My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Jordanaires

Classic Album Review: Hank Locklin – ‘The Country Hall Of Fame’

Released in 1966 by RCA Records (my copy is a German pressing on RCA/Telefunken), Hank’s tribute takes a different approach from Wanda Jackson’s album from two years earlier, being centered around the 1967 hit single “The Country Hall of Fame”.

Largely forgotten today, Hank had a substantial career as a songwriter, performer, and occasional hitmaker, although he never was headquartered in Nashville, so he didn’t get as much promotional push from his label, and he never really maintained his own band. He was a huge favorite in England and Ireland making many trips there.

His biggest copyright as a songwriter, “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On”, was a top five county hit for Hank in 1957 (it had been a regional hit for him in the late 1940s on another label ) and earned him a boatload of money by being frequently covered by other artists such as Dean Martin and Johnny Tillotson both had top five easy listening/top twenty pop hits with the song. Tillotson’s recording also became a top ten or top twenty pop hit in a number of European countries.

As a singer, Locklin was a wobbly Irish tenor whose voice wasn’t a perfect match for every song, but when the right song reached him, he could deliver some really big hits. “Let Me Be The One” spent three weeks at #1 in 1953, and “Please Help Me I’m Falling” spent fourteen weeks at #1 in 1960. Hank had ten top ten hits through spring 1962, but after that Arnold, even the top twenty became nearly impossible for him, until the title song to this album.

When the earlier Wanda Jackson album was released the Country Music Hall of Fame was comprised of the following performers: Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff, Tex Ritter and Ernest Tubb. By the time Hank’s album arrived there had been multiple inductions (in 1966 and 1967), but of the eight new inductees, four were non-performers. The newly inducted performers were “Uncle” Dave Macon, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold and Red Foley.

In selecting songs for this album, Hank and his producers Chet Atkins and Felton Jarvis selected songs by persons either in the Country Hall of Fame or assumed to be inducted in the upcoming years.

The album opens up with “High Noon”, a hit for Frankie Laine, but forever associated with Tex Ritter, who sang the song in the famous movie starring Gary Cooper. Hank’s voice is pitched much higher than that of Ritter, but the song, taken at a slightly faster tempo than Ritter’s version, works. The song has a straightforward country backing with a vocal chorus.

Do not forsake me oh my darling on this our wedding day
Do not forsake me oh my darling, wait wait along
I do not know what fate awaits me, I only know I must be brave
And I must face the man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Next up is “Four Walls”, a million seller for the then-recently departed Jim Reeves in 1957.

Track three is the title song, Hank’s last Billboard top thirty country hit, reaching #8. In concept, the song, written by Karl Davis is somewhat similar to an Eddie Dean composition, “I Dreamed of Hillbilly Heaven”, which Tex Ritter took to #5 in 1961, although “Hillbilly Heaven” is a dream sequence song about a mythical place, whereas Karl Davis was inspired by his visit to the actual Country Hall of Fame museum. This song features a full string arrangement by Bill Walker. Although the only song on this album to feature the full string arrangement, such arrangements would become increasingly common in the next few years:

I was roaming round in Nashville in the state of Tennessee
For I love that country music, it’s as soulful as can be
I have gathered there the records for I cherished every name
So I found myself a standing in the Country Hall of Fame

My heart beat somewhat faster as I walked in through the door
For I heard the sound of voices I had often heard before
A happy kind of sadness brought a teardrop to my eye
Now I’ll tell you what I saw there and I’m sure that you’ll see why

Jimmie Rodgers’ railroad lantern and his faithful old guitar
I could hear that old blue yodel coming from somewhere afar
Roy Acuff in bronze likeness with the great Fred Rose his friend
And I heard that Wabash Cannonball somewhere around the bend

The guitar of Eddy Arnold memories of Cattle Call
Chet Atkins will be with him when the work’s all done this fall
From the autoharp of Maybelle, Wildwood Flower seems to ring
Riley Puckett and Gid Tanner how they all could pick and sing

I could hear George Hay announcin’ as I stood there in the room
I could hear Tex Ritter singing his classic song High Noon
Minnie Pearl so glad to be there and Hank Snow keeps Movin’ On
May the Lord bless those still living and the ones who’s joined his throne

Cowboy Copas, Hankshaw Hawkins, Gentleman Jim and Patsy Cline
Rod Bradsfield, Ira Louvin, these stars will always shine
Ernest Tubb, the great Red Foley and Hank Williams bless his name
Though some are gone they’ll live forever in the Country Hall of Fame

“I’ll Hold You In My Heart (Until I Can Hold You In My Arms)” was a massive hit for Arnold, spending 21 weeks at #1 in 1947/1948. Hank acquits himself well on this song as he does on the next track, Ernest Tubb’s 1941 hit “Walking The Floor Over You”.

Side One closes out with Hank’s cover of the “Lovesick Blues”, written by Tin Pan Alley songsmiths Cliff Friend and Irving Mills back in 1922. Emmet Miller (1928) and Rex Griffin (1939) recorded the song, but Hank Williams had the biggest hit with the song in 1949. Countless others, including Patsy Cline, have recorded the song. To really do the song justice, a singer needs to be a good yodeler, and here Locklin yodels the chorus with ease.

Side Two opens up with a mid-tempo take on Roy Acuff’s “Night Train To Memphis” with a modern arrangement (no dobro, banjo or fiddles), but with a bit of the old tent revival show feeling to it.

This is followed by “Sign Sealed and Delivered”, a hit for Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas in 1948). I think the assumption was that Copas would be elected to the Country Hall of Fame eventually, although that has yet to happen. Of the three stars who died in the 1963 plane crash (Copas, Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins) Copas was the most famous at the time of his death.

“No One Will Ever Know” was written by Fred Rose, inducted as an executive and songwriter. The biggest hit on the song was by Gene Watson, #11 RW in 1980, although many others have recorded the song, including Hank Williams and Jimmie Dickens. Hank Locklin takes the song at a slow tempo with guitar and piano dominating the arrangement. The vocal choruses are present but not misused. It is a great song and I don’t know why no one has ever had a monster hit with the song

No one will ever know my heart is breaking
Although a million teardrops start to flow
I’ll cry myself to sleep and wake up smiling
I’ll miss you but no one will ever know

I’ll tell them we grew tired of each other
And realized our dreams could never be
I’ll even make believe I never loved you
Then no one will ever know the truth but me

The Jimmie Rodgers classic brag “Blue Yodel #1 a/k/a ‘T’ for Texas” gives Hank a chance to again show off his skill as a yodeler. On this album, Hank one uses the “blue yodel” technique but he was quite capable of doing the “rolling” (or Swiss) technique such as used by Elton Britt, Kenny Roberts and Margo Smith

The album closes with the classic Louvin Brothers hit “When I Stop Dreaming” which finds Locklin at the top of his vocal range, and a nice cover of the Red Foley gospel favorite “Peace In The Valley”.

As was customary for albums of this vintage no musician credits are given, although PragueFrank’s website suggests that the following were present :

Pete Wade, Wayne Moss, Jerry Reed Hubbard and Ray Edenton – guitars
Roy M. “Junior” Huskey, Jr. – bass / Jerry Kerrigan – drums
Hargus “Pig” Robbins and Floyd Cramer – piano / The Jordanaires – background vocals

I know that Hank Locklin’s voice is not to everyone’s taste but I think most listeners would enjoy this album because of the variety and quality of the songs. Interestingly enough, there is no overlap in songs between this album and Wanda Jackson’s earlier tribute album. I would give this album a B+

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Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘She’s Not Really Cheatin’ (She’s Just Getting Even)’

1982 saw the release of She’s Not Really Cheatin’ (She’s Just Getting Even). Moe’s biggest hit in three years, the mid-paced title track is a pointed narrative about a wife who gets her revenge on a cheating husband by copying him. Written by Ron Shaffer, it peaked at #4. The album’s second single, ‘Only If There Is Another You’, which reached #12, is an earnestly sweet declaration of eternal fidelity.

The same writer (D Miller) contributed another pair of songs. ‘Our Love Could Burn Atlanta Down Again’ is a nice mid-tempo love song. ‘The All American Dream’, a co-write with the young Kent Blazy, is a sunny patriotic tune:

I drink Kentucky whiskey
I love California wine
My old car’s from Detroit
And suits my taste just fine
My boots were made in Texas
This song’s from Tennessee
I’m proud of my country
And what it’s done for me

You’re lookin’ at a believer in the all American dream
From a small farm in Texas to singin’ on TV
There ain’t a thing we can’t do
Nothing we can’t be
As long as we’re believers in the all American dream

Every single thing I own says made in USA
I don’t buy those products with names that I can’t say
We may be having hard times
But brother we’re still free
I’m glad I’m living in the land of opportunity

‘He’s Taking My Place At Your Place’ is a wistful lament for lost love, now that the ex he thought he could go back to isn’t interested any more. ‘Your Memory Is Showing All Over Me’ is a steel laced ballad about the shadow of the past preventing the protagonist from moving on.

The more contemporary ‘An Angel Like You’ is a mid tempo attempt to pick up a girl, slightly marred by intrusive backing vocals from the Jordanaires. The perky ‘Can I Pick You Up’ is a bit more effective.

My favorite track is the wonderful tribute to Moe’s traditional country roots, ‘Hank And Lefty Raised My Country Soul’, written by Dallas Frazier and Doodle Owens. This was a cover of a minor hit for Stoney Edwards in the early 70s. (Incidentally the song was later rewritten to pay tribute to George Jones and Merle Haggard; a pre-fame Alan Jackson recorded it.)

I also like the pacy ‘Jesus In A Nashville Jail’, in which a failed country singer finds God after “the bottle got the best and the blues got the rest of me”.

This is a very good album, but not one of Moe’s very best. It was released on a 2-4-1 CD with the excellent It’s A Cheating Situation, and the combination is well worth tracking down.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘It’s A Cheating Situation’

It’s a Cheating Situation is the 10th studio album by Moe Bandy and his seventh album of new material. Released in 1979, the album reached #19 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, his best showing in a few years. The album generated two top ten hits and featured the solid country sound that made Moe such a favorite among fans of traditional country music.

The album opened with the title track a fine track featuring Janie Fricke on harmony. Written by Curly Putman and Sonny Throckmorton, the song sailed to #1 on Record World (#2 Billboard, #1 Canadian Country), one of only two solo Bandy singles to reach #1. The song was a bit unusual for Bandy, but effective.

