My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Patti Page

Album Review: Mandy Barnett – ‘I’ve Got A Right To Cry’

Mandy Barnett’s sophomore album, I’ve Got A Right To Cry, released in 1999, is the stuff of country legend. Her producer for the project was the iconic Owen Bradley, who Barnett had chosen to bath the project with his classic touches. Just four songs into the recording process, Bradley died suddenly and very unexpectedly at age 82.

As the story goes, Barnett didn’t know what to do, or how she could even go on to finish the album. Fortunately, Bradley’s equally iconic brother Harold stepped in and the album became a tribute of sorts to Owen’s indelible mark on country music during the 1960s. Remarkably, the album didn’t change much at all after Owen’s passing. He had already provided notes on the songs they were to record together, which Harold used when producing the remaining tracks.

The album itself failed to chart and didn’t launch any charting singles. None of this is surprising – there was little to no appeal in mainstream Nashville for the old classic sound of country music in 1999. The songs are mostly classics, taken from that golden era of country music Barnett loves so much.

The title track, a wonderful soaring torch ballad, comes courtesy of Joe Liggins, an R&B pianist during the late 1940s and early 1950s. It’s followed by Don Gibson’s 1958 top 5 hit “Give Myself A Party,” a steel-drenched ballad with a nice tempo.

The engaging ballad “Trademark” comes from the pen of Porter Wagoner. “Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings” is Barnett’s fine take on the Mickey Newbury classic that found a home with the likes of Gibson, Tom Jones, and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Two of the album’s songs have ties to Patti Page. “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming,” which she originally recorded in 1949, is exquisite. “Evertrue, Evermore” is of just as high a quality.

“I’m Gonna Change Everything” was a #2 hit for Jim Reeves two years prior to his death in 1962. Barnett’s take on the song is excellent. “Don’t Forget to Cry” is the Boudleaux and Felice Bryant song made famous by The Everly Brothers. Barnett turns in a truly wonderful performance.

“Who (Who Will It Be)” is a newly recorded jazzy number that Barnett treats beautifully. “The Whispering Wind (Blows On By)” is one of the album’s strongest tracks. “Mistakes” is another lovely torch ballad.

I highly recommend seeking this one out if you haven’t heard it or need to hear it again after all these years.

Grade: A

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The best reissues of 2013

2013 was a bad year for fans of traditional country music and its near cousins.Not only was radio virtually devoid of traditional country sounds, but Billboard bastardized its country charts to the point of meaninglessness, accepting remixes and reissues with other artists and treating them all as one record. Worse yet, a good many of our radio heroes passed away, starting on January 1, 2013 with the death of Patti Page, a country girl who went on to become a great classic pop singer, and who continued to showcase country songs throughout her illustrious career. Along the way we lost Jack Greene, Cal Smith, George Jones, Kitty Wells, Tompall Glaser, Ottis “Slim” Whitman, Claude King, Jack Clements, Lorene Mann, George Beverly Shea, and too many more for me to recount. We ended the year with the death of the great Ray Price.

Fortunately, we live in an age where the musical legacy of our radio heroes can and does live on. While not the absolute best year for reissues, it was a very strong year, with most of the great reissues coming from foreign soil.

On the domestic front Sony Legacy has been redoing their Essential series, issuing a series of two disc sets. The Essential Tammy Wynette is easily the best Tammy Wynette collection we will see, unless Bear Family decides to do a box set. The collection is arranged chronologically and without skipping the lesser hits. Fans of Tammy will hear some songs that rarely have been anthologized, and hear her catalog of hits in the order in which they were released. The forty songs are digitally remastered to sound superb, and even though I have such other Tammy Wynette collections as Tears of Fire and Anniversary: Twenty Years of Hits, still I regard this as an essential purchase for Tammy’s fans and a great introduction for those unfamiliar with her work.

I’m not a big Martina McBride fan but Sony Legacy’s two disc The Essential Martina McBride, issued in late 2012 and not widely available until this year, is probably the best collection you’ll see on Martina – terrific sound, with forty songs. A few minor hits have been omitted in favor of other material, which I don’t like, but that’s just me.

