My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Merle Haggard

Introducing: The Malpass Brothers

And the winner of the 2018 CMA Entertainer of the Year is ….. The Malpass Brothers!

Well not really, but if the CMA had a shred of integrity left, the Malpass Brothers would have at least been nominated.  This is not a knock against this year’s winner Keith Urban, who is an excellent rock guitarist (with very little country in his playing) and a passable (but very overrated) vocalist with a decent sense of humor, but having seen both perform, Urban is miles (or kilometers) behind in the ability to entertain.

So who are the Malpass Brothers? According to their website:

As young boys, Christopher and Taylor Malpass soaked up the music of their granddad’s phonograph records. Christopher earned his first talent show trophy at age 7, and Taylor was playing mandolin by the time he was 10. Today, they promote the work and music of classic country artists they treasure while creating new music and making their own mark in the lineage of a rich American cultural heritage.

With sincerity, honesty and an utter ease on stage that belies their years, their smooth vocal blend and skillful musicianship layer infectiously into the deep respect they pay to legends who have paved the way. Add the funny, off-the-cuff quips between the two 20-something siblings, and the engaging concert becomes a magnetic time-traveling journey to when a calmer rhythm reigned supreme.

The Malpass Brothers toured with the late Don Helms, former steel guitarist for Hank Williams, have opened for music legend Merle Haggard on multiple tours and appeared on stages from the Shetland Islands to Ryman Auditorium to Merlefest. Gifted musicians and songwriters, the brothers have shared billing with artists including Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Marty Stuart, Doc Watson and more. The title cut video from their “Memory That Bad” album hit CMT Pure Country’s Top Ten.

The above quote gives but a small hint as to what the Malpass Brothers are all about. Although there are other young country traditionalists who are true to the traditions of real country music, most of them are faithful to the traditions of the country music of the 1970s and the new traditionalists movement that kicked off in 1986 and held sway for about 12-15 years. North Carolina natives Chris and Taylor Malpass are torch carriers for the sounds of the country music of the 1950s through 1975 with occasional rockabilly overtones, and a lot of humor in their performances. Chris normally sings lead and Taylor typically plays electric lead and mandolin

After spending about seven years opening for Merle Haggard, the Malpass Brothers started working the bluegrass festivals along with other more normal venues. Although there is nothing at all bluegrass about their music, there is an interesting dynamic at work in the world of bluegrass which is that while there is a schism (of sorts) between the traditionalist “true grass” advocates and more modernist “newgrass” fans, both groups love the music of traditional country artists such as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn and the Louvin Brothers and it rare to find a group in either the truegrass or newgrass camps that does not include the music of the pre-1975 period in their repertoire.

From what I’ve written above, you may think that the Malpass Brothers are nothing more than a covers band, but in fact, their repertoire is a mixture of covers and originals written by the brothers. In fact, their most recent album Live At The Paramount Theatre (taken from a PBS Documentary), features six original tunes along with three Merle Haggard songs, Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got The Money I Got The Time”, Ernst Tubb’s “Walking The Floor Over You” and the Jimmie Rodgers classic from the 1930s (later covered by Crystal Gayle) “Miss The Mississippi and You”.

This album also includes a live performance of their CMT hit “Memory That Bad” which was written by Chris and Taylor Malpass.

For more information check their website: https://themalpassbrothers.com/

Meanwhile, I’ve stacked three of their CDs in my changer and will be listening to some real country music. I will see them again in February 2019

Below are some YouTube clips:

“Hoping That You’re Hoping:”

“Luther Played The Boogie:”

“Half A Mind:”

 

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Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘If I Could Only Fly’

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Second Time Around’

Typically Australian County albums tend to be a mixture of original compositions and covers of Nashville hits. Second Time Around is no exception but it is quite an enjoyable album. Adam’s expressive baritone makes for pleasant listening, and the backing on this album is solidly country.

Unfortunately, my digital download of this album did not come with lyric sheets or, songwriter credits or musician credits. If I don’t mention the songwriter, that means I don’t know who wrote the song, but it is likely that either Adam or another Australian artist would have the songwriting honors.

The album opens with “He Lives My Dream”, an oft-told story about the restlessness of the itinerant musician. In this case the singer’s bus breaks down and while waiting he sees a young family exiting church services. I’m usually not that fond of narrations, but the opening narrative sets up the song nicely.

“Been There Done That” finds the singer seeing an ex-girlfriend at a barroom. She tries to chat him up – but this time he’s not having any.

“Tequila Sunrise” is Adam’s cover of an Eagles’ song. If you liked the song generally, you will like Adam’s rendition, which is laid back and melodic.

“I think I’ll Have Another Bourbon” is a kind of generic drinking song, a slow ballad about a woman who has left him and who he can’t get over. Some interesting harmonica work dominates the bluesy backing.

From this point forward Adam covers some of the greatest songs in the American country music canon.

Adam is no Merle Haggard but “Fightin’ Side Of Me” is effectively presented, as is “Sad Songs And Waltzes”, a song written by Willie Nelson but perhaps better remembered from the Keith Whitley cover version.

“Big Bad John” is one of those songs that everyone over the age of fifty-five has heard, whether or not they listen to country music. Adam’s version pales in comparison to the Jimmy Dean original. The song is not a novelty song, but there is a certain ambiance to the song that no one else has ever managed to duplicate.

Better is “Hello Darlin’“, Adam’s cover of the Conway Twitty classic from 1970. Adam’s deep baritone seems expressly made for the song.

