My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Nat “King” Cole

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood — ‘Let’s Be Frank’

It is always nice to encounter new music from Trisha Yearwood, one of the best female vocalists of the pre-millennial generation of country singers. While I would have preferred to have new country music from Ms. Yearwood, I really can’t complain about an album dedicated to the music of Frank Sinatra.

Frank Sinatra was such an omnipresent force in the music I heard growing up, that I find it hard to believe that it has been over twenty years since his death on May 14, 1998. Arriving on the scene in the mid- 1930s Frank continued to have hit records into the early 1980s. Along with Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra is one of the four faces that would belong on a Mount Rushmore of classic pop music (some would insert Perry Como, Joe Williams. Mel Torme or Tony Bennett alongside Crosby and Sinatra but this is my Mount Rushmore). Sinatra recorded for RCA (technically these were issued as Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra), Columbia, Capitol, and Reprise/Warner Brothers. The A&R Director at Columbia was Mitch Miller, who was somewhat addicted to novelty songs and tended to pander to the pop market. Disgusted, Sinatra left Columbia for Capitol, determined to record only quality material. The Capitol and Reprise recordings are chock full of good material. Perfectionist that he was, Sinatra often re-recorded past material, usually bringing a new slant to the material, whether in orchestration, time signatures or approach. None of Sinatra’s remakes could be described as dreary or inferior.

In making this album, Trisha Yearwood has selected eleven songs that Sinatra sang over the course of his long career plus one new song. The album opens up with “Witchcraft”, a top twenty pop hit from 1957, written by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. It would be difficult to top Frank’s recording but Ms. Yearwood gives it a really good effort.

“Drinking Again” is a song I associate with Dinah Washington, one of the most soulful R&B singers ever. I like Yearwood’s version (and Frank’s version, too); however, neither version measures up to the Dinah Washington recording. Sinatra’s version is fairly obscure, appearing on several Sinatra sampler albums and anthologies.

Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen were among Sinatra’s favorite songsmiths, both separately and together. “All The Way” appeared in the film The Joker Is Wild and the song received the 1957 Academy Award for Best Original Song. It reached #2 on Billboard’s airplay charts and is a song that Sinatra would revisit several times. Trisha does a fine job with the song giving a properly nuanced delivery.

“Come Fly With Me” was the title track to one of Sinatra’s biggest albums, reaching #1 in the US and #2 in the UK in 1958. The song was not released as a single but it is a very well known song – if Billboard had charted album tracks, this song, with a swinging arrangement by Billy May, undoubtedly would have been a hit. Trisha does not swing with quite the flair of Sinatra (who does?) but she does a more than satisfactory job with the song.

Nobody associates “(Somewhere) Over The Rainbow” with Frank Sinatra, and although Sinatra recorded E.Y. Harburg’s classic song for Columbia in the mid-1940s, Frank would have been the first to tell you that the song forever belongs to Judy Garland. Sinatra version had the sort of ‘Hearts and Flowers’ arrangement that Columbia’s Axel Stordahl was known for, and Yearwood follows the same approach. Her version is very good, with an understated ending but I would have picked another song for this album.

“One For My Baby” is what Sinatra called a ‘saloon song’. A saloon is one of the last places I would expect to find Trisha Yearwood and while she does a nice job with the song, she does not imbue the song with the sense of melancholy that Frank breathed into this Johnny Mercer classic:

 It’s quarter to three

There’s no one in the place

Except you and me

So set ’em up Joe

I got a little story

I think you should know

We’re drinking my friend

To the end

Of a brief episode

Make it one for my baby

And one more for the road …

 

You’d never know it

But buddy I’m a kind of poet

And I’ve got a lot of things

I’d like to say

And when I’m gloomy

Won’t you listen to me

Till it’s talked away

Well, that’s how it goes

And Joe I know your gettin’

Anxious to close

 

And thanks for the cheer

I hope you didn’t mind

My bending your ear

But this torch that I found

It’s gotta be drowned

Or it’s soon might explode

Make it one for my baby

And one more for the road

George & Ira Gershwin created “They All Laughed” back in 1937 for the film Shall We Dance starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Ginger sang the song in the movie and it is a perfect fit for Trisha. While I would not regard this as a Sinatra song (he recorded once, in 1980, as part of his rather odd Trilogy: Past Present and Future album), there is no doubt that Trisha does a superlative job with the song.

