My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Randy Travis

Week ending 6/16/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: All I Have To Do Is Dream / Claudette — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Oh Lonesome Me — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1968: I Wanna Live — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1978: Two More Bottles of Wine — Emmylou Harris (Warner Bros.)

1988: I Told You So — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1998: I Just Want To Dance With You — George Strait (MCA Nashville)

2008: I’m Still A Guy — Brad Paisley (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Woman, Amen — Dierks Bentley (Capitol Nashville)

 

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Week ending 6/9/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: All I Have To Do Is Dream / Claudette — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Just Married — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1968: Honey — Bobby Goldsboro (United Artists)

1978: Georgia On My Mind — Willie Nelson (Columbia)

1988: I Told You So — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1998: I Just Want To Dance With You — George Strait (MCA Nashville)

2008: I’m Still A Guy — Brad Paisley (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: One Number Away — Luke Combs (Columbia)

Week ending 3/17/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: A World of Our Own — Sunny James (Capitol) 

1978: Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1988: Too Gone Too Long — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1998: Round About Way — George Strait (MCA)

2008: All-American Girl — Carrie Underwood (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Marry Me — Thomas Rhett (Valory Music Group)

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Daryle Singletary’

Daryle’s debut album in 1995 was produced by his mentor Randy Travis with James Stroud and David Malloy.

Lead single ‘I’m Living Up To Her Low Expectations’ was not a great start, barely creeping into the top 40, but deserved better. Written by Bob McDill and Tommy Rocco, it’s a cheerful honky tonker about enjoying partying after his wife leaves.

It was followed by what was to prove to be Daryle’s biggest chart success, ‘I Let Her Lie’, a ballad about a cuckolded husband desperate to believe his wife, written by Tim Johnson. Daryle’s vocal is excellent, although the keyboards now sound a bit dated.

It was back to a more light hearted party vibe for ‘Too Much Fun’ which reached #4. Written by former Mercury artist Jeff Knight with Curtis Wright. The final single was one too many, peaking at #50. ‘Workin’ It Out’ (written by Tim Johnson and Brett James) is a beautifully sung ballad with a soothing melody, pleading for a relationship to last.

Another Tim Johnson song, the up-tempo ‘Ordinary Heroes’ compares depressing international headlines with people living day to day. Randy Travis provided one song he wrote with Ron Avis and Jerry Foster. ‘There’s A Cold Spell Moving In’ is an excellent measured ballad anticipating trouble in a relationship. My Heart’s Too Broke (To Pay Attention)’ is a lively western swing number written by Phil Barnhart, Kim Williams and Lonnie Wilson, and previously cut by Mark Chesnutt. Another nice song is the mid-tempo ‘A Love That Never Died’, written by Skip Ewing and Donny Kees.

The two best tracks appear at the end of the album, and both are covers, but of songs which had not been significant hits for others. Rhonda Vincent, then a Giant labelmate, lends her harmonies to the tenderly romantic ‘Would These Arms Be In Your Way’ (a minor single for Keith Whitley, but written by Vern Gosdin with Hank Cochran and Red Lane). This is really lovely. Even better is ‘What Am I Doing There’, which had been recorded a few years earlier by George Jones. It is a gorgeous ballad about being torn between a new love and feelings for an ex. Exquisite fiddle and steel add the final touches to what could potentially have been a career song.

At 24 Daryle had not yet quite matured vocally, and although the album was received well by critics, sales were relatively modest, perhaps because the singles did not truly represent Daryle’s gifts. However, it was a promising start, and I think it is worth catching up wth.

Grade: A-

March Spotlight Artists: Daryle Singetary, Wade Hayes and Ty England – the Class of 95

We were all saddened here at MKOC by the sad news of the premature death of Daryle Singletary. We’d never covered him as one of our Spotlight Artists because he had a relatively small discography, and had reviewed his more recent releases independently. However, we have decided to combine a look back at his earlier career with two other artists who also emerged the same year, 1995. This was after the neotraditional revival had begun to subside, and none of our three choices had as long a period of commercial success as they deserved.

