My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Terri Clark

Christmas Rewind: Terri Clark – ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’

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Classic Rewind: Terri Clark – ‘A Little Gasoline & If I Were You’

Album Review: Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time – ‘All Star Duets’

all star duetsOne of my favorite songwriters, Larry Cordle’s latest album has been a long time in the making. he has teamed up with a selection of stars to recreate some of his big hits as a songwriter in a tasteful bluegrass setting, backed by Larry’s bluegrass band Lonesome Standard Time and a few added guests. Recording sessions have taken place at intervals over the past decade, and the album was first announced for release a couple of years ago. But the wait was worth it, because this is a truly lovely record filled with great songs.

Alison Krauss recorded Cordle’s ‘Two Highways’ as a teenager; revisiting the song as a mature adult she brings a fuller vocal, and the result is shimmeringly lovely. It’s actually the oldest composition here, having been written in 1977 when the young Larry Cordle was stuck in a job he hated and dreaming of music. Ricky Skaggs was Cordle’s earliest big supporter, and his recording of ‘Highway 40 Blues’ (also written in the late 70s) was his breakthrough as a songwriter. Skaggs revisits the song (one of many great Cordle songs he has recorded over the years) here, playing his mandolin as well as sharing the vocals. Skaggs’ 1983 #1 hit version made Cordle a name to be reckoned with, and as he puts it in the liner notes, “changed his life”.

I was a bit dismissive of Garth Brooks’ recording of ‘Against The Grain’ when I reviewed ‘Ropin’ The Wind’ recently, but the breezier bluegrass version he guests on here is much more enjoyable, although it’s still one of my less favourite tracks here. Much better is the beautiful high lonesome ‘Lonesome Dove’, which like ‘Against The Grain’ was written with Carl Jackson. Trisha Yearwood, who recorded it on her debut album, and is at her glorious best singing it here.

Dierks Bentley is an engaging guest on a version of the wry ‘You Can’t Take It With You When You Go’, which was a single for the great Gene Watson towards the end of his major label career. It is one of Cordle’s many collaborations with his friend Larry Shell. They wrote several songs here, including the most recently written song, the modern classic ‘Murder On Music Row’, which seems more topical every year. The guest vocalists are minor 90s star Daryle Singletary and the very underrated Kevin Denney, both of whom were regarded as “too country” for country music. Daryle is one of the best traditional country singers out there, and I’ve long regretted that Denney hasn’t recorded again since his one and only album in 2002. They do a great, heartfelt job, on this version. It is, incidentally, unfortunate that Denney’s name is mis-spelled on the cover. The liner notes (also available digitally) are otherwise excellent and informative, with a little discussion of how each song was written and picked up for recording.

Diamond Rio contribute duet and harmony vocals on Cordle and Shell’s ‘Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me’, which was one of my favorite of the band’s hit songs, and is another real highlight here. The gently melancholy tune is perfect for the emotional yet stoic lyric about the strains of life on the road, and the arrangement is beautiful. Less well known, but a very beautiful song written by the pair which deserves to be known better is the wistful ‘The Fields of Home’, which Ricky Skaggs recorded on Kentucky Thunder in 1989, and which feels like a sequel to ‘Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me’. Kenny Chesney appears as the duet partner here, and does a superb job exuding understated regret; I really wish he would return to this style of music.

Bluegrass giant Del McCoury guests on the playful ‘The Bigger The Fool’ (The Harder The Fall)’, which Chesney recorded on his first album (when he was a neotraditional youngster and had not yet gained fame and fortune or discovered the beach). The charming tune is one of two co-writes with Jim Rushing, the other being ‘Lonesome Standard Time’, which gave its name to Cordle’s band. Kathy Mattea, who had a hit with it, duets with Cordle here.

He teamed up with two great female songwriters, Leslie Satcher and the veteran Melba Montgomery, to write ‘Cure For The Common Heartache’. Terri Clark recorded it in the late 90s, and sounds great duetting with Cordle – it’s much better than anything on her current solo release. Cordle wrote ‘Rough Around The Edges’ for Travis Tritt with J P Pennington and Les Taylor from country-rockers Exile; it sounds much better in this energised bluegrass version, featuring Tritt.

This is a superb album, collecting an excellent set of songs and performing them with taste and heart.

Grade: A

Album Review: Terri Clark – ‘Some Songs’

some songsI’ve always regarded Terri Clark as one of those performers whose material frequently fell short of her potential as a peformer. In her defense, radio only seemed to want up-tempo “attitude” type songs from her — something she admittedly did quite well from the very early days of her career. But her attempts to release more substantive material were not well received, and commercial concerns being what they are, she stuck with what worked for her. When she went the indie route five years ago, theoretically freeing her from major-label constraints, I thought we’d finally get a chance to hear the real Terri Clark, singing the types of songs that she really wanted to do, but most of her efforts since then have been disappointing.

