My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Whites

Classic Rewind: The Whites – ‘He Took Your Place’

A song for Good Friday:

Christmas Rewind: The Whites – ‘Hangin’ Around The Mistletoe’

Classic Rewind: The Whites – ‘Pins And Needles’

Classic Rewind: Ricky Skaggs and the Whites – ‘Follow The Leader’

Album Review: Ricky Skaggs – ‘Comin’ Home To Stay’

By 1988 the influx of new, traditionally rooted talent which had come with the rise of the New Traditionalists in the late 80s had squeezed room on radio playlists for more established artists, and for the first time since he burst into the mainstream, a Ricky Skaggs album did not score any top 10 hits.

Lead single ‘I’m Tired’ was a remake of an old Webb Pierce hit penned by Mel Tillis and Ray Price. It hit #3 for Pierce in 1957, but Ricky’s excellent cover disappointingly only made it to #18. It deserved to do better, as did the next single. Another classic cover, a steel-led version of Stonewall Jackson’s ‘Angel On My Mind) That’s Why I’m Walking’ failed to scrape into the top 30. That was a real shame, because it is an excellent, somber interpretation of an excellent song, which is my favorite track on this album.

Top 20 hit ‘Thanks Again’ is a warm-hearted message to loving parents written by Jim Rushing, with a stripped down backing with Ricky’s own acoustic guitar the sole instrument. Perhaps surprisingly, a peak of #17 made this appealing but not obviously commercial number the album’s biggest chart success.

Paul Overstreet’s ‘Old Kind Of Love’, the final single, celebrated a perceived revival of old fashioned family values and squeaked into the top 30. It is quite charming with an attractive melody, but feels rather naive lyrically.

The overall mood of this record is one celebrating family and married life. ‘Lord She Sure Is Good At Lovin’ Me’ was written by the period’s superstar, Randy Travis, with Paul Overstreet, and is rather good at portraying domestic bliss, with added conviction lent by using wife Sharon White’s honeyed voice on harmony.

As with his previous album, Ricky included a romantic duet with Sharon. The pretty tune and heartfelt delivery of ‘Home Is Wherever You Are’ is, a sweet ballad written by Wayland Patton, make this one another winner. Her family band The Whites also sing on a traditionally styled gospel quartet. Catchy but lyrically uncompromising, ‘If You Don’t Believe The Bible’ was written by Carl Jackson and Glenn Sutton, and has only acoustic guitars backing the singers.

There is a bit less bluegrass influence than usual, but the album takes its title from the sole (electric) bluegrass number, Jimmy Martin’s bouncily playful ‘Hold Whatcha Got’. A cover of western swing classic ‘San Antonio Rose’ is competent and entertaining but unambitious and ultimately forgettable.

‘Woman, You Won’t Break Mine’ is an offbeat love song giving an ultimatum to a tough female rodeo rider who defied her mother’s dreams of pretty dresses and is trying to slow down her romance:

You went and broke your mama’s heart
But woman, you won’t break mine

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this solidly enjoyable album, which I prefer to its immediate predecessor, but there isn’t anything really standing out either, and the satisfied mood feels a little too comfortable to have an emotional impact. Combined with the lack of big hits, it is no real surprise that it did not sell quite as well as Ricky’s previous work. It is still worth getting if you can find a cheap copy.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Ricky Skaggs – ‘I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could’

Ricky revives his 1982 chart topper, with the help of his wife’s family band The Whites:

Album Review: Ricky Skaggs – ‘Waitin’ for The Sun To Shine’

Ricky’s work with Emmylou Harris had brought him to the attention of Nashville, and in 1981 he signed a solo deal with Epic Records. His Epic debut was self-produced, and he played guitar, fiddle and mandolin himself, backed by some stellar pickers. Future wife Sharon White and her sister Cheryl sing harmonies, and their father Buck plays piano. It was country rather than bluegrass, with electric instruments, steel guitar and piano added to the mix, but there was a distinctly bluegrass and sensibility to it, particularly in the song selection. Where it is not rooted in bluegrass, the inspiration is in traditional country, with most of the songs being relatively obscure covers. The tasteful playing is excellent throughout, but remains in service to the songs.

