My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Rory Michael Bourke

Album Review: Dawn Sears – ‘What A Woman Wants To Hear’

Dawn Sears’ debut album on Warner Brothers Records was released in 1991. Barry Beckett acted as producer. ‘San Antone’, her very first single for Warner Brothers, having failed to chart the previous year, it was removed from consideration for the album, but if you want to hear this very retro Patsy Cline style ballad, you can check it out on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIAyvGo_-DQ

However, the label retained the second single, although it too had made no chart impact. ‘Till You Come Back To Me’ was another beautifully sung slow ballad, but slightly more contemporary in style, and was written by Mike Reid and Troy Seals. Dawn’s vocals soar on this big ballad.

Dawn showed she was as good with up-tempo material with a committed cover of Highway 101’s ‘Good Goodbye’ (a track on that band’s debut album a few years earlier and co-written by Paulette Carlson). Dawn’s version uses the same arrangement as the original, but she delivers the attitude believably. Warner Brothers’ last unsuccessful attempt at getting Dawn on the radio came with ‘Tell Me I’m Crazy’, another Mike Reid tune (co-written this time with Rory Michael Bourke). This sophisticated loungy ballad is exquisitely performed, and was later covered in very similar style by Shelby Lynne.

‘Odds And Ends (Bits And Pieces)’ had most recently been recorded by Lynne on her own 1989 debut album, but was an older classic, written by Harlan Howard. It is another slow paced ballad which was ideally suited to both artists’ vocal ability.

A number of the other tracks were either covers or were later picked up by other artists. The classic Hank Williams hit is treated very authentically and highly enjoyable. ‘He’s In Dallas’ was recorded by Reba McEntire on her 1991 album For My Broken Heart, and was later covered by fellow Spotlight Artist Linda Davis. A mournful ballad about the failure of a relationship and the collapse off all the protagonist’s dreams for her future, as she returns home to her mother in Minnesota, disconsolate. Dawn’s vocal is exceptional.

The title track (coincidentally a song co-written by Davis) is another excellent ballad yearning to be treated well, which should have been a big hit for someone. This is another of the highlights on this album. ‘Old Fashioned Broken Heart’ is a great traditional country heartbreak ballad written by Donny Kees and Terri Sharp, is superb, and one of my favorite tracks here, assisted by some nice fiddle.

She delivers up some western swing on the assertive ‘No More Tears’, and sultry blues on ‘Could Be The Mississippi’, showing her range.

This was a very good album which slipped beneath the radar.

Grade: A-

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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: Jo Dee Messina – ‘I’m Alright’

51phmj5EClL-2Although Jo Dee Messina enjoyed some initial success with “Heads Carolina, Tails California”, her career did not really take off until the release of her sophomore set in 1998. Coming on the heels of two failed singles, producers Byron Gallimore and Tim McGraw took a play-it-safe approach when choosing material for I’m Alright, an album that is heavy on radio-friendly material. The strategy paid off: the album spawned five hit singles, the first three of which went to #1. The first, “Bye Bye”, written by Rory Michael Bourke and Phil Vassar, is an energetic uptempo number — slightly reminiscent of “Heads Carolina” — at which Jo Dee excels. It was followed by another uptempo ear worm — “I’m Alright”, another Vassar composition which is my favorite Jo Dee Messina song. Jo Dee proved that she was equally adept at singing ballads when “Stand Beside Me” became her third #1.

“A Lesson In Leavin'”, written by Randy Goodrum and Brent Maher had previously been a hit for another redhead when Dottie West took it to #1 in 1980, scoring her first chart topper as a solo artist rather late in her career. Jo Dee’s version, which is faithful to the original, just missed topping the charts,leveling off at #2. She does a good job at interpreting a song that was deserving of being introduced to a new audience. Another ballad, “Because You Love Me”, written by Kostas and John Scott Sherrill, was the album’s fifth and final single, peaking at #8.

As far as the rest of the album is concerned, I really enjoyed the ballad “Even God Must Get The Blues”, which laments the state of the world. It’s the album’s most serious number, and while it was probably not sufficiently commercial to be considered for single release, it is effective in delivering its message and is very well done. I also enjoyed Jo Dee’s version of “I Know A Heartache”, a remake of Jennifer Warnes’ 1979 hits. Warnes was not primarily known as a country artist but her original version did reach #10 on the country charts, as well as #19 on the Billboard Hot 100. There are also a couple of misses, namely “Silver Thunderbird”, with its dated production and pedestrian lyrics and “No Time For Tears” which is forgettable filler.

