My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Loretta Lynn

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty – ‘Easy Lovin’

Album Review: Gretchen Wilson – ‘Ready To Get Rowdy’

I had rather soured on Gretchen Wilson in recent years, and I wasn’t inspired by the title of her new album or the uninspired southern rock of the title track when released as a lead single last year. However, I have been quite pleasantly surprised by the full album, all the songs on which were written or co-written by Gretchen. Blake Chancey produced the set.

Her current single ‘Salt Mines’ will get no airplay, as it is musically quite the most traditional country song she has ever recorded. It is a ballad about the hard grind of staying married to a drunken layabout who can do nothing in the house but keep his wife satisfied in the bedroom, while she goes out to work all day to replenish their funds.

Also drawing on tradition is the sassy threat to get ‘A Little Loretta’ with her straying husband:

I’m feelin’ a little Loretta
And I’m on a warpath tonight
I’m tossin’ your things right along with this ring
On the porch of this house full of lies
I’m feelin a little Loretta
And lovin’ you aint’ on my mind
So stay where you are
Don’t come back from that bar
You ain’t gonna like what you find…

I’m feelin’ a little Loretta
And I know just what she would do
To any one of them blondes you’ve been lovin’ upon
Or maybe she’d just do it to you

There is a charming Cajun feel to ‘Big Wood Deck’ and while the lyrics are slight, the arrangement makes the track a delight.

I have often felt that Gretchen is at her best when she is vulnerable, rather than playing up the rough-edges. ‘Mary Kay & Maybelline’ is an excellent song, a stripped down and sensitive story song taking us from a child watching her mother use makeup to hide the tear stains from an unhappy marriage, to the adult woman who discovers her own kind of pain:

You make a choice cause you gotta choose
When it comes down to him or you
I wouldn’t go diggin’ up the truth
Cause a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do

I learned early and I learned hard
What to do when love leaves scars

In more impassioned vein, another protagonist uses a combination of ‘Whiskey And My Bible’ as she reaches rock bottom.

‘Letting Go Of Hanging On’ is pretty good too, a midpaced song calling the bluff of the protagonist’s husband who is threatening to walk out yet again, by declaring:

The ties that bind us ain’t that strong

‘Hard Earned Money’ is a likeable tribute to those who work hard for low pay, and ae grateful to have a job at all, and make the most out of life. The midpaced harmonica-led ‘Summertime Town’ is a catchy rejection of a vacation romance with no commitment.

‘I Ain’t That Desperate Yet’ is a rocker which lacks melody (it is almost on a monotone) but has energy and a strong lyric about not pretending to be someone she’s not in order to find love or to fall back on an ex, because:

I still have my self respect

‘Stacy’ is a strong country rock number (with more harmonica) gleefully criticizing a broken hearted young woman for not moving on:

Twenty-five times he’s hit decline on his cell phone
Quit driving by ’cause you cry every time when he ain’t home
I know you saw a diamond ring
Babies and an SUV
Bless your little broken heart
And how you fall apart

Oh Stacy, why you gotta be so crazy
Honey, don’t you thnk that maybe
You’re the one to blame for running them boys away
Oh Stacy, poor little “someone come and save me”
Ain’t it something sad when girls like you make women like me look bad

There is only one song I hated (I also disliked ‘Rowdy’). ‘Bad Feeling’ is a duet with Kid Rock. Gretchen sings her part well enough, but it is not country, or even southern rock, but a brassy rock ballad which is not to my taste at all.

Overall though, this is possibly the strongest album of Gretchen’s career.

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+

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn – ‘Let’s Get Back Down To Earth’

Breaking News: Loretta Lynn hospitalized

It has been announced that Loretta Lynn has suffered a stroke. We wish her the best and pray for a full and speedy recovery.

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Week ending 4/29/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1967: Need You — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977: She’s Got You — Loretta Lynn (MCA)

1987: Rose In Paradise — Waylon Jennings (MCA)

1997: One Night at a Time — George Strait (MCA)

2007: Wasted — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Any Ol’ Barstool — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn – ‘Get Whatcha You Got And Go’

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn – ‘Woman Of The World’

Week ending 2/11/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

morris10-21957 (Sales):Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Jukebox): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1967: Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind) — Loretta Lynn (Decca)

1977: Near You — George Jones & Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1987: Leave Me Lonely — Gary Morris (Warner Bros.)

