My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Nick Lowe

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale — ‘Every Second Counts’

Jim Lauderdale released his third album, Every Second Counts, in 1995. His second and final album for Atlantic, it was co-produced by Lauderdale and Dusty Wakeman.

The record opens with “It’s Time When It’s Time,” a rather generic mid to fast tempo rocker. “That’s Not The Way It Works” follows in the same vein, although the melody, while uninteresting, is engaging.

“Don’t Build Your World Around It” is straight up rock, with a cluttered arraignment that somewhat drowns out the lyric. I don’t think it’s a bad song and would benefit from a more traditional accompaniment. Lauderdale co-wrote “Always On The Outside,” a horn-drenched mid-tempo rocker, with Nick Lowe. It’s the first truly interesting song to appear on the album.

I really like the ballad “Charmed” and can see a lot of potential with the track, although the production feels very dated. “Fireball,” the first song that feels like classic Lauderdale, is one of two tracks co-written with Jamie Hartford. The other, “I’m Still Learning How to Crawl,” is an excellent ballad about a man going back to the love he lost, accentuated with muscular guitars.

The overall sonic makeup of the title track really isn’t to my taste, but I do like “Echo,” which appears next. Lauderdale’s delivery on the song is sleepy, but the song is good. “Ready To Ramble” is straight up Americana in the truest sense of the style, and while it isn’t something I would normally gravitate towards, it shows why he’s a pioneer of that genre.

“If You Look Real Close” is far more my speed and a song that grabbed me from the first note. He closes the album with its strangest offering, the bluesy “Bluebell,” which is fine on its own, but it proceeded with a hidden track I couldn’t quite decipher, which sounds like a choral gospel number.

When James Chrispell of AllMusic reviewed Every Second Counts he said Lauderdale was “playing it safe.” I would have to agree and add the music also feels uninteresting and not really all that memorable, even on multiple listenings. I was really hoping to enjoy this album a lot more than I actually did.

Grade: B (for effort)

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September Spotlight Artist: Jim Lauderdale

Our September Spotlight features one of the true Renaissance persons of roots music, Jim Lauderdale. Born in 1957, Lauderdale has a thorough-going knowledge of country, bluegrass, roots-rock, folk and jazz and incorporates elements of all of these into his songwriting and performances. He has performed in theatre, as a member of various bands, and as a solo performer. He has an affable personality and a decent, but not necessarily terrific, singing voice that could, under different circumstances, led him to become a major recording star in the fields of bluegrass or traditional country music. As it is, Jim has had difficulty in receiving airplay for his own recordings and never made much of an impact on radio with his only charted single, “Stay Out of My Arms” reaching #86 on Billboard’s country chart in 1988. If heard at all on the radio, it is most likely to be on bluegrass programs (usually on NPR) or on Bluegrass Junction on Sirius-XM as his duet recordings with Ralph Stanley are quite popular with the bluegrass crowd.

As a songwriter, he has been far more successful with his songs being recorded by many artists across a variety of genres including George Strait, Gary Allan, Elvis Costello, George Jones, Buddy Miller, Blake Shelton, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, and Patty Loveless. I don’t know how many of his songs George Strait recorded, but it is a bunch.

Although not a household name with modern county radio audiences, Jim Lauderdale has been quite busy, co-hosting Music City Roots, the annual Americana Music Awards Show (since 2002) and appearing on various other television shows. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead), Dr. Ralph Stanley, Nick Lowe and Roland White.

Between television and touring, he stays quite busy. We have selected an interesting array of albums to review, so please join us in saluting our September Spotlight Artist – Jim Lauderdale.

Album Review: Kelly Willis — ‘Back Being Blue’

Kelly Willis retreated forty miles south of Austin, Texas to The Bunker, her husband Bruce Robison’s rustic recording studio located on a five-acre plot with a fishing hole, to record Back Being Blue, her first solo album in a decade. The album, produced by Robison, was recorded to analog tape using an old board he frequently has fixed from a trusted source in Nashville.

Back Being Blue consists of ten songs, six of which Willis wrote solo, the most she’s ever contributed to any of her seven albums. She says the songs aren’t deeply personal or autobiographical, nor is the album intended as a showcase for her distinctive singing voice.

