My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Tammy Wynette

Album Review: Sammy Kershaw – ‘Do You Know Me? A Tribute to George Jones’

Do You Know MeIt would be futile to attempt to quantify the number of male country singers over the past 40 years or so that have cited George Jones as a major influence on their careers, so it was inevitable that tribute albums would begin to appear following the Possum’s death last year. There is perhaps no one more suited to singing an album of Jones covers than Sammy Kershaw, who not only is among the more sincere of the self-proclaimed Jones proteges, he is also the one who sounds the most like Jones.

Do You Know Me? A Tribute To George Jones was produced by Kershaw himself and released last week on his own imprint Big Hit Records. It consists of twelve songs that span the most successful stretch of Jones’ long and distinguished career, from 1955’s “Why Baby Why” to 1985’s “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”. Casual fans of both Jones and Kershaw could easily and understandably be duped into thinking that Jones himself is the performer on these recordings. More serious fans won’t have any problem distinguishig the difference, but the comparison is a bit unfair, if only because Jones made most of these recordings when he was in his vocal prime, while Kershaw is at a point where the wear and tear on his vocal chords is beginning to show. He sounds the most like Jones on uptempo numbers such as “Why Baby Why”, “White Lightnin'” and “The Race Is On”. The ballads are well done and mostly faithful to the originals, but Kershaw can’t quite match the magic that Jones and Billy Sherrill achieved on numbers such as “The Grand Tour”, “Once You’ve Had The Best” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” It should be pointed out, however, that nobody could and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing more justice to these songs than Sammy does.

My favorite track is “When The Grass Grows Over Me”, a song written by Don Chapel that Jones took to #2 in 1968. That same year Jones repaid the favor by running off with Chapel’s wife Tammy Wynette. Georgette Jones, the only child that resulted from George and Tammy’s six-year marriage joins Sammy on “Near You”, an old pop standard that dates back to 1947. It woas originally recorded by its composer Francis Craig, and later covered by the likes of The Andrews Sisters, Roger Williams, Andy Williams, and several others. George and Tammy recorded it in 1974 when their marriage was in the midst of crumbling. Released in 1977 after the couple had divorced, it reached #1 on the Billboard country singles chart. Georgette is not the singer her mother was, but she sounds enough like Tammy to make her an ideal duet partner for Kershaw. With a little background noise and if one doesn’t listen too closely, one could almost believe that it’s George and Tammy singing.

In addition to the covers of Jones’ classic material, Do You Know Me? contains two new songs, including the title track, which is biographical ballad written for Jones by Johnny Holland and Billy Lawson, which he never got around to recording. Nobody could sing this song as credibly as Kerhsaw does, and had he not recorded it for this album, it likely would never have seen the light of day, which would have been a shame. The album closes with another ballad “The Route That I TooK”, a “Choices” -like number written by Sammy himself which talks about the Possum’s tendency not to do things the easy way.

Nothing on this album is likely to ever find its way to mainstream country radio airwaves, but it is a labor of love that truly deserves to be heard and it’s a must-have for any George Jones or Sammy Kershaw fan.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: George Jones and Tammy Wynette – ‘Were Not The Jet Set’

Week ending 3/8/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

Exile1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox) (tie): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)
There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Saginaw, Michigan — Lefty Frizzell (Columbia)

1974: Another Lonely Song — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1984: Woke Up In Love — Exile (Epic)

1994: I Just Wanted You To Know — Mark Chesnutt (MCA)

2004: American Soldier — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2014: Chillin’ It — Cole Swindell (Warner Bros.)

2014 (Airplay): When She Says Baby — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Week ending 3/1/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

webbpierce1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox) (tie): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)
There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Begging To You — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1974: Another Lonely Song — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1984: Stay Young — Don Williams (MCA)

1994: I Swear — John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic)

2004: American Soldier — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2014: Chillin’ It — Cole Swindell (Warner Bros.)

2014 (Airplay): When She Says Baby — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

The best reissues of 2013

2013 was a bad year for fans of traditional country music and its near cousins.Not only was radio virtually devoid of traditional country sounds, but Billboard bastardized its country charts to the point of meaninglessness, accepting remixes and reissues with other artists and treating them all as one record. Worse yet, a good many of our radio heroes passed away, starting on January 1, 2013 with the death of Patti Page, a country girl who went on to become a great classic pop singer, and who continued to showcase country songs throughout her illustrious career. Along the way we lost Jack Greene, Cal Smith, George Jones, Kitty Wells, Tompall Glaser, Ottis “Slim” Whitman, Claude King, Jack Clements, Lorene Mann, George Beverly Shea, and too many more for me to recount. We ended the year with the death of the great Ray Price.

