My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Ronny Scaife

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Crazy In Love’

One of the reasons for Conway Twitty’s longevity as an artist was his knack for adapting to new musical trends. In the 1980s, as country music entered the Urban Cowboy era and adopted a slicker, more pop-oriented sound, Conway did likewise, and maintained his position at the top of the charts. His new sound was particularly evident on the Warner/Elektra recordings. Interestingly, though, he did not follow country music’s trend back toward a more traditional sound in the latter half of the decade. For whatever reason, it seemed to work. His albums from this era only sold modestly but he continued to have radio hits, although somewhat less consistently, and remained relevant to the genre.

Crazy In Love was Conway’s first full-length album of the 1990s. He produced it with his wife Dee Henry and MCA label chief Jimmy Bowen. Like his other recent efforts, there is nary a fiddle nor a steel guitar to be found, although the album itself encompasses a variety of styles from pop and R&B to more traditional country fare. The title track and lead single was perhaps his most pop-leaning single ever. It had originally been included on a Joe Cocker album in 1984 and Kim Carnes took it to #13 on the AC charts in 1988. Kenny Rogers had a competing version from his 1990 Love Is Strange album, which reached #9 on the AC charts. Conway’s version reached #2 on the country charts, a position where many of his singles had landed since he’d rejoined MCA in 1987. Written by Randy McCormick and Even Stevens, there is nothing even remotely country about this song, but it is very good nonetheless. The upbeat “I Couldn’t See You Leavin'”, written by Rory Michael Bourke and Ronny Scaife reached #3, making it the last bonafide hit single of Conway’s career. None of his subsequent efforts would chart in the Top 20. There was one last single released from Crazy In Love, though — the traditional-leaning “One Bridge I Didn’t Burn”, which peaked at a disappointing #57, despite being the best song on the album. It is, however, a track that is crying out for the fiddle-and-steel treatment. The album cut “What’s Another Goodbye”, written by Kent Robbins is another very good track that would have benefited from more traditional instrumentation.

I wasn’t as enamored by Conway’s cover of the 1978 Dr. Hook hit “When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman” (another Even Stevens composition) or the slightly overblown power ballad “Just the Thought of Losing You”, written by Michael Bolton and Jonathan Cain. Both are well executed but with so many good country songs available in Nashville at the time (unlike today), one wonders why these two were chosen. The upbeat closing track “Hearts Breakin’ All Over Town” is not bad but is only truly noteworthy because of its co-writer Pam Tillis who was about to enjoy her own commercial breakthrough.

Conway Twitty’s long career saw him embracing a number of different musical styles and as such it is inevitable that everything he did will be to everyone’s taste. While I wouldn’t rate Crazy In Love as highly as his early 70s albums, it is a solid effort for its era. I don’t think I’ve ever truly hated anything Conway Twitty did — aside from his unfortunate treatment of “Danny Boy” during his rock-and-roll days. Crazy In Love is not essential listening, but it is a worthwhile late career effort from a true legend, who truly was the best friend a song ever had.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘I Turn The Page’

After leaving RCA, Don released a pair of albums on independent label American Harvest Records. He then moved to Giant, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, and released this album for them in 1998. It was produced by label president Doug Johnson, a longterm fan who had taken the decision to sign the artist after being enthralled by his performance at the Nashville Songwriters Association International Banquet. While the sad reality was that Don was too old at 59 for country radio to be prepared to pay any attention, the album was well received by critics.

There was one, non-charting single, the sweet, upbeat story song ‘Cracker Jack Diamond’, written by Ronny Scaife and Neil Thrasher abut a true love which develops from a meeting at the age of 14. Recorded by, say George Strait, this would have been a surefire hit. At the other end of life, ‘Harry And Joe’ is a sympathetic portrait of two old men who are both widowed just after moving to Florida to retire, and become best friends.

