My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Bee Gees

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Eyes That See In The Dark’

In 1983 Kenny jumped ship from Liberty and headed to a lucrative new deal with RCA. His first album for the new label headed even further down the pop road, including recruiting British disco star Barry Gibb (of the Bee Gees) as his producer and songwriter.

There was one monster hit from the album which is still familiar today. ‘Islands In The Stream’, one of the Gibb songs, was originally recorded solo, but Kenny was not initially happy with the results. Then someone had the brilliant idea to turn it into a duet with Dolly Parton, who was also trying to marry pop and country stardom at the time. It stormed country, pop and AC charts, and was a hit internationally as well – understandably so, as it is a great pop song with a catchy melody, which has nothing to do with country music but has achieved classic status. The duet pairing would go on to tour together, record several albums together including a Christmas effort, and is more familiar to the general public than Dolly’s early partnership with Porter Wagoner.

But if this song could not be ignored, country radio was more circumspect with the following singles. The title track, a boring pop ballad with strangely echoey vocals apparently copied from Gibb’s demo, peaked at #30 on the Billboard country chart. ‘This Woman’ was a #2 AC and top 30 pop hit, but was too disco for country radio, which instead played the more country sounding B Side, ‘Buried Treasure’. This is a pleasant mid-paced love song with banked harmonies from the Gatlin Brothers saving it from being completely forgettable. The Gatlins also back up Kenny on the final single, ‘Evening Star’. This is actually quite a nice song with an inspirational Western theme, and the single peaked just outside the top 10.

AC leaning ballad ‘You And I’ (featuring Barry Gibb’s harmonies) was not a single, but it became a staple of Kenny’s live shows; I find it rather dull and find Kenny’s vocals a bit whispery. ‘Hold Me’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ (not the Dolly Parton classic but another Gibb brothers’ pop song) are in a similar vein.

The Bee Gees (Barry Gibb and his brothers) provide the backing vocals on ‘Living With You’, a generic disco track with nothing to interest the country fan. ‘Midsummer Nights’ is a mid paced sexy love song.

‘Islands In The Stream’ is really the only good song on this album.

Grade: D-

Album Revew: Janie Fricke – ‘Sleeping With Your Memory’

1981 saw a change of producer for Janie, with Jim Ed Norman taking up the reins from Billy Sherrill for Sleeping With Your Memory. The result was incrased success for her on radio and with the industry – Janie would be named the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1982.

The lead single was ‘Do Me With Love’, written by John Schweers. A bright perky slice of pop-country, this rather charming song (featuring Ricky Skaggs on backing vocals although he is not very audible) was a well-deserved hit, peaking at #4. Its successor, ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby’, was Janie’s first chart topper. It was written by fellow country starlet Deborah Allen with rocker Bruce Channel and Kieran Kane (later half of the O’Kanes). It’s quite a well written song, but the pop-leaning production has dated quite badly, and Janie’s vocals sound like something from musical theater.

Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’ is given a folk-pop-country arrangement which is quite engaging (Ricky Skaggs multi-tasks on this song, contributing fiddle, mandolin and banjo as well as backing vocals), but I’m not quite sure I entirely buy Janie as the folk troubadour of the narrative. The Gibb brothers (the Bee Gees) had some impact on country music by dint of writing songs like ‘Islands In The Stream’ for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, and their ‘Love Me’ is a very nice mid-paced ballad.

Janie sings Larry Gatlin’s sensitive ballad ‘The Heart’ beautifully; Larry and one of his brothers add backing vocals. The arrangement is swathed with strings, and the overall effect is fairly Adult Contemporary in style, but the track is a fine showcase for Janie’s lovely voice. The wistful ballads ‘Always’ and ‘If You Could See Me Now’ are also impeccably sung. The title track is a downbeat ballad about coping with a breakup, and is quite good, though not very country.

‘There’s No Future In The Past’, written by Chick Rains, is a very strong ballad about starting to move on, which I liked a lot despite the early 80s string arrangement. The closing ‘Midnight Words’ is fairly forgettable.

While this is not the more traditional side of country with heavy use of strings and electronic keyboards, it is a good example of its kind with some decent song choices, and Janie was starting to find her own voice.

Grade: B

Album Review: Barbara Mandrell – ‘This Time I Almost Made It: The Lost Columbia Masters’

81U+RipV8TL._SX522_More than any other performer, Barbara Mandrell is the artist responsible for sparking my interest in country music. Even before there were any local country music radio stations in my area, her weekly TV series was my main source of keeping abreast of what was going on in the world of country music. This was in the early 80s, when she’d just become the first artist to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award a second time. Her contributions to country music were significant, but her catalog has been criminally neglected. Fortunately, that grievance is starting to be addressed. With the reissue of This Time I Almost Made It, courtesy of Real Gone Music, all of Barbara’s solo albums for Columbia are now available on CD.

