My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Marcus Hummon

Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Fly’

NOTE: This is the second time we’ve done a feature on Fly. Check out Chris’ take on the album from March 2009, which was formed as a discussion around whether or not the album deserved to be legendary, by clicking HERE. Also, his post promoted a 27 comment discussion well worth reading. 

Dixie Chicks built on the phenomenal success of Wide Open Spaces with Fly, their second album for Monument Records. It was released in late August 1999 and established them as the foremost superstars of the era, on par with Shania Twain.

The ambitious set redefined how a country album could sound both melodically and lyrically. This is when they began courting controversy, painting outside the lines, and rewriting the rules of Nashville. There wasn’t a single artist at the time or since that has perfected or improved upon the formula they perfected with Fly — a solid foundation of traditional country mixed with a pop sensibility with a collection, and this is the key, of intelligent well-written songs. Fly is an album of talent and substance absent of fluff or filler.

A sign that the Dixie Chicks were heading places came in June 1999 when the album’s lead single “Ready To Run” was subsequently featured as a single from the soundtrack to the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere RomCom Runaway Bride. The Celtic flavored tune, co-written by Martie Seidel and Marcus Hummon, hit #2.

They shot back to the top of the charts with the album’s instantly iconic second single “Cowboy Take Me Away,” also co-written by the pair. The title was inspired by the slogan used in commercials for Calgon and the lyric was in tribute to Emily’s marriage to Charlie Robison. It’s a brilliant record from start to finish, with Sediel’s gorgeous fiddle riffs and Robison’s banjo licks proving the perfect backdrop for Natalie Maines’ passionate vocal. It’s one of the band’s signature songs and rightfully so.

What followed was a black comedy detailing the saga of Marianne and Wanda, the latter of who met and married a man named Earl, who physically abused her. The song, written by Dennis Linde, brings the women’s fight for justice to the forefront as they murder Earl and bury him in a shallow grave. The subject matter of “Goodbye Earl” proved a tough pill for country radio to swallow and the track stalled at #13.

They rebounded with their version of Richard Leigh’s “Cold Day In July,” which was originally recorded (separately) by Suzy Bogguss and Joy Lynne White in 1992. Commenters on country blogs have favored the other women’s versions more, but since I’m only intimately familiar with the trio’s take on the song, which hit #4, and it’s the version I heard first, it’s the one I’ll always prefer.

“Without You,” the album’s second #1, is purely pop with country instrumentation. Maines co-wrote it about the demise of her first marriage, and while it isn’t as sharp as “You Were Mine,” it still soars with heartache. Maines’ vocal, which allows her stretch and use her lower register, is a revelation.

You’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten any of the remaining singles released from the album. Although it hit #3, their take on Matraca Berg’s “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me” isn’t terribly memorable. The album’s eighth and final single, “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” has a nice groove and works well live, but falls into the same territory. It hit #7.

Sandwiched between them is arguably one of the strongest songs they ever sent to country radio. “Heartbreak Town” is Darrell Scott’s take on making it in music city and tells the story of a couple and their baby heading to Nashville and getting rejected by the industry. The record, which hit #23, is a masterpiece:

Hugged your friends

Kissed your mama goodbye

Baby in your arms and a tear in your eye

Twelve hundred miles and you never asked why

From me

 

Me and the baby and you side by side

We all knew we was in for a long hard ride

Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide it seemed

We honked the horn when we crossed the

State line

Woke up the baby and she started to cry

She must’ve known

What we were going to find

 

This ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreak town

Square people in a world that’s round

And they watch you dancin’ without the sound

It ain’t nothin’ no nothin’

You take your number and you stand in line

And they watch to see how high you’re gonna climb

Pat on the back and better luck next time

It ain’t nothin’ no it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreak town

 

Stardust well it’s a funny thing

It can make you cuss

It can make you sing

And the need to touch it gets hard to explain some days

 

I’ve seen ’em rise

I’ve seen ’em fall

Some get nothin’

And lord some get it all

Some just run

While others crawled away

 

Hold my hand baby don’t let go

I’ve got some front money

And I’ve got a next show

And I’m, I’m gonna need you

Down this yellow brick road

The album tracks are almost as iconic as the singles, especially “Sin Wagon,” which got its origins from the movie Grease. The film is one of Maines’ favorites, and she co-wrote the bluegrass barnburner with Emily Erwin and Stephony Smith. The lyric caught the attention of the trio’s record label, who objected their use of the term ‘mattress dacin’ in the second verse. Maines doubled down and repeated the line for emphasis, a sign that as far back as 1999 she wasn’t going to make nice with anyone.

