My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Stewart Harris

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘I Made It’

i made itIt has been several years since Diamond Rio were last in the studio, and more since they made a country record (their last effort was a Christian Contemporary effort which lacked the band’s signature harmonies). Their self-released return was an unexpected surprise.

Unfortunately, a couple of songs in, I was wondering if they had lost the plot completely. The opening ‘I Love This Song’ is a piece of mid-tempo fluff which would be bearable if forgettable, but is marred by bizarre vocal interjections; it was previously an unsuccessful single for its co-writer Marcel. ‘Ride The Range’ is a weird self-indulgent experimental melange; it has country instrumentation, but does not sound country structurally or melodically , with semi-spoken vocals and a rudimentary lyric. I strongly disliked it, and scheduling the record’s worst songs at the start unbalances it as a whole. Luckily, things improve.

The pop-country ‘Crazy Life’ is not very interesting, despite a perky arrangement, with oddly syncopated vocals. ‘Lay Your Lovin’ On Me’ has a similar bouncy feel but is much catchier and more entertaining, and I rather enjoyed it.

The title track is much better. Co-written by band member and album producer Jimmy Olander with Josh Shilling and Michael Dulaney, it is a charming ballad reminiscing about Olander’s arrival in Nashville as an aspiring musician, which turns half way through into an AC-leaning love song to his wife. The romantic ‘I Can’t Think Of Anything But You’ (a Skip Ewing co-write) is a cover of a song formerly recorded as a duet by Sammy Kershaw and Lorrie Morgan, and is quite nicely done.

The album’s outstanding song does see the group back at their best. ‘Beckett’s Back Forty Acres’ is a delightful story song with an acoustic arrangement, about a local farmer who makes it big by a secret (and illegal) crop – but eventually gets hauled away by the police. Ashley Gorley, Michael Rossi and Hugh Bryan Simpson wrote the song, and this track is well worth downloading.

The love song ‘If You’re Willing’ is typical Diamond Rio mid-tempo fare, an enjoyable track written by Jason Sellers and Stewart Harris. ‘I’ll Wait For You’ is also quite attractive.

‘Findin’ My Way Back Home’ was the single released from Lee Ann Womack’s ‘lost’ unreleased album in 2006. LAW’s version of the Craig Wiseman/Chris Stapleton song had something of an Americana-meets-pop feel to it which didn’t really work. The Diamond Rio version is a bit more more organic, and more successful.

The beautiful ‘Walking By Beauty’, written by Patrick Jason Matthews and Jason White, was inspired by an experiment undertaken in 2007 by acclaimed classical violinist Joshua Bell, when he busked in a Washington DC Metro station to see who would pay attention. Bell guests on the track, whose profits are devoted to the doTerra Healing Hands Foundation.

This is definitely a mixed bag, but on the whole the good outweighs the bad.

Grade: B

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘No More Looking Over My Shoulder’

TNomorelookingovermyshoulderravis Tritt changed producers once again, replacing Don Was with Billy Joe Walker, Jr for 1998’s No More Looking Over My Shoulder. His sixth studio album, it was his least successful release to date spawning three singles that didn’t peak any higher than #29 on the charts.

The #29 peaking single was the first, “If I Lost You,” which Tritt co-wrote with Stewart Harris. The beautiful piano led ballad is a charming story about a man’s undying love for a woman and his feelings if he should loose this person. The record is near perfection; from the tasteful production to Tritt’s sensitive vocal. Even the video was excellent as it served as the conclusion to his Mac Singleton trilogy, a fitting tribute to the five year old daughter Mac shares with now deceased wife Annie.

I also thoroughly enjoy the Craig Wiseman and Michael Peterson penned title track, which served as the second single, peaking at #38. An excellent sing-a-long mid-tempo rocker, the song has an engaging energy and I love the acoustic guitar riffs throughout.

Unlike the majority of Tritt’s rockin’ anthems, third and final single “Start The Car” doesn’t have many overly dated elements within the production track, and Tritt adds a strong, confident vocal performance to the mix. The rock elements don’t bother me either at all but the whole thing comes off very underwhelming thanks to Jude Cole’s inability to add anything memorable to the lyrics. It’s the type of song you forget the second you’ve heard it, which likely accounts for its poor chart performance (it peaked at #52).

The rest of the project isn’t as bland as I was expecting, but as a whole the album doesn’t really get off the ground. There just isn’t that standout track needed to raise the album above just okay. It’s solid, but nothing really special.

The best album cut is probably the weakest lyric, saved only by the production, which feels heavy influenced by Patty Loveless’ seminal When Fallen Angles Fly. “Girls Like That” boasts a nice, rollicking dobro that recalls “Half Way Down” and “Handful of Dust.” It’s too bad the lyric is beyond inane, as Tritt could’ve had a showstopper here. You’d think he and co-writer Bruce Ray Brown could’ve tried to put in some effort, and not resorted to a three-minute list of attributes talking about “Girls Like That.”

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Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘T-R-O-U-B-L-E’

Travis TrittIn the early 1990s, the major Nashville labels signed a seemingly endless string of cookie-cutter male artists that became known as “hat acts.” Travis Tritt was a notable exception. Not only did he not look like his contemporaries, he was less restricted by the musical boundaries of the era, offering up a healthy dose of Southern rock with more traditional country fare.

