My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Mark Chesnutt

EP Review: Jake Worthington – ‘Hell Of A Highway’

Released 18 months after his debut, the young traditional country singer Jake Worthington’s second EP is a further step forward. His rich mature voice, which belies his youth (he is still only 21) is matched here by some excellent songs.

The energetic honky tonker ‘How Do You Honky Tonk’ opens proceedings, with a name drop for Mark Chesnutt, and is very reminiscent of Chesnut’s 90s work. The mid paced ‘Big Time Lonesome’ is about coping with a broken heart, and is another very good song.

The highlights are two sad ballads. ‘A Lot Of Room To Talk’ is an instant classic, a lovely sad ballad about a man discovering the loneliness of an empty house following his wife’s departure:

I should’ve listened more to her more
When she was still around
I guess I got what I deserved
I sure do hear her now
What good is pride now that she’s gone
When did our house stop being home
Now there’s too many what if opportunities I missed
And a lot of room to talk

Lots of steel guitar adds the final touches.

Also outstanding is the title track, which sees another woman leaving, and a man left behind:

Said I’d give you all the space that you wanted
Just didn’t know you want so much

So tonight I’m playing my guitar
And I’m crying like a country song
Sitting here staring out the window
Wondering how’d you ever get so gone
Must be one hell of a highway you’re on

The final track is a pleasant if inconsequential love song, ‘Don’t Think Twice’, sung well.

This is a highly enjoyable and solidly country EP. Add it to Jake’s previous, self-titled EP, and you have an album’s worth of material.

Grade: A

Week ending 2/18/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

mark-620x4001957 (Sales):Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

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

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

1967: Where Does The Good Times Go — Buck Owens (Capitol)

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

1987: How Do I Turn You On — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

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

2007: Watching You — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2017: Better Man — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2017 (Airplay): Star of the Show — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2007: Watching You — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2017: Better Man — Little Big Town (Capitol)

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

Paul W. Dennis’s favorite albums of 2016

real-country-musicBeing the old man of the blog, I suppose it is inevitable that my favorite albums would differ from those of Razor X and Occasional Hope. There is some overlap, however, and where overlap exists I will not comment on the album

(#) on Razor X’s list / ($) on Occasional Hope’s list

15) Tracy Byrd – All American Texan (#)

14) Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives (#) ($)

13) Rhonda Vincent – All The Rage, Volume One

Alison Krauss fans notwithstanding, Rhonda is the Queen of Bluegrass music and is also adept at country and western swing numbers. Rhonda has a great band and all of the members are featured. Her guitar player, Josh Williams, is on a par with any acoustic player currently going.

12) Balsam Range – Mountain Voodoo

Balsam Range has been around for about a decade, winning the 2014 IBPA “Entertainer of The Year” and Vocal Group of The Year” awards. Their newest album was nominated for several awards. This band is renowned for their vocal harmonies. Their current single “Blue Collar Dreams” is being played on Bluegrass Junction on XM Radio – it’s a goodie and indicative of their material.

11) John Prine – For Better Or Worse ($)

the-life-and-songs-of-emmylou-harris10) Various Artists – Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris
I suspect that Emmylou Harris is the most highly revered female country singer, particularly for younger country fans and pop music fans. The epitome of elegance and grace, Emmylou has also been a champion of traditional country music. This album contains nineteen tracks with a vast array of admirers who gathered at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC on January 10, 2015 to pay tribute. Emmy sings on a few of the tracks but mostly the guests sing songs at least loosely associated with Emmylou. Guests include Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss, Buddy Miller, Rodney Crowell and others.

09) Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show – Sho Nuff Country

Although focusing on bluegrass, this veteran outfit has a strong propensity to record country music of the period before 1980, and they perform it well. For me the highlights are “Six Pack To Go” and “Why Baby Why”, but I really enjoyed the whole album.

08) Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (& guests) – Circling Back: Celebrating 50 Years
Knowing that this ban has been around for fifty years is making me feel old, since I purchased several of their early albums when they originally came out. This album was recorded live at the Ryman on September 14, 2015 and features the current membership (Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, Bob Carpenter and John McEuen) augmented by friends Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Byron House. The guest vocalists include former band members Jimmy Ibbotson and Jackson Browne with John Prine, Alison Krauss, Rodney Crowell and Jerry Jeff Walker also making appearances. Highlights include Alison Krauss singing “Catfish John” , Vince Gill singing “Tennessee Stud” and Sam Bush and Vince Gill teaming up on “Nine Pound Hammer”.

07) Willie Nelson – For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price (#) ($)

06) Time Jumpers – Kid Sister (#)

05) Dallas Wayne – Songs The Jukebox Taught Me ($)

things-we-do-for-dreams04) Trinity River Band – Things I Do For Dreams
I find it odd that Callahan, Florida, a town of about 2000 people, has produced two of my favorite new bluegrass bands in Trinity River Band and Flatt Lonesome. Trinity River Band was nominated for the Emerging Artist award at the recent International Bluegrass Music Association award a few months ago. They play well, sing well and present an effective stage show.

03) Dale Watson – Under The Influence
Had he been born in the 1930s or 1940s, Dale Watson would have been a huge mainstream country star. This album finds Dale tackling a wide array of country and rockabilly classics from bygone years. My favorites from this disc include Dale’s take on the Eddie Rabbitt classic “Pure Love” and his take on the Phil Harris song from the 1940s “That’s What I Like About The South”.

02) Flatt Lonesome – Runaway Train
Flatt Lonesome won the IBMA Vocal Group of The Year award for 2016. They are just flat[t] out good. Their take on Dwight Yoakam’s “You’re The One” has to be heard to be believed, but my favorite track is their cover of the Tommy Collins tune “Mixed Up Mess of A Heart”.

01) Gene Watson – Real. Country. Music ($)
Okay, so I lied, but I cannot let the #1 album go by without the comment that I consider Gene Watson to be the best country male vocalist alive today and that I pray that 2017 sees another new release from Gene.

Classic Rewind: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Talkin’ To Hank’

The legendary Hank Williams died on January 1, 1953.

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 – Cody Jinks – I’m Not The Devil

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

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

7 – Jamie Richards – Latest And Greatest

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

for-the-good-times

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

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

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

5 – Dallas Wayne – Songs The Jukebox Taught Me

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

4 – Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives

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

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

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

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

2 – John Prine – For Better, Or Worse

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

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

1 – Gene Watson – ‘Real. Country. Music

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

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

RazorX’s Top 10 Albums of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Rewind: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Too Cold At Home’

Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Tradition Lives’

81s3+w6kLmL._SX522_It’s been more than six years since Mark Chesnutt’s last full-length album and more than eight since his last collection of original material. His latest effort, Tradition Lives, which became available last week, reportedly took about three years to record. The long drawn-out process of producing new music has apparently paid off, resulting in the strongest album of Chesnutt’s post-major label career.

The title is self-explanatory. The biggest hit of Chesnutt’s career was his cover of Aerosmith’s pop ballad “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing”, but that song was not typical of his music and it ultimately resulted in his departure from MCA Records. He had been reluctant to record the song and flat out refused to comply when the label wanted more of the same. After leaving MCA, he recorded one album for Columbia and has been releasing music on a variety of independent labels since 2004.

Although Mark has remained true to his roots, he hasn’t always had access to great material as an indie artist. That is decidedly not the case with this album. The current single “Oughta Miss Me By Now” is a bit of a dud but the remaining twelve tracks are all top notch. None of them sound like anything that is currently on country radio today; they sound very much like the songs Mark sang in his commercial heyday. They are traditional but not dated and the material sounds fresh.

