My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Paul Simon

Album Review: John Prine — ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’

John Prine is back with his back with his twenty-fourth album, but only his second since 2011, Released on the Oh Boy label (a label founded by Prine), this is his first album since 2005’s Fair & Square to consist of new songs written by Prine, albeit mostly co-writes.

In terms of chart success, The Tree of Forgiveness has been Prine’s most successful album reaching #5 on Billboard’s Hot 200 albums chart and #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.

For those who haven’t listened to Prine in recent years, a battle with cancer in 1998 resulted in his voice gradually deepening and becoming more gravelly, lending his vocals a gravitas previously lacking.  A battle with lung cancer in 2013 resulted in Prine losing a lung and losing some of his vocal power in the process.

John Prine has never been about hit singles, and this album contains nothing likely to become a hit single. It does contain a bunch of really good songs that tell stories

The album opens with “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door”, which was co-written with Pat McLaughlin. This song is a ballad about being alone

I ain’t got nobody
Hangin’ round my doorstep
Ain’t got no loose change
Just a hangin’ round my jeans

If you see somebody
Would you send em’ over my way
I could use some help here
With a can of pork and beans

I once had a family
But they up and left me
With nothing but an 8-track
Another side of George Jones

The next song was co-written with Roger Cook and is a real gem. “I Have Met My Love Today” is about the joy and anticipation of finding love

True love will always have its way

There ain’t no doubt about it: true love is here to stay

 

Day-by-day our love will grow

Day-by-day our love will show

We’ll go on forever and I can truly say

I have met my love today

I have met my love today

“Crazy Bone” and “Summer’s End” are collaborations with McLaughlin. “Crazy Bone” is a jog-along ballad that attempts to explain (or justify) erratic behavior. If any song on this album had potential as a single, this is the one:

If you like your apples sweet

And your streets are not concrete

You’ll be in your bed by nine every night

Take your hand spanked corn fed gal

And your best friend’s four-eyed pal

To a treat right down the street

That’s dynamite

 

Let your conscience be your guide

If you put your foot inside

You wish you left your well enough alone

 

When you got hell to pay

Put the truth on layaway

And blame it on that old

Crazy Bone

“Summer’s End” is a gentle, but somewhat generic ballad about a love that has wandered away. Dan Auerbach joins McLaughlin and Prine as co-writer on “Caravan of Fools,” a somewhat dramatic but depressing ballad that expresses emotions we all have felt at one time or another:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late at night you’ll see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the
Caravan of Fools

Like the wings of a dove
The waiter’s white glove
Seems to shimmer by the light of the pool
Some dull blinding winter
When you can’t help but lose
You’re running with the
Caravan of Fools

“Lonesome Friends of Science” is a solo effort by Prine, both in terms of the songwriting and performance (it sounds like Prine accompanying himself on guitar with little else on the track until halfway through the track). I’m not sure that sardonic describes the song, but there are some interesting turns to the song

Those bastards in their white lab coats

Who experiment with mountain goats

Should leave the universe alone

It’s not their business, not their home

I go to sleep and it never rains

My dog predicts hurricanes

She can smell a storm a mile away

That’s all the news we have today

Prine collaborated with Keith Sykes on “No Ordinary Blue”, a song that that sounds like something Paul Simon might have written had he been something other than a New Yorker.

Last night
Turned on the TV
Looked out the window
Then pulled down the shade
And I came to the conclusion
My mind cannot be made

I hear a hear a lot of empty spaces
I see a big hole in you
I feel an outline that traces
An imaginary path back to you
This ain’t no ordinary blue

Auerbach, McLaughlin & Prine team up on “Boundless Love”, a song that can only be described as folk. I really like this song and its positive message,

If by chance I should find myself at risk
A-falling from this jagged cliff
I look below, and I look above
I’m surrounded by your boundless love

Surround me with your boundless love
Confound me with your boundless love
I was drowning in the sea, lost as I could be
When you found me with your boundless love
You don’t found me with your boundless love
You surround me with your boundless love

“God Only Knows” was co-written with Phil Spector. Since Spector currently is incarcerated, I suspect that this song was written some years ago. This song features singer-songwriter Jason Isbell on guitar and Amanda Shires on fiddle, with both of them singing backup

God only knows the price that you pay
For the ones you hurt along the way
And if I should betray myself today
Then God only knows the price I pay

God only knows
God only knows

God only knows the way that I feel
Is only a part of the way I feel
If I can’t reveal the way that I feel
Then God only knows the way I feel

God only knows
God only knows

The album closes with the upbeat “When I Get To Heaven”, a song Prine wrote by himself. The song is basically a narration with a sung chorus with a honky-tonk salon piano leading the way:

When I get to Heaven
I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings
Then one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar
And start a Rock and Roll band
Check into a swell hotel
Ain’t the ‘Afterlife’ grand!