It’s a cheating situation, a stealing invitation
To take what’s not really ours, to make it through the midnight hours
It’s a cheating situation, just a cheap imitation
Doing what we have to do when there’s no love at home

There’s no use in pretending, there’ll be a happy ending
Where our love’s concerned, sweetheart, we both know
We’ll take love where we find it, love and try to hide it
It’s all we got, for we know they’re not gonna let us go

Next up is a more typical Moe Bandy number in “Barstool Mountain”, written by Donn Tankersley and Wayne Carson. The song was the second single released from the album and reached #9. The song had been recorded, as an album track, by Johnny Paycheck a few years earlier on his Take This Job And Shove It album. I like Paycheck but Bandy’s version is far superior

I’ve finally found a place where I can take it
All this loneliness you left behind.
On a mountain that’s no hill for a climber.
Just one step up, sit back and pour the wine.

I climb up on barstool mountain.
High above your world where there’s no pain.
And I’m the king of barstool mountain.
Pretending I don’t love you once again.

“Cheaters Never Win” by Sanger Shafer and Doodle Owens sounds like something Hank Williams might have written, and the comparison is driven home by the arrangement put together for Bandy. Released a decade before, the song would have made a good single for someone.

I don’t know how long you left me here alone
But I sure was a lonesome someone
And I learned from a friend how cheaters never win
Oh, but we sure have more fun.

When empty arms need someone soft to fill them
They’ll start reaching out for almost anyone
My stood to couldn’t stand and cheaters never win
Oh, but we sure have more fun.

“Conscience Where Were You (When I Needed You Last Night)” is a medium slow ballad from the pens of Sanger Shafer and Warren Robb.

I’m not that familiar with songwriter Herb McCollough but his “Try My Love On for Size” is a nice song with steel and fiddle driving the ong along. This song is taken at a moderately up-tempo pace. I really like the song, but I don’t think it would have made for a successful single.

Yeah slip into my arms I think you’ll find a perfect fit
They’ll keep you warm throughout the coldest nights
And these lips will cool the fires that burn you deep inside
My love will hold you close but not too tight.

So try my love on for size
It’ll never shrink or run or fade away
Yes, try my love on for size
Never return it if you’re fully satisfied.

Yes, try my love on for size
Never return it if you’re fully satisfied…

Bobby Barker’s “To Cheat Or Not To Cheat” is a mid-tempo song that asks what I suppose to be the eternal question (my suggestion is ‘Not To Cheat’). It’s an okay song as an album track but nothing more.

While she makes another midnight pot of coffee
We’re mixin’ up just one last glass of gin
And before I even cheat I’m feelin’ guilty
And gin can’t dim these butterflies within.

To cheat or not to cheat, that’s the question
That’s been runnin’ through my mind all evenin’ long
To cheat or not to cheat, what’s the answer
Now I’m pullin’ in my driveway here at home…

Max D. Barnes was a fine songwriter, and “She Stays In The Name of Love” is a good song that I think could have been a good single for someone. Johnny Gimble and Weldon Myrick shine on this track.

I’ve been everything that a man shouldn’t be
I’ve done things a man won’t do
And it’s hard to believe what she sees in me
After all that I put her through.

But I guess that she knows when the bars finally close
She’s the one that I’m thinkin’ of
Well she could leave in the name of a heart full of pain
But she stays in the name of love.

“It Just Helps To Keep The Hurt From Hurtin'” is a fine and wistful Cindy Walker ballad that Moe tackles successfully with just the right amount of trepidation in his voice.

Carl Belew was one of my favorite songwriters, and while his success as a performer was limited, some of his songs became great pop and country classics (“Stop The World and Let Me Off”, “Lonely Street”, “What’s He Doing In My World”, “Am I That Easy To Forget”, “Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon”). “When My Working Girl Comes Home (And Works on Me)” is the sort of album material that Moe excels at singing.

The album closes with “They Haven’t Made The Drink (That Can Get Me Over You)”, another mid-tempo Sanger Shafer – Doodle Owens honky-tonk classic, featuring Johnny Gimble on fiddle and “Pig” Robbins on piano . For the life of me, I do not understand why this track wasn’t released as a single by Moe or perhaps someone else.

The face on my watch stares up through a scratched up crystal
As if to say I’m sorry it’s too early for the booze
Sometimes my mind wonders from the bottle to the pistol
‘Cause they haven’t made the drink that can get me over you.

The bartenders’ local called a special meeting
They came up with a drink called ‘What’s The Use’
I must have drank a dozen before I broke down cryin’
‘Cause they haven’t made the drink that can get me over you.

There are signs on several tracks of the Moe Bandy sound beginning to soften a little. There’s still plenty of ‘Drifting Cowboy’ steel guitar and Texas-style fiddle but on a few tracks the Jordanaires are a little more prominent than I would like, and the title track is far less honky-tonk that Moe’s usual fare.

Among the musicians helping keep this country are the following: Bob Moore (bass), Johnny Gimble (fiddle, mandolin), Hargus “Pig” Robbins (piano), Bobby Thompson (banjo), Weldon Myrick (steel guitar), and Charlie McCoy (harmonica).

I very much like this album and would rate it an “A”.

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Hank Williams You Wrote My Life’

In 1976 Moe’s contract was transferred to Columbia, but there were no immediate changes to his mursic, which remained uncompromisingly traditional honky-tonk, with prominent fiddle and steel, softened only by the Jordanaires’ backing vocals.

His first release on the new label, the title track of his new album, was his biggest hit to date, peaking at #2. Written by Paul Craft, the song is a wonderful tribute to the music of the great Hank Williams, with some of Hank’s song titles serving as the soundtrack to the protagonist’s own disastrous love life –

You wrote ‘My Cheating Heart’ about
A gal like my first ex-wife

The second single was less successful, only just creeping into the top 30, but is actually a very good Sanger D Shafer song in which the self-deluding protagonist has been stood up in ‘The Biggest Airport In The World’ (which at the time was Dallas-Fort Worth) by a fiancée he met only a week earlier – in a bar of course.

A couple of other Shafer songs also made the cut. ‘I’m The Honky Tonk On Loser’s Avenue’ anthropomorphises the barroom location of so many country songs and real life heartbreaks. ‘The Lady’s Got Pride’ is a strong song about the cheating protagonist’s unhappy stand-by-her-man wife.

‘You’ve Got A Lovin’ Comin’’, written by Roger Bowling, is a sincerely delivered love song to just such a long suffering wife from a man who has decided to change his ways.

In Bobby Bond’s ‘Hello Mary’ the protagonist calls home from the bar claiming he is engrossed in a ‘business deal’ (while actually gambling with friends). This is exactly the kind of tongue-in-cheek song Moe would later do with Joe Stampley, and it is very entertaining.

The up-tempo ‘Ring Around Rosie’s Finger’ was co-written by Connie Smith, and is about a player who has decided to settle down with his true love. ‘The Hard Times’, written by Edward Penney, Tom Benjamin and Hugh Moffatt, is a ballad about a couple dealing with financial difficulties but sustained by their love. ‘I Think I’ve Got A Love On For You’, written by Dallas Frazier and Larry Lee, is a pleasant but filler love song.

‘I’m Not As Strong As I Used To Be’ is about a heartbreak which has got only worse with time, and is another fine song.

Overall, this is a good and solidly country album. It has not been re-released digitally as such, but the tracks are all available on iTunes in rather poor quality.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Bandy The Rodeo Clown’

Moe Bandy’s third (and final) album on GRC was Bandy The Rodeo Clown. Released in 1975, the album was the least successful of Moe’s three GRC albums, reaching only #27 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, but the title track (and only single from the album) proved to be Moe’s biggest hit to-date, reaching #7 in the USA and #4 in Canada. The album was a hard-core country fan’s fantasy with such stalwart musicians as Charlie McCoy, Bobby Thompson, Bob Moore, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Leo Jackson, Jimmy Capps, Johnny Gimble, Kenny Malone, Weldon Myrick and Dave Kirby present to ‘keep it country’.

I’m sure that many thought that Moe penned the title track, which was the first track on the album; however, the song actually came for the golden pens of Lefty Frizzell and Whitey Shfer. The story of a rodeo rider toppled by lost love, and winding up a rodeo clown, Moe is entirely believable as he sings the song.

Who was once a bull hooking son of a gun
Now who keeps a pint hid out behind chute number one
Who was riding high till a pretty girl rode him to the ground
Any kid knows where to find me
I’m Bandy The Rodeo Clown

Next up is “Somewhere There’s A Woman”, penned by Rex Gosdin and Les Reed. This song is a standard jog-long ballad that Moe handles well. This is followed by “Give Me Liberty (Or Give Me All Your Love)”, a ballad about a guy who is losing his girlfriend to her old lover.

“Nobody’s Waiting For Me” is a sad slow ballad about a down and outer, what used to be known as a weeper. This song was written by Whitey Shafer – it’s a good song and in the hands of George Jones, it might have been hit single material – but otherwise it is just an album track.

Side one closes with “I Stop And Get Up (To Go Out Of My Mind)”, a mid-tempo ballad with some nice harmonica by Charlie McCoy and fiddle by Johnny Gimble.

Side two opens up with an old warhorse in Don Gibson’s “Oh, Lonesome Me”. I’ve heard better versions, but Moe does an acceptable job with the song. Eddy Raven, who has been enjoying renaissance in bluegrass, penned “I Sure Don’t Need That Memory Tonight”. It’s a decent ballad but nothing more. Better is another Raven tune “Fais Do-Do”, a Cajun-flavored tune that I would liked better had it been taken at a slightly faster tempo. At a faster tempo this song would have made a good single. Yet another Raven song follows in ”Goodbye On Your Mind”, another mid-tempo ballad.

The album closes with “Signs Of A Woman Gone” by Rex Gosdin and Les Reed. The song is slightly up-tempo and while I find the presence of the Jordanaires in the introduction slightly distracting, Bobby Thompson’s fine banjo redeems the song as does Weldon Myrick’s fine steel guitar.

This is a solid country album, well sung by Moe with a solid country band. The problem with the album is two-fold: not enough tempo variation, and generally solid but unexciting songs. I do not mind listening to this album, but only the title track was worthy of single release. The first two GRT albums were better but I would still give this album a solid ‘B’.