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The UK based Jasmine label has probably been the leading purveyor of reasonably pricced reissues, issuing a series of two CD sets, either featuring intact four older albums of a particular artist or issuing some sets that are simply collections of songs. Some of the Jasmine releases below were actually issued in late 2012, but not widely available until 2013.

Oh Lonesome Me, Singles Collection 1956-1962 is an outstanding two CD collection of Don Gibson’s singles from 1956-1962. Not only does the set capture Don’s earliest and biggest RCA hits (“Oh Lonesome Me”, “Sea of Heartbreak”, “Blue Blue Day”), but it also revisits Don’s rarely found MGM singles, including the earliest take on “Sweet Dreams”. Forty-six songs, hours of listening pleasure.

Love Is The Sweatest Thing: The Early Album Collection collects four of Ferlin Husky’s early Capitol albums. The albums are not overrun with hit singles (during the 1950s albums were often marketed to a different audience than were singles) but has four albums that are quite different from one another. 1956’s Songs of Home and The Heart features older country songs. Boulevard of Broken Dreams (1957) and Sittin’ On A Rainbow (1958) both feature what would today be referred as classic pop or pop standards – in other words, not very country at all. The last album in the set, Walkin’ And A Hunmin’ (1961), which Ferlin referred to as his Hank Williams album, does feature seven songs associated with Hank Williams. This collection gives a good overview of the breadth of Ferlin’s talent.

Headin’ Down The Wrong Highway: The Early Albums features four Hank Thompson albums from 1958-1961. For me the standout album is 1961’s Live At The Golden Nugget, but all of the albums are great listening. Relatively few hits are in this collection, but once you start the disc playing, you won’t care about the lack of hit records as Hank and his Brazos Valley Boys always exude good cheer and lotsa fun.

The First Lady of Country: The Early Album Collection is what I would deem to be an essential Jean Shepard album, including as it does one of the very first ‘concept’ albums in 1956’s Songs of A Love Affair. There are not a lot of hit singles in this 2 CD collection, but there are a lot of songs capturing the heart and soul of this pioneering female singer.

Queen of Honky Tonk Angels: Four Original Albums by Kitty Wells, captures an early hit collection in Country Hit Time, a gospel album, Dust On The Bible, and a pair of albums largely comprised of covers. Kitty Wells had a strong clear voice that didn’t waver until very late in life. She treats her material and herself with respect, the end result being albums really worth hearing.

Folk Ballads, Hits and Hymns – Four Stereo LPs finds legendary bluegrass singer Mac Wiseman traveling down other more mainstream country roads. Fans of bluegrass may be disappointed with the albums, but fans of Mac Wiseman will love this set comprised of two gospel albums, an album of some current (as of 1960) folk and country hits plus an album of folk songs. One of the gospel albums features the Jordanaires throughout, not that Mac ever really needed help to perform a gospel song.

I don’t know that you can really call Walter Brennan a country artist at all, but Jasmine released a single disc CD on Grandpa McCoy titled Reminiscing With Walter Brennan which definitely catches the essence of a beloved actor and perfermer. Brennan only had one hit “Old Rivers” (#3 Country / #5 pop) but it’s here along with 27 other favorites including his wonderful take on “The Shifting Whispering Sands”

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If the name Curly Putman means anything at all to the casual fan, it is as the writer of “Green Green Grass of Home” and co-writer of “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” . Curly did have a bit of a singing career and issued a some albums on ABC Records. Omni has collected two of Curly’s albums The Lonesome Country Of Curly Putman (1967) and Curly Putman’s World Of Country Music (1969) on a single disc. He’s hardly a compelling singer, but it is always interesting to hear a songwriter interpret his own material. “My Elusive Dreams” was released as a single and reached #41.

New West Records issued Dwight Yoakam’s 21st Century Hits: Best-Of 2000-2012, a nice collection of fourteen singles and miscellaneous tracks . Hardly Dwight’s best work, but still a useful collection, gathering together tracks not easily found.

