My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Mary Ann Kennedy

Album Review: Lee Greenwood – ‘Inside Out’

Lee Greenwood’s debut single, ‘It Turns Me Inside Out’, was released on MCA Records in September 1981. It eventually peaked at #17 on the Billboard country chart, but made more of an impact than that position might suggest. Written by Jan Crutchfield, brother of Greenwood’s producer Jerry Crutchfield, it is an excellent song imbued with regret as Lee sings emotionally of his mixed feelings over a breakup:

In a way I guess it’s better
Even though there’s nothin’ good about goodbye
But I know I couldn’t hold you
Now you’ve found the wings and you’ll be groomed to fly

It’s for sure I’m gonna miss you
But I guess that’s what goodbye is all about
In a way I’m glad it’s over
In another way it turns me inside out

Musically the song has a soulful, contemporary vibe, with strings and the now dated backing vocals popular on many recordings of the period.

An album, produced by Jerry Crutchfield, was released in 1982.

The album’s biggest hit and best song followed, and reached #5. ‘Ring On Her Finger, Time on Her Hands’ was written by Don Goodman, Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose, and relates the story of a neglected wife who turns to an affair. Reba McEntire later covered the song, adapting the lyric to tell it from the woman’s point of view. Greenwood’s original, perhaps more interestingly, has him portraying the cuckolded husband but taking the blame.:

She stood before God, her family and friends
And vowed that she’d never love anyone else again, only me
As pure as her gown of white she stood by my side
And promised that she’d love me till the day she died

Lord, please forgive her even though she lied
‘Cause you’re the only one who knows just how hard she tried

She had a ring on her finger and time on her hands
The woman in her needed the warmth of a man
The gold turned cold in her wedding band
It’s just a ring on your finger when there’s time on your hands

‘She’s Lying’, another Jan Crutchfield song, peaked at #7. It is an emotional, perhaps even overwrought, ballad about a man who knows his wife is cheating but in response lies himself that he believes her. The production is dated but Greenwood sells it vocally.

The final single was ‘Ain’t No Trick (It Takes Magic)’ sounds more R&B than country, and is not to my taste at all, but was another #7 hit.

Greenwood himself wrote three songs. ‘A Love Song’ is a pleasant AC ballad. ‘Thank You For Changing My Life’ is a bit duller, sounding like Kenny Rogers at his most MOR. ‘Home Away From Home’ is quite a good song about the sacrifices of life as a musician on the road.

‘I Don’t Want To Be A Memory is a pretty good mid-tempo song written by Sonny LeMaire and J B Pennington of the group Exile.

Jan Crutchfield contributed another pair of songs. ‘Love Don’t Get No Better Than This’ is a nice love song, and ‘Broken Pieces Of My Heart’ is a regretful ballad about a failed relationship.

This is far from a traditional country album, but it is competently produced and Greenwood has a strong and distinctive voice. The material is quite strong, and this is not a bad album overall.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Ain’t It The Truth’

 

Released in February 1998, Ain’t It The Truth was Daryle’s third, and most successful album release, reaching #18 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, his only album to crack the top forty. This seems strange in that Daryle’s days of producing hit singles were over. There were three singles released from this album, only one of which cracked the top thirty country singles.

Despite the lack of singles success, this is a really fine country album with a cast of stalwart country musicians plying their trade on the album, headed by the following:

Larry Byrom – acoustic guitar, electric guitar

Joe Chemay – bass guitar

Larry Franklin – fiddle

Paul Franklin – dobro, steel guitar

Sonny Garrish – steel guitar

Steve Gibson – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin

John Hobbs – keyboards, synthesizer

Dann Huff – bass guitar, electric guitar

The album opens up with “The Note” a fine song that had been recorded by the likes of Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette and Doug Supernaw before Daryle got around to releasing the song as a singleDaryle’s version reached #28 on the Country chart but also reached #90 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

The note was short, but lord so strong
It simply said I can’t go on
And live a lie with someone I don’t love
She couldn’t tell me face to face

Oh, but how my world was changed
By the hand that held the pen
That wrote the words that broke the heart
Of the one the only one that really loves her

My tears fell down like falling rain
But they can’t wash away the pain
How will I go to sleep without her in my arms
She never meant to break my heart

Oh,but how my world was torn apart
By the, hand that held the (f) pen
That wrote the words that broke the heart
Of the one the only one that really loves her

This is followed up by “Love or the Lack Of” by Mary Ann Kennedy and Rich Wayland, a mid-tempo ballad of what life really is about.

