My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Rhonda Kye Fleming

Album Review: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Partners, Brothers And Friends’

partners brothers and friendsBy 1985 the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were confident in their mainstream country/country-rock style, and released the excellent Partners, Brothers And Friends, a fine collection of mainly up-tempo, mainly positive songs which shows the band at their best.

The lead single, ‘Modern Day Romance’ was their second country chart topper. It is an early Kix Brooks songwriting credit (alongside Dan Tyler), and is a solidly enjoyable story song about a roadside pickup which turns into a wild weekend and a broken heart when the girl leaves him stranded:

I tried to love her without any strings
But a modern day romance has left me some old fashioned pain

The wistfully nostalgic ‘Home Again in My Heart’ then hit #3, with the banjo most prominent in the mix helping to give it a rustic feel. The charming ‘Old Upright Piano’ (written by Don Schlitz and Rhonda Kye Fleming) also looks back fondly to childhood memories of the narrator’s grandparents, and allows Bob Carpenter to shine on the piano.

There is a similar mood to Jimmy Ibbotson’s song ‘Telluride’ (not the song of that name later recorded by Tim McGraw but a cover of a song Ibbotson had written in the 1970s. Its poetically folky lyrics about a 19th century gold miner and his love for his wife are counterpointed by a more contemporary arrangement.

The autobiographical title track (written by Jimmy Ibbotson and Jeff Hanna) peaked at #6, but is one of my favourites of their records as it cheerfully chronicles the ups and downs of their career.

There are a number of enjoyable upbeat numbers, any of which would have been possible singles. The exuberant ‘Redneck Riviera’ (witten by Jeff Hanna and Bob Carpenter) is an early version of the country beach song, but it’s quite entertaining and rooted in real life. Hanna, Ibbotson and Steve Goodman wrote the catchy ‘Queen Of The Road’, a joyful tribute to a tough girl biker. The breezy cowboy song ‘Other Side of The Hill’ (sometimes also known as ‘Cadillac Cowboy’ and recorded by a number of other artists) is another enjoyable cut.

Slowing things down for a moment, ‘As Long As You’re Loving Me’ is a love song with a pretty melody written by Don Schlitz, Lisa Silver and Russell Smith.

They close up with the dramatic saga of ‘Leon McDuff’, a farmer who loses his riverside farm to floods, an unhelpful bank and an unscrupulous tax official who grabs his land for his own benefit. The song is structured as the defence lawyer’s speech at his trial for murdering the sheriff sent to evict Leon and his family:

I’m asking you to be the judge of when enough is enough

The band’s instrumental playing on this track is spectacular.

This album sees the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at their best. It is strongly recommended (and can be found as part of a 2-4-1 CD with its predecessor.

Grade: A

Album Review: Kathy Mattea – ‘Untasted Honey’

The confidence engendered by the success of Walk The Way The Wind Blows enabled Kathy to follow the same path with its successor released in 1987. Allen Reynolds’s clean, crisp production marries tasteful rootsiness with radio appeal, and the songs are all high quality and well suited to Kathy’s voice.

Poetic lead single ‘Goin’ Gone’ headed straight to #1, becoming Kathy’s first chart topper. Reflecting Kathy’s folkier side, it was written by Pat Alger, Fred Koller and Bill Dale, and like her earlier hit ‘Love At The Five And Dime’, it had been recorded by Nanci Griffith on her The Last Of The True Believers. Kathy is a significantly better singer than Nanci, and her version of the song is quite lovely.

The second #1 from the album was ‘Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses’, probably Kathy’s best remembered song and certainly one of her biggest hits. The warmhearted story song (written by Paul and Gene Nelson) has a strong mid-tempo tune and a heartwarming lyric about a trucker headed for a happy retirement travelling America with his beloved wife.

Singer-songwriters Craig Bickhardt and Beth Nielsen Chapman provide vocal harmony on both these singles, as they do on the title track, which Bickhardt wrote with Barry Alfonso. Here, a restless self-styled “free spirit” yearns for the wide open spaces,

Where a soul feels alive
And the untasted honey waits in the hive

It sounds beautiful, although the faithful lover left behind gets short shrift.

Tim O’Brien’s ‘Untold Stories’ made it to #4. An insistent beat backs up a positive lyric about looking past all the hidden hurts of the past in favour of reconciliation with an old love. O’Brien, a fellow West Virginian who was at that time the lead singer of bluegrass band Hot Rize, sings harmony and plays mandolin and acoustic guitar on the track, while The Whites’s Buck White plays piano. O’Brien also wrote ‘Late In The Day’, a highlight of the record with a downbeat lyric about late night loneliness, an acoustic arrangement and perfectly judged vocal. It’s the kind of song Trisha Yearwood would have done well with a few years later, and Kathy’s version shows just how good a singer she is, both technically and as a master of interpretation.

His contribution to the album did not end with these two songs, as he also duets with Kathy on Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet’s beautiful ‘The Battle Hymn Of Love’, a wedding song based on the vows of a marriage ceremony. It was belatedly released as a single in 1990, to promote Kathy’s A Collection Of Hits compilation, and reached the top 10. A slight folk feel is lent by both Tim’s vocal stylings and the use of hammered dulcimer in the pretty arrangement.

The album’s last official single (another to peak at #4) was the melancholy ballad ‘Life As We Knew It’. It is almost a prequel to ‘Untold Stories’ with its story of a woman packing up her things, filled with regret for the life she is leaving behind. It was written by Walter Carter and Fred Koller, and has a particularly beautiful, soaring melody. Jerry Douglas guests on dobro, and Tim O’Brien harmonizes again.

One of Kathy’s favorite writers, Pat Alger, teamed up with Mark D Sanders to write ‘Like A Hurricane’, which picks up the pace a bit. West Virginia references ad lovely instrumentation lift a well-performed but otherwise unremarkable song. The tender love song ‘As Long As I Have A Heart’, written by Dennis Wilson and Don Henry, has a pretty tune and acoustic arangement, and is very good. The delicately sung ‘Every Love’, co-written by folkie Janis Ian with country songwriter Rhonda Kye Fleming, offers an introspective overview of the nature of love, and has a stripped down acoustic backing featuring the harp.

Untasted Honey was Kathy’s best selling album to date, and her first to be certified gold. It is also a very fine record which stands up well after quarter of a century, and contains some of Kathy’s best work. It is available digitally, and can be found cheaply on CD.

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+