My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Roger Brown

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘Ain’t Gonna Worry’

aint-gonna-worryThe rise of the New Traditionalists changed the face of commercial country music, with crossover artists like Crystal sidelined. Her final #1 hits came in 1986, and her last top 40 country song a couple of years later. Warner Brothers dropped her, but rival Capitol Records (just starting to benefit from the breakout of Garth Brooks, with whom Crystal shared a producer in Allen Reynolds) still saw commercial potential in her. Crystal’s brief tenure on Capitol resulted in this one album in 1990, which saw her drawing back a little from the overly sentimental and sometimes lifeless MOR material she had been recording through most of the 1980s.

‘Everybody’s Reaching Out For Someone’ is a very nice song, written by Allen Reynolds and Dickey Lee, with a pretty melody, a lovely vocal from Crystal and a tasteful arrangement. Despite its merits it was ignored by radio when released as Crystal’s first single for her new label. In other circumstances, it could easily have been a big hit.

An enjoyable upbeat remake of the pop/country oldie ‘Neverending Song Of Love’ with a bouncy accordion backing got marginally more attention, but she would never chart again. Also promoted as singles were ‘Just An Old Love’, a classy lost-love ballad with a string arrangement; and the semi-title track, ‘It Ain’t Gonna Worry My Mind’. Written by Crystal’s favourite writer Richard Leigh, it is a bluesy gospel-sounding tune set to a piano and string backing.

Three other songs are familiar from other versions. J D Souther’s ‘Faithless Love’ suits Crystal perfectly, as does ‘Once In A Very Blue Moon’, written by Pat Alger and Gene Levine, which had been Nanci Griffith’s first single and had also been cut by Dolly Parton. Alger also co-wrote ‘What He’s Doing Now’, this time with Garth Brooks. Brooks would have an enormous hit with this a few years later, as ‘What She’s Doing Now’. Crystal’s version is excellent.

‘Just Like The Blues’, written by Roger Brown, is in a more contemporary style, but very well done. ‘More Than Love’, written by Roger Cook and Bobby Wood, is also pretty good, while ‘Whenever It Comes To You’, written by Richard Leigh and Susanna Clark, is a lovely ballad.

I overlooked this album when it first came out but I enjoyed much more than I anticipated. Released at a different time I think it would have produced several big hits, and it’s well worth a listen.

Grade: A

Album Review – Nanci Griffith – ‘Little Love Affairs’

Released in 1988, Little Love Affair was Nanci Griffith’s second album for MCA with Tony Brown at the helm. Like Lone Star State of Mind it proved a marginal success with three low-charting singles. The record itself would peak at #27.

The very slow “I Knew Love” charted first, peaking at #37. Written by Roger Brown, it tells the story of a woman who knew love back when it was good, and more than just a word. While the piano-laced arrangement is easy on the ears, I found the near-whisper of the vocal hard to listen to.

The much better “Never Mind” would be issued next, peaking in the low 50s. A classic honky-tonker, it opens with bouncy steel that remains steady throughout. I quite like this one, as Griffith turns in a sweet vocal and nicely brings the lyrics to life.

The more mainstream “Anyone Can Be Somebody’s Fool” would be the final charting single, peaking at #68. The song, written by Griffith, is excellent but her vocal is likely what kept this from breaking through as it wasn’t mainstream enough to have been in step with the times back then.

The rest of Little Love Affairs continues the dance of songs that were just a little bit out of touch with the neotraditionalist movement, mixed with some real gems.

My favorite tracks on the album are the livelier numbers. “Love Wore A Halo (Back Before The War)” chugs along with a wonderful dobro and acoustic guitar driven arrangement. “Outbound Plane” is excellent, too, although I’m partial to the Suzy Bogguss version. It’s neat to hear Griffith’s songwriter take on the song, but the rapid-fire lyrics make it hard to fully appreciate the story. But I do love the rawness she and Brown brought fourth here.

Another standout, and possibly the best song on the whole album, is “I Wish It Would Rain.” Written by Griffith, it details the story of a woman searching for love from Georgia to her gulf coast hometown. I love everything about this track from the effecting vocal to the tasteful dobro and guitar heavy production. It’s hard to see why this wasn’t a single, as it could’ve easily been the biggest hit on the whole project.

“So Long Ago,” the story of a daughter going off to school and her father off to war, is the best ballad on Little Love Affairs. Written solely by Griffith, it stands out due to the modern production and her perfectly executed vocal.

I also adore “Sweet Dreams Will Come,” the rocking bluegrass duet with John Stewart. It closes the album with a nice dose of energy and the dobro filled production is just delightful.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album falls short. The title track is the biggest mess, with bizarre production values and a weak vocal from Griffith. “I Would Change My Life,” is strong lyrically, but Griffith’s grating vocal hinders my enjoyment of the song. And “Gulf Coast Highway,” a tribute to where Griffith grew up, is weirdly pop leaning, while the guest vocal from Mac McAnally, doesn’t add much to the overall song.

Little Love Affairs, in execution, is a mixed bag. Griffith and Brown did a poor job of crafting an album primed for mainstream success. The low-charting singles are hardly a surprise, as there is little here country radio would put into heavy rotation. As Razor X touched on last week, Griffiths’ vocal ability was too unique (or acquired taste) to stand next to the likes of Reba McEntire and Patty Loveless at the time.

Grade: B 

Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Wind In The Wire’

1993’s Wind In The Wire is probably the most overlooked album in Randy Travis’ discography. By the early 90s, Randy had begun to dabble in acting, somewhat to the detriment of his singing career. Wind In The Wire was something of a side project, intended to accompany a made-for-TV film of the same title, in which Travis appeared. It is, for the most part, a collection of cowboy and western-themed songs, totally non-commercial in its approach and as such, it was mostly shunned by country radio.

Wind In The Wire was the first Randy Travis album since his major label debut not to earn platinum or gold certification, and the first that failed to produce any Top 40 hits. It was also his first release without longtime producer Kyle Lehning. Instead, production duties were handled by Steve Gibson. The album is in large part, a tribute to the singing cowboys and one can easily imagine Gene Autry or Roy Rogers singing many of the songs. Most of the tunes have a traditional Western sound, though only one — “The Old Chisolm Trail” is actually a vintage song. Others such as the opening track “Down At The Old Corral”, “Blue Mesa” and “Roamin’ Wyoming” were written by the contemporary songwriting team of Roger Brown and Luke Reed, but all three songs sound as though they are much older. “Memories of Old Santa Fe” written by Roger Brown and Rick Peoples is in a similar vein, while Mark Shutte Jr’s “Paniolo Country” is a little more contemporary. “Hula Hands”, as the title implies, has a Hawaiian them, and though it is a very good song, it really doesn’t belong in this collection.

“Cowboy Boogie”, the album’s first single, is not a traditional cowboy song per se. It is more of a Western swing tune, but the lyrics deal with cowboys and the Old West. It was greeted at country radio with a big yawn and stalled at #46 on the charts. It fared much better in Canada, however, reaching #10 on the RPM Country Tracks chart there. The title track, which is the most contemporary song on the album, only reached #65 and no further singles were released.

Clearly, the album’s release was timed to coincide with the broadcast of the film, but the timing was not fortuitous for Randy’s music career. It followed two volumes of greatest hits, which were released simultaneously the preceding year. Those two volumes had produced the #1 hits “If I Didn’t Have You” and “Look Heart, No Hands”, but a third single, “An Old Pair Of Shoes” had peaked outside the Top 20. By the time Wind In The Wire was released, Travis had been absent from the radio airwaves for a while, and with Garthmania at its peak, a collection of cowboy tunes wasn’t what radio programmers wanted. Although Randy rebounded commercially with his next album, 1994’s This Is Me, he never again achieved the level of success that he’d enjoyed up to this point.

The commercial failure of Wind In The Wire notwithstanding, it is a solid album that was a nice antidote to the increasingly pop-oriented fare dominating the charts both now and at the time of its release. It holds up surprisingly well. Travis is in good voice and seems comfortable and at ease with the material. Though it’s not essential listening, it is worth seeking out, particularly since a lot of people may have missed out on this one at the time of its release. It is still in print, though it is a little expensive for a nearly 20-year-old commercial flop, but it is worth downloading, at least. It can be purchased from Amazon or iTunes, with the latter having the better price.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Taken’

It was a surprise when Rhonda Vincent, probably the leading female bluegrass singer of this millennium, announced earlier this year that she had left Rounder after ten years, in favour of releasing her latest album on her own label. She has now released her first independent release.

