My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Sterling Whipple

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+

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘My Love Affair With Trains’ and ‘The Roots Of My Raising’

After over a decade on Capitol, 1976 saw Haggard calling a halt to his association with the label. He was still at his peak, and that year he was to release three albums, two of which are avilable on one CD reissue. One of these was his first thematic concept album (as opposed to his tributes to two of the musical heroes who had inspired him), My Love Affair With Trains. Haggard wanted to document his lifelong love of trains at a time when this important element of American history was being swept away, and to pay tribute to the men who had worked and lived on the railroads.

It opens with an acoustic snippet from ‘Mama Tried’ with its reference to his childhood dreams of trains, leading into the first of a series of spoken reminiscences and comments over a selection of genuine train and whistle sounds, which are interspersed with the songs. Proceedings open with the Dolly Parton-penned title track, a cheerful mid-tempo number with solid train rhythms which belies the generally elegiac mood. The subdued and melancholy ‘Union Station’, written by Ronnie Reno (the bluegrass singer and musician who was then a member of the Strangers) about a station threatened with demolition, exemplifies the overall tone.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the obvious personal resonance of the subject matter, only one song is a Haggard original. That self-penned song is the firmly autobiographical ‘No More Trains To Ride’, a catchy mid-tempo song, with somewhat wistful lyrics as Merle reflects on his father’s railroad career and the hoboes in a vanished world. Red Lane’s ‘The Coming And Going Of The Trains’ narrates the story of the railways over history by dipping into the lives of those affected. There is the arrival of the railroads, displacing the Native Americans, providing a lifeline for drought stricken farmers in Texas, giving hope to prisoners measuring time by counting off trains, and finally the regret of an engineer about to be pensioned off. Mark Yeary’s ‘I Won’t Give Up My Train’ is a first person story song about a railroad engineer who can’t bring himself to leave the travelling life even when it conflicts with his family responsibilities. Read more of this post

Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Third Rock From The Sun’

Released in 1994, this was the album where Joe really cemented his reputation for silly novelty songs, with a good half of the tracks falling into that category. The title track is actually a decently written song (if lacking in melody), and recounts an entertaining if implausible series of events all dependent on one another which Joe rattles off. It was Joe’s third #1 hit (and his first since his debut album). You can watch the video here.

The same writing team of John Greenebaum, Sterling Whipple and Tony Martin wrote the equally cheery uptempo ‘I’d Like To Have A Problem Like That’, which (while filler material) also manages to be amusing enough as Joe expresses Everyman’s envy of the problems of wealth and celebrity.

More obviously a novelty number, ‘Pickup Man’ was a four-week #1 for Joe, making this ode to pickup trucks (unaccountably) technically the biggest hit of his career. I admit the line about
I met all my wives in traffic jams
has a certain quirky appeal, but this throwaway ditty is not the song Joe deserves to be remembered for. Sadly, it is not the worst thing on offer here.

The raucously sung ‘I’m In Love In A Capital U’ is deliberately stupid and actually kind of fun, as Joe plays an uneducated “product of the public school”. It didn’t quite catch on at radio, missing the top 20:

You got me feelin’ so G-U-D
It’s more better than I thought it would be
Girl you taught me things that I never learned in school
I’m in love with a capital U

The album closes with the two silliest songs on it (possibly two of the silliest songs ever written), which really have to be heard at least once to be believed. ‘Good Brown Gravy’ is a shouted and nonsensical song about, well, marketing the protagonist’s family recipe for gravy, including yells about attempts to recruit him into the Army and Navy purely to secure it. Oddly enough this was co-written by Billy Dean (noted as an artist for his sentimental numbers). The final track, Joe’s only co-write this time around, is the even sillier ‘The Cows Came Home’, complete with mooing noises:

She told me that she’d love me ’til the cows came home

The cows came home
The cows came home
I heard somethin’ mooin’
Turned around and she was gone
Lord have mercy, the cows came home

The whole herd showed up when they heard she’d gone
But I guess it’s better than bein’ alone
Well the slammin’ of the door is like a pie in the face
But I got enough milk for the human race

These songs are so hilariously bad they are, occasionally, a guilty pleasure for me. ‘Junior’s In Love’ (written by Dennis Linde) does not even succeed on those terms and ends up just sounding pointless and slightly condescending with its tale of the hapless hillbilly of the title and his frustrated love for Wanda.

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