My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Paul Overstreet

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘You Again’

The girls’ third album was released in 1987 following their successful duet with the Bellamy Brothers and subsequent Brothers and Sisters concert tour. Without a strong contender for a follow-up single from their previous album, Warner Brothers went ahead and started issuing singles from this set, which was released in the Spring.

“Too Many Rivers,” written by Harlan Howard was originally recorded and released by Brenda Lee in 1965, where it charted modestly on the country chart but was a major #2 pop hit. The girl’s version, which updates the torch ballad with a modern arrangement peaked at #5 and is quite wonderful.

They would return to #1 with the album’s title track, which was penned by the incomparable Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz. It’s an excellent and perfectly produced ballad about an undoubted love:

Looking in my life

Through the eyes of a young girl growing older all the time,

Maybe just a little wiser

I can clearly see

All my mistakes keep coming back to visit me

Pointing out the roads not taken

So much I’d like to change but one thing I’d do the same

 

I’d choose you again, I’d choose you again

If God gave me the chance to do it all again

Oh, I’d carefully consider every choice and then

Out of all the boys in the world

I’d choose you again

 

Times weren’t always good

Seems like the Lord gave all the easy parts away

But every time the road got rocky

You’d look at me and say

Had all you needed long as I was there with you

You’re the reason I kept going

If I could start my life anew

The first thing that I would do

Their artistic winning streak continued on “Lyin’ In His Arms Again,” the album’s third and final single. The mid-paced ballad, which isn’t quite as strong as “(I’d Choose) You Again,” is still very good and peaked at #5.

The girls open You Again with “That’s What Your Love Does To Me,” a twangy up-tempo number about an irresistible partner. “Before You” is an excellent mid-tempo ballad and one of the more traditional-leaning songs on the album.

One of the record’s highlights is a tender ballad “My Mother’s Eyes,” which follows the captivating tale of a woman raising her kids after their father has abandoned the family. “Sooner or Later” is an uptempo change of pace with a synth-heavy arraignment that dates it to the time period.

They continue in that vein on “Wrap Me Up,” but with less synth and more percussion. “I Can’t Lose What I Never Had” is forgettable while “Down The Road” is a sweet tale of life back home with mom and dad.

I apologize for not having much information about the album so I wasn’t able to identify which sister sang lead on which songs. That being said, You Again is a very pleasant listen with some pretty great tracks.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘The Forester Sisters’

Not many realize it, but the Forester Sisters were the first all-female group (defined as three or more members) to have sustained success on Billboard’s Country Singles charts. In fact, they are still the female group boasting the most top ten singles with fifteen.

The Forester Sisters’ first foray came with the eponymous album The Forester Sisters, released in August 1985. The album opens up with the first single “(That’s What You Do) When You’re In Love” which made its chart debut on January 28,1985.The song would reach #10, the first in a string of fourteen consecutive top ten county singles, five of which reached #1. The song is a mid-tempo ballad about forgiveness, written by Terry Skinner, Ken Bell and J. L. Wallace.

Well, the door’s unlocked and the lights still on
And the covers turned down on the bed
And you don’t have to say that you’re sorry anymore
‘Cause honey I believe what you said
If there’s anybody perfect, well, I ain’t seem ’em yet
And we all gotta learn to forgive and forget
That’s what you do when you’re in love, in love
That’s what you do when you’re in love

Next up is “I Fell In Love Again Last Night” , a mid-tempo ballad from the pens of Paul Overstreet and Thom Schuyler. This song was the second single off the album and the group’s first #1 record.

I fell in love again last night
You keep doing everything just right
You’ve got me wrapped around your fingers
And every morning the love still lingers
I fell in love again last night

“Just in Case”, written by J.P. Pennington & Sonny LeMaire of Exile, first saw the light of day on Exile’s 1984 Kentucky Hearts album. An up-tempo ballad, The Forester Sisters released it as their third single and saw it sail to #1:

I saw you walkin’ down the street just the other day
Took one little look at me and turned the other way
Can’t say I blame you but I’d like for you to know
How wrong I was to ever let you go

Just in case, you ever change your mind
If you suddenly decide to give me one more try
I’ll be waiting in the wings, just lookin’ for a sign
Just in case you change your mind

“Reckless Night” by Alice Randall & Mark D. Sanders is a slow ballad about a single mother – the baby the result of a reckless night.

“Dixie Man” by Bell, Skinner & Wallace) is an up-tempo tune with an R&B vibe to it. The song might have made a decent single but with four singles on the album, the group had pushed the limits of the time.

Next up is “Mama’s Never Seen Those Eyes” by Skinner & Wallace, the fourth single from the album and third consecutive #1 record. The song is a mid-tempo ballad and the song that immediately comes to my mind when anyone mentions the Forster Sisters to me.

