My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Skip Ewing

Classic Rewind: Skip Ewing – ‘I Don’t Have Far To Fall’

Classic Rewind: Skip Ewing – ‘It’s You Again’

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 1

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)“ – Alabama
Alabama made excellent music during the 1980s, although the country content of some of it was suspect. Not this song, which is dominated by fiddle. One of the few up-tempo Alabama records that swings rather than rocks.

I’ve Been Wrong Before” – Deborah Allen
An accomplished songwriter who wrote many hits for others, particularly with Rafe VanHoy, this was one of three top ten tunes for Ms. Allen, reaching #2 in 1984. This is much more country sounding than her other big hit “Baby I Lied”.

Last of The Silver Screen Cowboys” – Rex Allen Jr.
After some success as a pop-country balladeer, Rex Jr. turned increasing to western-themed material as the 1980s rolled along. This was not a big hit, reaching #43 in 1982, but it featured legendary music/film stars Roy Rogers and Rex Allen Sr. on backing vocals.

“Southern Fried” – Bill Anderson
This was Whispering Bill’s first release for Southern Tracks after spending over twenty years recording for Decca/MCA. Bill was no longer a chart force and this song only reached #42 in 1982, but as the chorus notes: “We like Richard Petty, Conway Twitty and the Charlie Daniels Band”.

Indeed we do. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Skip Ewing – ‘A Lighter Shade Of Blue’

Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Full Circle’

This Is Me, the follow-up to Wind In the Wire, revived Randy’s career after that side-project, with four top 10 hits including the chart-topping ‘Whisper My Name’. Surprisingly, though, his next album was a commercial disappointment, with none of the singles doing at all well. Released in August 1996, Full Circle was produced as usual by Kyle Lehning, but the sound is a little fuller than on their previous work together. Randy’s resonant baritone is at its best, and the material is generally high quality.

The first two singles, ‘Are We In Trouble Now’ and ‘Would I’ both faltered in the 20s. The former is a well-written ballad about falling in love which was rather surprisingly written by British rock guitarist Mark Knopfler. (Knofler has had a longstanding interest in country music, and has recorded albums with Emmylou Harris and Chet Atkins.) Randy gives it a sensitive, tender delivery worthy of a much bigger hit. The up-tempo ‘Would I’, on the other hand, is pleasant but forgettable, and frankly makes me think of the songs criticised in Alan Jackson’s ‘Three Minute Positive Not Too Country Uptempo Love Song’ from a few years later.

‘If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another’ is a much more entertaining, personality-infused up-tempo number, co-written by Joe Stampley (best known for his Moe & Joe duets with Moe Bandy), and not picking this as a single feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. It could have made the basis of an amusing video too.

The excellent ‘Price To Pay’ (written by Trey Bruce and Craig Wiseman) was perhaps just a little too downbeat to succeed in a period when pop influences were once more gaining ground on country radio. A cheating song, the remorseful protagonist regrets having ever let it start, when it would have been so much easier to call a halt:

Your heart wasn’t mine to take
Mine wasn’t mine to give
And love wasn’t ours to say
I shoulda let you go when I could
When the memories weren’t so many or so good
And one night was such a small price to pay

It barely charted despite being the best of the three singles, and that signalled the end of Randy’s time with Warner Brothers, at least for a while.

The atmospheric opener ‘Highway Junkie’, written by blue-collar singer-songwriter Chris Knight with Sam and Annie Tate, sets the portrait of a trucker using his focus on life on the road to get over heartbreak against a muscular beat. The song namechecks Roger Miller and his classic ‘King Of The Road’, and quite fittingly later in the record there is a loping cover of that very song, which also appeared on the soundtrack of the movie Traveller.

Another very good song is ‘Long On Lonely (Short On Pride)’, written by venerable songwriting team of Bob McDill, Dickey Lee, and Bucky Jones. The weary protagonist appeals to his former lover:

I won’t say I love you, don’t know if it’s true
I will say I need you, God knows I do

Randy revived an old song he had written (with John Lindley) and recorded back in the Randy Ray days, ‘The Future Mister Me’. This mournful response to a failed relationship was well worth revisiting, and is quite beautifully sung by a defeated sounding narrator, who has obviously caused his share of problems for his ex wife but is now wishing her luck with her new man. He also wrote two more songs for the album. ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ (written with Ron Avis, the driver of Randy’s tour bus) is excellent. In this intense ballad, the protagonist is desperate for his chance-met ex not to see him crying at the sight of her with her new love. The tender love song ‘I Can Almost Hear Her Wings’ was written with Buck Moore and Eddie Lee, and is lovely.

