My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Lisa Hartman Black

Album Review: Clint Black – ‘On Purpose’

711Wx-StaxL._SX522_In the seven years since we last heard new music from Clint Black (and ten since his last full album), the country music landscape has changed beyond recognition. Last week’s On Purpose is unlikely to garner much love from country radio, but Black’s return is surely something to celebrate for those of us who became castaways during the sea change in commercial tastes.

Black has made good use of his long hiatus. He wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s 14 tracks. The album has reunited him with his longtime co–producer James Stroud and while the final product doesn’t outdo anything that they did in the past, it more than holds it own against Black’s impressive back catalog. Black sounds as energetic and enthusiastic as he did back in 1989, and his voice is as good as ever. There are no huge artistic stretches; the album sounds exactly like something he would have released back in his commercial heyday, and I suspect that most fans will be more than OK with that. Clint was never quite the traditionalist he was given credit for, but his sound was always firmly rooted in country music, with fiddles, steel and harmonica on prominent display. There also was — and still is — a good deal of fancy electric guitar work, but not the heavy-handed arena rock-type that has become all too common in recent years. There is no pandering to current commercial tastes, just vintage Clint Black from start to finish.

Black’s old songwriting partner Hayden Nicholas co-wrote three of the album’s tracks: “Doing It Now For Love”, the catchy “Calling It News” — which laments the same old, same old dominating the headlines, and the excellent poignant ballad “The Last Day”, which finds an elderly couple reminiscing about the past, well aware that time is starting to run out. Frank Rogers co-wrote three tracks, including the current single “Time For That” and the excellent ballad “Breathing Air”, which is a lot more interesting than the title suggests. The tender love ballad is my favorite track on the album.

Steve Wariner shares co-writing credits on two tracks: “One Way to Live” is quite good but “Right on Time” is rather forgettable. The legendary Bill Anderson collaborated with Clint and Bob DiPiero for the album’s sole party song “Beer”, which ought to serve as an example to the bro-country crowd that drinking songs can still have intelligent lyrics. Big & Rich provide the background vocals.

I have a pet peeve about artists who, after long breaks between albums, include a remake of an older song on their comeback collections. I was, therefore, slightly disappointed to see a new version of “You Still Get To Me”, Clint’s 2008 duet with his wife Lisa Hartman Black, on the track listing. It’s bluesier than the original, but it seems like an unnecessary remake. However, the album contains a generous 14 tracks, so it’s a minor complaint at best.

While On Purpose may not break any new ground, it is sure to please Clint’s old fans, who hopefully will support it so it can overcome the inevitable lack of radio support.

Grade: A-

EP Review: Clint Black – ‘The Long Cool EP’

longcoolepBy the mid-2000s, the pressures of parenthood and running his own label had taken their toll on Clint’s recording career and songwriting, and his own musical output decreased considerably. In 2008 he issued his most recent collection of new music, The Long Cool EP, which was a digital-only release.

Included in the three-song collection was “The Strong One”, Clint’s single from the previous year. It was only the second single of his career that he did not have a hand in writing (the other one was his 1993 cover of The Eagles’ “Desperado”). A heartfelt tribute to his better half, the so-called “weaker sex”, “The Strong One” was penned by Bill Luther, Don Poythress and Chuck Jones. Less traditional than Clint’s early work, the recording embraces a softer sound that was more aligned with the preferences of contemporary country radio. Without the strong promotional support of a major label, “The Strong One” underperformed on the charts, peaking at #37. It is, however, one of the higher-charting singles from his stint with Equity, second only to 2004’s “Spend My Time” which reached #16.

Clint moved even further away from his country roots with the next single, from which the EP’s title is derived. “Long Cool Woman” has been a pop hit for The Hollies in 1972. I’ll admit to being completely ignorant of the original version, but I liked Clint’s take on the song a lot. Though it wasn’t the traditional country he was known for, it wasn’t as big an artistic stretch as one might think at first, and he sounded more refreshed and energized than he had in quite some time. It died at #58 and is the last single that Clint has released to date.