Chorus:

And then I’m gonna get a cocktail
Vodka and Ginger Ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette
That’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl
On the Tilt a Whirl
‘Cause this old man is going to town

I’ve never been a big John Prine fan except on his collaborative album with Mac Wiseman and the two duet albums with various female county stars because I did not like his voice. Recently I’ve gone back and revisited his catalog focusing on the lyrics and have gained a greater appreciation of his work and his talent.

While I would consider this to be essentially a folk album, I really liked it and would give it an A-

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Album Review: Nathan Carter: ‘Celtic Roots (Live)’

For whatever reason, I was unable to obtain a digital copy of the album Where I Wanna Be. Instead, Amazon continuously linked me to the above-referenced album, which contains the song “Where I Wanna Be”, so I went ahead and purchased the digital download.

I will say that this 2017 release is not exactly a country album, but it is a good value for money with 18 tracks of mostly Celtic music, well performed. I happen to be a huge fan of traditional Irish folk music with a large collection of the stuff. This album apparently is of a performance for public television.

Recorded in Ireland, this album presents an interesting mix of classic of Irish folk songs, Celtic ballads, some country-flavored ballads and some of his hits. Nathan is joined by his stage band, a string quartette, a choral group and also by a former member of the group Celtic Woman, Chloe Agnew.

The album opens up with “Loch Lomond”, a very familiar Scottish tune given the full Scottish treatment with bagpipes and some sort of orchestral backing and a modern rhythm track. Nathan slows the song down considerably at the start of the vocal but picks up the tempo on the second verse. Nathan presents a very interesting treatment of a song that I’ve heard countless times before, including in many Hollywood movies.

Next up is “Where I Wanna Be”, a country single from 2013, written by Carter, that is simultaneously both country and Irish.

This hotel is just like yesterday’s,

And the city has no name.

It just stands there in the Grey haze,

And my room is the same.
 

Well I’m gonna call that number,

So far across the sea.

I wish I was in Ireland,

That’s where I wanna be,

That’s where I wanna be.

This is followed by “Caledonia” an Irish folk song (not the 1940s jump hit by Louis Jordan and/or Woody Herman. This lovely ballad was released as a single in 2013.

“Banks of Roses” is a very Celtic ballad with bodhrán, fiddle, accordion, penny whistle – the sort of thing the Chieftains would play.

The medley of “Spanish Lady”, “As I Roved Out” and “The Real Auld Mountain Dew” is a reflection of the great Irish folk groups of the past two generations such as The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Maken, The Dubliners and The Dublin City Ramblers with perhaps a little more rhythm thrown in. This is a fabulous medley – even someone with two left feet such as I, feels the urge to get up and dance.

Next up is Chloe Agnew with the quiet ballad “Grace” basically accompanied by acoustic guitar and little else. This is probably the slowest song on the album.

An Irish tin whistle (or pennywhistle) opens up “Hard Times”, served up as a duet between Choe and Nathan. Most will probably be familiar with the song through Bob Dylan’s recording, but the song dates back to 19th century American writer Stephen Foster:

Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,

While we all sup sorrow with the poor;

There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;

Oh! Hard times come again no more.

Chorus:
 ‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,

Hard Times, hard times, come again no more.

Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;

Oh! Hard times come again no more

“Temple Bar” was a 2016 single for Nathan:

There’s a busker playin’ on the street
Watching all the people meet
The boys and girls are back in Dublin town
There’s young ones there from everywhere
From America to God knows where

It’s just another night in Temple Bar
So come on down, out on the town
Cause’ this is where a good time can be found
So bring along the old squeeze box, the fiddle and guitar
Let’s have a good old night in Temple Bar

For me, the only misstep on the album comes with the next song “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, a Paul Simon song that I’ve heard far too many times. Nathan sings it well but the chorus and strings are overkill – he should have given it the two minute Buck Owens treatment.

“Wagon Wheel” was a Bob Dylan song fragment that Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show completed. Nathan released it as a single in 2012. The song reached #12 on the Irish pop charts, his biggest hit. I really like this version, probably better than any other version I’ve heard aside from Jeremy McComb’s outstanding hard country version from decade ago.

This is followed by an up-tempo, virtually breathless, instrumental medley of reels.

“Jealous of The Angels” is a very slow sad ballad about the unexpected loss of a loved one. I don’t know who wrote the song, but it was originally recorded by Donna Taggart of Celtic Woman (she may have written it) and is a stunning song that Nathan Carter positively nails

I didn’t know today would be our last
Or that I’d have to say goodbye to you so fast
I’m so numb, I can’t feel anymore
Prayin’ you’d just walk back through that door
And tell me that I was only dreamin’
You’re not really gone as long as I believe

There will be another angel
Around the throne tonight
Your love lives on inside of me
And I will hold on tight
It’s not my place to question
Only God knows why
I’m just jealous of the angels
Around the throne tonight

The mood and tempo stay down with the old Irish folk song “Home to Donegal”