The beaty ‘Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me’ is enjoyable enough, but lacks much of a melody and is one of the weaker moments. The album closes with the philosophical and relaxed sounding ‘Ants On A Log’, written by Skip Ewing and Donny Kees.

Full Circle is easy to find cheap. Although it was not a commercial success for Randy, it is underrated and worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Skip Ewing – ‘Dad’

The singer-songwriter recorded this tribute on his debut album The Coast Of Colorado in 1988:

Happy Fathers’ Day.

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘One More Day’

Diamond Rio’s sixth studio album was released nearly three full years after Unbelievable had dropped at retail stores. To bridge the gap between the projects, the lead single “Stuff” was released in 2000. Admittedly not one of their better efforts, “Stuff” was planned to be the title track of the band’s forthcoming album. Stalling at #36 on the charts, its relative failure came on the heels of another under-performing single, 1999’s “I Know How The River Feels” which topped out at #33. As a result, the planned album was retooled somewhat, which possibly explains the lengthy period between albums.

The band’s next radio effort, “One More Day” did much better. Released in October 2000, it gained in popularity following the February 2001 death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, and eventually reached #1. Later that year, the wistful, bittersweet tune which is my all-time favorite Diamond Rio song, enjoyed a resurgence in popularity following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It was the band’s first #1 since 1997’s “How Your Love Makes Me Feel”, and as a result of its success, “One More Day” supplanted “Stuff” as the title track of the new album.

One More Day was finally released in June 2001. The band shared production duties with Mike Clute, as they had done for their past few albums. The result was a somewhat more contemporary song selection, as well as more prominent harmony vocals, which are used to great effect on “The Love Of A Woman” and the excellent bluegrass-flavored “Hearts Against The Wind”. The latter is my favorite cut on the album after the title track. Also noteworthy is “I’m Trying”, (not to be confused with the Trace Adkins song of the same title), on which the guys are joined by Chely Wright.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album is mostly generic and forgettable. The Skip Ewing and Bob DiPiero-penned “You Make Me Feel” is particularly disappointing. Skip Ewing is one of my favorite songwriters but this certainly qualifies as one of his poorer efforts. “Sweet Summer”, which was the follow-up single to “One More Day” is badly marred by an introduction featuring a young child singing an off-key rendition of “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” from the musical Oklahoma!, which was thankfully omitted from the radio edit.

The success of the title track notwithstanding, One More Day marks the beginning of Diamond Rio’s commercial decline. “Sweet Summer” failed to capitalize on the title track’s success, peaking at #18, while the energetic but fluffy “That’s Just That” became the first Diamond Rio single to fail to crack the Top 40, leveling off at #42. Though the band would go on to enjoy two more #1s from their next album, they would never again crack the Top 10 after that. One More Day did reach #5 on the album chart, making it Diamond Rio’s highest charting entry on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart up to that time. It failed to reach platinum-level sales, but it did earn gold certification, as both IV and Unbelievable had done. Though it is a somewhat uneven collection, it is worth buying, if only for the track “I’m Trying” which is not available for individual download.

Grade: B

Inexpensive copies can be purchased from Amazon.

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘IV’

While riding high on the success of three gold and platinum albums, a consistent run of hit singles and shelves of industry awards, Diamond Rio issued their fourth Arista album, appropriately titled IV in 1996. It would continue their run at the top with 3 more top 5 hits and another hitting the top 20, and would quickly be certified gold.

Lead single ‘Walkin’ Away’ features an easy melody and implores lovers to hold it together, “baby don’t go there, love don’t get nowhere, walkin’ away“. Steel guitar flourishes propel the melody and Marty Roe’s vocal, and helped send it to #2 on the Country Singles chart. ‘That’s What I Get For Loving You’ follows closely to the first single, so much that they mirror one another when played back to back. This track doesn’t follow a disagreement between lovers, but celebrates the pair’s union, and became Diamond Rio’s 11th top 10 hit when it peaked at #4.

