My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Rafe VanHoy

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘In My Eyes’

Released in 1983, In My Eyes, Conlee’s sixth album, would prove to be John’s most successful album, reaching #9 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, The album would feature three #1 singles in “I’m Only In It for the Love”, “In My Eyes” and “As Long As I’m Rockin’ With You” , as well as a fourth single “Way Back” that reached #4.

The album opens up with “I’m Only in It for the Love”, a song written by Kix Brooks, Deborah Allen and Rafe Van Hoy, The song was released in June 1983 as the first single and proved to be John’s fourth number one on the country chart. The song is up-tempo and upbeat,

I want you to know you got my full attention
And every move is with my best intention
Before we go on, I thought I ought to mention
I’m only in it for the love

I’m only in it for the love and affection
I think I’m heading in the right direction
I guess the question that I’m really asking
Is do you want a love that’s everlasting?

Next up is a love song, the somewhat pensive “As Long As I’m Rockin’ With You”. This song was the third single from the album. The song was written by Bruce ‘Hey ! Baby’ Channel and Kieran Kane.

Wherever I’m goin’, wherever I’m stayin’
It doesn’t matter, long as I’m stayin’ with you, stayin’ with you
I’m always happy, whatever I’m doin’
It doesn’t matter, long as I do it with you, do it with you

I may never have much silver and gold
But, I’ve got something more precious and warmer to hold
And that old rockin’ chair don’t scare me, like it used to
It doesn’t matter, as long as I’m rockin’ with you

“Together Alone” is filler about a marriage that seems to be unraveling, but nicely sung by John.

It wasn’t like Conway Twitty to miss a hit, but Conley pulled “In My Eyes” from Conway’s 1982 Dream Maker album. It is a really nice ballad:

She just a woman a hundred pounds of flesh and blood
Quick with a smile warm with a touch for me
she’s just a woman and not the least or the most desired
But she’s set one man’s heart of fire and it’s me that she wants to please

And in my eyes god never made a more beautiful girl
In my eyes there’s no one more lovely in all of the world
And she looks at me at times with such surprise
When she sees how special she is in my eyes

“Waitin’ For The Sun To Shine” was the title track of Ricky Skaggs’ 1981 album for Epic. The song was written by Sonny Throckmorton and while Ricky did not release it as a single, the song received quite a bit of airplay. Ricky’s version is better but John acquits himself well on the song:

I been standing underneath this dark old cloud
Waiting for the sun to shine
Waiting for the sun to shine in my heart again

I been throwing a lot of good love away
Waiting for the sun to shine
Waiting for the sun to shine in my heart again

Oh, I’m just waiting for the sun to shine
I’m just waiting for the sun to shine
I know it will be sometime
But I’m just waiting for the sun to shine

“Lay Down Sally” is an Eric Clapton song that has been covered by numerous pop and country artists . Conley’s version is a nice change of pace for the album.

“Way Back” was the fourth single pulled from the album – it reached #4 but perhaps could have done better with a little different arrangement. The song is a nostalgic look back at a relationship that has changed over time, and not for the better.

“New Way Out” was a Randy Sharp tune that was a single for Karen Brooks in 1982. The song would prove to be her biggest hit, reaching #17. It is a good song and John does a credible job of covering it.

I know how hard she’ll take it
When she finds out I can’t stay
So I don’t want to have to tell her
If there’s any other way.

Is there any new way out?
Where hearts are never broken
(Is there any new way out)
Where no one’s ever hurt in anger
(Is there any new way out?)
And harsh words are never spoken
(Is there any new way out?)

“Don’t Count The Rainy Days” is a song more associated with Michael Martin Murphey, who released the song in August 1983 and had a top ten hit with it.

The album closes with Mickey Newberry’s “American Trilogy”, today used as patriotic flag-waver, but far less over-exposed at the time this album was issued. John’s version is perhaps my favorite of all the versions I’ve heard.

As time went on John Conlee’s sound became more solidly country. This is a very good album which I would give an A.

Advertisements

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Rose Colored Glasses’

The title track was a surprise hit for John Conlee, and a career-defining hit. Swathed in strings, but allowing his powerful voice to cut through, the insightful lyrics are about a man who is almost fooling himself about a woman who is obviously over their relationship. It was written by Conlee with George Baber. The single peaked at #5 on Billboard, but its influence outweighed that by far.