Jeff Crossan’s “That’s Where You’re Wrong” is a nice ballad, sung well by Daryle, and serves this album well by keeping the tempos on the album mixed. I don’t think the song had real potential as a single but it was released as the second single on the album, just cracking the top fifty.

 You said, what you had to say, would come as a surprise

You were right, honey, you were right

You told me, nothing I could do was gonna change your mind

I knew then, you’d be right again

But, when you said we were through, I knew that wasn’t true

 

[Chorus]

That’s where you’re wrong, that’s where you’re wrong

Deep down inside love lingers on, it won’t let go, it’s still too strong

That’s where you’re wrong

Daryle was never timid about tackling classic country ballads, and in Jerry Reed’s “A Thing Called Love” he has picked a good one. The song was originally released as a single by Jimmy Dean back in 1968 (still my favorite version of the song), taken to #1 (Record World) in 1972 by Johnny Cash, and covered by countless artists as an album track. Daryle gives this mid-tempo ballad a straight-ahead country treatment that does credit to the song.

Dwayne Blackwell’s rather tongue-in-cheek “I’d Live For You” would have made an excellent single:

 I won’t climb the highest mountain I won’t swim the deep blue sea

I won’t brave a raging river I’m no hero on TV

Well there are other ways to prove my love if you’re not too choosy

I’d swim the deep blue swimming pool climb the highest barroom stool

Brave the raging waters of a hot tub or Jacuzzi

 

Honey I’d live for you that’d be a lot more fun

Work and give to you vacations in the sun

No I wouldn’t die for love like the poets say they’d do

I love you so much honey I’d live for you

“A Miracle In The Making” finds Daryle as a duet partner with Kerry Singletary (now Kerry Harvick), his then- wife. Kerry’s not a bad singer, her voice somewhat reminiscent of Dolly Parton and I think this recording would have made a decent single

So I’m told it happens every day

Common as a wedding in the month of May

It’s something my heart won’t soon forget

There was nothing ordinary in that moment we met

 

We may not have seen the sea parted

We may not have tasted water turned to wine

And it may not appear all that earth shaking

Oh but I believe we could be a miracle in the making

Delbert McClinton’s “My Baby’s Lovin’ “ was the third and final single released from the album, reaching #44. Mc Clinton is a fine song-writer wih a bit of a bluesy touch to his ballads. This song is taken at a medium fast tempo and I’m surprised that it did not chart better.

The album closes with two songs on which Daryle has co-writing credit. “The Real Deal” is a good up-tempo song about the state of the narrator’s love (‘it’s the real deal’), whereas the title track is a ballad that pays homage to past country classics. I love the song, it definitely tells it like it is for Singletary and it would have made a great single. The track received some airplay here in Central Florida.

Born in this country red white and blue

From church pews to bar stools it’s always been true

From up in the mountains way back in the pines

From Crazy to Sweet Dreams to Yesterday’s Wine

 

All of my heroes from Lefty to Jones

Some are still with us and some have gone home

Oh precious are the memories of the music they made

Forever living not held by the grave

 

Forever and Always Chiseled in Stone

Like honky tonk prophets their words linger on

If you don’t believe me if you need some proof

Ask any old jukebox hey ain’t it the truth

 

Honest and simple never ashamed

Lord help us Jesus never to change

One day I’ll see Lefty when my work is through

He’ll say son you were country oh ain’t it the truth

 

Forever and Always Chiseled in Stone…

Ask any old jukebox hey ain’t it the truth      

 

I really like this album, and I play it with some regularity – I actually had been listening to the album the week before Daryl’s death. I’d call it a solid “A”

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘A Tribute To John D Loudermilk’

John D Loudermilk, a cousin of the legendary Louvin Brothers was a remarkable songwriter and artist in his own right, whose music crossed musical boundaries with eleements of country, rock and pop.
In March 2016 he was honoured by a star-studded tribute concert in Nashville, and selected performances from that occasion have now been released on CD/digital download and DVD. The concert is also set to be broadcast on PBS.

