My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Rhonda Vincent

Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Muleskinner Blues’

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Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent and Gene Watson – ‘Gone For Good’

Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘Dumplin’

Dolly Parton’s latest project is the soundtrack to a new Netflix movie about a plus-size teen and Dolly fan who enters a beauty pageant run by her judgmental mother.

It is very much the pop side of Dolly’s music, with little country sounding about it. Producer Linda Perry, an extremely successful songwriter and producer from the pop world, perhaps best known for writing ‘Get The Party Started’ for Pink! and ‘Beautiful’ for Christina Aguilera, clearly has little facility for or understanding of country music.

A number of the songs are co-writes with Perry especially for the film. ‘Girl In The Movies’ is a nice but rather repetitive song with a warm lyric about a girl with big dreams which ties into the film themes. ‘Red Shoes’ is charming and passionate. A more country production would have worked better on these songs. ‘Who’ is a pretty song about discovering first love. ‘Push And Pull’ is about a troubled relationship (perhaps, from the film synopsis, the young heroine and her mother).

Willa Amai is a young Californian singer and protegee of Perry. Her duet with Dolly on the latter’s 70s pop hit ‘Here You Come Again’ is a bit over produced, but not bad, and Dolly sounds great on the track.

‘Here I Am’, originally on Dolly’s iconic Coat Of Many Colors album, is performed here as a duet with Australian pop star Sia. Dolly’s voice is crystal clear and beautiful; Sia’s deeper voice is soulful and powerful, and the overall effect is rather good, with a faintly gospel air. It is one of the best moments on this album.

I also really enjoyed ‘Why’, a rhythmic and spiritual duet with gospel legend Mavis Staples. It has a Dolly in the 80s feel to it, with a gospel overlay, catchy melody and a powerful lyric:

I often wonder what I’m doin’ here
There must be a reason
But it’s not always clear
Why was I born,
Wwhat’s my purpose in life
There is an answer to my question why
(Well, well, well)

I wonder why we can’t love and be free
Let everyone be all that they wanna be
Judge not lest you be judged,
Let heaven decide
Still we don’t do it, and I wonder why

I know I’m not perfect but nobody is
There’s things more important topping my list
Acceptance and kindness and doin’ what’s right
We would if we could, whoa, why don’t we try

I wonder why we can’t just love and be free
Let everyone be all that they wanna be
Judge not lest you be judged,
Let heaven decide
Still we don’t do it, and I wonder why

I wonder why we can’t just speak out and say
I see you my brother and I love you that way
Just be who you are with purpose and pride
‘Cause God loves us all and I bet he wonders why
We can’t love one another the way that we are
Why we are blinded from seeing that far
Let’s light the fire
Spread love with the light
We’re walkin’ in darkness, no good reason why

I wonder why we can’t just let them be free
Let everyone be all that they wanna be
My brothers, my sisters, come walk by my side
Oh I will if you will
Oh why don’t we try

You know love is the answer to my question why
But still we don’t do it
And I wonder why

Rhonda Vincent adds harmonies on the urgently optimistic ‘If We Don’t’, another of the Perry co-writes, which encourages making a difference. There is some actual fiddle on the song, from Alison Krauss, but it doesn’t really showcase the vocals. Not bad, though.

‘Holdin’ On To You’, a duet with Elle King, who has previously worked with Dierks Bentley, is very pop indeed, and I hated it. Dolly’s pop hit ‘Two Doors Down’ is very busy in this brassy incarnation; I can imagine it works in the context of the movie.

Miranda Lambert duets on a version of Dolly’s first ever hit, the Curly Putnam-penned ‘Dumb Blonde’, which does sound like a country record. Unsurprisingly to regular readers, I much prefer Dolly’s original version of her classic ‘Jolene’, but the new re-recording is actually very effective. Dolly’s vocal is somber and underlines the sadness of the story of the betrayed woman begging her rival for pity, and the string arrangement is dark and powerful.

So it sounds as if this set of recordings would work well for its main purpose, as a movie soundtrack, and also as an album in its own right for Dolly’s pop and international fans. It has less to offer fans of her more country material, but may still be worth a listen.

Grade: B

Album Review: Dailey & Vincent — ‘The Sounds of Christmas’

Those who have access to the RFD network have undoubtedly seen Dailey & Vincent’s weekly half-hour show. Those who have not seen the show nor seen the dynamic duo in person probably think of the duo as a bluegrass act but they are far more than that.

