My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Nashville String Machine

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Love Lies’

I always regarded Janie Fricke as primarily a singles artist, and the market apparently agreed as Love Lies, Janie’s eighth album (ninth album if you include the Greatest Hits album released in October 1982) was the first of her albums to reach the top ten of Billboards Country Albums chart, punching in at #10. This would prove to be rarefied air for Janie as only one more album, Black and White, in 1986, would reach the top ten.

Released in late 1983 and produced by Bob Montgomery, Love Lies was the second album he produced for Janie. Love Lies would see three singles released, “Tell Me A Lie” (#1), “Let’s Stop Talking About It” (#1) and “If The Fall Don’t Get You” (#8). “If The Fall Don’t Get You” was the first single to not go top four after eight consecutive such successes.

In the past I had described Janie’s earlier singles as ‘lovey-dovey drivel’ but perhaps I was a bit harsh. Today I would describe her previous singles as ‘confections’. I would not describe any of the singles on this album using such terms. These are more mature songs.

The album opens with “If The Fall Don’t Get You”, a biting commentary on love, co-written by Van Stephenson, who later was a member of BlackHawk.

So you say you’re thinking of falling in love
Going way out on a limb
And it seems like push is coming to shove
Just look at the shape that I’m in

I have paid the price for love
And it ain’t cheap
Better take a long hard look
Before you leap

If the fall don’t get you, baby
And your fading heart is beating still
If the fall don’t get you
Baby, the heartache will

Next up is “Have I Got A Heart For You”, a mid-tempo song which sells the virtues of a heart on the rebound. Written by Keith Stegall, the song is a decent album track.

I would also describe track three “How Do You Fall Out of Love”, a slow ballad of heartbreak as a decent album track. The Nashville String Machine is a little obtrusive but Janie’s voice cuts through the clutter.

“Love Lies” was an early single for Mel McDaniel, reaching #33 in 1979. It would be a few more years before Mel’s career caught fire, but I though his performance of the song was excellent. For whatever reason, the song never made it to one of Mel’s albums, so I am glad that Janie covered the song; however, she should have released it as a single.

Side one of the original vinyl album closed with “Tell Me A Lie”, a song carried over from the previous album It Ain’t Easy. Columbia during the 1970s and 1980s had this annoying habit of pulling songs from an existing album, releasing it as a single, then adding it to the next album. Since albums during this period only had ten songs, this meant that if you purchased both albums, you would get only nineteen different songs at rough two and a half minutes per song. This cover of a Lynn Anderson album track (and later a top 20 pop hit for Sami Jo) reached #1 for Janie.

Tell me a lie
Say I look familiar
Even though I know
That you don’t even know my name

Tell me a lie
Say you just got into town
Even though I’ve seen you here before
Just hangin’ around

Umm, tell me a lie, say you’re not a married man
Cause you don’t know I saw you slip off your wedding band

Side two of the vinyl album opens up with “Let’s Stop Talking About It”, an up-tempo that reached #1. The song was written by the dynamic trio of Rory Bourke, Rafe Van Hoy & Deborah Allen, who collectively authored many hit singles. You can give your own interpretation to what the lyrics mean:

We’ve had a lot of conversations
We’ve analyzed our situation
There’s only so much that words can say
After awhile they just get in the way

So let’s stop talking about it
And start getting down to love
Let’s stop talking about it
We’ve already said enough

This is followed the Troy Seal-Mike Reid collaboration “Lonely People”, a quiet ballad that makes for a decent album track.

Written by Dennis Linde and Alan Rush, “Walkin’ A Broken Heart” would be released as a single by Don Williams in 1985, reaching #2. Janie does a really nice job with the song and I think the song could have been a big hit for her. I slightly prefer Don’s version but it’s a thin margin of preference.

Walkin’ down this midnight street
Just the sound of two lonely feet
Walkin’ a broken heart
Walkin’ a broken heart

Empty city, not a soul in sight
And a misty rain falls on a perfect night
To walk a broken heart
To walk a broken heart

And I know that you’re thinkin’
This couldn’t happen to you
But you’re a fool for believing
Dreams don’t fly away, cause they do.

Another slow ballad follows in “I’ve Had All The Love I Can Stand”. Janie sings it well, but the song to me is a bit overwrought and not of much interest. The Nashville String Machine is prominent in the arrangement.

The album closes with “Where’s The Fire”, a nice upbeat melody camouflaging a song of angst as the narrator asks her love why he’s in such a hurry to leave.

For me this album is a bit of a mixed bag. Janie is in good voice throughout, and I appreciated the more mature lyrics but I’d like to hear more fiddle and steel. That said, this album is quite worthwhile.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Sing, Chapter 1’

81hrny-Ha0L._SX522_I always felt that Wynonna was miscast as a country singer but was otherwise a great vocal performer. This album is the proof of my latter assertion, a twelve song collection of great songs perfectly executed by a master singer.

