My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Pete Anderson

Album Review: Heather Myles – ‘Highways & Honky Tonks’

highways and honky tonksHeather’s third studio album, and fourth overall, saw her move to Rounder Records. It consists almost entirely of self-penned originals, all very well written and well-suited to Heather’s voice and style. Pete Anderson, best known for his work with Dwight Yoakam, plays lead guitar.

Rounder was a little more aggressive in its marketing than her previous labels, with a couple of the less hardcore honky tonk numbers released as singles, although neither received much airplay.

The excellent ‘True Love’ is a wearied but compassionate declaration of love for a man who is out playing the field, with an underlying acknowledgment of her own folly in waiting for him despite her friends’ advice. The second single, the ballad ‘Love Me A Little Bit Longer’, is a love song about a relationship which has seen its hard times but still has some life left in it. Both are mature and believable depictions of realistic situations.

The opening ‘You’re Gonna Love Me One Day’ is quite a good mid-paced song which offers a warning that the man leaving her will eventually regret it.

‘Broken Heart For Sale’ is a more traditional heartbreak ballad with melodic steel, while ‘You’ve Taken Me Places I Wish I’d Never Been’ has a grittier feel with Anderson’s twangy guitar particularly prominent.

The tender ballad ‘No One Is Gonna Love You Better’ is a duet with Merle Haggard, with some lovely fiddle dominating the arrangement. Haggard is in fine voice and their voices meld very well, while the lyric (about a relationship which may not last, but is the best they’ll ever have) nods to Hag with the line,
I know you’re a ramblin’ man

This is a definite highlight. Another favorite, ‘Who Did You Call Darlin’’ has a Tex Mex feel which makes it sound upbeat despite the accusing tone of the lyrics, in which a wife calls out her cheating, drinking husband, who comes staggering in “smelling like a perfume factory”.

The honky tonker ‘Playin’ Every Honky Tonk In Town’ is also great, while later she pleads for ‘Mr Lonesome’ to leave her alone. ‘Rock At The End Of My Rainbow’ while still solid, is perhaps the least interesting song included.

A couple of covers are thrown in: the sunny Charley Pride hit ‘Kiss An Angel Good Morning’ and a very enjoyable version of Ray Price’s ‘I’ll Be There’, but the meat of album is Heather’s own excellent songs. She really should have been a bigger star.

Grade: A

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – “3 Pears”

I miss the days when major label country music artists could be counted on to release albums once a year like clockwork. Not only did it ultimately mean more music in the hands of the consumer, but it also gave the artist a bit of a safety net if he or she wanted to experiment a bit. If an album wasn’t quite up to par, the fans could take consolation in the knowledge that it wouldn’t be too long before a new — and hopefully better — album would be released. But under the current business model, where it’s not unusual for the wait between albums to be five or more years, it is a huge disappointment when an album isn’t to one’s liking. And this is, unfortunately, the case with Dwight Yoakam’s latest release 3 Pears.

In addition to being Yoakam’s first studio album in five years, and his first collection of (mostly) original material since 2005’s Blame The Vain, 3 Pears also marks his return to Warner Bros., the label of his commercial heyday. It could have been — and should have been — one of the biggest events of the year in country music. But unfortunately, the album has little to do with actual country music, and seems to be more influenced by 1960s rock groups such as The Beatles and The Mamas and The Papas than Buck Owens or George Jones.

It’s hard not to like a Dwight Yoakam album, and I should make it perfectly clear that 3 Pears is by no means a terrible album, but it falls short of the high bar set by Dwight’s earlier work and it is not the album I was hoping for. While I wasn’t expecting a Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc, Etc or Hillbilly Deluxe, I was expecting an eclectic set encompassing a variety of styles, with at least a few traditional country numbers to balance things out. Instead, 3 Pears is dominated by too-loud electric guitars, too much reverb and very little that is particularly memorable. The one ostensibly traditional number — a cover of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” is obnoxiously overproduced with the loud electric guitars and equally loud and unnecessary percussion taking the place of the fiddle and steel of the classic Joe Maphis and Vern Gosdin versions.

The opening track “Take Hold Of My Hand”, a co-write with Kid Rock, is a pleasant enough toe-tapper that would have sounded at home on Dwight’s 2000 effort Tomorrow’s Sounds Today, but things begin to deteriorate with the second track “Waterfall”, the first of two Yoakam-penned songs with bizarre lyrics (the other song being the title track). It’s clearly meant to be tongue-in-cheek but I just can’t get into lyrics like

If I had a jellyfish
I betcha we would never miss
A single peanut butter kiss or squeeze


If I had a big giraffe
He’d have to take a real long bath
And that’s why waterfalls are really neat


The lyrics to the title track are downright incomprehensible, talking about “three pairs” of various items — glasses, shades, shoes, and not the three pieces of fruit implied by the spelling of the title or the album’s cover art. My other big beef with this song is the synthesizer track that would have been intrusive even by 1980s standards.

That’s not to say that everything here is bad. “It’s Never Alright” is a nice midtempo number written with Ashley Monroe, and “Long Way To Go” is an excellent number that is reminiscent of Dwight’s 90s work. An alternate, piano-led acoustic version of the song appears as the album’s closing track. Both versions are highly enjoyable, as is “Missing Heart”, a mostly acoustic ballad that shows that Dwight is still in good vocal form, and that he doesn’t need to overwhelm his voice with loud, cluttered production and reverb effects.

In general, the second half of the album is better than the first half and the album’s better tracks show that Dwight is still capable of making worthwhile music. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll hear any of the songs from 3 Pears on country radio. While I can’t recommend the entire album without reservation, I do think it’s worth cherry-picking and individually downloading some of the better tracks such as “It’s Never Alright”, “Missing Heart”, and both versions of “Long Way To Go”. The rest of the album is just filler. I hope that we don’t have to wait another five to seven years for Dwight’s next project, which ideally would be a back to basics project produced by Pete Anderson. In the meantime, I’ll continue to listen to Dwight’s classic 80s and 90s work.

Grade: B-

Country Heritage Redux: Liz and Lynn Anderson

An updated version of an article previously published by The 9513:

There have been a number of country singers named Anderson who have graced the genre. During the 1960s and 1970s “Whispering” Bill Anderson placed an impressive number of songs on the charts, both as a songwriter and as a performer. John Anderson graced the scene during the 1980s and 1990s, mostly as a performer. Concurrently Pete Anderson served as a musician, songwriter, producer and performer. What this group of Andersons has in common is that none of them are related to each other.

Such is not the case with the subjects of this article. Liz Anderson and her daughter Lynn both had success on the country music charts and as live performers, although Lynn is one of the true superstars of the genre whereas Liz was basically a good journeyman performer. Liz, however, had enormous success as a songwriter. Liz’s husband (and Lynn’s father), Casey Anderson, also was involved in music, working mostly behind the scenes.

Born in 1930 in Roseau, Minnesota, but raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Liz married Casey Anderson in 1946 after Casey’s return from military service. The following year their daughter Lynn was born. Eventually the family moved to California where our story begins.

Liz was a relatively late entrant to the music business, not really getting her career in high gear until the early 1960s when she started traveling to Nashville. During this period Liz recorded demos and wrote many songs. Things started rolling in 1961 when Del Reeves recorded “Be Quiet Mind” and reached fifth gear in 1964 when Roy Drusky recorded “Pick of the Week”. In 1965, Merle Haggard recorded her song “All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers”, which was to be his first top ten hit, reaching #7 (Roy Drusky also recorded the song – his version reached #6). Liz won a BMI award for this song.

Also during 1965, Chet Atkins signed Liz to a recording deal with RCA. Liz’s first two singles, “Go Now , Pay Later” (#23) and “So Much For Me, So Much For You” (#45) both charted and her third single, “Game of Triangles”, with label-mates Bobby Bare and Norma Jean, became a Top 5 hit. Her next solo release, “The Wife of the Party reached #22 and then in April 1967, Anderson again had a Top 5 Country hit with “Mama Spank”. This was to be Liz’s last top twenty recording, although she continued to chart for a few more years, switching to Epic in 1971. Among Anderson’s other popular recordings were “Tiny Tears” (#24 -1967), “Thanks A Lot For Tryin’ Anyway” (#40 – 1968), her duet with daughter Lynn, “Mother May I (#21 -1968) and “Husband Hunting” (#26 -1970).