The album elicited two even more successful hits, now that John Conlee was a known quantity. ‘Lady Lay Down’, written by Rafe VanHoy and Don Cook, is an emotional ballad in which the protagonist begs the woman who is threatening to leave to sleep with him again, to make up for all his past neglect. This and the final single made it all the way to #1.

The last single, ‘Backside Of Thirty’, is another self-penned tune about a successful man whose life ‘all comes undone’ when his wife leaves him and feels he no long has anything to look forward to:

Makin’ money at thirty with a wife and a son
Then a short five years later it all comes undone
She’s gone back to mama with the boy by her side
Now I’m wine-drunk and running with them on my mind

I’m on the backside of thirty and back on my own
An empty apartment don’t feel like a home
On the backside of thirty,
The short side of time
Back on the bottom with no will to climb

It’s dawn Monday morning and I just called in sick
I skipped work last Friday to drink this much red
And when my friends ask me, Lord, I’ll tell them I’m fine
But my eyes tell a story that my lies can’t hide

Conlee wrote another couple of songs on the album, but they fall into the filler category. ‘I’ll Be Easy’ is addressed to a woman who wants to take things more slowly than he does. ‘Hold On’
‘Something Special’ is a nice mid-paced love song written by Dave Loggins. ‘Let Your Love Fall Back On Me’ is a very good song addressed to an ex who has found new love:

I hear you’ve put your happiness
In the hands of someone new
That’s alright I guess
I want the best for you

If all I hear is true
There’ll soon be wedding bells
I guess you’ve set the date
I guess I wish you well

If you find the road you’re on
Hard to travel any way at all
If you should stumble and fall
Let your love fall back on me

Max D Barnes and Rayburn Anthony wrote ‘She Loves My Troubles Away’, a cheerily positive love song about making it through the hard times:

Lost my job down at the docks
My old Chevy’s up on blocks
I got holes in both my socks
But she loves me
Her ol’ washing machine still squeaks
Our hot water heater leaks
I ain’t worked in 14 weeks
But she loves me

And she loves my troubles away
Every night she makes my day
Troubles get me down
But they never stay
Cause she loves my troubles away

I can’t give her fancy things
Pretty clothes or diamond rings
Nor the pleasure money brings
But she loves me
Late at night she takes my hand
Says “you know I understand
You just do the best you can”
Then she loves me

The legendary “Doodle” Owen contributed two songs. ‘Just Let It Slide’ urges reconciliation and tolerance within a relationship:

I don’t even know what started the fight we just had
One minute we’re happy
Next minute we’re both fighting mad
And what does it get us
Outside of this hurting inside?
Cause we’re not forgiving,
We’re never willing
To listen and just let it slide.

Wild accusations lead us to a quarrel every time.
And then comes that game of
Who’s right and who’s wrong in our minds.
When the trigger of temper is pulled by the finger of pride.
Baby lets be forgiving and try to be willing
To listen and just let it slide

Just think of the time we’ve already wasted on hate
And count out the hours when love had to stand back and wait
Then the next time our anger puts us on opposite sides
Baby let’s be forgiving and try to be willing
To listen and just let it slide

‘Some Old California Memory’ is an excellent song written by Owens with Warren Robb, which had been a minor hit (#28) for Henson Cargill in 1973. It sees a loved one leaving by plane.

The production, courtesy of Bud Logan, bears all the hallmarks of its era, with a string section adding sophistication, but it is just subtle enough laid over a country basis to allow Conlee’s voice and the strong material to shine. It is available digitally.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Final Touches’

Conway had enjoyed his last top 10 single in 1990 as younger artists came to the fore. One of the most successful producers of the early 90s, Don Cook, took over production duties for what was perhaps hoped to be a comeback but was instead to prove Conway’s final studio album, released two months after his sudden death in June 1993.

His final charting single, ‘I’m The Only Thing I’ll Hold Against You’, peaked at a disappointing #62. That was a shame, as it is a great ballad co-written by Joe Diffie, who also recorded it some years later. The keyboards have dated a bit, but the vocal remains excellent (although I prefer Diffie’s own cut). ‘Don’t It Make You Lonely’, written by Jackson Leap, is a midpaced song about missing an ex, quite nice but not memorable enough to be an effective single, especially in the circumstances. It is not entirely surprising that it failed to chart at all.

Perhaps the best track on the album is ‘An Old Memory Like Me’, written by producer Cook with John Barlow Jarvis). The downbeat ballad, filled with precisely remembered details, has Conway appealing wistfully to his ex-wife that maybe it isn’t over, and that her taste for old possessions might yet stretch to him:

There’s an old satin gown
Been twice handed down
You were saving for your wedding day
But you married in haste
What a terrible waste
And it never got used anyway


Is there room in your heart
For an old memory like me?