The album opens up with a thirty’s classic “That’s How Rhythm Was Born”, a Boswell Sisters hit from the 1930s, long forgotten but well worth reviving. The Boswell Sisters pre-dated and were an inspiration for the Andrews Sister. The song sounds very Andrews-ish with Vickie Hampton and Wynonna doing harmonies to create that trio sound. There is an old-time, non-bluegrass banjo in the mix played by Ilya Toshinsky.

Next up is the greatest country song ever written, Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. While there are versions I prefer to Wynonna’s, she does an excellent job with the song. The Nashville String Machine provides tasteful and effective orchestral accompaniment.

Wynonna gives the sisterhood some wise advice in the very bluesy “Women Be Wise”.

Dave Bartholomew was a noted New Orleans songwriter closely associated with the legendary Fats Domino. “I Hear You Knocking” was a big R&B hit for Smiley Lewis in 1955 (#2 R&B) and a big pop hit (#2) for actress Gale Storm. Fats Domino also recorded the song a few years later, and because of his sustained success, Fats’ version is probably the best remembered. Wynonna’s version has a more New Orleans style rock feel. It is quite good

Larry Henley and Red Lane penned “Til I Get It Right”, a major Tammy Wynette hit from 1973. The focus is on Wynonna’s vocal with spare but graceful accompaniment that includes unobtrusive strings.

Another country classic follows, Merle Haggard’s “Are The Good Times Really Over For Good”. Not one of my favorite Hag songs, but still a good song. I do like the brass instrumentation in Wynonna’s arrangement.

I was not a big Stevie Ray Vaughan fan but I could take him in small doses and Wynonna’s take on “The House is Rockin'” is just enough Stevie Ray for me. Wynonna’s take on this song rocks just enough.

The almost forgotten Bill Withers had a relatively short career as a recording artist (he is still alive) but the music he did produce was exceptional leading to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Ain’t No Sunshine” was one of those classics and Wynonna gives it the appropriately moody reading.

Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller are arguably one of the two or three greatest pop songwriting tandems in history. “I’m a Woman” was initially released in 1962 by Christine Kittrell, but is best remembered as a classic Peggy Lee track. Wynonna’s version is as good as any of them albeit very different from Peggy Lee’s sexy rendition, Wynonna’s being a very assertive R&B track

I am not a big fan of most Burt Bacharach-Hal David compositions, other than those written for the great Gene Pitney. That said, “Anyone Who Had A Heart” had a distinguished pedigree with British songbird Cilia Black taking her George Martin-produced record to #1 in the UK for three weeks in 1964. Cilla’s version also went to #1 in Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, but I don’t think it was released in the US. Dionne Warwick also had a notable hit (#8 pop/ #2 adult contemporary) with the song in the US but only got as high as #47 in the UK. Both versions competed in various global markets, basically to a draw in Europe. Wynonna’s version is a pretty standard, but effective presentation.

“When I Fall In Love” is a pop standard that has been recorded by many artists, most notably Jeri Southern and Doris Day. Wynonna gives it a fairly standard interpretation with the Nashville String Machine setting the mood for Wynonna’s strong vocal.

The album closes with a Rodney Crowell original “Sing”. I think that this is the weakest song on the album, but I would also give it a B+ which should tell you what I think of this album

Of all the Wynonna albums I’ve heard, this one is my favorite, both in terms of the strength of Wynonna’s vocals and the quality of the material. To me this is a definite A+.

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘ Trampoline’

61AdyrEL0RL._SS280The Mavericks’ fifth studio album, Trampoline was their most successful album globally, not reaching only #9 on the US country chart, but unlike any of their other albums, before or after, also having significant success  in other countries. The album reached #3 on the Canadian country charts, #43 on the Canadian pop charts, #10 on the British and New Zealand pop charts and charting on the album charts of Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

This was fueled by the success of “Dance The Night Away”, which while not a big hit on the US or Canadian country charts, reached #4 on the British pop chart, #25 in the Netherlands. Another British single from the album, “I’ve Got This Feeling” also cracked the top thirty.

As time went on, The Mavericks’ albums focused less on the band as a whole, and more on lead singer Raul Malo. I suppose this was inevitable, given the unique vocal talents of Malo, and this album completed that progression. Less country than its predecessors, Trampoline seamlessly blends together all of Malo’s musical influences. Of the albums thirteen songs, Malo either wrote or co-wrote twelve, the only exception being “I Hope You Want Me Too” from the pens of “Big” Kenny Alphin and Jaime Hanna.

Some of the songs feature a lot of musicians. In addition to the band members, twenty-one other musicians plus the Nashville String Machine play on the album. This includes a full complement of horns and reeds., as well as banjo and steel guitar.

