My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Sylvia

Classic Rewind: Sylvia – ‘I Never Quite Got Back From Loving You’

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Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Labor of Love’

Like most other veteran acts, Janie Fricke was struggling to remain commercially relevant as the 1980s drew to a close. After scoring her final #1 hit, “Always Have, Always Will” in 1986, she suffered a sharp decline in her chart success, from which she never recovered. Although she had shifted to a more traditional sound, Labor of Love, her major label swan song, still had its share of songs that were more pop-leaning than radio was interested in at the time.

Two singles were released from the album – ironically the two weakest songs on the disc and neither one reached the Top 40. “Love Is One of Those Words”, from the usually reliable songwriting team of Holly Dunn, Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters, is a rather lackluster synthesizer-heavy ballad that was completely out of step with the more traditional fare being offered on radio. It peaked at #56. The second single was the Dave Loggins composition “Give ‘em My Number” which is probably my least favorite single of Fricke’s career. It attempts to be bluesy and sassy, and while she skillfully pulled off that style a few years earlier with “Always Have, Always Will” this time around her performance seems forced and the song just does not work for her. It charted a little higher than “Love Is One of Those Words”, landing at #43. It would be Janie’s final single for Columbia Records. Fortunately, the rest of the album is much better. It’s tempting to point fingers at the label for choosing the wrong singles but even if they had made different choices, it likely would have made little difference. Radio had moved on to newer artists and was finished with Janie Fricke, no matter what kind of musical choices she made.

“What Are You Doing Here With Me” is a very pretty ballad from the husband and wife songwriting team of Bill Rice and Mary Sharon Rice. It casts Janie as the other woman – or perhaps a would-be other woman, the extent to which the relationship has progressed is unclear. At any rate she has grown weary of listening to her partner singing the praises of his perfect wife and family, and rightly asks him if things are so wonderful at home, “What are you doing here with me?” “Walking On the Moon” is an upbeat tune about young love and was country enough to have had hit single potential. It is my favorite song on the album and likely would have been a hit if Janie had stumbled across it a few years earlier.
A handful of other songs on the album were recorded by other artists at one stage or another. “I Can’t Help The Way That I Don’t Feel” had appeared on Sylvia’s 1985 album One Step Closer. It’s the type of ballad that is best served by minimal production, and that is where Janie’s version falters. It starts off well but the chorus is too bombastic. “One of Those Things” would become a Top 10 hit for one of its writers, Pam Tillis, in another two years. Janie’s version compares admirably to Pam’s. I would have released it as a single. She also does a stellar job on the album’s closing track, Steve Earle’s “My Old Friend the Blues”, which would later appear on a Patty Loveless album.

One other song, “Last Thing I Didn’t Do”, though not one of my favorites, is noteworthy as one Janie’s very few songwriting credits. She wrote the song with Randy Jackson, who I believe was her former manager and ex-husband (and not the former American Idol judge). Aside from this bit of trivia, there’s nothing particularly interesting about the song itself.

Labor of Love is a solid, if slightly uneven capstone to Janie’s major label career. Although none of its songs qualify as essential listening, it’s still an album that Janie’s fans will want to give a spin, if they haven’t already.


Grade: B+

Album Review: Sylvia – ‘It’s All in the Family’

sylviaSylvia Hutton (aka Sylvia) was a hot newcomer when I first became seriously interested in country music in the early 1980s.  She enjoyed a string of hits from 1979 through 1987 and then largely disappeared from public view when she was dropped from the RCA roster.  During her hit-making days she was often criticized – with some justification – for being too slickly produced, but I always felt that there was more to her and her music than her detractors gave her credit for.   She re-emerged in 1996 when she released an album on her own independent label.  She has recorded only occasionally over the past 20 years, but the music she has released during that period has had the substance that many felt was lacking in her major label days.

