My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Perfect Stranger

Some hidden treasures of the decade

At the end of last year, I shared a list of my favorite 50 singles of the decade. Some of them were big hits, others more obscure, but at least in theory they got some attention at the time. Now that the decade is well and truly over, I thought I would mention some hidden treasures – album tracks that you probably only heard if you’re a fan of the artist, and purchased the full album. Some of them are from albums and artists that were more successful than others. I’ve omitted anything that made it to radio (even if it wasn’t a hit) as I considered those for my last list, and I have also left out anything from an album which made our collective Albums of The Decade list, although I have included tracks from other albums by artists who appeared on both of those lists. I have restricted my list to one track per artist named.

40. ‘Cold All The Time’ – Irene Kelley (from Thunderbird, 2004)
Songwriter Irene Kelley has released a couple of very good independent albums, showcasing her own very beautiful voice as well as her songs. This is a gently resolute song about a woman stuck in a bad relationship, summoning up the courage to make a move.

39. ‘All I Want’ – Darius Rucker (from Learn To Live, 2008)
There is still a chance that this might make it to the airwaves, as Darius’s platinum country debut is his current release. As a whole, the material was a little disappointing, but this great song is definitely worth hearing, and not only because it’s the mos country song on the album. It’s a jaundiced kiss-off to an ex, offering her everything as “all I want you to leave me is alone”.

38. ‘I Met Jesus In A Bar’ – Jim Lauderdale (from Country Super Hits Volume 1, 2006)
Songwriter Jim Lauderdale has released a number of albums of his own, in more than one country sub-genre, and in 2006 he issued two CDs on one day: one country, the other bluegrass. This great co-write with Leslie Satcher, a melancholy-tinged song about God and booze, also recorded by Aaron Watson, comes from the country one.

37. ‘A Train Not Running’ – Chris Knight (from The Jealous Kind, 2003)
Singer-songwriter Chris Knight co-wrote this downbeat first-person tale of love and a mining town’s economic failure with Stacy Dean Campbell, who also recorded a version of the song.

36. ‘Same Old Song’ – Blake Shelton (from Blake Shelton, 2001)
These days, Blake seems to attract more attention for his girlfriend Miranda Lambert and his Tweeting than for his own music. This song, written by Blake’s producer Bobby Braddock back in 1989, is an appeal for country songs to cover new ground and real stories.

35. ‘If I Hadn’t Reached For The Stars’ – Bradley Walker (from Highway Of Dreams, 2006)
It’s probably a sign of the times that Bradley Walker, who I would classify as a classic traditional country singer in the Haggard/Travis style, had to release his excellent debut album on a bluegrass label. This love song (written by Carl Jackson and previously recorded by Jon Randall) is all about finding happiness through not achieving stardom.

34. ‘Between The River And Me’ – Tim McGraw (from Let It Go, 2007)
Tim McGraw is not one of my favorite singers, but he does often have a knack for picking interesting material. It was a travesty that the best track on his 2007 album was never released as a single, especially when far less deserving material took its place. It’s a brooding story song narrated by the teenage son of a woman whose knack seems to be picking the wrong kind of man, in this case one who beats her. The son turns to murder, down by the river.

33. ‘Three Sheets In The Wind’ – Randy Archer (from Shots In The Dark, 2005)
In the early 9s, Randy Archer was one half of the duo Archer Park,who tried and failed to challenge Brooks & Dunn. His partner in that enterprise is now part of The Parks. Meanwhile, Randy released a very good independent album which has been overlooked. My favorite track is this sad tale of a wife tearing up a husband’s penitent note of apology and leaving regardless.

32. ‘It Looked Good On Paper’ – Randy Kohrs featuring Dolly Paton (from I’m Torn, 2007)
A forlorn lost-love ballad from dobro player Kohrs featuring exquisite high harmonies from Dolly. the ret o the record is very good, too – and you can listen to it all on last.fm.

31. ‘Mental Revenge’ – Pam Tillis (from It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis, 2002)
After her mainstream stardom wound down, 90s star Pam Tillis took the opportunity to record a real labor of love: a tribute album to her father Mel. This bitter diatribe to an ex is my favorite track.

30. ‘You Don’t Love God If You Don’t Love Your Neighbour’ – Rhonda Vincent (from The Storm Still Rages, 2001)
A traditional country-bluegrass-gospel quartet take on a classic rebuke to religious hypocrites, written by Carl Story. The track isn’t the best showcase of Rhonda’s lovely voice, but it’s a great recording of a fine song with a pointed message.

