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Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Stand By Your Man’

51-kr28ttwl-_ss500Tammy Wynette’s fifth album is somewhat of a departure from her earlier efforts in that it relies much less on cover material made famous by other artists and also shows her beginning to develop as a songwriter. The highlight, of course, is the title track, which is her undisputed greatest moment on record and as well as her biggest commercial achievement. “Stand By Your Man” was written in about fifteen minutes when producer Billy Sherrill invited Tammy to help him finish a song that he’d started writing. Tammy had deep reservations about the final product, as well as her ability to hit the high notes at the end. When her then-husband George Jones also did not care for the song, she wanted to pass on it but Sherrill ultimately persuaded her to record it. “Stand By Your Man” was recorded on August 28, 1968 and released shortly thereafter. It topped the country chart for the week of November 23, 1968 and remained there for three weeks. It also became a Top 20 pop hit and made Tammy Wynette a household name both at home and abroad.

Stand By Your Man the album was released in early 1969. There were no singles released from it aside from the title track; it was probably selling well enough without the need for any additional hits to support it. However, the other songs, though not well remembered today, are all quite enjoyable. “I Stayed Long Enough” had been the B-side of “Stand By Your Man” and is one of the few songs that Wynette wrote all by herself. She puts in a strong vocal performance, supported by plenty of steel guitar and not as much of Sherill’s “country cocktail” production that would prevail on most of her later records. It was covered by Billie Jo Spears in 1970 and was a minor hit for her.

Divorce and the toll it takes on children is a recurring theme in Wynette’s catalog. The trend begun with “I Don’t Wanna Play House” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” is well represented here from the Liz Anderson/Dick Land tune “Cry, Cry Again” which finds Tammy begging her estranged husband to come home for the sake of their daughter to “Joey”, written by Tammy’s ex-husband Don Chapel, in which the title character laments that “all the other kids he knows have daddies every day.” “Don’t Make Me Go To School” similarly deals with a young girl who feels out of place because her classmates all have two full-time parents.

“It’s My Way” is the album’s only remake, having originally been a hit for Webb Pierce in 1957. Sherrill’s use of a double-tracked vocal is reminiscent of “Apartment No. 9” from a few years earlier.

Two bonus tracks were added to the album when it was finally reissued on CD in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Neither is particularly exciting. “I’m Only a Woman” is noteworthy only because it was written by Dottie West. “There’s Quite a Difference” is a filler track in which Tammy warns a wandering husband not to choose his bit on the side over his wife and family.

It could certainly be argued that Stand By Your Man contains nothing essential aside from its title track; however, I would counter argue that the remaining songs, while not regarded as classics today, are all well done and allow the listener to enjoy Tammy at her vocal peak.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette – ‘He Loves Me All The Way’

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette – ‘Singing My Song’

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’

mi0003064266Tammy Wynette, once again, teamed with Billy Sherill for her third album, D-I-V-O-R-C-E, released in 1968. It would be Wynette’s first chart-topping album, fueled by the success of the now-classic title track.

The Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman penned ballad was Wynette’s fastest rising single to date and quickly topped the charts. She had gained a reputation for selecting material highlighting the woman’s perspective, a fascist sorely lacking in mainstream country music at the time. I first became familiar with the song through Rosanne Cash, who recorded a more contemporary take for Tammy Wynette Remembered following her death in 1998.

As was customary at the time, the album features a bevy of covers. Wynette turns in a rather strong rendition of “Gentle On My Mind” and a fantastic cover of “Honey,” which I’d never heard from a woman’s perspective before. I wasn’t as crazy about “Yesterday,” which with a country arrangement just doesn’t work. “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” however, is one of the record’s strongest cuts. “Sweet Dreams,” on the other hand, is much too maudlin for my tastes.