The EP’s remaining track is “You Still Get To Me”, a duet with Lisa Hartman-Black, which attempts to recreate the success the pair had originally enjoyed with “When I Say I Do” nearly a decade earlier. It is not a bad song, but it is not particularly memorable.

After purchasing The Long Cool EP from Amazon, I found out that the iTunes version contained a bonus track, a cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin'”, which I’ve never heard.

The Long Cool EP was released in March 2008 and was intended to bridge the gap until Clint’s next album, which was slated for release later that year. Unfortunately, Equity Music Group’s financial difficulties delayed the release of the album, and in December the struggling label closed its doors, unable to withstand the loss of its one truly successful act, Little Big Town. None of the tracks from the EP is commercially available at the moment, to the best of my knowledge, but perhaps one day they will resurface on a compilation album.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Clint Black – ‘D’lectrified’

clintblackClint Black’s swan song for RCA was the first album he produced by himself and arguably his most ambitious. As the title suggests, D’lectrified was recorded entirely with acoustic instruments, but rest assured, it is no quiet, stripped-down unplugged affair. By implementing a variety of instruments not usually used in country music — such as the clarinet, various saxophones and percussion, as well as a string section — he achieves a rich, full sound which causes the listener to sometimes forget that no electric instruments were used.

The album is also a departure from Clint’s usual practice of writing or co-writing every song. There is a great deal of cover material here and his choices are quite eclectic — from The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Bob Away My Blues” which opens the album, to Leon Russell’s “Dixie Lullaby” (done as a duet with Bruce Hornsby) and the novelty tune “Ode To the Galaxy”, which is quite likely the first time a major country music star covered Monty Python. A slightly re-worked version of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” appears as a tribute to Waylon Jennings, whose name is substituted for Hank’s in the title and lyrics. None of these tunes are in the vein of what fans had come to expect from Black, but all of them were quite well done.

The rest of the album is more conventional. Clint’s wife Lisa Hartman Black joined him on the sentimental and AC-leaning “When I Said I Do”, which was the album’s first single. I remember cringing upon learning that Clint’s wife would be his duet partner. I was unaware that she had released four unsuccessful pop albums between 1976 and 1987. Though she was no Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton, she was a better vocalist than I’d expected. Radio loved the record, and it quickly rose to #1. It was Lisa’s first chart-topper and Clint’s last. It also reached #31 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album’s second single was “Been There”, on which Clint is joined by his co-writer Steve Wariner. Released in January 2000, it reached #5, becoming the last Top 10 hit of Clint’s career.

The album’s best track by far is “Love She Can’t Live Without”, a Black co-write with Skip Ewing. It should have been a monster hit, but it stalled at #30. I suspect that with Clint’s contract with RCA about to expire, the label did little to promote the record. The album’s weakest cut is “Harmony”, a duet with co-writer Kenny Loggins. A sappy and syrupy affair that plods along for nearly five and a half minutes, it is the album’s sole dud and quite possibly the worst thing Black ever recorded.

The remainder of D’lectrified consists primarily of re-worked versions of some of Clint’s earlier hits, such as “Burn One Down” and “No Time To Kill”. Both were done in a bluesy, jam-session style, which ironically are quite loud for acoustic recordings and Clint seems to be struggling at times to be heard over the arrangements. Neither holds its own against its original hit version; however, an acoustic guitar-led instrumental version of “Something That We Do”, which appears as a hidden track at the end of the album is quite nice.

Unlike all of Clint’s previous albums, D’lectrified failed to attain platinum status, though it did earn gold certification (his last studio album to do so). After the album was released, Black left RCA to found his own label, Equity Music Group, which was meant to introduce a new business model to the music industry by allowing artists to keep a greater share of the profits they generated. The experiment did not succeed, and neither did any of Clint’s recordings for the fledgling label. D’lectrified, his last truly successful album, was an adventurous project and is worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Album Review – Clint Black – ‘Nothin’ But The Taillights’

Clint_Black,_Nothin'_But_the_TaillightsAfter the somewhat lackluster One Emotion Clint Black regrouped by issuing his first Greatest Hits album, an effort surprising for its poor representation of his debut album (only “Killin’ Time” and “A Better Man” are included) among other noticeable absences. It still managed to go double platinum and included two big hits – the guitar ballad “Like The Rain” (a favorite of mine) and somewhat aggressive “Half Way Up.” The former would be another #1 hit for Black in the fall of 1996.