Mama says I shouldn’t be going with you
Mama says she knows best
You’ll take my heart and break it in two
‘Cause you’re just like all the rest
She says that you’re just a one night man
And you’ll end up hurting me
Aw But I’ve seen something that mama ain’t ever seen

Mama’s never looked into those eyes, felt the way that they hypnotize
She don’t know how they make me feel inside
If Mama ever knew what they do to me I think she’d be surprised
Aw Mama’s never seen those eyes
Mama’s never seen those eyes

“The Missing Part” was written by Paul Overstreet & Don Schlitz and covers a topic that the sisters would revisit from a different slant on a later single. This song is a slow ballad.

“Something Tells Me” from the pens of Chris Waters & Tom Shapiro) is a mid-tempo cautionary ballad about rushing into a relationship

The next track is “Crazy Heart” written by Rick Giles & Steve Bogard. The song is a mid-tempo ballad that I regard as nothing more than album filler, albeit well sung.

The album closes with Bobby Keel & Billy Stone’s composition “Yankee Don’t Go Home”, a slow ballad about a southern girl who has lost her heart to a fellow from up north. Judging to feedback from friends who have heard this song this might have made a decent single

The Forester Sisters would prove to be the group’s most successful album, reaching #4 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. In fact the album would prove to be their only top ten album, although another seven albums would chart. The album has traditional country lyrics and vocals although the accompaniment has that 80s sound in places, particularly when it comes to the keyboards. The musicians on this album are Kenny Bell – acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Sonny Garrish – steel guitar; Owen Hale – drums; Hubert “Hoot” Hester – fiddle, mandolin; Lonnie “Butch” Ledford – bass guitar; Will McFarlane – acoustic guitar; Steve Nathan – keyboards;J. L. Wallace – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards; and John Willis – acoustic guitar. Terry Skinner and J.L. Wallace produced the album and co=wrote two of the singles.

I should note that my copy of the album is on vinyl so the sequence of the songs may vary on other formats. Anyway, I would give this album an A-

Classic Rewind: Paul Overstreet – ‘Living By The Book’

Album Review: Lee Greenwood — ‘This Is My Country’

Lee Greenwood released his seventh studio album, This Is My Country, 31 years ago today in 1988. This was his second to be co-produced by him and Jimmy Bowen.

The album’s first single, the excellent ballad “I Still Believe” peaked at #12. The second single, “You Can’t Fall In Love When You’re Cryin,” another wonderful ballad, stalled at #20. “I’ll Be Lovin’ You,” which is extremely dated to modern ears, but still a great song since it was co-written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, peaked at #16.

Although it may seem puzzling at first, Greenwood actually does a good job covering The Captain and Tennille’s “Do That To Me One More Time.” He also does well with his take on “Tennessee Waltz,” although the string-focused arrangement is a bit too heavy and slow. “Ruby” is a piano based torch song, which Greenwood interrupts well, co-written by Mitchell Parish and Heniz Roemheld.

“Lola’s Love,” written by Dennis Linde, is the only real uptempo song on the album and a good one at that, with a wonderfully infectious melody. “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” which isn’t the Restless Heart classic, is also very strong with a melody to match. “As If I Didn’t Know,” is a slow ballad and “Mountain Right” is contemporary pop.

This Is My Country doesn’t have much by way of actual country music on it, but that doesn’t dampen the listening pleasure. It’s still an enjoyable above average album from beginning to end.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Paul Overstreet – ‘When You Say Nothing At All’

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery — ‘Pictures’

The promotional cycle for John Michael Montgomery’s Brand New Me had come to an end when Atlantic Records closed their Nashville division in 2001. They weren’t ready to give up on him just yet, so Montgomery moved to their parent label Warner Bros. Nashville, where he reunited with Scott Hendricks for 2002’s Pictures.

The album charted three singles. “‘Till Nothin’ Comes Between Us” is a slick mid-tempo pop ballad, which features a smoothed over vocal from Montgomery. “Country Thang” is typical country-rock, beaming with southern pride. “Four-Wheel Drive” is the best of the bunch, with a nice steel and fiddle based melody, reminiscent of Brad Paisley’s work from the time period. The tracks peaked at #19, #45, and #52, respectively.

Harley Allen, who revived Montgomery’s career with “The Little Girl” appears here, as co-writer, along with Paul Overstreet, of “I Wanna Be There,” a contemporary ballad about a father’s prayer for his child as he or she goes through the phases of life — first words, first date, first heartbreak, etc. John Rich co-wrote “Believe In Me,” a mid-tempo promise of loyalty from a man to his woman.