George Richey, Wynette’s widower co-wrote “Come On Home,” an excellent ballad about an ‘old faithful’ wife perfectly content with her husband’s cheating. Sherrill co-wrote “Kiss Away,” a fabulous steel-soaked showcase for Wynette’s impressive vocal range. The jaunty “When There’s A Fire In Your Heart,” also wonderful, was co-written by Merle Kilgore. The final cut, “Lonely Street,” another very good ballad, was co-written by country singer Carl Belew.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E is the rare 1960s country album that hits all the right notes. The covers worked well with Wynette’s voice and I really liked the arrangements. If you haven’t heard this one before, I highly recommend seeking it out.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette – ‘Stand By Your Man’

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Take Me To Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House’

take-me-to-your-worldReleased in January 1968, Take Me To Your World/ I Don’t Wanna Play House, was Tammy’s second solo album and represented another step forward in Tammy Wynette’s career, rising to #3 on the Country Albums chart. Not only that, but the two singles released from the album both rose to #1 giving Tammy her first two solo #1 records and her third overall #1 (her duet of “My Elusive Dreams” with David Houston reached #1 in 1967).

For me, the apogee of female country singers was reached in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While female singers may have achieved better chart penetration later, qualitative the major label crop of female singers was abundant and excellent with the likes of Connie Smith, Wilma Burgess, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Jean Shepard, Dottie West, Skeeter Davis, Lynn Anderson, Liz Anderson, Norma Jean, Rose Maddox, Jeanie Seely, Jeannie C Riley, Barbara Mandrell and Wanda Jackson being among the competition. There also were a host of second-tier artists on the major labels and many female artists on minor and independent labels. Within a few years the likes of Tanya Tucker and Barbara Fairchild would appear on the scene. The ghost of Patsy Cline was also on the scene.

While Tammy Wynette did not have the sheer vocal power of a Jean Shepard or Loretta Lynn, she did have the advantage of a record producer who was perfectly able to overcome Tammy’s vocal limitations and devise accompaniments to perfectly frame the essential teardrop in Tammy’s voice, and to write (when necessary) to showcase the voice and the production.

(As an aside, when I refer to the term “Nashville Sound”, I am referring to recordings where steel guitars and fiddles are accompanied (or sometimes replaced) by symphonic arrangements and choral accompaniments. The chief architects of this style were Chet Atkins at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca, and Billy Sherrill at Epic. In Sherrill’s hands the arrangements were sometimes referred to as ‘country cocktails’. The style was very effective in covering up a singer’s lack of range, particularly in the higher registers.)

The album opens with “I Don’t Wanna Play House” a Billy Sherrill-Glen Sutton composition that won the 1968 Grammy for Best Female Country Performance. In the song, the narrator, a woman whose husband has left her, hears her daughter tell a neighbor boy that she doesn’t want to play house and the reason why she doesn’t want to play. This is a very compelling song:

Today I sat alone at the window
And I watched our little girl outside at play
With the little boy next door like so many times before
But something didn’t seem quite right today

So I went outside to see what they were doing
And then the teardrops made my eyes grow dim
‘Cause I heard him name a game and I hung my head in shame
When I heard our little girl say to him.

I don’t want to play house; I know it can’t be fun
I’ve watched mommy and daddy
And if that’s the way it’s done
I don’t want to play house; It makes my mommy cry
‘Cause when she played house
My daddy said good-bye.

Next up is “Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town”, a minor hit for Norma Jean in 1967. Tammy does as nice job with the song.

“Broadminded” comes from the pen of Leona Williams and Jimmy Payne. At some point Leona would become one of Merle Haggard’s wives and would have some success on the country charts, although never as much as her talent would have warranted. The Leona Williams version of the songs is far superior to Tammy’s rendition, but if you’ve not heard Leona’s version you will likely like Tammy’s recording. At this point in her career Tammy really hadn’t become quite assertive enough to give this sassy up-tempo song the proper reading.

Broadminded, narrow minded man
Every night I catch you sleepin’ with a smile on your face
And a-callin’ names that I don’t even know
If it ain’t Carmel, Pat and Gracie
Aand drinkin’ down at Stacey’s
It’s making plans to see a girly show

Broadminded, I just don’t understand
A broadminded, narrow minded man

“Cry” was a big 1950s hit for male pop singer Johnnie Ray. Tammy gives it a straight ahead reading, but the song works better in the hands of someone with a bigger voice – both Lynn Anderson (#3 in 1972) and Crystal Gayle (#1 in 1986) would have big hits with the song in the upcoming years.

“The Phone Call”, written by Norris “Norro” Wilson, is just album filler, a phone call between a daughter and her mother, telling her mother her tale of woe about a man who mistreated her.