Daryle Singletary was born in Cairo, Georgia, in 1971. Blessed with a classic country voice, a rich, deep baritone, he began singing in his youth, and moved to Nashville while still in his teens. Having the kind of voice which could make any song sound better, he soon found work singing demos for songwriters. It seems that some of those demos are currently in the hands of an opportunistic label which released a single to capitalize on the publicity following Daryle’s death, but has been forced to withdraw it.

One of those demos, ‘An Old Pair Of Shoes’, was submitted to Randy Travis, who was seeking new material. Randy was impressed not only by the song, which he duly had a minor hit with, but by the singer. He became a mentor to the newcomer, helping him get a deal with Giant Records and co-producing Daryle’s debut album in 1995.

That album resulted in one big hit, the #2 peaking ‘I Let Her Lie’, and Daryle followed it up with a few more top 5 hits as well as some less successful singles. However, he did not sell enough records, and after three albums he moved on from Giant to a series of independent labels. Although he was no longer a real commercial prospect, the music itself was better than ever as he matured as an artist. He was something of a standard bearer for traditional country music in the new millennium.

His most recent album was a superb collection of duets with Rhonda Vincent. His tragic death has robbed us all of many years of great music.

Wade Hayes is an excellent partner for this retrospective, as he too is a traditional leaning artist whose period of success was far too short, although he has a naturally plaintive voice made for country music. Wade was born in 1969 in Oklahoma, where his father had a country band, and he grew up playing guitar and mandolin. He moved to Nashville in 1991 after dropping out of college, and secured a job as Johnny Lee’s guitarist. He also began writing songs and singing demos. His break came through songwriter Chick Rains, who helped him sign with Columbia in 1994.

He was an immediate success, with his debut single ‘Old Enough To Know Better’ topping the charts in 1995. However, after an initial flurry of hits he was unable to maintain his momentum, and after three albums moved to Monument in 2000. This failed to revive his fortunes. He then teamed up with Alan Jackson’s fiddle player Mark McClurg to form a short-lived duo named McHayes, but their sole single failed to catch attention.

After a spell in Randy Owen’s band, Wade returned to making his own music at the end of the 2000s, self-releasing a new album. His career was then further stalled by serious health issues. He fought off two bouts of cancer which were thought by his doctors to be terminal, and is now active again.

Our third artist is Ty England. Gary Tyler England was born in Oklahoma in 1963. He was Garth Brooks’ college room mate, and when Garth got his Capitol record deal Ty joined his road band. In 1995 Ty got his own solo deal with RCA, and a big hit with ‘Should’ve Asked Her Faster’. He later moved to his old boss’s label and was rebilled as Tyler England. However, his post-major label career was less notable than that of our other spotlight artists this month. His one self-released album was not very good, and he is no longer involved in the music business.

We hope you enjoy this retrospective look at three artists who were all regarded as the next big thing 23 years ago.

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘Once You’ve Had The Best’

Paying tribute to George Jones:

Classic Rewind: The Time Jumpers – ‘Leaving and Saying Goodbye’

Country music has been my lifelong passion. I’ve been drawn to country songs for as long as I can remember and before I even knew what name to put to it. That passion kicked into high gear when I was around 12 years old and has never wavered. From the Nashville Sound and the Urban Cowboy era to the New Traditionalist movement, I loved it all.

My Kind of Country turns nine years old this month, debuting at a time when mainstream country music was starting to head off in what many of us felt was the wrong direction. Founded by J.R. Journey, Eric Petterson and Chris Dean, it was meant not to be a forum to rant about what was wrong about country music, but to talk about the music that we did like – to introduce (or reintroduce in some cases) the songs and artists that had made country music great, and to highlight worthwhile new music. I was invited to join in February 2009 and jumped at the chance to have an opportunity to talk about my passion.