Fortunately, we live in an age where the musical legacy of our radio heroes can and does live on. While not the absolute best year for reissues, it was a very strong year, with most of the great reissues coming from foreign soil.

On the domestic front Sony Legacy has been redoing their Essential series, issuing a series of two disc sets. The Essential Tammy Wynette is easily the best Tammy Wynette collection we will see, unless Bear Family decides to do a box set. The collection is arranged chronologically and without skipping the lesser hits. Fans of Tammy will hear some songs that rarely have been anthologized, and hear her catalog of hits in the order in which they were released. The forty songs are digitally remastered to sound superb, and even though I have such other Tammy Wynette collections as Tears of Fire and Anniversary: Twenty Years of Hits, still I regard this as an essential purchase for Tammy’s fans and a great introduction for those unfamiliar with her work.

I’m not a big Martina McBride fan but Sony Legacy’s two disc The Essential Martina McBride, issued in late 2012 and not widely available until this year, is probably the best collection you’ll see on Martina – terrific sound, with forty songs. A few minor hits have been omitted in favor of other material, which I don’t like, but that’s just me.

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The UK based Jasmine label has probably been the leading purveyor of reasonably pricced reissues, issuing a series of two CD sets, either featuring intact four older albums of a particular artist or issuing some sets that are simply collections of songs. Some of the Jasmine releases below were actually issued in late 2012, but not widely available until 2013.

Oh Lonesome Me, Singles Collection 1956-1962 is an outstanding two CD collection of Don Gibson’s singles from 1956-1962. Not only does the set capture Don’s earliest and biggest RCA hits (“Oh Lonesome Me”, “Sea of Heartbreak”, “Blue Blue Day”), but it also revisits Don’s rarely found MGM singles, including the earliest take on “Sweet Dreams”. Forty-six songs, hours of listening pleasure.

Love Is The Sweatest Thing: The Early Album Collection collects four of Ferlin Husky’s early Capitol albums. The albums are not overrun with hit singles (during the 1950s albums were often marketed to a different audience than were singles) but has four albums that are quite different from one another. 1956’s Songs of Home and The Heart features older country songs. Boulevard of Broken Dreams (1957) and Sittin’ On A Rainbow (1958) both feature what would today be referred as classic pop or pop standards – in other words, not very country at all. The last album in the set, Walkin’ And A Hunmin’ (1961), which Ferlin referred to as his Hank Williams album, does feature seven songs associated with Hank Williams. This collection gives a good overview of the breadth of Ferlin’s talent.

Headin’ Down The Wrong Highway: The Early Albums features four Hank Thompson albums from 1958-1961. For me the standout album is 1961’s Live At The Golden Nugget, but all of the albums are great listening. Relatively few hits are in this collection, but once you start the disc playing, you won’t care about the lack of hit records as Hank and his Brazos Valley Boys always exude good cheer and lotsa fun.

The First Lady of Country: The Early Album Collection is what I would deem to be an essential Jean Shepard album, including as it does one of the very first ‘concept’ albums in 1956’s Songs of A Love Affair. There are not a lot of hit singles in this 2 CD collection, but there are a lot of songs capturing the heart and soul of this pioneering female singer.

Queen of Honky Tonk Angels: Four Original Albums by Kitty Wells, captures an early hit collection in Country Hit Time, a gospel album, Dust On The Bible, and a pair of albums largely comprised of covers. Kitty Wells had a strong clear voice that didn’t waver until very late in life. She treats her material and herself with respect, the end result being albums really worth hearing.

Folk Ballads, Hits and Hymns – Four Stereo LPs finds legendary bluegrass singer Mac Wiseman traveling down other more mainstream country roads. Fans of bluegrass may be disappointed with the albums, but fans of Mac Wiseman will love this set comprised of two gospel albums, an album of some current (as of 1960) folk and country hits plus an album of folk songs. One of the gospel albums features the Jordanaires throughout, not that Mac ever really needed help to perform a gospel song.

I don’t know that you can really call Walter Brennan a country artist at all, but Jasmine released a single disc CD on Grandpa McCoy titled Reminiscing With Walter Brennan which definitely catches the essence of a beloved actor and perfermer. Brennan only had one hit “Old Rivers” (#3 Country / #5 pop) but it’s here along with 27 other favorites including his wonderful take on “The Shifting Whispering Sands”

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If the name Curly Putman means anything at all to the casual fan, it is as the writer of “Green Green Grass of Home” and co-writer of “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” . Curly did have a bit of a singing career and issued a some albums on ABC Records. Omni has collected two of Curly’s albums The Lonesome Country Of Curly Putman (1967) and Curly Putman’s World Of Country Music (1969) on a single disc. He’s hardly a compelling singer, but it is always interesting to hear a songwriter interpret his own material. “My Elusive Dreams” was released as a single and reached #41.

