My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Oak Ridge Boys

Classic Rewind: Oak Ridge Boys – ‘Baby When Your Heart Breaks Down’

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Classic Rewind: The Oak Ridge Boys – ‘Break My Mind’

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 3

The 1980s got off to a poor start with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wreaked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

Here are some more songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

Blue Blooded Woman
Alan Jackson
This 1989 ballad was the opening salvo for the career of Alan Jackson. While the song only reached #45, the next year it was released as the flip side of Alan’s first top five record “Here In The Real World”.

She’s Gone, Gone, GoneCarl Jackson
This 1984 cover of a Lefty Frizzell classic reached #44, the top chart performance for an incredibly talented musician better known for his work in bluegrass/ Americana.

Innocent Lies
Sonny James
After a two year chart absence, the Southern Gentleman resurfaced on the Dimension label for one last top twenty tune in early 1982. According to Billboard, Sonny had and forty-three top tens recordings of which twenty-three went all the way to the top.

Just Give Me What You Think Is FairTommy Jennings with Vern Gosdin
Tommy was Waylon’s younger brother. This was the biggest of his three chart hits, reaching #51 in mid-1980.

Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard
Waylon Jennings
Fess up – we all watched the show, mindless as it was at times . This song would reach the top slot in the fall of 1980, also reaching #21 on Billboard’s Pop Charts.

North WindJim & Jesse with Charlie Louvin
This song reached #56, a very good showing for a bluegrass act in 1982.

Give Me Wings Michael Johnson
The late 1970s-early 1980s were Johnson’s peak as a pop artist with “Bluer Than Blue”, reaching #12 Pop/#1 Easy Listening in 1978. A very talented guitarist and songwriter, Johnson found himself classified as country during the mid-1980s although his basic style remained unchanged. “Give Me Wings” and its follow up “The Moon Is Still On Her Shoulders” would both reach #1 in 1987.

Wine Colored RosesGeorge Jones
The 1980s were a huge decade for King George with three number one records and another fifteen songs that reached the top ten. George is at his best with sad songs and this wistful ballad from 1986 is one of my favorites.

Two Story House George Jones & Tammy Wynette
No longer a married couple, George and Tammy still had enough vocal chemistry to take this 1980 entry to #1 on Cashbox. There would be one more single released on Epic but this marked the end for a remarkable duo.

Why Not MeNaomi & Wynonna Judd
I was not a big fan of the Judds, but I liked this #1 record from 1984.

It’s Who You Love Kieran Kane
Basically an Americana artist, this 1982 hit was one of only two top twenty records Kane would have as a solo artist. A few years later he would be part of a more successful duo.

Thank God For The RadioThe Kendalls
I have no idea why the Kendalls faded away during the 1980s as I would have expected the “New Traditionalist” movement to have resurrected their career. The Kendalls had already started to fade away when this 1984 #1 hit returned them to the top ten for one last visit. Jeannie Kendall is about as good a female vocalist as the genre has seen in the last thirty years.

Oklahoma BorderlineVince Gill
It took Vince a while for his solo career to take off after leaving Pure Prairie League. This song reached #9 in early 1986 and was his second top ten recording. The really big hits would start in 1990 with “When I Call Your Name”.

Walk Softly On This Heart of Mine Kentucky Headhunters
This rocked up cover of a Bill Monroe song landed the group their first top thirty hit in 1989. While they would only have one top ten record, the Kentucky Headhunters brought something different and distinctive to county radio.

Cajun BabyDoug Kershaw with Hank Williams Jr.
This song was set to music by Hank Jr., from some lyrics he found among his father’s papers. Hank got to #3 with the song in 1969, but this time it topped out at #52.

Mister GarfieldMerle Kilgore with Hank Williams Jr. & Johnny Cash
Diehard Johnny Cash fans may remember the song from a 1960s album about the Old West. This 1982 record reached #52. Kilgore didn’t have a lot of chart success as a performer, but he wrote or co-wrote a number of huge hits for others such as “More and More”, “Wolverton Mountain” and “Ring of Fire”.

I Still Miss Someone
Don King
A nice take on a Johnny Cash classic, this 1981 recording topped out at #38 in 1981. Don King was a successful songwriter and publisher who was not wild about touring. When he quit working the road, his road band kept going, changing their name to “Sawyer Brown” and had considerable success.

Killin’ TimeFred Knoblock & Susan Anton
Fred Knoblock is a talented singer; Susan Anton was (is) really pretty. This record made it to #10 in 1981. Go figure.