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Omnivore Recordings, a label out of Los Angeles, CA started releasing albums in late 2012. Probably their most important release was the George Jones collection The Complete United Artists Solo Singles. I’ve always regarded the best recordings George Jones ever made as coming from his tenure with United Artists 1962-1965. From this period the finely nuanced singer emerged with such great singles as “She Thinks I Still Care” , “Sometimes You Can’t Win” , “A Girl I Used To Know” , “You Comb Her Hair” and “The Race Is On”. All of these titles have been available as re-recordings made for Musicor and/or Epic , but these are the original hit versions – 32 songs, the A and B sides of his 16 United Artist singles – an absolutely essential collection (unless you own the Bear Family box set of the United Artists years).

Omnivore also has released some Buck Owens, Don Rich and Buckaroos collections.

Buck Em! : The Music of Buck Owens 1955-1967 is billed as the companion to the recently published Buck Owens autobiography, but as a stand-alone collection it is a worthy acquisition if there is a hole in your Buck Owens catalog. Some alternative and live recordings are among the two CD sets fifty tracks. Not essential but a nice collection spanning the Pep and early Capitol years.

Omnivore’s Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings The Country Classics collects eighteen tracks recorded for use on the television show Hee Haw. Many of these tracks were recorded after the death of Don Rich, so the classic harmonies aren’t always present, and these are very short recordings designed to fit the pace of the television show, but they are songs that Buck didn’t otherwise record for commerical release, covering country classics from 1945-1973 by the likes of Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Johnny Horton and Ray Price.

With “Live” At The White House (… And In Space), Omnivore makes available a live Buck Owens album that Capitol had a available for a short time of Buck’s September 9, 1968 White House performance for President Lyndon Johnson. The original album only ran about 22 minutes so in order to get a usable length CD, Omnivore coupled the album with a program recorded for the Apollo 16 astronauts to take on their mission with them. A bit gimmicky, but Buck Owens completists will want the album.

The late Don Rich was a fine singer in his own right and an excellent musician that Omnivore has focused upon. That Fiddlin’ Man restores to print a 1971 Buckaroos allbum featuring Don Rich on fiddle and adds an additional ten tracks of Don fiddlin’ around from other Buckaroo albums. I got to see Buck & Don in person three times and it was always a highlight of the show when Buck has Don pull out his ‘cherry apple red fiddle’ and play “Cajun Fiddle”, “Orange Blossom Special” or some other tune. Don Rich Sings George Jones features ten George Jones songs that were recorded for a never released Don Rich solo album, augmented with four Buck Owens tracks of George Jones covers. The Buckaroos Play Merle and Buck couple a pair of Buckaroos albums, 1965’s The Buck Owens Songbook with 1971’s The Songs of Merle Haggard. These are all instrumental numbers featuring Don Rich (mostly) on telecaster.

There are many fine Merle Haggard collections available so Omnivore’s The Complete 60s Capitol Singles is hardly an essential collection but it is definitely an excellent one and anyway one can never have too much Merle Haggard in their collection. Twenty-eight songs – the A & B sides of Merle’s fourteen singles, and Merle’s B sides were hardly throw-aways, “Today I Started Loving You Again” and “Silver Wings” both being B sides. Merle’s peak years were with Capitol and this is all great stuff – it doesn’t get any better than this !

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I will close out with a Bear Family boxed set that is beyond the price range for most of us, probably even beyond the Christmas ‘wish list’: Tall Dark Stranger – Buck Owens and The Buckaroos Recordings: 1968-1975. This eight CD set covers Buck’s slightly post-peak eriod with Capitol Records, a period that saw Buck experimenting with and updating the ‘freight train’ sound that had become his hallmark. Includes his duet albums with son Buddy Alan Owens, the Susan Raye duets, some Buckaroos recordings and even a duet with a duet with R&B singer Bettye Swann. Buck had about 20 chart hits during this period and the set features many previously unreleased songs

Fellow Travelers: Anne Murray

annemurrayThis is the third in a series of short articles about artists who, although not country artists, were of some importance to country music.

