My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Lloyd Maines

Album Review: Court Yard Hounds – ‘Court Yard Hounds’

During the interval during which the Dixie Chicks were not recording together, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire issued an album of largely acoustic tunes titled Court Yard Hounds. Recorded in 2009, the album was released in May 2010.

Although the album was awaited with great interest, the album received little attention from country radio and in fact the album did not chart country at all, reaching #7 on Billboard’s all genres chart. Although several singles were released to radio, only “The Coast” charted at all, reaching #26 on the AAA charts. The other two singles, “It Didn’t Make a Sound” and “See You In The Spring” did not chart anywhere.

The album seems much more folk than country, although there are tracks that have a strong country feel, particularly on those tracks where Lloyd Maines’ steel guitar is prominently featured. Emily Robison takes the lead vocals, except as noted below. Emily is also the primary songwriter on the album, with Martin Strayer as co-writer on most of the songs and sister Martie Maguire as the songwriter and lead vocalist on “Gracefully”. Both Emily (banjo) and Martie (fiddle, viola) are fine instrumentalists and are featured prominently.

The album opens up with “Skyline”, a folk number that sounds like something Simon & Garfunkel might have recorded as an album track. The song is a laid back with lyrics that tell of the area between hope and desolation.

I just look at the skyline
A million lights are lookin’ back at me
And when they shine
I see a place I know I’ll find some peace
I just look at the skyline

I look at the skyline
A million lights are lookin’ back at me
And when they shine
I see a place I know I’ll find some peace
I just look at the skyline

What am I doin’ here
In such a lonely place?

Next up is “The Coast” is an upbeat tale of the calming effects of the coast in relieving the stresses of daily life. This is followed by “Delight (Something New Under The Sun)” about a pending relationship. There is use of rock-style guitars in this song, although it also has a bit of island vibe to the melody.

I’m gonna head down to the coast
Where nothin’ ever seems to matter
You know I love it there the most
When every piece of my world gets scattered

Blue skies, green water
White birds in the air
Brown skin, blue collar
And the wind blowin’ in my hair

Jakob Dylan joins Emily on “See You In The Spring”, another folk-style ballad. This song bespeaks of an up and down relationship.

‘Cause baby, your Summer is nothing but prison
It drives me away
And maybe, come Winter, we can’t be together
But love will come again
‘Til then I’ll see you in the Spring
Ah, so don’t throw it all away
Throw it all away

“Ain’t No Son” is a rock number and a fairly mediocre one at that. On the other hand “Fairy Tales” is an interesting song about the contradictions between what one wants and what ultimately needs to do.

Every girl wants the fairytale
I guess I do too
We’re restless, we’re young
With so much to prove

You ask me to wait
But wait I won’t do
‘Cause the time I’ve been wasting
I could be spending with you

Take me… we’ll run away
Out of this town ’til it fades
And they’ll say we’re wrong
But with you I’m alright either way

“I Miss You” sounds country (or perhaps country rock) with prominent steel by Lloyd Maines. This is a fairly typical song about longing, nicely sung with effective fiddle and steel accompaniment.

“Gracefully” is a slow downer of a song about a relationship that she wishes would end, but her lover would like to continue onward.

“April’s Love” also sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel album track, again about a relationship that is fading away. Since Emily had divorced husband Charlie Robison during the year before this album was recorded, I wonder about how much the end of that relationship colored this album

“Then Again” has a fuller sound than most of the songs on the album with a blues/rock feel to it, this time about introspection and coming to grips with one’s self-awareness (or lack thereof).

“It Didn’t Make A Sound” features the banjo prominently in a rock arrangement, but the lyric doesn’t really go anywhere although the piano of Mike Finnegan has a bit of a Professor Longhair feel to it, making the song greater than the sum of its parts.

The album closes up with “Fear of Wasted Time”, a quiet ballad of desperation.

I hold my babies tight
Sneak into their beds at night
I’ll just stay and watch them breathing
Next thing I know the alarm clock’s ringing

I watch every frame
Of this life I’ve made
Take a picture but I miss the moment now
Looking in their eyes

And you ask why I do it that way

It’s just the fear of wasted time
The fear of wasted time
That’s why

The feeling’s very strange
I’m waiting for the pain
And happiness can terrify me now
It could be goodbye

The album is a pleasant enough to listen to, but the songs are not especially strong and, unlike the Dixie Chicks albums, with minimal storytelling involved. Listening to this album reminded me of why the sisters needed Robin Lynn Macy, Laura Lynch and later Natalie Maines. Emily Robison is an acceptable vocalist, but nothing more and this album lacks the spark of any of the Dixie Chicks albums, whether the early independent label albums or the later major label successes.

I would give this album a “B”.

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Album Review: Dixie Chicks – ‘Top Of The World Live’

A little over seven years ago, I wrote an article titled 25 Greatest Live Country Albums .

