My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Tom Shapiro

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘The Forester Sisters’

Not many realize it, but the Forester Sisters were the first all-female group (defined as three or more members) to have sustained success on Billboard’s Country Singles charts. In fact, they are still the female group boasting the most top ten singles with fifteen.

The Forester Sisters’ first foray came with the eponymous album The Forester Sisters, released in August 1985. The album opens up with the first single “(That’s What You Do) When You’re In Love” which made its chart debut on January 28,1985.The song would reach #10, the first in a string of fourteen consecutive top ten county singles, five of which reached #1. The song is a mid-tempo ballad about forgiveness, written by Terry Skinner, Ken Bell and J. L. Wallace.

Well, the door’s unlocked and the lights still on
And the covers turned down on the bed
And you don’t have to say that you’re sorry anymore
‘Cause honey I believe what you said
If there’s anybody perfect, well, I ain’t seem ’em yet
And we all gotta learn to forgive and forget
That’s what you do when you’re in love, in love
That’s what you do when you’re in love

Next up is “I Fell In Love Again Last Night” , a mid-tempo ballad from the pens of Paul Overstreet and Thom Schuyler. This song was the second single off the album and the group’s first #1 record.

I fell in love again last night
You keep doing everything just right
You’ve got me wrapped around your fingers
And every morning the love still lingers
I fell in love again last night

“Just in Case”, written by J.P. Pennington & Sonny LeMaire of Exile, first saw the light of day on Exile’s 1984 Kentucky Hearts album. An up-tempo ballad, The Forester Sisters released it as their third single and saw it sail to #1:

I saw you walkin’ down the street just the other day
Took one little look at me and turned the other way
Can’t say I blame you but I’d like for you to know
How wrong I was to ever let you go

Just in case, you ever change your mind
If you suddenly decide to give me one more try
I’ll be waiting in the wings, just lookin’ for a sign
Just in case you change your mind

“Reckless Night” by Alice Randall & Mark D. Sanders is a slow ballad about a single mother – the baby the result of a reckless night.

“Dixie Man” by Bell, Skinner & Wallace) is an up-tempo tune with an R&B vibe to it. The song might have made a decent single but with four singles on the album, the group had pushed the limits of the time.

Next up is “Mama’s Never Seen Those Eyes” by Skinner & Wallace, the fourth single from the album and third consecutive #1 record. The song is a mid-tempo ballad and the song that immediately comes to my mind when anyone mentions the Forster Sisters to me.

Mama says I shouldn’t be going with you
Mama says she knows best
You’ll take my heart and break it in two
‘Cause you’re just like all the rest
She says that you’re just a one night man
And you’ll end up hurting me
Aw But I’ve seen something that mama ain’t ever seen

Mama’s never looked into those eyes, felt the way that they hypnotize
She don’t know how they make me feel inside
If Mama ever knew what they do to me I think she’d be surprised
Aw Mama’s never seen those eyes
Mama’s never seen those eyes

“The Missing Part” was written by Paul Overstreet & Don Schlitz and covers a topic that the sisters would revisit from a different slant on a later single. This song is a slow ballad.

“Something Tells Me” from the pens of Chris Waters & Tom Shapiro) is a mid-tempo cautionary ballad about rushing into a relationship

The next track is “Crazy Heart” written by Rick Giles & Steve Bogard. The song is a mid-tempo ballad that I regard as nothing more than album filler, albeit well sung.

The album closes with Bobby Keel & Billy Stone’s composition “Yankee Don’t Go Home”, a slow ballad about a southern girl who has lost her heart to a fellow from up north. Judging to feedback from friends who have heard this song this might have made a decent single

The Forester Sisters would prove to be the group’s most successful album, reaching #4 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. In fact the album would prove to be their only top ten album, although another seven albums would chart. The album has traditional country lyrics and vocals although the accompaniment has that 80s sound in places, particularly when it comes to the keyboards. The musicians on this album are Kenny Bell – acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Sonny Garrish – steel guitar; Owen Hale – drums; Hubert “Hoot” Hester – fiddle, mandolin; Lonnie “Butch” Ledford – bass guitar; Will McFarlane – acoustic guitar; Steve Nathan – keyboards;J. L. Wallace – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards; and John Willis – acoustic guitar. Terry Skinner and J.L. Wallace produced the album and co=wrote two of the singles.

