My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Merle Haggard

Classic Rewind: Vince Gill covers ‘I Can’t Be Myself’


Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘That’s Why I Sing This Way’

By the end of the 90s, Daryle’s hits had dried up at radio as the industry moved away from his pure country sound, and Giant decided to drop him from the label. He moved to independent label Koch Records, and released Now And Again, an album which mixed his Giant hits with a handful of new songs (including two of his own co-writes, the title track and ‘I’ve Thought Of Everything’, a very good mournful ballad which is worth downloading).

2002 saw Daryle pay tribute to his roots with a set of mainly classic country covers. Not everyone likes this kind of project, but if nothing else it proves definitively that Daryle was a great country singer who would have been an enormous star had he been born a few decades earlier.

Two singles were released, both peaking in the 40s. The title track was the album’s sole new song, and was written by the great Max D Barnes. Set to a cheerful mid-tempo, the tongue-in-cheek song recalls a childhood devotion to country music:

My mama used to tell me
“Son, you better get your work done
Your Daddy’s coming home at five
And if you ain’t all through with the chores you gotta do
Boy, I’m gonna tan you alive”

I was glued to the radio, listening to my hero
Singing them sad old songs
Singing them sadder than a one car funeral
Nobody sings like Jones

I’d take that old kitchen broom up to my room
And I’d play it like an old guitar
Or sit out on the porch tryin’ to sing like George
Dreaming of becoming a star

Well, things I never did when I was just a kid
Made me what I am today
You see, Mama used to whoop me with a George Jones album
That’s why I sing this way

‘I’d Love To Lay You Down’, Daryle’s last ever charting single, is a sensual love song to a wife, which is a cover of a Conway Twitty hit.

George Jones, namechecked in the title track, also receives tribute in the form of a cover of, not one of his heartbreak classics, but his trustingly romantic ‘Walk Through This World With Me’, a hit in 1967. The arrangement is gorgeous, with piano, steel and fiddle prominent, and Jones himself sings harmony.

Merle Haggard makes a guest appearance on his ‘Make Up And Faded Blue Jeans’, in the form of a couple of lines near the end. Johnny Paycheck provides a similar cameo on one of the highlights, an intense version of ‘Old Violin’; the fiddle on this is suitably beautiful.

John Wesley Ryles is one of the most ubiquitous of backing singers in Nashville, but he started out as an artist in his own right, with the song ‘Kay’, a top 10 hit in 1968, when he was only 17 years old. Daryle’s version of this fine song about the man left behind to a life driving a cab, when his sweetheart makes it big in country music is excellent, and Ryles adds harmonies.

Rhonda Vincent joins Daryle on a superb version of one of my favorite classic country duets, ‘After The Fire Is Gone’. The final guest, Dwight Yoakam, plays the part of Don Rich on the Buck Owens classic ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here Again’. Daryle also covers Buck’s Hank-Cochran-penned hit ‘A-11’ in authentic style. I think Darrin Vincent may be among the backing vocalists here.

A measured version of ‘Long Black Veil’, a mournful ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’ and ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)’ are all also highlights.

Grade: A

This album set the tone for the remainder of Daryle’s career, focussing on great traditional style country music. We have reviewed all his subsequent albums.

Album Review: Courtney Patton – ‘What It’s Like To Fly Alone’

Courtney Patton is one of the best female versions of the Texas troubadour type of singer-songwriter, producing heartfelt poetic songs with gentle country backings. She produced this latest record herself as well as writing or co-writing every song bar one.

Opener ‘Shove’ is a mid-paced song about a woman at a turning point and in need of a little help regaining herself:

The stars are always shining
It’s just sometimes you can’t see em till you pull yourself away from all the lights

It is one of several she wrote solo. The introspective ‘What It’s Like To Fly Alone (The Hawk Song)’ takes its inspiration from a road encounter with a wild hawk and reflects on loneliness and depression. ‘Sometimes She Flies’, about a woman struggling with life, has a deceptively pretty melody.

The most frequent co-writer is fellow-Texan Larry Hooper, and the songs he wrote with Courtney include my favorite tracks. ‘Round Mountain’ is an engrossing confessional story song:

I was lonely when I let another’s husband share my bed
While mine was plowing fields I was breaking vows instead
And I looked down into the darkness
And I looked up and felt it burn
It was hotter than the fires of hell my crimes would surely earn

I knew what I was doing as I climbed up and jumped in
Let the murky water cool me
Let it wash away my sin

The wearied ‘Devil’s Hand’ also muses on sin and guilt. The waltztime ‘Words To My Favorite Memory’ draws on the Haggard record, using it to counterpoint the sudden death of a loved one. Lloyd Maines provides some gorgeous steel. ‘Devil’s Hand’ is an elusively poetic song about sin. The pair’s ‘Open Flame’ is about resisting the temptation to infidelity, set to a very pretty melody:

