My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Taj Mahal

Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘Poison Love’

51qFXeDUyiL._AA320_QL65_Buddy Miller and I are contemporaries, Buddy being five months younger than I am, meaning that we probably listened to a lot of the same music growing up. If this album is any indication, I am certain that we did.

Under slightly different circumstances he might have been a country star during the 1970s like Johnny Rodriguez (ten months older than Buddy) or during the 1980s like George Strait (four months older than Buddy). Instead Buddy took a while to reach solo artist status, working for years in various bands for various other stars, most notably Emmylou Harris.

Poison Love might be categorized as a country album or as an Americana album, although with steel guitar on nine of the thirteen tracks, I’m inclined to call it country. Miller actually covers three classic country tunes on the album, but I initially thought there were a couple of more since several of the songs Buddy composed used the titles of old country classics (song titles cannot be copyrighted), those being being “Draggin’ The River” and “I Can’t Help It”.

The album opens up with a song composed by Roger Miller and George Jones titled “Nothing Can Stop Me”. I don’t think George ever issued this as a single, so I think it possible that Buddy came to the song via an early 1970s recording by Patsy Sledd, who was an opening act for George and Tammy when they had their Plantation Music Park in Lakeland, Florida. Anyway, Buddy does a nice job with this up-tempo country number. Fiddle and steel guitar abound along with electric guitar the way it should be played. If you want to hear a quintessentially happy upbeat country romp, this song is it:

I gotta get up, I gotta get goin’, rain or shine, sleetin’ or snowin’
Nothing can stop me, stop me, stop my loving you
Wander through woods, climb a high mountain
Love’s in my heart like water’s in a fountain
Nothing can stop me, stop me, stop my loving you

Cross the fire, walk through the river, you’ll be the taker and I’ll be the giver
I’ll give you lovin’, lovin’, honey that’s what I’ll do
Climb a big wall, I’d tear into pieces, I gotta get to your loving kisses
Nothing can stop me, stop me, stop my loving you

 Next up is “100 Million Little Bombs”, definitely not a country song:

Three dollar bombs a 100 thousand more

Steps of a child and the ground explodes

You can’t clear one before another reloads

To ratchet up the ante again.
They’re cheap and they’re simple

They’re green and black

They’ll take you right down on a one way track

We’ve gone so far now that we can’t get back

And we still won’t stop this train


The sound of the song is pleasant enough, although the song is too political for country radio, even today. This is followed up by “Don’t Tell Me” a more conventional country song. Both of these songs were composed by Buddy and his wife Julie Miller and feature harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris.
    
 The title track is “Poison Love” a Johnnie Wright and Jack Anglin classic (Johnnie was Kitty Wells’ husband for 60+ years). Johnnie & Jack did the song with a rumba beat whereas Buddy’s instrumentation is more that of Cajun music. It’s a great recording, possibly my favorite track on the album. Steve Earle sings with Buddy on this track.

Next up is a Buddy & Julie Miller collaboration, “Baby Don’t Let Me Down”. I like the song although I think the electric organ adds nothing to the song:

Start up the engine and get back home

Hurry go tell mother

Johnny got a gun to shoot a squirrel

He put down your brother

Daddy ain’t nowhere to be found
 It’s getting way past midnight

Momma she’s left here to cry alone

While I steal a kiss in the moonlight


”Love Grows Wild” is another Buddy and Julie co-write, this one with a more bluegrassy feel thank to Tammy Rogers on fiddle and mandolin.

Jim Lauderdale joined Buddy in writing “Love In The Ruins” a very country number with plenty of fiddle and steel:

Love in the ruins

After the fall

What were we doing not thinking at all

I’ll take the chair for there’s no one to blame

Someone just called me or was that just your name

But regret is a debt that I just can’t pay

Cause it would be more than I could ever make

Turn left when we get to that place in the road

Or we’ll be on the one we shouldn’t take

“Draggin’ The River” is a pretty good song, although not as good as the Warner Mack song of the same title. A bit morose, this song can be interpreted in several ways, so I’ll let you pik your own interpretation. This song strikes me as more Americana than county:

Go down to the water and listen for a sound

Something like the moaning of a dove

That’s where I do my crying while I’m searching for a sign

Draggin’ the river of our love
Did she bear some secret sorrow I could never know
 T
hat why my heart was not enough
 Now she’s left me looking for a trace of what we had

Draggin’ the river of our love

If you think the Roosevelt Jameson composition “That’s How Strong My Love Is” seems familiar, you are probably correct, as the song was a powerful song in the hands of both the original recording artist O.V. Wright (1964), and the soulful titan who covered it in 1965, Otis Redding. It would be nearly impossible to be as soulful as either Wright or Redding, and Buddy certainly isn’t, but he gives the song a very convincing interpretation. The song has been recorded numerous times and Buddy’s version stacks up well against any of the other covers I’ve heard (Rolling Stones, Hollies, Percy Sledge, Bryan Ferry, Taj Mahal):

I’ll be the weeping willow drowning in my tears
And you can go swimming when you’re here
I’ll be the rainbow when the tears have gone
Wrap you in my colors and keep you warm

‘Cause that’s how strong my love is
That’s how strong my love is
That’s how strong my love is
That’s how strong my love is

The album closes out with a pair of Buddy and Julie collaborations in “Lonesome For You” and “I Can’t Help It” and a Buddy Miller co-write with Jim Lauderdale on “Love Snuck Up”. All three songs hew country.