They Killed HimKris Kristofferson
Most of Kris’s best songs date back to when he was a starving songwriter. This 1987 tribute to Jesus Christ, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King was one of his few later songs that reached his earlier standards. This song deserved a better fate than to be marooned at #67 in 1987, but back then, religious (or even quasi-religious) themes were normally the kiss of death for radio.

Sweet Sexy EyesCristy Lane
The follow up to “One Day At A Time “ (Cristy’s lone #1) this 1980 single saw Cristy returning to the shimmering pop country she had been recording. This record reached #8 in late 1980. This would be Cristy’s last top ten record. She would continue to record pop country for a few more years before turning into a largely religious performer.

Lock Stock and TeardropsKathy Dawn Lang (k.d. lang)
Lang was always a little too left field to have much success at country radio. This single reached #53 in 1988, her third of five charting singles. This song was penned by Roger Miller and this recording is the quintessential recording of the song.

Lady, Lady
Kelly Lang
Her father was Conway Twitty’s road manager, she is married to T.G. Sheppard and she is a very fine singer. Despite all that, this was Kelly’s sole chart entry reaching #88 in 1982.

That’s How You Know When Love’s RightNicolette Larson with Steve Wariner
Basically a pop artist, her “Lotta Love went to #1 on the AC charts in 1978. This song reached #9 in 1986, her only top ten country record. Nicolette sang background on may pop and country recordings. She died in 1997 at the age of 45.

I Wish I Had A Job To ShoveRodney Lay
His biggest hit, this song reached #45 in 1982. Rodney was better known as a musician and was on Hee Haw for a number of years as a member of the house band.

Ten Seconds In The SaddleChris LeDoux
This song reached #96 in 1980, no small feat considering it was pressed on LeDoux’s own label and sold at rodeos. The Garth Brooks tune mentioning him was still five years in the future

Broken TrustBrenda Lee with The Oak Ridge Boys
Brenda’s last top ten record, reaching #9 in 1980. Brenda would continue to chart for another five years, but even if she had ceased charting a decade earlier, she still had a remarkable career.

Cherokee Fiddle
Johnny Lee
Johnny Lee was the ultimate beneficiary of the Urban Cowboy movie. Johnny’s career had gone nowhere in he five years prior to the movie (six chart singles, only one reaching the top twenty). “Looking For Love” kicked off a strong five year run with five #1 records and a bunch more top twenty hits. This record reached #10 in 1982 and remains my favorite of all of his records. Charlie Daniels and Michael Martin Murphey provide backing vocals on this record.

Album Review: ‘The Rodney Crowell Collection’

Warner Bros. was Rodney Crowell’s label home between 1978 and 1981. During that time he released three albums, none of which was commercially successful and they are all long out of print. Released in 1989 as a means of capitalizing the success that Crowell was enjoying at Columbia Records at that time, The Rodney Crowell Collection is the best available sampler of his Warner Bros. years.

During this time, Crowell was best known as a songwriter and as a key member of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band. He was also steadily gaining respect for his talent as a producer, having produced the records of his then-wife Rosanne Cash. As a recording artist, Rodney only cracked the Top 40 twice during his tenure with Warner Bros., but a quick glance at this album’s tracklist will quickly reveal that the songs themselves were not at fault for his lack of commercial success. Most of the titles were significant hits for other artists, and anyone who was listening to country radio in the late 1970s and early 1980s will be familiar with them. “I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This” was the title track of his first Warner Bros. album. That same year, Emmylou Harris recorded the song for her Quarter Moon In a Ten Cent Town album, and the following year, Waylon Jennings scored a #1 hit with the song. Emmylou had also recorded “Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight” and sings harmony on Rodney’s version. The Oak Ridge Boys would take this song to #1 in 1979. Emmylou also lends her vocals to a gorgeous rendition of “Voila, An American Dream”, which the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band also recorded. The Dirt Band’s version petered out at #58 on the country chart but reached #13 on the pop chart and was a #3 hit in Canada. The beautiful “Till I Gain Control Again” was a #1 hit for Crystal Gayle in 1982, and “Shame On The Moon”, the song for which Crowell was probably best known during this era, was recorded by numerous Nashville who released albums in 1982 and 1983. It was a huge pop hit for Bob Seger, who took it to the top of the adult contemporary chart, to #2 on the pop chart, and #15 on the country chart.

None of the previously mentioned songs was released as a single by Crowell, but there is a pair of songs on the album that were released as singles, and despite their limited chart success, went on to become hits for other artists: “Ashes By Now” (Lee Ann Womack) and “Stars On The Water” (George Strait). Rodney’s version of the latter did reach #30 on the country singles chart, making it his best chart performance up to that time. There are only three songs on the album that weren’t written or co-written by Crowell, and two of them were also hits for others; Juice Newton took Hank DeVito’s “Queen of Hearts” to #14 on the country chart and #2 on the Hot 100, while Ricky Skaggs scored a #1 country hit with Guy Clark’s “Heartbroke”.