Some Songs, her latest effort that was released earlier this month, sounds as though she hasn’t totally abandoned the idea of scoring radio hits, and the title track is currently at #20 on the Canadian charts. The album is a collection of mid-tempo songs, half of which were co-written by Terri. There are no fiddles and barely any steel guitar to be heard, although the banjo, the current “keep it country” instrument of choice, is used liberally throughout the album. The album is more soft rock than country, no doubt due to the influence of producer Michael Knox. To be fair, everything on Some Songs is far better than the garbage Knox regularly churns out with Jason Aldean, but if that isn’t being damned by faint praise, I don’t know what is.

The album is a collection of decent – with a few very good – songs that never quite becomes more than a sum of its parts. The production, though it could have been much worse, relies too much on electric and slide guitars, and tries too hard to be middle-of-the-road. It is Terri’s voice, which sounds as lovely as ever, that keeps the songs firmly rooted in country music. But by far, the album’s biggest flaw is its lack of variety; nearly all of the songs are mid-tempo or somewhere between mid- and up-tempo. It could have benefited tremendously from the inclusion of a couple of more ballads, which would have provided a much-needed change of pace.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some good songs here, the best being “I Cheated On You”. Though the title sounds like it might be a tearful confession from an errant spouse, it is in fact, an up-tempo number written by Brent Anderson, Brandy Clark and Forrest Whitehead, which finds an unrepentant Clark gleefully informing her two-timing husband that she has just gotten even with him – the type of “attitude” song at which Terri still excels. The nostalgic “Bad Car”, another Brandy Clark co-write with Jason Saenz, is also quite good, and “Better With My Boots On”, which Terri wrote with Connie Harrington and Deric Ruttan, sounds like something she might have recorded back in her major label days. The rest of the songs are neither great nor terrible, buty they tend to bleed together, the type of songs that tend to play in the background and you don’t really remember them afterwards. Some Songs is by no means a bad album, but Clark can and has done better. I keep hoping that she has at least one more great album left in her but this one isn’t it.

Grade: B-

Week ending 9/13/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

Trisha1954 (Sales): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Jukebox): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1964: I Guess I’m Crazy — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1974: Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1984: Tennessee Homesick Blues — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1994: XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl) — Trisha Yearwood (MCA)

2004: Girls Lie Too — Terri Clark (Mercury)

2014: Burnin’ It Down — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

2014 (Airplay): Bartender — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

Christmas Rewind: Terri Clark – ‘Merry Christmas (Wherever In The World You Are’

Classic Rewind: Tanya Tucker, Terri Clark, Jo Dee Messina sit-down interview; The Lynns – ‘Woman to Woman’

In 1998, Loretta Lynn’s twin daughters, Peggy and Patsy, were signed to Reprise Records and released an album as The Lynns. Neither of their singles made it inside the country top forty, but their album was very strong and traditional and they were nominated for the CMA Vocal Duo of the Year award in 1998 and ’99. This clip is from a TNN special called Ladies Night Out, hosted by Terri Clark. It begins with the five ladies singing Tanya’s “Delta Dawn” which is followed by an interesting chat session where they discuss Loretta Lynn and women who sing honky tonk music, and their mutual love of country music. The Lynns perform their second single “Woman to Woman” at the end. I remember watching this episode when it first aired, and it was great to find this clip so I could share it with you all. Enjoy!

Razor X’s Top Albums of 2012

Finding good new country music is not as easy as it once was, and due to a number of other things that were going on in my life, I’m afraid I didn’t put much effort into seeking out new music this year but I was able to find a few gems:


10. Heroes — Willie Nelson

Willie’s return to the major labels was an eclectic collection that found him covering Coldplay and Pearl Jam, but also reunited him with Merle Haggard and Ray Price, as well as sharing the spotlight a bit with his sons Lukas and Micah.

dierks9. Home — Dierks Bentley

2010’s Up On The Ridge was successful critically but not commercially, so it’s not surprising that Dierks chose to follow it up with a much more radio-friendly collection. The strategy worked, as Home produced three # 1 singles.

8. Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down — Marty Stuart

Not quite the masterpiece that 2010’s Ghost Train was, this collection was still one of my favorite listens of the year. I would have rated it higher if it hadn’t contained some recycled material (“Sundown In Nashville”, “Truck Driver’s Blues”).

kelliepickler7. 100 Proof — Kellie Pickler

I never thought that Kellie Picker’s name would ever appear on any of my best of lists, but she really blossomed with this collection of more traditional-sounding tunes. Unfortunately, just as she was finally making music that allowed her to be taken seriously as an artist, she was dropped by her record label. What the future holds for her remains to be seen. There was a time when I would have said that she wouldn’t be missed very much, but now I’m curious to see what direction she goes in next.

6. Calling Me Home — Kathy Mattea

I wasn’t a huge fan of 2008’s Coal, but I like Kathy’s second visit to her Appalachian roots much better. This is a less bleak look at her heritage.

zbb5. Uncaged — Zac Brown Band

Creepy cover art aside, this collection allowed the Zac Brown Band to further expand on their increasing eclectic but always interesting catalog.

