My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Rick Giles

Album Review: T. Graham Brown – ‘Bumper To Bumper’

bumper to bumperT. Graham Brown took on production duties for his fourth album, released in 1990, alongside Barry Beckett. The production is mellow with strong blues/soul influences, but quite tastefully done.

The lead single, ‘If You Could Only See Me Now’, written by Susan Longacre and Rick Giles, peaked at #6. It was a ballad with a strong vocal about a man who has changed his life around too late to save his marriage. The second single, a more mellow ballad ‘Moonshadow Road’ looks back fondly at teenage romance. It was a top 20 hit, and although heavily loaded with saxophone it is a very nice song.

The third and last single, ‘I’m Sending One Up For You’, written by Brown with Gary Nicholson and Ray Kennedy, unfortunately flopped. It is a sincerely delivered love song about praying for a former lover’s happiness.

The mid tempo ‘You Can’t Make Her Love You’ is a great song about an elusive woman, written by Jerry G. Ward and effectively sung. ‘I’m Expecting Miracles’ is a prettily melodic romantic ballad written by Brown with Verlon Thompson and Gary Nicholson.

The second half of the album is pretty much entirely blues/soul rather than country. A cover of soul classic ‘I’ve Been Loving You Long’ is quite well done. Brown’s idealistic ‘Bring A Change’ is in similar vein musically, with a very long sax solo.

I like ‘Blues Of the Month Club’, which is atmospheric and cleverly written but goes on a bit too long. ‘Eyes Wide Open’ and ‘For Real’ are boring all the way through. The closing ‘We Tote The Note’ is about touring as a musician but is definitely too blues for me.

This is a difficult record to grade because it is objectively very good. It just isn’t all that country,

Grade: B-

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Album Review: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Bang, Bang, Bang’

bangbangbang1999’s Bang, Bang, Bang was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s sole release from DreamWorks Records, and a last-ditch effort to reverse the band’s decade-long commercial decline. Emory Gordy, Jr. and Steve Fishell were brougnt in to co-produce with Josh Leo. The result was an album that relied more heavily on outside songwriters than most of their earlier work and a more mainstream country-pop sound instead of the country-rock for which they had become well known. As the title suggests, Bang, Bang, Bang isn’t their most substantive collection of songs, but it still has its enjoyable moments.

The opening track “If This Ain’t Love”, written by Jim Lauderdale and Gary Nicholson is a big departure for the group. The horns are a bit jarring but the tune is catchy and contains plenty of steel guitar in the mix, which is a very welcome inclusion — remember this was the era of Shania Twain and Faith Hill when many artists had one eye on the pop charts. The title track, which was the album’s sole single, is a disappointing piece of fluff. It died at #52 when it was originally releasd in 1998. The following year’s re-release fared even worse, recaching only #63. Even more disappointing is the Steve Bogard/Rick Giles tune “Forget The Job (Get A Life)”, an extremely annoying number that sounds like something Shania Twain rejected. I don’t know what they were thinking when they recorded this one but everyone involved should have known better. “It’s About Time” isn’t a first-rate song but it is saved by a nice harmony vocal provided by Matraca Berg.

Things get better with a nice cover of Mac McAnally’s “Down The Road”, which I prefer to the original. “Singing To the Scarecrow”, about a Kentucky farm girl who dreams of stardom, is one of two Dennis Linde compositions and is also quite good. Even better is “Dry Town”, an uptempo Gillian Welch-Jown Rawlings number. The novelty tune “The Monkey Song”, written by Jimmy Ibbotson, is the album’s sole song written by a NGDB member.

While Bang, Bang Bang ultimately did nothing to relaunch the band’s recording career, and it may not be the best remembered entry in their discography, it is certainly worth a listen. Used cheap copies are readily available.

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss – ‘Moment Of Truth’

moment of truthSuzy’s stunning and very traditional debut album, Somewhere Between (which I reviewed a couple of years ago as part of our look back at the Class of ’89) was a critical success but performed less well commercially, with just one top 20 hit single. She turned to a much more contemporary sound for her follow-up, which she produced herself with label boss Jimmy Bowen. (Trivia note: her production company, Loyal Dutchess, was named for her beloved dog.) However, the album failed to catch fire with radio listeners, with both singles flopping badly.

