My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Tim Krekel

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘Cage The Songbird’

cage-the-songbirdThe mid-1980s found Crystal Gayle shifting record labels yet again. Elektra shuttered in 1982 during the chart reign of True Love, which Razor X reviewed earlier this week. Another significant shift was the addition of Jimmy Bowen, who shared a producer credit with Allen Reynolds.

By the time Cage The Songbird came along in October 1983, Gayle was recording for Warner Bros. exclusively with Bowen, who had officially taken over for Reynolds after ten albums. The resulting record was squarely within the trends of the era, following the likes of Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris by featuring a Rodney Crowell song, which by this time had become one of the hottest songwriters in Nashville. The album also featured cuts by Elton John and Hugh Prestwood among others, and while it maintained a glossy sheen, Cage The Songbird was loaded with well-chosen material.

The Prestwood cut, which opened the album, was issued as the lead single. “The Sound of Goodbye” is an excellent and bright uptempo contemporary number that ranks among my favorites of hers. It hit #1, as did the album’s third single, Tim Krekel’s lightweight rocker “Turning Away.” Gayle just missed the top spot with “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love,” an adult contemporary-leaning piano ballad by Joey Carbone. The fourth and final single, “Me Against The Night,” a nice mid-tempo ballad, peaked at #4.

Crowell, who was Gayle’s labelmate at the time, contributed “Victim or a Fool,” a ballad he recorded on his eponymous album two years earlier. Gayle brought an urgency to her version, courtesy of the electric guitars and driving tempo, that contrasted with the sadness Crowell highlighted with his interpretation. Both recordings are interesting although you can’t ignore Gayle’s commercial sheen – the lyric is all but buried beneath the noise.

John supplied the title track, a ballad he wrote with Bernie Taupin and Davey Johnstone. The lyric, which recounts a celebrity’s tragic life and death, was a reimagining of Édith Piaf’s passing as if she had committed suicide. The tone may be grim, but Gayle delivers a gorgeous performance of a spectacular song.

“Take Me Home” was lifted from the soundtrack of a Francis Ford Coppola movie of the same name. The album consisted of duets and solo performances by Gayle and Tom Waits, who composed the songs himself. The ballad is stunning and excused from not being country at all, thanks to its origin.

Norman Saleet, another composer far outside the country realm, shows up on Cage The Songbird with “On Our Way To Love,” a ballad outside of my tastes. Saleet is best known for writing Air Supply’s “Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You)” and you can hear that influence in the melody here as well.

Of the prominent producers in country music through the years, I probably like Bowen’s work the least. He’s not distasteful to his artists, but his bland tendencies have marred his work significantly. His choices aren’t in the least bit country, either, which probably aids in my overall dissatisfaction. To that end, I really wanted to enjoy Cage The Songbird and I do find many of the album’s tracks, especially “The Sound of Goodbye” very appealing. But while I can mostly appreciate the crossover aspects, the majority of the ballads just don’t hold my attention.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Wild Angels’

wild angelsMartina McBride is one of the most technically gifted vocalists in country music, and her style was ideally suited to the 90s with its mix of contemporary shine and more traditional elements (although the latter tended to reduce over time), good songs, and great vocals. Her third album, 1995’s Wild Angels, would seal her star status. Martina took a co-production credit this time alongside Paul Worley and Ed Seay, who had helmed her earlier work. Her vocals are superb throughout this album, and almost every song sounds as though it could have been a successful single. Bookending the set by opening with a baby’s cry and ending with studio chatter, however, is pretentious, self-indulgent and pointless.

The lead single, the charmingly hopeful ‘Safe In The Arms Of Love’, dreams about the prospects of true love some time in the future. A pretty arrangement with an almost Celtic feel and airy backing vocals from co-writers Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose (the third writer was Pat Bunch) contrast nicely with Martina’s powerful lead vocal. It was a cover of a song which was originally recorded by Baillie & The Boys and had been a Canadian country hit for Michelle Wright, but Martina’s version is my favorite. Peaking at #4 on Billboard, it was her second biggest hit to date.

