My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Snuff Garrett

Top 20 Albums of 2014: A Hidebound Traditionalist’s View

Rosanne CashWe didn’t get a chance to run this before the end of the year, but we figured our readers wouldn’t mind reading Paul’s year in review a little late. — Razor X

1. Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread

This album came out fairly early in the year, and yet I was fairly sure it would be the best new album I would hear in 2014. Elegant and insightful would be the terms I would think best describe this album.

2. Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard

So timeless are the songs are the songs of Merle Haggard that even marginal talents such as Jason Aldean and Jake Owen couldn’t mess up the songs. If fact I would regard Aldean’s take on “Going Where The Lonely Go” as he best recording he’s ever made. This tribute album is largely composed of modern country artists (Toby Keith, Parmalee, Dustin Lynch, Kristy Lee Cook, Randy Houser, Joe Nichols, Jake Owen, Jason Aldean and James Wesley) with Merle’s son Ben thrown in for good measure and Garth Brooks on the physical CD available at Walmart. The two tracks by Thompson Square (“You Take Me For Granted”, “Let’s Chase Each Other Around The Room”) are given a playful reading and are my favorite tracks, but every artist keeps the spirit of the Hag alive with these songs.

3. Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison – Our Year

The follow-up to Cheater’s Game dishes up another nice serving of real country music with more focus on newer material but with some covers including a nice take on the Statler Brothers classic “I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You” .

4. Jerry Douglas – Earls of Leicester

An instant classic, this album is almost a theatre piece with various stellar musicians cast in the roles of the members of the classic Flatt & Scruggs lineup of the 1950s and 1960s, doing a program of classic Flatt & Scruggs material. Starring Jerry Douglas on dobro, Barry Bales on bass, Shawn Camp on acoustic guitar and vocals, Johnny Warren – fiddle, Tim O’Brien – mandolin, & Charlie Cushman – banjo and guitar. Johnny Warren is the song of longtime F&S fiddler Paul Warren.

5. Carlene Carter – Carter Girl

Carlene Carter pays tribute to her musical heritage with a classic collection of Carter Family tunes plus a pair of original compositions. These recording have a modern sound that differs from, but is true to, the spirit of the originals.

6. Ray Price – Beauty Is

I wanted to call this the best album of 2014 and if Ray had been in top vocal form I would have, but this is the swan song of a dying man who knows the end is but months away. The album is elegant and heartfelt, in many respects a valentine to his wife of many years.

7. Jeff Bates – Me and Conway

For as popular as Conway Twitty was during his heyday (think George Strait), he has been almost entirely forgotten. A tribute to Conway Twitty is long overdue and while I think a multi-artist album would be nice, if it has to be a single artist tribute album, there is no one better to do it than Jeff Bates, whose voice can sound eerily similar to that of Conway Twitty. The album is about half Conway Twitty songs and half new material including the title track. My favorite tracks are the title track, “Lost In The Feeling” and Jeff’s duet with Loretta Lynn on “After The fire Is Gone” .

8. Mandy Barnett – I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson

Mandy is a masterful singer, if somewhat addicted to slow songs. Don Gibson was a top-drawer song writer, as well as a soulful performer. This album, initially available as a Cracker Barrel exclusive is proof that when you pair great songs with a great singer that very good things can happen. Don’s been gone for over a decade so it’s nice to see someone keep his songs in front of the American public.

9. Ray Price – A New Place To Begin

I am mystified that the tracks on this album went unreleased on an album for so long. During the mid 1980s Ray Price and Snuff Garrett collaborated on a number of successful singles (some of which were used in movie soundtracks) plus some other songs. True, producer Snuff Garrett fell ill somewhere along the line and retired, but Garrett was a big name producer and you would think these would have escaped somehow. This CD features seven chart singles that were never collected on an album, and seven other songs that were never released on an album. Sixteen tracks from one of the masters most featuring more steel guitar than was common for Ray during this period .

10. George Strait – The Cowboy Rides Away (Deluxe Edition)

This album has some flaws including what sounds like auto-tune on some tracks and the standard issue of the album doesn’t warrant a top twenty listing since it has only twenty songs on it. The Deluxe Edition, however, plants you into the middle of a George Strait concert – twenty-eight songs on the two CD set plus the entire 40 song set on the concert DVD with some bonus features. George never did tour extensively and when he hit town, the tickets were expensive and sold out quickly so I never did get to see him live in concert. This set is the next best thing. While the studio recordings are better, this is still worth having.

11. Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer – Bass & Mandolin

This album is a little hard to characterize – it’s not exactly bluegrass, folk, jazz or classical music, but it is all of them and more on the ten featured tunes, all of them co-writes. Meyer plays piano on a few tunes but mostly plays bass. Thile shines on the mandolin. The listener exults in the magic.

12. Sammy Kershaw – Do You Know Me: A Tribute To George Jones

True, Sammy is a distant cousin to Cajun pioneers Rusty and Doug Kershaw, but Sammy’s musical muses were Mel Street and George Jones. Here Sammy pays tribute to George Jones and does it well. My favorite among the dozen Jones hits (plus two new songs) covered is “When The Grass Grows Over Me”.

13. Joe Mullins – Another Day From Life

Joe Mullins has been around the bluegrass scene for a while, but this album was the first of his albums I happened to pick up. It’s very good and I’ll be picking up more of his albums when I hit the bluegrass festival in Palatka, Florida on February 20.

14. Rhonda Vincent – Only Me

Half country/half grass but 100% excellent. I wish that Rhonda would do an entire album of western swing and honky-tonk classics. It was silly to split this up into two six song discs, but I guess that the ears of the bluegrass purists needed protection from the country classics. My favorite track is “When The Grass Grows Over Me” which was also my favorite George Jones song. Rhonda’s takes on “Once A Day” and “Bright Lights and Country Music” are also highlights.

15. Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’

It is good to see new music from Lee Ann. I don’t regard this as highly as I did her first few albums, but it is a welcome return to form.

16. Willie Nelson – Band of Brothers

Death, taxes and a new Willie Nelson album are the only things you can really count on seeing every year. This one is up to the usual standards, with Willie having written nine of the fourteen songs on the album.

17. Secret Sisters – Put your Needle Down

I actually liked their debut album better, but this one will appeal more to younger listeners. At this rate they won’t be a secret much longer. Buy it at Cracker Barrel as their version has two extra songs.

18. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

A lot has been written about this album, but the truth is that words really don’t adequately describe it. This album requires repeated listening.

19. Dierks Bentley – Riser

I like this album, but I keep expecting more of DIerks Bentley. “Drunk On A Plane” and “I Hold On” were the big radio/ video singles but I don’t think they were the best songs on the album.

20. Cornell Hurd Band – Twentieth Album

In some ways the Cornell Hurd Band is like Asleep At The Wheel, a very versatile band that can handle anything. Both are terrific swing bands but AATW leans more to the jazzy side while the CHB is more honky-tonk and more prone to novelty lyrics. All of their albums are filled with many and varied treasures.

Advertisements

Album Review: ‘The Very Best of David Frizzell & Shelly West’

One of the hottest male-female duet acts of the early 80s, David Frizzell and Shelly West released four studio albums together. None of them ever had a CD release, nor are they currently in print. However, this 2009 anthology includes all of their big hits, plus a few misses and some key alubm cuts, and provides a more than adequate overview of their duet career.

The younger brother of Lefty Frizzell, David had had a singles deal with Columbia from 1970 to 1976. Only one of those recordings, 1970’s “I Just Can’t Stop Believin'” (not included in this collection) cracked the Top 40; the rest languished in obscurity on the lower rungs of the charts. His younger brother Allen joined his band in 1977. Alan had been the lead guitarist for Dottie West, and had married West’s daughter Shelly. Shelly began performing with David, and eventually they caught the attention of producer Snuff Garrett. Their big break came in 1981 when their recording of “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma” was included in the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can. The song was written by the legendary Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, along with Larry Collins and Sandy Pinkard. It reached the #1 spot on the Billboard country singles chart. It was the duo’s biggest hit, telling the story of a couple dealing with a painful separation when one of them leaves their hometown for the bright lights of the big city. It’s a theme that the duo would explore a number of times, beginning with their follow-up hit “Texas State of Mind”, which peaked at #9 and the following year’s “Another Honky-tonk Night On Broadway”, which reached #8. Of the three songs, it isn’t difficult to see why “Oklahoma” is the best-remembered (the other two have been virtually forgotten); it is the best-written of the three songs and also managed to avoid some of the early 80s production excesses that marred the other two records; there is a somewhat intrusive string section on “Texas State of Mind”. While this is less of a problem on “Broadway”, “Oklahoma” sounds the least dated and would stand a reasonable chance at success today with very little tinkering to the arrangement.