Yes, both Jamie Dailey & Darrin Vincent “D & V”) have bona fide bluegrass credentials. Dailey spent a decade as y the lead vocalist and guitarist for Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver from 1999-2008. Darrin Vincent was a musician with Ricky Skaggs’ legendary band Kentucky Thunder and was also part of the famous bluegrass family group The Sally Mountain Show with his sister Rhonda Vincent. Rhonda, of course, is the Queen of Bluegrass having won numerous IBMA and SPBMA awards including seven Entertainer of the Year awards between the two organizations.

Bluegrass they may be, but Gale Mayes, Angie Primm, Aaron McCune, and Josh Cobb are far more than that, having absorbed many other forms of music into their collective souls. They have assembled a cast of excellent musicians and can field several variants of a vocal quartet, including a group that can easily replicate the sound of the legendary Statler Brothers.

The album opens with “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” which features some excellent saxophone and honors the rocking spirit of Brenda Lee’s original recording from 1958. Johnny Marks wrote the song. Jamie Dailey takes the lead on this number.

“Mary Did You Know”, written by Christian humorist Mark Lowry has become a Christmas classic since its first appearance in 1991. This may be the best version I have heard of the song. I think that Darrin takes the lead on this song.

“Road To Bethlehem” features Dolly Parton singing harmony and taking the lead on the second verse. Jimmy Fortunate and Jeff Bates wrote this mid-tempo ballad.

“Go Thee Down” is a nice ballad about the first persons to see the Christ child

“Let It Snow” is an old warhorse from the pens of Frank Sinatra’s favorite tunesmiths Sammy Kahn & Jule Styne. Although not specifically a Christmas song, this fan favorite, first recorded by Vaughn Monroe in 1945 reached #1 in January 1946 and has been associated with the holidays since then. Dailey and Vincent give the song an upbeat jazzy interpretation with brass and full orchestration.

“The Spirit of Christmas is typically associated with Ray Charles. Dailey & Vincent give it a straight-ahead treatment (there is no point trying to be more soulful than Ray Charles) and succeed nicely

Christmas is the time of year
For being with the one’s we love
Sharing so much joy and cheer
What a wonderful feeling
Watching the one’s we love
Having so much fun

I was sitting by the fire side
Taking a walk through the snow
Listening to a children’s choir
Singing songs about Jesus
The blessed way that he came to us
Why can’t it remain

“The Carol of the Bells” is usually cast as an instrumental so it is interesting to hear it performed as a vocal ensemble. “It’s a Very Merry Christmas: is a rather bland generic song that serves as a placeholder for the humorous and jazzy “Mr. Grinch”

“Mr. Grinch” was featured in the television special How The Grinch Stole Christmas that originally aired in 1966 and featured the legendary Boris Karloff as the voice of the Grinch. Thurl Ravenscroft was the actual singer (best known as the voice of Tony The Tiger in the Kelloggs commercials) on the soundtrack. I’m not sure that anyone could actually equal Ravenscroft, but it is fun to hear the song again.

“Frosty The Snowman” is another upbeat Christmas classic. Written by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson, the song was first performed by Gene Autry in 1950. I prefer Autry’s version, but D & V do a nice job with the song.

Next up is a medley of traditional Christmas carols consisting of “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” and “Joy To The World” This medley is performed as a vocal quartet and sounds much the way I recall the Statler Brothers performing such tunes – very nice indeed.

It is hard to mess up “Jingle Bells” and D&V do a nice job with the song giving a Statler-esque spin to the number.

“Little Town of Bethlehem” is a standard carol that D&V treat respectfully. Piano is the dominant instrument on the track.

The album closes with a rocking Southern gospel rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain with bass singer Aaron McCune leading the way.

The additional vocalists on this album include Gale Mayes, Angie Primm, Aaron McCune, and Josh Cobb.

While there are some acoustic instruments on this album, dobro, mandolin, and banjo are not among them, so this album truly cannot be classified as bluegrass. I am a bit annoyed that nowhere on the disc or the packaging is the songwriters listed. If I have left the songwriter unidentified, it is because I could not find the information elsewhere

The review for this album is in accordance with how most will hear this album. Those lucky enough to purchase this at Cracker Barrel Restaurants will find two bonus tracks mixed within the album. “Silver Bells” is a fairly standard quartette treatment of an old Christmas favorite. “Tonight It’s Christmas” features Ricky Skaggs originally surfaced on Alabama’s album Christmas. It is a very nice track that should be more widely known:

The factories are all shut down and the shopping malls are all closed

And the busy streets are all empty except for the falling snow

And in the small towns, in the cities families gather as one

‘Cause the night of love and sharing they look forward to has come

 

’cause tonight is Christmas, tonight is love

Tonight we celebrate god’s one and only son

Tonight there’s hope for peace on earth eternally

Tonight is Christmas and the world’s in harmony

But across the seas two armies stare down at each other’s guns

Each believing in their cause enough to die or kill the other one

But tonight there’ll be no shooting, not a drop of blood will spill

They will cease their fire this silent night in the name of peace and goodwill

Sounds of Christmas defies categorization by genre – it is simply a great Christmas album, There is nothing new or revolutionary about the album, but it is excellent and I I like this album a lot. While it is not bluegrass and not necessarily country on every track, my tastes in Christmas music tend toward the very traditional and toward the religious meaning of the holiday. This album fits the bill completely.

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘Gone For Good’

Album Review: Julie Reeves – ‘It’s About Time’

Julie Reeves moved to Nashville in 1994, where she got jobs doing studio work and singing demos. She then found herself the guest vocalist on Bill Engvall’s “Should’ve Shut Up” and a recording artist for Virgin Records, where she released her lone studio record, It’s About Time in 1999.

The album, produced by Scott Hendricks, was a commercial flop, petering out at #70. It opens with it’s second single, “Trouble Is A Woman,” which peaked at #39. The song is an excellent  and instantly memorable honky-tonk rocker with a killer hook, ‘trouble is a woman with a man on her mind.’

I remember well when Melinda Doolittle chose the song for her country week performance on American Idol in 2007. Martina McBride was serving as the onguest mentor and freely admitted she had never heard of the song before. It was a surprising omission, especially coming from someone quite active in the industry at end of the century. Doolittle, I’m happy to report, did “Trouble Is A Woman” justice.

The album rolls on with “Do You Think About Me,” an infectious fiddle-drenched rocker in which Reeves plays a woman wondering if her ex has held onto any memories from their relationship. The track is very good, although the gospel-y backing vocals on the chorus are out of character, distracting and completely unnecessary.

“Party Down” (whatever that phrase even means) somewhat continues the woman’s liberation theme that had been brewing in mainstream country for the better half of a decade. She’s done with her ex, even helping throw him to the curb, and describing all the activities she’ll partake in without him — celebrate, paint the town, stay up late, etc. The track is silly and immature, but yet I don’t take issue with the lyrical content since it comes off so inoffensive.

“What I Need,” is the album’s third and highest charting single, reaching #38. It’s the album’s first ballad, which Reeves handles sensationally. She’s waiting for her man to know without any doubt she’s the one for him, with a vibrato that recalls Faith Hill circa 1995-1997.

“All or Nothing” sounds great, recalling Brooks & Dunn’s work with Don Cook, but the song itself is forgettable lightweight filler. “You Were A Mountain,” a steel-soaked ballad, isn’t any better and is also best forgotten.

Reeves’ debut single, the title track, comes next. “It’s About Time” is very weak lyrically, with little substance to hold it together. The song peaked at #51, a bit higher than I feel it deserved to in all honesty.

“If I’d Never Loved You” finds the album getting back on track with a ballad about a woman whose memories of her time with her ex are getting in the way of her new relationship. She just wishes she wasn’t comparing him to the one who came before him.

She’s seeing the forest through the trees on “Whatever,” an uptempo fiddle drenched rocker. The lyric could’ve been much stronger, but the well-worn premise is executed pretty well.

“He Keeps Me In One Piece” is the Dave Loggins song originally recorded by Gary Morris. It’s easily the most well-written song on the album thus far and Reeves handles it well. “What You Get Is What You See” isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either.

The album’s final track, “If Heartaches Had Wings” is probably best known from Rhonda Vincent’s recording from One Step Ahead in 2003. Reeves’ version is great and an example of how she handles songs with a bit more meat and thought to the lyric.

It’s About Time is clearly a commercial country album. Reeves feels almost like a puppet, being handed songs designed to turn her into a major recording star. The songs here are dressed and mixed beautifully, but there is a good share of clunkers throughout. It’s evident there wasn’t much care in finding truly great enduring songs, just ones that could potentially get her on the radio.

Although this is her only album to date, Reeves remains active within the industry. She married and had a daughter with Cledus T. Judd in 2004. They later divorced and she married bluegrass musician Chris Davis, with whom she has a son born in 2011.

Most interestingly, Reeves began a career in radio in 2013. She began with a stint hosting Julie Reeves Live, the morning show on 93.7 The DAWG in the Huntington, West Virginia / Ashland, Kentucky market. She currently handles the station’s overnights with her latest show, Up Late With Julie Reeves, which runs Monday-Saturday from Midnight-5am local time.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘This Wanting You’

Cover of a T Graham Brown song once recorded by George Jones.

Classic Rewind: Daryle Singletary and Rhonda Vincent – ‘American Grandstand’

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘That’s Why I Sing This Way’

By the end of the 90s, Daryle’s hits had dried up at radio as the industry moved away from his pure country sound, and Giant decided to drop him from the label. He moved to independent label Koch Records, and released Now And Again, an album which mixed his Giant hits with a handful of new songs (including two of his own co-writes, the title track and ‘I’ve Thought Of Everything’, a very good mournful ballad which is worth downloading).

2002 saw Daryle pay tribute to his roots with a set of mainly classic country covers. Not everyone likes this kind of project, but if nothing else it proves definitively that Daryle was a great country singer who would have been an enormous star had he been born a few decades earlier.

Two singles were released, both peaking in the 40s. The title track was the album’s sole new song, and was written by the great Max D Barnes. Set to a cheerful mid-tempo, the tongue-in-cheek song recalls a childhood devotion to country music:

My mama used to tell me
“Son, you better get your work done
Your Daddy’s coming home at five
And if you ain’t all through with the chores you gotta do
Boy, I’m gonna tan you alive”

I was glued to the radio, listening to my hero
Singing them sad old songs
Singing them sadder than a one car funeral
Nobody sings like Jones

I’d take that old kitchen broom up to my room
And I’d play it like an old guitar
Or sit out on the porch tryin’ to sing like George
Dreaming of becoming a star

Well, things I never did when I was just a kid
Made me what I am today
You see, Mama used to whoop me with a George Jones album
That’s why I sing this way

‘I’d Love To Lay You Down’, Daryle’s last ever charting single, is a sensual love song to a wife, which is a cover of a Conway Twitty hit.

George Jones, namechecked in the title track, also receives tribute in the form of a cover of, not one of his heartbreak classics, but his trustingly romantic ‘Walk Through This World With Me’, a hit in 1967. The arrangement is gorgeous, with piano, steel and fiddle prominent, and Jones himself sings harmony.

Merle Haggard makes a guest appearance on his ‘Make Up And Faded Blue Jeans’, in the form of a couple of lines near the end. Johnny Paycheck provides a similar cameo on one of the highlights, an intense version of ‘Old Violin’; the fiddle on this is suitably beautiful.

John Wesley Ryles is one of the most ubiquitous of backing singers in Nashville, but he started out as an artist in his own right, with the song ‘Kay’, a top 10 hit in 1968, when he was only 17 years old. Daryle’s version of this fine song about the man left behind to a life driving a cab, when his sweetheart makes it big in country music is excellent, and Ryles adds harmonies.

Rhonda Vincent joins Daryle on a superb version of one of my favorite classic country duets, ‘After The Fire Is Gone’. The final guest, Dwight Yoakam, plays the part of Don Rich on the Buck Owens classic ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here Again’. Daryle also covers Buck’s Hank-Cochran-penned hit ‘A-11’ in authentic style. I think Darrin Vincent may be among the backing vocalists here.

A measured version of ‘Long Black Veil’, a mournful ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’ and ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)’ are all also highlights.

Grade: A

This album set the tone for the remainder of Daryle’s career, focussing on great traditional style country music. We have reviewed all his subsequent albums.

Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent – ‘When The Angels Sing’

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.

In Remembrance: Daryle Singletary (1971-2018)

90s hitmaker Daryle Singletary unexpectedly passed away this morning at age 46. He enjoyed a string of success beginning in 1995 when his second single, “I Let Her Lie” hit #2. He would chart in the top 5 twice more with “Too Much Fun” (1995, #4) and “Amen Kind of Love” (1997, #2). Singletary will be remembered as a standard-bearer for traditional country music. He released a traditional country duets album with Rhonda Vincent entitled American Grandstand last July. He played his final concert, which was also his first show in 2018, last Friday (Feb. 9) at the Rodeo Club near Dadeville, Alabama.

Here are a few of our favorite songs from his career:

I Let Her Lie:

Too Much Fun:

Amen Kind of Love:

The Note:

Collaborating with Rhonda Vincent on Larry’s Country Diner:

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘Alone Together Tonight’

The song’s about three minutes in, but the chat is worth listening to first.

