My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Rand Bishop

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Pull My Chain’

pull my chainFor the most part, Pull My Chain is a very upbeat album of fun songs, although some songs are a little light on substance.

The album opens up with “I’m Just Talking About Tonight”, a song Toby co-wrote with frequent collaborator Scotty Emerick. The song reached #1 the week of the infamous 9/11 incident and also reached #27 on Billboard’s pop chart. The song is about a no commitments barroom perhaps pickup:

Well, I’m not talkin’ ’bout lockin’ down forever, baby
That would be too demanding
I’m just talkin’ ’bout two lonely people
Who might reach a little understanding

I’m not talkin’ ’bout knockin’ out heaven
With whether we’re wrong or we’re right
I’m not talkin’ ’bout hookin’ up and hangin’ out
I’m just talkin’ ’bout tonight

You were sittin’ on your bar stool
And talkin’ to some fool who didn’t have a clue
I guess he couldn’t see you were lookin’ right at me
‘Cause I was lookin’ at you too

Then it’s, “Do you wanna dance, have we ever met”
You said, “Hold your horses boy, I ain’t that easy to get”

Next up is “I Wanna Talk About Me” about a guy, having been steamrolled in a relationship, finally insisting upon focusing the attention on his needs wants and desires. There was a terrific music video that accompanied the single, that shows a patient (and bored) Keith in a number of roles as a bored listener as the girl goes on and on about different things. The song was written by Bobby Braddock and sailed to #1 where it spent five weeks at #1 in late 2001.

Yeah yeah
That’s right
We talk about your work how your boss is a jerk
We talk about your church and your head when it hurts
We talk about the troubles you’ve been having with your brother
About your daddy and your mother and your crazy ex-lover
We talk about your friends and the places that you’ve been
We talk about your skin and the dimples on your chin
The polish on your toes and the run in your hose
And God knows we’re gonna talk about your clothes
You know talking about you makes me smile
But every once in awhile

I want to talk about me
Want to talk about I
Want to talk about number one
Oh my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you, you, you, you usually, but occasionally
I want to talk about me
I want to talk about me

“I Can’t Take You Anywhere”, another Keith-Emerick co-write follows the same beat, but isn’t singles quality material.

Next up is the slow ballad “You Leave Me Weak”, another Keith-Emerick co-write that was easily one of the best country love songs of the period. I don’t know if consideration was given to releasing this as a single, but it would have made a very good one.

I’m the one who gets that look in your eye
I’m the one who feels you tremble inside
I’m the one who steals those kisses from your breath
But sometimes it’s so good at night it scares me to death

Thinkin’ what would I do if I didn’t have you
I’m as strong, strong as I can be
Oooh ooh ooh, baby you leave me weak

Put my hands upon your skin and it warms me to the touch
All that I can think about while we’re makin’ love
I’m the only one who knows how passionate you get
About all of our deepest little secrets that we’ve kept

As the night grows longer, girl you just get stronger
And you pour yourself all over me
Ooh ooh ooh, baby you leave me weak

“Tryin’ To Matter”, yet another Keith-Emerick co-write is about trying to make a relationship work. It is a good song but it is nothing more than an album track.

“Pull My Chain”, with Toby co-wrote with Chuck Cannon is one of the highlights of the album, a funny and witty look at love. Although I think it could have made a decent single, there is a danger in releasing too many novelty songs as singles.

Got me on a short leash, tied to your screen door
I used to run with the big dogs ’til I stretched out on your front porch
I used to be a hound dog, chased a lot of fast cars
Now I don’t even bark when the kitty cats stroll through the back yard

I used to howl at the moon, yeah I’ve been known to roam
Then I caught her trail one day, followed this girl home
I ain’t the same, she knows how to pull my chain

“The Sha La La Song”, also a Keith-Cannon endeavor, is a good album track.

Do you remember, well I remember
Every kiss, bittersweet and tender
Every promise, every vow
Every time you said forever baby, even now
Even though you left me, for another
I’m a big boy, I will recover and

Sha la la la la la la la la la la la la
I’ll get over you
Sha la la la la la la la la la
Just one more lonely night or two

Dave Loggins wrote a number of classic songs during his career , but “Pick ‘Em Up and Lay ‘Em Down”, isn’t one of them although I can see it as a song that would clog the dance floors.

“Forever Hasn’t Got Here Yet” finds Keith co-writing with Jim Femino. The song sounds very ‘radio friendly’ but it wasn’t picked as a single.

“Yesterday’s Rain” is a very poignant song about how real love never fades away, even when your lover leaves you . The song was a Keith-Emerick co-write.