Also excellent, ‘I Hurt For You’ is a lovely, empathetic ballad (written by Deborah Allen and Rafe VanHoy, and previously recorded by Allen), in which Conway offers his unrequited love a shoulder to cry on. Conway does the song full justice with a tender, emotional vocal:

I can’t blame you for feeling cheated
Being so in love and so unneeded
But the reason you keep trying
Is a feeling that I know

Oh, I hurt for you
Every time he breaks your heart
Baby I hurt for you
And it’s tearing me apart
To care the way I do
Maybe I’m a fool
I watch you long for him
And I hurt for you

So love won’t work out the way you planned it
Darlin’, all too well I understand it
But I’ll be right here to console you
If that’s the only chance I’ll have to hold you
But you’re so lonely being stranded
With a dream you can’t let go…

If you could want the one who loves you
Oh, maybe you would want me now

‘The Likes Of Me’ is a more forgettable, up-tempo song on the same theme of hopefully replacing an unworthy ex with “more than a shoulder”. ‘Two Timin’ Two Stepper’, a tartly observed toe tapper written by hitmaker Kostas and Bobby Byrd about a wannabe cheater trawling the honky tonks, is pretty good. ‘I Don’t Love You’ is a dour breakup song of self-denial. The melodic title track is quite a nice love song with Southern color, while ‘You Are To Me’ (a Don Schlitz/Billy Livsey song) is quite pretty.

The closing ‘You Ought To Try It Sometime’ is Conway’s attempt at getting in on the line dance fever which was hot at the time. It is not entirely successful, but Conway delivers it with energy and a honky tonk piano saves the track.

This is a pretty solid record and not too hard to find as it was released on CD.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Somewhere In The Night’

When discussing country music released in the late 1980s, it’s almost customary to frame it within the context of the new traditionalist movement. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that not every artist releasing albums at that time adhered to the sound ushered in by Randy Travis on Storms of Life. Acts like Alabama, K.T. Oslin, Rosanne Cash and others were sticking with the pop-country sound that had dominated the better part of the decade. These artists were not only going against the trend, they were dominating at radio alongside everyone else.

You can easily add Sawyer Brown to this category, as well. Their fourth album, Somewhere In The Night, arrived in May 1987 under the direction of Ron Chancey. He had taken over for Randy Scruggs who wouldn’t produce a Sawyer Brown album until The Boys Are Back, two years later. Many know Chancey’s son Blake from his notable production work with David Ball, Dixie Chicks, Montgomery Gentry and Gretchen Wilson in the 1990s-2000s.

Sawyer Brown wasn’t exactly dominating at this point in their career. When Somewhere In The Night was released, the band was on a streak of six consecutive singles missing the top 10. Their most recent, “Savin’ The Honey for the Honeymoon” has petered out at #58. They needed a reverse in fortunes, and while this wasn’t the album to get them there, it did give them a slight reprieve with radio.

The title track, co-written by Don Cook and Rafe VanHoy, had originally appeared on the Oak Ridge Boys classic Fancy Free six years earlier. Sawyer Brown’s version retains a 1980s sheen, complete with dated harmonies and synth piano, but is otherwise an excellent and restrained ballad. The track peaked at #29.

The album’s biggest success came when second single “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine” peaked at #2. The ballad, co-written by Mike Geiger and Woody Mullis, is a wonderful example of the other side of late 1980s country music. While it might sound a bit dated today, the production is nicely restrained with Chancey framing their harmonies beautifully.

Kix Brooks, Kenneth Beal, and Bill McClelland are responsible for the album’s final single, “Old Photographs,” which stalled at #27. The lush ballad isn’t a strong one, a bit of filler that never would’ve made it as a single in any other era.

“In This Town,” co-written by Tom Shapiro and Michael Garvin, would’ve made a fantastic choice for a single, and probably would’ve sailed up the charts behind “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine.” Everything about the ballad is on point, from the melody to the harmonies.

Somewhere In The Night contains its share of uptempo material, so it’s curious why the label didn’t see fit to break the ballad fatigue with one of these tracks. Two such songs were solely penned by Dennis Linde. “Dr. Rock N. Roll” is a slice of catchy slick pop while “Lola’s Love” is a nice dose of country-rock. The latter is the better song, and as a single for Ricky Van Shelton from his 1994 album Love and Honor, it peaked at #62. Linde also wrote “Still Life In Blue,” a mid-tempo ballad with dated accents of synth-pop.