At the time I wrote of this album:

12. The Dixie Chicks – Top of the World Tour Live

Two disc set issued in November 2003, a representative sample of the material from their years as a major label act. Excellent set, although sonically, it could be better, and some versions of the songs are a bit too long. Enthusiastic crowds from various venues give one the feel of a live Dixie Chicks concert. Whereas I’ve downgraded some albums for short playing times, I’ve upgraded this one a bit as it really was an excellent value for the money, selling for the price of a single CD.

I played the album again recently and there really isn’t too much more to say about the album that I didn’t say back in 2011, so I will simply provide a little more factual information concerning the album.

Tracks on Disc One
1. “Goodbye Earl”
2. “Some Days You Gotta Dance”
3. “There’s Your Trouble”
4. “Long Time Gone”
5. “Tortured, Tangled Hearts”
6. “Travelin’ Soldier”
7. “Am I the Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)”
8. “Hello Mr. Heartache”
9. “Cold Day in July”
10. “White Trash Wedding”
11. “Lil’ Jack Slade”

Tracks on Disc Two
1. “A Home”
2. “Truth No. 2”
3. “If I Fall You’re Going Down with Me”
4. “Mississippi”
5. “Cowboy Take Me Away”
6. “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”
7. “Landslide”
8. “Ready to Run”
9. “Wide Open Spaces”
10. “Top of the World”
11. “Sin Wagon”

The tracks for this album were recorded at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia and the Fleet Center in Boston. While the album was remixed for release purposes (apparently by Lloyd Maines, who did not play on the album), no studio overdubs were utilized in making the album.

The entire set runs over 94 minutes in playing time. The album sold quite well and represents a good representation of the Dixie Chicks sound in concert. I would give this an A+ for value / B+ for sound quality.

Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Home’

It is difficult to assess the merits of this album, partially because of the changes in the reference points by which albums are evaluated and partially because of the firestorm that the Dixie Chicks generated by their future comments while playing a small venue in England.

Many commentators regard this album as the Dixie Chicks masterpiece, and while I am not among them, I do regard this as an excellent album that draws the group closer to a roots sound than their previous major label recordings.

At the time of the album’s release in 2002, the world of country music was in turmoil. Slick pop acts like Shania Twain, Martine Mc Bride and Faith Hill were still near their commercial peak, while the neo-traditionalist had lost steam, slowly being replaced by the vapid bro-country that plagued the genre until recently. Conversely, there was a brief resurgence in bluegrass and pre-bluegrass acoustic string band music fuels by the runaway success of the movie Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?

Symptomatic of the cross purposes to which the fan base and the radio stations worked, radio barely played anything from the movie Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? The Dixie Chicks chose to ignore this divide, releasing an album that in places would have fit into a roots classification, but in other places was something else entirely.

Five songs received airplay from Home:

“Long Time Gone”                                     #2 country / #7 pop

“Landslide”                                                       #2 country / #7 pop / #1 adult contemporary

“Travelin’ Soldier”                                     #1 country / #26 pop

“Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”     #48 country

“Top of The World”                                     did not chart

“Top of The World” was too long for radio to play it, moreover, it was released after the unfortunate comments about President Bush turned many thoughtful Americans, whether or not supporters of Bush.

This album is mostly covers of material written by others. In that vein, the album opens up with “Long Time Gone”. The song, written by Darrell Scott, was originally recorded by Scott on his 2000 album Real Time and tells the story about a young man who left his family and went to Nashville to become a musician. Eventually, he treks back home and settles down to raise a family. The song’s last verse criticizes contemporary country music as being shallow, and despite the upbeat melody, the song’s lyrics are very pessimistic indeed.

Next up is a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”. There is something terribly appropriate about this cover because the Fleetwood Mac story closely parallels that of the Dixie Chicks in that Fleetwood Mac started out as one thing (a brilliant blues-rock group), changed members and form into a basic pop-rock group, and pretended that the prior version of the group never existed. The song was written by Stevie Nicks, who was not a member of the group’s original lineup,

Bruce Robison’s “Travelin’ Soldier” is probably the best song on the album, a sad song about the correspondence between a soldier and his girlfriend, and his eventual death in combat. The song was first recorded by the writer and later, in altered form by Ty England, but the Dixie Chicks rendition is by far the best version of the song. At the time the group recorded the song Bruce Robinson was the brother-in-law of Emily Robison.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag of covers and originals a bunch of good songs well performed and thoroughly country in sound and instrumentation. Both Martie and Emily are excellent musicians and the supporting cast includes Lloyd Maines on steel guitar and bluegrass wizards Brian Sutton (guitar) Adam Steffey (mandolin), Chris Thile (mandolin solos) plus Emmylou Harris on vocal harmonies. You couldn’t ask for better.