Somebody told you that my broken heart started mending
I’m getting by, but the truth is that I’m still standing
Knee deep in yesterday’s rain

Well, I ain’t high and dry, I ain’t got a big boat
But I got a new umbrella and an overcoat
And if the good Lord’s willin’ and the sun breaks through
That’ll be one more day, that I made it without you
That I made it without you

“My List”, written by Tim James and Rand Bishop, spent five weeks at #1 (and reached #26 pop), and is a reminder of how we often let important things get away from us in the hustle of everyday life and the importance of not letting that happen. The song came with a music video that was shot shortly after 9/11. News footage of the attack is shown at the beginning of the video as a married couple watch the news. The video ends by revealing that the husband in the video is a fireman, shown suiting up to go fight a fire. Toby appears in the video as a fire fighter. The song also was used in an episode of the television show Touched By An Angel.

“You Didn’t Have As Much To Lose” is another Keith-Cannon collaboration, this time an emotional ballad about a love gone wrong love-gone bad ballad. Not singles material but a nice album track.

The album closes with “Gimme 8 Seconds”. I am not sure that it would have been possible tor Toby to find a more famous co-writer to collaborate with than Bernie Taupin. Taupin has collaborated with Elton John on at least thirty albums and wrote or co-wrote many of Sir Elton’s most famous songs. “Gimme 8 Seconds” is more of a rock number than a county song but the subject matter – the eight seconds a bull rider needs to stay on the bull – is definitely a country topic.

Pull My Chain was released in August 2001 and kicked off a period (2001-2011) in which nine of his ten albums reached #1 (the other reaching #2) on Billboard’s Country Album charts, with four reaching #1 on the all genres album charts. Pull My Chain reached #9 on the all genres chart and sold double platinum. Bigger successes would follow.

I’d give this album a solid A.

Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘Make It Home’

Following the commercial failure of his second Warner Bros. album Fired Up, Dan Seals was dropped from the label and concentrated on touring for the next several years. Though he released two volumes of re-recorded hits, it was eight years before he released a collection of brand new material. Released on the independent Lightyear label, Make It Home was to be his swan song.

Make It Home
is mostly a quiet and understated affair; Louie Shelton’s production is polished but tastefully restrained, with just enough fiddle and steel to appease Dan’s country fans. In many ways the album sounds like a throwback to the 90s, a welcome reprieve from the Faith Hill and Shania Twain style pop that was dominating country radio at the time. Perhaps realizing the futility of pursuing mainstream radio airplay, no singles were released from the project. The album gets off to a strong chart with the Matt Shelton composition “Angel Eyes”, which might have been a hit had it been released during Dan’s major label days. “Such A Sweet Night” is also quite good. It is one of three songs written by Nashville songwriter Rand Bishop. I also enjoyed the Bishop-penned “Only You”, but “Certain Circles”, a co-write with Kim Patton-Johnston that falls flat. It is, however, superior to Dan’s ill-advised remake of the Little River Band’s 1978 pop hit “Reminiscing”, which is one of the few times that Dan’s AC-leanings can be heard on this album.

Dan contributed three of his own compositions to the project; the title track, “It Don’t Matter Who You Love”, and “Saw You In My Dreams”. I found the first two a bit dull but “Saw You In My Dreams” is the album’s best song.

Dan is good vocal form throughout the album, and there aren’t any terrible songs here (though “Reminiscing” comes close), but there aren’t any real standout moments, either. The album suffers from a lack of variety in tempo and I found myself starting to lose interest about halfway through. It is an enjoyable album, but not terribly memorable, and as such, probably not of interest to casual fans.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘All I Want’

Once Tim had made his commercial breakthrough, he was able to be a little more adventurous with his third album in 1995. This marks the point at which one can call Tim McGraw an artist rather than just a singer. The song quality was good, but the production (orchstrated as before by James Stroud and Byron Gallimore) lacks subtlety and leans a little too heavily to electric guitars front and center. Although sales were less than for its predecessor, Tim had found a firm place on country radio, as evidenced by five top 5 singles, two of them #1s.

Lead single, the silly but somehow irresistibly catchy ditty ‘I Like It, I Love It’ (complete with a nod to the Big Bopper), was Tim’s third #1. It also had some pop airplay. The singalong nature of the song for once makes crowd noise acceptable. This song should probably fall in the guilty pleasure category, but I don’t even feel guilty about it.

The rather good emotional string-laden ballad ‘Can’t Be Really Gone’, written by Gary Burr, fell just short, peaking at #2. Tim is not one of the best vocalists around, but this is one of his better efforts, with a real emotional commitment to this song about a man in denial about the permanence of his wife’s leaving. Title track ‘All I Want Is A Life’ is an up-tempo rocker without much melody and with too-loud and now dated sounding production, but a relatable lyric about struggling with poverty and aspirations for something more. It was the least successful of the album’s singles, but still peaked at #5.

Also a bit heavily produced but less obtrusively so, ‘She Never Lets It Go To Her Heart’ was another chart-topper, written by the hitmaking team of Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters. The mid-tempo ‘Maybe We Should Just Sleep On It’ (written by Jerry Laseter and Kerry Kurt Phillips) also did well, peaking at #4. These two are okay but not outstanding, and there was better material on the album, such as the relatively understated ballad ‘The Great Divide’, written by Brett Beavers. This is a very good depiction of a couple trapped in a tired marriage, who would rather pay attention to their respective book and TV show than one another. There is still hope their love can be rekindled.

