My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Paul Overstreet

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

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘The Blue Rose of Texas’

HollyDunnTheBlueRoseofTexasShortly after the dissolution of MTM Records, Holly Dunn landed a contract with Warner Bros. and her career enjoyed a resurgence from both an artistic and commercial standpoint. Her Warner Bros. debut, 1989’s The Blue Rose of Texas was produced by Holly and her brother and songwriting partner Chris Waters, and is by far the finest album of her career. Her first single for her new label was “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” which she wrote with Waters and Tom Shapiro. The uptempo number, which finds her frustrated by an overly cautious new love interest, became her first Billboard #1 hit in May 1989. It’s one of the few concessions to radio in what is mostly a very traditional album. Another uptempo number “There Goes My Heart Again”, which features background vocals by Joe Diffie who co-wrote the tune with Lonnie Wilson and Wayne Perry, was the album’s second single, which peaked at #4.

Suprisingly, Warner Bros. opted not to release any further singles from the album, despite a warm reception from radio. One track, “No One Takes The Train Anymore”, a ballad beautifully written by Chris Waters and exquisitely performed by Holly, was included on her 1991 greatest hits package Milestones. It became a single in 1991 in the aftermath of the “Maybe I Mean Yes” debacle, but overshadowed by controversy of its predecessor, it became the first Holly Dunn single not to chart. Despite its lack of commercial success, it has always been one of my favorites. It finds Dunn pondering an impending breakup and lamenting the fact that the fast pace of modern life, which includes traveling by car or plane rather than sea or rail, leaves little opportunity for the party that is leaving to change his mind.

The album’s remaining songs are exceptionally strong, even though none of them were released as singles. Approximately half of them were written by one or more members of the Dunn/Waters/Shapiro team with the rest being supplied by some well known outside songwriters. It’s hard to pick favorites, but if pressed I would narrow the list down to three: the Dunn/Waters/Shapiro-written title track, which includes some excellent electric guitar work, the Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet song “There’s No Heart So Strong”, and “Most of All, Why”, which contains some beautiful harmonizing by its writer Dolly Parton. Originally included on Dolly’s 1975 album The Seeker/We Used To, the regret-filled ballad asks the poignant questions:

How did we get here,
Where did it start,
When did we walk out of each other’s hearts?
Where did we lose it,
How did love die,
When, where and how, but most of all, why?

I like all of Dunn’s albums, but this is the one that I play all the way through most often. It’s one of the ten essential albums I’d want with me if I were stranded on a desert island and I’ve never quite understood why it didn’t sell better than it did. I don’t think it is still in print, but copies are still available on Amazon. Pick one up while you still can.

Grade: A+

Album Review – Alison Krauss – ‘Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection’

220px-Alison_Krauss_-_Now_That_I've_Found_YouIn 1994, Alison Krauss was tapped to take part in Keith Whitley: Tribute an album marking five years since the singer’s tragic death in 1989 at age 33. Along with her band Union Station Krauss recorded Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz’s “When You Say Nothing At All,” a #1 hit for Whitley in 1988. Krauss gave a delicate reading of the song that helped it stand out and get her noticed as one of the best vocalists and song interpreters in Nashville. Capitalizing on unsolicited airplay, BNA Records released Krauss’ version as a single in January 1995. Peaking at #3 Krauss had a monster hit on her hands and mainstream exposure for the first time.

The track was also included on Krauss’ own Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection, a ‘Greatest Hits’ album of sorts that was comprised of tracks from her previous Rounder releases that were fan favorites and a few newly recorded numbers. Thanks to the come-from-nowhere success of “When You Say Nothing At All,” the album was a big hit, eventually selling more then 2 million copies.