The midpaced ‘Under The Gun’ is written by Hugh Prestwood, and is an okay song, but Suzy doesn’t have the forcefulness required to make the Western movie cowboy shootout metaphor sound convincing. She was much better suited to ‘All Things Made New Again’ is a soothing ballad, which is very pretty and one of the more traditional sounding songs with Rob Hajacos’s fiddle prominent in the mix. It was written by Dan Seals and Rafe VanHoy, and Seals also sings backing vocals.

The record does not offer much variety in tempo, with the bulk of the material consisting of mellow ballads. The melodies are generally strong, and Suzy’s vocals are sweet throughout, and although the production leans more AC than neotraditional, it is tastefully understated, so even the less interesting songs sound pleasant.

‘My Side Of the Story’ is one of the best of the songs, a pensive ballad about coming to terms with a breakup, written by Suzy with her husband Doug Crider, with a sensitive vocal as Suzy tells her husband wearily it’s over, accepting that he may see the reasons differently:

It’s too late to talk about it
You never wanted to before
You still don’t understand me
But it doesn’t matter anymore

In the excellent ‘As If I Didn’t Know’ (a Mel Tillis song, but perhaps surprisingly another contemporary ballad) Suzy contemplates the inevitable end of her relationship in what feels like a prequel to ‘My Side Of The Story’. Here the woman knows it is really over, but is clinging to her pretense that everything is okay.

The title track (penned by Steve Bogard and Rick Giles) is a soothing love song with a very pretty tune led by a Spanish guitar.

‘Wild Horses’ is a subtle and interesting story song written by Verlon Thompson and Rhonda Fleming but as with ‘Under The Gun’, Suzy’s performance sounds too tame. ‘Fear Of Flying’, written by Suzy with Gary Scruggs, is almost the only time the pace picks up, but it isn’t a very interesting song. ‘Burning Down’ has a bluesy feel, but again is a rather boring song.

The remaining songs are pleasant enough but just rather dull and forgettable.

I remember being disappointed by this when it first came out as it seemed like a step down from her debut. But it was clearly more in the vein that Suzy herself wanted to follow, as the mellow ballad sound set a template for much of her subsequent music, and it has worn quite well. Although it is rather one-paced there are some nice songs here, and Suzy’s lovely voice always sounds good. However, the record’s poor commercial performance meant that her undeniable talent notwithstanding, Suzy was very lucky to get another chance to break through with a third album.

Grade: B

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘Strong Enough’

strong enoughAfter the comeback marked by Down The Road I Go, Tritt’s second Columbia album, released in 2002, was a reversion to the mixed bag of previous years in terms of material (although sound-wise there is more of a straight contemporary country sound and less of either the Southern rock or traditional elements), and it was generally less well received.

The title track and lead single ‘Strong Enough To Be Your Man’ is a love ballad written by Travis addressing the concerns of a lover (‘a complicated lady’) who has doubts about the durability of the relationship. The song is solid but unexciting, but it is lifted to a higher level by the convincingly tender vocal which is generally excellent; surprisingly it peaked at an unlucky #13.

There was only one more single for this album, ‘Country Ain’t Country No More’, which made it into the top 30, but deserved better. The song, written by Casey Beathard, Teresa Boaz and Carson Chamberlain, is an ironic, mostly regretful look at modern changes to farming and rural life. A farmer’s son has gone to law school as well as college, and on one of his rare visits home urges his dad to “Catch up with the times, nowadays people trade heifers online”. The song’s sympathies clearly lie with the father who has had to sell off his land to a housing developer to cope with economic problems, and is sad to see the loss of traditional values which have followed.