David Hanner’s ‘Pancho’ is about impending mortality, but with characters inspired by the 1950s children’s TV western ‘The Cisco Kid’. Hanner and his partner in the Corbin/Hanner Band, Bob Corbin, wrote ‘How Did You Do It’, addressed to an ex who is coping better with the breakup than the protagonist.

Don revived Tony Arata’s ‘A Handful Of Dust’, which will be familiar to Patty Loveless fans. Don’s version is much lower key and less forceful, with a nice folky feel. The two versions are different enough that they don’t really compete with one another, but it certainly suits Don.

He co-wrote one song with Gary Burr and Doug Johnson, ‘I Sing For Joy’, a touching tribute to Joy, his wife of almost 40 years. A very pretty melody and tasteful string arrangement provide the right setting for the autobiographical lyrics and sincere vocals. The song provides the album title.

On a similar theme, Johnson’s song ‘Her Perfect Memory’ is a sweet and lightly amusing tribute to a wife of many years:

I remember how we struggled
When we first started out
She recalls we had it all
Not what we did without
I think back on those hard times
She remembers only love
Who am I to say that’s not
Exactly how it was?

That’s how she remembers it
She was the lucky one
Just take a look at both of us
And you tell me who won
If she thinks I hung the stars
If that’s what she believes
Then who am I to tamper with
Her perfect memory….

If I made all her dreams come true
As far as she can see
Who am I to tamper with
Her perfect memory?

He also wrote ‘Ride On’, an interesting song about childhood innocence challenged by parental failures:

Some people just lose control,
Some people hit overload
Some people act like some people
They never thought they’d be
So why can’t we all see
The only antidote
The only way to cope
The only true hope is love

Gary Burr and Don Schlitz wrote ‘From Now On’, a thoughtful ballad about baggage and finding love late in life. ‘Take It Easy On Yourself’, written by Bill La Bounty and Steve O’Brien, is my favorite track. A laid back tune combining a love song with advice about not making life too stressful, with a soothing melody and tasteful strings, it is rather lovely.

A cover of Scottish folk-pop-rock duo Gallagher & Lyle’s ‘Elise Elise’ Is okay in its way but not really classic Don Williams. Kevin Welch’s ‘Something ‘Bout You’ is more successful, catchy and charming.

This is definitely a mature album, and a very good one.

Grade: A-

Album Review: The Crowe Brothers – ‘Forty Years Old’

forty years old

Straddling the boundaries between traditional country and bluegrass, the close sibling Louvin-style harmonies of Josh and Wayne Crowe are always worth hearing, especially as the duo have a penchant for picking great songs. Their latest album is no exception.

A number of country classics given bluegrass instrumentation include the opening ‘Lost Highway’, written by Leon Payne but best known from Hank Williams’ recording. the Crowe Brothers’ version is excellent. I also enjoyed ‘Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Got A Heartache’, which is suitably plaintive, with soaring fiddle. The romantic ‘Send Me The Pillow’ is also nicely done, while a bluegrass classic ‘Don’t Let Our Love Die’ is beautiful. The pleasantly philosophical ‘Someday My Ship Will Sail’ is less well known, but the Allen Reynolds tune has been recorded in the past by Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash.

‘I’ve Got The Moon On My Side’ was written by Tom T Hall and wife Dixie with Troy Engle. It has been released as a single for bluegrass radio. It has a perky feel as the protagonist takes comfort in the country moonlight while his ex lives it up in town. The quirky ‘Livin’ In A Mobile Home’ was written by country songwriters Rory Michael Bourke and Ronny Scaife. It celebrates a life on the road in a Winnebago, and is entertaining and memorable.

‘Green Fields Of Erin’ is about the Irish emigrant experience and the longing for home.

The more-or-less title track ‘You Turned Forty Years Old’ is an old man’s fond tribute as his beloved son reaches a landmark age, written by Steve Watts. A charming lullaby rhythm and melody make this very memorable as the protagonist reminisces about his boy’s childhood.

