My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Tim DuBois

Album Review: Asleep at the Wheel – ‘Keepin’ Me Up Nights’

0001597610Released in 1990 as their only studio album for Arista Records, Keepin’ Me Up Nights will do just that as it is a interesting effort throughout.

Asleep At The Wheel (“AATW”) can often feature an astounding number of musicians on stage but this album finds the band being comprised of Ray Benson on lead vocals and guitar; Larry Franklin on fiddle, guitar, and harmony vocals; Tim Alexander on piano, accordion and harmony vocals; John Ely on pedal and lap steel; Michael Francis on saxophone, Joe Mitchell on acoustic and electric bass; and David Sanger on drums. The band is augmented by Greg Jennings playing guitars and six string bass.

The album opens with “Keepin’ Me Up Nights”, a bluesy/jazzy number written by James Dean Hicks and Byron Hill.  In the albums notes Benson says the intent was to do a ‘Ray Charles sings western swing’ arrangement. I would say there were successful.

“Boot Scootin’ Boogie” was written by Ronnie Dunn and would prove to be a major hit for Brooks & Dunn two years later. Since I heard AATW’s version jazzy version first, I found myself surprised at the Brooks & Dunn arrangement and frankly I think AATW did it better, albeit quite differently and definitely not suitable for line dancing.

“Dance With Who Brung You” is a Ray Benson original inspired by a phrase used by former Texas football coach Darrell Royal. This song is done as a mid-tempo ballad.

You got to dance with who brung you, swing with who swung you,
Don’t be a fickle fool,You came here with a gal, who’s always been your pal
Don’t leave her for the first unattached girl, it just ain’t cool
You got to dance with who brung you, swing with who swung you,
Life ain’t no forty-yard dash, be in it for the long run,
’cause in the long run you’ll have more fun, if you dance with who brung You to the bash

Ray collaborated with co-producer Tim Dubois on “Quittin’ Time”, a boogie with real nice sax solos by Michael Francis.

Lisa Silver (who played fiddle on AATW’s second album), Judy Rodman and Carol Chase join the band to provide background vocals on Bobby Braddock’s lovely “Eyes”, an exquisite slow ballad.

Troy Seals and John Schneider wrote “Goin’ Home” is a ballad about the joys of going home after being away too long. This song has a rhythmic arrangement suitable for line dancing.

Well I’ve got a lot of friends on the West Coast,
Got a lot of memories
Well I want you to know that I won’t forget
Everything you’ve done for me
But it’s been too long, just too long
T-T-T-T-T-Too long, I’m a-goin’ home
New York, Detroit, Chicago
You were really somethin’ else
You treated me just like kinfolk y’all,
And I swear I can’t help myself
But it’s been too long, way too long
T-T-T-T-T-Too long, I’m a-goin’ home

I’m gonna write a letter,
I’m gonna send a telegram
Gonna tell everybody this wanderin’ boy is packing his bags right now
And I’m’a goin’ home

“That’s The Way Love Is” was written by former (and founding) AATW member Leroy Preston in 1989. The song, a mid-tempo ballad with a strong Cajun feel to the arrangement (fiddle and accordion), tells of the ups and downs of life. John Wesley Ryles, briefly a star in his own right, chips in background vocals

“Gone But Not Forgotten” was penned by Fred Knobloch and Scott Miller is an up-tempo western swing song about where money goes. We’ve all lived this story …

The great Harlan Howard wrote “You Don’t Have To Go To Memphis”. The premise of the song is that you don’t have to go to Memphis to get the blues, just fall for the wrong woman. The song features nice piano and fiddle solos

You don’t have to go to Memphis to get the Blues
You just fall in love with the kind of women I do
Well, I’ve had me a dozen but I never had me one that
Did not fall through
You don’t have to go to Memphis to get the Blues
There she goes, here I stand
Watching good love slip away
Once again, I’m all alone
Love has come and gone

“Beat Me Daddy (Eight To The Bar)” is a classic boogie from 1940, originally recorded by Will Bradley’s Orchestra (with Ray McKinley on lead vocals). The song was a huge hit for Bradley and has been recorded many times since Bradley’s recording including Commander Cody, Ella Fitzgerald and The Andrews Sisters. The song was completely written by Don Raye although some other names also show up on the writer’s credits

In a little honky-tonky village in Texas
There’s a guy who plays the best piano by far
He can play piano any way that you like it
But the way he likes to play is eight to the bar
When he plays, it’s a ball
He’s the daddy of them all
The people gather around when he gets on the stand
Then when he plays, he gets a hand
The rhythm he beats puts the cats in a trance
Nobody there bothers to dance
But when he plays with the bass and guitar
They holler out, “Beat me Daddy, eight to the bar”

“Texas Fiddle Man” was written by fiddler Larry Franklin and he takes the lead vocals on this song, which features some extended fiddle solos. The folks at Alabama (the band) contributed the idea for the closing riffs.