The success of the single and album carried over to the 1995 CMA Awards, where Krauss was nominated for Single of the Year (“When You Say Nothing At All”), Vocal Event of The Year (“Somewhere In The Vicinity of The Heart” her #7 peaking duet with Shenandoah) and both Horizon and Female Vocalist. Krauss would go on to win in each of her categories. Originally, though, the Country Music Association also had Now That I Found You: A Collection up for Album of The Year, which she no doubt would’ve won except for a slight problem – the album is a collection and was therefore deemed ineligible. The sixth album on the voter’s list, Patty Loveless’ When Fallen Angels Fly replaced Krauss on the ballot and much to everyone’s surprise, walked away with the trophy.

The album was worthy in its own right, a collection or not. “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” a bluegrass cover of the Foundations’ classic served as the lead single and while it wasn’t a radio smash, the track has become very popular over the years. Similar in style to “When You Say Nothing At All” it worked thanks to it’s unfussy straightforward manner. Krauss very deservedly won a Best Female Country Vocal Performance Grammy for her recording.

The second and final single was “Oh, Atlanta,” composed by Bad Company guitarist Mick Ralphs. More rootsy country than bluegrass, “Oh, Atlanta” allows Krauss to give a twang-filled vocal that was a marked departure for her. The results are stunning, with Krauss showing she can easily pull off just about any vocal style with ease. I’ll admit I had a harder time getting into this one at first, but it’s damn near a revelation.

The final newly-recorded number is Sidney and Suzanne Cox’s “Broadway,” a beautiful rootsy ballad about a singer reflecting on how far they’ve come since moving to Nashville and getting their start on Music City’s famed Broadway. Solely due to execution this may be one of the strongest recordings of its ilk thanks to the winning combination of the Cox’s lyric and Krauss’ brilliant delivery. “Broadway” is the forgotten gem of the new tracks on Now That I’ve Found You swallowed by the more famous title track and “When You Say Nothing At All.” It’s unfortunate because of all the new songs on the album, it’s easily the best hands down.

In March 1995, Krauss gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times where she spoke about the success she was experiencing:

“It’s a freak thing. It’s kinda ticklin’ us all. We haven’t had anything really chart before. At all. Isn’t it funny though? We don’t know what’s goin’ on….The office said, ‘Hey, it’s charting,’ and we’re like, ‘Huh?'”

Now That I Found You: A Collection did mark the turning point in Krauss’ career, allowing her to branch our artistically in the coming decades adding her voice to many a movie soundtrack and even singing at the Academy Awards. Unlike most singers who chase fame, Krauss hasn’t changed at all; she’s just added some new colors and dimensions to her already impressive catalog. But Now That I Found You is an excellent album in its own right and a must have for any fan of Krauss’ music.

Grade: A+ 

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

Album Review: Joey + Rory – ‘Inspired: Songs Of Faith And Family’

inspiredHusband and wife Joey + Rory are open about their shared deep religious faith, with the couple reading the bible together daily, so it was no surprise when they announced they were planning their first religious record. Their first release for gospel label Gaither Music Group contains less familiar fare than one often encounters on religious albums, not all of it overtly spiritual, although they rely less on Rory as a songwriter than on their previous work. You can always rely on Joey + Rory for tasteful production, and this time Rory takes the chair, with the help of guitarist Joe West. The record was recorded in a friend’s home studio, with mainly unknown musicians plus a few starry guests, and there is a quiet homespun feel which works well.

Joey and Rory share the leads fairly evenly, as they did on their last album. Although this wastes the fact that the duo’s greatest asset is Joey Martin’s beautiful voice, this time around two of Rory’s leads are my favourite tracks.

One of these highlights is the thought-provoking and non-judgmental story song ‘The Preacher And The Stranger’, recorded live and acoustic. The title characters are a troubled preacher and a passing stranger taking refuge from a storm in the former’s church. As the pair talk

About how life’s unfair sometimes
Trying to make sense of how God works

the preacher shares his sorrow and bitterness at the death years earlier, confessing,

I prayed so hard to Jesus to save my only son
It seems all I do these days is question why
Now I stand here every Sunday and preach to everybody else
I talk a lot about forgiveness
But I can’t do it myself

In an ultimately moving if unlikely coincidence, the visitor turns out to be the repentant drunk driver who killed the preacher’s son so many years before.