“Hello Mr. Heartache” is the album’s most traditional number and another masterful record. “Let Him Fly” is their first association with Patty Griffin, Maines’ favorite singer-songwriter of all time. “Hole In My Head” was written by Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller and showed off their Americana leanings.

Fly is simply one of the greatest contemporary commercial country records ever made. It rightfully won them both the Grammy for Best Country Album and the CMA for Album of the Year. It’s gone on to sell more than ten million copies and inspired their first headlining trek in 2000, the year they were crowned CMA Entertainer of the Year. They richly deserved every accolade that came their way.

Grade: A+ 

 

Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Tell Me Why’

tell me whyWynonna’s second solo album was released in May 1993,produced as before by Tony Brown. It did not sell as well as its predecessor, but was still certified platinum, and produced five top 10 hits.

The first single, the title track, was a mid-tempo Karla Bonoff song with a glossy contemporary country-rock feel, and reached #3 on Billboard. This performance was matched by its successor, the more delicate and sophisticated ‘Only Love. Written by Roger Murrah and Marcus Hummon, it doesn’t sound particularly country now, but it featured a strong vocal performance.

My favorite track by far, ‘Is It Over Yet’, is a solemn piano-led ballad with a sensitive string arrangement which allows Wynonna’s emotion-filled voice to shine on a song about the pain of a breakup. It peaked at #7.

The most successful single, ‘Rock Bottom’, only just missed the top of the charts. It was written by the songwriters behind Southern Rockers the Atlanta Rhythm Section, and has a bluesy rock groove which suits Wynonna’s confident growl, although it’s not really my favorite style. The final single, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s ‘Girls With Guitars’, is a strong country rock number celebrating female musicians by telling the story of one young woman’s progress from high school to adult success, defeating the expectations of sexist listeners along the way. Naomi Judd and Lyle Lovett contribute backing vocals on the song.

Jesse Winchester’s ‘Let’s Make A Baby King’ is a Christmas song which New Grass Revival had recorded a few years earlier in more bluegrassy style, and which Wynonna gave a black gospel makeover. While Wynonna’s version was not formally released as a single, it gained some airplay at Christmas. ‘Just Like New’ is another memorable Winchester song, a bluesy story about a car once owned by Elvis. Naomi Judd’s ‘That Was Yesterday’ is performed as a slowed down blues number.

‘Father Sun’ was written by Sheryl Crow, about to make her own breakthrough as a rock singer-songwriter, and has a rather elusive lyric. The production funnels Wynonna’s vocal through an echoey effect which wastes her greatest asset, her powerful voice, and more gospel style backing vocals swamp her at the end.

She does show her more subtle interpretative side with a cover of ‘I Just Drove By’, written and originally recorded by Kimmie Rhodes. This charming song is about sweet memories of childhood innocence, and Wynonna sings it beautifully.

While it is a long way from traditional, and a purist might challenge its country credentials on any level, Wynonna was able to take her place in the diverse sounds of 1990s country music. It’s an accomplished record in its own right, genre considerations aside, but that does make it tough to assign a grade to on a country blog.

Grade: B

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Cheap Seats’

cheap seatsI guess the end of the road comes for everybody and in this case the end of the road is actually the end of the #1 singles for Alabama, with “Reckless” being the band’s final Billboard #1 and “Cheap Seats” being the first single in fourteen years to miss the top ten.

Cheap Seats was produced by Josh Leo and Larry Michael Lee, and was released in October 1993, with three singles released from the album (“Reckless”, “T.L.C. A.S.A.P.” and “The Cheap Seats”). The album was the second consecutive album to miss the top ten on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, reaching only #16, their worst showing to-date on RCA. Although the next four albums would chart better, even reaching the top ten in two instances, it was becoming clear that Alabama was no longer a dominant force in country music.

Despite this, I really like this album, as some of the songs personally resonate with me.

The album opens with the Rick Bowles-Josh Leo composition “Still Goin’ Strong”, a moderate rocker, that features Jim Horn on tenor sax.

Next up is “T.L.C.A.S.A.P” a song penned by the Baker-Myers duo. This song only reached #7 but likely would have been a number one a few years earlier.