The album concludes with “Pedernales Stroll” a gentle instrumental tribute to finger pickers such as Chet Atkins, Merle Travis. The song is the only instrumental on the album and as such, the perfect ending to an exciting album

Grade: A+

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘Love A Little Stronger’

The success of Diamond Rio’s first album caused the band to return to the studio to record the follow-up a little sooner than they would have liked. By their own admission, Close To The Edge was a somewhat rushed affair, though I thought it was an enjoyable album. It achieved gold status, but that was considered somewhat of a failure in the early 90s, especially after following a platinum debut. As a result, the band took more time in recording their third album, Love A Little Stronger, which was released in July 1994, nearly two years after Close To The Edge’s release.

Love A Little Stronger was produced by Tim DuBois and Monty Powell, as Diamond Rio’s first two albums had been. This time, however, they were joined by another co-producer, Mike Clute. The title track was the first single released, and it was also the album’s biggest hit, peaking at #2. It was the band’s first trip into the Top 10 since the previous year’s “Oh Me, Oh My Sweet Baby” topped out at #5. Written by Chuck Jones, Billy Crittenden and Gregory Swint, “Love A Little Stronger” has a slightly more polished sound than the band’s previous work. The second single, a cover of Dennis Linde’s “Night Is Falling In My Heart” — one of my favorite Diamond Rio songs — also has some glossy production but it also allows the band to show off their impressive harmony skills. It reached #9 on the Billboard country singles chart.

Love A Little Stronger followed Close To The Edge’s pattern of producing two top ten hits followed by two lower-charting singles. “Bubba Hyde”, a somewhat hokey semi-novelty song about a straight-laced guy who undergoes a personality transformation on Friday nights, only made it to #16, while the excellent “Finish What We Started”, written by producer Monty Powell with Mike Noble, stalled out at #19. This one definitely deserved to chart higher.

The collection also includes some very good album cuts, such as “Into The Wild Blue Yonder”, which I would have released as a single in lieu of “Bubba Hyde”. “Into The Wild Blue Yonder” seems tailor-made for radio, but was perhaps overlooked because it was felt that radio would be more receptive to a more uptempo tune. “Gone Out Of My Mind” is one of those songs that has been recorded a number of times without ever becoming a big hit. It had previously been included as an album cut on Steve Wariner’s 1989 album I Am Ready. I still consider Doug Stone’s 1998 rendition to be the definitive version, but Diamond Rio’s take is quite good as well. “Appalachian Dream” follows the precedent established by Diamond Rio’s previous two albums, of including one instrumental track to allow the band to show off their picking skills. The album closes with the somewhat somber but quite enjoyable “Kentucky Mine”.

I’ve always been a casual Diamond Rio fan, and didn’t pay much attention to the band in the 90s, aside from what I heard from them on the radio. But as is often the case, the radio hits don’t tell the whole story. Love A Little Stronger is a solid collection, with no weak tracks aside from “Bubba Hyde”. Like the band’s eponymous debut album, it reached #13 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned platinum certification. It is still easy to find from vendors such as Amazon at reasonable prices.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘Close To The Edge’

Diamond Rio’s second album was rush-released in October 1992. It was produced as before by Monty Powell and Tim Dubois along broadly similar lines to its predecessor. Although not quite as consitently high quality as the songs on their debut, the chosen material showcases the band’s trademark harmonies and sparkling playing well. Although, apparently they had only a month to pick the songs, and felt they had fallen short of their debut, everything is presented with verve and I think it stands up well today.

The first two singles had downbeat lyrics about failed relationships. The ballad ‘In A Week Or Two’ (one of my favorite tracks) was received well at radio and hit #2. The rueful protagonist has been blindsided when he kept on putting off those romantic gestures, only to find his lover loses patience and leaves him. Equally regretful in the face of a vanished lover, the bouncily catchy ‘Oh Me, Oh My Sweet Baby’ was another top 5 hit, with particularly strong harmonies and picking. The perky ‘This Romeo Ain’t Got Julie Yet’ about a thwarted teenage couple (co-written by the lead guitarist Jimmy Olander), the slightest of the album’s singles, did less well, peaking at an unlucky 13.