A vibrant cover of Flatt & Scruggs’s bluegrass classic ‘Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’’ was Ricky’s first chart single, peaking at #16. The rhythmic ‘You May See Me Walkin’’ (written by Tom Uhr of bluegrass band the Shady Grove Ramblers) then sneaked into the top 10 at 9. Ricky scored his first chart topper with ‘Crying My Heart Out Over You’, another Flatt & Scruggs song, cowritten by county veteran Carl Butler. It works perfectly for Ricky, whose understated version has become the standard.

‘I Don’t Care’ also made it to #1, as it did for the original artist, honky tonk star Webb Pierce, in 1955. It was written by the great Cindy Walker and is a sweet love song refusing to pry into his sweetheart’s possibly murky past, which Ricky delivers with sincerity:

I don’t care if I’m not the first love you’ve known
Just so I’ll be the last

The gently resigned hurt of ‘If That’s The Way You Feel’, a cover of a Stanley Brothers classic, is delightful, with tasteful harmonies from Sharon and Cheryl. ‘Lost To A Stranger’ is a plaintive ballad with a lovely tune, which was originally recorded by its writer Hylo Brown in 1954.

‘Your Old Love Letters’, cover of a 1961 hit by Porter Wagoner, feels charmingly old fashioned now, with Ricky pondering a past love affair as he burns the titular letters (tied up in blue ribbons). The rhythmic ‘Low And Lonely’ is catchy, and another older song, a single for the legendary Roy Acuff in 1942. Merle Travis’s ‘So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed’ also dates from the 1940s.

The title track, virtually the only new song included, is a beautiful ballad which has become a modern country classic with perhaps the best known version by Lee Ann Womack on her superlative There’s More Where That Came From in 2005. Ricky’s version isn’t quite as gorgeous, but still very good, and the song is lovely with an optimistic feel about the likelihood of getting past current heartbreak.

There really is not a weak track on this excellent album. A real breath of fresh air in the Urban Cowboy era, it is astonishing to contemplate today how warmly such a bluegrass-influenced album was received in the country mainstream. Sales were excellent for the era, and the album was certified gold. Its follow up, Highways & Heartaches (which Razor X reviewed when it was reissued on Skaggs Family Records in 2009), was to do even better, and really set Ricky Skaggs up as a mainstream country star. Both albums stand up very well today, and cheap used copies of both can be found easily.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Ricky Skaggs and the Whites – ‘If I Be Lifted Up’

Album Review: Ricky Skaggs – ‘Music To My Ears’

Most country music stars record less frequently once the major label phase of their careers end, but Ricky Skaggs is a notable exception to the rule: his independent albums far outnumber his major label efforts. From a fan’s standpoint, this is a good thing, though he has become so prolific it is sometimes difficult to keep up with his output. Music To My Ears, which was released last week, dropped just a little over a year after 2011’s Country Hits Bluegrass Style and a second volume of Skaggs family Christmas songs.

Like most of Skaggs’ post-1997 output, Music To My Ears leans heavily toward bluegrass; however, this is not strictly a collection of bluegrass tunes. He pushes the envelope just a bit by incorporating some Celtic instruments such as the bagpipes and tin whistle, along with the occasional electric guitar and keyboard. Some bluegrass purists may cry foul, but the vast majority of time the blending of styles works well. A prime example is “What You Are Waiting For”, an inspirational but not overtly religious number, which effectively combines some traditional bluegrass instruments — banjo and mandolin — with a piano intro, and some electric guitar tracks and background vocals that would not sound out of place on today’s country radio.