The percussion-heavy “Little Red Caboose” was written by Steve Gibson and Dave Loggins and recorded by Lee Greenwood on his 1985 release, Love Will Find Its Way To You. The results are catchy and brimming with personality.

“Still Hold On” was originally released by its co-writer Kim Carnes in 1981 and Kenny Rogers in 1985. The ballad soars, thanks to Mark Miller’s vocal, which is an outstanding example of pathos that hints at the gravitas he would bring to the band’s 1990s hits “All These Years” and “Treat Her Right.”

The final track, “A Mighty Big Broom” was written solely by Miller. It’s the album’s most adventurous track, with a rock-leaning arrangement and a silly lyric.

When approaching Somewhere In The Night, I fully expected not to be able to pick out the Sawyer Brown I know from this set of songs. I came to the band like all my country music, in 1996, long after “The Walk” had revolutionized their sound and grounded them with depth and substance. So I was surprised I could hear subtle hints of what the band would eventually become, on this album. It’s a stellar project through and through, with a nice batch of above average material.

Grade: A

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss & Chet Atkins – ‘Simpatico’

simpaticoChet Atkins’ contributions to country music are immeasurable; he was arguably the genre’s greatest guitarist ever, and as a producer and label executive at RCA, he paved the way for such legendary artists as Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed, Don Gibson, Skeeter Davis, Dolly Parton, Connie Smith, and many more. He was also an early champion of Suzy Bogguss, as anyone who has read the liner notes to her debut album can attest, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when the two of them decided to release an album together. Simpatico, which was released in 1994, was one of the last albums in the Atkins’ discography and his last entry into the Billboard Country Albums chart.

The album was also a turning point in Bogguss’ career; she’d parted ways with longtime producer Jimmy Bowen, and produced Simpatico with John Guess. Interestingly, Atkins didn’t share production credits at all on this project. The project also marked the beginning of Suzy’s chart decline; it may be simply because her star was beginning to fade, or it could have been because the album was released at a time when Liberty Records was neglecting any artist on its roster not named Garth. However, it seems fairly certain that this is one album that not made with one eye on the charts; instead it is a labor of love that that is largely indifferent to commercial concerns.

As one might expect from a man who helped develop the Nashville Sound, and whose tastes ran from country to pop and jazz, Simpatico is not a collection of traditional country tunes. Instead it encompasses a variety of sounds, influenced by both country and pop, and occasionally including some Spanish and Latin influences. Chet’s trademark picking is heard prominently throughout the album. He does chime in vocally on occasion, but Chet was never much of a singer, so Suzy does the heavy lifting as far as the vocal duties are concerned.

Two singles were released; neither of which charted. The first was the uptempo “One More For The Road”, written by Atkins and Bogguss, along with Suzy’s husband Doug Crider. The second was a surprisingly good cover of Elton John’s “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.” A better choice might have been “Forget About It”, one of the album’s more contemporary numbers. It is more in the vein of what country radio was looking for at the time, but given Liberty’s half-hearted support, it probably would not have been any more successful.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album from beginning to end, without any missteps. my particular favorites are the covers of Jimmie Rodgers’ “In The Jailhouse Now”, which opens the album, and a stunning version of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”. I also quite like the whimsical “Wives Don’t Like Old Girlfriends.” At first glance “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” seems to be a little out of place, but the tasteful production, complete with a restrained string section, and the excellent singing and picking, makes the record work. Though it would probably never held much appeal for country radio, in another era it might have been an adult contemporary hit, but AC radio in the 90s was too R&B influenced to embrace a recording like this or “When She Smiled At Him”, which also sounds like a holdover from 1970s Top 40 AM radio. “Two Shades of Blue” is a lovely Spanish-sounding number written by Deborah Allen, Bobby Braddock and Rafe VanHoy.

Nearly two decades after its release, Simpatico holds up well. Bogguss and Atkins succeeded in making an evergreen record, which does not sound dated at all. My only criticism is its brevity, but country albums rarely exceeded ten tracks in the nineties. Such a non-commercial album would probably not even be released by a major label today. Given its lack of chart success, a fair number of fans might have missed this album. Those who did miss it can pick it up from Amazon. Unlike a lot of older albums, expect to pay full price for this one, but it is worth every penny.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss – ‘Moment Of Truth’

moment of truthSuzy’s stunning and very traditional debut album, Somewhere Between (which I reviewed a couple of years ago as part of our look back at the Class of ’89) was a critical success but performed less well commercially, with just one top 20 hit single. She turned to a much more contemporary sound for her follow-up, which she produced herself with label boss Jimmy Bowen. (Trivia note: her production company, Loyal Dutchess, was named for her beloved dog.) However, the album failed to catch fire with radio listeners, with both singles flopping badly.

