My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Peggy Lee

Album Review: Asleep at the Wheel & Leon Rausch – ‘It’s a Good Day’

91xsgyplbl-_sx522_Leon Rausch was the lead singer for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys during the late 1950s and early 1960 and rejoined the band for its final recordings in 1973.  In 2010, he joined forces with Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel for It’s a Good Day, a diverse collection of western swing, big band, jazz and mainstream swing (if there is such a thing) tunes.  He is front and center for the album, handling most of the lead vocals, with AATW acting as his backing band. Floyd Domino, AATW’s original pianist, rejoins the group for this project, as he did for the previous year’s Willie and the Wheel.  The album was produced by Ray Benson.

At age 83, Rausch’s voice is gravelly but still quite strong and he sings surprisingly well for his age.  He holds his own with AATW’s Elizabeth McQueen who duets with him on “Alright, OK, You Win”, a Count Basie tune written by Maymie Watts and Sid Wyche.  It had also been a hit for Peggy Lee in the 1950s, and he outsings Willie Nelson, who acts as his duet partner on “Truck Driver’s Blues”.

I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to hear that my favorite songs on the album are the more country ones, although I really do like all kinds of swing music and enjoyed the entire album.  The best ones are those that were penned by the great Bob Wills himself:  “I Didn’t Realize”, “Cotton Patch Blues”, “Sugar Moon” (a co-write with Cindy Walker) and “Osage Stomp”, the instrumental jam-session album closer.  I also quite enjoyed “Mean Woman with the Green Eyes”, which was not written by Bob Wills but was recorded by The Texas Playboys.

Benson and his band take a back seat to Rausch on this project, but Asleep at the Wheel , which is one of the best bands in any genre of music, is the glue that holds everything together. As always, the musicianship is excellent.  It’s not a strictly country album, but there isn’t a bad song to be found here.

Grade:  A

Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Sing, Chapter 1’

81hrny-Ha0L._SX522_I always felt that Wynonna was miscast as a country singer but was otherwise a great vocal performer. This album is the proof of my latter assertion, a twelve song collection of great songs perfectly executed by a master singer.

The album opens up with a thirty’s classic “That’s How Rhythm Was Born”, a Boswell Sisters hit from the 1930s, long forgotten but well worth reviving. The Boswell Sisters pre-dated and were an inspiration for the Andrews Sister. The song sounds very Andrews-ish with Vickie Hampton and Wynonna doing harmonies to create that trio sound. There is an old-time, non-bluegrass banjo in the mix played by Ilya Toshinsky.

Next up is the greatest country song ever written, Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. While there are versions I prefer to Wynonna’s, she does an excellent job with the song. The Nashville String Machine provides tasteful and effective orchestral accompaniment.

Wynonna gives the sisterhood some wise advice in the very bluesy “Women Be Wise”.

Dave Bartholomew was a noted New Orleans songwriter closely associated with the legendary Fats Domino. “I Hear You Knocking” was a big R&B hit for Smiley Lewis in 1955 (#2 R&B) and a big pop hit (#2) for actress Gale Storm. Fats Domino also recorded the song a few years later, and because of his sustained success, Fats’ version is probably the best remembered. Wynonna’s version has a more New Orleans style rock feel. It is quite good

Larry Henley and Red Lane penned “Til I Get It Right”, a major Tammy Wynette hit from 1973. The focus is on Wynonna’s vocal with spare but graceful accompaniment that includes unobtrusive strings.

Another country classic follows, Merle Haggard’s “Are The Good Times Really Over For Good”. Not one of my favorite Hag songs, but still a good song. I do like the brass instrumentation in Wynonna’s arrangement.

I was not a big Stevie Ray Vaughan fan but I could take him in small doses and Wynonna’s take on “The House is Rockin'” is just enough Stevie Ray for me. Wynonna’s take on this song rocks just enough.

The almost forgotten Bill Withers had a relatively short career as a recording artist (he is still alive) but the music he did produce was exceptional leading to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Ain’t No Sunshine” was one of those classics and Wynonna gives it the appropriately moody reading.

Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller are arguably one of the two or three greatest pop songwriting tandems in history. “I’m a Woman” was initially released in 1962 by Christine Kittrell, but is best remembered as a classic Peggy Lee track. Wynonna’s version is as good as any of them albeit very different from Peggy Lee’s sexy rendition, Wynonna’s being a very assertive R&B track

I am not a big fan of most Burt Bacharach-Hal David compositions, other than those written for the great Gene Pitney. That said, “Anyone Who Had A Heart” had a distinguished pedigree with British songbird Cilia Black taking her George Martin-produced record to #1 in the UK for three weeks in 1964. Cilla’s version also went to #1 in Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, but I don’t think it was released in the US. Dionne Warwick also had a notable hit (#8 pop/ #2 adult contemporary) with the song in the US but only got as high as #47 in the UK. Both versions competed in various global markets, basically to a draw in Europe. Wynonna’s version is a pretty standard, but effective presentation.

“When I Fall In Love” is a pop standard that has been recorded by many artists, most notably Jeri Southern and Doris Day. Wynonna gives it a fairly standard interpretation with the Nashville String Machine setting the mood for Wynonna’s strong vocal.

The album closes with a Rodney Crowell original “Sing”. I think that this is the weakest song on the album, but I would also give it a B+ which should tell you what I think of this album

Of all the Wynonna albums I’ve heard, this one is my favorite, both in terms of the strength of Wynonna’s vocals and the quality of the material. To me this is a definite A+.

Fellow Travelers: Anne Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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