I should note that my copy of the album is on vinyl so the sequence of the songs may vary on other formats. Anyway, I would give this album an A-

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Album Review: Linda Davis – ‘Linda Davis’

In 1992, Linda released her second album. Like the first it was produced by label boss Jimmy Bowen, with Linda getting a co-production credit, but it was uninspiringly self-titled. Where her earlier singles had failed to make much impact, the singles from this record were resoundingly ignored by country radio.

The reason why is clear when you listen to ‘There’s Something ‘Bout Loving You’, an upbeat but thoroughly forgettable pop-country song which now sounds very dated. It was written by hitmakers Chris Waters and Tom Shapiro, but was one of their poorest efforts, and a really bad choice for a single for an artist hoping to make her breakthrough. The follow-up, Dewayne Blackwell’s ‘He Isn’t My Affair Anymore’ is a much better song, an emotional ballad which Linda delivers with conviction, although it has a bit of a musical theater vibe.

The best song on the album is a cover of John Conlee’s 1982 hit, ‘Years After You’, which Linda manages to make her own with a lovely, emotionally invested vocal, although the production has not aged well, and the backing vocals are curiously old-fashioned for an album made in 1992. But the song itself is a great Thom Schuyler song about an enduring love which long survives a breakup:

I knew that it wouldn’t be easy
For my heart to find somebody new
But I never thought
It still would be broken in two
These years after you

They tell me time is a natural healer
It kinda smooths the pain away
But this hurtin’ within hasn’t yet given in
And it’s been over 2000 days
I still remember the taste of your kisses
And your eyes that were beautifully blue
I can still hear the sound of your voice
When you said we were through

There’ve been mornings when I couldn’t wake up
There’ve been evenings when I couldn’t sleep
My life will be fine for months at a time
Then I’ll break down and cry for a week
‘Cause when I told you I’d love you forever
I know you didn’t think it was true
But forever is nothing compared to some nights I’ve been through
These years after you

‘LA To The Moon’, another emotional ballad, is a fine song written by Susan Longacre and Lonnie Wilson about a country star and the hometown sweetheart left behind:

You were always different
Had a big dream in your heart
This old cowtown couldn’t hold you down
Once you caught your spark
I stood out on the runway
And watched you taxi past
I would’ve gone anywhere with you
But you never asked

You went from Beaumont to LA
And LA to the moon
An overnight success
You put a lot of years into
You tell me nothing’s different
I’m just a call away from you
But it feels more like the distance
from LA to the moon

‘Isn’t That What You Told Her’ is another excellent song, written by Karen Staley and Karen Harrison, with a barbed lyric addressed to a man with a questionable past record in love by his new love interest, who is understandably dubious. It is very well sung, but once more with dated backings.

‘Tonight She’s Climbing The Walls’ is a story song about a neglected wife ready to make a break, written by Craig Bickhardt and very well sung by Linda. ‘The Boy Back Home’, written by Gary Harrison and Tim Mensy, is another ballad, about nostalgia for a first love, and is quite nice in a more contemporary style.

Of the up-tempo material, ‘Just Enough Rope’ (later cut by Rick Trevino) is fun. ‘Love Happens’ and ‘Do I Do It To You To Too’ are both forgettable pieces of filler.

As a whole, this album is hampered by some of the production choices, but it did show Linda was a great singer given the right material, and some tracks are definitely worth downloading.

The commercial failure of this record was to lead to an unexpected second chapter in Linda’s career. Released by her label, she signed up as Reba McEntire’s backing vocalist, and the result would make country music history.

Grade: B

Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘When The Wrong One Loves You Right’

After Wade’s cover of ‘Wichita Lineman’ failed to catch fire, the recording was swiftly removed from his upcoming album. The next single, which became the true lead single for 1998’s When The Wrong One Loves You Right, was much more successful, reaching #5. It is a great story song written by Mark D Sanders and Steve Diamond, about a young Oklahoma couple, told with subtlety. Led in with a wistful fiddle, the narrator is blindsided by his girlfriend’s pregnancy and her subsequent shame-filled choices:

No, she wasn’t showing yet
But she’d be by Christmas time
Up there like a fool
I took for granted it was mine
She never came out and told me I was wrong
But all of a sudden the light came on
The day that she left Tulsa
In a Chevy in a hurry in the pouring down rain
With the caution lights flashing in the passing lane
From a bridge I watched our dreams going down the drain

I guess she thought the truth would end up driving me away
Well, she was wrong
But I never had the chance to say

This is an outstanding song and performance. Unfortunately the title track did not repeat its predecessor’s chart performance, failing to make the top 40. It’s an up-tempo Leslie Satcher song which is actually pretty good.

