My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Nancy Montgomery

Album Review: Jennifer McCarter and the McCarters – ‘Better Be Home Soon’

Although the McCarters’ debut album had brought them some success, with top 10 hits, Warner Brothers thought they would do better if they modernised their sound a bit. They also decided that since Jennifer was very clearly the star of the group, she should get higher billing, and renamed the group Jennifer McCarter and the McCarters.

The first single from their second album Better Be Home Soon, produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay, was ‘Up And Gone’, a sprightly up-tempo tune which was their third and last top 10 hit, peaking at #9. It was written by Verlon Thompson and Bill Caswell. The same writing team provided the next single, ‘Quit While I’m Behind’, which reached #26. It is another entertaining song, about deciding to dump a rubbish boyfriend who is cheating on her. ‘Betcha Gonna Love Me’, written by Caswell with Don Singleton, is in similar vein musically.

The title track is a ballad which, oddly, is a cover of a song by Australian rock band Crowded House. Jennifer’s vocal is lovely, but radio was not receptive when it was released as the third single.

Also a flop was the last single, ‘Shot Full Of Love’. This song, written by Bob McDill, was recorded numerous times by artists including Don Williams, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Juice Newton, Nicolette Larson, Chris LeDoux and Billy Ray Cyrus, but has never been a hit. It is about a player with a past who is transformed by discovering true love, and perhaps worked a bit better for a male artist, but is beautifully sung here:

Once I had a heart cold as ice
Love to me was only for fun
I made the mark for each broken heart
Like notches on the butt of a gun

Once I had a trick up my sleeve
And a reputation all over town
I was heartless and cold wherever I go
And I shut down every young boy I found

Yes, I used to be a moonlight bandit
I used to be a heartbreak kid
Then I met you and the next thing I knew
There I was
Oh, shot full of love

Who’d have thought that someone like you
Could take a desperado like me
But oh, here I am
I’m as meek as a lamb
With my bleeding heart there at your feet

Sandy Emory’s song ‘I Haven’t Got A Prayer’ is a beautiful ballad with some pretty mandolin. ‘Mountain Memories’ is a charming throwback to the sounds of their first album.

‘Papa Sita’ is a sweet Mexican-flavored song written by Hugh Moffatt.

‘Slow Country Dance’ is a gorgeous waltz written by Mary Chapin Carpenter, who also recorded it:

Down at the bar a woman tells stories
Batting her eyes to someone not there
Her glass is half full (or maybe half empty)
Like the jokes told about her
When they think she don’t hear
Now the perfume is cheap and the makeup is careless
And the dress out of fashion for a woman her age
But she don’t give a damn for those who would cherish
A much lighter step or a much younger face

And love’s never easy or ever as true
When the changing of partners is no longer new
You lead with your heart, closing your eyes
And dance just to dance in three quarter time

The closing ‘I Don’t Wanna Cry Anymore’ is a great upbeat song written by Nancy Montgomery offering hope for the future.

This is not as good an album as the sisters’ debt, but it is still very good, and I would recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: The McCarters – ‘The Gift’

The McCarters were three young sisters from near Dolly Parton’s neck of the woods. The Gift, released in 1988 was truly a revelation resembling nothing else being played on the radio at that time. One critic described the album as the sequel to the Trio album that Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt had not gotten around to making yet.

High praise indeed and based on this album, the McCarters seemed to have a bright future ahead. The shimmering sibling harmonies and brilliant acoustic settings made this album something special and unique. I should note that this is NOT a bluegrass album, although I would not be surprised to hear the songs on bluegrass radio. With the exception of the piano and presence of drums, all of the instruments on the album are acoustic, played by such aces as Mark O’Connor (fiddle, viola, mandolin, mandola), Carl Jackson (acoustic guitar) and John Jorgenson (acoustic guitar, mandolin, mandocello). Jennifer McCarter was the lead singer on all songs, with younger twin sisters Lisa and Teresa providing the vocal harmonies.

The album opens up with “I Give You Music” a story ballad written by Dennis Adkins. This was the third single released from the album. It charted at a disappointing #28 (#16 in Canada).

Next up is “Timeless and True Love”, the debut single released in late 1987. Written by Austin Roberts, Charlie Black & Buzz Cason, the song soared to #5. The song is a very nice ballad featuring Mark O’Connor’s fiddle through the arrangement:

For mine is a timeless and true love
An endless river rollin’ on and on
Forever and ever for you love
Oh mine is a timeless and true love

Just look at how the mountains reach up to the sky
So strong against the hard winds as the years go by
My love is no less tender born of fire and steel
And the world could never change the way I feel

This is followed by a Bill Graham-Carl Jackson-Buddy Landon collaboration “Flower In The Desert”, a mid-tempo ballad with some excellent fiddling by Mark O’Connor. The song is album track with strong Appalachian overtones.