It’s All in the Family is her first full-length album in 14 years and the fourth for her Red Pony Records imprint.  About halfway through 2016 I had heard that she had a new album on the way and checked her website from time to time for updates.  Somehow I managed to miss its release and hence, the delay in reviewing it.  But better late than never.

Like its predecessors, It’s All in the Family is a highly introspective collection of serious songs.  There are no catchy numbers like “Nobody”, “Drifter” or “Snapshot” to be found, although it does occasionally have a less artsy and more commercial feel than her earlier independent work.  Her longtime collaborator John Mock is back on board as her co-producer. He also plays a majority of the instruments on the album, from guitar, banjo and mandolin to the bodhran, tin whistle and concertina.  On the instrumental number “Grandpa Kirby Runnin’ the Hounds”, he and Stuart Duncan play the fiddle and banjo that belonged to Sylvia’s grandfather Connie D. Kirby, who had played at local barn dancers in the early part of the 20th century.  There is also a little pedal steel here and there, and quite a few of the tracks feature an orchestral arrangement consisting of cello, violin, viola, clarinet and French horn.  The orchestra, although tastefully restrained, provides a little more oomph than the more stripped-down sound of Sylvia’s other Red Pony albums.

As the title suggests, It’s All in the Family is mostly a look back at Sylvia’s childhood and family history.  Sylvia had a hand in writing nine of the album’s twelve tracks. She recounts her memories of passing trains in “Every Time a Train Goes By” to a mother’s reminiscences and advice to a daughter on her wedding day in the title track, and the final moments of an elderly woman on her deathbed in the closing track, “Do Not Cry For Me”.  The Celtic-flavored “Immigrant Shoes” recalls the arrival of Sylvia’s ancestors at Ellis Island.  The inside album cover is decorated with photographs from Sylvia’s family album, dating as far back as 1911, through a 1984 photo of her with her musician grandfather.

Although there are no direct references to specific events, many of the songs deal with overcoming adversity, failed relationships and difficult circumstances, and one gets the distinct impression that Sylvia has faced her fair share of challenges.  She remains optimistic through it all, however, stating in “A Right Turn” that it was “worth every long hard mile”.  Although she occasionally feels discouraged as in “Hope’s Too Hard”, written by Kate Campbell, she ultimately concedes in “Here Lately” that given the chance to do things over, she wouldn’t change a thing.  One of the album’s more mainstream-sounding songs, featuring some nice pedal steel, advises to “Leave the Past in the Past”.  “Cumberland Rose”, a 2011 single written by Craig Bickhardt and Jeff Pennig, also appears on the album even though it doesn’t qite fit in with the theme.

It’s All in the Family is a collection of well-crafted songs, beautifully sung and tastefully produced, that lays to rest for once and for all the myth that Sylvia was just another pretty face.   It’s more thoughtful and cerebral than anything that gets played on the radio these days, and with its folk and Celtic influences may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who remember and enjoyed Sylvia’s 80s music will like this collection.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Sylvia – ‘Breakin’ It’

Classic Rewind: Sylvia – ‘The Matador’

This 1981 clip is credited as being country music’s first concept music video

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 7

It seems to me that I never did finish off this series, the last installment being posted on February 11, 2014 (and the installment before that appeared April 9,2013). Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked. This is an expanded and revised version of the February 11, 2014 article which was a rush job :

Shame On The Moon” – Bob Seger
Bob’s 1982 recording of a Rodney Crowell song charted on the country charts in early 1983, reaching #15 in the process. The song was a bigger hit on the pop charts, reaching #2 for four weeks.

Finally” – T. G. Sheppard
He worked for Elvis, sang background for Travis Wammack, and eventually emerged with a solo career worth noting, racking up 42 chart singles from 1974-1991. This 1982 single was one of fourteen #1 record racked up by Sheppard, eleven of them reaching #1 during the 1980s.