Of the remaining tracks, my favorite is the humorous “White Trash Wedding”. Written by the three members of the group, the song depicts a scenario that has played itself out many times over the years, but does so with humor:

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

You finally took my hand

You finally took my hand

It took a nip of gin

But you finally took my hand

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

Mama don’t approve

Mama don’t approve

Daddy says he’s the best in town

And mama don’t approve

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

Baby’s on its way

Baby’s on its way

Say I do and kiss me quick

‘Cause baby’s on its way

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

There are a few misfires on the album (“Godspeed and “I Believe in Love” are pretty pedestrian and rather uninteresting) but even the misfires are not terrible and the net impression is of an album that contains both serious and amusing material performed with great flair.

A-

Album Review: Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces’

It was the recruitment of Natalie Maines as the Chicks’ new lead singer which transformed their fortunes. The band signed to Monument Records, a subsidiary of Sony. Their debut major label album, released in January 1998, was produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley, who were able to meld the group’s organic roots with a commercial sound, showcasing both Natalie’s strikingly distinctive voice and the other women’s accomplished musicianship. With the help of five top 10 singles, it would prove an enormous crossover success, eventually selling 12 million copies.

The first single, the infectious ‘I Can Love You Better’, was written by one of the top Nashville songwriters of the era, Kostas, with Pamela Brown Hayes. A plea to a love interest who is hung up on an ex, it is utterly charming with Natalie’s vocals exuding a mixture of confidence and wistfulness as she offers herself as a better romantic partner than her rival. It was very radio-friendly, and reached #7 on the Billboard country charts.

Follow-up ‘There’s Your Trouble’, written by Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, Is based on a similar theme. The single became their first chart-topper, and also won the girls a Grammy.

The title track made it back-to-back #1s. It was written by Texan singer-songwriter Susan Gibson, who had recorded the song with her alt-country band The Groobees on an album produced by Natalie Maines’ father Lloyd, who then pitched the song to his daughter. An airy melody and bluegrassy instrumentation with sweet harmonies back an optimistic lyric about a young woman leaving home and making her start as an independent adult. It was named the CMA Single of The Year.

The pace slowed for the next single, yet another #1. ‘You Were Mine’ is an exquisitely sad lost love ballad which showed Natalie Maines was capable of subtlety as well as attack. It was the only song on the album to be written by any of the band members, namely Martie and Emily Erwin, and was inspired by the disintegration of their parents’ marriage when they were children:

Sometimes I wake up cryin’ at night
And sometimes I scream out your name
What right does she have to take your heart away
When for so long you were mine

I can give you two good reasons
To show you love’s not blind
He’s two and she’s four and you know they adore you
So how can I tell them you changed your mind?

A rare fifth single, ‘Tonight The Heartache’s on me, is a super honky tonker which had previously been cut by Joy Lynn White in a very similar arrangement. It was not quite as successful as its predecessors, peaking at #6.

Another recent cover was Radney Foster’s ‘Never Say Die’, a nice love song. ‘Let ‘Er Rip’ is a rocker which allows Natalie to let loose vocally. ‘Once You’ve Loved Somebody’ is a wistful ballad about struggling to movie on after a breakup.

One of my favorite tracks is a cover of ‘Loving Arms’, penned by 70s folkie Tom Jans and previously recorded by Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Elvis Presley, and others. Natalie’s compelling vocal, imbued with intense regret, makes this the best version ever of the song in my opinion.

J D Souther’s ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’ is tender and has another fine vocal. Maria McKee’s ‘Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)’ is a rock ballad, again very well sung, while Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Give It Up Or Let Me Go’ is a raucous blues number.

The album’s eclectic mix of material is all very well sung and played, and although its massive success has been somewhat overshadowed by later events (both greater success and more fractious times) it still stands up very well.

Grade: A

Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Little Ol’ Cowgirl’

The Dixie Chicks’ second album was Little Ol’ Cowgirl. Released in 1992, the album found the original lineup of Robin Lynn Macy, Laura Lynch, Martie & Emily Erwin working through an assortment of original material and covers.

The album opens up with the title track, a spritely western swing number penned by John Ims. Laura Lynch sings the lead with really nice trio harmonizing by Macy and Emily Erwin. We should note that Martie Lynch mostly plays fiddle on this album but whenever the harmony is a trio, she is not singing.

She’s a little ol’ cowgirl from out Texas way

Countin’ the nights ’til the fiddler plays

Workin’ all week just doin’ her thing

 

She likes punchin’ doggies but she loves to swing

And when she hears that backbeat rhythm driftin’ through the door

She can’t talk, she can’t sit still, she can’t stay off of that floor

Kickin’ her heels up lordy look at her twirl

Everybody wants to boogie on down

With the little ol’ cowgirl

Robin Lynn Macy takes the lead on “A Road Is Just A Road”, a cover of a song written by Mary Chapin Carpenter & John Jennings. The song is a med-tempo with ballad, with trio harmony.

“She’ll Find Better Things To Do” comes from the pen of Bob Millard. Macy takes the lead vocal on this mid-tempo modern country ballad about a relationship that has come unraveled. The songs has quartet harmony.