Razor X’s Top Albums of 2017

Another year has come and gone, and once again we lament the deplorable state of mainstream country music, while pointing out a few glimmers of hope that will never be heard on the radio. Among this year’s highlights are:

10. Dailey & Vincent – ‘Patriots and Poets’

Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent had quite a year, which included being inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry in March, followed by the release of one of the best bluegrass albums of the year. This generous sample of bluegrass and spiritual tunes is the perfect showcase for the duo’s trademark harmonies.

9. Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary – ‘American Grandstand’

Not to be outdone, Darrin’s big sister Rhonda also turned in a stellar collection, teaming up this time with her former label mate Daryle Singletary. Although heavily reliant on cover material, there are some new songs here as well. This is a real treat for those who are starved for some real country music.

8. Charley Pride – ‘Music In My Heart’

The legendary Charley Pride returned after a six-year recording hiatus, with one of the strongest offerings of his post-major label career. Sirius XM subscribers who listen to Willie’s Roadhouse will no doubt be familiar with “You’re Still In These Crazy Arms of Mine”, which was my favorite song on the album. Like the Vincent/Singletary album, this one has its share of remakes but there’s not a weak one to be found.

7. Reba McEntire – ‘Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope’

Reba McEntire is my favorite female singer, but I’ve been disappointed with her offerings over the last decade more times than I care to remember. This double album which is divided evenly between traditional hymns and more contemporary inspirational songs shows that when commercial considerations are cast aside, Reba is still in a class all by herself. I’m cautiously optimistic that this album is a sign that she’s finally stopped chasing chart success and ready to release some worthwhile material again.

6. Sunny Sweeney – ‘Trophy’

While it’s regrettable that Sunny Sweeney never enjoyed the mainstream success she deserved, getting out of her major label deal was the best thing that ever happened to her from a creative standpoint. While Concrete was a bit too eclectic for my liking, Trophy gets it just right and is her best offering since Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame. “Bottle By My Bed”, which she co-wrote with Lori McKenna, would be a monster hit in a sane world.

5. Alison Krauss – ‘Windy City’

Alison Krauss is another artist with whom I’d become a bit disillusioned, but she redeemed herself nicely with this collection of cover songs, which aren’t quite classics for the most part, but deserved to be introduced to a new audience. This is the best album she’s done in years — arguably the best of her career.

4. Zephaniah OHora with the 18 Wheelers – ‘This Highway’

This collection of original material which recreates the Bakersfield and countrypolitan sounds of the 60s was a pleasant surprise. Although it could have benefited from a little more variety in tempo, this a wonderful album and I hope that it is the first of many from this native of Brooklyn.

3. & 2. Chris Stapleton: ‘From A Room: Volumes 1 & 2’

These widely anticipated follow-ups to 2015’s Traveller were presumably intended to be a double album, but Mercury Records seems to have gotten cold feet about the sales potential of a double set, so they split it into two separate releases. Both discs feature very sparse production and gorgeous harmonies from Chris’ wife Morgane Hayes-Stapleton. With a heavy blues influence, theses albums are not traditional country, but there are a perfect antidote to the overproduced pop masquerading as country music on the radio today. I liked the second volume slightly better than the first.

1. Willie Nelson and The Boys: ‘Willie’s Stash, Volume 2’

This collection finds the Red-Headed Stranger teaming up with his two sons Lukas and Micah and digging deeply into the catalog of Hank Williams. Despite their youth, the younger Nelsons show obvious enthusiasm for the material, proving that Willie raised those boys right. This was a pleasure from start to finish. My favorite track was the Hank Cochran-penned “Can I Sleep In Your Arms”, which was hit for Cochran’s then-wife Jeannie Seely in 1973 and later recorded by Willie for his Red-Headed Stranger album.

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2017

While the mainstream sinks further away from country music, I have found some great music this year. It is marked, however, that much of the best music harks back to the past in one way or another. Another difference from radio trends is that half of the top 7 are female artists. Here are my favourite full length albums of 2017:

10. John Baumann, Proving Grounds

An overlooked gem I never got round to reviewing in the summer, this release from a young Texas singer songwriter of the troubadour type was full of high quality songs. Definitely an artist to watch.