1997: It’s a Little Too Late — Mark Chesnutt (Decca)

2007: Watching You — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2017: Better Man — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2017 (Airplay): Guy With A Girl — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn – ‘I’ll Sure Come A Long Way Down’

Crystal Gayle’s Grand Ole Opry induction

Last Saturday night, our spotlight artist Crystal Gayle was formally inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry by her sister Loretta Lynn, nearly 50 years after she made her Opry debut:

Classic Rewind (Bonus Edition): Crystal Gayle – ‘Snowbird’

Classic Rewind: Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn – ‘Who’s Gonna Take Your Garbage Out?’

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘Somebody Loves You’

51jizvcqjml-_ss500After several years of struggling, Crystal Gayle finally enjoyed her breakthrough Top 10 hit with 1974’s “Wrong Road Again”. The two subsequent singles from her debut album both failed build on that success, however, which must have been cause for concern at the time. She rebounded nicely, however, with her sophomore album, which was released in 1975. “Somebody Loves You”, one of three tracks penned by producer Allen Reynolds, reached #8. The album’s second single, “I’ll Get Over You”, the first of several hits written for her by Richard Leigh, became her first chart-topper in early 1976. The simple melody and lyric, beautifully sung, has always been one of my favorites.

Somebody Loves You followed the same basic formula as Crystal’s prior album — more polished than the music that hardcore traditionalists like big sister Loretta were putting out — but still quite country in comparison to Crystal’s later work. Allen Reynolds’ songs are among the best in the collection: the traditional-leaning “Before I’m Over You” and the oft-recorded “Dreaming My Dreams With You” which was made famous by Waylon Jennings. Crystal branches out a bit with the bluesy “Sweet Baby On My Mind”, which sounds very similar to “Night Life”, a 1963 hit for Ray Price penned by Willie Nelson. “I Want To Lose Me In You” by Jim Rushing and Marshall Chapman is a pretty but lyrically light number. The same could be said about “High Time”, which is little more than catchy album filler, but Lloyd Green’s steel guitar gives it a little extra oomph. Crystal and her husband Bill Gatzimos wrote one track for the album, the pleasant but forgettable “Coming Closer”.

Somebody Loves You was an important album in Crystal Gayle’s discography. It finally set her on track for consistent commercial success; during the next decade only two of her singles missed the Top 10. The album is also notable for some of its session personnel: the aforementioned steel guitar great Lloyd Green and background vocalists Janie Fricke, who would go on to have a successful solo career of her own, and Garth Funds, who later became a famous producer for Keith Whitley and Trisha Yearwood, among others.

This is a good album for those who are interested in hearing Crystal’s music before she started enjoying crossover success.

Grade: A

EP Review: J.P. Harris (with Nikki Lane, Kristina Murray, Kelsey Waldon and Leigh Nash) – ‘Why Don’t We Duet In The Road’

jpharris_duet_largeweb_1024x1024J.P. Harris, whose sound is described as ‘booming hippie-friendly honky-tonk,’ found the inspiration for Why Don’t We Duet In The Road in the collaborative spirit of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s seminal Will The Circle Be Unbroken. The EP finds Harris covering iconic duets with some of Nashville’s most innovate female singer/songwriters, in an effort to bottle his experiences in Music City with a record aimed at prosperity over commercial viability.

Harris hunkered down in Ronnie Milsap’s former studio to record the four-track album, which he self-produced in a single six-hour session. What resulted is rough around the edges, fueled by twangy guitars and a gorgeous interpretation of outlaw country.

No one better exemplifies the modern outlaw spirit than Nikki Lane, who burst onto the scene in 2011 blending rockabilly and honky-tonk. She teams with Harris on “You’re The Reason Our Kids are Ugly,” which finds the pair embodying the spirit of Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s 1978 original. Harris’ choice of Lane to accompany him is a smart one. You can hear her ballsy grit as she uses her smoky alto to channel Lynn’s feisty spirit without sacrificing her distinct personality.

