My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Lynyrd Skynyrd

Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Revelations’

Wynonna_Judd_-_RevelationsIn the three years between Tell Me Why and Revelations, Wynonna took a much-deserved break in which she scandalously had a child out of wedlock and was four months pregnant with another when she finally married their father. She was absent from radio for the entirety of 1995, a first since she debuted twelve years earlier.

In January 1996, Wynonna put the focus back on her music. She launched her return with the Gary Burr and Mike Reid penned “To Be Loved By You,” a lush yet masterful ballad. The song quickly topped the charts and put her back in the good graces of the country music mainstream.

The only problem was Revelations was unlike anything Wynonna had recorded to date. Gone was the straightforward country she brought to her other solo albums. She instead gifted us with an ambitious album that embraced not only a spiritual longing, but also the bluesy rock she’d hinted at with “No One Else on Earth.”

Country radio didn’t have a place for the record and the subsequent singles began her downward trend. I’ve always adored “Heaven Help My Heart,” and despite its length, thought it deserved to peak higher than #14. She covered similar territory on the R&B tinged “My Angel Is Here,” which peaked at #44 despite having zero country bonafides. She turned up the electric guitars on the fiery “Somebody To Love You” and had even less success. The single peaked at #55.

Wynonna fully surrendered to her gospel tendencies on her revelatory cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” which came from a tribute album released two years earlier. She also succeeds brilliantly with her version of “Change The World.” The pop classic would have its due via Eric Clapton that summer although Wynonna recorded and released her version first.

“Love By Grace” is a sparse ballad that puts her voice front and center. “Don’t Look Back” follows the same trajectory, but with flourishes of steel guitar throughout, is the album’s biggest missed opportunity. If it had been released as a single, it likely would’ve faired much better with country radio than “My Angel Is Here” ever could have.

“Old Enough To Know Better” is straight bluesy rock with an arrangement better suited for the stage than the recording studio. “Dance, Shout” is in the same vein and lets Wynonna take her voice to places it hadn’t yet been.

If you listen to Wynonna’s vocal performances from her earliest Judd recordings until now (1996 in this case), you’d hear an artist coming into her own by discovering the booming grit deep down in her soul. Revelations was the first time she gave into it fully on a record and the results were spectacular. This isn’t a country album by any stretch of imagination, which is a good thing because it allows her to grow into her own as an artist. This is the style that separates the music of Wynonna from that of The Judds. She’ll always be the singer of simple country songs. That will never go away. But Revelations proves she can also be so much more.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Wynonna

111167610Fun Fact: In an interview with Dan Rather, Wynonna admitted it was her record label that decided on her one name moniker. The marketing strategy was meant to separate her solo music in record stores. Consumers would find Judds under ‘J’ and Wynonna under ‘W.’

Following the conclusion of The Judd’s farewell tour in December 1991, all eyes were on Wynonna as she prepared to launch a solo career. It was just over a month after the tour concluded that she took to the stage at the American Music Awards and unleashed “She His Only Need,” her first solo #1, upon the world for the first time. Three more chart toppers would follow including her signature hit, “No One Else On Earth,” a horn drenched bluesy rocker that went on to become Billboard’s Number One Country Song of 1992. Wynonna ended up with a quintuple platinum certification.

Tell Me Why was released the following year. The album was immediate success and spawned four major hits. Wynonna spent the year touring with Clint Black on the ‘Black and Wy’ tour and enjoyed success with their duet “A Bad Goodbye.” It would be three years before she released her next album, a period in which she contributed to a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute album and was marred in scandal for having a child out of wedlock. She would marry her son’s father in 1996, when she was four months pregnant with her daughter.

Wynonna came back strong in 1996 launching her third album Revelations with the chart topping ballad “To Be Loved By You.” The rest of the album’s singles didn’t fare as well and her presence on country radio began to falter for the first time. Wynonna would only manage to score two Top 20 hits from her next album, 1997’s The Other Side. She got divorced in 1998.

