My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Steve Dean

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Fellow Travelers/Country Heart’

John Conlee’s career was one of the casualties of the wave of young stars emerging in the late 80s swept away the old guard. Columbia having dispensed with his services, he signed a deal with prominent independent label Sixteenth Avenue, which had also recently picked up superstar Charley Pride.

He decided to ‘Hit The Ground Runnin’’, a nice upbeat tune about moving on with some cheerful accordion. Next up was the reflective ‘River Of Time’, written by Larry Cordle and Jim Rushing (although iTunes miscredits it having confused it with the Judds’ song of the same name). This song looks at the changes in attitude brought as one grows up and older:

I was 16 and strong as a horse
I didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin’
But I knew everything of course
I turned 21 totin’ a gun
And losing some good friends of mine
I was crossing my first dreams of sorrow
On the way down the river of time

This river rolls like a rocket
It don’t meander and wind
Ain’t a power on earth that can stop it
We’re all swept up in the grind
So find your companion
The one that will love you
All the way till the end of the line
It’s the dearest of dreams
In the great scheme of things
Goin’ down the river of time

I woke up at 30 and started to worry
About the glaring mistakes of my past
I still had high aspirations
But I knew that I’d better move fast
Now I’m starin’ at 40 and oh Lordy Lordy
I’m still a long way from the top
I’ve still got the heart but I’m fallin’ apart
Reachin’ the hands of the clock

Both tracks received enough airplay to chart in the 40s.

The third single was ‘Hopelessly Yours’ written by Keith Whitley, Don Cook and Curly Putman. It had been cut a few years earlier by George Jones, and was a bona fide hit a few years later for Lee Greenwood and Suzy Bogguss. Conlee’s version is melancholy and very effective, but despite its quality it got little attention from country radio. The final, non-charting, single was even better. ‘Don’t Get Me Started’ is an emotional ballad written by Hugh Prestwood which portrays the lasting sadness of lost love:

Well, thank you for askin’
I know you mean well
But friend, that’s a story I’d rather not tell
To even begin it would take all night long
And I’d still be right here and she’d still be gone

So don’t get me started
I might never stop
She’s just not a subject that’s easy to drop
There’s dozens of other stories I’ll swap
But don’t get me started on Her
I might never stop

You see, deep in my heart is a dam I have built
For a river of tears over love I have spilled
And the way I make certain that dam will not break
Is to never look back when I’ve made a mistake

Prestwood contributed a number of other tunes to the set. ‘Almost Free’ is about a relationship on the brink:

Last night you pushed me a little too far
I was not coming back when I left in the car
There was a time, an hour or two
I was feeling so free – from you
I picked up a bottle and drove to the Heights
Parked on the ridge and I looked at the lights
The engine was off and the radio on
And the singer sang and I sang along

And I was almost free
There almost wasn’t any you-and-me
I was almost free
Whole new life ahead of me
Almost free

Sunrise rising over the wheel
Bottle’s empty and so is the feel
This car knows it’s the wrong thing to do
But it’s driving me home – to you
Maybe I’m too much in love to be strong
Maybe you knew I’d be back all along
If I could be who you wanted, I would
If I could forget I’d be gone for good

It’s just too hard to walk your line
Maybe baby I’ll cross it next time

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Album Review: Brandon Rickman – ‘Things Kids And Dogs Know’

Brandon Rickman, best known as a member of the Lonesome River Band, released an excellent solo album almost a decade ago. At last the follow up has arrived, and he mixes country and bluegrass to similar effect.

He opens with a nice cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s ‘Black Rose’. If anything it is a little too pretty and not quite forceful enough vocally, but the arrangement is a bluegrass delight.
The self-styled ‘front porch philosophy’ and faith of ‘Prayers Go Up’ is warmly sung and sweetly positive, and is very pleasing. The title track is also rather charming, celebrating simple values:

I think we’d all be a lot better off
If we thought with our hearts and gave our minds some time off
If we did what we did ‘cause we love what we love
Living would never get old
Then we would know things kids and dogs know …

Monsters are real
Magic is real
And car rides are better with your head out the window

‘By His Hands’ is a religious song and very nicely done.

‘Tunnel Tunnel’ is a vibrant bluegrass story song about a prisoner who tires to dig his way out of prison, with fatal results when it caves in on him and the warders seal it up behind him.