The least familiar of Harris’ collaborators is likely Americana darling Kristina Murray, who joins him for an excellent reading of George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “Golden Ring.” The pair is brilliant together, with Murray emerging as a revelation with her effortless mix of ease and approachability. I quite enjoyed the arrangement, too, which has the perfectly imperfect feel of a band completely in sync with one another.

Harris is the star on “If I Was A Carpenter,” which finds him with the criminally underrated Kelsey Waldon. Her quiet assertiveness, which could’ve used a touch more bravado, is, unfortunately, no match for his buttery vocal. Waldon’s contributions are by no means slight; he’s just magnetic.

The final selection, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner’s “Better Move It On Home,” finds Harris with the most recognizable vocalist of the bunch, Leigh Nash. She’s best known as the lead singer of Sixpence None The Richer, the band that hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the iconic “Kiss Me” in 1998. She’s since gone on to a solo career, which includes a country album released in September 2015. She taps into that grit here, and erases any notion of her pop sensibilities, but proves she doesn’t quite measure up to Parton on the 1971 original. The pair had an uphill battle ahead of them from the onset and they didn’t quite deliver.

That being said Why Don’t We Duet in the Road is a fantastic extended play highlighting five uniquely talented vocalists. If country artists continue to churn out releases of this high a quality than 2017 is going to be a very good year, indeed.

Grade: A

NOTE: Why Don’t We Duet in the Road is offered as a random colored double 7” limited to 500 copies, which as of press time are about halfway to sold out. Rolling Stone Country also has the tracks accessible for streaming, which I highly recommend. The EP is also available on iTunes as of January 6.

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘I’ve Cried The Blue Right Out Of My Eyes’

ive-cried-the-blue-right-out-of-my-eyesCrystal’s earliest recordings were made for her sister Loretta’s label Decca (later MCA) in the early 1970s. Loretta’s producer Owen Bradley served as Crystal’s producer, and the idea seems to have been to present her as a kind of junior version of the star, albeit with a little sweeter version of the Nashville Sound in the backings.

Loretta even wrote Crystal’s debut single, ‘I’ve Cried The Blue Right Out Of My Eyes’. It’s a very good song well suited melodically to Crystal’s pure voice. It reached #23 on the Billboard country charts in 1970 – a modest but promising start. Unfortunately it was to remain Crystal’s most successful single on Decca/MCA.

Follow-up ‘Everybody Oughta Cry’ was forgettable. ‘I Hope You’re Havin’ Better Luck Than Me’ (written by Ted Harris) is rather good and deserved to do better, although Crystal was definitely drawing on Loretta’s vocal stylings.

The seductive ballad ‘Show Me How’ moves more in the more sophisticated MOR direction which would prove to be Crystal’s sweet spot.

MCA never released an album on Crystal while she was actually signed to them. After Crystal had made her breakthrough, these recordings were collected on this 1978 compilation with a selection of previously unreleased tracks.

Two more of Loretta’s compositions were included: the catchy but slight ‘Sparklin’ Look Of Love’ is very much Crystal as Loretta junior. ‘Mama It’s Different This Time’ is much more interesting, dating from Crystal’s first session in 1970 when she was only 19. She plays the part of an even younger girl still in high school, defying Mom’s best advice about a young man, and not learning any lessons from her previous boyfriends, because

Billy has a job after school
He drives a car and the way he looks is cool

The boy I thought I loved last week
He sure fed me a line
But mama, it’s different this time

Knowing Crystal married her own high school sweetheart the same year (they are still together today), and that Loretta herself famously wed even younger adds a fascinating layer of complexity to how we hear the song.

Their brother Donald Ray Webb contributed ‘Clock On The Wall’, which is quite good and given a heavily strung arrangement. ‘Too Far’ is a sad Marty Robbins song with a pretty melody which suits Crystal’s voice and which is a highlight. Also very good is Joe Allen’s ‘Touching Me Again’, another song to have an orchestral backing.

