My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Little Feat

Spotlight Artist: Dixie Chicks

It is hard to believe but 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the Dixie Chicks. Originally comprised of Laura Lynch, Robin Lynn Macy and sisters Martie Erwin and Emily Erwin, the Chicks (named after a Little Feat song) started off as a more roots-oriented band than is currently the case (similarly Fleetwood Mac started off as a blues-rock band and devolved into a pop act after personnel changes).

The group initially came together in 1989 when Martie Erwin and Robin Lynn Macy both performed at the Walnut Valley Music Festival, a long-running bluegrass event in Winfield, Kansas. From there the group coalesced with western singer Laura Lynch and Emily Erwin joining the group. The group played bluegrass festivals and busked for tips around the Dallas area. The group adopted the name Dixie Chicks from the song “Dixie Chicken” by the much-revered band Little Feat.

The group created enough of a stir to land a recording contract with the independent label Crystal Clear Sound and issued their debut disc Thank Heavens For Dale Evans in December of 1990. The album, named for legendary western actress Dale Evans, was essentially a straight-ahead bluegrass album, with western themes to some of the numbers. The album sold reasonably well for an independent label album and was available wherever the Texas-based Sound Warehouse chain had locations.

In an attempt to expand their commercial viability the group gravitated to a more commercially viable sound with their second album Little Ol’ Cowgirl released in 1992. While retaining basic bluegrass instrumentation, the album tended more toward ‘Newgrass’ than traditional bluegrass with covers of recent pop-country hits such as “Pat The Point of Rescue” and “Two of A Kind”. At this point, Robin Lynn Macy left the group, preferring to remain with her more roots-oriented bluegrass sounds.

The third album Shouldn’t A Told You That, released in 1993, found the group drifting further toward pop country. The album is competently performed but without Robin Lynn Macy, the group lacked an outstanding lead vocalist.

The group continued performing but without a record deal, although during the period after Macy’s departure the group considered its options. Steel guitar virtuoso Lloyd Maines (who had played on the first two albums) introduced the remaining Chicks to a demo recording from his daughter, Natalie.

Maines thought his daughter would be a good match to replace the departed Macy, and the Erwin sisters agreed, adding Natalie and discarding Laura Lynch (there are varying stories on how friendly a move this was) and changed the style and focus of the group’s sound. Eventually, the new sound of the Chicks came to the attention of Sony Music Entertainment.

The rest is history as the trio found an unprecedented level of success which sustained until an unwise (and unnecessary) public relations error led to a decade of near-exile.

We won’t get into that, but will concentrate on their music for that, after all, should be the focus for our April Spotlight artists

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘The Chase’

220px-GarthchaseGarth Brooks released his fourth album, The Chase, in September 1992. Produced as usual by Allen Reynolds, Brooks felt it was his most personal album to date. To date The Chase has been certified for sales of nine million units by the RIAA.

“We Shall Be Free” was the album’s lead single. Brooks was inspired to compose the track in the wake of the L.A. Riots, which were fueled by the beating of   African-American construction worker Rodney King. Brooks and co-writer Stephanie Davis covered many topics including freedom of speech, racism, and homophobia. Country radio resisted playing the highly controversial track, which peaked at #12. I’ve always loved the song, which is set to an engaging bluesy piano-heavy beat, and felt it topical without being preachy.

For the second single, Brooks and his label went with “Somewhere Other Than The Night,” a piano and lush string country-rock ballad that was the antithesis of “We Shall Be Free” and Brooks’ tenth number one. The lyric, co-written with Kent Blazy, details a woman desperate (‘She’s standing in the kitchen with nothing but her apron on’) for love and affection from her husband in the hours they’re not in bed together. The ballad is another excellent song; with Brooks turning in a master class vocal that expertly brings the woman’s despair to life with palpable emotion.

The third single follows the same pattern as the second, although the topics are completely different. “Learning To Live Again” is Brooks’ only single from The Chase he didn’t have a hand in writing. It details a man’s journey after a breakup, where feelings of isolation and alienation are slowly killing him. The #2 hit, co-written by Davis and Don Schlitz, is the closet single to traditional country, with ample steel guitar in the production. The track is a masterpiece of feeling, with Brooks once again allowing the listener to feel every ounce of the guy’s pain. It’s also one of my all-time favorite singles he’s ever released.

The final single returns Brooks to uptempo material, with a song inspired by the sweeping heartland rock of Bob Seeger. “That Summer” tells the story of a teenage boy, far from home, who’s working on the wheat-field of a ‘lonely widowed woman.’ She takes a liking to the boy, has sex with him, and he looses his virginity in the process. The track is another masterpiece, this time of delicate subtly, where the content is expertly handled in a way that gets the point across without explicitly saying anything raunchy or crude. Brooks co-wrote the song with his then-wife Sandy Mahl and frequent co-writer Pat Alger.