After this album, Moe would be signed by Columbia, which purchased Moe’s back GRC catalogue. While Moe would not go on to have enormous success as an album seller, he would crank out a steady stream of successful singles for the next thirteen years.

Classic Album Review – Mac Wiseman – ‘Mac Wiseman’

Growing up as a military brat during in the 1950s and 1960s, we didn’t always live in an area where there were full time country music stations. Since Dad had a decent record collection, I was always able to listen to country music, but bluegrass wasn’t really Dad’s favorite subgenre of the music. As I recall, he had one Flatt & Scruggs album and a cheapie album by some non-descript group called Homer & The Barnstormers. Consequently, unless we lived in an area with a country radio station, I really didn’t often hear bluegrass music.

While in college I finally purchased a couple of bluegrass albums. One of the albums, Tennessee by Jimmy Martin, was on Decca. It is a great album that I highly commend to everyone.

The other album, Mac Wiseman, was on the Hilltop label. Hilltop was a reissue album that labels such as Dot, Capitol (and a few other labels that did not have their own cheap(er) reissue label) would reissue older material. Released in 1967, Hilltop JS 6047 consisted of Mac Wiseman tracks licensed from Capitol Records. While I only paid $1.29 for it brand-new, I regard it as one of the true treasures of my record collection.

With tracks recorded between 1960 and 1964, the album features a stellar collection of country and bluegrass musicians such as Ray Edenton (guitar), Benny Williams (mandolin), Joe Drumright and Buck Trent (banjo), Lew Childre (dobro) and Tommy Jackson, Buddy Spicher and Chubby Wise on fiddles.

Since it was on a budget label, the album contains only ten tracks, instead of the customary twelve tracks found on full price albums.

The album opens up with an up-tempo traditional tune “Footprints In The Snow” about a fellow who finds the love of his life by rescuing her from a blizzard. Buddy Spicher and Chubby Wise are featured on twin fiddles on this track and the next two tracks. Everyone from Bill Monroe onward recorded the song, but Mac’s version remains my favorite.

Now some folks like the summertime when they can walk about
Strolling through the meadow green it’s pleasant there no doubt
But give me the wintertime when the snow is on the ground
For I found her when the snow on the ground

I traced her little footprints in the snow
I found her little footprints in the snow
I bless that happy day when Nellie lost her way
For I found her when the snow was on the ground

Next up is “Pistol Packin’ Preacher”, written by Slim Gordon, another up-tempo romp, about a preacher who brought the gospel to the west, while being armed to defend himself and others when necessary.

“What’s Gonna Happen To Me?” is a slower song about a fellow lamenting the loss of love. This song was composed by the legendary Fred Rose with Gene Autry sometimes receiving co-writer credit. I’ve heard Autry’s version but I think Wiseman’s version is slightly better.

The flower of love came to wither and die
Our romance was never to be
No matter what happens I know you’ll get by
But what’s gonna happen to me

I’ll never be able to love someone new
Cause somehow I’ll never feel free
I’m sure you’ll find someone to care about you
But what’s gonna happen to me

“Tis Sweet To Be Remembered” is one of Mac’s signature songs. Originally recorded for Dot Records in 1957, this remake is in no way inferior to the original version. Mac is joined by Millie Kirkham and the legendary Jordanaires Quartet on this number and on the closing track of Side One, “I Love Good Bluegrass Music”.

‘Tis sweet to be remembered on a bright or gloomy day
‘Tis sweet to be remembered by a dear one far away
‘Tis sweet to be remembered remembered, remembered
‘Tis sweet to be remembered when you are far away

Side Two opens up with the lively “What A Waste of Good Corn Likker” about a fellows girl friend who falls into a vat of corn liquor and has to be ‘buried by the jug’. Unfortunately I have no session information at all about this track.

Cousin Cale upon the Jew’s harp
Played a mighty mournful tune
Kinfolks bowed their heads and gathered ’round
Then I heard the parson sing
Drink me only with thine eyes
As we watch them pour poor Lilly in the ground

Oh, what a waste of good corn liquor
From the still they pulled the plug
All the revenuers snickered ’cause she melted in the liquor
And they had to bury poor Lilly by the jug

Now I’m sitting in the twilight
‘Neath the weeping willow tree
The sun is slowly sinking in the west
And I’m clasping to my bosom
A little jug of Lilly Mae
With a broken heart I’m longing for the rest

Next up is the Marty Robbins-penned nostalgic ballad “Mother Knows Best”. Tommy Jackson and Shortly Lavender handle the twin fiddles on this track, and the next track, penned by Cindy Walker –
“Old Pair of Shoes”.

The album closes with a pair of country classics. “Dark Hollow” was penned by Bill Browning and has been recorded by dozens (maybe hundreds) of country and bluegrass artists and even such rock luminaries as the Grateful Dead. Jimmie Skinner, who straddled the fence between the two genres, had a top ten single with the song in 1959. Mac inflects the proper amount of bitterness into the vocal.

I’d rather be in some dark hollow where the sun don’t ever shine
Then to be at home alone and knowin’ that you’re gone
Would cause me to lose my mind

Well blow your whistle freight train carry me far on down the track
Well I’m going away, I’m leaving today
I’m goin’, but I ain’t comin’ back.

The album closes out with Kate Smith’s signature song “When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain”, a nostalgic ballad composed long ago by Harry Woods, Howard Johnson and Kate Smith. Kate took the song to #1 in 1931 and used it as her theme song for her various radio shows and personal appearances.

When the moon comes over the mountain
Every beam brings a dream, dear, of you
Once again we’ll stroll ‘neath the mountain
Through that rose-covered valley we knew
Each day is grey and dreary
But the night is bright and cheery
When the moon comes over the mountain
I’ll be alone with my memories of you

Many of these songs appear to be from previously uncollected singles but whatever the source, Mac Wiseman is in good voice throughout and the band completely meshes with what Mac is attempting to do. Bear Family eventually released these tracks in one of their expensive boxed sets, but for me, this album boils down the essence of Mac Wiseman in ten exquisite tracks. I still play this album often.

Grade: A+

Retro Album Reviews: New and old music from some veteran artists in 2007

last of the breedBack 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.

LAST OF THE BREED – HAGGARD, NELSON & PRICE

This may be the Holy Grail of classic country recordings. Three legendary figures in Ray Price, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, singing twenty-two selections containing some of the greatest country songs ever written, although not necessarily the biggest hits of Willie, Ray or Merle (except a cover of Ray’s “Heartaches by the Number”). On eleven (11) of the tracks all three artists appear. Ray and Merle each have a solo (Ray’s with Vince Gill assisting), and the rest feature two of the three (with Kris Kristofferson assisting on “Why Me”). The backing band consists of top current session men and some legends who played in the bands of the legends such as Buddy Emmons and Johnny Gimble. Plus the legendary Jordanaires can be heard on several tracks.

Ray Price has had the lowest profile of the three over the last ten or so years, but even at 81 years of age, he is one of the most effective singers on the planet. It is no knock on either Willie or Merle to say that neither is in Ray Price’s league as a pure singer – no one else is either. Maybe this CD will sell well enough to introduce a new generation to the music of Ray Price. If so, it will have done everyone a big favor.

To summarize: Buy It.

Grade: A+

THE RAY STEVENS BOX SET

Good recordings of classic Ray Stevens material but quite a few remakes that lack the sparkle of the originals. In a nutshell, if it was originally issued on Curb or Clyde, it’s probably the original recording but if it was issued on Mercury, Barnaby, Monument, MCA or RCA then it’s likely a remake.

If you haven’t heard these recordings before, or its been a long time since you’ve heard them, beware – you may bust a gut laughing.

Even with the remakes, it’s well worth purchasing.

Grade: B+

16 BIGGEST HITS – JIMMY DICKENS

While it could have been better, this collection gives a balanced look at Jimmy’s career. Best known for his diminutive size and novelty tunes, Jimmy was a superior ballad singer as tunes such as “My Heart’s Bouquet”, “Just When I Needed You”, “Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go)”, “We Could” and “Violet And A Rose” amply demonstrate. Yes, the novelties are here as well as a few of the jump tunes, but it’s the ballads that will enhance your appreciation of Little Jimmy Dickens. I would like to see a more encompassing collection, including more of his hillbilly boogie and his recordings on MCA /Decca, but until that happens this is a fine collection.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Lonestar

lonestarFor many years, the prototypical country group took the form of a gospel quartet or quintet, modeled after such gospel favorites as the Jordanaires, The Old Hickory Singers, The Oak Ridge Quartet or the Blackwood Brothers. These groups were strictly vocal groups, with some sort of instrumental accompaniment, often nothing more than someone playing the piano. It was rare that the group handled its own instrumentals, other than perhaps the original version of the Sons of The Pioneers; and aside from western groups such as the Sons of The Pioneers, the repertoire was almost entirely gospel.

The first group to venture off into mostly secular music was the Statler Brothers in 1965, with the electrifying hit “Flowers On The Wall”. The Statler Brothers were strictly a vocal group, although the great Lew DeWitt played some acoustic guitar. In 1976, the Statlers were followed by the Oak Ridge Boys (formerly the Oak Ridge Quartet). Like the Statler Brothers, the Oak Ridge Boys were a gospel quartet that went secular. Both groups tended to strongly resemble the gospel groups from which they had arisen, and both groups had all four members vocals featured prominently.

It was not until Alabama came to prominence in 1980 that the modern day concept of a country group entered the public conscience. Alabama was comprised of three cousins (Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook) plus a very talented outsider in drummer Mark Herndon. Unlike other country groups, Alabama had a designated lead vocalist in Randy Owen, with the other members providing instrumental support and taking an occasional lead vocal, mostly on album cuts.

Alabama proved to be hugely successful with dozens of #1 singles and millions of albums sold. Soon additional similarly structure groups would arise such as Atlanta (1983), Exile (1983), Restless Heart (1985), Shenandoah (1987), Diamond Rio (1991), and Little Texas (1991).

Of course, every trend and/or fad runs its course and Lonestar (1992) would prove to be the last really successful band of the wave that started with Alabama.

Lonestar was unusual in that as they originally were constructed, Lonestar had two singers who perceived of themselves as the lead vocalist of the group. Richie McDonald was the lead vocalist but bass player John Rich also sang some leads (mostly on album tracks) and would be booted out of the group after the second album.