New West Records issued Dwight Yoakam’s 21st Century Hits: Best-Of 2000-2012, a nice collection of fourteen singles and miscellaneous tracks . Hardly Dwight’s best work, but still a useful collection, gathering together tracks not easily found.

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Omnivore Recordings, a label out of Los Angeles, CA started releasing albums in late 2012. Probably their most important release was the George Jones collection The Complete United Artists Solo Singles. I’ve always regarded the best recordings George Jones ever made as coming from his tenure with United Artists 1962-1965. From this period the finely nuanced singer emerged with such great singles as “She Thinks I Still Care” , “Sometimes You Can’t Win” , “A Girl I Used To Know” , “You Comb Her Hair” and “The Race Is On”. All of these titles have been available as re-recordings made for Musicor and/or Epic , but these are the original hit versions – 32 songs, the A and B sides of his 16 United Artist singles – an absolutely essential collection (unless you own the Bear Family box set of the United Artists years).

Omnivore also has released some Buck Owens, Don Rich and Buckaroos collections.

Buck Em! : The Music of Buck Owens 1955-1967 is billed as the companion to the recently published Buck Owens autobiography, but as a stand-alone collection it is a worthy acquisition if there is a hole in your Buck Owens catalog. Some alternative and live recordings are among the two CD sets fifty tracks. Not essential but a nice collection spanning the Pep and early Capitol years.

Omnivore’s Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings The Country Classics collects eighteen tracks recorded for use on the television show Hee Haw. Many of these tracks were recorded after the death of Don Rich, so the classic harmonies aren’t always present, and these are very short recordings designed to fit the pace of the television show, but they are songs that Buck didn’t otherwise record for commerical release, covering country classics from 1945-1973 by the likes of Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Johnny Horton and Ray Price.

With “Live” At The White House (… And In Space), Omnivore makes available a live Buck Owens album that Capitol had a available for a short time of Buck’s September 9, 1968 White House performance for President Lyndon Johnson. The original album only ran about 22 minutes so in order to get a usable length CD, Omnivore coupled the album with a program recorded for the Apollo 16 astronauts to take on their mission with them. A bit gimmicky, but Buck Owens completists will want the album.

The late Don Rich was a fine singer in his own right and an excellent musician that Omnivore has focused upon. That Fiddlin’ Man restores to print a 1971 Buckaroos allbum featuring Don Rich on fiddle and adds an additional ten tracks of Don fiddlin’ around from other Buckaroo albums. I got to see Buck & Don in person three times and it was always a highlight of the show when Buck has Don pull out his ‘cherry apple red fiddle’ and play “Cajun Fiddle”, “Orange Blossom Special” or some other tune. Don Rich Sings George Jones features ten George Jones songs that were recorded for a never released Don Rich solo album, augmented with four Buck Owens tracks of George Jones covers. The Buckaroos Play Merle and Buck couple a pair of Buckaroos albums, 1965’s The Buck Owens Songbook with 1971’s The Songs of Merle Haggard. These are all instrumental numbers featuring Don Rich (mostly) on telecaster.

There are many fine Merle Haggard collections available so Omnivore’s The Complete 60s Capitol Singles is hardly an essential collection but it is definitely an excellent one and anyway one can never have too much Merle Haggard in their collection. Twenty-eight songs – the A & B sides of Merle’s fourteen singles, and Merle’s B sides were hardly throw-aways, “Today I Started Loving You Again” and “Silver Wings” both being B sides. Merle’s peak years were with Capitol and this is all great stuff – it doesn’t get any better than this !

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I will close out with a Bear Family boxed set that is beyond the price range for most of us, probably even beyond the Christmas ‘wish list’: Tall Dark Stranger – Buck Owens and The Buckaroos Recordings: 1968-1975. This eight CD set covers Buck’s slightly post-peak eriod with Capitol Records, a period that saw Buck experimenting with and updating the ‘freight train’ sound that had become his hallmark. Includes his duet albums with son Buddy Alan Owens, the Susan Raye duets, some Buckaroos recordings and even a duet with a duet with R&B singer Bettye Swann. Buck had about 20 chart hits during this period and the set features many previously unreleased songs

Week ending 11/9/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

rebalinda1953 (Sales): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1963: Love’s Gonna Live Here — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1973: We’re Gonna Hold On — George Jones & Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1983: Islands In The Stream — Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton (RCA)

1993: Does He Love You — Reba McEntire with Linda Davis (MCA)

2003: Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): It Goes Like This — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Week ending 11/2/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

georgejones_tammywynette_v_e1953 (Sales): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1953 (Jukebox): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1963: Love’s Gonna Live Here — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1973: We’re Gonna Hold On — George Jones & Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1983: Islands In The Stream — Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton (RCA)