Overall, however, the album’s more traditional numbers are its best — from the high lonesome sound of the opening track “Blue Night” and Carter Stanley’s “Loving You Too Well”, to the wonderful picking on the instrumental “New Jerusalem”, which Ricky wrote. And then there’s the unusual “You Can’t Hurt Ham”, a Skaggs co-write with Gordon Kennedy, who co-produced the album with Ricky. It is, essentially, a tongue-in-cheek tune about spoiled food and the supposed long shelf life of ham. While I don’t agree with his claim of “no refrigerate, no expire date”, the song is a very entertaining number.

Like most of Ricky’s albums, Music To My Ears contains a handful of religious and inspirational numbers. There’s the aformentioned “New Jerusalem” and “What You Are Waiting For”, as well as the more openly religious title track, and the family-values themed “Nothing Beats A Family”. Interestingly, none of the members of the Skaggs-White clan makes any appearances on this album.

The one track that doesn’t quite work is the apparent centerpiece of the album, “Soldier’s Son”, a duet with Barry Gibb. The song itself, which Gibb wrote with his children Ashley and Stephen, is not bad but its attempt to alternate between bluegrass and mainstream pop elements seems a bit forced. Aside from that,I’ve never been able to tolerate Gibb’s singing and that alone is enough to spoil the song for me. It is however, the album’s sole misstep, with the possible exception of the background vocals at the end of “Nothing Beats A Family.” All in all, however, there is far more here to like than dislike, unless one is just not a bluegrass fan. Those who are will find this collection most enjoyable.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Marty Raybon – ‘Southern Roots & Branches (Yesterday & Today)’

Barely weeks after his last album release, the enjoyable religious record Hand To The Plow, ex-Shenandoah singer Marty Raybon has come up with a mainly secular bluegrass-based effort which is even better than the latter.  He produced it himself and has done a fine job.  A variety of pickers were used, with an average of four players of any given instrument across the album (but no detailed breakdown by track)but the end result is very cohesive, sparklingly performed bluegrass with Marty’s distinctive, warm voice taking center stage.  Marty sounds great again, and the songs are all pretty good, with an overarching theme of the past.

A nice cover of the Rodney Crowell-penned Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s nostalgic hit ‘Long Hard Road (Sharecropper’s Dream)’, with particularly pleasing fiddle, is a highlight, and Marty is entirely convincing singing of a childhood in poverty but a happy one.

The religious focus is not completely abandoned.  Marty actually co-wrote the joyfully urgent gospel of ‘Get Up In Jesus’ Name’, which Lee Ann Womack recorded on her debut album in the 90s, and here he gives his own reading, which is very good (although I would still just give the edge to the earlier recording).  An absolutely beautifully sung close-harmony ballad, ‘Beulah Land’ is another religious number, and there is an enjoyable cover of the bright mid-tempo ‘Prayer Bells Of Heaven’, written by bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin and Buck White (member of the Whites and father in law of Ricky Skaggs).

Bluegrass heritage gets several nods with interesting revivals of generally lesser-known songs.  Bill Monroe’s ‘Rocky Road Blues’ rhythmically melds blues and bluegrass, while ‘White House Blues’, another Monroe song, taken at a frenetic pace, takes on a political theme – but neither a contemporary one nor a controversial one.  It wasn’t even contemporary when Monroe recorded it in 1954, as it deals with the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley and his replacement in the White House by Theodore Roosevelt.  Lyrically, it seems an odd choice to revive, but musically it sounds very good.  ‘Down The Road’ is a Flatt & Scruggs song which is bouncily enjoyable, and Jimmy Martin’s vivacious up-tempo ‘Home Run Man’ rather engagingly uses baseball as the metaphor for a man courting his love interest.

Marty also pays heed to his personal musical heritage by redoing a couple of Shenandoah hits.  The melodic ‘Ghost in This House’ is lovely, and ‘Next To You, Next To Me’ is also well done, but both are probably inessential if you have the original recordings.