“Take Me To Your World”, a Glen Sutton-Billy Sherrill collaboration, is given the full Nashville Sound treatment by Sherrill. The song is an outstanding effort and showcases Tammy vocals perfectly.

If you can find it in your heart to just forgive
I’ll come back and live the way you’ve wanted me to live
All I want is just to be your girl
Please come and get me, and take me to your world

Take me to your world, away from bar rooms filled with smoke
Where I won’t have to serve a drink, or hear a dirty joke
All I want is just to be your girl

“(Or) Is It Love” was written by Buddy Ray. It too, is given the full Nashville Sound treatment, turning a piece of filler into a worthwhile effort. Harry Mills’ “Fuzzy Wuzzy Ego” is a song about a woman essentially talking her man off the ledge and into returning home. The production on this song is very country, including use of a dobro.

With one elbow on the bar you’re drinking double
Tryin’ hard to drown up my memories
And you’re tellin’ all your buddies all your troubles
Layin’ the blame smack upon me.

If you set that bottle down and while I listen
You lose your pain inside that hurts you so
Neither one of us is all to blame baby
It’s your foggy woggy, wishy washy, fuzzy wuzzy ego.

My vinyl album contains “It’s My Way” a song credited to Wayne Walker and Webb Pierce. It is a good song, but it does not appear on my digital version of the album.

Glen Sutton’s “Good” would have made a good single, a tale of a woman torn between good and bad, who simply cannot keep herself in line. The production is subdued Nashville Sound.

Now I’m back here in a barroom,
A waitress again.
The good world I’ve lived in,
Just came to an end.

For temptation comes easy
To a woman like me.
And regardless of my chances,
I know that I’ll never be.

Good like I used to be;
I guess it’s just not in me.
With all my heart how I wish I proved
I’ve been good like he wanted me.

“Ode To Billy Joe” is a cover of the Bobbie Gentry hit from a few years earlier. Tammy gives the song a satisfactory rendition, but she does not have the soulful Gothic feel of Gentry’s original.

“Soaking Wet” is the bonus track on my digital copy of the album, a straight ahead country treatment devoid of Nashville Sound trappings. I have no other information concerning this song.

At this point in Tammy’s career she and Billy Sherrill were still looking for that magic formula that would turn Tammy into a full-fledged star. Consequently this album features songs with the full Nashville Sound treatment, some songs with scaled back Nashville Sound treatments and a few straight ahead country arrangements.

While Tammy and Billy were still experimenting here, the very next album would answer all the questions and set the trajectory for subsequent albums.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette – ‘D I V O R C E’

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette – ‘Take Me To Your World’

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette – ‘I Don’t Wanna Play House’

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’

your-good-girls-gonna-go-badTammy’s first single, ‘Apartment #9’, written by Johnny Paycheck, had helped her to get her record deal with Epic Records in 1966, but it was only a modest success, peaking outside the top 40. Mainly due to Tammy’s later superstardom in subsequent years, the song has become a country classic. Laden with steel guitar, it is a doleful tune about a woman abandoned by her lover which is an excellent fit to Tammy’s voice.

Her real breakthrough came with the title track to her debut album in 1967, which reached #3 on the Billboard country chart. Written by her producer Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton, it is a tongue in cheek riposte to a husband’s partying ways, with the unspoken implication being that he might not care to see his wife behaving the way he does himself, and a little nod to the classic ‘Wild Side Of Life’:

I’m gonna be the swingin’est swinger you’ve ever had
If you like ’em painted up
Powdered up
Then you oughta be glad
‘Cause your good girl’s a-gonna go bad

I’ll even learn to like the taste of whiskey
In fact, you’ll hardly recognize your wife
I’ll buy some brand new clothes and dress up fancy
For my journey to the wilder side of life

As was usual in the 60s, much of the rest of the material comprises covers of current or recent hits for other artists. ‘Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind’) was the current hit for Loretta Lynn (just established as a star); it’s a great song but Tammy’s version is basically a carbon copy of Loretta’s. Hank Cochran’s ‘Don’t Touch Me’ had been a #1 hit for his wife Jeannie Seely, whose career song it would be, the previous year, and was awarded a Grammy in 1967. Tammy’s vocal is exquisite on this yearning song, but once more it is not very different from the original.