Rivers Rutherford, a prominent songwriter during this era, was a co-writer of “Love and Alcohol,”  an uptempo cautionary tale where a man is warning a woman he’s been drinking so he’s not quite himself. “Love Changes Everything” is a charming but clichéd story of young love during the summer months on a farm. Montgomery is in a grateful mood on the upbeat “Got You To Thank For That,” which has a nice energy.

There’s nothing particularly interesting about the title track, which traces the love story of a couple through photographs and the memories they conjure up, all the while looking ahead to the memories yet to be made. “It Goes Like This,” which features Sixwire, a group that at the time had released their debut album, is an early sign of bro-country with the way it objectives the woman as nothing more than an object of desire.

I wouldn’t characterize Pictures as a bad album, but it is very generic and lacks even one song I could pull out as essential listening. It’s very typical of early-21st century commercial country music and I could hear shades of what Lonestar was cooking up during this time period. Pictures came on the back end of Montgomery’s career, where he was fighting to remain relevant ten years out from Life’s A Dance.

Radio had mostly moved on, actually to his brother and Troy Gentry, who were hitting their stride with “My Town” and “Hell Yeah.” No one was missing anything with Pictures, so this album’s lack of success was only a loss to his record label.

Grade: C

Week ending 3/3/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: Skip A Rope — Henson Cargill (Monument)

1978: Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (United Artists)

1988: I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love — Tanya Tucker with Paul Davis and Paul Overstreet (Capitol)

1998: What If I Said — Anita Cochran with Steve Wariner (Warner Bros. Nashville)

2008: Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy) — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Five More Minutes — Scotty McCreery (Triple Tigers)

 

Album Review: Forever My Girl soundtrack

The latest country music themed movie, Forever My Girl, featuring an acting role for Travis Tritt, is really more of a romantic drama. I don’t know what the film is like, although it doesn’t sound particularly good, but my attention was caught by the official soundtrack album. This is already available on iTunes, and includes some new songs by artists including the aforementioned Tritt and Josh Turner.

Most of the songs are co-written by one Brett Boyett, the film’s music director, presumably either to fit emotional moments in the plot, or for the country singer characters to perform. British actor Alex Roe, who plays the country singer male lead in the film, is surprisingly convincing singing a brace of tunes which are presumably his character’s hits. ‘Don’t Water Down My Whiskey’ is typical contemporary pop-country (which is to say not recommended). Rather better is ‘Enough’, quite a nice love song, although it leans AC rather than country. It is reprised at the end of the set as a suet by Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet and Lauren Alaina; their take is glossier and even less country sounding, better sung but somehow with less character.

The best of Roe’s tracks is ‘Smokin’ And Cryin’’, one of the few not written by Boyett. This is rather a good song about a woman undergoing heartbreak, written by Jackson Odell (who also helps with a number of Boyett’s songs here) and Caroline Watkins, with an acoustic arrangement. The worst, ‘Finally Home’, would actually be a decent song if not for the ghastly, out of tune duet vocal from a child actress in the film which is quite unlistenable.

Pop-country starlet Alaina makes a solo appearance with the contemporary sounding ballad ‘Wings Of An Angel’. She has a strong voice, and although it’s not quite my cup of tea it is well done of its type.

The best track is probably ‘Can’t Tame A Fire’, a very good song ruing a heartache, performed by Dan Tyminski. Josh Turner sounds good on ‘Back From Gone’, a fairly strong song but on the more contemporary sounding side.

Travis Tritt has a role in the movie, and sings a new song called ‘Slowing Down’, which Boyett wrote with Paul Overstreet. It’s a good song, but Tritt’s voice is sadly showing the signs of age – very disappointing. Another Overstreet co-write, ‘Who Needs Mexico’, sung by the unknown (at least to me) Mason James, is more effective and I rather enjoyed this.

Another newcomer, Destin Bennett, is pleasant but forgettable on ‘Wild And Free’. Canaan Smith, who was a rising star for Mercury a few years ago but has faltered since, is horribly over produced on ‘Always And Forever’, which is typical of today’s radio hits and provides the film title. Mickey Guyton’s ‘Caught Up In Your Storm’ is blues rather than country.

Producer Boyett takes on one lead vocal himself, and shows on ‘Solid Ground’ he has a rather limited voice, but it is not unsuited to the wearied lyric.

Alongside the new songs, the set includes what is perhaps Miranda Lambert’s worst recording, ‘Little Red Wagon’, and a number of very pop leaning Little Big Town cuts, the best known of which is ‘Little White Church’.

So there are a few worthwhile tracks, but on the whole this soundtrack is not very inspiring.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Tanya Tucker, Paul Davis and Paul Overstreet – ‘I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love’

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends’

Kenny Rogers released his most recent album, You Can’t Make Old Friends, in October 2013. It was his inaugural release for Warner Bros. Nashville and first record of all new material in seven years.