The mournful undertones in Wade’s voice are perfect for the next single, ‘How Do You Sleep At Night’, written by Jim McBride and Jerry Salley, as he reproaches his ex:

Do you see me when you close your eyes?
How do you sleep at night?

Now your side of the bed’s as cold
As the lies that I believed
I’m at the point when I can’t even trust you in my dreams
Did the way you left me leave you feeling proud?

This time he was rewarded with a #13 peak for what proved to be his last hit single.

Wade’s last single for Columbia was the song originally intended as the album’s title track. ‘Tore Up from the Floor Up’ is an up-tempo honky tonker which is quite good but not very memorable.

Wade co-wrote two of the songs. ‘Are We Having Fun Yet’ (written with Chick Rains and Lonnie Wilson) is a good honky tonk number about a married man who discovers the grass isn’t greener on the party side of life. ‘One More Night With You’, written with Rains and producer Don Cook, is a decent mid-tempo tune about the dreariness of a working life contrasted with a happy love life.

‘Summer Was A Bummer’ is a charming song penned by Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran which Dillon had recorded himself a decade or so earlier and Ty Herndon also cut. It is a closely observed conversational number about a college girl’s coming home to her hometown (and her farm-based sweetheart) after a year away. Wade’s vocal is exquisite, and there is some lovely fiddle.

‘If I Wanted To Forget’ is a beautiful sad ballad written by Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters about not fully letting go of an old love. ‘Mine To Lose’, written by Paul Nelson, Larry Boone and Matt King, is addressed to the protagonist’s ex’s new love, regretting his own past failures, and is another fine song. Lewis Anderson and Jason Sellers wrote the delicate ballad ‘This Is My Heart Talking Now’, a last ditch plea to a loved one not to give up on their relationship.

This record was not as successful commercially as it deserved to be, but it is well worth rediscovering.

Grade: A

Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘On A Good Night’

Released in June 1996, On A Good Night was Wade’s second album on Columbia. Produced by Don Cook, who also sings background on the album, the album climbed to #11 on the country albums chart and reached gold (500,000 sales) status. The album features a Who’s Who of Nashville session musician with Bruce Bouton on steel guitar, Mark Casstevens on acoustic guitar, Rob Hajacos on fiddle, Dennis Burnside on piano and organ, Brent Mason on electric guitar, Glenn Worf on bass guitar and Lonnie Wilson on drums. This is nothing if not a country album.

The album opens up with the title track, written by Larry Boone, Don Cook and Paul Nelson. The first single released from the album, it topped out at #2 on Billboard’s Country chart. The song is a rocking up-tempo romp:

On a good night I could hop in my truck
Round up my friends and with any kind of luck
We could end up howling at a harvest moon
On a good night I could put on my hat
Head down to the honky tonk and dance
But on a real good night I meet a women like you

Brown hair blue eyes once in a life time countrified kind of girl
Heart-breaking chance-taking wild little love making
Shaking up my world
Hey on a good night I can picture the day
All my dreams come true
But on a real good night I meet a women like you

Next up is a nice cover of the Willie Nelson- Hank Cochran collaboration, “Undo The Right”. The original was a top ten hit in 1968 by the ‘Country Caruso’ Johnny Bush. Bush’s recording is one of my top ten all-time favorite recordings. Hayes is no Johnny Bush, but he acquits himself well.

“The Room” was written by Chris Waters and Tom Shapiro. Chris is the brother of the late Holly Dunn and produced many of her records. The song is a slow ballad, rather introspective song of getting over the loss of love. It makes a nice change of pace but would not have made a good single.

Wade collaborated with Chick Rains and the redoubtable Bill Anderson on the up-tempo “It’s Over My Head” . The song was released as the third single from the album and topped out at #46. It’s a good song, well sung and I do not understand why it failed to do better:

That just goes to show how crazy love can be
Look at us now baby who would have thought it
I don’t know why you chose me

It’s over my head and I’m six feet tall
This beats anything I ever saw
Well I don’t see what you see in me at all
It’s over my head and I’m six feet tall

Marty Stuart and Chick Rains wrote “ I Still Do”. The song is a medium-slow ballad that I think could have made an effective single. This is not the same song that was a top twenty country hit for Bill Medley in 1984.

Don Cook and Chick Rains teamed up for “My Side of Town”, an up-tempo rocker that serves well to keep tempos appropriately varied on the album.

Wade Hayes and Chick Rains wrote “Where Do I Go To Start All Over”. Released as the second single from the album, the song stiffed, only reaching #42. It’s a nice ballad but and I’m not sure why it didn’t do better, especially since the previous five singles all went top ten or better.

