My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Mutt Lange

Single Review: Shania Twain – ‘Today Is Your Day’

Owning up to a strong affinity for the music of Shania Twain is counted as blasphemy in some circles, particularly to those whose affection for country music’s variety is limited to the more traditional, conventional sounds of the genre.  I’m not one of those.  I’ve always been of the mindset that, when it’s packaged just right, any sub-genre of country music (and just about all forms of music for that matter) can be just as satisfying as the seminole stone-country weeper.  Twain’s bouncy melodies, cleverly biting female perspective on a man’s thinking, and the general playfulness exhibited in even her ballads allowed the Canadian singer to soar to heights even Garth Brooks thought unreachable as she became the first global superstar of country music with hits like “You’re Still The One”, “That Don’t Impress Me Much”, and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!”.  Propelled not only by her own no-holds-barred approach to songwriting, Twain saw her star rise higher and higher as a result of the snap, crackle, and pop of the genius production from ex-husband Mutt Lange.

On her first new single since 2005, the production team of David Foster and Nathan Chapman either lack the direction or the plain know-how when it comes to flattering Twain’s strong vocal performance. They’ve added distortion to her confident performance and a slathering of unnecessary harmony singers that work to drown out the classy piano lead track that drives this ‘seize-the-day’ ballad.  Lyrically, “Today” isn’t a far stretch from Twain’s self-empowerment turn of phrase hooks.  The biggest difference here is the attitude from which she’s approaching songwriting, at least on this single-only track.  Her sometimes bawdy, sometimes sentimental, always valiant and entertaining persona has been swapped out by a woman who’s shaky and unsure, and is evidenced by the platitudes-for-living message and the straightforward approach to recording.

It’s a scary thought to think that a seemingly unshakable personality like Twain’s can be so affected by a personal affliction that she has lost all the spunk, drive, and tenacity that so characterized her best-loved hits.  I can still hear flashes of the old Shania here; the melody to this song has that uplifting earworm quality and I applaud her sticking with the pop-flavored sound that works for her so well.  It would have been a lot easier to ride the trends, to country things up, take out the pointless vocal distortions and cater to country radio.  But Shania Twain is not a caterer.  You have to come to her house if you want to eat.  I think I’ll skip this course though, and hold out hope this is another form of venting for her.  Soon, she’ll be back in the kitchen, cooking us up something hot and delicious.  I’ll have my fingers crossed and napkin folded.

Grade: C

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Win a copy of Shania Twain’s new memoir

Update:  The winners are Leeann, Rodney, and Nathan.  Congratulations, guys, and I’ll be in touch to get your shipping info.  Thanks to everybody who commented.

The best-selling female country artist of all time has written her autobiography, and it hits bookstores everywhere this week.  In the book, published by Simon & Schuster, Twain recounts her poverty-stricken upbringing through the often stormy relationship between her parents.  From the beginnings of her music career to her dreams being sidetracked by the tragic death of both parents in a car accident, on to her first record deal and her slow start in Nashville, Shania tells her story with candid honesty.  After her second album, The Woman In Me, exploded the Canadian songstress’ career, she went on to a wildly successful music career that spanned genres and continents.

Lately, Shania has been in the news following a headline-grabbing divorce from husband and producer John “Mutt” Lange, and her remarriage.  She’s also rumored to be back in the studio working on a new album for release later this year.  She’s also set to debut a brand-new series, Why Not? with Shania Twain, on the Oprah Winfrey Network, and is currently plugging her memoir in a nationwide media blitz.

We have 3 copies of Shania Twain’s From This Moment On to give away to our readers. To enter, leave us a comment by midnight, May 31, 2011 and tell us what other country stars’ autobiographies you’ve read.  Whose was your favorite/least favorite, and why?

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘Unbelievable’

The band’s last release of the 1990s was 1998’s Unbelievable. They were a well-established act by now, and had released their first Greatest Hits set. The new album was slick but played on the group’s strengths to create a radio-friendly yet organic blend. The songs (none of which were written by band members) range from great to mediocre. But even when the material falls short, as it does at times, the record always sounds good, thanks to the band’s harmonies, playing, and the slick but not overdone production (courtesy of the band with Michael D Clute).

