My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Russell Smith

Abum Review: Forester Sisters – ‘Sincerely’

Sincerely was the Forester Sisters’ fifth studio album for Warner Brothers, although it should be noted that the fourth album was a Christmas album. Released in July 1988, Sincerely continued the downward trend of charting lower than each previous (non Christmas) album, reaching only #30 on the charts. Three singles were released from the album, each reaching the top ten but none getting any higher than #7.

The album opens up with “I’ve Just Seen A Face” which was written by Paul McCartney & John Lennon an album track for the British version of the Beatles Help! album. The song has been covered and performed by many country and bluegrass groups over the years and Calamity Jane released it as a low charting single (#44 in 1982). The Forester Sisters give the song a slow intro but then launch into the standard tempo for the song. It’s nice but nothing special.

Byron Gallimore and Don Pfrimmer wrote the next song, “I Will”, a slow ballad that was released as the third (and highest charting) single from the album, reaching #7. It’s a nice song:

Nothing grows in the driest places,
the bitter cold,
or children’s faces,
like love will,
love will…

Nothing can be everlasting
or send an iron curtain crashing
like love will,
love will…

“Letter Home” is up next and was the first single from the album. It only reached #9 but in my opinion this Wendy Waldman composition was the best song on the album

Dear mama, I hope that you’re alright
I can hear the thunder rollin’
Across the Southern sky tonight
The kids are asleep and the T.V.’s on
And I’m sittin’ here alone
So I thought I’d write this letter home

I was the one you were counting on
The family’s high school star
Jimmy and me ran off that summer
Must have broken your and daddy’s heart
We didn’t need nobody’s help
We were 18 years and grown
That’s why there was no letter home

Letters home I wrote them in my dreams
Askin’ if I know what I know now
Would it even have changed a thing
The hardest part of looking back
Is the mistakes are all your own
I just couldn’t tell you
So there was no letter home

Doug Stone would have a #5 hit in 1990 on Harlan Howard’s “These Lips Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye”. The Foresters do a pleasant enough job on the song, but it seems more effective from a male perspective. Stone’s version was deservedly a hit, this version is nothing more than album filler.

Next up is the title track “Sincerely”. This song, written by Harvey Fuqua and Alan Freed, was originally recorded by Moonglows, the group of which Fuqua was a member. The Moonglows’ version reached number 1 on the Billboard R&B chart and number 20 on the Billboard Juke Box chart in the early months of 1954. Later during the year the song was covered by the McGuire Sisters. The song reached #1 in 1955 and sold well over a million records. The Forester Sisters version of “Sincerely” is pretty, albeit over-orchestrated and a bit bland. The song reached #8 and was the second single released from the album.

The next track “Things Will Grow” is filler. “Some People”, written by Carol Chase and Dave Gibson, speaks a lot of truth and is perhaps more than simply filler – I can envision a string voiced singer making a hit out of the song.

Russell Smith and Susan Longacre combined to write “On The Other Side Of The Gate”, a song given a more hard country treatment than most of the songs on the album, with steel in evidence and fiddle breaks. I really liked this song.

“You Love Me” from the pens of Matraca Berg and Ronnie Samoset is a really interesting song with a different feel than anything else on the album. At points the arrangement reminds me of John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind” although the lyrics are entirely dissimilar

The last song on the album is Karen Staley’s “Matter Of Time”, a slow ballad about loss of love and the slow passage of time.

The Forester Sisters were bucking the emerging “New Traditionalist” movement with this album. While I like the album a lot, it has more of a 50s-60s easy listening vibe to it than a modern/traditional country vibe. As a easy listening album I would give it an “A” but as a country album I would downgrade it to a “B”.

Advertisements

Album Review: Lee Greenwood – ‘Love’s On The Way’

Released in late 1992, Love’s On The Way was the third album released on the Liberty label and his thirteenth major label studio album. Unfortunately it also signaled the end of Lee Greenwood as a viable chart artist. While the immediate prior release of patriotic songs, American Patriot, had sold platinum in the wake of the cowardly attacks of 9/11/01 and temporarily brought the fading Greenwood back into prominence, this more conventional album again failed to chart. The two singles released from the album made almost no impact – “Before I’m Ever Over You” made the slightest dent on the singles charts reaching #73 and the other single released, “I Never Thought Your Memory Would Ever Go This Far” failed to chart at all despite getting a favorable review in Billboard: “Perhaps country’s Phil Collins, Greenwood has a ballad to brag about. Slow and dreamy instrumentation sets the mood for Greenwood’s pristine performance.”