Although she would never say so, I believe that Liz’s fall from the top of the charts can be explained in two words: Lynn Anderson. It appears that, starting in 1966, Liz was funneling her best material to her daughter Lynn. Eight of the songs on Lynn’s first album, Ride Ride Ride, were written by Liz (one a co-write with Casey) including three of the four charting singles. Liz also wrote four of the songs on Lynn’s second album, Promises, Promises and five of the songs on Lynn’s third album, Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Although her own hit records were relatively few, Liz Anderson had a significant impact on the country charts as a songwriter. Here are some of the songs she wrote that were recorded by other artists and reached the top forty of Billboard’s Country Charts:

“Strangers” – Merle Haggard (#10) and Roy Drusky (#6) both in 1965
“Be Quiet Mind” – Del Reeves (#9 – 1961) and Ott Stephens (#23 – 1964)
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” – Lynn Anderson (#12 – 1968)
“Flattery Will Get You Everywhere” – Lynn Anderson (#11-1969)
“Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart” – Conway Twitty (#18 – 1966)
“I Cried All the Way to the Bank” – Norma Jean (#21-1965)
“(I’m a Lonesome) Fugitive” – Merle Haggard (#1-1967, Hag’s first of 38 Billboard #1s)
This song was a co-write with husband Casey Anderson
“If I Kiss You” – Lynn Anderson (#5-1967)
“Just Between the Two of Us” recorded by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens (#28-1964)
“Promises, Promises” – Lynn Anderson (#4 Billboard, #1 Record World – 1968)
“Ride Ride Ride” – Lynn Anderson (#38 – 1966) and Brenda Lee (#37 pop -1966)

LYNN ANDERSON is, of course the better known of this pair. Lynn reached superstar status during the late 1960s and early 1970s. For the decade of the 1970s, Lynn ranks fourth among female singers, behind Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Lynn was born in 1947, making her mother Liz just over 17 years old when Lynn was born. Although born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Casey & Liz moved to California while Lynn was still small. Lynn first became interested in singing around the age of six, but her first Anderson became interested in singing at the young age of six, but she had her first success equestrian activities winning many trophies in and around California including becoming the California Horse Show Queen in 1966. Lynn remains active in equestrian pursuits to this very day, having achieved great success as a rider and breeder.

Being the daughter of two songwriters, Lynn took naturally to performing, landing roles on local television programs, singing background harmony on her mother’s demo recordings and working at KROY Radio in Sacramento. On one of her mother’s trips to Nashville, Lynn traveled with her to Nashville and was allowed to participate in an informal hotel room sing-a-long with various country singers such as Freddie Hart and Merle Haggard, among others. It is reported that Slim Williamson, owner of Chart Records, was present at the informal jam session and invited Lynn to record for Chart, which she did from 1966-1969. While signed to Chart, Lynn came to the attention of Lawrence Welk, who signed her for the 1967-1968 season. While with Welk, Lynn appeared on the television show and toured with the show’s touring company. During 1968, Lynn married Glenn Sutton, a noteworthy songwriter who wrote David Houston’s mega-hit “Almost Persuaded”.

Many people are under the impression that the Lynn Anderson story begins with her million selling hit “Rose Garden” and her Glen Sutton-produced recordings on Columbia. That impression is quite mistaken in that by the time Lynn signed with Columbia in 1970, she had already recorded thirteen charting records, four of which were top ten records with “Promises, Promises” reaching #1 on Record World (#4 Billboard) and “That’s A No No” reaching #1 on Cash Box (#2 Billboard) and another five records reaching the top twenty, not bad for an artist signed to a minor label. During the Chart years, much of Lynn’s material was penned by Liz Anderson. Even after the switch to Columbia, one or two of Liz’s compositions appeared on each of Lynn’s albums except Rose Garden, until near the end of her tenure with Columbia . Although Liz and Lynn were signed to different labels, in 1967 and 1968 Chart had some sort of manufacturing and distribution deal with Chart that enabled the mother-daughter duets.

Lynn’s first single for Columbia was the lively “Stay There Til I Get There” which reached #7, despite Chart issuing a competing single, a cover of Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” that reached #16. Her next single “No Love At All” only reached #15 (it would be a pop hit for BJ Thomas the following year) as it was sandwiched by two more Chart releases “Rocky Top” and “I’m Alright” both of which hit the top twenty. During this period Chart would add trumpets and strings to existing Lynn Anderson tracks before issuing then as singles, apparently to make them sound more like her current Columbia output.

Finally in late 1970, “Rose Garden” was released. A somewhat unusual choice for a single as it seemed to be (1) told from a masculine perspective and (2) was penned by pop/rock songwriter Joe South, this single made it clear to the public which label was providing the current Lynn Anderson as it soared to #1 for five weeks, reaching #4 on the pop charts and selling over a million copies in the process. The record also went to #1 in Canada, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland, reached #3 in England and went top ten in a number of other countries.

Lynn’s follow up to “Rose Garden” was “You’re My Man” penned by husband Glen Sutton which spent two weeks at #1. While Chart continued to release old material as singles throughout 1971, the only Chart release to reach the top twenty was Lynn’s cover of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. As for the Columbia releases, from “Rose Garden” until the end of 1974, Lynn had an terrific run of success as twelve of thirteen singles made the top ten with five Billboard #1s (“Rose Garden”, “You’re My Man”, “How Can I Unlove You”, “Keep Me In Mind” and “What a Man My Man Is”) plus a Cashbox #1 (“Top of The World) and a Record World #1 (“Cry”). Along the way ten of Lynn’s songs crossed over onto the pop charts. She won a Grammy in 1971 for “Rose Garden” and was the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year for 1971.

After 1975, Lynn continued to record, but she really didn’t fit the outlaw movement that came into vogue during the second half of the 1970s (although she was undoubtedly more comfortable on a horse than any of the outlaws). Consequently the really big hits tailed off although there were still nine top twenty hits to follow with her 1979 hit “Isn’t It Always Love” reaching #10 and her late 1983 duet with Gary Morris “You’re Welcome To Tonight” reaching #9. Her marriage to Glenn Sutton came undone in 1977. Her tenure at Columbia ended in 1980 and she did not chart during 1981 and 1982. In 1983 she emerged on Permian Records and later recorded for Mercury (also, there was a duet with Ed Bruce on RCA).

After falling off the charts in 1989, Lynn continued in equestrian activities where she has one 16 national and eight world titles. Never fully retired from recording or performing music, Lynn issued a bluegrass album in 2004. Since 2006 she has been involved in recording for her mother’s Showboat label.

Lynn has been married twice. She had two children with second husband Harold Stream III, whom she divorced in 1982. At last report she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with long-time boyfriend Mentor Williams, a songwriter who wrote “Drift Away”, a huge hit for both Dobie Gray and Narvel Felts


Liz Anderson
As always, all vinyl is out of print. Liz recorded eight albums for RCA, plus an album on the Tudor label released in 1983. Liz’s RCA albums all feature songs that she wrote alone or with Casey as co-writer. I assume that the Tudor album My Last Rose contains some of her compositions, but I cannot be certain of this.

Liz also recorded four singles for Epic, all of which charted, none of which made the top fifty. The most interesting of these was the single “Astrology”. Unfortunately, Epic never collected these onto an album.

Unfortunately, none of Liz’s vinyl output has made it onto CD. Liz does have her own record label Showboat Records and has issued several CDs of relatively new material. Liz and Casey can be heard on the Sons of the Guns CD and on the CD titled The Cowgirl Way .
Liz also has available a couple of holiday CDs.

Liz is an accommodating sort, and at my request she put together a greatest hits collection for me several years ago. Her available recorded output is to be found at

Liz Anderson was hospitalized October 27, 2011, due to complications from heart and lung disease. No other information currently is available.