‘MRS Degree’ is a rather dated song about rejecting higher education in favour of early marriage and housekeeping.

While this release was a cash-grab from MCA, it is still interesting to hear Crystal’s early music and the roots of her later sound.

Grade: B-

Spotlight Artist: Crystal Gayle

600x600For someone who had three siblings who were country performers, Crystal Gayle isn’t all that country. That shouldn’t be a surprise, I suppose, because by the time Brenda Gail Webb arrived into the Webb family on January 9, 1951, the family’s circumstances had changed. Very shortly thereafter the family would relocate to Wabash, Indiana, a long way from the coal mines of Kentucky.

Consequently, Brenda was raised in the city, unlike the upbringing of her singing siblings Loretta (b. 1934), Jay Lee Webb (1937-1996) and Peggy Sue Wright (b. 1943). Like her siblings, Brenda (renamed Crystal Gayle at the suggestion of her sister Loretta) got her start with Decca/MCA records. Unlike her siblings, who were hardcore country singers, Crystal was more pop-oriented. Although Decca pushed her to be a Loretta Lynn clone, Loretta recognized that Crystal could not (and should not) be a Loretta Lynn clone.

I first saw Crystal in 1970 on a package show. At the time she was working her first hit “I’ve Cried (The Blue Right Out of My Eyes)”, which just missed the top twenty. Although I enjoyed her singing, I felt that she was miscast as a hard country singer.

Although her first hit was written by Loretta, Crystal accent was far less rural than Loretta’s, and Crystal’s vocals were not too convincing on her follow up singles for Decca. Encouraged by Loretta to seek her own style, Crystal left Decca for United Artists where her run of success began in earnest.

Crystal’s first United Artist single “Restless”, barely broke the top thirty, but after two more singles just cracked the top thirty, the fourth single “Wrong Road Again” got to #8, followed by her first #1 in 1976, “I’ll Get Over You”.

After that the Crystal Gayle express moved into high gear racking up nineteen songs that reached #1 on Billboard, Cashbox and/or Record World. Her biggest hit, of course was 1977’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” which spent four weeks at number 1 (and three weeks at #2 on the pop charts). Through 1990 she charted fifty-two singles.

Crystal’s run of top ten singles ran from 1975 through 1987. She changed labels several times along the way, making it difficult to collect all of her hits, but it is worth the effort

I could describe Crystal Gayle as pop-country, middle of the road, pop standards, straight Adult Contemporary or Nashville sound, but whatever the description or verbiage used to describe her, Crystal Gayle is an exquisite singer whose every song was tackled with intelligence and great thought given to song selections and the musical accompaniment and the arrangements.

All of her albums contain strong material. We hope you enjoy our review of the career of our January Spotlight Artist Crystal Gayle, one of the finest female vocalists of the last fifty years, and as of January 21st, the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Top 10 hidden gems of 2016

drinking-with-dollyIn previous years, I’ve compiled a top 10 singles list, but although there have been some encouraging signs on country radio, I didn’t feel inspired by this year’s releases. Instead I want to highlight some of the best individual songs which appeared on albums which didn’t make my top 10 albums list, together with the odd single not yet featured on a full length release.

10. ‘What I’d Say’ – Lorrie Morgan
Realising her voice was in decline, Lorrie took steps to get it back to something approaching its best. This gorgeous reading of the classic was the highlight of her new album.

9. ‘I Never Will Marry’ – Loretta Lynn
Loretta goes old-time country folk on this track from Full Circle. A delight.


8. ‘Pawn Shop’ – Shelley Skidmore

A great Brandy Clark story song about hard lives and broken dreams reminiscent of the best country songs.

7. ‘Can’t Be That Wrong’ – Dolly Parton
A ballad about cheating, guilt and refusal to repent.

6. ‘Drinking With Dolly’ – Stephanie Quayle
A truly delightful wistful reimagining of the lives of country stars of the past.

5. – ‘It’s Just A Dog’ – Mo Pitney
A heartbreaker about the love of a rescue dog.