Of course, by the time this album was released, Greenwood had already turned fifty years old, and was rather long in the tooth for the youth-oriented playlists of the early 1990s. My copy of this album is on an audio cassette so I do not have the songwriter or production credits, although I was able to find the session personnel through other sources.

The album opens up with “Before I’m Ever Over You”, a mid-tempo rocker written by Sandy Ramos and Jerry Van Diver. This is followed by the tender ballads “In Other Words” and “Final Touches”
“Linda Lu” would have made an interesting single. The song was originally an R&B hit in 1959 for Ray Sharpe. Sharpe was sometimes described as the ‘the greatest white-sounding black dude ever’ and the song got some rockabilly airplay as well as R&B.

This is followed by “I Never Thought Your Memory Would Ever Go This Far” (discussed above).

“I Miss The Romance” is a decent nostalgic slow ballad. This is followed by the mid-tempo “Soldier Of Love” and another slow ballad in “Waiting On The Tables To Turn”. All three of these are what I would describe as album filler, albeit of decent quality.

On the other hand “She Wants To Be Wanted Again” is a good song that I can see being a hit had it occurred during Lee’s peak years or had it made its way to Kenny Rogers.

The album closes with the title track “Love’s On The Way”, given a very soulful treatment by Greenwood. This sounds like some something that T. Graham Brown or Con Hunley would have tackled successfully.

This album has a slightly more country sound than does some of his earlier albums; however, the early 1990s were the peak period for the “New Traditionalists” movement. Included among the musicians are such country stalwarts as Don Potter (acoustic guitar); Mark Casstevens (acoustic guitar, mandolin); Steve Gibson (electric guitar); Weldon Myrick & Dan Dugmore (steel guitar); Rob Hajacos (fiddle); Brent Rowan (dobro, electric guitar, bass); Matt Rollings (piano); David Briggs (piano, synthesizer); Mike Lawler (synthesizer, organ); David Hungate, Michael Rhodes (bass); Paul Leim, Eddie Byers (drums); Ron “Snake” Reynolds (percussion); and Andrea Zonn, Greg Gordon, Donna McElroy, Russell Smith, Curtis Young, Carol Chase, Cindy Richardson, Karen Staley, J.D. Martin, Russell Smith (background vocals). Even so this is more of a ‘blue-eyed soul’ album than the market was buying at the time plus, of course, Lee was already well into middle age.

I didn’t dislike any of the songs, but I didn’t really love any of them either. I would give this album a C+ or B-.

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘New Moves’

Don’s last studio album for MCA, Café Carolina, was released in 1984, although the label continued t package compilations of his work for them for some years. He was still a consistent hit maker, but the label was keen to introduce new stars, and Don may have felt less well promoted than he had done previously, and in 1985 he signed a deal with Capitol Records. The first album for Capitol, released in January 1986, was appropriately entitled New Moves, although there were no significant changes in his music – he even retained an existing co-production partnership with Garth Fundis from his last MCA album. Half the album’s tracks ended up being promoted as singles, and all reached the top 10, proving that there was still a place for Don Williams at the top even as the younger neotraditionalists were sweeping other older artists aside.

The lead single, the Dave Loggins-penned ‘We’ve Got A Good Fire Goin’’, is a very nice love song about the comforts of a settled relationship, with a subtle arrangement, although there are unnecessary and slightly intrusive choir-style backing vocals in the second half of the song. It peaked at #3. The album’s biggest hit, the mid-paced ‘Heartbeat In The Darkness’ (another Loggins song, this time co-written with Russell Smith) was Don’s last ever chart topper, but has not worn very well, with production which now sounds a little dated, although the song itself is pleasant enough.

The pace lifts still further with the lively ‘Then It’s Love’, which peaked at #3. It was written by Dennis Linde, best known for writing Elvis’s ‘Burning Love’, and has a saxophone-dominated arrangement with Don trying out a bit of an Elvis impression at the end, which is quite fun and not typical of Williams’ usual music.

The mainly spoken story song ‘Senorita’, written by Hank De Vito and Danny Flowers, performed less well, but was still a top 10 hit. I found it rather boring. The final single, ‘I’ll Never Be In Love Again’ (written by Bob Corbin) reached #4. To my ears it is the best of the singles, a classic Don Williams gentle ballad about surviving (more or less) the loss of love, with a delicate accompaniment featuring flute and harmonica. Lovely.

