My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Louise Mandrell

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Leave One Bridge Standing’

leave one bridge standingHolly’s second album for River North turned out to be her last mainstream ever.  The production leans a little too far in the Shania Twain style pop country vein which was making the most waves at country radio at the time for my tastes, but Holly’s vocals are on point.  More of a problem is that the songs are nothing special.

Too many of the songs are generic pop country of the most disposable kind.  To be honest they don’t sound that bad compared to the worst excesses of today’s radio hits – but that’s a pretty low bar, and they’re still pretty boring.  The title track was the only attempt at a single.  A rather undistinguished mid-tempo song, it failed to chart, and that turned out to be Holy’s swansong as a singles artist.

There are a few tracks I do like.  ‘Whatshisname’ is the best of the up-tempo songs, a playful dismissal of an ex she can’t even remember.  ‘That Never Stopped Me’ is a fairly generic song, but has some nice honky tonk piano and a committed personality-filled vocal which make it listenable.

‘Talking Goodbye’ is a very good ballad advising a friend against abandoning marriage for the lonely life of a single woman, with the benefit of her own bitter experience.  This is by far the best track on the album, with a fine vocal and an arrangement dominated by fiddle and steel, and definitely worth downloading.

The tender love song ‘The Wonder Of Love’ is also good, while ‘We’ve Got The Love’ is nicely sung, if unmemorable.  Although the production lacks subtlety, I quite liked Don’t Break The Wings’, thanks largely to Holly’s warm hearted vocal.  The song offers advice to someone entering on a new relationship not to cling to tight:

Don’t break the wings of the one you love

Help them learn to fly

She closes the circle of her career by ending the album with her own version of the 80s pop-country of ‘I’m Not Through Loving You Yet’, a song she wrote for Louise Mandrell in her early days in Nashville.

Holly did record one more record, a Christian one which is not easy to find at a reasonable price, in 2003.  That same year she announced her retirement from music in order to concentrate on her other love, painting.  This last secular album makes a rather disappointing closing chapter to her career.  It is available cheaply, but my recommendation would be just to download ‘Talking Goodbye’ and possibly one or two other tracks.

Grade: C+

Spotlight Artist: Holly Dunn

Holly DunnSan Antonio, Texas native Holly Dunn was born on August 22, 1957. In high school, she was part of a musical group known as the Freedom Folk and was later a part of Abilene Christian University’s touring choir. After graduating for Abilene, she joined her brother, who is known professionally as Chris Waters, as a songwriter in Nashville. One of their biggest successes came in 1984 when Louise Mandrell scored a Top 10 hit with their composition “I’m Not Through Loving You Yet”, a co-write with Tom Shapiro, with whom they would pen many more songs in the future.

During this time, Holly had also been working as a demo singer and in 1985 she was signed to a recording contract by the fledgling MTM label. Her first two singles “Playing For Keeps” and “My Heart Holds On” reached the lower rungs of the Billboard country singles chart. Her third release , 1986’s “Two Too Many” cracked the Top 40 and she struck paydirt with her fourth single, a song called “Daddy’s Hands”, written as a tribute to her father, which climbed all the way to #7 and became her career record. Her records consistently reached the Top 10 through the end of the 1980s.

At MTM, Holly was a big fish in a small pond. The label was unable to compete with its much larger competitors and it folded in 1989. Around the same time, Kenny Rogers asked her to record a duet for his upcoming album, and Holly was invited to join the roster of Rogers’ label, Warner Bros. At Warner Bros., her career seemed to be off to a solid start. Her first solo release for the label, “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me”, became her first #1 hit in 1989. She scored another #1 the following year with “You Really Had Me Going”. In 1991, Warner Bros. released a greatest hits package called Milestones, which contained her hits for the label as well as some earlier material from her MTM years. She found herself at the center of an unwanted controversy when some women’s groups made the charge that album’s new track “Maybe I Mean Yes” advocated date rape. Hoping to end the controversy, Dunn and Warner Bros. quickly withdrew the single from radio, but Holly’s career never really recovered. She remained on the Warner Bros. roster until 1993 but never scored another hit for the label. Two subsequent albums for River North Records failed to revive her recording career.

When her hitmaking days came to an end, Holly served a stint as a DJ for a Detroit radio station and later became a host of TNN’s Opry Backstage. She retired from the music business in 2003 and returned to Texas, where she turned her attention to another artistic passion — painting, following in her mother’s footsteps.

