My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Stuart Duncan

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Hearts In Armor’

Trisha’s second album, released in 1992, is still my favorite. Garth Fundis’s production is sympathetic, with a number of special guests who support the record without overwhelming it. Trisha, who I regard as one of the most naturally gifted vocalists in country music and a subtle and tasteful interpreter of emotion, was at the peak of her vocal powers and interpretative ability, and the song selection was excellent.

The hypnotically bluesy lead single ‘The Wrong Side of Memphis’ (written by Gary Harrison and Matraca Berg) was a big hit, peaking at #5, with a semi-autobiographical tale of a young singer on her way to Nashville. The instrumentation is punchy without being over-produced, with harmony vocalists including Raul Malo, whose Mavericks’ bandmate Robert Reynolds was shortly to become Trisha’s second husband. It is atypical of the album as a whole, which is focussed on failed and failing relationships, a theme perhaps resulting from Trisha’s own recent divorce from her first husband.

Harrison also co-wrote (with Tim Mensy) ‘Nearest Distant Shore’, a beautiful ballad addressed empathetically to a friend (or perhaps to the protagonist’s inner self) trapped in a destructive relationship, and advising:

You vowed you would not fail
But this ain’t success
It’s a living hell
There’s nothing left to lose
You’re already alone

Swim to the nearest distant shore
There’s only so much a heart can endure
You gave it your best
Forgive yourself
You can’t hold on anymore
It’s not as far as it might seem
Now it’s time to let go of old dreams
Every heart for itself
Swim to the nearest distant shore

Trisha perfectly conveys the intensity of the emotions here without ever seeming melodramatic, supported by Garth Brooks’ harmony.

The second single, and the album’s biggest hit, adhered to the general mood, while being less obviously personal. The exquisitely sung ‘Walkaway Joe’, featuring a harmony vocal from former Eagle Don Henley, tells the cautionary tale of a young girl who makes a catastrophic choice of boyfriend (“the wrong kind of paradise”). Ignoring her mother’s words of warning, she finds out the hard way when he robs a gas station and then abandons her. It peaked at #2 on Billboard, making it the album’s biggest hit, and was nominated for a Grammy.

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Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Mountain Soul’

patty loveless - mountain soulAfter 2000’s lackluster Strong Heart failed to chart any significant or memorable hits for Patty Loveless, she took a different approach with the material for her next record.  But these songs were really nothing new to Loveless, who had been including one or two of these sort of rootsy chestnuts on each of her mainstream albums for the past decade.

She’d also long been including them in her live shows, recalling at the time, “I was doing it during my shows, about three, four songs. The people would come up and ask, ‘where can we get this kind of music?… that song that you did?’, and I would say like, ‘I haven’t recorded it yet..’ So I said, well, this is something I want to do. And, for those folks that are going to be listening, or looking out for some of the more acoustic type of mountain blues, or mountain soul.. is what I’m calling it Mountain Soul.

So for her sixth album for the Epic label, and her eleventh overall, Patty Loveless returned to her Appalachian roots and the acoustic instrumentals and harmonies associated with bluegrass music.  The resulting album, recorded in Lepier’s Fork, Tennessee, featured an all-star cast of guests, contributing vocals and instrumentals.  Though it peaked at #19 on the Country Albums chart, it did go to #5 on the Bluegrass Albums chart.  Additionally, Mountain Soul made many critics year-end lists in 2001 as the best album of the year, and marked the beginning of a series of traditional and classic-sounding albums from Patty Loveless spanning this decade.

The disc leads off with ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, which was also the lead-single, though it failed to chart.  It’s a rousing number, with a plucky banjo mixed in with some tap-your-toes fiddling from Stuart Duncan.  This is an arrangement that frames many of the tracks on Mountain Soul.

A second single featured Travis Tritt.  The haunting tune, written by Kostas and Melba Montgomery is a tale of two lovers who are rekindling the fires of their relationship, but also bringing back the heartache that came with it:

Pain has no memory when you burn with desire
The flames grow higher and higher
Till we’ve reached an out of control ragin’ fire

Despite a major push from the superb music video being in heavy rotation on CMT, this single too failed to chart.  ‘Out of Control Raging Fire’ was also previously recorded by Tracy Byrd.  Travis Tritt also appears on ‘I Know You’re Married (But I Love You Still)’, a bluegrass standard which sounds admirable in the pair’s hands.

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Blue Clear Sky’

george strait blue clear skyBlue Clear Sky was George Strait’s seventeenth studio album when it was released in 1996.  At the time, country music was still riding the wave of the 90s sales boom, and George Strait was right in the thick of things for the duration of that period.  This was the first Strait album I ever bought, as I was just becoming a fan of more traditional country acts around the time of its release, and it’s still my favorite of King George’s 30+ album releases.  Blue Clear Sky spawned 4 hit singles, with the first 2 going all the way to #1, and the third and fourth peaking at #4 and #19, respectively.  The album itself hit the top spot of the country albums chart and the top 10 on the all-genre chart, and has been certified 3-times platinum for sales of over three million copies.

The title track served as the first single, and would eventually become George’s 29th career #1.  The bouncy song fit the sound of contemporary country perfectly at the time, while still remaining to sound like a traditional Strait cut.  The ‘love happens like that’ theory isn’t a novel idea, but Strait’s crisp delivery makes this a pleasant listen even though it’s not one of my favorites.  ‘Blue Clear Sky’ has since become one of George Strait’s most-played recurrents on country radio.

I don’t take my whiskey to extremes
Don’t believe in chasin’ crazy dreams
My feet are planted firmly on the ground
But darlin’ when you come around

I get carried away by the look, by the light in your eyes
Before I even realize the ride I’m on, baby I’m long gone

For the second single, the Strait team chose the elegant ‘Carried Away’, the tale of a well-grounded man who tends to lose his steady head in the company of his love interest.  Steve Bogard and Jeff Stevens wrote this tale of romance, and again, Strait delivers the vocal with his signature crooning style.  This would prove to be the second chart-topping single from the album, and another that still gets some spins on today’s country radio.

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