Fortunately the mood brightens and the tempo picks up with of the most famous of Irish folk songs, “The Irish Rover”. Usually when I hear this song the audience, the performer or both are well lubricated (and they would need to be for the lyrics to make much sense). Usually too, the audience is singing along. Many will remember the song from the Pogues, but the song is much older than that. Nathan gives it a very exuberant treatment

In the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and six,
We set sail from the Coal Quay of Cork
We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks
For the grand City Hall in New York
We’d an elegant craft, it was rigged ‘fore and aft
And how the trade winds drove her
She had twenty-three masts and she stood several blasts
And they called her the Irish Rover

There was Barney Magee from the banks of the Lee
There was Hogan from County Tyrone
There was Johnny McGurk who was scared stiff of work
And a chap from Westmeath named Malone
There was Slugger O’Toole who was drunk as a rule
And fighting Bill Tracy from Dover
And your man Mick McCann, from the banks of the Bann
Was the skipper on the Irish Rover

We had one million bags of the best Sligo rags
We had two million barrells of bone
We had three million bales of old nanny goats’ tails
We had four million barrells of stone
We had five million hogs and six million dogs
And seven million barrells of porter
We had eight million sides of old blind horses’ hides
In the hold of the Irish Rover

We had sailed seven years when the measles broke out
And our ship lost her way in a fog
And the whole of the crew was reduced down to two
‘Twas myself and the captain’s old dog
Then the ship struck a rock, oh, Lord what a shock
And nearly tumbled over
Turned nine times around then the poor old dog was drowned
I’m the last of the Irish Rover

“The Town I Loved So Well” is a slow sentimental ballad. At six plus minutes, it could drag a little but the Nathan Carter vocal carries you along.

It’s back to high gear with “South Australia”, a popular folk song found in the English, Irish and Australian musical canons. Nathan starts it slowly then kicks it up.

The album closes with “Liverpool” a 2016 single and “Good Time Girls”. The latter shares the melody and most of the lyrics of the American folk song “Buffalo Girls”

Having only heard the video clips on the MKOC blog and a few snippets on Amazon, I wasn’t what to expect. Now I know that Nathan Carter is an excellent vocalist who can put on an outstanding live show. To fans of modern country music (such as it is) the linear resemblance to American country music is remote. To those of us who grew up thinking that Haggard, Jones, Snow, Tubb, Cline and Arnold are representative of country music, the line back to the Irish folk music is short and direct. While there are only traces of classic country instrumentation, the songs and the vocals make clear that connection.

With few exceptions, I really love this album and I can live with the few tracks that I don’t love.

Grade: A+

Retro Album Review: Buck Owens – ‘Ruby and Other Bluegrass Specials’

51TCPbXowNLBack in the days writing for The 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

Give Buck Owens credit – he knew that the “freight train ” sound was growing a bit stale and he was willing to experiment. I’ve Got You On My Mind Again was the first album to feature background voices and strings, something he continued on the next studio album Tall Dark Stranger (both 1969). In 1971 Owens took a more contemporary turn with his Bridge Over Troubled Water album, which was recorded without fiddle or steel guitar and featured songs by the likes of Paul Simon and Donovan. Later in 1971 came Ruby and Other Bluegrass Specials.

Not exactly bluegrass in it’s instrumentation (marred by drums and organ) it nevertheless is a fun romp through eight bluegrass classics plus two from the Buck Owens catalogue recast as bluegrass. Both singles issued from the album, “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “Ruby (Honey Are You Mad At Your Man)” went to #1 on the more sales-oriented Cashbox charts (Billboard had them at #2 and #3 respectively). The title cut was a hit the year before for the Osborne Brothers, so it was still fresh in the public memory as was “Rocky Top” the Osborne Brothers big hit from 1968. “Ole Slew Foot” was part of both the country and bluegrass repertoire and so was familiar to fans of both genres although the only hit on the song was by Porter Wagoner. “I Know You’re Married But I Love You Still” was one of the most requested tunes for the beloved bluegrass duo of Don Reno & Red Smiley. Of course, everyone knows “Uncle Pen”.

Owens didn’t stray too far from bluegrass with his next album Too Old To Cut The Mustard, with son Buddy Alan. but Owens never again returned to the genre after that. Good clean fun – equal emphasis on all three words.

Grade: A

Fellow Travelers – Carl Perkins

‘One For The Money – Two For The Show – Three To Get Ready – And Go Cat Go’
carl perkins

If Elvis was the King, Carl Perkins was the commoner who became a widely respected elder statesman of rock and roll music. Much more of a country boy than Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins perhaps saw his shot at superstardom ruined by a car accident that killed Carl’s brother Jay and put Carl out of commission just as his hit “Blue Suede Shoes” ascended to the top of the country charts (it would reach #2 on the pop charts).

Who Was He ?