Anyone who has ever written for a blog will tell you that it is a labor of love. Although it can be deeply satisfying, the most difficult aspect is the demand that it puts on one’s time. Giving a blog the amount of time that is needed to do it properly, while still trying to juggle life’s other demands becomes increasingly difficult and eventually something must give. I’ve been feeling that pressure for quite some time and finally decided a few months ago that I would retire from blogging at the end of the year — which is now just a few days away.

Over the past nine years I’ve continued to hope that commercial country music would improve, while year after year things only seemed to get worse. There have been some glimmers of hope, lately, though with artists like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell connecting with audiences with little or no support from radio. I shall continue to hope for the emergence of the next Randy Travis to finally turn things around. In the meantime, I leave you in the very capable hands of my colleagues Occasional Hope, Jon Pappalardo and Paul Dennis. It’s been an honor working with them, and it’s been an honor writing for you, the readers. May 2018 be a happy and healthy year for all.

Christmas Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘Pretty Paper’

Week ending 11/25/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: It’s the Little Things — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to Get Over You) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: I Won’t Need You Anymore (Always and Forever) — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1997: Love Gets Me Every Time — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2007: Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go) – Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2017: When It Rains It Pours — Luke Combs (River House/Columbia)

2017 (Airplay): Every Little Thing — Carly Pearce (Big Machine)

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – ‘Redneck Man’

Released in 2010, Robert Mizzell’s seventh album Redneck Man contains 15 songs, the majority of them covers, but some of them relatively obscure songs. Mizzell has a strong baritone voice which does justice to the material, and he is effectively backed by an excellent band performing mostly traditional country arrangements.

Although not a songwriter himself, the one original song on the album draws directly on Mizzell’s own life story. ‘Mama Courtney’, specially written for him by Irish songwriter Henry McMahon, is a moving tribute to the loving foster parents who helped to raise him in Louisiana when his birth mother “lost her way in life”.

Us kids are all now grown up and gone our separate ways
I look back on my childhood of many happy days
And when I go back to Shreveport I place flowers on her grave
And I thank Mama Courtney for all those kids that she saved

There are many children in this world that suffered hurt and shame
I thank all the Mama Courtneys that took away their pain
God works in mysterious ways
I believe this is true
Though she had no children of her own she fostered 32…

God rest you Mama Courtney
I’ll always love you

This is a genuinely moving song, and was understandably a success for the artist on Irish country radio.

Another single for him was a duet with US country star Collin Raye on ‘Murder On Music Row’. The two singers swap lines rather than harmonising except on the odd chorus line, but they contrast well, and both sing with feeling. Perhaps as a nod to Raye, Mizzell covers ‘I’m Gonna Love You’, a fluffy novelty song written by Robert Elis Orrall, which Raye cut on his children’s album Counting Sheep. It isn’t a very good song, and adds nothing to the album.

Much better is an entertaining cover of ‘Ol’ Frank’, a tongue in cheek story song about a young trophy bride who cashes in after “he died with a smile on his face”, which George Jones recorded in the 80s. Another late Jones cut, the up-tempo ‘Ain’t Love A Lot Like That’, is pleasant but definitely filler (plus it’s far too cavalier about missing pets).

Another excellent track is ‘More Behind The Picture Than The Wall’, a traditional country ballad written by Bill Anderson, Buddy Cannon and Don Miller, about a father remembering happy times past after the death of his soldier son in action. Mizzell’s vocals do the poignant nostalgia of the song (previously recrded by bluegrass band Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver) justice.

Too soon our little family was scattered to the winds
You fell out of love with me and wouldn’t fall back in
I was sleeping by myself the night I got that call
Yeah, there’s more behind this picture than the wall

Casey died a hero, that’s what the chaplain said
We couldn’t find sweet Lorrie, I doubt she knows it yet
You and I still tortured by the memories we recall
But there’s more behind this picture than the wall

Four happy loving faces, back then we had it all

Also very good is Mizzell’s version of ‘Someone To Hold Me When I Cry’, a great Wayland Holyfield/Bob McDill song which was a hit for last month’s Spotlight Artist, Janie Fricke and has also been recorded by Don Williams and Loretta Lynn.