Fiddle and steel are plentiful throughout the album. There are quite a few uptempo honky-tonkers from the opening track “I’ve Got a Quarter In My Pocket”, “Neither Did I” and “Never Been To Texas”, but the ballads are the tracks that really shine. I particularly liked “Is It Still Cheating”, a Randy Houser/Jamey Johnson/Jerrod Niemann song in which the protagonist knows his wife is cheating on him but doesn’t care because it gives him time to pursue his own extramarital affair. I can’t decide if I like this one or “So You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore” better. The latter was written by newcomer William Michael Morgan and Chesnutt’s producer Jimmy Ritchey. In the aftermath of a broken marriage, the protagonist confronts the cause of the breakup — which at first appears to be another woman, but is later revealed to be the bottle:

It’s time to go our separate ways
Been goin’ through hell from all the hell we’ve raised
There comes a day to turn the page
So tonight I’m pourin’ you out on the floor
So you can’t hurt me anymore

Both of these songs are examples of the substance that used to be a hallmark of country music, but has been sadly lacking in recent years. “What I Heard” also falls into that category. It’s another break-up tale, but in this one Chesnutt refuses to accept that it’s really over and is convinced that his soon-to-be-ex will come crawling back.

Chesnutt steps out of his comfort zone for one number: “Hot”, a jazzy number written by Don Poythress and Wynn Varble. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but it’s not bad and Mark deserves credit for the creative stretch.

The album closes with an quiet number featuring only Mark’s vocal and Jimmy Ritchey on acoustic guitar. “There Won’t Be Another Now” was written by Red Lane and originally recorded by Merle Haggard. Mark’s rendition is meant to be a tribute to both recently departed legends, ending the album on a poignant note.

Tradition Lives is one the best albums I’ve heard this year; I highly recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Sister Sadie – ‘Sister Sadie’

sister sadieSister Sadie is a new bluegrass female supergroup/side project featuring the five-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year Dale Ann Watson, supported by mandolin player/singer Tina Adair, fiddler Deanie Richardson (who was in Patty Loveless’s band for 17 years), banjo player Gena Britt, and bassist Beth Lawrence. Their debut album, for Pinecastle Records is produced by Tim Austin.

The arresting ‘Unholy Water’ (written by Richardson with Bill Tennyson) opens the album with the anthropomorphised confessional of a bottle of moonshine whiskey:

The devil’s own daughter
Quenching the thirst of the damned
I am unholy water

Dale Ann Bradley takes the lead vocal on this song, as she does on three others. The gospel tune ‘Look What I’m Trading For A Mansion’ is a sweetly sentimental tale of an aged mother on her deathbed, and Bradley gives it a tender reading. The 1970s Dolly Parton hit ‘All I Can Do’ is bright and upbeat (incidentally the liner notes give the songwriting credits for a different song of the same name), but is the least essential of Bradley’s lead vocals here. Her cover of ‘Blood Red And Going Down’ was far more interesting, counterpointing the essential sweetness of Dale Ann’s voice with the dark dramatic lyric.

I hadn’t previously heard Tina Adair, but I am very impressed with her singing here. She takes the lead on a lovely version of country classic ‘Don’t Let Me Cross Over’, presenting the protagonist as sober and determined not to fall to temptation. She is also effective bringing real emotional weight to the sentimental tribute to a beloved mother, ‘Mama’s Room’, written by Harley Allen. She also sings two self-penned tunes, which are quite good, the up-tempo kiss-off ‘Not This Time’, and the wailing ‘Now Forever’s Gone’.

Gena Britt takes over on the pacy banjo-driven ‘Don’t Tell Me Stories’ (written by another leading lady of bluegrass, Lynn Morris), addressed to a lover whose fidelity is doubted. She also sings the lead on a cover of the minor-keyed ‘I May Be A Fool’, previously recorded by Mark Chesnutt.

‘Falling’ is a 70s pop song given a bluegrass makeover, with Beth Lawrence singing, but it doesn’t quite work for me, and is one of the album’s few missteps. Deanie Richardson does not sing, but her instrumental talents are showcased on ‘Ava’s Fury’, a tune inspired by the tantrum of her young stepdaughter.

This is a very enjoyable album, with a fine selection of songs all impeccably sung and played.

Grade: A

Single Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Oughta Miss Me By Now’

she oughta miss me by nowIt’s always a good news day when you hear Mark Chesnutt has released new music. His first album in eight years is due next month, with the encouraging title, Tradition Lives, and in the mean time here is the first single.