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Class of ’89 Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘When I Call Your Name’

whenicallyournameVince Gill was not a new artist in 1989, but it was the year that saw him make his big breakthrough and really established him as the major star he was to be through the 1990s.  He had spent several years signed to RCA, and had released three truncated albums of varying lengths, plus a number of singles which had received varying amounts of radio play, three becoming top 10 hits.  Much of Vince’s RCA output is still worth seeking out; I particularly like ‘The Way Back Home’, ‘Oh Carolina’, ‘Living The Way I  Do’, and ‘If It Weren’t For Him’, a duet with Rosanne Cash.  The production was not always quite right, though, in my opinion, and sometimes making his voice sound a little thin, especially on up-tempo material.  Sales however were not encouraging, and RCA’s lack of faith in Vince is reflected by the fact that none of his album releases were full-length. 

Everything changed when Vince changed labels, and moved to MCA.  When I Call Your Name, his first album for the label, released in November 1989,  was a modern classic which definitely still stands up today.  It was eventually certified double platinum.

Like many of the ‘Class of 89’, Vince Gill was a singer-songwriter, and he contributed seven of the ten tracks on this album.  They vary from good to great, and are allied to sympathetic production from Tony Brown, with whom Vince had played in Rodney Crowell’s band the Cherry Bombs in the early 80s.  Vince’s instrumental abilities are well-known, and he played acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin alongside a team of session musicians.  The music is never allowed to overwhelm the songs, but rather supports them to best effect.

The break with the past was not complete; opening track and leadoff single ‘Never Alone’, had been written by Vince with Rosanne Cash back in 1984, and one suspects it had previously been recorded for RCA but never released.  It certainly sounds very similar to his material from that period, and was only a modest success, reaching #22 on Billboard.  It is a good enough song, but probably my least favorite track on this album.  The move to MCA then began to pay off as Vince was teamed with labelmate Reba McEntire on an engaging western swing tribute to their fellow home state, ‘Oklahoma Swing’, which was released as a single.  It may come as a slight surprise that it only reached #13.

Vince’s real breakthrough came when the album’s title track was released as a single.  The devastating sadness of Vince’s delivery of ‘When I Call Your Name’, supported by Patty Loveless’ harmonies, makes this still one of his finest recordings, perfectly epitomising loneliness and loss.  It was a worthy winner of the CMA’s Single of the Year award in 1990, and Song of the Year in 1991.  Vince’s status as a genuine new star was cemented by the final single released from the album, the almost equally exquisite sadness of ‘Never Knew Lonely’.  This was another song which Vince had cut on RCA, but which they had foolishly overlooked.  Vince would still need to wait a few years for his first #1, as these singles made #2 and 3 respectively, but the former in particular has stood the test of time and is one of the best-remembered songs of its era. It was also a genuine star-making record.

Not all the tracks maintain the same standard, but there are no poor tracks either, with even lesser (comparitively) material like ‘Oh Girl (You Know Where To Find Me)’ and ‘We Won’t Dance’ being very listenable, and possible standouts had they appeared on other artist’s albums.  Of the more up-tempo material, Vince’s cover of Guy Clark’s ‘Rita Ballou’, an ode to a sexy female rodeo rider, is notable for backing vocals from the great Emmylou Harris, and ‘Ridin’ The Rodeo’ features the Desert Rose Band’s Herb Pedersen, and was later covered by 90s group Perfect Stranger.  Given the quality of Vince’s songwriting, it seems surprising that more of his songs have not been covered by other artists – one can only assume that singers feel intimidated by the thought of competing with Vince’s own sublime versions.

Vince’s beautiful soaring tenor is best suited to emotion-infused ballads with melodies allowing him to stretch out both vocally and interpretatively.  My favorite tracks here, after ‘When I Call Your Name’ and ‘Never Knew Lonely’, fall into that category.  ‘We Could Have Been’, one of the few outside songs on the record (written by Don Cook and John Jarvis) is a wistful reflection on an ex-lover and what might have been, which might have been tailor-made for Vince to deliver, and Vince himself wrote the sweet love song, ‘Sight For Sore Eyes’ with Guy Clark. 

When I Call Your Name is still commercially available, and is essential listening for country fans.

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