My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Royce Porter

Album Review – Doug Stone – ‘From The Heart’

DougfromheartDoug Stone was riding high with the success of his platinum selling sophomore album when he began feeling dizziness, arm & chest pain, and feelings of disorientation while on tour. He canceled his appearance at the 1992 ACM Awards and underwent Quintuple Bypass Surgery. Stone changed his eating and exercise habits in order to quickly resume his tour schedule.

His third album, the aptly titled From The Heart, was released that August with Doug Johnson producing once again. Upon its release critics had a field day with the irony of the album’s title in the wake of his medical issues.

Lead single “Warning Labels” was released in June. The uptempo shuffle, written by Kim Williams and Oscar Turman, casts Stone as a broken man in a barroom observing that “they ought to put warning labels on those sad country songs” coming from the jukebox. It’s an excellent and memorable lyric, but the production comes off forceful (and dated 21 years later), a little too in-your-face, and drowns out Stone’s vocal at times. The single was his seventh top-five hit in two years and peaked at #4.

Gary Burr and Victoria Shaw wrote “Too Busy Being In Love,” which topped the charts in early 1993. Like most of Stone’s trademark ballads, “Too Busy Being In Love” plays like a cheesy Lifetime movie, down to the slick piano-laced production. That being said, Stone’s tender vocal coupled with the production is still a winning combination to my ears, no matter how cheesy and horrid this sounds today.

“Made for Loving You” broke Stone’s streak of top five singles when it peaked at #6 (his second song to do so) in mid-1993. Previously recorded by both Clinton Gregory and Dan Seals, and written by Sonny Throckmorton and Curly Putman, the track is very similar in style to “Too Busy Being In Love,” though not nearly as polished, or hook-laden.

Stone returned to #1 with the album’s finale single, Paul Harrison and Bob McDill’s “Why Didn’t I Think of That.” A regretful uptempo honky-tonker, in which a man plays his last relationship out in his head after she’s moved on, is the album’s best single because it gets everything right – vocal, lyric, and production. It is also Stone’s most played (and remembered) recurrent single and the only one from this record that’s aged gracefully. It’s one of my favorite things Stone has ever done.

“Leave The Radio” exemplifies one of country music’s worst trends from the era, the clichéd breakup song with a woman packing her suitcase, leaving her man, etc. This variation has him begging her to leave him the radio. It’s nothing more then a horrid piece of embarrassing filler. “Left, Leaving, Going, or Gone” boasts a better execution, but is still as tired as “Leave The Radio” thematically. “She’s Got A Future In The Movies” (another Burr and Shaw co-write) is one of those novelty songs you hear once and like, but it grows grating on repeated listenings.  Meanwhile, “Working End of a Hoe,” an ode to farming cotton fields, has a nicely restrained production that works well. The chugging beat, laced with harmonica, works nicely with Stone’s twangy vocal.

Thankfully the remaining ballads are of a much higher quality. Stone co-wrote neo-traditional weeper “This Empty House” and brings palpable pain to his vocal performance. This would’ve been a home run if the steel had been more pronounced and heavier while Stone’s vocal is a bit too quiet.

The most outstanding and easily the strongest of the album cuts is Bucky Jones, Red Lane, and Royce Porter’s “Ain’t Your Memory Got No Pride At All.” The neo-traditional production is fabulous and Stone delivers one of the project’s strongest vocals. This should’ve been the single in place of “Made for Loving You,” and I bet it would’ve done really well.

There’s nothing wrong with an album that ties itself this closely to mainstream trends per se, but you wouldn’t know that from listening to From The Heart. Stone and Johnson highlight the worst of commercial country, forgoing any attempts to create a project with a long shelf life. Considering his contemporaries released everything from Hearts In Armor (Trisha Yearwood), I Still Believe In You (Vince Gill), The Chase (Garth Brooks), and A Lot About Livin’ (and A Little ‘Bout Love) (Alan Jackson) that same year, this is as mailed in as efforts get.

Grade: B- 

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Ocean Front Property’

Ocean Front PropertyStrait was on a serious hot streak in 1987 when he released Ocean Front Property, his seventh studio album, co-produced with Jimmy Bowen again. Each of the three singles from the album went to #1, starting with the title track, and the album itself was the first album ever to debut at the top of the Billboard Country Album charts. At present, it is the only one of his 80s releases to have achieved double platinum status.

