My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Reed Nielsen

Album Review: The Time Jumpers – ‘The Time Jumpers’

Nashville’s very own 11-person supergroup, the Time Jumpers may have started as a side project allowing its members a regular live outlet, but they have now come into their own on record. Their mixture of country, jazz and western swing has been showcased before on two live albums, and the members’ brilliant musicianship and sheer love of music shines through at every turn on this, their first studio album, out now on Rounder Records.

Instrumental tracks often tend to be tacked on at the end of an album, seeming almost like an apologetic afterthought. It is rare for one to open proceedings, and the Time Jumpers’ decision to place ‘Texoma Bound’, composed by Larry Franklin, one of the group’s three fiddle players, allows them to show off their chops in dazzling style. Members include regular CMA instrumentalist of the year nominee Paul Franklin, perhaps Nashville’s most in-demand steel guitarist, as well as superstar Vince Gill.

Fiddler Kenny Sears sings lead on his own song ‘Nothing But The Blues’. It’s a pleasant western swing song with a relaxed feel and a great instrumental section, but Kenny is an average vocalist. The same goes for Ranger Doug, better known as lead singer of the retro-western group Riders in the Sky. His western ballad ‘Ridin’ On the Rio’ suffers from his limited vocals, but is quite a nice song, and an interesting reminder of a marginalized sub-genre.

Kenny’s wife Dawn on the other hand, has a fabulous voice and knows how to use it with subtlety. Her bid for a solo career never really got off the ground, but she is an aoutstanding vocalist, and shows that here. My favourite of her cuts here is on her own song ‘So Far Apart’, a regretful look at a once happy marriage which has grown cold. Dawn’s vocal interprets the emotion beautifully, supported by Paul Franklin’s equally perfect steel guitar , and this sounds like a lost classic from the 1960s. I also love her version of the Harlan Howard-penned Someone Had To Teach You, which George Strait recorded 20-odd years ago on Livin’ It Up. Dawn then comes across as sultry jazz chanteuse on ‘Faint Of Heart’, written by Vince Gill and Al Anderson.

Dawn and Kenny duet on the western swing ‘Texas On A Saturday Night’, written by minor 70s act Mundo Earwood. It is entertaining, but more about the overall groove and musicianship than the vocals. This is definitely music to dance to. Dawn sings with Ranger Doug on ‘Yodel Blues’, the title of which is explanatory.

Vince Gill, long a member of the group when other commitments permitted him, makes his first appearance with them in record now that he is free of his major label deal. ‘New Star Over Texas’, which he wrote with Leslie Satcher is a rather charming western swing ballad with prominent steel, while ‘On The Outskirts Of Town’ (which he wrote with Reed Nielsen) is lyrically slight but the swingy feel and sparkling playing carry it off.

‘Three Sides To Every Story’ is a classic styled country ballad about the end of a relationship following cheating and lies. This excellent song is quintessential Vince Gill and my favourite track. ‘The Woman Of My Dreams’ is another really fine traditional country song loaded with Paul Franklin’s steel, which has Vince lamenting the fact that the love of his love has moved on to somebody new. He really shines vocally on these songs, and they show his songwriting is on a roll as well. Hopefully another solo album is not too far away.

While this is clearly a democratic group with every member allowed to shine, Dawn Sears and Vince Gill are the clear vocal stars of the group, and the songs on which they take the lead are the highlights.

Grade: A

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Let It Go’

Like most of Tim McGraw’s albums, 2007’s Let It Go is a combination of the good, the bad, and the mediocre on which Byron Gallimore and Darran Smith returned to share co-production duties. The lead single was the annoyingly fluffy “Last Dollar (Fly Away)” which was written by Big & Rich’s Big Kenny. It’s a mediocre song with a sing-songy chorus that grows tiresome with repeated listenings. The final chorus on which McGraw is joined by his three young daughters only adds to the irritation factor. Nevertheless, it reached the top spot on the charts, becoming McGraw’s first #1 hit since 2004’s “Back When”.