Willis instead drew inspiration from the melting pot of influences that first inspired her to make music, from Marshall Crenshaw to Skeeter Davis and Crystal Gayle. But one artist, in particular, guided her way:

“Nick Lowe was a real north star for me on this record. Like, ‘What would do Nick Lowe do?’ He was able to write modern songs that were like old songs—that had a cool soul/R&B/Buddy Holly kind of a thing that had sounds from that early rock and roll era—but that felt really fresh and exciting and now. I just love the A-B-C’s of rock and roll. Before everybody had to start piling on different things to make it sound different, it had all been done. With this record I was trying to go with the styles of music that have really impacted my life, especially when I moved to Austin as a teenager, and make it country-sounding like Austin used to sound.”

Lowe may have inspired the album as a whole, but it’s Gayle’s influence driving the sublime title track, which kicks off a trifecta of songs about men, and their inability to treat women with the respect they deserve. A mellow guitar-driven melody framing Willis’ biting and direct lyric:

She’s back in my baby’s arms

And I’m back being blue

The percussion-heavy “Only You” finds a man using the excuse that’s what lovers do to justify his consistently inconsistent behavior — he loves his woman one day than ignores her the next. “Fool’s Paradise,” which beautifully blends fiddle with Urban Cowboy-era guitar riffs, finds a man thinking he can emotionally manipulate a woman who sees him coming from a mile away:

I’m not riding this town

You’ll tell me again if you come back around

All that ache in your voice, like I don’t have a choice

It’s a fool’s paradise

Willis wrote the barnburner “Modern World” to vent her frustrations about how cell phone use has led to a society that’s less engaged. The fiddle returns on the gorgeous “Freewheeling,” about the wish to let go of old anxieties and live a less mentally-stressful life. She’s back in a mournful state of mind on “The Heart Doesn’t Know,” a striking ballad about that feeling of knowing a relationship is over, yet unresolved feelings still remain.

For the remaining four songs, Willis sought contributions from other writers. “Afternoon’s Gone Blind” is a sonically stunning slice of traditional country written by Eric Brace and Karl Straub about an individual having a difficult time with the end of a relationship.

The most eccentric number on Back Being Blue is “I’m A Lover (Not A Fighter),” which was originally released as a single by Davis in 1969 when it peaked at #9. The song exudes a lot of charm, and has an engaging melody, but threw me with the dated reference to Cassius Clay. Willis says she did entertain the idea of swapping out the late boxer’s name for the more contemporary Sugar Ray, but ultimately decided the song should stand as written. It’s growing on me, but it’s not my favorite song on the album, especially with the heavy reverb casting a film over the recording.

It’s no surprise one of the album’s most well-written numbers comes from the pen of Rodney Crowell. He recommended she cut “We’ll Do It For Love Next Time,” a romantic yet risqué ballad about a couple going to second base. Willis handles the song, which features a nice dose of mandolin throughout, with the ease she’s brought to her most stellar recordings over the last 28 years.

Willis closes Back Being Blue with Jeff Rymes and Randy Weeks’ “Don’t Step Away,” a song sent to her by her hairdresser, who recommended it after Willis said she needed one or two more songs to finish the album. The song is bristling with Austin funk, and a fair amount of guitars to bring up the tempo.

When I first listened to Back Being Blue I thought it was less than the sum of its parts. I hold Kelly Willis in the highest esteem and this just wasn’t making it for me. My opinion only changed when I dug into the context behind the album and understood what Willis was going for with the vibe and her relaxed vocals. Back Being Blue is a great album, even if some of her compositions feel unnecessarily repetitive. I’m glad she’s back and steering the conversation in her direction again.

Grade: B+

Album Review: The Desert Rose Band – ‘Running’

desertrosebandLike The Desert Rose Band’s eponymous debut album, 1988’s Running is heavily-influenced by the Bakersfield sound. Paul Worley was back on board as producer, this time joined by Ed Seay. Chris Hillman was involved in writing most of the ablum’s songs, joined by his songwriting partner Steve Hill for seven of the album’s ten tracks. The previous album’s final single “He’s Back and I’m Blue” had become the band’s first chart-topper. Their chart success continued with the new album. The first single, the mid-tempo “Summer Wind”, just missed the top spot, peaking at #2. It was followed by another Hill-Hillman collaboration, “I Still Believe In You”, which did reach #1. Although it is a very good song, it hasn’t aged as well as the rest of the album. The heavy emphasis on the drum machine gives it a somewhat dated feel.