Though Holly’s reign at the top of the charts was relatively brief, she was a regular staple at country radio during the mid-to-late 1980s and scored a number of hits that are fondly remembered today. We hope you’ll enjoy our look back at her career during the month of March.

Favorite Songs of the 1980s: Part 5

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.

the okanes“When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back” – Sam Neely
This 1983 song reached #77 for a talented performer who spent many years playing the clubs and honky-tonks of Corpus Christi. The song, the reflection of a condemned inmate’s life, looks back at all the bridges he burned beyond repair. The song also was recorded by Bill Anderson and Confederate Railroad.

Dream Lover” – Rick Nelson
Epic reissued Rick’s 1979 cover of a Bobby Darin classic after Rick’s death in a New Years Eve 1985 air crash. It only reached #88 but it gives me a chance to mention one of the fine rock ‘n roll / country singers one last time.

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.

Wabash Cannonball” – Willie Nelson with Hank (Leon Russell) Wilson
This song is at least as famous as any other song I’ve mentioned in any of my articles. Although the song is often attributed to A.P. Carter, it really is much older than that. Willie and Hank took this to #91 in 1984.

American Trilogy”– Mickey Newberry
Mickey issued a new version of his classic 1971 pop hit in 1988. While it only reached #93, it was good to hear it again on the radio. Glory, Glory Hallelujah forever.

The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)“– Judy Kay ‘Juice’ Newton
This #1 hit from 1982 was Juice’s biggest hit. As great as this recording is, the song sounds even better when she performs it acoustically.

Dance Little Jean” – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Perhaps my favorite recording by NGDB, it only reached #9 in 1983 but I still hear the song performed today by various and sundry acts, not all of whom are country. The song was the group’s first top ten country hit there would be sixteen in all), although they had pop chart hits dating back to the 1960s.

“Let’s Go All The Way ” – Norma Jean and Claude Gray
A pair of veteran performers teamed up to release this 1982 hit which charted at #68. The song was Norma Jean’s first chart hit back in 1964. This was her last chart hit; in fact, she hadn’t charted since 1971 when this record was released on the Granny White label.

Elvira” – The Oak Ridge Boys
Although not their biggest chart hit, this cover of a Dallas Frazier-penned song from the 1960s , was easily their biggest selling song, reaching #1 in 1981 while hitting #5 on Billboard’s pop charts. Has anyone really forgotten the chorus?

So I’m singin’, Elvira, Elvira
My heart’s on fire, Elvira
Giddy up, oom poppa, omm poppa, mow mow
Giddy up, oom poppa, omm poppa, mow mow, heigh-ho Silver, away!

I didn’t think so …

Oh Darlin’” – The O’Kanes (Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara)
This coupling of a couple of singer-songwriters who had not had solo success, resulted in a half dozen top ten records that had a fairly acoustic sound and feel that sounded like nothing else currently being played on the radio. This song reached #10 in 1986. Their next single “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You” would reach #1.

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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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Television Review – ‘The Joey + Rory Show’

For those old enough to remember, Country Music has a long history with the variety show. Everyone from Porter Wagoner to the Wilburn Brothers, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, The Statler Brothers and even Barbara Mandrell (along with her sisters Louise and Irlene) graced America’s TV sets at one point or another.

This tradition has long since ended as the format died out over the past thirty years. The downfall in this type of programming meant generations of country fans wouldn’t have the opportunity to see their favorite performers on TV each week and get a chance to pull back the curtain to see the person behind the celebrity.

But thanks to RFD-TV, the format is coming back strong. The traditionally structured Marty Stuart Show has been showing his, and Connie Smith’s, brand of country music for a couple of years now, and The Joey + Rory Show debuted two weeks ago.

Mixing homespun wisdom and old-fashioned charm, The Joey + Rory Show is the perfect showcase for the husband and wife duo residing in Pottsville, Tennessee. Filmed on their farm and in their restaurant Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse, they make you feel like you’ve gone back to the simpler ideals of the 1950s/1960s when America’s beating heart resided in Mayberry.

This simplicity gives the show its pulse and encases each episode in a sincere authenticity that feels genuine opposed to concocted from a network executive.  Each thirty-minute episode (13 comprise the first season) is broken into segments from musical performances, comedy sketches, and cooking demonstrations, to an inside look at their life and marriage.

The music-centric portions of the program are the show’s strongest, with the “Story Behind The Song” feature standing as the highlight of the half-hour. By combining the couple’s instinctive storytelling abilities with acoustic versions of songs they’ve written, you glean a much-appreciated insight into the lives of the duo. I loved hearing Rory talk openly about the seven-year journey it took to get “A Little More Country Than That” recorded, and how the royalty checks from Easton Corbin’s #1 hit afforded them a new tin roof on their 1890s farmhouse. I also enjoyed hearing Joey tell the story of how the couple met and hearing her sing “A Night To Remember,” the yet-to-be recorded song written about that experience.