Tammy is able to bring a different slant with the covers of hits by male artists: she does a nice job with Jack Greene’s 1966 emotional hit ballad ‘There Goes My Everything’ (another classic, this time from the pen of Dallas Frazier). ‘Walk Through This World With Me’ was the current big hit for Tammy’s future husband George Jones. ‘Almost Persuaded’ was the Grammy-winning career song of David Houston, and as it was written by Sherrill and Sutton, is an unsurprising choice of cover for Tammy; her vocal is outstanding on this song.

Less familiar was ‘Send Me No Roses’, a gently melancholy tune about separation from a married lover:

The doorbell rings
You’re sending roses again
In my room old petals fall
But darling that’s not all
I read your card
Then a million tears begin

Though the love we once knew
Still lives inside of you
The one who holds you now
Won’t set you free
To see me you don’t dare
But roses say you care
Tell her goodbye
Then please return to me
But send me no roses
Please, no more roses

‘I’m Not Mine To Give’ is an excellent song about forbidden love, with Tammy’s conscience preventing anything more:

If I’d met you sooner things might not be the same
But life is one thing you just can’t relive
Please go on without me and find someone to love
It can’t be me cause I’m not mine to give

‘I Wound Easy (But I Heal Fast)’, written by Bonnie Owens, comes from the point of view of the betrayed wife, who knows her husband will stay with her in the end.

This was an excellent debut for Tammy, and one which deservedly set her on the path to superstardom.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette – ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’

Spotlight Artist: Tammy Wynette (1942-1998)

tammy-wynette-200-030612One day in 1966, a receptionist was absent from her desk and the course of country music was forever altered. It sounds like an unlikely scenario, but an unattended receptionists’ desk is what prompted Wynette Byrd, an aspiring singer and divorced mother of three, to knock on the office door of producer Billy Sherrill.  Sherrill tried to brush her off, telling her to leave a tape that he would listen to later.  She didn’t have one, so she offered him a live audition, right then and there.  He listened to her and then politely dismissed her, but shortly thereafter had a change of heart.  He had been trying to obtain the rights to an independent label recording of “Apartment No. 9”, a tune written by Bobby Austin and Johnny Paycheck.  When his efforts failed, he decided to have one of his own artists record the song instead.  He offered it to Wynette, who, having been turned down by every major label in Nashville, was about to return home to Birmingham, Alabama and abandon her dream of becoming a singer.

“Apartment No. 9”, produced by Sherill, was a modest hit for Tammy Wynette, as she was now known, reaching #44 on the Billboard country singles chart.  It performed well enough to secure her a contract with Epic Records.  Her second single, “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad”, reached #3, was followed by a string of #1s, and a star was born.  Tammy Wynette was eventually credited by her label as the first female country artist to have a million-selling album and became known as The First Lady of Country Music.

She was born Virginia Wynette Pugh on May 5, 1942 in Tremont, Mississippi.  Her father died from a brain tumor when Wynette was nine months old.  She was raised by her grandparents when her mother obtained work in a Memphis defense plant. After World War II ended, her mother remarried and returned to Mississippi.  Like many mother s and daughters, they did not always get along.  The desire to get out from under her mother’s control played a large part in Wynette’s ill-advised decision to marry Euple Byrd a month before she was to graduate from high school.  Unsurprisingly, the union was not a happy one and Wynette left him prior to the birth of their third daughter.  Shortly after obtaining work as a hairdresser in Birmingham, Alabama, she began to pursue her dream of becoming a country singer.

After securing her deal with Epic, success came quickly for Tammy.  “I Don’t Wanna Play House” became her first #1 hit in 1967.  That same year, “Take Me To Your World” also chopped the charts, as did “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” in early 1968.  Then, one day in the recording studio she helped Sherrill finish a song that he had been writing.  She had some reservations about the final product, but he convinced her to record “Stand By Your Man”, which became her signature hit and one of the most recognized songs in country music.  In 2003, CMT ranked it at #1 on its list of top 100 country songs of all time.

Although very successful professionally, Wynette’s personal life continued to be tumultuous.  She married her childhood idol George Jones in 1969, shortly after her brief second marriage to songwriter Don Chapel was annulled.  She and Jones had a daughter together, Tamala Georgette Jones, who was born in 1970, and they also recorded a number of successful duet records.  They divorced in 1975, primarily because of Jones’ alcoholism.  Another brief marriage to Michael Tomlin ended after only 44 days.  In 1978 Tammy married producer and songwriter George Richey, to whom she remained wed for the rest of her life.