Interestingly, the album’s two best tracks were written by outside songwriters. “She Don’t Love Nobody”, which peaked at #3 in early 1989 is a John Hiatt composition. The song had previously been recorded by Nick Lowe, but it was adapted for country music with very little tinkering and is much more mainstream-sounding that much of Hiatt’s work. It is one of my very favorite Desert Rose Band recordings. The fourth and final single was “Hello Trouble”, an Orville Couch and Eddie McDuff number that had originally been recorded by Couch in 1962. A cover version appeared on a 1964 Buck Owens album. The Desert Rose Band’s version just missed the Top 10, peaking at #11. It deserved to chart higher.

The rest of the album’s tracks are very much in a country-rock vein, with plenty of steel guitar to appease purists, and not enough rock to alienate anyone. The band touches on some social issues with with a few tracks, but avoids doing so in a heavy-handed way. “For The Rich Man” examines some of the ways in which life is different for the haves and have nots; “Homeless”, which examines the plight of a former rodeo queen who is abandoned by her unemployed and alcoholic husband, comes a little closer to preaching —

“In this land of milk and honey we share with all who need
Except the ones outside our door, the ones we cannot see”

— but still manages to avoid sending the listener on a gratuitous guilt trip. The album closer “Our Songs”, meanwhile, is a semi-autobiographical look at some aging baby boomers, who came of age in the turbulent 1960s, and contrasts that era with the relatively more stable (and then contemporary) 1980s.

Along with the band’s debut album, Running is representative of The Desert Rose Band’s very best work and an interesting look back at how country and rock used to be melded together — with solid, well-written songs that avoided cliches and obnoxious, overloud production. Hardcore, traditional country it is not, but it is type of music that I would really like to see Nashville embrace again.

Grade: A

Album Review: The Haden Triplets – ‘The Haden Triplets’

haden tripletsThe New York born and LA based sisters, Petra, Tanya and Rachel Haden, daughters of a jazz musician, have been around for years, mainly performing cameos on rock albums. But taking center stage for the first time, their debut album produced by Ry Cooder, showcases their sibling harmonies on the old-time country and folk material they heard from relatives in their childhood. Their grandparents were among the earliest Opry performers and were friends and rivals of the Carter Family, with their own radio show based on the family farm in Missouri.

The triplets open with the enchantingly pretty version of the Webb Pierce country classic ‘Slowly’, performed with delicate harmonies. This outstanding track is wonderful, and my favourite track here.

One of my favorite Carter Family songs, the plaintive ‘Single Girl, Married Girl’, is also very charming, and is being promoted as a single. Another Carter family classic, ‘Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone’ is carefully measured, with Cooder adding a booming male backing vocal in support. Also from the Carters’ songbook, the less known and more rhythmic ‘Oh Take Me Back’ picks up the tempo

The women’s high sweet harmonies are suitably angelic on Bill Monroe’s gospel waltz ‘Voice From On High’, which is a highlight. Monroe’s graveyard-set ‘Memories Of Mother And Dad’ is less remarkable, but still solid.

Their winsome versions of the Louvins’ ‘My Baby’s Gone’ and ‘When I Stop Dreaming’ are both gorgeous, and perfectly suited to the trio. Their lesser-known tragic tale ‘Tiny Broken Heart’ is another charming track.

The Stanley Brothers’ mournful ‘Lonesome Night’ is delivered at a slow and stately pace, with particularly beautiful guitar work from Cooder, whose work is tasteful and exemplary throughout. They don’t change the lyric, which is written from a male perspective, which makes the interpretation sound like a ghostly one.

The playful ‘Billy Bee’ is performed almost acappella with very faint strains of music very low in the mix.

One of the few disappointments is country standard ‘Making Believe’, a beautiful song but here the vocals are a little too self-consciously pretty and not emotional enough. I just didn’t believe it. Finally, the most modern song, Nick Lowe’s ‘Raining Raining’ is just okay, with an ethereal lead vocal from Tanya, but it does feel out of place.

Overall, though, this is a delightful album for lovers of the oldest recorded country music.

Grade: A