Opener ‘Everybody Knows’, performed by musician/singer/songwriter Harry Stinson, has a hypnotic 1950s pop-meets-Louvin Brothers feel. Singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman delivers the teenage romance ‘Language Of Love’ in a sprightly 50s doowop pop style, also adopted by Lee Roy Parnell in a slightly bluesier fashion on ‘Mr Jones’. Another songwriter paying tribute is Bobby Braddock, who takes on ‘Break My Mind’ quite effectively, accompanied by his own piano. Norro Wilson is also pretty good on the novelty ‘The Great Snowman’.

Bluegrass legend Doyle Lawson and his band Quicksilver race through ‘Blue Train’, which works perfectly with a bluegrass arrangement. Southern rocker Jimmy Hall takes on ‘Bad News’ which again works well in this setting. Buddy Greene, mainly a Christian artist, sings the tongue in cheek story song ‘Big Daddy’s Alabama Bound’; his vocals are limited, but the arrangement is great. John McFee of the Doobie Brothers is passionate on the politically fuelled anthem to the Cherokee nation now restricted to the ‘Indian Reservation’.

Rodney Crowell also rocks it up on ‘Tobacco Road, possibly Loudermilk’s best known song; this is highly enjoyable and one of my favorite tracks. I was less impressed by his wife Claudia Church on the syncopated pop of ‘Sunglasses’.

John Jorgenson of the Desert Rose Band. Jorgenson (who helmed the whole affair) is known for his guitar playing rather than his singing, but his vocals are perfectly adequate on the rocker ‘Midnight Bus’. I very much enjoyed his Desert Rose Bandmate Herb Pederson on ‘It’s My Time’, very much in classic Desert Rose Band style. John Cowan soars on the life-affirming ‘I Wanna Live’.

Rosanne Cash is tender on the lovely ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye’, another highlight. Ricky Skaggs and the Whites team up on two songs. ‘Heaven Fell last Night’ is a lovely romantic ballad sung together by Ricky and wife Sharon, while Ricky takes the lead on the fun Stonewall Jackson hit ‘Waterloo’. I also enjoyed Becky Hobbs on the country hit ‘Talk Back Trembling Lips’.

Emmylou Harris’s voice is sadly showing the signs of age, but she is well supported by the harmony vocals of Pam Rose and Mary Ann Kennedy on ‘Where Are They Gone’. 80s star Deborah Allen also sounds a little worse for wear on her song, the wistful ballad ‘Sad Movies’. Loudermilk’s son Mike doesn’t have much of a voice, but he does his best on a pleasant version of the catchy ‘Abilene’, and is backed by (his own?) delightful guitar work.

I wasn’t previously familiar with Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae, an Americana/folk duo and rela-life married couple. Their version of the part spoken airline tragedy story song ‘Ebony Eyes’ is prettily harmonised although the individual voices are not that strong. Also new to me was Beth Hooker, who delivers a sultry blues version of Turn Me On’. Guests from further afield include Australian fingerpicking guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel on an instrumental track.

This is a worthy tribute which reminds the listener of both the musical breadth and quality of Loudermilk’s oeuvre.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Pam Tillis – ‘Homeward Looking Angel’

homeward looking angelPam’s second Arista album, released in 1992, was tastefully produced like its predecessor by Paul Worley and Ed Seay. Although the material was not quite as strong, there was enough to keep her momentum going, and in fact it was more successful commercially than its predecessor.

The first single ‘Shake The Sugar Tree’, written by Chapin Hartford reached #3. A pretty melody, tasteful arrangement, Pam’s confident lead vocal and banked harmonies from Stephanie Bentley (who later had a duet hit with Ty Herndon) apparently lifted from her demo of the song all contribute to making this a very attractive recording of a good song with an assertive attitude as the protagonist gives her neglectful man a warning.

The wistful story song ‘Let That Pony Run’ (about a suburban housewife who finds a new life after her husband leaves her), written by Gretchen Peters, is one of the standout tracks. It is the kind of mature, thoughtful lyric which would get no traction on today’s radio but in 1993 it reached #4. An exquisite vocal is backed up by backing vocals from Pam Rose and Mary Ann Kennedy.

The playful irony of ‘Cleopatra Queen Of Denial’, written by Pam, her then-husband Bob DiPiero, and Jan Buckingham, peaked just outside the top 10 (at #11).

By far my favourite track is the very traditional ‘Do You Know Where Your Man Is’ (written by Dave Gibson, Russell Smith and Carol Chase), which was another top 20 single. The pensive ballad asks a married woman about the state of her marriage

Did you kiss him when he left this morning
And does he know that he’s needed at home?
Well, if you don’t feel that old thrill
Then somebody else will
And there’s some mighty good women all alone

It’s ten o’clock
Do you know where your man is
And are you sure that he’s doing you right?
Are you still in his heart
When he’s out of your sight?
Do you know where your man is tonight?