The sunny title track was the second single, and while the efficiently glossy surface of this well-written contemporary country song (written by Matraca Berg, Gary Harrison and Harry Stinson) somehow sounds a little soulless to me, it was very radio-friendly and became Martina’s first #1 hit.

Surprisingly, the last couple of singles failed to repeat this success, even though they are siginifiantly better songs. ‘Phones Are Ringing All Over Town’ is a dramatic ballad (written by Marc Beeson, Kim Vassy and David McKechnie) about a complacent cheating husband’s discovery that he has crossed one line too many and the marriage is over with “nothing to be said”. It was only just a top 30 hit despite the excellence of both song and vocal.

‘Swingin’ Doors’ only just crept into the top 40, but deserved much better. Written by Chapin Hartford, Bobby Boyd and Jim Foster, it is a ballsy, sardonic response to a man the protagonist realizes has been stringing her along with empty promises. The doors to her heart are about to be closed to him. Banked harmonies help to sell the song’s defiance.

The final single (and my favourite), ‘Cry On The Shoulder Of The Road’ peaked at 26. It is in fact one of my favorite Martina McBride recordings ever. It was written by Matraca Berg and Tim Krekel, and portrays a woman whose marriage has reached such a desperate state she just leaves with no destination in mind:

Rollin’ out of Bakersfield
My own private hell on wheels
But this time I’m gone for good…

It makes me feel a little low
Steel guitar on the radio
when its kind of scary teh way these truckers fly
So this is how leaving feels
Drinking coffee and making deals
With the One above to get me through the night

Cause there ain’t no telling what I’ll find
But I might as well move on down the line
There ain’t no comfort to be found in your zip code
I’d rather break down on the highway
With no one to share my load
Cry on the shoulder of the road

Levon Helm’s harmony lends a California country-rock feel to the chorus, while Martina’s full blooded vocal makes her sound vulnerable but determined to make her way, and a tasteful arrangement with steel guitar.

The contemporary sounding mid-tempo ‘A Great Disguise’ has Martina hiding her heartbreak behind “smoke and ice”, with a big emotional chorus. ‘Beyond The Blue’ is quite a pretty song about looking forward to getting past the sorrow of a breakup, and both are quite good.

‘All The Things We’ve Never Done’ (written by Craig Bickhardt and Jeff Pennig) is a gentle love song comparing possible missed opportunities in life with a supportive love. The similarly themed ‘You’ve Been Driving All The Time’ was overtly dedicated to Martina’s husband, whose support had been so instrumental in building her career; it is a sweet if slightly sentimental love song which affirms,

It takes a real man to take a back seat to a woman.

Another love song from the Bunch/Rose/Kennedy writing team, ‘Born To Give My Love To You’ is quite pretty with a string arrangement and multitrack harmonies from Rose and Martina herself.

An energetic cover of ‘Two More Bottles Of Wine’, the Delbert McClinton song best known by Emmylou Harris, is pretty good with a rocking vocal, some fabulous honky tonk piano from John Hobbs, and proves Martina wasn’t just a great balladeer.

This album exemplifies pop-country at its best – good, sometimes great songs, great vocals, and a production which while glossy, is not pretending to be a rock band. The overall mood is of female self-confidence and survival. Even the breakup songs focus on the woman moving on, and this positive image of being a strong woman may have been key to Martina’s success at a time when women in country music were doing better as a group than ever before.

Grade: A

Album Review: Vern Gosdin – ‘Time Stood Still’

Vern’s final studio album for Compleat was released in 1985. Produced by Vern with Robert John Jones, a songwriter probably best known for the Kendalls’ big hit ‘Thank God For The Radio’, the sound is more subtle and less dated than his previous albums. There are still some string arrangements, but far less prominent than before, while Vince Gill and Beverly Gosdin (who was, I believe, Vern’s wife at the time) provide backing vocals.

Sadly, Time Stood Still was not nearly as successful as its predecessors. The lead single, an emotive and completely convincing cover of the heartbreak honky tonk classic ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)’ with great harmonies and piercing fiddle, peaked at a disappointing #20. Country radio was just beginning to be more receptive to traditional sounds than it had been in the past few years, but this record may have come just a little too soon.