He adds a soulful tinge to Jamey Johnson’s ‘She’s All Lady’, a married singer’s polite but firm rebuff to a potential groupie.

Thanks for coming out to see me
I hope you liked the show
Yeah, that’s right, I settled down about six months ago
No, she ain’t here tonight, she stayed at home
Yeah, it sure does get lonely out here on the road

By looking in your eyes, I can tell what’s on your mind
Yeah, I’d love to drive you home and’ hold your body close to mine
You’re everything a man could dream of, baby
Cause you’re all woman
But she’s all lady

I met her at a Baptist church in Tennessee
She was looking for someone
I was prayin’ it was me
No, she never thought she’d fall in love with a guitar man
Oh, it took some gettin’ used to
She does the best she can
No, she don’t like to stay at home alone
No, I don’t need your number
She’s probably waitin’ by the phone…

No, it ain’t you, Lord knows you’re a sight
Yeah, I probably could
But I could never make believe it’s right
I’d rather be alone, and I know that sounds crazy
‘Cause you’re all woman
But she’s all lady
You’re all woman, but she’s my lady

The album’s title comes from a briskly delivered version of Alan Jackson’s early single ‘Blue Blooded Woman’, which opens the album. Loaded with fiddle, this is a strong cut. Darryl Worley’s minor hit ‘Tennessee River Run’ is bright and pleasant. ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ is a bit more well worn; Mizzell’s warm vocal sells it convincingly, but gets a little overblown towards the end.

Also on the less successful side, John Denver’s ‘Love Is Everywhere’ is forgettable, while ‘Two Ways To Fall’ once recorded by Garth Brooks sideman Ty England is quite a good song but suffers from dubious production choices with the first couple of lines horribly muffled and echoey.

Mizzell was already a reasonably well established star on the Irish country scene by this point, and in 2009 he acted as mentor to Lisa McHugh, another of the artists we are spotlighting this month, on a TV talent show. She guests here on a duet of the Randy Travis hit ‘I Told You So’; this is quite nicely sung but feels inessential. The same goes for ‘I Swear’; Mizzell sings with emotion but the arrangement feels a bit dated.

Overall I was very pleasantly surprised by this album. Mizzell has a strong voice and interprets the songs well; it’s just a shame that there was not more original material available.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘Above All’

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘Pray For The Fish’

Week ending 7/1/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: All The Time — Jack Greene (Decca)

1977Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: Forever and Ever, Amen — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1997: It’s Your Love — Tim McGraw with Faith Hill (Curb)

2007: Ticks — Brad Paisley (Arista)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): How Not To — Dan + Shay (Warner Bros.)

Album Review: Ray Scott – ‘Guitar For Sale’

Ray Scott, originally from North Carolina, has been around for over a decade, scoring one top 40 hit with Warner Brothers with ‘My Kind Of Music’. Since that deal fell through, most of his career has been under the radar, self-releasing his music digitally. His fifth album, produced by his friend Michael Hughes, is a strong effort. He leans mainly to the traditional, with some more modern sounds creeping in. Scott has a big deep voice, but in the past has had a tendency to lapse into talking rather than singing. Happily that tendency is largely forgotten this time around.

The well-chosen official single, ‘Livin’ This Way’, is a fine, thoughtful song about a man trapped in a pattern of drinking (or using drugs – it’s not quite clear) and drying out.

The title track, set to a stripped down acoustic guitar arrangement, is another excellent song. It is about a musician giving up music for what he has found matters more:

It’s been right here beside me
While I lived out my dreams
Yeah but I think it’s about time I bid an old friend farewell
Guitar for sale

Yeah I’d’ve never found my reason for living
Without this old guitar
But I won’t let what brought us together tear us apart
No I won’t

She misses my kisses
She hates when I’m gone
And she’s sacrificed many a night
In this house alone
And oh who am I kiddin’
What more do I need
Than the love of this sweet little angel
Lying next to me?

