs on the album were written or co-written by Dale. The album ends with a Tony Joe White composition “Mamas Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies.” The title, an inversion of Ed Bruce’s 1976 top twenty hit that Waylon & Willie took to #1 in 1978, exhots mothers to raise their sons as cowboys.
Once again, Dale Watson has a tight honky-tonk band, this time without a fiddle in the band. Lloyd Maines plays acoustic guitar while Dale plays the electric lead. Don Pawlak is on steel with Chris Crepps on upright bass and Mike Bernal on drums. On the few tracks where brass is used, it is The Wise Guys at work (Jon Blondell – trombone, Jerry Colarusso – saxophone, Ricky White – trumpet)

I like this album, I like it a lot and while it is not one of my favorite Dale Watson albums, it is still one that has been playing in my car CD player for the last week and is a worthy entry into the Dale Watson canon.

A-

Album Review: Country Music of Your Life

country-music_good-brightTime-Warner has long been a trusted name for providing excellently re-mastered music in various genres of music. Country music fans may remember the Country USA series that covered each year for the period 1950-1972 with 24 songs, including some interesting songs that weren’t necessarily the biggest hits (usually because they weren’t on major labels).

The R&B market was covered by a similar series and the Easy Listening market hit the jackpot with the Your Hit Parade series that exhaustive covered the years 1940-1960 by year plus a bunch of CDs that grouped music together by theme or topic and extended the series into the 1960s, I don’t know whether or not I have the entire Your Hit Parade series but I do have forty-one CDs of the series covering about 1000 recordings.

Subsequent Time-Life series have featured the same digital mastering and useful notes but have been less exhaustive in scope. The Contemporary Country series would cover a three or four year period with a single disc of 22 songs, so the lesser known and minor label songs largely were gone. The latest Time-Life series is a collaboration with Music of Your Life, a radio format largely devoted to the easy listening/adult contemporary music market. Time-Life has collaborated before with Music of Your Life in assembling CDs of the music usually associated with the format. The actual label for this set is Star Vista/Time Warner.

Titled Country Music of Your Life, this latest set is a group of five two-CD sets in standard CD jewel boxes that hold two CDs. The booklet in the jewel box gives only the songwriting and publisher credits and billboard chart information . Additional information is contained in the 36 page book enclosed in the box. The titles of the CD sets are Talking In Your Sleep, Satin Sheets, I Believe In You, For The Good Times and Sweet Country Ballads. All but the last set are named after a song featured on one of the discs of the set.

By and large the first four sets are just random assortments of songs. All of the songs are big hits performed by the artists that enjoyed the hit, and the songs cover a wide range of dates. The first set has Hank Williams’ posthumous 1953 hit “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Kenny Rogers’ 1980 hit “Lady” with sixteen of the tracks from the 1970s. The second set follows a similar pattern with Lefty Frizzell replacing Hank Williams as the token early 1950s representative.

The fifth set would please any fan of traditional country music (aside for the two Elvis Presley tracks, one a cover of “Green Green Grass of Home”). This set includes such gems as “Crazy Arms”, “Once A Day”, “Ring of Fire”, “Walk Through This World With Me” and “Please Help Me I’m Falling”. In theory the set consists of four two-CD sets with the fifth set as a “free bonus” (the television advertising was misleading). Accordingly, the enclosed book, although truly excellent, only covers the first four sets. The book is concise and well-written, giving interesting tidbits of information about the song and/or the performance, there are eight full page photographs of some of the stars (I think they reversed the image of the Glen Campbell photograph, which I recognized as the cover photo from Glen’s Wichita Lineman album) . Here’s an example of the book’s tidbits, this one about Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night”:

“Whatever criticism that had been leveled against Nashville’s conservative approach to how records sounded, there’s no question that the songs themselves were getting edgier. Sammi Smith moved to Music City in 1967 and befriended songwriter Kris Kristofferson. County fans bought into the sexual frankness of ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’; the single went gold,earning Grammys for both Smith and Kristofferson. Smith’s record also boosted Kristofferson’s reputation as one of the best songwriters of his generation.”