I enjoyed the radio hits from this album when they were on the charts, though I considered them to be mostly lightweight ear candy at the time. Today I’d be thrilled to hear anything half this good on the radio. I’m Alright is not a great album, but it is a very good one. If you are only going to own one Jo Dee Messina album, this is the one to have.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Temptation’

temptationAfter three albums had failed to break Shelby Lynne, she parted ways with Epic. Her music had always been a little more eclectic than most of her peers, but now she began to experiment more. Although it was still marketed as country music and recorded in Nashville with seasoned session musicians, her work with producer Brent Maher for her new label Morgan Creek (in association with Mercury Records) drew more deeply from the wells of jazz and big band than even the countrypolitan end of country music.

She was still marketed as a country artist, but unsurprisingly the country radio which had been unreceptive to her more conventional material was even less so to her new direction. Lead single ‘Feeling Kind Of Lonely Tonight’ got minimal airplay, peaking at a dismal #69 on the Billboard country chart, although it has a catchy tune and arrangement and is quite enjoyable. Interestingly, Brent Maher wrote or co-wrote all but two of the songs, most of them with Jamie O’Hara.

‘Tell Me I’m Crazy’, one of the two outside songs, didn’t chart at all, although it is a very nice Patsy Cline style ballad written by Mike Reid and Rory Michael Bourke, and is beautifully sung.

Even better is my favourite song on the album (not coincidentally, the only other song Brent Maher had no hand in). ‘I Need A Heart To Come Home To’ is a lovely sad ballad written by John Barlow Jarvis and Russell Smith about loneliness and the temptation of reconnecting with an old flame:

Something happened the night you kissed me
My will to love was born again
Your tenderness has convinced me
What a lonely fool I’ve been

I need a heart to come home to
Give me all the love I never knew
I need a heart to hold on to
I need a sweet sweetheart like you

Both song and performance are excellent, and the track featured on the soundtrack of hit movie True Romance.

Shelby co-wrote the title track with Maher and Jamie O’Hara, and this bold, brassy tune is a bit lacking in melody or real emotional impact, with an assertive attitude which doesn’t quite fit the self-searching lyric. The trio also wrote the similarly styled ‘Some Of That True Love’, where the swing arrangement fits the song better.

The understated mid-tempo ‘Little Unlucky At Love’, written by Maher and O’Hara, is quite good, but the pair’s ‘Come A Little Closer’ and ‘Don’t Cry For Me’, written by Maher alone, are forgettable big band.

I disliked the bluesy, soul-influenced ‘The Rain Might Wash Your Love Away’ (written by Maher with Don Potter and Don Schlitz, mainly for its annoying spoken segments. However the sophisticated minor-keyed jazz ballad ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ is very well done.

This is one of those records which is tough to assign a letter grade to. It is well sung and played, and Shelby sounds thoroughly engaged with her material, but most of it is not really to my personal tastes. As a jazz-inflected record for a general audience, it is very good; but it has little to do with country music other than the personnel.

Grade: B

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Sunrise’

sunriseShelby Lynne was teamed up with veteran producer Billy Sherrill for her first album in 1989. Her duet with George Jones and a cover of Buck Owens’ ‘Under Your Spell Again’ which had been her solo single debut were left off the tracklisting, which leans a little less traditional than either of those tracks. Shelby was only 20 when the album was released, but sounds considerably older.

Her big booming voice was front and center in ‘The Hurtin’ Side’, the album’s lead single, which just cracked the country top 40. Written by Mike Reid and Rory Michael Bourke, it’s a solid song about facing heartbreak. Reid and Bourke wrote two additional songs on the album, one of which is my favourite: ‘Till You Were Gone’, also recorded by John Conlee, is an agonized expression of regret at love discovered too late:

Every night right about now
I grow uneasy
Kinda restless somehow
It starts out like thunder on a slow steady roll
And I hit the floor half out of control

Baby I wonder if you look the same
Do you have children?
What are their names?
Does the one that you’re with
Need you all night long?
Like I never did
Until you were gone

Their third song, ‘Your Love Stays With me’ is a big ballad, more AC than country, and although it is well performed it doesn’t have a big impact.

The album’s only other single, ‘Little Bits And Pieces’ is a fine ballad recalling a broken relationship, penned by Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran, but unfortunately it did not catch on at radio. It is quite heavily strung and Shelby emotes intensely, perhaps a little too much. ‘Thinking About You Again’ is a slightly more understated but still deeply emotional ballad with a despairing lyric abut failing to move on after a breakup, written by Stephony Smith and Mike Porter.

