My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Patsy Bruce

Album Review: Johnny Cash – ‘Out Among The Stars’

johnnycashThere hasn’t been any shortage of “new” Johnny Cash music in the decade since the Man In Black’s death. But unlike most of those releases, this week’s Out Among The Stars isn’t a reissue, an alternate take, a demo or a recording made during the singer’s declining years when he was long past his vocal peak. Rather, Out Among The Stars is a full-fledged studio album that was mostly recorded in the 1980s and produced by Billy Sherrill. The nearly completed album was discovered two years ago by John Carter Cash, who was in the process of mining the Sony archives while trying to catalog his parents’ extensive discographies. He brought in some additional musicians, including Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller and Carlene Carter, to bring the project to completion. The final product was released last week.

Normally, news of this sort would be cause for great celebration but any excitement about the album had to be tempered with the knowledge that the 1980s were, as even the most die-hard Cash fans will admit , a period in which the singer released mostly less than stellar work. Add to that the fact that Billy Sherrill had been the producer behind “The Chicken In Black”, widely regarded to be one of the worst singles of Cash’s career, and no one was quite sure what to expect.

Considering that Out Among The Stars was mostly recorded in 1984, while Cash’s career was in the middle of a long dry spell and just two years before Columbia dropped him from its roster, it isn’t surprising that the album was forgotten. But those who were braced for the worst will be pleasantly surprised because it is far superior to most of his output from that era. So far the album has produced one non-charting single, “She Used To Love Me a Lot”, which David Allan Coe took to #11 in 1984. It was written by Charles Quillen with Dennis W. Morgan and Kye Fleming. Morgan and Fleming were one of Nashville’s top songwriting teams of the day, having written many hits for Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell and Sylvia.

Many other top 80s songwriters teams are also represented. Ed and Patsy Bruce contributed “After All”, a pop-tinged ballad that was a departure from Johnny’s usual fare and Paul Kennerley and Graham Lyle wrote “Rock and Roll Shoes”. Johnny himself contributed the sentimental “Call Your Mother” and the inspirational “I Came To Believe”, which was written while Johnny was struggling with addiction and completing a stint at the Betty Ford Center. Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman wrote the tongue-in-cheek “If I Told You Who It Was” about a country music fan who has a fling with a female Opry star after changing her flat tire. No names are named, but the lady’s identity is revealed (for those old enough to recognize it) by an uncredited vocal appearance near the end of the song. It’s not Dolly Parton; that’s all I’m going to say.

Although traditionalists like to claim Cash as one of their own, The Man In Black was no purist and frequently pushed the boundaries of the genre. In this collection he sticks close to his country roots, and unlike many of his records, there is plenty of steel guitar on this album. Among the most traditional tunes are two excellent duets with June Carter Cash — “Baby, Ride Easy” and a cover of Tommy Collins’ “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time”. Johnny sounds relaxed and refreshed on these tracks, and June is also in fine vocal form. “Baby, Come Easy” features harmony vocals by Carlene Carter and “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time” features some excellent picking by Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Bryan Sutton. Waylon Jennings joins Johnny for a faithful-to-the-original cover of the Hank Snow classic “I’m Movin’ On”. Jennings’ presence elevates a performance that otherwise wouldn’t be particularly memorable.

The album closes with a remixed version of “She Used To Love Me A Lot” that was produced by Elvis Costello. Not surprisingly, this version isn’t country but it is in keeping with some of Cash’s genre-pushing efforts. It doesn’t really add anything to the album, however, and I could have done without it. “I Came To Believe” would have been a more appropriate closing track, but that is the only negative thing I can say about an otherwise exceptional album.

It is unlikely that Out Among The Stars would have fared well commercially had it been released thirty years ago. It was not then and is not now what mainstream Nashville wanted. It won’t produce any big radio hits, but now there is a greater appreciation of Johnny Cash than there was in 1984. Sony is giving the release the promotional effort it deserves and I imagine it will sell quite well.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings – ‘Waylon & Willie’

waylon & willieNothing more typifies the Outlaw Movement in country music than the multi-artist compilation Wanted! The Outlaws in 1975. One of the singles from that album was a live version of ‘Good Hearted Woman’, written and sung by Willie with his good friend Waylon Jennings (who had already had a solo hit with the song). That #1 hit was followed a few years later by a full length duet album by the pair in 1978. In many ways it is quite an experimental modern sounding record, with the artists given full creative control. They produced the record together, and generally swap lead lines on most of the songs, with a handful of solos.

