My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Band

Album Review: Marty Stuart – ‘Marty Stuart’

Marty’s mainstream debut, on Columbia in 1986, was an inauspicious one. Originally released as a budget-priced eight-track “mini-album” (increased to none when the CD version came out in 1992), none of the songs is particularly memorable, Marty’s vocals were not very distinctive, and the production, courtesy of Curtis Allen, is largely dated country rock.

His debut single was the rockabilly ‘Arlene’, written by Allen, which featured Vince Gill on electric guitar. It crept into the top 20 and is quite entertaining, and similar to the music Steve Earle was making at that time. This promising start turned out to be Marty’s biggest hit on Columbia.

The rockier ‘Honky Tonker’, written by folk rocker Steve Forbert, then flopped – unsurprisingly in my opinion as it is boring and yelly. The mid-tempo ‘All Because Of You’ is a mid-tempo love song also from Forbert’s pen which is a bit better. It crept into the top 40, but it is lyrically very repetitive and the instrumentation and production now sound very dated (and very pop). There is a guitar cameo by rock guitar legend Duane Eddy.

Final single ‘Do You Really Want My Lovin’’ was another chart failure, although it is quite a catchy mid-tempo country rocker. It is one of three tunes co-written by Marty, in this case with Steve Goodman. The blaring saxophone sounds a bit out of place but the track is otherwise enjoyable, and I wonder if it might have done a little better if it had immediately followed ‘Arlene’ while Marty had some momentum.

Marty’s other co-writes here were with his producer Curtis Allen. ‘Heart Of Stone’ is another pretty good country-rock number, which sounds like a slightly over-produced version of something the Desert Rose Band might have recorded, and has Kathie Baillie (of Baillie & The Boys) on harmonies. ‘Maria (Love To See You Again)’ is a pleasant sounding Western themed ballad and story song, with one of the more country-styled productions on the record, with Marty playing mandolin for the only time on the album as a well as electric guitar, but the vocals are uninspired. It is also one of only two tracks to feature a fiddle, the other being the song added to the CD reissue. This is the slow ‘Beyond The Great Divide, written by Jack Wesley Routh and J C Crowley, and it features the instantly recognisable harmonies of Emmylou Harris. I don’t know if it was recorded at the sessions for this album and rejected, or if it was intended for the follow-up which never materialized.

In contrast, Marty’s cover of The Band’s ‘The Shape I’m In’ is too far in the rock direction for me.

‘Hometown Heroes’ is a fine song written by David Mallett, and it is one of the better tracks although the production is uninspired and the tune strains Marty’s voice beyond its limits. The interesting song deals with the wild side of life in a small town and the tragedy of a wannabe rebel who ends up dying young.

Overall there seems to be a lack of artistic identity with Marty not sounding as though he really knew what kind of music he wanted to make and trying out various personae. In the liner notes for his new album, he talks about this period of his career, saying he “tried to play country music, but it felt like rock & roll”, and that is rather what it sounds like. He was lucky to get another chance, but luckily he was to prove he was worthy of one. The CD is available, but not particularly cheaply.

Grade: C

Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town’

Emmylou’s fourth album was released in January 1978 on Warner Brothers, which had taken over her contract from the subsidiary Reprise. A personal favorite of mine, it contains a number of her classic recordings. The lineup marks the replacement of Rodney Crowell in the Hot Band by Ricky Skaggs, with both men playing on the record. The arrangements and musicians are, as usual, impeccable. There was a change of emphasis with the selection of material, with no classic revivals this time (although a number of the tracks have become classics in their own right since), but a concentration on new songs.  The quality of material is as high as Emmylou’s fans had come to expect. Emmylou was now married to producer Brian Ahern, and their personal and professional partnership showed them in perfect tune. Ironically, given her newlywed status, the overarching theme is one of leaving, whether that means a lover or spouse, a parent, or life itself.

One of the classics born on this record was the first single. ‘To Daddy’ was written by Dolly Parton, who generously relinquished the opportunity to sing the song to her friend, not recording it herself for many years. Emmylou’s subtle version was a big hit, reaching #3. The devastating lyric tells the story of a downtrodden wife and mother who suffers silently for years with her neglectful and uncaring husband, and then leaves with as little fuss as she made during the marriage:

She never meant to come back home
If she did, she never did say so to Daddy

Told from the viewpoint of one of the children, Emmylou delivers one of her purest vocals, allowing the lyrics to speak for themselves. This is still one of my favorite Emmylou Harris recordings. It was followed on the charts by the #1 hit ‘Two More Bottles Of Wine’, an up-tempo rocking-blues Delbert McClinton song which offers a defiant response to loneliness and a lover’s departure:

It’s alright cause it’s midnight and I got two more bottles of wine

Another song now widely (and rightly) regarded as a classic, the poetic ‘Easy From Now On’, written by Guy Clark’s wife Susanna and a young Carlene Carter (billed by her first married name of Routh), peaked at #12. Emmylou sounds a little sad as she plans to drink the night away following the end of a relationship. The lyrics provide the album’s title, and Susanna Clark also painted the picture used for the cover art.