Everything considered Poison Love is a solid country album, for a person who would have few actual hits but would ultimate carve a wide path in country music. The of the thirteen songs are solidly country, and the other three are close enough to country that even a diehard traditionalist such as myself found the album entirely satisfying. Great songs, great musician and some pretty good vocalists.

Grade: A+

Album Review: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume III’

will the circle 317 years passed between the original Will The Circle Be Unbroken and Volume II. 13 years after that, in 2002, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band decided it was time for a third instalment, which they released on Capitol. It did not make as much of a stir as either of the previous instalments, but is still a pretty solid collection of bluegrass and oldtime music with some guests old and new.

The opening ‘Take Me In Your Lifeboat’ is beaty bluegrass gospel performed with Del McCoury and his sons. The McCourys are back on the secular ‘Love Please Come Home’, which is well done but not memorable.

I preferred the contributions from bluegrass great Jimmy Martin (1927-2005), who had taken part in both previous versions, and who belies his age with confident upbeat performances here. He sings his own ‘Hold Whatcha Got’ (which Ricky Skaggs had made into a hit in the late 80s), and also the lively ‘Save It, Save It’.

In contrast, June Carter Cash (1929-2003) takes the lead vocal on the Carter Family’s ‘Diamonds In The Rough’, with Earl Scruggs on banjo. She does not sound at all well, and indeed died the following year. Although Johnny Cash (1932-2003) was also in poor health, he sounds much better than his wife on a self-penned tribute to the late Maybelle and Sara Carter, ‘Tears In The Holston River.

Willie Nelson, not involved in previous versions, gets two cuts here. Willie sounds good on ‘Goodnight Irene’, but the tracks is irredeemably ruined by the presence of duet partner Tom Petty. Petty is out of tune and the harmony is embarrassingly dissonant. A cheery Nelson version of ‘Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms’ is better although it does feel a bit perfunctory.

Dwight Yoakam (another newcomer to the series) is great on his two tracks. He shows his Kentucky roots on the mournful and authentic ‘Some Dark Holler’. He is outstanding on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘Wheels’, which he makes sound like. Vince Gill’s ‘All Prayed Up’ is an excellent piece of up-tempo bluegrass gospel.

Emmylou Harris sings her ex-husband Paul Kennerley’s ‘I’ll Be Faithful To You’, a sweet declaration of eternal love, exquisitely. She also duets with Matraca Berg (Mrs Jeff Hanna) on Berg’s folk-styleode to the river running through Nashville, ‘Oh Cumberland’. Alison Krauss exercises her angelic tones on ‘Catfish John’.

Iris Dement sings beautifully on her own nostalgic ‘Mama’s Opry’. Ricky Skaggs and Rodney Dillard team up for the pacy folk of ‘There Is A Time’. Band members’sons Jaime Hanna and Jonathan McEuen (who were the duo Hanna-McEuen at the time) are a bit limp for me on ‘The Lowlands’, a folky Gary Scruggs song.

Sam Bush takes it high mountain lonesome on Carter Stanley’s ‘Lonesome River’. ‘Milk Cow Blues’ is taken back to its blues roots and features Josh Graves and Doc Watson. Watson also sings the traditional ‘I Am A Pilgrim’. More contemporary is ‘I Find Jesus’, penned by Jimmy Ibbotson. ‘Roll The Stone Away’ (written by Jeff Hanna with Marcus Hummon) uses religious imagery but it is a bit dull. The Nashville Bluegrass Band take on A. P. Carter’s ‘I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome which is OK.

Gravel-voiced bluesman Taj Mahal and legendary fiddler Vassar Clements guest on the good-humored ‘Fishin’ Blues, which is mildly amusing. Taj Mahal and Alison Krauss guest on this album’s take on the title song which falls rather flat with Alison sounding a bit squeaky and therest of them dull and lifeless.

This album lacks the groundbreaking nature of Volume I, and the cosy atmosphere of either previous set, making more of a standard collection of older material. There are definitely some tracks well worth hearing, and I’d still be interested if there was a Volume 4.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘Divided And United: Songs Of The Civil War’

divided & unitedI love history as much as I do country music, so a project like Divided And United, and the several other recent albums which have focussed on the musical legacy of the Civil War is of strong interest to me. Of all these projects, this two-disc set is the one to involve the greatest number of straight country artists, although bluegrass and other American roots music are both well represented. Almost all the songs are all of genuine Civil War vintage or older ones which were popular at the time, and performed as far as possible in the style of the period. Movie composer Randall Poster had the idea for the project and produces. Relatively sparse arrangements are similar to the way the songs would have been sung at the time of the war.