1993: Easy Come, Easy Go — George Strait (MCA)

2003: Tough Little Boys — Gary Allan (MCA)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): It Goes Like This — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Album Review: Donna Ulisse – ‘Showin’ My Roots’

showin my rootsFor the past few years former country singer Donna Ulisse has been making a name for herself as a bluegrass singer-songwriter. I’ve enjoyed her music in that vein, but a small part of me hankered after the neotraditional country singer she started out as. Now she has combined the two sides to her music in a nod to her musical roots, re-imagining the country classics she grew up listening to, in a bluegrass setting, with a few bluegrass songs thrown in. The result is a joy to listen to.

Donna produced the record with acoustic guitarist Bryan Sutton. The band consists of some of the finest bluegrass studio musicians: Sutton, Scott Vestal on banjo, Rob Ickes on dobro, Andy Leftwich on fiddle and mandolin, and either Viktor Krauss (on most tracks) or Byron House on upright bass.

A pair of new songs bookend the album, both written by Donna with her husband Rick Stanley. The charming title track sets the mood and dwells on the influence on her of Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, Dolly Parton and Carter Stanley. Fayssoux Maclean sings harmony. ‘I’ve Always Had A Song I Could Lean On’ is a fond reminiscence of a music-filled childhood.

Donna plays tribute to Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette with confident, sassy versions of ‘Fist City’ and ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’, both of which I enjoyed very much. A thoughtful and convincing take on Dolly Parton’s ‘In The Good Old Days When Times Were Bad’ acts as Donna’s nod to both Dolly and to Haggard, whose cover influenced this version.

Donna’s husband is a cousin of Carter and Ralph Stanley, and Donna’s version of the Stanley Brothers’ ‘How Mountain Girls Can Love’ is bright and charming. The finest moments on this album are the ballads. A beautifully measured version of Ralph Stanley’s deeply mournful ‘If That’s The Way You Feel’ is my favorite track. Larry Cordle and Carl Jackson add harmonies to this exquisite reading.

Almost as good, ‘Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missing Tonight)’, a Loretta Lynn hit written by Lola Jean Fawbush, is lonely and longing, with the gorgeous tone Donna displayed on her 1990s country records, and a very spare, stripped down arrangement. Absolutely wonderful.

Donna is sincere and compelling on ‘Wait A Little Longer Please, Jesus’, a favorite of her father. I also enjoyed the traditional ‘Take This Hammer’ (the first song Donna ever sang in public, as a small child) with guest Sam Bush sharing the vocals. A sweet and tenderly romantic ‘Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On’ is delicately pretty.

‘I Hope You Have Learned’ was written in the 1950s by Donna’s great-uncle Gene Butler, who spent a short period in Nashville working as a songwriter. It is a high lonesome bluegrass ballad whose protagonist is in prison for murdering a romantic rival, and wants to know if the spouse will be waiting on release. Donna twists the genders around but otherwise this is faithful to the original, recorded by Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe.

The only disappointment for me was Rodney Crowell’s ‘One Way Rider’, which boasts sparkling playing by the musicians, but although Donna tackles it with enthusiasm, it feels a little characterless despite John Cowan’s harmony providing some flavor.

This is one of a number of excellent bluegrass/country albums to emerge this year, but Donna’s beautiful, expressive vocals, which are at their best on this album, make this one not to be missed. Her interpretative ability means that she brings her own contribution even to the best-known songs, and this is thoroughly recommended.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Ashton Shepherd – ‘This Is America’

shepherdIt’s always interesting to see what artistic changes will occur when an artist moves from a major label to an indie.  The conventional wisdom tends to dictate that that artist, now unencumbered by corporate restraints, will be free to release the masterpiece that he or she always wanted to make.  In reality, however, the changes are more likely to occur due to budgetary constraints and access (or lack thereof) to first-rate songs and the guidance of a good producer.  On This Is America, Ashton Shepherd’s  new self-released collection, there isn’t a huge change in artistic direction, which is not entirely surprising since she’s always played a major role in writing her material.  It does suggest that MCA gave her relative freedom to record what she wanted during her two-album stint with the label, though they may not have always marketed the final product aggressively.   The production on This Is America is a little more spare and somewhat generic; whether this is due to personal taste or a smaller budget is not clear.   I haven’t been able to find a producer credit anywhere for the album, but in an interview Shepherd did say that all of the vocal tracks were recorded in one day, which suggests that costs were kept to a minimum.  Unlike the recent self-released album from Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan, however, the sound quality on This Is America is excellent throughout.