A number of artists have recorded Bob McDill’s ‘Shot Full Of Love’ ranging from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (my favorite take) to Billy Ray Cyrus, but I don’t think it’s ever been the hit it deserves to be. It’s a very good song, but the lyric, about an outlaw type who has broken a lot of hearts in his time but is unexpectedly felled by love, doesn’t really fit Don’s good guy persona or smooth voice. It still makes pleasant listening, but is not entirely convincing. (The McCarters’ beautiful sounding version ha few years later had the same flaw.) Another McDill tune, ‘We Got Love’, is a pleasant love song but not very memorable.

‘Send Her Roses’, written by Pat McLaughlin, who plays mandolin on the track, is a perky number about abandoning a travelling life (with several allusions to other songs) for a settled home with the protagonist’s wife. It is highly enjoyable.

Don’s own ‘The Light In Your Eyes’ is a pretty romantic piano-led ballad, which is very nice indeed. The mid paced ‘It’s About Time’, another love song, is also pretty good.

Grade: B+

The album has been packaged with Don’s other Capitol album Traces on a 2-4-1 CD.

Album Review: Highway 101 – ‘Highway 101 2’

highway 101 2The title of Highway 101’s sophomore album is not, as you might think, the number 2. Rather, it is the symbol for squared. Pretentious title aside, the material isn’t quite as consistently strong as on their debut album, but it is still a very rewarding record, and helped to maintain them as one of the top country groups of the late 80s.

The exuberant lead single, ‘(Do You Love Me) Just Say Yes’, was the band’s third #1 hit. It was written by Bob DiPiero, John Scott Sherrill and Dennis Robbins.

It was followed by my favourite track on the album, the sweetly sung, regretful ballad ‘All The Reasons Why’, which reached #5. Written by Paulette Carlson with Beth Nielsen Chapman, its guilty protagonist has just broken up with her unfortunate spouse, who can’t understand why:

You’ve asked what you’ve done wrong,
And if there’s someone new
What has changed my heart
And what else can you do
Oh darlin’ can’t you see
It’s not so cut and dried
And who knows where love goes
And all the reasons why

She wants to stay friends, but it’s hard to see that happening.

There was a change of pace for the third single, the urgent ‘Setting Me Up. This was a cover of an album cut by the British rock band Dire Straits, written by that band’s Mark Knopfler. Apparently he was unaware that his publisher had some country demos recorded of his songs, resulting in this and other cuts, but he did have some country influences – in 1989-90 his main project was a country-rock-blues band called the Notting Hillbillies, which also featured steel guitar legend Paul Franklin, and he later made an album and toured with Emmylou Harris. This song isn’t particularly country in its rhythmic structure, but was another to 10 hit, and allowed more of a band feel than usual, with some superb playing by the guys and a share of the vocals.

The last single, another top 10 tune, was the excellent ‘Honky Tonk Heart’, written by Jim Photoglo and Russell Smith. It is a rather upbeat breakup song in which the protagonist has grown up since meeting her ex in a bar, and now wants more to life:

The night life isn’t my life anymore
What matters most to me is a home and family
But you can’t find that behind those swingin’ doors…

I won’t play second fiddle to the beat of your honky tonk heart
Go on back to the bar where I found you
Go on back to your so-called second home
You’ll feel better with your good-time friends around you
And I’ll be here but I won’t be alone

Photoglo also co-wrote (with Wendy Waldman and Josh Leo) the solid mid-tempo ‘Road To Your Heart’.

‘Somewhere Between Gone And Goodbye’ is an excellent song written by Matraca Berg and Ronnie Samoset’, given a sparse production and great harmonies. An anxious woman lies awake wondering when her man is coming home:

How many nights must I lay me down and wonder
Will I wake up tomorrow without you by my side?
I’m feeling worn and thin as the sheets that I lay under
Lying somewhere between gone and goodbye

Late night headlights out in the driveway
Drivin’ me crazy again
No need to sneak in
I wasn’t really sleepin’
No need to tell me
I know where you’ve been

It feels like the prequel to ‘Honky Tonk Heart’, and would have made another good single.