The gently mournful lost-love ballad ‘Growin’ Old’ is also excellent, bolstered by some gorgeous steel guitar.

‘Sobering Up’ is a downbeat questioning whether the protagonist’s lover has fallen out of love with him, with alcohol as the metaphor. It is another fine track. ‘Put Down That Gun’ is on a similar theme but rather more lighthearted (even if she is threatening to shoot him):

Baby take a deep breath
Ease that hammer back down
I don’t know what it is that you think I did
But I promise it’ll never ever happen again
Baby let’s get married
Yeah let’s do it right now

A much darker song is ‘Worth Killing For’, a brooding song about a man on the verge a of a life changing decision if his romantic rival doesn’t back down.

‘Pray For The Fish’ was recorded by Randy Travis in 2002 (on his Rise And Shine album), but you can’t quite call Ray’s version a cover as he co-wrote it. It’s a pretty decent version, albeit more heavily produced than the original.

The swampy ‘Put Down The Bottle’ has an interesting lyric about planning on making a change in the protagonist’s drinking ways, but is unnecessarily heavily produced and lacking in melody. ‘The Fire’, drawing lyrically on the Mark Knopfler song ‘The Bug’ (familiar to country fans from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s version), as well as being smothered by electric guitar, is plain dull, as is ‘Doin’ Me Wrong’. The attitude-filled ‘Life Ain’t Long Enough’ is a bit busy, but not bad.

Overall, this is a solid album worth checking out.

Grade: B+

Week ending 6/17/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Jukebox): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: All The Time — Jack Greene (Decca)

1977Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: Forever and Ever, Amen — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1997: It’s Your Love — Tim McGraw with Faith Hill (Curb)

2007: Moments — Emerson Drive (Midas Nashville)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): In Case You Didn’t Know — Brett Young (Republic Nashville)

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Currents’

Before we get underway with our Johnny Paycheck spotlight, we have some unfinished business concerning last month’s spotlight artist Don Williams.  Through an oversight, this review was not published on Monday, May 29th as originally intended, so we are bringing it to you now — a little late but worth the wait.

The year 1992 was an interesting year in country music as the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement reached its zenith following the first flowering in 1986 (Randy Travis, Travis Tritt,  Dwight Yoakam) and the vaunted class of 1989 led by Alan Jackson, Clint Black and Garth Brooks. By 1992 so-called hat acts proliferated and even when the music was not strictly traditionalist, fiddle and steel guitar were prominently featured in the music.

In 1987 Hank Williams Jr.  and a cadre of younger artists presaged the 1992 music scene with the video “Young Country”, but with one exception: while the listeners may have been listening to both the new acts and the older acts in concert (and through their cassette and CD collections), radio had completely discarded Haggard and Jones and almost discarded the 48 year old Hank Williams Jr.

Currents, which was released in April 1992, was the third (and final) Don Williams album to be released on the RCA label.  Don had enjoyed three top ten hits off the previous album True Love, but those would prove to be the last top forty chart hits of Don’s career.  Make no mistake about it, Currents, like every album Don released before it (or even after it, for that matter) is a very good album. The problem with the album was the ‘Young Country’ movement was in full swing and the fifty-three year old Williams looked like ‘Old Country’ even if his music was not exactly of the Ernest Tubb/Hank Sr. old school vintage. In fact with his rapidly graying beard, Don looked even a bit older than his age. Radio simply quit playing him.

The album opens up with a Hugh Prestwood song, “Only Water (Shining In The Air)”, mid-tempo ballad with a little different sound than previous efforts:

Not that long ago, I was on the run
People telling me I should be someone
And the things I’d learnt were forgotten in my haste
Till I reached the end of the rainbow I had chased
It was only water shining in thin air
I put out my hand and there was nothing there
After all the promise, after all the prayer
It was only water shining in the air
Now I’ve got a wife and she sees me through
And I’ve got a friend I can talk straight to
And I’ve got some dreams just a bit more down to earth
And I don’t forget what a rainbow’s really worth

“Too Much Love” has a sing-a-long quality to it and, again, a little more of a contemporary sound to it. Written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, the song has rather bouncy lyrics of not much substance. The song was released as the second single; it deserved a better fate than dying at #72.