The album opens up with the Latin-flavored “Dance The Night Away”, which while not an across the board hit on the US country charts (#63 US country  / #72 Canada country) received huge radio airplay in Florida (and I suspect other markets with large Latino populations).  The song is about what the singer is doing since his girl left him.

“Tell Me Why” , co-written with Al Anderson, has a strong 70s soul/ R&B ballad flavor to it  This is followed by the Latin-tinged “I Should Know” which despite the horns and steel guitars sounds like something from one of the British invasion bands of the 1960s

Every night alone
Every night I spent without you
Every little thing about you
Runs right through my mind
I wonder where you are
And do you ever think about me
And if you get the feeling that
There’s something missing too
But I should know
You’ll never come back to me
Even though I will always love you
I should know

“Someone Should Tell Her”, also co-written with Al Anderson, didn’t chart on the US and I am not sure that it was released as a single here. It was a single in the United Kingdom, reaching #45 and is probably my favorite song on the album.

Someone should tell her
How much I love her
Before she goes and
Runs away with him
If you should see her
Tell her I need her
Maybe then
She’ll come back to me
Ever since I broke her heart
She won’t talk to me
All I need is a one last chance
To make up and say I’m sorry

“To Be With You” is a nice country love ballad, devoid of Latin flavoring that would likely have been a hit had it been issued during the period from 1965- 1985. The Nashville String Machine is prominently featured on this track.

The next track is a bluesy curve ball, the languid “Fool #1” , which sounds like something you might hear on a modern (but not too modern) jazz album or perhaps in some cocktail lounge somewhere, except Malo is a better singer than anyone you would likely hear in such a setting. The Nashville String Machine is tastefully employed in service of this song.

“I Don’t Even Know Her Name” also sounds like British Invasion pop, which may explain why it was issued as a single in the UK , reaching #27. On this song, Malo dials down his vocals a bit to sound more like a typical British invasion vocalist.

All in all this is a very interesting album flitting from genre to genre and reflecting a wide array of influences. I’ve pretty much covered the highlights of the album, but the entire album is worth hearing.  “Melbourne Mambo” probably comes closest to the sound of Malo’s Cuban heritage. Really , the only misstep is “Dolores”, which has a 1890s sound (piano and clarinet are the dominant instruments) with Malo singing into a megaphone – shades of “Winchester Cathedral” by The New Vaudeville Band of the 1960s, or earlier still, Rudy Vallee in the late 1920s/early 1930s. The track is not terrible but it is a waste of Malo’s unique voice.

The two closing tracks “Save A Prayer” which has that tent-revival sound and feel to it, and “Dream River” which has the feel of a Pat Boone or Elvis Presley ballad from the 1950s.

I really like this album and would give it an A+ but as what ?

A country album ??

A pop album ??

An easy listening/adult contemporary album ??

Classifications can be so meaningless. Just sit back and enjoy the album !

Album Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘Lee Ann Womack’

For a brief time in 1997 it appeared that country music was finally about to re-embrace its roots. Two female artists made their major label debuts that year and appeared to be leading the trend back towards traditionalism: Lee Ann Womack with her self-titled debut in May, and Sara Evans with Three Chords and the Truth in July. As we now know, these albums were something of an anomaly; country music continued its drift popward and both both Evans and Womack would go on to experiment with more polished, pop-oriented sounds. Nevertheless, Lee Ann has earned a reputation as a primarily traditional artist, thanks in no small part to her platinum-selling debut.

Lee Ann’s vocal style has been compared to that of a young Dolly Parton, and late 60s-style sound of the album highlights the similarities. The fiddle and steel guitar are featured prominently throughout the album, and most of the ballads also feature tasteful and restrained string arrangements performed by The Nashville String Machine. The first single, “Never Again, Again” was released two months in advance of the album itself. Lee Ann had great hopes for the record and was reportedly disappointed when it peaked at #23, even though this is a perfectly respectable showing for a debut record. Another ballad, “The Fool”, was selected as the album’s next single. Lee Ann had been reluctant to record it, saying that it was “a good song, but it’s not ‘Never Again, Again'”. But ironically, “The Fool” surpassed “Never Again, Again” on the charts, just missing the top spot and earning Lee Ann her first bonafide hit. The uptempo “You’ve Got To Talk To Me”, written by Jamie O’Hara, was released as the third single, and like “The Fool”, it peaked at #2. Another uptempo number, “Buckaroo” peaked at #27.