Barbara was signed to Columbia in 1969 by Billy Sherrill and remained with the label until 1975. During that time, she only released three solo albums, plus a duets album with David Houston. Most major country acts released three albums a year in those days, but like we often see today, the label was waiting for some radio hits before committing to album releases. Her debut album Treat Him Right, was released in 1971 and was a lackluster seller. 1973’s The Midnight Oil reached #8 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, buoyed by the success of the title track which reached #7 in Billboard and #1 in Cashbox, and “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home”, which was Barbara’s first Top 10 hit. By the time This Time I Almost Made It was released in 1974, the momentum she had gained seemed to have been lost again; it only reached #41 on the albums chart. By that time, Barbara might have already initiated talks to negotiate her release from her Columbia contract. If so, the label obviously would have had little interest in promoting her records. At any rate, the quality of the material does not seem to have been the issue.

The title track was written by Sherrill when he realized that they didn’t have enough songs for an album. Though in some respects it may have been an afterthought, it is my favorite track on the album. It’s a beautiful ballad, not particularly country in arrangement but the production is tastefully restrained. It was released as a single in advance of the album, as a follow-up to “The Midnight Oil”, but it charted outside the Top 10 at #12. The second single was “Wonder When My Baby’s Coming Home”, another easy-listening style ballad, although it is a little more country thanks to the inclusion of some steel guitar. I wasn’t previously familiar with this one, but I like it a lot. The background vocals give it a slightly dated feel, though they are a lot less intrusive than many records of the era. This one stalled at #39 and was Barbara’s final single for Columbia.

Barbara is well known for making country versions of R&B songs, occasionally delving too far into R&B territory for my taste in later years but her take on “You’re All I Need to Get By”, which has been a 1968 R&B hit for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, is quite good. She also turned in good performances on some pop songs of the day: “Keep On Singing”, which had been a hit for Helen Reddy, The Bee Gees’ “Words”, and The Beatles’ “Something”, which closes out the original album. She also covered her country colleagues Merle Haggard (“Today I Started Loving You Again”) and Charlie Rich (“A Very Special Love Song”).

This CD would be worth buying for the original album alone, but Real Gone Music has included almost another album’s worth of bonus tracks. There are nine in total, seven of which have never been released before. First up is the very country “I Hope You Love Me”, which was recorded during Barbara’s first session with Columbia in 1969. Written by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, it was included on Tammy’s 1970 album The Ways To Love a Man under the title “I Know”. “You Can Always Come Back”, also recorded in 1969 is a cover of a Curly Putman hit. “Coming Home Solider” had been a 1966 pop hit for Bobby Vinton.

Though the album’s liner notes refer to Barbara’s version as “dramatic”, I found it a bit plodding and it’s my least favorite track on the disc. Although a bit tame, her reading of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)” is much better. It was written by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, who had hired Barbara for a two-week stint in Las Vegas when she was only eleven years old. It’s proof positive that despite her reputation for interpreting pop and R&B material, she was just as adept at tackling traditional country. Ditto for “You Took Him Off My Hands”, a Wynn Stewart/Harlan Howard/Skeets McDonald song that had previously been recorded by Patsy Cline.

Though not one a landmark album in the Mandrell discography, This Time I Almost Made It provides an interesting opportunity to trace Barbara’s development as an artist, and the bonus material is a real treat for her fans. After leaving Columbia, Barbara signed with ABC/Dot, which was later absorbed by MCA. That era of her career, despite being the years of her greatest commercial success, is still largely unavailable on CD aside from a few hits compilations. Hopefully the sales of This Time I Almost Made It will be good enough to entice Universal to finally allowing some of Barbara’s most commercially important recordings a chance to once again see the light of day.

Grade: A

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Wichita Lineman’

220px-Glen_Campbell_Wichita_Lineman_album_coverWichita Lineman, Glen Campbell’s twelfth album, was his sixth working with producer Al De Loy. The project was immensely successful and spent multiple weeks atop both the Billboard Country Albums and all genre 200 charts.

Two singles were released from the record. “Dreams of The Everyday Housewife” came first, peaking at a respectable #3. Written by Chris Gantry, the track spells out a tale of sacrifice:

Oh, such are the dreams of the everyday housewife

You see everywhere any time of the day

An everyday housewife who gave up the good life for me

The classic title track, written by Jimmy Webb, was the other single. A multi-genre smash, “Wichita Lineman” topped the Country and Adult Contemporary Charts. On the U.S. Pop Chart, it peaked inside the top five. Webb was inspired to write the workingman’s anthem after spotting a lone lineman worker atop a telephone poll while on a drive through rural Oklahoma. He wrote from the perspective of that man:

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road

Searchin’ in the sun for another overload

I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine

And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

The remainder of the eleven-song album is peppered with tracks composed by some of the biggest artists of the day. The Bee Gees co-wrote the lush ballad, “Words,” a heartfelt plea from a man to the woman for which he wishes to spend his life.