I enjoy patriotic songs as much as any red-blooded American, but a steady diet of them in recent years, has somewhat eroded my appetite, particularly since many of them appear to have been motivated not by a profound love for God and country but by a desire to capitalize on the emotions of the nation since the September 11th attacks nearly a dozen years ago.   So I can’t say that I was particularly excited when “This Is America” hit iTunes back in July as the album’s advance single.  However,  Ashton sings the song with a great deal of sincerity,  and the song has grown on me with repeated listenings, even though it doesn’t say much that hasn’t been said before.

Like patriotism, nostalgia plays a big role in this album, beginning with the opening number, “Andy”, which looks back at simpler and happier times (that probably never truly existed) and unfavorably compares them to the state of modern life.   Though Ashton is too young to remember The Andy Griffith Show during its initial airing, she does seem to draw more upon her own experiences in the album’s other nostalgic tune “Seventeen Again”, which finds her letting her hair down and reliving some moments of her youth, in an attempt to escape the drudgeries of day-to-day life.   It’s one of the album’s best tracks, and one that with some major label promotional muscle behind it, might have had some commercial potential.

“The Next Time You Cross My Mind”, which sounds like something that Patty Loveless might have recorded in the nineties, is my favorite song on the album, followed by a remake of “Golden Ring”, the George Jones and Tammy Wynette classic, with Daryle Singletary acting as Ashton’s duet partner.   Also quite good is “For Boosin’” (sic) , which tells the tale of a now washed-up country singer whose shot at the big time was sabotaged by a drinking problem.  “Final”, an ambitious ballad that follows a relationship through its various stages – courtship, marriage, divorce and death — is reminiscent of Martina McBride, although Ashton’s performance is much more restrained that I imagine Martina’s would have been.

Overall, This Is America is a solid but not outstanding effort, not unlike Ashton’s major label work.  It doesn’t contain anything truly outstanding or memorable, but it is a pleasant listen and in this age of obnoxiously overproduced arena rock, pleasant is enough.   The album is available for download at iTunes and Amazon, and CD copies can be purchased directly from Ashton’s website.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: George Jones and Tammy Wynette – ‘Old Fashioned Singing’

Week ending 6/22/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

pattyloveless1953 (Sales): Mexican Joe — Jim Reeves (Abbott)

1953 (Jukebox): Mexican Joe — Jim Reeves (Abbott)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Mexican Joe — Jim Reeves (Abbott)

1963: Lonesome 7-7203 — Hawkshaw Hawkins (King)

1973: Kids Say The Darndest Things — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1983: You Can’t Run From Love — Eddie Rabbitt (Elektra)

1993: Blame It On Your Heart — Patty Loveless (Epic)

2003: Beer For My Horses — Toby Keith with Willie Nelson (DreamWorks)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Boys ‘Round Here — Blake Shelton featuring Pistol Annies & Friends (Warner Bros.)

Album Review: Georgette Jones – ‘Till I Can Make It On My Own’

georgette jones till i can make it on my ownGeorgette Jones’s third Heart of Texas album features her best vocals to date, but her least imaginative selection of material, as this album has been conceived as a tribute to mother Tammy Wynette. She does not sound much like either illustrious parent, but her light airy vocals have a very attractive tone which makes her worth listening to on her own merits. Her phrasing is also excellent with a natural, unforced feel. Like all Heart Of Texas records, this is impeccably produced (by the label’s Justin Trevino) in traditional country style, so it makes pleasant listening even if the repertoire is over-familiar.

Georgette’s voice works particularly well on the title track, which has a wistful air to it distinguishing it from the more impassioned original. A languid take on ‘Til I Get It Right’ with tasteful string accompaniment is also a highlight, with a subtle vocal interpretation. ‘Take Me To Your World’ is sweet and sincere, with very pretty harmonies. She sounds resigned on an understated ‘Stand By Your Man’, which I liked. The less well known ‘Stayin’ Home Woman’ and ‘Run Woman Run’ are also both quite enjoyable

There are several duets. Producer Justin Trevino helps out on the George Jones-penned ‘Take Me’, which is nicely done although it pales rather compared to the original. Billy Yates guests on ‘Golden Ring’, which is pleasant but again lacks the original’s force.

Veteran Tony Booth enjoyed a minor career on Capitol in the 70s, before backing Gene Watson for some years, and his deep, grizzled voice makes an interesting contrast with Georgette’s insubstantial sweetness on ‘My Elusive Dreams’, and one which suits the song quite well.

Someone called Keith Nixon shares the vocals on the playful ‘Something To Brag About’; this one is fun. A duet with Amber Digby on ‘Run, Woman, Run’ is repeated from Georgette’s last album, Strong Enough To Cry.