Lynn Anderson


Lynn had a very prolific career during the vinyl era. Chart issued 13 albums of which three albums were compilations. Her Chart career contains a lot less of the ‘country cocktail’ that characterized her Columbia recordings and more straight-ahead country. My favorite Lynn Anderson recordings come from this period. All of the Chart Albums are worthwhile, and all feature songs written by her mother. Look for Songs My Mother Wrote which features Lynn singing her mother’s most famous songs.

Columbia released twenty studio albums on Lynn Anderson. Additionally, a Christmas album and several compilation albums were released. Greatest Hits contains most of the biggest hits; Greatest Hits Volume 2 is mostly lesser hits documenting Lynn’s slide down the charts. As far as the various albums go, if you like the ‘country cocktail’ production, you’ll like all of Lynn’s Columbia albums. Lynn was always adventurous in her choice of material, sampling material from various genres of music in order to avoid becoming stale.

After leaving Columbia, Lynn issued two more vinyl albums: 1983’s Back on the Permian label and the 1988 effort What She Does Best on Mercury. The Permian album contains Lynn’s last top ten hit “You’re Welcome To Tonight” and the Mercury album contains her last top twenty-five single, a remake of the Drifters classic “Under The Boardwalk” . Both albums vary considerably from the sound of her Columbia albums.

Currently there are several Lynn Anderson CDs available. Collectors Choice Music has issued Greatest Hits which gathers eight of her Chart label hits with sixteen of her Columbia hits – this is the best currently available collection. The Columbia/Legacy 16 Biggest Hits has two of the Chart hits along with fourteen Columbia hits. Her 2004 project The Bluegrass Sessions is still in print and finds Lynn in good voice as she recasts her biggest hits as bluegrass. Collectibles has reissued two of Lynn’s Columbia albums on one CD – the albums Rose Garden/You’re My Man were the two biggest albums of her career. Although now out of print, you may be able to find the two outstanding collections issued by the now defunct Renaissance label – Anthology – The Chart Years and Anthology – The Columbia Years. There is also available a Lynn Anderson – Live At Billy Bob’ Texas which showcases Lynn in a live setting. Plus, there are two albums of western music recorded for her mother’s label , Cowgirl and Cowgirl 2.

You may be able to find some other CDs of Lynn’s recordings. Beware of the off-labels (Dominion, Delta, Country Stars, etc) as these will normally feature remakes of the earlier hit recordings.

There are , however, two off-label CDs worth checking out :
(1) Laser Light CD Cowboy’s Sweetheart that features original recordings of cowboy and western songs. Issued in 1992, it finds Lynn in good voice and is a worthwhile acquisition
(2) Lynn Anderson Live At Billy Bob’s Texas, a good representation of what it is like to attend a live Lynn Anderson concert

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has a listing for a CD released on 9/26/11 by TBird titled Rose Garden – Country Hits 1970-1979. This import contains twenty-one songs and appears to be original Columbia recordings.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Blame The Vain’

Dwight’s last album of original material to date was this 2005 release on independent label New West, recorded in California. He dispensed with the services of longtime producer Pete Anderson, taking the reins himself, while Keith Gattis (a former RCA recording artist himself) takes Anderson’s role as lead guitarist. The end result is not that different from Dwight’s earlier work, although it is not as traditional as his first few albums. He wrote every song. He sounds energized and committed throughout, despite the overwhelming downbeat nature of the lyrics, with not a happy song in the selection. Mainly they concentrate on the aftermath of failed relationships, with an overarching theme of trying to conceal pain.

The up-tempo ‘Intentional Heartache’ is a story song with a muscular beat about a woman driving away from her cheating man after an assault on his Chevrolet. This is more than a little reminiscent of the following year’s Carrie Underwood hit ‘Before He Cheats’. Interestingly, in both songs the action is moved by the woman’s emotional pain, but the revenge she takes (and sees as having more impact than her heartbreak) is on the man’s possessions, particularly his car. It ends with a spoken outro with Dwight voicing the husband over a thrashing backing, which feels unnecessary. It was a fairly unsuccessful single for Dwight, as was the title track, a rather ironic exploration of the practice of blaming others for one’s problems:

Til there’s nobody left
Then I’ll just blame me…

Blame is always never enough
It just keeps you in the game
Until you’ve only got yourself to bluff

This is a strong and memorable song, but independent labels rarely have the resources to support singles at radio, and like its predecessor it faltered outside the top 50.

The wistful desire to relive the beginnings of a love affair which is coming to an end is expounded in the mid-tempo ‘I Wanna Love Again’, which was the final single. This too is better than its failure to chart would suggest. On a similar theme, ‘When I First Came Here’ initially seems to strikes a rare positive note with its tribute to love, but even this song has a depressing undertow, as it is yet another relationship to have failed leaving the protagonist to face “endless moments alone”.

My favorite track is the slow and lonesome ‘Lucky That Way’, a steel-led number with a faintly familiar tune and perfectly judged phrasing. The title belies the despairing tone of the lyrics as Dwight clings to a new woman while imagining the relationship’s inevitable demise:

Have you ever heard a voice start to moanin’
After despair’s choked its last words away?
Well, any worse sound defies your ears even knowing’
And Lord I’ve heard plenty –
I’m lucky that way

So wrap your warm arms around me
And let our weak hands deal out love’s sad fate

Also excellent is ‘Does It Show’, a restrained yet intense picture of a man trying to hide his heartbreak and continuing love for the woman who has left “love’s biggest clown”, with effective close harmony from Jonathan Clark. The protagonist is equally determined not to admit to pain in the mid-tempo ‘I’ll Pretend’, but the vocal is so agonized perhaps what he is really pretending to himself is that he is even capable of pretending he doesn’t care. In the lowkey and pretty-sounding ‘Just Passin’ Time’ (another highlight), he is beyond pretending, and forlornly wanders the streets and his empty house.

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Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Population Me’

The end of the major-label phase of an artist’s career is often characterized by a change in musical direction, as the artist is often freed from the restraints imposed by commercial considerations and allowed to experiment a bit more. Dwight Yoakam is one of those rare artists who was not only allowed to experiment while on a major label, but also managed to be successful in the process. As such, his indie debut is not the radical departure from his earlier work, as one might inspect. On the contrary, Population Me is vintage Yoakam and an almost seamless progression from his earlier work at Reprise.

Released in 2003 on the Audium label, Population Me, like all of Dwight’s earlier work, was produced by Pete Anderson. The album’s two singles, both of which peaked at #52 and were written by outside songwriters, open and close the album. Sandwiched in between are seven original Yoakam compositions and an interesting, banjo-infused cover of the 1960s pop hit “Trains and Boats and Planes”, which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

First up is “The Late Great Golden State”, an uptempo number with decidedly downbeat lyrics that perhaps prophesize the financial problems California is currently experiencing, though the lyrics themselves never specify why it is referred to as the “late” great Golden State. It deserved to chart higher than it did, and probably would have had it been released a few years earlier when Dwight still had a major label to promote him, and before radio lost interest in his music. Next up is the more traditional “No Such Thing”, a honky-tonker which would have sounded right at home on any of Yoakam’s 80s albums.

“Fair To Midland” borrows its title from the name of a progressive metal band. The mostly acoustic ballad is a reflective play on words about a man who regrets leaving his love behind, and wishes he had the “fare” to Midland to return to her. “An Exception To The Rule” is very much in the same vein as “Things Change” from 1998’s A Long Way Home, so much so that I suspect that it may have been written around the same time. Following “Fair To Midland” is the Dixieland jazz–infused title track, an excellent number in which Dwight is coming to terms with the bleakness, loneliness and bitterness that accompany a breakup. “If Teardrops Were Diamonds” is another standout track that finds Yoakam joining the long, long list of performers to have recorded a duet with Willie Nelson.

Population Me is excellent throughout, but Dwight saved the best for last. The closing track, “The Back Of Your Hand”, which was released as the album’s second and final single is a beautiful folk-flavored ballad. The mostly acoustic arrangement includes a tasteful string section. Written by Gregg Lee Henry, it is one of the best recordings of Dwight’s career.

There is not a weak song to be found in this collection; the album’s only fault is that it is too short, clocking in at about 32 minutes, which definitely leaves the listener wanting more. There are no big hits to be found on Popluation Me, but it’s definitely worth adding to your collection.