Lonestar would prove to have staying power, releasing eleven studio albums (five reached gold or platinum status) and enjoying a large number of hit singles including nine that reached #1 and another nine that landed in the country top ten. One of their #1 singles, “Amazed” also reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for two weeks sandwiched between singles by Savage Garden and Destiny’s Child, and it charted in the United Kingdom.

Although the top ten singles ceased in 2006, Lonestar is still around having just issued a new album. Richie McDonald left the group for a while, but has since returned and the band once again consists of Richie McDonald on lead vocals and piano, Michael Britt on lead guitar, backing vocals, Keech Rainwater banging on the drums and Dean Sams on keyboards, acoustic guitar and backing vocal. This is essentially the original group minus John Rich.

Lonestar has a website and is playing a full schedule of road appearances. They still sound good, and if you liked them during their 1990s heydays, you’ll like them now.

So sit back as enjoy our Spotlight review of the one of the leading country groups of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr – ‘Ballads Of The Hills And Plains’

balladsBy 1965, it was becoming apparent that Hank Williams, Jr. would not be content to simply remake his father’s songbook. The first shot across the bow was this album of western and folk songs and similar songs by Nashville songsmiths. While it was a rebellion of sorts, it was a gentle rebellion as Hank gathered his own footing with this, his fourth album, and first not to feature any songs written by his father.

The band for this album was billed as the Cheatin’ Hearts but in reality it was a group of session musicians consisting of Grady Martin, Jerry Kennedy, Harold Bradley and Ray Edenton on guitars, Bob Moore on electric bass, Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano with the Jordanaires providing vocal accompaniment. While Hank did have a touring band of Cheatin’ Hearts in future years, I doubt that this group ever backed Hank on stage unless it was on the Opry stage, since Hank was still only 16 years old.

The great outdoors, the old west and cowboys are themes Hank would turn to at many points in the future. This was the starting point.
Side One of the album opens with “The River”, an early Mack Vickery co-write with Cliff Friend and Jack Sanders that is a slow ballad about a young lad going after the man who gunned down his father. Unlike the lad in Johnny Cash’s “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town”, the young man here heads back home to his mother.

Next up is “Doc Holiday”, John Paulovic’s tale about Wyatt Earp’s old sidekick. This song is not about the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral, but simply an incident (probably fictional) in the life of Doc Holiday. The dominant instrument in this arrangement is Pig Robbins honky-tonk piano.

Have another drink on me, Doc Holiday
The kid ain’t gonna shoot you down

“Cowpoke” comes from the pens of Tillman Franks and David Houston. Houston was about to emerge as a first tier star, at least for a few years, but this song is western fare, which finds Hank displaying his cowboy yodel/falsetto:

I’m lonesome but happy,
Rich but I’m broke,
And the good Lord knows the reason,
I’m just a cowpoke.

From Cheyenne to Douglas,
All the ranges i know,
I drift with the wind,
No one cares where i go.

Well I ain’t got a dime,
In these old worn out jeans,
So i’ll quit eatin’ steak,
And go back to beans.

“Blood’s Thicker Than Water” by ace songwriters Danny Dill and Wayne P. Walker is a western ballad with a Mexican feel to the guitar work about a gunfight between two brothers that is broken up, at great personal cost by the boys’ mother. A very dramatic ballad.

Jim Reeves had a major hit with Harlan Howard’s “The Blizzard” in 1961. Hank is not a smooth balladeer in the same league as Reeves (very few are in that class) but this song is a narration rather than a crooner’s ballad and so Hank is very much in his element.

“Stampede” by Jim Dale and Frances Paulin is a nice western ballad that closes out side one of the vinyl album.

Side Two starts with “The Rainmaker”, another song from the trio of Cliff Friend, Jack Sanders and Mack Vickery. This narrative song is about a stranger who shows up in the town of Dry Gulch promising to make it rain. This lyric has an interesting twist to the lyric.

Nearly every folk singer and cowboy singer has sung “The Streets of Laredo”, a tune which appears in the folk music of nearly every English-speaking culture, albeit sometimes with very different lyrics. Hank’s vocal is very effective and the backing is very sparse as befits the stark nature of the song.

“Black Lightning” is a jog-along ballad about a gunfighter on the run, speaking to his horse (and himself) as he is about to be run down by the posse chasing him.

“Big Twenty” is another ballad, the story of a muleskinner being pursued by the Apache , the title referring to his twenty mule team pulling a load of borax.

“The Eyes of Death” written by Danny Dill is the story of an inmate who knows that the brother of the man he killed is an inmate in the same prison, but he doesn’t even know what the brother looks like and the anticipation of being killed is worse than actually being killed.

The album ends with “I’m Afraid” by Allen Nelson and Carolyn Stringer. This is an up-tempo about an impending gunfight with a former friend. The dispute, of course, is over a woman.

Unfortunately this album has never been released in a digital format and only “The Blizzard” and “The River” are to be found on the MGM boxed set Living Proof.

All is not lost, however, as ten of the songs have been posted to You Tube as audio clips.

This album is essentially a western or cowboy album, a genre that Hank handles very effectively. The accompaniment is appropriately subdued and Hank is in great vocal form. The musicians and arrangements are all top flight and this is an album I greatly enjoy. As a first attempt at getting away from being a clone, this is a solid effort – at least a B+ or maybe an A-

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Heart Full Of Love’

Holly’s 1990 follow up to The Blue Rose of Texas, which she produced with brother Chris Waters, was not quite as good as the latter, but is a fine effort nonetheless, with a lot of variety in tempo, style and subject matter, while Holly is in great voice.

Holly’s solo composition, ‘My Anniversary For Being A Fool’ is a lovely sad waltz as the protagonist remembers just how she threw away a true love.  Beautifully and delicately sung, with a prominent steel guitar behind her, it was the first single, but performed surprisingly,and undeservingly, poorly.  She regained traction with ‘You Really Had Me Going’, an up-tempo Dunn/Waters/Tom Shapiro song which became Holly’s first chart topper.  The rock n roll electric guitar solo from Brent Mason is unexpected, but doesn’t overwhelm the song.

The title track was the final single, but only just crept into the top 20.  A mid-tempo love song written by hitmaker Kostas, it is quite pleasant without being at all memorable.

‘The Light In The Window Went Out’ is an excellent song, in which the once-faithful protagonist gives up at last on her complacent ex who thinks he can pick up where he left off:

You thought I’d just keep hanging on

Love like a candle burns down to nothing

When it’s left untended too long

It was written by Holly and Chris with Ron Hellard.  The ironic ‘Temporary Loss Of Memory’ (penned by Holly and Chris with Lonnie Wilson) about a brief pause in a heartbreak is in a more contemporary vein, and isn’t bad.

The usual Waters/Dunn/Shapiro team exercised their social conscience with an emotional look at a homeless family for whom ‘No Place Is Home’.  Some may feel it tries a little too hard to make the hearer feel guilty, but it is clearly heartfelt and beautifully sung.

Waters and Shapiro teamed up with Charlie Black to write ‘My Old Love In New Mexico’, a wistful ballad about missing someone, with pretty Spanish guitar backing Holly.

There are many songs called ‘Home’ out there’; Karla Bonoff’s song of that name, which Holly recorded here, is one of the prettiest with a lovely melody and sweetly yearning vocal.  Just beautiful.

There is a sultry cover of the Marty Robbins classic ‘Don’t Worry’ with backing vocals from the Jordanaires recalling the original era.

The closing ‘Broken Heartland’ has a more contemporary vibe and lacks the emotion implied by the lyrics, but it is the only real misstep.

This was followed by a Greatest Hits album (Milestones), which brought a slowdown as her career suffered from the controversy over that album’s single ‘Maybe I Mean Yes’, which some thought inadvertently made light of the very serious date rape issue.

Cheap copies of Heart Full Of Love are easy to find and well worth acquiring.

Grade: A

The best reissues of 2013

2013 was a bad year for fans of traditional country music and its near cousins.Not only was radio virtually devoid of traditional country sounds, but Billboard bastardized its country charts to the point of meaninglessness, accepting remixes and reissues with other artists and treating them all as one record. Worse yet, a good many of our radio heroes passed away, starting on January 1, 2013 with the death of Patti Page, a country girl who went on to become a great classic pop singer, and who continued to showcase country songs throughout her illustrious career. Along the way we lost Jack Greene, Cal Smith, George Jones, Kitty Wells, Tompall Glaser, Ottis “Slim” Whitman, Claude King, Jack Clements, Lorene Mann, George Beverly Shea, and too many more for me to recount. We ended the year with the death of the great Ray Price.

Fortunately, we live in an age where the musical legacy of our radio heroes can and does live on. While not the absolute best year for reissues, it was a very strong year, with most of the great reissues coming from foreign soil.

On the domestic front Sony Legacy has been redoing their Essential series, issuing a series of two disc sets. The Essential Tammy Wynette is easily the best Tammy Wynette collection we will see, unless Bear Family decides to do a box set. The collection is arranged chronologically and without skipping the lesser hits. Fans of Tammy will hear some songs that rarely have been anthologized, and hear her catalog of hits in the order in which they were released. The forty songs are digitally remastered to sound superb, and even though I have such other Tammy Wynette collections as Tears of Fire and Anniversary: Twenty Years of Hits, still I regard this as an essential purchase for Tammy’s fans and a great introduction for those unfamiliar with her work.

I’m not a big Martina McBride fan but Sony Legacy’s two disc The Essential Martina McBride, issued in late 2012 and not widely available until this year, is probably the best collection you’ll see on Martina – terrific sound, with forty songs. A few minor hits have been omitted in favor of other material, which I don’t like, but that’s just me.

***

The UK based Jasmine label has probably been the leading purveyor of reasonably pricced reissues, issuing a series of two CD sets, either featuring intact four older albums of a particular artist or issuing some sets that are simply collections of songs. Some of the Jasmine releases below were actually issued in late 2012, but not widely available until 2013.

Oh Lonesome Me, Singles Collection 1956-1962 is an outstanding two CD collection of Don Gibson’s singles from 1956-1962. Not only does the set capture Don’s earliest and biggest RCA hits (“Oh Lonesome Me”, “Sea of Heartbreak”, “Blue Blue Day”), but it also revisits Don’s rarely found MGM singles, including the earliest take on “Sweet Dreams”. Forty-six songs, hours of listening pleasure.