A vibrant and authentic sounding cover of Buck Owens’ ‘There Goes My Heart’ reminds us of the band’s California roots. ‘Feed This Fire’ is an earnest love song written by Hugh Prestwood about the need to work at keeping the romance going; it was subsequently a hit single for Anne Murray. Paulette fights temptation she knows has no good ending in ‘Desperate Road’.

Finally, Beth Nielsen Chapman’s ‘Long Way Down’ is a strong story song about a young woman musician who has fought her way to stardom from tough beginnings, but can’t rest on her laurels.

While the album lacks the classics of their debut, this is a very strong follow up with no weak songs.

Grade: A

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: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘Love and Honor’

Love_and_Honor_(Ricky_Van_Shelton_album_-_cover_art)Twenty years ago, Ricky Van Shelton was in a period of transition. His seventh album of original material, Love and Honor was his first without longtime producer Steve Buckingham. It also marked his final project for Columbia Nashville, his label home for seven years, and stands as his most recent album to place on Billboard’s Country Album’s Chart.

By now, Shelton’s mainstream popularity had begun to fade. He hadn’t scored a number one hit in three years, and while he scored big with a soundtrack single in 1992, he was a regular fixture just inside the top 30. As per usual mainstream trends had changed, moving away from the neo-traditional sounds that dominated in the early part of the decade and replacing them with a contemporary sound mixing numbers primed for line dancing along with lush balladry and pop-influenced compositions.

So Buckingham was swapped out for Blake Chancey and Paul Worley, who placed him squarely within that sound. “Wherever She Is,” the first single, was a slice of rock-influenced country not unlike the type of material Lee Roy Parnell was known for at the time. The efforts in modernization didn’t pay off and the James House/John Jarrard written tune stalled at #49.

Radio didn’t bite on the second and final single either. The Dennis Linde-penned “Lola’s Love” suffered because it wasn’t a commercial country recording at all with its Elvis-like rockabilly beat. The track itself is rather enjoyable and Shelton commits fully with his energetic vocal.

As is his trademark, Shelton includes a couple of nods to the genre’s past. “Thanks A Lot” is his version of the Ernest Tubb classic. Shelton speeds up the melody, and while the production doesn’t allow his vocal to truly shine, he gives the lyric a fine reading. “Love and Honor,” a cover of the early 1970s Merle Haggard song, doesn’t make a single concession and is therefore excellent. The traditional-minded arrangement is glorious, with ample steel and fiddle to frame Shelton’s pitch-perfect vocal. Originally recorded by George Jones and Vern Gosdin, “Where The Tall Grass Grows” is a simple story song with a slight list-like feel that doesn’t appeal to me lyrically but has a nice steel laced production.

Jarrard also contributed “Been There, Done That” a typical for the period honky-tonk number that served as filler. Larry Boone, who worked with the likes of Don Williams and Tracy Lawrence, wrote “Then for Them” a somewhat cheesy ballad that would’ve been better suited for an artist looking to launch their career, and likely would’ve been a big hit. Shelton handles the song very well although the generic production pulls him down quite a bit.

Deryl Dodd, who would release his debut album two years later, co-wrote “I Thought I’d Heard It All,” a traditional leaning ballad that would’ve been a standout album track on an Alan Jackson album, but comes off middle of the road in Shelton’s hands. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but Jackson would’ve given the lyric far more passion. Russell Smith, who penned Shelton’s “Keep It Between The Lines,” shows up here with “Baby, Take A Picture,” a fiddle-heavy line-dance number. The brisk tune is excellent even if Chancey and Worley didn’t account for the passing of time.

“Complicated” is a Bill LaBounty rocker in line with the type of track Shelton excels in selling wonderfully. The harmonica heavy production and Shelton’s vocal are perfect, but the lyric underwhelms and feels filler-y. “Love Without You” is a beautiful sentiment that Shelton, along with the heaping fiddle and steel, conveys excellently.

Love and Honor was an above average album for its time and sounds mostly pleasing today with the fiddle and steel that abound on almost every track. It’s surprising how Columbia Nashville chose the radio offerings, as there were far more radio-friendly numbers than the ones chosen. But with Shelton’s weaning popularity, he probably wouldn’t have been able to regain his footing anyways. On the whole, Love and Honor is a very good collection of songs and worth a listen even just for the nostalgia trip of reminding yourself how far country music has eroded in such a short amount of time.

Grade: B

Album Review: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Partners, Brothers And Friends’

partners brothers and friendsBy 1985 the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were confident in their mainstream country/country-rock style, and released the excellent Partners, Brothers And Friends, a fine collection of mainly up-tempo, mainly positive songs which shows the band at their best.