It may burn but it won’t leave a scar

‘I’ve Got One Waiting’, written by Courtney with Matt Hillyer, is a well-written pure country song about a woman drinking after her undeserving man has left her, not out of sorrow, but perhaps with a little bravado:

You used to tell me quite often
That I was uninviting and cold to the touch of your hand
So I’ve been thinking and you were right
It just hit me tonight
And I should thank you for helping me understand
I might be cold but I’m not empty
And a handle is plenty
To keep me warm when I used to have you
You chose the women
I picked the wine
One’s aged and one’s fine
But both make the bed easy to fall into
I’ll be the life of the party
So don’t even start me
To talking about how fine I am
There’s no need for debating
Gonna start celebrating
Cause I’ve got one waiting

‘This Road To You’, a wintry co-write with Micky Braun about separation on the road from Courtney’s husband Jason Eady, is another strong and thoughtful song.

There is one song which Courtney had no share in writing: ‘Gold Standard’, written by Owen Temple and Kelley Mickwee. This is a graceful waltz about enduring love.

The set concludes on valedictory note with two mournful self-penned songs about the dead. ‘Red Bandana Blue (Kent’s Song)’ is a tender waltz-time tribute to the late Texan bar owner and music promoter Kent Finlay and his influence on Courtney’s career. Even more personal is the album’s closing track. The deeply moving ‘Fourteen Years’ is a delicate reflection on Courtney’s sister who was tragically killed in an accident 14 years ago.

Grade: A


Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘The Running Kind/I’m A Lonesome Fugitive’


Week ending 2/24/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: Skip A Rope — Henson Cargill (Monument)

1978: Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You — Margo Smith (Warner Bros.)

1988: Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star — Merle Haggard (Epic)

1998: Just To See You Smile — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2008: Letter To Me — Brad Paisley (Arista)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Legends — Kelsea Bellerini (Black River)


Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘She’s Not Really Cheatin’ (She’s Just Getting Even)’

1982 saw the release of She’s Not Really Cheatin’ (She’s Just Getting Even). Moe’s biggest hit in three years, the mid-paced title track is a pointed narrative about a wife who gets her revenge on a cheating husband by copying him. Written by Ron Shaffer, it peaked at #4. The album’s second single, ‘Only If There Is Another You’, which reached #12, is an earnestly sweet declaration of eternal fidelity.

The same writer (D Miller) contributed another pair of songs. ‘Our Love Could Burn Atlanta Down Again’ is a nice mid-tempo love song. ‘The All American Dream’, a co-write with the young Kent Blazy, is a sunny patriotic tune:

I drink Kentucky whiskey
I love California wine
My old car’s from Detroit
And suits my taste just fine
My boots were made in Texas
This song’s from Tennessee
I’m proud of my country
And what it’s done for me

You’re lookin’ at a believer in the all American dream
From a small farm in Texas to singin’ on TV
There ain’t a thing we can’t do
Nothing we can’t be
As long as we’re believers in the all American dream

Every single thing I own says made in USA
I don’t buy those products with names that I can’t say
We may be having hard times
But brother we’re still free
I’m glad I’m living in the land of opportunity

‘He’s Taking My Place At Your Place’ is a wistful lament for lost love, now that the ex he thought he could go back to isn’t interested any more. ‘Your Memory Is Showing All Over Me’ is a steel laced ballad about the shadow of the past preventing the protagonist from moving on.

The more contemporary ‘An Angel Like You’ is a mid tempo attempt to pick up a girl, slightly marred by intrusive backing vocals from the Jordanaires. The perky ‘Can I Pick You Up’ is a bit more effective.

My favorite track is the wonderful tribute to Moe’s traditional country roots, ‘Hank And Lefty Raised My Country Soul’, written by Dallas Frazier and Doodle Owens. This was a cover of a minor hit for Stoney Edwards in the early 70s. (Incidentally the song was later rewritten to pay tribute to George Jones and Merle Haggard; a pre-fame Alan Jackson recorded it.)

I also like the pacy ‘Jesus In A Nashville Jail’, in which a failed country singer finds God after “the bottle got the best and the blues got the rest of me”.

This is a very good album, but not one of Moe’s very best. It was released on a 2-4-1 CD with the excellent It’s A Cheating Situation, and the combination is well worth tracking down.

Grade: B+


Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Classics 3’

Star of the late 70s and early 80s and current Opry favorite John Conlee has released two previous versions of ‘Classics’, mixing new versions of his hits with new material. Most of the hits were covered on the first two sets, so the bulk jof material here is new, with only a few of his later hit singles.

