My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Mike Curtis

Album Review: The Raybon Brothers – ‘The Raybon Brothers’

raybon brosAfter leaving Shenandoah, Marty decided to team up in a duo with his brother Tim. MCA released their one and only album together, a self-titled effort, in 1997.

Even Marty Raybon’s committed soulful vocal can’t save the gooey sentiment of ‘Butterfly Kisses’, the duo’s first single. The song had been a big AC hit for its writer, Bob Carlisle, but the Raybon Brothers’ country cover was less successful with radio, just creeping into the top 40. It may not have helped that another rival country cut was around at the same time (by Jeff Carson), although that one performed even more poorly; and the original itself also got some country airplay. However the exposure did propel the single to high sales figures, and it achieved gold certification.

‘The Way She’s Lookin’’ is a bouncy up-tempo number which while fairly generic is much more enjoyable. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a flop when it was released as the second single; a shame, as it deserved to do better than ‘Butterfly Kisses’.

The final attempt at a single was a real misstep. ‘Falling’ is a very boring and not terribly good AC-styled duet with Olivia Newton-John – a curious choice whose shortlived country career was long since over. It didn’t chart at all, and didn’t deserve to.

The best track on the album is ‘Every Fire’, a ruefully tender ballad written by John Scott Sherrill and Cathy Majeski in which the protagonist regrets that the pain of losing his ex has stopped him from moving on:

It’s still raining in my heart
And that’s been putting out every fire I’ve tried to start

Also great is the Don Cook/Al Anderson penned ‘Trying To Keep The Woman I’ve Got’, a charming, up-tempo polite rejection of a woman coming on to him in a bar. This is like vintage Shenadoah.

‘Baby Blue’ is an average song, but has a pleasant melody and some lovely close sibling harmonies. The brothers wrote ‘Your Love’ with Mike Curtis, and this is quite a good sunny up-tempo number reminiscent of Shenandoah.

Tim was allowed to sing lead on a few tracks. He shows himself a competent vocalist with a big meaty voice, but not in his brother’s class. His vocal on ‘Gettin’ Ready For The World To End’ is loud and unsubtle, while he gives a solid but somewhat anonymous performance on his own ‘Hello Love’, which is quite a nice song. ‘Tangled Up In Love’ is a limp pop number co-written by Keith Urban.

The brothers’ musical partnership having failed to set the charts on fire, the duo disbanded, and Marty turned to a solo career. there are enough bright spots to make this worth picking up if you can find it cheaply.

Grade: B

Album Review: Marty Raybon – ‘Hand To The Plow’

Marty Raybon, best known as the lead singer of 90s hitmakers Shenandoah, has most recently been quietly releasing bluegrass and bluegrass gospel records, the best of which is 2006’s When The Sand Runs Out. Now he has signed to the excellent Rural Rhythm Records’s Christian music subsidiary, and his debut for the label has a Christian country sound.

The outstanding track is a fabulously soulful and passionate gospel quartet on the traditional ‘Workin’ On A Building’ which may be my favorite version of the song. Marty is joined by Trace Adkins, Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers and T Graham Brown on vocals, all sounding fantastic, and the instrumental arrangement is superb too. I understand a video has been filmed for this.

‘When He Rains, It Pours’ and ‘You’ve Got To Move’ are entertaining uptempo gospel numbers co-written by Marty, the Bible-based former with Mike Curtis and Mark Narmore with handclaps and Hammond organ strains providing a churchy sound, the latter with Barry Hutchens. Marty wrote the emotional ‘Walking With God At A Guilty Distance’ with Gerald Crabb, leader of Southern Gospel family band the Crabbs. It’s a rather good song with an attractive melody, about a man sitting in a church pew conscious of his sins and recognising his need to surrender to God. The mid-tempo ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This’, a solo Marty Raybon composition with another pretty tune, is a pensive reflection on salvation, which is also pretty good.

‘He’s Still My Little Man (Matty’s Song)’ is a very personal and rather touching ode to Marty’s soldier son, which is repeated from his last secular album 2010’s At His Best:

I guess I’m not too old to have a hero of my own
And I’m proud to say that tall was not the only way he’d grown

The other songs are a bit lackluster in comparison, but Marty’s passionate soulful vocals and velvety tone make them sound better than they otherwise would. In fact, the whole record sounds good, with generally tasteful arrangements and production from Mark L Carman. Marty’s brother Tim, who was a bandmate in Shenandoah and his partner in the short-lived duo the Raybon Brothers, sings backing vocals.