The first two singles were both big hits. The one truly great song on the album, the devastating bereavement ballad ‘You’re Gone’, opened the album’s campaign on the singles chart, where it peaked at #4. The disconsolate narrator opens strikingly,

I said “Hello, I think I’m broken”

That facetious initial pickup line draws us into the soaring chorus, set in the present day, when he really is partly broken by the loss of his loved one:

Now I know God has His reasons
But sometimes it’s hard to see them
When I awake and find that you’re not there…

I bless the day I met you
And I thank God that He let you
Lay beside me for a moment that lives on
And the good news is I’m better
For the time we spent together
And the bad news is you’re gone

The song was written by Jon Vezner (husband of Kathy Mattea) and pop songwriter Paul Williams, and remains one of my favorite Diamond Rio recordings, with a beautiful, understated emotion expressed in Marty Roe’s vocal.

The lyrically slight but energetic, charming, and very catchy title track (penned by reliable hit makers Al Anderson and Jeffrey Steele) did even better, just missing the top spot. Disappointingly, the third and last single was then a flop. The understated ‘I Know How The River Feels’ (previously cut by Ty Herndon) failed to make the top 30, making it the band’s worst performing single to date. While its languid pace was admittedly not very radio-friendly, it has a sensitive vocal, pretty tune and tasteful string arrangement, which make it worth listening to.

The frustrated plea to Love, ‘What More Do You Want From Me?’, written by Bob Regan and Mark D Sanders, is very catchy and another favorite of mine. It had been the sole (and non-charting) single from Rhonda Vincent’s very underrated Trouble Free album a year or two earlier. Both versions are great, but Diamond Rio’s harmonies give this version an added force. Also good is the tuneful Bill and Sharon Rice ballad ‘Long Way Back’, in which the protagonist regrets his past choices a little too late to save his relationship, and is stuck brooding in a cafe.

‘Two Pump Texaco’ (written by Michael Dulaney and Neil Thrasher) is a nicely detailed and affectionate laid-back portrait of a country boy who is the third generation in his family to work at the titular gas station. The young man in this song is much more fleshed out as a character, and hence much more realistic, than those on most of today’s radio offerings playing on rural life.

Unfortunately, there is more than a little filler. ‘Miss That Girl’, ‘Hold Me Now’, and the closing ‘(I Will) Start all Over Again’ are all nicely sung, well-played and prettily harmonized, but completely forgettable. ‘I Thought I’d Seen Everything’ is a dull love ballad, written by Shania Twain’s husband Mutt Lange and 80s rocker Huey Lewis, lifted only by the harmonies.

Overall, then, this is certainly not the band’s best work, but it is pleasant listening, with some shining moments, particularly ‘You’re Gone’. It sold well enough, and has been certified gold. It is easy to get hold of cheap copies, but it may be an example of a record best digitally cherry-picked.

Grade: B

Single Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Pecos Promenade’

tanyatucker1This insanely catchy dance tune hit the scene long before the line-dancing craze of the early 1990s, but I have a feeling if those young country fans had done their homework back then, this one would have been getting played in the host of country dance clubs that dotted the nation from Atlanta to Seattle at the time.  Released in 1980 as a single from the Smoky and the Bandit II soundtrack, it reached #10 on the country charts and must have really stood out from the pack on the radio at the time with it’s acoustic guitar opening and the twin fiddles in the chorus.

Tanya, like so many of her fellow Texans, has recorded several odes to her homestate, most notably ‘Texas When I Die’, but this is my favorite of them.  It was produced by the legendary Snuff Garrett, and his years as a rock and roll producer bring an edge to even the traditional country instruments themselves, a style Mutt Lange would adopt for Shania Twain’s records in the mid 90s.

Actually, the more I listen to it, the more I think this song would have suited Shania Twain perfectly.  The lyrics are catchy, but there’s certainly more groove than grit to them:

Lead off with the Cotton-Eyed Joe,
Buckin’ winged, and heel and toe,
Hold me close for the Pecos Promenade

For instance, while the fiddles are obviously a factor to the chorus, they never take over the sound like so many fiddle-laced numbers do.  The guitars and vocals are mixed just as prominently, and I like it.  Glen Campbell provides harmony as he and Tanya were in a relationship at the time and this period began her commercial decline.  ‘Pecos Promenade’ would prove to one of only two Tanya Tucker singles to go top 10 between 1980 and 1986.  This classic was certainly no indicator that Tucker was about to go into a major artistic decline; it’s innovative, and Tanya sells the song with her trademark throaty vocals, and the production behind her is near perfection.

Grade: A

Written by: Larry Collins, Sandy Pinkard, Snuff Garrett

Listen to ‘Pecos Promenade’ or buy the mp3 from Amazon.