WHO IS SHE?
Anne Murray was born in 1945 in Springhill, Nova Scotia, Canada. She and Hank Snow are the two Nova Scotians to have had the most impact on the country music charts, although Hank was unabashed country and Anne was a folk/middle of the road singer, whose thick contralto and unaffected single style found great favor with American country audiences. She started out as a folk performer on the Canadian television show Singalong Jubilee. Her initial recorded hits were on the Canadian adult contemporary charts. In 1970 Capitol Records issued her first US single “Snowbird” which went #1 on the US adult contemporary charts and #8 on the pop charts. Along the way country audiences discovered the song and it started getting airplay on country radio reaching #10 (Cashbox had it reach #1 on their country chart). Subsequent singles were marketed to country and pop audiences by Capitol. Some songs, such as “You Needed Me” and “Danny’s Song” charted higher on the pop charts than the country charts. Trying to maximize Anne’s chart activity, Capitol went so far as to issue singles with two A sides, one side being marketed pop/adult contemporary and the other side marketed country, the two most notable examples being “He Thinks I Still Care (#1 country) backed with “You Won’t See Me (#8 pop) and “Son of A Rotten Gambler” (#3 country) backed with “Just One Look” (#50 adult contemporary/#86 pop). Anne also had a number of songs that did not chart country but charted pop and/or adult contemporary. Anne fell off the US country charts after 1991, although she continued to chart on the Canadian country and adult contemporary charts.

WHAT WAS HER CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?
Anne Murray was on the country top forty forty-one times placing her second to Hank Snow among Canadian-born artists. She had ten Billboard #1 country songs. While few of these songs were very country or featured steel guitar or fiddle, there were many story songs (“Cotton Jenny”) among them and those songs fit comfortably within the loose definition of country during the period 1970-1984.

After 1984, the chart hits on any of the charts became fewer and smaller although country radio remained fairly loyal to her.

WHAT NOW?
In 1993 Anne released Croonin’, an album of pop standards from artists such as Patti Page, Peggy Lee, and other pop standard acts of the 1940s and 1950s. This was to remain her general direction for future albums, although not quite as decidedly retro as Croonin’. Anne largely retired from performing about five years ago, although she remains busy with various charitable commitments.

You can check Anne’s official website for charitable events and merchandise – she has recorded little in recent years, and those recordings have either been religious, Christmas or adult contemporary/pop standard albums.

While I don’t consider Anne Murray to be country, she was the most successful artist to ever cross over and receive country airplay from the adult contemporary/easy listening side of the business. She was a great singer, regardless of genre.

Favorite Songs of the 1980s: Part 5

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 wrecked 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.

the okanes“When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back” – Sam Neely
This 1983 song reached #77 for a talented performer who spent many years playing the clubs and honky-tonks of Corpus Christi. The song, the reflection of a condemned inmate’s life, looks back at all the bridges he burned beyond repair. The song also was recorded by Bill Anderson and Confederate Railroad.

Dream Lover” – Rick Nelson
Epic reissued Rick’s 1979 cover of a Bobby Darin classic after Rick’s death in a New Years Eve 1985 air crash. It only reached #88 but it gives me a chance to mention one of the fine rock ‘n roll / country singers one last time.

Save Me” – Louise Mandrell
Louise never quite emerged from her big sister’s shadow but this #6 single from 1983 shows that a lack of talent wasn’t the problem.

Wabash Cannonball” – Willie Nelson with Hank (Leon Russell) Wilson
This song is at least as famous as any other song I’ve mentioned in any of my articles. Although the song is often attributed to A.P. Carter, it really is much older than that. Willie and Hank took this to #91 in 1984.

American Trilogy”– Mickey Newberry
Mickey issued a new version of his classic 1971 pop hit in 1988. While it only reached #93, it was good to hear it again on the radio. Glory, Glory Hallelujah forever.

The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)“– Judy Kay ‘Juice’ Newton
This #1 hit from 1982 was Juice’s biggest hit. As great as this recording is, the song sounds even better when she performs it acoustically.

Dance Little Jean” – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Perhaps my favorite recording by NGDB, it only reached #9 in 1983 but I still hear the song performed today by various and sundry acts, not all of whom are country. The song was the group’s first top ten country hit there would be sixteen in all), although they had pop chart hits dating back to the 1960s.