Overall, the album highlights Lee Ann’s strength as a ballad singer. There are some truly beautiful moments on the album with songs such as “Am I The Only Thing You’ve Done Wrong”, which Lee Ann wrote with her ex-husband Jason Sellers and Billy Joe Foster, “Do You Feel For Me”, and “Make Memories With Me”, a gorgeous number performed as a duet with her Decca labelmate and fellow Mark Wright-produced act Mark Chesnutt. “Make Memories With Me” should have been released as a single, but Decca was most likely reluctant to send too many ballads to radio. It’s a shame that there haven’t been any subsequent Womack-Chesnutt duets because their voices work very well together.

The album’s weak spots tend to be the uptempo numbers. Though well performed, “Buckaroo” borders on hokey and it’s not difficult to see why it only reached #27 on the charts. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of the album cut “A Man With 18 Wheels”, although “Trouble’s Here” stands in stark contrast with these two numbers. It actually works quite well, as does the Gospel number “Get Up In Jesus’ Name”, the album’s closing track which features background vocals from Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White.

In retrospect, it’s a pity that Lee Ann didn’t debut four or five years earlier; if she had, she’d have likely enjoyed more consistent success at radio. By the late 90s, listeners appeared to be tiring of Faith Hill and Shania Twain, and Lee Ann seemed to be the perfect antidote, but her success was short-circuited by both her own pop ambitions and the emergence of other, younger country-pop divas such as Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift. Nevertheless, Lee Ann Womack remains my favorite album in the singer’s discography. Cheap copies are readily available from Amazon. Buy one if you don’t already own a copy.

Grade: A

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Thinkin’ About You’

Released in February 1995, Trisha Yearwood’s follow-up to the platinum-selling The Song Remembers When is in some respect a back-to-basics project. Like its predecessor, Thinkin’ About You is highly polished, though not overproduced, and allows Yearwood to kick up her heels just a bit more than the ballad-heavy Song Remembers When.

Garth Fundis once again assumes production duties, with Harry Stinson acting as co-producer on the album’s advance single, “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl).” Written by Matraca Berg and Alice Randall, “XXX’s and OOO’s” became Trisha’s second #1 hit, and her first since her debut single “She’s In Love With the Boy” nearly four years earlier. MCA had stopped promoting The Song Remembers When after sending only two singles to radio. “XXX’s and OOO’s” raced up the charts more quickly than anyone expected, leaving the label with somewhat of a dilemma when there was no album ready to cash in on the single’s success. Five months after “XXX’s and OOO’s” reached the top spot in Billboard, an album was finally released. Fortunately, the delay did not result in any loss of sales momentum, thanks to the success of the title track, which was released as the album’s second single. It also reached #1.

The next single, a cover of Melissa Etheridge’s “You Can Sleep While I Drive” didn’t fare as well on the charts, stalling at #23. It’s somewhat similar to Trisha’s earlier hit “Walkaway Joe”, and perhaps for that reason it didn’t have a lot of traction at radio. Or perhaps there were too many other ballads on the charts at the time; at any rate, it is one of the album’s highlights, beautifully sung and tastefully produced, and it deserved more attention than it received.

Trisha returned to the Top 10 with “I Wanna Go Too Far” which reached #9. This is one of those songs that is forgotten as soon as it falls off the charts; I didn’t even remember that it had been a single until I started preparing for this review. The album’s fourth and final single, a cover of Gretchen Peters’ “On A Bus To St. Cloud” died at #59, becoming the first Trisha Yearwood single to peak outside the Top 40. A critical favorite, it is a well-crafted record that was probably a poor choice for a single. Piano led, and with a string section provided by The Nashville String Machine, it’s not the type of song that historically has done well at country radio. However, Yearwood and MCA deserve some credit for thinking outside the box and sending an atypical choice to radio.

Travel is a recurring theme throughout this album — by car, as seen in “You Can Sleep While I Drive”, by bus as seen in “On A Bus To St. Cloud”, and by train on “O Mexico”, which would have been one of my choices for a single release. The production is understated, and Trisha resists falling into the trap of oversinging. One can easily imagine this song being performed more loudly and bombastically by, say, Faith Hill or Martina McBride, but Yearwood’s subtle interpretation is extremely effective in conveying the protagonist’s sense of loneliness and solitude to the listener.

On several occasions, The Song Remembers When came dangerously close to adult contemporary territory. The production on Thinkin’ About You is just as glossy, but it finds Trisha more firmly in the country camp. This is most evident on the tracks “The Restless Kind”, which is my favorite on the album, and the album closer, a tasteful cover of the Tammy Wynette classic “Till I Get It Right”, which resurfaced a few years later when it was included on a tribute album following Wynette’s death. It was one of a few standouts on that somewhat disappointing collection, and it is the perfect note on which to end Thinkin’ About You.

Though its singles performed inconsistently at radio, Thinkin’ About You did well at retail, reaching #3 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, and earning platinum certification for sales in excess of one million units. It is still widely available from retailers such as Amazon and iTunes.


Grade: A-