 They all laughed at Christopher Columbus

When he said the world was round

They all laughed when Edison recorded sound

They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother

When they said that man could fly

They told Marconi

Wireless was a phony

It’s the same old cry

They laughed at me wanting you

Said I was reaching for the moon

But oh, you came through

Now they’ll have to change their tune

They all said we never could be happy

They laughed at us and how!

But ho, ho, ho!

Who’s got the last laugh now?

“If I Loved You” was a Rodgers & Hammerstein song from the Broadway musical Showboat. Again it is not especially thought of as a Sinatra song, although he recorded it for Columbia and Capitol, but, it is a nice song that Trisha handles well.

 If I loved you,

Time and again I would try to say

All I’d want you to know.

If I loved you,

Words wouldn’t come in an easy way

Round in circles I’d go!

Longin’ to tell you,

But afraid and shy,

I’d let my golden chances pass me by!

Soon you’d leave me,

Off you would go in the mist of day,

Never, never to know how I loved you

If I loved you.

“The Man That Got Away” is another Judy Garland classic, this time from the pens of Harold Arlen & Ira Gershwin. Sinatra sang it as “The Gal That Got Away” but it works better from the feminine perspective, and I prefer Trisha’s version to Frank’s version.

“The Lady Is A Tramp” is a Rodgers & Hart composition from the play Babes In Arms. Trisha sings the song from the feminine perspective, and while the song works better sung from the masculine perspective, the main problem is that Trisha simply doesn’t swing as well as Sinatra.

“For The Last Time” is the only new song on the album, written by Trisha Yearwood and her husband Garth Brooks. It is a very good, but not great, song that Sinatra might have recorded as an album track. I am impressed that they came up with a song that could fit Sinatra’s milieu.

The album closes with “I’ll Be Seeing You”, a song written by Sammy Fain and Irvin Kahal in the late 1930s. While the song was huge hit for Bing Crosby and for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra, Sinatra very much liked the song and also recorded the song for Columbia and Capitol. He also featured it in concert

I’ll be seeing you

In every lovely summer’s day

In everything that’s light and gay

I’ll always think of you that way

 

I’ll find you in the morning sun

And when the night is new

I’ll be looking at the moon

But I’ll be seeing you

This is a very nice album indeed and I would give it an A-, docking it very slightly for some errant choices in material as regards Sinatra. That said, the arrangements are very good to excellent, and the musical accompaniment is excellent (unfortunately my copy is a digital download so I do not have a list of the musicians) and the songs are fine exemplars of well-crafted songs. This album will likely appeal more to fans of classic pop/pop standards than to fans of either traditional country or modern country but I would recommend the album to anyone interested in hearing the magic that occurs when an excellent vocalist is paired with worthy material.

Favorite Christmas Albums: Bing Crosby – ‘Merry Christmas’

Christmas music is its own genre, or rather I should say people’s tastes in Christmas music tend to cross all genres. While, my tastes in music run to western swing, bluegrass and traditional jazz, when it comes to Christmas music I tend to get rather traditional with orchestral music mixing in with pop balladeers such as Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby.

It has been a long time since Bing Crosby died in October 1977, yet Merry Christmas has been in print, in one form or another, since the 1945 (and in its current configuration of songs since 1955). For millions of households, the album with a smiling Bing wearing a Santa Claus cap and a holly leaf bowtie on the cover was an honored part of the record collection, played annually and often.

So who was Bing Crosby? Well, to start with, for many years Bing was the most famous entertainer on Earth. According to Billboard historian Joel Whitburn, Bing Crosby was the number one recording artist for the entire decades of the 1930s and 1940s with some success spilling into the 1950s. He recorded 383 chart hits with 41 number one records and another 152 that landed in the top ten. His recording of “White Christmas” is the biggest selling single in US history. He introduced many songs now known as pop standards. While not a prolific songwriter, he wrote a few of his own hits.

If that isn’t enough, Bing Crosby was among the top ten movie box office stars fifteen times and from 1944 through 1948 he was the number one movie box office star. He won an Academy Award for his role in Going My Way. By any measure except dollars (due to ticket price inflation) Bing ranks in the top three of all-time movie stars with 1,077,900,000+ movie tickets sold. Moreover he was a successful radio star and at one time was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, and he produced, through his production company, several successful television shows (most notably Ben Casey and Hogan’s Heroes).