For the most part, Crowell’s recordings are not as good as the better known hit versions by other artists. He is a good, though not truly great, vocalist, but the production on these recordings may be partly to blame for their commercial failure. Most of them have too much reverb and the arrangements are a little too rock-leaning for what country radio favored at the time. One song on which Crowell’s vocals truly shine, however, is “Victim or A Fool”, one of the few songs on the album that did not become a hit for someone else. It’s my favorite track here, possibly because there isn’t another more familiar version with which to compare it.

Though not essential listening, The Rodney Crowell Collection allows the listener an opportunity to hear a number of widely recorded songs in the songwriter’s voice and also helps to explain why he was such a respected producer and songwriter during the era before he achieved his commercial breakthrough. Inexpensive new and used copies are easy to find and are worth checking out.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Oak Ridge Boys – ‘It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes’

Country Heritage: Con Hunley

In an article which appeared on the9513.com in March of 2010, titled Forgotten Artists: Ten from the ’80s, Pt. 1, I had the following to say about Con Hunley:

“I have no idea why Con Hunley didn’t become a big star. He had an excellent voice and the look that 1980s record labels were seeking. Perhaps his voice was too distinctive, as it was smoky with strong blues flavoring. At any rate, he charted 25 times (11 Top 20 hits) from 1977-86, with his biggest national hit being “What’s New With You,” which reached #11 in 1981. I doubt that anyone remembers him for that song, however, as other songs such as “Week-End Friend” (#13), “I’ve Been Waiting For You All My Life” (#14), “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart (#14), “Since I Fell For You” (#20) and “Oh Girl” (#12) were all huge regional hits, reaching Top 5 status in many markets.”

That doesn’t seem like enough to say about this superlative vocalist so here goes:

Conrad Logan “Con” Hunley (born April 9, 1945) was born in Union County, Tennessee, an area which also produced such country legends as Roy Acuff and Carl Smith. Con was born into a musical family and at age nine his parents bought him a used “Stella” guitar for Christmas. Con soon taught himself to play Chet Atkins thumb-style guitar; however, his biggest early influence was to be found among R&B artists, particularly Ray Charles.

Con’s first professional job came in 1964, courtesy of the Eagles Lodge in downtown Knoxville. In 1965 Con joined the United States Air Force in 1965. After basic training, Con was sent to a tech school at Chanute AFB in Illinois where he was taught aircraft hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Con learned so well that he was made an instructor. While there, he played area bars and clubs with a local band. Later Con was transferred to Castle AFB near Atwater, CA, where he found a job playing piano at the Empire Lounge in Atwater.

After his tour of duty was finished Hunley returned to Knoxville and began performing weekly at a local nightclub owned by Sam Kirkpatrick, who formed the independent label Prairie Dust Records to showcase Hunley’s talents. After some minor success on the country music charts with three 1977 singles charting in the lower regions outside the top fifty, Hunley caught the attention of Warner Brothers Records (WB), who signed him in 1978.

Hunley’s first WB single, a cover of Jimmy C. Newman’s  “Cry Cry Darling”, cracked the top forty, reaching #34. From this point forward, Con Hunley had eleven straight singles that reached the Billboard Top Twenty, although none reached the top ten.  This singles were all on the border between Country and R&B (this during a time when R&B was actually music). “Weekend Friend” started the parade, reaching #13 in October 1978. This was followed by a cover of the Leon Payne classic “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart”  which reached #14 . This was followed “I’ve Been Waiting For You All Of My Life” which also reached #14 (although according to Cashbox the record reached #10 and was Con’s biggest hit – this squares with my recollections of the record and its airplay in Central Florida). Paul Anka would have a pop hit with the record two years later in 1981.