My favourite track is Vince Gill’s beautiful, thoughtful prayer by a dying drummer boy to the ‘Dear Old Flag’ for which he is sacrificing his life, set to a simple, churchy piano accompaniment. A choir including Sharon and Cheryl White and the Isaacs, mixed quite low, joins in the final chorus. Another highlight is Jamey Johnson’s haunting lament of a ‘Rebel Soldier’ far from home, a kind of proto-blues which the former serving Marine conveys with an emotional power which renders the song completely believable. Also wonderful is Lee Ann Womack (absent for far too long from the recording studio) on ‘The Legend Of The Rebel Soldier’, a touching story song about a soldier dying far from home, beautifully sung. These three tracks are pretty much perfect.

Ashley Monroe sings ‘Pretty Saro’, another fine sad song reflecting on death, although it does not relate directly to the war (and in fact the songs which significantly predates the period), it fits in nicely musically. The pretty ‘Aura Lee’, another non-war folk song, is sung by the genre-defying musician Joe Henry (who also produces a number of tracks), and was another I enjoyed despite a limited (if emotionally expressive) vocal. I also very much enjoyed Chris Hillman’s sympathetic reading of the classic ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’.

The sad (but not directly related to the war) ‘Listen To The Mocking Bird’ is prettily sung by the brilliant fiddler Stuart Duncan with Dolly Parton harmonising. (Dolly’s star power gets her the lead billing in this pairing, but Duncan is the true lead vocalist on the track). Ricky Skaggs’s quietly measured ‘Two Soldiers’ and Chris Stapleton’s ‘Two Brothers’ relate specifically Civil War tragedies, the latter being one of the few post-war compositions.

The septuagenarian Loretta Lynn is showing her age vocally, but this lends some realistic vulnerability to her convincing portrayal of a farmer’s wife bidding her husband off to war, undertaking that she will carry on the farm until his return. Another veteran, but this time from the world of bluegrass, the legendary Del McCoury plays the part of a soldier bidding farewell to his sweetheart ‘Lorena’. This plaintive tale is mirrored by the mournful sequel at the other end of the album, ‘The Vacant Chair, meditated on by Dr Ralph Stanley, while old-time specialists Norman and Nancy Blake give us ‘The Faded Coat Of Blue’, another melancholy reflection.

Steve Earle portrays a young soldier’s fears the night before going into action, in ‘Just Before The Battle Mother / Farewell Mother’; perhaps he tries a little too hard to sound like a rough, tough soldier, and not quite enough sounding vulnerable and fearful in the face of impending death. The old soldier’s jaundiced attitude to war in ‘Down By The Riverside’ is rather yelled by blues musician Taj Mahal, but it is in keeping with the song and works quite well, while. One can imagine the soldiers singing like this.

‘Dixie’, sung during the war by both sides but associated now with the South, is pleasantly but somewhat underwhelmingly sung by Karen Elson and the Secret Sisters. It just feels a little too winsomely pretty to fit the project. Perhaps the ladies would have been more suited to ‘Wildwood Flower’, one of the few disappointments for me. ‘Wildwood Flower’ would have been better sung by a female singer than by Sam Amidon, a folk singer whose rather pedestrian vocal falls rather flat compared to many other versions I’ve heard, although the picking is nicely done. A A Bondy is a bit too breathy and experimental for me on ‘Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier’.

‘The Fall Of Charleston’, performed by folk/Americana duo Shovels & Rope is rather cluttered and messy sounding, and I could have done without this. T Bone Burnett isn’t much of a singer, but his grizzled vocal is extremely effective portraying the gloomy soldier’s wearied despair in ‘The Battle of Antietam’. Also working well with an everyman style vocal, John Doe’s wearied ‘Tenting On The Old Campground’ feels very authentic. Chris Thile and Mike Daves on the perky-sounding ‘Richmond Is A Hard Road To Travel’ also deal with army life.

‘Old Crow Medicine Show’ take on the two-paced marching song ‘Marching Through Georgia’ quite enjoyably. In a similar vein the less well known (and more anonymous sounding) The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band take on ‘Secesh’ in a raucous singalong. The Civil War had a naval aspect as well as a land one, and this represented here by a quirky sea song, ‘The Mermaid Song’, sung
by musician Jorma Kaukonen.

Angel Snow’s dreamily dejected version of ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ is quite effective at adding an unexpected poignancy.
The late Cowboy Jack Clements closes proceedings with the wistful ‘Beautiful Dreamer’.

Lest we forget the underlying cause of the war, the view of the slaves is represented in two songs (although it is not quite a first-person testimony, as both were written by the white abolitionist composer Henry Clay Ward. Pokey Lafarge tackles the anticipation of freedom in ‘Kingdom Come’ with committed enthusiasm just short of shouting, set against a martial beat. Much better, The Carolina Chocolate Drops hail the ‘Day Of Liberty’ for the country’s enslaved African Americans with a part-narrated (by Don Flemons), part-upbeat vocal (Rhiannon Giddens) song.

A few instrumental tunes are included, beautifully played by Bryan Sutton, Noah Pikelny and David Grisman. This impeccably arranged project is a remarkable piece of work, a poignant re-imagining of the Civil War through its music. It won’t appeal to everyone, but I appreciated it a great deal, and on a purely musical level, it has a lot to offer anyone who likes acoustic music.

Grade: A+