There is no facile resolution, but the song’s non-judgmental approach implies forgiveness, though not asked for, will be proffered, and perhaps the preacher will gain peace himself. This remarkable song was written by Jerry Salley and Carl Cartee.

I also very much liked Rory’s warm-hearted cover of ‘Long Line Of Love’, a sweet Paul Overstreet/Thom Schuyler song about love passing down through the generations, which was a chart topping single for Michael Martin Murphey back in 1987. ‘It’ll Get You Where You’re Goin’’, written by Jerry Salley with Kelley Lovelace, also uses the theme of a loving family, with a father giving his son an old car at 16 and a Bible when the boy leaves home a couple of years later. The attractive melody and Rory’s believable vocal gives charm to an unoriginal theme. Rory’s own song ‘Hammerin’ Nails’ seems to be an autobiographical tribute to his hard working father laying the foundation of a happy family life as he builds the family’s dream home.

The dragging melody makes Richard Leigh’s ‘My Life Is Based On A True Story’ rather boring as a listening experience, although its emotional response to the Gospel is clearly sincerely shared by Rory.

Joey sings the hymn ‘In the Garden’ with equal reverence and a careful attention to the lyrics which reflect her deep-rooted faith. She also sings ‘Amazing Grace’ to the faint strains of an organ backing. ‘Are You Washed In The Blood’ picks up the pace, with Rory and the Isaacs singing call-and-response backing vocals. A cheerful feel with handclapping makes this track enjoyable, but it perhaps lacks emotional depth. Gospel legend Bill Gaither helps out on harmonies on the equally cheery and handclapping ‘I’m Turning To The Light’, written by Stephanie Davis, which worked better. ‘Leave It There’ is another hymn, about casting burdens on the Lord, which I hadn’t heard before but liked.

The biggest star guest is Josh Turner, who duets with Joey on ‘Gotta Go Back’, which he wrote with Rory. Both singers sound gorgeous on a song with a gentle melody, with Turner’s resonant bass contrasting with Joey’s beautiful voice, and aurally this is wonderful, with a pensive fiddle line underpinning the vocals. The lyric expresses a wistful desire to regain the innocence of earlier times, before modern day cares (ranging from career pressure to fear of terrorism and school attacks) impinged, without offering any answer as to how this could be achieved.

Joey, Rory and Rory’s daughter Heidi wrote the idealistic ‘I See Him’ about finding God in the details of ordinary life, which is quite pleasant.

There is a gentle positive mood to this record. It should appeal to existing fans of Joey + Rory, and to those who like their religious music understatedly reverent but non-preachy.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Pam Tillis – ‘Put Yourself In My Place’

putyourselfinmyplaceWhen she cracked the Top 10 for the very first time with the Harlan Howard and Max D. Barnes penned “Don’t Tell Me What To Do”, Pam Tillis may have appeared to be an overnight success to many country fans who were unaware that she already had one pop album and several unsuccessful country singles under her belt. As far as those fans were concerned, her career began with her signing to Arista Records, which was then one of several labels that rushed to open a division in Nashville to cash in on country music’s resurgence in popularity. Pam’s first album for the label was Put Yourself In My Place, which appeared shortly after “Don’t Tell Me What To Do” had peaked at #5 on the Billboard country singles chart.