‘Working Man’, originally a top 10 hit in 1985, is a mellow sounding song about ordinary blue-collar lives struggling to make ends meet. The biggest hit was ‘Got My Heart Set On You’, a mid-tempo pop-country tune which reached #1 in 1986, and which was co-written by Dobie Gray, best known for his song ‘Drift Away’. It is a pleasant love song, but not really worthy of reviving, and has a dated sounding brassy arrangement. Guy Clark’s ‘The Carpenter’ is a much better song, and was a top 10 hit for John in January 1987.

‘Living Like There’s No Tomorrow’ was John’s final single for Columbia, but failed to dent the charts, as it had done when Keith Whitley recorded it a few years earlier. That was a shame in both cases, as it is a great classic country heartbreak ballad about regretting walking out (written by Jim McBride and Roger Murrah). The brass on this version is a bit overblown but the vocal is great: I admit to still preferring the Whitley version. ‘Could You Love Me (One More Time)’ was also both a cover (a Stanley Brothers classic) and a less successful single for John, but from earlier in his career (top 30 in 1981). John sings it beautifully here with a nicely understated production.

Other songs will be familiar from other versions. Joey + Rory’s ‘Bible And A Belt’ works really well for John Conlee’s emotional vocal. I also enjoyed a committed cover of Haggard’s ‘Jesus Take A Hold’, but was less enthralled by ‘The Rock’, which was on one of George Jones’s last records, and which has a more bluesy arrangement here.

There are two songs written by Hugh Prestwood. ‘Learning How To Love’ is a graceful piano ballad with a tasteful string arrangement about the long shadow of a difficult childhood and its impact on adult relationship. More controversial is ‘Unborn Voice’, an uncompromising song from the point of view of the unborn child whose mother is evidently contemplating abortion. It’s not subtle, and the production is fiddly, but it moved me.

Sometime I hear music drifting through these walls
And sometimes I hear voices echo down these halls
Sometimes I hear what sounds like hope all twisted up with fear
And sometimes I hear laughter all tangled up with tears…

I sometimes have this dream of love
And sometimes I could swear
That I hear God whisper to me
There’s a place for me out there

I wonder who this judge is
Who is making up her mind
I wonder if her justice
Is maybe just too blind

She has no idea how much we’re just the same
Maybe she will have mercy
Maybe not
I hear it’s beautiful out there and I’d like a shot

‘Lonely Don’t Know When To Leave’ is an excellent sad ballad written by Leslie Satcher. The mid-tempo ‘The Shade’ fondly recalls childhood memories.

It’s always hard to grade albums involving extensive re-workings of older songs, but I mostly enjoyed this set although some cherrypickimg might be advised.

Grade: B+


February Spotlight Artist: Moe Bandy

Marion “Moe” Bandy was born in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1944, and moved to San Antonio, Texas, at the age of six. His grandfather had known and worked with country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers on the Mississippi railways, while both Moe’s parents were musical, and his father had a part time country band. As a teenager, Moe’s main interest was rodeo riding, until he was 18 and had endured one broken bone too many, when he turned seriously to music. His brother Mike continued to ride competitively.

He had a day job in a sheet metal factory (working for his dad) while playing small local venues with his band, and getting some work on local TV. However, he did not make a real breakthrough until 1973, when Ray Baker, a music publisher and aspiring record producer, who had been impressed by demo recordings, encouraged him to move to Nashville. Moe’s musical partnership with Baker kickstarted both their careers, as Baker would go on to work with Connie Smith, Merle Haggard and a young George Strait.

Moe issued an independent single, ‘I Just Started Hating Cheating Songs Today’ on the Footprint label, and songs about drinking and cheating became something of a signature theme for him. His contract was then picked up by a slightly larger independent label, GRC, who released three albums and a number of hit singles. Country legend Lefty Frizzell was another to be impressed by the singer, and write a song especially for him (‘Bandy The Rodeo Clown’).

This success gave Moe a springboard to greater things, and he signed to Columbia Records in 1976. He enjoyed a string of hit singles, although perhaps surprisingly only one went all the way to #1. From 1979 he also had a side project as a largely comic duo with labelmate Joe Stampley. He also had individual duet hits with Janie Fricke and the underrated Becky Hobbs.
In the 1980s Moe’s hardcore traditional style relaxed a little. Declining sales saw Columbia drop him in 1985 after nine years on the label, and a shortlived deal with MCA saw him chart again but failed to revive his career significantly. A couple of albums on Curb were the end of his commercial streak, but he was one of the artists to see the appeal of his own permanent show at Branson, Missouri.

In recent years he has been touring with Gene Watson, and he has just released an autobiography, Lucky Me.
We hope you enjoy our coverage of Moe Bandy’s music this month.