Rodney Crowell, about to leave the Hot Band to launch his own solo career, contributed a couple of songs as a parting gift. There are Cajun touches to the story song ‘Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight , which was later a hit for the Oak Ridge Boys. Rick Danko of The Band sings harmony and his bandmate Garth Hudson plays sax and accordion. The driving ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’ is a hard-boiled country rocker addressed to a low-life individual headed for life in jail, and Rodney’s own version was to be the title track of his debut album later the same year, also on Warner Brothers.

Willie Nelson sings a prominent harmony on the folky ‘One Paper Kid’, a downbeat story about another of life’s failures, set to an attractive tune and a very simple acoustic backing consisting of Mickey Raphael’s harmonica and Emmylou herself on guitar. The pair had toured together, and their voices blend beautifully on another highlight.

The tribute to the ‘Green Rolling Hills’ of West Virginia, written by folk singer Utah Phillips, is sung as a duet with Emmylou’s longtime harmony singer Fayssoux Starling, which sounds just lovely. Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell’s replacement in the Hot Band, plays fiddle and viola on this track, foreshadowing the changes his influence was to bring in Emmylou’s music.

Singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester contributed two songs, the beautiful and perhaps metaphorical ballad ‘My Songbird’ and the swooping and allusive ‘Defying Gravity’, with Nicolette Larson on harmony. The album closes with the slowed down bluesy rockabilly of ‘Burn That Candle’, which is the only track I don’t much like, with some very odd emphases in the pronunciation.

The 2004 CD reissue included two previously unreleased live cuts from the early 80s with a Cajun flavor – Guy Clark’s ‘New Cut Road’ and ‘Lacassine Special’ (sung in French). They are well performed, but feel a little out of place here.

Grade: A

Album Review: John Anderson – ‘Nobody’s Got It All’

Nobody's Got It AllAfter the brief resurrection of John Anderson’s career in the early 90s, it died down again in the later part of that decade, although he has continued to release some excellent music on a series of major labels. One of my favorites is this release from 2001, on Columbia. It was produced by hot producers Blake Chancey and Paul Worley, and has some excellent songs, but sadly the chosen singles failed to catch on at radio, and the label deal lasted only for this one album.

The song which is most likely to be familiar is a cover of John Scott Sherrill’s ‘Five Generations Of Rock County Wilsons’, a farmer’s son’s lament at the destruction of his childhood home by developers, previously recorded in the 80s by Dan Seals and in the 90s by Doug Supernaw, but perhaps surprisingly never losing its sense of topicality. I like all three versions of this fine song, but John’s is probably the best and most committed vocal, as you feel the narrator’s pain as it turns to smoldering anger and then defeated sadness as he leaves town:
“I stood on the hill overlooking Red River where my mama and her mama lay
And listened to the growling of the big diesel Cats as they tore up the fields where I played
I said, ‘Mama forgive me, but I’m almost glad that you’re not here today
After five generations of Rock County Wilsons
To see the last 50 acres in the hands of somebody who’d actually blow it away’.”

A more unexpected (and less successful) cover comes in the form of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Atlantic City’, a dark tale of a couple on the edges of the crime world which came to John’s attention via a version by The Band.

John did not contribute many of his own compositions this time around, but one of the songs he did write is one of my favorites, the heavy-hitting ballad ‘I Ain’t Afraid Of Dying’, written with Dean Dillon. It is a trenchant look at some of the darker aspect of modern society and fears for the future, with no punches pulled:
“Some father says in the name of God he took his baby’s life
Well, I don’t think so, the God I know wouldn’t believe that’s right
I may not have the answers when it’s all said and done
Sometimes I have to question where they’re coming from
I know where I’m going when they lay me to rest
Oh, I ain’t afraid of dying, Lord – it’s the living that scares me to death.”

The pair also wrote ‘Go To Town’, a pleasant but not that memorable piece about a party girl and a “smooth operator” growing up and settling down, ending with their children heading off to the excitement of the town in their parents’ stead. The other track John co-wrote was the melodic love song ‘I Love You Again’, written with Craig Wiseman, which is very listenable and sincerely delivered, but doesn’t stick in the mind.

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