Much more to my liking is the album’s second cut, “I’m Workin'”, written by Darrell Scott and Lori McKenna. It’s a gritty number that in years past would have been a big hit on country radio. From the opening line, “Damn, I hope no one dies on this night shift tonight”, the listener is immediately pulled into the story. The narrator’s profession is never revealed. My first thought was that he was a policeman, but he could just as easily be a paramedic or even an ER doctor. Another song that should have been a single is the album’s best track “Whiskey and You”, a pure country number written by Lee Thomas Miller and then-Steeldrivers member Chris Stapleton. Likely deemed too traditional for country radio, “Whiskey and You” was left to languish in obscurity as an album cut, passed over in favor of schlock like the title track, a boring AC-leaning duet with Faith Hill, and a cover of an Eddie Rabbitt song — one of the songs in the late singer/songwriter’s catalog least worthy of a remake.

Faith Hill makes one of her two guest appearances on “I Need You”, a rather lackluster number written by David Lee and Tony Lane, that reached #8. It’s not nearly as good as “Shotgun Rider”, which is not a true duet but features a prominent harmony vocal from Hill. Written by Anthony Smith, Jeffrey Steele and Sherrie Austin, it’s the best McGraw/Hill song I’ve ever heard. It’s too bad Tim and Faith haven’t done more songs in this vein.

“Suspicions” was a #1 hit for Eddie Rabbitt in 1979, an era when a lot of barely-country sounding songs were big hits. It’s one of my least favorite Rabbitt songs. Tim’s version is very faithful to the original, but it only reached #12, making it one of the very few McGraw singles not to make the Top 10, in spite of Tim’s popularity and country radio’s increasing willingness to play non-country material. The follow-up single was the much more traditional “Kristofferson”, a tribute to one of country music’s greatest songwriters, written by Anthony Smith and Reed Nielsen. It fared even worse on the charts than “Suspicions”, stalling at #16. Tim bounced back, however, with the generic and overproduced title track, which climbed to #2.

The very best of the album’s seven singles was not included on the album when it was initially released. “If You’re Reading This”, on which Tim shares a rare songwriting credit with Brad and Brett Warren, was performed on the 2007 Academy of Country Music Awards telecast. It tells the heartbreaking story of a fallen soldier, in his own words, in a letter to his wife, to be sent to her in the event of his death. It was one of the best performances of Tim’s career and was so well received that the song entered the Billboard charts from unsolicited airplay of the audio from the telecast. This prompted Curb to release the live recording as a single, between “I Need You” and “Suspicions” and to include it on subsequent pressings of the album. “If You’re Reading This” peaked at #3; I was surprised that it didn’t go all the way to #1.

Mid-2008 was about the time when Curb Records began playing games to prolong Tim’s contract. Instead of releasing a new album, they opted to release a seventh single, “Nothin’ To Die For”, a preachy and overproduced “don’t drink and drive” number that reads like a public service announcement that somehow climbed to #5 on the charts.

The rest of the album is mostly generic filler, with the exception of “Between The River and Me”, which tells the story of a son’s revenge against an abusive father. It’s a southern Gothic number in the traditon of “Ode To Billy Joe”, “Fancy” and “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”, but unlike those classics, “Between The River and Me” is ruined by over-the-top production that renders it almost unlistenable. To call it bombastic would be an understatement.

Though it has its share of duds, Let It Go is one of the stronger album’s in Tim’s discography and has enough good songs on it to make it worth recommending. It is easy to find at reasonable prices.

Grade: B

Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘Next Big Thing’

Vince wrote or co-wrote all 17 of the songs on 2003’s Next Big Thing, and produced the album himself. It represents a marked return to form after the gloopy lovefest that was Let’s Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye, inspired by Vince’s second marriage to contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant.