Chris Wall never made it as a mainstream country singer, although he had some success as a songwriter. “Trashy Women” was recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1989 and Wall put the song on his superlative album Honky Tonk Heart in 1990, it wasn’t until Confederate Railroad recorded the song a few years later that the song became a top ten country hit. Wall’s song has remained a staple of bar bands since then. Adam does a fine job with the song. I love this song:

Well I was raised in a sophisticated kind of style
But my taste in music and women drove my folks half wild
Mom and Dad had a plan for me, it was debutantes and symphonies
But I like my music hot and my women wild

You see I like my women just a tad on the trashy side
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed
Too much lipstick and too much rouge
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused
I like my women just a tad on the trashy side

Well you should have seen the look on the face of my Dad and Mom
When I showed up at the door with my date for the senior prom
They said, “Pardon us son, she ain’t no kid,
That’s a cocktail waitress in a Dolly Parton wig”
I said, “I know, ain’t she great, Dad?

They say opposites attract, well I don’t agree
I need a woman that’s as tacky as me

Covering a Vern Gosdin classic is an impossible task as there is no way you can sing the song better than “The Voice” did. That said, Adam does a very nice job with “Is It Raining At Your House”.

I do not know the source of “I’d Be Worse off” but I really like the song with kind of a folk-country ballad with some nice harmonica accompaniment. I don’t know if this a single “Down Under” but if it wasn’t, it should have been.

The album closes with the Don Williams classic “I Believe In You” . The arrangement is a clone of the Don Williams original but with a bit more steel guitar.

To an American listener, this album may feel too familiar, but please remember that Adam Harvey was recording the album for Australian audiences, to whom these may have been mostly new songs. At any rate, it is a good album, Adam sings well, I like the band and the arrangements and this would be in the B+ / A= minus range for me.

Week ending 9/22/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Bird Dog / Devoted To You — Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Mama Tried — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: I’ve Always Been Crazy — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1988: Addicted — Dan Seals (Capitol)

1998: How Long Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista Nashville)

2008: Waitin’ On A Woman — Brad Paisley (Arista)

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

2018 (Airplay):

Tanya Tucker dazzles at Lancaster Fair

The Lancaster Fair, located on a flat grassy fairground in rural New Hampshire, has been carrying on a Labor Day weekend tradition since 1870. In recent years, the featured entertainment has been legacy country acts including Jo Dee Messina, Sawyer Brown and Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan. In fact, it was through Tillis herself I found out the fair even existed at all.

The act this year, who plays a free concert at the bandstand with admission to the fair, was Tanya Tucker. Having never seen her live before, I jumped at the opportunity to add her name to my ever-growing concert resume. As I suspected she dazzled the crowd and didn’t skip a beat as she ran through a nice cross-selection of her vast catalog.

What struck me the most, was her vitality. I had very wrongfully conjured up the perception in my mind that Tucker was on her last legs as a performer without much of a singing voice anymore. I’m thrilled to report she couldn’t have looked or sounded more like herself.

Her band opened the performance with a faithful rendition of Vince Gill’s “One More Last Chance” before Tucker graced the stage in a black western button-down, black pants, and a rhinestone-studded belt. She began with “Some Kind of Trouble” and kept the setlist tied to her work from the 1980s and 1990s, running through most of the hits from her well-deserved and celebrated comeback.

The majority of her set was accentuated by her up-tempo material with the gorgeous twangy guitars that always set her apart from the pack. She flubbed, and quickly recovered from forgetting the opening line of “Hangin’ In,” and turned in stellar renditions of “If Your Heart Ain’t Busy Tonight” and “Walking Shoes.”

She referenced 1997’s Complicated, the final album of her commercial peak, to introduce a surprise performance of “Little Things,” her most recent top ten single. It comes off a bit slicker and more pop-leaning than her earlier hits, especially mixed in the company of the earlier hits she performed, but it’s still classic Tucker and remains one of my favorites of hers.

Another favorite of mine, and one of hers too thankfully, is “Strong Enough To Bend,” which was dosed with gorgeous mandolin licks throughout. “Love Me Like You Used To” was equally as wonderful. The biggest surprise was the non-single “Can’t Run From Yourself,” the title track from her 1992 album, and a song she said she’s always liked. Her passion for the track was on fully display and her performance was feisty and incredible.

Mid-way through, she dipped her toes back into the 1970s, beginning with the creepy “What’s Your Mama’s Name” and continuing through “Lizzie and the Rainman” and “San Antonio Stroll.” “Texas (When I Die)” was another highlight, and the perfect excuse for a sing-a-long by the end.

Another detour found Tucker covering a few hits from her favorite artists. She began with a joyous and faithful reading of the Eagles “Peaceful Easy Feeling” before jumping into a unique medley of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” mixed with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Despite the obvious differences between the two songs, Tucker and the band found a way to blend them together perfectly and with ease. She concluded with Merle Haggard’s “Ramblin’ Fever,” which she recorded on her most recent album, the country standards covers record My Turn in 2009. Tucker’s performance was a revelation, and for me, one of the top highlights of the whole night.

Returning to her hits, Tucker somewhat stumbled through “It’s A Little Too Late,” inadvertently switching the first and second verses. Her performance was excellent though, and even included a nice bit of line dancing during the instrumental breakdown. She dedicated “Two Sparrows In A Hurricane” to her parents.

While Tucker doesn’t move on stage like she used to thirty years ago, she did inject her signature personality into the performance. I would say she did a lot of folding her arms and posing at the ends and between songs, but she never once stood still. At one point she even said she’d like to do a Harley trip in the area sometime during the autumn months some year, this after seeing the biggest cow she had ever seen, in the area that day, or possibly even at the fair itself.

If I could find any fault with the show at all, it came as Tucker began an impromptu and long intermission where she signed autographs from the stage for what felt like an eternity. Concertgoers were rushing to the front of the stage in droves for autographs and selfies, much to the disdain of everyone else, like myself, who would’ve rather seen the time filled with more music (such as “If It Don’t Come Easy,” “(Without You) What Do I Do with Me” and “Soon”).