Doesn’t Anybody Get High On Love Anymore” – The Shoppe
The Shoppe was a Dallas based band that hung around for years after their 1968 formation. In the early 1980s they had eight chart records, but this was the only one to crack the top forty, reaching #33. They had a record deal with MTM Records in 1985, but that label vanished, taking the Shoppe with them.

Crying My Heart Out Over You” – Ricky Skaggs
Ricky Skaggs was one of the dominant artists of the first half of the 1980s with his bluegrass/country hybrid. Starting with 1981’s “You May See Me Walking” and ending with 1986’s “Love’s Gonna Get You Some Day“, Skaggs ran off sixteen consecutive top ten singles with ten of them reaching number one, This 1982 classic was the first chart topper. Eventually Ricky returned to straight bluegrass, but I like the hybrid recordings better. In my original article I spotlighted “Honey (Open That Door)“, a straight forward country Mel Tillis song recorded by Webb Pierce.

Don’t Stay If You Don’t Love Me” – Patsy Sledd
Stardom never really happened for Patsy, who was a good singer marooned early in her career on a bad label. She was part of the George Jones-Tammy Wynette show in the early 1970s. This song reached #79 in 1987.

“Nice To Be With You” – Slewfoot
This band replaced Alabama as the feature band at the Bowery Club in Myrtle Beach. This was their only chart single, a cover of Gallery’s #4 pop hit from 1972 that reached #85 in 1986.

King Lear” – Cal Smith
The last chart hit for the former Texas Troubadour. This song reached #75 in 1986.

“A Far Cry From You” – Connie Smith
After a six year recording hiatus, the greatest female country recording artist of all time returned with this one-shot single on the Epic label. It’s a great song but received no promotional push at all from the label landing at #71 in 1985. Unfortunately, this single has never appeared on an album.

“The Shuffle Song” – Margo Smith
Exactly as described – a shuffle song that reached #13 for Margo in early 1980. Margo had a brief run of top ten hits in the middle and late 1970s but the string was about over. In my prior article I featured “He Gives Me Diamonds, You Give Me Chills” but The Shuffle song is actually my favorite 80s hit from Margo. She lives in The Villages in Florida and still performs occasionally.

Cheatin’s A Two Way Street” – Sammi Smith
Her last top twenty song from 1981. Sammi only had three top ten hits but made many fine records. This was one of them.

Hasn’t It Been good Together” – Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton
The last chart record for the ‘Singing Ranger’. The record only got to #78 for the 65 year old Snow in 1980 but I couldn’t let pass the opportunity to acknowledge the great career of the most successful Canadian country artist. By any legitimate means of chart tracking, his 1950 hit “I’m Moving On” is still the number one country hit of all time. Hank had perfect diction and was a great guitar player.

Tear-Stained Letter” – Jo-El Sonnier
A late bloomer, this was the forty-two year old Jo-El’s second of two top ten records and my favorite. It reached #8 in 1988. There were brief periods in the past when Cajun music could break through for a hit or two. Eddy Raven was the most successful Cajun artist but most of his material was straight-ahead country.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” – J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt
George Jones charted this record twice, but it’s such a good song it was worth covering. This version went to #27 in 1982. J.D had a big pop hit in 1980 with “You’re Only Lonely” which reached #7.

Honey I Dare You” – Southern Pacific
Southern Pacific was a bunch of guys who previously played with other bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doobie Brothers and Pablo Cruise, making some real good country music in the process. This was one of their four top ten hits of the 1980s. “A Girl Like Emmylou” from 1986 only reached #17 but the song tells you where this band’s heart was located.

Lonely But Only For You” – Sissy Spacek
Loretta Lynn wanted to Spacek to portray her in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, and it turns out that Sissy can really can sing. This song reached #15 in 1983.

Standing Tall” – Billie Jo Spears
Billie Jo Spears, from Beaumont, Texas, was incredibly popular in England and Ireland, where “Blanket On The Ground” and “What I’ve Got In Mind” were top five pop hits in the mid 1970s and she had many more lesser successes. Many of her later albums were not released in the US but she had a substantial US career with thirty-four charted records, including two #1 hits. “Standing Tall” reached #15 in 1980.