Sherrill contributed one song, ‘This Time I Almost Made It’, an older song previously recorded by Barbara Mandrell, cited by Shelby as one of her big influences. A yearning cheating song, it had also been recorded by Tammy Wynette with Billy Sherrill at the helm, so perhaps it was his choice for Shelby, whose version stands up well to her illustrious predecessors.

The assertive ‘What About This Girl’, written by Randy Boudreaux with Madeline Stone, picks up the tempo but is not particularly country. The same goes for the bluesy ‘That’s Where It Hurts’, which starts out slow and then turns bold and brassy as she belts out a tale of heartbreak wherever she goes.

A languid jazzy take on Floyd Tillman’s classic ‘I Love You So Much It Hurts’ is effective, but the similarly jazz-inflected version of standard ‘I’m Confessin’’ is a little dull and feels self-indulgent.

Shelby’s voice and emotional intensity belied her youth, and this was an interesting debut. Although she did draw on the heritage of country music, her eclectic tastes and the fact that her retro tastes leaned more to the Nashville Sound and other genres, I wonder if she would have done better if she had been five or ten years older rather than making her debut during the heyday of the neotraditional movement. If you have eclectic tastes this is worth picking up: the vocals are strong, the songs pretty good, and the production suits her. But it was a little out of place in 1989.

Grade: B+

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: Dan Seals – ‘Fired Up’

One of the signs of an artist in trouble is when someone who has consistently written a fair proportion of his own material suddenly drops it in favor of (often inferior) material from outside. Another is moving to a hot new producer in search of the latest sound. It rarely works, and it didn’t work for Dan Seals in 1994. For Dan’s second and final release for Warner Brothers, he left Kyle Lehning in favor of Jerry Crutchfield and a punchier more contemporary sound which just didn’t suit Dan’s natural style.

The rocked up title track ‘All Fired Up’ was the only single to chart at all, peaking at a miserable #66. Previously recorded by rockabilly throwback Bobby Lee Springfield, who co-wrote it, on his 1987 album of the same title, it’s a bit poppy but quite entertaining with genuine energy, although his voice sounds a little thin. They were clearly trying to recapture the chart success of ‘L.O.A.’, but the very poor ‘Love Thing – boring repetitive lyric, very little melody as well as very pop-orientated production – understandably failed to make any impact at all, and with a whimper rather than a bang, Dan ended his major label career. ‘Call Me Up’ is another forgettable pop number entirely unsuited to Dan’s voice and style, while Jesse Winchester’s ‘Gentleman Of Leisure’ is a badly produced and not very interesting song about wanting to do nothing.

There are two decent ballads up to Dan’s usual standards, which are well worth downloading. ‘A Rose From Another Garden’, written by Joe Doyle and Glen Davies, has a very pretty melody which allows Dan’s voice to soar, allied to a brooding poetic lyric about a man suspicious of his wife’s interests elsewhere as their own love fades:

Is she tending to a rose from another garden
While ours slowly grows dry
Is she tending to a rose from another garden
Letting our love die on the vine

A beautifully subtle vocal is perfect for this song, by far the best on the record.

‘Still Reelin’ (From Those Rock ‘n Roll Days)’ is the only song Dan wrote (with Allen Shamblin), and it’s a fine song, a gently nostalgic look back at youth and memories of being inspired by seeing the young Elvis on television.

The up-tempo ‘Hillbilly Fever’ (written by Joe Doyle and Todd Wilkes) is actually quite good, but in the light of today’s massive overuse of the theme, feels a bit generic about being tired of city life. The quite catchy ‘When’ was written by Robert Ellis Orrall and Gilles Godard, and Ricky Skaggs recorded it the following year on his album Solid Ground.

‘Jayney’ is a pleasant pop-country ballad written by Johnny Nestor, a little more interesting than the frankly dull ‘A Good Place To Be’, a Rory Michael Bourke/Charlie Black ballad about satisfaction with one’s life, without much energy or passion.

It’s still easy to find, but I would recommend digitally cherrypicking the best tracks.

Grade: C

Album Review – Dan Seals – ‘On Arrival’

Released in February 1990, On Arrival was Dan Seals’ final studio album for Capitol Records, his label home since 1985. The album, produced yet again by Kyle Lehning, would extend Seals’ success into the 1990s, although it would be short lived.

The first two singles marked Seals’ final trips to the top of the charts. The title track, a Seals original, preceded the album. A honky-tonk charger, “Love on Arrival” features a committed vocal by Seals, but the drum and guitar centric arrangement hasn’t held up over the years.