Opener ‘You Can’t Count Me Out Yet’ is an assertive mid-tempo rocker with Tritt defying doubters in his career by trumpeting about the success of his comeback. It’s not awful, but the tone of the lyric is too vainglorious for my taste. ‘You Really Wouldn’t Want Me That Way’, written by Tritt with Walt Aldridge and Casey Beathard, is another song about a man who has no intention of changing, and is okay but unremarkable. ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothin’’ is more nuanced, and hence much more interesting. Written by Steve Bogard and Rick Giles, it is the half-rueful confession of a man who has to learn his life lessons the hard way.

I also liked the vibrant up-tempo ‘If You’re Gonna Straighten Up (Brother Now’s The Time)’, written by Tritt with Dennis Robbins and Bob DiPiero. Travis offers words of advice for a neglectful husband about to run out of time to change.

The introspective downbeat Dean Dillon/Tritt co-write ‘I Don’t Ever Want Her To Feel That Way Again’ is rather good, with a man brooding over the way he has hurt his loved one (and damaged their love) with harsh words he wishes he could take back.

‘Doesn’t Anyone Hurt Anymore’ is a pretty good ballad written by Tritt with Troy Seals and Dennis Robbins, with the narrator complaining about all the happy love songs on country radio. ‘Now I’ve Seen It All’ is a pleasant love song.

‘Time To Get Crazy’ (written with Gary Nicholson) is the obligatory fast paced rocker and is nothing special. Closer ‘Can’t Seem To Get Over You’ is the equally obligatory Marty Stuart co-write, and is an okay but forgettable mid-tempo number.

Travis Tritt has rarely recorded anything with a religious element. ‘God Must Be A Woman’, written by Vernon Rust, is a rare example, although it is really more of a love song, comparing God’s unconditional love to that of the protagonist’s wife. The melody is pretty but the lyric will put off some, and I find it slightly awkward myself.

This is a fair album but one lacking any real standouts, and came as a real disappointment after Down The Road I Go. Used copies are available cheaply enough to be worth checking out.

Grade: B

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Live Like You Were Dying’

2004 saw the release of Tim’s eighth studio album, Live Like You Were Dying.  It proved to be something of a return to form after the disappointing Dancehall Doctors album, thanks to much better material, although Tim kept that production team of himself, band leader Darran Smith and Byron Gallimore, with the Dancehall Doctors again providing backing.  The album’s making was overshadowed by the death of Tim’s father Tug at the beginning of the year, and it can be no coincidence that much of the material here is about contemplating loss and death and the sum of one’s life.  Although Tim did not contribute to any of the songwriting, the overall feel is of a very personal selection of material.

The title track served as the lead single, and it was exceptionally successful, hitting #1 and selling a million copies.  Written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, it tells the story of a 40something man who is spurred by a potentially terminal diagnosis to experience various things on his “bucket list” before it is too late.  The underlying Hallmark card message about living life to the full was obviously inspiring to many listeners, and touchingly it’s about being a good friend and husband as well as just having fun and engaging in dangerous sports (not something most people would actually be able to do if suffering a fatal illness).  The nostalgic but even more cliche’d ‘Back When’ was, surprisingly, the album’s second straight chart topper, although it is the album’s least imaginative song, and one that makes Tim sound like an old man grumbling about changing times and new uses of words.  It’s also rather disconcerting to hear the far-from-traditional McGraw complaining about “pop in my country”.

The much better ‘Drugs Or Jesus’ then faltered just inside the top 15.  It’s an interesting song about being trapped in a small town, where religion and illegal highs offer the only escape:

In my hometown

You’re either lost or found

It was probably too bleak and challenging an approach to be embraced by country radio, too often inclined to the comfortably self congratulatory when examining rural or small-town life.  The protagonist in this case has been fleeing from God, but seems to accept Him at the end.

The sour post-divorce tale of ‘Do You Want Fries With That?’ took him back to the top 5.  It’s an entertaining if slightly cartoonish tale (written by Casey Beathard and Kerry Kurt Philips) of a man financially ruined by the breakup of his marriage and reduced to a second job serving fast food, who encounters and rails against the man who has taken his place in the family home:

Your ketchup’s in the bag
And her check is in the mail
I hope your chicken’s raw inside
And I hope your bun is stale
I’m supposed to tell you
“Please come back!”
But how ‘bout this instead?
I hope you both choke on a pickle
Man, that would tickle me to death

The final single, the reflective ‘My Old Friend’, about an old friend who has died, is quite good, but would have been more appealing given a stripped down production.  It peaked at #6.