“Let’s Go All The Way ” – Norma Jean and Claude Gray
A pair of veteran performers teamed up to release this 1982 hit which charted at #68. The song was Norma Jean’s first chart hit back in 1964. This was her last chart hit; in fact, she hadn’t charted since 1971 when this record was released on the Granny White label.

Elvira” – The Oak Ridge Boys
Although not their biggest chart hit, this cover of a Dallas Frazier-penned song from the 1960s , was easily their biggest selling song, reaching #1 in 1981 while hitting #5 on Billboard’s pop charts. Has anyone really forgotten the chorus?

So I’m singin’, Elvira, Elvira
My heart’s on fire, Elvira
Giddy up, oom poppa, omm poppa, mow mow
Giddy up, oom poppa, omm poppa, mow mow, heigh-ho Silver, away!

I didn’t think so …

Oh Darlin’” – The O’Kanes (Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara)
This coupling of a couple of singer-songwriters who had not had solo success, resulted in a half dozen top ten records that had a fairly acoustic sound and feel that sounded like nothing else currently being played on the radio. This song reached #10 in 1986. Their next single “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You” would reach #1.

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Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 5

For part five of this series, as always, just some songs I liked, one song per artist, not necessarily the biggest hit, (although I feel free to comment on other songs by the artist).

Let’s All Go Down To The River” – Jody Miller & Johnny Paycheck (1972)

A nice country cover of an old gospel song – how could you go wrong with this duo? Jody Miller would have a number of hits during the 1970s, although her single biggest record was in 1965 when “Queen of The House” (an answer song to Roger Miller’s “King of The Road”) went #12 pop / #5 country. I don’t know that Jody viewed herself as a country singer, but she had a sassy & sexy voice and was quite easy on the eyes.

Tom Green County Fair” – Roger Miller (1970)

Roger Miller’s career had largely run out of steam by this time, but the imagery in this song makes it one of my favorites. Alas, this song only reached #38. Roger would experience a significant renaissance in the mid-1980s writing the music for the Broadway play Big River.

Music Box Dancer” – Frank Mills (1979)

I have no idea why this song charted country as Frank Mills was an orchestra leader and this instrumental song was no more country than Lady Gaga. It was a huge pop hit reaching #3 and selling millions in the process.

Pure Love” – Ronnie Milsap (1974)

Written by Eddie Rabbitt, this was Ronnie’s first #1. How can you not like a song that contains a line like “Milk and honey and Captain Krunch and you in the morning?”

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Classic Rewind: Patti Page – ‘Tennessee Waltz’

Country Heritage: Patti Page

People such as Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles and the Byrds all are occasionally credited as being the catalyst for breaking country music to the larger pop markets. No doubt, all were of some significance in introducing country music to a portion of the pop market, but long before any of them came along, there was “the singing rage”, Miss Patti Page.

Most of today’s listeners look no further back than 1955 when rock ‘n roll began to emerge. Consequently, aside from a specific few, such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney and Perry Como, most of the great pop singers of the immediate post-WW2 period largely have been forgotten.

Born in 1927 as Clara Ann Fowler, a product of Oklahoma, Patti Page would serve an apprenticeship as a country singer with Al Clauser’s Oklahoma Outlaws during the early 1940s. Clauser’s band appeared on KTUL in Tulsa; as a result of this exposure, Patti Became the featured vocal on a program sponsored by the Page Milk Company. It was as a result of this program that she became known as Patti Page. From here she moved to the Jimmy Joy Band, a pop swing band which toured the Midwest. While in Chicago she became friends with members of Benny Goodman’s orchestra, which in turn led to a recording contract with Mercury.

Patti’s first single, “Confess” came out during one of the Petrillo strikes in 1947, meaning that background singers were not available for recording purposes. Mercury thought that Patti’s voice was sufficiently versatile that she could do her own harmony backgrounds, and so developed the practice of Patti overdubbing her own harmony vocals on record, the first artist with which this was done. “Confess” was one of three top twenty records she would chart from 1947-1949.