My favorite of the singles then disappointingly failed to crack the top 20. Set to an understated but pretty tune, it offers a pensive reflection on the lost innocence of childhood:

When we knew Jesus was the answer
And Elvis was the King
‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Rock Of Ages’
Were the songs we learned/loved to sing
Innocence went out of style
We just watched it go
Yesterday got left beneath
The dust of Sawmill Road

We learn the protagonist’s brother was mentally destroyed by service in Vietnam, and he keeps minimal contact with the sister, who now has three failed marriages behind her. Only the narrator remains living in the eponymous ‘Sawmill Road’, where the three siblings “were raised up on the path of righteousness” so long ago. The song was written by the band’s keyboard player Dan Truman with Sam Hogin and Jim McBride.

It leads appropriately into an appeal to the lonely and lost in life, ‘Calling All Hearts (Come Back Home)’, an idealistic number written by Monty Powell, Kent Blazy and Wade Kimes, which I also like a lot.

My absolute favorite track, though, is the high lonesome ‘Demons And Angels’. Written by former singer Judy Rodman and Ronnie Samoset, the song portrays the intense struggle of a man(and his wife) fighting his addiction to alcohol,

He swore it was over and all in his past
A few hours later his hand’s round a glass
A voice on the left says,
“There’s peace in the wine”
From the right a voice whispers,
“Don’t do it this time”
When he looks for the answer
Down in his heart
Demons and angels tear him apart

There’s not much that’s sweeter
Than a new life begun
Ain’t much that’s sadder
Than a promise undone
He stares at the bottle,
Longs for her arms
While demons and angels tear him apart

‘Old Weakness (Coming On Strong)’ is not the song of that title recorded by both Tanya Tucker and Patty Loveless, but an intensely sung ballad about struggling with the thought of encountering an old flame he’s not really over, written by Powell with Chapin Hartford. A cheery riposte to old friends comparing the fun of bachelor life to the protagonist’s newlywed happiness, ‘It Does Get Better Than This’ is unremarkable lyrically, but is lifted by the charming vocal and instrumental performance, and could be a hit today.

The love songs ‘I Was Meant To Be With You’ (co-written by Dubois and Powell with Debi Cochran and Diamond Rio’s lead singer Marty Roe) and Jimmy Olander’s ‘Nothing In This World’ (co-written with Eric Silver) are pleasant filler, performed exceptionally well. The upbeat title track (written by the band’s mandolin and occasional fiddle player Gene Johnson with Carl Jackson) is also fairly forgettable lyrically, but it has a great groove and lets the band show off their chops , closing the album on a high.

The record has been certified gold, so it did not sell quite as well as their debut. However, despite the band’s own misgivings about the quality of the material, I think it compares pretty well, and there are some outstanding moments. Cheap used copies are easy to find, and it is also available digitally.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘Diamond Rio’

Diamond Rio’s eponymous debut album was released 20 years ago this month.  The disc catapulted the band to country stardom when their first single, the infectious “Meet In The Middle” became the first chart-topping debut by a group in the history of Country Singles chart.  Four more singles hit the top 10 and the album went on to sell more than a million copies.  It also introduced the melodic energetic sound of Diamond Rio, and showcased the band’s tight musicianship on record.

“Meet In The Middle” features Tim DuBois’ bouncy production in a lyric that simply celebrates compromise, and uses the sweet story of a boy and girl meeting halfway between their homes as the analogy of meeting halfway once again as a means to end their future squabbles.  Marty Roe’s solid vocal hits as hard as the snappy drums and Gene Johnson’s mandolin make for a great track, which sailed to #1 for 2 weeks.

Also making waves at radio was the bluesy “Mirror Mirror”, with its clever wicked queen hook it became the band’s second top 5.  Also hitting the top 5 is the blistering “Norma Jean Riley”, with its dry humor and talking instruments, it recalls the best of Alan Jackson’s similar witty tunes.  Sandwiched in between that pair at radio is the elegant “Mama Don’t Forget to Pray For Me”, which recounts a traveling musician calling home to talk to his folks.  It’s memorable melody and heartstring subject matter pushed it to #9 on the charts.

The final single – and my favorite track – is the smart and direct second person narrative “Nowhere Bound”.  This mid-tempo gem sounds like it would be at home in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s songbook, right down to its wry lyrics:

Where to now, do you know?
One thing’s for certain, gonna reap just what you sow
And all you planted was heartache and pain
Don’t look now, but it looks like rain

“Nowhere Bound” was written by co-producer Monty Powell and Jule Edders, and went to #7 on the singles chart in 1992.

Also notable are the tale of two top-notch musicians dueling for the title of “best around” in the fast-paced “Ballad of Billy and Conley (The Proof’s in the Pickin’)”, which allows the boys to show off their dexterity with their respective instruments, much like the closing instrumental track “Poultry Promenade”.  The driving “Pick Me Up” tells of a man who feels lower than bottom – “pick me up so I can fall again” – and is set to another infectious melody.