It’s no longer widely available, but it can be purchased through third-party sellers at Amazon. New copies are expensive, but used copies are reasonably priced.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Tomorrow’s Sounds Today’

Dwight’s final album for Reprise, released in 2000, comprised mostly self-penned material produced by Pete Anderson. A few months earlier, Dwight had re-imagined many of his earlier hits on, and this album feels like a conscious attempt to look forward to a new phase of his career. The sound mixes traditional country with prominent fiddle and steel on many tracks, and three collaborations with Dwight’s mentor Buck Owens, with rock influences. It was a distinctive combination which probably only Dwight could have made.

The catchy ‘What Do You Know About Love’ has a typically insistent Dwight groove but sounds quite contemporary, and was the album’s only (modest) hit single, peaking at #26. It was his last ever time in the country top 40, but is a pretty good song and should have done better than it did.

Dwight’s cover of the rock song ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ had been his last big hit (from the Last Chance For A Thousand Years hits compilation), peaking at #12 in 1999. He attempted to repeat this success by releasing a version of Cheap Trick’s 1970s hit ‘I Want You To Want Me’ as the second single from Tomorrow’s Sounds Today, but it barely scraped into the top 50. It is pleasant enough and doesn’t sound out of place here, but it is rather repetitive and doesn’t really stand out either.

Harking back to his earlier days the album closes with two last duets with Buck Owens. ‘I Was There’, a buddyish cover of a song Buck recorded on one of his late 80s comeback releases, was the final (and sadly non-charting) single. The cheery love song ‘Alright, I’m Wrong’ was written by Pete Anderson, and is served up with some Tex-Mex accordion from Flaco Jimenez; it’s entertaining, but the lyrics don’t work as a male/male duet with swapped lines. Better than either of these, and in fact one of the best tracks on the album, is the mournful steel-laced ‘The Sad Side Of Town’ in the middle of the album, which Buck wrote with Dwight, and on which he sings harmony in a way reminiscent of his legendary sideman Don Rich’s work on his classic recordings.

The album’s title notwithstanding, there is plenty more material firmly rooted in country music’s rich traditions. I really like the melodic ‘Time Spent Missing You’ with its prominent fiddle and steel, mandolin courtesy of Chris Hillman, and close harmonies from Jim Lauderdale. The mid-tempo ‘Heartaches Are Free’ is another highlight, and one with particularly prominent steel.

‘A Promise You Can’t Keep’ is a fine if gloomy country ballad doubting the protagonist’s partner’s words of love with a pain-infused vocal. ‘A World Of Blue’ is a lovely ballad with a sad lyric but relaxed loungy vocal which strikes a faintly jarring note, but sounds good.

Some tracks are less successful for me. I found the jaded ‘Dreams Of Clay’, ‘For Love’s Sake’, and the opening track ‘Love Caught Up To Me’ all rather forgettable. ‘Free To Go’ is catchy enough but has a rather cynical lyric about the transience of love, which I didn’t really like. ‘A Place To Cry’ is rockier and is too loud, cluttered and rushed for my taste. But with 14 tracks, there is room for some experiments to fail.

Overall, this was a solid effort with some high quality material. Although it failed to capture the interest of country radio, it has a lot to appeal to Dwight Yoakam fans.

Grade: B+

Although the CD version is now out of print, Tomorrow’s Sounds Today is easy to find at a reasonable price and is also available digitally.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘A Long Way Home’

Following 1995’s somewhat disappointing Gone, Dwight Yoakam released an album of cover songs and a Christmas album, which were followed by his tenth studio release in 1998. For the most part, A Long Way Home got him back on track artistically, but it was tepidly received at both radio and retail, suggesting that Dwight’s commercial prowess was waning. The album contains thirteen tracks, all of which were written by Dwight and produced by Pete Anderson. Reprise appears not to have given the album much promotion, releasing only two singles, “Things Change” and “These Arms”, neither of which reached the Top 10.

I’ve heard A Long Way Home described as alt-country, but that is only the case in the sense that mainstream country had begun a dramatic transformation in the late 90s and not because Dwight had changed musical directions. If anything, he back-pedaled from the rock-oriented sound that had dominated Gone; there is nothing radical about A Long Way Home. It doesn’t contain any hardcore honky tonk numbers like his early albums, but it does contain a diverse mix of rockabilly and Bakersfield sound, along with some more mainstream, albeit retro-sounding fare. Like This Time, it is an eclectic collection, though it is a much more cohesive set than that 1993 album.

Dwight’s musical influences are apparent throughout this project. “The Curse” sounds like a cover of an old Johnny Cash song, while “That’s Okay” is reminiscent of the old Buck Owens tune “My Heart Skips A Beat.” Further tribute is paid to the Bakersfield sound with “I Wouldn’t Put It Past Me”, while Yoakam channels Elvis Presley on “Listen”. “These Arms” starts out sounding like an old Ray Price shuffle, opening with a fiddle, rhythm guitar and piano, but the production suddenly changes direction by the song’s first bridge, with amped up electric guitars, drums and a swelling string section, resulting in a rather cluttered sound, before reverting back to the original instrumentation for the next verse. The song alternates between the two styles for its duration. It’s a great song, but I find the production changes somewhat jarring and would have preferred a more traditional approach throughout. Released as the album’s second and final single, “These Arms” stalled at #57.

The album’s first single, “Things Change”, a 60s mainstream pop-sounding song that reminds me of an album my dad used to play by The Mamas and The Papas when I was a child, fared better on the charts, reaching #17. “Only Want You More”, another rockabilly number is a bit overproduced and is my least favorite track on the album. “I’ll Take These” is the most mainstream-sounding song on the album; it seems like it would have had a reasonable shot at success as a single, but the label seems to have lost interest in promoting the album following the failure of “These Arms” on the charts.

The best track on the album is the bluegrass number “Traveler’s Lantern”, on which Dwight is joined by the legendary Ralph Stanley. Listening to it makes me wish Dwight would release an all-bluegrass album. I would have sequenced the album a little differently to make this the last track, instead of making it second-to-last, followed by the rockabilly number “Maybe You Like It, Maybe You Don’t.” I do like it, but it provides a less effective close to the album than “Traveler’s Lantern” would have done.

A Long Way Home was Yoakam’s first major label release that failed to earn at least gold certification, but despite its somewhat lackluster sales and failure to produce a major hit, it is an overlooked gem in Yoakam’s impressive catalog. If you missed this one the first time around, give it a try. You’re in for a real treat.

Grade: A

A Long Way Home
can be purchased from Amazon or iTunes.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Gone’

1995’s Gone was the result of Dwight experimenting with his sound and expanding is musical boundaries, but it marked his fall from commercial grace. Produced as before by Pete Anderson, there was a marked change in style to a more rock-influenced sound.

Lead single ‘Nothing’ (a rather boring soul-influenced ballad which Dwight wrote with then-hot songwriter Kostas) peaked at #20 – a disappointment, but it was the album’s only hit. It’s a song I really don’t like, with intrusive backing vocals and busy production, and it put me off buying the album at the time. It was a major mistake as a single choice, as country radio rarely touched Dwight afterwards.

Although they were better songs and closer to the style Dwight had developed over previous albums, the beaty title track and ‘Sorry You Asked?’ failed to make it into the top 50, and the attractively loping ‘Heart Of Stone’ (another Kostas co-write) didn’t chart at all. ‘Sorry You Asked?’ is the best of these, with its bright horn section and pained vocal as Dwight bends the ears of a sympathetic friend asking about his relationship breakup; had this been the first single the chart history might have been distinctly different. ‘Gone (That’ll Be Me)’ is a pretty good warning to a troublesome lover, but the production is a bit cluttered.

‘Don’t Be Sad’ is more typical Dwight, a sardonic response to an ex:

Don’t be sad cause you got what you wanted
You should be glad to know that I’m finally gone
Don’t feel bad or be disappointed
Cause you got what you wanted all along

This Much I Know’ is a more regretful, but resigned, response to the loss of love, with spot-on harmonies from Beth Anderson, and is one of the best tracks. I also enjoyed the cheerful accordion-led mid-tempo ‘Baby Why Not’, which has Joy Lynn White on harmonies and Dwight playing with his voice at the end trying out his deepest bass effect.