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Week ending 9/17/11: #1 albums this week in country music history

1966: Buck Owens and His Buckaroos – Carnegie Hall Concert (Capitol)

1971: Lynn Anderson – You’re My Man (Columbia)

1976: Waylon Jennings – Are You Ready For The Country? (RCA)

1981: Oak Ridge Boys – Fancy Free (MCA)

1986: Hank Williams Jr. – Montana Cafe (Warner Brothers)

1991: Garth Brooks – No Fences (Capitol)

1996: LeAnn Rimes – Blue (Curb)

2001: Toby Keith – Pull My Chain (Dreamworks)

2006: Rascal Flatts – Me and My Gang (Lyric Street)

2011: Jake Owen – Barefoot Blue Jean Night (RCA)

Country Heritage: Leonard Slye (1911-1998)

The Billboard Chart career of Leonard Slye ran from 1946 to 1991, a lengthy span of time that only resulted in a total of twelve chart records of which only four hit the top ten and only three more reached the top twenty. Moreover, there were some long gaps in charting records. After a #8 record in 1950 with “Stampede”, Leonard would not chart again until 1970 when “Money Can’t Buy Love” reached #35, followed in 1971 by “Lovenworth” (#12), “Happy Anniversary” (1971 – #47), “These Are The Good Old Days” (1972- #73) and “Hoppy, Gene and Me” (1975 – #15). After that only two more chart singles, one in 1980 and one in 1991 a duet with Clint Black on “Hold On Partner”.

This sounds like I am writing about a singer on the fringes of stardom, and based solely upon his Billboard success, that might be a fair assessment. But please read on …

Leonard Franklin Slye was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, although he raised and grew up in Lucasville, Ohio. In 1921, young Leonard traveled to California where he joined a western group called the Rocky Mountain Pioneers. While with the group, Leonard met Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, fine singers and writers both. In 1933 Leonard, Bob and Tim split off and formed the Pioneer Trio and performed on KFWB radio. Leonard played guitar and sang lead on many of the trio’s songs. As the group expanded, adding additional musicians and singers, the name was changed to The Sons of The Pioneers. Under this name, the group had many hit records, most occurring before the advent of Billboard’s Country Charts on January 1, 1944.

The Sons of The Pioneers were major recording stars during the period 1935-1949. Moreover, they had the opportunity to appear in many films of the newly emerging “singing cowboy” genre, including major roles in films starring Gene Autry. In at least one of these films, Leonard was billed as Dick Weston and played a villain who turned into a good guy by the end of the film.

In 1938, a studio dispute between Autry and Republic Pictures, left Republic without a star for the upcoming film Under Western Skies. Republic transformed Leonard Slye into Roy Rogers and a star was born. From that point forward Roy left the Sons of The Pioneers as a member but continued his association with them through numerous recordings and films.

Other than Gene Autry, Roy Rogers was the most successful star of western movies and there were years in which Roy was the top dog. Roy was listed in the Motion Picture Herald ‘Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars’ poll, for fifteen consecutive years from 1939 to 1954, holding first place from 1943 to 1954. He was in the top ten for all movie genres in 1945 and 1946. So big a star was Roy, that most of his post-war films were shot in color when most western films were still shot in black and white.

Roy’s first wife Arline died in childbirth in 1946 during the birth of Roy “Dusty” Rogers, Jr. Prior to that, Roy and Arline had a daughter and had adopted a daughter. In late 1947, Roy married Dale Evans, an actress who had appeared in a film with Roy in 1944. They remained married and maintained largely joint careers until Roy’s death in 1998. Roy and Dale adopted several children during their marriage, and had a daughter with Downs Syndrome who died at age two from complications of the mumps. They remained active in charity work and as active advocates of adoption throughout their lives.

Roy’s films were always kid-friendly so it was natural that Roy Rogers would emerge as one of the early stars of television, moving his radio show of nine years duration to television, where it ran from 1951-1957.

All told Roy Rogers appeared in over ninety movies, sold countless millions of records, both as a member of The Sons of The Pioneers and as a solo artist. While best remembered today for his television show and his theme song “Happy Trails To You” (written by his wife Dale Evans), Roy Rogers was a giant figure in the world of county music. Roy was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame as part of the original Sons of The Pioneers in 1980 and elected as a solo artist in 1988, the only artist elevated to the pantheon twice.

DISCOGRAPHY

VINYL
Roy Rogers was most active as a recording artist during the 1930s and 1940s, meaning that much of his original output was on 78 rpm records. During the 1950s and later relatively few albums were issued, including some aimed at children and some religious album. To be honest, I don’t have much Roy Rogers vinyl in my collection.

COMPACT DISC
Roy is fairly well represented on CD. My usual source, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has eight titles available. I’d recommend the following

The Best of Roy Rogers (Curb Records) collects all of Roy’s Capitol singles from the early 1970s, including “Money Can’t Buy Love”, Lovenworth”, “Happy Anniversary” and “These Are The Good Old Days” plus some covers of some classic county songs. Twelve songs in all – budget priced.