Merry Christmas is something of a Christmas sampler as Bing performs a collection of traditional Christmas carols and popular Christmas songs and a few songs that are about faraway places. Most of the songs were originally released as singles so recording quality varies a bit.

The album opens up with a pair of traditional carols “Silent Night” (recorded in 1942) and “Adeste Fideles” (“Oh Come All Ye Faithful”), the latter, recorded in 1935 with Victor Young’s Orchestra, is sung in both English and Latin. “Adeste Fideles” is the only song recorded before 1942 – the quantum leap in sound engineering between 1935 and 1942 is a bit jarring, my only criticism of this album.

Next up is the Irving Berlin classic, “White Christmas” arguably the biggest selling record of all time. The song appeared in the 1942 film Holiday Inn and again in the 1954 film White Christmas (that year’s highest grossing film). The version featured here was recorded in 1947 with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra (this orchestra is on all songs except “Adeste Fideles” and songs featuring the Andrews Sisters, recorded with the Vic Shoen Orchestra).

Next up is another traditional Christmas song “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” followed by “Faith Of Our Fathers” which is a religious song rather than a Christmas song.

Almost as beloved as “White Christmas” is “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”. This song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, writing a letter to his family. For the veterans of that war, this song held special meaning.

“Jingle Bells” finds the Andrews Sisters joining Bing as does the jazzy “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. The latter contains Bing’s memorable closing intonation ‘You mean the big fat man with the long white beard’ – followed by the Andrews Sisters refrain ‘he’s coming to town’.

“Silver Bells”, composed by the noted songwriting team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, is next followed by “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” composed by Meredith Willson. Willson would later achieve great fame with his play The Music Man.

The album ends with a couple of early 1950s songs about distant shores. “Christmas in Killarney” tells of a Irish Christmas. While not authentic (it is a Tin Pan Alley song), it is a fun song as is the closing number “Mele Kalikimaka” which is simply an approximation of the words ‘Merry Christmas’ in Hawaiian (the Hawaiian alphabet lacks some of the consonants found in European languages). The Andrews Sisters are back for this last song.

My parents wore through several copies of this album and when I was growing up, most of my friends’ parents had a copy of this album.

The album is currently available in the 1955 configuration under the title White Christmas. MCA has also released a two disc set (The Voice of Christmas) of every Christmas song Crosby recorded (44 tracks), except for “Little Drummer Boy” recorded much later with David Bowie for another label.

I come back to this album every year. Other albums may rotate in and out, and some haven’t been played in ages, but this album still delights me as much as when I was a child.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Real. Country. Music.’

real country musicWhile his commercial success never equalled his prowess, Gene Watson is one of the great country singers. Furthermore, of all the veterans still performing, his voice has held out the best, and almost unbelievably, he still sounds glorious at over 70. Gene’s producer for the last few projects, Dirk Johnson, does his usual sterling job – few album titles are as accurate about the contents as this one. The songs are all older ones, making this album something of a companion piece to its immediate predecessor, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, and are almost all emotional ballads about lost love, which play to Gene’s strengths as a vocalist.

One does not normally expect to hear a Gene Watson album opening with swelling strings, but his voice soon takes over, and the remainder of the album comprises familiar country arrangements featuring fiddles and steel guitars. ‘Enough For You’ is an excellent Kris Kristofferson tune which first appeared on the latter’s Jesus Was A Capricorn album in 1972. Gene says he first heard it in 1980 in the form of Billie Jo Spears’s cover (from her 1975 album Billie Jo), and has wanted to record it ever since. The suicidal cuckold’s lament is perfectly suited to Watson’s perfectly judged vocal, and is the first single.

‘She Never Got Me Over You’ is the last song Keith Whitley wrote before his untimely death (with the help of Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran). A powerful song about love and obsession, it was recorded a few years ago by Mark Chesnutt, but Gene makes it sound as if it was written just for him. If you want to check out Keith’s original demo, it’s on youtube.

There are two covers of Larry Gatlin songs, both of which were recorded by Elvis in the 70s. The gospel ballad ‘Help Me’ is delicately understated (and may serve as a taster for a new religious album Gene plans to release later this year). ‘Bitter They Are, Harder To Fall’ is a classic heartbreak ballad which Gene actually recorded many years ago on his early album Because You Believed In Me.