Chain Gang” – Bobby Lee Springfield
More successful as a songwriter than as a performer, Springfield had two chart sings in 1987 with “Hank Drank” (#75) and “Chain Gang” (#66) which was NOT the Sam Cooke hit. Bobby Lee was both too country and too rockabilly for what was charting at the time. I really liked All Fired Up, the one album Epic released on him.

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Album Review: Johnny Cash – ‘Out Among The Stars’

johnnycashThere hasn’t been any shortage of “new” Johnny Cash music in the decade since the Man In Black’s death. But unlike most of those releases, this week’s Out Among The Stars isn’t a reissue, an alternate take, a demo or a recording made during the singer’s declining years when he was long past his vocal peak. Rather, Out Among The Stars is a full-fledged studio album that was mostly recorded in the 1980s and produced by Billy Sherrill. The nearly completed album was discovered two years ago by John Carter Cash, who was in the process of mining the Sony archives while trying to catalog his parents’ extensive discographies. He brought in some additional musicians, including Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller and Carlene Carter, to bring the project to completion. The final product was released last week.

Normally, news of this sort would be cause for great celebration but any excitement about the album had to be tempered with the knowledge that the 1980s were, as even the most die-hard Cash fans will admit , a period in which the singer released mostly less than stellar work. Add to that the fact that Billy Sherrill had been the producer behind “The Chicken In Black”, widely regarded to be one of the worst singles of Cash’s career, and no one was quite sure what to expect.

Considering that Out Among The Stars was mostly recorded in 1984, while Cash’s career was in the middle of a long dry spell and just two years before Columbia dropped him from its roster, it isn’t surprising that the album was forgotten. But those who were braced for the worst will be pleasantly surprised because it is far superior to most of his output from that era. So far the album has produced one non-charting single, “She Used To Love Me a Lot”, which David Allan Coe took to #11 in 1984. It was written by Charles Quillen with Dennis W. Morgan and Kye Fleming. Morgan and Fleming were one of Nashville’s top songwriting teams of the day, having written many hits for Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell and Sylvia.

Many other top 80s songwriters teams are also represented. Ed and Patsy Bruce contributed “After All”, a pop-tinged ballad that was a departure from Johnny’s usual fare and Paul Kennerley and Graham Lyle wrote “Rock and Roll Shoes”. Johnny himself contributed the sentimental “Call Your Mother” and the inspirational “I Came To Believe”, which was written while Johnny was struggling with addiction and completing a stint at the Betty Ford Center. Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman wrote the tongue-in-cheek “If I Told You Who It Was” about a country music fan who has a fling with a female Opry star after changing her flat tire. No names are named, but the lady’s identity is revealed (for those old enough to recognize it) by an uncredited vocal appearance near the end of the song. It’s not Dolly Parton; that’s all I’m going to say.

Although traditionalists like to claim Cash as one of their own, The Man In Black was no purist and frequently pushed the boundaries of the genre. In this collection he sticks close to his country roots, and unlike many of his records, there is plenty of steel guitar on this album. Among the most traditional tunes are two excellent duets with June Carter Cash — “Baby, Ride Easy” and a cover of Tommy Collins’ “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time”. Johnny sounds relaxed and refreshed on these tracks, and June is also in fine vocal form. “Baby, Come Easy” features harmony vocals by Carlene Carter and “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time” features some excellent picking by Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Bryan Sutton. Waylon Jennings joins Johnny for a faithful-to-the-original cover of the Hank Snow classic “I’m Movin’ On”. Jennings’ presence elevates a performance that otherwise wouldn’t be particularly memorable.