Written by Tony Ramey and Trey Matthews, this is an excellent song about the aftermath of a breakup, loaded with irony. The man is missing his ex, and even kind of stalking her, but is making no actual effort to get her back. Yet he is surprised that she hasn’t come back to him. Plaintively he bemoans the fact that she doesn’t ring him, even though he admits he hasn’t tried calling her either. Somehow one isn’t surprised it’s not working out – but Mark’s emotionally compelling vocals make one sympathise with his pain regardless:

I haven’t wrote
I haven’t called
Ain’t sent one single rose at all
I haven’t showed up at her door
Don’t go to places that she goes
I’ve moved on for all she knows
That should make her want me more
She oughta miss me by now

She oughta pick up that phone
For crying out loud this has gone on too long
She should’ve come to her senses
And want to work it all out
As bad as I’m hurtin’
She oughta miss me by now

Chesnutt’s voice is as good as ever, and the solid country backings and a prominent steel guitar make this mid-paced tune a delight to listen to. I await the new album with bated breath.

Listen to the track.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Mark Chesnutt covers Haggard’s ‘Misery And Gin’

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Real. Country. Music.’

real country musicWhile his commercial success never equalled his prowess, Gene Watson is one of the great country singers. Furthermore, of all the veterans still performing, his voice has held out the best, and almost unbelievably, he still sounds glorious at over 70. Gene’s producer for the last few projects, Dirk Johnson, does his usual sterling job – few album titles are as accurate about the contents as this one. The songs are all older ones, making this album something of a companion piece to its immediate predecessor, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, and are almost all emotional ballads about lost love, which play to Gene’s strengths as a vocalist.

One does not normally expect to hear a Gene Watson album opening with swelling strings, but his voice soon takes over, and the remainder of the album comprises familiar country arrangements featuring fiddles and steel guitars. ‘Enough For You’ is an excellent Kris Kristofferson tune which first appeared on the latter’s Jesus Was A Capricorn album in 1972. Gene says he first heard it in 1980 in the form of Billie Jo Spears’s cover (from her 1975 album Billie Jo), and has wanted to record it ever since. The suicidal cuckold’s lament is perfectly suited to Watson’s perfectly judged vocal, and is the first single.

‘She Never Got Me Over You’ is the last song Keith Whitley wrote before his untimely death (with the help of Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran). A powerful song about love and obsession, it was recorded a few years ago by Mark Chesnutt, but Gene makes it sound as if it was written just for him. If you want to check out Keith’s original demo, it’s on youtube.

There are two covers of Larry Gatlin songs, both of which were recorded by Elvis in the 70s. The gospel ballad ‘Help Me’ is delicately understated (and may serve as a taster for a new religious album Gene plans to release later this year). ‘Bitter They Are, Harder To Fall’ is a classic heartbreak ballad which Gene actually recorded many years ago on his early album Because You Believed In Me.

Gene revisits a number of other songs he has previously recorded on this album. ‘Old Loves Never Die’ was never a single, but as the title track of one of his most successful albums is perhaps the most familiar to fans. The melancholic ‘Ashes To Ashes’ was on his excellent but often overlooked 1987 alDbum Honky Tonk Crazy (his final Epic release). He covered the superb ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’ (previously cut by George Jones) on his now hard to find 1997 album A Way To Survive; this new steel-led recording is beautiful. He cut Bill Anderson’s ‘When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind’ on his Sings set in 2003; another jealous man’s pain-filled take on love lost but still deeply felt, this is magnificently sung.

A little less familiar is ‘A Girl I Used To Know’ – not the classic song of that name, but a David Ball song from the latter’s underrated 2004 album Freewheeler. A subtly sad, slow song about poignant memories of lost love with the steel guitar to the fore, it fits nicely with the other material. ‘A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn’ is a wonderful song written by Jim McBride and Roger Murrah which was one of Conway Twitty’s last few singles. Nat Stuckey’s emotional All My Tomorrows’ is another fine song and recording.

The one song not fitting the pattern of slow sad songs is a honky tonker previously recorded by Waylon Jennings and Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘I’ll Find It Where I Can’. One venture away from country territory is a cover of the Nat King Cole hit ‘Ramblin’ Rose’. Although there have been country covers of the song before, none was a big hit. Gene’s version is nice, and he certainly mnages to make it sound like a country song, but insofar as this album has a weak spot, this is it.