Each single from The Chase offered the listener something different yet showed Brooks skillfully tackling despair from both a man and a woman’s point of view. The album tracks proved more eclectic, with Brooks offering his own take on two classic songs. He turns the Patsy Cline standard “Walking After Midnight” into twang-filled bluesy traditional country while Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” morphs into honky-tonk rock. Neither are essential inclusions on The Chase and somewhat puzzling. “Mr. Right” is classic western swing and a rare instance where Brooks solely penned a track.

Lush ballad “Every Now and Then,” a Brooks co-write with Buddy Mondlock, is more in keeping with the overall musical direction of The Chase and features one of Brooks’ more tender vocal performances. The track would’ve worked well as a single, but it’s a bit too quiet. Michael Burton wrote “Night Rider’s Lament,” a steel guitar soaked classic cowboy song previously recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker and Chris LeDoux. Trisha Yearwood adds stunning harmonies to the track.

“Face to Face” finds Brooks singing another Tony Arata tune and while the sinister vibe compliments his commanding vocal, the track really isn’t that memorable. A final tune, “Something With A Ring To It,” comes courtesy of Brooks’ The Limited Series box set from 1998. The mid-tempo western swing ballad was co-written by Aaron Tippin  and Mark Collie first appeared on Collie’s Hardin’ County Line in 1990.

The Chase came at a time when industry insiders feared Brooks’ career had peaked although the listener couldn’t sense that from the music. The singles that emerged from this set have remained some of his finest singles and while the album cuts range from uneven to questionable, he manages to give us at least one worthwhile moment (“Every Now and Then”).

Grade: B

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘It’s All About To Change’

it's all about to changeTravis Tritt’s second album was released in May 1991, and is along the same lines as its predecessor, with the same producer, Gregg Brown. It was, however, a step up in quality and consistency.

The lead single, ‘Here’s A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)’ is a fabulous kissoff song with plenty of attitude, which is one of the seven songs here written by Tritt and is one of my favorites of his. There is a more traditional feel to this structurally than with much of his material, although the full production gives it added radio-friendly impact. It peaked at #2 on Billboard.

The excellent ballad ‘Anymore’, which Travis wrote with Jill Collucci, was the second single, and made it all the way to the top. The lyrics have the opposite emotion to that of ‘Here’s A Quarter’, with the protagonist surrendering to his feelings after a period in denial of the pain he is suffering at the failure of a relationship, finally admitting,
I can’t keep pretending I don’t love you anymore

The song allowed Tritt to show a more subtle side to his vocals, and is one of the finest recordings of his career, with delicately understated production. Backing vocals come from Dana McVicker, a former Capitol artist who never made a breakthrough, and they add a sweet edge.

His first of several career duets with Marty Stuart (recorded prior to their first tour together) is the singalong honky tonker ‘The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’’, a Stuart co-write with Ronny Scaife. It’s a solid song which I like a lot, although Tritt’s full blooded vocal is the best thing about this #2 hit.

It was back to the ballads with the album’s final single, #4 hit ‘Nothing Short Of Dying’. A wistful song about the pain of lost love with some mournful fiddle and steel supporting the regretful vocal, this is another great track and the most traditional country of the singles.

Although it wasn’t a single, the blazing up-tempo ‘Bible Belt (featuring rock band Little Feat) garnered a lot of attention when an alternate version was recorded for the movie My Cousin Vinny, with new lyrics fitting the film’s plot. The original is better, and is one of Tritt’s most memorable recordings with its dramatic tale of an adulterous preacher brought down by “the flames of passion” following an affair with the choir leader, based on a true story. Travis warns the couple they will have to “answer to the Lord and the Bible Belt”, although in fact they run away to Vegas together, apparently never to be seen in Georgia again. The Southern rock/country arrangement is genuinely exciting with pounding piano and a choir bringing in gospel elements suited to teh subject.

On the up-tempo side, I also liked ‘Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler’, a classic bluegrass number written by Jimmie Skinner unexpectedly given a Southern rock style makeover which works surprisingly well. I was less impressed by closer ‘Homesick’, an obscure Southern rock cover which is a self-indulgent rocker more about the groove than anything else, but it is the only track I didn’t like on an otherwise outstanding album.

The title track is a fine ballad in classic country style, with a sincere, believable vocal about a man who has had enough of the woman he has loved treating him badly and is ready for a new start.

‘If Hell Had A Jukebox’ is another great hurting ballad, written by Travis with Lee Rogers. This time the protagonist’s ex responds to a pitiful plea for her return by telling him to go you-know-where. Travis replies,

Honey, if Hell had a jukebox
And the Devil kept it full of hurtin’ songs
You could find me there this evening…

I don’t see how the fires below
Where you wanted me to go
Could be worse than the hell I’m living here on earth

The gentle ballad ‘Someone For Me’ (written by Tritt with Stewart Harris) is a lonely man’s wistful longing for love, and another fine song, with a subtle string arrangement.

With triple platinum status, this remains Travis Tritt’s best selling album, and it is also my personal favorite. There is a wide variety of tempos and styles, but the quality is almost all very high indeed. Used copies can be found extremely cheaply, and are well worth tracking down.

Grade: A+