Produced by Tim DuBois and Monty Powell, Diamond Rio’s debut album served to not only kickstart the band’s hit-making career, it also served as the template that would come to characterize the band’s sound, with their own crack musicianship in the studio, tight harmonies, and breezy melodies.  Diamond Rio is a great showcase of ’90s country at its best.

Grade: A

Buy it from amazon.

Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘I Am Ready’

During his six-year stint with MCA Records, Steve Wariner racked up an impressive eight #1 hits, and all of his single releases during that period made the Top 10, with the exception of “There For A While”, his final release for the label. But despite his success at radio, his album sales remained modest. By the time he signed with Arista in 1991, he was ready, as his debut album for the label boldly proclaimed, to finally take his career to the next level. He teamed up with Scott Hendricks and Tim DuBois, for I Am Ready, which sounds fresher and more energized than Steve’s last few albums for MCA.

Steve wrote or co-wrote half of the album’s ten songs, though the biggest hits were provided by outside songrwiters. First up was “Leave Him Out Of This”, a passionate plea to a lover to let go of the past. Written by Walt Aldridge and Susan Longacre, the steel guitar-drenched track with background vocals provided by Vince Gill, climbed to #6 in Billboard. It was succeeded by a cover of Bill Anderson’s 1960 hit “The Tips Of My Fingers”. The song had been recorded many times in the past. Anderson’s original version had peaked at #7. In 1963, Roy Clark resurrected it and took it to #10, and in 1975 Jean Shepherd took it to #16. Steve’s version, like Eddy Arnold’s 1966 rendition, reached #3. It’s my favorite track on the album and the best single of Wariner’s career. “A Woman Loves” didn’t score quite as high, peaking at #9, but it is probably the best remembered track from this collection, thanks to a lot of recurrent airplay.

Two more singles were released — the presumably autobiographical or at least semi-autobiographical “Crash Course In The Blues” and the beautiful but not radio-friendly ballad “Like A River To The Sea”. Both singles peaked in the 30s. Steve had a hand in writing both, and was in fact the sole writer of “Like A River To The Sea”. Both tracks also allowed him to show off his guitar-playing skills.

Over the years, Steve’s music has had a tendency to lean strongly towards adult contemporary at times. By and large this is not the case with I Am Ready, with the exception of “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right”, a very generic and nondescript number that is the weakest link in this collection. The others, such as the opening track “On My Heart Again” to “When Will I Let Go” are solid mainstream 90s country, though “My, How The Time Don’t Fly” is a bit on the bland side.

The underrated gem in this collection is “Gone Out Of My Mind”, a new-at-the-time number that sounds like it hails from a bygone era. Written by Bob Morrison, Gene Dobbins and Michael Huffman, it is the most traditional song on the album. It was covered by Doug Stone in 1998 for the multi-artist collection Tribute To Tradition, but sadly, it failed to crack the Top 40. I prefer Doug’s version to Steve’s, but this is a beautiful song no matter who is singing it, the type of song that made me fall in love with country music.

Country music in the early 90s was just beginning to flex its commercial muscle, and Steve like most other artists who were still getting radio airplay at the time, benefited from the rising tide. After 13 years as a major label recording artist, he finally scored a gold album. The fact that an album that only reached #28 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart could sell 500,000 units is a somewhat grim reminder of how much stronger country album sales were 20 years ago than they are now.

I Am Ready
is Steve Wariner at his very best. If there is only room for one of his studio albums in your collection, this is the one to get. It is still easy to obtain from Amazon and used copies are very inexpensive.

Grade: A

Album Review: Brooks & Dunn – ‘Brand New Man’

brandnewmanIn 1990, Tim DuBois, an executive with Arista Records’ newly established Nashville division, introduced two struggling solo artists named Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn and suggested that they record together as a duo. Few, if any, realized at the time that the meeting would result in the formation of one of the most successful and enduring partnerships in the history of country music.

Brooks & Dunn were an immediate success. They debuted on the Billboard country singles chart in May 1991, with their debut single “Brand New Man”. Written by the duo along with their producer Don Cook, the uptempo and energetic tune is sung from the point of view of a former “love ’em and leave ’em” type who reforms his wild ways after meeting a woman who proves to have a taming influence over him. “Brand New Man” was an instant hit with country radio; climbing all the way to #1 shortly after an album of the same name was released. This was the first of twenty (to date) Brooks & Dunn singles to top the charts.