The midpaced ‘Under The Gun’ is written by Hugh Prestwood, and is an okay song, but Suzy doesn’t have the forcefulness required to make the Western movie cowboy shootout metaphor sound convincing. She was much better suited to ‘All Things Made New Again’ is a soothing ballad, which is very pretty and one of the more traditional sounding songs with Rob Hajacos’s fiddle prominent in the mix. It was written by Dan Seals and Rafe VanHoy, and Seals also sings backing vocals.

The record does not offer much variety in tempo, with the bulk of the material consisting of mellow ballads. The melodies are generally strong, and Suzy’s vocals are sweet throughout, and although the production leans more AC than neotraditional, it is tastefully understated, so even the less interesting songs sound pleasant.

‘My Side Of the Story’ is one of the best of the songs, a pensive ballad about coming to terms with a breakup, written by Suzy with her husband Doug Crider, with a sensitive vocal as Suzy tells her husband wearily it’s over, accepting that he may see the reasons differently:

It’s too late to talk about it
You never wanted to before
You still don’t understand me
But it doesn’t matter anymore

In the excellent ‘As If I Didn’t Know’ (a Mel Tillis song, but perhaps surprisingly another contemporary ballad) Suzy contemplates the inevitable end of her relationship in what feels like a prequel to ‘My Side Of The Story’. Here the woman knows it is really over, but is clinging to her pretense that everything is okay.

The title track (penned by Steve Bogard and Rick Giles) is a soothing love song with a very pretty tune led by a Spanish guitar.

‘Wild Horses’ is a subtle and interesting story song written by Verlon Thompson and Rhonda Fleming but as with ‘Under The Gun’, Suzy’s performance sounds too tame. ‘Fear Of Flying’, written by Suzy with Gary Scruggs, is almost the only time the pace picks up, but it isn’t a very interesting song. ‘Burning Down’ has a bluesy feel, but again is a rather boring song.

The remaining songs are pleasant enough but just rather dull and forgettable.

I remember being disappointed by this when it first came out as it seemed like a step down from her debut. But it was clearly more in the vein that Suzy herself wanted to follow, as the mellow ballad sound set a template for much of her subsequent music, and it has worn quite well. Although it is rather one-paced there are some nice songs here, and Suzy’s lovely voice always sounds good. However, the record’s poor commercial performance meant that her undeniable talent notwithstanding, Suzy was very lucky to get another chance to break through with a third album.

Grade: B

Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘On The Front Line’

By the mid-80s, country music had moved decidedly in a more traditional direction, but Dan Seals’ albums continued to follow the same basic template of combining pop and AC-leaning songs with a handful of more traditional fare. It appears that Seals and producer Kyle Lehning were not fixing what wasn’t broken and with little wonder; 1985’s Won’t Be Blue Anymore had reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned gold certification. The following year’s On The Front Line didn’t sell quite as well, but it did produce three #1 singles, just as its predecessor had.

Seals had a hand in writing seven of the album’s ten songs, which are mostly ballads and mid-tempo numbers with typical 80s style pop-country production which may have seemed very cutting edge at the time but hasn’t aged very well. This is most evident on the title track (my least favorite in this collection) and “I Will Be There”, which was written by Jennifer Kimball (who had also co-written Seals’ smash it “Bop”) and Tom Snow. “I Will Be There” is a very good song, but I’d really like to hear it without the heavy-handed synthesizer. It was the album’s second #1 hit single, following the ballad “You Still Move Me”, a Seals original composition, to the top of the charts. Though it did not cross over to the adult contemporary charts, “You Still Move Me” sounds like Seals and Lehning might have had a crossover hit in mind when they recorded it. It’s a beautiful song that has held up better than some of the album’s other tracks. Dan also wrote the collection’s third #1 hit, “Three Time Loser”, one of the album’s few uptempo numbers. More rooted in traditional country, it’s my favorite of the album’s three singles.