‘Lowdown Blues’ is one of those bluegrass songs which sound upbeat musically despite downbeat lyrics. ‘It’s In My Mind To Wander’ is about a man who has tired of roaming and sounds like a traditional tune.

‘It’s Easy As Sin’ is a western swing love song with some lovely fiddle. ‘One Step, Two Step’ is a charming Texas dancehall delight.

‘Train Long Gone’ is a Dennis Linde song Randy Travis recorded on his 2004 album Passing Through. The lovely ballad ‘Hearts Aren’t Made To Break’ (written by Roger Murrah and Steve Dean) was a hit for Lee Greenwood in the 80s.

This is a really appealing record with a lot to offer fans of both bluegrass and country.

Grade: A

Album Review: Ronna Reeves – ‘The More I Learn’

Ronna’s second album for Mercury was released in 1992. It was slightly more successful in gaining radio play, although there were still no bona fide hits.

The mid-paced title track, ‘The More I Learn (The Less I Understand About Love)’, was written by one of the most successful female songwriters of the era, Karen Staley, with Steve Dean, and it is radio friendly enough to have been a potential hit. Its #49 peak would make it the closest ever Ronna ever got to the charts.

Follow-up ‘What If You’re Wrong’, written by Austin Cunningham and Denise Davis, is a big ballad in which Ronna offers to set her a restless husband free:

If you think the magic is gone
I agree, maybe you should move on
If you’re sure that your love for me has really died
If there’s something still missing for you
Then there’s nothing more I’ll know to do
So I’ll have to go along with whatever you decide

But what if you’re wrong?

Some nice steel augments the song effectively. It peaked at a dismal #70, one place higher than the third and last single, the pacy ‘We Can Hold Our Own’, which is pleasant if unremarkable.

My favorite track is ‘Nobody Here To Love’, an excellent Bob Mc Dill ballad about the loss of love. There is a gentle Celtic feel to the fiddle arrangement on the verses behind Ronna’s vulnerable vocals, which then soar on the chorus:

I was living all alone
And though I had a heart of stone
You touched my hand and melted me
And I believed

It was you that made me see
What love could be
But I walked in today and no one was there
Now nothing matters after all

Funny how things work out
Can’t believe somehow
You could leave me now
Tell me, what were you thinkin’ of
‘Cause now that you taught me how
There’s nobody here to love

Another solid McDill tune, ‘Honky Tonk Hearts’, had been a minor hit for Dickey Lee in 1980, and was also recorded by John Anderson. Ronna’s version is pretty good. ‘I’ll Be Faithful To You’ is a sweet love song (written by Paul Kennerley) offering a second chance to someone who has been hurt by another. It was previously recorded by Don Williams. I also quite enjoyed the up-tempo ‘Heartbreak Shoes’.

‘Frontier Justice’, written by Bobby Fischer, Charlie Black and Austin Roberts, is a dramatic number in which Ronna seethes about being done wrong and lied to:

‘Cause you can’t hang ’em high
You can’t lay ’em low
The way you could a hundred years ago
When love and honor were the law of the land
If frontier justice prevailed today
My daddy and brothers would make you pay
That’s the kind of justice you’d understand

Ronna’s attitude is directed triumphantly at her lover’s ex in the upbeat ‘Bless Your Cheatin’ Heart’, an entertaining song written by Buddy Cannon and Jessica Boucher:

You know, it’s almost funny to see you standing there in tears
I just wanna thank you dear, because he no longer cares about you

You had everything you didn’t want but then somehow
He started looking good to you the minute he fell in my arms
And I’m obliged to you
And bless your cheatin’ heart

Sammy Kershaw duets with Ronna on ‘There’s Love On The Line’. Their voices work well together on this song (written by Jerry Fuller) about a separated couple laying phone tag as they try to make a connection again.

There was a lot of strong material on this album, and it’s one I enjoyed listening to.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘Craig Morgan’

CraigMorganAlbumIt is hard to believe that Craig Morgan’s debut album, released by Atlantic Records, came way back in 2000. While this album proved to be a false start for the 36 year old Morgan in that Atlantic shut down its Nashville operations in 2002, the resulting album revealed the US Army veteran to be a fine singer capable of drawing both on past experiences and imagination in selling a song.