The lead single, ‘Modern Day Romance’ was their second country chart topper. It is an early Kix Brooks songwriting credit (alongside Dan Tyler), and is a solidly enjoyable story song about a roadside pickup which turns into a wild weekend and a broken heart when the girl leaves him stranded:

I tried to love her without any strings
But a modern day romance has left me some old fashioned pain

The wistfully nostalgic ‘Home Again in My Heart’ then hit #3, with the banjo most prominent in the mix helping to give it a rustic feel. The charming ‘Old Upright Piano’ (written by Don Schlitz and Rhonda Kye Fleming) also looks back fondly to childhood memories of the narrator’s grandparents, and allows Bob Carpenter to shine on the piano.

There is a similar mood to Jimmy Ibbotson’s song ‘Telluride’ (not the song of that name later recorded by Tim McGraw but a cover of a song Ibbotson had written in the 1970s. Its poetically folky lyrics about a 19th century gold miner and his love for his wife are counterpointed by a more contemporary arrangement.

The autobiographical title track (written by Jimmy Ibbotson and Jeff Hanna) peaked at #6, but is one of my favourites of their records as it cheerfully chronicles the ups and downs of their career.

There are a number of enjoyable upbeat numbers, any of which would have been possible singles. The exuberant ‘Redneck Riviera’ (witten by Jeff Hanna and Bob Carpenter) is an early version of the country beach song, but it’s quite entertaining and rooted in real life. Hanna, Ibbotson and Steve Goodman wrote the catchy ‘Queen Of The Road’, a joyful tribute to a tough girl biker. The breezy cowboy song ‘Other Side of The Hill’ (sometimes also known as ‘Cadillac Cowboy’ and recorded by a number of other artists) is another enjoyable cut.

Slowing things down for a moment, ‘As Long As You’re Loving Me’ is a love song with a pretty melody written by Don Schlitz, Lisa Silver and Russell Smith.

They close up with the dramatic saga of ‘Leon McDuff’, a farmer who loses his riverside farm to floods, an unhelpful bank and an unscrupulous tax official who grabs his land for his own benefit. The song is structured as the defence lawyer’s speech at his trial for murdering the sheriff sent to evict Leon and his family:

I’m asking you to be the judge of when enough is enough

The band’s instrumental playing on this track is spectacular.

This album sees the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at their best. It is strongly recommended (and can be found as part of a 2-4-1 CD with its predecessor.

Grade: A

Album Review: Pam Tillis – ‘Homeward Looking Angel’

homeward looking angelPam’s second Arista album, released in 1992, was tastefully produced like its predecessor by Paul Worley and Ed Seay. Although the material was not quite as strong, there was enough to keep her momentum going, and in fact it was more successful commercially than its predecessor.

The first single ‘Shake The Sugar Tree’, written by Chapin Hartford reached #3. A pretty melody, tasteful arrangement, Pam’s confident lead vocal and banked harmonies from Stephanie Bentley (who later had a duet hit with Ty Herndon) apparently lifted from her demo of the song all contribute to making this a very attractive recording of a good song with an assertive attitude as the protagonist gives her neglectful man a warning.

The wistful story song ‘Let That Pony Run’ (about a suburban housewife who finds a new life after her husband leaves her), written by Gretchen Peters, is one of the standout tracks. It is the kind of mature, thoughtful lyric which would get no traction on today’s radio but in 1993 it reached #4. An exquisite vocal is backed up by backing vocals from Pam Rose and Mary Ann Kennedy.

The playful irony of ‘Cleopatra Queen Of Denial’, written by Pam, her then-husband Bob DiPiero, and Jan Buckingham, peaked just outside the top 10 (at #11).

By far my favourite track is the very traditional ‘Do You Know Where Your Man Is’ (written by Dave Gibson, Russell Smith and Carol Chase), which was another top 20 single. The pensive ballad asks a married woman about the state of her marriage

Did you kiss him when he left this morning
And does he know that he’s needed at home?
Well, if you don’t feel that old thrill
Then somebody else will
And there’s some mighty good women all alone

It’s ten o’clock
Do you know where your man is
And are you sure that he’s doing you right?
Are you still in his heart
When he’s out of your sight?
Do you know where your man is tonight?