‘The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want To Get Over You)’ is one of those exceptions, with a solo vocal from Waylon. If it seems curious that this served as the album’s first single, it may be explained by the fact that the record was released on RCA, to which Waylon was still signed as a solo artist. It was written by soul songwriter/producer Chips Moman (who also wrote Waylon’s iconic ‘Luckenbach, Texas’). It’s not really a favourite of mine, more for the rather tinny sound of the eponymous instrument then for the song itself, which has quite a nice melancholic feel. It perched at the top of the Billboard country singles chart for two weeks.

The next single and another #1 hit was a genuine duet, and is much more to my taste. ‘Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’, written by Ed Bruce and his wife Patsy, became a favourite live tune for the duo. The singalong chorus may sound celebratory, but the verses make this rather a wistful song about the complex characters of men drawn to the cowboy life, with an ironic undertone not dispelling the sense of a wearied honesty which imbues the song.

‘I Can Get Off On You’ is a quirky love song co-written by Waylon and Willie saying the woman in question is better than various drugs or alcohol. The cheerful laundry list of illegal substances the protagonist has clearly experienced in volume in the past might make this hard to get past radio gatekeepers nowadays, but things were more relaxed in some respects in the late 70s, and it was another chart-topper for the duo.

Willie’s solo version of the intense ‘If You Can Touch Her At All’ peaked at #5. The song, penned by Lee Clayton, is about a relationship with a woman by turns passionate and prudish. George Jones later covered it as a duet with Lynn Anderson, but it works better seen solely from the man’s standpoint.

A couple of the songs from Phases And Stages make an appearance here in duet versions. The travelling musician’s theme song ‘Pick Up The Tempo’ works well on this project, while ‘It’s Not Supposed To Be That Way’ is lovely. Also great, ‘A Couple More Years’ is an excellent serious song about maturity, written by Dennis Locorriere and Shel Silverstein. Both Willie and Waylon are at their best vocally here.

Waylon takes the lead on ‘Lookin’ For A Feeling’ which is a bit dull. Even more boring is ‘Gold Dust Woman’, a Fleetwood Mac cover sung by Waylon solo, without much melody. It was omitted from the first CD reissue of the album in 2002, along with two Kris Kristofferson songs. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ is no loss, and ‘The Year 2003 Minus 25’ with its apparently prescient depiction of a war with the Arabs over gas (presumably inspired by the repeated gas crises of the 70s) makes for uncomfortable listening.

However, the other Kristofferson song, ‘Don’t Cuss The Fiddle’, is much better – and also has a current day resonance with its message of tolerance towards fellow artists

I scandalized my brother
While admitting that he sang some pretty songs
I’d heard that he’d been scandalizing me
And, Lord, I knew that that was wrong
Now I’m lookin’ at it over something cool
and feelin’ fool enough to see
What I had called my brother on
Now he had every right to call on me

Don’t ever cuss that fiddle, boy
Unless you want that fiddle out of tune
That picker there in trouble, boy
Ain’t nothing but another side of you
If we ever get to heaven, boys
It ain’t because we ain’t done nothin’ wrong
We’re in this gig together
So let’s settle down and steal each other’s songs

I found a wounded brother
Drinkin’ bitterly away the afternoon
And soon enough he turned on me
Like he’d done every face in that saloon
Well, we cussed him to the ground
And said he couldn’t even steal a decent song
But soon as it was spoken
We was sad enough to wish that we were wrong

make sure you get the full length album including this song.

Amusingly they then throw in a few lines from Waylon and Willie’s hit duet ‘Good Hearted Woman’ as the track comes to an end.

The album was incredibly successful for the period, and has now been certified double platinum. Two less successful sequels, WWII and Take It To The Limit, emerged in 1982 and 1983 respectively, the former with Waylon at the fore, the latter focussing on Willie. But the first of their three duet records is by far the best.

Grade: A

Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘TNT’

TNTfrontIn her 1997 autobiography Nickel Dreams , Tanya Tucker referred to TNT as her first million-selling album and the one that nearly killed her career. In 1977, in need of professional management, she was referred to a Los Angeles firm called Far Out Management, who had managed a number of pop and rock acts and had expressed an interest in helping a country act cross over. They managed to convince the 19-year-old Tucker that they could make her a platinum-selling act, unlike the “hicks” back in Nashville. TNT was the first project that resulted from this collaboration.

Released in 1978, the album created waves partly because it was a rock album. To their credit, neither Far Out nor MCA made any pretense about this being a country album. The sole exception was the closing track “Texas (When I Die)”, one of the most solidly country songs that Tucker has ever recorded, and the only single from the album to crack the Top 10 on the country charts.

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