‘Never Hold You’ is over-produced rock with even more intrusive backing vocals than those on ‘Nothing’ (this time courtesy of rock duo The Rembrandts, best known for the Friends theme tune), although it is well written lyrically. ‘One More Night’ similarly flattens out the appeal of lyrics which look on the page as though they would come alive set to a Bakersfield beat but just sound boring weighed down by this flat tune and the heavy production.

The Rembrandts sing backing vocals with more restraint on ‘Near You’, a sweet love song with a rather old-fashioned if not very country feel.

Dwight wrote all the songs and directed all the videos for the singles alone, so all the choices made here must have been entirely Dwight’s. His acting side career was also starting to take off, and perhaps wider horizons were starting to distract his attention. I suppose one should applaud Dwight for not settling on his laurels, and choosing to make challenging musical choices, but on the whole I didn’t much care for this record. In the long run I believe it proved a massive misstep in terms of Dwight’s career. In a remarkable turnaround from the multi-platinum sales of This Time, Gone only achieved gold status, and he was never to regain his status as a mainstay of country radio, although he still had interesting music in his future.

Grade: C+

Used copies are available very cheaply.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘This Time’

The release of This Time in March 1993 marked the end of a three-year sabbatical from the airwaves for Dwight Yoakam. The new album found him broadening his sound just a bit by incorporating some pop and rock elements; yet he still managed to remain true to his country roots. The result was an album that has a little something for everybody, but is a little less cohesive than his earlier efforts. Dwight wrote or co-wrote every song on the album. Five songs were collaborations with Kostas, who was a hot commodity in Nashville at the time, having written several big hits for Patty Loveless.

The album spawned five singles, which for the most part are the less traditional tracks on the album, perhaps as an acknowledgment of the changing tides at country radio. The first three singles all peaked at #2, higher than any of his efforts from 1990’s If There Was A Way. The remaining two singles reached #14 and #22. First out of the box was “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”, which was probably the most polished performance he’d released to radio up to that time. Pete Anderson’s production is fuller and more lush than it had typically been on Dwight’s earlier recordings. “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” was followed on the charts by “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” and “Fast As You”, two of Yoakam’s biggest hits and two of my least favorites among his single releases. While I don’t actively dislike either song, they are both electric guitar-driven, while the usually prominent fiddle and steel are absent.

The same can be said of the album cut “Wild Ride”, a rock-oriented number that is marred by over-processed vocals. The two singles that peaked outside the Top 10 are “Try Not To Look So Pretty” (#14), a beautiful, understated, fiddle-led ballad that is the best cut on the album, and “Pocket Of A Clown” (#22), the album’s opening track. The latter’s relatively poor chart performance may have been a result of less promotional support by the label for a fifth single, but I suspect that the somewhat jarring background vocals are to blame. I like the song, but I would like it a lot better if the “do-wah, do wha’s” were toned down or eliminated altogether.

Based on the album’s first three singles, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch for the radio listener to come to the conclusion that Yoakam was distancing himself from his traditionalist roots. But in fact, this was decidedly not the case, for among the album cuts are some fabulous, solid country gems. It’s hard to pick a favorite among them, but the two main contenders are the weepers “Home For Sale” and “Two Doors Down”. Both are stripped down, crying in your beer songs, the likes of which we rarely hear today. Good stuff. The title track is the obligatory Bakersfield tribute, on which Buck Owens’ influence can be plainly heard. The bluegrassy “Lonesome Roads” brings the album to a satisfying close.

This Time peaked at #4 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and sold more than three million copies in the US, making it the best selling album of his career. It was also his last multi-platinum release. Overall, I don’t like it as much as his previous efforts. While he knocks it out of the park on several occasions, notably on most of the album cuts, there a few tracks like “Wild Ride” and “Fast As You” that prevent it from being a thoroughly excellent album from start to finish. It’s head and shoulders over what most other artists were releasing then — and certainly now — but judged against the high standards of Dwight’s earlier work, this one falls a little bit short.

Grade: B

This Time
is easily obtained from vendors such as Amazon and iTunes.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘If There Was A Way’

In between his third and fourth albums, Dwight Yoakam released his first hits collection, Just Lookin’ For A Hit, which featured two new songs.  While only ‘Long White Cadillac’ was released to radio, it stalled at #35 (after the title cut and final single from his previous album became his first not to enter the top 40).  So it must have been a relief when the first single from If There Was A Way stormed up the charts to a #11 high spot.  Four more singles from the album would find their way to country’s top 40, with a sixth stalling outside.  If There Was A Way also holds the distinction as the first Dwight Yoakam album not to reach the top spot on the country albums chart, though it did sell platinum like its predecessors.

‘Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose’ introduced this album to radio and follows the signature Dwight Yoakam sound to the letter.  Like his first hits, it features a driving bass line alongside a mish-mash of fiddle and steel, and sounds almost like a close cousin to ‘Streets of Bakersfield’.  It’s a clever lyric with the narrator drowning his sorrows and getting loose to the honky-tonk sounds he holds so dear.  ‘Turn’ was written by Kostas and Wayland Patton and is the only single from the album Dwight didn’t have a hand in writing.

In ‘You’re The One’, the tables have turned on the couple, and now that she wants him back, he gets to savor the feeling of watching her experience the heartache she put him through.  With gentle strings and a smoother melody, it’s one of the least country-sounding tracks on the album, but did fare better than the other singles and became the only top 5 hit among them.  Next at radio was the barroom-ready ‘Nothing’s Changed Here’.  The raw sound comes from the excellent guitar work of Pete Anderson, and the effect sounds as if it were out of the Ernest Tubb songbook, whose own ‘Walkin’ The Floor Over You’ is referenced in the lyrics.  ‘Nothing’s Changed Here’ is another Kostas co-write, this time with Yoakam, and found its way to #15 in the Spring of 1991.

Roger Miller served as co-writer for the album’s fourth single.  Smartly flippant, ‘It Only Hurts When I Cry’ found its way to #7 on the singles chart and it finds a man drowning in his sorrow trying to convince the woman that’s left him that he’s just fine; while a tinkling piano and crying steel guitar frame the lies he’s telling her.

A stone country fiddle cry kicks off my favorite track, a weeping lament to a heart that’s forever taken.  ‘The Heart That You Own’ is one of the many metaphor-driven hits that were so bountiful during this era in country music, and became the last hit single from If There Way A Way, peaking at #18.  Likewise, ‘Send A Message To My Heart’ is another stone-country weeper.  This time, Dwight brings along another Kentucky native to harmonize on this ode to love across the miles.  Neither’s star power could propel it up the charts, and it stalled at #47 as the sixth and final single.

More fancy guitar works shows up in ‘Sad, Sad Music’, but the silence is deafening to the narrator as he sings:

There should be music
Sad, sad music
The kind the movies have
When love like ours goes bad

And as more evidence of Dwight’s homages to his musical heroes are the bluegrass-influenced ‘Since I Started Drinkin’ Again’ and the honky-tonk stroller ‘I Don’t Need It Done’, written by John Sieger.

If There Was A Way continued Dwight Yoakam’s run of making hits out of heartbroke lyrics set to rhythmic hard-drumming honky-tonk, mostly propelled by his own swagger and the raw honky-tonk sound of it all.  Even if doesn’t break any new ground in his sound just yet, this album won’t disappoint fans of Dwight’s previous work.

Grade: B+

This album is still available, both digitally and on CD, from amazon.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room’

Dwight’s third album was released in August 1988, and was another big hit for him. It was eventually certified platinum, and was his third (and surprisingly last) #1 album. produced as before by Pete Anderson, the mood is determinedly retro-cool with prominent fiddle and sometimes steel allied to a strong beat and Dwight’s hillbilly whine which imbues the songs with emotion.