I drove around last night, and tried with all my might
To leave the past behind, cause you stayed on my mind
So I stopped for a drink, I never stopped to think
That it wouldn’t work, It just made it worse
So I came on back home, I hadn’t changed a thing
And sat here all alone, missing you and wondering

Where do I go to start all over
From your memory
Where do I go to start all over
When in your arms is where I won’t be

“Our Time Is Coming was written by Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn and appeared on their Hard Workin’ Man album. The song is a dramatic ballad that Wade does masterfully – in fact it is my favorite song on the album, and I much prefer Wade’s recording to that of Brooks & Dunn.

Times are hard and the money’s tight
Day to day we fight that fight
Nothing new, it’s the same old grind
Uphill all the way

Boss man says forget the raise
Preacher says to keep the faith
Good things come to those who wait
Tomorrow’s another day

Our time is coming
When or where the good Lord only knows
Our time is coming
When this road we’re on will turn to a street of gold

Long as we keep love alive
Something tells me we’ll survive
It’s the little things that’ll get us by
And hold us together

I feel it when you hold me close
Baby we got more than most
Steady through the highs and lows
We’ll go on forever

The album closes with “Hurts Don’t It”, a ballad from the pens of Sam Hogin, Jim McBride & Greg Holland, and the mid-tempo semi-autobiographical “This Is the Life for Me” that Hayes penned with Chick Rains & Gary Nicholson. Dennis Burnside’s piano is well featured on this track.

I really liked this album and would give it an A-.

I am sure that Wade and producer Don Cook was greatly disappointed by the poor chart performance of the last two singles from the album. Accordingly they tried something different.

Unfortunately, that effort failed miserably. As I sit here writing this article I am listening to the single release that effectively killed Wade Hayes’ career at country radio. Intended as the initial single for the next album When The Wrong One Loves You Right, radio reaction to Wade’s cover of the old Glen Campbell hit “Wichita Lineman” single was so negative that the single was withdrawn (it peaked at #55) and ultimately did not appear on that album.

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Labor of Love’

Like most other veteran acts, Janie Fricke was struggling to remain commercially relevant as the 1980s drew to a close. After scoring her final #1 hit, “Always Have, Always Will” in 1986, she suffered a sharp decline in her chart success, from which she never recovered. Although she had shifted to a more traditional sound, Labor of Love, her major label swan song, still had its share of songs that were more pop-leaning than radio was interested in at the time.

Two singles were released from the album – ironically the two weakest songs on the disc and neither one reached the Top 40. “Love Is One of Those Words”, from the usually reliable songwriting team of Holly Dunn, Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters, is a rather lackluster synthesizer-heavy ballad that was completely out of step with the more traditional fare being offered on radio. It peaked at #56. The second single was the Dave Loggins composition “Give ‘em My Number” which is probably my least favorite single of Fricke’s career. It attempts to be bluesy and sassy, and while she skillfully pulled off that style a few years earlier with “Always Have, Always Will” this time around her performance seems forced and the song just does not work for her. It charted a little higher than “Love Is One of Those Words”, landing at #43. It would be Janie’s final single for Columbia Records. Fortunately, the rest of the album is much better. It’s tempting to point fingers at the label for choosing the wrong singles but even if they had made different choices, it likely would have made little difference. Radio had moved on to newer artists and was finished with Janie Fricke, no matter what kind of musical choices she made.

“What Are You Doing Here With Me” is a very pretty ballad from the husband and wife songwriting team of Bill Rice and Mary Sharon Rice. It casts Janie as the other woman – or perhaps a would-be other woman, the extent to which the relationship has progressed is unclear. At any rate she has grown weary of listening to her partner singing the praises of his perfect wife and family, and rightly asks him if things are so wonderful at home, “What are you doing here with me?” “Walking On the Moon” is an upbeat tune about young love and was country enough to have had hit single potential. It is my favorite song on the album and likely would have been a hit if Janie had stumbled across it a few years earlier.
A handful of other songs on the album were recorded by other artists at one stage or another. “I Can’t Help The Way That I Don’t Feel” had appeared on Sylvia’s 1985 album One Step Closer. It’s the type of ballad that is best served by minimal production, and that is where Janie’s version falters. It starts off well but the chorus is too bombastic. “One of Those Things” would become a Top 10 hit for one of its writers, Pam Tillis, in another two years. Janie’s version compares admirably to Pam’s. I would have released it as a single. She also does a stellar job on the album’s closing track, Steve Earle’s “My Old Friend the Blues”, which would later appear on a Patty Loveless album.