1950 was Patti’s breakthrough year as “With My Eyes Wide Open, I’m Dreaming” became her first million selling single, quickly followed by another million seller “All My Love (Bolero)” and then a song that would represent a career for anyone, her cover of the Pee Wee King-Redd Stewart classic “Tennessee Waltz”. Not only did this record reach #1 on Billboard’s Pop charts, staying there for 13 weeks, but it would reach #2 on Billboard’s country chart selling over six million copies in the United States alone.

While Patti Page is primarily thought of as a pop singer, and a very successful one with over 100 million singles sold world-wide, she continued to record country songs for the pop market having hits with such titles “Detour”, “Down The Trail of Aching Heart”, “Mister and Mississippi”, “I Went To Your Wedding”, “You Belong To Me” (another Pee Wee King-Redd Stewart collaboration). So popular was she with country audiences that country comics Homer & Jethro even lampooned her pop hit “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window”. All told, Patti Page would have 16 gold singles.

Even after the onset of the rock and roll blight, Patti continued to chart on the pop charts, although after 1958 the really big hits were a thing of the past, with the exception of her 1964 hit “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte”, from the movie of the same name. Since she always had sung and recorded country songs as part of her repertoire, Patti made the natural turn to recording straight country songs during the late 1960s, with sixteen songs charting on Billboard’s country charts between 1970-1982 including the #14 duet with Tom T. Hall “Hello We’re Lonely” in late 1972.

After the 1980’s Patti focused more on jazz in her recorded music. Since Patti is now over 83 years old, I am not sure how active she is as a live performer, but she was quite active until very recently.

I wouldn’t try to convince anyone that Patti Page was a great country artist, but she was a great recording artist and did as much as (and probably more than) any other non-country performer to help spread the popularity of country music around the world

DISCOGRAPHY


VINYL

A search of used record shops will turn up a huge number of Patti Page vinyl albums – there were at least thirty albums released on Mercury, at least another ten or so on Columbia and then for miscellaneous other labels over the years. Her best pop recordings were on Mercury – any of her Mercury albums will reveal a consummate professional at work – if you like the songs, you’ll like the albums.

CD

Patti Page is not as well represented on CD as should be the case – she does have a website which offers some titles for sale

http://www.misspattipage.com/

Collectors Choice Music currently has 19 CDs and a DVD available

SINGLES 1946-1952 gives you 84 of her Mercury hits
LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL: THE 50th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT demonstrates that Patti still could bring it
HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE / GENTLE ON MY MIND is a two-fer of Columbia albums, a 1965 pop album and a country flavored album from 1968. It’s an odd pairing but a good value

Other titles have been in and out of print over the years.

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Wine Colored Roses’

Released in 1986, The Possum’s 18th solo outing for Epic is another stellar entry in his extensive catalog that generated a pair of top 10 hits and earned him the third gold album of his career. The title track, written by Dennis Knutson and A.L. “Doodle” Owens, tells the unlikely story of an alcoholic who sends a bouquet of wine colored roses to his ex, as a not too subtle way of letting her know that he still hasn’t cleaned up his act. In real life, however, Jones had begun to get his life on track, and the album’s next single, “The Right Left Hand”, also written by Knutson and Owens, is likely a tribute to his wife Nancy, whom he credits as the one who helped him reform his ways. A third single, the beautiful “I Turn To You”, from the pens of Max D. Barnes and Curly Putnam, fared less well at radio, peaking at #26.

Billy Sherrill’s production is firmly in the new traditionalist style, likely a result of the massive success that both Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis had experienced at country radio that year. Jones sounds more relaxed and content than he had on previous albums. “Don’t Leave Without Taking Your Silver” is sort of “A Good Year For The Roses” revisited, though the newer song lacks the intensity of the 1970 classic. This time around George doesn’t make any attempts to stop his wife from leaving, blaming her for the silver in his hair. The light-hearted “The Very Best Of Me” provides a well-timed change of pace as George reveals to his wife what he plans to leave to whom, when his time comes to meet his maker:

Give my dry lips to Jack Daniels
Give the jukebox both my ears,
Plant one foot in Texas, one in Tennessee.
Send my backside to my ex-wife,
Tell her, seal it with a kiss,
Girl, I’m leaving you the very best of me.