She don’t see no way around it It

He shows every sign of leavin’ her behind

After three days stayin’ out late

It don’t look like he’ll be comin’ home tonight

She wants to cry but pride won’t let her

She’ll find better things to do

 

Leaves her key inside the mailbox

With a note that tells that cowboy where to go …

This is followed by “An Irish Medley” (comprised of “Handsome Molly”, “Little Beggerman” and “Mist On The Moor”). Macy sings the lead with Lynch on harmony on the first two parts with the last tune being an instrumental . Bruce Singleton guests on penny whistle and bagpipes, with J.D. Brown also on bagpipes and Olga Arseniev on accordion.

“You Send Me” was a #1 Pop & #1 R&B hit in 1957 for its writer the legendary Sam Cooke. The song is a dreamy ballad with Laura Lynch handling the lead vocals with the rest joining in on harmonies. Lloyd Maines plays steel guitar on this number.

Darling, you send me

I know you send me

Darling, you send me

Honest you do, honest you do

Honest you do, whoa

 

You thrill me

I know you, you, you thrill me

Darling, you, you, you, you thrill me

Honest you do

 

At first I thought it was infatuation

But, woo, it’s lasted so long

Now I find myself wanting

To marry you and take you home, whoa

“Just A Bit Like Me” is treated as straight-ahead bluegrass. Written by Robin Lynn Macy, this is a really nice song that deserves to be more widely covered. Robin sings the lead with the others joining in on harmony, Dave Peters plays mandolin on this track.

It’s six o’clock in the morning

The sun was ready to rise

And as she closes his lunchbox

She spies the sun in his eyes

She stays at home with the baby

She’s got a dream in her heart

Somewhere her sister is singing

A night is ready to start

 

One’s choosing, one’s cruising

Down the highway of their dreams

While songs are sung her dream’s begun

And she thinks of what it means

To live through her voice, she made a choice

But neither one is free

Am I a lot like her or is she just a bit like me?

“A Heart That Can” was written by Patti Dixon with Laura Lynch singing lead and the rest on harmony vocals. Lloyd Maines plays steel guitar on this track. This track is performed as contemporary Nashville pop-country. Had the song been released on a major label, it likely would have received considerable airplay.

You say I’ve done a lot of good

You’re glad I found you when I did

But I wonder why you keep

Those questions in your head

Oh I think you’re afraid to fall

Someone went and blew the call

 

All I can say is my heart tries hard

Try as hard as I can

You’ll never find that my love falls short

One day you’ll understand

That I’ve got a heart that can

The next track is a cover of Hal Ketcham’s recent hit “Past The Point of Rescue”. Robin sings the lead with trio harmonies. Olga Arseniev plays the accordion. The song is taken at the same tempo as Ketcham’s hit but with different instrumentation, resulting in a very nice recording.

Martie Erwin and Matthew Benjamin composed the mid-tempo swing instrumental “Beatin’ Around The Bush”. David Peters joins in on mandolin and Matthew Benjamin plays guitar.

“Two Of A Kind” was written by John Ims. Laura Lynch sings the vocal (no vocal harmonies) on this lovely medium -slow ballad. Dave Peters and Lloyd Maines appear on this track.

On the road without a friend

Can make you feel life’s loneliness

In a voice that rides the wind

Streaming ‘cross the airwaves

In a simple country song

The one that you don’t hear

Until the moon is full

It was Texas once again

The one about the good old boy

Who’s caught remembering

Images of childhood

And the places that he’d been

Caught up in his questions

Wondering where it would end

 

Another midnight on the highway

Dallas in the distance

Seems I’m always leaving love behind

Singing along with someone

Who’s soul is on the radio

Sounds like me and the good old boy

Are two of a kind

“Standing By The Bedside was written by I. Tucker with Laura Lynch on lead vocals and the rest doing harmonies. Jeff Hellmer guests on piano. The song is a medium temp western swing number. The lyric is religious in nature about a sister who is at death’s door.

The best song on the album is “Aunt Mattie’s Quilt, co-written by Robin Lynn Macy and Lisa Brandenburg. Robin sings the lead with trio harmonies. The song is more of a folksong story-ballad, but

it fits the album nicely. Larry Seyer guests on piano and Dave Peters is back on mandolin.

Aunt Mattie bent a thousand times down the long black rows

Then battled with the angry weeds so little seeds could grow

Come summer Mattie pulled the snow from cruel and cutting bolls

She was patient pale and slender and was only eight years old

Round and round the spinning wheel beneath Aunt Mattie’s boot

She recalled the soil and cotton seeds and summer’s hopeful shoots

Two winters spun out summer’s threads in rich and creamy folds

And she had a bolt of cotton cloth when she turned ten years old

Many acts, in many different genres, have covered the Ray Charles classic “Hallelejah I Love Him (Her) So”. The Chicks take on the song is novel with bass and drums basically carrying the song instrumentally.

Robin Lynn Macy sings lead with the rest joining in on subdued harmony.

The album closes with a Laura Lynch- Martie Erwin composition titled “Pink Toenails”. Laura Lynch lead vocals with the rest on vocal harmonies. Larry Spencer plays trumpet and Jeff Hellmer tinkles the ivories on the jazzy torch song.