Too much coffee, too much tea, too much sugar isn’t good for me.
Too much money and too much fame, too much liqueur drives a man insane.
But too much love, too much love, there’s no such thing as too much love.
Too much fighting and misery, there’s too much trouble in this world for me.
There’s too much of this and too much of that and too much of anything will make you fat.
But too much love, too much love, there’s no such thing as too much love.

I really liked “That Song About The Water”, in fact it is my favorite song on the album. I think it would have made a good single but I doubt radio would have played it either. Penned by Charles John Quarto and Steve Gillette, the song is a slow ballad that sounds like a typical late 60s – early 70s production with steel guitar and (to a lesser degree) harmonica very prominent in the arrangement. I can hear this as a track on a Charley Pride album from that period.

I have seen the paddle wheelers
Rolling south on a summers day
I’ve seen the lovers at the guardrails
With stars in their lemonade
And I’ve heard the hobos gather
Heard their banjos brace the blade
Heard them sing about the river
Called it the lazy mans parade
Sing me that song about the river
Green going away
You know I always did feel like a drifter
At this time of day

Alex Harvey wrote “Catfish Bates” the third single from the album and the first Don Williams single not to chart after fifty-three consecutive solo chart singles. This mid-tempo ballad also features mid-70s country production. If released as a single 15-18 years earlier, I think it would have been a substantial hit. Of course, I may be prejudiced since fried catfish is my favorite form of seafood:

They call me Catfish Bates
‘Cause I can catch a catfish anytime I want to
Even when the moon man tells me they won’t bite
They call me Catfish Bates
‘Cause I know where that big ole flathead’s a hidin’.
I’m a gonna take him home with me tonight
I am the king of the Loosahatchie
My home is on the river
And them catfish they all know me by my sigh

I keep my nose on the westwind
My eye on the water
And my mind on my business all the time

Don turns to Dobie Gray for the next two songs. Gray was essentially an R&B singer who had two huge pop hits, “The In Crowd” (1965) and “Drift Away” (1972). Country fans may remember “Drift Away from Narvel Felts top ten record in 1973.

“So Far, So Good” is a slow ballad about a breakup that the narrator thinks is about to happen, but which hasn’t happened yet. “In The Family” features a Caribbean rhythm verging on reggae. It’s different but it works

 

Well I was raised up by the golden rule
In an old house with a patched up roof
We had a hard home but it pulled us close
We were family
Oh that summer, when the crops all died
Was the first time I saw Daddy cry
An’ I heard Momma say what goes on here stays
In the family

[Chorus]

Well our clothes weren’t new, that old car was used
We held our own
Whoa you just can’t buy, that sense of pride
We grew up on, In the family

I was stunned that “Standing Knee Deep In A River (Dying of Thirst)”, written by the crack team of Bob McDill and Dickey Lee, was not released as a Don Williams single. Instead Kathy Mattea took it to the top twenty in 1993. I like Kathy Mattea but Don’s version is better.

Friends I could count on I could count on one hand with a left over finger or two.
I took them for granted, let them all slip away, now where they are I wish I knew.
They roll by just like water & I guess we never learn,
Go through life parched and empty standing knee deep in a river, dying of thirst.

Pat Alger contributed “Lone Star State of Mind” a song which barely cracked the top forty for Nanci Griffith in 1987. Charles John  Quarto and Steve Gillette contributed “The Old Trail”, a jog-along ballad that isn’t as cowboy as the title suggests. Both songs are good album tracks.

The album closes up with “It’s Who You Love” a top twenty hit for writer Kieran Kane back in 1982. This song was released as the first single from the album. It died at # 73, the first indication that Don’s career as a chart singles act was through. I really like Don’s version – he is a more distinctive vocalist than Kieran Kane – but the song did not do great things in 1982, either.