In many ways, Put Yourself In My Place, which was produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay, was an album of second chances. It was a second chance for Pam after years of languishing in obscurity at Warner Bros., as well as for three of the album’s hit singles which had been previously recorded and had either been unsuccessful or had gone unreleased. “Don’t Tell Me What To Do” had originally been recorded by Marty Stuart under the title “I’ll Love You Forever (If I Want To)”, but the album for which it had been recorded had been shelved by Columbia and did not see the light of day until after Marty had found success on MCA, and the retitled song had become Pam’s breakthrough hit. Pam’s second single for Arista was a tune she co-wrote with Paul Overstreet. “One Of Those Things” had been released as a single by Warner Bros. in 1985 but had failed to chart. This time around it performed substantially better, landing at #6. It’s always been one of my favorite Pam Tillis songs, but it was excluded from her Greatest Hits album, which was released a few years later and doesn’t seem to be one of her better remembered songs today. “Maybe It Was Memphis”, which is probably Pam’s biggest and best-remembered hit, had also been previously recorded for Warner Bros., who had opted not to release it. The Arista version of the story of a steamy summer romantic encounter, soared to #3. It is one of the more progressive numbers on a largely traditional album.

In between “One Of Those Things” and “Maybe It Was Memphis”, the album’s title track was released as a single. The uptempo and energetic “Put Yourself In My Place” was written by Pam and Carl Jackson. Surprisingly it just missed the Top 10, peaking at #11. The album’s fifth and final single, the ultra-traditional and steel-guitar drenched “Blue Rose Is” was also a near miss, peaking at #21. It’s an excellent song, written by Pam with her then-husband Bob DiPiero and Jan Buckingham. I was, however, a little surprised when it became a single because it did seem a bit retro for country radio’s tastes, which were starting to drift back towards pop by 1992.

Among the album cuts, my favorites are the presumably semi-autobiographical “Melancholy Child”, which hints at a difficult childhood, “Draggin’ My Chains”, and the more contempoary “I’ve Seen Enough To Know”, a Tillis co-write with Radney Foster.

Put Yourself In My Place
reached #10 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and was certified gold for sales in excess of 500,000 units. Its importance to Pam’s career can not be overstated, for it allowed her to step out of the shadow of her famous father and to put to rest any lingering doubts about her commercial viability. It is her most consistent, most traditional and best album. Inexpensive copies are easy to find.

Grade: A

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 6

Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

Memory Machine“– Jack Quist
This 1982 song about a jukebox reached #52. I don’t know anything about Jack Quist other than that he originally was from Salt Lake City, but I am familiar with the song’s writer Ted Harris as he wrote such classics as “Paper Mansions” and “Crystal Chandeliers”.

eddie rabbittOn Second Thought” – Eddie Rabbitt
Released in 1989, this song peaked at #1 in early 1990. This was Eddie’s most traditional sounding hit and my favorite of all of Eddie’s recordings.

Don’t It Make Ya Wanna Dance” – Bonnie Raitt
This song was from the soundtrack of Urban Cowboy and reached #42.

Right Hand Man” – Eddy Raven

Eddy had sixteen consecutive top ten records from 1984-1989. This song is my favorite although it only reached #3. Eddy would have five #1 records during the decade with “Joe Knows How To Live” and “Bayou Boys” being the biggest hits.

She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)” – Jerry Reed
There are few artists that could get away with recording a song with such a title but Jerry Reed was that one of a kind who could. The song reached #1 in 1982, one of Jerry’s few #1 records. There are those who consider Jerry to have been the best guitar player ever (Chet Atkins among them). Jerry passed away a few years ago perhaps depriving the genre of its greatest all-around talent.

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Album Review: John Corbett – ‘Leaving Nothin’ Behind’

leaving nothin behindWhen a successful actor turns his hand to music, the result is often met with accusations of vanity projects. But I thought John Corbett’s first album, back in 2006, was a good record on its own merits, with the actor showing off a smoky voice with an interesting tone and although he doesn’t write he clearly has a good ear for material. His latest effort is also worthwhile. The album is produced by Gary Paczosa with Corbett’s friend Jon Randall Stewart, who wrote the best song on Corbett’s first project (‘Cash’) and also contributed most of the songs on this one – and that level of quality material helps make the album stand out. Corbett’s smoky voice is fairly distinctive, backed up by the harmonies of Randall, Sarah Buxton, Jessi Alexander and John Cowan, while the overall sound is contemporary but not over-produced.