He might have had a top 10 hit from his last album, but this album sees him apparently (and presciently) accepting that his time in the spotlight might be over. The beaty and surprisingly upbeat title track (written with Al Anderson and John Hobbs and featuring horns) and the more resigned ‘Young Man’s Town’ (with Emmylou Harris on harmony) both take a look at the fleeting nature of the music business and its fascination with youth and good looks. Both were released as singles, with the brassy party sound of ‘Next Big Thing’ providing Vince with his last top 20 hit and the more reflective ‘Young Man’s Town’ not making the top 40; perhaps the accuracy of the lyric hit a bit too close to home for country radio.

‘This Old Guitar And Me’ is an old musician’s love song to his first instrument and fond memories of his early career. The Leslie Satcher co-write ‘Old Time Fiddle’ is an enjoyable love letter to Cajun music, with appropriate fiddle solo and Leslie herself on harmony. Leslie also co-wrote the tenderly delivered ballad ‘Two Hearts’, where Lee Ann Womack provides the harmony vocal.

‘Someday’, the album’s second single (peaking at #31) is a delicately pretty AC-influenced ballad written with former pop star Richard Marx, wistfully dreaming of the possibility of future love. ‘These Broken Hearts’, written by Vince with his keyboard player Pete Wasner, is a sad ballad about breaking up with someone, with blue-eyed soul man Michael McDonald on harmony. Both songs are set against a string arrangement courtesy of John Hobbs and the Nashville String machine, and are pleasant listening without being truly memorable.

There are a few other less inspired moments, like the throwaway ‘The Sun’s Gonna Shine On You’. The mid-tempo ‘Don’t Let Her Get Away’, written with Anderson, is OK filler which sounds like some of Vince’s RCA recordings with banked but thin harmonies.

A number of the songs brood about failed relationships past. In the contemporary ballad ‘She Never Makes Me Cry’, Vince prefers an unexciting life with his new wife to the ups and downs of a passionate past love. ‘We Had It All’ is a mid-tempo plea to rekindle an old flame with a subtle Tex-Mex feel to the instrumentation. The bouncy and solidly traditional country ‘Without You’ delivers a more cheerful reaction to being single again, with Dawn Sears on harmony.

Dawn also sings a piercing harmony on the best song on the album. ‘Real Mean Bottle’ is a standout tribute to Merle Haggard, with a high lonesome feel and Bakersfield guitars:

It must have been a real mean bottle that made you write the songs that way
A real mean bottle
Poured straight from the Devil
It’s a miracle you’re standing here today

‘From Where I Stand’, written with Anderson and Hobbs, is a classic declaration of fidelity in the face of temptation, set to a beautiful tune with a bluesy harmony from Bekka Bramlett. This is another highlight, which could have been a big hit if released a few years earlier in Vince’s peak commercial period.

‘Whippoorwill River’, written with Dean Dillon, gently recalls childhood memories of life with his father. Vince’s daughter Jenny keeps things in the family by singing the harmony. A fictional look at family comes from the fiddle-led ‘You Ain’t Foolin’ Nobody’, written with Reed Nielsen, is addressed to the protagonist’s motherless daughter who is running wild in a small town.

The album closes with the mellow and reflective farewell to a dying friend, ‘In These Last Few Days’, with wife Amy Grant on harmony. It was the fourth and last single to be released, but did not perform very well.

Sales were disappointing, with the record his first not to reach at least gold status since he signed to MCA, but that is no reflection on the quality of the music. The album could perhaps have done with a bit of weeding, as there are a few forgettable songs, but overall this was a strong release with a lot of worthwhile material. It’s easy to find, and well worth adding to your collection if you have previously overlooked it.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘When Love Finds You’

Vince Gill’s seventh studio album hit shelves nearly two years after his landmark I Still Believe In You. Once again co-produced with Tony Brown, When Love Finds You continued to build on Gill’s newfound superstar status, selling 4 million copies and spawning 6 hit singles, it also built on the singer’s knack for striking the perfect balance between his pop-tinged and traditional country sound.