As far as the album cuts are concerned, there are a number of gems, including “I’m Still Strung Out On You”, a simple traditional number that Dan co-wrote with Wendy Waldman, which seems like it would have been well received by country radio at the time. “Fewer Threads Than These” is a very nice ballad that Holly Dunn would cover the following year, and “Guitar Man Out of Control” is a rockabilly-flavored number that sounds like something that Travis Tritt would have — and should have — recorded. The album ends on a high note with “Lullaby”, written by Seals and Rafe VanHoy, on which Dan is brilliantly paired with Emmylou Harris. Their voices work very well together and it’s a shame that they didn’t collaborate more often.

On The Front Line was Dan Seals’ last album for EMI America before that imprint was folded into the larger Capitol label. CD copies are hard to come by and tend to be expensive; however, it is available for download and is worth a listen despite the sometimes dated-sounding production.

Grade: B

Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘San Antone’

Dan’s second country album, released in 1984, saw him move to Liberty, but keep Kyle Lehning as his producer. The material largely comprises gentle, melodic, ballads perfect for his warm vocals. It is perhaps a little one paced, with not a lot of variation in tempo.

There were three top 10 singles, starting with ‘(You Bring Out) The Wild Side Of Me’, one of Dan’s own songs. A charming love song with a pretty tune and steel and fiddle making it one of the more traditional country songs on the album, the only flaw is that Dan’s naturally warm, gentle vocal could do with a bit more aggression to make it a bit less cosy. He’s entirely convincing as the “gentleman” of the first verse, but the passion doesn’t quite convince.

‘My Baby’s Got Good Timing’, the biggest hit, peaked at #2, but while it is a pleasant enough romantic pop-country song which Dan wrote with Bob McDill, the poppy production is now rather dated and it is understandably not well remembered today. Much better is the Thom Schuyler’s affectionate tribute to a beaten up old vehicle, ‘My Old Yellow Car’, which surprisingly only made it to #9. This is one of the best songs ever written about a car; of course that’s partly because it’s not really (or only partially) about the car itself. The car (“a dream that was made of American steel”) just symbolizes lost youth; it is all about nostalgia for what has been lost with time, and Dan was the perfect singer for it:

Somewhere in a pile of rubber and steel
There’s a rusty old shell of an automobile
And if engines could run on desires alone
That old yellow car would be driving me home

Take a look at me now throwing money around
I’m paying somebody to drive me downtown
Got a Mercedes Benz with a TV and bar
And God, I wish I was driving my old yellow car

The subdued title track, ‘In San Antone’ paints a nicely detailed picture of leaving home for a country music career. The protagonist is struggling “on Broadway” (presumably the one in Nashville rather than New York), but takes comfort in thoughts of the one waiting back home who remains his biggest fan.

There is a lovely, understated cover of the country standard ‘She Thinks I Still Care’, with some tasteful steel and fiddle from Doyle Grisham and Hoot Hester. Dan is no George Jones, but his plaintive interpretation works in its own right.

‘She’s Leaving’ is a pretty, sensitively sung ballad about an impending breakup, which Dan wrote with Bob McDill. The strings, synthesizer and vocoder betray the track’s age, but the vocal is beautiful. ‘Oh These Nights’, written by Dan with Rafe VanHoy, is another fine ballad, with a downcast Dan slowly getting over his heartbreak one day at a time. This one has a more sympathetic production, with some pretty fiddle. Less successfully, ‘Who’s Gonna Keep Me Warm’ has the emotion of the lyric, about a breakup, flattened out by too intrusive a choir and string arrangement.

An ode to long lasting true love, ‘The Loving Proof’ (written by Gary Nicholson) has a smooth pop country arrangement. The equally romantic ballad ‘Tonight Is For the Lover In You’, written by Bob McDill and Charlie Black, is more attractively arranged, as the protagonist tenderly encourages his wife to rekindle their romance after a hard day chasing career dreams.

The album closes with the very short (under two minutes) ‘One Friend’, an absolutely lovely and tenderly delivered declaration of love written by Dan and dedicated to his wife Andi:

Sometimes the world was on our side
Sometimes it wasn’t fair
Sometimes it gave a helping hand
Sometimes we didn’t care

Cause when we were together
It made the dream come true
If I had only one friend left
I’d want it to be you

Overall, this was a good record which has some of the limitations of a commercial country record of the mid-1980s, but the vocals, songs and Kyle Lehning’s relatively restrained hand at the helm all make it a good example of its kind.

Grade: B+

It is avilable digitally, although CDs are hard to find.

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 1

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)“ – Alabama
Alabama made excellent music during the 1980s, although the country content of some of it was suspect. Not this song, which is dominated by fiddle. One of the few up-tempo Alabama records that swings rather than rocks.