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Twang’

twangThe title of George Strait’s 26th studio album for MCA suggests that it is a collection of hardcore honky-tonkers, so listeners may be a bit surprised to discover that Twang is one of the more eclectic offerings in his catalog, ranging from honky-tonk and Cajun to polished ballads and a Mexican folk song sung entirely in Spanish. With longtime co-producer Tony Brown once again on board, Strait attempts to step out of the box just a bit, with varying degrees of success. Strait seems to be walking a tightrope, making just enough concessions to fit in with radio’s demands, without sacrificing artistic integrity or alienating longtime fans.

The lead single, “Living For The Night”, which is currently rising up the charts, is noteworthy because it marks the first time iin his major-label career that Strait has had a hand in co-writing one of his singles. In fact, it marks the first time he’s recorded one of his own compositions since 1982’s “I Can’t See Texas From Here”, which appeared on his second album Strait From The Heart. The song was co-written with Srait’s son Bubba, and Dean Dillon, who has written countless George Strait hits over the past 28 years. The song is somewhat less traditional and a little more slickly produced than what we normally expect from Strait. It is not my favorite song on the album and probably would not have been my choice as the single to launch the album, but it has performed well on the charts. It is currently at #7 in Billboard and rising.

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Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Reba’

reba mcentire - rebaThis album is not even in my top ten Reba albums, though there are individual songs I dearly love on it. However, Reba’s 14th studio album was significant for Reba and her career for a number of reasons.

Reba reflected a time of important transition in her personal life. Her divorce became final in November of 1987, and as she says in her autobiography, Reba: My Story,

Something was shifting inside of me. Maybe the reason was my new freedom as an unmarried woman – for the first time in my life, not having to answer to anyone but myself; or maybe it was the sense of confidence that came from restructuring my organization and putting some of my long-held pet ideas into practice. Whatever the reason, in 1988, I found myself drawn to the old Aretha Franklin hit “Respect.” It just seemed to connect with my mental outlook at the time.

Reba talked with her producer, Jimmy Bowen, about using it to open the new 1988 show. Though he was a bit surprised she liked that one, Bowen suggested she record it as one of the needed up-tempo numbers for her next album. She did, along with others that were more R & B, jazz or pop.

Reba was released in April of 1988 and received more negative criticism from traditional country circles than any of her previous albums, though it stayed at #1 on Billboard’s Country chart for 8 weeks that summer and she continued to receive awards such as Favorite Female Country Artist (AMA), Favorite Female Vocalist (TNN), etc. She had previously been so outspoken about loving her country roots and recording traditional country music that it came as somewhat of a surprise she recorded an album with no fiddles and no steel, more keyboard and more synthesizer.

Her previous career-making album, “Whoever’s In New England,” had also had some numbers that many considered more cross-over songs. But Reba said about that one (again in her autobiography),

I never set out to record a “crossover” record. As I’ve said, I’ve always considered myself a country artist and never wanted to abandon my roots. I had simply come to the conclusion that it would be better for me just to do good material, and if it happened to reach across the pop charts – well, fine – that would be an unexpected little extra.

She similarly defended “Respect” on this album. In a segment on “Respect” in CMT’s “Reba McEntire: Greatest Stories,” Reba talks about the reaction she got when she performed it as a dance number on the CMAs that year. People asked her afterwards if she’d thought about the fact that she was doing a pop number on a country awards show and she said no, she really hadn’t. It was up-tempo and she loved the song and was a big fan of Aretha Franklin. Plus, she was excited to show people she could move after years of standing behind a microphone.

And “Respect” is certainly a great song. Rolling Stones rated Aretha’s version #5 on their 2004 list of the Top 500 Songs of All Time.  However, many of the other cuts on the album aren’t great and seem more like filler and actually detract from the other good songs in the set.

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