During this time her mother, who had been cleared of the Hepatitis C that forced her retirement, decided to rejoin the spotlight. The Judds reunited and staged their reunion show on December 31, 1999 in Phoenix. A tour followed, as did Wynonna’s fifth album, New Day Dawning. She scored a Top 20 hit with the piano ballad “Can’t Nobody Love You (Like I Do).”

Wynonna’s sixth album brought a return to the spotlight in August 2003. What The World Needs Now Is Love was bolstered by a sizeable hit in the title song and two tracks previously featured on movie soundtracks. She married her former bodyguard that November, a marriage that would end when he was arrested for the assault of child under the age of 13.

Wynonna gained further notoriety with multiple appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show in which she talked openly about her struggles with weight and reignited the media’s obsession with her various personal dramas. A stunning rendition of Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is,” which she recorded for the 2003 album, was a highlight of those appearances.

A live album Her Story: Scenes From A Lifetime, followed in 2005 in conjunction with the release of her autobiography. Her first solo Christmas record was released in late 2006. Wynonna returned to the spotlight in 2009 with the release of a mostly-pop covers collection, Sing Chapter 1. She and her daughter survived a head-on car accident in the summer of 2010.

Wynonna reunited with her mother for “I Will Stand By You,” a promotional single for an Essential Hits collection. She added to her profile as an author with the release of her first novel, Restless Heart. She also had a solo single “Love It Out Loud.”

Her next big career change came when she played Nashville’s 3rd and Lindsley on November 27, 2011. Wynonna debuted her newly formed band ‘Wynonna & The Big Noise’ for the first time that night. The leader of the band is former Highway 101 drummer Cactus Moser, whom she married in June 2012. That August he lost his leg in a horrific motorcycle accident. She competed on Dancing With The Stars the following year.

The band came together for the single “Something You Can’t Live Without” in 2013. Their self-titled debut album was finally released last month to very positive reviews. I hope you enjoy our look back at Wynonna’s solo recordings.

Album Review: Alabama – ‘My Home’s In Alabama’

my home's in alabamaThe first major label album for Alabama was My Home’s In Alabama, although it was actually their fourth album. By the time RCA released this album in 1980, Alabama was a tight, cohesive band with a distinctive sound of their own and a decent track record of success with two of their MDJ singles having charted in 1979 (“I Wanna Come Over” at #33), and early 1980 (“My Home’s In Alabama” at #17).

With My Home’s In Alabama, Alabama was instantly transformed from a successful regional act into a national goliath Although the group was sometimes described as being country-rock or rock country, this album wasn’t close to fitting that category as the band didn’t begin to approximate the rockin’ sound of the Allman Brothers, Poco, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker or even Hank Jr. for that matter. Even the title track is essentially a country song with extended instrumental breaks.

The album opens with “My Home’s In Alabama”, written by Teddy Gentry. I am not sure, but I think this track is a remake of the single released on MDJ. The track runs 6+ minutes and received considerable airplay after this album was released:

Drinkin’ was forbidden in my Christian country home
I learned to play the flattop on them good ol’ gospel songs
Then I heard about the barrooms just across the Georgia line
Where a boy could make a livin’ playin’ guitar late at night
Had to learn about the ladies; too young to understand
Why the young girls fall in love with the boys in the band
When the boys turn to music, the girls just turn away
To some other guitar picker in some other late night place

The next track is another Gentry-Owen composition “Hangin’ Up My Travelin’ Shoes”, a song which might have made a decent single but definitely not a better single than the actual singles that were released. The song is an up-tempo song about what the narrator is going to do now that he’s found the girl of his dreams:

‘I’m folding up my wings for you, I’m hanging up my travelin’ shoes’.

Teddy Gentry and Richard Scott penned “Why Lady Why” which was the second official RCA single released and the band’s second #1 single. The single was a slow ballad which Owen was able to wrap his vocal cords around to great effect. It is a nice ballad, although not especially country.

“Getting Over You” by Cary Rutledge, is a slow ballad , a good song but not particulary single-worthy. The next song, “I Wanna Come Over” written by Richard & Michael Berardi, actually was a single on MDJ, although I don’t recall hearing it while it was in single release.

“Tennessee River” was the first single released from the album and the first major label release for Alabama. It shot straight to #1 and has remained in the repertoire of bar bands and cover bands since it was first released 35 years ago. This upbeat song features a hot fiddle and was a great number for dancing (not that I, with my two left feet, ever danced to it):

I was born across the river in the mountains where I call home.
Lord, times were good there, don’t know why I ever roamed.

[Chorus]
Oh, Tennessee River and a mountain man, we get together anytime we can.
Oh, Tennessee River and a mountain man, we play together in mother nature’s band

Me and my woman’s done made our plans on the Tennessee River, walkin’ hand in hand
Gonna raise a family, lord settle down where peace and love can still be found

“Some Other Place, Some Other Time” was written by Jeff Cook and features Jeff on lead vocals. The song is a nostalgic ballad and frankly, I don’t understand why RCA insisted that Randy Owen be the ‘face of the franchise’ as far as single releases were concerned.

Teddy Gentry wrote “Can’t Forget About You”, a nice ballad that was simply too long (5:39) to consider as a single. Yes, I know “My Home’s In Alabama” runs 6:27 and was issued as a single but that was a pre-RCA release.

“Get It While It’s Hot” was written by all three band members and Richard Scott. It’s kind of a funky R&B number, perhaps more suitable for dancing than listening. I regard it as the weakest track on the album, but it likely never was meant to be anything more that an album track.

The album closes with another Jeff Cook lead vocal on a track Jeff wrote with Richard Scott. “Keep On Dreamin’” is an excellent mid-tempo that would have made a good single.

I suspect this album featured more and better musicians that Alabama had available to them on MDJ, as the additional musicians are a Who’s Who of ace session men, including Jack Eubanks on acoustic guitar, Sonny Garrish on pedal steel guitar, Terry McMillan on percussion and Fred Newell on electric guitar. Alabama’s Jeff Cook plays lead guitar, with Teddy Gentry on bass guitar, Randy Owen on rhythm guitar and Mark Herndon on drums. All of the band members are involved with the vocal harmonies.

My Home’s In Alabama really got the ball rolling for the band, reaching #3 on the country album charts and #71 on Billboard’s all genre albums chart. Successful as this album was, the next eight albums would all reach #1 country and the next three would be top ten albums on the all genres album chart. As Frank Sinatra once sang “The Best Is Yet To Come”.

Album Review: Joey + Rory – ‘The Life Of A Song’

The husband and wife duo of Rory Feek and Joey Martin Feek first rose to national attention a mere two years ago when they became contestants on CMT’s Can You Duet. Following a third place finish, they landed a contract with Sugar Hill Records and released their first album in October 2008.

Prior to the competition, the two had never performed together. Joey was an aspiring singer who had briefly been signed to Sony, and Rory was an accomplished Nashville songwriter who had written hits for artists such as Clay Walker and Blake Shelton. Joining forces gave them synergy allowed them the opportunity to play off each others’ strengths.

The Life Of A Song was produced by Carl Jackson. Rory had a hand in writing seven of the album’s twelve tracks, five of which Joey also receives songwriting credit. The album was somewhat of a departure for the roots-oriented Sugar Hill, marking one of the label’s first attempts to market an artist to mainstream country radio. The Life Of A Song is not the typical bluegrass or alternative fare that music fans had come to expect from Sugar Hill; nor does it bear much resemblance to what usually gets played on country radio these days. The production is mostly quiet, acoustic and understated, avoiding obnoxious drum machines, soft-rock electric guitar riffs and bombastic arrangements. Nevertheless, the lead single “Cheater, Cheater” managed to get enough airplay to land at #30 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Its success is in no small part due to the exposure Joey + Rory gained from the Can You Duet competition. The record was also buoyed by the minor controversy that ensued due to its lyrics referring to a “no good, white trash ho”, possibly the first time that phrase had been uttered in a country song. Written by Joey and Rory along with Kristy Osmunson and Wynn Varble, it is the duo’s only Top 40 hit to date.

Based on their first single, it might be tempting to dismiss Joey + Rory as a semi-novelty act, but the rest of the album is, for the most part, comprised of more serious material that is well written and beautifully performed. The second single, the non-charting “Play The Song” takes a mild swipe at the restrictions placed on artists by radio and/or label executives who continually complain that a given song is

…too fast, it’s too slow
It’s too country, too rock and roll
It’s too happy, too sad, too short, or it’s way too long

….It’s too Garth, too George Strait
Too right down the center, too left of the plate
The hook’s too weak or the subject matter’s way too strong whatever ….

My favorite track on the album is “Sweet Emmylou”, written by Rory with Catherine Britt, who has since included it on her recent self-titled release. Beautifully sung by Joey, it is a song about finding solace in old, preferably sad, country records — something most country fans can relate to. Almost as enjoyable are the happier “Tonight Cowboy You’re Mine” and the poignant “To Say Goodbye”, the album’s third and final single which deals with the pain of losing a loved one. The first verse alludes to the surviving spouse of a 9/11 victim, while the second verse deals with the loss of a spouse to Alzheimer’s disease. Like its predecessor, “To Say Goodbye” failed to chart.

The Life Of A Song was one of the most enjoyable albums of 2008, which admittedly was a year of slim pickings for good country music. Its sole misstep was the duo’s cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”, which, while not great, is not sufficiently bad to detract from the overall enjoyment of the album.

Despite its modest success at radio, the album sold respectably, peaking at #10 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Though they continue to seek a breakthrough at radio, it is probably a long shot fora traditionally-oriented act on an indie label to have any kind of sustained mainstream success. As such, Joey + Rory are likely to remain a niche act, which is just fine for those of us who like them just as they are.

Grade: A-

The Life Of A Song is widely available. Digital copies are currently on sale for $5 at Amazon.

Album Review: Gretchen Wilson – ‘I Got Your Country Right Here’

Gretchen’s first independent release following her departure from Sony sees her taking the producer’s chair herself alongside Blake Chancey (and old friend John Rich on a handful of tracks). The end result is not that far removed from her Sony records, and fans of Gretchen’s rocking side will be happy. Admirers of her way with a ballad (Wilson’s most underrated talent) will be more disappointed.

Current single ‘Work Hard, Play Harder, is set to a relentless rock beat which led to a copyright infringement claim from the rock band the Black Crowes; the case was settled out of court and led to the writers of the latter’s song being given co-writing credit here, alongside the originally credited Wilson, John Rich and Vicky McGehee. This lyrically predictable and musically dull piece about a hardworking “redneck, blue-collar” bartender/waitress is already Gretchen’s biggest hit since 2006’s ‘California Girls’, perhaps because it fits into the pigeonhole Gretchen created for herself with her signature tune ‘Redneck Woman’.

It is one of only two tracks co-written by Gretchen. Dallas Davidson helped her with the other, the rocking sociopolitical statement ‘Blue Collar Done Turn Red’ which mixes a declaration of patriotism with some social criticism of modern changes:

We used to judge a man by the shake of his hand
And his honor and his honesty
Never knocked him down when he stood his ground
Cause it wouldn’t fit the policy now
There’s bailout bills and fat cat deals

Ex-SteelDriver Chris Stapleton and Terry McBride offer a trenchant criticism of modern country radio in ‘Outlaws & Renegades’:

Well, just the other day I was driving down the road
Listening to the stuff coming out of Music Row
I didn’t recognise a single song or none of the names
But it didn’t really matter cause they all seem to sound the same

Where’s all the outlaws and renegades?
Lord knows I miss those days
When they said what they thought
And what they thought was what was on your mind

It seems to veer off course in the last verse when it moves into another political complaint (about politicians and gas prices), and then back to music with a spoken outro namechecking Cash, Jennings and Nelson.

Their era is also recalled in the rather generic Southern Rock-country of the title track, written by consummate hit maker Jeffrey Steele and Tom Hambridge. This pays cursory tribute to various 70s Outlaw and Southern Rock acts – Waylon again, of course, plus the Charlie Daniels Band, Hank Williams Jr, and on the rock side of the border, the Allman Brothers, Z.Z. Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd. It is one of those tracks that strikes one as being more fun for the musicians to make than for the listener; it isn’t that interesting on record either musically or lyrically; it’s all about the groove and feel, which probably works better live.

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