Georgette’s voice is a little too sweet and gentle for ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’ to have its full impact, although she is convincingly vulnerable. Her resolve to lose her respectability does not however convince on ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’. ‘Apartment # 9’ is delivered plaintively, but didn’t make much of an impact on me.

The CD liner notes comprise several family photographs of Georgette with Tammy, so if you want Tammy’s recipe for banana pudding (topped with meringue) this is the place to find it.

While not an essential purchase, I rather enjoyed this record.

Grade: B

George Jones remembered

george-jones-200a-072408mbWith the passing of George, all the radio heroes of my early childhood, except Ray Price, have gone from the scene. I can’t tell you exactly when I became cognizant of George Jones, as he seemed to have always been there. I remember radio playing songs such as “White Lightning”, “Who Shot Sam?”, “Don’t Stop The Music” , “Just One More” and You Gotta Be My Baby” during the 1950’s and liking the sound of the records, although not necessarily understanding what they were about.

I can tell you when I became a real fan of George Jones and when I started understanding what his music was about. In 1961 I turned nine years old and lived across the street from a kid whose father manifested all of the bad behavior that was revealed in George’s songs. While many sang “the endless ballads of booze and broads” in those less politically correct days, George brought a depth of emotion that few could achieve. But while many singers mined those same waters, few were also as good at singing of other matters such as love and faith. Let’s face it, George Jones could sing even the most mediocre and most maudlin songs with convincing sincerity, so when he had good material to work with, the results transcended what everyone else was doing.

For my money, the very best recordings George Jones ever recorded came during the 1960s. Yes, he became a more nuanced singer later, but he was already 98% at his nuanced peak and his voice was at its absolute peak.

During the 1950s George recorded for Starday and/or Mercury (there were some collaborative efforts between the two labels) and while there was considerable youthful enthusiasm there, the polish had not yet been applied. Towards the end of his run on Mercury a few songs were released that heralded the direction George was going – “The Window Up Above”, “She Thinks I Still Care”, “Tender Years”, and “You’re Still On My Mind”. These songs exhibited a little more careful production than was often the case and were far more introspective than the usual “ballads of booze and broads”. While “You’re Still On My Mind” was not released as a single until after George left Mercury (and accordingly received no promotional push) it was an impressive effort and earned the songwriter Luke McDaniel some additional money when the Byrds included it on their Sweetheart Of The Rodeo album.

I have said many times the 1960s were my favorite era for George Jones recordings. In 1961 George’s recordings started appearing on the United Artists label. While perhaps a bit heavy on the strings and vocal choruses, these recordings feature strong material and find George in fine voice throughout. This era kicked off with a magnificent single, “She Thinks I Still Care” b/w “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” as the B side. The A side shot to #1 where it stayed for six weeks. I thought the song on the B side was the stronger song – and it proved its worth by shooting to #17. (A new recording of the song would reach the top ten in 1971 for Musicor, plus it would be covered by many other artists) . What better description can you have of despair than

Just when the suns shines the brightest
And the world looks alright again
Then the clouds fill the skies
You can’t believe your eyes
Sometimes you just can’t win

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Week ending 3/16/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Gary-Allan1953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Don’t Let Me Cross Me Over — Carl Butler & Pearl (Columbia)

1973: ‘Til I Get It Right — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1983: The Rose — Conway Twitty (Elektra)

1993: What Part of No — Lorrie Morgan (BNA)

2003: Man to Man — Gary Allan (MCA)

2013: Sure Be Cool If You Did — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

2013 (Airplay): One Of Those Nights — Tim McGraw (Big Machine)

Album Review: Amber Digby – ‘The World You’re Living In’

amberdigbyIndependent artist Amber Digby is back with a new collection of tunes, which  like most of her earlier work, consists mainly of covers of classic country tunes.  This time around, however, she’s included some more contemporary fare along with some remakes of old classics and some lesser-known older songs.

The album opens with a reverent rendition of Norma Jean’s “It’s a Long Way From Heaven (To The World You’re Living In)” , which is pedal steel-drenched track in the vein that we’ve come to expect from Amber.  I’m not familiar with the Norma Jean version, but I like Amber’s take on the song very much.   Additionally, there are the expected covers of songs made famous by Connie Smith, Tammy Wynette, and Loretta Lynn.   She pays homage to Smith with the Dallas Frazier-penned “If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone)”  Nobody can sing it like Connie Smith, but the song is well worth resurrecting and introducing to a new audience.    “We Loved It Away”, which Amber sings with Randy Lindley, is one of my all-time favorite George Jones and Tammy Wynette numbers.  “The One I Can’t Live Without” was previously recorded by  Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn.  Vince Gill is Amber’s duet partner on this one.