If there is an emphasis on ‘yesterday’, the ‘today’ of the album’s sub-title is represented by a couple of new songs.  The plaintive mid-tempo ‘Big Pain’ is an excellent new song written by Marty with Billy Droze and John Fountain.  It bemoans a lost love, causing a pain which hurts so much more than physical injuries.  ‘Dirt Road Heartache’, a mid-tempo heartbreak bluegrass song written by Melissa Peirce and Jerry Salley, is also new and very good.

I am slightly puzzled as to why these two albums have been released quite so close together (and both on Rural Rhythm imprints), yet not quite simultaneously, as there must be a risk that one or the other will get overlooked.  But the music on this second album is flawless, and the song selection makes its potential market wider than its companion.  It really is well worth hearing if you like Marty’s singing, or bluegrass in general.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: The Whites – ‘He Took Your Place’

Album Review: ‘A Skaggs Family Christmas, Volume Two’

Ricky Skaggs and his gang are back with a follow-up disc to 2005’s A Skaggs Family Christmas. Like the first volume, this one finds Ricky sharing the spotlight with his wife Sharon and her family The Whites, and their children. Rather than focusing just on bluegrass, as one might expect, it features a variety of musical styles, recorded both in the studio and live in concert, which provide for a an enjoyable, if at times somewhat disjointed, listening experience.

Released on the independent Skaggs Family Records label, the album avoids sounding like a typical, slickly produced Nashville product. During its best moments, one can easily envision the family sitting around the living room singing these songs on Christmas Eve. Songs such as the opening “Christmas Time’s A-Comin'” on which Ricky sings lead, and “Light of the Stable” on which his wife Sharon White takes the lead, sound like live performances that were captured on tape, which only adds to their charm. Sharon’s voice sounds a little strained on “Light of the Stable”, but it’s still an enjoyable performance, though it can’t compare with Emmylou Harris’ definitive 1975 version. An a cappella version of “The First Noel” is a live in concert recording, featuring Ricky on lead vocals with harmonies provided by Sharon and Cheryl White. My two favorite tracks, however, are “Reunion Song”, a mainstream country effort complete with pedal steel guitar, which is reminiscent of Ricky’s 1980s heyday, and “Children Go”, a collaboration with The Whites, which has more of a bluegrass sound.

The Skaggs children also make contributions to this collection. Son Luke composed the instrumental “Flight To Egypt”, on which he also plays lead guitar, joined by sister Molly on piano. It’s an impressive performance that gives credence to the old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” This is another live in concert performance, with accompaniment by The Nashville Strings, which gives the tune a more polished feel. Molly’s version of “What Songs Were Sung”, on which she sings and plays piano, may be one of the album’s few missteps. Though beautifully arranged and sung, it is too different in style from the rest of the album and doesn’t seem like it belongs her. The same can be said for the closing track, an instrumental version of “Joy To The World” on which the Skaggs Family does not perform at all. It is instead, a solo performance by The Nashville Strings. It is well done, but again, it seems out of place here. A more stripped-down song with different members of the family taking turns singing the lead, would have been a more appropriate album closer. I did, however, very much enjoy Molly’s take on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, which is beautiful from start to finish.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable album, though it does suffer at times from a lack of cohesion, due to the different musical styles showcased and the use of both studio and concert performances. There’s nothing new or revolutionary here, just some good old fashioned singing and picking, with some added strings here and there for some added holiday polish. Fans of Ricky Skaggs and The Whites will not be disappointed. It is currently available for download for the bargain price of $3.99 at Amazon.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘Right Or Wrong’

Rosanne’s U.S. debut in 1980 was produced by her new husband Rodney Crowell and recorded in their new home in LA. Many of the musicians were Rodney’s former band mates and successors in Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, including Ricky Skaggs singing harmony on six tracks, but the music is several steps away from traditional or even conventional pop-country of the period. The pop-influenced production, no doubt ground-breakingly modern at the time, now sounds very dated, but Rosanne’s voice cuts through the clutter and the eclectic choice of material is pretty solid, if not often very deeply rooted in country music.