Also outstanding are the opening numbers, live performances of tracks from their excellent His and Hers album due July 31. They showcased the Kent Blazy and Leslie Satcher co-write “Let’s Pretend We’ve Never Met” in the premiere and Rory’s “The Bible and a Belt” last week, opposite ends of the His and Hers spectrum that highlight Joey’s comedic strengths and Rory’s rich family oriented storytelling.

Each week the duo also showcases guest performers, personal favorites of their choosing. By highlighting lesser-known performers, they spotlight a more refreshing crop of talents like Bradley Walker, the wheelchair bound traditional country and Bluegrass singer and 2007 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year. The inclusion of these such performers, opposed to drawing from a pool of more established acts, exposes the viewer to artists they may not have known before and I welcome, as well as appreciate, any and all opportunities to be exposed to fresh talent not connected to mainstream Nashville.

As a whole The Joey + Rory Show is unapologetically Joey  and Rory and if you’re not a fan of the couple’s aw shucks persona and simple lifestyle, then the broader moments of the program may not be for you. The weakest moment on the program remains an Andy Rooney style comedy commentary by their neighbor and friend Wynn Varble, an established country songwriter (“Waitin’ On A Woman,” “Have You Forgotten,” “Sounds Like Life To Me”). His southern sense of humor comes off a tad Hicky for my tastes. And while I love the charm of their cooking segments, like the Coca Cola Cake demonstrated in the first episode, they aren’t broad enough recipes to appeal to everyone. That isn’t a big issue, though, since I really enjoy these aspects into Joey’s other job as a restaurateur with Rory’s sister Marcy.

Overall, The Joey + Rory Show is a wonderful yet unconventional variety show bubbling with the personality both Joey Martin and Rory Lee Feek bring to the table each week. They wanted to create great family programming and they certainly achieve that objective tenfold, giving fans a very enjoyable look at what they’re about in all aspects of their life, proving they’re a natural at everything they do.

The Joey + Rory Show airs Friday nights at 9 EST on RFD-TV, Rural America’s Most Important Network

Grade: A- 

Country Heritage: 25 from the ’80s

This article will focus on some artists who either had a very short period of great success or had an extended run of near-success. In other words, I cannot justify an entire article on any of them.

Deborah Allen was born in 1953 in Memphis, and probably has had greater success as a songwriter, having written hits for artists including Tanya Tucker, Sheena Easton and Janie Fricke. As a performer, RCA had the bright idea of dubbing her voice onto old Jim Reeves recordings to create duets. The three duets released as singles – “Don’t Let Me Cross Over,” “Oh, How I Miss You Tonight” and “Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me” – all went Top 10 in 1979-80. As a solo artist, Allen charted 10 times with three Top 10 singles: “Baby I Lied” (1983–#4), “I’ve Been Wrong Before” (1984–#2) and “I Hurt For You” (1984–#10).

Baillie and The Boys were a late 80s act which charted 10 times between 1987 and 1991 before disappearing from the charts. Seven of their hit records went Top 10, with “(I Wish I Had A) Heart of Stone” (1989–#4) being the biggest. Kathie Baillie was the lead singer, and while initially a trio, the group became a duo in 1988 with few people able to tell the difference.

Debby Boone is one of two answers to a trivia question – name the two families that have had a #1 pop record in each of three consecutive generations. One answer is obvious – the Nelson family – big band leader Ozzie Nelson (“And Then Some”, 1935), Rick Nelson (“Poor Little Fool”, 1958 and “Traveling Man”, 1960) and Rick’s sons Gunnar and Matthew Nelson (recording, under the name Nelson, “Love and Affection”, 1990).
The Nelson family answer works top down and bottom up as the members of the chain are all blood relatives. In the case of Debby Boone’s family, it only works top down. Debby (“You Light Up My Life“, 1977), father Pat Boone (seven #1s from 1955-1961 including “Love Letters In The Sand“) and grandfather Red Foley – no blood relation to Pat Boone but a blood relation of Debby’s (“Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy”, 1950).

Debby Boone may be a direct direct descendant of the American pioneer Daniel Boone. She is distantly related to two stars of American television, Richard Boone (Have Gun, Will Travel, Hec Ramsey) and Randy Boone, (The Virginian and Cimarron Strip).