T-R-O-U-B-L-E was his third album for Warner Bros., released in the summer of 1992. Like his two previous albums, it was produced by Gregg Brown. It produced five singles, beginning with the blue collar anthem “Lord Have Mercy On The Working Man”, which featured a chorus of guest artists including Brooks & Dunn, T. Graham Brown, George Jones, Little Texas, Dana McVicker, Tanya Tucker, and Porter Wagoner. The Kostas-penned tune, unlike the cliched “I’m country” songs that plague the airwaves today, paints a sympathetic picture of the protagonist and makes him someone to which the listener can relate. It reached #5 on the Billboard country singles chart, and was followed by the #1 hit “Can I Trust You With My Heart”, a song he co-wrote with Stewart Harris. Tritt has always been a strong, if somewhat underrated ballad singer and nowhere is that more evident than on this song, which shows his more vulnerable side.

The pace changes dramatically with the uptempo title track, which was a cover of a 1975 Elvis Presley single. Travis does the song justice, but it has never been one of my favorites. It was somewhat surprising to learn that it only peaked at #13, since it seemed to me that it was overplayed on the radio. “Looking Out For Number One”, a kiss-off number in the vein of “Here’s A Quarter, Find Someone Who Cares”, is much better. In no uncertain terms, Travis announces that no longer will he be anyone’s doormat. This is another one of his own compositions, co-written with Troy Seals. Surprisingly, it only reached #11. The final single, “Worth Every Mile”, which he also wrote, only reached #30, possibly due to a lack of promotional push by the label. It deserved to chart higher.

Also quite good are the Marty Stuart number “A Hundred Years From Now” and the self-penned “Blue Collar Man”, on which he revisits the working class theme again, this time with a more Southern rock arrangement. Less enjoyable is the bluesy “Leave My Girl Alone”, a cover of a Stevie Ray Vaughan hit that closes the album. Clocking in at just under nine minutes, it is self-indulgent and overly long. But even though it is not to my personal tastes, Tritt deserves credit for pushing the envelope. It’s hard to imagine any of the other top male acts from the era trying to tackle this number.

Though T-R-O-U-B-L-E contains many fine cuts, I’m not much of a Southern rock fan so it makes for a somewhat uneven listening experience. However, it is worth seeking out a cheap copy if you don’t already own a copy.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘It’s All About To Change’

it's all about to changeTravis Tritt’s second album was released in May 1991, and is along the same lines as its predecessor, with the same producer, Gregg Brown. It was, however, a step up in quality and consistency.

The lead single, ‘Here’s A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)’ is a fabulous kissoff song with plenty of attitude, which is one of the seven songs here written by Tritt and is one of my favorites of his. There is a more traditional feel to this structurally than with much of his material, although the full production gives it added radio-friendly impact. It peaked at #2 on Billboard.

The excellent ballad ‘Anymore’, which Travis wrote with Jill Collucci, was the second single, and made it all the way to the top. The lyrics have the opposite emotion to that of ‘Here’s A Quarter’, with the protagonist surrendering to his feelings after a period in denial of the pain he is suffering at the failure of a relationship, finally admitting,
I can’t keep pretending I don’t love you anymore

The song allowed Tritt to show a more subtle side to his vocals, and is one of the finest recordings of his career, with delicately understated production. Backing vocals come from Dana McVicker, a former Capitol artist who never made a breakthrough, and they add a sweet edge.

His first of several career duets with Marty Stuart (recorded prior to their first tour together) is the singalong honky tonker ‘The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’’, a Stuart co-write with Ronny Scaife. It’s a solid song which I like a lot, although Tritt’s full blooded vocal is the best thing about this #2 hit.

It was back to the ballads with the album’s final single, #4 hit ‘Nothing Short Of Dying’. A wistful song about the pain of lost love with some mournful fiddle and steel supporting the regretful vocal, this is another great track and the most traditional country of the singles.

Although it wasn’t a single, the blazing up-tempo ‘Bible Belt (featuring rock band Little Feat) garnered a lot of attention when an alternate version was recorded for the movie My Cousin Vinny, with new lyrics fitting the film’s plot. The original is better, and is one of Tritt’s most memorable recordings with its dramatic tale of an adulterous preacher brought down by “the flames of passion” following an affair with the choir leader, based on a true story. Travis warns the couple they will have to “answer to the Lord and the Bible Belt”, although in fact they run away to Vegas together, apparently never to be seen in Georgia again. The Southern rock/country arrangement is genuinely exciting with pounding piano and a choir bringing in gospel elements suited to teh subject.

On the up-tempo side, I also liked ‘Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler’, a classic bluegrass number written by Jimmie Skinner unexpectedly given a Southern rock style makeover which works surprisingly well. I was less impressed by closer ‘Homesick’, an obscure Southern rock cover which is a self-indulgent rocker more about the groove than anything else, but it is the only track I didn’t like on an otherwise outstanding album.

The title track is a fine ballad in classic country style, with a sincere, believable vocal about a man who has had enough of the woman he has loved treating him badly and is ready for a new start.

‘If Hell Had A Jukebox’ is another great hurting ballad, written by Travis with Lee Rogers. This time the protagonist’s ex responds to a pitiful plea for her return by telling him to go you-know-where. Travis replies,

Honey, if Hell had a jukebox
And the Devil kept it full of hurtin’ songs
You could find me there this evening…

I don’t see how the fires below
Where you wanted me to go
Could be worse than the hell I’m living here on earth

The gentle ballad ‘Someone For Me’ (written by Tritt with Stewart Harris) is a lonely man’s wistful longing for love, and another fine song, with a subtle string arrangement.

With triple platinum status, this remains Travis Tritt’s best selling album, and it is also my personal favorite. There is a wide variety of tempos and styles, but the quality is almost all very high indeed. Used copies can be found extremely cheaply, and are well worth tracking down.

Grade: A+