Gene revisits a number of other songs he has previously recorded on this album. ‘Old Loves Never Die’ was never a single, but as the title track of one of his most successful albums is perhaps the most familiar to fans. The melancholic ‘Ashes To Ashes’ was on his excellent but often overlooked 1987 alDbum Honky Tonk Crazy (his final Epic release). He covered the superb ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’ (previously cut by George Jones) on his now hard to find 1997 album A Way To Survive; this new steel-led recording is beautiful. He cut Bill Anderson’s ‘When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind’ on his Sings set in 2003; another jealous man’s pain-filled take on love lost but still deeply felt, this is magnificently sung.

A little less familiar is ‘A Girl I Used To Know’ – not the classic song of that name, but a David Ball song from the latter’s underrated 2004 album Freewheeler. A subtly sad, slow song about poignant memories of lost love with the steel guitar to the fore, it fits nicely with the other material. ‘A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn’ is a wonderful song written by Jim McBride and Roger Murrah which was one of Conway Twitty’s last few singles. Nat Stuckey’s emotional All My Tomorrows’ is another fine song and recording.

The one song not fitting the pattern of slow sad songs is a honky tonker previously recorded by Waylon Jennings and Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘I’ll Find It Where I Can’. One venture away from country territory is a cover of the Nat King Cole hit ‘Ramblin’ Rose’. Although there have been country covers of the song before, none was a big hit. Gene’s version is nice, and he certainly mnages to make it sound like a country song, but insofar as this album has a weak spot, this is it.

This is a superb album of excellent songs by one of the genre’s all time great singers, who is, thankfully, still in possession of his golden voice.

Grade: A+

Spotlight Artist: Glen Campbell

glen campbellAs he slowly fades away due to Alzheimer’s, I think it appropriate that we take a look at the long and illustrious career of Glen Campbell.

Assessing Glen’s career is very difficult because he was so very talented. As a singer and musician he probably was as talented as anyone who ever graced the American musical stage. Over the course of his career Glen placed eighty songs on Billboard’s Country, Hot Hundred and Adult Contemporary charts with many of the songs appearing on multiple charts. Many of his singles charted in England, Australia and Ireland, with scattered hits in non-English speaking countries.

Glen could sing anything and sing it well, be it rock and roll, country, pop standards, rhythm and blues or folk. Jimmy Webb heard an early Glen Campbell single on the radio and decided that he wanted Glen Campbell to sing his songs.

As a musician you can hardly name a stringed instrument that Glen Campbell couldn’t play. He was a wizard on the twelve string guitar, six string guitar (electric and acoustic), bass, banjo, fiddle, If you can name it, Glen Campbell probably could play it.

Although Glen was not especially known as a songwriter, he did pen a few songs. He might have written more songs, but with the top songwriters of the day pitching their best material to him, there wasn’t a compelling need for him to do so.

Glen Travis Campbell was born in 1936 in the town of Billstown, Arkansas; however, he was usually billed as being from the nearby town of Delight, Arkansas. He started playing guitar as a teen and moved to Albuquerque in 1954 to play in his uncle’s band and later to form his own band. In 1960 he moved to Los Angeles to become a session musician, playing on recordings by artists as diverse as Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Jan & Dean and Ricky Nelson. He also became part of a group known as the Champs and obtained a recording contract with Crest Records.

In 1962 Glen signed with Capitol Records. Capitol had great faith in the Glen allowing to record five non-charting albums and a bunch of relatively unsuccessful singles before finally achieving his first solo top twenty country single with “Burning Bridges” in 1966. Along the way he became a touring member of the Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson on road dates.

Capitol Records teamed Glen with producer Al DeLory in 1966. The first collaboration, “Burning Bridges” got the ball rolling for Glen. From that point forward over a decade’s worth of hit singles and best-selling albums would follow, along with a television show, movie roles and many concert appearances . Although Glen’s recording career would cool off during the 1980s, he would continue to place singles and albums on the charts through the end of the decade and into the early years of the 1990s. A brief renaissance would occur after 2005.

Our spotlight series will start with Glen’s first platinum album Gentle On My Mind, but the five albums that preceded it are worth investigating as they will show Glen in a variety of setting of musical settings from bluegrass to traditional country to folk to rock to pop country. I would particularly recommend checking out The Astounding Twelve String Guitar of Glen Campbell and The Big Bad Rock Guitar of Glen Campbell to get a dose of Glen’s awesome instrumental prowess.