It was previously recorded by Barbara Mandrell, whose version is also very fine, but Pam’s just edges it for me. Her beautifully judged vocal is backed by a lovely traditional arrangement with prominent steel guitar.

Opening track ‘How Gone Is Goodbye’ is one of a brace of songs written by Pam with Bob DiPiero. It is a very good song which could easily have been another hit single, with a ballsy (and surprisingly upbeat) delivery and mature lyric with a woman regretting walking out and wondering if she can backtrack.

The excellent ballad ‘We’ve Tried Everything Else’ (written by Pam and Bob with Steve Seskin)might be the same couple a little further down the line, as the protagonist suggests to her ex that getting back together would be the best solution, since new lovers have failed to help them move on:

Neither one of us is feeling any better
All we’ve been doing is fooling ourselves
Baby, you and me were meant to be together
Let’s try love again
We’ve tried everything else

The title track offers a portrait of a young woman who is returning home as the prodigal daughter but who hasn’t given up on her dreams:

Her party dress is tattered but her vision is inspired…

There’s a road ahead and the road behind
All roads lead to home this time

A couple of tracks are less interesting. ‘Love Is Only Human’ is an AC-leaning duet with Diamond Rio’s Marty Roe which is a bit bland, although it is beautifully sung; I would have loved to hear this pairing on a more dynamic song. ‘Rough And Tumble Heart’ was previously recorded in a very similar arrangement by female-led 80s group Highway 101, so Pam’s version, while perfectly listenable, seems redundant, even though she wrote it (with DiPiero and Sam Hogin). ‘Fine, Fine, Very Fine Love’ is just plain boring and Pam’s vocal verges on the screechy.

Although I don’t like this album quite as much as Put Yourself In My Place, it actually sold better, becoming Pam’s first platinum certification. It is a solid and very varied collection with some excellent songs. Used copies can be obtained cheaply, and it’s well worth picking up.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Pam Tillis – ‘Collection’ (the Warner Brothers recordings)

pam tillis collectionDuring the 1980s, Pam Tillis was signed to Warner Brothers Records, who released a number of singles to country radio. None enjoyed much success, and by the end of the decade Pam had moved on. After Pam’s rise to fame with Arista the following decade, Warner Bros capitalized by releasing an album containing a selection of the sides she had cut for them, including early versions of songs she had since taken to the top with Arista. Her only album for Warner Bros, Above And Beyond The Doll Of Cutey, was an unapologetically pop (and not very good) record, but these country recordings are all pretty good.

It is hard to see why these early versions of the atmospheric ‘Maybe It Was Memphis’ (a bit more understated than the hit) and the beautifully resigned melancholy of Pam’s own ‘One Of Those Things’ (which was to become one of my favorite Pam Tillis singles – and I think I like this version even more) were not successful at the time.

An excellent and respectful cover of Buck Owens’s ‘There Goes My Love’ shows Pam’s traditional country roots. ‘Those Memories Of You’ may be familiar from the Dolly Parton-Emmylou Harris-Linda Ronstadt Trio album of 1987; Pam’s version (from 1986) does not quite have the charm of that version but is a nice enough recording. Another possible missed opportunity was the fine version of a song which was to become Lorrie Morgan’s breakthrough hit – ‘Five Minutes’ (a Beth Nielsen Chapman song), which Warner Brothers left on the shelf. The production is a little dated with a faintly tinny sound, but the vocal is good.

The other songs are less familiar, but make for a pretty good collection. The joyful up-tempo ‘I Thought I’d About Had It With Love’, written by Beth Nielsen Chapman with Milton Brown about finally finding true love, has a great charm. The catchy ‘I Wish She Wouldn’t Treat You That Way’ is a tongue-in-cheek complaint at the loving way her rival is treating the mutual object of their affections. Both of these songs should have had commercial potential.

Pam wrote ‘Sometimes A Stranger Will Do’ with Pat Bunch and Mary Ann Kennedy, a ballad with a melancholic undertone about resorting to the odd one-night-stand while traversing the dating scene in search of a forever love. The trio also wrote ‘Goodbye Highway’, which is a bit fillerish but adds a bit of tempo. ‘Tennessee Nights’ is a pleasant but fairly bland love ballad.