Meant to recapture the mega success of “I Still Believe In You”, the adult contemporary-leaning ballad “Whenever You Come Around” was showcased as the lead single, and found its way to #2 on the country singles chart in the Summer of 1994. The title track – a #3 hit – follows much of the same electric guitar and synthesizer love song format. The former features Trisha Yearwood singing harmony.

The best showcases for Gill’s fast-fingers guitar playing comes from the album’s pair up-tempo singles. Proving that a lusty ode to womankind can be done right, “What The Cowgirls Do”, written by Vince with Reed Nielsen, rocks hard with a healthy dose of piano and guitar, and the charm of the lyrics – “they love to go all night, and treat you right” – fall just short of chauvinism. Even better is the contemporary country sounds of “You Better Think Twice”, which finds the singer urging a would-be notch on his buddy’s belt to rethink her feelings. Layers of piano and hard-hitting bass playing by Michael Rhodes make it a good time top-tapper. Both songs hit #2 on the country chart.

As good as those up-tempos are, two other singles steal the spotlight on When Love Finds You. The stone country weeper “Which Bridge To Cross (Which Bridge To Burn)”, co-written with the legendary Bill Anderson, tells of a man in love with two women and at a loss over which one to choose. Here, a tinkling honky-tonk piano and a crying fiddle frame Gill’s high lonesome delivery of a stellar lyric. Best remembered today is the perennial “Go Rest High On That Mountain”, featuring Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs on harmony. Gill began writing the eulogic ballad after the death of Keith Whitley in 1989 but didn’t finish it until 4 years later following the death of his brother.

There are really no songs here in need of skipping. On the roadhouse-flavored “South Side of Dixie”, co-written with Delbert McClinton, Gill again kicks up his heels and showcases his guitar skills. “If There’s Anything I Can Do” hits just the right groove of pop-country perfection as does “Maybe Tonight”, which Gill co-wrote with his then-wife Janis. Coincidentally, another of the album’s tracks was written with Amy Grant, who would become Vince’s second wife. “If I Had My Way” is a more spiritual and humanitarian love song than a foreshadowing of a romantic relationship, and features a stripped down production.

When Love Finds You found an artist in his commercial prime, and delivering the goods to as many people as he ever would. Vince Gill does not disappoint the masses with this release, be they neo-traditionalist or converted rock and roll fan.

Grade: A-

Buy it at amazon.

Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘I Still Believe In You’

Released in 1992, this album transformed Vince from star to superstar, with four of the five singles hitting #1 on Billboard, and excellent sales figures and a string of awards for the album itself. It showcases Vince Gill at his very best, with lovely soaring vocals, supported by tasteful and subtle production overseen by Tony Brown. Vince wrote or co-wrote every song, and the quality is exceptionally high. Backing singers include Alison Krauss and Dawn Sears.

The title track was Vince’s very first #1 hit. It won Vince and co-writer John Barlow Jarvis Song of the Year awards from both the ACM and CMA. Reportedly written for Vince’s then-wife Janis about their sometimes troubled relationship, the message is one of the power of true love to surmount such difficulties, and even though the couple were eventually to divorce, the song’s message stands up in its own right.

The mid-tempo follow-up, ‘Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away’ is an appeal to a wife in a marriage which is beginning to fray at the seams, which Vince wrote with his keyboard player Pete Wasner. It is pleasant enough and quietly catchy, but pales in comparison to most of the other material. The fact that it still made it to #1 is an indication that Vince’s career was in overdrive.

Surprisingly, although it was still a big hit, the next single did not do quite as well, although I think it is abetter song. The gently mournful ballad ‘No Future In The Past’, co-written with Carl Jackson, forms a sequel of sorts to ‘When I Call Your Name’, where the protagonist accepts there is no point dwelling on his memories of the good times. Peaking at a still-respectable #3 it was the album’s poorest chart performer, possibly due to competition for airplay from ‘The Heart Won’t Lie’, his duet with Reba.

