My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Statler Brothers

Album Review: Collin Raye – ‘His Love Remains’

hisloveremainsReligious albums, like Christmas albums, are often eschewed because they all tend to rely on largely the same set of songs. Collin Raye managed to avoid falling into this trap with 2011’s His Love Remains, a tastefully produced collection of traditional hymns and contemporary Christian songs that are largely a reflection of his Roman Catholic upbringing.

The opening track, the 18th century hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is the first of two duets with newcomer Andrea Thomas. Collin holds his own nicely with his much younger duet partner on this number, but his voice sounds strained on their second collaboration, the contemporary “How Beautiful”. His voice also sound a bit worn on the on the Eucharistic prayer, “O Lord, I Am Not Worthy”, a duet with Nashville-based Christian artist Marie Bellet. The rest of the album, however, finds him in good vocal form.

I’ve always been a huge fan of traditional Southern Gospel. While there are no Southern Gospel songs per se in this collection, my two favorite hymns “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace” are both represented. I’ve never heard a bad version of “How Great Thou Art”, though no one’s version can match The Statler Brothers’ definitive 1975 version. “Amazing Grace” is a bit lifeless in the beginning, but the production slowly builds with each verse to great effect. The third verse is one I’d never heard before:

Did Jesus bear his cross alone
And let the rest go free?
No, there’s a cross for all of us
And there’s one for you and me.

Not having been raised in the Southern Protestant tradition, I’ve rarely come across religious albums by country artists that contained songs I’d actually heard in church. By and large I haven’t had a problem with that, since I find most Catholic hymns to be rather boring. Raye, however, has included a handful of songs that are among my favorites, including “Here I Am, Lord”, “I Am The Bread Of Life”, and “Were You There?”, a spiritual of African-American origin that became popular in Catholic circles beginning in the 1970s. Also included is one of the Church of Rome’s most traditional and revered songs, “Ave Maria”, which has English language lyrics I’d never heard before, along with the traditional Latin. On “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” Raye avoids the temptation to use bombastic production and instead gives the hymn a simple but effective piano arrangement.

Among the more contemporary fare are two remakes from Collin’s major label days, “I Get What I Need”, and “Love Remains”, and the brand new “Undefeated”, all of which are worthwhile and enjoyable. I am somewhat less enthralled with the choir-led “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” which seems a bit out of place with the rest of the album.

Said to have been inspired by the loss of Collin’s young granddaughter, who died from a rare neurological disorder, His Love Remains will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who enjoy religious music and are looking for something a bit different from the usual fare will find it quite enjoyable.

Grade: A

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Television Review – ‘The Joey + Rory Show’

For those old enough to remember, Country Music has a long history with the variety show. Everyone from Porter Wagoner to the Wilburn Brothers, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, The Statler Brothers and even Barbara Mandrell (along with her sisters Louise and Irlene) graced America’s TV sets at one point or another.

This tradition has long since ended as the format died out over the past thirty years. The downfall in this type of programming meant generations of country fans wouldn’t have the opportunity to see their favorite performers on TV each week and get a chance to pull back the curtain to see the person behind the celebrity.

But thanks to RFD-TV, the format is coming back strong. The traditionally structured Marty Stuart Show has been showing his, and Connie Smith’s, brand of country music for a couple of years now, and The Joey + Rory Show debuted two weeks ago.

Mixing homespun wisdom and old-fashioned charm, The Joey + Rory Show is the perfect showcase for the husband and wife duo residing in Pottsville, Tennessee. Filmed on their farm and in their restaurant Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse, they make you feel like you’ve gone back to the simpler ideals of the 1950s/1960s when America’s beating heart resided in Mayberry.

This simplicity gives the show its pulse and encases each episode in a sincere authenticity that feels genuine opposed to concocted from a network executive.  Each thirty-minute episode (13 comprise the first season) is broken into segments from musical performances, comedy sketches, and cooking demonstrations, to an inside look at their life and marriage.

The music-centric portions of the program are the show’s strongest, with the “Story Behind The Song” feature standing as the highlight of the half-hour. By combining the couple’s instinctive storytelling abilities with acoustic versions of songs they’ve written, you glean a much-appreciated insight into the lives of the duo. I loved hearing Rory talk openly about the seven-year journey it took to get “A Little More Country Than That” recorded, and how the royalty checks from Easton Corbin’s #1 hit afforded them a new tin roof on their 1890s farmhouse. I also enjoyed hearing Joey tell the story of how the couple met and hearing her sing “A Night To Remember,” the yet-to-be recorded song written about that experience.

Also outstanding are the opening numbers, live performances of tracks from their excellent His and Hers album due July 31. They showcased the Kent Blazy and Leslie Satcher co-write “Let’s Pretend We’ve Never Met” in the premiere and Rory’s “The Bible and a Belt” last week, opposite ends of the His and Hers spectrum that highlight Joey’s comedic strengths and Rory’s rich family oriented storytelling.

Each week the duo also showcases guest performers, personal favorites of their choosing. By highlighting lesser-known performers, they spotlight a more refreshing crop of talents like Bradley Walker, the wheelchair bound traditional country and Bluegrass singer and 2007 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year. The inclusion of these such performers, opposed to drawing from a pool of more established acts, exposes the viewer to artists they may not have known before and I welcome, as well as appreciate, any and all opportunities to be exposed to fresh talent not connected to mainstream Nashville.

As a whole The Joey + Rory Show is unapologetically Joey  and Rory and if you’re not a fan of the couple’s aw shucks persona and simple lifestyle, then the broader moments of the program may not be for you. The weakest moment on the program remains an Andy Rooney style comedy commentary by their neighbor and friend Wynn Varble, an established country songwriter (“Waitin’ On A Woman,” “Have You Forgotten,” “Sounds Like Life To Me”). His southern sense of humor comes off a tad Hicky for my tastes. And while I love the charm of their cooking segments, like the Coca Cola Cake demonstrated in the first episode, they aren’t broad enough recipes to appeal to everyone. That isn’t a big issue, though, since I really enjoy these aspects into Joey’s other job as a restaurateur with Rory’s sister Marcy.