Packaging of this album was both cheap (no pictures) and deliberately misleading (referring to four songs as hits, when two were only hits when re-recorded for Arista, and the other two when recorded by different artists altogether). Dubious marketing aside, the actual music contained here is up to the standard of Tillis’s hit material. Used copies of the CD version are easy to find at cheap prices, and this is worth getting hold of if you’re a fan of Pam’s music. The same material was repackaged yet again in 2000 as Super Hits.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Wild Angels’

wild angelsMartina McBride is one of the most technically gifted vocalists in country music, and her style was ideally suited to the 90s with its mix of contemporary shine and more traditional elements (although the latter tended to reduce over time), good songs, and great vocals. Her third album, 1995’s Wild Angels, would seal her star status. Martina took a co-production credit this time alongside Paul Worley and Ed Seay, who had helmed her earlier work. Her vocals are superb throughout this album, and almost every song sounds as though it could have been a successful single. Bookending the set by opening with a baby’s cry and ending with studio chatter, however, is pretentious, self-indulgent and pointless.

The lead single, the charmingly hopeful ‘Safe In The Arms Of Love’, dreams about the prospects of true love some time in the future. A pretty arrangement with an almost Celtic feel and airy backing vocals from co-writers Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose (the third writer was Pat Bunch) contrast nicely with Martina’s powerful lead vocal. It was a cover of a song which was originally recorded by Baillie & The Boys and had been a Canadian country hit for Michelle Wright, but Martina’s version is my favorite. Peaking at #4 on Billboard, it was her second biggest hit to date.

The sunny title track was the second single, and while the efficiently glossy surface of this well-written contemporary country song (written by Matraca Berg, Gary Harrison and Harry Stinson) somehow sounds a little soulless to me, it was very radio-friendly and became Martina’s first #1 hit.

Surprisingly, the last couple of singles failed to repeat this success, even though they are siginifiantly better songs. ‘Phones Are Ringing All Over Town’ is a dramatic ballad (written by Marc Beeson, Kim Vassy and David McKechnie) about a complacent cheating husband’s discovery that he has crossed one line too many and the marriage is over with “nothing to be said”. It was only just a top 30 hit despite the excellence of both song and vocal.

‘Swingin’ Doors’ only just crept into the top 40, but deserved much better. Written by Chapin Hartford, Bobby Boyd and Jim Foster, it is a ballsy, sardonic response to a man the protagonist realizes has been stringing her along with empty promises. The doors to her heart are about to be closed to him. Banked harmonies help to sell the song’s defiance.

The final single (and my favourite), ‘Cry On The Shoulder Of The Road’ peaked at 26. It is in fact one of my favorite Martina McBride recordings ever. It was written by Matraca Berg and Tim Krekel, and portrays a woman whose marriage has reached such a desperate state she just leaves with no destination in mind:

Rollin’ out of Bakersfield
My own private hell on wheels
But this time I’m gone for good…

It makes me feel a little low
Steel guitar on the radio
when its kind of scary teh way these truckers fly
So this is how leaving feels
Drinking coffee and making deals
With the One above to get me through the night

Cause there ain’t no telling what I’ll find
But I might as well move on down the line
There ain’t no comfort to be found in your zip code
I’d rather break down on the highway
With no one to share my load
Cry on the shoulder of the road

Levon Helm’s harmony lends a California country-rock feel to the chorus, while Martina’s full blooded vocal makes her sound vulnerable but determined to make her way, and a tasteful arrangement with steel guitar.

The contemporary sounding mid-tempo ‘A Great Disguise’ has Martina hiding her heartbreak behind “smoke and ice”, with a big emotional chorus. ‘Beyond The Blue’ is quite a pretty song about looking forward to getting past the sorrow of a breakup, and both are quite good.

‘All The Things We’ve Never Done’ (written by Craig Bickhardt and Jeff Pennig) is a gentle love song comparing possible missed opportunities in life with a supportive love. The similarly themed ‘You’ve Been Driving All The Time’ was overtly dedicated to Martina’s husband, whose support had been so instrumental in building her career; it is a sweet if slightly sentimental love song which affirms,

It takes a real man to take a back seat to a woman.

Another love song from the Bunch/Rose/Kennedy writing team, ‘Born To Give My Love To You’ is quite pretty with a string arrangement and multitrack harmonies from Rose and Martina herself.