Ever since his rise to prominence, Dwight had openly admitted the major influence of the Bakersfield Sound in general and Buck Owens in particular, and the great man came out of retirement to duet with Dwight on the first single, ‘Streets Of Bakersfield’ (a revival of a Homer Joy song which Buck had recorded back in the 70s). It became Dwight’s first, and Buck’s last, #1 single. A defiant stand against those who looked down on the southerners who lived in Bakersfield in the 60s, the duet sounds a little cheerier and buddyish than the lyrics demand, but it’s an entertaining track, helped along with Flaco Jimenez’s accordion. Buck was to make this a real comeback attempt, recording three new albums for his old label Capitol in the next few years, but radio was cool towards his new solo material and he retired again.

Dwight, on the other hand, was on an upswing, both commercially and artistically. ‘The Streets Of Bakersfield’ was followed to the top by the outstanding story song ‘I Sang Dixie’. The protagonist sings the song ‘Dixie’ as an act of love for a dying alcoholic from the south washed up in LA, as others pass by unmoved. Touching without being sentimental, and beautifully played, this is one of my favorite ever Dwight Yoakam songs.

The gritty romantic opening track ‘I Got You’ is all about love getting you through the hard times served up with a little helping of wit and an insistent rhythm. This was the third single, and hit #5.

‘Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)’, the title track and final single, was not a hit with radio, failing to creep inside the top 40. It is another story song, but this time a Mexican flavored murder ballad which calls to mind some of Marty Robbins’ big hits, with more Flaco Jimenez. It is one of several songs on the record in which Dwight’s take on cheating songs leans to explorations of the cuckold’s murderous response, although this is the only one where he actually proceeds to commit the deed. All are excellent.

In the mid-tempo ‘What I Don’t Know’ he isn’t quite certain his woman is doing him wrong (or rather, doesn’t want his suspicions confirmed), but his gun is ready:

Smith and Wesson juries hold a real mean nasty court
And the verdict that they pass is never slow

In the prettier sounding but equally bleak ‘One More Name’, he broods darkly as his wife is talking unwisely in her sleep, confirming the local gossip he has denied. The protagonist’s palpable hurt and desperation not to believe the truth make these songs more than just expressions of revenge; you can sympathise with the pain if not the homicidal intention.

‘Floyd County’ paints the picture of the funeral of a family man from the mountains of Kentucky.

Dwight wrote the majority of the songs, but a couple of classic hits from the 50s also got fairly respectful covers. Cash’s ‘Home Of The Blues’ is efficient and enjoyable enough but closer to filler than anything else here. Hank Locklin’s romantic pleader ‘Send Me The Pillow’ is sung as a duet with rock (and onetime cowpunk) singer Maria McKee (with Pete Anderson playing mandolin). The less well known rockabillyish ‘I Hear You Knockin’ is cheerfully vibrant.

Dwight closes the album with a slice of traditional-style country gospel, ‘Hold On To God’ (written and recorded for his mother), with harmony vocals from a short-lived duo called the Lonesome Strangers who had been included on one of the Town South Of Bakersfield compilations which had introduced a number of LA based country artists including Dwight himself.

This is an excellent example of the neotraditional movement of the late 80s, and one which stands up exceptionally well today, with no weak tracks. It was records like this that revived some of the traditional forms of country music without making them sound old-fashioned to a new generation.

Grade: A+

Inexpensive copies are easy to find.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Hillbilly Deluxe’

Released in July 1987, Dwight Yoakam’s sophomore effort built upon the success of the previous year’s Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Like its predecessor, it reached the top spot on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, though it failed to produce any Top 5 singles and ultimately didn’t sell quite as well. Pete Anderson was back on board as producer. Yoakam was the sole songwriter for seven of the album’s tracks; the remaining three tracks were covers of well-known country and rock songs.

Overall, the album has a more rockabilly feel than its hardcore honky-tonk predecessor. This was immediately apparent with the release of the lead single, “Little Sister”, which had been a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for Elvis Presley in 1961. Yoakam’s version reached #7 on the country singles chart. The next release, the self-penned “Little Ways” had a more Bakersfield sound, while “Please, Please Baby” was also in a rockabilly vein. These tracks peaked at #8 and #6 respectively and allow the listener to hear a side of Yoakam that hadn’t been as apparent on his debut album.

Based on the first three singles, one might think that Hillbilly Deluxe is a rockabilly-dominated album, but it is, in fact, a quite diverse and eclectic set of songs. Dwight takes a detour into more traditional territory for the album’s fourth and final single, a polished cover of Lefty Frizzell’s “Always Late With Your Kisses”, a #9 hit that is one of my favorite tracks on the album despite the slightly intrusive background vocals which make the record sound a bit dated to modern ears.

The rest of the album is more traditional. “Smoke Along The Track” is a cover of a 1959 Stonewall Jackson hit, and “Readin’, Rightin’, Route 23”, another Yoakam original composition seems reminiscent of Merle Haggard’s early records. Less polished are the fiddle-driven “Throughout All Time” and “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me”. Both tracks were too rootsy to be considered for release as radio singles; the latter track was a remake of one of Dwight’s unreleased recordings that helped him secure his deal with Warner Bros. The original version, probably recorded at the same time as the tracks that were on the original Guitars, Cadillacs EP, can be heard on the expanded 20th anniversary re-release of Guitar, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. which was released by Rhino Records in 2006.

My favorite track on the album is “Johnson’s Love”, a beautiful, understated ballad about, what else — a broken heart. It’s somewhat similar in theme to “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, but unlike in that classic recording, the protagonist in Yoakam’s song continues to pine after his lost love even after his own death:

And some people claim they still hear him call her name
“Hey, hey, Maureen”, swear they hear it just that plain
Deep in the night, and oh, sometimes right at dawn
See his body died some years ago, but around here
Mr. Johnson’s love lives on.

Enjoyable as this album is, I don’t like it quite as much as Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc, though Dwight deserves a pat on the back for making a deliberate and conscious effort to make a record that is different from the first one, instead of opting for the easier, play-it-safe route, which might have scored him some bigger hits at radio. Today’s artists would be well advised to take note.

Grade: A-

Hillbilly Deluxe
is available on CD and as a digital download from Amazon and iTunes.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.’

Even though Guitars, Cadillacs hit the streets in the Summer of 1986, Dwight Yoakam had recorded the set a full two years earlier for the small Oak Records label out of California.  The stories behind most of these songs actually date back to the late 1970s when a young Dwight chose the southern California music scene over Nashville with its urban country music fan trends of the time.  From the honky tonks and punk rock clubs in and around Bakersfield, Dwight honed his sound and picked up a considerable following for his unique brand of hard honky-tonk with straightforward rock and roll-influenced lyrics.  The club favorite Yoakam soon found himself with a contract with the new-to-country Warner Brothers affiliate Reprise Records.

His first single for the label was a cover of a song Johnny Horton had a hit with not once, but twice.  But where Horton’s two hits had dangled around the top 10 both times, Dwight took the song into the top 5, at an eventual #3 peak.  Hard-driving bass lines backed by a twangy fiddle characterize Dwight’s debut single – the sound that would quickly become his signature.  Next up to radio was the album’s title track.  It too follows the hillbilly rock sound format while Dwight sings so fondly of all the trappings that hillbilly rock stars love, it would make anybody want to move to Bakersfield, or at least go for an extended visit.  This was another top 5 hit, landing at #4 just about the time of the album’s release.

But for all his immediate popularity, even Dwight couldn’t yet revive the country shuffle at radio as ‘It Won’t Hurt’ barely cracked the top 40 as the album’s third and final single.  This is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and as is evidenced here, few could match Dwight’s mournful wail when he was singing this kind of love-lost ballad – the theme that would serve as a constant on each album following this.

The centerpiece of Guitars, Cadillacs to me has always been the acoustic ballad ‘South of Cincinnati’ that tells of two lovers, 14 years separated.  Here, a woman writes the simple chorus daily on a letter kept tucked inside the Book of Luke in her Bible.  Meanwhile, the man she pines for is also miserable, holed up drunk in a Chicago apartment.  This kind of simple, woeful tale of unrequited love would also come to dot Dwight’s catalog.

Likewise top-notch are the country barn-burner ‘Bury Me’ a duet with Maria McKee, whose twangy timbre is a perfect match for Dwight’s vocal.  I always thought the two should have recorded more together.  The banjo-infused ‘I’ll Be Gone’ and the way-too-clever ‘Twenty Years’ are also not to be missed.