Pink toenails, why don’t I have time to paint pink toenails?

I’ve got my pink foam curlers and my pony-tail

My girlfriends have time for their pink toenails

Come nightfall, you’ll be waltzing through my door

When you hear me call and I love the way you say

“I’m your baby doll” and you’ll find me sitting there

In my pink toenails

This is an outstanding album and I am torn as to whether or not I prefer this album or Thank Heavens For Dale Evans.

I originally purchased both albums on cassette and upgraded to CD after wearing out the cassettes. I would give both albums a solid A. On this album Laura Lynch occasionally plays bass but mostly just sings, Robin Lynn Macy is on guitar, Emily Erwin plays bass, guitjo, banjo and Martie Erwin plays fiddle and viola. The Erwin sisters are the stronger instrumentalists and Martie’s instrumental contributions are outstanding. Tom Van Schalk plays percussion/ drums.

 

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: Courtney Patton – ‘What It’s Like To Fly Alone’

Courtney Patton is one of the best female versions of the Texas troubadour type of singer-songwriter, producing heartfelt poetic songs with gentle country backings. She produced this latest record herself as well as writing or co-writing every song bar one.

Opener ‘Shove’ is a mid-paced song about a woman at a turning point and in need of a little help regaining herself:

The stars are always shining
It’s just sometimes you can’t see em till you pull yourself away from all the lights

It is one of several she wrote solo. The introspective ‘What It’s Like To Fly Alone (The Hawk Song)’ takes its inspiration from a road encounter with a wild hawk and reflects on loneliness and depression. ‘Sometimes She Flies’, about a woman struggling with life, has a deceptively pretty melody.

The most frequent co-writer is fellow-Texan Larry Hooper, and the songs he wrote with Courtney include my favorite tracks. ‘Round Mountain’ is an engrossing confessional story song:

I was lonely when I let another’s husband share my bed
While mine was plowing fields I was breaking vows instead
And I looked down into the darkness
And I looked up and felt it burn
It was hotter than the fires of hell my crimes would surely earn

I knew what I was doing as I climbed up and jumped in
Let the murky water cool me
Let it wash away my sin

The wearied ‘Devil’s Hand’ also muses on sin and guilt. The waltztime ‘Words To My Favorite Memory’ draws on the Haggard record, using it to counterpoint the sudden death of a loved one. Lloyd Maines provides some gorgeous steel. ‘Devil’s Hand’ is an elusively poetic song about sin. The pair’s ‘Open Flame’ is about resisting the temptation to infidelity, set to a very pretty melody:

It may burn but it won’t leave a scar

‘I’ve Got One Waiting’, written by Courtney with Matt Hillyer, is a well-written pure country song about a woman drinking after her undeserving man has left her, not out of sorrow, but perhaps with a little bravado:

You used to tell me quite often
That I was uninviting and cold to the touch of your hand
So I’ve been thinking and you were right
It just hit me tonight
And I should thank you for helping me understand
I might be cold but I’m not empty
And a handle is plenty
To keep me warm when I used to have you
You chose the women
I picked the wine
One’s aged and one’s fine
But both make the bed easy to fall into
I’ll be the life of the party
So don’t even start me
To talking about how fine I am
There’s no need for debating
Gonna start celebrating
Cause I’ve got one waiting

‘This Road To You’, a wintry co-write with Micky Braun about separation on the road from Courtney’s husband Jason Eady, is another strong and thoughtful song.

There is one song which Courtney had no share in writing: ‘Gold Standard’, written by Owen Temple and Kelley Mickwee. This is a graceful waltz about enduring love.

The set concludes on valedictory note with two mournful self-penned songs about the dead. ‘Red Bandana Blue (Kent’s Song)’ is a tender waltz-time tribute to the late Texan bar owner and music promoter Kent Finlay and his influence on Courtney’s career. Even more personal is the album’s closing track. The deeply moving ‘Fourteen Years’ is a delicate reflection on Courtney’s sister who was tragically killed in an accident 14 years ago.

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: Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers – ‘Hold My Beer vol. 1’

hold my beerWade Bowen and Randy Rogers are both artists who have flirted with mainstream success and major labels but have now returned to their Texas roots. They have toured together for years, and Lloyd Maines has produced their first duo album together. The result is on the country end of Texas Red Dirt, and is thoroughly enjoyable with some excellent songs.

The enjoyable buddyish ‘In The Next Life’ sees the pair sharing their musical experiences in Nashville and Texas, a good humoured review of good times and bad they cheerfully conclude:

All you need is one good friend
And in the next life
We wanna be ourselves again

More seriously they set out their stall with ‘Standards’, which deals with the problems with the music business in Nashville, and their own need to stay true to themselves:

Record man came and sat me down
He said, “I got some songs for you
There’s one about a dirt road
I really think you oughta do”
So I gave it a listen
And it wasn’t all that bad
But it ain’t me so I shook my head
That’s all there is to that

Well he just smiled
And he rolled his eyes
He said “How can I make you see?
We just need one big hit
The rest’ll be history
If we could find a way to compromise
You could be the next big star”
I said, “Man you might be right
But I don’t care if you are

I don’t have hits
I’ve got standards
Tell me how can I sell out
If I barely sell at all?”