Week ending 1/27/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales): The Story of My Life — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1958 (Disc Jockeys): The Story of My Life — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1968: Sing Me Back Home — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: Out of My Head and Back in My Bed — Loretta Lynn (MCA)

1988: Where Do The Nights Go — Ronnie Milsap

1998: Just To See You Smile — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2008: Our SongTaylor Swift (Big Machine)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Yours — Russell Dickerson (Triple Tigers)


Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard -‘Little Ole Wine Drinker Me/Today I Started Loving You Again’


Week ending 1/20/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales): The Story of My Life — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1958 (Disc Jockeys): The Story of My Life — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1968: Sing Me Back Home — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: What A Difference You’ve Made In My Life — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1988: One Friend — Dan Seals (Capitol)

1998: Just To See You Smile — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2008: Our SongTaylor Swift (Big Machine)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): I Could Use A Love Song — Maren Morris (Columbia Nashville)


Classic Album Review: Roger Miller – ‘Roger Miller’

This eponymous album, released by MCA in 1985, would prove to be the last album of original material that Roger would release during his lifetime. All of the songs were written or co-written by Roger, and seven of the album’s ten tracks were taken from the highly acclaimed Broadway musical BIG RIVER for which Roger wrote the words and music. In 1985, Roger won three Tony Awards for best musical score, best music and best lyrics. The play, based on Mark Twain’s book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was revived on Broadway in 2003 and has since been performed by various amateur, high school and college theater groups. It is well worth seeing if it comes your way.

The soundtrack for the play sold well, and many of the songs work outside the context of the play. For me the revelation was hearing Roger perform his own songs with a sympathetic background featuring many of Nashville’s finest studio musicians, including John Jarvis (keyboards), Billy Joe Walker, Jr. (acoustic guitar), Reggie Young & Larry Byrom (electric guitar), Hoot Hester (fiddle) and Jim Horn (sax and flute). The redoubtable trio of Curtis “Mr. Harmony” Young, Colleen Peterson, and Mary Miller (Roger’s wife) provide the background vocals. Strangely, there is no steel guitar but that particular instrument really was not an essential part of Roger’s music.

The album opens up with five songs from the play BIG RIVER starting with “River In The Rain”, a lovely ballad comparing the flow of the Mississippi to life itself:

River in the rain
Sometimes at night you look like a long white train
Winding your way away somewhere
River I love you don’t you care

If you’re on the run winding some place
Just trying to find the sun
Whether the sunshine, whether the rain
River I love you just the same

But sometimes in a time of trouble
When you’re out of hand
And your muddy bubbles roll across my floor
Carryin’ away the things I treasure
Hell, there ain’t no way to measure
Why I love you more than I did the day before

Next up is “Hand For The Hog”. This song really doesn’t stand apart from the play; however, the song is so quintessentially Roger Miller that it would have been criminal for Roger not to include it on the album. This is Roger the scat singer at his finest:

Ya say, a hog ain’t nothin’ but a porky thing
Little forked feet with a nosey ring
Pickle them feel folks
How about a hand for the hog

If you took a notion I’ll bet
A good hog would make a hell of a pet
You could teach him to ride and hunt
You could clean him up and let him sit up front

In the scheme of things the way things go
You might get bit by the old Fido
But not by the gentle, porker friend.
How about a hand for the hog

A feller and a hog had a comedy act
The feller was terrible as a matter of fact
But that hog was so funny
How about a hand for the hog

If you took a notion
I’ll bet you could teach a hog to smoke a cigarette
Well, it might take a little bit of time
But hell, what’s time to a hog

The third track is my favorite song from the play, “Leavin’s Not The Only Way To Go”. This song is a haunting ballad that should have been a hit for someone. I am not aware of anyone releasing the song as a single; however, Merle Haggard recorded the song on his 2005 album Chicago Wind.

Do the mornin’s still come early, are the nights not long enough?
Does a tear of hesitation fall on everything you touch?
Well, it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

Maybe lyin’ at your feelin’s, grow accustomed to the dark
By mornin’s light, it just might solve the problems of the heart
And it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

People reach new understandings all the time
Take a second look, maybe change their minds
People reach new understandings every day
Tell me not to reach, babe, and I’ll go away

But do the mornin’s still come early, are the nights not long enough?
Does a tear of hesitation fall on everything you touch?
Well, it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

“Guv’ment” was sung by John Goodman in the original cast play. It’s not much of a song but it echoes the sentiments of many.