Lying here beside her I’ve come to understand
If you want to be happy you can
It don’t take living like a king, it doesn’t cost you anything
All it takes is a woman and a man
Because its who you love and who loves you
It’s not where you are if she’s there too
It’s not who you know or what you do
It’s who you love and who loves you
This modern world we live in is a sad state of affairs
Everybody wants what isn’t theirs
While the race for money and success in search of happiness
We turn out the light and go upstairs

Kathy Mattea contributes backing vocals on “The Old Trail”, Dobie Gray does likewise on the two songs he wrote. Kieran Kane plays mandolin and Russ Pahl plays steel guitar. Something called the Bhundu Boys plays on “In The Family” providing guitars, handclaps and cowbells.

I doubt that there was a great conspiracy on radio to not play Don Williams records in 1992 (but I could be convinced otherwise). This is a fine album, with subtle and appropriate instrumentation and featuring a bunch of good songs. This album fits comfortably in the B+ to A- range where most of Don’s albums reside.

No further chart singles would occur for Don Williams, although his subsequent albums would occasionally reach the lower reaches of the Country Albums charts.

I guess Jerry Reed Hubbard was correct when he said “When You’re Hot You’re Hot, When You’re Not,You’re Not”.

 

Album Review: Don Williams: ‘Traces’

Traces was the second of a pair of albums that Don recorded for Capitol during the mid-to-late 1980s.   He co-produced the set with Garth Fundis.  Never one to follow trends, Don began his solo career singing songs with simple, stripped down production in an era when countrypolitan, with its lush string sections and vocal choruses, ruled the day.   By the mid-80s Randy Travis had brought country music back to its roots, with most other mainstream artists following suit.    Don Williams chose this time, however, to release an album that delved a little further into the pop realm.  The difference in sound is sometimes subtle, as is the case on “I Wouldn’t Be a Man”, the sultry lead single that reached a #9 peak.   At other times, it is more pronounced; a prime example is his cover of “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore”.   Originally an R&B hit for Ben E. King in 1968, it was introduced to country audiences by Dottie West and Don Gibson in 1970. In 1990, Billy Joe Royal would take it to #2 on the country charts.  While it works well for a genre-straddling artist like Royal, it is a bit of a stretch for the usually traditional Don Williams. Even more of a stretch is the trainwreck that is “Running  Out of Reasons to Run”, a filler song written by Jim Rushing and Martin Gerald Derstine with a jarring horn section.   It was better suited for Sawyer Brown, who recorded their own version a year later, but it is not a good vehicle for Williams.   “Looking Back”, a 1950s-style pop song is better.

Fortunately there are also plenty of country songs on the album.  The detour into pop occurs about halfway through and is preceded by three solid country numbers and followed by three more.   One of the best is “Another Place, Another Time”, a Bob McDill-Paul  Harrison tune that was released as the album’s second single, peaking at #5.   It was followed by the excellent upbeat “Desperately”, written by Kevin Welch and Jamie O’Hara, which reached #7.  The poignant (and extremely well-written) piano and string ballad “Old Coyote Town”, about a small town that has fallen on hard economic times, was the fourth and final single, which also reached #5.   One minor quibble:  I would have made this the closing track instead of giving that designation to the pleasant but pedestrian “You Love Me Through It All”.   A rather sedate rendition of “Come From the Heart”, preceding Kathy Mattea’s hit version by two years, is a pleasant surprise.