Here’s another, this one on Waylon Jennings’ “Amanda”:

“Bob McDill called ‘Amanda’ an apology to his wife, Nan, and it almost became the hit that got away for Waylon Jennings. McDill sent the demo to Waylon’s office, where it got lost. Jennings, who first heard the song when Don Williams’s version came out in 1973, recorded ‘Amanda’ for his 1974 album The Ramblin’ Man. RCA added overdubs nearly five years later; the “new and improved” ‘Amanda’ gave Waylon his seventh No. 1 hit as a solo artist.”

The booklet in the jewel box for the fifth or “bonus” set is flawed in that it only gives information for the first disc in the set.

If you are new to country music and suspect that there is more to the genre than Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and (ugh) Florida Georgia Line, this set is a good starting point. With the notable exceptions of Ernest Tubb, Carl Smith and Webb Pierce, most of the most significant artists of the period 1952-1988 are represented here, even if there is a bit more Elvis Presley and Olivia Newton-John than I feel is justified. The sound quality is terrific – you won’t hear better recordings of these songs.
Apparently there is a deluxe edition available for purchase which features 270 songs on eighteen discs. In either version the discs average 15 songs per CD (30 songs per set) and cost about $15 per disc or $30 per two disc set. Payment installments are available.

I would give the following grades:

Sound Quality:    A+
Book & Booklets:  A-
Song Selection:  B-
Value:   B-

The song lists as well as ordering information can be found at the Time-Life website.

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 7

It seems to me that I never did finish off this series, the last installment being posted on February 11, 2014 (and the installment before that appeared April 9,2013). Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked. This is an expanded and revised version of the February 11, 2014 article which was a rush job :

Shame On The Moon” – Bob Seger
Bob’s 1982 recording of a Rodney Crowell song charted on the country charts in early 1983, reaching #15 in the process. The song was a bigger hit on the pop charts, reaching #2 for four weeks.

Finally” – T. G. Sheppard
He worked for Elvis, sang background for Travis Wammack, and eventually emerged with a solo career worth noting, racking up 42 chart singles from 1974-1991. This 1982 single was one of fourteen #1 record racked up by Sheppard, eleven of them reaching #1 during the 1980s.

Doesn’t Anybody Get High On Love Anymore” – The Shoppe
The Shoppe was a Dallas based band that hung around for years after their 1968 formation. In the early 1980s they had eight chart records, but this was the only one to crack the top forty, reaching #33. They had a record deal with MTM Records in 1985, but that label vanished, taking the Shoppe with them.

Crying My Heart Out Over You” – Ricky Skaggs
Ricky Skaggs was one of the dominant artists of the first half of the 1980s with his bluegrass/country hybrid. Starting with 1981’s “You May See Me Walking” and ending with 1986’s “Love’s Gonna Get You Some Day“, Skaggs ran off sixteen consecutive top ten singles with ten of them reaching number one, This 1982 classic was the first chart topper. Eventually Ricky returned to straight bluegrass, but I like the hybrid recordings better. In my original article I spotlighted “Honey (Open That Door)“, a straight forward country Mel Tillis song recorded by Webb Pierce.

Don’t Stay If You Don’t Love Me” – Patsy Sledd
Stardom never really happened for Patsy, who was a good singer marooned early in her career on a bad label. She was part of the George Jones-Tammy Wynette show in the early 1970s. This song reached #79 in 1987.

“Nice To Be With You” – Slewfoot
This band replaced Alabama as the feature band at the Bowery Club in Myrtle Beach. This was their only chart single, a cover of Gallery’s #4 pop hit from 1972 that reached #85 in 1986.

King Lear” – Cal Smith
The last chart hit for the former Texas Troubadour. This song reached #75 in 1986.

“A Far Cry From You” – Connie Smith
After a six year recording hiatus, the greatest female country recording artist of all time returned with this one-shot single on the Epic label. It’s a great song but received no promotional push at all from the label landing at #71 in 1985. Unfortunately, this single has never appeared on an album.

“The Shuffle Song” – Margo Smith
Exactly as described – a shuffle song that reached #13 for Margo in early 1980. Margo had a brief run of top ten hits in the middle and late 1970s but the string was about over. In my prior article I featured “He Gives Me Diamonds, You Give Me Chills” but The Shuffle song is actually my favorite 80s hit from Margo. She lives in The Villages in Florida and still performs occasionally.