Beginning in the 1970s Tammy was frequently plagued with ill health, which began with complications from a hysterectomy that she underwent shortly after Georgette’s birth.  She was frequently hospitalized for bile duct infections and underwent dozens of surgeries, which led to a dependency on prescription painkillers.  She entered the Betty Ford Center in 1986 to overcome her addiction.

Tammy’s hits began to taper off in the early 1980s, although she remained a concert draw.  She continued to work a grueling schedule despite her continuing health problems.  She landed a role on the CBS daytime soap Capitol in 1986.

The entire nation mourned when Tammy Wynette passed away peacefully in her sleep on April 6, 1998, at age 55.  The initial cause of death was said to be a blood clot in her lung, but like her life, her death was shrouded in drama.  Her daughters alleged that Wynette’s husband George Richey had overmedicated her and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against him.  Wynette’s body was disinterred and an autopsy cited cardiac arrythmia as the cause of death.  The lawsuit against Richey was subsequently dropped.

In 1998 the Country Music Hall of Fame voted to induct her into its hallowed halls. Wanting to keep the decision a surprise, her family kept the news from her. Sadly, she passed away shortly before her induction, unaware of the honor that had been bestowed on her.

Along with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette was a trailblazer for women in country music during the 1960s and 1970s.  While we cannot do her rich legacy justice in a single month, we are attempting to cover at least some of the highlights as we spotlight her career during the month of November.  Keep the Kleenex at hand.

In Memoriam: Curly Putnum (1930-2016)

Legendary songwriter Claude “Curly” Putman, Jr passed away yesterday at age 85. Along with Bobby Braddock he co-wrote the country classics ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E‘ and ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’ The latter is often considered the greatest country song ever written.

Putnum’s other iconic songs include:

Porter Wagoner, ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ (#4, 1965):

Tammy Wynette and David Houston, ‘My Elusive Dreams’ (#1, 1967):

Tanya Tucker, ‘Blood Red and Going Down’ (#1, 1973): 

Week ending 10/29/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

63c619_276324ce1c7c4a3ab87ded622871465fmv2-jpg_srz_415_314_85_22_0-50_1-20_0-00_jpg_srz1956 (Sales): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): I Walk the Line — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1966: Open Up Your Heart — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1976: You and Me — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1986: Cry — Crystal Gayle (Warner Bros.)

1996: Like the Rain — Clint Black (RCA)

2006: I Loved Her First – Heartland (Lofton Creek)

2016: Setting the World on Fire — Kenny Chesney featuring Pink (Blue Chair/Columbia)

2016 (Airplay): I Know Somebody — LoCash (Reviver)

Week ending 10/22/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

images-111956 (Sales): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys):Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Open Up Your Heart — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1976: You and Me — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1986: Just Another Love — Tanya Tucker (Capitol)

1996: Believe Me Baby (I Lied) — Trisha Yearwood (MCA)

2006: Would You Go With Me — Josh Turner (MCA)

2016: Setting the World on Fire — Kenny Chesney featuring Pink (Blue Chair/Columbia)

2016 (Airplay): It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To — Billy Currington (Mercury)

Week ending 8/13/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

Screen shot 2013-01-16 at 3.46.42 PM1956 (Sales): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1956 (Jukebox): I Want You, I Need You, I Love You — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys):Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Almost Persuaded — David Houston (Epic)

1976: Golden Ring — George Jones & Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1986: Rockin’ with the Rhythm of the Rain — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1996: Carried Away — George Strait (MCA)

2006: If You’re Goin’ Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows) — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Record Year — Eric Church (EMI Nashville)

Retro Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Straight From The Heart (2007)

straight from the heartBack in the days writing for the 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

Daryle Singletary never managed to become a megastar, mostly because he has too much soul and integrity for today’s Nashville. Simply put, Daryl is “too country”.

This album picks up where Daryl’s 2002 album That’s Why I Sing This Way left off, with one original song “I Still Sing This Way”, one cover of a recent hit, the Larry Cordle-penned Rebecca Lynn Howard hit “Jesus and Bartenders”, and ten classic country covers sung with feeling.