Love Is The Sweatest Thing: The Early Album Collection collects four of Ferlin Husky’s early Capitol albums. The albums are not overrun with hit singles (during the 1950s albums were often marketed to a different audience than were singles) but has four albums that are quite different from one another. 1956’s Songs of Home and The Heart features older country songs. Boulevard of Broken Dreams (1957) and Sittin’ On A Rainbow (1958) both feature what would today be referred as classic pop or pop standards – in other words, not very country at all. The last album in the set, Walkin’ And A Hunmin’ (1961), which Ferlin referred to as his Hank Williams album, does feature seven songs associated with Hank Williams. This collection gives a good overview of the breadth of Ferlin’s talent.

Headin’ Down The Wrong Highway: The Early Albums features four Hank Thompson albums from 1958-1961. For me the standout album is 1961’s Live At The Golden Nugget, but all of the albums are great listening. Relatively few hits are in this collection, but once you start the disc playing, you won’t care about the lack of hit records as Hank and his Brazos Valley Boys always exude good cheer and lotsa fun.

The First Lady of Country: The Early Album Collection is what I would deem to be an essential Jean Shepard album, including as it does one of the very first ‘concept’ albums in 1956’s Songs of A Love Affair. There are not a lot of hit singles in this 2 CD collection, but there are a lot of songs capturing the heart and soul of this pioneering female singer.

Queen of Honky Tonk Angels: Four Original Albums by Kitty Wells, captures an early hit collection in Country Hit Time, a gospel album, Dust On The Bible, and a pair of albums largely comprised of covers. Kitty Wells had a strong clear voice that didn’t waver until very late in life. She treats her material and herself with respect, the end result being albums really worth hearing.

Folk Ballads, Hits and Hymns – Four Stereo LPs finds legendary bluegrass singer Mac Wiseman traveling down other more mainstream country roads. Fans of bluegrass may be disappointed with the albums, but fans of Mac Wiseman will love this set comprised of two gospel albums, an album of some current (as of 1960) folk and country hits plus an album of folk songs. One of the gospel albums features the Jordanaires throughout, not that Mac ever really needed help to perform a gospel song.

I don’t know that you can really call Walter Brennan a country artist at all, but Jasmine released a single disc CD on Grandpa McCoy titled Reminiscing With Walter Brennan which definitely catches the essence of a beloved actor and perfermer. Brennan only had one hit “Old Rivers” (#3 Country / #5 pop) but it’s here along with 27 other favorites including his wonderful take on “The Shifting Whispering Sands”

***

If the name Curly Putman means anything at all to the casual fan, it is as the writer of “Green Green Grass of Home” and co-writer of “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” . Curly did have a bit of a singing career and issued a some albums on ABC Records. Omni has collected two of Curly’s albums The Lonesome Country Of Curly Putman (1967) and Curly Putman’s World Of Country Music (1969) on a single disc. He’s hardly a compelling singer, but it is always interesting to hear a songwriter interpret his own material. “My Elusive Dreams” was released as a single and reached #41.

New West Records issued Dwight Yoakam’s 21st Century Hits: Best-Of 2000-2012, a nice collection of fourteen singles and miscellaneous tracks . Hardly Dwight’s best work, but still a useful collection, gathering together tracks not easily found.

***

Omnivore Recordings, a label out of Los Angeles, CA started releasing albums in late 2012. Probably their most important release was the George Jones collection The Complete United Artists Solo Singles. I’ve always regarded the best recordings George Jones ever made as coming from his tenure with United Artists 1962-1965. From this period the finely nuanced singer emerged with such great singles as “She Thinks I Still Care” , “Sometimes You Can’t Win” , “A Girl I Used To Know” , “You Comb Her Hair” and “The Race Is On”. All of these titles have been available as re-recordings made for Musicor and/or Epic , but these are the original hit versions – 32 songs, the A and B sides of his 16 United Artist singles – an absolutely essential collection (unless you own the Bear Family box set of the United Artists years).

Omnivore also has released some Buck Owens, Don Rich and Buckaroos collections.

Buck Em! : The Music of Buck Owens 1955-1967 is billed as the companion to the recently published Buck Owens autobiography, but as a stand-alone collection it is a worthy acquisition if there is a hole in your Buck Owens catalog. Some alternative and live recordings are among the two CD sets fifty tracks. Not essential but a nice collection spanning the Pep and early Capitol years.

Omnivore’s Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings The Country Classics collects eighteen tracks recorded for use on the television show Hee Haw. Many of these tracks were recorded after the death of Don Rich, so the classic harmonies aren’t always present, and these are very short recordings designed to fit the pace of the television show, but they are songs that Buck didn’t otherwise record for commerical release, covering country classics from 1945-1973 by the likes of Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Johnny Horton and Ray Price.

With “Live” At The White House (… And In Space), Omnivore makes available a live Buck Owens album that Capitol had a available for a short time of Buck’s September 9, 1968 White House performance for President Lyndon Johnson. The original album only ran about 22 minutes so in order to get a usable length CD, Omnivore coupled the album with a program recorded for the Apollo 16 astronauts to take on their mission with them. A bit gimmicky, but Buck Owens completists will want the album.

The late Don Rich was a fine singer in his own right and an excellent musician that Omnivore has focused upon. That Fiddlin’ Man restores to print a 1971 Buckaroos allbum featuring Don Rich on fiddle and adds an additional ten tracks of Don fiddlin’ around from other Buckaroo albums. I got to see Buck & Don in person three times and it was always a highlight of the show when Buck has Don pull out his ‘cherry apple red fiddle’ and play “Cajun Fiddle”, “Orange Blossom Special” or some other tune. Don Rich Sings George Jones features ten George Jones songs that were recorded for a never released Don Rich solo album, augmented with four Buck Owens tracks of George Jones covers. The Buckaroos Play Merle and Buck couple a pair of Buckaroos albums, 1965’s The Buck Owens Songbook with 1971’s The Songs of Merle Haggard. These are all instrumental numbers featuring Don Rich (mostly) on telecaster.

There are many fine Merle Haggard collections available so Omnivore’s The Complete 60s Capitol Singles is hardly an essential collection but it is definitely an excellent one and anyway one can never have too much Merle Haggard in their collection. Twenty-eight songs – the A & B sides of Merle’s fourteen singles, and Merle’s B sides were hardly throw-aways, “Today I Started Loving You Again” and “Silver Wings” both being B sides. Merle’s peak years were with Capitol and this is all great stuff – it doesn’t get any better than this !

***

I will close out with a Bear Family boxed set that is beyond the price range for most of us, probably even beyond the Christmas ‘wish list’: Tall Dark Stranger – Buck Owens and The Buckaroos Recordings: 1968-1975. This eight CD set covers Buck’s slightly post-peak eriod with Capitol Records, a period that saw Buck experimenting with and updating the ‘freight train’ sound that had become his hallmark. Includes his duet albums with son Buddy Alan Owens, the Susan Raye duets, some Buckaroos recordings and even a duet with a duet with R&B singer Bettye Swann. Buck had about 20 chart hits during this period and the set features many previously unreleased songs

Album Review: Pam Tillis – ‘It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

it's all relativeLeaving Arista might have marked the end of Pam’s commercial heyday, but it led to a taking stock and artistic resurgence which began with a reflection on her roots. As a youngster Pam Tillis had wanted to separate herself from her father’s legacy, hence her brief unsuccessful foray into pop music. But as a mature adult her respect for her father’s remarkable legacy as both artist and songwriter led to her recording an entire tribute album to him in 2002, when he turned 70. The depth of his catalog is revealed by the fact that not only did Mel write every song on this album, half of them on his own, but Pam had to leave many more on the shelf. Some were hits for Mel, others were songs he wrote for others. This album was Pam’s last hurrah on a major-related label, on Sony imprint Lucky Dog.

I love the outrage of ‘Unmitigated Gall’ (a top 10 for Faron Young in 1966), where Pam tells an ex in no uncertain terms just how she feels about his nerve coming back around now. This is definitely one of my favourite tracks. Catchy and confidently performed by Pam, it was a canny choice for the album’s lead single and just a few years earlier could easily have been a hit single all over again. By 2002, however, the tide had begun to turn in earnest, and it was far too country for country radio, failing to chart.

This attitude rises to new heights with the snarling declaration of hatred and ‘Mental Revenge’ (a top 20 for Mel himself in 1976 but better known for renditions by Waylon Jennings and Linda Ronstadt). Pam’s version is sultry and bluesy, and all her own.

Another highlight is the understated yet deeply emotional take on ‘Detroit City’, which brings out the melancholy of the song’s depiction of homesickness and failure with a barely concealed desperation underlying the vocal.

The charming ‘A Violet And A Rose’ is beautifully realised by Pam, with the help of very pretty trilling harmonies from Dolly Parton and a delicate acoustic arrangement. The original was Mel’s first chart single in 1958, and the much-recorded tune also gave its co-writer Little Jimmy Dickens his first top 10 hit in eight years in 1962.

‘Not Like It Was with You’ is an excellent lesser-known traditional country number about the after-effects of a breakup, which I enjoyed greatly. ‘Goodbye Wheeling’ is another fine relatively obscure song (a top 20 for Mel) which really suits Pam’s voice better than Mel’s. Delbert McClinton guests on harmonica.

‘Heart Over Mind’ (‘#3 for Mel and #5 for Ray Price) is transformed from a traditional shuffle to a sophisticated ballad. It is beautifully sung, with Emmylou Harris on harmony, and works well on its own merits, but the melody is barely recognisable slowed down so drastically.

Four tracks were co-produced by Asleep At The Wheel’s Ray Benson. He duets with Pam on an entertaining ‘Honey (Don’t Open That Door)’ (best known as a chart-topper for Ricky Skaggs); Trisha Yearwood and Rhonda Vincent sing close harmonies. The regretful western swing ballad ‘Burning Memories’ (a top 10 in 1977) is another delight with a delicately judged vocal and very retro arrangement, mixing traditional steel and fiddle with Nashville Sound backing vocals. The jazzy ballad ‘So Wrong’ is very much in the sophisticated later style of Patsy Cline, for whom Mel wrote it with Danny Dill and Carl Perkins, complete with a cameo by the Jordanaires. While it’s not my personal favourite sub-genre of country music, Pam sounds really good on this. It was the second attempt at a single to promote the album. Honky tonk classic ‘I Ain’t Never’ was one of the biggest hits for co-writer Webb Pierce, and is the only one of Mel’s own chart toppers to be included. Pam’s version is bouncy and entertaining but comes across as a little shallow emotionally, although I enjoyed the arrangement and instrumental work.