It opens brightly with the sprightly and unforgiving ‘The Court Of Love’, written by Mike O’Reilly. Rhonda firmly tells her erring man he should go:

“To a prison full of broken hearts
That’s where you’ll do your time”

Lying and cheating earns him a life sentence without her, too, as she refuses to believe his professions of love and penitence.

As predominantly a country fan, it is perhaps unsurprising that my favorite tracks (other than the aforementioned The Court Of Love’) are the country songs given a bluegrass treatment. ‘Back On My Mind’, about struggling with an old love despite trying to move on with the protagonist’s life, was a big hit for Ronnie Milsap back in 1979, it is well suited to Rhonda’s voice with its almost piercing clarity.

I also enjoyed a revival of Barbara Mandrell’s 1971 top 10 hit about a trucker’s fiancee anxiously awaiting her man’s return armed with a ring: ‘Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home’ (written by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton). The bluegrass makeover works surprisingly well.

Things take a more sophisticated turn with ‘A Little At A Time’, a downbeat contemporary country ballad about a relationship which the protagonist senses is about to come to an end, co-written by former Curb artist Amy Dalley with Tony Martin and Tom Shapiro. It’s very well executed, but takes a little longer for its qualities to emerge than some of the other tracks. The title track is a beautifully sung and played but rather boring AC love ballad, featuring a harmony vocal from 80s pop star Richard Marx.

In contrast, ‘God Is Watching’ is a delightful traditional slice of handclapping bluegrass gospel sung with the band. Rhonda teams up with her talented daughters Sally Berry and Tensel Sandker to sing a close harmony trio (with swapped leads) on a charming Roger Brown song which sounds like a traditional Appalachian folk number, ‘When The Bloom Is Off The Rose’. The girls’ band Next Best Thing also gets a maternal plug in the liner notes, and they sound as though they’re worth looking out for in the future.

The low-key murder ballad ‘In The Garden By The Fountain’ (also written by Brown) is also lovely sounding with a heavenly harmony line from Dolly Parton which really lifts it, belying the grim theme. Rhonda herself co-wrote ‘Song Of A Whippoorwill’, about the bird, and again the melody is attractive but the song is of limited interest.

The Rage, Rhonda’s band, co-produced the record with her as well as providing the core of the backing, and although there are no instrumental tracks this time, they get their own showcase on ‘Ragin’ Live For You Tonight’, a celebration of their musicianship and live show written by three of the band members. The song served as the title track on Rhonda’s 2005 live album http://www.amazon.com/Ragin-Live-Rhonda-Vincent/dp/B0007GAEO4 and I imagine it goes down a storm live. It also allows Rhonda to put in a plug for her longtime sponsor Martha White. The company appears to be contributing to the costs of the album, a model which other artists planning on following the same route might be tempted to adopt. In return, the CD includes a recipe leaflet complete with Rhonda’s seal of approval. They also get a product placement in the charmingly nostalgic ‘Sweet Summertime’.

Rhonda also had one really bad idea when making this record, and it materialises at the end of the record. Listening through this album for the first time, as the final track opened I thought ‘You Must Have A Dream’ was a pretty, if Disneyesque and slightly anodyne, inspirational song with a lovely vocal from Rhonda, but then the children started singing. Not only is there a child chorus (never something I am enthusiastic about), but two of the verses feature solo and duet vocals by child singers (who are frankly not very good). There may well be a story behind this inclusion, but the end result is really awful.

The first time I listened to this I was a little disappointed overall with the material, but listening in-depth allows the subtle qualities to shine through. The vocals are spot-on throughout, apart from the children, and the backing is superb. This one is definitely worth checking out.

Grade: B

Album Review: Gary Allan – ‘Alright Guy’

Alright Guy, Gary Allan’s second album at MCA, is more than alright in many ways. It debuted at #4 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart on its release in October 2001, and brought Gary his first No. 1 with the album opener ‘Man to Man’. Produced by Tony Brown & Mark Wright, it’s one of several of Allan’s albums to be certified platinum as well. I think the success of the album is reflected in the quality of the album’s unreleased tracks rather than the singles that charted.