This is a superb album of excellent songs by one of the genre’s all time great singers, who is, thankfully, still in possession of his golden voice.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘Cruel Moon’

1999’s Cruel Moon was another excellent slice of Americana cruel moonflavored country (or possibly country-flavored Americana) from Buddy Miller. Brilliant musicianship, high quality songwriting, instinctively tasteful production and vocals which while not the smoothest are strongly emotional and sell the songs: what more could one ask for?

The outstanding ‘Does My Ring Burn Your Finger’ (written by Buddy with wife Julie) is a modern classic, also having been recorded by Lee Ann Womack and others including soul singer Solomon Burke on his Miller-produced Nashville set. The lyric calls to mind the Charley Price 1960s classic ‘Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger’, but the newer song is fiercer and edgier as he accusingly questions a restless spouse,

Does my ring burn your finger?
Did my love weigh you down?
Was a promise too much to keep around?

Julie was Buddy’s most frequent co-writer on this album, also co-ring the graceful, melodic waltz which lends the album its title. Emmylou Harris (for whom Buddy had been playing lead guitar) provides her distinctive harmony on this gorgeous pure country tune. They also wrote the sad but pretty-sounding ‘In Memory Of My Heart’, a wistful ballad on which Julie sings the harmony. ‘I’m Too Used To Lovin’ You’ is another very good song written by the couple.

The writing partnership was joined by Jim Lauderdale for a couple of songs. ‘Looking For A Heartache Like You’ is rhythmically catchy and upbeat, and was later recorded by Patty Loveless. In contrast, ‘Sometimes I Cry’ is imbued with a raw pain.

Buddy did not rely solely on his own songs for this album. The energetic and catchy ‘Love Match’ was written by Paul Kennerley; this uses boxing as a metaphor for falling in love and features a martial beat and guest vocals from Steve Earle, another of his former employers. While that song is archetypical Steve Earle in its sound, Buddy also chooses to cover one of Earle’s finest ballads, ‘I’m Not Getting Any Better At Goodbye’. Mark Chesnutt’s cut is still my favourite version of that song, but Buddy’s vulnerable take is excellent too, backed by a sparse arrangement.

‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ is a classy 60s pop ballad with a soothing melody, which was most successful for Gene Pitney. While Buddy isn’t a conventionally great vocalist, he invests this song with strong emotions, backed by the harmony vocals of Joy Lynn White. Buddy turns to bluesy gospel with Pop Staples’ ‘It’s Been A Change’. Julie Miller’s ‘Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go’ (later covered by Miranda Lambert) is an up-tempo relentless rock-edged number with a reverb-heavy production, which is very well done of its kind but not one of my favorites.

This is an excellent album which I strongly recommend.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Hank Williams – ‘Living Proof’

living proofBy 1974 Hank Jr was a mature vocalist but not a consistent hitmaker, with 1972’s ‘Eleven Roses’ remaining his sole #1 hit. Produced by MGM executive Jim Vienneau, Living Proof (often billed as featuring its big hit ‘I’ll Think Of Something’) showcases Hank Williams Jr at his traditional country best, before his change in direction.

The title track, ‘I’ll Think Of Something’, became familiar to a later generation of fans when it was covered by 90s star Mark Chesnutt who took the Bill Foster/Jerry Rice tune to the top of the charts in 1992. It was not quite such a big hit for Hank Jr, whose cut peaked at #7. I must confess that I prefer Chesnutt’s version, but Hank Jr’s original, swathed in strings, is still a fine recording with an emotional vocal and Hank trying out the bottom reaches of his voice.

The self-penned follow up ‘Angels Are Hard To Find’ reached the top 20. The earnest vocal works well and it’s a decent song the artist was to revisit later in his career.