We are proud to present Glen Campbell as our November Spotlight artist.

Album Review: Raul Malo – ‘After Hours’

51tOoPsggiLThere is always risk in releasing an album of “covers”. First, the possibility always exists that the material is too familiar to attract much attention. Second, there is the risk of being unfavorably compared to the earlier versions of the material being covered.

After Hours mostly avoids the first risk by focusing on material from before 1973, ensuring that most of the audience will not be terribly familiar with the material. The second risk is more problematic as there are some definite misfires in the tempos at which some of the songs are performed.

The album opens with “Welcome To My World”, a ballad generally associated with either “Gentleman” Jim Reeves or Dean Martin, two of the premier balladeers of the twentieth century. Jim Reeves had a smooth, velvety voice capable of conveying warmth like few others (Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Ray Price) ever could. Dean Martin was the King of Cool with great warmth but a more casual feel to his vocals than Reeves could achieve. If you have not heard either Reeves or Martin perform this song, then you will really like Malo’s performance. Raul does not have the warmth of his predecessors, but does an admirable job with the song and the accompaniment is excellent.

“(Now and Then) There’s A Fool Such As I” is a slight misstep, taken at a tempo that is too fast and bouncy for the sad lyrics. This song was a big hit for Hank Snow in 1952 and was covered by some guy named Elvis Presley (himself a big Hank Snow fan) a few years later. A honky-tonk style piano takes a break in the song but the basic arrangement is big band swing.

Malo gets back on track with the Kris Kristofferson classic “For The Good Times”, a song which revitalized Ray Price’s career in the early 1970s. Again, I prefer Ray’s version, but Raul’s take is very nice.
Steel Guitar is heard on this song toward the very end of the song

The two newest songs on the album come from the pen of Dwight Yoakam. The first of these is “Pocket of A Clown”, a song that just missed the top twenty for Dwight in 1994 (it reached #4 on the Canadian country chart). Raul’s arrangement is a little slower than the original and has a 40s/50s feel to the horn arrangements.

“Crying Time” was written by Buck Owens, who regarded the song as album filler. A few years later Ray Charles resurrected the song causing Buck to add it to his set list (usually as part of a medley). It’s a great song, and Malo does it justice, although he can’t deliver it with the same soul that Ray did (no one else could either).

A serious misstep follows with the Hank Williams classic “Cold Cold Heart”. It certainly is possible to treat the song as a pop song (Tony Bennett sold millions of copies with his cover) but here the tempo is much too fast and much too happy for such a morose set of lyrics

“You Can Depend On Me” is the oldest song on the album written sometime before 1931 by Charles Carpenter, Louis Dunlap and jazz piano great Earl “Fatha” Hines. The song was recorded by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Nat King Cole. In 1961 Brenda Lee took it to #6 on the pop charts. Malo handles this song quite effectively. The basic arrangement would be that of cocktail lounge jazz.

Oh if you ever, if you ever need a friend
I’ll be right by your side until the end
And you can depend on me
You can depend on me

My favorite song on the album is “Husbands and Wives”, which was written by Roger Miller and went top five country, #2 adult contemporary and top thirty pop for Roger in 1966. Subsequently, the duo of David Frizzell and Shelly West had a top twenty county hit with it in 1981, and Brooks & Dunn took it to #1 country and #36 pop in 1998. This song features steel guitar as part of the instrumentation, the only truly country sounding song of the album. For me, it as a toss-up whether Neil Diamond’s album track from his 1971 album Stones or Raul’s version on this album is my favorite version of this song.

The angry words, spoken in haste
Such a waste of two lives
It’s my belief, pride is the chief cause and the decline
In the number of husbands and wives

Speaking of Roger Miller, one of the last songs Roger wrote was a co-write with Dwight Yoakam on “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” a #7 country hit for Yoakam in 1991. Again, Malo uses an arrangement very similar to Dwight’s original and performs the song well. There are horns on this track and they serve to create a swinging effect, even though the tempo is no faster than the Yoakam original.

The album closes with a very nice rendition of the Hy Heath-Fred Rose composition “Take These Chains From My Heart”, best known as a posthumous #1 hit for Hank Williams in 1953, and in 1963, a #8 pop hit Ray Charles (Ray’s version also reached #5 in the UK). The accompaniment on this final track starts out with just a single guitar then expands with the subsequent verses, but remains at all times uncluttered, with tasteful saxophone and piano solos between the vocals.