One other song, “Last Thing I Didn’t Do”, though not one of my favorites, is noteworthy as one Janie’s very few songwriting credits. She wrote the song with Randy Jackson, who I believe was her former manager and ex-husband (and not the former American Idol judge). Aside from this bit of trivia, there’s nothing particularly interesting about the song itself.

Labor of Love is a solid, if slightly uneven capstone to Janie’s major label career. Although none of its songs qualify as essential listening, it’s still an album that Janie’s fans will want to give a spin, if they haven’t already.


Grade: B+

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Somewhere In The Night’

When discussing country music released in the late 1980s, it’s almost customary to frame it within the context of the new traditionalist movement. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that not every artist releasing albums at that time adhered to the sound ushered in by Randy Travis on Storms of Life. Acts like Alabama, K.T. Oslin, Rosanne Cash and others were sticking with the pop-country sound that had dominated the better part of the decade. These artists were not only going against the trend, they were dominating at radio alongside everyone else.

You can easily add Sawyer Brown to this category, as well. Their fourth album, Somewhere In The Night, arrived in May 1987 under the direction of Ron Chancey. He had taken over for Randy Scruggs who wouldn’t produce a Sawyer Brown album until The Boys Are Back, two years later. Many know Chancey’s son Blake from his notable production work with David Ball, Dixie Chicks, Montgomery Gentry and Gretchen Wilson in the 1990s-2000s.

Sawyer Brown wasn’t exactly dominating at this point in their career. When Somewhere In The Night was released, the band was on a streak of six consecutive singles missing the top 10. Their most recent, “Savin’ The Honey for the Honeymoon” has petered out at #58. They needed a reverse in fortunes, and while this wasn’t the album to get them there, it did give them a slight reprieve with radio.

The title track, co-written by Don Cook and Rafe VanHoy, had originally appeared on the Oak Ridge Boys classic Fancy Free six years earlier. Sawyer Brown’s version retains a 1980s sheen, complete with dated harmonies and synth piano, but is otherwise an excellent and restrained ballad. The track peaked at #29.

The album’s biggest success came when second single “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine” peaked at #2. The ballad, co-written by Mike Geiger and Woody Mullis, is a wonderful example of the other side of late 1980s country music. While it might sound a bit dated today, the production is nicely restrained with Chancey framing their harmonies beautifully.

Kix Brooks, Kenneth Beal, and Bill McClelland are responsible for the album’s final single, “Old Photographs,” which stalled at #27. The lush ballad isn’t a strong one, a bit of filler that never would’ve made it as a single in any other era.

“In This Town,” co-written by Tom Shapiro and Michael Garvin, would’ve made a fantastic choice for a single, and probably would’ve sailed up the charts behind “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine.” Everything about the ballad is on point, from the melody to the harmonies.

Somewhere In The Night contains its share of uptempo material, so it’s curious why the label didn’t see fit to break the ballad fatigue with one of these tracks. Two such songs were solely penned by Dennis Linde. “Dr. Rock N. Roll” is a slice of catchy slick pop while “Lola’s Love” is a nice dose of country-rock. The latter is the better song, and as a single for Ricky Van Shelton from his 1994 album Love and Honor, it peaked at #62. Linde also wrote “Still Life In Blue,” a mid-tempo ballad with dated accents of synth-pop.

The percussion-heavy “Little Red Caboose” was written by Steve Gibson and Dave Loggins and recorded by Lee Greenwood on his 1985 release, Love Will Find Its Way To You. The results are catchy and brimming with personality.

“Still Hold On” was originally released by its co-writer Kim Carnes in 1981 and Kenny Rogers in 1985. The ballad soars, thanks to Mark Miller’s vocal, which is an outstanding example of pathos that hints at the gravitas he would bring to the band’s 1990s hits “All These Years” and “Treat Her Right.”

The final track, “A Mighty Big Broom” was written solely by Miller. It’s the album’s most adventurous track, with a rock-leaning arrangement and a silly lyric.

When approaching Somewhere In The Night, I fully expected not to be able to pick out the Sawyer Brown I know from this set of songs. I came to the band like all my country music, in 1996, long after “The Walk” had revolutionized their sound and grounded them with depth and substance. So I was surprised I could hear subtle hints of what the band would eventually become, on this album. It’s a stellar project through and through, with a nice batch of above average material.