In between “Texas State of Mind” and “Another Honky-tonk Night on Broadway”, Frizzell and West did an excellent cover version of Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives”, which peaked at #16. One of Miller’s more serious efforts, his original 1966 version had reached #5, as well as reaching #26 on the Hot 100. Brooks & Dunn would cover it again in 1998 and take it all the way to #1 on the country charts. Their version also reached the Hot 100, peaking at #36.

Frizzell and West stopped recording together after 1985. It was speculated that West’s acrimonious divorce from Allen Frizzell was a contributing factor, but the rest of the songs in this collection — and their performances on the charts — suggest that the official reason, a lack of good duet material, was probably the truth. The duo had only one more Top 10 hit, 1982’s “I Just Came Here To Dance”, a cover of an R&B hit by Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack. The Frizzell and West version is barely country, yet managed to reach #4. Their next release, the decent but somewhat overproduced “Please Surrender” only reached #43. 1983’s “Cajun Invitation” was a song that I liked a lot when it was first released, but it sounds very cheesy today. The duo reached the Top 20 two more times in 1984 with the beautiful “Silent Partners” and “It’s a Be-Together Night”. Their final single together “Do Me Right”, released in 1985, failed to chart at all.

Also included in this collection are some very good non-single releases. “Carryin’ On The Family Names”, which was the title track of their first duet album, name checks other stars such as Hank Williams Jr., Rex Allen Jr., Debby Boone, and Crystal Gayle, who, like David and Shelly, were trying to emerge from the shadows of their more famous relatives. Also quite good is a medey of “The Wild Side of Life” and “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-tonk Angels” which are performed as a single song, much like Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter had earlier done. Missing the mark entirely, however is a cover version of the 1963 Ruby and the Romantics’ R&B hit “Our Day Will Come.”

The collection does not include any of David or Shelly’s solo hits, which is a shame, because there is sufficient room on the disc for “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino To Decorate Our Home”, “Lost My Baby Blues”, “Jose Cuervo” and “Flight 309 To Tennessee”. It does, however, include one solo performance by Shelly of “I Just Fall In Love Again”, which is very good, though it does not compare with Anne Murray’s version that topped the country charts for three weeks in 1979.

David and Shelly’s careers — as a duo and as solo artists — were largely over before the CD era, so very little of their work was ever released in that format. This collection appears to about the best that is currently available, and will suffice for all but the most die-hard fans.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘Back To The Barrooms’

Released in October 1980, the last mainstream album Haggard recorded for MCA (a gospel release was his swan song for the label) was a concept album of sorts, on the classic country themes of broken hearts and honky tonks, with drinking and casual barroomhook-ups frequently serving as some kind of consolation for lost love. The traditional themes and basic country structures of the songs are counterpointed with a sometimes adventuruous production courteous of Jimmy Bowen, with extensive but tasteful use of brass giving a faint Dixieland jazz feel. Three quarters of the songs were written by Haggard, and, as a group, they form Haggard’s strongest collection in some years.

The downbeat melancholy of ‘Misery And Gin’ was originally recorded for the soundtrack of now-forgotten Clint Eastwood vehicle Bronco Billy (which had also produced Haggard’s first #1 hit of the 80s, his jovial duet with Eastwood, ‘Bar Room Buddies’, which was presumably not thought worthy of repeating here). ‘Misery And Gin’ is a great song, written by Snuff Garrett and John Durrill, shows the pain hiding behind the outward joviality of a barroom crowd, the protagonist hooking up with a fellow loser in love with only themselves to blame for their single status. Garrett produced the track, sweetening the downbeat mood with strings, as Haggard bemoans,

Here I am again mixing misery and gin
Sitting with all my friends and talking to myself
I look like I’m havin’ a good time, but any fool can tell
That this honky tonk heaven really makes you feel like hell

It peaked at #3. The defeated honky tonker ‘I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink’, another classic number, with tinkling bar room piano cementing the mood, took him back to the top of the charts.