That title track, written by Dean Dillon, Hank Cochran and Royce Porter, has become one of George’s classics, with its ironic lyric telling his ex that he’s over her, and barely concealed subtext that only an idiot could believe that:

“I don’t love you, and now if you’ll buy that
I’ve got some ocean front property in Arizona
From my front porch you can see the sea …
If you buy that, I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free”

Dean Dillon contributed two further songs, the solo composition ‘I’m All Behind You Now’, a resigned post-breakup number which closes the album in sightly downbeat mood, and the sweetly melancholic ‘Without You Here’, where he teamed up again with Royce Porter to produce the tale of a wife who can’t enjoy herself on a Caribbean cruise because her husband isn’t with her:

“There’s just no fun in the sun to be had
Without you here
It’s no place to be
This dream vacation is a bad situation
I’m in misery
In a sea of tears
Without you here”

It’s not altogether clear why they’re not vacationing together, but one assumes business kept him at home.  There is a happy ending, as he misses her too, and ends up flying out to join her. The song’s phrasing is very characteristic of Dillon’s work, and the song has faint but subtle Caribbean tinges to the production which do not stop it from sounding country.

The second single was another all-time Strait classic, the amusing western swing ‘All My Exes Live In Texas’, written by the great Sanger D Shafer. He had written ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’ with his third wife Darlene, and he wrote this one with his fourth wife Lyndia. On one level this might be dismissed as little more than a novelty song, as the narrator reels off a list of the exes after his blood resulting in him escaping to Tennessee, but George’s laidback ironic delivery carries the track.

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘#7’

georgestraitno7Despite its title, #7 was George Strait’s sixth studio album for MCA and his third collaboration with co-producer Jimmy Bowen. It was his seventh album overall, if 1985’s Greatest Hits compilation is taken into account. Released in May 1986, it continues where the previous year’s Something Special left off, allowing Strait to further examine his Texas music roots. The album relies heavily on Western swing and Texas shuffles, along with a few more contemporary numbers intended to be released to radio as singles.

It has never been a secret that George Strait is a huge Bob Wills fan. The album opens with his rendition of the Wills classic “Deep Water”. Like most Bob Wills tunes, it was intended to be a dance song, and as such, the lyrics are of secondary importance and are somewhat superficial. What it lacks in lyrical depth, however, it makes up for with an incredibly satisfying melody and Strait’s vocal performance is flawless, as is the fiddle playing of Johnny Gimble. Considered one of the greatest fiddle players in the history of country music, and an alumnus of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, Gimble plays both the fiddle and mandolin throughout the album.

#7 generated two more #1 singles for Strait — “Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her” and “It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You”. Both were from the pen of Dean Dillon, with Royce Porter sharing co-writer duties on the latter. They have gone on to become classics and both are on my short list of favorite George Strait hits. It was about this time that he developed his trademark, seemingly effortless crooning style, and truly began to blossom as an artist.

The truck-driving tune “Rhythm of the Road” allows for a brief change of pace before the album reverts back to a more laid-back style with the Western swing number “You Still Get to Me” and two Texas shuffle numbers — “Stranger Things Have Happened” and “Why’d You Go and Break My Heart”. “I’m Never Gonna Let You Go” is a more contemporary tune that probably would have done well as a single. It’s interesting that MCA chose to overlook it, releasing only the two aforementioned Dillon compositions to radio. Strait pays further homage to his Texas roots with the closing song, a remake of Tex Ritter’s “Cow Town”.

The one flaw of this album is that at 27 minutes and six seconds in length, it is too short. This is a forgivable shortcoming, however, because the quality of the songs more than compensates for the brevity of the collection. This is one of those rare albums that contains no filler, and for the most part doesn’t appear to have been recorded with the intention of racking up a lot of radio hits. This seems to be an album that Strait recorded to have fun, with a couple of radio-ready tracks thrown in almost as an afterthought.

#7 became Strait’s fifth album to attain gold status, eventually earning platinum certification. However, Strait’s continued commercial success in what should have been a banner year for him, was overshadowed by the tragic death of his 13-year-old daughter Jenifer in a car accident about a month after the album was released. The always private Strait never spoke publicly of the tragedy, except to dedicate his 1986 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year trophy to Jenifer’s memory.

An overlooked gem in the vast Strait catalog, #7 is readily available in both CD and digital formats from Amazon . It is well worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘What Do I Do With Me’

TanyaTuckerWhatDoIDowithMeHad she chosen to retire from the music business around 1990, Tanya Tucker could have done so knowing that she’d secured her musical legacy. By then she had been a presence on the country charts for nearly two decades, had released 20 studio albums, and secured 30 top 10 hits, including ten #1’s. She was also the “last woman standing”, the only artist who had been having top 10 hits in the early 70s to still be regularly reaching the top of the charts. No one was surprised that her winning streak still continued, but few realized at the time that Tucker had not yet reached her commercial or artistic peak.