Highlights: ‘Old Stone Church’, ‘Lonely In Bars’, ‘Here I Come’, ‘The Trouble With Drinkin’’, ‘Meg’

9. Chris Stapleton, From A Room, vols 1-2

While his music is not traditional country, it is a lot better than most mainstream efforts these days. Chris Stapleton has a great voice and is a superb songwriter, and wife Morgane’s harmonies add the final touch. I am counting these two almost-full length albums as one for the purpose of this list.

Highlights: ‘Up To No Good Livin’’, ‘Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning’, ‘Either Way’, ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’, ‘Scarecrow In The Garden

8. Conway Twitty – Timeless

The recently re-released recordings are a delightful reminder of what country music used to be. Arrangements laden with steel, great songs and Conway’s emotive vocals all contribute to a wonderful album, with only a couple of less stellar moments.

Highlights: ‘Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date’, ’15 Years Ago’, ‘Next In Line’


7. Gene Watson – My Gospel Roots

This only came out on 8 December, just in time to make my year-end list. It is an excellent religious album from one of the best living country vocalists, with an interesting selection of material. The full review will be posted on Friday.

Highlights: ‘Fit For A King’, ‘Help Me’, ‘Old Roman Soldier

6. Charley Pride – Music In My Heart

The legend’s 2017 album is his best music in years. He is in fine voice and the songs are great.

Highlights: ‘Standing In My Way’, ‘I Learned A Lot’, ‘The Way It Was In ‘51’, ‘It Wasn’t That Funny

5. Jason Eady – Jason Eady

A thoughtful, often compelling collection of songs from one of my favorite singer-songwriters.

Highlights: ‘Barabbas’, ‘Where I’ve Been’, ‘No Genie In This Bottle’, ‘Black Jesus’, ‘Why I Left Atlanta’, 40 Years


4. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy

The Texan singer-songwriter released another great record this year, mixing attitude and heartbreak in eqal measures.
Highlights: ‘Bottle By My Bed’, ‘I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight’, ‘Trophy’, ‘Pass The Pain’

3. Alison Krauss – Windy City

Alison Krauss’s beautiful voice on a country leaning collection of standards, beautifully prodiced and exquisitely sung. Flawless.

Highlights: ‘You Don’t Know Me’, ‘River In The Rain’, ‘Losing You’, ‘Gentle On My Mind’, ‘All Alone Am I’, ‘Please Don’t Tell me How The Story Ends’


2. Rhonda Vincent and Daryle Singletary – American Grandstand

A delightful pairing of one of bluegrass’s best female vocalists with country traditionalist Daryle Singletary. Rhonda’s voice blends even better with Daryle than it did with Gene Watson https://mykindofcountry.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/album-review-gene-watson-and-rhonda-vincent-your-money-and-my-good-looks/ a few years ago. Magnificent.

Highlights: ‘We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds’, ‘One’, ‘A Picture Of Me Without You’, ‘After The Fire Is Gone’, ‘American Grandstand


1. Erin Enderlin – Whiskeytown Crier

The singer-songwriter’s latest album is a superb collection of story songs. My only reservation is that several of the songs have appeared upon her previous releases, but this is a truly excellent album.

Highlights: ‘Broken’, ‘Caroline’, ‘His Memory Walks On Water’, ‘The Coldest In Town’, ‘Ain’t It Just Like A Cowboy

Album Review: Bradley Walker – ‘Blessed’

Bradley Walker’s second religious album, and third overall, leans towards traditional hymns and other well known material. A beautiful, measured reading of ‘Amazing Grace’ opens the album. Carl Jackson and Val Storey add harmony vocals, and a little steel guitar ornaments the track. A thoughtful, sincere version of ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, also introduced with some gorgeous steel, is even better. Jimmy Fortune and Ben Isaacs help out here.

From the southern gospel tradition, Alison Krauss adds an angelic harmony to ‘Angel Band’. Vince Gill and Sonya Isaacs help on ‘Drifting Too Far From The Shore’, another lovely track. ‘I’ll Fly Away’ has energy and commitment, as does ‘Victory In Jesus’. The Gaithers’ more recent ‘Because He Lives’ is a melodic ballad.

A few classic country and bluegrass gospel tunes are included. The Oak Ridge Boys lead into ‘Family Bible’ with a line from ‘Rock Of Ages’. Some may not know that ‘One Day At A Time’ was co-written by Kris Kristofferson and Marijohn Wilkin). Bradley’s version is earnest and tasteful, with a lovely harmony from Rhonda Vincent. Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White provide harmonies on the Stanley Brothers’ ‘Who Will Sing For Me’.