My favorite song on the album is “Hopelessly Yours”, a beautiful ballad written by Don Cook, Curly Putnam, and Keith Whitley, that became a hit for Lee Greenwood and Suzy Bogguss a few years later. A close second is a track contributed by Max D. Barnes and the great Harlan Howard. “Ol’ Frank” tells the story of a May-December romance:

She was just seventeen but she was all woman
When Ol’ Frank slipped the ring on her hand
My God, he was wealthy, owned half the county
But he’d never see sixty again.

After ten years of heaven and long nights of love
His ol’ heart couldn’t keep up the pace.
But friends you can bet that he had no regrets,
Ol’ Frank ran one hell of a race.

She cried all the way to the chapel,
Like she really cared for Ol’ Frank
She cried all the way to the grave where he lay,
But she smiled all the way to the bank.

Slightly disappointing is “You Never Looked That Good When You Were Mine”, on which Jones is joined by pop singer Patti Page. The song itself is good and both Jones and Page are in good vocal form, but together they lack the chemistry that made George’s duets with Melba Montgomery and Tammy Wynette so memorable. Weaker still is “If Only Your Eyes Could Lie”, which would have been better suited for Jimmy Buffett than George Jones.

The album closes on a poignant note with “These Old Eyes Have Seen It All” in which an old man reminisces about seeing Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley onstage, as well as recounting memories of his service in World War II, the moon landing in 1969, and his fifty year marriage to his now-deceased wife.

Though Wine Colored Roses didn’t produce any classic hits of the caliber of “The Grand Tour” or “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, it is still a solid collection of songs that hold up well nearly a quarter century after its release, and it is well worth adding to your collection.

Grade: A-

It is currently out of print in CD form; used copies are available, but they are a little more expensive than usual. It is also available digitally from Amazon and iTunes.

Head to head: rival versions of the same song

LeAnn Rimes has elected to premier her upcoming covers album Lady And Gentlemen by releasing a ramped-up version of John Anderson’s 1983 smash hit ‘Swingin’’ as the lead single. Self-evidently, covering another artist’s signature song means you have to bear comparison with the original. Unfortunately for LeAnn, she also has to compete with a much better cover getting attention at the moment in the form of Chris Young’s fresh acoustic take on the same song on his excellent new EP Voices (reviewed here recently by Razor X). Admittedly Chris’s version is not being promoted as a single, but it’s certainly the version I would prefer to hear on the radio.

LeAnn has of course been in a similar position before. As a teenager she was at the center of a public rivalry, when her recording of ‘How Do I Live’, intended for the soundtrack of the 1997 action movie Con Air, was rejected by the producers in favor of a version by Trisha Yearwood. As well as its appearance in the film, Trisha’s version was a big country hit single, reaching #2 on Billboard, and won a Grammy. LeAnn arguably got the last laugh that time, as her rival cut was a massive international pop hit and sold three million copies.

In fact, rival versions of the same song competing for sales and airplay, are something of a tradition. In the singles-dominated 1950s and 60s it was commonplace for artists to cover current hits, either as direct competition or as easy choices of popular songs to fill out an album. In an era when country fans had less disposable income, it made sense for an artist to record the most popular songs out there, so that if someone liked a particular song they might choose to buy the version by their favorite singer. Successful artists who sold well were almost unbelievably prolific, typically releasing several 12-track albums a year – George Jones, for instance, recorded over 150 songs when he was signed to United Artists, over the period 1962-1964. There was thus great demand for good material, even by singer-songwriters who simply couldn’t write enough on their own.

Merrle Haggard, for instance, wrote much of his material, but also included covers of contemporary hits. His 1968 album Mama Tried supplemented his own classic title song with covers of recent hits ‘The Green, Green Grass Of Home’, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, Dolly Parton’s ‘In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)’ , and the now-forgotten ‘Little Old Wine Drinker Me’. In turn, ‘Mama Tried’ and the previous year’s hit ‘Sing Me Back Home’ were covered by the Everly Brothers on their own 1968 release Roots.