The cover songs are as follows:

“The Bottle Let Me Down” – a Merle Haggard hit from 1966

“Black Sheep” (w/John Anderson) – a #1 for John Anderson in 1983

“Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” – a #1 for Don Williams in 1977

“Promises” – a minor Randy Travis hit which Randy co-wrote

“I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail” (w/Ricky Skaggs) – a Buck Owens classic from 1965

“These Days I Barely Get By” – a top ten George Jones record

“Miami, My Amy” – Keith Whitley’s first top twenty record from 1986

“Lovin’ On Back Streets” – a #5 record for Mel Street in 1973. Like Daryle , Mel Street was ‘too country’, and like Daryle, he was a fine, emotive singer.

“Fifteen Years Ago” – Conway Twitty’s immediate follow up to “Hello Darling”, I always thought that Conway’s performance was better than the song’s rather maudlin lyric. Daryle also handles it well, although it’s still a silly song.

“We’re Gonna Hold On” (w/Rhonda Vincent)- a George & Tammy classic from 1973 that comes off very well. No surprise, really since Rhonda is a superior singer to Tammy, and Daryle hold up his end of the bargain.

The presence of legendary pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins lends a strong sense of authenticity. Best of all no electronic keyboards or synthesizers – this is real country music played on real country instruments.

I’ve heard a bunch of good albums this year and this was my favorite album so far this year, better even, than the Nelson – Haggard – Price collaboration. This is not to say that Singletary is quite in their league as a singer, but his pipes are at least 30 years younger and in better shape.

Grade: A+

Single Review: Stephanie Quayle – ‘Drinking With Dolly’

drinking with dollyStephanie Quayle hails from Montana, where she grew up on a buffalo farm. Previous singles were more pop-country, but her new single for indie label Rebel Engine Entertainment is a revelation.

Produced by Matt McClure, a fiddle introduces a very pretty, gentle melody. The song, written by Rachel Proctor and Victoria Banks, looks back wistfully to the glories of classic country music c. 1969, and the great female singers of that era. A lovely traditional fiddle-led arrangement perfectly complements it. Stephanie’s sweet voice is completely convincing as the girl longing to relive that time alongside Dolly Parton and her contemporaries, and getting some good advice from them:

Share a few secrets and a cigarette
Say a few things that we’ll not regret
Tell it like it is
Three chords and the cold hard truth
I bet they’d have a little advice to share
How to tame a man and tack up my hair
Might as well look god while you’re out paying your dues
Oh if I could turn back time

I’d go drinking with Dolly after the Opry
Pour one for Tammy too
Put on my rhinestones
Paint up my nails
Kick off my dancing shoes
Hey there, Loretta
Put a quarter in the jukebox
We’ll sing along with you
We’ll raise up a glass
Wish Patsy could be there too
Talk about men cause that’s what women do

This is a true delight. I understand that Ms Quayle has an EP coming out soon, and I shall watch with interest for her future work.

Listen for yourself
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFV0eqDO4dU and I highly recommend you download it from iTunes.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘1994’

merle-haggard-album-19941994 was the second of Merle Haggard’s three albums for Curb Records. It was released four years after Blue Jungle, the biggest gap between projects of Haggard’s career. James Stroud was brought in to produce the album, in an attempt to reverse Haggard’s declining commercial fortunes. At the time, Stroud was one of Nashville’s hottest producers and he seemed to be trying to modernize Merle’s sound for 90s audiences, many of whom were new country fans, introduced to the genre by Garth Brooks. Gone for the most part were the jazz influences that characterized his later releases for Epic, replaced by more mainstream and radio-friendly arrangements. The result was a very solid album, but it was unfortunately not enough to revitalize Merle’s chart career. He had two big strikes against him: his advancing age in an era when more emphasis as being placed on youth and good looks, and his record label, which put little effort into promoting the album. Curb didn’t even want to foot the bill for decent cover art. Many have commented that the album’s cover resembled a tombstone.

Only one single was released from the album, “In My Next Life”, the story of a farmer and his wife looking back on a lifetime of disappointments, written by Max D. Barnes. This is my favorite song on the album, and it probably would have been a Top 10 hit had it been released a few years earlier before veteran artists were swept off the charts. It topped out at #58 and was the second and final Merle Haggard single released by Curb.