Perhaps my favourite track is the dark-timbred Western story song ‘El Paso’ (not the Marty Robbins classic of the same name but perhaps a sequel) which Randall wrote with John Wiggins. The narrator is falsely accused of murder:

There ain’t no judge and jury
And there damn sure ain’t no proof
But the sheriff’s needing someone in that noose
Even though I told the truth

I wasn’t even in El Paso
When they gunned that cowboy down
I was in the arms of Rosa
Sleeping safe and sound
So remember when you hang me
All I’m guilty of
Drinking cheap tequila
And falling in love

The track is given a Western style production and allows Corbett to show off the lower extent of his vocal range, and is a real highlight.

Wiggins also co-wrote the reflective metaphorical ‘Me And Whiskey’ about a man’s ongoing on-and-off problems with alcohol. This is another excellent song. ‘Cocaine And Communion’, a Leslie Satcher co-write, tells the age old story of the struggle between addiction and God with a mother’s prayers eventually winning out:

I’ve hung out with the Devil
Like I never knew the Lord
But I was not raised a rebel
And I don’t wanna be a rebel any more

The tenderly sung and very touching story song ‘Dairy Queen’ tells a story about a woman who never forgets her first love (who died in Vietnam), and despite a happy marriage

There’s a part of her still belongs to him

‘Steal Your Heart’ is a likeable breezy declaration of love which opens the album to confident effect, written by Randall with Gary Nicholson and Paul Overstreet. A line from the song lends the album its title.

‘Name On A Stone’ was written with Bill Anderson, and relates a father’s funeral with no mourners beyond family, prompting the protagonist to decide he must leave something of substance behind when his own time comes.

The upbeat ‘Backside Of A Backslide’ was written with Randall’s wife Jessi Alexander and Chris Stapleton, about a husband begging his wife to let him back yet again. Its irrepressible optimism has a lot of charm, and I wouldn’t bet against it succeeding.

Jon Randall’s songs are rounded out by a few obscure but interesting covers; the Bellamy Brothers’ ‘Rainy, Windy, Sunshine’ (a rodeo rider’s letter from the road to a lover) is pretty good with a relaxed vocal. ‘Satin Sheets’ is not the Jeanne Pruett hit but a sardonic Southern rocker about the celebrity lifestyle written by Willis Alan Ramsey which Waylon Jennings recorded in the 70s; it’s probably my least favorite track here but performed with enthusiasm.

The only new outside song without Jon Randall’s hand is also good. ‘Tennessee Will’, written by Pat McLaughlin and Adam Hood, which has a relaxed feel, rootsy arrangement and atmospheric southern mood.

If Corbett was serious about pursuing a country music career, this is radio-friendly enough for commercial success. As a labor of love, it is a highly enjoyable record, and as a bonus, it is an effective showcase for the songs of one of Nashville’s finest songwriters.

Grade: A

Album Review – Travis Tritt – ‘Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof’ (plus ‘Take It Easy’ and the new tracks included on ‘Greatest Hits: From The Beginning’)

TenfeettallandbulletproofIn the mist of the double platinum success of T-R-O-U-B-L-E, Travis Tritt appeared on the tribute album Common Thread: Songs of The Eagles in which he tackled their debut single “Take It Easy.” Tritt took his version to #21 in late 1993, and it’s very good. Through the music video reunited the band, since they’d had a falling out in the early 1980s.This led to their 1994 comeback and Hell Freezes Over album and tour. Tritt’s version of the song is his most heard single on country radio to this day.