There are only a couple of duds. The singalong ‘Come On And Sing’ is a weak song featuring a children’s chorus, but it was a nice touch to include Mel on one track. I was bored by the very jazz ‘Emotions’. It had been a hit for pop and country artist Brenda Lee as a teenager, and has nothing to do with country music, although it does show the range of Mel Tillis’s talent.

Pam produced the bulk of the set alone, with help from Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson on a a handful of tracks. The result is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Pam’s most traditional album, and a worthy tribute to a truly great singer-songwriter whose contribution to country music has sometimes been overlooked. Yet while it is always respectful, Pam puts her own stamp on many of the songs, not completely reinventing them, but definitely interpreting them in her own way. It is a highly recommended purchase; luckily used copies can be found very cheaply.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Vern Gosdin – ‘You’ve Got Somebody’

Vern’s third solo album was released in 1979. Produced as before by Gary Paxton, it boasts some excellent songs and stellar vocals, but is marred by rather dated production. The Jordanaires sing backing vocals, legendary steelie Pete Drake and piano man Hargus ‘Pig Robbins’ all contribute, but the overwhelming presence is that of the string section.

The title track is an excellent almost-cheating song, with a catchy tune and great vocals, which is my favourite track. As the lead single it performed respectably, peaking at #16. A middle aged singer meets up with a married woman in a bar after his show, but after they swap photos of their kids, decides their hearts really aren’t in it any more:

You’ve got somebody
I’ve got somebody
What are we doing here?
This scene was fun when we were single and young
Now we’re just fighting the fear

You got somebody
I got somebody
Why can’t we go home?
When you’re trying to prove you’ve still got what it takes
You’re afraid to walk out alone

The follow-up single, ‘All I Want And Need Forever’ is a nice love song which Vern sings intensely, and which faltered just outside the top 20. The third and last single was one of four songs written or co-written by Vern on the album. ‘Sarah’s Eyes’ is a story song typical of 70s country with another beautifully judged vocal, but was not a success, failing to make the top 50.

‘Til I’m Over Gettin’ Over You’, another co-write, is an okay song with rather intrusive jerky production. ‘Fifteen Hundred Times A Day’, which Vern wrote alone, is a fine song about having trouble getting over someone, with some interesting instrumentation.  The beaty ‘Took It Like A Man, Cried Like A Baby’ is quite entertaining although the cheerily upbeat sound does not quite fit the heartbroken lyrics.

‘He Must Be Lovin’ You Right’,also co-written by Vern, is a the story of a man who sees his ex is happy with another man. The asong is a classic heartbreaker and the vocal is excellent, cutting through a rather poppy production with strings and loud brass. In the equally strung ‘The Rock I’m Leanin’ On’, Vern plays the contrasting role, that of the man who has stepped in when another man has let down the woman.  Producer Paxton wrote the melancholy ‘She’s Gone’, where all joy has gone out of the world for the protagonist.

Vern’s instantly recognisable vocals are great throughout, but the heavy handed Nashville Sound production with extensive use of string sections, if not an entire orchestra, make this less essential than Vern’s later classics.  One of the few let-ups from the orchestra comes with a lively slice of rock and roll in the form of a surprisingly effective cover of ‘Shake, Rattle And Roll’.

The album did not sell very well, and failed to chart. Elektra released a Best Of compilation, but no more new material. You’ve Got Somebody was re-released on its own on CD a couple of years ago (but isnt easy to find), and is also on the new 3-on-1 bargain reissue with its Elektra predecessors. While it’s not his very best work, that voice is in fine form and makes the record worth getting hold of.

Grade: B+

Album Review: The Judds – ‘Heartland’

The duo’s third full length album was released in February 1987.  It largely continued on the same pattern as their exceptionally successful earlier records, and continued their hot streak on the charts, although the material as a whole was not as strong.  The lead single was a cover of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ featuring sultry lead vocals from Wynonna backed by the Jordanaires, who had also sung on Elvis Presley’s 1956 hit version.  Surprisingly, it broke their string of #1 hits, peaking at #10, but after this sidestep, it was back to the chart toppers with each of the three remaining singles released from the album.

The hypnotically catchy ‘I Know Where I’m Going’ is a confident and playful invitation to share the protagonist’s start of a new life, written by producer Brent Maher  with Craig Bickhardt and Don Schlitz,  which was a natural for radio and is still irrestistible listening.  It was followed by the contrasting melodic ballad ‘Maybe Your Baby’s Got the Blues’, written by Troy Seals and Graham Lyle.  Wynonna’s lead vocal is tenderly sympathetic as she offers romantic advice to save a relationship, supported by the subtly faint strains of an organ.

Finally, the funky ‘Turn It Loose’, another successful Maher/Bickhardt/Schlitz collaboration, is a lively love song to music.  It is largely enjoyable apart from Wynonna’s occasional grunt.  Schlitz and Maher teamed up with Don Potter to write the pleasant ‘Why Don’t You Believe Me’, while Maher, Potter and Bickhardt came up with the similar ‘I’m Falling In Love’.  Wynonna’s lead vocals on both songs are excellent, but the songs themselves, while melodic, are forgettable.

‘Cow Cow Boogie’ is a jazzy take on cowboy songs.  This is not a favorite of mine, but was definitely an interesting experiment which few other mainstream stars would have tackled.  The gentle family reminiscences of ‘Old Pictures’ (written by K T Oslin (about to make her own breakthrough with her signature song ‘80s Ladies’) with Jerry Gillespie), set to a pretty melody, make for very pleasing listening, and although the keyboards sound slightly dated, the delicate harmonies are still a delight.

While most of the album reveals other musical influences, the duo affirmed their country roots with an exquisite reading of ‘The Sweetest Gift (A Mother’s Smile)’, which is the outstanding moment musically. Supplemented by a heavenly third harmony from Emmylou Harris on the chorus, this is an absolutely beautiful reading of the tragic tale of ‘an erring but precious son’ and the grieving mother whose loving visit cheers his prison travail.  This is worth downloading even if the rest of the album does not appeal.

Including only nine tracks even on the CD version made this a rather mean spirited release from RCA even by their standard.  Notwithstanding this, it was commercially very successful, the string of #1 hits and the band’s fanbase helping to propel it to platinum level sales.  It was also used as the springboard for an attempt to break the Judds to international audiences.  Under the title Give A Little Love, the European release added Paul Kennerley’s insistent title track, which was at the time unreleased in the US but was later to appear on their Greatest Hits and was then a #2 country hit for the duo, together with five of the six tracks from their six track debut EP, omitting only ‘Mama He’s Crazy’.  Unfortunately this version is no longer easy to find, as it is much better value with the added material.

Heartland continued the Judds’ run as one of the top acts in country music and certainly the genre’s pre-eminent duo.  However, musically, it did not really break any new ground.

Grade: B (A for the European version)

Country Heritage Redux: Webb Pierce

An updated and expanded version of an article originally published by The 9513:

It has been twenty years since Webb Pierce passed away in February 1991, about six months short of his 70th birthday, and yet he still has his diehard legions of fans. For the second half of the twentieth century, Webb Pierce was the most successful recording artist in county music with his records topping the Billboard charts for a total of 113 weeks, with Buck Owens second with 82 weeks at #1. George Strait finally passed Buck Owens in 2007 with 83 weeks at #1, a total still growing, albeit slowly.

Like Eddy Arnold, during the late 1940s, Webb Piece dominated the 1950s, particularly from 1952 to 1957, the period in which all his Billboard #1s occurred. This dominance occurred despite Pierce not having any chart records until after he turned thirty years old.

Unlike the smooth Eddy Arnold, whose vocals (and personality) had appeal across many segments of society, Webb Pierce was a country music performer with one core style. You either liked Pierce or you hated him, but you could not ignore him. He sang in a high nasal tenor that will never come back into vogue in mainstream country music (although the style remains viable in bluegrass), but he selected great songs and could sell even the most maudlin lyric. He was one of the first stars to wear “Nudie Suits,” the colorful rhinestone-studded western wear that became de rigueur for country stars for the next 35 years. His song “Slowly” was the first country hit to feature the pedal steel guitar as played by Bud Isaacs. Then there was the famous guitar-shaped swimming pool.

Like many performers of his era, years were subtracted from his real age to make him seem younger to the fan base. Most articles written about Pierce during his heyday gave his date of birth as July 8, 1926, an error which was not corrected until the 1980s. He never penned an autobiography, and I’ve never seen a full biography of him, so biographical information remains sketchy. It is known that he had his own radio show on KMLB in 1938 and served in the Army for three years during WWII before moving to Shreveport, Louisiana in 1944, where he supported himself for some years as a shoe salesman at the local Sears store.

Pierce’s first recordings were on the Four Star label in 1949. By 1950 he was appearing at the Louisiana Hayride – a serious competitor to the Opry during the late ’40s and ’50s–where he quickly became a featured performer. Pierce and Hayride founder Horace Logan formed Pacemaker Records as a vehicle to issue his records. None of these records became national hits, but they sold well enough that Decca inked Pierce to a contract in 1951.

The third Decca single, “Wondering,” established Pierce as a major star. It reached No. 1 for four weeks and stayed on the charts for 27 weeks. The song also provided Pierce with the nickname “The Wondering Boy,” which stayed with him throughout his career. The next two singles, “That Heart Belongs to Me” and “Backstreet Affair,” also reached No. 1 for multiple weeks. This was followed by four more top ten records and the eight week No. 1 “It’s Been So Long” (the flip side “I’m Walking the Dog” reached No. 9).