Well, you dad gum guv’ment
You sorry so and so’s
You got your damn hands in every pocket
Of my clothes

“You Oughta Be Here With Me” is another lovely ballad of forlorn longing and loneliness:

If you think it’s lonesome where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me
If you think there’s heartaches where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

Because with you I’m whole, without you I’m cold
So if you think about me where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

If teardrops are falling where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me
Loneliness calling where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

The first five songs comprise side one of the original vinyl album/audio cassette release. Side two opens up with “Some Hearts Get All The Breaks” the first of three songs not from BIG RIVER. This song is a mid-tempo contemporary country ballad, with 1980s production values with synthesizer in the mix. The 80s production is not as noticeable on the tracks from BIG RIVER which has its own dynamic.

I guess I’ll never learn
Some Hearts got love to burn
I guess that’s what it takes
Some hearts get all the breaks

We’re back to BIG RIVER for “Arkansas”, a nostalgic but humorous story song that is performed with some interruptions in the play:

Arkansas, Arkansas
I just love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas

Well, I ain’t never traveled much
But someday when the money’s such
I’d like to see the world and all
And take a run through Arkansas

Grandpa he was always good
I’d play horsey on his foot
He’d tell me when I’d get tall
We’d both go see Arkansas

Arkansas, Arkansas
I just love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas

The next two songs are not from the play. You probably could not get away with a title like “Indian Giver” given our current hyper-sensitive politically correct environment.

The title of the next song “Days of Our Wives” would likely be barely acceptable, but the song is an up-tempo song somewhat reminiscent of the Glen Campbell hit “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife” or perhaps Bobby Russell’s “1432 Franklin Park Circle Hero”. The arrangement features some mariachi style horns and makes a nice change of tempo.

So fly away heart on the wings of make-believe things
It’s nice to pretend and maybe cry at the end
She watches the soaps and sometimes just sits there and cries
Like sands through the hourglass so are the days of our wives

Fittingly, the album closes with yet another song from BIG RIVER, “Muddy Water”, a song of wanderlust and perhaps escape.

Look out for me, oh muddy water
Your mysteries are deep and wide
And I got a need for going some place
And I got a need to climb upon your back and ride

You can look for me when you see me comin’
I may be runnin’ I don’t know
I may be tired and runnin’ fever
But I’ll be headed south to the mouth of the Ohio

Look out for me, oh muddy water
Your mysteries are deep and wide
And I got a need for going some place
And I got a need to climb upon your back and ride

To the best of my knowledge this album has never been available in a digital format. The Broadway cast BIG RIVER soundtrack album has remained in print forever in various formats. The play is well worth seeing and the Twain’s story of Huckleberry Finn is worth passing down to subsequent generations. If you are not familiar with the Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn saga, you should read the books first, then tackle this album or the soundtrack album (or both) as it will greatly enhance your appreciation for the story.

Many of Roger’s performances of the songs on Roger Miller are available on You Tube.

This album isn’t Roger’s best album but it is a good one and represents the last chance to hear new material from Roger Miller. Roger would pass away from lung cancer in 1992 without having recorded any more studio albums. The man was a musical treasure and probably still ahead of the times.


Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘Misery And Gin’


Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Next In Line’

1968 was the year that country audiences began to get over their skepticism about Conway Twitty’s authenticity and accept him as a bonafide country artist. He enjoyed his first Top 5 hit that year with “The Image of Me” (from the album Here’s Conway Twitty & His Lonely Blue Boys). And shortly thereafter, “Next In Line” hit #1, becoming the first of his 44 #1 Billboard country hits.

“Next In Line”, the only single from the album that shares its name, was written by Wayne Kemp and Curtis Wayne, and produced by Owen Bradley. At this stage of his career, Conway was still recording hardcore country. The song tells the story of unrequited love as the narrator admires from afar his love interest, who is drowning her sorrows over a breakup. He keeps feeding the jukebox to keep her happy and waits for the day that she will “give up the music and the wine” and give him a chance. This was an important record for Conway, although it would eventually be overshadowed by the many hits that followed it.

As we’ve come to expect from albums released in the 1960s, there are plenty of remakes of songs that had been recently popularized by other artists. 1968 was a particularly good year for country music; among the songs that Twitty covers are Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and “I Started Loving You Again”, Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, and Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, which works surprisingly well from the male perspective. The two Haggard tunes are well done, although “Mama Tried” lacks the original’s signature Telecaster licks. “Folsom Prison Blues”, however, was a bit of a disappointment because, let’s face it, no one can sing that song the way Johnny Cash did.

“Ain’t It Sad to Stand and Watch Love Die” is a song I’d never heard before. It has a Johnny Cash-type vibe to it and quite liked it. It is a bit of a departure for Conway, as it lacks the pedal steel that was so prominent on most of his country recordings up to this point. The steel is back, front and center on “The Things I Lost in You”. The album closer “I’m Checking Out” has a Bakersfield feel to it and sounds like something Buck Owens might have recorded.