4. Thirty Miles West — Alan Jackson

There weren’t any real surprises or stretches in Alan’s EMI Nashville debut; it’s very much in the same vein as most of the other albums he’s released over the past twenty-odd years — which is exactly what country music needs right now.

terriclark3. Classic — Terri Clark

Terri Clark and I were born just a few weeks apart, so we grew up listening to much of the same music. This collection, in which she covers tunes by Linda Ronstadt, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Reba McEntire and Tanya Tucker, provided a wonderful trip down memory lane and is the best album of her career.

2. Restless — Sweethearts of the Rodeo

This long overdue new release was well worth the wait. It’s a shame that it won’t be as widely heard as it deserves.

jameyjohnson1. Living For A Song – A Tribute to Hank Cochran — Jamey Johnson

By the time I was three tracks into listening to this album for the first time, I knew it was my favorite of the year. It’s a beautifully crafted masterpiece with an impressive guest roster that pays homage to one of the greatest country songwriters of all time. I can’t say enough good things about this album.

Occasional Hope’s Top Albums of 2012

It’s not been a bad year for country music – as long as you ignore the charts and mainstream country radio. My #1 album of the year was released on a major label but with no singles success, and most of my other selections came from independent labels, although some of the names will be familiar. Just missing the cut were, among others, albums from Joey + Rory (some delicious moments but more hit and miss than their previous efforts), Terri Clark’s classic covers, the always reliable Alan Jackson, Kathy Mattea, and current star Dierks Bentley.

For full reviews, and purchase details, click on the links in the album title and artist name respectively.

10. Alive At Brushy Mountain PenitentiaryMark Collie

The live prison album was recorded in 2001, but only escaped the vaults of MCA this year. It was worth the wait, with an energetic set of suitably themed mainly original songs.

Best tracks: ‘I Could’ve Gone Right’, ‘Rose Covered Garden’, ‘Maybe Mexico’, ‘On The Day I Die‘.

marty raybon9. Southern Roots And Branches: Yesterday and TodayMarty Raybon

Former Shenandoah lead singer Marty Raybon released a pair of albums this year. This, the secular one of the pair, was the better, with Marty’s smoky voice sounding as good as ever on a bluegrass influenced set including the odd reworking of a few Shenandoah hits.

Best tracks: ‘Long Hard Road’, ‘Big Pain’, ‘Ghost In This House’, ‘Get Up In Jesus’ Name’.

8. Honky Tonk Till I DieEric Strickland and the B Sides

Solidly enjoyable, unpretentious honky-tonk with some great original songs written by the North Carolinian lead singer. It may be obscure, but it’s really good.

Best tracks: ‘Haggard And Hell’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Standing In The Headlights’, ‘Womankind‘.

wesley dennis7. Country EnoughWesley Dennis

An excellent return from one of the best singers who never made it. The former Mercury Records artist has a classic country voice and has written some fine songs for this independent releases.

Best tracks: ‘A Month Of Sundays’, ‘Lady’s Choice’, ‘That Dog Won’t Hunt’, ‘Sun, Surf And The Sand (And My Ties)‘.

6. The Time JumpersThe Time Jumpers

The part-time supergroup featuring Vince Gill and Dawn Sears came up with a delightful confection of country, jazz and western swing for their first studio alum together. The musicianship sparkles and this is a real celebration of the joy of making music.

Best tracks: ‘So Far Apart’, ‘Three Sides To Every Story’, ‘The Woman Of My Dreams’, ‘Someone Had To Teach You’.

gene watson5. Best Of The BestGene Watson

I wasn’t sure whether to include this album in my list but in the end the quality shone through and I had to keep it in. A veteran star who still has the vocal goods to shame most of his younger, more commercially successful rivals, Gene Watson has chosen to revisit some of his best-loved recordings for this release. I would really have preferred new material from him, but this is just a lovely listening experience.

Best tracks: ‘Farewell Party’, ‘What She Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Her’, ‘Nothing Sure Looked Good On You’, ‘Between This Time And The Next Time’.

4. Pourin’ Whiskey On PainTim Culpepper

The unknown newcomer gave me my most pleasant surprise this year with his traditional sound and some excellent songs.

Best tracks: ‘One More For The Road’, ‘When Misery Finds Company’, ‘Pourin’ Whiskey On Pain’, ‘Toss And Turn’.

jason eady3. AM Country HeavenJason Eady

I called this a “low-key delight” when I reviewed it earlier this year, and my judgment stands. This mature thoughtful record has no weak spots at all. Patty Loveless duetting on one track is an unexpected bonus.

Best tracks (though everything is worth hearing): ‘AM Country Heaven’, ‘Man On A Mountain’ (with Patty Loveless), ‘Water Into Wine’, ‘Old Guitar And Me’.

2. Too Much Ain’t EnoughClinton Gregory

Sweet voiced singer/fiddler Clinton Gregory is back after years of silence with a lovely set of mainly sad songs.