Grade: A

Album Review: Little Texas – ‘Little Texas’

little-texasThe sands of time ran out quickly for Little Texas as their eponymous fourth album, their last for Warner Brothers, barely charted reaching #47. By this time lead singer Brady Seals had departed the band leaving Tim Rushlow in charge of lead vocals.

Little Texas
hit the marketplace thirty-one months after their third album, a delay that probably didn’t help their chances in the ever changing market. The three singles released from the album all tanked at radio with none reaching the top forty. Despite this, I regard this as possibly their best album, with tighter vocal harmonies and a nice array of songs.

The album opens with “Loud and Proud”, written in part by band member Porter Howell. This is one of the weaker songs on the album, sounding more rock than country, but it is not bad:

Show me a mountain
Tell me it can’t be climbed
I’ll find my way through any shadow of doubt
And I’ll meet you on the other side

I love a good challenge
Send them all my way
I’ll rise to any occasion
I am not afraid

To be loud and proud
And givin’ in to nothin’
Livin’ and a lovin’
I’ll never get enough
And all the ups and downs
I take ’em as they come
And I’ll be right here standing my ground
Loud and proud

“Bad for Us” from the pens of Porter Howell, Dwayne O’Brien and Tom Shapiro) was the first and most successful single, reaching #45. The song is a nice ballad about a relationship that seems to be on the rocks. Several radio stations featured this song as their pick of the week, but the song never did generate any momentum, not surprisingly since more than a year had passed since the band’s last single.

You really got a good one in
You hit me where it hurts
Just so you wouldn’t get the best of me
I fired back somethin’ worse

I put you down
You show me up
Good for you
Good for me
Bad for us

We keep goin’ around and ’round
When’s it gonna stop
Real love’s not a matter of
Who comes out on top

“Ain’t No Time to Be Afraid” by Porter Howell and Allen Shamblin is another nice ballad, this one rather philosophical in nature. I would have picked this song for single release:

I was scared half to death
I couldn’t catch my breath
‘Cause that old tree down by the river
Was thirty feet high

That’s when I heard my daddy’s voice
He said, Son you’ve got a choice
You can climb down now
Or you can fly

This ain’t no time to be afraid
Or look the other way
If your prayers have all been prayed
Then you just let it come what may

If you’re not brave enough to try
Then life will pass you by
All we have is today
There ain’t no time to be afraid

“Long Way Down” sounds more like up-tempo 60s pop than anything else. Nashville songsmith Bob DiPiero co-wrote this with Porter Howell and O’Brien.

The second single off the album was “Your Mama Won’t Let Me”, which died at #64 on the charts. It is pretty generic, pleasant but not all that memorable. Del Gray, Thom McHugh and Keith Follesé composed this song

Like to take you to the movies on a Saturday night
But your mama won’t let me
Steal you away for a Sunday drive
But your mama won’t let me

She’s one step ahead of me every time
When I get too close she draws that line
Thinks I’m trouble but I’m not that kind
Your mama won’t let me make you mine

“All In The Line of Love” from Porter Howell, Dwayne O’Brien and Stephen Allen Davis is yet another pleasant but fairly generic ballad

I think the label missed a bet in not releasing the Bob DiPiero-Walt Aldridge song “Living in a Bullseye” as a single. I don’t think it would have been a huge hit but I suspect it would have at least cracked the top thirty. The song is a mid-tempo ballad with clever lyrics that would resonate with any blue collar worker:

I heard the whistle blowing as I pulled in the gate
I knew without looking, I was already late
Praying the boss wouldn’t catch me again
Sweating bullets while I was sneaking in

I’m living in a bullseye, ground zero
It’s kinda scary when the arrows fly
I ain’t trying to be no superhero
I duck and cover just to stay alive
Living in a bullseye

Eight hours later, at a half past five
I’m listening to my radio and pulling in the drive
The music telling me a thing that’s good
So I’m crossing all my fingers and I’m knocking on wood

“The Call” by Walt Aldridge and Tim Rushlow was the final single released from the album, peaking at #71. It’s a nice ballad with sleek vocal harmonies. I heard it quit a bit here in Central Florida, but it apparently tanked elsewhere:

You can run but you can’t hide
You can keep it all inside
Take it from a fool who’s tried it all
Pay attention to a friend
Who swore he’d never fall again
You’re gonna answer
When you get the call

“Yesterday’s Gone Forever” (Dwayne O’Brien, Jim Rushing) has the feel and sound of eighties country minus the annoying synthesizers. When released it really had no singles potential, but I can recall times when this introspective ballad would have done very well with radio:

For all of my good intentions
Heartfelt every one
I’ve left so much love unspoken
So much of life I’ve left undone

I could’ve made a difference
I just never made the time
Now yesterday’s gone forever
And today ain’t far behind

Should’ve taken that job in Dallas
Or the one in San Antone
Should’ve left that girl in the city
And married the one back home

I’d love to run back through the years
To tell her I was blind
But yesterday’s gone forever
And today ain’t far behind

The album closes with the Porter Howell – Chuck Jones rocker “If I Don’t Get Enough of You”.