The mid-tempo ‘I Know The Way To You By Heart’ was the record’s only other top 40 hit. It is a drifter’s wistful reminiscence and decision to go home (possibly addressed to mother rather than lover), and is a good song if not in Vern’s trademark style:

I’ve slept in some cars and I’ve slept in some bars
And I’ve slept in the arms of some fast falling stars
But there ain’t been one dream that’s come true
Since I left home, since I left you

In the cold just one memory is warm
And in the dark just one light comes on
Though I’m lost there’s one thing I’ve found
I know the way to you
I know the way to you by heart

I know what I’m feeling for you is real
Like the palm of my hand on this old steering wheel
And I’m still on the road I’ve come down
But thanks to you I’m homeward bound

While it wasn’t a big hit, the single did make Billboard writer Edward Morris’s list of the ten best of that year.

The three last singles all performed dismally and well below their deserts, perhaps because Vern was about to jump ship and the label to fold. The simple but beautifully interpreted ballad ‘It’s Only Love Again’ is something of a hidden gem, written by Tim Krekel. ‘Was It Just The Wine’ has Vern anxiously questioning whether his new love was just a drunken fling or rebound, and is another superb vocal on an excellent song, written by Vern with Buddy Cannon.

Was it just a memory of someone before you telling me we’re through?
Did I hold your body close to mine?
Did we make promises till the end of time?
Did we fall in love?
Or was it just the wine?

Finally, the absolutely lovely title track (penned by co-producer Jones) has an understated vocal and perfectly judged phrasing about the complete devastation of true love turned to heartbreak:

You made my heart complete
Then broke it at my feet
Time stood still
When you said goodbye

And now the seasons don’t change
The days have no names
Today’s like yesterday
I lean on the wine
But your memory, like time,
Baby, won’t slip away

To get you off my mind
Just takes a little time
Baby, time stood still
When you said goodbye

Beverly comes in effectively echoing Vern in the last chorus in the same style as Janie Fricke’s work with him. This is a stunning performance which stands up well against Vern’s classics and really didn’t deserve to be ignored by country radio.

‘For A Minute There’ is another excellent song with a melancholic feel song along the same lines as his later ‘Alone’, if not quite as intense. Written by Max D Barnes with Beverly, it has the protagonist briefly imagining losing a lover, with a beautifully measured, precise vocal:

For a minute there I thought my world was ending
For a minute there I thought you said goodbye

‘What A Price I’ve Paid’ is even better, a mournful, steel-laced lost love ballad written by Vern and Max D Barnes which stands comparison with Vern’s best work. A lovelorn Vern just can’t take his friends’ advice to move on:

If time does the healing
It ain’t done a thing for me yet
They say that love is life
And I guess they’re right this time
I nearly lost my mind when I lost you
And I was so afraid I’d never find my way
God, what a price I’ve paid to love you

‘Rainbows And Roses’ is a pretty sounding but lyrically unremarkable and slightly old fashioned love song, written by Max D Barnes and Rayburn Anthony. The mid-tempo ‘Two Lonely Hearts (Out Of Hand)’, written by Vern with Buddy Cannon and producer Robert John Jones, is about a couple falling in love with a girl met in a bar room, dancing to the jukebox, and Vern has a bit of a growl adding bite.

The hymn ‘Jesus Hold My Hand was repeated from If Jesus Comes Tomorrow ( What Then)?, Vern’s Christian album released on Compleat in 1984. It’s not as good as the title track of the latter, and feels a bit out of place here, but is a pleasant enough listening experience with solid piano-led backing and churchy backing vocals.

Vern’s relative lack of commercial success at this time was countered by the respect of his peers and the industry. He may have been in his fifties and have enjoyed a relatively low-level career to date, but he was soon to get a new opportunity with Columbia. Time Stood Still has been overlooked as it produced no big hits, and is overshadowed by its successor, which was to bring Vern an unexpected late career boost and some of the finest country music ever recorded. However, on its own merits there is some great stuff here. It was re-released on American Harvest and later on Vern’s own VGM Records in 1998, so is easy to find.

Grade: A-