Best tracks: ‘Too Much Ain’t Enough’, ‘Too Country For Nashville’, ‘Has Love Taken Its Toll?’, ‘Chase Away The Lonely’.

jamey johnson21. Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank CochranJamey Johnson

It was obvious as soon as I listened to this album that it was going to be this year’s highlight. Songs by one of the greatest country songwriters ever, performed by Jamey Johnson and some of his friends including legends like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Price and Emmylou Harris, and more recent stars like Lee Ann Womack, Ronnie Dunn and George Strait. From the exquisite opening notes of ‘Make The World Go Away’, with Alison Krauss’s angelically sweet counterpoint to Jamey’s gruff tenderness, every single song here is a gem, and almost every track is excellent. This really is an outstanding album.

Best tracks: hard to pin down, but if I must then ‘Would These Arms Be In Your Way’ solo; ‘Make The World Go Away’ with Alison Krauss; ‘You Wouldn’t Know Love’ with Ray Price; and ‘Don’t Touch Me’ with Emmylou Harris.

Razor X’s Top Singles of 2012

Every year it seems that it becomes more difficult to compile a list of the year’s top singles. I seldom listen to country radio anymore and as such I’ve become much more album oriented and barely aware of which songs on my favorite albums were actually released as singles. However, I have managed to identify a few bright spots in a genre that is still sadly headed in the wrong direction. Here are my favorite choices of 2012:

dierks10. 5-1-5-0 — Dierks Bentley

Though not as good as his previous single “Home”, which made my list of 2011’s top singles, the title of this catchy number refers to the section of the California Welfare and Institutions Code which allows law enforcement officers to involuntarily confine individuals with mental disorders. In the case of the narrator of this story, it is his love interest who is making him crazy.

9. Neon — Chris Young

Songs paying homage to one’s favorite watering hole have long been a staple in country music, but this tune by the best of country music’s current crop of male vocalists does it in a fresh and interesting way, comparing the colors of the bar’s neon signs to the blue of a Wyoming sky, the red of a Santa Fe sunset, and the yellow of Texas sunflowers. It underperformed on the charts, peaking at a disappointing #23.

martina8. Marry Me — Martina Bride featuring Pat Monahan

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to get excited about anything Martina McBride has done, but I was pleasantly surprised by this cover version of a hit for the group Train. Given country radio’s current pop leanings I expected this one to perform well on the charts, but it stalled at #45.

7. Diamonds Make Babies — Bradley Gaskin

I prefer Dierk Bentley’s version of this tune that delves into the six degrees of separation between engagement and parenthood, but it’s a fun song no matter who sings it.

terri6. Love Is A Rose — Terri Clark
If I were compiling a list of this sort a decade ago, it would have been inconceivable that the vast majority of my selections would be by male vocalists. Terri Clark is one of the few females who has released anything that I found remotely interesting this year. Sixteen years after she topped the charts with “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me”, Clark shows that she can still wrap her vocal cords around a Linda Ronstadt tune. Unfortunately, Terri’s record is unlikely to get any chart action in the U.S., but hopefully it will gain some traction in Canada.

5. Living For A Song– Jamey Johnson featuring Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson and Hank Cochran

The capstone of Johnson’s magnficient tribute album to one of country music’s greatest songwriters finds him joining forces with legends Nelson, Haggard and Kristofferson, and the late Hank Cochran himself. Predictably, it was ignored by country radio.

Zac Brown Band in Concert on NBC's "Today Show" at Rockefeller Center in New York City on July 13, 20124. No Hurry — Zac Brown Band

I really liked everything that the Zac Brown Band released this year and was tempted to include all three of their single releases but that seemed like taking the lazy way out. “No Hurry”, which peaked at #2 early this year, is my favorite of the bunch.

3. Loving You Is Fun — Easton Corbin
This laid back tune, which I reviewed back in February, reminds me of the type of song Clint Black used to do in the 90s. Country music needs more artists like Easton Corbin.

2. So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore — Alan Jackson
Alan’s second single under a new deal with EMI Nashville is well written and impeccably performed but unfortunately, it did nothing to reverse his chart decline. The production and his vocal performance are nicely understated.

george1. Drinkin’ Man — George Strait
After phoning it in for the past couple of years, George Strait came back in a big way with this tune about a lifelong struggle with alcoholism. He tackles the topic in a straightforward and effective manner, never becoming maudlin or preachy. He co-wrote the song with his son Bubba and Dean Dillon. It stands in stark contrast with most of the fluff on country radio — or at least it would have had it received more airplay. It stalled at #37, which is nothing short of tragic because it likely means that the major labels will not be inclined to release material like this in the future. But even though it is the lowest charting single of Strait’s long and illustrious career, it is an artistic triumph.

Album Review: Terri Clark – ‘Classic’

The past few years has seen many a covers album by the female country stars of the 1980’s and ’90s. One by one, Lorrie Morgan, Wynonna Judd, Rosanne Cash, Patty Loveless and others have delivered varying sets of their takes on yesterday’s hits. On her latest album for her own Baretrack Records, Terri Clark is singing classic country made famous by greats like Kitty Wells, Hank Snow, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard, and throwing in more contemporary material from Linda Ronstadt, Glen Campbell and Reba McEntire.