Well, we work real hard six days a week,
Honey, this is somethin’ we both need…

A little TLC ASAP…
A little R & R for you and me…
A guaranteed rat race remedie,
A little TLC ASAP.

A little TLC ASAP…
A little R & R for you and me…
A guaranteed rat race remedie,
I need TLC ASAP.

TLC ASAP…
R & R for you and me…

TLC ASAP…
R & R for you and me…

“Katy Brought My Guitar Back Today” is a tender slow ballad that had little potential for use as a single. Ditto for the Mark Alan Springer ballad “On This Side of The Moon”.

The title track “The Cheap Seats” is the outstanding track on the album, even though it only reached #13. The song, a perfectly crafted uptempo ‘slice of life’ by Randy Sharp and Marcus Hummon tells it like it is in many small towns. Believe me, I’ve lived this story many times growing up:

This town ain’t big, this town ain’t small
It’s a little of both they say
Our ball club may be minor league, but at least it’s triple A
We sit below the Marlboro man, above the right field wall
We do the wave all by ourself
Hey ump, a blind man could’ve made that call
We like beer flat as can be
We like our dogs with mustard and relish
We got a great pitcher what’s his name
Well we can’t even spell it
We don’t worry about the pennant much
We just like to see the boys hit it deep
There’s nothing like the view from the cheap seats

“Cheap Seats” was the only song from this album that was made into a video.

“Reckless”, written by Jeff Stevens and Michael Clark, was actually the first single released from this album and would prove to be Alabama’s last #1 single. The song, a mid-tempo rocker, is a typical ode to restless youth:

Let’s take my Thunderbird and leave tonight,
I’ll keep the pedal to the floor till we see the morning light.
They can’t live our lives for us,
If we let them we’ll lose our love.
And love dies hard in this Texas sun,
I’d rather be reckless and on the run

Let’s roll the windows down, turn the radio up
Let the wind blow through our hair
There’s a moon tonight and a road outside, baby
We’re gettin out of here.
I could care less where it leads us
Love is reckless, let’s get reckless tonight

Teddy Gentry, Ronnie Rogers and Greg Fowler collaborated on “That Feeling”, a lovely ballad that would have made a good single. I consider this song to be the unearthed gem of this album:

I’ve made some decisions
Never not the best
Against my better judgment
I must confess
I went astray so many ways
So my dreams fall apart
And came a day I’m glad to say
I followed my heart

That feeling the one I’m feeling now
Oh that feeling that turned me all around
That feeling oh what love can do
That feeling that never let’s me down
Oh that feeling that always come around
I never need another
It’s gonna last my whole life through
That feeling I’m feeling for you

Jeff Cook had a hand in writing “This Love’s On Me” a kind of generic up-tempo rocker that, this time featuring Jim Nelson on tenor sax. Jeff Cook handles the lead vocals on this track.

“Clear Water Blues” , another Gentry- Rogers-Fowler collaboration, was not on the cassette version of this album, but was on the CD version as a ‘bonus’ track. The song is a gentle jazzy ballad which features harmonica, banjo, organ and trumpet as integral parts of the arrangement. Teddy Gentry takes the lead vocals on this song and does an excellent job of it.

“A Better Word For Love” is another track not found on the original cassette release, but available as a CD ‘bonus track’. The song was written by Andy Anderson (of NRBQ) and Gary Nicholson and is yet another gentle ballad. NRBQ would record the song on one of their albums.

The final song, Becky Hobbs’ excellent “Angels Among Us” has an interesting history. Unlike the rest of the album, this track was produced by Teddy Gentry. Not only did Becky Hobbs include the song on her excellent 1994 album The Boots I Came to Town In, but the Alabama album track received considerable attention at county radio and twice entered the country charts from unsolicited airplay: reaching # 54 in 1994, and later clocking in at # 28 in January 1995. The sonmg charted again for Alabama at #22 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart in January 1996. Maybe Alabama should have issued the song as an official single! The choir on this song was provided by the Sanctuary Choir & Young Musicians Choir of First Baptist Church, Fort Payne, Alabama.

I was walkin’home from school
On a cold winter day,
Took a short cut through the woods
And I lost my way.
It was gettin’ late, and I was scared and alone.
Then a kind old man took my hand, and led me home.
Mama couldn’t see him,
But he was standing there,
And I knew in my heart
He was the answer to my prayer.

[Chorus]
Oh, I believe there are Angels Among Us,
Sent down to us from somewhere up above.
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live
To teach us how to give
To guide us with a light of love.

This wasn’t Alabama’s best album but a strong album worth a B+. I liked all three released singles, and while “Angels Among Us” wasn’t released as a single, I have several friends who consider the song to be their favorite Alabama song. Since the album tracks were all at least passable, and most very good, no one should be disappointed with this album.

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘The Lost Sessions’

lost sessionsIn 2005 Garth came briefly out of retirement with the release of a lavish box set exclusive to Walmart, which included one disc called The Lost Sessions, a collection of offcuts from previous records with a handful of new songs. This was subsequently given a separate release with added tracks.

Opener and lead single ‘Good Ride Cowboy’ is a tribute to rodeo rider and cowboy singer Chris Ledoux, who was so famously namechecked in Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)’ at the start of Garth’s career, and who had died earlier that year. He launched the song on an unsuspecting world live in Times Square, New York, during the CMA awards show, and that gave the single enough impetus to send it racing up the charts. An eventual peak of #3 made it Garth’s biggest hit since 1998. Garth did not actually write the song himself; the writers include later hitmaker Jerrod Niemann. He and Steve Wariner are among the chorus of backing vocalists on the rowdy tune.

It was followed by a duet with Trisha Yearwood, to whom he was now married. ‘Love Will Always Win’, which had been recorded in 1999. It is a pleasant enough but rather bland song, and only reached #23. The third and last single, the fiddle-led ‘That Girl Is A Cowboy’, was a new Garth co-write with Niemann and Richie Brown, two of the writers of ‘Good Ride Cowboy’. It’s quite a nice song, and the arrangement makes it one of Garth’s most traditional country records.

‘Under The Table’, another Garth song (written with Randy Taylor) may date back to the recording sessions for his self-titled debut. It is an excellent song in traditional vein, a pained ballad about trying to drink away a memory. A breezy cover of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ‘Fishin’ In The Dark’ is also very enjoyable.

Five songs have copyright dates of 1996-7, three of them Garth co-writes, and I suspect they are rejects from the Sevens recording sessions. ‘Allison Miranda’ (a Garth co-write) is a pleasantly understated story song about picking up a hitchhiker and falling in love. The heavily strung and very short (less than two minutes) ‘American Dream’, which he wrote with Jenny Yates, is a gentle ballad about growing up in America, which feels like an unfinished first draft, consisting of only two short verses disguised by an orchestra. ‘Meet Me In Love’ is a loungy jazz style number.

My favourite of these tracks is DeWayne Blackwell’s ‘Please Operator (Could You Trace This Call)’, a solidly country and entertaining drinking song about a man who’s consumed so much to forget his troubles that he has no idea where he is.

I also very much like Bruce Robison’s catchy ‘She Don’t Care About Me’, one of three songs Garth subsequently passed on to his former sideman Ty England for the latter’s 2000 Garth-produced Highways and Dancehalls album. The pleasant Tex-Mex ‘My Baby No Esta Qui No More’ is also enjoyable, but ‘I’d Rather Have Nothing’ is a bit cluttered and just okay.

Alison Krauss harmonises on the chorus of ‘For A Minute There’, a gently melancholic tune about a remembered romance which dates from 1999, and which Garth wrote with Kent Blazy. The western swing ‘Cowgirl’s Saddle’ is an attempt at quirky humor from 2001; I enjoy Garth doing this style and it sounds great musically; but the lyric (another of his co-writes) is a bit off-color. Dating from 2002, Steve Wariner and Marcus Hummon’s ‘You Can’t Help Who You Love’ is a self-justifying cheating song which is quite good, but over-produced. The brand new ‘I’ll Be The Wind’ is plain dull.

The set closes with a delicate reading of the 1950s anti-war folk song ‘Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream’.

This is a very varied, if not terribly cohesive album, with elements of most of the styles Garth has pursued over the years. It certainly wasn’t worth buying the original boxed set for, but is a better bet as a standalone especially now that used copies are available relatively cheaply.

Grade: B

Album Review: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume III’

will the circle 317 years passed between the original Will The Circle Be Unbroken and Volume II. 13 years after that, in 2002, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band decided it was time for a third instalment, which they released on Capitol. It did not make as much of a stir as either of the previous instalments, but is still a pretty solid collection of bluegrass and oldtime music with some guests old and new.