The title track, co-written by Don Schlitz with Caitlyn Smith and Ryan Hanna King, reunited Rogers with Dolly Parton. The mostly acoustic ballad is a masterful look at two singers contemplating their advancing age, wondering how they’ll go on one day without each other. The song peaked at #57 as the album’s only single.

You Can’t Make Old Friends is peppered with contributions from some of the finest writers to emerge out of Nashville in the past thirty years. Schlitz appears again, alongside his longtime co-collaborator Paul Overstreet, on “Don’t Leave Me in the Nighttime,” which features accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco. The track is good but would’ve been a lot stronger had it been given a 1990s styled arrangement.

Allen Shamblin also has two cuts. He wrote the contented “All I Need Is One” with Marc Beeson and the reflective “Look At You” with Mike Reid. The latter is the stronger song by a mile, but pails in comparison to “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which is the pair’s masterpiece.

The album closes with Dan Seals’ “It’s Gonna Be Easy Now,” which he recorded on On The Front Line in 1986. Rogers’ version is a terrible mix of raspy vocals and an overbearing arrangement that drowns the song in faux-rock.

“When You Love Someone” comes from the pen of Gretchen Peters and composer Michael Kaman. Peters originally recorded the tune as a duet with Bryan Adams for the animated film Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron in 2002. The track, a tasteful ballad, is very good although it does get list-oriented.

Dave Loggins co-wrote “Neon Horses” with Ronnie Samoset. The song has good bones but flies off the rails when Rogers begins cooing “la la la” throughout. “Dreams of the San Joaquin,” co-written by Randy Sharp and Jack Wesley Roth is one of the album’s most well-written and strongest offerings.

A pair of tunes come from the minds of more contemporary songwriters. Casey Beathard co-wrote “You Had To Be There,” a dark ballad relaying a phone call between an absentee father visiting his son in prison. Power rocker “Turn This World Around,” which comes from Eric Paslay, Andrew Dorff and Jason Reeves, casts Rogers in a modern light that renders him unrecognizable. “‘Merica” is a national pride anthem that I found unappealing.

You Can’t Make Old Friends is far from a terrible album, but it is Rogers’ usual mixed bag of styles and sonic textures. He doesn’t make any wide sweeps but he does choose material that runs the gamut from great to good to awful. In other words, this is a typical Kenny Rogers album.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Saddle The Wind’

The rise of the New Traditionalists in the late 1980s meant that the sooth pop-country which had served Janie well earlier in the decade was sounding dated. Janie was also now over 40, as younger artists came forward, and radio abandoned her, with no really successful singles from her 1987 album After Midnight. She took on the challenge with gusto, adapting to a much more traditional country style for 1988’s Saddle The Wind, with the help of producer Steve Buckingham. She was still, incidentally, using the new spelling of Frickie, which she had adopted for Black And White.

There were three singles to promote this album. Unfortunately, none did very well, but they are all excellent songs, beautifully sung and unmistakeably real country. ‘Where Does Love Go (When It’s Gone)’ is a brisk Peter Rowan song with a bright upbeat feel despite a lyric pondering the reasons for a breakup.

‘I’ll Walk Before I’ll Crawl’ is a lovely mid-paced ballad (written by Gidget Baird and Linda Buell) gives a cheating husband an ultimatum. The third and last single, ‘Heart’, was written by the ultra-successful writing team of Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet. It is an excellent song about a woman desperately tempted to cheat on her husband.

On a somewhat similar theme, Hank Cochran’s classic ‘Don’t Touch Me (If You Don’t Love Me)’ explores the draw of sexual desire knowing the loved one cannot offer what the protagonist needs:

Your hand is like a torch each time you touch me
That look in your eye pulls me apart
So don’t open the door to heaven if I can’t come in
No, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Your kiss is like a drink when I am thirsty
Oh and I’m thirsty for you with all my heart
But don’t love me, then act as though we’ve never kissed
Oh, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Janie’s intense vocal is superlative on this song.

Several other classic covers are also included. Willie Nelson’s ballad The Healing Hands Of Time’ is another true classic song given an exquisite vocal, with some tasteful steel and piano. The album opens with a sprightly version of the Western Swing ‘Sugar Moon’ which is delightful, and Janie also revives the up-tempo ‘Crazy Dreams’, one of Patsy Cline’s lesser known early recordings.

‘I’m Not That Good At Goodbye’, a much recorded song written by Bob McDill and Don Williams, has another excellent vocal from Janie. ‘If I Were Only Her Tonight’, written by McDill with Bucky Jones and Dickey Lee, is another fine song about unrequited love and the pull of an old flame.