Sonny Bono contributed “You Better Sit Down Kids,” which was a major hit for his then-wife Cher the year prior. The lyric brilliantly details a father’s sit down with his children as he tells them he and their mother are getting a divorce:

You better sit down kids I’ll tell you why, kids

You might not understand, kids

But give it a try, kids

Now how should I put this I’ve got something to say

Your mother is staying but I’m going away

No, we’re not mad, kids it’s hard to say why

Your mother and I don’t see eye to eye

 

Say your prayers before you go to bed

Make sure you get yourself to school on time

I know you’ll do the things your mother asks

She’s gonna need you most to stay in line

Keep in mind your mother’s gonna need your help

A whole lot more than she ever did before

No more fights over little things

Because I won’t be here to stop them anymore

The slow string-heavy ballad “If You Go Away” is considered a pop standard, which Campbell delivers in his signature smooth style. A paint-by-numbers cover of Otis Redding’s “(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay” gives the album some pep, but lacks imagination. Campbell is much better on “Ann,” a lovely Billy Edd Wheeler love song bursting with energy. I much prefer the grittier 1993 Rod Stewart version of “Reason To Believe,” which gives the track a bit more life than Campbell does here.

Campbell wrote only one track on the album, the string-drenched ballad “Fate of Man.” It’s a rather excellent song in which Campbell traces a life’s trajectory through the ages and stages of a man’s life:

When a man is one and twenty, he thinks he knows it all

He can’t see down the road of life where he’ll ever fall

But fall he will as he travels through life

With all its pitfalls troubles and strife

 

Now at fifty, he’s going real strong

He has him a family and a nice little home

But old age is creeping up his spine

And the day is coming when the sun won’t shine

 

Now at sixty, he won’t have to guess

He’s already missed the boat that leads to success

But he’s done his best and he can’t see why

The fame of life just passed him by

 

Now at seventy, he can see the light

And he knows he’s never been very bright

But he’s done his best as he’s travelled by

And now all he can do is just sit and sigh

I’ll admit that when I review an album released more than forty-seven years ago, (Wichita Lineman came out in 1968) I have trouble truly getting into what I’m hearing. Although this album came out long before my generation, I can appreciate it for what it is. Wichita Lineman is very good, with some exceptionally strong material.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Feels So Right’

61l1zC9YGNL1981’s Feels So Right was Alabama’s fifth album overall and their second for RCA. The band once again co-produced the album with Harold Shedd and Larry McBride, the team that had made their major label debut album a runaway success. It sold more than 4 million copies — twice as many as the highly successful My Home’s In Alabama, and spawned three #1 country hits. It also found the band making inroads on the pop charts for the first time, with both the title track and “Love In The First Degree” landing in the pop Top 20. The latter has always been one of my favorite Alabama songs; I was just getting interested in country at the time and it was one of the few songs played on Top 40 radio that I could enjoy. I like the first single “Old Flame” slightly better, though. The most country-sounding of the three singles, it was written by Donny Lowery and Mac McAnally and was always one of the most popular numbers in the band’s live shows.

I have to admit that prior to preparing for this review, I had never heard an Alabama album all the way through. Although I enjoyed most of the band’s radio hits, I was more of an Oak Ridge Boys fan in those days and had limited financial resources for buying albums. My prep work has underscored that it’s almost always a good idea to dig a little below the surface beyond an act’s hit singles. Listening to the full album exposes another side to Alabama that is much more diverse than what could be heard from them on the radio. Always considered to be on the more progressive end of the country music spectrum, the album cuts are often more traditional, although there are also some cuts that were a little too Southern rock for country radio.

“Ride The Train”, written by Teddy Gentry, is a great number with a lot of fiddle and harmonica and great harmonies and far too country for country radio in 1981. “Woman Back Home” was also too traditional for a radio single in 1981, though it would probably have done well about a decade later, if given a chance. “Burn Georgia Burn” gives Teddy Gentry a turn to sing lead, and the Southern rock laced “See The Embers, Feel The Flame” gives Jeff Cook a chance to do the same. Both are very good vocalists and it’s a shame that neither got a chance to sing lead more often; I’ve always thought that groups that let more than one member sing lead, like The Statler Brother and The Oak Ridge Boys, were more interesting than those that featured the same lead singer every time.

The album has mostly stood the test of time well, although its age is occasionally betrayed by some of the production choices. Many of the tracks feature a string section, although they are relatively restrained for the most part. The album is less slickly produced than many from this era, with the exceptions of the tracks “Hollywood” and my least favorite track “Fantasy”, a late 70s-sounding number that sounds like it would have been a big hit for The Bee Gees.

Feels So Right, is by and large a very enjoyable album and a pleasant surprise that has shown me that I have a lot of work to do to catch up on what I’ve been missing out on for the past 35 years.

Grade: A