With the benefit of hindsight, one could possibly point to Traces as the beginning of Don’s chart decline; it was his first album since 1974’s Volume Two not to produce at least one #1 hit, although the four singles all performed respectably.  According to Wikipedia, the album did not chart, which I find hard to believe considering that it produced four Top 10 hits.  It is a solid album that I enjoyed but due to a few missteps, I have to rank it a little lower than his earlier work.  It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along New Moves, Don’s other album for Capitol.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Chris Stapleton – ‘From a Room: Volume 1’

Ever since he swept the 2015 CMA Award and his career-defining performance with Justin Timberlake at that show, Chris Stapleton has been regarded by many as the savior of country music, who will lift the genre out of its creative doldrums and set it back on a path towards traditionalism. The great irony is that Stapleton’s music is really not that traditional for the most part. Roots-oriented, organic, and substantive yes, but he’s hardly the modern day equivalent of Randy Travis in 1986. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the genre has benefited from his success. He has a powerful voice but his style owes more to blue-eyed sound southern rock than traditional country. His style is not usually my cup of tea, but I actually like Chris Stapleton quite a lot and have ever since he was the lead singer for The SteelDrivers. And regardless of whether or not one likes his vocal style, one can’t help but root for someone who can have commercial success while bypassing the cesspool that is country radio.

The follow-up to his immensely successful debut album Traveller was originally envisioned as a two-disc set, but Mercury apparently had some reservations about a double album and opted to release From a Room in two volumes, with the second set tentatively slated for an autumn release. One of the unfortunate consequences of his is that the first volume consists of a mere nine tracks. No album should consist of less then ten songs, in my opinion. I was annoyed when RCA trimmed back its albums to nine tracks in the 1980s and the practice, though rare nowadays, still does not sit well with me. Surely there were more songs recorded that could have been used to flesh out the album a bit. That criticism aside, From a Room is, for the most part, an outstanding collection.

Like Traveller, From a Room: Volume 1 was co-produced by Stapleton and Dave Cobb and recorded in RCA Studio A. Eight of its nine tracks were co-written by Stapleton (many apparently from his extensive back catalog), the sole exception being a stunning version of “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”, which was a #2 hit for Willie Nelson in 1982. It tells the story of a morning in which everything goes wrong: the delivery of a past-due bill notice, an alarm clock that fails to go off on time, a spilled pot of coffee, among other things, culminating in the narrator’s wife or girlfriend calling an end to their relationship. Stapleton’s wife Morgane Hayes-Stapleton provides the harmony vocals.

Another tune that will be familiar to many listeners is “Either Way”, which was originally included on Lee Ann Womack’s Call Me Crazy album in 2008. A ballad about a relationship taking its last dying breaths, it is the perfect vehicle for Stapleton’s powerhouse voice. Wikipedia lists it as the current single. Don’t expect to hear it the radio.

“Up to No Good Livin'”, the sole traditional track on the album, is my favorite. Again featuring Morgane signing harmony, it is a pedal-steel drenched up-tempo number about a reformed hell raiser whose wife refuses to believe that he’s mended his ways:

Wish I could come home from workin’
And not have her checking my breath
I’m tired of her turning her questions
Into the Gettysburg Address
There’s no reason why she shouldn’t trust me
The fact that she don’t makes me mad
Can’t count all the times that I’ve begged her
Honey, just let my past be the past

I used to drink like a fish and run like a dog
Without a whole lotta sh*t not committed by law
People called me the Picasso of painting the town
I’ve finally grown up
I’ve finally changed from that someone I was
To somebody I am
But she finds it hard to believe that she’s turned me around
So I’ll probably die before I live all my
Up to no good livin’ down

It’s no surprise, given Stapleton’s reputation as one of Nashville’s best songwriters, that From a Room: Volume 1 consists of very well-crafted and well executed songs. The sole dud is “Them Stems”, a tongue-in-cheek number about a marijuana user who has come to the end of his stash and desperate for a fresh supply. It’s catchy, but songs about drug use make me uncomfortable and as a result, I really can’t get into this one. One throwaway track on an album is no big deal but it’s a little harder to overlook when there are only nine songs in total.

From a Room: Volume 1 is sure to be one of 2017’s best sellers, and deservedly so. I’ve already played it several times and actually prefer it to Traveller. I’m looking forward to hearing the second volume in a few months.

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

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘My Heart Cracked (But It Did Not Break)’