It was also often common for singers in other genres to cover country hits, and vice versa. An early example is Hank Williams’ Cajun-styled ‘Jambalaya (On the Bayou)’. Hank’s original was a 14-week #1 in 1952; a cover by singer Jo Stafford saw top 10 success on the pop charts the same year. Stafford had quite an eye for country hits which could be brought to a new audience – she also covered Hank Snow’s 1952 country hit ‘A Fool Such As I’ in 1953, and had duetted with Frankie Laine on Hank Williams’ ‘Hey Good Lookin’. Laine also covered ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’, but the biggest pop version was by Joni James, who recorded it the day Hank died. Patti Page’s 1950 country-pop crossover smash ‘Tennessee Waltz’ was another to see off several rival versions.

A decade later, nothing had changed. John Hartford’s ‘Gentle On My Mind’ won him a folk Grammy in 1968; Glen Campbell’s cover of the same song won the country Grammy the same year. Patti Page charted a pop version that year, and Aretha Franklin gave it an R&B twist the following year, while Rat Packer Dean Martin had an easy listening international hit, and Elvis Presley also covered the tune on an album. The Kris Kristofferson classic ‘Me And Bobby McGee’ was a top 20 country hit for Roger Miller in 1969, who recorded it before the Statler Brothers (who had been offered the song) could get into the studio. The same year a rival version by Canadian Gordon Lightfoot was a pop hit, and it was also an album track for Kenny Rogers. A year later it was a rock smash for Janis Joplin. ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town’ was a top 10 country hit for Johnny Darrell, and covered the same year by Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller and the Statler Brothers, before Kenny Rogers’ #1 a few years later displaced all previous versions.

Even as late as the 1990s, genre reinventions were bringing songs to new audiences. 90s country star Mark Wills saw his 1998 country hit ‘I Do (Cherish You)’ (written by Keith Stegall and Dan Hill) covered the following year by pop group 98 Degrees. He then covered R&B artist Brian McKnight’s 1999 pop hit ‘Back At One’, getting a country hit for himself in 2000. Weirdly, both versions of the latter got to #2 on their respective charts.

In more recent years, competing cuts tended to mean that one artist got the hit, and the other was forced to release another song instead. In some cases that changed the course of country music history.

1983 saw rival versions of the inspirational ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’. The earliest cut was actually by English MOR singer Roger Whittaker in 1982, but in 1983 two pop-country stars went head to head. Actor-singer Gary Morris enjoyed a top 10 hit but it might easily have been Lee Greenwood, who included the song on his album Somebody’s Gonna Love You released the same year. In 1985 the fast-rising Reba McEntire’s recording of the lively ‘She’s Single Again’ was not released as a single – because Janie Fricke got there first, and enjoyed a #2 hit.

Keith Whitley saw his big breakthrough delayed when he was unable to release the two best tracks on his 1986 album LA To Miami as singles, due to rival versions getting to radio first. He might have had a big hit with Dean Dillon’s ‘Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her’, but George Strait‘s cut went to #1 instead, and is one of Strait’s most fondly remembered singles. ‘On The Other Hand’ was to become the signature hit for Randy Travis in 1986 – but it might so easily have served that function for Keith instead. Incidentally, a third recording of the song was also made by veteran Charley Pride on After All This Time, his 1987 album for independent label 16th Avenue. All three versions are good enough to have been hits.

George Strait also potentially stymied the chances of his favorite songwriter when his choice of Dean Dillon’s ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ as a single in 1993 – a song Dillon had earmarked for his own next shot at the charts. Even our current Spotlight Artist Mark Chesnutt has drawn the short straw a couple of times. As Razor X mentioned in yesterday’s review of Too Cold At Home, that album featured a version of ‘Friends In Low Places’ – only to be forestalled when Garth Brooks had a smash hit with his version of the song. More recently, Joe Nichols recorded ‘Don’t Ruin It For The Rest Of Us’ on his Revelation album in 2004, the same year Mark recorded the song on his first independent release Savin’ the Honky Tonk, although in this case neither artist selected the song as a single.

I’ve only scratched the surface here – what rival versions can you think of? Did the best cut always win the chart battle?