Also written by Max D. Barnes is the album’s opening cut “I Am an Island”, which is given a Jimmy Buffett style treatment. It’s a decent song, despite being a bit light on the lyrics, but it’s not really a good fit for Merle, who seems a little out of place singing it. Barnes teamed up with Merle to write the excellent “Way Back In the Mountains” and the filler track “Solid As a Rock”, which would be covered a year later by George Jones and Tammy Wynette for their reunion album.

Merle indulged his penchant for Dixeland jazz on two numbers: the self-penned and very enjoyable “What’s New In New York City” and “Set My Chickens Free”, a good but not great co-write with Richard Smith.

The album closes with an ill-advised remake of Merle’s 1977 hit “Ramblin’ Fever”. This version, with its heavy-handed production, sounds as though it were made to appeal to line-dancing fans. It’s just not impossible to improve on the original recording and Haggard and Stroud really shouldn’t have tried. I probably would have enjoyed it if I’d never heard the original.

In the end 1994 was, like its predecessor Blue Jungle, a commercial disappointment that underscored the sad reality that Haggard’s hitmaking days were behind him. While it does not quite reach the very high standards set by Merle’s earlier work, it is a very good album. The production seems a bit dated here and there but for the most part it has aged well. This is another one of those albums that fans may have overlooked, and as such it is another good opportunity to hear something “new” from Merle while he was still in good voice.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Woman of the World/To Make a Man’

516eAlwAOmLAs the 1960s drew to a close, Loretta released her final solo LP of the decade. Woman of the World/To Make a Man was comprised of the two hit singles that composed its title as well as songs penned by Loretta, the Wilburn Brothers and their songwriting staff, and of course, the usual covers of recent hits for other artists.

The album is also the beginning of a slight shift in Loretta’s musical style, away from the honky-tonk she’d sung for most of the decade, towards an ever so slightly more sophisticated but still very country sound. “Woman of the World (Leave My World Alone)”, which became her third #1 hit in April 1969, finds her in the familiar territory of confronting a romantic rival, albeit in a much less combative manner than we saw in “You Ain’t Woman Enough” or “Fist City”. The Loretta-penned “To Make a Man (Feel Like a Man)” is an upbeat number dispensing advice to the sisterhood on how to be a good wife. It’s very different from her usual fare up to that point, and the message is more in the vein of what we were used to hearing from Tammy Wynette. It reached #3, but it’s not one of her better remembered hits today.

“The Only Time I Hurt” is another Loretta original that I very much enjoyed, but “Big Sister, Little Sister”, which she co-wrote with Frances Heighton, can only be classified as a misstep. It is a maudlin number, weighed down by dated-sounding Nashville Sound choruses, which casts Loretta as the victim: an older sister who was raised to indulge her younger sibling’s wishes, and carries the habit into adulthood, going as far as to surrender her fiancé to sister.

I enjoyed most of the album’s remakes. “Johnny One Time”, which had been an adult contemporary hit for Brenda Lee and a minor country hit for Willie Nelson the year before, is a bit of a stretch for Loretta but she carries it off credibly. “If You Were Mine To Lose” had been the B-side to a Conway Twitty single. It was also recorded by Waylon Jennings, Carl Smith, and Connie Smith. Apparently no one ever had a hit with it, but it’s a very good song that suits Loretta nicely. She also does a very nice cover of Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again”. Her version of “Stand By Your Man” is not bad, but the production is much more scaled back than the treatment Billy Sherrill gave Tammy Wynette’s version. This is one case where less is not more, and to be fair, no one has or ever will sing that song the way Tammy did.

Woman of the World/To Make a Man allowed Loretta to not only wrap up the 1960s on a high note, it also set the stage for the next and most successful decade of her career. She was still about a year away from releasing her signature tune “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, which would be followed by such hits as “One’s On The Way”, “Rated X” and “Love Is The Foundation”. In 1972 she would become the Country Music Association’s first female Entertainer of the Year, and in 1980 she would be named Artist of the Decade for the 1970s by the Academy of Country Music. Woman of the World/To Make a Man was her segueway from honky-tonk singer to American icon, and it is well worth a listen.

Grade: A