Lola Jean Dillon was a successful songwriter who wrote several of Loretta Lynn’s big hits and co-wrote with L. E. White the funny Conway Twitty / Loretta Lynn duet “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”; “Where Would That Leave Us” is not a humorous but a fine ballad about a relationship that seems to be the salvation of the singer.

“I Know Love” comes from the pens of Randy Albright, Mark D Sanders and Lisa Silver. The song is a another slow ballad, nicely sung, but I do not think the song is anything special; however the next track “The Gift” by Nancy Montgomery is indeed something special .

Darling let me tell you the way I truly feel
A simple explanation from a heart so real
I have been the whole world over and sailed a thousand seas
And still come back to you

[Chorus}
Now I believe that gold is not so precious or so real
For I Have Seen The Miracle of Love As It’s Revealed
And When You Hear This Song I Hope That You Will See
The gift I give to you, my love forever true

“The Gift” would be the biggest hit reaching #4 (#2 in Canada). After that it would be downhill, as it would be for the rest of this album, four more songs that fit nicely in context with the album.

The Gift appeared at one of those brief moments in history when something as retro sounding as this album could break through, if only momentarily. In 1989 the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement (in reality the new honky-tonk traditionalist movement) would have its leading avatars appear thus wiping out the market for The McCarters’ music. In fact after the first two singles, the market had already turned away from the McCarters. A second album would follow and then it was over.

I would give this album an A+, but as much as I enjoyed the album at the time it was released, I realized that it was an outlier and unlikely to be repeated.

Album Review: Highway 101 – ‘Bing Bang Boom’

bing bang boomAlthough one tends to think of Paulette Carlson as the female voice of Highway 101, the fact is that Nikki Nelson has been the face of Highway 101 for far longer than Paulette Carlson. In fact Nelson has been with the group for as a long as Paulette Carlson and Chrislyn Lee combined.

Bing Bang Boom marked the debut of Nikki Nelson as the lead singer of Highway 101. While her predecessor had a more distinctive (and at times quite annoying) voice, I think Nikki’s voice is better and that she had more potential to make it as a solo act than did Carlson. Unfortunately the material on this album is not quite as strong as on the first three albums so this album did not have the impact of the first three albums

The first single for Nikki Nelson was Hugh Prestwood’s “Bing Bang Boom” an up-tempo romp that charted at #14, exactly the same spot that Carlson’s last single had attained. I think that under different circumstances that this single would have done better, but I think that the market had already turned away from Highway 101’s sound as the last two Carlson singles both failed to reach the top ten

Gather around me and lend an ear
‘Cause I got somethin’ you ought to hear
I’m tellin’ you that you ought to fear
A certain kind of love
Now it can strike in the day or night
And just as quick as a rattler’s bite
You’ve got a case of love at first sight
And it’s what you’re dyin’ of

It’s just bing bang boom, one two three
You’re feelin’ normal as you can be
And then bing bang boom, lickety split
It doesn’t come on bit by bit
It gets instantly in full swing
And it’s bing bang boom

Unfortunately, “Bing Bang Boom” would prove to be the last to twenty single for Highway 101.

The next track comes from the pen of Michael Henderson, “Wherever You Are”, a bluesy ballad of a love gone astray. Nikki really nails the vocals – the song might have made a good single. Then again, the third track, “The Blame” (from Cactus Moser, Paul Nelson, and Gene Nelson) was the second single selected, it was an excellent ballad and it died at #31. This is actually my favorite Highway 101 song, one on which Nikki proves to be the absolute master of the slow ballad

Guess I could say you never held me close,
Those certain nights I needed you the most.
But you could say that I gave up before the love was gone,
and whose to say who was right or wrong.
You’ve got your side and I’ve got mine –
the truth lies in between,
No matter how the story’s told the end is still the same.
It’s a game that’s played by fools,
and it only has one rule.
It’s not whether you win or lose,
It’s how you lay the blame.

The next track is from the pens of Cactus Moser, Gary Chapman and Michael James, anther up-tempo romp titled “Storm of Live”. I think this would have made a good single.

This is followed up by a cover of a Tammy Wynette classic, “Til I Get It Right”. Nikki gives the song a nice reading, but she doesn’t have the essential tear in the voice that unique to Tammy Wynette.