Opener ‘I’ve Seen What He Can Do’ pays tribute to the testimony of the natural world to the glory of God, set around a bedtime conversation with a child, and sung with palpable conviction. Natural beauty is also referred to in ‘He’s Still Doing Miracles Today’, although it tries to cover too much ground by also focussing on how sinners’ lives are turned around, and (less successfully) illnesses healed. ‘You Get Me’ is written by Neil Thrasher and Wendell Mobley (embarrassingly, both have their names misspelt in the liner notes) and is a beautifully sung love letter to God with a CCR feel. ‘Bright New Morning’ is a ballad with a pretty melody, written by Barry Hutchens.

Religious records aren’t for everyone, but this is a pretty good one with a pleasingly melodic sound. Fans of Marty’s voice might like to check it out.

Grade: B+

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Cold Hard Truth’

By the late 1990s, country radio had decidedly cooled toward George Jones, just as it had done with most of his contemporaries. During that decade, Jones had made the transition from hit-maker to country music’s elder statesman. Although the radio hits had tapered off, he still managed to generate respectable sales, with two of his 90s discs earning gold certification. However, the sales weren’t considered good enough for him to keep his record deal, and in 1999 he parted ways with MCA Nashville after an eight-year stint with the label. It looked as though his major label career was over when he was suddenly given a reprieve — albeit a temporary one — when he was signed to the Nashville division of Asylum Records. The label assured him that he could have complete creative control and asked only that he record the album that he would have made twenty years earlier if he had been sober.

Jones teamed up with producer Keith Stegall, best known for his work with Alan Jackson, and his old pals Vince Gill and Patty Loveless who supplied harmony vocals to the project. The album that resulted was Cold Hard Truth, which was released in June 1999. It was hailed by the label as George’s return to hardcore country, which may have been overstating things a bit, since Jones had never abandoned his traditional sound. Still, the album was a change in direction in a sense, as its material was more substantive and serious, with none of the semi-novelty tunes or beat-driven “Young Country” style songs that had been characteristic of his work with MCA.

By this time, Jones had 158 charted singles — more than any other artist in any genre in history — under his belt. He kicked off the Asylum era of his career with “Choices”, a song about living with consequences of one’s actions which Billy Yates and Mike Curtis seem to have written with George in mind. In a just world, “Choices” would have returned George to the top of the charts, much as “Buy Me A Rose” would do for Kenny Rogers a few years later. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but “Choices” did reach a respectable #30, higher than any of his MCA singles except for “High-Tech Redneck”. Interest in the song was undoubtedly fueled by the controversy that ensued when Jones refused to perform it on the CMA’s award show because that organization refused to allot him enough time to sing it in its entirety. However, the song holds its ground on its own merits, and is one of the finest performances of Jones’ career. One can imagine another singer tackling “Choices” but not with the credibility that Jones brings.

Jamie O’Hara’s “The Cold Hard Truth” was chosen as the follow-up single. It is another fine performance, somewhat similar in theme to “Choices”, but it is not quite as good a song. It stalled at #45. For the next single — his last on a major label — Jones released the more light-hearted and somewhat fluffy “Sinners & Saints”, written by Vip Vipperman, J.B. Rudd, and Darryl Worley. It peaked at #55.

Many artists have difficulty obtaining first-rate material once their hit-making days are over, but that definitely was not the case here. There are some true gems from some of Nashville’s finest songwriters among the album cuts, including “Day After Forever” from the pen of Max D. Barnes, “Ain’t Love A Lot Like That” written by Mark Collie and Dean Miller, “This Wanting You” by Bruce Burch, Bruce Bouton, and T. Graham Brown, and Emory Gordy Jr.’s and Jim Rushing’s haunting “When The Last Curtain Falls”.

The Asylum era appeared to be off to a strong start for the new millenium, but regrettably we will never know what direction they would have taken with subsequent projects. The label’s Nashville office was shut down in 2000 by its parent company Time Warner. George apparently turned down an offer to join the Warner Bros. Nashville roster, opting instead to become a partner with former Asylum president Evelyn Shriver in the newly formed Bandit Records, which has released all of his music from 2001 to the present day.

Cold Hard Truth
is somewhat of a creative renaissance for Jones, more consistent in quality than any other album he’d released in the preceding decade. Although at age 68 his voice was beginning to show signs of wear and tear, he proved that he was still worthy of the title of country music’s greatest living singer. The album was meant to be a commercial comeback for George, and indeed it was a both a critical and commercial success, earning gold certification. However, it will be best remembered as the capstone to his major label career and it is hard to imagine how he could have ended his tenure with the majors on a higher note.

Grade: A

Cold Hard Truth
is still readily available in both CD and digital form from sources such as Amazon and iTunes.