My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Marvin Gaye

Album Review: Barbara Mandrell – ‘This Time I Almost Made It: The Lost Columbia Masters’

81U+RipV8TL._SX522_More than any other performer, Barbara Mandrell is the artist responsible for sparking my interest in country music. Even before there were any local country music radio stations in my area, her weekly TV series was my main source of keeping abreast of what was going on in the world of country music. This was in the early 80s, when she’d just become the first artist to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award a second time. Her contributions to country music were significant, but her catalog has been criminally neglected. Fortunately, that grievance is starting to be addressed. With the reissue of This Time I Almost Made It, courtesy of Real Gone Music, all of Barbara’s solo albums for Columbia are now available on CD.

Barbara was signed to Columbia in 1969 by Billy Sherrill and remained with the label until 1975. During that time, she only released three solo albums, plus a duets album with David Houston. Most major country acts released three albums a year in those days, but like we often see today, the label was waiting for some radio hits before committing to album releases. Her debut album Treat Him Right, was released in 1971 and was a lackluster seller. 1973’s The Midnight Oil reached #8 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, buoyed by the success of the title track which reached #7 in Billboard and #1 in Cashbox, and “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home”, which was Barbara’s first Top 10 hit. By the time This Time I Almost Made It was released in 1974, the momentum she had gained seemed to have been lost again; it only reached #41 on the albums chart. By that time, Barbara might have already initiated talks to negotiate her release from her Columbia contract. If so, the label obviously would have had little interest in promoting her records. At any rate, the quality of the material does not seem to have been the issue.

The title track was written by Sherrill when he realized that they didn’t have enough songs for an album. Though in some respects it may have been an afterthought, it is my favorite track on the album. It’s a beautiful ballad, not particularly country in arrangement but the production is tastefully restrained. It was released as a single in advance of the album, as a follow-up to “The Midnight Oil”, but it charted outside the Top 10 at #12. The second single was “Wonder When My Baby’s Coming Home”, another easy-listening style ballad, although it is a little more country thanks to the inclusion of some steel guitar. I wasn’t previously familiar with this one, but I like it a lot. The background vocals give it a slightly dated feel, though they are a lot less intrusive than many records of the era. This one stalled at #39 and was Barbara’s final single for Columbia.

Barbara is well known for making country versions of R&B songs, occasionally delving too far into R&B territory for my taste in later years but her take on “You’re All I Need to Get By”, which has been a 1968 R&B hit for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, is quite good. She also turned in good performances on some pop songs of the day: “Keep On Singing”, which had been a hit for Helen Reddy, The Bee Gees’ “Words”, and The Beatles’ “Something”, which closes out the original album. She also covered her country colleagues Merle Haggard (“Today I Started Loving You Again”) and Charlie Rich (“A Very Special Love Song”).

This CD would be worth buying for the original album alone, but Real Gone Music has included almost another album’s worth of bonus tracks. There are nine in total, seven of which have never been released before. First up is the very country “I Hope You Love Me”, which was recorded during Barbara’s first session with Columbia in 1969. Written by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, it was included on Tammy’s 1970 album The Ways To Love a Man under the title “I Know”. “You Can Always Come Back”, also recorded in 1969 is a cover of a Curly Putman hit. “Coming Home Solider” had been a 1966 pop hit for Bobby Vinton.

Though the album’s liner notes refer to Barbara’s version as “dramatic”, I found it a bit plodding and it’s my least favorite track on the disc. Although a bit tame, her reading of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)” is much better. It was written by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, who had hired Barbara for a two-week stint in Las Vegas when she was only eleven years old. It’s proof positive that despite her reputation for interpreting pop and R&B material, she was just as adept at tackling traditional country. Ditto for “You Took Him Off My Hands”, a Wynn Stewart/Harlan Howard/Skeets McDonald song that had previously been recorded by Patsy Cline.

Though not one a landmark album in the Mandrell discography, This Time I Almost Made It provides an interesting opportunity to trace Barbara’s development as an artist, and the bonus material is a real treat for her fans. After leaving Columbia, Barbara signed with ABC/Dot, which was later absorbed by MCA. That era of her career, despite being the years of her greatest commercial success, is still largely unavailable on CD aside from a few hits compilations. Hopefully the sales of This Time I Almost Made It will be good enough to entice Universal to finally allowing some of Barbara’s most commercially important recordings a chance to once again see the light of day.

Grade: A

Recommendation: Songs to love

Country music has never been particularly well-known or renowned for our steamy love songs.  Country is at its best when dealing with the less-than-cuddly emotions of heartache, loss, loneliness, etc.  Maybe that’s why Merle Haggard never covered Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ and why the Zac Brown Band won’t be ‘bringing sexy back’.  Still, I’ve managed to corral a selection of country songs designed to get your libido moving.  Here’s a playlist to get you started:

Charlie Rich – ‘Behind Closed Doors’ … Charlie Rich’s breakthrough hit from 1973 topped the country charts before crossing over to the Top 40 on the pop charts.  The swaying number, where the narrator sings the praises of his demure woman, would go on to win Single and Song of the Year honors from both the CMA and ACM as well as a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal.

Conway Twitty – ‘I Want To Know You’/‘I’d Love To Lay You Down’ … Conway Twitty was perhaps the king of the bedroom anthem.  These are just two personal favorites in his repertoire of come-hither tunes.  The former makes a plea to get to know one another before the love-making while the latter simply tells the lady what he’d like to do, and promises he’ll still want to lay her down when her hair has turned silver.

‘Faith Hill ‘Breathe’ … After eight years of scoring major country hits, Faith Hill hit the big time with this sexy song.  The video featured a gorgeous Faith writhing around in silk sheets with the golden desert in the background, and the song itself is just as sexy.  In what is perhaps her finest moment vocally, she purrs the verses before a chorus that would make any man smile.

Alabama – ‘Feels So Right’ /‘Take Me Down’ /‘The Closer You Get’ … Like Twitty, country’s first supergroup Alabama, were masters of steamy love songs. These three come from a two-year run between 1981 and 1983 when Alabama was smoking hot.  The distorted guitar and vocals turned off some purists at the time, but the sound would prove to have lasting effects, and these songs sound the least dated of almost any 1980s country recordings.  This is backseat country at its finest.

Sammi Smith – ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ … This Kris Kristofferson-penned song simply asks for another’s company to help ease the loneliness until the sun comes up.   Simple is almost always best.

Tanya Tucker‘Would You Lay With Me (In A Field of Stone)’ … It incited fury from some upon its release; not just because of its racy subject matter, but because the singer was only 15 years old.  David Allan Coe painted a picture of a tortured soul, seeking comfort from another.

Trisha Yearwood ‘Like We Never Had a Broken Heart’ … When Trisha Yearwood sings, it’s always great.  When Garth Brooks joins her for harmony, it’s almost other-worldly.  This song is one of my first memories of 90s country, but my young mind didn’t comprehend what they were singing about until much later.  When I finally understood the story of two heartbroken lovers who were holding on to each other to ease the pain, I found it was a sweet story set to smart lyrics and a sing-along melody.  Brilliant.

What are some of your favorite country love songs?  What would you recommend as great examples of backseat country?