He had not yet shaken off his father’s legacy altogether, and the album includes a very nice cover of ‘I Just Don’t Like This Kind Of Living’ treated very much like the original. There’s a certain uneasy frisson hearing Hank Jr singing a song his father wrote about his rocky marriage to his mother, though perhaps not as much as with the posthumous duet of the song recorded a decade earlier, but it is an excellent performance of a great song. He draws equally effectively on another country legend of his father’s generation with Lefty Frizzell’s ‘Confused’, with Hank Jr’s vocal inflections strongly influenced by Frizzell’s. (The song was the B-side of Frizzell’s 1965 hit ‘She’s Gone, Gone, Gone’.)

The excellent ‘Getting Over You’ should have been a single, as it is an outstanding song about a man whose heart breaks so badly he ends up committing suicide:

I sold my car to buy more wine
I hocked my watch
I’ve lost all track of time
Days with you went by so fast
Now I’m tryin’ to relive the past
You don’t know what I’ve been through
Getting over you

I’ve tried to love other women
But I can’t
You’ve really made a mess
Out of what used to be a man
I thought I’d drowned the fire in others
But you’re still my only lover
You don’t know what I’ve been through
Getting over you

I got some pills from a old doctor friend
The bottle said one every 12 hours for pain
But this pain I feel ain’t small
That’s why I took them one and all
It was something I had to do
To get over you

‘She Was Just Something To Do’ is an excellent cheating song, although the excuse may not have gone down too well the protagonist’s wife.

‘How Long Will You Keep Coming Back to Me’ is a country ballad written by Lamar Morris and Ronnie Hughes, and is pretty good. ‘Before You Fell Out Of Love With Me’ adopts the Nashville Sound in its arrangement, but again is a good song underneath, sung well. ‘Where She Left Off’ is another excellent heartbreak song with a string arrangement and a powerful vocal.

‘All I Had to Do’ is an easy-listening style sophisticated ballad with a downbeat lyric about heartbreak and a highly orchestrated backing.

This album may not appeal to fans of Hank Jr’s rock influenced material, and certain elements of the production have dated, but it remains an excellent record.

Grade: A

Week ending 5/23/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

hqdefault-21955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Girl On The Billboard — Del Reeves (United Artists)

1975: (Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song — B.J. Thomas (ABC)

1985: Step That Step — Sawyer Brown (Capitol/Curb)

1995: Gonna Get A Life — Mark Chesnutt (Decca)

2005: My Give A Damn’s Busted — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Raise ‘Em Up — Keith Urban ft. Eric Church (Hit Red/Capitol)

Classic Rewind: Mark Chesnutt – ‘I’ll Think Of Something’

Classic Rewind: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Brother Jukebox’

RIP: the songwriter Paul Craft died on Saturday aged 76. He was the writer of this among many other fine songs, and was one of those old school writers who never needed to co-write. He had just been elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame earlier this month. There is an excellent tribute/obituary by Peter Cooper in The Tennesseean.

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘Ten Rounds’

TenroundsTracy Byrd’s second album for RCA Nashville, Ten Rounds, saw a reversal of commercial fortunes that got Byrd back in the game at a time when he needed the support of country radio to remain relevant. Released in 2001, the album was once again co-produced by Billy Joe Walker, Jr.

A Rivers Rutherford co-written slice of terrible country rock entitled “Good Way To Get On My Bad Side,” a duet with Mark Chesnutt, was issued as the lead single. Hardly memorable and wholly generic, the track peaked at #21. While the track could be seen as an early indication of the genre’s future, Walker and Byrd get one thing right – the loudness, despite heavy electric guitars, is kept to a minimum.

The Spanish flavored “Just Let Me Be In Love” returned Byrd to the top ten for the first time in three years when it peaked at #9. Byrd returns to form here with a triple punch – memorable lyric, forceful vocal, and wonderfully listenable production.

The third and final single, “Ten Rounds With Jose Cuevro,” a lively honky-tonker, topped the charts giving Byrd his first number one single in eight years and his second chart topper to date. The ruckus nature of the track coupled with Byrd’s immersion into the character helped propel the single’s success at radio. While the novelty wears off after repeated listenings, the track isn’t without modest commercial charms.