There is a Marty Robbins Mexican flavor to the title track, with Spanish guitar accompanying a story song written by the album’s producer Buckingham, about a star-crossed border romance with a bandido.

Janie had a truly lovely voice, but at her commercial peak she was too often buried under poppy production. In this album she finally married her voice to great production and songs, making this by far her best work. I would recommend it to anyone.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Paul Overstreet – ‘Diggin’ Up Bones’

Classic Rewind: Paul Overstreet – ‘All The Fun’

Album Review: Joey Feek – ‘If Not For You’

The solo album recorded by the late Joey Feek for Sony in the 1990s was briefly available from the retailer Overstock back in 2009, under the title Strong Enough To Cry, and I reviewed it then. It has now been repackaged with a new title, and made more widely available. Here is that original review:

Joey + Rory were my favorite duo on 2008’s Can You Duet, but I felt a little guilty about hoping they would win, because I couldn’t help feeling Joey was really a solo singer, with Rory just there to support her. I would have been perfectly happy if she had built on the exposure of the TV show to release a solo record, but of course the pair went on to record one of the best albums of 2008 in The Life Of A Song.

Before Can You Duet, though, Joey was indeed a solo singer. Before she married Rory, she was signed for a while to Sony Records, who dropped her without releasing any material, and in 2005 she recorded a solo album. It was originally released on the couple’s own Giantslayer Records; available as a digital download after Can You Duet was aired; and when Joey + Rory were signed to promote retailer Overstock, they cannily managed to persuade the store to stock the album in CD format.

I have just managed to get hold of a copy, and I’m not disappointed. The songs are not as good as those on the exceptional The Life Of A Song, but there is a pretty good selection, and overall this is a good album by one of the best female country singers to emerge in the last decade. Joey has one of those voices that could really only be country, with a distinctive timbre.

The album kicks off with a few bars from the classic ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You’, sung by Joey’s mother June Martin (who has a pretty good, slightly old-fashioned voice) accompanied by her father Jack. Further snippets from this recording are inserted between a few of the other tracks. Technically, the album starts with Joey inviting her parents to play the song, and ends with them all chatting and giggling in the studio. This was probably intended to underscore the charming home-made feel of the project, but comes across as a little self-indulgent, and by the second listen I was distinctly irritated. This aside, there is a strong family element to the record. Although Rory does not sing on it, the harmony singers include June Martin and Rory’s daughter Heidi, and even Rufus, the family dog, gets in on the act. Rory produces (with one Bill McDermott), and of course contributes his songwriting talent.

The best songs are the title track and ‘See You There’, which are the first (real) track and the penultimate one. ‘Strong Enough To Cry’ is an excellent song co-written by Rory with veteran songwriter Max D. Barnes, and showcases Joey’s excellent voice; this cut could easily be a hit single. ‘See You There’ is almost too personal, and may be too much for some, as it tells the story of the early death of Joey’s brother; some of the detail feels rather like trespassing on someone else’s private grief, and some of the rhymes feel a little too obvious, but the song has a real emotional impact. Joey and Rory wrote this song together, as they did ‘Nothing To Remember’, a charming song with a pretty tune and a good hook (“I’d rather have something to forget than nothing to remember”).

Joey’s voice is capable of lifting lesser material so that it sounds better than it actually is. Examples here are the slightly repetitive and rather mundane ‘That’s Important To Me’, where Joey’s obvious commitment to the song, which she co-wrote with Rory and Tim Johnson, does just that. Similarly, ‘Like A Rodeo’ offers an unremarkable metaphor for life with a gentle melody, but is really beautifully sung. Oddly, co-writer Paul Overstreet is prominently credited for harmony vocals on this (to the extent that I was expecting a full-scale duet before I heard the track), but is barely audible. Joey’s soaring vocal over an acoustic guitar backing also lifts ‘Southern Girl’, written by Rory with Tim Johnson, obviously for Indiana-born Joey as she declares herself the titular southern girl by adoption.

‘Red’ is a bit of a mixed bag of a song. Lyrically, it’s one of those songs about being country, but at least it’s not first-person, and it has a reasonable amount of specific detail. Musically it is urgent and uptempo, with barks from Rufus in the chorus (just few enough to be cute), and some rather dubious echo effects and whoo-ing I could have done without. It would probably go down well live, and I quite enjoyed it, though perhaps in a slightly guilty-pleasure way.