The stand-out single was the cheeky ‘It’s All In Your Head’, penned by the great Reese Wilson with Tony Martin and Van Stephenson. With its swampy beat and masterful grasp on the idiosyncracies of the devoutly religious, it is my favorite song from Diamond Rio. It tells the story of a “sidewalk, soapbox preacher lookin’ forward to the end of the world” who marries a “messed up, dressed up waitress with a slightly tarnished heart of gold” from the point of view of the preacher’s caustic son. The preacher is finally felled by snake venom “stronger than his faith“, and he goes out of the world repeating his conspiracy-theory mantra. It was also the album’s least successful single, stopping at #15 on the charts in the Summer of 1996.

IV is characterized by the group’s tight harmonies as they wrap them around their trademark breezy melodies, which elevate even the lesser tracks like “She Sure Did Like To Run” and “Love Takes You There”. The album is not without a few clunkers either. “Is That Too Much To Ask” glides along smoothly with the electric guitar jamming throughout, but its repetitive chorus and mundane lyrics about “wanting it all” leave the entire effort a bore to listen to.

The best tracks come from a pair of ballads. Released as a single in Germany, “She Misses Him On Sunday The Most” tells the story of a widow and the grief she feels most on Sunday mornings, sitting alone in the church pew as a tinkling piano is complimented by an acoustic guitar. “Just Another Heart” makes good use of its card-playing analogies and is a well-written song all around, from the writing team of Skip Ewing and Tim Johnson.

While IV was less successful than its predecessor – it didn’t go platinum – and while it had some definite soft spots, it is still an essential addition to their discography, and a solid effort from the group.

Grade: B

Buy it from amazon.

Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Twice Upon A Time’

Though he did release a handful of great ballads to country radio, some of which became bonafide hits, Joe Diffie was always more successful with fun, up-tempo numbers.  By the latter half of the 90s – nearly a decade into his hit-making career – country radio had begun to cool toward even Joe’s brand of humor meets neotraditional sound.  Like the last 2 singles from Life’s So Funny, the single releases from Twice Upon A Time continued Joe’s downward spiral from the limelight at country radio. There are no top-ten hits here, and the highest showing comes from the insidious ‘This Is Your Brain’s #25 peak.  Without much support from radio, it was also Joe Diffie’s first album since his debut not to be certified by the RIAA.  Its lack of radio and retail success notwithstanding, Twice Upon A Time doesn’t deserve its status as the end-note for Joe’s short-lived glory days, and is a step above some of his other, more commercially successful albums.

‘This Is Your Brain’ is a fast-paced, partly spoken, mostly amped up romp narrated by, you guessed it, your brain. Taking the hook from the pop-culture favorite drug resistance ads ‘this is your brain on drugs’ that featured an egg sizzling in a frying pan, among other scenarios, the brain is cautioning this guy about his lack of resistance for the opposite sex. Even with repeated warnings from the body’s control center, he still falls in love and loses more than a few I.Q. points every time. The Kelly Garrett and Craig Wiseman-penned tune has its clever moments, but it’s earworm melody will cool you on those before long.

My favorite on the album, and another missed single opportunity for Joe, was the album’s superb title track. Songwriters Skip Ewing and Kim Williams paint a picture of a couple at a crossroads. Tough times have clouded both their minds with doubt, and the idea of leaving has occurred to both of them, ‘The choice is ours, the pen’s still in our hands/We can right the wrong, or we can write the end‘, Joe sings with heartbroken conviction.

‘The Promised Land’ finds a man nostalgic for the place where his roots began. The strong religious undertones between the real-life memories should have played nicely on late 90s country radio (think: ‘Holes In The Floor of Heaven’), but as the final single it barely registered at #61 on the charts.

‘Show Me A Woman’ chugs along at breakneck speed, but doesn’t offer much more than the opportunity to jam with the band. Likewise, ‘Houston, We Have a Problem’ features guitar solos that would make Brad Paisley envious, but is basically the product of a buzz-word mentality, taking the catch-phrase from the Apollo movies and attempting to build a song around it.