The opening ‘Take Me In Your Lifeboat’ is beaty bluegrass gospel performed with Del McCoury and his sons. The McCourys are back on the secular ‘Love Please Come Home’, which is well done but not memorable.

I preferred the contributions from bluegrass great Jimmy Martin (1927-2005), who had taken part in both previous versions, and who belies his age with confident upbeat performances here. He sings his own ‘Hold Whatcha Got’ (which Ricky Skaggs had made into a hit in the late 80s), and also the lively ‘Save It, Save It’.

In contrast, June Carter Cash (1929-2003) takes the lead vocal on the Carter Family’s ‘Diamonds In The Rough’, with Earl Scruggs on banjo. She does not sound at all well, and indeed died the following year. Although Johnny Cash (1932-2003) was also in poor health, he sounds much better than his wife on a self-penned tribute to the late Maybelle and Sara Carter, ‘Tears In The Holston River.

Willie Nelson, not involved in previous versions, gets two cuts here. Willie sounds good on ‘Goodnight Irene’, but the tracks is irredeemably ruined by the presence of duet partner Tom Petty. Petty is out of tune and the harmony is embarrassingly dissonant. A cheery Nelson version of ‘Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms’ is better although it does feel a bit perfunctory.

Dwight Yoakam (another newcomer to the series) is great on his two tracks. He shows his Kentucky roots on the mournful and authentic ‘Some Dark Holler’. He is outstanding on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘Wheels’, which he makes sound like. Vince Gill’s ‘All Prayed Up’ is an excellent piece of up-tempo bluegrass gospel.

Emmylou Harris sings her ex-husband Paul Kennerley’s ‘I’ll Be Faithful To You’, a sweet declaration of eternal love, exquisitely. She also duets with Matraca Berg (Mrs Jeff Hanna) on Berg’s folk-styleode to the river running through Nashville, ‘Oh Cumberland’. Alison Krauss exercises her angelic tones on ‘Catfish John’.

Iris Dement sings beautifully on her own nostalgic ‘Mama’s Opry’. Ricky Skaggs and Rodney Dillard team up for the pacy folk of ‘There Is A Time’. Band members’sons Jaime Hanna and Jonathan McEuen (who were the duo Hanna-McEuen at the time) are a bit limp for me on ‘The Lowlands’, a folky Gary Scruggs song.

Sam Bush takes it high mountain lonesome on Carter Stanley’s ‘Lonesome River’. ‘Milk Cow Blues’ is taken back to its blues roots and features Josh Graves and Doc Watson. Watson also sings the traditional ‘I Am A Pilgrim’. More contemporary is ‘I Find Jesus’, penned by Jimmy Ibbotson. ‘Roll The Stone Away’ (written by Jeff Hanna with Marcus Hummon) uses religious imagery but it is a bit dull. The Nashville Bluegrass Band take on A. P. Carter’s ‘I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome which is OK.

Gravel-voiced bluesman Taj Mahal and legendary fiddler Vassar Clements guest on the good-humored ‘Fishin’ Blues, which is mildly amusing. Taj Mahal and Alison Krauss guest on this album’s take on the title song which falls rather flat with Alison sounding a bit squeaky and therest of them dull and lifeless.

This album lacks the groundbreaking nature of Volume I, and the cosy atmosphere of either previous set, making more of a standard collection of older material. There are definitely some tracks well worth hearing, and I’d still be interested if there was a Volume 4.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Acoustic’

220px-NGDB-AcousticTwenty years ago, when their string of radio singles came to end, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band returned their roots with a collection entitled Acoustic. Like other similarly titled projects through the years, this isn’t re-recordings of past hits, but rather an album of all-new material.

While the album didn’t spawn any singles, it’s most notable for introducing the world to “Bless The Broken Road,” a Jeff Hanna, Marcus Hummon, and Bobby Boyd co-write that would top the charts for Rascal Flatts ten years later. Not many know the song began as a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band tune, with a lush piano drenched arrangement not too far removed from Rascal Flatts’ hit recording.

Jimmy Ibbotson had a hand in writing a few of the album’s tunes. “Sara In The Summer” is a harmonica laced folksy country shuffle, “How Long” is a mid-tempo love song, and “One Sure Honest Line” is a song about songs. All are excellent, showcasing the band’s tight harmonies set to clean, appealing production. Ibbotson co-wrote “This Train Keeps Rolling Along,” a fantastic story song with Jim Photoglo and Vince Melamed.