After Hours is an enjoyable album which I would rate as good, but not great, as it is marred by the tempo errors noted above. Malo is in good voice throughout and he is accompanied by what could be essentially described as a jazz quintet of himself on guitar, Robert Chevrier on piano, Jay Weaver on bass, Tom Lewis on drums and Jim Hoke on sax, clarinet and steel guitar. The album was recorded live, with only Hoke being overdubbed occasionally (it’s tough to play three instruments simultaneously). Malo and producer Evan York, keep the focus on the melodies and lyrics, never obscuring either.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Shenandoah – ‘Christmas Comes Alive’

christmascomesaliveThe new six-track EP Christmas Comes Alive marks the first time in 18 years that Marty Raybon and Shenandoah have recorded together. Coincidentally, their last album together was also a Christmas collection. Christmas Comes Alive consists of mostly new material — some of which they wanted to include on their 1996 album, but Capitol insisted on an album of Christmas classics. After a lengthy delay, the original material has finally seen the light of day.

The EP’s opening track is “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, which was written by drummer Mike McGuire, who produced the EP with Marty Raybon. It starts out as the familiar children’s nursery rhyme, but it quickly establishes that the little lamb’s name was Jesus. It’s followed by the title track, written by Marty Raybon, Bud McGuire, and Kim Williams. An upbeat number about Santa’s elves preparing for the big day, it is one of the songs that the group had wanted to include on their Christmas album for Capitol.

“Good Ole Fashioned Christmas” and “Family Tree” both revisit familiar themes of family, tradition and traveling home for Christmas. Both are good, if not particularly memorable. The album’s standout track is the closing number “Lullabies In Bethelehem”, a Mike McGuire co-write with Mark Narmore that tells the story of Nativity from the point of view of another traveler to Bethlehem, who took the last room at the inn and would have gladly given it up had he known how desperately it was needed by Mary and Joseph.

The collections sole traditional tune is a very nice rendition of “The First Noel” which fits in very nicely with the newer tunes. There are no Johnny Mathis or Nat King Cole style songs here. No strings or orchestras, just plenty of fiddle, dobro and banjo, the kind of country sound one expects from Shenandoah.

In addition to Christmas Comes Alive, Marty Raybon and Shenandoah are reportedly working on more new music, which is expected to be released next year. If it is as good as this collection, then 2015 is already starting to look like a good year for country music.

Grade: A

Fellow Travelers: Frankie Laine (1913-2007)

frankie-laine-09Born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio, Frankie Laine didn’t see his career as a professional singer reach high gear until after the end of World War II, by which time he was already past thirty years old. Despite this, Frankie Laine put together a recording career that lasted over sixty years, recording for Mercury during the 1940s, Columbia during the 1950s and ABC during the 1960s with numerous one-offs thereafter for a variety of smaller labels.

WHO WAS HE?

Frankie Laine was arguably the biggest pop star of the period between the end of World War II and the breakthrough of rock and roll in 1956. From 1947 through 1956 he charted 60 songs with three #1 records and an additional thirteen that reached the top ten. His biggest hits of the period “That Lucky Old Sun”, “Mule Train” and “Cry of The Wild Goose” became standards covered hundreds of times. During that period he was the most successful American artist on the British pop charts, charting nineteen times between 1952 and 1956 with three chart toppers on different songs than reached #1 in the US.

Frankie Laine made numerous television appearances during the early days of television and had his own shows in 1950, 1954-1955 and 1955-1956. He had a very distinctive voice that lent itself well to pop ballads, rhythm & blues, jazz and country songs. He also recorded songs for a number of movie soundtracks, including the films High Noon and Blazing Saddles.

Frankie Laine had a strong sense of right and wrong. In addition to recording rhythm and blues songs, he was an early supporter of the civil rights movements of the 1950s and ’60s. He was the first white artist to appear on The Nat King Cole Show, waiving his fee for appearing and he joined several African-American artists who gave free concerts for Martin Luther King’s supporters during the march to Washington.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?

