My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Maria McKee

Album Review: Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A

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Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room’

Dwight’s third album was released in August 1988, and was another big hit for him. It was eventually certified platinum, and was his third (and surprisingly last) #1 album. produced as before by Pete Anderson, the mood is determinedly retro-cool with prominent fiddle and sometimes steel allied to a strong beat and Dwight’s hillbilly whine which imbues the songs with emotion.

Ever since his rise to prominence, Dwight had openly admitted the major influence of the Bakersfield Sound in general and Buck Owens in particular, and the great man came out of retirement to duet with Dwight on the first single, ‘Streets Of Bakersfield’ (a revival of a Homer Joy song which Buck had recorded back in the 70s). It became Dwight’s first, and Buck’s last, #1 single. A defiant stand against those who looked down on the southerners who lived in Bakersfield in the 60s, the duet sounds a little cheerier and buddyish than the lyrics demand, but it’s an entertaining track, helped along with Flaco Jimenez’s accordion. Buck was to make this a real comeback attempt, recording three new albums for his old label Capitol in the next few years, but radio was cool towards his new solo material and he retired again.

Dwight, on the other hand, was on an upswing, both commercially and artistically. ‘The Streets Of Bakersfield’ was followed to the top by the outstanding story song ‘I Sang Dixie’. The protagonist sings the song ‘Dixie’ as an act of love for a dying alcoholic from the south washed up in LA, as others pass by unmoved. Touching without being sentimental, and beautifully played, this is one of my favorite ever Dwight Yoakam songs.

The gritty romantic opening track ‘I Got You’ is all about love getting you through the hard times served up with a little helping of wit and an insistent rhythm. This was the third single, and hit #5.

‘Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)’, the title track and final single, was not a hit with radio, failing to creep inside the top 40. It is another story song, but this time a Mexican flavored murder ballad which calls to mind some of Marty Robbins’ big hits, with more Flaco Jimenez. It is one of several songs on the record in which Dwight’s take on cheating songs leans to explorations of the cuckold’s murderous response, although this is the only one where he actually proceeds to commit the deed. All are excellent.

In the mid-tempo ‘What I Don’t Know’ he isn’t quite certain his woman is doing him wrong (or rather, doesn’t want his suspicions confirmed), but his gun is ready:

Smith and Wesson juries hold a real mean nasty court
And the verdict that they pass is never slow

In the prettier sounding but equally bleak ‘One More Name’, he broods darkly as his wife is talking unwisely in her sleep, confirming the local gossip he has denied. The protagonist’s palpable hurt and desperation not to believe the truth make these songs more than just expressions of revenge; you can sympathise with the pain if not the homicidal intention.

‘Floyd County’ paints the picture of the funeral of a family man from the mountains of Kentucky.

Dwight wrote the majority of the songs, but a couple of classic hits from the 50s also got fairly respectful covers. Cash’s ‘Home Of The Blues’ is efficient and enjoyable enough but closer to filler than anything else here. Hank Locklin’s romantic pleader ‘Send Me The Pillow’ is sung as a duet with rock (and onetime cowpunk) singer Maria McKee (with Pete Anderson playing mandolin). The less well known rockabillyish ‘I Hear You Knockin’ is cheerfully vibrant.

Dwight closes the album with a slice of traditional-style country gospel, ‘Hold On To God’ (written and recorded for his mother), with harmony vocals from a short-lived duo called the Lonesome Strangers who had been included on one of the Town South Of Bakersfield compilations which had introduced a number of LA based country artists including Dwight himself.

This is an excellent example of the neotraditional movement of the late 80s, and one which stands up exceptionally well today, with no weak tracks. It was records like this that revived some of the traditional forms of country music without making them sound old-fashioned to a new generation.

Grade: A+

Inexpensive copies are easy to find.

Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Honky Tonk Angel’

Honky Tonk AngelPatty Loveless’ third album, released in 1988, marked her real commercial breakthrough. It was her first gold-seller (and eventually reached platinum status), and it also built on her growing success on country radio. No less than five of the ten tracks were released as singles – an unusually high number at the time. It is a testament to the strength in depth of the material that every single one was a top ten hit.

Whereas Patty’s first two albums had been co-produced by Tony Brown with Emory Gordy Jr, this time Brown took sole charge, and he delivered a commercial, radio-friendly record with enough traditional influences to fit perfectly with the tune of the times. The title alone was something of a statement of intent, as a phrase which does not appear on any of the lyrics of the songs, but one which called to mind Kitty Wells’ 50s classic ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’. A predominantly up-tempo set of material drew on Patty’s rock-singing past and her mountain background, intermixed with some soaring ballads which showed off her beautiful voice and emotive interpretative ability.

The opening track, and lead-off single, was the beaty country-rock ‘Blue Side Of Town’, written by Hank DeVito and Paul Kennerley. It was followed by the pleading ballad ‘Don’t Toss Us Away’, written by rock musician Bryan MacLean, and previously recorded by the country-rock group Lone Justice featuring MacLean’s sister, future pop star Maria McKee, on vocals. Brown’s production and Patty’s vocals transformed it into a pure country song, one which allowed Patty to stretch out vocally and show how she could emote, supported by Rodney Crowell on harmony vocals, as she begs:

Don’t toss us away so thoughtlessly
It just ain’t right
Oh can’t you see
I still love you
I want you to stay
Darlin’ please, don’t toss us away

Patty’s first #1 single was the engaging up-tempo ‘Timber I’m Falling In Love’, one of several tracks here to benefit from Vince Gill’s prominent harmonies. It was also the first #1 for its writer, Kostas. The same combination of Kostas as writer, Patty on lead, and Vince Gill on harmony (together with bluegrass vocalist Claire Lynch) was responsible for the fourth single, the full-blooded ballad ‘The Lonely Side Of Love’. Only reaching #6, it was the least successful of the singles from the album, and is one of Patty’s less well remembered songs today, but it is still a fine recording.

Kostas wrote a third track on the album, the loungy ‘If You Think’, which is beautifully interpreted by Patty as a love song with an underlying hint of sadness as the protagonist defends her love against her lover’s doubts. The final single was my favorite, as Vince Gill’s harmonies again helped ‘Chains’ to the top of the chart. The downbeat lyrics about a woman emotionally tied to a hopeless love are married to an effervescent sound which is utterly irresistible.

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