More interesting was the second single, a cover of Sam Cooke’s 1964 hit “Good Times.” Lehning frames Seals vocal in a pleasantly uncluttered arrangement, while the sing-a-long nature of the recording recalls vintage Eddie Rabbit. Unfortunately, the horns were dated, even for 1990, and give an unwelcoming campy vibe to the proceedings. But I quite appreciate what Seals was going for here, even though the polish was a bit too shiny.

The third and fourth singles, the Seals and Bob McDill co-write “Bordertown” and Bruce Burch and J.P. McMean’s “Water Under The Bridge” were the first of Seals career not to crack the top 40. The lack of airplay was surprising, seeing as both tunes were comfortably within Seals straightforward acoustic ballad wheelhouse, although neither proved as good, or memorable, as his classic hits in this vein.

The rest of On Arrival sounds like an album typical of its era, with a mixed bag of results. Roger Ferris’ “She Flew The Coupe” is a bloated (and forgettable) honky-tonk thumper, Charlie Black and Rory Michael Bourke’s “A Heart In Search Of Love” is overly sentimental and slightly predictable, while Paul Brady’s “Game Of Love” is too sugary sweet.

Slightly better is “Lonestar,” a Seals and J.D. Souther co-write about a girl who can’t get the affection of her desired man. Seals infuses the track with a wonderful vocal while the soaking of steel guitar keeps the accompaniment rather enjoyable on the ears.

Another good one is “Wood,” a Seals original finding him back in his “Everything That Glitters” vein. The track tells a sweet story about a relationship between a father and son, complete with life lessons:

I left a little taller

wiser, and free

I learned the use of tools

for the carpenter in me

I don’t have all the answers

but one thing I have have found

We are the choices that we make

when the chips are down, wood.

I also enjoy “Made For Lovin’ You” a Curly Putman and Sonny Throckmorton penned tune that went on to be a #6 peaking single for Doug Stone in 1993. Easily the best lyric, vocal, and musical track on the whole project, its hard to understand why the song was never a single for Seals, who easily has the superior version of the song.

Overall, On Arrival finds Seals up to his usual tricks while trying to stay relevant in the changing musical climate of the early 90s. The album is sentimental, marking the end of an era in which Seals topped the charts eleven times and turned out some of the best country music of its time.

On Arrival proves his previous solo singles were near impossible to match let alone top and he had somewhat mixed results in trying to do that here. But even though the results weren’t as consistent as in the past, he still managed to find (and sometimes write) a few great songs.

Grade: B

Single Review: Josh Turner – ‘I Wouldn’t Be A Man’

Josh Turner has had a spotty track record with country radio over the past eight years. During that time frame, he’s released eleven singles, most of which have peaked inside the Top 20, but only five of those made it to the Top 10. The five that made the Top 10 all peaked at either #1 or #2. He seems to have found his commercial niche with his latest release Haywire, a decent but somewhat uneven album which has spawned two #1 singles so far. Turner and his label are hoping that they can make it to the top of the charts three times in a row, with the release of his newest single “I Wouldn’t Be A Man.”

Originally a Top 10 hit for Don Williams in 1987, “I Wouldn’t Be A Man” is less traditional than most of Wiliams’ hits and it is one of his less remembered songs today. It was revived in 1996 by Billy Dean; his version stalled at #45 on the charts, and deservedly so. Turner’s version is more faithful to Williams’ original than Dean’s cover. Dean’s producers went for a completely contemporary — for the time — arrangement; Josh’s version prominently features the pedal steel guitar throughout, which helps keep the R&B-flavored tune rooted in country music.

The tune was written by Mike Reid and Rory Michael Bourke, and the record was produced by Frank Rogers. The sultry lyrics work well with Turner’s bass, which gives the record a sexy feel that should appeal to female listeners:

There’s a slow moon risin’
It’s shining on your skin.
The way your body moves me,
I know there’s no holding back:
No holding back

I wouldn’t be a man if I didn’t feel like this.
I wouldn’t be a man if a woman like you,
Was anything I could resist.
I’d have to be from another planet,
Where love doesn’t exist.
I wouldn’t be a man if I didn’t feel like this.

Turner’s rendition doesn’t quite pack the same punch as Williams’ version, but expecting him to do so would be setting the bar unreasonably high. Many of today’s fans are likely unfamiliar with the original, which should help Turner avoid any unfavorable comparisons.

The past few years have provided a tough environment for traditionalists like Turner, who have struggled to be relevant at radio while still staying true to their country roots. Josh’s inconsistent performance on the airplay charts reflects this struggle. A record like this one seems like a good compromise; it’s contemporary enough that it should appeal to radio programmers, but not so contemporary that it will alienate country fans.

Grade: B