Enough with the trivia – Debby charted on the country charts thirteen times from 1977-1981 although most of those were pop records that happened to chart country. Starting in 1979 Debby started consciously recording for country markets. “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own” reached #11 in early 1979. The next three records did relatively nothing but the first single issued in 1980 “Are You On The Road To Loving Me Again” finally made it to the top. She would chart four more singles before turning to gospel/Christian music.

Larry Boone is best known as a songwriter, having cuts by Kathy Mattea, Don Williams, Tracy Lawrence, Rick Trevino, George Strait, Shenandoah, Marie Osmond and Lonestar. As a singer, he wasn’t terribly distinctive – sort of a George Strait-lite.  Boone charted 14 singles from 1986-93, with only 1988’s “Don’t Give Candy To A Stranger” reaching the Top 10. The other Top 20 singles were “I Just Called To Say Goodbye Again” and a remake of “Wine Me Up” – both of which reached their peak chart positions in 1989.

Dean Dillon charted 20 times from 1979-93, with his biggest hit being “Nobody In His Right Mind (Would’ve Left Her)” which reached #25 in November, 1980. During 1982 and 83, RCA paired Dillon with fading star Gary Stewart, hoping for the kind of magic that was later achieved when Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn were paired together. No real hits came of this collaboration, but the recordings were quite interesting and are available on CD.

Fortunately for Dillon, he is a far better songwriter than singer. His hits as a writer include George Jones’ “Tennessee Whiskey,” and more than a dozen George Strait Top 10s. In fact, Strait has recorded over 50 of Dillon’s songs, ensuring that the wolf will never again knock at Dean Dillon’s door.

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Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Choices’

Charley Pride, who turns 73 today, is back with Choices, his first studio album since 2009’s Just For The Love Of It. Despite being off the charts for more than two decades, he has consistently turned out quality music since the major label phase of his career ended, and it’s reassuring to see a legend still going strong in the sixth decade of his long and esteemed career.

After opening with the patriotic “America the Great”, which questions if the nation has strayed too far from its Judeo-Christian roots, Choices turns nostalgic, focusing largely on the country pop sounds that ruled the airwaves in the late 80s and early 90s. If Wikipedia is to be believed, “Except For You” is his first single release in 21 years. It won’t get much airplay, but it is a well-crafted ballad that, while not traditional country in the strictest sense, is a refreshing change from the 80s pop/rock dreck currently dominating country radio playlists.

Adding to the nostalgic mood are two newspaper-themed songs about life in small town America “Hickory Hollow Times and County News” and “Guntersville Gazette”. The title of “I Miss My Home” suggests that it will be in a similar vein, but this is a more uptempo pop-flavored number, similar in style to the type of songs that were hits for Pride in the early 80s, towards the end of his tenure with RCA. Likewise, “Maybe Love Will Come and Save the Day”, the most traditional song on the album and my personal favorite, is reminiscent of hits from earlier in Pride’s career, such as “All I Have To Offer You Is Me” and “I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again”.

Rounding out the set are a pair of songs that look back on long, successful relationships: “The Choices She Made” and “You Touched My Life.” Also included is a very nice version of “This Bed’s Not Big Enough”. Originally released by Louise Mandrell in 1985, it examines the age-old theme of competing with a partner’s old flame. Less effective are a a pair of uptempo tunes that merely act as filler: “Cajun Party Time” and “You Can’t Sit Still”, but “Resting Place” closes out the album on a high note.

At this stage of his career, Pride is clearly not interested in chasing the latest trend. There are no big surprises and he wisely never strays from his comfort zone. The production sounds slightly dated at times, particularly because of the album’s reliance on background vocal choruses. The choruses were likely used to camouflage Pride’s declining vocal powers; but while his voice may have some rough edges that weren’t there when he was younger, he’s in better vocal shape than most of his contemporaries such as George Jones, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. Choices is unlikely to win over any new fans for Charley, but it will more than satisfy those of us who can remember when he was still a staple on country radio.

Grade: B+

Choices can be purchased online from Amazon or iTunes.

Classic Christmas Rewind: Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters – ‘Christmas Time’s A-Comin’

Celebrity siblings

A lot of country stars have had siblings who also got involved in country music.   Some were successful for a while,  but most were unable to step out from the shadows of their more famous family members.  Here are just a few that come to mind.  Do you remember any of these?

LaCosta Tucker:

Louise Mandrell:

Pake McEntire:

Stella Parton:

I’m sure there are plenty of others I’ve missed, so what are some of the famous country siblings that you remember?