An energetic cover of ‘Two More Bottles Of Wine’, the Delbert McClinton song best known by Emmylou Harris, is pretty good with a rocking vocal, some fabulous honky tonk piano from John Hobbs, and proves Martina wasn’t just a great balladeer.

This album exemplifies pop-country at its best – good, sometimes great songs, great vocals, and a production which while glossy, is not pretending to be a rock band. The overall mood is of female self-confidence and survival. Even the breakup songs focus on the woman moving on, and this positive image of being a strong woman may have been key to Martina’s success at a time when women in country music were doing better as a group than ever before.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Calamity Jane – ‘Love Wheel’

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 1

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)“ – Alabama
Alabama made excellent music during the 1980s, although the country content of some of it was suspect. Not this song, which is dominated by fiddle. One of the few up-tempo Alabama records that swings rather than rocks.

I’ve Been Wrong Before” – Deborah Allen
An accomplished songwriter who wrote many hits for others, particularly with Rafe VanHoy, this was one of three top ten tunes for Ms. Allen, reaching #2 in 1984. This is much more country sounding than her other big hit “Baby I Lied”.

Last of The Silver Screen Cowboys” – Rex Allen Jr.
After some success as a pop-country balladeer, Rex Jr. turned increasing to western-themed material as the 1980s rolled along. This was not a big hit, reaching #43 in 1982, but it featured legendary music/film stars Roy Rogers and Rex Allen Sr. on backing vocals.

“Southern Fried” – Bill Anderson
This was Whispering Bill’s first release for Southern Tracks after spending over twenty years recording for Decca/MCA. Bill was no longer a chart force and this song only reached #42 in 1982, but as the chorus notes: “We like Richard Petty, Conway Twitty and the Charlie Daniels Band”.

Indeed we do. Read more of this post

Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Hometown Girl’

Columbia Records’ strategy to market Mary Chapin Carpenter as a country artist is said to have begun with the release of her breakthrough sophomore album State of the Heart (reviewed by Meg last year as part of our Class of ’89 coverage). Prior to that her music was more heavily influenced by folk than country; her 1987 debut album Hometown Girl is a good example of the type of music she was making before she found her commercial niche.

I can’t help wondering who the intended audience was for this album. In its original, independent-release incarnation, I imagine that this was more of a straight folk album. It was re-recorded when Mary landed her deal with Columbia, and producer Steve Buckingham — known for his work with Dolly Parton, Ricky Van Shelton, and Tammy Wynette, among others — was brought in as a co-producer, in order to make the album more commercially appealing. It’s odd that a Nashville producer would be brought aboard before the decision was made to market Mary as a country artist, and stranger yet, that once his commercial flourishes were add to the album, Columbia declined to release any singles and seems to have made little or no attempt to promote Mary to country radio.

Since I’m not a huge Mary Chapin Carpenter fan, I didn’t buy this album when it was first released. Like most people, I didn’t even become aware of her until State of the Heart was released. As a result, I listened to the album for the first time when I was preparing to write this review, which gives me a different perspective than if I were looking back at an album that I’d been listening to for over twenty years. My first impression was that while Hometown Girl is not Mary’s very best work, it is vastly superior to the majority of the overproduced music coming out of Nashville today. Even at this early stage in her career, Mary’s talent as a songwriter is readily apparent. She was the sole writer on seven of the album’s ten songs, and was a co-writer with John Jennings (who co-produced the album with Buckingham) on an eighth song. Her skill in writing literate lyrics is reminiscent of fellow folkie Nanci Griffith, who was making her own attempt to find mainstream commercial success on a major Nashville label around the same time that Hometown Girl was released.
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Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Only What I Feel’

Only What I FeelAfter the breakthrough of Honky Tonk Angel, it must have been very frustrating for both Patty Loveless and her label that her career seemed to have plateaued. The next two albums, 1990’s On Down The Line and 1991’s Up Against My Heart, did not sell as well, and although her singles were still charting, they were not as consistently successful as those from Honky Tonk Angel. Patty believed she was not a priority for MCA, which had a number of other high-profile female singers including Reba McEntire. She negotiated a release from the label and signed with Epic.

A further delay ensued when as she began recording new material for her Epic debut, it became clear that her vocal cords had suffered serious damage, and if nothing was done, her career could be over. She underwent surgery at the Vanderbilt Voice Center, which saved her career. Indeed, if anything, her voice sounded even better afterwards than it had done at the outset of her career, with greater depth. She returned to the studios with husband Emory Gordy Jr as producer, and the result was a very accomplished mixture of commercial appeal and artistic achievement. Only What I Feel was released in April 1993.