Also excellent is the gently paced western story song ‘El Dorado’, the story of a weary ‘old desperado’ who is dying alone:

That is the fate of the old desperado
Better the angels to claim you than the long ride alone
Someone would have long ago found El Dorado
So good luck to you, cowboy, I’m moving on

Moving into sad song territory, ‘Til It Does’ is a rueful song about that realisation too late that a neglected loved one is about to reach breaking point:

She always wanted me to want her
Now I will
She always needed me to come home
Now I know
How that feels
These days I’m seein’ things
In ways that only missin’ her reveals

You don’t want the way it is
‘Til you’re wishin’ for the way it was
That’s how a heartache finds afool
It don’t happen ‘til it does

‘Hangin’ Out In Bars’ has a more upbeat feel musically, but is equally heartbroken musically, as the protagonist drinks away his unhappiness trying to get over his ex.

The pair take on western swing with the tongue in cheek ‘Good Luck With That’ about unwise decisions in life.

While there are no poor songs here, ‘Ladybug’ is a bit of a throwaway, but is still quite catchy and pleasant sounding.

There are a few covers mixed in with the new songs, including two Haggard tunes. The relaxed ‘It’s Been A Great Afternoon’ about the aftermath of a big night out fits in nicely, while the resigned ‘Reasons To Quit’ is best known from Haggard’s duet with Willie Nelson, and is excellent here. ‘I Had My Hopes Up High’ is a pleasant, energetic mid-tempo story song by Joe Ely, about a young man leaving home and the colourful characters he meets while hitchhiking.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable album, and one I warmly recommend to anyone who likes real country music.

Grade: A

Album Review: Kelly Willis – ‘What I Deserve’

whatideserveThe indie phase of Kelly Willis’ career got underway with What I Deserve, which was released in February 1999 on the Rykodisc label. Produced by Dave McNair, Norman Kerner and Daniel Presley it appeared six years after her last full-length album, although an EP had appeared in the interim during her brief stint with A&M Records. Not surprisingly, What I Deserve failed to produce any radio hits, but it did manage to become her highest entry up to that time on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, peaking at #30.

Kelly appears to have spent much of her down time between albums writing songs; she had a hand in writing six of What I Deserve‘s thirteen songs, with somewhat mixed results. The title track and “Take Me Down”, which was the album’s first single, are both somewhat dull co-writes with Gary Louris, but “Talk Like That”, her only solo songwriting effort on the disc, is quite good. Kelly’s husband Bruce Robison contributed two efforts, “Not Forgotten You” which became the album’s second single, and “Wrapped”, a nice mid-tempo number that should have been a hit — and eventually was when George Strait covered it and took it #2 in 2007. Not surprisingly, the two Robison numbers are among the album’s best songs, along with Paul Kelly’s “Cradle of Love”, which is my favorite from this album. Also noteworthy is “Fading Fast”, one of two co-writes with John Leventhal, which was the title of her 1996 EP for A&M.

What I Deserve‘s production is tasteful — contemporary, without being overdone or overloud, never drowning out Kelly’s honey vocals. It has just enough country elements to keep country fans happy — namely some very nice steel guitar work by Lloyd Maines. It would have benefited from a few more faster-paced songs, but while not every song is particularly memorable, there enough good moments to recommend it. CD copies are hard to find, but it is available digitally and is worth downloading.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Ray Benson – ‘A Little Piece’

a littl pieceRay Benson may be best known as the leader of joyous Western Swing band Asleep at The Wheel, but he is also a fine songwriter, and his new solo album showcases Ray Benson the musically eclectic thoughtful singer-songwriter, with no Western Swing anywhere in sight. Much of the material was inspired by the recent breakup of a relationship. He co-produces with his son Sam Seifert and Texas veteran Lloyd Maines.

The warm-hearted title track quietly offers philosophical advice about how to live without anger and bitterness). He sounds a little like Waylon Jennings on ‘I Ain’t Looking For No Trouble’ but the song lacked melody and didn’t really hold my attention despite impressive musicianship. ‘Give Me Some Peace’ is livelier with its insistent demand. The Del Castillo Brothers play Spanish flamenco guitar on ‘Heartache And Pain’ which works quite well as a counterpoint to the gloomy lyric.

The minor-keyed ‘In The Blink Of An Eye’ has a jazz feel and is not particularly interesting. I didn’t like the tuneless ‘J J Cale’ (a tribute to Benson’s musician friend who died last year) at all, while ‘Over And Over’ was not much more appealing, with a very limited melodic range.