He returned with a new album in 1997, previewing it with “Still Holding On,” a duet with Martina McBride. Co-written with Matraca Berg and Marty Stuart, the track served as the lead single for both Black and McBride’s new releases that year. It peaked at #11 and became Black’s first single not to chart top 10. I’ve always loved the song and consider it a nice slice of pop-country, even if it is a tad generic from two label mates looking to cash in on each other’s success.

The next three singles from Nothin’ But The Taillights helped to greatly reverse Black’s fortunes and became three of his most impactful hits since his debut album. Black and Skip Ewing co-wrote “Something That We Do,” a love song inspired by Black’s marriage to actress Lisa Hartman Black. It’s a beautiful song, albeit a tad long, and one of the most endearing professions of love since Alan Jackson’s “I’ll Love You All Over Again.”

“Something That We Do” may’ve peaked at #2, but his next two singles were chart toppers. The Steve Wariner co-written title track is an upbeat guitar heavy (and comical) wife-pissed-off song that was played to death in early 1998 to the point where I can’t even listen to it today. I don’t hate it, but the novelty has worn off. I have the opposite reaction to “The Shoes Your Wearin,’” which finds Black writing with Hayden Nicholas again. I love everything about this track, from the drums and electric guitars to Black’s vocal.

Black and Nicholas also teamed up for the next single, “Loosen Up My Strings,” which peaked at #12. Another thickly produced number; Black’s popularity likely benefited its chart run, as it should’ve been left as an album track. The neo-traditional-leaning “You Don’t Need Me Know” charted lower, peaking at #29. I don’t even remember it being a single, but it’s an excellent song with a refreshingly understated melody and vocal.

Of the album tracks, “Our Kind of Love” is a country/bluegrass tune with Alison Krauss and Union Station and “Ode To Chet” is a classic Black type song in tribute to Chet Atkins, which features fancy guitar work from Atkins himself, Dann Huff, Wariner, and Mark Knopler. Both are fabulous, although Black could’ve benefited from giving a more restrained vocal on the collaboration with Krauss. It’s beautiful melody but he comes on a bit too strong for it all to be fully appreciated. “That Something In My Life” is also very strong while “You Know It All” and “Bitter Side of Sweet” are the album’s two weakest offerings.

Nothin’ But The Taillights really is the project that put Black back on top. Not since his debut had he experienced such impactful signature hits has he does here. I really enjoy this period of Black’s career as this is when I started following and enjoying his music as a kid. If Killin’ Time was Black’s neo-traditional masterpiece, Nothin’ But The Taillights marked his highest artistic achievement in pop and even somewhat rock country.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Clint Black

clint_blackClinton Patrick “Clint” Black was born February 4, 1962 in Long Beach, NJ as the youngest of G.A. and Ann Black’s four children. Black was raised in Houston, moving from NJ to Texas before turning a year old. By age fifteen, Black was playing harmonica and guitar and had joined his brothers in a band. He would drop out of high school (and end his formal schooling) to play with the band full-time.

Black soon became a solo act and in the early 1980s he held gigs playing lounges by night and working construction (among other jobs) during the day. His interest in country music came through Reba McEntire and George Strait, who were bringing the traditional sounds he loved back to the genre. Black had a chance meeting with guitarist Hayden Nicholas in 1987, and was soon sending demos to promoter Sammy Alfano and meeting with ZZ Top’s manager Bill Ham, who quickly signed him as a client.