Biography: Musical Anthology (Capitol Records) – this was the soundtrack, so to speak, for an episode of television show Biography. This album is a mixed bag, some Capitol songs from the 1970s, some songs with Dale Evans from the 1950s including two songs (“Happy Trails” and “The Bible Tells Me So”) that will always be associated with Roy, and some songs from the 1940s including his biggest Billboard charting record, “My Chickashay Gal” which hit #4 in 1947.

A Cowboy Has To Sing – three CDs – 43 songs – I don’t know the source material but it’s nicely priced and the titles sound like they are from the 1940s.

Other titles have been available in the past and may be found with a little effort. CDs of the Sons of The Pioneers from 1935-1937 often feature lead vocals by Roy Rogers, as well as fabulous harmonies and hot instrumental work.

Not currently in print, but worth finding:

Roy Rogers Tribute – issued in 1991 by BMG. Although not so credited, I think the driving force behind this CD was Clint Black, whose duet with Roy, “Hold On Partner”, was the single released from the album. Other duet partners on the album include The Kentucky Headhunters, Randy Travis, KT Oslin & Restless Heart, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Van Shelton, Willie Nelson (of course), Kathy Mattea, Lorrie Morgan & The Oak Ridge Boys and Dusty Rogers. Riders In The Sky provide background vocals on some of the songs and “Happy Trails” features everyone named earlier plus Daniele Alexander, Baillie & The Boys, Holly Dunn, Roger Miller, Johnny Rodriguez, Eddie Rabbitt and Tanya Tucker.

Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town’

Emmylou’s fourth album was released in January 1978 on Warner Brothers, which had taken over her contract from the subsidiary Reprise. A personal favorite of mine, it contains a number of her classic recordings. The lineup marks the replacement of Rodney Crowell in the Hot Band by Ricky Skaggs, with both men playing on the record. The arrangements and musicians are, as usual, impeccable. There was a change of emphasis with the selection of material, with no classic revivals this time (although a number of the tracks have become classics in their own right since), but a concentration on new songs.  The quality of material is as high as Emmylou’s fans had come to expect. Emmylou was now married to producer Brian Ahern, and their personal and professional partnership showed them in perfect tune. Ironically, given her newlywed status, the overarching theme is one of leaving, whether that means a lover or spouse, a parent, or life itself.

One of the classics born on this record was the first single. ‘To Daddy’ was written by Dolly Parton, who generously relinquished the opportunity to sing the song to her friend, not recording it herself for many years. Emmylou’s subtle version was a big hit, reaching #3. The devastating lyric tells the story of a downtrodden wife and mother who suffers silently for years with her neglectful and uncaring husband, and then leaves with as little fuss as she made during the marriage:

She never meant to come back home
If she did, she never did say so to Daddy

Told from the viewpoint of one of the children, Emmylou delivers one of her purest vocals, allowing the lyrics to speak for themselves. This is still one of my favorite Emmylou Harris recordings. It was followed on the charts by the #1 hit ‘Two More Bottles Of Wine’, an up-tempo rocking-blues Delbert McClinton song which offers a defiant response to loneliness and a lover’s departure:

It’s alright cause it’s midnight and I got two more bottles of wine

Another song now widely (and rightly) regarded as a classic, the poetic ‘Easy From Now On’, written by Guy Clark’s wife Susanna and a young Carlene Carter (billed by her first married name of Routh), peaked at #12. Emmylou sounds a little sad as she plans to drink the night away following the end of a relationship. The lyrics provide the album’s title, and Susanna Clark also painted the picture used for the cover art.

Rodney Crowell, about to leave the Hot Band to launch his own solo career, contributed a couple of songs as a parting gift. There are Cajun touches to the story song ‘Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight , which was later a hit for the Oak Ridge Boys. Rick Danko of The Band sings harmony and his bandmate Garth Hudson plays sax and accordion. The driving ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’ is a hard-boiled country rocker addressed to a low-life individual headed for life in jail, and Rodney’s own version was to be the title track of his debut album later the same year, also on Warner Brothers.

Willie Nelson sings a prominent harmony on the folky ‘One Paper Kid’, a downbeat story about another of life’s failures, set to an attractive tune and a very simple acoustic backing consisting of Mickey Raphael’s harmonica and Emmylou herself on guitar. The pair had toured together, and their voices blend beautifully on another highlight.

The tribute to the ‘Green Rolling Hills’ of West Virginia, written by folk singer Utah Phillips, is sung as a duet with Emmylou’s longtime harmony singer Fayssoux Starling, which sounds just lovely. Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell’s replacement in the Hot Band, plays fiddle and viola on this track, foreshadowing the changes his influence was to bring in Emmylou’s music.

Singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester contributed two songs, the beautiful and perhaps metaphorical ballad ‘My Songbird’ and the swooping and allusive ‘Defying Gravity’, with Nicolette Larson on harmony. The album closes with the slowed down bluesy rockabilly of ‘Burn That Candle’, which is the only track I don’t much like, with some very odd emphases in the pronunciation.

The 2004 CD reissue included two previously unreleased live cuts from the early 80s with a Cajun flavor – Guy Clark’s ‘New Cut Road’ and ‘Lacassine Special’ (sung in French). They are well performed, but feel a little out of place here.

Grade: A

Album Review: The Grascals & Friends – ‘Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin’

The Grascals are one of the most talented current bluegrass lineups, and their four albums to date have been gaining them increasing amounts of attention. The band’s singers are not among my favorite bluegrass vocalists, but their instrumental prowess is exceptional. They have already worked extensively with discerning country artists like Dierks Bentley and Dolly Parton. This side project, recorded exclusively for Cracker Barrel, consists, as the title promises, of the Grascals’ selection of classic mainstream country songs given a light bluegrass flavor, with a number of guest stars helping out on vocals. Fiddler Jeremy Abshire and banjoist Kristin Scott Benson stand out most for me, but all the musicianship is flawless, with not a note sounding out of place or misjudged – the perfect combination of virtuosity and taste.

Most of the songs are duets with the guest vocalist generally opening and one of the Grascals’ lead singers taking over halfway through. Guests range from some of the more traditionally rooted of today’s stars to veteran acts on their own classics.

Brad Paisley is entertaining on a committed version of the Buck Owens classic ‘Tiger By The Tail’ which opens the set brightly and is one of my favorite tracks. I also really enjoyed Dierks Bentley guesting on ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, although I would have preferred him to sing lead throughout rather than sharing the role, which seems to make the lyric less convincing by not being a single man’s story. The least successful cameo comes from Joe Nichols, whose music I usually like, but who sounds rather limp on ‘Mr Bojangles’ (not one of my personal favorite songs anyway, which may color my appreciation of this version).

Darryl Worley appears on the second verse of a fast-paced and playful ‘White Lightning’ which sounds as though the band had great fun recording it, and it is equally enjoyable to listen to. Country and bluegrass get some added Cajun spice with a lively take on ‘Louisiana Saturday Night’ (a Bob McDill song about down-home partying on the bayou and was a hit for Mel McDaniel in 1981), which is perfectly fine without any star guest. However, a Hank Jr medley of ‘Born To Boogie’ and All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight’ could have done with a guest to add some passion, as the treatment is just far too mild – neither boogieing nor rowdy in even the slightest degree. The instrumental backing is as attention-grabbing as ever, though.

Singer-songwriter Tom T Hall has been working in bluegrass for some years, and here he sings his ‘The Year That Clayton Delaney Died’. His voice has audibly aged, but it works well in the context of this warmly reminiscent tribute to a childhood influence, and the cut is absolutely charming. Charlie Daniels sounds even more grizzled on ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’, but the band sound a little too polite vocally backing him up, although the playing definitely has the requisite fire. The Oak Ridge Boys contribute vocals on their Rodney Crowell-penned hit ‘Leavin’ Louisiana In the Broad Daylight’ (one of the more unexpected song choices), and while this works well in its new incarnation, it isn’t one of my favorite tracks.

Dolly Parton harmonizes beautifully on her own (and Porter Wagoner’s) ‘Pain Of Lovin’ You’, which works perfectly as a bluegrass song. Dolly also guests on the single which has been released to publicize the project, ‘I Am Strong’, the only original song included (apart from a nice rhythmic instrumental, ‘Cracker Barrel Swing’). Written by the Grascals’ Jamie Johnson with his wife Susanne Mumpower-Johnson and Jenee Fleenor (currently Terri Clark’s fiddle player), it has a very pretty melody, and heartfelt lyric, sung with great soulfulness and emotion. I have to admit that if I were diagnosed with a serious or fatal illness, my own first impulse would not be to talk about how strong I felt, and I don’t think I would even want to be, so the song’s message doesn’t quite speak to me personally. Having said that, it is an attitude which does help many people, and it appealed to the Grascals enough that they recorded the song twice here, once with Dolly, then reprised at the end of the album with an all-star cast including most of their other guests, Terri Clark, Randy Owen and (bizarrely) action star Steven Seagal. (It would, incidentally, have been nice to have had a full duet with Terri on the record, as the choice of guests is rather male-dominated.) I actually found this version with everyone swapping lines more effective and moving than the earlier version, with more of a sense of universality.