Ray wrote most of the material, but he throws in a couple of covers. The closing ‘Marie’ is a low-key Randy Newman song performed acoustically, while ‘It Ain’t You’, a tasteful version of a classic Waylon Jennings song never before recorded is the highlight of the record. Willie Nelson contributes a beautifully judged duet vocal, while the song itself is an insightful look at growing older.

My favorite of Ray’s own songs here is the ballad ‘Lovin’ Man’, a sweet love song. Also excellent is ‘Killed By A 45’, a compelling doom-ridden story song about death due to excessive exposure to a country heartbreak song which hit home a little too hard.

At times it is a little too adventurous for my tastes, and Ray is not the greatest of singers, but this is certainly an interesting record.

Grade: B-

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, part 4

The 1980s got off to a poor start with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

Here are some more songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

“Everybody Needs Love On A Saturday Night”– The Maines Brothers Band
This 1985 song was the biggest hit (#24) for a bunch of talented musicians, some of whom went on to bigger and better things. Lloyd Maines is a leading steel guitar whiz and record producer – his daughter is Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. Three other brothers of Lloyd’s were in this band, as well.

I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today” – Barbara Mandrell
This 1988 slightly re-titled cover of Warren Smith’s big hit  from 1960 was to be Barbara’s last top ten recording. It is one of my favorite Barbara Mandrell recordings.

Save Me” – Louise Mandrell
Louise never quite emerged from her big sister’s shadow but this #6 single from 1983 shows that a lack of talent wasn’t the problem.

My First Country Song” – Dean Martin with Conway Twitty
Not really – Dean had recorded many country songs to great effect, although never with country accompaniment. The album from which this 1983 song was taken, was actually the last album the 66-year-old Dean would record after a hugely successful career as a pop singer, movie star , television star and stage performer. In his time very few performers were bigger stars than Dean Martin. Conway Twitty wrote this song and performed it with Dean. It wasn’t a huge hit (#35) but it was an interesting ending to one of the greatest careers in American entertainment history.

You Are My Music, You Are My Song”– Wayne Massey with Charly McClain
Wayne Massey was a soap opera heartthrob and his wife Charly was stunningly attractive. This 1986 hit was one of two top tens the duo would have, although Charly had a very successful career as a solo act.

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Album Review: Jason Eady – ‘AM Country Heaven’

Mississippi-born and Texas-based Jason Eady moves from the Americana hybrid of his excellent last album When The Money’s All Gone to something more deeply rooted in country. Tastefully produced by Kevin Welch, with backings from Austin-based band Heybale and special Lloyd Maines on steel, it is a low key delight with some excellent songs, almost all written by the extremely talented Eady, occasionally with a co-writer. His pleasing, plaintive voice is ideally suited to his material.

The brilliant title track excoriates the state of country radio, when,

They sing about Jesus and they sing about Jones
And they sing of American pride
But they’re all too damn clean
They’re polished like stones and they won’t sing about cheating or lies…

I knew it was over the day that I overheard a record executive cry
“Keep it all simple, don’t get offensive and don’t play songs in three quarter time”

Well Mr Record Man I hope you don’t take offence
But you’re a hell of a joke I can tell
You’re the reason we’re in AM country heaven
And FM country hell

This sets the tone for an album full of real country music, with songs rooted in real lives.

The excellent ‘Old Guitar And Me’ is a possibly autobiographical tale about growing a little older as a struggling musician, and not quite getting anywhere. Fellow singer-songwriter Walt Wilkins sings backing vocals.

Dealing with the consequences of past choices is a common theme for many of the songs here, with a general mood of acceptance. The subdued and somewhat obscure ‘Tomorrow Morning’ compels attention with its quiet determination,

Cannot live in the light alone
There’s no redemption without the sin
And I must go through darkness knowing
Tomorrow morning I’ll begin again

It ain’t an easy road that I have taken
But I will take it til the end
Every day is joy and sorrow
Tomorrow morning I’ll begin again

The downbeat ‘Wishful Drinking’ has Lloyd Maines’s steel supporting the troubled protagonist’s wistful thoughts about a former lover he desperately hopes (and clearly doesn’t really believe) might still be thinking of him. Eady is very good at bring to life this kind of complex emotion, and he does so on the slow and regretful ‘Longer Walk In The Rain’ considers past choices and a former loved one, and their ongoing emotional impact.

‘I’ll Sure Be Glad When I’m Gone’ (written by Jason with Kevin Welch and Roger Ray) tackles the complex emotions combining relief and regret around an impending breakup. The protagonist of the gentle sounding ‘Lying To Myself’ sounds defeated from the start, as he struggles with life and loss and his own responsibility for the failure of the relationship:

I might need forgiving one of these days
But for now I’ll go on living this way
Running and fighting to survive
Lying to myself to stay alive

The unexpectedly sprightly ‘Paid My Dues’ features bright harmonies from Cary Ann Hearst, and is about a man trying to get over various drug habits, and feeling frustrated by the time it is taking to get better.

