My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Steven Dale Jones

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘A Whole Lot More To Me’

CraigMorgan-AWholeLotMoretoMeFor his seventh album, A Whole Lot More To Me, Craig Morgan wanted to craft a record that broke down genre stereotypes and cast him in a new light. It’s his first album of original material in four years as well as his second album for Black River.

The first single, “When I’m Gone” was released back in September and peaked at #48. Written by Justin Ebach and Steven Dale Jones is an optimistic banjo-driven uptempo about wanting to be remembered as someone who lived life to the fullest.

The second single, released in May and yet to chart, is the power ballad “I’ll Be Home Soon” written by Ebach, Jones and John King. The lyric is typical of modern country love songs, but Morgan brings an emotional gravitas that elevates the song to just above generic.

Morgan had a hand in co-writing five of the album’s twelve tracks. “Living On The Memories” is a bombastic power ballad he collaborated on with Scott Stepakoff and Josh Osborne. Mike Rogers joined him for the title track, where he goes out of his way to debunk his country boy image with an interesting laundry list of illustrations emoted by a vocal that could’ve been toned down a few notches. “I’m That Country” walks everything back by devolving into Morgan’s typical style. “Remind Me Why I’m Crazy” is an excellent ballad about lost love with a cluttered treatment that intrudes on my overall enjoyment. Morgan’s final co-write, “I Can’t Wait to Stay,” is nothing more than a song about remaining in the town where your family has generational roots.

It feels as if a prerequisite of any modern day country album is having a song co-written by Shane McAnally. His contribution, a co-write with Eric Paslay and Dylan Altman is “Country Side of Heaven,” which is actually a great song. The overall track would’ve been better served with an acoustic arrangement, which would’ve brought fourth the interesting lyric a lot more.

“All Cried Out” is a bombastic power ballad ruined by atrocious wall-of-sound production that causes Morgan to over sing. “Nowhere Without You,” co-written by Michal McDonald and John Goodwin, is much better although I found the piano based production rather bland. Will Hoge and Gordie Sampson teamed with Altman on “Who Would It Be,” a name-check song about the legends you would spend time with if you could.

The final cut, “Hearts I Leave Behind,” features Christian Rock singer Mac Powell. The song was originally recorded by Pete Scobell Band Featuring Wynonna Judd, which I reviewed last year. It’s far and away the crowning achievement of A Whole Lot More To Me and a perfect song for Morgan.

The marketing materials for A Whole Lot More To Me describe the album as ‘sexy,’ which I most certainly would not. There is hardly anything here in that vein, unlike Dierks Bentley’s Black, which makes it an odd descriptor. Morgan does sing at full power, which showcases his range but unintentionally sound like Blake Shelton circa 2008. The album is bombastic and unremarkable on the whole, but I give Morgan credit for giving into mainstream pressures without selling his soul. A Whole Lot More To Me is nowhere near the upper echelon of albums for 2016, but it is far from the scrap heap. He could’ve done better, but it’s clear he is giving his all.

Grade: B

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘The Long Way’

Unknown2002’s The Long Way was Doug Stone’s first post-major label collection of mostly new material. Released in September by Audium Entertainment, the album was co-produced by Stone and Chet Hinesley, it consists of seven new songs and three newly recorded versions of Doug’s earlier hits for Sony. Though listenable, all of the re-recordings are inferior to the original versions.

As is often the case with albums that are released after an artist’s artistic peak, the material on The Long Way is inconsistent. It opens with the pretty ballad “Losing You”, which is a little too schmaltzy and AC-leaning for my taste, despite the inclusion of some nice steel guitar work. The mid-tempo title track is more contemporary than most of Doug’s work, but it is bland and forgettable. I like the Gary Burr and Cynthia Weil number “One Heartache At A Time” about an insensitive husband whose actions are slowly driving his wife away, much better. “POW 369”, written by Steven Dale Jones, though a bit sentimental, is the album’s best song. The album’s sole single, it tells about the remorse felt by the protagonist, upon learning that the motorist that just cut him off is an ex-prisoner of war. The single did not chart.

Doug wrote the bluesy and uptempo “Poor Man’s Boulevard” with co-producer Chet Hinesley. It’s a good but not great song that isn’t particularly suited to Doug’s voice or style. Another artist might have been able to better do it justice. The more country sounding uptempo “Bone Dry” is much better. Doug also co-wrote the ballad “Lying To Myself”, in which he can’t accept that the love of his life is gone. It’s more typical of his usual style, though he seems to be singing at the high end of his register and straining just a bit.

All in all, The Long Way is a pleasant but not particularly memorable listening experience. Cheap copies are readily available but it’s not an essential purchase except for diehard fans.

Grade: B-

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Somewhere Down In Texas’

George Strait - Somewhere Down in TexasIn 2005, twenty-four years into his hit-making career, George Strait released Somewhere Down In Texas, a collection of laid-back songs that contrasted 2003’s Honkytonkville‘s hard honky-tonk sound.  The album landed at the top of the country albums chart as well as the all-genre Billboard 200 and was certified platinum.  It also provided Strait with another chart-topper on the country singles chart, a feat its predecessor didn’t accomplish, when ‘She Let Herself Go’ became his 40th Billboard #1, tying a record previously held by Conway Twitty, which George has since broken.  Two other singles also hit the top 20.

First to radio from this mostly sedate collection was the inspirational ‘You’ll Be There’, written by Cory Mayo.  The tune was a bit of a departure for George with its chorus echoing the melodies of a pop power ballad.  It also employs a bevy of background vocalists in the chorus and the general instrumentation is a definite change of direction for the singer.  Still, the tune hit the top 5 on the country singles chart, resting at an eventual #4 peak.

‘She Let Herself Go’ was the album’s second single, and this tale of a scorned woman turned globetrotter hit the top spot on the country singles chart.  The song tells the story of a woman whose husband has left her and uses the title as a hook for all the places she took herself; all the places her husband never wanted to go.  It’s the sort of strong, modern woman theme that plays perfectly with country radio.

The best track from the set is easily Strait’s cover of Merle Haggard’s ‘The Seashores of Old Mexico’, written by The Hag.  Strait and co-producer Tony Brown employ a calypso sound to frame the verses, while Strait delivers a cool vocal, befitting the delightful storyline.  Radio didn’t warm to this one as much, which is a shame, and it stalled outside the top 10 at #11 on the charts.

And there are other memorable moments here too.  Steven Dale Jones and Phillip White wrote the witty ‘Texas’, which espouses the virtues and the originality of the Longhorn State.  One of my favorite things about this song is how the writers have managed to include a shout-out to everything we outsiders associate with Texas, from the Alamo to Willie Nelson, and of course the music, with nods to Austin City Limits and Strait’s own classic hit ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’.  I hesitate to call this a list song, but that’s exactly what it is; it just happens to be a quality list song and there’s at least a reason and even a pay-off at the end, for stringing together so many Texas references into one song.  It also became another top 40 hit, charting at  #35 from unsolicited airplay.

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