Overall, The Joey + Rory Show is a wonderful yet unconventional variety show bubbling with the personality both Joey Martin and Rory Lee Feek bring to the table each week. They wanted to create great family programming and they certainly achieve that objective tenfold, giving fans a very enjoyable look at what they’re about in all aspects of their life, proving they’re a natural at everything they do.

The Joey + Rory Show airs Friday nights at 9 EST on RFD-TV, Rural America’s Most Important Network

Grade: A- 

Album Review: Marty Raybon – ‘Hand To The Plow’

Marty Raybon, best known as the lead singer of 90s hitmakers Shenandoah, has most recently been quietly releasing bluegrass and bluegrass gospel records, the best of which is 2006’s When The Sand Runs Out. Now he has signed to the excellent Rural Rhythm Records’s Christian music subsidiary, and his debut for the label has a Christian country sound.

The outstanding track is a fabulously soulful and passionate gospel quartet on the traditional ‘Workin’ On A Building’ which may be my favorite version of the song. Marty is joined by Trace Adkins, Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers and T Graham Brown on vocals, all sounding fantastic, and the instrumental arrangement is superb too. I understand a video has been filmed for this.

‘When He Rains, It Pours’ and ‘You’ve Got To Move’ are entertaining uptempo gospel numbers co-written by Marty, the Bible-based former with Mike Curtis and Mark Narmore with handclaps and Hammond organ strains providing a churchy sound, the latter with Barry Hutchens. Marty wrote the emotional ‘Walking With God At A Guilty Distance’ with Gerald Crabb, leader of Southern Gospel family band the Crabbs. It’s a rather good song with an attractive melody, about a man sitting in a church pew conscious of his sins and recognising his need to surrender to God. The mid-tempo ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This’, a solo Marty Raybon composition with another pretty tune, is a pensive reflection on salvation, which is also pretty good.

‘He’s Still My Little Man (Matty’s Song)’ is a very personal and rather touching ode to Marty’s soldier son, which is repeated from his last secular album 2010’s At His Best:

I guess I’m not too old to have a hero of my own
And I’m proud to say that tall was not the only way he’d grown

The other songs are a bit lackluster in comparison, but Marty’s passionate soulful vocals and velvety tone make them sound better than they otherwise would. In fact, the whole record sounds good, with generally tasteful arrangements and production from Mark L Carman. Marty’s brother Tim, who was a bandmate in Shenandoah and his partner in the short-lived duo the Raybon Brothers, sings backing vocals.

Opener ‘I’ve Seen What He Can Do’ pays tribute to the testimony of the natural world to the glory of God, set around a bedtime conversation with a child, and sung with palpable conviction. Natural beauty is also referred to in ‘He’s Still Doing Miracles Today’, although it tries to cover too much ground by also focussing on how sinners’ lives are turned around, and (less successfully) illnesses healed. ‘You Get Me’ is written by Neil Thrasher and Wendell Mobley (embarrassingly, both have their names misspelt in the liner notes) and is a beautifully sung love letter to God with a CCR feel. ‘Bright New Morning’ is a ballad with a pretty melody, written by Barry Hutchens.

Religious records aren’t for everyone, but this is a pretty good one with a pleasingly melodic sound. Fans of Marty’s voice might like to check it out.

Grade: B+

Country Heritage: The Storyteller, Tom T. Hall

If Tom T. Hall had never had a hit record for himself, he would be still an important figure in the history of country music. “Harper Valley PTA” alone, would have been enough to ensure him at least a footnote in the history of the genre, but long before that song became a world-wide hit, Tom T. Hall was influencing the direction of country music.

I first became aware of Tom T. Hall through my father’s collection of Dave Dudley and Jimmie C. Newman albums. All of Dave Dudley’s Mercury albums except Travelin’ With Dave Dudley (a cover album of older country songs) contain at least one song written or co-written by Tom T. Hall and you could put together a “best of ” collection for Dave Dudley comprised of nothing but songs written or co-written by Tom T. Hall. As much as any writer, the songs of Tom T. Hall helped define the sub-genre of truck driving music – and he’s not even particularly known for it!

Thomas Hall was born May 25, 1936, in Olive Hill, Kentucky (The “T “ was added later in life to give his name a more distinctive ring). Solid biographical information on Hall is scarce as he has kept his personal life as private as possible. It is known that as a teenager, Hall organized a band called the Kentucky Travelers that performed before movies for a traveling theater. In 1957 Hall entered the Army for a four-year hitch. He was stationed in Germany at the same time as Elvis Presley, and remembers that Elvis would buy hamburgers for the entire platoon on the day before payday. While in Germany he performed on Armed Forces Radio Network. His army experiences served as the inspiration of several of his later songs. After leaving the army in 1961, Hall served as an announcer or disc jockey for several radio stations in Kentucky and West Virginia, as well as performing live and writing songs.

A friend of Hall’s took some of Tom’s songs to Nashville with him, where they came to the attention of Jimmy Keys, the head of Newkeys Music, a company co-owned with Jimmy “C” Newman and Dave Dudley. Keys saw something there as he forwarded “D.J. For A Day” to Jimmy “C” Newman and offered Hall a draw against royalties to move to Nashville and become a staff writer. Newman’s recording of “D.J. For A Day” reached #9 in early 1964, becoming Newman’s first top ten recording in nearly four years. Newman was to record many more of Tom’s songs. Read more of this post