Bob Carpenter was another prominent songwriter on the album. He co-wrote Harmonica ballad “Let It Go,” America-like “Badlands,” and harmony rich “Love With Find A Way.” While all of the tracks are good, “Love With Find A Way” is the highlight, sounding like The Eagles from their Desperado era in the early 1970s.

Dennis Linde contributed “Hello, I Am Your Heart” a slice of filler that really doesn’t go anywhere. Jimmy Fadden had two cuts. “Cupid’s Got A Gun” is a plucky ballad while “Tryin’ Times” is heavy on mandolin yet light on social commentary, as the title suggests.

If anything, Acoustic is too polished. The album still sounds impeccable but the immaculate arrangements hinder any chance for letting loose, which a lot of these songs could benefit from. It’s still a great album, though, and well worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘There’s More Where That Came From’

2005’s There’s More Where That Came From is a pivotal album in the discography of Lee Ann Womack that helped to erase memories of the disastrous Something Worth Leaving Behind and to re-establish much of the credibility that she had lost with that ill-advised flirtation with pop diva-dom. Three years after her last full-length studio release, Lee Ann was back in a big way, with a new producer and a new sound. Or, perhaps a more accurate way to put it would be a new old sound. There’s More Where That Came From pays homage to a bygone era, with a retro sound and artwork that made it resemble a Tammy Wynette album from the 1970s. The disc itself even has the same design that MCA had used on its vinyl releases in the 70s and 80s, with a rainbow coming out of the clouds.

The country music landscape had changed considerably since Lee Ann’s debut just eight year earlier. Whereas her first album arrived at a time when it appeared that the genre might be swinging back toward its roots, There’s More Where That Came From was released at a time when things had moved decidedly toward the pop end of the spectrum and when the youth movement was in full force, leaving artists over the age of 40 at a distinct disadvantage. It is therefore, a little surprising that Lee Ann was allowed to release what could only have been viewed at the time as a non-commercial album, but her career had nosedived so badly by that time, her label perhaps felt that there was nothing left to lose.
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Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘Faith In You’

Steve’s third and last Capitol album was released in 2000. The overall style leans towards the contemporary end of country, with Steve’s smooth vocals and guitar skills to the fore. He wrote or co-wrote all the songs, played various guitars, and also produced the record. The overall style leans towards the contemporary end of country, and it is mostly successful.

The lead single was a duet with Clint Black on ‘Been There’, a likeable but rather throwaway number with a brass section. Clint also produced this track, co-wrote the song, and contributed a generous helping of his trademark harmonica. The song was the album’s only big hit, peaking at #5, and had already appeared on Clint’s 1999 D’lectrified, an all-acoustic return to form for the latter.

The title track was a sweet declaration of true love written with veteran Bill Anderson, with a tasteful string arrangement and tender vocal. It performed surprisingly poorly as the second single, barely cracking the top 30, but is a low-key gem. The last single saw Steve reunited with Garth Brooks on the jazzy ‘Katie Wants A Fast One’, which Steve wrote with Rick Carnes. It too failed to reach the top 20 despite the star assistance, and was his last hit. It’s not one I like much – all sound and no intensity, with the groove seeming more important than the song, and another horn arrangement.

Another famous friend, Rodney Crowell, helped to write the thoughtful ‘Longer Letter Later’, which portrays a man regretting his past decisions and struggling to put his feelings into words for his ex. A faintly Spanish feel to the arrangement, with accordion and castanets, adds musical interest to the quiet melody.

Bill Anderson co-wrote the infectious mid-tempo ‘Make It Look Easy’, which refers to various individuals who are great at what they do, and ruefully compares their skill to the protagonist’s failure to get over a failed love affair. The choice of superstars leans fairly heavily to sports stars; oddly no country singers are named (Ray Charles gets the sole singing spot, although Steve’s mentor Chet Atkins gets a nod for his guitar skills). I’m not sure the metaphor quite hangs together, but the song sounds pleasant enough. Bill, Steve, and Sharon Vaughn co-wrote the cheerful and irresistibly sing along love song ‘Blinded’, which should have been a single.