With the same five-piece country band, she gives fairly routine renditions on several songs. For the most part Clark swaggers and swings, cries and carries on at just the right moments like the seasoned performer and lifetime country music fan she is. The biggest flaw to be found on this album is the production on some tracks. “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin'” is given the boot-scootin’ treatment, amped up to a breakneck shuffle which saps the spunky, soap-in-your-mouth ultimatum out of Loretta Lynn’s lyrics. While “Delta Dawn” benefits from a breezier production that allows the original Southern gospel sound to remain intact and Tanya Tucker proves to still be at the top of her game and Reba’s bent-note delivery of “How Blue” proves to be as good as ever too, there’s a redundancy to these recordings. Fans of either song will likely stick with the originals.

At her commercial peak, Clark shone brightest because of her confident country-is-cool charisma, and the best tracks here benefit from that. Fiddles cry as she tears into Merle Haggard’s “Swingin’ Doors” with her best back of the throat ache and she likewise summons just the right amount of young naiveté in her voice to sell Emmylou Harris’ “Two More Bottles of Wine” convincingly. Again, Clark’s vocal chops prove to be her greatest strength on “Gentle On My Mind”, which is given a simple acoustic and three-part harmony reading. On it, the singer reveals a storytelling ability yet to be heard on her original material.

The lesser half of Classic comes off as above average karaoke and works more as an homage to their original interpreters. The better half comes when Terri Clark is interpreting the songs herself instead of paying tribute to the her favorite singers. She’s got the goods to sell.  I only wish she had brought the other half.

Grade: B-

Listen on Spotify.

Buy it at amazon.

Single Review: Kelleigh Bannen – ‘Sorry On The Rocks’

Listening to Capitol/EMI newcomer Kelleigh Bannen’s debut single sounds like you’re hearing the amalgamation of Martina McBride, Sara Evans, the Dixie Chicks, and virtually every female country act to hit it big at the turn of the century.  The sound here isn’t vintage, but certainly a throwback to the mass appealing sounds of a boom era for females in country music.  A crisp, neotraditional sound leads the Nashville native’s precise singing, and everything about this track reeks of committee planning.

The gist of the confrontation in the lyrics comes from the place where Lee Ann Womack’s “Last Call” meets your garden variety I’m-kicking-you-to-the-curb, frisky female goodbye song (think: “You Can Feel Bad”, “A Little Gasoline”, “Bye Bye”).  A pair of clever lines – “pretty words don’t mean too much, coming from the bottom of a glass” and “I’ve finally had enough/It’s clear you’ve had way too much” – keep the exchange interesting and make you think ‘hey this girl’s clever and will probably win this argument’.

But on the downside, producer Paul Worley uses those moments to crank the drums way too loud and invites the singer to reach outside her low-register comfort range.  Neither of those sonic missteps is the song’s major liability, however. While the narrating character in “Rocks” comes across and sensible and likable, she lacks the garrulous tenacity demanded on today’s airwaves. After all, she isn’t threatening to shoot, set fire to, or maim this clueless drunk who’s called her up in the middle of the night.  She simply tells him to kiss off. That, coupled with the tired and predictable production snaps is where your commercial liability lies.

Endearing, it is. Pleasing to the ears, it is. A big fat flop at country radio? I’m afraid so.

Grade: C

Listen here.

Razor X’s Top Ten Singles of 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album Review: Leslie Satcher – ‘Gypsy Boots’

Leslie Satcher is one of my favourite current songwriters, and she is also a fine singer with a velvety tone who can tackle both understated ballads and full-on attack songs with attitude. When she first came to Nashville from Texas, she did so with the aim of becoming a recording artist, before discovering her talent writing, and she has released two previous albums – the excellent Love Letters in 2001 and Creation in 2005. After a long delay, she has returned to the studio to record some of her more recent compositions, and it has proved to be worth the wait.

A couple of the songs are familiar. The title track has been recorded by Terri Clark, who co-wrote it with Leslie and Jon Randall. It’s not a favorite of mine, but Leslie’s version is funky and assertive with a strong rhythm and backing vocals effectively quoting the Motown classic ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, which give it real impact. The unapologetic ‘Tough’ was written for Kellie Pickler and is her most recent top 30 single; the original is okay but has struggled on the charts somewhat, and Leslie’s voice has more force behind it.

The mid-tempo ‘Where I Am’ (written with Michael P Heeney) is on a similar theme to ‘Gypsy Boots’ about a restless spirit with no particular destination in mind (and “only Jesus knows where I am”). It is, however, a much better song, which could easily be a hit if recorded by a major label artist.

The gently sung and pretty sounding ‘Reasons To Hang On’ (written with Stephanie Chapman) has Leslie affirming the joys of life, possibly to someone struggling to find reasons to live:

What more do you want?
You wanna hear the voice of God?
He’d just tell you to hang on
If he could get you on the phone
Oh what’s it gonna take for you to find your faith,
To wake up before they’re gone,
Your reasons to hang on?