Rodney wrote ‘No Memories Hangin’ ‘Round’ and originally intended to record the duet with Rosanne, but decided when the pair attended a Bobby Bare concert that he would be a better choice. Bare was an established star (although one whose chart success tended to be hit or miss) with Outlaw credentials, and he was an admirer of Rodney Crowell’s work, having recently recorded the latter’s ‘Til I Gain Control Again’. The album’s outstanding song was Rosanne’s first hit single, and although it peaked at only #17, is a minor classic. Bare’s rougher vocals complement Rosanne’s velvety tones, and they convince as a couple fighting off the memory of old flames. The production on this track nicely balances a country feel with contemporary sensibilities.

Rodney contributed a further three songs, two of which had previously appeared on Rosanne’s ill-fated German release. There is a good version of ‘Baby, Better Start Turnin’ ‘Em Down’, which had just been a non-charting single for Rodney himself (and would be covered a few years later by Emmylou Harris), and epitomizes the mood of the album with its consideration of modern life. ‘Seeing’s Believing’ is an excellent song which deserves to be better known, with a fine vocal from Rosanne and Emmylou Harris adding a supportive harmony. However, I don’t really like the dreary sound of ‘Anybody’s Darlin’ (Anything But Mine)’.

‘Couldn’t Do Nothing Right’, largely forgotten today, was technically the album’s biggest hit, reaching #15 on Billboard. The production has a Caribbean feel which does not stand up very well today, although it is a well-written song looking back at a failed relationship, penned by singer Karen Brooks (who was to have a short chart career herself in the early 80s) and her husband Texas singer-songwriter Gary P Nunn. I prefer the upbeat ‘Man Smart (Woman Smarter)’, a rather entertaining cover of an old calypso number, originally written by Trinidad’s Norman Span in the 30s but best known from Harry Belafonte’s 50s recording. Emmylou Harris sings harmony again on this proto-girlpower anthem.

The last single, ‘Take Me, Take Me’ peaked at 25. Rosanne’s vocals are soothingly tender on this melodic love song, and Sharon and Cheryl White sing harmony, but the percussion is unbearably intrusive and the song (also previously cut on the German album) doesn’t have much country influence. It was written by Keith Sykes, who also provided the title track, a fairly catchy mid-tempo pop song on a cheating theme.

Rosanne wrote just one of the songs, the pensive AC ballad ‘This Has Happened Before’, which shows her promise as a developing young songwriter and is one of the best tracks, with a pretty tune. She also commits to a spunky cover of her father’s ‘Big River’, which is another highlight.

The album is available on a 2-for-1 reissue CD with Seven Year Ache, also including Rosanne’s cover of ‘Not A Second Time’, an obscure and not very interesting Beatles song which had replaced ‘Baby, Better Start Turnin’ ‘Em Down’ on the European release of the album. It is probably only for Rosanne Cash completists, but includes some material worth hearing. Rosanne and Rodney were carving out their own artistically ambitious path, and if commercial success was limited at this stage, they were setting the pattern for Rosanne’s music over the next few years.

Grade: B

Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Roses In The Snow’

Releasing a bluegrass album is a near-certain way to ensure diminished album sales and radio airplay; just ask Dierks Bentley. It was considered even riskier move in 1980, when Nashville was still deeply entrenched in the Urban Cowboy sound. So Warner Bros. executives were understandably unenthusiastic when Emmylou Harris and Brian Ahern submitted the bluegrass-oriented Roses In The Snow as Emmylou’s sixth album for the company. The label ultimately relented, primarily because of Emmylou’s stellar sales record: every album she’d released, with the exception of the Christmas album Light of the Stable, had been certified gold. The album was released in May 1980, and everyone braced themselves for a commercial disaster. But to everyone’s great surprise, Roses In The Snow was anything but a disaster. Although the two singles released to radio did not chart quite as high as some of her earlier records, the album peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top Country LPs chart, and like its five predecessors, was certified gold.

