My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Ron Harbin

Album Review: Lonestar – ‘Mountains’

51thjpiwx8l-_ss500By 2006, the cracks in Lonestar’s commercial armor were beginning to appear. They were scoring Top 10 hits less consistently, their contract with BNA Records was nearing an end, and lead singer Richie McDonald was getting ready to leave the band and embark on a solo career. As a result, 2006’s Mountains feels as though it were phoned in by everyone involved, and there doesn’t seem to have been much effort expended to promote the album.

Mountains did find the band teaming up with a new producer, Mark Bright, and the album’s title track, which became the lead single, was an actually an improvement over Lonestar’s previous few efforts. The mandolin-led number, written by Richie McDonald, Larry Boone and Paul Nelson has a positive thinking theme, a trend during country’s “soccer mom” era, which was much bemoaned at the time, but in retrospect it seems rather benign compared to the trends that succeeded it. The song is catchy, but the lyrics are a bit trite – a problem that plagues many of the album’s tracks. It peaked at #10.

The piano led “Nothing to Prove” was the next single, and it was aimed squarely at the soccer moms, name dropping Van Morrison and detailing the drudgeries of the modern working woman. It was the worst performing single of Lonestar’s career, peaking at #51. BNA seemed to have little interest in promoting the album further, and as a result no further singles were issued.

Artistically, Mountains was a progression down the path the band embarked on with Lonely Grill, towards more pop and AC-leaning material with a little steel guitar thrown into the mix occasionally as an appeasement to country radio and fans. The formula was getting old by this point and the material was generally weak.

There are a couple of bright spots. “Hey God”, written by McDonald and Tommy Lee James, appealed to the contemporary Christian crowd. Though one of the album’s better tracks, it’s not terribly original, and the bombastic production gets in the way. Like most of the slower songs on the album, this one is turned into a power ballad, and it would have been more effective with a quieter and more stripped-down approach. To a lesser extent they fall into this trap again on the closing track “Always in the Band”, written by McDonald, Ron Harbin and Jerry Vandiver. It seems to be a semi-autobiographical number, perhaps inspired by McDonald’s impending departure from the band. It looks back at a number of significant life events, which always had to take a back seat to the narrator’s obligations to his band mates and fans. The production is restrained and tasteful until the last minute or so, when the swelling strings and power vocals start to become more prominent. Nevertheless, it’s a very good song and an appropriate capstone to the band’s first Richie McDonald era.

Nothing else is of much interest or worthy of commentary, so as a whole this album falls short of expectations.

Grade: C

Album Review: Lonestar – ‘Lonely Grill’

41mmbvjspklFor their third outing, Lonestar joined forces with a new production team consisting of Dann Huff, Sam Ramage and Bob Wright. The result was a slicker and more pop-oriented sound and the best-selling album of the band’s career with more than three million units sold in the United States alone.

The lead single was the beat-driven, lyrically light party song “Saturday Night”, with a chorus consisting of song’s title being spelled out repetitively. Such a terrible song would be a monster hit today, but in the pre-bro country era, radio wasn’t impressed and it died at #47. I had never heard it before and did not even know it had been a single.

“Saturday Night” may have underperformed, but the album’s subsequent singles all rose to #1. The best-remembered of these is “Amazed”, the band’s signature tune which was also a huge crossover hit, reaching #1 on the Hot 100 — marking the first time a country act occupied that slot since Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton scored a #1 pop hit with “Islands in the Stream” in 1983. “Smile”, “What About Now” and “Tell Her” were the remaining singles. All of them rank among Lonestar’s best loved hits, and deservedly so. These songs solidified Lonestar’s position as one of the era’s most successful — perhaps THE most successful — country bands. The upbeat “What About Now” is a nice change of pace from the ballads. “Smile” and “Tell Her” are a little more AC-leaning than I would like, but both are decent songs.

The album cuts are a little more of a mixed bag. I enjoyed the reggae-flavored Don Henry-Benmont Tench number “Don’t Let’s Talk About Lisa” and “I’ve Gotta Find You”, written by Richie McDonald with Ron Harbin and Marty Dodson. None of the other tracks are particularly memorable, with the exception of the closing number which is an acoustic remake of Lonestar’s earlier hit “Everything’s Changed”, which proves that a gifted vocalist and a good song can shine without the aid of glossy production.

Lonely Grill is a must-have for diehard Lonestar fans, but more casual listeners will probably be just as happy with their Greatest Hits package.

Grade: B

Album Review: The Oak Ridge Boys – ‘Christmas Time’s A-Coming’

We kicked off the Christmas season with Wednesday’s review of Spotlight Artist Sammy Kershaw’s A Sammy Klaus Christmas. Continuing the theme, veteran performers the Oak Ridge Boys also have a new Christmas album out. It’s their sixth since 1982, but perhaps surprisingly there isn’t much overlap of material even though most of the songs are pretty familiar.

A delightful ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ opens proceedings genially. Gene Autry’s ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ makes great use of Richard Sterban’s gravelly bass. Sterban slightly overdoes it, though, on an otherwise attractive ‘White Christmas’.

The muscular ‘Peterbilt Sleigh’, written by Lonestar’s Richie McDonald (who has recorded it himself) with Philip Douglas and Ron Harbin, is a silly but quite entertaining story of Santa needing to call on a trucker for help when his sleigh breaks down one Christmas Eve. In contrast, the Harlan Howard song ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ is a sweet, understated seasonal love song, with Sterban on lead.

The group sadly bring little new to ‘Christmas Time’s A Coming’ (although it’s enjoyable enough) or the overused ‘The Christmas Song’. I didn’t like their ridiculously overblown version of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ at all, and could also have done without a dragging take on ‘I’ll be Home For Christmas’.

The bulk of the material (as with Kershaw’s album) offers secular cheer, but brace of religious numbers appears three-quarters through the set. The best of these is the delicately tender ‘Getting Ready For A Baby’, written by Jerry Salley, Sue C Smith and Lee Black, and which touchingly explores the emotions of Mary and Joseph. An intimate ‘Mary, Did You Know’ is also feelingly interpreted.

‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ (not the nursery rhyme, but a new song about the baby Jesus) has a faint Celtic feel but drags a bit. ‘Glorious Impossible’ is okay but a little forgettable. The hymn ‘Joy To The World’ seems on paper perfect fare for the quartet’s four part gospel harmonies, but an arrangement with electric guitars bursting in is horribly misjudged.

Overall, this makes a pleasant if inessential addition to the ranks of Christmas albums.

Grade: B