It was a change of pace and back to the top of the charts with the next single, the lively and amusing ‘One More Last Chance’, written with Gary Nicholson. Vince begs his woman for mercy after one too many nights out with the boys. Delbert McClinton guests on harmonica, and the video (but not the song) featured a cameo from George Jones, whose own life probably inspired the lines:

Well, she might’ve took my car keys
But she forgot about my old John Deere

There was enough juice left in the album for a fifth single, and yet another #1 with the lyrically bleak but beautiful sounding ‘Trying To Get Over You’ (written with Gary Nicholson), where he confesses that “it’ll take dying” to help him get over the woman who has broken his heart.

My favorite track is another gorgeous ballad, the absolutely beautiful ‘Love Never Broke Anyone’s Heart’, written with Jim Weatherly. This finds Vince offering wise words of consolation to a woman who has suffered a broken heart:

It’s not love that causes the pain
Whenever a heart has been shattered
It’s the losing of love that’s to blame

Love never broke anyone’s heart
It never left anyone scarred
It’s not really love
If it tears you apart
Love never broke anyone’s heart

Andrea Zonn’s solemn fiddle and John Hughey’s sympathetic steel add to the mood set by the perfectly judged vocal and lovely melody.

‘Under These Conditions’ is an agonized almost-cheating song, with two potential lovers held back from a good relationship from the fact that both are already married with children. It is another excellent song and performance, written by Vince with Max D Barnes. ‘Say Hello’ (another co-write with Pete Wasner) is a traditional shuffle on another heartbreak theme, with prominent harmonies.

Romantic ballad ‘Nothing Like A Woman’, written with Reed Nielsen, has a mellow, more AC feel than the bulk of the material and I don’t care for it as much, but it is very well done. I preferred the uptempo appeal to a woman being led astray by a persuasive liar’s ‘Pretty Words’, written with Don Schlitz.

The best selling album of Vince’s career, it has been certified quintuple platinum and was deservedly the CMA Album of the Year in 1993, and also helped him with his run of CMA Male Vocalist titles (1991-1995) and his wins as Entertainer of the Year in 1993 and 1994. It is excellent from start to finish, and warmly recommended. Used copies are available incredibly cheaply, making this a bargain not to be turned down.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘Pocket Full of Gold’

Released in 1991, Vince Gill’s fifth album continued to build on the success of the double-platinum selling and career-changing When I Call Your Name. There must have been enormous pressure to produce a follow-up disc that would confirm that the success of his long overdue commercial breakthrough was no fluke. Fortunately, Pocket Full of Gold, did not disappoint. His most traditional album to date, Pocket Full of Gold was a more cohesive collection than its predecessor, and marked the beginning of a more consistent track record at radio, as for the first time, all of the singles released from one his albums reached the Top 10.

Once again, Tony Brown was on board for production duties. Also returning to the studio was Patty Loveless, who sang harmony on the album’s title track, in what was seen as an attempt to recreate the magic of “When I Call Your Name”. The earlier record is better remembered and to this day casts a long shadow over “Pocket Full of Gold”; however, the latter is an excellent song in its own right. Written by Gill with Brian Allsmiller, it tells the story of a married man who slips his wedding ring off his finger when he meets a hot young dish in a bar. The song ends with a dire warning:

Some night you’re gonna wind up on the wrong end of a gun,
Some jealous guy’s gonna show up, and you’ll pay for what you’ve done
What will it say on your tombstone?
“Here lies a rich man, with his pocket full of gold”.

The tune peaked at #7, breaking a long-standing unwritten rule that an artist could not successfully release three consecutive ballads as singles. However, for the follow-up single, Gill and MCA did opt for a change of pace, releasing the uptempo and decidedly less substantive “Liza Jane”, which Vince wrote with Reed Nielsen. A lightweight song intended to be a fun summertime release, it also reached #7 on the charts. After that, it was back to ballads again for the third single. “Look At Us”, written by Vince and Max D. Barnes is a story of a married couple who has overcome some serious obstacles and emerged with an even stronger union. It was largely thought to be a semi-autobiographical number, and Vince’s wife Janis appeared with him in the music video. It’s a beautiful song, but the lyrics seem a bit awkward today since the Gills eventually divorced. Backstory aside, it’s a great song that reached #4.