Like Conway’s other early Decca albums this is a very strong collection that traditional country fans will want to sample. It’s available on a 2-for-1 disc with Twitty’s next Decca LP Darling, You Know I Wouldn’t Lie.

Grade: A-


Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Country’

1967 saw the release of the unimaginitvely titled Country. There were two singles from this album, both credited to Conway’s wife Mickey Jaco. ‘Don’t Put Your Hurt In My Heart’ is a measured ballad turning down an ex’s advances. It is quite a nice song, beautifully song by Conway, but performed indifferently on the charts, peaking outside the top 30. Even less successful was ‘Funny (But I’m Not Laughing)’, which I like, although it comes across as a pale copy of ‘The Window Up Above’. It is a sad ballad in which Conway’s vocal exudes the sense of betrayal. Another Jaco song, ‘Go Woman Go’ has more of a 60s country-meets-rock and roll feel. (I have read that these songs were actually written or co-written by Conway but credited to Mickey for tax reasons – not sure if this is true, though,). Conway himself wrote one song, the midpaced ‘Walk Me To The Door’, which is okay.

‘But I Dropped It’ is an excellent song written by the great Harlan Howard, a regretful ballad about past choices derailing a relationship, which might have been a better choice for a single. The backing vocals are a bit dated, but not too intrusive. I didn’t much like another original, the rock leaning ‘Working Girl’ (written by Wes Buchanan). ‘Two Of The Usual’ had been recorded by several other artists, but was never a single. It is another strong song about betrayal.

The remainder of the set consists of the usual 60s country album practice of covers of current or recent hits for other artists. Conway showed great taste in music in his selections of some genuinely great songs. ‘Things Have Gone To Pieces’ is one of George ones’ greatest recordings; Conway’s version is a good copy but definitely a copy. Another Jones classic, ‘Walk Through This World With Me’ allows Conway more of a chance to put his own stamp on the song (although I still prefer the Jones cut). Conway’s cover of Merle Haggard song ‘I Threw Away The Rose’ is quite good, but again pales compared to the original.

Conway does, however, turn in a superlative version of Harlan Howard’s ‘Life Turned Her That Way’, which was a current hit Mel Tillis, but will be most familiar to younger fans from Ricky Van Shelton’s chart topping 90s version. This is by far my favorite track on this album. I also quite liked ‘A Wound Time Can’t Erase’, a Stonewall Jackson hit later covered by Ricky Skaggs.

This is not a bad album, but there is not enough uniqueness in Conway’s imterpretations to really recommend it over the classic versions of the cover songs, and the originals are less distinguished. It is available as a 2-4-1 deal, so may be worth checking out if you can find it cheaply.

Grade: B+


Classic Rewind: Vince Gill covers Haggard’s ‘I Can’t Be Myself’


Book Review: Freddy Powers and Catherine Powers with Jake Brown – ‘The Spree Of 83’

Freddy Powers, country-jazz musician and songwriter, was an influential figure, not least as sidekick to Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. The book was started a few years before his death last year aged 84, with the help of his wife Catherine and professional writer Jake Brown.

It is neither biography not autobiography, coming across more as a set of clippings, or the script for a documentary’s voiceovers. Freddy himself, Catherine, and various friends and colleagues from his past (including the late Haggard), are all quoted at length talking about the man and incidents in his life, with each original interview or set of interviews chopped up and scattered through the book, interspersed with reviews of albums and concerts from the press, and the lyrics of many of Powers’ songs. I would have preferred some overarching third (or first) person narrative which would have made it feel more cohesive. (It could also have done with a sharper eye proofreading, as there are a few spelling errors throughout.) There is also a chapter comprising rare photographs, but unfortunately these do not translate well to a kindle reading. However, there are some fascinating anecdotes and the book offers some insight into Haggard at the peak of his career.

The book’s title comes from the period in the early 80s (actually covering several years, not just the 1983 of the title) when Freddy and Haggard lived on adjacent houseboats on Lake Shasta. Both separated or divorced and happy to be single again, they engaged in a hedonistic mix of drugs and sex with an everchanging group of women, while writing songs. It’s probably not the book to read if you want to believe your heroes never have feet of clay, although to be fair everyone involved seems to have had a really good time with no regrets.

This period is not the sole focus of the book, although as an incredibly creative time it does loom quite large in the story. Freddy also talks about his childhood and early career, and about his love story with his last wife Catherine (20 years his junior but very evidently the love of his life). In his last years, when the ravages of Parkinson’s disease stopped him from playing the guitar, he adopted more of a cuddly grandpa persona and served as mentor to young female artists, including Texas artist Pauline Reese and Mary Sarah.

So the content is absorbing; it’s just a shame that it was not better produced with more editorial input.