The unusual and charming mid-tempo ‘Sing Like Loretta Lynn’ is written with Jim Lauderdale and tells of an angel’s night time visit to a similarly despondent woman, making her forget her broken heart with a vision of the music-filled streets of Heaven. There are also a couple of good but more conventional religious songs, ‘In The Shadow Of Your Wings’ and the very pretty ballad ‘Rock Of Your Love’ (written with Al Anderson and Vince Gill, and previously recorded by Vince on his These Days set in 2006).

The enjoyable and energetic ‘And The Well Run Dry’ is a story song co-written with Jim Beavers, sung with aggressive attack. It tells the story of a moonshining woman who finds religion, something which kills the party mood in the technically dry town:

She sold beer to the just gettin’ started
Shine to the too-far-gone
Whiskey to the broken hearted and the ones just holdin’ on…

Y’all, she had the whole town out there getting high
Til she got Jesus
And the well run dry

The effervescent ‘Somethin’ ‘Bout Your Lovin’’ written with Al Anderson and Delbert McClinton has a fun rockabilly feel with lots of Jerry Lee Lewis styled piano. ‘Delta Wedding’ is a slower sultry Southern blues which offers an atmospheric and closely observed picture of a shotgun wedding on a hot summer day in Mississippi, with a melting cake and a bride whose fancy hairdo “even Jesus wouldn’t mess with”:

And she’s just about covered up what they’ve just about covered up
All for a nail biting bundle of joy

The melancholic ‘Lonely Doesn’t Know How To Leave’ (also written with Anderson) has a soothing vocal as the protagonist stays up all night dwelling on her sadness.

Leslie’s voice is shown off by the completely acappella solo delivery (and occasionally spoken) of the closing story song about her father’s journey to visit relatives, ‘Georgia Trip ‘56’, which is a tour de force. There are also impressive harmonised acappella opening to ‘If I Had Wings’, a delicate ballad with a lovely tune, and ‘Where That Train Was Going’, a gripping story song written with Jon Randall, which has a bluesy feel.

This record is a joy from start to finish, although the overall feel is a bit bluesier and less traditional than one might expect from her songs written for others.

Grade: A

It is widely available digitally. Hard copy CDs can be obtained from Leslie’s website or from CDBaby, where you can also hear brief clips of the songs:

http://www.lesliesatcher.com/
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/lesliesatcher2

Amazon also sells the CD version, but at a higher price.

2011: The 75-(per)cent report

School buses are back on the roads and the leaves are already starting to fall on the roads here in southern Ohio. Crisp nights are upon us, and as we head into final months of 2011, I’m revisiting my growing playlist of my favorite songs and albums released in the first three-quarters. No waxing or pondering on the fate of what’s popular this time, these are just some of my favorite releases of the year, in no particular order, combined with a few words to tell you why in some cases.  Be sure to share your top picks for the 3/4 of the year so far in the comments.

Albums

Sunny Sweeney – Concrete … As I said in my review, if this became the sounding board for all future female country albums, we’d all be better off.

Terri Clark – Roots and Wings … Though it’s not as strong as her previous effort, Clark’s latest, and its lack of airplay, is another page in the long indictment against country radio.  I’d be the first to welcome her back with this material.

Pistol Annies – Hell On Heels

George Strait – Here For A Good Time

Connie Smith – Long Line of Heartaches … Traditional country and classic themes performed by one of country music’s finest singers. A can’t-miss combination.

Chris Young – Neon

Ronnie Dunn – Ronnie Dunn … The Brooks & Dunn frontman hasn’t reached his full potential as a soloist yet – I think he’s still too unsure of himself – but this is a helluva start.

Blake Shelton – Red River Blue

… and on the not-so country side:

Lucinda Williams – Blessed

Adele – 21

Lori McKenna – Lorraine

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead 

Songs

Bradley Gaskin – “Mr. Bartender”

Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter – “You and Tequila”

Pistol Annies – “Lemon Drop”/”Trailer For Rent” … I can’t pick a favorite among these two on the album.

Ronnie Dunn – “Cost of Living”

George Strait – “Here For a Good Time”/”Poison” … It’s been said before, and better, but I really like the title track to Strait’s latest album. And I think “Poison” is one of his finest moments.

Sunny Sweeney – “Staying’s Worse than Leaving”/”Amy”

Billy Currington – “Love Done Gone”

Taylor Swift – “Back to December”/”Mean”

Lucinda Williams – “I Don’t Know How You’re Living”

Album Review: Terri Clark – ‘Roots & Wings’

I was disappointed by Terri’s first EMI Canada release a couple of years ago, which I felt was over-produced with largely mediocre material, but she appears to have rediscovered her musical voice with her latest release. She produced the album herself, and the sound is mellow but not over-produced, although she does seem to be moving away from conventional country music. Her distinctive voice is at its best throughout.