‘I Just Do’ (another love song) is a charming lightly swinging piece, which showcases the playing of “the Nashville Super Players”. This is the only solo composition, other than ‘Bloodlines’, the completely instrumental cut which closes the album. This is billed as a duet with Steve’s son Ryan and is very much a family affair, featuring Steve and Ryan on electric guitar, with Steve’s brother Terry adding support on baritone guitar, and only drummer Harry Stinson from outside the family.

I also like the attractive mid-tempo ‘It Wouldn’t Be Love’, written with Joe Barnhill, which reflects on the potential pain of love. ‘Turn In The Road’ is a melodic ballad (also with strings) about a mother’s comforting advice to her son in adversity, written with Jim Witter. These are nice but unexceptional songs lifted by Steve’s sensitive interpretation and beautiful voice, as is ‘Waiting In The Wings’ (written with Billy Kirsch). This is a story song about a youngest son marginalized in his own family, whose dreams sustain him.

Opening track ‘High Time’ is a rather dull pop-country number co-written by Steve with Marcus Hummon and Annie Roboff with intrusive backing vocals, but this is the only low point on the record, and even this does have a nice instrumental break to recommend it. Hummon’s songwriting is better showcased with the pensive reflection on relationship breakdown, ‘I Wish I Were A Train’.

Sales were as disappointing as radio play, and this was sadly to prove Steve’s final major label release.

Grade: B+

Cheap used copies are easy to find.

Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down’

By the mid-90s, Steve Wariner’s commercial success had begun to wane, causing him to take a hiatus from recording and touring, to concentrate instead on songwriting. He experienced a considerable amount of success during his “down time”, beginning when “Longneck Bottle”, a song he’d written with Rick Carnes, was recorded by Garth Brooks. Garth asked Steve to lend his voice and guitar-playing skills to the record and when it was released as a single, “Longneck Bottle” quickly shot to the top of the charts, spending three weeks in the number one spot. A few weeks later, Clint Black took “Nothin’ But The Taillights”, a song he’d written with Steve, to #1. A month after that, “What If I Said” , his duet with Anita Cochran also reached the top of the Billboard chart. By 1998, these successes caused record executives to take another look at Steve, resulting in a new contract with Capitol Records, and an unexpected late-career resurgence.

His first release for the label was “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven”, which Steve had written with Billy Kirsch. The sentimental ballad struck a chord with radio programmers and listeners, becoming Steve’s career record, some 20 years after he’d released his first record. It peaked at #2, his highest chart performance as a solo artist since “I Got Dreams” reached the top spot nine years earlier. It was also awarded the Single of the Year and Song of the Year awards by the Country Music Association in 1998, marking the first time Steve had won any awards from that organization.

Steve’s debut album for Capitol was Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down, which he produced himself. It consisted of 11 new tracks written by Steve with a variety of co-writers, along with “What If I Said”, which had been originally been included on Anita Cochran’s album. Although there were no huge radio hits to follow “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven”, the album is one of the stronger entries in the Wariner discography. For the title track, a lively Western swing number, Steve reunited with Garth Brooks, but even Garth’s tremendous star power couldn’t propel the record into the Top 20. Too retro for country radio, it stalled at #26 despite top-notch performances from both Steve and Garth. The more contemporary “Every Little Whisper” was chosen as the third single. Though it was more radio-friendly than “Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down”, it is not one of the stronger tracks on the album. It was possibly chosen because like “Holes”, it was written with Billy Kirsch, and the label may have thought they would strike gold a second time. It peaked at #36 and no more singles were released.

There are several excellent tracks — and a few mediocre ones — among the album cuts. My favorites are “I Don’t Know How To Fix It”, which was written with Bill Anderson, “A Six Pack Ago”, which was written with Jim Rushing, and “Big Ol’ Empty House”, which was written with Mac McAnally. “Road Trippin'”, written with Marcus Hummon is a lightweight tune with fluffy lyrics and catchy beat that seems like it would have been a good choice for a single release. “Big Tops”, a circus-themed number which was also written with Hummon, has a folk feel to it and sounds like something Nanci Griffith might have released a decade earlier. The two tracks that fail to deliver are “Love Me Like You Love Me” and “Smoke From An Old Flame”, which are pleasant but slightly dull.

The inclusion of “What If I Said” as a bonus track, under license from Warner Bros., was a pleasant surprise. Though thoroughly contemporary in style, the Anita Cochran-penned and produced track is beautifully written and beautifully sung by both performers. It was Cochran’s first record and only Top 40 country hit, and is on my short list of favorite Steve Wariner tracks.