It was followed to radio by top 10 hit ‘Leonard’, a fond tribute to Tommy Collins, a Bakersfield singer-songwriter whose real name was Leonard Sipes, and who had been an early friend and inspiration to Haggard. The song, possibly my personal favorite on the album, traces the ups and downs of his friend’s career, as country star, songwriter, preacher, singer on the comeback trail, and hopeless alcoholic:

He laid it all aside to follow Jesus
For years he chose to let his music go
But preaching wasn’t really meant for Leonard
But how in the hell was Leonard supposed to know?

Well, life began to twist its way around him
And I wondered how he carried such a load
He came back again to try his luck in music
And lost his wife and family on the road.

After that he seemed to fall down even deeper
And I saw what booze and pills could really do
And I wondered if I’d ever see him sober
But I forgot about a friend that Leonard knew

Well, Leonard gave me lots of inspiration
He helped teach me how to write a country song
And he even brought around a bag of groceries
Back before “Muskogee” came along

The acutely observed story song of ‘Make Up And Faded Blue Jeans’ finds the struggling singer-songwriter protagonist half-reluctantly hooking up with an equally desperate older woman. It was not a single, but is a well-remembered song which has been covered by, among others, Daryle Singletary.

Title track ‘Back To The Bar Rooms Again’, yet another classic on an album packed with them, was written by Haggard with Dave Kirby. It draws once more on the honky tonk atmosphere and downbeat mood, with a cuckolded husband returning to drinking, although this time whiskey is the “best friend” of choice.

In ‘I Don’t Want To Sober Up Tonight’, he refuses to pretend everything’s okay in a troubled marriage/life. His own marriage, to Leona Williams, was beginning to crack at the seams, but they co-wrote the cheerful ‘Can’t Break The Habit’ celebrating a love which sounds a little more like co-dependency. That fracturing relationship may also have prompted Haggard’s choice to cover Hank Williams Jr’s rather final ‘I Don’t Have Any More Love Songs’.

Dave Kirby (who was, ironically enough, to marry Leona Williams in 1983 after her marriage to Haggard finally collapsed) co-wrote the mellow and melodic ‘Ever Changing Woman’ with Curly Putman. Iain Sutherland’s ‘Easy Come, Easy Go; has a similar vibe, but is more forgettable.

The wistfully melancholic ‘Our Paths My Never Cross’ about missed opportunities for potential true love has a lovely tune and a jazzy feel thanks to the brass in the mix.

The album is easy to find on CD at reasonable prices, and is well worth tracking down. The production has dated a bit, but the songs haven’t, and this is recommended listening.

Grade: A

Single Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Pecos Promenade’

tanyatucker1This insanely catchy dance tune hit the scene long before the line-dancing craze of the early 1990s, but I have a feeling if those young country fans had done their homework back then, this one would have been getting played in the host of country dance clubs that dotted the nation from Atlanta to Seattle at the time.  Released in 1980 as a single from the Smoky and the Bandit II soundtrack, it reached #10 on the country charts and must have really stood out from the pack on the radio at the time with it’s acoustic guitar opening and the twin fiddles in the chorus.

Tanya, like so many of her fellow Texans, has recorded several odes to her homestate, most notably ‘Texas When I Die’, but this is my favorite of them.  It was produced by the legendary Snuff Garrett, and his years as a rock and roll producer bring an edge to even the traditional country instruments themselves, a style Mutt Lange would adopt for Shania Twain’s records in the mid 90s.

Actually, the more I listen to it, the more I think this song would have suited Shania Twain perfectly.  The lyrics are catchy, but there’s certainly more groove than grit to them:

Lead off with the Cotton-Eyed Joe,
Buckin’ winged, and heel and toe,
Hold me close for the Pecos Promenade

For instance, while the fiddles are obviously a factor to the chorus, they never take over the sound like so many fiddle-laced numbers do.  The guitars and vocals are mixed just as prominently, and I like it.  Glen Campbell provides harmony as he and Tanya were in a relationship at the time and this period began her commercial decline.  ‘Pecos Promenade’ would prove to one of only two Tanya Tucker singles to go top 10 between 1980 and 1986.  This classic was certainly no indicator that Tucker was about to go into a major artistic decline; it’s innovative, and Tanya sells the song with her trademark throaty vocals, and the production behind her is near perfection.

Grade: A

Written by: Larry Collins, Sandy Pinkard, Snuff Garrett

Listen to ‘Pecos Promenade’ or buy the mp3 from Amazon.