One concertgoer had her sign their copy of her autobiography Nickel Dreams, which had her proclaim the book might’ve been billed as a tell-all but “a lot of people would have to die” before she could really “tell all.” Tucker joked she’ll have to write a sequel (none is currently in the works) and at this point, call it “Quarter Dreams.” She was sharp as a tack, even as people began filling out to get to their cars before a mad rush. Tucker did redeem herself, closing the show with a beautiful medley of “Amazing Grace” and “Delta Dawn,” the latter of which had the audience singing the final chorus back to her.

The crowd was mixed with people ranging from both young to older, with many young boys (5-7 years old) who were moving, grooving, and clearly had music in their souls. It was heartwarming to see young people exposed to authentic and traditional honky-tonk country music, which the seemed to be enjoying.

I also sincerely appreciated the lack of alcohol at the show. People may have had their share of soda, and other drinks, but there wasn’t any beer and the ruckus it causes. It truly was a refreshing thing not to have that added aggravation to potentially put a damper on the night.

I had never been to the Lancaster Fair before, despite having a ski condo in the area for the past 24+ years. I only went for Tucker and she was incredible. I’ve been to many unique and special concerts through the years, and this one was right up there with the best I’ve seen.

I hope this goes without saying, but if Tucker comes to your area, make it your duty as a country music fan to attend the show. She’s still got every bit the swagger she had all those years ago. You will most certainly not be disappointed.

Week ending 9/15/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Bird Dog / Devoted To You — Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Mama Tried — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: I’ve Always Been Crazy — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1988: Joe Knows How To Live — Eddy Raven (RCA)

1998: How Long Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista Nashville)

2008: Do You Believe Me Now? — Jimmy Wayne (Valory Music Group)

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

2018 (Airplay): Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset — Luke Bryan (Capitol Nashville)

Week ending 9/8/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Bird Dog / Devoted To You — Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Mama Tried — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: I’ve Always Been Crazy — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1988: Do You Love Me (Just Say Yes) — Highway 101 (Warner Bros)

1998: I’m Alright — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2008: You Look Good In My Shirt — Keith Urban (Capitol Nashville)

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

2018 (Airplay): Life Changes — Thomas Rhett (Big Machine) 

 

Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘Listening To The Wind’

Week ending 9/1/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Blue, Blue Day — Don Gibson (RCA)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Mama Tried — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: Blue Skies — Willie Nelson (Columbia)

1988: I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried — Rodney Crowell (Columbia)

1998: I’m Alright — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2008: Should’ve Said No — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

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

2018 (Airplay): Drowns The Whiskey — Jason Aldean Feat. Miranda Lambert (Broken Bow)

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Live at Billy Bob’s’

Smith Music Group’s Live at Billy Bob’s series has proven to be a really mixed bag of albums. Virtually all of the recordings feature top name artists of the past – usually of the not-too-distant past, The recording sound quality is variable (usually decent, sometimes much better) but the bands vary in that sometimes the artist uses his own band (Merle Haggard and his Strangers) but often the band is a few musicians that the artist brought with them augmented by the house band. The Doug Stone set seems to have caught him on a night when he had a cold because he sounded terrible, yet I saw him a few months later doing a largely acoustic set and he sounded terrific. The albums all contain 14-18 songs, usually the artist doing the hits with perhaps one or two other songs included.

Earl Thomas Conley – Live At Billy Bob’s follows the usual pattern being comprised of sixteen songs, all but one of the songs being top ten hits for Earl (the exception is “Hard Days & Honky Tonk Nights” which died at #36). The album was recorded in 2004, at which point Earl (or ETC, if you prefer) was already 63 years old and had suffered some vocal erosion. ETC still can sing better than most but there is definitely some loss of vocal quality and it sounds like on one song “What’d I Say” that the song was sung in a lower key than on the original recording.

Here is the track list (* Billboard #1 country chart hit):

Somewhere Between Right and Wrong *
Your Love’s On The Line *
Don’t Make It Easy For Me *
Angel In Disguise *
Chance of Lovin’ You *
Hard Days & Honky Tonk Nights
What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)*
Holding Her and Loving You *
Once In A Blue Moon
Brotherly Love
Heavenly Bodies
What I’d Say *
Fire & Smoke *
Love Don’t Care (Who’s Heart it Breaks)*
Shadow Of a Doubt
I Can’t Win For Losin’ You *

This is not the album I would recommend to someone unfamiliar with ETC’s work as there are better introductions to his music. It is, however, always interesting to hear an artist in a live setting. I would give this somewhere between a B and a B+

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Treading Water’

Released in October 1984, Treading Water was ETC’s fourth and most successful RCA album, peaking at #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. By late 1984 Nashville had moved past the Urban Cowboy sludge into more traditional sounds. While the “New Traditionalist” movement was still eighteen months away, newer artists such as Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley were pointing the way back to more traditional sounds, and some veteran artists such as George Jones and Merle Haggard had seen some career regeneration, as had (briefly) the Kendalls.

The album opens with “Too Hot To Handle”, a non-single that sounds more energetic than most of Earl’s recordings. This is followed by “Love Don’t Care”, a #1 single that was the third single released from the album and “Labor of Love”, a quiet ballad about a relationship that is disintegrating.

“Your Love Says All There Is” is an album track that seems rather generic and too similar to other recent ETC songs. It is an okay song but certainly not worthy of single release.

Y

ou keep talking with your body
And to your every move I can relate
Cause I’ve been feeling what you’re thinking
And I guess your love says all there is to say

This party started in your arms tonight
And I can see forever in your eyes
Without a word you put me in my placeo Your love says all there is, your love says all there is to say

Similarly “Love’s On The Move Again” seems a bit familiar but the use of real piano and steel is certainly welcome.

“Chance of Loving You” was the first single released from the album, a #1 single that was co-written with Randy Scruggs. The song is taken at mid-tempo with a lyric than commands attention.