Michael Henderson wrote the next two numbers “Restless Kind” and “Honky Tonk Baby”, both decent album tracks but nothing more. “Honky Tonk Baby” has a bit of a retro or rockabilly feel to it and was actually issued as the fourth single, dying at #54.

“River of Tears” , written by Cactus Moser and Eric Silver, would have been a hit if released during the late 1960s or early 1970s. In my mind, I can hear Rhonda Vincent doing this song as a bluegrass ballad.

“Baby, I’m Missing You” was the third single off the album, reaching #22. The song was written by Steve Seskin and Nancy Montgomery. It is a nice song that would have gone top ten a few years earlier.

The album closes with “Desperate” (co-written by Cactus Moser), and Joy White’s “Big City Bound”, both good album tracks. “Big City Bound” has an arrangement that reminds me strongly of John Anderson’s 1981 hit “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal”.

I would rate this album as a B+. I don’t really think the band lost anything with the change of female vocalist. If anything, Nikki Nelson’s presence probably enabled the band to tackle a greater variety of material in live performance. I think the real issue here is shelf life. Highway 101 had a four year shelf life as hitmakers, and had already experienced significant falloff even before Carlson left the band, with each album charting a little lower than the previous album (#7, #8, #22 and then #29 for the Greatest Hits album. This pattern is eerily similar to the pattern for acts such as SKO/SKB, Desert Rose, Exile and Restless Heart.

Highway 101 still tours occasionally – look for them if they hit your town.

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Timeless And True Love’

Rhonda’s fourth and last album for Rebel (another 1991 release) heralded the move she was about to make into straight country music. Produced by Rhonda with brother and band member Darrin and Ronny Light, it was her best effort to date with a nice collection of material, although many of the songs were covers, some of them surprisingly recent country songs given a tasteful bluegrass or semi-bluegrass treatment. A ballad-dominated set, whose songs were picked out with the assistance of the great songwriter Jim Rushing (although he did not write any of them himself), this is basically a bluegrass influenced country album rather than a pure bluegrass one, with piano, drums, steel and electric guitar added to the basic bluegrass band, although the instrumentation is mainly acoustic and bluegrass-sounding with Rhonda’s mandolin much in evidence. Guests include banjo stars Allison Brown and Bela Fleck.

The beautiful title track was previously recorded by The McCarters, a sister trio who had a top 5 country hit with it in 1987. A sunny version of ‘Birmingham Turnaround’, a song written by Sanger D Shafer and Warren Robb which had been cut on Keith Whitley’s 1988 classic Don’t Close Your Eyes, opens the set in straight bluegrass style. Neither of these quite matches the originals, but they are agreeable listening nonetheless.

The best of the covers is a charming version of another Sanger D Shafer co-write, ‘I Do My Cryin’ At Night’, an old Lefty Frizzell song, which works well for Rhonda. Another favorite track is ‘I’m Not That Lonely Yet’, a lovely traditional country song written by Bill and Sharon Rice about the hard process of getting over an ex, and resisting the temptation of getting back together with him. It was a #3 hit single for Reba McEntire in 1982.

‘Midnight Angel’ is not the country song recorded by both Barbara Mandrell and Highway 101, but an excellent plaintive number written by two of the finest bluegrass songwriters, Pete Goble and Bobby Osborne, but given a classic country arrangement. Steel guitar dominates as Rhonda addresses the title character, her errant spouse who spends the nights preying on other women while she waits unloved at home.

‘Let’s Put Love Back To Work’, written by Larry Cordle and Mark Collie, is an attractive love duet sung with bluegrass singer David Parmley (credited only as a harmony vocalist), The lovely sounding ‘Artificial Tears’ features prominent harmonies from Alison Krauss. Despite the sweetness of the music, Rhonda gives an ultimatum to a partner unwilling to show his true feelings and pretending to be upset about her leaving.

‘Lucinda’ is a story song painting a picture of a kindly truck stop waitress who, having her own lover taken from her, lives vicariously through the truckers’ tales. Another story song, ‘Bobby And Sarah’ relates a love story from teenage romance to marriage and babies.

‘Homecoming’ is a pretty Carl Jackson gospel song about the promise of heaven. ‘Moving On’ is an early Irene Kelley song, written with Nancy Montgomery, pleasant but not that memorable.

Rhonda plays both mandolin and fiddle on the record, and showcases her skills on a self-composed instrumental, ‘Cherry Jubilee’.

This is a fine record which reveals Rhonda at a time when she was planning to spread her wings beyond bluegrass. The vocals are not quite as golden as on her later records, but the overall package is very good indeed.

Grade: A-