There is some newer material as well. ‘I Will Someday’, written by two sets of spouses (Morgane Hayes and Chris Stapleton, and Ronnie and Garnet Bowman), is a nice upbeat song about absolute faith. The Isaacs contribute backing vocals, and there is a sprightly acoustic guitar and piano backing. ‘Cast the First Stone’ is an Isaacs song from a couple of decades ago with a Bible based lyric and strong bluegrass feel. Another Isaacs tune is the beautiful ballad ‘Say Something’.

This is a perfect example of a country religious album. The vocals are exceptional and the instrumental backings and arrangements delightful.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent – ‘I’m Not Over You’

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary – ‘American Grandstand’

“Traditional country music is a whole different genre,” Vincent said. “A lot of people will say that there is not a market for traditional country music, but I know that is not true as it has its own niche. I did that traditional country album with Gene Watson not long ago, and I found out that there is a tremendous audience out there for traditional country music. Daryle and I have been doing shows together, and he is so much fun. When everybody hears this new album, they will know how special it is.” – Rhonda Vincent discussing American Grandstand. h/t That Nashville Sound

It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since Your Money and My Good Looks, which helped redefine Vincent’s pedigree beyond bluegrass. American Grandstand is a companion album of sorts to the project with Watson, a chance to recreate the magic all over again. Her friendship with Daryle Singletary goes back 23 years when they were labelmates on Giant Records. One of their earliest collaborations, a cover of Keith Whitley’s “Would These Arms Be In Your Way,” appeared on his self-titled debut album. They’ve collaborated frequently through the years, most recently on “We Must’ve Been Out of Our Minds,” from Vincent’s Only Me in 2014.

To say American Grandstand has been a long time coming is an understatement. With the timing finally right, they went into the studio to craft an album that mixes old and new, covers of classic duets interwoven amongst tracks newly-composed. A few of the duets may be oft-covered, but in the care of Vincent and Singletary, are as expertly executed as they’ve ever been. They tackle the mournful nature of “After The Fire Is Gone” with ease and extract the effervesce from “Golden Ring” without issue. “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” is a revelation, one of the strongest collaborative recordings I’ve heard in years.

They also surprise, with a stunning rendition of Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens’ lesser-known “Slowly and Surely.” Also not as famous is George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “One,” which the pair released in 1996. Vincent and Singletary’s serviceable take is the album’s lead single. Other surprises include Harlan Howard’s “Above and Beyond,” which they deliver flawlessly. A third Jones cover, “A Picture of Me (Without You)” is also very good. “Up This Hill and Down,” which originated with The Osborne Brothers, is excellent.

The remainder of the album consists of the new songs, which include a reprise of “We Must Be Out of Our Minds.” These tracks are all ballads, which varying degrees of tempo. “As We Kiss Our World Goodbye,” about the end of a relationship, feels like the kind of track Singletary would’ve recorded back in the mid-1990s. In any other era, “Can’t Live Life” would be cemented as a standard.

If you can believe it, the rest of the album only slightly pails in comparison to the title track, which showcases Vincent as a songwriter (she wrote it solo). The spellbinding ballad is a grand finale of sorts, detailing the tale of duet partners preparing for their final show and the emotions attached to such an ending. I love how Vincent presents the well-worn themes in a new and exciting light.

American Grandstand is everything you would expect from a Vincent and Singletary collaboration, yet it’s even more deeply satisfying than you could even imagine. In a rare move, they actually sang together in the studio, at the instance of Singetary, who knew immediately that recording separately wasn’t going to work. The pair were born to sing together, even if Vincent’s power overtakes Singletary’s understated charm on occasion. He sounds to me like a modern day incarnation of Whitley, with a voice that has deepened over the years. It proves that Whitley’s influence continues to this day, which only makes this record even more special and essential.

I cannot recommend American Grandstand enough.

Grade: A+

Where to find good ol’ country music – or the transition to bluegrass

I really like good ol’ country music from the period 1930 – 2005. Most of my favorite songs and performances dated from 1975 back to the days of Jimmie Rodgers and The Original Carter Family. I also like to see live music performances. Except in a few sections of the country, modern country radio has largely forsaken good ol’ country music. Yes, there is Sirius-XM Radio, but the stations that play pre-2005 country tend to have rather shallow playlists, and satellite radio can be a pricey proposition. I do have XM in my vehicle because I make a number of long trips on business.