Like a young and courageous fool
Ready to take on the night
You came dressed to kill all of the boys
And it looks like you’ve done enough right

You say that love is your only rule
It kinda comes from the heart
When it all comes down to what lovers do
You fall in love and just fall apart

But that’s the chance you take with a lonely heart
That’s the price you pay with a lonely heart
That’s the game you play when there’s nothin’ to loose
And I could never refuse the chance of lovin’ you

“Honor Bound” was the second single from the album, another #1 hit. The song is a dramatic song about a wife who is taking her vows seriously; however, both the wife and the narrator know that from her perspective that the flame has gone out of the relationship. There is a nice sax break in the song.

Nothing’s been said, nothing’s been done
It’s hard to see a difference between the rising and the setting sun
But I can feel a change, it’s there in her touch
It’s subtle but it’s deep and it hurts us both so much
Me, because I’m losing her and her because she feels

She’s honor bound, bound by promise that she made so long ago
But I love her so much that I can’t let her know I know
Oh, I know her pure heart made that promise
Honestly, oh, but how long can her honor keep her bound to me

I think “Treading Water” is the best song on the album but it was not released as a single. The tale of a fellow who gets the girl (briefly) whenever she is on the rebound, the narrator is beginning to rebel against his role in the matter.

“Feels Like A Saturday Night” could have been a rowdy song in the hands of another singer. ETC never truly sounds rowdy, but the song has a nice beat to it and is probably one of the few ETC songs suitable for dancing.

The album closes with the up-tempo “Turn This Bus Around”.

This is probably my favorite Earl Thomas Conley album on RCA. I’d give this album a B+, but it would prove to be the last ETC album I would purchase for many years as I realized that I liked Conley as an artist, but did not love his music and did not often pull it out to play. Most of my Conley albums were on cassette tape and as CD became the dominant media, I purchased some hit collections but little else more, until a few years ago. He’s a fine artist and is worth discovering, especially for one with less traditional tastes than mine.

Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again’

Spotlight Artist: Earl Thomas Conley

Born in October 1941, Earl Thomas Conley is the quintessence of the term “late bloomer” as far as becoming a country music star. Although he had some very modest chart success starting in 1975 with GRT Records and again with Warner Brothers in 1979, it wasn’t until Conley reached independent label Sunbird in late 1980, that Earl (or ETC as he was often called) began to achieve real success as a recording artist. By then, he was thirty-nine years old.

Earl Thomas Conley was the oldest and most successful of the triumvirate of somewhat similarly named country artist of the 1980s (the others were Con Hunley and John Conlee), each of whom had very distinctive voices. Earl had an extended run of success, both as a recording artist and as a songwriter. Between 1980 and 2003, he recorded ten studio albums, including seven for RCA. During this same period he charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard country charts, with 18 reaching #1.

Earl was raised in a working class family that had a love for music and the arts, and painting – which he started when he was 10 – was Earl’s first love. At age 14, Earl’s father lost his job with the railroad and Earl went to live with an older sister in Dayton, Ohio, where he continued to paint and develop his skills as an artist. While painting was his first love, Earl’s father had introduced him to music and Earl began to be more aware of it as an influence in his life.

After graduating high school, Earl decided against college, joining the Army instead. While in the Army, Earl became a member a Christian-influenced trio, where his musical talent and vocal ability were first placed on public display. At some point Earl decided that performing might not be a bad way to make a living. Accordingly, he delved more deeply into the classic country sounds of artists such as Merle Haggard and George Jones. During this period Earl first tried his hand at songwriting. In 1968, after his discharge from the Army, Earl began commuting from Dayton to Nashville.

With nothing happening for him in Nashville (and tired of back and forth commuting), Earl moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to be 150 miles closer to the recording industry. While in Nashville on a song-plugging visit in 1973, Earl met Dick Herd, who produced the great Mel Street. This meeting eventually led to the Conley-Herd collaboration on the song “Smokey Mountain Memories”, which Street took into the top 10 in early 1975.

Prior to Street’s recording Earl had moved to Nashville, where he met record producer Nelson Larkin, who signed Earl to his publishing house and helped sign him with independent label GRT in 1974. Larkin placed one of Earl’s songs with his brother Billy Larkin, “Leave It Up to Me”, which Larkin took to #22 in late 1975. Nelson Larkin would produce Earl’s sessions through the end of the 1980s.

GRT released four of Earl’s singles without much success. Meanwhile, Earl placed “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” with Conway Twitty, who took it all the way to the top in 1975, giving Earl his first #1 record as a songwriter.

On the strength of his successful songwriting, Warner Brothers signed Earl to a recording contract. Unfortunately, the three singles Warner Brothers issued in 1979 on ‘Earl Conley’ failed to achieve much traction.

After his stint at Warner Brothers was over, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with producer Nelson Larkin. “Fire & Smoke,” released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40.

The success of “Fire and Smoke” caused RCA to pick up Earl’s contract and purchase the rights to Earl’s Sunbird recordings for release on RCA. Ultimately RCA became his home for the next decade during which time the following songs reached #1:

•“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”
•“Your Love’s On The Line”
•“Holding Her and Loving You”
•“Don’t Make It Easy For Me”
•“Angel In Disguise”
•“Chance of Loving You”
•“Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart it Breaks)”
•“Nobody Fall s Like A Fool”
•“Once In A Blue Moon”
•“I Have Loved You Girl”
•“I Can’t Win For Losing You”
•“That Was A Close One”
•“Right From The Start”
•“What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)”
•“We Believe In Happy Endings” (w/Emmylou Harris)
•“What I’d Say”
•“Love Out Loud”

While Earl Thomas Conley tended to regard himself as a straight country artist, his rather smoky voice helped gain him acceptance across the board. Earl appeared on the television show Soul Train in 1986, and to the best of my knowledge he is the only country artist to be so featured.

Chart success basically ran out for Earl at the end of the 1980s although there were some decent chart hits through 1992, including the 1991 recording of “Brotherly Love” a duet with Keith Whitley released after Keith’s death.