The album closes with a remixed version of “She Used To Love Me A Lot” that was produced by Elvis Costello. Not surprisingly, this version isn’t country but it is in keeping with some of Cash’s genre-pushing efforts. It doesn’t really add anything to the album, however, and I could have done without it. “I Came To Believe” would have been a more appropriate closing track, but that is the only negative thing I can say about an otherwise exceptional album.

It is unlikely that Out Among The Stars would have fared well commercially had it been released thirty years ago. It was not then and is not now what mainstream Nashville wanted. It won’t produce any big radio hits, but now there is a greater appreciation of Johnny Cash than there was in 1984. Sony is giving the release the promotional effort it deserves and I imagine it will sell quite well.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Sylvia – ‘I Never Quite Got Back (From Loving You)’

Week ending 8/25/12: #1 singles this week in country music history

1952: It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels — Kitty Wells (Decca)

1962: Wolverton Mountain — Claude King (Columbia)

1972: Bless Your Heart — Freddie Hart & The Heartbeats (Capitol)

1982: Nobody — Sylvia (RCA)

1992: Boot Scootin’ Boogie — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2002: The Good Stuff — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2012: Angel Eyes — Love and Theft (RCA)

Razor X’s Top Ten Singles of 2011

It seems like every year it gets more and more difficult to find new single releases that I actually like. There were a few — but only a few — gems this year. Here are some of my favorites:

10. Northern Girl — Terri Clark. Clark’s homage to her homeland, co-written with former Sugarland member Kristen Hall, is her first single that I’ve truly liked in quite some time. Sadly, it failed to gain any traction on either side of the border.

9. Drink Myself Single — Sunny Sweeney. Currently at #36 on the charts, the third offering from Sunny’s Concrete collection has already out-performed its predecessor and hopefully will become her second Top 10 hit. It reminds me of the type of song radio regularly played back in the 90s during the line-dancing craze.

8. Home — Dierks Bentley. Finally, a song about love of country that manages to avoid jingoism and combativeness. It was written in response to the shooting incident that critically injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six other people in January of this year.

7. Cumberland Rose — Sylvia. The former 80s star returned in January with her first single release in 24 years. Often unfairly dismissed as a minor talent, Sylvia delivers a lovely vocal performance on this folk ballad written by Craig Bickhardt and Jeff Pennig. I couldn’t find anyplace online to listen to it in its entirety, but it’s well worth the 99 cents to download it from iTunes or Amazon.

6. Tomorrow — Chris Young. The latest in a long tradition of country songs about clinging to one more night before finally ending a relationship that’s run out of steam. Chris Young is one of Nashville’s finest young talents and is destined for great things if he can keep finding material as good as this.

5. In God’s Time — Randy Houser. This introspective number provides a much better showcase for Houser’s vocal ability than his more popular Southern rock-tinged work. It’s the best thing he’s released so far.

4. Here For A Good Time — George Strait. After a couple of rocky years, George Strait finally got his mojo back with this fun number that he wrote with Dean Dillon and his son Bubba Strait.

3. Look It Up — Ashton Shepherd. This blistering confrontation of two-timing spouse deserved more airplay than it got. It may not have been a tremendous commercial success, but I’ll bet Loretta Lynn is proud.

2. Colder Weather — Zac Brown Band. Reminiscent of Dave Loggins’ classic “Please Come To Boston”, the Zac Brown Band continues to push the boundaries of country music without diluting it beyond recognition.

1. Cost of Livin’ — Ronnie Dunn. This tale of a down-on-his-luck veteran is a sad testament to the current economic difficulties in much of the world and a plight to which too many people can relate. Beautifully written and performed, it’s by far the best thing played on country radio this year. It failed to garner any Grammy nominations, but hopefully it will get some recognition by the CMA and ACM next time around.

