My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Rick Carnes

Album Review – Steve Wariner – ‘It Ain’t All Bad’

SW.Cover Hi res_smIn the modern age of country music, where genre blending is the new normal, it’s difficult to find artists exploring their love of different types of music for artistic and not commercial gain. Steve Wariner, who’s back with his first full-length country album in eight years, is an exception to the rule.

A bucket list record, as he calls it, It Ain’t All Bad gives Wariner the opportunity to explore his wide range of musical tastes without sacrificing the core sound he brought to such hits as (and some of my favorites) “Small Town Girl,” “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers,” “Kansas City Lights,” and “The Weekend.”

Wariner doesn’t succeed with every style choice, but the majority of tracks on It Ain’t All Bad are very good to excellent. He’s at his best on slower mid-tempo numbers where he’s able to show off the delicate nature of his voice. Steel and electric guitar backed “Arrows At Airplanes,” a co-write with Rocky Lynne and Mike Severs is a beautiful example about enjoying life, framed around the story of an old man “shooting arrows at airplanes, throwing pillows at freight trains” on the bank of a river. One of my favorite tracks on the album, it’s the type of tune Wariner excels at.

He’s equally in his artistic wheelhouse on “Spokes In A Wheel,” an environmentally conscious track about our place on ‘a little blue rock called mother earth.’ Co-written with Kent Blazy, “Spokes In A Wheel” works because it relays a timely message backed by gentle acoustic guitars without coming off as preachy. “’48 Ford,” a 70s singer/songwriter inspired folk song is a gorgeous reflection on the titular truck and the memories it holds throughout the life of a family. One of the album’s strongest tracks, it works summarily to “Spokes In A Wheel” by using simple imagery to frame the storytelling.

Western Swing ballad (and fan favorite) “Bluebonnet Memories” is the project’s most traditional track, blending steel guitar and fiddle with a bluesy guitar riff reminiscent of Vince Gill’s signature style. Wariner co-wrote the track with Rick Carnes as an ode to Texas, and while good, there are too much jazzy overtones for my taste.

“What More Do You Want” is a slicker more pop-leaning slow burner about a man wronged by his woman that recalls Wariner’s 80s sound, although he intended it to be Beatle-esque, in the style of George Harrison. He brought his son Ryan in on the slide guitar and it all works to create an ethereal feel. “Don’t Tell Her I’m Not,” possibly my favorite track on It Ain’t All Bad and the most current sounding song. Although it maintains the healthy dose of steel missing from country radio, I could see Blake Shelton scoring a big hit with this one.

Wariner is back in “I’m Already Taken” territory on “I Want To Be Like You,” a co-write with the always brilliant Bill Anderson and Tom Shapiro. It’s another relationship-between-a-family-song that starts off typical (a son emulating his dad) but twists into the dad emulating the son as their relationship evolves. The lyric is spectacular, but the string section makes the piano led production feel slow and heavy, giving the song more weight then it needs.

The up-tempo numbers are where It Ain’t All Bad looses its luster. The swampy “Voodoo” isn’t bad per se, just not to my personal taste and the chorus (“Must be the voodoo that you do, do”) sounds like it came from a rhyming generator. “It’s Called A Brand New Day” is too rock, with electric guitars that aren’t too loud, but not to my liking. The title track has grown on me, but the opening riffs are a little too progressive coming from Wariner.

I could also see Shelton scoring big with “Whenever I See You,” a modern day poppish number Wariner co-wrote with Carnes. The synth bass Wariner plays gives the track a neat groove that accomplishes the intention to help the song stand out. “A Thousand Winds” is Wariner’s response to how he wishes to be remembered in death, and an excellent lyric. I just wish the track wasn’t so slow and prodding, but at least it’s a good song.

I’ll admit that this was my first time listening to one of his recordings from beginning to end and it proved very satisfying. It Ain’t All Bad may drag a little as a listening experience, but it’s a solid above average album with some really wonderful tracks. It’s great to have Wariner back recording vocal tracks again, and the eight year gap was well worth the wait.

Grade: B+  

Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘Faith In You’

Steve’s third and last Capitol album was released in 2000. The overall style leans towards the contemporary end of country, with Steve’s smooth vocals and guitar skills to the fore. He wrote or co-wrote all the songs, played various guitars, and also produced the record. The overall style leans towards the contemporary end of country, and it is mostly successful.

The lead single was a duet with Clint Black on ‘Been There’, a likeable but rather throwaway number with a brass section. Clint also produced this track, co-wrote the song, and contributed a generous helping of his trademark harmonica. The song was the album’s only big hit, peaking at #5, and had already appeared on Clint’s 1999 D’lectrified, an all-acoustic return to form for the latter.

The title track was a sweet declaration of true love written with veteran Bill Anderson, with a tasteful string arrangement and tender vocal. It performed surprisingly poorly as the second single, barely cracking the top 30, but is a low-key gem. The last single saw Steve reunited with Garth Brooks on the jazzy ‘Katie Wants A Fast One’, which Steve wrote with Rick Carnes. It too failed to reach the top 20 despite the star assistance, and was his last hit. It’s not one I like much – all sound and no intensity, with the groove seeming more important than the song, and another horn arrangement.

Another famous friend, Rodney Crowell, helped to write the thoughtful ‘Longer Letter Later’, which portrays a man regretting his past decisions and struggling to put his feelings into words for his ex. A faintly Spanish feel to the arrangement, with accordion and castanets, adds musical interest to the quiet melody.