There are only a handful of songs not written by Rory on this release. The best of these is the engaging ‘The Cowboy’s Mine’ (from the pens of Tim Johnson and Jim McCormick). Lyrically, imagine a meld of ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man’, the opposite of ‘Cheater, Cheater’, and a postive prequel to ‘Last Call’, as the protagonist shows up at the bar to collect her man and pay off his bill. It has a delightfully old-fashioned feel. ‘When The Needle Hit The Vinyl’ offers a nice change of pace, but is more memorable for the crackling vinyl sound effect at the end than for the song itself. I liked the intense ballad ‘If Not For You’ (as close as Joey gets to AC rather than country) more the first time I heard it than I did on repeated listens.

Overall, if you like Joey + Rory’s The Life Of A Song, you’ll like this – but not as much.

Grade: B+ (2017 note: I think I would now call this an A-)

Thanks to Brody for helping me get hold of it.

joeymartin1

Classic Rewind: Paul Overstreet – ‘Love Helps Those’

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Southern Drawl’

southern drawlI was concerned that Alabama’s long-awaited comeback album would pander too much to the current state of country radio, and the first single did nothing to change that. Fortunately there are some bright spots and one outstanding song.

The title track and lead single sounds like a straight rock song. It’s actually not bad for what it is, apart from the woeful rap section and the very, very cliche’d picture of the South it paints. Somehow it took four writers to create it. The song at least has an insistent groove and the band sound as if they are enjoying themselves. It is not the worst track on the album; that dubious honor goes to the resolutely uncatchy ‘Foot Stompin’ Music’, whose title alone probably tells you all you need to know. The only good thing about it is the fiddle break at the end.

I was intrigued by the quirky title, ‘Hillbilly Wins The Lotto Money’, written by Randy Owen’s son Heath. It is an interesting story song with a bluesy arrangement which grew on me with repeated listens. The perky ‘Back To The Country’ features the obligatory token banjo to accompany a lyric about feeling out of place in the city and longing for a rural home. The clichés are saved by Randy Owen’s believable delivery. The mid-tempo country-rock ‘American Farmer’ pays tribute to its subjects’ hard work.

‘No Bad Days’ took six writers including James Otto, Jerry Jeff Walker’s son Django, and Jeff Cook, but is a pretty good song in folk-rock vein sung by Cook. Teddy Gentry leads on the more urgent ‘It’s About Time’ .

The ballads tend to lean AC rather than country. ‘Wasn’t Through Lovin’ You Yet’ just feels a little uninspired. ‘This Ain’t Just A Song’, written by Tim James, Rivers Rutherford and George Teren, is quite pleasant; and the Randy Owen-penned ‘As Long As There’s Love’ has a pretty melody and idealistic lyric.

‘One On One’ has Randy Owen doing his familiar laughably over-the top Conway Twitty impersonation, but the parts which are actually sung rather than spoken in an attempt to sound sexy, are pretty good.

The gentle ‘Come Find Me’ is very pretty indeed, and features Alison Krauss on fiddle and harmony vocals, although the latter are rather low in the mix. It was written by Tony Lane and David Lee. By far the best song here, though, is left to the end of the set. The beautiful ‘I Wanna Be There’ is addressed to a newborn baby girl, with the besotted new father expressing his hopes that he will experience all the joys of fatherhood in the years to come. It was written by Paul Overstreet and Harley Allen, and is genuinely moving. This alone makes a distinctly patchy album worthwhile, and I recommend both it and ‘Come Find Me’ to be downloaded even if you pass on the rest.

Grade: C+

Classic Rewind: MIchael Martin Murphey and Paul Overstreet – ‘Long Line Of Line’

This song was a #1 hit for Michael Martin Murphey in 1987. He performs it here (about three minutes in) with its writer, Paul Overstreet:

Album Review: Jim Ed Brown – ‘In Style Again’

in style againI can’t tell you when Jim Ed Brown last issued a solo album of new material. The last one I recall was It’s That Time Of The Night on RCA in 1974, After that there were some duet albums with Helen Cornelius, but even the last of those albums came in 1980. There may have been something after that but I don’t recall anything.

Anyway, it truly is a pleasure to have some new material from Jim Ed. The voice isn’t quite as smooth as it was in 1954 or 1974, but it is still a good voice with warmth, depth and character.

While not specifically designated as a ‘concept album’ , the general theme of the album is that of an older person looking back at life.

The album opens up with “When The Sun Says Hello To The Mountain” a wistful older song I’ve heard before. Famous French-Canadian singer Lucille Starr had a huge hit with this record singing the original French lyrics. Marion Worth had a country hit with it in 1964, and Mona McCall (Darrell Mc Call’s wife) does a fine version of the song (using mixed French and English lyrics under the title “The French Song”), but Jim Ed nails the song and makes it his own. It’s a lovely ballad with a beautiful melody. Jim Ed is joined by his sister Bonnie Brown and the song sounds like a song the Browns could have recorded in their heyday. Chris Scruggs plays Hawaiian-style steel guitar on the track.