He got back to business in March 1994, releasing the self-penned ballad “Foolish Pride” (it became Tritt’s fourth #1 hit) to kick off his Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof album, another double platinum success. The track is a masterpiece, dissecting both sides of a couple’s painful breakup. I especially adore how Tritt really digs deep into the man’s feelings in the second verse:

He relives every word they spoke in anger

He walks the floor and punches out the wall

To apologize to her would be so simple

But instead he cries I’ll be damned if I’ll crawl

If he loses her he’s lost his best friend

And that’s more then just a lover can provide

So he wrestles with emotions that defeat him

Chalk another love lost up to foolish pride

Growing up I’d always disliked the black and white video for the song because I just didn’t understand the ghost-like aspects director Gustavo Garzon brought to the proceedings. Now that I’ve come to appreciate the song outside the video context, it’s become my favorite single of Tritt’s to date.

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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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Occasional Hope’s Top Singles of 2012

Although the official charts seem less and less listenable, I have found quite a number of excellent singles were released this year. While none of them was a smash hit, many of them enjoyed some airplay. Here are my favorites. Oddly, while my albums list consisted of almost all male vocalists, my singles list has a majority of female singers.

10. Ex-Old Man – Kristen Kelly
The top 30 hit for the promising new Arista artist (inspired by her own divorce and written by Kristen with Paul Overstreet) shows how good contemporary country can be. I’ll be looking out for more from her.

9. Merry Go Round – Kacey Musgraves
The young Texan singer-songwriter’s debut Mercury single is a very interesting song about the down sides of rural poverty, when getting married and settling down young is virtually the only option, and portrays a family all seeking escape in a different kind of sin. Kacey isn’t the best singer, but her gentle vocal here is very effective and the song is surprisingly catchy. The record reached the top 30.

8. The Wind – Zac Brown Band
Bluegrass never gets much of a hearing from the mainstream, and they were hostile even to consistent if eclectic hit makers the Zac Brown Band when they sent this excellent track to radio. But it’s an excellent record with sparkling musicianship and an interesting lyric with a northern setting.

gwen sebastian with mentor blake shelton7. Met Him In A Motel Room – Gwen Sebastian
I was previously unimpressed by this artist, who has been around for a few years on minor labels. She recently tried a stint on The Voice reality competition with Blake Shelton as her mentor, and although she did not get very far on the show, she then released this single. A compelling story song about a desperate woman on the verge of suicide who finds another way out when she finds a Bible, it really made me sit up and pay attention to her music.

6. You Go Your Way – Alan Jackson
Classic Alan Jackson.

ashley monroe5. Like A Rose – Ashley Monroe
Critical favorite and part-time Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe has come up with a fine lead-in for her Vince Gill-produced new album on Warner Brothers, due early next year. Vulnerable vocals and a pretty melody with delicate production suit the song beautifully.

4. We Can’t Be Friends – Joanna Smith
The relative newcomer’s third single really made me pay attention to her for the first time. A delicately understated plaintive vocal and a subtle song about the difficulties of staying in contact with an ex when a clean break makes more sense, make for a real winner. While she hasn’t yet made a chart breakthrough, it is encouraging that an artist like this is still on a major label.

joey + rory thumbnail3. When I’m Gone – Joey + Rory
The duo’s third Sugar Hill album was their most inconsistent, but there were a few gems, including this exceptional song offering a kind of comfort to the soon-to-be bereaved. A beautiful, tender vocal from Joey is perfectly judged. Even in a better radio climate this would never have been likely to be a hit single, but it is absolutely exquisite – true heartbreak yet utterly beautiful.

2. So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore – Alan Jackson
Alan Jackson’s singles are sometimes hit and miss, but this year he released one of the finest singles of his career. A subtle, understated, and perfect delivery, tasteful production, and outstanding lyric were just too good for radio, with the record peaking at a disappointing #25. It only just missed my #1 spot.

strait thumbnail1. Drinkin’ Man – George Strait
After 30 years at the top, in recent years George Strait has occasionally seemed to be going through the motions. But his best single for years is a clear-eyed confessional from a lifelong alcoholic, who has never managed more than nine days straight sober. Never asking for pity, but truly conscious of his failings, this song is a modern masterpiece, written by Strait himself, his son Bubba, and the great Dean Dillon. It says a lot (and none of it good) about today’s country radio that it got so little airplay, peaking at #37.