Emmylou’s previous album, 1979’s Blue Kentucky Girl, had marked a change in direction, concentrating primarily on traditional country, as opposed to the more eclectic approach of her earlier releases. The success of Blue Kentucky Girl, as well as the influence of Hot Band member Ricky Skaggs, encouraged Harris to delve even deeper into traditional music. Skaggs’ fingerprints are all over Roses In The Snow; he played several instruments on the album as well as contributing duet and background vocals. But what really makes Roses In The Snow sound unique is autoharpist Bryan Bowers, who plays throughout the album. While perhaps not strictly bluegrass, the autoharp recreated the sound of the Carter Family, contributing to the old-timey sound that Harris and Ahern were aiming for.

Like Emmylou’s previous albums, Roses In The Snow was recorded in Los Angeles in the Enactron Truck and made use of both The Hot Band and an impressive guest line-up. The Whites, who had been featured prominently on Blue Kentucky Girl once again contributed harmony vocals, as did Harris’ good friends Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton. Johnny Cash provided backing vocals on one track (“Jordan”), Jerry Douglas played dobro and Wilie Nelson played gut-string guitar.

The traditional number “Wayfaring Stranger” was released as the album’s first single. Perhaps the closest in style to Harris’ earlier work — reminiscent of past hits such as “If I Could Only Win Your Love” and “One Of These Days” — “Wayfaring Stranger” climbed to #7, bucking the then-current trend towards slickly-produced, more pop sounding music. “The Boxer”, a remake of the 1968 Paul Simon hit, fared less well, stalling at #13. It is the most unusual song on the album, not something I — or probably most people — would have thought of while working on a bluegrass project, but it works surprisingly well. Sung from the male point of view, it benefits greatly from the acoustic arrangement, Bryan Bowers’ autoharp, and superb harmonies from The Whites.

The best music is often made when commercial considerations are cast aside, allowing the artist to engage in a labor of love. This is decidedly the case with Roses In The Snow. It’s hard to pinpoint the album’s highlights because it is excellent from beginning to end, but if pressed, I would have to go with “Green Pastures”, a Harris-Skaggs duet with harmonies provided by Dolly Parton, “The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn”, another Harris-Skaggs collaboration written by Ralph Stanley, and “Gold Watch and Chain”, an A.P Carter-penned song which features Skaggs and Linda Ronstadt. Emmylou’s cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “You’re Learning” is also quite good, and is one of the few instances in which she breaks with tradition and uses some electric instruments, namely the electric guitar, courtesy of Hot Band member Albert Lee.

Warner Bros. remastered and re-released Roses Of The Snow in 2002, along with two bonus tracks: a cover of Hank Williams’ “You’re Gonna Change” and the Celtic-flavored “Root Like A Rose”, written by Nancy Ahern (Bryan’s sister). Neither song is bluegrass, so they sound slightly out of place here, but both are excellent.

Roses In The Snow is available from Amazon and iTunes, and is highly recommended. Please note that the digital version of the album does not include the two bonus tracks.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Blue Kentucky Girl’

Emmylou Harris’ fourth album for Warner Brothers contains more traditional and straightforward country fare than before.  This is partially because, after being involved in the mixing of Quarter Moon In a Ten Cent Town, she felt it was too slick-sounding.  But the more traditional arrangements were mostly created as a response to the outcry that the healthy mixing of pop and rock hits on past albums were the primary reason for their success. Shucking Tin Pan Alley for more Printer’s Alley, the set includes songs by country stalwarts Dallas Frazier, The Louvin Brothers, Willie Nelson, and others.  It’s biggest flaw – and only downfall – is in the lack of tempo, as too many of the tracks begin to bleed together with their like-minded and plodding melodies. Blue Kentucky Girl also features an all-star line-up of guest vocalists, including Tanya Tucker, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Don Everly, and like its predecessors would earn a gold certification, though it was her first since her Reprise debut not to hit the top 40 of the pop albums chart.