For many artists, a record that reached No. 1 for eight weeks would be a career record, but Pierce was just getting started. Released on October 24, 1952, “There Stands the Glass” was one of six double-sided hits (with the “B” side reaching top ten status) to reach No. 1 for ten or more weeks. A recent CMT poll of Greatest Drinking Songs had “There Stands the Glass” at No. 11, but they are wrong – it is the ultimate drinking song, the ultimate expression of the angst that accompanies those who are trying to forget:

There stands the glass that will ease all my pain
That will settle my brain, it’s my first one today
There stands the glass that will hide all my fears
That will drown all my tears, brother I’m on my way

“There Stands the Glass” was followed by “Slowly” (No. 1 for 17 weeks), “Even Thou” (No. 1 for only 2 weeks), “More and More” (No. 1 for 10 weeks), “In the Jailhouse Now” (21 weeks at the top), “I Don’t Care” (12 weeks at No. 1) and “Love, Love, Love” (13 weeks at the top).

Pierce moved to the Grand Old Opry in 1955, but soon departed because of the requirement that members had to perform twenty-six Saturdays annually to maintain membership. For Pierce, who was commanding thousands of dollars for his personal appearances, this meant losing considerable income. Since he became a star without the Opry’s help, Pierce correctly figured that the monetary loss would not be offset by the prestige of continued Opry membership. Unfortunately, he burned many bridges when he left the Opry.

The onslaught of Rock and Roll in 1955-1956 destroyed many country music careers and put a damper on many other careers. According to Billboard, Pierce’s last No. 1 record was “Honky Tonk Song” in mid-1957, but Pierce adapted and survived. He added drums to his records and picked more up-tempo material, including songs from younger writers such as Wayne Walker and Mel Tillis. He continued to chart top ten records for another decade (other charts had three of his records reach No. 1 during the period of 1959 to 1967). His record of “Bye Bye Love,” recorded at the same time as the Everly Brothers version, was a top ten hit, and the Mel Tillis penned “I Ain’t Never” stayed at No. 2 on Billboard for nine weeks (it dis reach #1 on Cashbox). It was kept out of Billboard’s top spot by Stonewall Jackson’s “Waterloo” and The Browns “The Three Bells.”

Webb’s last top ten hit in 1967 with “Fool, Fool, Fool” which reached #1 on Record World, #3 on Cashbox and #7 on Billboard. Pierce continued to record for Decca from 1967 to 1972, then for Plantation for two years where he had a minor hit with “The Good Lord Giveth (and Uncle Sam Taketh Away),” a song which deserved a better fate than missing the top forty. After 1976, Pierce – having invested wisely in real estate and music publishing – retired from performing (he had been semi-retired for years already). He would record only twice more.

In 1982, Willie Nelson was able to drag Webb into the recording studio for a duet album, which puzzled some since Webb wasn’t one of Willie’s former label mates or Texas compadres, but the recordings make clear the strong influence Pierce had on Willie’s pinched vibrato and vocal phrasing. In 1985 Pierce got together with two old Louisiana buddies, Jerry Lee Lewis and Faron Young, and Florida songwriter Mel Tillis, to record an album called Four Legends. All of the songs on the collection were old Webb Pierce hits.

He died on February 24, 1991 of a heart attack, but would likely have died soon of cancer anyway. The old guard of the Nashville establishment shamefully denied him entry into the Country Music Hall of Fame until ten years after his death. He should have been inducted around 1977.

According to Billboard, Webb Pierce was the No. 1 country artist of the 1950s and the No. 7 artist of the 1960s. He charted 96 songs, 80 of which reached the Top 40, and 54 of which reached the Top Ten. His thirteen number one records stayed there for a cumulative total of 113 weeks–second all-time only to Eddy Arnold with 145 weeks (86 of Eddy’s weeks occurred during the 1940s). His 1955 recording of the old Jimmie Rodgers song “In the Jailhouse Now” is the third ranking county single of all time with 21 weeks at No. 1 and 34 weeks in the Top Ten.

Amusingly, Carl Smith, a Columbia recording artist (and 4th most popular country artist of the 1950s), recorded an album titled There Stands The Glass in 1964 in which he recorded twelve of Webb’s hits and never mentioned him on the album cover (which has several paragraphs of liner notes) or the record label (except on the songwriter credits of several songs)!

Discography
Much of Webb’s recorded output has been unavailable for years. Most of the albums on vinyl are typical Nashville product – one or two hit singles, some covers of other artists’ hits and some filler. If you like the songs listed on the album cover, you’ll probably like the album. Webb With A Beat from 1960 may be his strongest album and shows Webb transitioning his sound to a more modern approach, re-recording several of his older hits in the process. If you find the album Webb Pierce’s Greatest Hits, released on Decca in 1968, it is a really fine album (in fact, the first Webb Pierce album I ever purchased) but it is mostly re-recordings of his earlier hits as Decca had all of its major stars re-record their older hits to take advantage of modern stereo technology. If you find a copy of the Plantation album Webb Pierce and Carol Channing, please do Webb’s family a big favor – buy it and destroy it. You cannot imagine how bad Carol’s vocals are on this album!

There are now quite a few CDs available of Webb’s pre-1958 output (European copyrights expire in 50 years so in Europe those recordings can be released without paying royalties), but very few of the post 1958 recordings are available, although they are slowly beginning to appear:

1. 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Webb — a budget collection, digitally re-mastered. Only 12 songs but they are the biggies in their original versions. The Plantation recordings have been endlessly leased out to other labels – unless I know the source, I assume that the off-label recordings of Webb are leased from Plantation.
2. Webb Pierce – Greatest Hits: Finest Performances — these are re-makes recorded for Plantation during the middle 1970s. They are not bad, but they lack the sparkle of the original recordings and Pierce’s voice had dropped in the interim.
3. King of the Honky-Tonk: From the Original Master Tapes — released by the Country Music Foundation in 2000, this was the first effort to get the original Decca hits back in print. Eighteen hits, great sound and a useful booklet. Now out of print, but it can be located with a little effort.
4. A Proper Introduction to Webb Pierce: Groovie Boogie Woogie Boy — British reissue label, 28 tracks, mostly pre-Decca material, some with overdubs. Worth owning. Apparently out of print but still can be found.
5. The Wandering Boy (1951-1958) [BOX SET] — The Holy Grail for Webb Pierce fans — a deluxe Bear Family boxed set — four CDs, 114 tracks with great sound and an interesting, but somewhat disjointed booklet. Covers all of Webb’s recordings through 1958 with a few alternate takes of songs such as “Slowly” where you can see the Pierce style developing.
6. Hux Records out of the UK recently released Fallen Angel / Cross Country – a two-fer which collects a pair of early 1960s albums. This album might be considered post-peak as far as the hits were concerned but Webb was still at his vocal peak
7. Audio Fidelity had a two-fer of Sweet Memories / Sands of Gold from the mid-1960s available about fifteen years ago. Audio Fidelity remixed the two album to push Pierce’s vocals further front in the mix and suppressed the background vocals and strings, greatly improving both albums. This one is hard to find, but you might get lucky.

And don’t forget Caught in the Webb, a tribute album released in 2002, produced and organized by Gail Davies, featuring 21 of Webb’s hits performed by guests, including: Dale Watson, The Jordanaires, Mandy Barnett, Charley Pride, Rosie Flores, George Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Robbie Fulks, Joy Lynn White, Allison Moorer, Matt King, Crystal Gayle, Del McCoury Band, Lionel Cartwright, Guy Clark, Gail Davies, Willie Nelson, BR549, Billy Walker, Kevin Welch, Trent Summar, Pam Tillis, Deborah Pierce (Webb’s daughter) and the Carol Lee Singers. Proceeds of this album benefited the Minnie Pearl Cancer Research Center.

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Still The Same Ole Me’

If George’s career had ended in 1979, he would still be regarded as one of the greatest singers in country music history. But 1980’s award winning ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ became his signature song and the biggest hit of his career. I Am What I Am, the album from which it came, remains his best selling studio album. Our review of that album has been unavoidably delayed, but keep reading.

Still on a high after the massive success of I Am What I Am and ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’, George’s follow-up record was released in 1982. Although not quite as good as the latter, it sold well and has been certified gold, and continued his run at the top of the charts. The vocals are outstanding, and Billy Sherrill’s production is more restrained than it sometimes was. The material is pretty strong, with some oustanding tracks, although it probably suffers in comparison to its predecessor.

The dramatic opening track ‘Still Doin’ Time’, written by John Moffatt and Michael P Heeney, was George’s first #1 after ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’. A downbeat admission by a man metaphorically paying for his sins by drinking away his life, “Still doing time In a honky tonk prison”. It’s pretty much vintage George Jones, but is the only track to reference alcohol. In real life he was approaching the turning point when with the help of his fourth wife Nancy he was able to stop drinking.

The title track, ‘Same Ole Me’, was the only other single released to promote the album, and reached #5. Featuring the Oak Ridge Boys on harmony vocals, it is an older man’s tribute to long lasting love, although it was written by a young one, winning Paul Overstreet one of his first cuts. George also finally included ‘Someday My Day Will Come’, his single from a few years earlier, which had been left off I Am What I Am, no doubt because of its relatively poor chart performance.

One of my personal favorites here is ‘Good Ones And Bad Ones’, a plaintive survey of women the protagonist has loved, which George later covered in duet with Mark Chesnutt:

A good one will love you for all that she’s worth
A bad one will take you for more
A good one will cherish the key to your heart
And a bad one a key to your door

A good one will love you for richer or poorer
Bad makes bad even worse
A good one will love you till death do you part
And a bad one makes sure you go first

The delicately mournful ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’ This is my other favorite. This is quintessential sad George Jones, as he bemoans the fading of love with a masterly vocal, comparing his loss to that of “lovers who want to be free”. The Jordanaires provide harmony vocals on this track, and on ‘I Won’t Need You Anymore’, a romantic declaration of eternal love (written by Troy Seals and Max D Barnes), which George elevates with his vocal to something special.

The mid tempo ‘Together Alone’ (another featuring the Jordanaires) takes a sardonic look at a couple with disparate tastes and interests and no apparent common ground (save their eventual side-by-side graves). It’s a rather depressing picture of loveless lives, which he suggests is far from uncommon. Also looking at the grim realities of life is ‘Daddy Come Home’, a melodic song about the impact of divorce on the children involved. The use of a child (in fact his and Tammy’s daughter Georgette, aged nine) to sing the chorus solo makes it feel rather manipulative, but it is the only track I have reservations about on this record.