Joe contributed only one of his own songs this time out – a co-write with frequent collaborator Lonnie Wilson, ‘I Got A Feelin’, which was was first recorded by Tracy Lawrence  – though he did draw from the usual suspects found on his previous albums.  In addition to the title track, Craig Wiseman contributes the Bob DiPiero collaboration ‘Zero’, a much better song in the novelty format, wherein a man is counting down reasons, rights, and wrongs that lead to him being single, all to an infectious melody.  Dennis Linde’s ‘Call Me John Doe’ is a honky-tonking tale of a man who did his woman wrong one too many times.  Now he’s shivering in her freezer. Better than just album filler, any of these would were worth sending out to radio, some more than what was shipped to radio.

‘One More Breath’, written by Leslie Satcher, closes the set on a high note.  The mostly-piano lead ballad is a tender expression of gratitude coupled with a promise of never-ending devotion.  Perhaps a bit saccharine at times, it’s a well-written song that Joe delivers beautifully.  Though Joe continued to fill his albums with more schtick than substantial songs, Twice Upon A Time is an album that is more balanced between the two sides of Joe Diffie – the balladeer and the novelty-song singer – but it also offers other glimpses to a more contemporary artist with tracks like ‘Zero’ and the album closer.

Grade: B-

Twice Upon A Time is still widely available, on CD and digitally from amazon.

Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Life’s So Funny’

The cracks in Joe Diffie’s creative armor began to show with 1994’s Third Rock From The Sun. Sadly, the downward spiral continued with the next year’s follow-up Life’s So Funny, which at best is a mediocre album of substandard material unworthy of Diffie’s considerable talent.

Though it contains no overtly silly novelty tunes like its predecessor, Life’s So Funny is a decided shift away from the traditional material Diffie had released on his first couple of albums. By 1995, the new traditionalist movement had run its course, and Diffie and co-producer Johnny Slate appear to have been trying to curry favor with country radio by modifying his sound. The fact that the album produced only one major hit stands as testament to the fact that despite moving in the wrong direction, country radio in the mid-90s was still considerably better than it is today.

The first single released from the album was “Bigger Than The Beatles”, a decent but not great tune which name-checks not only the Fab Four but also the Rolling Stones and the Eagles, in what appears to have been an attempt to reach out to the newer fans that were migrating towards country music at the time. The inclusion of a couple of annoying line-dance numbers likewise seems like an effort to those who came to country by way of the dance clubs. “Bigger Than The Beatles” became Diffie’s fifth and final #1 hit. The album’s subsequent singles didn’t fare as well. The beat-driven dance tune “C-O-U-N-T-R-Y” stalled at #23, as did “Whole Lotta Gone”. The other line dance number, “Down In A Ditch” mercifully failed to chart.

Among the album cuts there are some decent ballads that play to Diffie’s strengths, but none of them is of the same caliber as earlier hits like “Home”, “Is It Cold In Here” or “Ships That Don’t Come In”, nor is any of them enough to save this train wreck of an album. “Never Mine To Lose” is the best of the bunch and would have been a better choice for a single than any of the tunes that were actually sent to radio following “Bigger Than The Beatles”. “Tears In The Rain”, the only song in this collection on which Joe shares a songwriting credit, is also a worthy effort, as is the title track which closes the album. The pop-tinged and slightly overblown “Willing To Try”, on the other hand, misses the mark and “Back To The Cave”, another dance tune, demonstrates that even great songwriters like Skip Ewing occasionally produce a dud.

Though it did not sell as well as Third Rock From The Sun, Life’s So Funny managed to earn gold certification, the last Joe Diffie album to do so.

Grade: C-

It is still widely available from vendors such as Amazon and iTunes, but it is really not worth pursuing, except for die-hard fans.

Classic Rewind: Skip Ewing – ‘The Gospel According To Luke’

Moving backstage

Former Wrecker Jessica Harp surprised many by her recent announcement that she was leaving her record label and abandoning hopes of a solo career in favour of becoming a full time songwriter. While retaining rather more dignity than Jason Michael Carroll’s unforgettable but rather sad “Arista and I are going our seperate [sic] ways! They called and said they would be moving forward without me!” this may be a case of jumping before she was pushed, as Jessica’s solo singles had failed to set the charts alight, although her now ex-label has chosen to release her album digitally as a parting gift for her fans.

Time will tell whether she will be successful in her new course. She would hardly be the first Nashville songwriter to start out wanting to be an artist in her own right, or indeed the first to enjoy a short chart career.