4. ‘Had A Thing’ – Curtis Grimes
The best song from Curtis’s excellent eight-track EP/album which, with a few more songs would have had a shot at making my top 10 list.

3. ‘Lonesomeville’ – William Michael Morgan
A lovely neotraditional lost love ballad from a young man who is starting to make real headway in the mainstream. Very reminiscent of early Joe Nichols.

2. ‘Still A Child’ – Dori Freeman
25 year old Dori Freman from Virginia is a folk-country singer-songwriter whose self-titled debut album was produced by British folk musician Teddy Thompson. Not all of it is perfect, but her pretty, fragile voice shines, and the best song by far is this graceful waltz. A gentle melody belies a hard hitting lyric rejecting a man who just can’t grow up. Excellent.

1. ‘Sad One Coming On’ – Vince Gill
Vince’s latest solo album was a sad disappointment, but it was almost redeemed by this superb, heartfelt tribute to George Jones, which is an instant classic.

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2016

real-country-musicThere has been some excellent country music released this year, admittedly mostly away from the major labels. Just missing my cut were strong comebacks from Loretta Lynn and Lorrie Morgan; glorious Western Swing from the Time Jumpers; sizzling bluegrass from Rhonda Vincent and her band; and a pair of very promising debuts from Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan.

10 – Bradley Walker – Call Me Old Fashioned
Traditional country meets gospel from an underrated singer.

Best tracks: ‘His Memory Walks On Water’; ‘Why Me’; ‘Sinners Only’; ‘In The Time That You Gave Me’.

big-day-in-a-small-toen9 – Brandy Clark – Big Day In A Small Town

Like Miranda Lambert’s latest, this album married outstanding storytelling and songwriting, good vocals and overbearing production. But the songs here are so strong that the end result still made it into my top 10.

Best tracks: ‘Since You’ve Gone To Heaven’; ‘Three Kids, No Husband’; ‘Homecoming Queen’.

8 – Cody Jinks – I’m Not The Devil

His deep voices tackles themes of darkness versus light, on some very strong songs.

Best tracks: ‘The Same’; ‘I’m Not The Devil’; ‘Grey’.

7 – Jamie Richards – Latest And Greatest

Warm, inviting vocals and excellent songs with a real gift for melody.
Best tracks: ‘I’ll Have Another’; ‘I’m Not Drinkin’; ‘Last Call’; ‘Easier By Now’.

for-the-good-times

6 –Willie Nelson – For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price

As the veterans of country music continue to pass away, it’s a comfort to see that at 83, Willie Nelson is still going strong. His tribute to the late Ray Price, with the help on several tracks of The Time Jumpers, was a delightful reminder of some of the best country songs ever written.

Best tracks: ‘Heartaches By The Number’; ‘Crazy Arms’; ‘Invitation To The Blues’.

5 – Dallas Wayne – Songs The Jukebox Taught Me

The deep voiced singer’s Heart of Texas debut is a honky tonk joy.
Best tracks: ‘No Relief In Sight’; ‘Eleven Roses’; ‘She Always Got What She Wanted’.

4 – Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives

A solid return from the 90s star with some excellent songs. It feels as if the last 20 years never happened.

Best tracks: ‘Is It Still Cheating’; ‘So You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore’; ‘Neither Did I’.

hymns3 – Joey + Rory – Hymns That Are Important To Us

A final heartbreaking labor of love for the duo recorded during the last stages of Joey’s illness. Joey’s beautiful voice and inspirational spirit are showcased for the last time.
Best tracks: ‘Softly And Tenderly’; ‘When I’m Gone’; ‘I Surrender All’.

2 – John Prine – For Better, Or Worse

I adored John Prine’s collection of classic country duets on the topic of marriage, and said when I reviewed it that it was set to be my favourite of the year. I was almost right. It really is a delightful record – great songs, lovely arrangements, and outstanding vocals from the ladies counterpointing Prine’s gruff emotion.

Best tracks: ‘Fifteen Years Ago’ (with Lee Ann Womack); ‘Look At Us’ (with Morgane Stapleton); ‘Color Of The Blues’ (with Susan Tedeschi); ‘Cold Cold Heart’ (with Miranda Lambert); ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ (with Kathy Mattea); ‘Mr And Mrs Used To Be’ (with Iris De Ment).