‘Miner’s Prayer’ is a heartfelt and honest narrative told in the voice of a coal miner, which Dwight wrote in memory of his grandfather Luther Tibbs, who himself was a miner for 40 years.  But it finds itself sandwiched between two redundant covers towards the end of the album.  Dwight’s reading here of ‘Heartaches By The Number’ is enjoyable enough, but his performance lacks the originality of his own material.

Guitars, Cadillacs would be the first of many Dwight Yoakam albums produced by Pete Anderson.  Save for the three cover songs, Yoakam wrote each song for the album and the singer tackles several styles – all decidedly traditional country and all each his own.  With this album, Dwight Yoakam made a mark on the country music scene, but also delivered a timeless collection of quality honky tonk and solid country music.

Grade: A

The album is still widely available at amazon. The 2006 re-release, which features 10 demo tracks from 1981 and 12 additional live recordings from 1986 – for a total of 32 songs – is a much better bargain at roughly the same price.

Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Outlaw’

His fourteenth studio release finds Mark Chesnutt joining the ranks of many other artists who have released a covers album in the past two years or so. As the title suggests, Mark’s offering is a tribute to the Outlaw movement, paying tribute to the likes of Hank Williams Jr., David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and borrowing heavily from the catalog of Waylon Jennings, in particular. Covering classic songs is an endeavor fraught with peril; comparisons with the original versions is inevitable. Deviating from the original version too much can alienate longtime fans, while sticking too close to the original leads to charges of not making the song one’s own. Though there are a few missteps along the way, Chesnutt largely succeeds in bringing these vintage songs back to life.

Hank Williams Jr. is a difficult artist to cover, since much of his material is autobiographical in nature. Two Bocephus songs — “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” and “Country State of Mind” — appear here, and Chesnutt sings both of them with gusto, sounding as though he is thoroughly enjoying himself. He tackles David Allan Coe’s “A Little Time Off For Good Behavior” with equal relish, and Willie Nelson’s “Bloody Mary Morning” is also an enjoyable listen.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Mark’s take on the Kris Kristofferson classic “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”. Johnny Cash’s definitive recording of one of the very best country songs ever written, simply cannot be topped. Chesnutt seems to realize this and unfortunately at times this seems like a phoned-in performance. His delivery lacks emotion and does not convincingly convey the feeling of loneliness and angst that the lyrics are trying to express. In additon, Pete Anderson’s production tends to get in the way. The accordian, presumably played by Flaco Jiminez, seems a bit out of place as does the organ that is meant to underscore the lyrics in the third verse about the hymns coming from a Sunday school. The overall result is a song that just plods along for nearly five minutes and made me wish I’d just listened to Cash’s version instead.

Also disappointing is Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting For A Train.” A minor hit for The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings) in 1985, it was also recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker and David Allan Coe. It tells the story of a relationship between a relatively young man and a much older one. It starts out well enough, but about halfway through the production begins to drown out the vocals.

Half of the songs on the album are remakes of Waylon Jennings hits, so at times, Outlaw seems more of a Jennings tribute album than a salute to the Outlaw movement in general. Since Chesnutt is a huge Jennings fan, and even named his eldest son Waylon, this is not entirely unexpected. At times it’s hard to take Mark seriously as an outlaw, unlike Waylon who actually lived through much of what he sang about, but for the most part the Jennings covers work well. He wisely avoids some of Waylon’s better known material such as “Luchenbach, Texas” and “Just To Satisfy You” opting instead to cover some lesser-known gems such as “Black Rose” and “Freedom To Stay”.

“A Couple More Years”, written by Dennis Locorriere and Shel Silverstein, and previously recorded by both Jennings and Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, is by far the best song on the album. Chesnutt is joined by Amber Digby on this one, and though lyrically it makes for a somewhat awkward duet — they each sing to each other, “I’ve got a couple more years on you babe, and that’s all” — the vocal peformances by Chesnutt and Digby more than compensate for this lack of logic. Another highlight of the album is “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)”. This seems like the type of song that might have been a hit if it had been released during Mark’s MCA years, though the chances that radio will play this song now are slim. It is however, an example of Mark Chesnutt at his best; on this track he truly shines.

I’m not sure that there’s much on Outlaw to appeal to casual fans, but longtime Mark Chesnutt fans will want to seek it out. It will be released on June 22 on the Saguaro Road label. It is currently available for pre-order at Amazon.

Grade: B+

June Spotlight Artist: Mark Chesnutt

One of the biggest country stars of the early 1990s, and a leading exponent of the neotraditional sound, Mark Chesnutt was born in Beaumont, Texas (also home town of the great George Jones) in 1963. He dropped out of high school to play in country bands with his father in Texas, and honed his performance skills over the next decade. An independent album released in 1988 led to a deal with MCA. He was to remain on either MCA or its subsidiary Decca for the whole of the ’90s.

The single ‘Too Cold At Home’, ironically a song pitched to Jones and rejected by him, was his big breakthrough in 1990, and the following year he achieved his first #1 single with ‘Brother Jukebox’. He went on to enjoy over 30 top 10 hits on Billboard including eight #1s. Sales declined in the later part of the decade, leading to the release of the most controversial singles of his career in 1999, a cover of rock band Aerosmith’s hit ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’, recorded under protest at the behest of the label which was keen for Mark to score another big hit and restore flagging sales figures. While this was initially successful, giving Mark another country #1 and crossing over to give him his only pop hit, the move predictably alienated Mark’s core fan base without bringing in new fans, and the song was to be not only his last #1 hit but his last top 10 – and the label dropped him after one more album failed to deliver commercially.

A move to rival label Columbia in 2002 showed that the industry still had faith in Mark, but with the biggest hit from his self-titled album for the new label just missing the top 10, sales were disappointing. Mark’s subsequent move to the independent sector was accompanied by a resurgence in the quality of his music. No longer forced to compromise with major-label demands, Mark has released a string of excellent and pure country records over the past decade on a series of labels, and unlike many of his contemporaries, he still managed to score some minor hit singles. They may not have matched the sales figures of his first few albums, but recent releases are well worth tracking down.

His latest move is to the highly respected Saguaro Road, current label home of former MKOC Spotlight Artists Patty Loveless and Tanya Tucker. The first project, Outlaw, produced by Pete Anderson, most famous for his work with Dwight Yoakam, is due out later this month and is a tribute to the sounds of the 1970s ‘Outlaw’ movement which, although Mark’s music fits in the straight country/honky tonk tradition rather than the outlaw genre, was clearly an inspiration to him growing up.

I’ve always been a big fan of Mark’s voice and music, and am delighted to announce that he is our Spotlight Artist for June. We’ll be sharing our thoughts on some of Mark’s best music with you over the next month.

Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘No Place That Far’

After the traditional sound of Three Chords And The Truth had failed to break Sara at radio, there was some modification and a slightly smoother, glossier sound for her second album in 1998, but without breaking away completely from her traditional roots by any means. The production chair passed from Pete Anderson to Norro Wilson and Buddy Cannon, a partnership with experience on both pure country and pop-country sides of the fence and a track record creating hits.

Leadoff single, the insistent mid-tempo Jamie O’Hara song ‘Cryin’ Game’, did no better than its predecessors, but it is a good pop-country song with a fine vocal as Sara tells a lover he’d better treat her right or she’ll be gone. I think Jamie (formerly half of the O’Kanes duo in the late 80s) sings backing vocals here. The long-awaited breakthrough came for Sara when the title track, an impressive ballad co-written by Sara herself with Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin, was selected as the next single. It was a #1 smash hit. A delicately subdued opening leads to a big chorus, with Vince Gill prominent on harmony.

Disappointingly, the third and last single, Sara’s last release of the 90s, ‘Fool, I’m A Woman’, which she wrote with Matraca Berg, was less successful, failing to reach the top 30.  It is another contemporary-sounding song, but an engagingly peppy one about a woman’s prerogative to change her mind about love, addressed to a boyfriend treating her badly.  I think this is the track featuring Martina McBride on backing vocals, although Martina is very low in the mix and is basically indistinguishable.