Grade: B


Album Review: Nathan Carter: ‘Celtic Roots (Live)’

For whatever reason, I was unable to obtain a digital copy of the album Where I Wanna Be. Instead, Amazon continuously linked me to the above-referenced album, which contains the song “Where I Wanna Be”, so I went ahead and purchased the digital download.

I will say that this 2017 release is not exactly a country album, but it is a good value for money with 18 tracks of mostly Celtic music, well performed. I happen to be a huge fan of traditional Irish folk music with a large collection of the stuff. This album apparently is of a performance for public television.

Recorded in Ireland, this album presents an interesting mix of classic of Irish folk songs, Celtic ballads, some country-flavored ballads and some of his hits. Nathan is joined by his stage band, a string quartette, a choral group and also by a former member of the group Celtic Woman, Chloe Agnew.

The album opens up with “Loch Lomond”, a very familiar Scottish tune given the full Scottish treatment with bagpipes and some sort of orchestral backing and a modern rhythm track. Nathan slows the song down considerably at the start of the vocal but picks up the tempo on the second verse. Nathan presents a very interesting treatment of a song that I’ve heard countless times before, including in many Hollywood movies.

Next up is “Where I Wanna Be”, a country single from 2013, written by Carter, that is simultaneously both country and Irish.

This hotel is just like yesterday’s,

And the city has no name.

It just stands there in the Grey haze,

And my room is the same.

Well I’m gonna call that number,

So far across the sea.

I wish I was in Ireland,

That’s where I wanna be,

That’s where I wanna be.

This is followed by “Caledonia” an Irish folk song (not the 1940s jump hit by Louis Jordan and/or Woody Herman. This lovely ballad was released as a single in 2013.

“Banks of Roses” is a very Celtic ballad with bodhrán, fiddle, accordion, penny whistle – the sort of thing the Chieftains would play.

The medley of “Spanish Lady”, “As I Roved Out” and “The Real Auld Mountain Dew” is a reflection of the great Irish folk groups of the past two generations such as The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Maken, The Dubliners and The Dublin City Ramblers with perhaps a little more rhythm thrown in. This is a fabulous medley – even someone with two left feet such as I, feels the urge to get up and dance.

Next up is Chloe Agnew with the quiet ballad “Grace” basically accompanied by acoustic guitar and little else. This is probably the slowest song on the album.

An Irish tin whistle (or pennywhistle) opens up “Hard Times”, served up as a duet between Choe and Nathan. Most will probably be familiar with the song through Bob Dylan’s recording, but the song dates back to 19th century American writer Stephen Foster:

Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,

While we all sup sorrow with the poor;

There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;

Oh! Hard times come again no more.

 ‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,

Hard Times, hard times, come again no more.

Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;

Oh! Hard times come again no more

“Temple Bar” was a 2016 single for Nathan:

There’s a busker playin’ on the street
Watching all the people meet
The boys and girls are back in Dublin town
There’s young ones there from everywhere
From America to God knows where

It’s just another night in Temple Bar
So come on down, out on the town
Cause’ this is where a good time can be found
So bring along the old squeeze box, the fiddle and guitar
Let’s have a good old night in Temple Bar

For me, the only misstep on the album comes with the next song “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, a Paul Simon song that I’ve heard far too many times. Nathan sings it well but the chorus and strings are overkill – he should have given it the two minute Buck Owens treatment.

“Wagon Wheel” was a Bob Dylan song fragment that Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show completed. Nathan released it as a single in 2012. The song reached #12 on the Irish pop charts, his biggest hit. I really like this version, probably better than any other version I’ve heard aside from Jeremy McComb’s outstanding hard country version from decade ago.

This is followed by an up-tempo, virtually breathless, instrumental medley of reels.

“Jealous of The Angels” is a very slow sad ballad about the unexpected loss of a loved one. I don’t know who wrote the song, but it was originally recorded by Donna Taggart of Celtic Woman (she may have written it) and is a stunning song that Nathan Carter positively nails

I didn’t know today would be our last
Or that I’d have to say goodbye to you so fast
I’m so numb, I can’t feel anymore
Prayin’ you’d just walk back through that door
And tell me that I was only dreamin’
You’re not really gone as long as I believe

There will be another angel
Around the throne tonight
Your love lives on inside of me
And I will hold on tight
It’s not my place to question
Only God knows why
I’m just jealous of the angels
Around the throne tonight

The mood and tempo stay down with the old Irish folk song “Home to Donegal”

Fortunately the mood brightens and the tempo picks up with of the most famous of Irish folk songs, “The Irish Rover”. Usually when I hear this song the audience, the performer or both are well lubricated (and they would need to be for the lyrics to make much sense). Usually too, the audience is singing along. Many will remember the song from the Pogues, but the song is much older than that. Nathan gives it a very exuberant treatment