Since then, Earl has continued to tour occasionally and write songs but has done relatively little recording, with a seven year recording hiatus 1991-1997. This hiatus was due to a number of factors, including vocal problems, disenchantment with record label politics, road fatigue and mental burnout. Earl finally emerged with another album in 1998, Perpetual Emotion, aided and abetted by long-time friends Randy Scruggs and Curly Corwin. His last albums were Should Have Been Over By Now, released in 2003, and Live at Billy Bob’s, released in 2005.

Earl is now 76 years old and no longer maintains a website, although he does maintain a Facebook page. Earl retired from performing about a year ago.

Various artists continue to record his songs, and Blake Shelton released Earl’s “All Over Me” as a single in 2002. Earl has always eschewed fads, not becoming a ‘hat act’ during the late 1980s and continuing to write thoughtful, non-gimmicky songs.

The digital age has seen much of Earl’s recorded legacy restored to the catalogue, so finding his songs should not be difficult. We hope you enjoy discovering (or rediscovering) the music of our very distinctive Spotlight vocalist Earl Thomas Conley.

John Anderson is far more than an old chunk of coal at Boston’s City Winery

John Anderson may have opened his show Monday night at Boston’s City Winery with his 1981 #4 “I’m Just an Old Chunk Of Coal,” but judging from his brisk 90-minute set, the choice wasn’t self-referential. Armed with an acoustic guitar and his longtime accompanist Glenn Rieuf, he ran through hit-after-hit with merely a break to catch his breath.

Anderson traversed his whole career, jumping around so as not to put emphasis on any particular song or time period. He wasted no time getting to fan favorites like “Money In The Bank” and “Straight Tequila Night,” two of his signature tunes from his big comeback in the early 1990s. He dedicated the latter to the ladies in the crowd, which was at about half-capacity for the 300-seat venue, a respectable turnout considering the scorching heatwave and proximity to July 4th.

He didn’t talk much during the show, opting instead to give his fans their money’s worth of music. He introduced Rieuf as someone he’s known for more than 40 years and played with for more than 30. The two were perfectly in sync, with Anderson often turning to Rieuf between songs to figure out what would be sung next. Rieuf switched from acoustic guitar to dobro early on, giving the bulk of the songs some added texture Anderson couldn’t achieve with just his guitar alone.

When he did speak, Anderson made it count. He told a story about a day on his farm when he was trying to write a song. The ideas weren’t coming, and he was about to give up when his phone rang. Waylon Jennings was on the other end, requesting Anderson join him at the Ryman Auditorium to lend his talents to a live album he was making. The sessions, which took place in January 2000, would cumulate as the final album Jennings would release during his lifetime. Anderson then played “Waymore’s Blues,”  the track they collaborated on together.

Like the majority of male country singers from his era, Anderson wears his patriotism on his sleeve. He turned in a poignant rendition of “1959,” the fifth single from his debut album, his first top ten, released in 1980. The song, about a solider’s heartbreak at learning his high school sweetheart, Betty, had broken her promise never to leave him while he was deployed, is as powerful today as it must’ve been 38 years ago. He followed with “An Occasional Eagle,” an ode to American Pride and a deep cut from 1983’s All The People Are Talkin’.

He stayed in the 1980s to bring the audience some real country music, “I Just Came Home to Count The Memories,” the title cut from his third album, released back in 1981. He also mined “Would You Catch A Falling Star” from the same album. Although it’s not my favorite of his songs, “Swingin’” has retained all the swagger he originally brought to his chart-topping recording in 1983.

To this day, I still become affected when I hear “I Wish I Could’ve Been There,” which he delivered beautifully Monday night. He said it was written about his life on the road, while the next song was composed about life “back home” in Apopka, Florida. “Seminole Wind,” which I’ve always adored, is probably the most unlikely song ever to hit the country airwaves and explode into a #2 hit. Released in August 1992, when Garth Brooks was decimating everything in his path, a lyric about conservation efforts in the Everglades was just a crazy enough concept to work.

“When I Get Down” was Anderson’s sole nod to his 2011 gospel album Praise For You and was accompanied by him recounting the hearing loss that kept him off the road, missing “seven months of work” in 2017. He’s thankfully recovered, which for a time, was in jeopardy. He and Rieuff left the stage for a brief moment, and when they returned, Anderson referenced his friend Merle Haggard, who he called one of the greatest country singers who ever lived. Anderson brilliantly sang the standard “Long Black Veil,” which he associates with the beginnings of his friendship with Haggard. He closed with his outlaw classic “Black Sheep,” which became his third #1 in late 1983.

Throughout his set, Anderson was ever the southern gentleman, pausing multiple times with “thank y’all so much” as the audience cheered between songs. He also felt his sound mixing was off, stopping at the top of the show a few times to tune his guitar and ask the sound people to adjust his guitar in the monitors. The sound was fine by my ears, but when he got it just right, we could enjoy the show without further tweaking.

The acoustic format, which Anderson said will be the sonic backdrop of his next album, worked well although I could’ve used a bit more instrumentation, especially on “Straight Tequila Night,” which seemed to be needing some extra ingredients, likely just a fiddle, to bring it even further to life.

At 63, Anderson still sounds fantastic, with his signature gravely rasp firmly intact. It was an unexpected treat to see someone perform whom I never even gave a second thought to seeing live. He made a point of saying he doesn’t come around “these parts that often,” meaning Boston, and he would like to come back again real soon. I for one, wouldn’t mind in the least if he did.

A half-dozen songs that never really were big hits (but may have been famous)

It is not so much true since the late 1970s but in all genres of music (except rock) there was a strong tendency for songs that were really big hits to be covered by many artists.