It was previously recorded by Barbara Mandrell, whose version is also very fine, but Pam’s just edges it for me. Her beautifully judged vocal is backed by a lovely traditional arrangement with prominent steel guitar.

Opening track ‘How Gone Is Goodbye’ is one of a brace of songs written by Pam with Bob DiPiero. It is a very good song which could easily have been another hit single, with a ballsy (and surprisingly upbeat) delivery and mature lyric with a woman regretting walking out and wondering if she can backtrack.

The excellent ballad ‘We’ve Tried Everything Else’ (written by Pam and Bob with Steve Seskin)might be the same couple a little further down the line, as the protagonist suggests to her ex that getting back together would be the best solution, since new lovers have failed to help them move on:

Neither one of us is feeling any better
All we’ve been doing is fooling ourselves
Baby, you and me were meant to be together
Let’s try love again
We’ve tried everything else

The title track offers a portrait of a young woman who is returning home as the prodigal daughter but who hasn’t given up on her dreams:

Her party dress is tattered but her vision is inspired…

There’s a road ahead and the road behind
All roads lead to home this time

A couple of tracks are less interesting. ‘Love Is Only Human’ is an AC-leaning duet with Diamond Rio’s Marty Roe which is a bit bland, although it is beautifully sung; I would have loved to hear this pairing on a more dynamic song. ‘Rough And Tumble Heart’ was previously recorded in a very similar arrangement by female-led 80s group Highway 101, so Pam’s version, while perfectly listenable, seems redundant, even though she wrote it (with DiPiero and Sam Hogin). ‘Fine, Fine, Very Fine Love’ is just plain boring and Pam’s vocal verges on the screechy.

Although I don’t like this album quite as much as Put Yourself In My Place, it actually sold better, becoming Pam’s first platinum certification. It is a solid and very varied collection with some excellent songs. Used copies can be obtained cheaply, and it’s well worth picking up.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: The Amazing Rhythm Aces – ‘Third Rate Romance’

The original version of one of Sammy Kershaw’s 90s hits:

Album Review: Sammy Kershaw – ‘Feelin’ Good Train’

Sammy’s third album for Mercury/Polygram was released in 1994, and was produced as before by the team of Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson.  The first single, ‘National Working Woman’s Holiday  proved to be Sammy’s biggest hit since She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful, just missing the top spot with a #2 peak.  It was co-written from the usually estimable Roger Murrah, but while it is catchy, this well-meaning tribute to a man’s hard working wife comes across as pandering.

A cover of the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ 1970s hit ‘Third Rate Romance’, which is much better, also reached #2.  The closely observed lyric is on the surface unjudgmental, but sharply honest and precise about the sleazy nature of the situation.  The original singer and the song’s writer, Russell Smith, contributes backing vocals.

Mac McAnally’s gently atmospheric but slightly overproduced ‘Southbound’) with McAnally on backing vocals) was perhaps too subtle for country radio, and showed the first signs of a commercial slowdown for the artist, not getting far into the top 30.  ‘If You’re Gonna Walk, I’m Gonna Crawl’ did a little better, and was a top 20 hit.  It’s actually my favourite of the album’s singles, an entertaining upbeat number about a honky tonker seeing the error of his ways only when his wife is set to walk away.  It was written by co-producer Cannon with Larry Bastian.

There is a rare writing credit for Sammy on the joyous Cajun rocker ‘Better Call A Preacher’, which features Jo-El Sonnier’s accordion. I’m surprised this irresistible track wasn’t a single.  Another joy is ‘Never Bit A Bullet Like This’, a playfully performed duet with George Jones.  Also quite entertaining is ‘Paradise From Nine To One’, a cheerful if rather generic up-tempo number about a couple painting the town red.  The title track, however, is just pointless

Breakup song ‘If You Ever Come This Way Again’ is a Dean Dillon co-write (with Donny Kees).  The phrasing and melody bear all the hallmarks of a Dillon composition, while the production utilizes adelicate string arrangement to add sweetness to the melancholy mood. This is an excellent, subtle song about the complicated emotions felt by the protagonist facing separation from someone for whom we feel he has stronger feelings than he actually admits.

Also excellent is the delicately mournful ballad ‘The Heart That Time Forgot’, written by Tony Martin and Sterling Whipple, about failing to get past the memory of a lost love.  The soulful ‘Too Far Gone To Leave’ is an emotional ballad which isn’t bad, but has an obtrusive string arrangement which drowns the vocal at times.