Carl Perkins (1932-1998) was talented songwriter, singer and musician who perhaps owed more to the country side of rockabilly than to the R&B influences of most early rock and rollers. Carl had only five songs chart on the pop charts with “Blue Suede Shoes” easily the biggest hit spending four weeks at #2. His other pop hits were “Boppin’ The Blues (#70), “Your True Love” (#67), “Pink Petal Pushers” (#91) and “Pointed Toes Shoes” (#93). Although his chart success was limited these songs, as well as non-charting songs such as “Matchbox”,”Honey Don’t” and”All Mama’s Children” were covered and performed by countless rock and roll and rockabilly acts for the next three decades. The Beatles recorded a large number of his songs. As a guitarist Perkins was revered and respected by some of the biggest names in the music business many of whom would eventually record tracks with him, including George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, NRBQ and Paul Simon. He appeared in live concert with Dave Edmunds and Eric Clapton. The list actually is endless so I’ll stop listing names now

What Was His Connection to County Music ?” (#70)

Carl was from the small Tennessee town of Tiptonville and remained a country boy at heart. Carl had fifteen country chart hits with six reaching the top twenty

He was well liked in the music community and while Carl was at a low point in his career (and in battling personal demons), Johnny Cash added Carl as parting of his road show package. Carl would spend ten years touring with Cash. While part of the Cash show, Carl penned “Daddy Sang Bass” which would spend six weeks as a country number one for Johnny Cash, and Tommy Cash would have a top ten record with another Perkins composition “Rise and Shine”. In 1991 the New Nashville Cats (Mark O’Connor, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and Steve Wariner took Carl’s “Restless” back into the country top thirty.

Unlike some singers who sound good only when performing their own hits, Carl seemed to be able to sing anybody’s material and make sound as if it was especially composed for him. Virtually any Carl Perkins recording is worth hearing.

Country Heritage: Lacy J. Dalton

lacy j daltonWith one of the more recognizable voices in the genre, Lacy J. Dalton blazed across the skies of country music during the 1980s, producing a number of memorable songs along the way. While not an overwhelming commercial success (only nine of her songs made the Billboard country Top 10) as an artist she impressed with her heartfelt vocals and gritty song interpretations. People magazine referred to her as “Country’s Bonnie Raitt,” a description with which few would differ.

Lacy J. Dalton (born Jill Byrem on October 13, 1946 in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), was born into a musical family. Her father, mother and sister all played musical instruments and sang. Like many of her generation, Dalton’s early influences included the classic country sounds of her youth, the sounds of the folk music revival of the early 60s known as the “Hootenanny” era (artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez), and the jazz/blues of artists such as Billie Holiday and Big Mama Thornton.

Following completion of high school, Dalton briefly attended Brigham Young University. But her restless spirit prevailed, and she dropped out and drifted around the country for a time, eventually arriving in Los Angeles and then Santa Cruz, where she performed as a protest-oriented folksinger. During the later ’60s, she sang with a Bay Area psychedelic rock band called Office, becoming Jill Croston when she married the group’s manager. This marriage did not last long as her husband died in a swimming pool accident.

During the late 1970s Lacy reinvented herself as a country singer adopting the stage name of Lacy J. Dalton. After an initial rock recording on the Harbor label in 1978, in 1979 she landed a recording contract with Columbia after Billy Sherrill heard a demo tape of her singing country music. Her Columbia debut, “Crazy Blue Eyes,” reached #17, followed by her recordings of “Tennessee Waltz” (#18) and “Losing Kind of Love” (#14).

The first three singles helped Lacy win the CMA’s Best New Artist Award. After that, her career kicked into high gear with a string of top ten records that took her through 1983, including “Hard Times” (#7) , “Hillbilly Girl With the Blues” (#8), “Whisper” (#10) and her biggest record “Takin’ It Easy” (#1 Cashbox/#2 Billboard). Everybody Makes Mistakes,” backed with “Wild Turkey,” was a double-sided hit with the A side reaching #5.

While not her biggest hit, 1982’s “16th Avenue” is probably her best remembered song, reaching #7. A 1983 cover of Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)” concluded her visits to the top ten, although she continued to record for Columbia through 1987. The changing tastes of the country music market, away from her ‘blue-eyed soul‘ style toward a more traditional style, greased her slide down the charts. A change of record labels, to Universal in 1989 and Capitol/Liberty in 1990 failed to arrest the slide, although “The Heart” in 1989 and “Black Coffee” in 1990 both reached the top 15, the latter song being her last appearance on the Billboard charts.

Lacy J. Dalton continues to write and record music, and tours the United States and Europe.

You can keep up with Lacy J. Dalton on her website.

Discography

Vinyl
As is always the case, all vinyl is out of print. You can sometimes find her records at used record shops, thrift shops or on the internet. MusicStack seems to be the best source for vinyl on the internet as it is a clearinghouse for many dealers.

Lacy issued nine albums on Columbia. One of these albums is a greatest hits collection, but they are all good albums. Trust me – if you like Lacy’s voice, you’ll like the albums. If you find any albums on Universal, Liberty or Capitol, you may as well buy them too.

CD
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has her Greatest Hits available for $9.95. A ten song CD, this one has ten of her Columbia era songs and indeed is accurately titled. ET also has Best of the Best CD on the King label – same songs but I think these are remakes.

Lacy’s most recent release of new material is a Hank Williams tribute album titled Here’s To Hank. Released in 2010, the album finds Lacy tackling a dozen Hank Sr. classics. While Lacy sticks to the obvious songs such as “Your Cheating Heart”, Hey Good Looking” and “You Win Again”, the fact remains that if (1) you take a really good and soulful singer (2) have her sing twelve of the greatest songs ever written and (3) add an appropriate crew of musicians and careful arrangements by Steven Swinford that update but do not lose the feel of the originals, then you will have a really good album. Such is the case with this album.

Highly recommended to fans of Lacy J Dalton, fans of Hank Sr., and fans of really good country music.

Lacy’s website has a newer CD (from 2004/2008) Last Wild Place which has some newer material plus five of her old hits. This album is (more or less) acoustic.

In late 2012 the Morello label released a two-fer comprised of two of Lacy’s Capitol albums from 1989 and 1990, Survivor/Lacy J. These albums found Lacy writing only three songs, but the lack of original material does not mean lack of quality as there are some imaginative covers to be found here including Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years”, Kris Kristofferson’s “The Heart” and the classic Guy Clark song “Old Friends”. Amazon and Ernest Tubb Record Shop both have this album available.

In the past other CDs have been available including a hits collection on the Capitol/Liberty material.

Amazon has most of Lacy’s material available as digital downloads, but be sure to listen to the samples as some of the tracks are re-makes.

Album Review: Alison Krauss and the Cox Family – ‘I Know Who Holds Tomorrow’

i know who holds tomorrowThe Cox Family from Louisiana comprises father Willard, son Sidney, and daughters Evelyn, Lynn and Suzanne. Alison Krauss was a fan of Sidney Cox’s songwriting, and had recorded several of his songs on her first few Rounder albums. She also admired the beautiful voices and harmonies of his sisters, and the family band’s debut album on Rounder Records in 1993 (Everybody’s Reaching Out For Someone) was Alison’s first venture into producing other artists. It was an excellent record and is well worth tracking down in its own right.

The following year Alison collaborated with the family for a gospel album (perhaps surprisingly, it remain Alison’s only full album of religious material, although she has recorded many individual songs. Stylistically it is acoustic country with bluegrass instruments subtly augmented by drums, piano and steel guitar, all tastefully played and arranged.

The vocals are mainly split between the high soprano voices of Alison and Suzanne Cox; the latter’s exquisite voice is a delight (and very similar tonally to Alison’s), and the example seems to have brought out the best in Alison too.

Suzanne sings lead on my two favourite tracks – the enchantingly beautiful title track, a simple declaration of faith; and the equally beautiful ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus’. The hymn ‘Will There Be Any Stars’ is also lovely, and she takes another lead on the rhythmic ‘Walk Over God’s Heaven’, strongly backed by the other girls’ harmonies.

Evelyn’s fine voice is lower than the high sopranos of Suzanne and Alison, and is featured on two songs. Her solo on ‘Where No One Stands Alone’ has a slow, stately pace, while she swaps lead vocals with Alison on ‘Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven’, a sprightly old Loretta Lynn song with lovely harmonies from the other girls and a sarcastic tag line (“nobody wants to die”).

My favourite of Alison’s lead vocals is the angelically lovely ‘In The Palm Of Your Hand’, written by Union Station’s Ron Block, which is perfect for her and the most archetypal Krauss recording. The ethereal ‘Jewels’ is pretty, but the determined ‘Never Will Give Up’ is less interesting.

The mellow, sweet voice of Lynn Cox takes the lead on Dottie Rambo’s understated and soothing ‘Remind Me, Dear Lord’. Sidney takes over for the album’s most surprising song choice, a cover of pop star Paul Simon’s ‘Loves Me Like A Rock’ which fits in surprisingly well. Dad Willard’s gravelly baritone takes over on ‘Far Side Bank Of Jordan’, a wearied song about anticipating death and ultimate reunion with a loved one.

The album won a well-deserved Grammy. It is one of my favourite religious albums, and I would recommend it to any fan of Alison Krauss- she is part of an ensemble here, but the Cox women have heavenly voices to match hers, and the album as a whole is as close to perfect as I can imagine.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Always On My Mind’

alwaysVoices like Willie Nelson’s are an often-cited reason why many people don’t like country music, so in many respects Willie was an unlikely pop star. Nevertheless, with albums like Stardust, he proved that he could not only handle non-country material, but that he could also appeal to worldwide audiences much broader than the typical country music fan base. 1982’s Always On My Mind is one of his most AC-leaning albums. Like Stardust, it reached outside the country genre for material, though the selections this time around were more contemporary.

The title track had first been introduced to country audiences by Brenda Lee a decade earlier. Her version peaked outside the country Top 40. A cover version by Elvis Presley the same year reached 16 on the AC charts, but the song remained relatively unknown despite being recorded by numerous other artists, until Willie’s version came along. His recording of the song became the biggest hit of his career; it topped the Billboard country singles chart in May 1982 and was the magazine’s #1 country single of the year. It also reached #5 on the all-genre Hot 100 chart and earned three Grammy Awards — one for Willie for Best Male Country Vocal Performance as well as Best Country Song and Song of the Year for its writers Mark James, Johnny Christopher and Wayne Carson Thompson. It was also widely honored by the Country Music Association, winning Single of the Year in 1982 and Song of the Year in both 1982 and 1983. Willie also took home the 1982 Album of the Year trophy.

It’s exceedingly difficult to follow up a career record, but Willie’s next two singles, while not matching the success of “Always On My Mind”, turned in respectable chart performances. His cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” reached #2 on the country charts and #11 on the AC charts and just cracked the Top 40 on the Hot 100. “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning”, a song that I did not initially like but now consider a favorite, also reached #2 on the country chart but did not enjoy any crossover success.

Aside from some harmonica and Willie’s trademark guitar, there is no country instrumentation on this album. The fiddle and steel guitar are absent, and the saxophone is used instead on tracks like “Let It Be Me” and “Old Fords and a Natural Stone”, and most of the non-single album cuts come from outside of country music. The opening track “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, written by the album’s producer Chips Moman and Dan Penn, had been an R&B hit for Aretha Franklin in 1967. The song had been covered for the country market previously, by Barbara Mandrell whose version went to #17 in 1971, and surprisingly, it was also recorded by Kitty Wells at some point. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, on which Willie is joined by Waylon Jennings, is a remake of a 1967 psychadelic rock hit by the British group Procul Harum. Willie also does a very nice version of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

Always On My Mind was clearly designed with one eye on the pop market, but it avoids the excesses and overproduction that was typical of most recordings of the era that had crossover aspirations. Sufficient concessions were also made to keep country fans happy. Among the more country-sounding material are two songs penned by Willie: “Permanently Lonely” and “The Party’s Over”, a remake of his own earlier recording, which like some of the other remakes on this album, dates back to 1967. It’s my favorite track on the album.

Legacy Recordings reissued Always On My Mind in 2008, with two new tracks: “The Man Who Owes Everyone” and “I’m A Memory”, both of which are enjoyable, though they would have fit in better on one of his more country-sounding albums.

Selling more than 4 million copies in the United States and another 2 million in Canada, Always On My Mind is second only to Stardust in terms of commercial success. It’s always been a favorite of mine, primarily for nostalgic reasons, but due to its reliance on pop, R&B and rock material, it’s not an especially important album in terms of country music, aside from the three singles, which are widely available on numerous compilations. That being said, it is an enjoyable record, country or not, and a cheap used copy is well worth picking up.

Grade: A

Willie Nelson: the country duet albums

Whatever else one may think about Willie Nelson, there are two things that are absolutely true about the man – he has a strong sense of the history of the genre and he believes in paying it forward and back.

Take a stroll through the sales pages of a website such as CD Baby and count the number of country albums by unheralded artists that feature a track or two in which Willie Nelson does a guest duet or harmony vocal. As for duet albums, Willie has recorded more duet albums than most regular duos record in their career.

In this article we will take a look at some of the many duet albums that Willie has recorded with other country artists. We won’t be looking at the albums he cut with Ray Price (someone else will do that article) and we won’t be looking at the albums that Willie cut with artists outside the genre such as Ray Charles, Julio Iglesias, Wynton Marsailles, Leon Russell or Norma Jones. This will be country music – period.

1) Willie Nelson & Roger Miller – Old Friends (Columbia, 1982)

Willie Nelson and Roger Miller (1936-1992) were contemporaries and old friends who both played in Ray Price’s band. Roger was a unique talent, perhaps the greatest entertainer the world has ever seen. Roger barely needed even a guitar to keep an audience enthralled for hours, but before breaking through as a performer, he was a solid country songsmith, writing hits for other singers such as Jim Reeves and Ray Price.

This album, partially recorded at Willie’s Pedernales Recording Studio and using Willie’s band augmented by a few extra musicians such as Johnny Gimble (fiddle and mandolin), Grady Martin (guitar) and Jimmy Day (steel guitar) has the sound of a Willie Nelson album but all of the material is associated with Roger Miller (Roger wrote all ten songs, one a co-write with Bill Anderson). Staying away from the obvious Miller hits (most of them novelties that don’t lend themselves to duets) Willie and Roger tackle Roger’s solid classics that were hits for others such as “Invitation To The Blues” (Ray Price), “Half A Mind” (Ernest Tubb) “When Two Worlds Collide” (Jim Reeves) and “Husbands & Wives” (a hit for Roger, Jack Jones, Brooks & Dunn and also recorded by many others such as Neil Diamond). The single released from the album, “Old Friends”, also featured Ray Price, and scraped into the top twenty. Oddly enough only three of the songs are actual duets at all (Roger solos on three songs, including the only novelty on the album “Aladambama”, and Willie solos on four songs), but they do represent an enlightening dip into the Roger Miller song-bag.

2) Willie Nelson & Faron Young – Funny How Time Slips Away (Columbia, 1985)

Faron Young (1932-1996), although only a year older than Willie, had already been a star for six-plus years when Willie hit Nashville. Faron gave Willie his first two big breaks as a songwriter: he recorded “Hello Walls” (a million seller in 1961) and he refused to let Willie (the proverbial starving songwriter) sell him the song for $500, lending him the money instead. At the time, Faron had already seen the preliminary sales figures for the song and knew the songwriters’ royalties would be thousands of dollars. Willie never forgot this and the two remained friends until the end of Faron’s life. Faron would have hits on several other songs written by Willie and this album features most of them.

Side one of the album featured six songs written by Willie Nelson of which three (“Hello Walls”, “Congratulations” and “Three Days” were hits for Faron). Side two of the record features five of Faron’s hits supplied by other songwriters (“Live Fast – Love Hard – Die Young”, “Sweet Dreams” , “Four In The Morning” ,
“Life Turned Her That Way” and “Going Steady”, plus the title track – written by Willie but not a Faron Young hit.

This album was released in 1985. By then Faron’s 22 year run at the top of the charts was long over, but Faron could still sing. Consequently, even though this album was recorded at Pedernales studio, the musicians are Nashville session men and the album does not come across as a Willie Nelson album, but as a true collaborative effort. Faron solos on “Four In The Morning” and Willie solos on “She’s Not For You” but the rest is duets including possibly the best versions you’ll ever hear on “Hello Walls” and “Funny How Time Slips Away”.

3) Willie Nelson & Webb Pierce – In The Jailhouse Now (Columbia 1982)

Webb Pierce (1921-1991) was the biggest star in country music during the decade of the 1950s and remained a viable star until about 1967, after which time his high nasal style permanently fell out of vogue (except in bluegrass music). Most observers have failed to see Willie’s connection with Webb Pierce, who never recorded any of Willie’s songs, except as album cuts, and never had any working relationship with Webb, and it is a bit tenuous to see the connection, although Willie’s vocal phrasing and pinched nasal vibrato seem influenced by Webb’s vocals of the 1950s.

This album features duets on nine of Webb’s 1950s recordings, including Webb’s mega-hits “Slowly”, “There Stands The Glass”, More and More”, “Wondering” , “I Don’t Care” and “Back Street Affair” (a sextet of songs that spent eighty weeks at #1) plus three more songs that appeared on Webb’s albums and one new song written by Willie Nelson, Webb Pierce and Max Powell , the bluesy “Heebie Jeebie Blues #2” . The album was recorded at Pedernales Studio using Willie’s band augmented by Johnny Gimble, Grady Martin, Jimmy Day, Leon Russell and Richard Manuel.

The only single released from the album, “In The Jailhouse Now” barely dented the charts at #72, but Webb’s voice had dropped enough in pitch to make him an effective duet partner for Willie. Both singers obviously had fun recording this album and I regard this as the most effective of Willie’s major label duet albums.

Willie Nelson & Curtis Potter – Six Hours At Pedernales (Step One Records, 1994)

Curtis Potter (1940 – ) is part of the Willie’s Texas connection, having served as Hank Thompson’s band leader from 1959-1971 and one of Willie’s circle of friends including Johnny Bush, Darrell McCall and who knows how many others. Curtis never became a big star outside of his native Texas but he is an impressive singer and he and Willie harmonize well on this collection of country songs. Produced by Ray Pennington, the in-house producer at Step One Records, this collection features three songs written by Pennington, three written by Nelson, plus some outside material. This album features none of Willie’s band members, aiming instead for a Texas Swing/Honky-Tonk feel with outstanding fiddle work by Rob Hajacos and steel by Buddy Emmons.

For me the highlights are “The Party’s Over” and “My Own Peculiar Way” in which Willie and Curtis swap verses on a pair of Willie classics, and Willie’s solo turn on Ray Pennington’s “Turn Me Loose and Let Me Swing”. That said, I really like this entire album. It’s been in my car CD player for the last week.

4) Willie Nelson & Johnny Bush – Together Again (Delta Records, 1982)

Delta Records is a long-defunct Texas independent label that never had much distribution outside of Texas and had some of its inventory confiscated by the IRS during Willie’s tax problem days. Johnny Bush Shinn (1935 – ) is a long-time friend of Willie’s dating back to the 1950s. Both were in Ray Price’s band and have been members of each other’s bands at various times.