When the sun says hello to the mountains
When the night says hello to the dawn
I’m alone with my dreams on the hilltop
I can still hear your voice although you’re gone

I hear at my door
The love song in the wind
It brings back sweet memories of you.
I’m alone dreaming only of you.

“Tried and True” was written by the album’s producer Don Cusic, one of six songs Cusic wrote for this album. The song is a mid-tempo ballad, a love song about the kind of love the singer bears for his true love.

“In Style Again” was produced by Bobby Bare and issued as a single a year or two again. It wasn’t really part of this album project, (there is no overlap among the musicians used on this track and the rest of the album tracks) but it was added to the album and fits in nicely with the general theme of the album. It should have been a hit, but of course, radio won’t play songs by octogenarians, no matter how high the quality.

I’d like to be in style again someday
No one wants to feel like they’ve been thrown away
Yes, nothing lasts forever but it hurts to be replaced
By a younger fresher pretty face
So if only for a while
I’d like to be in style again

Don Cusic penned “Watching The World Walking By” a mid-tempo ballad of the life as seen through older eyes.

“You Again” was a #1 hit for The Forester Sisters in 1987. Jim Ed is joined by Cheryl & Sharon White on this slow ballad, another retrospective love song. Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz wrote this song.

Looking at my life
Through the eyes of a young man growing older all the time,
Maybe just a little wiser
I can clearly see
All my mistakes keep coming back to visit me
Pointing out the roads not taken
So much I’d like to change but one thing I’d do the same

I’d choose you again, I’d choose you again
If God gave me the chance to do it all again
Oh, I’d carefully consider every choice and then
Out of all the girls in the world
I’d choose you again

Jim Ed digs into the song bag of Hall of Famer Cindy Walker for “I Like It”. It’s another mid-tempo ballad as is the next track, probably the most famous song on the album, “Don’t Let Me Cross Over”, a song which spent eleven weeks at #1 in 1962 for Carl & Pearl Butler. Jim Ed is joined here by his former duet partner Helen Cornelius. They still sound great together although Jim Ed and Helen don’t sing with the exuberance of the original. This song does not quite fit the general theme of the album since it’s an old-fashioned (almost) cheating song.

“Older Guy” is another song from the pen of Don Cusic, this one another mid-tempo ballad comparing the energy of younger guys to the wisdom of older men. This song straddles the line between jazz and country. “It’s A Good Life”, also written by Don Cusic continues the narrative of the album, which is the view of life through the eyes of an older man.

Bill Anderson chips in with “Lucky Enough” , probably the most up-tempo song on the album. In this song the singer recounts the thing in life that really represents good luck. If you’re lucky enough to be in love, you’ve already won – you’re lucky enough! Sometimes we forget that.

“Laura (Do You Love Me?” is yet another slow ballad from Cusic, this one the tale of a person left Ireland long ago separating himself from his one true love , thinking of her often and wondering if she still thinks of him.
“The Last One” is another slow ballad, this one ruminating about the emotions of end of life situations. It’s rather a sad song and one that could never sound sincere in the hands of a younger artist.

“Am I Still Country” is another Don Cusic song, a wry tongue-in cheek ballad that pokes fun of bro-country and poses the essential question ‘Am I Still Country Or I Have I Gone Too Far?’ I love the song and think that in different circumstances the song could have been a hit.

Meatloaf and cornbread are both mighty fine
But I like Chinese with a glass of French wine
I watch NASCAR and football but never shot a deer
Sometimes I kick back and watch Masterpiece Theater
I love to hear Chet play jazz guitar
Am I still country or have I gone too far

I like to go to parties and have a good time
But I’m usually home and in bed by nine
Me and my lady find sweet romance
With champagne, Sinatra and a real slow dance
I like a martini with real cigar
Am I still country or have I gone too far

The production on this album features a good dose of fiddle (Glen Duncan) and steel guitar (Chris Scruggs). The album clearly is aimed at older listeners as the younger listeners mostly won’t relate to these songs, although these songs chronicle what eventually will happen to most of us. Younger listeners may not relate to these songs but they certainly could learn a lot from this album.

The producer of this album, Don Cusic, has had an interesting and distinguished career covering most aspects of country music. His story can be found at www.doncusic.com.

Although it is early in the year, this may be the best album of 2015. Certainly it will be in the running – a solid A +

Album Review: Ricky Skaggs & Sharon White – ‘Hearts Like Ours’

skaggs whiteThe Skaggs and White families have been performing and recording together for decades, so it’s a little surprising that up to now there was never an full-length collaborative album featuring just Ricky and Sharon. They seek to rectify that oversight with the release of Hearts Like Ours, which became available on September 30th. There aren’t any real surprises in this release which fails to break any new ground, despite being a solid effort with many enjoyable efforts.