Bill Anderson co-wrote the infectious mid-tempo ‘Make It Look Easy’, which refers to various individuals who are great at what they do, and ruefully compares their skill to the protagonist’s failure to get over a failed love affair. The choice of superstars leans fairly heavily to sports stars; oddly no country singers are named (Ray Charles gets the sole singing spot, although Steve’s mentor Chet Atkins gets a nod for his guitar skills). I’m not sure the metaphor quite hangs together, but the song sounds pleasant enough. Bill, Steve, and Sharon Vaughn co-wrote the cheerful and irresistibly sing along love song ‘Blinded’, which should have been a single.

‘I Just Do’ (another love song) is a charming lightly swinging piece, which showcases the playing of “the Nashville Super Players”. This is the only solo composition, other than ‘Bloodlines’, the completely instrumental cut which closes the album. This is billed as a duet with Steve’s son Ryan and is very much a family affair, featuring Steve and Ryan on electric guitar, with Steve’s brother Terry adding support on baritone guitar, and only drummer Harry Stinson from outside the family.

I also like the attractive mid-tempo ‘It Wouldn’t Be Love’, written with Joe Barnhill, which reflects on the potential pain of love. ‘Turn In The Road’ is a melodic ballad (also with strings) about a mother’s comforting advice to her son in adversity, written with Jim Witter. These are nice but unexceptional songs lifted by Steve’s sensitive interpretation and beautiful voice, as is ‘Waiting In The Wings’ (written with Billy Kirsch). This is a story song about a youngest son marginalized in his own family, whose dreams sustain him.

Opening track ‘High Time’ is a rather dull pop-country number co-written by Steve with Marcus Hummon and Annie Roboff with intrusive backing vocals, but this is the only low point on the record, and even this does have a nice instrumental break to recommend it. Hummon’s songwriting is better showcased with the pensive reflection on relationship breakdown, ‘I Wish I Were A Train’.

Sales were as disappointing as radio play, and this was sadly to prove Steve’s final major label release.

Grade: B+

Cheap used copies are easy to find.

Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down’

By the mid-90s, Steve Wariner’s commercial success had begun to wane, causing him to take a hiatus from recording and touring, to concentrate instead on songwriting. He experienced a considerable amount of success during his “down time”, beginning when “Longneck Bottle”, a song he’d written with Rick Carnes, was recorded by Garth Brooks. Garth asked Steve to lend his voice and guitar-playing skills to the record and when it was released as a single, “Longneck Bottle” quickly shot to the top of the charts, spending three weeks in the number one spot. A few weeks later, Clint Black took “Nothin’ But The Taillights”, a song he’d written with Steve, to #1. A month after that, “What If I Said” , his duet with Anita Cochran also reached the top of the Billboard chart. By 1998, these successes caused record executives to take another look at Steve, resulting in a new contract with Capitol Records, and an unexpected late-career resurgence.

His first release for the label was “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven”, which Steve had written with Billy Kirsch. The sentimental ballad struck a chord with radio programmers and listeners, becoming Steve’s career record, some 20 years after he’d released his first record. It peaked at #2, his highest chart performance as a solo artist since “I Got Dreams” reached the top spot nine years earlier. It was also awarded the Single of the Year and Song of the Year awards by the Country Music Association in 1998, marking the first time Steve had won any awards from that organization.

Steve’s debut album for Capitol was Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down, which he produced himself. It consisted of 11 new tracks written by Steve with a variety of co-writers, along with “What If I Said”, which had been originally been included on Anita Cochran’s album. Although there were no huge radio hits to follow “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven”, the album is one of the stronger entries in the Wariner discography. For the title track, a lively Western swing number, Steve reunited with Garth Brooks, but even Garth’s tremendous star power couldn’t propel the record into the Top 20. Too retro for country radio, it stalled at #26 despite top-notch performances from both Steve and Garth. The more contemporary “Every Little Whisper” was chosen as the third single. Though it was more radio-friendly than “Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down”, it is not one of the stronger tracks on the album. It was possibly chosen because like “Holes”, it was written with Billy Kirsch, and the label may have thought they would strike gold a second time. It peaked at #36 and no more singles were released.

There are several excellent tracks — and a few mediocre ones — among the album cuts. My favorites are “I Don’t Know How To Fix It”, which was written with Bill Anderson, “A Six Pack Ago”, which was written with Jim Rushing, and “Big Ol’ Empty House”, which was written with Mac McAnally. “Road Trippin'”, written with Marcus Hummon is a lightweight tune with fluffy lyrics and catchy beat that seems like it would have been a good choice for a single release. “Big Tops”, a circus-themed number which was also written with Hummon, has a folk feel to it and sounds like something Nanci Griffith might have released a decade earlier. The two tracks that fail to deliver are “Love Me Like You Love Me” and “Smoke From An Old Flame”, which are pleasant but slightly dull.

The inclusion of “What If I Said” as a bonus track, under license from Warner Bros., was a pleasant surprise. Though thoroughly contemporary in style, the Anita Cochran-penned and produced track is beautifully written and beautifully sung by both performers. It was Cochran’s first record and only Top 40 country hit, and is on my short list of favorite Steve Wariner tracks.

Though Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down only spawned one big radio hit, it did quite well at retail. Peaking at #6, it was his highest-charting entry on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It also went on to become his second gold album. I don’t like it quite as much as I Am Ready, but I would rank it a close second.

Grade: A

Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down is available from Amazon and other major retailers.