Though Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down only spawned one big radio hit, it did quite well at retail. Peaking at #6, it was his highest-charting entry on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It also went on to become his second gold album. I don’t like it quite as much as I Am Ready, but I would rank it a close second.

Grade: A

Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down is available from Amazon and other major retailers.

Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Restless’

The success of Sara Evans’ Born To Fly, with its contemporary pop-country sound, allowed the singer to further experiment with the formula, and the result was an album of pop-country at near perfection at times.  With Restless, she finally delivered a set of songs worthy of her vocal talent, while still viable candidates for radio airplay.  Unlike its predecessors, there’s not much on the traditional side on this disc, but that doesn’t keep it from being a quality set, full of nuance and emotion.  Upon its release in April 2003, the disc debuted at #3 on the Country Albums chart – which would be its peak.  Over the course of the next eighteen months, it would sell a million copies to be certified platinum.

There are very few flashes of anything traditional on Restless, aside from a light bluegrass undertone to ‘Feel It Comin’ On’ and the fiddles sprinkled throughout on a few tracks, though they’re deep in the mix.  Sara Evans was reaching for crossover success with all her might on this release, and overall, the album lends itself to a niche in country music somewhere between Shania Twain and Trisha Yearwood.

Evans has always had a somewhat spotty relationship with country radio, with a single or two from each album missing the top 10, even during the hottest period of her career.  The first single is a syrupy tale of a young lady, leaving town on a greyhound bus to hide the ‘shame’ of her unwed pregnancy.  Verse two finds the young lady delivering the baby on the interstate, and to my ears this gives the entire song an unrealistic slant.  It’s puzzling to that it took four writers to create this story, especially since there’s essentially no happing ending.  Maybe that’s what kept it from being a major hit – that all-important act three.  The track still managed to climb to #16 on the Country Singles chart.

The next single would fare much better at radio, just barely missing the top spot at #2.  ‘Perfect’ is a clever lyric, written by Sara with Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin.  A groovy guitar lick opens the song, before it becomes a fun sing-along about the joys of a regular everyday existence.  The sound, and even the melody, is akin to Evans’ own ‘I Keep Looking’, and it was clearly meant to revisit that sound.  While there’s nothing revolutionary about the production or the lyric, it’s one of my favorite Sara Evans songs, and just a bit of ear candy.

Earning her first gold-single, and her third #1 at country radio, ‘Suds In The Bucket’ is as close as Restless gets to anything traditional.  The sound is very much post-Shania neo-traditional, with the drums mixed as loud as the fiddle.  It’s undeniably country I guess, but also undeniably 21st century country.  The most charming thing about this song, with its rather bland story, is Sara’s vocal, where she finally lets loose a little of the twang we heard on her first couple albums, but is largely absent this time around.

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Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Tell Me Why’

We’ve been featuring Wynonna as our spotlight artist throughout the month of February.  So, continuing with that coverage, here is the very first contribution from guest writer (and faithful My Kind of Country reader) Chad McBride.

– J.R. Journey

tellmewhy

With her first CD, Wynonna ventured out on her own, but not too far from her roots as a member of The Judds. That CD received great reviews from non-country outlets, such as Rolling Stone, and earned Wynonna her first four top five singles as a solo artist. This CD capitalized on that success by both repeating some of the same sounds but also branching out in new ways. Of the ten songs on Tell Me Why, five would eventually be released as singles, all of which reached the top ten – a feat unheard of at the time. And just a look at the contributing songwriters highlights some top singer-songwriters to emerge in the 90s. In Wynonna’s words from her live CD/DVD, she was ‘on top of the world and at the time’ and ‘some of the top country acts of the 90s’ were opening for her.

While Tell Me Why resulted in all of this acclaim, more importantly, it showcases the first time Wynonna really branched out from traditional Judd’s acoustic country (still showcased with great emotion on ‘I Just Drove By’ here) to more pop/country, blues, gospel, and shades of rock.

The first song and single, ‘Tell Me Why’, did not stray too far from the country rock sound fans had become familiar with after ‘No One Else On Earth’ from her first CD. The second song on the CD, ‘Rock Bottom’, the fourth single released to radio, was the first to really showcase her soulful backup singers, which would become a centerpiece of her live shows to this day. ‘Only Love’, the lush ballad co-written by Marcus Hummon with Roger Murrah features some of the smoothest vocals performed on her early CDs and was another top hit on the CD.

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