Dean Dillon’s distinctive turn of phrase has made him one of the most sought-after writers in the past 20 years. With a voice as quirky and distinctive as his writing, he started out as a singer. A string of singles on RCA were minor hits in the late 70s and early 80s, including the first versions of his own songs ‘Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her’ and ‘Famous Last Words Of A Fool’. The former was a top 30 hit, the latter failed to make the top 50, but neither had the chart impact they deserved – or that they had when George Strait covered them. The label also teamed Dean up with honky tonker Gary Stewart as a duo, releasing one full length album and a six track EP. Those early RCA recordings (both solo and duet) are virtually all now available on one CD. A successful run as a songwriter followed, but he had not given up his dreams of solo stardom, and in 1988 he signed to Capitol. Two albums for that label, and two more for Atlantic, failed to quite take off. The critical moment arrived when he planned to release ‘Easy Come Easy Go’ as a single – and found Strait wanted to record the song. He relinquished the song, and settled down to life as a writer for others.

I’ve never really understood why Larry Boone’s solo career never took off. He was signed to Mercury in the late 80s, and later Columbia; he was good looking, had a great voice, and was an excellent songwriter. But only a few of his singles charted, the most successful being his #10 ‘Don’t Give Candy To A Stranger’ which was our Classic Rewind a week ago. Luckily, he had that songwriting talent to fall back on.

Skip Ewing was another recording artist to enjoy a handful of hit singles in the late 80s, then turn to writing them for others when his own chart career wound down. He had much more success in the latter capacity, writing multiple #1s. He made a return to the airwaves in his own right as Reba’s duet partner on the radio version of ‘Every Other Weekend’.

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The 25 best albums of the decade

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been compiling a list of our favorite albums of the past decade. We each prepared a list of our 10 favorites, and then we attempted to trim the combined list down to 25 and rank them. There was surprisingly little overlap, and I think it’s safe to say that the final list is quite different from what any of us would have come up with individually. So, without further ado, here are the 25 best albums of the decade, as we see it:

25. Elizabeth Cook — Hey Y’all (Warner Bros, 2002)

Elizabeth Cook was too country for country even in 2002 with her engaging major-label debut. My favourite track is ‘You Move Too Fast’, followed by the charming ‘Everyday Sunshine’, the comparison of her career to that of ‘Dolly’, the sweet ‘Mama, You Wanted To Be A Singer Too’, the singalong about the ‘Stupid Things’ love will make you do, and the irrepressibly optimistic ‘God’s Got A Plan’. — Occasional Hope

24. Wynonna — Her Story: Scenes From a Lifetime (Mercury/Curb, 2005)

Wynonna took an autobiographical approach to her 2005 tour, and the show was filmed and recorded for a live DVD/CD combo set. Beginning with her musical journey as one half of The Judds, Wynonna affectionately recalls her days on the road with her Mom, before moving on to the solo side of her music career, revisiting classic Judds hits like ‘Girls Night Out’ and ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’. The banter in between the songs is reason enough to own the set, but Wynonna’s live take on her own songs like ‘That Was Yesterday’, ‘I Want To Know What love Is’, and ‘Is It Over Yet’ are flawless. — J.R.

23. Bobby Pinson — Man Like Me (RCA, 2005)

This was the richest debut album of the decade, although few record buyers agreed, and singer-songwriter Bobby soon lost his deal with RCA. His gravelly voice had genuine character and emotional depth; perhaps it was too much of an acquired taste for radio beyond one minor hit single. Great overlooked tracks include the reflective title track, showing how hard experiences made the man, the testimony of a sinner saved by a woman’s love in ‘One More Believer’, ‘Ford Fairlane’, perhaps my favorite song of all time about a car, and the wry ‘Started A Band’ about struggling to make it as a musician. — Occasional Hope

22. Brad Paisley — Time Well Wasted (Arista, 2005)

After three promising but somewhat uneven albums, things finally came together with Paisley’s fourth release. This was the first album he released that I felt compelled to buy. It opens with the obligatory novelty tune (“Alcohol”) but it also contains one of the strongest entries in his catalog to date, “When I Get Where I’m Going” which features beautiful harmony vocals by Dolly Parton. — Razor X

21. Sugarland — Love On The Inside (Mercury, 2007)

Masterpiece. That’s the best word I can find to decribe this album. But mere words cannot begin to explain how much I love this album, or how many times I’ve played it in the past 18 months. Jennifer Nettles said it was a set of songs that would play well from ‘Saturday night to Sunday morning’, but I have to disagree. I can’t think of any day of the week, or any time of day this near-perfect set doesn’t play well. With sharp songwriting set among a myriad of subjects, while Nettles wraps her distinctive pipes around the always-catchy lyrics, Love On The Inside is still the best studio album I’ve heard in my years listening to country music, with songs like ‘Genevieve’, ‘Very Last Country Song’, and ‘Fall Into Me’ all getting hundreds of spins in my library. I’ve liked all the singles sent to radio too. — J.R.