Album Review: Blake Shelton – ‘Blake Shelton’s Barn & Grill’

barnandgrillAlthough 2003’s The Dreamer achieved gold-level sales, its singles performed inconsistently at radio. After producing the #1 hit “The Baby”, the album’s subsequent singles all failed to crack the Top 20. This trend began to reverse itself with the release of Blake Shelton’s third album, Blake Shelton’s Barn & Grill, which was released in the autumn of 2004. The Bobby Braddock-produced effort got off to an initial rocky start when the album’s first single, a very nice ballad called “When Somebody Knows You That Well” died at #37. Blake’s chart decline bottomed out with that release, however, and all of the album’s subsequent singles reached the Top 10.

The album’s second single, the catchy “Some Beach”, written by Paul Overstreet and Rory Lee Feek, returned Blake to the #1 spot and also became the first gold-selling single of his career. It was followed by an excellent cover version of Conway Twitty’s 1988 hit, “Goodbye Time.” Blake’s version didn’t chart quite as high, peaking at #10. I prefer the Conway Twitty version but Blake’s rendition is my favorite song on this album. Both artists knock the Roger Murrah & James Dean Hicks tune out of the park and both versions deserved to be monster hits. A bit of trivia: the song was originally pitched to Reba McEntire, who turned it down because she was going through her divorce at the time and the lyrics apparently hit a little too close to home. The album’s fourth and final single, “Nobody But Me” was a substantial hit, reaching #4.

The album cuts in this collection are unusually strong and most of them had hit single potential. Two of them had been previously recorded; the uptempo “Cotton Pickin’ Time” (another Paul Overstreet co-write) had been released by The Marcy Brothers in 1989 and “What’s On My Mind” had appeared on a 2001 Gary Allan album. To my knowledge, “Good Old Boy, Bad Old Boyfriend”, which was written by Shelton’s producer and mentor Bobby Braddock had not been recorded before but it sounds very much like something Waylon Jennings might have done during his heyday. But perhaps the most interesting track is the Harley Allen tune “The Bartender”, in which Blake observes a tavern’s patrons and listens to their problems from across the bar.

There aren’t any weak tracks in this collection; they are well written and performed and without the production excesses that are the hallmark of most of today’s chart hits. Blake Shelton’s Barn & Grill serves as a model that demonstrates how much better the artist’s material — and indeed, country music in general — was, just slightly less than a decade ago. The album is easy to find and is worth seeking out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Ricky Skaggs – ‘Kentucky Thunder’

By 1989 Ricky Skaggs was no longer the hottest commodity in country music; the New Traditionalist movement had produced a lot of new and younger competition, and Ricky’s sales and radio airplay figures suffered as a result. However, he closed out the decade of his greatest commercial success with one of the finest albums of his career.

For the first time, he worked with a co-producer — Steve Buckingham — perhaps in part because Ricky was busy producing Dolly Parton’s White Limozeen album at the same time. Dolly’s chart resurgence seems to have rubbed off on Ricky; shortly after her album dropped he scored a #1 hit with “Lovin’ Only Me”, his first chart topper since “Cajun Moon” three years earlier. It was also to be the last #1 hit of his career. However, he did reach the Top 5 one last time with Kentucky Thunder’s second single “Let It Be You”, an excellent ballad written by Kevin Welch and Harry Stinson.

Skaggs was seemingly back in the good graces of country radio, but his renewed success proved to be only temporary. From this point on, none of his records cracked the Top 10. There were, however, three more singles released from Kentucky Thunder: “Heartbreak Hurricane”, which reached #13, “Hummingbird”, which peaked at #20, and the #25-charting “He Was On To Something (So He Made You).” All of them are quite good but my favorite of the three is the energetic “Hummingbird”, which had appeared a few years earlier on a Restless Heart album. One of that band’s more country sounding numbers, it was written by band member Greg Jennings with Tim DuBois.