‘Where Will You Be’ is a gospel tune written by Wayne Crowe and delivered with good cheer. ‘Angel Mother’ is an old fashioned (in a good way) pure bluegrass tribute to a mother. The set closes with the rapid-paced ‘Two Feet On The Floor’, which is typical up-tempo bluegrass.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘It’s All About To Change’

it's all about to changeTravis Tritt’s second album was released in May 1991, and is along the same lines as its predecessor, with the same producer, Gregg Brown. It was, however, a step up in quality and consistency.

The lead single, ‘Here’s A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)’ is a fabulous kissoff song with plenty of attitude, which is one of the seven songs here written by Tritt and is one of my favorites of his. There is a more traditional feel to this structurally than with much of his material, although the full production gives it added radio-friendly impact. It peaked at #2 on Billboard.

The excellent ballad ‘Anymore’, which Travis wrote with Jill Collucci, was the second single, and made it all the way to the top. The lyrics have the opposite emotion to that of ‘Here’s A Quarter’, with the protagonist surrendering to his feelings after a period in denial of the pain he is suffering at the failure of a relationship, finally admitting,
I can’t keep pretending I don’t love you anymore

The song allowed Tritt to show a more subtle side to his vocals, and is one of the finest recordings of his career, with delicately understated production. Backing vocals come from Dana McVicker, a former Capitol artist who never made a breakthrough, and they add a sweet edge.

His first of several career duets with Marty Stuart (recorded prior to their first tour together) is the singalong honky tonker ‘The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’’, a Stuart co-write with Ronny Scaife. It’s a solid song which I like a lot, although Tritt’s full blooded vocal is the best thing about this #2 hit.

It was back to the ballads with the album’s final single, #4 hit ‘Nothing Short Of Dying’. A wistful song about the pain of lost love with some mournful fiddle and steel supporting the regretful vocal, this is another great track and the most traditional country of the singles.

Although it wasn’t a single, the blazing up-tempo ‘Bible Belt (featuring rock band Little Feat) garnered a lot of attention when an alternate version was recorded for the movie My Cousin Vinny, with new lyrics fitting the film’s plot. The original is better, and is one of Tritt’s most memorable recordings with its dramatic tale of an adulterous preacher brought down by “the flames of passion” following an affair with the choir leader, based on a true story. Travis warns the couple they will have to “answer to the Lord and the Bible Belt”, although in fact they run away to Vegas together, apparently never to be seen in Georgia again. The Southern rock/country arrangement is genuinely exciting with pounding piano and a choir bringing in gospel elements suited to teh subject.

On the up-tempo side, I also liked ‘Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler’, a classic bluegrass number written by Jimmie Skinner unexpectedly given a Southern rock style makeover which works surprisingly well. I was less impressed by closer ‘Homesick’, an obscure Southern rock cover which is a self-indulgent rocker more about the groove than anything else, but it is the only track I didn’t like on an otherwise outstanding album.

The title track is a fine ballad in classic country style, with a sincere, believable vocal about a man who has had enough of the woman he has loved treating him badly and is ready for a new start.

‘If Hell Had A Jukebox’ is another great hurting ballad, written by Travis with Lee Rogers. This time the protagonist’s ex responds to a pitiful plea for her return by telling him to go you-know-where. Travis replies,

Honey, if Hell had a jukebox
And the Devil kept it full of hurtin’ songs
You could find me there this evening…

I don’t see how the fires below
Where you wanted me to go
Could be worse than the hell I’m living here on earth

The gentle ballad ‘Someone For Me’ (written by Tritt with Stewart Harris) is a lonely man’s wistful longing for love, and another fine song, with a subtle string arrangement.

With triple platinum status, this remains Travis Tritt’s best selling album, and it is also my personal favorite. There is a wide variety of tempos and styles, but the quality is almost all very high indeed. Used copies can be found extremely cheaply, and are well worth tracking down.

Grade: A+