My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Randy Newman

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’

rhinestone cowboyI originally felt like I had drawn the short straw when assigned this album. The two singles from the album, “Country Boy” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” are my two least favorite Glen Campbell singles, and this album is almost relentlessly downbeat in its feel and lyrics.

Al DeLory was often criticized for overproducing Campbell’s albums with string arrangements, but his arrangements never drowned out Campbell’s voice. At points that comes close to happening on this album, which was produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter.

The album opens with “Country Boy”, written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, a #3 country single that also charted pop. To me the production sounds far more over the top than DeLory ever was guilty of producing. As far as being country music, it is at best ersatz country.

Livin’ in the city
Ain’t never been my idea of gettin’ it on
But the job demands that you make new plans
Before your big chance is gone
You get a house in the hills
You’re payin’ everyone’s bills
And they tell you that you’re gonna go far
But in the back of my mind
I hear it time after time
“Is that who you really are?”

Country boy, you got your feet in L.A.
But your mind’s on Tennessee
Lookin’ back, I can remember the time
When I sang my songs for free
Country boy, you got your feet in L.A.
Take a look at everything you own
But now and then, my heart keeps goin’ home

Lambert & Potter also provided the next three songs on the album, “Come Back”, “Count On Me”, and “Miss You Tonight”, all passable album filler material salvaged by Campbell’s vocal prowess. While I don’t think these songs would stand alone as singles, they further the general theme of the album, which I would describe as that of the alienation of a country boy lost in the big city.

Side one of the vinyl original version of the album closes with the Smokey Robinson penned Temptations classic “My Girl”. While I wouldn’t describe Campbell as a blue-eyed soul singer, he always does a passable job on soul and R&B material. Side one of the album was mostly downbeat material so it was nice to have side one end on an upbeat note.

Side two opens with Larry Weiss’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”. This song was Glen’s biggest single, selling over two million copies on initial release and would receive two Grammy nominations for best pop vocalist and song of the year, and would win ACM Single of the Year for 1975. “Rhinestone Cowboy continues the general theme of the album.

Well, I really don’t mind the rain
And a smile can hide all the pain
But you’re down when you’re ridin’ the train that’s takin’ the long way
And I dream of the things I’ll do
With a subway token and a dollar tucked inside my shoe
There’ll be a load of compromisin’
On the road to my horizon
But I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me
Like a rhinestone cowboy
Riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo
Rhinestone cowboy
Gettin’ cards and letters from people I don’t even know
And offers comin’ over the phone

Next up is a nice cover of a Mike Settle song “Build You A Bridge” followed up by a Johnny Cunningham song, “Pencils For Sale”.

Randy Newman was always a perceptive songwriter and “Marie” is no exception. Glen invests all the emotion necessary to bring Randy’s lyric to life:

The song that the trees sing
When the wind blows
You’re a flower, you’re a river
You’re a rainbow
Sometimes I’m crazy
But I guess you know
I’m weak and I’m lazy
And I hurt you so
I don’t listen
To a word you say
And when you’re in trouble
I turn away
But I love you
I loved you the first time I saw you
And I always will love you Marie
I loved you the first time I saw you
And I always will love you Marie

The album closes out with the Barry Mann/ Cynthia Weil composition “We’re Over”. As far as I know this song was never a big hit for anyone, but it is a well crafted song that I can see any number of contemporary artists (Adele, Michael Buble`) handing well.

We’re over. I guess we know we’re over
Even though all the words are still unsaid
And we talk of other things instead
We’re over. We’ve come and gone, we’re over
We go on like two actors in a play
Acting out our lives from day to day

Going through our paces
With smiling frozen faces
That tell more than they hide
And knowing when we fake it
It’s not love when you make it
Without any feeling inside

I had not listened to this album for many years as it strikes me as basically a seventies pop album, which I found to sound entirely different than the classic Al DeLory produced albums I had come to love and cherish.

There are a lot of different musicians on the album, but I was particularly struck by the following:
Horns – Paul Hubinon, Chuck Findley, Don Menza, Jerome Richardson, Tom Scott, George Bohanon, Lew McCreary, Dalton Smith / Strings – Sid Sharp and the Boogie Symphony / Backing vocals – Ginger Baker, Julia Tillman, Maxine Willard.

I would give this a C+ but many of my non-country music loving friends consider this to be their favorite Glen Campbell album, and considered as 70s pop this album is probably a B+.

Album Review: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy’

ngdb uncle charlieThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band began in the 1960s as a southern California folk rock band. They limited success before temporarily disbanding in 1969. After renegotiating their contract with Liberty Records, they were given more artistic freedom, and the changes were immediately apparent in 1970’s Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy, which saw the band moving in a more country direction.