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Classic Christmas Rewind: Skip Ewing – ‘It Wasn’t His Child’

Who I am is who I wanna be

To finish up our Reba coverage this month, we wanted to talk about what she’s been up to for the past decade, since she’s only released 3 studio albums in that time – and I don’t count any of them among essential listening.  You should check out her take on the Kenny Rogers-penned ‘Sweet Music Man’ from her Greatest Hits 3 disc though.

In 2001, Reba took to New York to play Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, earning rave reviews and several theater awards.  Later that Fall, the ‘Reba’ television show premiered on the WB Network, and spent 6 years as the network’s highest-rated sit-com.  I asked my buddy Michael Allan to write about the show for us, and here’s what he had to say about it:

– J.R. Journey

reba show 1In the fall of 2001, traditional three-camera sitcoms with laugh tracks and live studio audiences were still big business. Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, Will & Grace and Frasier were all regular visitors to the Nielsen Ratings’ Top 20. So Reba McEntire and her family packed up their bags and moved to Hollywood to get a piece of the pie and conquer television. The result provided the WB network with it first (and only) sitcom hit since its launch in 1995:

Reba served as co-executive producer and starred as Reba Hart, a real estate agent and divorced mother of three in Houston. She was the (often sarcastic) voice of reason in the chaos that was her family life. Christopher Rich (of Murphy Brown fame) played her dim witted and vain ex-husband, dentist Brock Hart and Joanna Garcia (Privileged) was their oldest daughter, Cheyenne – a ditzy, shallow teenager who discovered she was pregnant by her boyfriend, high school football star Van Montgomery (Steve Howey) in the pilot episode. Van was far from bright but he had a good heart and proved to be an excellent father. The two married and ultimately had a daughter named Elizabeth. A storyline in later seasons focused on Cheyenne dealing with alcoholism. Garcia and Howey would later appear together in the music video for “Every Other Weekend”, Reba’s duet with Kenny Chesney and/or Skip Ewing.

Reba’s middle child Kyra was played by Scarlett Pomers. Kyra inherited her mother’s red locks and biting sarcasm. She was also musically inclined, unlike her mother. A running joke on the show was Reba Hart’s poor singing skills. I’m not sure, but I think Reba did perform on the show once or twice. Remind me in the comments section if you can remember. Over the course of the show’s run Pomers dealt with an eating disorder and had to miss most of Season 5. It was addressed light heartedly when she returned at the beginning of Season 6. Reba asked Kyra, “Where have you been?” to which she responded, “I went to get something to eat.” At another point in the same episode Van asked Kyra, “Where are you going?” and she answered, “I’m going to grab something to eat.” Van replied, “Ok. See you next year!” Pomers later became an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association.

The role of Reba’s youngest son Jake was filled by Mitch Holleman.

The breakout star of the show, however, was Melissa Peterman as Brock’s much younger hygienist and eventual second wife, Barbara Jean. Barbara Jean also finds out that she is pregnant in the series’ first episode. However, her and Brock’s son Henry and Reba’s granddaughter were rarely used in storylines and as such were seldom seen on the show. Barbara Jean was loud, boisterous, over the top and, in my opinion, her relationship with frenemy Reba provided the show with its strongest laughs. Her character would later work as a weather girl. After the show’s cancellation Peterman went on to open some of Reba’s concerts with her comedy routine and she can currently be seen as the host of CMT’s The Singing Bee.

Park Overall (Empty Nest) also played in a handful of Season 1 episodes as Reba’s best friend Lori Ann. Other notable guest stars over the years included Dolly Parton, Patrick Duffy, Kelly Clarkson, JoMarie Payton-Noble, Richard Kind, Wendy Malick, Bryan Callen, Leslie Jordan and James Denton.