I’ve Been Wrong Before” – Deborah Allen
An accomplished songwriter who wrote many hits for others, particularly with Rafe VanHoy, this was one of three top ten tunes for Ms. Allen, reaching #2 in 1984. This is much more country sounding than her other big hit “Baby I Lied”.

Last of The Silver Screen Cowboys” – Rex Allen Jr.
After some success as a pop-country balladeer, Rex Jr. turned increasing to western-themed material as the 1980s rolled along. This was not a big hit, reaching #43 in 1982, but it featured legendary music/film stars Roy Rogers and Rex Allen Sr. on backing vocals.

“Southern Fried” – Bill Anderson
This was Whispering Bill’s first release for Southern Tracks after spending over twenty years recording for Decca/MCA. Bill was no longer a chart force and this song only reached #42 in 1982, but as the chorus notes: “We like Richard Petty, Conway Twitty and the Charlie Daniels Band”.

Indeed we do. Read more of this post

George & Tammy: Mr. & Mrs. Country Music

Long before Tim McGraw and Faith Hill became country music’s power couple, George Jones and Tammy Wynette fulfilled that role as Mr. & Mrs. Country Music. Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn and Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton may have sung about the ups and downs of life and love during the 1970s, but George and Tammy actually lived it.

Their earliest recordings date back to November 1968 when Tammy sang harmony vocals on “The Race Is On”, “I’ll Share My World With You”, and “The Hardest Part of All”, all remakes of earlier hits that George had re-cut for use as album filler. Tammy’s performances were uncredited, since she was under contract to Epic Records and George was still signed to Musicor. Cross-label collaborations were virtually unheard of in those days; only artists that were signed to the same label could record with each other. Tammy did appear on the cover of George’s 1969 LP I’ll Share My World With You; her Epic contract apparently did not prohibit her from doing so. She can be heard quite prominently on the 1969 recording “Never Grow Cold”, which she and George wrote together. This song is virtually a duet; it was buried on an album, since releasing it as a single would almost certainly have invited a lawsuit from CBS (Epic’s parent company at the time). The pair later re-recorded the song for Epic.

The pair wanted to record together regularly and more openly, so George negotiated a release from his Musicor contract — costing him $300,000 out of his own pocket — and signed with Epic in 1971. The first official Jones and Wynette duet, “Take Me”, under Billy Sherrill’s guidance, appeared later that year. It was a remake of George’s 1965 solo hit. The original version had reached #8. The duet version did almost as well, climbing to #9. It was followed up by “The Ceremony”, a #3 hit in which the pair exchanged sung wedding vows, in response to lines spoken by a minister. The next two singles, the gospel tune “Old Fashioned Singing” and “Let’s Build A World Together” fared less well, just cracking the Top 40.
Read more of this post

Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Longnecks & Short Stories’

Mark’s second album for MCA was released in 1992, and continued the commercial and artistic success of his debut. Mark and his producer Mark Wright found a great set of songs from some of the best writers around, and recruited backing singers including Vince Gill, Jim Lauderdale and Alison Krauss, although none of them is very prominent in the mix. The production is firmly in the neo-traditional style, but with plenty of commercial appeal.

The first single, ‘Old Flames Have New Names’, was deservedly a top 5 hit. It is a witty slice of wry western swing written by Bobby Braddock and Rafe VanHoy, with our hero returning to his old stomping grounds to find his hopes of rekindling some old romances are all in vain:

I got back in town tonight
Anticipating much delight
I pulled out my black book and called up my old lovers
I got five newlyweds and two expectant mothers

It was followed to radio by a complete change of tone, with a fine revival of the downbeat ‘I’ll Think Of Something’, a Foster & Rice ballad about someone struggling to cope with the end of a relationship. Mark’s beautifully understated vocal conveys the desperation underlying the surface hopefulness of the lyric:

I can’t say today that I’m all right
But by tonight
I’ll think of something
I’ll find so many things to do
That I won’t have the time to think of her
And then if she’s still on my mind
I’ll try to drink enough to drown the hurt
And if that don’t work
I’ll think of something

It had been a Hank Williams Jr top 10 hit from 1974 and Mark’s version did even better, giving the young artist his second #1 hit:

There were two further hit singles from the album, a pair of story songs with contrasting styles, both peaking at #4 on Billboard. Dennis Linde’s ‘Bubba Shot the Jukebox’ was back to the fun side of Mark, with a lively semi-novelty tale of a heartbroken trucker who takes the drastic step of the title when “it played a sad song [and] it made him cry”. The narrator claims the incident was “justifiable homicide”, although:

Now reckless discharge of a gun
That’s what the officers are claiming
Bubba hollered out, “Reckless, Hell!
I hit just where I was aiming.”