1 – Gene Watson – ‘Real. Country. Music

While Willie Nelson is still great, his voice is showing signs of age. The wonderful Gene Watson is still at the peak of his powers in his 70s, and his skill at picking excellent material hasn’t faltered either. His latest album reminds younger performers what real country music is all about.

Best tracks: ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’; ‘Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall’; ‘When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind’; ‘A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn’; ‘Ashes To Ashes’; ‘She Never Got Me Over You’.

RazorX’s Top 10 Albums of 2016

91pRGFM-iWL._SX522_All in all, 2016 was a good year for country album releases. Last year when compiling my top picks, I had trouble coming up with ten albums that I liked. This year, I had to actually pare the list down a little bit. As usual, there are some familiar names on my list as well as a few more obscure ones. None of them, however, will be heard on mainstream country radio.

10. Tracy Byrd — All American Texan. Tracy Byrd’s first collection of all-new material in nearly a decade is a solid collection that is reminiscent of his better major label work, but without the plethora of novelty tunes that chipped away at his credibility in his hit making days.

travis-tritt-a-man-and-his-guitar-album-cover9. Travis Tritt — A Man and His Guitar. A live “unplugged” concert recording, this collection proves that minimalist arrangements do nothing to detract from the enjoyment derived from listening to a talented vocalist singing well-written songs.

8. Randy Rogers Band — Nothing Shines Like Neon. The Randy Rogers Band returned to its indie roots this year, after a decade of chasing the big time with the major labels. This is a highly enjoyable collection that features guest stars such as Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Jamey Johnson, and Jerry Jeff Walker, that is only slightly marred by a couple of MOR song selections.

7. The Cactus Blossoms — You’re Dreaming. This sibling act from Minnesota is reminiscent of The Everly Brothers with a dash of The Louvin Brothers thrown into the mix. The production is stripped down, which really allows their harmonies to shine.

willie-nelson-for-the-good-times-a-tribute-to-ray-price-album-cover6. Willie Nelson — For The Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price. 83-year-old Willie Nelson is way past his vocal peak and nowhere near the league of the man to whom he is paying tribute, but his sincerity in paying homage to his fallen friend — as well as some support from The Time Jumpers — helps this collection overcome Willie’s vocal shortcomings.

5. Mark Chesnutt — Tradition Lives. Like Tracy Byrd, Mark Chesnutt returned this year following a lengthy gap since his last album. Tradition Lives was well worth the wait, since it is arguably his best album since he left the major labels. “Is It Still Cheating” and “So You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore” are particularly good.

61UuqSUlcHL._SS5004. Dolly Parton — Pure & Simple. Dolly isn’t exactly breaking new ground with her latest effort, which consists of some new material, some re-recordings of some old material, and a rewritten version of a 1984 hit (“God Won’t Get You” now known as “Can’t Be That Wrong”), but everything is well performed, and the brand new title track, inspired by her recent 50th wedding anniversary, is excellent.

3. The Time Jumpers — Kid Sister. The Nashville-based Western Swing band’s latest effort is in large part a tribute to the late Dawn Sears, and is a delight to listen to from start to finish.

hymns2. Joey + Rory — Hymns That Are Important to Us. 2016 will go down in the history books as one that saw the deaths of an unusually high number of music legends. None were as heartbreaking as the passing of Joey Martin Feek, who lost her hard-fought battle with cancer in March. This collection of religious tunes was recorded while she was undergoing treatments for her disease. The songs all succeed on their own merit, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to separate one’s feelings about the album from the circumstances under which it was made. It will simultaneously inspire and sadden you.

1. Loretta Lynn — Full Circle. Loretta Lynn’s first new album since 2004’s Van Lear Rose was without a doubt country music’s highlight of the year. Produced by her daughter Patsy Russell and John Carter Cash, it is the first of a series of new albums planned under a new deal with Sony Legacy. She sounds terrific on the new material, as well as the re-recordings of some old hits and covers of some pop and country standards. Highly recommended.