If I don’t get enough of you
I can’t think, I can’t sleep
If I don’t get enough of you
I can’t eat, I get weak

Without you there to hold me tight
Well, I can’t make it through the night
I don’t know what I’m gonna do
If I don’t get enough of you

If I don’t get enough of you
I don’t act like I should
If I don’t get enough of you
It’s a fact, I’m no good

I think this is a better album than their first three efforts – good production, decent songs (none of the Texas chauvinism that marred earlier albums) and a really tight band augmented by Jeff Huskins on fiddle and piano, and Dan Dugmore & Sonny Garrish on pedal steel guitar, plus really good harmony vocals.

Why then did this album tank ?

I think the answer is three-fold:

1) There apparently some element of dissension in the band. Both Brady Seals and Tim Rushlow thought that they could become big solo stars, something that neither achieved.

2) A long lapse between the release of the third and fourth albums – to put it bluntly, radio forgot about them.

3) Changes in the country music market place which ultimately led to the domination of faux country acts like Rascal Flatts and Jason Aldean.

I would give this album an A-

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Clay Walker’

Clay-WalkerJames Stroud, the mastermind behind Clint Black’s brilliant Killin’ Time, was the orchestrator behind Clay Walker’s self-titled debut album and the man behind his record deal with Giant Records. The proverbial thinking was that magic could strike twice, which it almost certainly did.

The uptempo “What’s It To You,” co-written by Curtis Wright and Robert Ellis Orrall, was chosen as the first single in July 1993. The song, which Wright had recorded a year earlier, shot to #1. The song is very, very good although I can’t help but feel it’s slightly unremarkable.

Walker followed with the brilliant self-penned “Live Until I Die,” a bright autobiographical tribute to his grandparents he wrote when he was seventeen. It also landed at #1 and set in motion Walker’s signature sound – twangy uptempos bursting with effervescence and optimism.

The fourth single, “Dreaming With My Eyes Wide Open,” would follow this trajectory and notch Walker his third chart topper. Written solely by the always-impeccable Tony Arata, it’s the perfect single that marries an infectious melody with an inspiring lyric about living in the moment that bursts with undeniable joy and never gets heavy handed. It’s no surprise the track was featured on the soundtrack to the movie The Thing Called Love.

Sandwiched between the gorgeous uptempo numbers is the self-penned ballad “Where Do I Fit In The Picture,” which stalled just outside the top ten. The track proves Walker has the goods to sufficiently emote a heart-wrenching lyric and the arrangement has a nice dose of steel.

Walker solely wrote two more tracks on the album. “Money Can’t Buy (The Love We Had)” is a wonderful steel-drenched uptempo number that’s a bit of filler, but still easy on the ears. Steel also dominates “Next Step In Love,” a ballad about furthering one’s commitment in a relationship. He co-wrote “The Silence Speaks For Itself,” an unexceptional sinister ballad, with Chris Waters and Tom Shapiro.

“How To Make A Man Lonesome” has nice steel and fiddle-laced production, but is neither here nor there. “White Palace” is an attempt to pander to the line dance craze and by any standard is awful, with a cringe-worthy rhyme scheme in the chorus. He redeems himself with “Things I Should’ve Said,” a worthy ballad that easily could’ve been a single. “I Don’t Know How Love Starts” is excellent and the strongest of this record’s album cuts.

Walker’s debut album is a mixed bag of brilliant 90s country excellence and songs that teeter on the verge of average to below average. Stroud is a capable producer who showcases Walker’s considerable talents wonderfully. Clay Walker is a worthy debut from an artist who would more than live up to his promise in the decade to come.

Grade: B

Album Review: Highway 101 & Paulette Carlson – ‘Reunited’

51HKJyMSbOLSix years after she left for an abortive attempt at a solo career, Paulette Carlson rejoined briefly with bassist Curtis Stone and guitarist Jack Daniels, who had left in 1993.