The driving beat and rhythmic lyrics of the lead-off single ‘Man of Me’ (a George Teren and Rivers Rutherford song) weren’t enough to drive it beyond #18 on the charts. That seems fair given that though the lyrics describe how ‘lovin’ you made a man of me’, the music doesn’t get beyond a teen rock number, complete with a screaming ‘wow’ on the very paragraph proclaiming ‘goodbye to my blind immature days’.

‘The One’ came close to being the one that hit the top of the charts first for Allan. Coming in at #3, it’s a kind and loving gentleman’s ballad written by Karen Manno and Billy Lee. Allan isn’t going to rush his girl who has been hurt before, but instead promises,

I’ll fill those canyons in your soul
Like a river lead you home
And I’ll walk a step behind
In the shadows so you shine
Just ask it will be done
And I will prove my love
Until you’re sure that I’m the one

It is a beautiful song, but the production is too heavy on the dreamy echo effects and background vocals for my taste. The interplay between Gary’s vocals and the melodic acoustic guitar line would have been enough.

Third time’s the charm, apparently. ‘Man to Man’, the third single off the album, was Allan’s first #1 on Billboard. Written by Jamie O’Hara, it’s sung by “the guy who got the girl” to “the guy who lost her”. It makes me think of a pool hall kind of scene in which the “loser” confronts the singer who turns and points out who’s really at fault and who’s really the better man. With lines like Were you ever there when she needed you, and Who cheated who/You’re the one to blame, he takes on the bully point for point.

The line that has always stood out to me, partly because of Allan’s great vocal on it, is She’s a real woman, not a doormat for you.

Again, the production is what gets in the way for me – the pop drums and background vocals don’t add to the character’s strength at all. And Allan’s cry-ee-eye-ee sends me back to 50s pop. However, it’s very sing-able and relatable with a catchy chorus and a recognizable intro – the stuff that often does well at radio.

The best songs on the album weren’t released to radio though. ‘Devil’s Candy’, one of 5 Harley Allen songs Gary has recorded, has a great hook and some great fiddle: I’ve always had a sweet tooth for the devil’s candy. Fiddles seem to exemplify that fiery battle with temptation, and this song’s no exception.

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Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘On Your Way Home’

onyourwayhome2003’s On Your Way Home marked Patty Loveless’ return to mainstream country, following her critically acclaimed bluegrass album Mountain Soul. She and producer Emory Gordy, Jr. revisited the formula that had worked so well for them in the nineties, combining traditional country with the best contemporary songs they could find, drawing upon writers such as Paul Kennerley, Marty Stuart, Rodney Crowell, Ronnie Samoset, Matraca Berg and Jim Lauderdale.

Things got off to a strong start with the lead single, a cover of Rodney Crowell’s “Lovin’ All Night”. Her three previous singles had failed to chart, but radio initially seemed happy to have Patty back in the mainstream and added “Lovin’ All Night” to their playlists. Patty sounds more energized on this track than she had in a long time, and her version easily trumps Crowell’s own recording. Though it was her strongest showing on the charts in years, “Lovin’ All Night” stalled at #18, which seemed to indicate that Loveless was past her commercial peak.

The second single was the beautiful title track, written by Ronnie Samoset and Matraca Berg. Had it been released about a decade earlier, it would have been a huge hit. That it only climbed to #29 on the charts is nothing short of criminal. Similar in style to Loveless’ earlier hits “Here I Am” and “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am”, “On Your Way Home” manages to sound contemporary yet country, without being overproduced or drowning in pop overtones. Its failure to gain traction at country radio can be partially attributed to the format’s increasing tendency to embrace fluff and reject substantive songs. It might have gotten a warmer reception if it had been released by a younger artist, but it is hard to imagine any other vocalist who could have sung this song with the passion and emotion that Loveless does.

Epic released one more single from this set — “I Wanna Believe”, written by Al Anderson, Gary Nicholson, and Jessi Alexander. Peaking at #60, this was the last time Patty Loveless appeared on the Billboard country singles chart as a solo artist. I probably would have released the more radio-friendly Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and Julie Miller composition “Looking For A Heartache Like You” instead of this one, though it likely would not have fared any better on the charts. “I Don’t Wanna Be That Strong” is the most contemporary song on the album and seems like another good candidate for a single release, but in all likelihood, Epic was unwilling to invest any more money promoting this album, given the lukewarm reception the previous singles had received.

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