Produced by Ricky and released on the Skaggs Family Records imprint, the album consists of mostly duets, with a few Sharon solo numbers and plenty of fiddle and steel. The overall message is positive; there are no drinking, cheating or three-hanky songs to be found, although the album might have benefited from one or two of those. It opens with an excellent cover version of “I Run To You”, which doesn’t stray far from the original Marty Stuart and Connie Smith version. Almost as good is their rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You”, which was a Top 5 hit for Emmylou Harris and Don Williams in 1981. The couple also covers their own 1986 hit “Love Can’t Ever Get Better Than This”, which is well done, but as is usually the case with re-recordings, it does not compare to the original version.

Neither “When I’m Good And Gone” nor “I Was Meant To Love You” is a duet; Sharon takes the lead and Ricky sings harmony on both songs which were written by Leslie Satcher; the former being co-written with Buddy Jewell who had brief shot at country stardom in the early 2000s. Another former country star, Barbara Fairchild wrote “It Takes Three”, which is a little too saccharine for my taste. Although I enjoyed the title track, another Marty Stuart/Connie Smith composition that features lead vocals from Sharon and harmony from Ricky, it was not quite as good as I thought it would be. I’d like to hear the songrwiters perfrom this one.

The songwriting team of Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz wrote some of my favorite songs back in the 80s, so it is no surprise that their “Hold On Tight (Let It Go)” is the best song on the album (with “I Run To You” running a close second). “No Doubt About It”, the album’s sole bluegrass track, is also quite good. The two Christian-themed songs, “Reasons To Hang On” and “Be Kind”, have to be classified as missteps, albeit slight ones. I enjoy religious music, but the Skaggses have an unfortunate tendency to venture into contemporary Christian territory when more traditonal gospel would play more to their strengths.

Though I wanted to like this album a little more than I did, overall its strengths outweigh its weaknesses and fans of Ricky Skaggs and The Whites will find much to enjoy.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘The Truth About Men’

truthaboutmenBy 2003, Tracy Byrd was struggling to remain commercially viable so he and co-producer Billy Joe Walker, Jr. took a three-pronged approach for his RCA swan song,The Truth About Men, which combines the neotraditional sounds for which he had become well known with more contemporary material and a pair of novelty songs that they hoped would allow them to further capitalize on the success of the prior year’s #1 hit “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo”.

First out of the box was the tongue-in-cheek but blatantly honest title track that bravely declares how men (allegedy) really feel: “We ain’t wrong, we ain’t sorry, and it’s probably gonna happen again.” Written by Paul Overstreet with Rory Lee Feek and Tim Johnson, and with guest vocals provided by Andy Griggs, Blake Shelton and Montgomery Gentry, “The Truth About Men” didn’t reach the lofty heights of “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo”, peaking at #13. And no doubt everyone involved had some explaining to do to their wives. Novelty tunes tend to wear thin after repeated listenings, but this is a fun song that I’ve always enjoyed. The follow-up single, “Drinkin’ Bone”, which is one part novelty tune and one part party song, fared much better. It landed at #7, marking the last time that Byrd would chart inside the Top 10. Playing it safe and pandering to radio’s growing interest in less substantive songs, RCA released the Carribbean-flavored “How’d I Wind Up In Jamaica”. The production is a bit cluttered on this one and by the time of its release, Byrd was on his way out at RCA, so the single received little promotion and stalled at #53. A missed opportunity was the Rodney Crowell composition “Making Memories of Us”, which should have been released as a single. Byrd’s version is much better than the version Keith Urban took to #1 two years later.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. The steamy “You Feel Good” is my least favorite song on the album. I admit to being put off by the reference to Byrd sleeping in the nude in the opening line, and that made me really not want to listen much to the rest of the song, but the real problem is that it requires a more soulful performance than Byrd delivers. Conway Twitty could probably have made this song work. “That’s What Keeps Her Getting By” and “When You Go” are attempts to move along with the musical times but both are forgettable filler, as is the power ballad “Somewhere I Wanna Go”. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed the Keith Stegall-penned “Tiny Town” and “Baby Put Your Clothes On”, which was written by Paul Overstreet, Bill Anderson, and Buddy Cannon. Not surprisingly, Byrd is at his best when he’s singing more traditional songs.

The album closes with a live version of “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo”, which not surprisingly works well in a concert setting.

The Truth About Men marks the end of the major-label phase of Tracy Byrd’s career. It was a modest success, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart but it failed to earn gold certification. It isn’t his very best work, but it contains enough worthwhile songs to warrant purchasing a cheap used copy.

Grade: B