It did not sell quite as well as its predecessors, but was certified gold.  While not Sammy Kershaw’s best work, it is a pretty solid effort, and used copies are available so cheaply it’s worth picking up.

Grade: B+

Single Review: Randy Travis – ‘Look Heart, No Hands’

Released as a single from Greatest Hits Volume 2 in 1992, “Look Heart, No Hands” continued Travis’s reign at the top of the country charts. The ballad about jumping in to a relationship without reservations is a straightforward love song where vocals, lyrics, and production values work together to create a memorable moment in his career.

What always strikes me is the whimsical vibe of this record. It still sounds fresh almost 20 years later, and has an easy-going flow extenuated by Travis’s relaxed vocal performance. He seems very comfortable here, displaying the confidence of a seasoned hit maker who isn’t about to rest on his laurels.

The understated production also suits the song well. The hints of dobro and steel guitar keep the song traditional yet modern, and keep the focus on the story, not the music, which acts as a complement opposed to a driving force.

And because of that, the lyrics have to be well written to stand as the focus of the track. And the words, written by Trey Bruce and Russell Smith, hold up. The chorus, which can easily stand on its own, begins to make an imprint on your brain after just a few listens and you can’t help but remember it. This is the kind of song that makes a good impression on the listener.

While not a classic Randy Travis hit, “Look Heart, No Hands” is worthy of standing proud next to the likes of “On The Other Hand” and “Forever, and Ever, Amen.” It’s just as good, but never had the lasting power of his two signature tunes, which is a shame. This was released in a time when country music still held onto a sense of tradition and hadn’t yet exploded into an over-commercialized breeding ground for pseudo-rockers.

Grade: A –

Album Review: John Anderson – ‘Blue Skies Again’

Blue Skies AgainAfter the monster hit that was ‘Swinging’ the only way was down for John Anderson. He continued to incorporate pop and rock influences in his music for few years after All The People Are Talking, with diminishing returns both commercially and artistically. He was still hitting the top 10 sporadically, but in 1987 the time came to move on from Warner Brothers and try a new start, with a new label (MCA), new producer (Jimmy Bowen), and new sound (back to country, albeit less hardcore than his earliest work). The appropriately titled Blue Skies Again was the first of John’s comeback attempts.

The leadoff single, ‘When Your Yellow Brick Road Turns Blue’, failed to crack the top 40, although it is an excellent song with a beautiful melody with nods to ‘Over The Rainbow’, and has one of John’s finest vocal performances, as he portrays a husband offering unconditional love to a restless wife in the process of leaving him to pursue her dreams:
“You say that somewhere over the rainbow there’s a star that youve been wishing on
Well, is the grass really all that greener than here where you belong?
I hope that you find what you’re after and all of your dreams come true
But remember that I’ll always be here when your yellow brick road turns blue.”

John’s most successful single on MCA was ‘Somewhere Between Ragged And Right’, a duet with Waylon Jennings which Jennings wrote with Roger Murrah. The only song on the album to venture away from relationship themes, it sets out a series of interesting similes but offers no real resolution:
“We’re all polyester poets and pickers of a kind
With far too many questions for the answers in our minds…
Like a busload of taxi drivers learning how to fly
We’re on automatic pilot driftin’ through our lives.”
Sadly, the pairing of two of the most iconic and distinctive voices in country music doesn’t really work, as the two make no attempt to blend and seem to be fighting for precedence on the lines where they sing together.

The third and last single from the album was ‘It’s Hard To Keep This Ship Together’, which John wrote with Fred Carter Jr. It was the closest track to the more rock-influenced sound of recent years, but failed to make an impact at radio; not altogether surprising, as not only had the tide of commercial country music moved in the direction of the neotraditionalists, but the song itself is not very interesting. The metaphor of stormy weather addressed to a rocky relationship works better in the post-breakup title track, a mournful ballad written by Michael P Heeney with some sweet fiddle from Joe Spivey.

‘There’s Nothing Left For Me To Take For Granted’, written by John with Lionel A Delmore is another gloomy look at the aftermath of a broken relationship, and is a very good song as the protagonist finds all the couple’s old friends want nothing to do with him, and “the hardest part for me is stayin’ sober., and livin’ inthe past with broken dreams”. On a more positive note, John wrote a cheerful mid-tempo love song with his wife Jamie, ‘Just For You’. It is not particularly memorable, but pleasant filler.

Read more of this post