Aside from the usual Smith, Wynette and Lynn tunes, Amber steps outside the box a little and covers some less traditional artists such as Lynn Anderson (“How Can I Unlove You”) and Outlaws such as Johnny Paycheck (“It Won’t Be Long and I’ll Be Hating You”).

As far as more contemporary numbers are concerned, Amber does a very nice cover of Vince Gill’s “One More Thing I Wish I’d Said”, from Gill’s recent Guitar Slinger.  My digital copy of the album from CD Baby came without liner notes, but “You Leave Again” and “She’d Already Won Your Heart” sound like newer songs, and “Saturday Night” with its references to cell phones and emails was definitely written recently, though it sounds like a vintage tune.

None of these tunes will ever be heard on mainstream country radio but all are worthwhile efforts that will be appreciated by anyone who enjoys traditional country music.  Legendary musicians such as Lloyd Green, Dicky Overbey and Jim Loessberg on steel guitar, Pete Wade on electric guitar, and Harold “Pig” Robbins help make these songs sound true to their era, as opposed to contemporary reinterpretations.  There is nothing to not to like here.  If you miss the way country music used to be, you need this album in your collection. It can be purchased from Amber’s website, Amazon, or CD Baby.

Grade: A

Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Timeless’

Timeless

Timeless

By 2005 Martina McBride’s music had seemingly progressed further and further away from her country roots. She showed she had not forgotten those roots by recording a classic covers album. Tt was received enthusiastically by her fans – in fact she achieved her highest ever first-week sales with this release, and the album was ultimately a platinum seller despite poor radio support.

The prospect of one of the finest and most naturally gifted country singers of her generation tackling great songs with mostly more traditional country arrangements was mouthwatering. There was also an exceptionally generous number of tracks – the standard US edition boasted 18 songs, with four added tracks on the European version. The vocals, as expected, are impeccable, and the beautifully realised arrangements are reverent recreations of the originals – but that is really the main criticism that the album faces – some critics complained that Martina was too faithful to the original versions and brought too little new. Martina had co-produced some of her earlier albums, but produced this one solo.

The lead single was Lynn Anderson’s signature song ‘Rose Garden’, which made it into the top 20 for Martina. This was probably a poor choice as it is one of the more dated sounding tracks with an efficient but somewhat anonymous vocal, and a timeless sounding ballad with more emotional weight would have been a more comfortable fit for Martina’s fans and country radio; my feeling is that this single choice set the tone for the album’s under-performance at radio., which was unfortunate.

The second, and much better, single was a beautiful version of ‘I Still Miss Someone’, with Dolly Parton harmonising. Unfortunately I think the poor showing of ‘Rose Garden’ meant radio had no enthusiasm for another cover, and it peaked at #50, but had this been the first release, I suspect it would have done better.

Another highlight comes with the beautiful, measured melancholy of Martina’s version of the Haggard classic ‘Today I Started Loving You Again’, where she brings out the sadness of the song’s emotion, and does succeed in making it her own (and entirely convincing). This is one of the finest moments of Martina’s career from an artistic viewpoint, and really deserved wider dissemination. ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ and Tammy Wynette’s ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own’ are also exqusitely done with sensitively interpreted vocals and subtle interpretations.

A pensive ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ recalls the Nashville Sound with its dated backing vocals but lovely steel in the arrangement. Martina’s emotional vocal is one of her best performances, but this is a case where fidelity to the original version was unwise (because the strings overwhelm it towards the end).

The very authentic steel-heavy treatment of the Hank Williams classic ‘You Win Again’ is the most traditional Martina has ever been, with an arrangement identical to the original. What she does bring of her own to the performance, is a sensitive, believable vocal which works well.

Martina brings some personality to a perky ‘I’ll Be There’, backed up by Dan Tyminski and Rhonda Vincent. ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ (the third single) is confident and sassy but lightweight compared to Loretta Lynn’s original. Similarly, ‘Once A Day’ is fine, but not as good as Connie Smith’s peerless original and Martina does not convince the hearer of her emotional meltdown here. ‘Pick Me Up On Your Way Down’ and a brisk take on ‘Thanks A Lot’ also sound a bit too upbeat for the material.

‘Love’s Gonna Live Here Again’ isn’t bad but feels a little characterless vocally. ‘Heartaches By The Number’ is more successful, sung with great energy and characteristic harmonies from Dwight Yoakam. ‘Satin Sheets’ boasts another excellent performance from Martina.

‘I Don’t Hurt Anymore’ (one of the less remembered songs today, it was a massive hit in the 50s for Hank Snow, staying at #1 for over 20 weeks) is done well, with a bright, liquid vocal and attractive melody. ‘Make The World Go Away’ is nicely done (but pales compared to the most recent version of the song by Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss).

