My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Desert Rose Band

Week ending 3/2/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: Don’t Take Your Guns To Town — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1969: To Make Love Sweeter For You — Jerry Lee Lewis (Smash)

1979: Golden Tears — Dave & Sugar (RCA Records)

1989: I Still Believe In You — The Desert Rose Band (MCA/Curb)

1999: I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing — Mark Chesnutt (Decca)

2009: Down The Road — Kenny Chesney & Mac McAnally (Blue Chair/BNA)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Classic Rewind: The Desert Rose Band – ‘Time Between’

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: Nanci Griffith – ‘Lone Star State of Mind’

Nanci Griffith made her major label debut as part of a marketing campaign that MCA Records labeled “country and eastern”, a moniker which also included Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle and the Desert Rose Band. All were on the fringes of the mainstream and hoped to find acceptance at country radio. None of them enjoyed any long-term success, however, and the genre is poorer off as a result. Griffith barely made a dent in the country charts as a recording artist, but she released a handful of very well crafted albums during her tenure with MCA, the first of which was 1987’s Lone Star State of Mind, which she co-produced with Tony Brown.

Up to this point Griffith had released several successful country-flavored folk albums which were released on the independent Philo label. To the extent that she was known to mainstream audiences it was for having written “Love at the Five and Dime”, which had been a Top Five hit for Kathy Mattea in 1986. Lone Star State of Mind consisted of six songs that she wrote or co-wrote, and five other songs penned by outside writers. A conscious effort was made to appeal to country fans by incorporating a generous amount of fiddle and pedal steel into the mix. Though it sold only modestly, the album was Griffith’s most successful during her tenure in Nashville.

The title track, written by Fred Koller, Pat Alger and Gene Levine was the album’s first single. Upbeat and featuring an energetic vocal performance, it rose to #36, becoming Nanci’s highest charting single on the Billboard country chart. It was followed by one of Nanci’s own compositions, “Trouble In The Fields”, which was co-written by Rick West. It tells the story of a farmer and his wife, on the brink of financial ruin due to a drought, and draws comparsions to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. But despite the hardships they face, the couple is determined to soldier on and save their farm from foreclosure:

All this trouble in our fields,
If this rain can fall, these wounds can heal,
They’ll never take our native soil.
And if we sell that new John Deere,
And we work these crops with sweat and tears,
You be the mule, I’ll be the plow,
Come harvest time we’ll work it out,
There’s still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields.

This is a beautiful song, my favorite of anything Nanci has ever done, but sadly it only reached #57. Irish singer Maura O’Connell later covered the song, bringing it to the attention of international audiences. The album’s third and final single, “Cold Hearts/Closed Minds”, another Griffith composition, is more folk than country. It too was more or less ignored by radio and topped out at #64.

Surprisingly, the song for which Nanci is best known was not released as single in the US. She was the first artist to record Julie Gold’s “From A Distance”, which four years later would become a major pop hit for Bette Midler. Nanci’s version is virtually unknown to American audiences, but it became a huge hit in Ireland where it topped the charts and established Nanci as a major star in that country.

“Ford Econoline”, another one of my favorites, is a light-hearted number about a controlling husband who makes the mistake of buying his wife a car, which she promptly uses to escape his clutches and start a singing career. The more contemplative “Nickel Dreams”, written by Mac McAnally and Don Lowery, had been recorded by Reba McEntire a few years earlier. Tanya Tucker would borrow the title for autobiography a few years later, despite never having recorded the song.

The album closes on a very personal and introspective note. “There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)” is a re-recording of the title track of Griffith’s 1978 debut album. She uses the occasion to address a childhood friend and to reminisce about key events of their lives, including meeting Nanci’s boyfriend John, and his subsequent death in a motorcycle accident shortly after their senior prom.

Nanci’s sometimes quirky vocal style may not be to everyone’s taste, and this may have been a factor in hampering her commercial success. She did, however, write and record many literate and substantive songs, some of which went on to become hits for other artists. Lone Star State of Mind reached #23, making it Nanci’s highest charting album on the Billboard Country Albums chart. Regrettably, commercial success continued to elude her and she eventually moved in a more pop direction and had her contract transferred to MCA’s L.A. division. Shortly thereafter she departed the label altogether and began to revisit her folk roots on Elektra Records.

Lone Star State of Mind
is easy to find on CD and in digital form. New copies tend to be expensive, but used copies are quite inexpensive.

Grade: A

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.