On a more positive note, Patty Loveless duets on the delightful bluegrass of ‘Man On A Mountain’, a love song between a wild mountain man (and “a mountain of a man” to boot) and the valley town girl he calls his lily of the valley, but he doesn’t want to get married and she won’t “live in sin” with him. They have allowed their differences to come between them but long for one another. Patty is at her mountain best on this charming song, and her presence on this track is likely to bring the album as a whole some much-deserved attention. The song was written by Eady with Matt Powell, Drew Kennedy, and Josh Grider.

The sardonic up-tempo ‘Forget About The Truth’ offers another change of mood as the protagonist is disillusioned about his girlfriend but is prepared to overlook the lies at least for another night together.

‘Sober On The Weekends’ (0ne of two songs not written by Eady, but by Scott Copeland) is a drinking song with a blues groove about a girlfriend who spend her weeks drinking and her weekends with her man getting high on love instead. The other Copeland song, Water Into Wine has tastefully subtle gospel backing vocals from the Trishas’ Jamie Wilson. In this interesting song, a backslider and onetime choir singer takes refuge in the bottle and “earthly desires that consume what’s left of my life”.

This is one of those rare albums where there really are no weaker tracks. If you like this, I’d also recommend downloading the excellent ‘Promises In Pieces’ and ‘Cry Pretty’ from When The Money’s All Gone, which are on similar stylistic lines and great songs.

Grade: A

There’s a short interview with Jason Eady over at Country California.

Album Review: Jason Boland & the Stragglers – ‘Rancho Alto’

Jason Boland is a singer-songwriter with a poet’s heart, and with his band the Stragglers, is one of the acts in the Texas Red Dirt movement most deeply rooted in country music. His latest album, released on APEX/Thirty Tigers, is not quite as strong as his last studio album, 2008’s Comal County Blue, but is still a good collection. Boland wrote almost all the material, and his songwriting is consistently impressive and substantial. The album was recorded in Austin with Lloyd Maines producing, although the artist’s work is clearly rooted in his home state of Oklahoma.

The best song here is the gripping ‘False Accuser’s Lament’, an intriguing reinterpretation of ‘Long Black Veil’ from the point of view of the witness who claimed the narrator of the original song was the killer. The tune is new, but there are enough lyrical nods to the Marijohn Wilkin/Danny Dill-penned country classic to make its origins obvious. Tormented nightly by guilt, he reveals that he was paid off (with ‘the price of a new plow’) by the banker husband of the woman who would have been the convicted man’s alibi. In this version he knew of his wife’s affair but couldn’t face it all coming out in public, effectively making the framed man’s sacrifice pointless. Our narrator admits bleakly,

Father please forgive me for I falsely testified
They had me swear upon the Bible and I lied

The pensive ‘Obsessed’ dwells on an intense but fated relationship. The almost-melancholy ‘Between 11 And 2’ shows us a pair of lost souls eventually finding one another in the dead hours of the night. Jason wrote it with Noah Jeffries, who also plays fiddle and mandolin. The same pair wrote ‘Pushing Luck’, a rockier number where a potentially interesting story of a resentful lawbreaker feels overwhelmed by too-heavy production, not helped by the relative lack of melody.

The waltz ‘Every Moment I’m Gone’ is a rather lovely declaration of love by an ageing rambler, perhaps a seafarer, for the one waiting at home, which has a very old folk feel to the lyrics. The atmospheric playing of pedal steel dominates on ‘Forever Together Again’ (written by Roger Ray, pedal steel and dobro player in the Stragglers), a warmhearted tribute to a cowboy bar room crowd.

‘Down Here In The Hole’ is a strong song about working in a coalmine with some memorable lines and prominent fiddle. I also like ‘Fences’ with its fiddle-led instrumentation and singing melody, and the brooding if sometimes obscure lyric lamenting, I think, the fate of Native Americans:

She was there for the taking, there were promises made
But smallpox and whiskey were a mighty bad trade

All I see now are fences
The cards turn a profit but the people are gone
Theses old holes in the highway are so brutal on bones
You don’t dance with who brought you, it’s a lonesome walk home

The attractive ‘Mary Ellen’s Greenhouse’ paints an affectionate picture about making music with old friends in a welcoming place, based on a rehearsal place of Boland’s youth.

There are a couple of external covers. Bob Childers wrote ‘Woody’s Road’, a tribute to Woody Guthrie, ‘a rambling friend of man’. Finally, The part-spoken ‘Farmer’s Luck’ (written by Greg Jacobs) is another real highlight. It tells the story of a government-funded reservoir in Oklahoma which drowns a farmer’s land in the 1960s, set to a jaunty rhythm as the narrator’s grandfather, a small farmer complains to the bureaucrats and businessmen,

Well, you don’t know nothing about farming
You don’t know nothing about soil
You live up there in Tulsa and make your living off of oil…

They’re gonna dam the Deep Fork River and damn the farmer’s luck

This is an interesting and worthwhile release by an excellent songwriter.

Grade: A-