Country rock bands originating from California were nothing new, but the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band took things a step further by incorporating into their music instruments that were closely associated with bluegrass and country music, and featuring them prominently. While blending of genres is commonplace today, it was quite revolutionary in 1970. The eclectic Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy is equal parts country, bluegrass, folk, and rock. It features both original music and cover versions of other artists’ work, as well as reinterpretations of old folk songs that had long been in the public domain. At times, particularly when the band starts to harmonize, the sound is something akin to the Beach Boys with banjos.

The Uncle Charlie referenced in the album’s title was a relative of producer Bill McEuen’s wife. He was born in Texas in 1886 and performs a brief folk song “Jesse James”, recorded in 1963, on which he plays harmonica and gets his dog Teddy to howl along. He also gives two brief interviews, which are mildly interesting on the first listen.

A number of well known names appear among the songwriting credits: Michael Nesmith of The Monkees wrote the bluegrass-flavored opening number “Some of Shelly’s Blues”, which became a minor pop hit, peaking at #64, and “Propiniquity”, which is one of my favorites on the disc. Kenny Loggins wrote another the album’s singles, the more rock-oriented “House at Pooh’s Corner” which name-drops several of the characters from A.A. Milne’s well loved children’s stories. It reached #53 pop. The album’s biggest hit and the band’s best known song to this day is their cover of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr Bojangles”, which reached #9 on the Hot 100. It didn’t garner enough attention from mainstream country outlets to make the country charts but that may have been due to the way the record and the band in general, were marketed. It certainly sounded country enough, even by 1971 standards, to have fit into the country radio format.

NGDB member Jeff Hanna wrote “Cure”, which is another one of my favorites and songwriter Randy Newman supplied the very nice “Livin’ Without You”. The NGDB members show themselves to be very adept bluegrass musicians, which is somewhat surprising given their West Coast origins. The 2003 reissue of the album includes a grassed-up version of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “What Goes On”, which Beatles aficinados probably hate but I quite liked. I don’t like the rock-oriented numbers quite as much but they didn’t really detract from my overall enjoyment of the album.

In between the country and rock numbers are a number of traditional folk and bluegrass numbers, usually performed instrumentally, which help give the album a “sitting around the living room” feel, and providing the template for the future and better remembered Will The Circle Be Unbroken trilogy, the first volume of which would appear two years later.

Aside from “Mr. Bojangles”, there isn’t a whole lot among the album’s 23 tracks that will be familiar to most modern listeners, but the album is well worth a listen.

Grade: A

Album Review: Ray Benson – ‘A Little Piece’

a littl pieceRay Benson may be best known as the leader of joyous Western Swing band Asleep at The Wheel, but he is also a fine songwriter, and his new solo album showcases Ray Benson the musically eclectic thoughtful singer-songwriter, with no Western Swing anywhere in sight. Much of the material was inspired by the recent breakup of a relationship. He co-produces with his son Sam Seifert and Texas veteran Lloyd Maines.

The warm-hearted title track quietly offers philosophical advice about how to live without anger and bitterness). He sounds a little like Waylon Jennings on ‘I Ain’t Looking For No Trouble’ but the song lacked melody and didn’t really hold my attention despite impressive musicianship. ‘Give Me Some Peace’ is livelier with its insistent demand. The Del Castillo Brothers play Spanish flamenco guitar on ‘Heartache And Pain’ which works quite well as a counterpoint to the gloomy lyric.

The minor-keyed ‘In The Blink Of An Eye’ has a jazz feel and is not particularly interesting. I didn’t like the tuneless ‘J J Cale’ (a tribute to Benson’s musician friend who died last year) at all, while ‘Over And Over’ was not much more appealing, with a very limited melodic range.

Ray wrote most of the material, but he throws in a couple of covers. The closing ‘Marie’ is a low-key Randy Newman song performed acoustically, while ‘It Ain’t You’, a tasteful version of a classic Waylon Jennings song never before recorded is the highlight of the record. Willie Nelson contributes a beautifully judged duet vocal, while the song itself is an insightful look at growing older.

My favorite of Ray’s own songs here is the ballad ‘Lovin’ Man’, a sweet love song. Also excellent is ‘Killed By A 45’, a compelling doom-ridden story song about death due to excessive exposure to a country heartbreak song which hit home a little too hard.

At times it is a little too adventurous for my tastes, and Ray is not the greatest of singers, but this is certainly an interesting record.

Grade: B-