Not long after RCA Records came calling and signed Black to a record deal. His debut album Killin’ Time was released in May 1989 and success came instantaneously. Black’s first four singles (“A Better Man,” “Killin’ Time,” “Nobody’s Home” and “Walkin’ Away) topped the charts and the album reached multi-platinum status. In addition, he was the first male artist to have his debut single hit #1 in fourteen years and the breakout star in the famed ‘class if ‘89’ which saw debuts from future genre heavyweights including Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and Travis Tritt among others. The success lead to bountiful recognition from the industry, with the CMA giving him the Horizon Award in 1989 and the ACM showering him with four awards including New Male and Top Male Vocalist and Album of the Year for Killin’ Time in 1990.

His sophomore effort Put Yourself In My Shoes came at the end of that year and he married actress Lisa Hartman in 1991. His second album wasn’t as revered as his debut despite selling more than three million units and containing two #1 hits. He also took part in a Roy Rogers tribute album, collaborating with Rogers on the duet “Hold On Partner.”

Black’s career took a hit in 1992 when he sued Ham for breach of contract, claiming he was being stiffed in royalties for his songs, all of which he had a hand in writing. Black was also hit with a paternity suit from a supposed former girlfriend who claimed Black had fathered her child. Being in and out of court put a strain on Black’s career and caused a one-year delay in the release of his third album, The Hard Way. In that time the country music industry had changed dramatically (Brooks and Tritt were now superstars while Billy Ray Cyrus was a cult favorite), causing RCA to wonder if he’d regain his footing. They need not worry as “When My Ship Comes In” would go #1 in early 1993.

He followed with a sexier image and No Time To Kill in 1994. A duet with Wynonna Judd, “A Bad Goodbye,” was a huge hit at radio and even prompted the ‘Black and Wy’ tour in 1994, the same year he would join Vince Gill as co-host for the CMA Awards. Black took part in winning Album of the Year that evening thanks to his recording of “Desperado” on the multi-artist Eagles tribute, Common Thread: The Songs of The Eagles.

Success continued with One Emotion, and in 1995 he topped the charts with “Summer’s Comin.’” His first Greatest Hits album followed in 1996, and Nothin’ But The Tailights was released in 1997. Black was on top once again, thanks in part to major hits in the title track, “Something That We Do” and “The Shoes You’re Wearin.’” A duet with Martina McBride, “Still Holdin’ On” would be his first single to miss the top 10.

Black was able to keep the momentum going with the all-acoustic D’lectrified in 1999 and had major hits in “When I Said I Do” (a duet with his wife) and the harmonica-laced “Been There” with Steve Wariner. He and Hartman-Black had their only child, Lily Pearl, in May 2001. Black took a three-year hiatus from his career to focus on being a father.

He left RCA during this period to open his own label, Equity Records, and returned with Spend My Time in 2004, producing a top 20 hit with the title track. Another full-length project, Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic, followed in 2005 and The Long Cool EP was released in 2008. The EP contains Black’s last hit to date, “The Strong One,” which is the first solo single of Black’s career for which he doesn’t have a writing credit.

Equity closed that December amid economic difficulties and the departure of Little Big Town, the label’s only hit-making act. Black’s been very quiet in the years since (although he has been touring quite a bit around New England lately), but I’ve heard he’s working on new music he’s calling the best of his career. The new album is expected sometime this year and from what I understand there’s a push to get him back on the radio again. We shall see how it all turns out, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy our look back at his career throughout the month.

Week ending 12/19/09: #1 singles this week in country music history

1949: Mule Train — Tennessee Ernie Ford (Capitol)

1959: El Paso — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1969: I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again — Charley Pride (RCA)

1979: Happy Birthday, Darlin’ — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1989:
Two Dozen Roses — Shenandoah (Columbia)

1999: When I Said I Do — Clint Black featuring Lisa Hartman Black (RCA)

2009: Need You Now — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

Week ending 12/5/09: #1 singles this week in country music history

1949: Slippin’ Around — Margaret Whiting & Jimmy Wakely (Capitol)

1959: The Same Old Me — Ray Price (Columbia)

1969: Okie From Muskogee — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1979: I Cheated Me Right Out Of You — Moe Bandy (Columbia)

1989: It’s Just A Matter Of Time — Randy Travis (Warner Bros)

1999: When I Said I Do — Clint Black featuring Lisa Hartman Black (RCA)

2009: Need You Now — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)