Released in July 1991, What Do I Do With Me is the jewel in Tucker’s musical crown. It follows the same formula as its predecessor, Tennessee Woman , combining radio-friendly, pop-infused uptempo songs with tender, heartfelt ballads. However, this time around the song selection was stronger and that is what makes What Do I Do With Me Tanya Tucker’s masterpiece.

For the lead single, Tucker again turned to her old friend Paul Davis, who wrote the sassy, harmonica-driven “Down To My Last Teardrop”, in which the long-suffering protagonist tells her unfaithful partner that he’s drained her of every last drop of emotion. Tucker took this tune all the the way to #2 in the early summer of 1991.

The next single was the title track. Beautifully written by Royce Porter, L. David Lewis, and David Chamberlain, it tells the story of a woman wondering aloud how she will occupy the free time she suddenly has in the aftermath of a break-up. This is the type of ballad at which Tucker excels. Every line is filled with emotion, yet her performance is restrained and never over-the-top. Like its predecessor, “(Without You) What Do I Do With Me”, just missed the top spot on Billboard’s country singles chart, peaking at #2. This is the kind of song that has been missing in action from country radio in recent years, having fallen from favor in lieu of happier, empowerment anthems.

“Some Kind Of Trouble”, a more blues-infused number, didn’t chart quite as high, peaking at #3. Written by Mike Reid, Brent Maher and Don Potter, this song is more beat-driven than the previous singles, but the lyrics are still quite strong. I suspect that it was probably written with The Judds in mind, given the Maher and Potter connection, and would have likely been recorded by that duo had they still been active.

The fourth and final single, “If Your Heart Ain’t Busy Tonight” is a more light-hearted number written by Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters, that peaked at #4.

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Album Review: Keith Whitley — ‘L.A. to Miami’

latomiamiAfter the commercial failure of his RCA debut mini-album, Keith Whitley changed directions somewhat, moving away from traditional country and more towards a more contemporary (i.e., commercial) sound. The result was 1985’s L.A. to Miami, produced by Blake Mevis, who had produced some of George Strait’s early work. At that time, country radio was still more receptive to more pop-oriented music; the neotraditionalist movement was not yet quite in full swing. That would change about a year later when Randy Travis burst onto the scene. Ironically, one of the songs that propelled Travis to stardom — “On The Other Hand” — had been previously recorded by Whitley, and is included in this collection. At first it seems like the perfect match between singer and song, but Whitley’s version pales in comparison to Travis’. This is one of the very few examples in which Whitley seemed to be phoning in his performance.

Another song to file under “Ones That Got Away” is the Dean Dillon composition “Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her”, which would go on to become a #1 hit for George Strait the following year. Whitley’s version was never released as a single. His vocal performance is stellar, and this version could have been a hit had RCA released to radio before MCA beat them to the punch with Strait’s recording.

It must have been extremely frustrating for the struggling artist to watch two songs from his album become #1 hits for other artists, particularly when the first single from the album, “I’ve Got The Heart For You” performed about as well as Whitley’s previous singles, peaking at #57. Whitley’s fortune would change, however, with the next single release “Miami, My Amy”, which was written by Dean Dillon, the legendary Hank Cochran, and Royce Porter. With this typical mid-80s country-pop record, Whitley cracked the top 20 for the first time. “Miami, My Amy” climbed to #14. The remaining singles, “Ten Feet Away”, “Homecoming ’63” and the somewhat autobiographical (though not penned by Whitley himself) “Hard Livin'” all reached the top 10.

My favorite track on the album is “That Stuff”, written by Sonny Curtis and Ron Hellard. This track is less pop-oriented and is a bit closer to the type of music Whitley would go on to record in the future.

The change in musical direction paid off from a commercial standpoint; L.A. to Miami reached #26 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. But artistically it is a mixed bag. Too many of the songs are marred by slick, heavy-handed 80’s production, complete with saxophone and electronic keyboards, and there is no escaping the fact that Whitley’s voice was better suited for more traditional material. Keith himself had mixed feelings about this album; he and Mevis teamed up to record another album in the same vein, but upon its completion, Keith asked RCA to shelve the album and allow him to do more traditional material.

Twenty-four years after its release, L.A. to Miami is not a bad album — there is no such thing as a bad Keith Whitley album — but it sounds very dated to twenty-first century ears. It is interesting primarily because it shows Whitley’s progression as an artist; it’s definitely not his best work and not the place to start a collection of Keith’s music. In fact, if there’s one album in the Whitley catalog to be skipped over, this is it.

Grade: B-

Watch a live performance of “Miami, My Amy”: