My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Norro Wilson

Album Review: John Anderson – ‘John Anderson’

John AndersonAfter signing him in 1977, Warner Brothers took their time developing John Anderson, testing the waters with a series of singles at country radio, most of which failed to chart. Finally, in 1980 they took the plunge, and released his self-titled debut album, produced by Norro Wilson. It did not sell particularly well, but it was a launching pad for his career and although some aspects of the production have dated a little (particularly the background vocals), it stands up very well today. Indeed, it remains, in my opinion, one of the best debut albums by any country singer ever. The album showcased John’s hardcore country voice with some excellent songs, five of them co-written by the singer himself. The overriding theme is heartbreak, and John’s sometimes raw voice imbues them with authentic sadness.

The first song likely to have brought John Anderson to the ears of county fans was ‘The Girl At The End Of The Bar’, which just squeezed into the top 40 back in 1978, and deserved to do much better. It was written by John with Lionel Delmore (son and nephew of the Delmore Brothers, one the most successful early country duos), who has been an enduring writing partner for John Anderson over the years. Rather along the lines of Joe Nichols’ more recent hit ‘She Only Smokes When She Drinks’, this song paints a portrait of a woman who has been unlucky in love and now just wants to be left alone with her drink:
“She’s not there for company
She don’t like to remember
She once let herself go too far
She’s not there to complain
She just wants to remain
The girl at the end of the bar…

She don’t play the jukebox
She’s lived all those sad songs first hand
What’s made her so bitter
And why love has quit her
Is because she has loved the wrong man.”

The follow-up single stalled just outside the top 40, and was not included here, but ‘Low Dog Blues’, another Anderson/Delmore collaboration did better, just missing the top 30, although it is by far the least interesting track on the album. The pair wrote two further songs here, both very good: the sorrowful ballad ‘It Looks Like The Party Is Over’, about the end of a relationship, and the bluesy hillbilly groove of ‘Havin’ Hard Times’, a lament on the subject of hard economic times which strikes a topical chord again today, as John complains, “What used to be a dollar ain’t worth a silver dime”.

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Album Review: Keith Whitley – ‘A Hard Act To Follow’

keithwhitleyAfter the Urban Cowboy boom had fizzled out and just before the New Traditionalist movement took Nashville by storm, sales of country music were down considerably and still falling fast.  As a result, record labels were unsure how to market new artists – much like today.  So, in 1984, it was no big deal that an artist’s debut album would contain only 6 tracks – especially if that artist was signed to RCA Records.  The Judds first record was a 6-song mini LP and so was Keith Whitley’s debut for the label.  I’m not sure whether the label just didn’t have the faith in the artists to invest in a full-length album or if they were looking for a quick return before bankrolling a major project, or if it was a combination of the two.

At any rate, Keith Whitley’s RCA recording career began with 1984’s A Hard Act To Follow, a 6-song set introducing Keith Whitley to the record-buying public at large. Producer Norro Wilson and Keith deliver these 6 tracks with varying degrees of quality.  Album opener and also the lead single, ‘Turn Me To Love’ is a slick-sounding come-hither number that finds Keith in good voice, but this production just doesn’t fit the voice.  The lyrics are a bit bland and unoriginal too.

A honky tonk piano introduces us to ‘Living Like There’s Tomorrow’ and the fiddles and steel on this track match the vocal much better than the previous track.  Still, the background singers are a bit loud in the chorus.  The label’s second attempt at a radio hit was the title track.  ‘A Hard Act To Follow’ finds Keith longing for the woman he once had and musing that she is a ‘hard act to follow, her leaving brought the whole house down‘.  

‘If A Broken Heart Could Kill’ is my favorite track on the set.  It’s a barroom waltz in stone-country fashion.  Why the label didn’t release this to radio, I’ll never know.  But I suspect Keith Whitley would have shot to stardom a lot faster had this one gotten a chance on the airwaves.  It’s very reminiscent of George Jones at his best.  As a singer, Keith has more sides than just the tender balladeer and on Bob McDill’s ‘If You Think I’m Crazy Now (You Should Have Seen Me When I Was A Kid)’, he uses his Kentucky drawl to great effect delivering the clever lyric.

The set closes with ‘Don’t Our Love Look Natural’, a song about dying love that takes the unusual analogy of a funeral.  Harlan Howard and Don Cook wrote this number, which borders on melancholy and novelty – so much that I’m not sure which way it’s supposed to go.  Keith’s performance is tinged with sadness, so I’ll take it as a sad song.

Neither of the singles from A Hard Act To Follow made it to the top 40 and the album itself failed to chart.  Nowadays that would spell the end of a major label career, but luckily for us things didn’t work that way in 1984 and the label released a full album the next year.  And while it didn’t meet any commercial success, this set is still a worthy addition to your Keith Whitley collection, but I’d pick up his later albums first if I were you – this one’s more for the die-hard fans than just the casual listener.

Grade:  B-

This album is out of print, but copies of the CD re-release are available on Amazon.

EDIT: I should also mention that these are the first 6 tracks on The Essential Keith Whitley CD too.