As far as the tracks that weren’t released as singles are concerned, the best are the grass-is-always-greener themed “The Fields of Home”, “Lonesome For You” (both written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell), “Casting My Shadow In The Road”, and the ballad “When I Love”, which was written by Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet, one of the hottest songwriting teams in country music at that time.

Kentucky Thunder
lacks the bluegrass flourishes of Ricky’s earlier work, but it is an excellent example of late-80s traditional country. It briefly reversed his decline on the singles chart, it did little to improve his sales figures. Its sole flaw is its brevity; it clocks in at just under 30 minutes, despite the inclusion of an atypical-for-the-era eleventh track (the spiritual “Saviour, Save Me From Myself”). It’s difficult to find, except at absurd prices, but presumably it will join Ricky’s other Epic albums in re-release on Skaggs Family Records. When it does, grab it; it’s well worth it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Ricky Skaggs – ‘Comin’ Home To Stay’

By 1988 the influx of new, traditionally rooted talent which had come with the rise of the New Traditionalists in the late 80s had squeezed room on radio playlists for more established artists, and for the first time since he burst into the mainstream, a Ricky Skaggs album did not score any top 10 hits.

Lead single ‘I’m Tired’ was a remake of an old Webb Pierce hit penned by Mel Tillis and Ray Price. It hit #3 for Pierce in 1957, but Ricky’s excellent cover disappointingly only made it to #18. It deserved to do better, as did the next single. Another classic cover, a steel-led version of Stonewall Jackson’s ‘Angel On My Mind) That’s Why I’m Walking’ failed to scrape into the top 30. That was a real shame, because it is an excellent, somber interpretation of an excellent song, which is my favorite track on this album.

Top 20 hit ‘Thanks Again’ is a warm-hearted message to loving parents written by Jim Rushing, with a stripped down backing with Ricky’s own acoustic guitar the sole instrument. Perhaps surprisingly, a peak of #17 made this appealing but not obviously commercial number the album’s biggest chart success.

Paul Overstreet’s ‘Old Kind Of Love’, the final single, celebrated a perceived revival of old fashioned family values and squeaked into the top 30. It is quite charming with an attractive melody, but feels rather naive lyrically.

The overall mood of this record is one celebrating family and married life. ‘Lord She Sure Is Good At Lovin’ Me’ was written by the period’s superstar, Randy Travis, with Paul Overstreet, and is rather good at portraying domestic bliss, with added conviction lent by using wife Sharon White’s honeyed voice on harmony.

As with his previous album, Ricky included a romantic duet with Sharon. The pretty tune and heartfelt delivery of ‘Home Is Wherever You Are’ is, a sweet ballad written by Wayland Patton, make this one another winner. Her family band The Whites also sing on a traditionally styled gospel quartet. Catchy but lyrically uncompromising, ‘If You Don’t Believe The Bible’ was written by Carl Jackson and Glenn Sutton, and has only acoustic guitars backing the singers.

There is a bit less bluegrass influence than usual, but the album takes its title from the sole (electric) bluegrass number, Jimmy Martin’s bouncily playful ‘Hold Whatcha Got’. A cover of western swing classic ‘San Antonio Rose’ is competent and entertaining but unambitious and ultimately forgettable.

‘Woman, You Won’t Break Mine’ is an offbeat love song giving an ultimatum to a tough female rodeo rider who defied her mother’s dreams of pretty dresses and is trying to slow down her romance:

You went and broke your mama’s heart
But woman, you won’t break mine

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this solidly enjoyable album, which I prefer to its immediate predecessor, but there isn’t anything really standing out either, and the satisfied mood feels a little too comfortable to have an emotional impact. Combined with the lack of big hits, it is no real surprise that it did not sell quite as well as Ricky’s previous work. It is still worth getting if you can find a cheap copy.

Grade: B+