The album opens up “Paradise”, a song written by Craig with Harley Allen. The initial military cadence sets the song apart from any other song I’ve heard recently. The song tells of Craig’s experience as a soldier and how it affected his outlook on life. As the chorus to the song notes:

Once I was a soldier and not afraid to die

Now I’m a little older and not afraid to try

Everyday I’m thankful just to be alive

When you’ve been where I’ve been any kind of life

Is paradise

“Paradise was the second single released and topped out at #46, more a reflection of Atlantic’s promotional efforts than the song’s merits.

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Album Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘Some Things I Know’

Like her contemporary Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack followed up a neotraditional debut with a sophomore effort which was a little more in tune with contemporary tastes, but still recognizably country. The song quality is high, mainly down-tempo and focussing on failed relationships. Mark Wright produced again, but his work is less sympathetic this time around, leaning a little more contemporary than the neotraditionalism of her debut and too often smothered with string arrangements to sweeten the pill for radio.

‘A Little Past Little Rock’ is a great song about a woman who has left a desperate relationship in Dallas. Struggling to cope as she gets “A little past Little Rock, but a long way from over you”, Lee Ann delivers a fine vocal, but the track is somewhat weighed down by the swelling strings. Lee Ann’s ex-husband Jason Sellers is among the backing singers. Written by Tony Lane, Jess Brown and Brett Jones, it was the album’s first single and peaked at #2.

This performance was matched by a rare venture by the artist into comedy material which is one of my favourite LAW singles, written by Tony Martin and Tim Nichols. With tongue-in-cheek malice the protagonist vents her hatred of her successful romantic rival with the words ‘I’ll Think Of A Reason Later’ as

It may be my family’s redneck nature
Bringing out unladylike behavior
It sure ain’t Christian to judge a stranger
But I don’t like her

She maybe an angel who spends all winter
Bringing the homeless blankets and dinner
A regular Nobel Peace Prize winner
But I really hate her
I’ll think of a reason later

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Carrying Your Love With Me’

Carrying Your LoveGeorge Strait’s 1997 album Carrying Your Love With Me came out when he was at the peak of his commercial success. It followed up the triple platinum Blue Clear Sky, released the previous year, and achieved the same status itself (the last of his studio albums to do so to date). It was also the first of his albums to reach the top of the Billboard album charts across all genres.

The last single from Blue Clear Sky, the excellent traditional-sounding ‘King Of The Mountain’, had been a flop by George’s standards, barely squeezing into the top 20, making it only his third single ever not to make the top 10. The label may have been concerned that this was a sign that George’s run at the top was coming to an end, and they made sure that the first two singles from the new album were more radio-friendly. The first, the relaxed and melodic ‘One Night At A Time’, filled the bill well enough to not only go to #1 on the country charts, but to gain some pop airplay as well. Written by Roger Cook, Eddie Kilgallon and Earl Bud Lee, the song seems designed for George’s crooning style, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that the lyric is actually a cheating song, and not one burdened with guilt. It was followed to the top of the chart by the title track, a laid-back love song set to a charming tune written by Jeff Stevens and Steve Bogard. Neither song stands today among Strait’s all-time classics, but George sounds great. In much the same musical style, but rather dull, is Jackson Leap’s ‘She’ll Leave You With A Smile’, a warning to a friend about a heartless woman, which is one of three tracks embellished with a subtle string arrangement.

The third single was a cover of Vern Gosdin’s classic ‘Today My World Slipped Away’, one of the orchestrated numbers, which reached #3 (seven slots higher than the original managed back in 1982). It is a wonderful song, imbued with intense sadness at the end of a marriage, and George gives it a perfectly restrained reading which is almost as good as the original. That he falls just a little short is no criticism of George Strait, but a tribute to the greatness of Gosdin. The third track with strings is Bobby Braddock’s ‘The Nerve’, which I was surprised wasn’t releasd as a single. The story is a little unfocused as it has brief snapshots of the narrator’s love story, that of his parents, and finally a look back several generations to the ancestor who first came to America and fell in love with an Indian girl, with not quite enough of any one of those stories, but it has a sweet feel, a pretty tune and a tender vocal, which should all have worked well on radio.

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