She also co-wrote all but one of the songs. Four are co-writes with Kristen Hall (who also sings backing vocals), including lead single ‘Northern Girl’, which celebrates Terri’s Canadian background but is disappointingly bland. When Hall left Sugarland under rather murky circumstances, she stated she was intending to concentrate on her songwriting. ‘Beautiful And Broken’ is not very country sounding, but an interestingly written and beautifully sung song with slightly obscure lyrics full of imagery; it seems to be about a failed relationship with the broken individual, but the protagonist retains feelings of friendship and perhaps love. Also very metaphor-heavy, ‘Flowers In Snow’ explores an unproductive relationship. These songs are perhaps more modern folk/singer-songwriter than country, but they are very well done. The best of the four, ‘Breakin’ Up Thing’ has an enjoyable mid-tempo groove and wry lyric commenting on the protagonist’s about-to-be-ex-partner’s ease at leaving.

‘The Good Was Great’ is an affectionate look back at a past relationship which Terri wrote with Tia Sillers and Deric Ruttan. This is rather good, but I was less impressed by the rather dull and overly loud ‘Wrecking Ball’ which Terri and Tia wrote with fellow-Canadian Victoria Banks and which opens the album.

The best song on the album by far is ‘Lonesome’s Last Call’, a traditional slow lonesome country song about a couple of desperate individuals who come together to find love in a bar, written by Terri with the great Jim Rushing. Andrea Zonn and Stuart Duncan’s twin fiddles add to the effect, and I would have loved to hear more like this.  The very personal and beautifully sung ‘Smile’ (written with Karyn Rochelle and featuring Alison Krauss on not-very-audible harmony) is a loving tribute to Terri’s mother who died of cancer last year. This is very moving, and another highlight.

‘The One’ (written with Tom Shapiro and Jim Collins) has a mellow vibe and attractive tune about waiting for the right man, but the hook is the unoriginal:

I don’t need a love that I can live with
I want the one I can’t live without

I like the end result a lot, but it is more than a little reminiscent of Clint Back’s ‘The One She Can’t Live Without’, which has an almost identical chorus.  The only track I really don’t like is ‘We’re Here For A Good Time’, an over-produced and very poppy sounding cover of what I think must be a rock song from the 70s. It is Terri’s new single.

Where Terri’s first album for EMI Canada still seemed to be the product of hankering after mainstream success, this one shows her finding her own voice. It isn’t all moving in a direction I personally care for, but it effectively showcases Terri as an independent singer-songwriter.

Grade B+

Single Review: Terri Clark – ‘Northern Girl’

Country music has always been very closely associated with the American South, and we’ve become accustomed over the years to hearing our favorite singers pay tribute to their hometowns and states of origin, whether their homes be in Alabama, the Tennessee mountains, or the great state of Texas. As such, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that country music is enjoyed around the world, and it can be a bit of a jolt to hear about different locales and customs in songs such as Terri Clark’s latest offering, “Northern Girl” in which she jubilantly sings about driving on black ice, tunneling through snow and trying to survive the frigid Canadian winters. All in all, it’s a refreshing change from songs about tractors, the Georgia rain and steamy southern summer nights, and provides for Terri’s strongest single release in recent memory.

Although the opening electric guitar riffs and the percussion are a bit too loud for my liking, there is plenty of steel guitar throughout the track to compensate. The chorus is somewhat reminiscent to the song “Country Girl”, which was the theme song to Barbara Mandrell’s 1980-82 variety show. In a version included on her 1981 live album, Mandrell sang:

I’m a country girl from head to toe
Came a long way down that country road
I came to town to see the sights,
Big skyscrapers and neon lights
Now I can find my dreams around the world,
But I’ll always be a country girl.

Clark likewise sings:

I’m a northern girl, wild and free
I’ve got four strong winds to carry me
I’ve been east to west
And all around the world
But I’ll always be a northern girl

Similarities notwithstanding, “Northern Girl” is a nice change of pace from the usual fare and better than anything on Terri’s last album The Long Way Home. It’s off to a strong start in Terri’s homeland, debuting at #26 on the Canadian charts, but the Canadian references and lack of major label support in the US will probably doom the record to languish in obscurity south of the 49th Parallel. It is, however, available for download at both Amazon and iTunes, so American fans will be able to hear the song while waiting for Terri’s next album to be released.

Grade: B+

Emmylou & Friends: Sweet Harmonies

From the very beginning, collaborations with other artists have been an integral part of Emmylou Harris’ career. Over the span of nearly 40 years, she is perhaps as well known for supplying harmony vocals to other artists records and championing promising newcomers as for her own solo work. It would perhaps be easier to list the names of the artists with whom she has not worked; like Willie Nelson she has worked with a variety of performers from both within and outside the country genre. It isn’t possible to do justice to such a large body of work in a single article, but I’d like to touch on some of my favorites.

Emmylou was performing in small venues in the Washington, DC area when she was discovered by Chris Hillman, who was then the bandleader of The Flying Burrito Brothers. It was he who recommended her to Gram Parsons, who hired her to be his duet partner and introduced her to the world of country music. She sang prominent harmonies on Parsons’ 1973 solo debut album GP, as well as on the follow-up Grievous Angel, which was released in 1974 after Parsons’ death from a drug overdose. Both albums were re-released on a single disc by Reprise. They are also available digitally and are well worth a listen. Emmylou later covered many of the songs on these two volumes on her solo albums. One of the best is a rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Love Hurts”, which also appears on Emmylou’s Duets compilation, which was released by Reprise in 1990 and is an excellent sampler of her non-solo work.