The production on this track strikes a rare forced note with the use of a slightly artificial-sounding arrangement from the Nashville String Machine.

The fourth and last single was ‘Old Country’, the one optimistic lyric on the album, and a rather sweet tale (penned by Bobby Harden) about a city girl who finds love only “when ‘Old Country” came to town”, given a pure country treatment with prominent fiddle and soulful vocal:

From Birmingham to Ohio
How they met nobody knows
Every now and then they get together
She used to want to climb the walls
She’d never really been loved at all
Not until Old Country came to town

Harden also wrote Talking To Hank’, a whimsical story of an encounter with what appears to be the ghost of Hank Williams, and the great George Jones (also on MCA at the time) was recruited to add a duet vocal.

‘I’m Not Getting Any Better At Goodbyes’ is a rueful and classic-sounding ballad about a regular loser in love, perhaps surprisingly written by Steve Earle, which I really like. My favorite track on the album, ‘It’s Not Over (If I’m Not Over You)’, is a classic country ballad about clinging to a lost love, written by the album’s producer Mark Wright with Larry Kingston and previously recorded by Reba McEntire on her classic My Kind Of Country in 1984. The protagonist is resigned to his lover leaving – but reminds her that just because it’s over for her, it’s not the case for him.

Wright also contributed the Cajun-style ‘Postpone The Pain’ (co-written with Gary Scruggs). Harlan Howard and Ron Peterson wrote the up-tempo ‘Uptown Downtown’, another entertaining number which could have been a hit. In this one, the protagonist eschews the honky tonks and goes uptown in an attempt to get over his misery, but finds out:

I’m just hangin’ round a better class of losers
It don’t matter if you drink beer or champagne
I’ve only found a better class of losers
Uptown, downtown – misery’s all the same

Yeah the blues are still the blues
Just as hard to lose
Uptown, downtown – misery’s just the same

The album closes with a classic cover, Charlie Rich’s sultry ‘Who Will The Next Fool Be’ which sounds good vocally but is the only track not to really hold my attention.

Grade: A

Like its predecessor, this album sold over a million copies and confirmed Mark as one of the biggest stars of the early 90s. It’s easy to find digitally or as a used CD, and is well worth it.

Class of ’89 Album Review: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Leave The Light On’

leavethelighton1Lorrie Morgan was one of the ‘Class of ’89’ who had been around on the fringes of the country world for a while, but who made a major breakthrough that year. Her father George Morgan was a minor country star of the 1950s, who sold a million copies of his biggest hit, ‘Candy Kisses’, and Lorrie’s first single, in 1979, was a posthumous duet with him. Thanks largely to her family connections she became an Opry member in 1984, before she had had any hits in her own right, and five years before the release of her debut album. Sadly, the release of Leave The Light On was overshadowed by the death shortly before of Lorrie’s husband, Keith Whitley, and she received a certain amount of criticism at the time for continuing to perform.

Lorrie’s warm alto voice is very good, but her qualities as an artist rest more in her interpretative ability than in the voice itself. She was fortunate in the material she and producer Barry Beckett found for Leave The Light On, because the majority of it provided a great showcase for her. Her style was rather more contemporary than many of her peers, certainly compared to her husband Keith Whitley, which may explain why she did not record any of his songs on this release.

Almost half the tracks relate to unhappy marriages past the point of repair, and given the circumstances under which it was first heard, it would be very tempting, if perhaps not altogether fair, to read a lot into the choice of material. Sequenced differently, one could almost see this as a concept album.

Lorrie’s first top 10 hit was the lovely piano-led ballad ‘Dear Me’, as the singer addresses a letter to herself, reflecting on a lost lover, a lyric delicately delivered by Lorrie. An equally beautiful and even sadder song is ‘Far Side Of The Bed’, with the narrator packing to leave an unsuspecting and sleeping husband and reflecting on the “raging love” they once shared and have now lost. Again, Lorrie interprets it perfectly.

Beth Nielsen Chapman’s beaty mid-tempo ‘Five Minutes’ tackles the same theme with a bit more energy, and gave Lorrie her first #1 hit. Yet again, she is packing to leave with the magic long gone from the relationship, but this time gives her husband a (slim) chance at winning her back – before her taxi arrives.

Read more of this post