The album’s fourth, final, and highest-charting single was Vince’s solo composition “Take Your Memory With You”. Though the title suggests another ballad, it’s a midtempo number that is heavy on fiddle and steel. It peaked at #4 in early 1992.

Among the album cuts, there are three other songs that had the potential to be hit singles: “The Strings That Tie You Down”, which was another co-write with Max D. Barnes, the stripped-down “If I Didn’t Have You In My World”, co-written with Jim Weatherly, and the Curtis Wright composition “What’s A Man To Do”.

Pocket Full of Gold is one of those rare albums that is so consistent, it’s difficult to pick out any of the songs as favorites. That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t any fluff. Vince’s composition “A Little Left Over” doesn’t quite match the quality of the other songs on the album, and the Jim Lauderdale and John Leventhal tune “Sparkle”, which closes the album is a throwaway track. Sandwiched in between the landmark When I Call Your Name and the best-selling album of Vince’s career I Still Believe In You, Pocket Full of Gold tends to be overlooked. It is, however, better than either of those albums, even though its singles weren’t quite as successful. Along with 1998’s The Key, it is my favorite album in the Gill catalog, and as such, is highly recommended. CD and digital copies are widely available.


Grade: A+

Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘The Way Back Home’

Vince’s third and last release for RCA (in 1987) was almost a full length album, with nine tracks. Produced by Richard Landis and recorded in LA, with West Coast country-rock musicians like Jay Dee Maness on steel, and an all-star cast of backing singers including Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, and Vince’s wife Janis and her sister Kristine Arnold (who as the Sweethearts of the Rodeo were rising stars at the time). Unfortunately, too many are used together, with an almost choir effect on some tracks which is not suited to the material, most of which Vince wrote or co-wrote.

One exception was the first single and biggest hit from the album, peaking at #5 on Billboard. The sympathetic look at a modern day ‘Cinderella’ who the protagonist might just take away from her neglectful husband, was written by Reed Nielsen. While it is catchy and likeable, it is largely forgotten today, and lacks the weight of Vince’s classics.

The perky ‘Let’s Do Something’ did rather less well at #16; it is quite enjoyable but a bit too much is going on in the production. The playfully up-tempo ‘Everybody’s Sweetheart’ just missed the top 10, peaking at #11. It complains, just a little tongue in cheek when he says he should keep her “barefoot and pregnant all the time”, in order to keep at home a wife the protagonist never sees thanks to her pursuit of stardom. It appears to have been partly inspired by Vince’s relationship with Janis.

‘The Radio’ is a classsic lonesome Vince Gill ballad with lovely soaring vocals. It only just scraped into the top 40, almost certainly because with Vince halfway out of the door, the label was disinclined to promote it. It is much better than that peak would imply. Also very good, although perhaps a little sentimental for some tastes, the beautifully sung title track reflects on the tragedy of missing children. Emmylou Harris’ distinctive harmony is haunting, although the choir effect of massed backing vocals on the chorus is a bit too much; they should have kept it stripped down with just Emmylou supporting Vince.

There is a certain amount of filler, including ‘Baby, That’s Tough’, a rather underwhelming co-write with Texas songwriting great Guy Clark. ‘Losing Your Love’ is a pleasant ballad with an attractive melody, written with Hank DeVito and Rhonda Kye Fleming, while ‘Something Missing’, written by Vince with Michael Clark, is boring. ‘It Doesn’t Matter Any More’ is a cover of an old Paul Anka pop song.

This was a step in the right direction. The next, and a defining one, was Vince’s move to MCA, where Tony Brown took over production duties. This resulted in his first masterpiece, When I Call Your Name, which I reviewed back in 2009 as part of our look back at the Class of ’89: https://mykindofcountry.wordpress.com/2009/04/05/class-of-89-album-review-vince-gill-when-i-call-your-name/

Used copies of the CD are available very cheaply.

Grade: B+