Cheatin’s A Two Way Street” – Sammi Smith
Her last top twenty song from 1981. Sammi only had three top ten hits but made many fine records. This was one of them.

Hasn’t It Been good Together” – Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton
The last chart record for the ‘Singing Ranger’. The record only got to #78 for the 65 year old Snow in 1980 but I couldn’t let pass the opportunity to acknowledge the great career of the most successful Canadian country artist. By any legitimate means of chart tracking, his 1950 hit “I’m Moving On” is still the number one country hit of all time. Hank had perfect diction and was a great guitar player.

Tear-Stained Letter” – Jo-El Sonnier
A late bloomer, this was the forty-two year old Jo-El’s second of two top ten records and my favorite. It reached #8 in 1988. There were brief periods in the past when Cajun music could break through for a hit or two. Eddy Raven was the most successful Cajun artist but most of his material was straight-ahead country.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” – J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt
George Jones charted this record twice, but it’s such a good song it was worth covering. This version went to #27 in 1982. J.D had a big pop hit in 1980 with “You’re Only Lonely” which reached #7.

Honey I Dare You” – Southern Pacific
Southern Pacific was a bunch of guys who previously played with other bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doobie Brothers and Pablo Cruise, making some real good country music in the process. This was one of their four top ten hits of the 1980s. “A Girl Like Emmylou” from 1986 only reached #17 but the song tells you where this band’s heart was located.

Lonely But Only For You” – Sissy Spacek
Loretta Lynn wanted to Spacek to portray her in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, and it turns out that Sissy can really can sing. This song reached #15 in 1983.

Standing Tall” – Billie Jo Spears
Billie Jo Spears, from Beaumont, Texas, was incredibly popular in England and Ireland, where “Blanket On The Ground” and “What I’ve Got In Mind” were top five pop hits in the mid 1970s and she had many more lesser successes. Many of her later albums were not released in the US but she had a substantial US career with thirty-four charted records, including two #1 hits. “Standing Tall” reached #15 in 1980.

Chain Gang” – Bobby Lee Springfield
More successful as a songwriter than as a performer, Springfield had two chart sings in 1987 with “Hank Drank” (#75) and “Chain Gang” (#66) which was NOT the Sam Cooke hit. Bobby Lee was both too country and too rockabilly for what was charting at the time. I really liked All Fired Up, the one album Epic released on him.

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Album Review: Aaron Watson – ‘Barbed Wire Halo’

barbedwirehaloBarbed Wire Halo is Aaron Watson’s 2007 collection of religious and inspirational tunes. Some of them, like the opening “I’ve Always Loved You” are not overtly religious; the lyrics can be about love between two people or between God and man, according to the listener’s interpretation. Others are more specific in their references to Christianity, such at the title track that tells the story of a war veteran who lived a hard life, lost his wife in childbirth, and subsequently lost and rediscovered his faith in God.

Many of the arrangements are acoustic, while others have a more honky-tonk sound despite the religious content of the lyrics. Most of them don’t stray too far from traditional country. I particularly liked the western swing-flavored “Long Vacation” — possibly the only Western-swing religious song I’ve ever heard. Lefty Frizzell’s “Old Chunk of Coal” is also given a Bob Wills-style Western swing treatment. It’s an interesting interpretation of a song that I’d have never thought to include on a religious album, although it certainly can be considered inspirational. The music is occasionally interrupted by brief Bible verse readings read by Billy Joe Shaver.

The album contains only two actual hymns — the well-known traditional “Farther Along” and “Amazing Grace”, which are both performed as duets with fellow Texan Kina Lankford. The soulful “Nothing But The Blood”, performed with Tim Curry and the Wesley United Methodist Church Choir is a stretch for Watson. It is more African American spiritual than southern gospel, and not, I’m afraid, my cup of tea.

Barbed Wire Halo’s appeal is probably somewhat limited due to the album’s religious content, but the music is excellent and those willing to keep an open mind are in for a real treat.

Grade: A