In the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and six,
We set sail from the Coal Quay of Cork
We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks
For the grand City Hall in New York
We’d an elegant craft, it was rigged ‘fore and aft
And how the trade winds drove her
She had twenty-three masts and she stood several blasts
And they called her the Irish Rover

There was Barney Magee from the banks of the Lee
There was Hogan from County Tyrone
There was Johnny McGurk who was scared stiff of work
And a chap from Westmeath named Malone
There was Slugger O’Toole who was drunk as a rule
And fighting Bill Tracy from Dover
And your man Mick McCann, from the banks of the Bann
Was the skipper on the Irish Rover

We had one million bags of the best Sligo rags
We had two million barrells of bone
We had three million bales of old nanny goats’ tails
We had four million barrells of stone
We had five million hogs and six million dogs
And seven million barrells of porter
We had eight million sides of old blind horses’ hides
In the hold of the Irish Rover

We had sailed seven years when the measles broke out
And our ship lost her way in a fog
And the whole of the crew was reduced down to two
‘Twas myself and the captain’s old dog
Then the ship struck a rock, oh, Lord what a shock
And nearly tumbled over
Turned nine times around then the poor old dog was drowned
I’m the last of the Irish Rover

“The Town I Loved So Well” is a slow sentimental ballad. At six plus minutes, it could drag a little but the Nathan Carter vocal carries you along.

It’s back to high gear with “South Australia”, a popular folk song found in the English, Irish and Australian musical canons. Nathan starts it slowly then kicks it up.

The album closes with “Liverpool” a 2016 single and “Good Time Girls”. The latter shares the melody and most of the lyrics of the American folk song “Buffalo Girls”

Having only heard the video clips on the MKOC blog and a few snippets on Amazon, I wasn’t what to expect. Now I know that Nathan Carter is an excellent vocalist who can put on an outstanding live show. To fans of modern country music (such as it is) the linear resemblance to American country music is remote. To those of us who grew up thinking that Haggard, Jones, Snow, Tubb, Cline and Arnold are representative of country music, the line back to the Irish folk music is short and direct. While there are only traces of classic country instrumentation, the songs and the vocals make clear that connection.

With few exceptions, I really love this album and I can live with the few tracks that I don’t love.

Grade: A+


Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘Old Country Song’

The latest album from 90s star and cancer survivor Wade Hayes shows he is still in possession of a great traditional country voice. He and co-producer Dave McAfee have found some excellent songs.

The opening ‘Can’t Get Close Enough To You’ is a sultry love song addressed to the protagonist’s wife of many years, and is one of four songs on the album written by Hayes, all loosely on the theme of marriage. Of the others, The nostalgic ‘Full Moon Summer Night’ is sung with passion, but is not all that interesting a song. The pace is increased with the wry up-tempo ‘I Wish I Still Drank’, which reflects on the contrast between a wild youth and a sober happy married life. The last of Wade’s own songs, ‘She Knows Me’, is a grateful commentary on his relationship with his wife:
She knows me and she loves me anyway

There are a couple of classic covers: a faithful remake of the Conway Twitty hit ‘Julia’, with an emotional vocal. Haggard’s ‘Going Where The Lonely Go’ works perfectly for Wade, and is a highlight. Wade’s love for real country music is also reflected in the title tune, a lovely Roger Springer-penned song about the power of music:

I’m as old as time
Born in a poet’s mind
I can reach across the ocean and hit the mark
Be an answered prayer to a broken heart
And I can go on and on and on about life
Talk about love
I can philosophize
Make a woman cry
Stop a man in his tracks and send him on back home
I’m just an old country song

I started out in a freight car to the rhythm of the track
One night I was left unfinished in the back of a Cadillac
Spent some time at Folsom …
And for a little while those men were free

Springer also wrote (with Tim Menzies) ‘I Don’t Understand’, an entertaining Western Swing number about the complexity of love which was previously recorded by Springer’s own band, the Roger Springer Band.

Jon Randall, Jessi Alexander and Phillip White wrote ‘What You Need From Me’, a beautiful duet with Megan Mullins about friendship and unrequited love, which was previously cut by Shelley Skidmore and Greg Bates. ‘Needed The Rain’ is a strong Chris Stapleton song.

The album closes with a tastefully stripped down and sincerely delivered version of the hymn ‘In Christ Alone’.

This is an excellent album, and I strongly recommend it.

Grade: A


Week ending 9/2/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: Branded Man — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1977Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1987: Born to Boogie — Hank Williams Jr. (Warner Bros./Curb)

1997: She’s Got It All — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2007: Never Wanted Nothing More — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Somebody Else Will — Justin Moore (Valory)