‘You Can’t Get The Hell Out Of Texas’ is a rare (and enjoyable) venture for George into western swing as he pays light-hearted tribute to his home state as “the hell raising center of the earth”. Also good is the rueful surprise of ‘Girl, You Sure Know How To Say Goodbye’, where she sweetens the blow of leaving him:

You kissed me in a way you never did when love was right
You hypnotized the hurt right out of me
I stood and watched you walk away
Oh honey, and I couldn’t even cry
Girl, you sure know how to say goodbye

It remains one of George’s highest selling albums, being certified gold in 1990. Although sales figures fell, his success continued for the next few years. He only scored one more #1 single, 1983’s ‘I Always Get Lucky with You’, but a string of top 10s, including classic hits like ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes’, kept him commercially relevant all through the pop-influenced years of the early to mid ’80s.

The album is easy to find on budget CD or digitally.

Grade: A

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Greatest Hits Vol. II’

We’re continuing our survey of Loretta’s career with her second installment of Greatest Hits, released in 1974, and covering her career from 1968 to 1973. Although this compilation covers only some of her hits over this period, and misses out the controversial divorcee-themed ‘Rated X’, it is a good overview of her career in those years, arguably her artistic and commercial peak. She tended to release only one or two singles per album throughout the 1960s and ’70s, but they were usually by far the best songs.

The earliest hit here is ‘Fist City’, another in Loretta’s string of feisty songs inspired by real incidents, in this case addressed to a woman who had been making moves on Loretta’s husband while she was working. Its attitude is more confrontational than the similarly themed ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ a couple of years earlier – perhaps because it was more personally inspired. Loretta tackles the woman head-on to threaten her with physical violence if she doesn’t back off:

You’ve been a’makin’ your brags around town that you’ve been a-lovin’ my man
But the man I love, when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can
And that’s what you look like to me, and what I see’s a pity
You’d better close your face and stay out of my way
If you don’t wanna go to Fist City

It was Loretta’s second #1, hitting the top in May 1968. Later that year she had a #3 hit with ‘Your Squaw Is On the Warpath’, an idea inspired by her half-Cherokee mother when fighting with Loretta’s father. Apart from the use of Native American imagery and a haunting the lyric is actually a typical example of Loretta’s wronged wife and mother refusing to lie down and take it when her cheating husband comes home drunk expecting a loving welcome. The lyrics might fall foul of political correctness these days, although Loretta has spoken about her pride in, and identification with, this side of her heritage; the album cover with Loretta in Native American costume (pictured left) certainly would be seen as offensive today, although there is absolutely no doubt Loretta intended nothing of the kind. The Jordanaires provided backing vocals on many of Loretta’s recordings, but rarely as prominently as on this track. Incidentally she chose to cover Hank Williams’ ‘Kaw-Liga’ on the same album.

The following year’s ‘Wings Upon Your Horns’, which was relatively unsuccessful, only reaching #11 on Billboard, was written by Loretta with her sister Peggy Sue, an aspiring singer herself. It is the first-person tale of a scarlet woman, once an innocent young country girl seduced under promise of marriage. She accuses her devil-like lover:

You hung my wings up on your horns
And turned my halo into thorns
And turned me into a woman I can’t stand

The autobiographical ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, which is probably Loretta’s signature song thanks in part to the book and film of the same title a decade later, was a #1 hit in 1970. It originally had twelve verses, which Loretta had to cut down for the recorded version. Intensely honest, this song graphically depicts the poverty in which Loretta grew up, tempered by the love of her parents. The song ends with a nostalgic return to see the ruins of their old cabin; nothing but the floor, and Loretta’s memories survive. But this environment has been preserved for posterity in this song. Like Dolly Parton’s memorialization of her ‘Tennessee Mountain Home’, this is not merely entertainment, or even art, although it is both; it is also oral history at its finest.

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Album Review: Patsy Cline – ‘Sentimentally Yours’

Sentimentally Yours was the second full-length album of Patsy Cline recordings released by the Decca label, and her third overall.  After its release in August of 1962, it would hold the distinction of being her final album released in her lifetime.  Producer Owen Bradley had made no secret of his ambition to make Patsy a pop star, as well as having country hits with her.  The virtuoso did just that when he was finally able to ink Cline to a contract with Decca.  The resulting first album, Showcase, spawned two quintessential American standards with the hits ‘I Fall to Pieces’ and the sublime ‘Crazy’.  Their success on the popular music charts had made Cline a star beyond Nashville and Sentimentally Yours, a collection of mostly cover songs made famous by the pop singers of the day, aimed at continuing that success.

The only two new songs on the album were the single ‘She’s Got You’ and its B-side ‘Strange’.  The former was Patsy’s second and final #1 on the Country Singles chart, known then as How C&W Sides.  ‘She’s Got You’ also went to #14 on the U.S. Pop chart and was her first charting hit in the U.K., peaking at #43 in the nation.  Writer Hank Cochran pitched the song to Patsy at her house one night in late 1961.  Patsy loved the song and recorded it at her next session.  Bradley employed The Jordanaires as backing singers again, and a jazzy piano provided by Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins accompanies Patsy’s own sweeping vocals.  It’s been re-recorded several times over the years, most notably by Loretta Lynn, who had a #1 hit with the song in 1977 as a single from the I Remember Patsy tribute album.

Mel Tillis and Fred Burch wrote ‘Strange.  The kiss-off number is an interesting listen in itself with its almost-calypso beat.  Patsy’s singing is more restrained on this.  I get the impression she wasn’t close enough to the microphone or wasn’t belting it out like she usually did.  From these two originals, we are treated to Patsy’s interpretation of ten standards.

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Album Review: Patsy Cline – ‘Showcase’

In 1960, Patsy’s contract with Four Star expired, and she signed a new deal with Decca, which had been distributing her earlier singles. Patsy’s triumphant return to the spotlight in 1961 with ‘I Fall To Pieces’, her first hit single since ‘Walking After Midnight’ four years earlier led to the release of a full-length album, the appropriately titled Showcase, with the Jordanaires (best known for their work backing Elvis Presley) singing on most tracks and given almost equal billing when the set was rereleased after Patsy’s death. Owen Bradley remained at the helm, and by now he had found the right crossover template for Patsy’s recordings. They also had access to a wider variety of material than Four Star had allowed. The tracks other than that first single were recorded in August 1961, as Patsy was recovering from a serious car accident.

‘I Fall To Pieces’, which Patsy recorded at her first Decca session, was the breakthrough single, her first #1, and perhaps her most sublime moment on record. Written by Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran, the song is a perfect expression of the pain endured by a woman whose former lover just wants to be friends, while she falls apart every time she sees him. This track opens the album, and ‘Crazy’, the other big hit, was the opening track on side two of the original vinyl LP. The latter, famously penned by a young Willie Nelson, may be the quintessential Patsy Cline recording, the perfect epitome of her sophisticated country torch style. Heartbreak has rarely sounded more beautiful than it does on these two recordings.

Patsy offers the definitive version of another classic, Floyd Tillman’s agonized ‘I Love You So Much It Hurts’, again in her torch style, and this is another highlight. Also very good is ‘Have You Ever Been Lonely (Have You Ever Been Blue)’, an erring wife’s appeal for forgiveness, which has an excellent vocal along similar lines.

The album balanced pop and country in several ways. One was to give country songs a pop makeover.

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Album Review: Patsy Cline – ‘Hungry For Love: Her First Recordings Volume 2’

In this, the second collection billed as ‘Her First Recordings’ and released by Rhino Records in 1989, we hear Patsy Cline’s progression from the honky tonk numbers she wanted to sing into the Nashville Sound, a brainchild of the great Owen Bradley, who believed Patsy’s crystalline vocals to be a perfect match for his new approach to making country music.  Producer and Music Row pioneer Bradley is credited as one of the most important figures in country music’s history, and as the creator of the country-politan style that wold become known as the Nashville Sound.  This new sound, created as a response to the rock and roll boom of the mid to late 1950s, employed a more polished aesthetic, adding elements from pop music to attract the adult audience.  The youth audience at the time was responsible for the rock boom.  With Cline, Bradley felt he had the perfect vehicle to develop this style, and make her a star in the process.

This disc comprises Patsy’s final six sessions as a Four Star artist before Decca officially signed her to the label.  Recorded between 1957 and 1959 at Owen Bradley’s Quonset Hut Studio, these sessions find the songstress attempting to recreate the success she found with her sole Four Star hit, ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’, to no avail.

While this collection is the first real example of Patsy recording in the Nashville Sound technique, it was a style she resisted, wanting to record honky tonk and more traditional numbers – the other two discs in this series showcase that side of her recordings at the time.

Opening the set is ‘Hungry for Love’, a mid-tempo number with a bluesy shuffle and Patsy’s growling vocals verge on rockabilly.  From here, we progess to’I Can’t Forget’ a tender ballad with a subdued arrangement. This could be in part to the technique Bradley used for the rhythm section – substituting guitars for drums. Drums were not allowed on the Opry at the time, and were considered un-traditional and therefore radical on a country release. By substituting “dead string” rhythm guitar for drums, where the muffled strings of a guitar are literally ‘whopped’ with the ball of the hand, the producer created a rich sound texture, and one he and others would employ more and more in later years as the Nashville Sound became more prominent.

‘I Can See An Angel’ sounds like a weeper on the surface, but the singer’s delivery leads you to believe it’s more of a bitter goodbye than a sad tale of a woman seeing her old boyfriend out with his new love interest.  ‘Yes I Understand’ features Patsy on harmony, mixed in with The Jordanaires’ backing vocals, to her own smooth melody vocal.

‘If I Could Only Stay Asleep’ is one of my favorites from Patsy, and the standout from this set in my opinion.  Owen Bradley employs a simple piano with Patsy’s vocal, giving the song an elegant feel, a sign of the style that would make Cline a superstar in a few years.  This would also provide the blueprint for the setting Patsy Cline finally found her niche in, and is a perfect example of the Nashville Sound at its best.

Much has been said about the fact that Patsy’s deal with Bill McCall at Four Star kept her contractually obliged to only record material for which Four Star owned the publishing rights. This obviously restricted the singer’s selection, and it’s evident in her Four Star discography, which is notably scattered with public domain hymns and standards – one way Bradley found to dodge the McCall stipulation. And even though there are no commercial hits here, there are many great songs, and listening from a historical perspective as a relatively new set of ears for most of the tracks, it’s not hard to hear the pair of Bradley and Cline giving birth to the refined sound of her superstar days.

Grade: B