Smoothly and sweetly sung, Buddy Holly’s ‘True Love Ways’ is rather reminiscent of some of Patsy Cline’s more sophisticated pop work from her later career; it seems rather a shame, in retrospect that Martina didn’t pick one of Patsy’s signature songs because I feel they would have suited her really well.

The European release included four bonus tracks. ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ has a very pretty piano-led arrangement and gentle, melodic vocal. An understated take on ‘Crying Time’ loaded with steel is very fine indeed, and I also enjoyed Martina’s version of ‘Take These Chains From My Heart’. The cheating song ‘Walk On By’ rounds out the selection with another fine performance.

Lack of originality aside, this album features great songs sung extremely well by a very fine singer, and is well worth catching up with, but get the European release if you can for the added material.

Grade: A

Week ending 11/17/12: #1 singles this week in country music history

1952: Jambalaya (On The Bayou) — Hank Williams (MGM)

1962: Mama Sang a Song — Bill Anderson (Decca)

1972: My Man — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1982: Heartbroke — Ricky Skaggs (Epic)

1992: No One Else on Earth — Wynonna (MCA/Curb)

2002: Somebody Like You — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2012: We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2012 (Airplay): Hard To Love — Lee Brice (Curb)

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette – ‘Talkin’ To Myself Again’

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette – ‘Good Lovin’ (Makes It Right)’

Country Heritage: David Houston

A person surveying the country music scene at the beginning of 1973 could be forgiven for thinking that David Houston was en route to a career that would culminate in eventual induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His most recent single, “Good Things,” would reach #1 on Cashbox and complete a decade in which 13 of his singles topped one or more of the Billboard, Cashbox and/or Record World country charts. His 1966 hit, “Almost Persuaded,” was the biggest country hit of the decade (1966-75) and another 17 singles cracked the top 20 during that span. Eight of his songs cracked Billboard’s pop charts.

Instead, Houston’s career would come to a screeching halt with only two more top 20 singles to follow.

Charles David Houston (December 9, 1935 – November 30, 1993) was born and died in Bossier City, Louisiana. Between those dates, he compiled a career worthy of his antecedents who include former Revolutionary War hero (and Virginia governor) “Lighthorse” Harry Lee, General Robert E. Lee and Texas hero Sam Houston. His godfather, 1920s pop singer Gene Austin (“My Blue Heaven”), co-owned an auto dealership with Houston’s father and took an active role in encouraging David’s musical career. Like Gene Austin, Houston was very much at home with pop music. Eventually, he came to the attention of Slim Whitman, who recorded his first session in 1955 and got him placed on Imperial Records. A spot on the Louisiana Hayride soon followed.

The contract with Imperial didn’t lead anywhere, nor did subsequent recording contracts with RCA and Atlanta-based National Recording Corporation. Finally, in 1963, Tillman Franks, former manager of Johnny Horton and Claude King, pitched a song to Houston and got him on the Epic label. The song, “Mountain of Love” (not the same song that Johnny Rivers and Charley Pride recorded), rose to #2 on Billboard. After a couple of minor hits, Billy Sherrill took over Epic’s Nashville operations and provided Houston with a song he penned (with Glen Sutton) titled “Livin’ in a House Full of Love,” which hit #3 in late 1965.

In 1966, Sherrill had Houston record a waltz that he and Glen Sutton had written as a possible B-side. The song, a tale of a married man struggling (and succeeding) in fighting off temptation, became an A-side and a sensation. “Almost Persuaded” jumped to #1 that August and spent nine weeks at the top of Billboard’s country chart and reached #24 on the pop chart (no record since 1966 has topped the country charts for as long a period). Aided by the piano signatures of Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins, “Almost Persuaded” garnered two Grammys for Houston (Best Country & Western Recording and Best Country & Western Performance, Male) in 1967. The CMA Awards did not start until the next year so his biggest record went unrecognized by the CMA.

“Almost Persuaded” launched a string of hits that lasted through 1973 and created the template that Sherrill used on his future recordings with Tammy Wynette, George Jones and numerous other artists. Sometimes referred to as “country cocktails,” the Sherrill arrangements would come to dominate country music until the outlaw movement came to the fore in the mid ’70s. Such David Houston solo hits as “With One Exception” and “You Mean the World to Me” (1967); “Have a Little Faith” and “Already It’s Heaven” (1968); “Baby, Baby (I Know You’re a Lady)” (1970); and the 1967 duet of “My Elusive Dreams” with the then-largely unknown Tammy Wynette served to demonstrate how well the arrangements could work in the hands of an expressive singer. Along the way, Houston also provided Barbara Mandrell with her first major hit in “After Closing Time” (#6 in 1970). Read more of this post

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