After all this, and the fact that her last MCA single had stalled at #30, it was vital that her first single for Epic re-established her as a star. It certainly did that, because the vibrant ‘Blame It On Your Heart’ (written by Kostas with the legendary Harlan Howard) was Patty’s first #1 since ‘Chains’ hit the top three years earlier. The attitude-filled lyric has Patty showing no sympathy for her ex:

“Blame it on your lyin’, cheatin’, cold dead beatin’, two-timin’, double dealin’, mean mistreatin’, lovin’ heart”

So far, radio had showed more enthusiasm for Patty’s up-tempo material, and sadly the reception for the beautiful ballad ‘Nothin’ But The Wheel’ was tepid, the single only just squeezing into the top 20. It remains one of my personal favorites of Patty’s recordings, and was also nominated by several readers as their favorite in our recent giveaway. The song, written by John Scott Sherrill, paints a very visual picture of a woman driving away from her old life, with nothing to show for it, and Patty’s sad, measured vocal realizes the desolation underpinning the lyric perfectly:

“The only thing I know for sure
Is if you don’t want me anymore
I’m holding on to nothin’ but the wheel”

Patty bounced back into the top 10 with the beaty up-tempo pop-country of ‘You Will’, written by Pam Rose, Mary Ann Kennedy and Randy Sharp. The song’s production has not worn as well as most of Patty’s records, with slightly intrusive backing vocals, but it was definitely radio-friendly. The album contained other tracks which were potential radio fodder in the same style, the brightly assertive poppy ‘How About You’, and my favorite of the up-tempo numbers, ‘All I Need (Is Not To Need You)’, with its semi-hopeful lyric about trying to get over someone.

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Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Reba’

reba mcentire - rebaThis album is not even in my top ten Reba albums, though there are individual songs I dearly love on it. However, Reba’s 14th studio album was significant for Reba and her career for a number of reasons.

Reba reflected a time of important transition in her personal life. Her divorce became final in November of 1987, and as she says in her autobiography, Reba: My Story,

Something was shifting inside of me. Maybe the reason was my new freedom as an unmarried woman – for the first time in my life, not having to answer to anyone but myself; or maybe it was the sense of confidence that came from restructuring my organization and putting some of my long-held pet ideas into practice. Whatever the reason, in 1988, I found myself drawn to the old Aretha Franklin hit “Respect.” It just seemed to connect with my mental outlook at the time.

Reba talked with her producer, Jimmy Bowen, about using it to open the new 1988 show. Though he was a bit surprised she liked that one, Bowen suggested she record it as one of the needed up-tempo numbers for her next album. She did, along with others that were more R & B, jazz or pop.

Reba was released in April of 1988 and received more negative criticism from traditional country circles than any of her previous albums, though it stayed at #1 on Billboard’s Country chart for 8 weeks that summer and she continued to receive awards such as Favorite Female Country Artist (AMA), Favorite Female Vocalist (TNN), etc. She had previously been so outspoken about loving her country roots and recording traditional country music that it came as somewhat of a surprise she recorded an album with no fiddles and no steel, more keyboard and more synthesizer.

Her previous career-making album, “Whoever’s In New England,” had also had some numbers that many considered more cross-over songs. But Reba said about that one (again in her autobiography),

I never set out to record a “crossover” record. As I’ve said, I’ve always considered myself a country artist and never wanted to abandon my roots. I had simply come to the conclusion that it would be better for me just to do good material, and if it happened to reach across the pop charts – well, fine – that would be an unexpected little extra.

She similarly defended “Respect” on this album. In a segment on “Respect” in CMT’s “Reba McEntire: Greatest Stories,” Reba talks about the reaction she got when she performed it as a dance number on the CMAs that year. People asked her afterwards if she’d thought about the fact that she was doing a pop number on a country awards show and she said no, she really hadn’t. It was up-tempo and she loved the song and was a big fan of Aretha Franklin. Plus, she was excited to show people she could move after years of standing behind a microphone.

And “Respect” is certainly a great song. Rolling Stones rated Aretha’s version #5 on their 2004 list of the Top 500 Songs of All Time.  However, many of the other cuts on the album aren’t great and seem more like filler and actually detract from the other good songs in the set.

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