‘I Didn’t Ask And She Didn’t Say’ is a nicely observed song, written by Reese Wilson, Van Stephenson and Tony Martin. Flight delays lead to an awkward encounter with a long-past ex, where the real questions remain unanswered. Tim’s voice has an urgency in it betraying the protagonist’s suppressed passion as he recalls past happiness, before they part with everything unresolved:

We said our goodbyes
Swore we’d stay in touch
Then we went our separate ways
Knowing no one ever does

‘When She Wakes Up (And Finds Me Gone)’ is another mature song with complex emotions which is well sung by Tim, but would have worked better for me with more stripped down production. The extended electric guitar solo at the end is excessive and adds nothing worthwhile. ‘Don’t Mention Memphis’ is another good song about a breakup, written by Bill LaBounty and Rand Bishop, but the rhythm is abit jerky and the track is over-produced. The impassioned ‘You Got The Wrong Man’ is also quite entertaining if rather processed sounding, as Tim tries to persuade a woman burnt by love before that he isn’t like the man who broke her heart.

Then there are a couple of real missteps. ‘Renegade’ is a boring rocker with Tim unconvincing as a rebel. ‘That’s Just Me’ is a southern/country boy pride number written by Deryl Dodd which sounds musically a little like a slightly slower ‘Indian Outlaw’. Dodd recorded it himself a couple of years later when making his Columbia Records debut.

Overall, the material selected here was a major advance for Tim McGraw, but the production choices are less palatable. Tim had found his musical direction, and if it was a long way from the traditionalism of his first album, it held a lot of appeal for country radio and cemented his fanbase. Triple platinum sales meant this was not quite as successful as its predecessor, but it is a better, more mature work. Better still, from Tim’s point of view, while topuring in support of the album, he fell in love with opening act Faith Hill, and by the time his next album came out he would be a husband and father.

Used copies are available very cheaply.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Emily Portman – Country Girl Like Me

emilyportmanOver the last few months, I’ve found myself listening over and over to a CD I came across by chance last year, Country Girl Like Me, by a little-known singer named Emily Portman from Kentucky.  This is a real hidden gem which deserves a wider audience.

Emily has a very clear, sweet voice with a wistful feel at times, and the songs she has picked to record are solidly country.  She is currently touring as part of the Conway Twitty tribute musical, playing Loretta Lynn, who she cites as her biggest influence.  She has also previously worked as a Lynn tribute act; a number of her Lynn covers can be viewed on youtube, and she does sound very convincing on these.  However, I am pleased to say that she has definitely found her own voice on this album, and doesn’t sound as though she is impersonating anyone.

In an interview from 2003 linked on her website, Emily says songs have to touch her personally for her to want to sing them, and that clearly emerges in her selection of material here.  The principal songwriter here is Rand Bishop, best known as writer of Toby Keith’s hit single ‘My List’, who was impressed by her talent.  Several of the songs are inspired by the experience of motherhood: Emily’s own song ‘John Morgan’ is a delightful tribute to her baby son, born in March 2006. As she says, “John Morgan taught me how to love”, and ends with the child gurgling “I love my mommy”. This may not be to all tastes, but I found it rather touching. Bishop’s ‘Whatever Makes You Strong’ is like a slightly less sweet take on the theme underlying Lee Ann Womack’s big hit ‘I Hope You Dance’, and one aimed particularly at hopes for a little boy.  ‘Big Life’ also measures motherhood and family life against the protagonist’s youthful ambitions and hopes of making it big, no longer regretted as a missed opportunity. ‘In My Time’ also has an autobiographical feel, but is one of the lesser tracks.

There are a couple of cheerful up-tempo numbers on the ever-popular “I’m country” theme. The title track tells her love interest how much more suited the protagonist is to him than her city rival and has some actual substance. ‘I’m Doin’ Alright’ is a somewhat less original take on the same theme, but still highly listenable.

My personal favorite track is ‘One Of Us Is Lying’, which is a truly great song (written by Richard Leigh and Bobby Fischer) about a woman who has fallen out of love with her unwitting husband, but is unable to tell him so (the chorus runs “One of us is lying, one of us is true, one of us is lying and I know that it’s not you”). I also like the sweet love song, ‘I Can’t Remember,’ and the attempt to get a guy interested in ‘Ask Me To Dance’. The only song I didn’t like much was the closer, ‘Walk Away Clean’, where the tune was less melodic and a bit poppier, and the lyric sounded a bit muddled.

Emily has donated her own songwriting royalties from the record (for co-writing the tracks ‘In My Time’ and ‘John Morgan’), and a proportion of overall sales, to the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity helping severely injured members of the US armed forces.

The CD (released last November on indie label Aaron Records) can be purchased at, and all the tracks can be heard and downloaded here.  In my opinion, it is well worth checking out if you like traditionally oriented female singers.