Things are kicked off with the bouncy, if unremarkable, ‘Sister’s Coming Home’ with Tanya Tucker duetting.  Willie Nelson wrote the repetitive tale of a honky tonking sibling returning home, which is smothered in the pedal steel playing of Hank DeVito and Ricky Skaggs’ fiddling.  As the album’s only up-tempo, it’s a forgettable tune with no real storyline and the annoying repeats of lines several times.  The Skaggs family is also represented on ‘Sorrow In The Wind’. Sharon and Cheryl White contribute angelic harmonies to this sparse take on the old British folk song. Known professionally as The Whites, the sister duo scored several country top 10s in the early to mid-1980s. Sharon White also married Hot Band member Ricky Skaggs in 1982.

The uncertainty of the road ahead following the exit of a relationship filled with hard times is contemplated in ‘Rough and Rocky’.  A kind-to-the-ears melody and a driving accordion lead the track, and it’s a personal favorite.  Another standout is ‘Even Cowgirls Get The Blues’ with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt.  It was recorded during the first ill-fated Trio sessions. It would take another 10 years before the three women’s careers and schedules would permit the album to be produced.  Roadhouse country is the main influence on the Rodney Crowell-tune.(Crowell also plays lead acoustic guitar here.)

‘Everytime You Leave’, with Don Everly was written and originally recorded by The Louvin Brothers.  The narrator’s heartbreak is the result of a revolving-door relationship to which she can never say no, and even with its stellar arrangement, Harris doesn’t sound terribly invested in the song’s ultimate melancholy.  Likewise flat, to me, is ‘Never Take His Love From Me’, the Leon Payne-written tune, most famously recorded by Hank Williams.  Here, Emmylou flips the pronoun and offers her weakest performance on the album.

Harris has never been more than a competent vocalist; never a powerhouse belter nor a burning balladeer. That’s most evident on Blue Kentucky Girl when she wraps her raspy vocal around Gram Parsons’ signature tune ‘Hickory Wind’. The deep, desolate lyric calls for more range than Harris can muster at the climax of the song, yet the simple vocal of Harris, even when it reaches for a note it simply cannot find, still conveys all the pathos and longing of a first-class vocalist. That’s because, wide range or no, Harris’ emotive skills place her among the best of the belting divas.

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1989 Album Review: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken Volume Two’

200px-circle_ii_album_coverAlongside our reviews of albums produced by the ‘Class of ’89’, we’ve been taking the opportunity to look in depth at some of the other great albums released that year. Perhaps the most ambitious of those was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s second Will The Circle Be Unbroken project, which harks back to the early days of country music and shows how that heritage was still influential.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band started out in the California folk-rock movement of the 1960s. They revealed their country leanings in 1972 when they produced a legendary triple LP entitled Will The Circle Be Unbroken in collaboration with some of the seminal figures of bluegrass and old-time country music, including Roy Acuff, Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family, bluegrass great Earl Scruggs and many others — mostly artists who were past their commercial peaks. If the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had never again ventured into country music, this album alone would have sealed their place in the music’s history.

In the 1980s, however, after a period using the name the Dirt Band, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band rebranded themselves and forged a very successful career in contemporary country music. In 1988, they decided the time had come to produce a follow-up to their classic. Many of the original collaborators had died, and this time the guests included some contemporary acts and some artists from outside country music altogether, or who were from related genres. The album liner notes say, “This time they drew the circle bigger”, and talk about “the many hyphenated hybrid styles writers have used to describe all sorts of American music that comes from the heart. Big enough to embrace gospel, blues, honky tonk, Cajun and traditional folksong”. In other words, the term might not have been invented yet — but in many ways this was perhaps one of the the first self-consciously Americana albums. The result was a little more commercial-sounding than the original, but it strikes a fine balance between showcasing musical history and showing that that heritage was a living thing. Read more of this post