This twelve song album features ten duets plus Johnny Bush solos on “Driving Nails In My Coffin” and his own “Whiskey River” (taken at a very different tempo than Willie usually performs it). The album opens up with the Buck Owens classic “Together Again” and works its way through a solid program of songs including the Paul Simon song “Still Crazy After All These Years” plus Willie Nelson tunes “I Let My Mind Wander”, “I’ve Just Destroyed The World I’m Living In” , “The Party’s Over” and “My Own Peculiar Way”.

“Whiskey River” was released as a single just denting the top 100, and “You Sure Tell It Like It Is, George Jones” was also released as a single, although it didn’t chart (it is a great track). “The Party’s Over is a standout track as is “The Sound of A Heartache”, a song written by Johnny Bush.

The album was recorded at Willie’s Pedernales Studio, but produced by Johnny Bush. Willie’s band was not used on this album, so the sound is more that of a conventional country band. This album was recorded after Johnny was struck with spastic dysphonia so he was not at his vocal peak , but still he was still a tremendous singer, if not quite the ‘country Caruso’ (later medical discoveries would restore him to peak condition).

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Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Roses In The Snow’

Releasing a bluegrass album is a near-certain way to ensure diminished album sales and radio airplay; just ask Dierks Bentley. It was considered even riskier move in 1980, when Nashville was still deeply entrenched in the Urban Cowboy sound. So Warner Bros. executives were understandably unenthusiastic when Emmylou Harris and Brian Ahern submitted the bluegrass-oriented Roses In The Snow as Emmylou’s sixth album for the company. The label ultimately relented, primarily because of Emmylou’s stellar sales record: every album she’d released, with the exception of the Christmas album Light of the Stable, had been certified gold. The album was released in May 1980, and everyone braced themselves for a commercial disaster. But to everyone’s great surprise, Roses In The Snow was anything but a disaster. Although the two singles released to radio did not chart quite as high as some of her earlier records, the album peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top Country LPs chart, and like its five predecessors, was certified gold.

Emmylou’s previous album, 1979’s Blue Kentucky Girl, had marked a change in direction, concentrating primarily on traditional country, as opposed to the more eclectic approach of her earlier releases. The success of Blue Kentucky Girl, as well as the influence of Hot Band member Ricky Skaggs, encouraged Harris to delve even deeper into traditional music. Skaggs’ fingerprints are all over Roses In The Snow; he played several instruments on the album as well as contributing duet and background vocals. But what really makes Roses In The Snow sound unique is autoharpist Bryan Bowers, who plays throughout the album. While perhaps not strictly bluegrass, the autoharp recreated the sound of the Carter Family, contributing to the old-timey sound that Harris and Ahern were aiming for.

Like Emmylou’s previous albums, Roses In The Snow was recorded in Los Angeles in the Enactron Truck and made use of both The Hot Band and an impressive guest line-up. The Whites, who had been featured prominently on Blue Kentucky Girl once again contributed harmony vocals, as did Harris’ good friends Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton. Johnny Cash provided backing vocals on one track (“Jordan”), Jerry Douglas played dobro and Wilie Nelson played gut-string guitar.

The traditional number “Wayfaring Stranger” was released as the album’s first single. Perhaps the closest in style to Harris’ earlier work — reminiscent of past hits such as “If I Could Only Win Your Love” and “One Of These Days” — “Wayfaring Stranger” climbed to #7, bucking the then-current trend towards slickly-produced, more pop sounding music. “The Boxer”, a remake of the 1968 Paul Simon hit, fared less well, stalling at #13. It is the most unusual song on the album, not something I — or probably most people — would have thought of while working on a bluegrass project, but it works surprisingly well. Sung from the male point of view, it benefits greatly from the acoustic arrangement, Bryan Bowers’ autoharp, and superb harmonies from The Whites.

The best music is often made when commercial considerations are cast aside, allowing the artist to engage in a labor of love. This is decidedly the case with Roses In The Snow. It’s hard to pinpoint the album’s highlights because it is excellent from beginning to end, but if pressed, I would have to go with “Green Pastures”, a Harris-Skaggs duet with harmonies provided by Dolly Parton, “The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn”, another Harris-Skaggs collaboration written by Ralph Stanley, and “Gold Watch and Chain”, an A.P Carter-penned song which features Skaggs and Linda Ronstadt. Emmylou’s cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “You’re Learning” is also quite good, and is one of the few instances in which she breaks with tradition and uses some electric instruments, namely the electric guitar, courtesy of Hot Band member Albert Lee.

Warner Bros. remastered and re-released Roses Of The Snow in 2002, along with two bonus tracks: a cover of Hank Williams’ “You’re Gonna Change” and the Celtic-flavored “Root Like A Rose”, written by Nancy Ahern (Bryan’s sister). Neither song is bluegrass, so they sound slightly out of place here, but both are excellent.

Roses In The Snow is available from Amazon and iTunes, and is highly recommended. Please note that the digital version of the album does not include the two bonus tracks.

Grade: A+