Duets also includes such hits as “We Believe In Happy Endings” with Earl Thomas Conley, “If I Needed You” with Don Williams, and “That Lovin’ You Feeling Again” with Roy Orbison, which won a Grammy in 1980 for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. Two new tracks were recorded for the project: “The Price I Pay” with Chris Hillman’s Desert Rose Band and a beautiful rendition of Nanci Griffith’s “Gulf Coast Highway” with Willie Nelson.

After the death of Gram Parsons and before she secured her solo deal with Reprise, Emmylou had sung backup on some of Linda Ronstadt’s records, and formed what was to become a lifelong friendship. Ronstadt eventually returned the favor, singing backup on Emmylou’s solo records, as did Dolly Parton, whose “Coat of Many Colors” Emmylou had covered on her Pieces of the Sky album. The three women formed an alliance and recorded together sporadically over the next several years. For many years, legal issues and record label politics thwarted their attempts to release an album together, but their collaborations occasionally turned up on Emmylou’s albums, notably “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” from 1979’s Blue Kentucky Girl and “Mister Sandman” from 1981’s Evangeline. Parton and Ronstadt also both contributed to 1980’s Roses In The Snow. Eventually the three women released Trio and Trio II in 1987 and 1999, respectively. Emmylou and Linda teamed up again in 1999 for Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions. Dolly wasn’t available to participate this time around; let’s just say that her presence is sorely missed as this particular album is not one of my favorites.

In 2007 Rhino Records released the four-disc boxed set Songbird: Rare Tracks and Forgotten Gems, which includes a generous sampling of Emmylou’s lesser-known solo and non-solo efforts. Some of the highlights include “Spanish Johnny” with Waylon Jennings, “One Paper Kid” with Willie Nelson and “Here We Are” with George Jones. It also contains some of the outtakes from the Trio sessions with Ronstadt and Parton, as well as some of their earlier recordings that had not previously seen the light of day, including 1978’s “Palms of Victory” and an exquisite reading of “Softly and Tenderly” from the second Trio sessions. Also of note are some of Emmylou’s contributions to tribute albums, such as the title track to the 1994 Merle Haggard tribute Mama’s Hungry Eyes, which she sings with Rodney Crowell, and “Golden Ring” from 1998’s Tammy Wynette Remembered, on which she is joined by Linda Ronstadt and Kate and Anna McGarrigle. “Mary Danced With Soldiers” from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Volume 2 also makes an appearance, as does “I Don’t Love You Much, Do I” with Guy Clark and “Sonny”, sung with Ireland’s Mary Black and Dolores Keane. The third and fourth discs of Songbird rely heavily on duet material, including collaborations with artists such as Sheryl Crow, Patty Griffin, Mark Knopfler, Carl Jackson, Randy Scruggs, Iris Dement, The Pretenders, and The Seldom Scene. Songbird is a somewhat pricy collection, but it is one of the best music purchases I ever made.

In addition to the artists previously mentioned, Emmylou has lent her voice to recordings by Terri Clark, The Judds, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, and countless others. As someone who became interested in country music during the Urban Cowboy’s heyday in the early 80s, Emmylou’s music was something of an acquired taste for me. It took a few years for me to fully appreciate her artistry, and it was primarily through her work with others that I became a huge fan.

Classic Rewind: Terri Clark and Trace Adkins pay tribute to Conway and Loretta – ‘After The Fire Is Gone’

Album Review: Terri Clark – ‘Live at Cedar Creek’

The third release from her own BareTrack label – and second live album – Terri Clark Live at Cedar Creek was released last month.  The CD/DVD combo marks the first time Clark’s road show has been captured visually.  The singer chose the picturesque Cedar Creek Winery on Lake Okanagan in Kelowna, British Columbia, and delivers roadhouse takes on past hits, with over half the setlist comprised of tracks from her latest album.

There’s no shortage of charm and energy to Clark’s performances here.  She saunters through the first two haughty up-tempos with so much ease, as easily as she segues into the ballads and newer material, all the while gladhanding the audience into the palm of her hand.  This collection’s best showcase for experiencing Terri Clark in concert come when the singer sheds all but her acoustic guitar to perform ‘A Million Ways To Run’ and ‘The One You Love’ – both tracks from The Long Way Home.  I could not find fault with any of the individual performances, or Clark’s stage presence.

The fatal flaw with the collection is nothing on the disc itself, but rather what’s not there.  Clark’s biggest hits are absent here.  There’s no ‘Better Things To Do’, no ‘If I Were You’, not even ‘You’re Easy On The Eyes’ is included.  I’m not sure if this it’s normal practice for our neighbors to the north to go to a show and not hear the singer’s signature tunes, but we expect them live and on live albums down here.

Grade: C

The DVD appears to only be available through Clark’s official website, and is actually less expensive than the CD version at amazon.