The show premiered on October 5, 2001, a few weeks before the release of Reba’s third Greatest Hits collection, I’m a Survivor, the title track of which served as the sitcom’s theme song. While the reviews weren’t as harsh as they had been for other artists that had tried their hand at a weekly television series (cough cough Bette Midler, Dolly Parton), it was never a critical darling. However, due to its family friendly themes and placement on the Friday night schedule, it became the WB’s top rated sitcom. The show usually averaged 3.5 – 4.5 million viewers and fared particularly well with the Women Age 18-49 demographic. Repeats also held up strongly in the ratings. However, due to the considerably lower availability of the WB network, Reba usually ranked in the 100s and I have to question its potential (or lack thereof) on a major network like CBS or NBC.

And while Reba isn’t Lucille Ball by any stretch of the imagination, she certainly held her own in the strong ensemble cast. She won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Performer in a New Television Series in 2002 and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy in 2004. Reba (the show itself, not the woman) was also nominated for two cinematography Emmys in 2005 and 2006.

reba show 2

In 2006 the WB and UPN merged to form a new network, the CW, and Reba was cancelled after five seasons. However, to avoid a fine in the syndication contract, the show was suddenly renewed for a 13-episode sixth season. Even though it was the CW’s #1 sitcom, Reba didn’t exactly align with their vision for a younger, more hip image and the final episode aired on February 18, 2007. All six seasons of Reba are available on DVD and reruns air from 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM and 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM on the Lifetime television network as well as on Ion.

With 125 episodes produced, it’s hard not to see Reba as a success. However, during its run Reba only released one studio album (2003’s Room to Breathe). So while it may have increased her profile, I think it detracted from her music career. In fact, the summer of 2002 was the first one in which she didn’t tour in 25 years. Today the show provides a great way to wind down after a busy day. It doesn’t require a lot of thought or knowledge of a plot heavy background to catch a viewing and you’re guaranteed at least a few laughs.

Album Review: Matt Jenkins – Quarter of a Century: The Acoustic Sessions

Matt Jenkins

Matt Jenkins

Matt Jenkins is a singer/songwriter from Texas. He came to Nashville a few years ago and was signed to Universal South by Tony Brown and Tim DuBois. He released a few singles that failed to catch on at radio, and was eventually dropped from the Universal South roster after Brown and DuBois departed the label. He then spent some time concentrating on his songwriting. Eight of his compositions appear on last year’s Quarter of A Century, a self-released EP.

All eight songs are simply arranged, recorded live in the studio, consisting of Jenkins and Mark Selby, who produced the EP, playing acoustic guitar. Jenkins, of course, is the lead vocalist, while Selby provides background vocals, as does Tia Sillers on the title track. This type of stripped-down arrangement works very well because it allows the listener to concentrate on the lyrics without the distractions of heavy-handed production and other studio bells and whistles.

“Want You Back”, the opening track, is not, as the title suggests, a song about a man begging his departing lover to return. Rather, the lyrics say:

I want you back in that Cadillac Eldorado backing out of the drive,
Leaving like there’s no tomorrow,
Back on that interstate, racing like the night you left me,
Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, foot on the gas,
That’s the way I want you back.

The first time I listened to this song, I was immediately reminded of Skip Ewing. Jenkins has a similar voice, and Ewing’s influence can be heard in his songwriting, particularly on songs like “Heaven (Back By Tonight)” (my favorite track on the disc) and “I’ll Remember For You”, a touching story about a man who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and his grandson’s pledge to remember all the stories his grandpa had told him over the years. Other tracks, such as “Going Nowhere” and “Some Kind of Sexy” are reminiscent of James Taylor. I later found out when I checked Jenkins’ MySpace page, that both Ewing and Taylor are among the artists listed as his influences.

I’ve made no secret of my dislike for the vast majority of the music coming out of Nashville these days. Listening to this EP gives me hope that all is not yet lost. Jenkins’ singing and songwriting are both stellar. My only criticism of this set is that it is a bit ballad-heavy. It does contain some mid-tempo numbers — “Want You Back”, “Back To You” and the title track — but it could benefit from the addition of a few uptempo numbers. Jenkins is reportedly currently working on a new project with Garth Fundis, who has produced such great acts as Keith Whitley, Don Williams, Trisha Yearwood, and Sugarland. Hopefully a new record deal will soon follow. Matt Jenkins is too good to languish in obscurity.