Being able to see live good ol’ country music performed is getting more problematic. In some areas there are younger performers who have embraced the art form, but in other areas they can barely be found. Moreover, the classic country performers are ageing. Most of the great country performers of the 1950s and 1960s have moved on to that Great Opry Stage in The Sky. The same is increasingly true for many of the stars of the 1970s. We have even lost some of the stars of the 1980s.

What to do ?

During the 1940s and 1950s there wasn’t much difference between country and bluegrass except the instrumentation, with many artists (Jimmie Skinner, Lee Moore, Mac Wiseman) straddling the border between the two genres. As the 1960s arrived, there was more separation although artists such as the Osborne Brothers and Jim & Jesse McReynolds featured steel guitar and ‘Nashville’ sound trappings on their major label bluegrass recordings. Through the early 1970s it wasn’t unusual to see bluegrass acts chart on the country music charts.

By the mid-1970s, the two streams had completely separated. Bluegrass was no longer played on country radio (except an occasional song from a movie such as “Dueling/Feuding Banjos” might be played), and the repertoire had largely segmented as well.

Over the last twenty years or so, as the product on country radio has become more unlistenable, something strange has happened: bluegrass artists have become the guardians of the country music tradition. Many of today’s bluegrass artists grew up listening to that good ol’ country music and have been incorporating larger amounts of it into their repertoire. In some cases artists, such as Ricky Skaggs and Marty Raybon who had substantial country careers, returned to their bluegrass roots, bringing their country repertoire with them. In other cases bluegrass acts, often serious students of music, have gone back and founded the repertoire that country radio and young country artists seemingly lost.

Obviously, I’ve done no detailed study into the matter, but I’ve been attending bluegrass festivals over the last eight years, and have heard a tremendous amount of country songs performed. Almost every bluegrass group has at least a few classic country songs that they perform, and many have repertoires that are 30%-50% country songs.

So where should you start?

I must admit that the ‘high lonesome sound’ is an acquired taste. Even now, I really cannot listen to more than a few Bill Monroe vocals at a time. That said, Bill usually kept some other vocalist on board with such proficient singers as Lester Flatt, Jimmy Martin, Mac Wiseman and Peter Rowan all taking turns in Bill’s band. Consequently, one generally wasn’t stuck listening to Bill Monroe sing the lead.

You can develop a taste for that ‘High Lonesome Sound’ but rather than torture yourself with an overload of it, I would suggest easing yourself into it. Below are acts that feature good ol’ country music in their repertoires. Here’s where to start:

Classic Era/First Generation artists

Mac Wiseman – possessed of a pleasant and sleek Irish tenor, Mac can sing anything and everything and sing it well. There is a reason he is known as the “voice with a heart”. I think Mac is one of the few left alive from the gestation period of the music.

Jimmy Martin – Jimmy was more in the realm of the ‘high lonesome’ but unlike most such singers, who sound like the voice of gloom, agony and despair, Jimmy was such an unabashedly good natured and exuberant singer that you can help but like him.

Lester Flatt – whether singing with Bill Monroe, as part of Flatt & Scruggs or after the split with Scruggs, Lester’s lower tenor made bluegrass palatable to those not enamored of the high pitched vocals of Monroe and his acolytes.

Modern Era

While groups such as Trinity River, Flatt Lonesome, IIIrd Tyme Out and Balsam Range are very good, I would recommend you start with Chris Jones and the Night Drivers. Chris has an excellent, somewhat lower pitched voice that would have made him a star during the classic country days. Chris is a DJ on XM Radio’s Bluegrass Junction (Channel 62 on XM Radio) and he will occasionally feature one of his own recordings.

Next I would point you toward The Gibson Brothers, The Spinney Brothers and Rhonda Vincent and the Rage. If you are a big Statler Brothers fan, the Dailey & Vincent duo include a lot of Statler songs in their repertoire and on some numbers can make you think that the Statler Brothers have come out of retirement. Marty Raybon, lead singer of Shenandoah, features a lot of Shenandoah material in his performances with his current band Full Circle.

In recent years Rhonda Vincent (the “Queen of Bluegrass Music” has been occasionally performing with classic country acts such as Gene Watson, Moe Bandy and Daryle Singletary, so you might find these guys at bluegrass festivals.

I will note that I have left some of my personal favorites (The Osborne Brothers, Del McCoury, Reno & Smiley, James King, Dale Ann Bradley, Lorraine Jordan) out of this discussion. I’m not worried about leaving them out – you’ll work your way to them eventually.