Both versions are emotive in the right way, with a real sense of hope. Both end with a few lines delivered by a three-year-old patient at St Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, which inspired the song’s composition. Fittingly, a share of the profits of the album go to the hospital.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Oak Ridge Boys – ‘Settin’ Fancy Free’

Classic Rewind: Oak Ridge Boys – ‘Thank God For Kids’

Classic Rewind: Oak Ridge Boys – ‘Y’all Come Back Saloon’

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Still The Same Ole Me’

If George’s career had ended in 1979, he would still be regarded as one of the greatest singers in country music history. But 1980’s award winning ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ became his signature song and the biggest hit of his career. I Am What I Am, the album from which it came, remains his best selling studio album. Our review of that album has been unavoidably delayed, but keep reading.

Still on a high after the massive success of I Am What I Am and ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’, George’s follow-up record was released in 1982. Although not quite as good as the latter, it sold well and has been certified gold, and continued his run at the top of the charts. The vocals are outstanding, and Billy Sherrill’s production is more restrained than it sometimes was. The material is pretty strong, with some oustanding tracks, although it probably suffers in comparison to its predecessor.

The dramatic opening track ‘Still Doin’ Time’, written by John Moffatt and Michael P Heeney, was George’s first #1 after ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’. A downbeat admission by a man metaphorically paying for his sins by drinking away his life, “Still doing time In a honky tonk prison”. It’s pretty much vintage George Jones, but is the only track to reference alcohol. In real life he was approaching the turning point when with the help of his fourth wife Nancy he was able to stop drinking.

The title track, ‘Same Ole Me’, was the only other single released to promote the album, and reached #5. Featuring the Oak Ridge Boys on harmony vocals, it is an older man’s tribute to long lasting love, although it was written by a young one, winning Paul Overstreet one of his first cuts. George also finally included ‘Someday My Day Will Come’, his single from a few years earlier, which had been left off I Am What I Am, no doubt because of its relatively poor chart performance.

One of my personal favorites here is ‘Good Ones And Bad Ones’, a plaintive survey of women the protagonist has loved, which George later covered in duet with Mark Chesnutt:

A good one will love you for all that she’s worth
A bad one will take you for more
A good one will cherish the key to your heart
And a bad one a key to your door

A good one will love you for richer or poorer
Bad makes bad even worse
A good one will love you till death do you part
And a bad one makes sure you go first

The delicately mournful ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’ This is my other favorite. This is quintessential sad George Jones, as he bemoans the fading of love with a masterly vocal, comparing his loss to that of “lovers who want to be free”. The Jordanaires provide harmony vocals on this track, and on ‘I Won’t Need You Anymore’, a romantic declaration of eternal love (written by Troy Seals and Max D Barnes), which George elevates with his vocal to something special.

The mid tempo ‘Together Alone’ (another featuring the Jordanaires) takes a sardonic look at a couple with disparate tastes and interests and no apparent common ground (save their eventual side-by-side graves). It’s a rather depressing picture of loveless lives, which he suggests is far from uncommon. Also looking at the grim realities of life is ‘Daddy Come Home’, a melodic song about the impact of divorce on the children involved. The use of a child (in fact his and Tammy’s daughter Georgette, aged nine) to sing the chorus solo makes it feel rather manipulative, but it is the only track I have reservations about on this record.

‘You Can’t Get The Hell Out Of Texas’ is a rare (and enjoyable) venture for George into western swing as he pays light-hearted tribute to his home state as “the hell raising center of the earth”. Also good is the rueful surprise of ‘Girl, You Sure Know How To Say Goodbye’, where she sweetens the blow of leaving him:

You kissed me in a way you never did when love was right
You hypnotized the hurt right out of me
I stood and watched you walk away
Oh honey, and I couldn’t even cry
Girl, you sure know how to say goodbye

It remains one of George’s highest selling albums, being certified gold in 1990. Although sales figures fell, his success continued for the next few years. He only scored one more #1 single, 1983’s ‘I Always Get Lucky with You’, but a string of top 10s, including classic hits like ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes’, kept him commercially relevant all through the pop-influenced years of the early to mid ’80s.

The album is easy to find on budget CD or digitally.

Grade: A

Week ending 7/3/10: #1 singles this week in country music history

1950: Why Don’t You Love Me — Hank Williams (MGM)

1960: Please Help Me, I’m Falling — Hank Locklin (RCA)

1970: Hello, Darlin’ — Conway Twitty (Decca)

1980: Trying To Love Two Women — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1990: Love Without End, Amen — George Strait (MCA)

2000: Yes! — Chad Brock (Warner Bros.)

2010: The House That Built Me — Miranda Lambert (Columbia)

Classic Rewind: Oak Ridge Boys – ‘Ozark Mountain Jubilee’

Changing the face but not the name

Gary Nichols

This week’s news that the great bluegrass-based group the SteelDrivers have changed lead singers after one acclaimed album from the distinctive sound of songwriter Chris Stapleton (who wants to return to a life concentrating on writing) to former Mercury artist Gary Nichols was a little disappointing. Musicians would probably disagree with this, but to me the lead singer is the most distinguishing feature of any band’s identity – and changing the face at the front seems to change the dynamic for better or worse.

One-time hitmakers Lonestar have a new album out soon with a new lead singer, but do not seem to be attracting much attention with it. They in fact started out with two lead singers (John Rich and Richie MacDonald), and when John Rich left to try a solo career (which flopped, leading to his finding success as half of Big & Rich) that did not cause any problems for the band, who went on to release their biggest hit, ‘Amazed’. But when Richie left the band a couple of years ago, the group had already passed its commercial peak. Richie’s solo career has not been particularly successful, and although I haven’t heard Lonestar’s material with their new lead singer yet, I would be surprised if it brought them back to the top.

One band to have gone through various changes of personnel, but for whom real success was associated with the original lead singer was Highway 101, a favorite of mine from the late 80s. Fronted by Paulette Carlson, the group released three fine albums and a string of top 10 hits including several #1s between 1987 and 1990. Paulette then decided she wanted to go it alone, and released a solo album. This proved to be a bad move for her as her new record was a complete flop. The band meanwhile recruited a new lead singer, Nikki Nelson who had a strong, commercial voice, but one with less personality than Paulette’s. The new line-up had a few hits in the arly 90s, but ones which peaked lower on the charts than their earlier material. In 1996 Paulette rejoined the group and they released the appropriately entitled Reunited, but their time had passed and they could not reignite the flame of their glory days. They split again, and the band tried with a third lead singer, with even less success. I understand they are currently performing with Nikki Nelson again. This was a case study where the original combination of lead singer and band was the magical one, and subsequent reinventions just didn’t work.

Chris Stapleton

Sometimes switching the lead singer works out. The Dixie Chicks’ early records featured two lead singers (Laura Lynch and Robin Lee Macy) who were both eventually discarded. It was only when Natalie Maines joined that the band got their major label deal, and proceeded to mass success in the late 90s. Even today, after they have fallen from grace with country radio, the Court Yard Hounds side venture of sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, the founder members of the Chicks, without Natalie, seems unlikely to attract the same level of support of their most recent album with her. Since the other two own the rights to the name, it is interesting that they decided to drop it for this project.

These last two cases do involve someone with a particularly distinctive voice which served to mark the band out. A similar case involving a less successful group is Trick Pony and its lead singer Heidi Newfield. When Heidi left to go solo, the band initially tried to find a new lead singer, but Heidi’s replacement Aubrey Collins left before any new music could be released, and the surviving band members eventually called it a day. In this case some lead vocals had been taken by one of the guys in the band, but Heidi was the dominating presence at the center of the group.

In previous generations, however, changes of personnel were less disruptive. The Statler Brothers replaced Lew De Witt with Jimmy Fortune, and the Oak Ridge Boys have been going since 1945 with many changes. However, these cases did not involve changing a sole lead singer. The pioneering Carter Family consisted of A P Carter, wife Sara and sister-in-law Maybelle in the 1930s; later on Maybelle continued the group with her daughters. Bluegrass groups seem generally to be formed around an inspirational instrumentalist rather than the singer, and have frequently featured changes in lead vocalist. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have changed personnel over the years, but retained a strong musical identity regardless.

Which of today’s groups could survive a new face at the front?

Week ending 3/6/10: #1 singles this week in country music history

1950: Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy — Red Foley (Decca)

1960: He’ll Have To Go — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1970: It’s Just A Matter Of Time — Sonny James (Capitol)

1980: I Ain’t Living Long Like This — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1990: No Matter How High — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

2000: My Best Friend — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2010: Why Don’t We Just Dance — Josh Turner (MCA)

Week ending 2/13/10: #1 singles this week in country music history

1950: Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy — Red Foley (Decca)

1960: He’ll Have To Go — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1970: It’s Just A Matter Of Time — Sonny James (Capitol)

1980: Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1990: It Ain’t Nothin’ — Keith Whitley (RCA)

2000: Cowboy, Take Me Away — Dixie Chicks (Monument)

2010: The Truth — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Classic Christmas Rewind: The Oak Ridge Boys – ‘There’s A New Kid In Town’