Quarter of a Century can be purchased at Jenkins’ MySpace page. Some of his other songs can be streamed there as well.

Grade: A –

Album Review: Skip Ewing – The Hits Vol I

skipewingRemember Skip Ewing? He was briefly a star in his own right, scoring four top 10 country hits in 1988-1989. When his singing career fizzled out in the 1990s, he turned to life as a professional songwriter, and this proved to be a great career decision. Skip has had several hundred cuts by other artists, many of them big hits. He hasn’t recorded for over a decade, apart from playing Reba McEntire’s duet partner on the radio version of ‘Every Other Weekend’ (one of his own compositions), and a rather odd-sounding album for children.

He has now released this album, apparently the first of three along similar lines. It is not a conventional Greatest Hits album, rather it contains a mixture of re-recordings of his early hits and his own versions of songs made famous by others. Skip is not one of the outstanding vocalists, but his voice has an urgency and commitment which is very effective, and a very listenable tone. Musically, he was never a hardcore traditional artist, but his style is what I would categorize the acceptable face (or sound) of pop-country, with production which is never too heavy.

The retreads of his own hits both come from Skip’s excellent debut album, The Coast Of Colorado, released in 1988 on MCA. This is no longer commercially available, but it may be possible to find used copies. (Notable tracks include the first versions of some of Skip’s best songs – the desperately sad ‘Autumn’s Not That Cold’, subsequently recorded to great effect by Lorrie Morgan, and the more measured regret of ‘A Lighter Shade Of Blue’, which has been covered by both Reba McEntire and Shelby Lynne). The urgent, pop-leaning ‘Your Memory Wins Again’ was Skip’s debut single, which reached #17; this is probably the track I enjoyed least on the original record, and is only okay here. Infinitely better is the excellent story song, ‘The Gospel according To Luke’, which squeezed into the top 10 in 1989. This track is preceded by a spoken introduction explaining the inspiration behind the song.

I have always been interested in hearing songwriters tackling their own material, since even if they are not as good technical singers as the artist who brought the song to a wider audience, they can sometimes bring a unique personal connection to the song. Excellent examples here are Skip’s treatment of two songs which provided Bryan White with enormous hits in the 90s, ‘Someone Else’s Star’ and ‘I’m Not Supposed To Love You Anymore’. The hit versions were a little too melodramatic for me, but Skip brings an intimate reading which makes them sound like new (and great) songs. I was surprised to find these ended up being my favorite tracks on this release (with ‘The Gospel According To Luke’), closely followed by ‘Love, Me’. Skip can’t challenge Collin Raye’s vocal on the latter song, but his version is nonetheless immensely engaging. This is an instance where the song’s original inspiration by Skip’s own family means his recording has a real emotional authenticity.

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Songs for a recession

recessionMy brother was laid off last week, for the second time in a year.  That’s the kind of thing that brings the state of the global economy really close to home, even though he’s been fortunate enough to find something else to move on to.

One of the great things about country music has always been that it’s rooted in real life. You can pretty much find a song for every occasion somewhere in the genre, even if in recent years mainstream releases have largely focused on the feel-good at the expense of deeper material.  I had been wondering when the first songs about the current situation were going to emerge, and whether radio would be prepared to adapt.  

John Rich’s new single, ‘Shuttin’ Detroit Down’, seems to be being received well on radio.  I’m not much of a fan of the self-regarding, self-aggrandizing John Rich, but I am impressed with this song, which really captures what I think many people feel.  My problem with the single is, unfortunately, Rich’s vocal performance, which to my ears signally lacks the anger of the lyric.  It ends up feeling unconvincing.  I rather wish he had passed it to someone else to sing, rather than using it to springboard his solo career.

So I was looking around my record collection for older songs where the song and performance combine better on the same theme.  It is arguably the case that period provided the crucible which produced country music as a distinct genre – after the first flowering of recordings of hillbilly, blues, gospel and folk music in the 1920s.  Songs from that period and subsequent periods still strike a chord today.

After thinking about this for a while, I’ve come up with the following short list of less familiar songs on the subject.  I’ve tried to avoid picking the obvious songs, with a couple of exceptions, and also songs about longterm rural poverty, which although an  important part of country music’s heritage, weren’t quite what I was looking for this time.

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