Here we will be looking at three really well-known country songs that never really were major hits for anyone, yet were so frequently covered that they became well-known hits, two songs that had Billboard not discontinued its regional charts, would have been recognized as big regional hits, and one song that was a huge copyright for a well known singer that isn’t well known and never charted at all.

1) Back in 1968, I purchased a few 45 rpm records. Lacking the patience to fool around with flipping records every 2:35, I soon switched to purchase of LPs. Among the few 45s that I purchased was Merle Haggard’s “The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde”. This record certainly was a hit reaching #1 on the Billboard and Record World country charts, but the B side was the revelation for me.

Back then I often didn’t get around to playing the B side of a 45 until later, but Dad had the Branded Man album that Haggard had issued the year before and every song on it was really good, so I flipped over the single to find one of the truly great country songs in “Today I Started Loving You Again”,

Back then Billboard did not usually track B sides and album tracks, so as far as Billboard is concerned the real hit on the song was Sammi Smith’s single from 1975 that reached #9. Kenny Rogers, Arthur Prysock and Emmylou Harris all issued singles that failed to crack the top forty. Record World, which did track B sides, had Haggard’s version reach #25.

I have no idea how many artists recorded “Today I Started Loving You Again” as an album track. Certainly, dozens of country artists did it (I probably have thirty country albums from the late 1968-1972 period that contain the song) and untold numbers of singers from other genres such as pop singer Al Martino, R&B singers Bobby Bland and Bettye Swann. I still hear country bands perform the song to this very day. For me, it’s a song I memorized on first hearing it and it has stuck in my memory since then

 What a fool I was to think I could get by

With only these few millions tears I cry

I should have known the worst was yet to come

And that crying time for me had just begun

2) Almost as well known as “Today I Started Loving You Again” is “Silver Wings”, which was an album track on Hag’s 1970 album A Portrait of Merle Haggard and was the flipside of “Working Man Blues. I can basically make the same comments about “Silver Wings” as I did about “Today I Started Loving You Again”. I heard the song frequently on the radio, but it never charted for Haggard. In fact, the only time the song ever charted was by the Hager Twins, Jim and Jon, who took it to #59 in late 1970.

 Silver wings shining in the sunlight

Roaring engines headed somewhere in flight

They’re taking you away, leaving me lonely

Silver wings slowly fading out of sight

“Don’t leave me,” I cried

Don’t take that airplane ride

But you locked me out of your mind

Left me standing here behind

3) Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote many famous songs that were big hits for the likes of the Everly Brothers, Carl Smith, Jimmie Dickens and countless others. While “Bye Bye Love” surely is their best-remembered song, I suspect that “Rocky Top” may be their second most famous song. The bluegrass duo of Sonny & Bobby Osborne got the song up to #33 on Billboard’s country chart in 1968 and Lynn Anderson got it to #17 in 1975 but that is it as far as chart success is concerned. The song ’s fame has spread far and wide beyond its limited chart placements it is an official Tennessee State Song, it is the University of Tennessee’s unofficial fight song, and has been recorded hundreds of times. The progressive bluegrass duo of Doug Dillard & Gene Clark (with Donna Washburn on vocals) issued the song in 1969, and that remains my favorite version of the song. Artists as diverse as Phish, Buck Owens, and Conway Twitty have recorded the song. Everybody knows the song and everybody sings along whenever the song is played

 Rocky Top you’ll always be

Home Sweet Home to me

Good ol’ Rocky Top

Rocky Top Tennessee

Rocky Top Tennessee

4) Bob Luman’s 1969 recording of “Come On Home And Sing The Blues To Daddy” probably was a regional hit in the southern states, reaching #24 on Billboard’s country charts (it reached #13 on Record World). Written by Ray Corbin, Luman’s record was featured in heavy rotation as a oldie when I returned to the US in August 1971; during its chart run WHOO DJ Clay Daniels told me that it often was the most requested song on the station and I know from personal experience that nearly every county cover band in Central Florida kept it in their playlist for a good decade after the song’s chart run.

Charley Pride, Wynn Stewart, Waylon Jennings and Bobby Bare recorded the song as an album track (so did many others) and I have heard Waylon and Bare perform it on stage.

 I hear say your new romance has faded

Just the way ours did some time ago

I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve waited

For you to tell me that you’ve missed me so

Come on home and sing the blues to daddy

If things don’t work out the way you planned

Come on home and sing the blues to daddy

Tell it all to one who understands

Just like a child that’s found a brand new plaything

Each one is more fun than those before

But there’s a faithful one that’s always waiting

To be picked up and kicked around some more

5) Nobody much remembers Pat Daisy, and RCA artist who got lost in the shuffle at RCA, but her recording of “Everybody’s Reaching Out for Someone” reached #20 on the Billboard country chart in 1972 (it reached #13 on Record World). Written by legendary songwriter Dickey Lee, the song reached #1 on the WHOO and WSUN Countdowns and I suspect that the tale for both Luman’s song and Daisy’s song is that either a station played the song and played it a lot, or simply never added the song at all (or perhaps added a different recording of the song). Whatever the case, the song was recorded by numerous artists including Lynn Anderson, Brenda Lee, Dickey Lee and Kitty Wells

Everybody’s reaching out for someone

Everybody’s knocking at some door

And long before I ever found you

You’re the one that I was reaching for

 

Just like the trees along the river bend

Lift up the branches to the sun above

We spent our lifetimes reaching for a friend

Cause everybody reach someone to love

 

And everybody’s reaching out …

Interestingly enough the song was revived in 1993 when the Cox Family recorded the song as the title cut for their first album on Rounder. The album was produced by Alison Krauss, and through their efforts, the song made its way into the bluegrass repertoire, where it is occasionally heard to this day.

6) Until “Harper Valley PTA” was released on August 24, 1968, Tom T Hall’s biggest copyright was a song that you may have never heard. By 1968 Tom had written a number a number of hits for other artists, including Johnny Wright’s #1 country hit “Hello Vietnam”, and had written a couple of minor hits for himself. “Hello Vietnam” received no pop airplay and sales of county singles in that era could be 50,000 copies.

On September 25, 1965, The Statler Brothers released a Tom T. Hall song as the B side of their debut single for Columbia. The single, “Flowers On The Wall” went #2 country, #4 pop and #1 in Canada, selling nearly a million copies in the process. The album Flowers On The Wall also sold well and for each 45 or album sold, Tom T Hall picked up a songwriting royalty. The song “Billy Christian” did not receive much airplay (I heard it a few times on WCMS) but I’m sure it helped keep the wolves away from Tom T’s door

It’s a pretty good song and is (or has been) available in a digital format

 If you’re listenin’ Billy Christian come on home

Are you listening Billy Christian if you are then go on home

Everything is like you left it she spends all the time alone

All that music never thrills her like it did when you were there

 

Go on home Billy Christian if you care

What a team they were together Billy Christian and his wife

People loved to hear them singin’ that was their success in life

But the eyes of Billy Christian were the wild and wandering kind

 

Now Billy’s wife sings solo all the time

Are you listening Billy Christian…

All the fellows tried to date me but she never blinked an eye

Every night she sings her same sad song and cries

 

Now where is Billy Christian does he ever hear the song

Does Billy Christian know he’s welcome home

Are you listening Billy Christian…

Go on home Billy Christian if you care

Album Review: Tim Culpepper – ‘DUI (Drinkin’ Under The Influence)’

I loved Mississippi-born, Alabama-raised Tim Culpepper’s solidly traditional Pourin’ Whiskey On Pain half a dozen years ago, and I was delighted to see he had released a follow-up. This is real country music, sung by a man with a great classic country baritone. The prodiction is solid with fiddle, steel guitar and honky on piano. He wrote most of the songs with his wife Jeanette Marie.

The opener ‘Drove Her Away’ is a regretful look at a relationship killed by the man’s poor choices. ‘Another Way To Try’ is a slow ballad about drinking to soothe the pain of a woman leaving.

‘She Only Loves Me’ is about being the lady’s fallback option when no one else is available.

The best song is the almost-title track, ‘Under The Influence’. This is a wonderful tribute to classic country music:

I love to hear some Haggard
Lord he sounds so good with beer
When that jukebox plays some Jones and Strait
You can always find me here
So put on Whitley’s stuff
I’ll slide my barstool up
And you can pour me a shot that’s strong
Cause I’m under the influence of hardcore country songs

I wanna hear a crying steel guitar
A fiddle and a five piece band
Give me an ice cold brew
Three chords and the truth
About the workin’ and the common man
I’m hooked on tradition
Inebriated by the honky tonks
And I’m under the influence of hardcore country songs

They didn’t sell their soul for fire and smoke just to be superstars
That’s why I love those legends
They stayed true to who they are
So crank up Hank and turn up Vern
Put on Gene and drink along
Cause I’m under the influence of hardcore country songs

There is a cameo appearance by fellow traditionalist Ken Mellons. Fabulous.

The power of music is also a central element to ‘Thirsty’ (which Tim and his wife wrote with Jacob Bryant), where the protagonist takes refuges from a hot day and missing his loved one in a bar room with a jukebox, with Keith Whitley the final resort. Another great song.

In another song Tim personifies the ‘Sad Ole Country Song’, “a reminder of love gone wrong”.

Tim recounts his life in music with a mixture of fondness and wry regret for his lack of stardom, all inspired by ‘Daddy’s Old Guitar’, while he would

Sing my songs to empty barstools for hardly any pay
But I sing them anyway

The final song (a cowrite with Jeff “Hoot” Gibson) addresses the state of both the USA and country music in ‘Take Back Our Country Again’

Jesus and Jack Daniels are in high demand
Politicians try to sell us on their progressive plans

They force feed us music on our radio
Killin’ tradition down on Music Row
While they’re gaining ground we’re losing control
Bring on the fiddle, a little misery and gin
And let’s take back our country again

There is some particularly lovely fiddle on this track.

My only regrets about this record are that there are only eight tracks and hat it’s been so long in the making.

Grade: A

Classic Album Review: Wanda Jackson ‘Salutes The Country Music Hall Of Fame’

Released in 1966 by Capitol Records (my copy is a British pressing on Capitol / EMI), Wanda’s album may be the first album to expressly salute the recently established Country Music Hall of Fame. At the time the album was recorded only six persons had been inducted into the County Music Hall of Fame:

1961 – Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose
1962 – Roy Acuff
1964 – Tex Ritter
1965 – Ernest Tubb

Of the six above, Fred Rose was a publisher & songwriter but not a performer. The other five would today be described as very traditional performers, so this album gave Wanda, more commonly regarded as a rockabilly or rock ‘n roll performer (she is in both the Rockabilly and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) a chance to display her credentials as a country performer. Reaching #12 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, this album would prove to be Wanda’s second highest charting album.

While no singles were released from this album, I frequently heard tracks from the album played on the various county stations around the southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina. This at a time that when Billboard did not chart album tracks.

Produced by Ken Nelson, no musician credits are given but I suspect that members of Buck Owen’s Buckaroos and Merle Haggard’s Strangers are in the mix somewhere.

The album opens up with the Hank Williams classic “Jambalaya” taken at mid-tempo. The song has a standard 1960s country arrangement with steel guitar and piano feature in the arrangement and the lyrics clearly enunciated.

Next up is one of my favorite Ernest Tubb songs “Try Me One More Time”. This was Ernest’s first chart entry when Billboard started its County Charts in 1944. The song was a crossover pop hit. This song is taken at a medium slow tempo that could be described as plodding, but which fits the song perfectly.