Brand New Man, the album, was released in August of 1991. At least one member of the duo had a hand in writing each of the album’s ten tracks. Their next release was “My Next Broken Heart”, which is one of my favorite Brooks & Dunn songs. Like its predecessor, it peaked at #1, as did the next two singles, “Neon Moon” and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”. The latter tune, written by Dunn, had previously been recorded by Asleep at the Wheel. It is credited — or blamed, depending on one’s point of view — for renewing interest in line dancing. It is not lyrically deep or profound, and clearly was never intended to be taken too seriously. However, it is arguably the duo’s best known song and near the top of my list of guilty pleasures.

By 1991, the neotraditionalist movement was on the wane; Garth Brooks had established himself as the hottest act in country music and had begun incorporating more pop and rock influences into his recordings and live shows. Brooks & Dunn, at this particular time, provided an interesting bridge between traditional country and the more rocked-up style which would soon become dominant in their music and country music in general. The variety of musical styles found on the album was probably not intentional; more likely it is a result of experimentation as the the newly-formed duo tried to find their niche. It’s also interesting to note the differences in styles between the duo’s two members, with Brooks’ contributions to this album tending to be more traditional than Dunn’s.

Critics have often accused Brooks & Dunn of being a solo act masquerading as a duo. Ronnie Dunn has rightly been hailed as one of the best male voices in country music, while Kix Brooks’ contributions to the duo have been somewhat overlooked. While Dunn has provided the lead vocals on the overwhelming majority of the duo’s single releases, in the beginning, both members of the duo started out on more or less equal footing, with Brooks providing lead vocals on half of the album’s ten tracks. Though not as gifted as his partner, Brooks proves himself to be a more than adequate vocalist. Only one of the songs featuring Kix’s lead vocals, “Lost and Found”, was released as a single. Unfortunately for Brooks, it broke the duo’s string of consecutive #1 hits, peaking at #6. Also among the gems featuring Brooks on lead vocals are “Cheatin’ On The Blues” and “I’m No Good”, both of which have overtones that are reminiscent of Hank Williams, and “Still In Love With You”, the stellar closing track.

Though at times the duo seemed to be unsure of what musical direction to take, Brand New Man was a solid debut effort, full of energy and enthusiasm. Providing what was at the time, a fresh, new sound, it was well received not only by radio, but also at retail, where it ultimately was certified six-times platinum. It is interesting to take a look back at how far this duo has come, and for those who are only familiar with Brooks & Dunn’s radio hits, it provides an added dimension that isn’t always apparent in their single releases.

Brand New Man is available digitally at Amazon MP3 and iTunes. Though out of print in CD form, inexpensive new and used copies can be purchased at Amazon.

Grade: B+

Spotlight Artist: Brooks & Dunn

brooks & dunnIn addition to hosting the show in 2004-2006, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn are also the two winningest artists in CMA Awards history. As a duo, they have collected 18 trophies, a tie with Vince Gill. But Ronnie Dunn’s solo win in 2006 for ‘Believe’ as Song of the Year tipped his total wins to a very impressive 19 total, making him the artist with the most CMA Awards. Brooks & Dunn have also won more accolades from the Academy of Country Music than any other artist in the organization’s history, as well as countless awards from Billboard, the American Music Awards, as well as two Grammy’s.  But all this came only after two unlikely partners were put together by one shrewd record executive.  Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks had been paying dues for years to reach that level of superstardom.

A teenager from a long line of church dignitaries, Ronnie Dunn first believed his true calling was in preaching the word of God around the West. He began attending Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas in 1974. It wasn’t long before his desire to play music took over and the psychology major soon found himself fronting a band playing clubs around the Abilene area. This wasn’t looked upon favorably by the University, who gave Dunn an ultimatum: stop appearing the clubs or leave the school. Ronnie Dunn soon moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he played for several years, honing his songwriting and singing in the smoky Oklahoma dives. It was after winning a singing competition sponsored by Marlboro that Dunn became serious about his music career and moved to Nashville.

Leon ‘Kix’ Brooks began his life in Shreveport, Louisiana, surrounded by the honky-tonk sounds of the Louisiana Hayride and the Cajun music scene. It was Kix’s neighbor, Johnny Horton – who died when Kix was just a boy – that he learned to appreciate country music and dream about what he could achieve. Seeing all the gold records and awards Horton has acquired set a fire inside the young man to do the same, and he was soon performing with Horton’s daughter, Nina. After brief stints in Alaska and Maine, working various trade jobs, Kix returned to Nashville in the early 1980s at the urging of his father. Kix would spend the rest of the 1980s as a staff songwriter for Tree Publishing before releasing a solo album on Capitol Records in 1989, which didn’t yield any success.

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