The remainder of Ten Rounds balances tenderly produced ballads with rowdy up-tempo numbers. The latter group leaves much to be desired, especially “Summertime Fever” and “Somebody’s Dream,” which are pure dreck. Thankfully the other uptempo numbers are far more listenable and delicately produced.

The former provide moments where Ten Rounds shines as bright as it’s going to with tracks that are great, but nothing revelatory. Surprisingly, three of them are covers – “Wildfire” is the Michal Martin Murphy song from the 70s, “How Much Does The World Weigh” was previously recorded by Sammy Kershaw, and “Keeper of the Stars” is an updated version of his signature song. The covers are good, but he brings nothing new to them except for “Keeper of the Stars,” which comes off more country than the original. “Needed,” as close to neo-traditional as the record gets is good, too.

All and all Ten Rounds is a squarely commercial country album aimed at positioning Byrd as a major player for continued airplay on country radio. While that objective was achieved, Byrd and Walker could’ve amassed a far more memorable collection of songs that were stronger both sonically and lyrically. As it stands, Ten Rounds is nothing more than a mixed bag that gets more wrong than right.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Tracy Bird – ‘No Ordinary Man’

TracybyrdnomIn the wake of the success of “Holdin’ Heaven” Tracy Byrd readied his sophomore album, No Ordinary Man, for release a year later in 1994. Country and pop songwriter / musician Jerry Crutchfield,  handled the production duties, taking over from Tony Brown and Keith Stegall, and gave the project a straightforward mainstream sound that worked well with fans and radio programmers alike.

The first single was Byron Hill and Wayne Tester’s “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous,” a delightful honky-tonker about a couple being filmed for a television show that peaked at #4, The lyric may be clichéd and try too hard to paint the scenario of this couple, but the overall track exudes a likeable charm that remains enduring more than twenty years later.

The line dance craze sweeping the country music nation at the time give rise to such numbers as second single “Watermelon Crawl,” which also peaked at #4 as a result. The song, about a Watermelon festival in Georgia, is corny and dated but hasn’t aged as horribly as other such songs and is still listenable today.

“The First Step,” the third straight sound-alike honky-tonker to be released from No Ordinary Man impacted radio next. Another line dance song this one may’ve peaked at #5, but unlike the previous two, it’s hardly remembered today (I’ve never even heard it before). Line dance burn out, and the fact this number is pure filler, is likely to blame for this track’s demise. The production doesn’t help either, as it’s indistinguishable from Garth Brooks’ “American Honky-Tonk Bar Association” from a year earlier.

MCA Records at the time didn’t want to release the biggest hit from No Ordinary Man as a single, but Byrd pushed, citing crowd reaction in his argument. Byrd won and “The Keeper Of The Stars” was released in February 1995. An instant classic, the gentle acoustic and steel guitar accentuated love song quickly raced to #2, became an anthem for weddings, and won its writers (Dicky Lee, Danny Mayo, and Karen Staley) CMA Song of the Year that fall.

The single version of “Keeper of the Stars” was different from the one featured on No Ordinary Man. Byrd re-recorded the track because he felt he sang it better in a lower key. This second version, the one he sang in concert, was also used in the accompanying music video for the song. Byrd would re-record the song again in 2001 when he was signed to RCA Records.

The remainder of No Ordinary Man focused heavily on uptempo numbers no different than the majority of the singles. “Right About Now” and “Pink Flamingos” are throwaway filler while “You Just Don’t Know How Good You’ve Got It” is noticeable only because Crutchfield gave it a honky-tonk arrangement not far removed from Alan Jackson’s classic style.

The remaining two – the title track and “Redneck Roses” are Byrd co-writes. The title track is a convincing cowboy number not far removed from Mark Chesnutt’s trademark style while “Redneck Roses” is the album’s lone neotraditional number and an excellent one at that.

With two million copies sold, No Ordinary Man reversed Byrd’s commercial fortunes by planting him squarely within the line dance craze and the fever surrounding rockin’ honky-tonkers. Unfortunately that sound doesn’t make for a great listening experience as the album lacked the lyrical and sonic verity needed to help it stand above the fray. But as a commercial product it couldn’t have been much hotter or more successful.

Grade: B