Yes I know I’ve been untrue
And I have hurt you through and through
Please have a mercy on this heart of mine
Take me back and try me one more time

If my darling you could see
Just what your leaving done to me
You’d know that love is still a tie that binds
And take me back and try me one more time

In my dreams I see your face
But it seems there’s someone in my place
Oh does she know you were once just mine
Take me back and try me one more time

“There’s A New Moon Over My Shoulder” was a huge hit for cowboy actor Tex Ritter in 1944. Again, this is a slow ballad.

Wanda enters another dimension with her cover of the 1929 Jimmie Rodgers tune “Blue Yodel #6” with its bluesy arrangement (nearly acoustic) and, of course, Jimmie Rodgers style blue yodel

He left me this morning, midnight was turning day
He left me this morning, midnight was turning day
I didn’t have no blues till my good man went away

Got the blues like midnight, moon shining bright as day
Got the blues like midnight, moon shining bright as day
I wish a tornado would come and blow my blues away

Now one of these mornings, I’m gonna leave this town
Yeah one of these mornings, I’m gonna leave this town
‘Cause you trifling men really keep a good gal down

When a woman’s down, you men don’t want her round
When a woman’s down, you men don’t want her round
But if she’s got money, she’s the sweetest gal in town

“Fireball Mail” was a beloved and oft-covered Roy Acuff song with writer credits to Floyd Jenkins, an alias of Fred Rose. This song is taken at a medium fast tempo with modern 1960s instrumentation (no dobro, fiddle or banjo).

Here she comes, look at her roll, there she goes eatin’ that coal
Watch her fly huggin’ the rails, let her by by by the fireball mail
Let her go look at her steam, hear her blow, whistle and scream
Like a hound waggin’ his tail Dallas bound bound bound, the fireball mail

Engineer makin’ up time, tracks are clear, look at her climb
See that freight clearin’ the rail, bet she’s late late late, the fireball mail
Watch her swerve, look at her sway, get that curve out of the way
Watch her fly, look at her sail, let her by by by the fireball mail
Let her by by by the fireball mail, let her by by by the fireball mail

Side one of the album closes out with another Ernest Tubb classic “Let’s Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello”, a 1948 hit for the redoubtable Tubb. The arrangement on this track plays direct tribute to Tubb retaining the three note guitar signature featured on nearly all of Ernest’s recordings. The song is taken at a medium slow tempo.

Side two opens up with “Jealous Heart” a 1944 ballad for Tex Ritter that reached #2 and was a top twenty pop hit. Wanda takes the song at a slightly faster tempo than did Tex (she also lacks Tex’s drawl).

Jealous heart, oh jealous heart, stop beating, can’t you see the damage you have done
You have driven him away forever jealous heart, now I’m the lonely one
I was part of everything he planned for and I know he loved me from the start
Now he hates the sight of all I stand for all because of you, oh jealous heart

Jealous heart, why did I let you rule me when I knew the end would bring me pain
Now he’s gone, he’s gone and found another, oh I’ll never see my love again
Through the years his memory will haunt me even though we’re many miles apart
It’s so hard to know he’ll never want me cause he heard your beating, jealous heart

Next up is “Great Speckled Bird”, a Roy Acuff classic from the 1930s. One of the all-time favorite religious songs of country audiences Wanda does a creditable job with the song but Roy Acuff she’s not.

“The Soldier’s Last Letter” was a huge Ernest Tubb hit from 1944 reaching #1 for four weeks. According to Billboard this was Ernest’s biggest chart hit (there were no country charts in 1941 when “I’m Walking The Floor Over You” was released, as one that was a big pop hit and sold (according to various sources) over a million copies. Merle Haggard would revive the song as a single taking it to #1 on Record World in 1971.

I think everyone has heard “The Wabash Cannonball” a song credited to A.P. Carter and popularized by Roy Acuff. Taken at a medium-fast tempo, and using a standard arrangement Wanda does a nice job with the song.

The final track is my favorite on the album, Jimmie Rodgers’ “Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues”, one of Jimmie’s lesser known songs. Wanda opens the song with a rolling yodel and gets to demonstrate her yodeling skills on this song.

I’m always blue, feeling so blue, I wish I had someone I knew
Just to help me tuck away my blues, lonesome blues
Won’t you be that someone to help me lose the blues
I really need someone to love me, someone to kiss
Someone to scold me, someone to miss
Won’t you be that someone to help me lose the blues
I really need someone to love me.

None of these songs are taken at a really fast tempo, so the entire album gives Wanda to demonstrate her skill as a balladeer. This is my favorite Wanda Jackson album and I’m grateful that I got to see her on several Capitol package programs where she focused on country songs and stayed away from the rockabilly stuff.

I am not sure why Wanda’s career as a country artist never really caught fire – she had a good clear voice with character and personality, she could yodel and she could tackle anything. I think she took off some years in mid-career to raise a family, and perhaps she never got the push from Capital that she deserved. Regardless, she was a fine singer – I’d give this album an “A”.

Week ending 5/5/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Oh Lonesome Me / I Can’t Stop Loving You — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Oh Lonesome Me — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1968: The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: It’s All Wrong, But it’s Alright — Dolly Parton (RCA Victor)

1988: It’s Such A Small World — Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash (Columbia Nashville)

1998: You’re Still The One — Shania Twain (Mercury Nashville)

2008: I Saw God Today — George Strait (MCA Nashville)

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

2018 (Airplay): You Make It Easy — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Week ending 4/28/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Oh Lonesome Me / I Can’t Stop Loving You — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Oh Lonesome Me — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1968: The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: Every Time Two Fools Collide — Kenny Rogers & Dottie West (United Artists)

1988: I’ll Always Come Back — KT Oslin (RCA)

1998: Bye, Bye — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2008: You’re Gonna Miss This — Trace Adkins (Capitol Nashville) 

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

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

Classic Rewind: Noel and Ben Haggard cover ‘The Running Kind/I’m A Lonesome Fugitive/It’s All In The Movies’