Although he never charted on the country charts, Frankie Laine recorded many country songs and some of his hits were covered by country artists such as Tennessee Ernie Ford for major country hits. Frankie’s last #1 record (1969 – #1 Easy Listening / #24 pop) “You Gave Me A Mountain” was written by Marty Robbins. One of his #1 records on the British charts, “Hey Joe” was a cover of Carl Smith’s 1953 hit.

In 1990 and 1991 the German Bear Family label collected Frankie’s more western-oriented country songs (mostly Columbia recordings) onto two CDs titled On The Trail and On The Trail Again. I highly recommend both of these collections. While the arrangements are often more Hollywood than country, in the hands of a master craftsman like Laine, they are masterful performances.

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss – ‘Swing’

swingAlthough there was a swing revival that lasted for a few years (roughly 1998-2003), swing as a musical genre had its heyday during the period from 1935-1946, the period in which swing was America’s popular music. The economics of trying to keep a large band on the road after World War II led to the great swing bands breaking up and the music scene becoming the domain of smaller musical groups and solo singing stars.

Suzy Bogguss falls into that small group of country artists who comfortably perform in a wide variety of musical genres. Western, folk, country, pop and jazz all are areas which Ms. Bogguss has conquered.

The title of the album, Swing, suggests an album full of classic swing-era music from the Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie era. I would love for Suzy to record such an album, but this one isn’t it, although she does reach into the past for some classic swing numbers.

Swing could be described as Suzy’s tribute to modern day swing/jazz, with five of the twelve songs on the album coming from the pen of April Barrows.  Ms. Barrows, an excellent singer in her own right, composes and sings songs with the feel of swing, but with more modern and introspective lyrics than customarily found in the swing of the big band era.

In order to achieve an authentic feel for this album, Suzy engaged country music’s leading purveyor of swing, Ray Benson and members of Asleep at the Wheel.  Ray Benson plays guitar, Floyd Domino is on piano, David Sanger beats and brushes the drums and Jason Roberts plays fiddle.   Suzy and Ray produced the album.

Swing opens up with the Nat King Cole-Irving Mills composition “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, a major hit for the Nat King Cole Trio during the middle 1940s reaching #1 on the Harlem Hit Parade and spending six weeks at #1 on Billboard’s country chart . The song was based on a folk tale that Cole’s minister father had used as a theme for one of his sermons. In the song, a buzzard who had been taking different animals for joy rides would bounce them off and eat them after they were smashed on the rocks below. The monkey who is riding the buzzard in this humorous song is much too smart to fall for this trick, hanging onto the buzzard’s neck, with the admonition to “straighten up and fly right”.  There are people who swear that Nat King Cole was the best male vocalist ever in any genre of popular music (they may be right). Suzy handles the song effectively, although perhaps not with the quite the humor permeating her vocal that Cole had in his version.

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Album Review: ‘Brad Paisley Christmas’

The following review was written by MKOC reader and commenter Ken Johnson:

My favorite holiday albums are those that reflect the true style and sound of the individual artist. Nothing has been more disappointing than when my favorite country star abandoned their distinctive style to morph into Nat “King” Cole or Bing Crosby complete with a lush orchestra and chorus. Brad Paisley did not make that mistake. His 2006 Brad Paisley Christmas CD mixed all-time standards with original holiday songs to perfectly mirror his style, personality, humor and versatility. Those are also the very qualities that helped Brad to win the Entertainer Of The Year Award from the CMA this year.

A bright and twangy “Winter Wonderland” leads off the collection. Brad modified the lyrics by adding lines about fellow Grand Ole Opry member Jim Ed Brown. He gave nods to two of Jim Ed’s best known hits: “Pop A Top” and “The Three Bells.”

In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend that he is Jim Ed Brown.
We’ll sing “Pop A Top” with Mr. Snowman with chapel bells a-ringing all around.

“Santa Looked A Lot like Daddy” revives the Buck Owens – Don Rich 1965 holiday classic. Garth Brooks and Travis Tritt both recorded versions for their Christmas albums during the 1990’s that have kept this song alive on country radio holiday playlists. Brad doesn’t spare the twang here either by adding extended improvisational instrumental solos.

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” begins with the song’s often deleted original intro.

I am dreaming tonight of a place I love even more than I usually do.
And although I know it’s a long road back, I promise you
I’ll be home for Christmas…

Brad’s laid back vocal blends perfectly with understated orchestration punctuated by outstanding lead guitar solos and smooth steel guitar and fiddle fills. This is my favorite track on the CD.

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