Week ending 4/9/11: #1 singles this week in country music history

1951: The Rhumba Boogie — Hank Snow (RCA)

1961: Don’t Worry — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1971: After The Fire Is Gone — Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn (Decca)

1981: Drifter — Sylvia (RCA)

1991: Two Of A Kind, Working On A Full House — Garth Brooks (Capitol)

2001: Who I Am — Jessica Andrews (DreamWorks Nashville)

2011: Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not — Thompson Square (Stoney Creek)

Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘Super Hits’

Steve Wariner didn’t become a staple at country radio until he signed with MCA in 1984, though he was already a veteran recording artist with six years and 17 charting singles under his belt. Released in 1998 and originally intended as a budget release, Super Hits anthologizes the portion of his catalog controlled by BMG (now Sony) Music. It consists primarily of his early recordings for RCA, along with a few tracks from his early 90s stint with Arista Records. It is the only currently available compilation of his early hits.

These recordings are very much a product of their time, which unfortunately means heavily pop-influenced 80s production that sounds quite dated to modern listeners. However, the songs themselves are quite good, and since Steve was experiencing his first chart successes at about the same time I became interested in country music, they hold great nostalgia value for me.

Wariner had been playing bass guitar in Dottie West’s band for seven years by the time he inked his deal with RCA in 1978. His first release for the label was “I’m Already Taken”, which peaked at #63 and is not included in this collection. A string of low-charting singles followed before he cracked the Top 40 for the first time with 1980’s “Your Memory”, which is the earliest hit included here. Written by Charles Quillen and John Schweers, and produced by Norro Wilson and Tony Brown, “Your Memory” climbed all the way to #7. Its successor, “By Now” did slightly better, reaching #6. “All Roads Lead To You”, produced by Tom Collins who was well known at the time for his work with Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell, became Steve’s first #1 hit in 1981. It was written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan, who penned many of Mandrell’s early 80s hits, as well as Sylvia’s 1982 smash “Nobody”. Telling the story of a road construction worker struggling in vain to forget about his lost love, “All Roads Lead To You” was one of my very favorite songs from this era. I still like it, though I don’t think quite as highly of it now as I did at the time.

After “All Roads Lead To You”, Wariner’s chart success became inconsistent. “Kansas City Lights”, which was also produced by Collins, stalled at #15, but in spite of its failure to crack the Top 10, it is probably the best remembered of his RCA hits. It was followed by three singles that all failed to crack the Top 20.

In spite of Steve’s success at radio, RCA resisted releasing an album for four years, utilizing a tactic that has more or less become standard operating procedure for major labels today. When they finally did get around to releasing an album, 1982’s Steve Wariner, it consisted of six singles, including all of the aforementioned songs. His second album, 1983’s Midnight Fire, found him once again utilizing the services of Norro Wilson and Tony Brown. Midnight Fire produced two Top 5 hits, the title track and “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers”, as well as “Why Goodbye” which peaked at #12. These tracks sound more country – a fiddle can actually be heard on “Midnight Fire”! – and have aged better than his earlier releases. These represent Wariner’s final commercial successes for RCA. He departed the label for MCA shortly thereafter. RCA released a Greatest Hits collection that included two new tracks that went nowhere on the charts. In 1986, RCA finally got around to releasing Down In Tennessee, which had been recorded in 1978 and intended to be Steve’s debut album.

The remaining three tracks on this album were recorded for Arista in the early 90s, and represent a marked change in style from the RCA recordings. “Leave Him Out Of This”, Steve’s first release for Arista in 1991, reached #6. His remake of Bill Anderson’s “The Tips Of My Fingers” climbed to #3 and is one of the finest recordings of Wariner’s career. Completing the set is “If I Didn’t Love You”, a #8 hit from Steve’s second Arista album, 1993’s Drive.

While most of these tracks are not essential listening except for the die-hard fan, they do provide an interesting look at Steve’s development as an artist.

Grade: B

Super Hits is available on CD from third party sellers on Amazon at ridiculous prices and can be downloaded for a more reasonable $5.99.

Classic Rewind: Sylvia – ‘Nobody’