Altogether, Sara co-wrote almost half the material on this album, including the very traditional country gospel ‘There’s Only One’, which she wrote with the brilliant Leslie Satcher.  Closely banked female harmonies (possibly from Sara’s sisters) help this track close the set on a high as she declares God’s love is the only thing that matters.  Although the song itself is not as memorable, I also love the traditional sound of the lost-love ‘These Days’, which Sara wrote with Billy Yates, and on which Alison Krauss sings prominent harmony.

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Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Three Chords and the Truth’

Had Three Chords and the Truth been released about a decade earlier, it would have been a monster hit for Sara Evans. All of the tracks on this very traditional-sounding album would have been right at home on country radio in the late 80s, alongside the hits of Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Reba McEntire and The Judds. But by the mid-1990s, the New Traditionalist movement had run out of steam and country music began once again to drift toward a more pop-leaning sound. Someone at RCA Records apparently felt that the time was right for traditionalism to make a comeback and thought that Sara Evans was the one to spearhead the movement. Unfortunately, country radio wasn’t interested in a traditionalist revival and gave the album little support. As such, it sold poorly, despite being one of the most solid debut efforts by any artist of any era. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Pete Anderson, who was best known for his work with Dwight Yoakam. Together he and Sara Evans crafted a retro-sounding collection that makes no attempt to tone down the twang in Sara’s voice. It is part Bakersfield, part Nashville Sound, and 100% country.

Sara shared co-writing credits on seven of the album’s tracks, including ‘True Lies’ which was released as her first single in advance of the album. It stalled at #59 on the Billboard country singles chart. The follow-up single, the excellent title track, fared slightly better, peaking just outside the Top 40 at #44. It was accompanied by Sara’s first music video, which, in keeping with the song’s retro theme, depicted her driving a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible and wearing vintage 1960s clothing. RCA made one final attempt to pitch this album to radio, with the release of a third single, ‘Shame About That’, which like its predecessors, failed to crack the Top 40, peaking at #48.

Three of the album’s eleven songs were covers: ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’ written by Harlan Howard and Buck Owens, ‘Imagine That’, a Justin Tubb composition that had reached #21 in 1962 for Patsy Cline, and ‘Walk Out Backwards’ which had been written by Bill Anderson, and had also been recorded by Connie Smith. The influences of all of these legends is apparent on these tracks, and throughout the album. The Bakersfield sound is represented with ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’. This was the song that Sara had recorded as a demo, which so impressed Harlan Howard that he helped her to secure her record deal with RCA. ‘Imagine That’ allowed her to show off her ability to sing a torch song, while “Walk Out Backwards” is pure, unadulterated, vintage country.

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Spotlight Artist: Sara Evans

In 1997, all of Nashville was abuzz about Three Chords and the Truth, which was the title of both Laurence Leamer’s expose of the country music industry, and a forthcoming debut album by RCA’s newest female signee. Rest assured that we aren’t turning into the National Enquirer this month, but we are pleased to announce that Sara Evans is our spotlight artist for December.

Born in New Franklin, Missouri, on February 5, 1971, Sara Lynn Evans started singing with her family band at age five. She began singing in nightclubs when she was 16, and moved to Nashville when she was 20. She secured her record deal with RCA with the assistance of the legendary Harlan Howard, who was impressed with her demo recording of one of his songs. She was paired with producer Pete Anderson and released her debut album on July 1, 1997.

Country music since the mid-90s, led by Garth Brooks and Shania Twain, had been drifting steadily towards pop, and the very traditional Three Chords and the Truth was widely expected to be the album that would force Nashville to return to its roots. That didn’t happen. Although it was a hit with critics, the album was a commercial disappointment and Evans spent the next few years modifying her sound, trying to find more radio-friendly material that still sounded country. She struck gold — platinum, actually, with 2000’s Born To Fly. Recent years have found Evans again struggling for radio airplay, as personal problems and stiff competition from newer female vocalists have taken their toll on her career. We hope you’ll enjoy our coverage this month as we take a look back at the career of this talented lady.

Super Summer Giveaway

Update: We hope everybody enjoyed our John Anderson coverage for July and hope you’ll be sticking around as we sort through Reba’s catalog this month.  And thanks to everybody who entered our giveaway.  A chance to win Reba’s new album is just around the corner.  The winners names are next to the album you won below.  Congratulations and check your inboxes soon!

The dog days of Summer are here.  The mercury is shooting up and the only place to be is ‘on a creek bank layin’ in the shade’.

In hopes of making the sticky Summer a little more pleasant for you, My Kind of Country is announcing our Super Summer Giveaway.  We’ve put together a prize package of seven great country CDs to give away to seven lucky winners.  Thanks to various means, we have hits packages from George Jones and our spotlight artist John Anderson as well as the latest albums from Charlie Robison and Adam Hood.

giveaway-JAsuper dale schmucker John Anderson – Super Hits … This Sony release contains most of John’s hits from his 1990s comeback like ‘Straight Tequila Night’, ‘Seminole Wind’, ‘I Wish I Could Have Been There’, and more.  His biggest hit to date is also included, a re-recording of 1982’s ‘Swingin’.

giveaway-JAgreatest Kathy P John Anderson – Greatest Hits … John Anderson’s career with Warner Brothers is highlighted here.  ‘She Just Started Liking Cheating Songs’, ‘Wild and Blue’, and ‘Black Sheep’ are just a few of the stone-country classics on this set.

giveaway-AHdifferent Jessica, Jordan Stacey Adam Hood – Different Groove … Adam wrote or co-wrote each of the 10 songs on this set, 5 of them with producer Pete Anderson.  Tight playing and clever lyrics drive this sophomore set from the Alabama native.  Two winners will each get a copy.

giveaway-CRbeautiful Amanda, plain_jo Charlie Robison – Beautiful Day … The latest from the Texas music titan chronicles his divorce from Dixie Chick Emily (Irwin) Robison. Read The 9513’s review. Two winners will also get a copy.

giveaway-GJsuper Melvyn George Jones – Super Hits …  Finally, to round out our giveaway, these are The Possums’s best -loved hits.  From ‘White Lightning’ to ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ to ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes’, this is George Jones at his apex.

What’s your favorite Summer memory?  Or your favorite song about the Summer time.

Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘My Turn’

tanya_tucker_my_turn-200After seven long years, Tanya Tucker is finally back with My Turn , a collection of covers of classic country songs, recorded as a tribute to her late father and mentor, Beau Tucker. This album is different from anything Tanya has done in the past. We’ve never heard her sound so “retro” before, and it struck me that aside from the common knowledge that Tucker is a huge Elvis, Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn fan, we haven’t heard a lot about her musical influences, up to now. Unlike her contemporaries Lorrie Morgan and Patty Loveless, she’s never made a habit of including a classic cover or two on her albums. My Turn , therefore, gives us a rare insight into the music that influenced this country legend who has been a presence on the country charts for nearly 40 years.

Teaming up with producer Pete Anderson, Tucker chose mostly songs that were favorites of her late father, and wisely avoided songs that have been covered countless times by others, the exception being “Crazy Arms”. I was surprised to see this song included in the track listing, since it was recently covered by Tucker’s Saguaro Road labelmate Patty Loveless. But while Loveless’ version is drenched with a wailing steel guitar and her trademark “mountain siren” vocals, Tucker takes a much more understated approach that is closer to the Ray Price original.

I was already very familiar with all of the songs, except for the opening track “Wine Me Up.” Originally a hit for Faron Young in 1969, it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite tracks on the album. It’s followed by a version of Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” that is very faithful to the original, and Buck Owens’ “Love’s Gonna Live Here” featuring guest vocals from Jim Lauderdale. “Love’s Gonna Live Here” is the lead single from the album, and was previously reviewed here at My Kind of Country.

“After The Fire Is Gone” was the Grammy Award-winning first duet by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn back in 1970. Tucker and Pete Anderson wanted Billy Ray Cyrus to be Tanya’s duet partner, but mercifully he was unavailable and Tucker is joined instead by The Grascals, who provide the harmony vocals.

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