Gone was drummer Cactus Moser. Also gone was the musical environment that had spawned Highway 101, and any sort of major label record deal as the new album was released on Intersound, a label primarily know for releases by obscure artists, and albums of remakes by over-the-hill first and second tier artists of the not too distant past. Carlson and Daniels would soon depart again and neither has been part of Highway 101 since 1997.

Reunited was released in 1996 and was comprised of twelve tracks. Four of the tracks were reprises of earlier Highway 101 singles (“The Bed You Made for Me”, “Setting Me Up”, “All the Reason Why” and “Walkin’, Talkin’, Cryin’, Barely Beatin’ Broken Heart”). Two new singles (“Where’d You Get Your Cheatin’ From” and “It Must Be Love”) were released, neither of which charted, and there were six other songs on the album.

While I looked forward to getting the album, I found that I was somewhat disappointed in the sound of the album as the overall sound was much louder than previous albums. I also found the album’s use of percussion somewhat jarring. There are points in which the drums are the predominant sound.

The album opens with “Where’d You Get Your Cheatin’ From”, written by Paulette Carlson, Tom Shapiro, and Chris Waters. Had the song been released in 1988 rather than 1996, and with slightly different production, the song would have been a hit single. Unfortunately radio in 1996 was not really friendly to honky-tonk music

“The Bed You Made for Me” was one of Highway 101’s biggest hits, reaching #4 in 1987. This version sticks pretty close to the original arrangement

“Holdin’ On”, written by Christy Seamans and Curtis Stone is a sad song about lost love and abandonment, taken at a slower tempo. It’s a nice album track, nothing more.

Much the same can be said of “Hearts on the Run”, a Larry Butler, Jeff Sauls & Susan Sauls composition. The percussion of is much more subdued on this track, and frankly it sounds more like a Paulette Carlson single than a Highway 101 track.

Mark Knopfler’s “Setting Me Up” is next, a cover that reached #7 in 1989. The arrangement is fairly faithful to the original version, but the track runs about thirty seconds longer than the original version.

Paulette Carlson wrote “She Don’t Have the Heart to Love You” a nice ballad and better than average album track.

In my opinion “Texas Girl” penned by Paulette Carlson, Gene Nelson and Jeff Pennig is the best song on the album, a song that would have been a hit if released anytime between 1950 and 1990. The song is a excellent two-step with one of Paulette’s better vocals. Even in 1996 it might have made a successful single

Another of Highway 101’s hits follows in “All the Reasons Why” by Paulette Carlson and Beth Nielsen Chapman. The song reached #5 in 1988.

“Walkin’, Talkin’, Cryin’, Barely Beatin’ Broken Heart” from the tandem of Roger Miller and Justin Tubb was a surprise hit in 1989, a cover of a Johnnie Wright hit from 1964. This version is true to their #4 hit from a few years earlier. I think Roger Miller had the best version of the song on one of his albums, but this version is very close. In my opinion (humble or otherwise) this is classic country songwriting

If you see me in some corner looking like all hope is gone
If you see me sit for hours and you wonder what is wrong
Well, it hurts to talk about it but my world just fell apart
I’m a walkin’, talkin’, cryin’, barely beatin’ broken heart

Did you see the teardrops fallin’ and the tremble in my hands
Then you’ll know that there’s a story and nobody understands
It’s a sad and lonely story but I’ll try to make it short
I’m a walkin’, talkin’, cryin’, barely beatin’ broken heart

Tony Haselden and Harold Shedd were responsible for “I’ve Got Your Number”, a rather sardonic song that might have made a decent single in another time and place (and perhaps in another genre)

Now word’s around you’re back in town and headed for my heart
I’m not the same I’m one old flame that you ain’t gonna start
There ain’t no doubt the fire went out when you broke this heart in two
So honey, don’t call me til I call you You know
I’ve got your number But your phone ain’t gonna ring off the wall
Because I’ve got your number and honey, that’s the reason I won’t call.

Another decent album track as is the Curtis Stone – Debi Cochran composition “It Must Be Love”.

The final track “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” comes from the pens of Bryan Adams, Michael Kamen and Robert John “Mutt” Lange). At the time this album was released, Lange was a few years prior to the mega-success he would experience with his then wife Shania Twain. This song is essentially a Paulette Carlson solo effort. It’s not a bad song but at 5:43 the song is just too long.

This isn’t a bad album, initial reservations notwithstanding. I will say that I was surprised at how integral a part of the Highway 101 sound was Cactus Moser. While John Wesley Ryles is an outstanding background singer (and probably should have been a star in his own right), the vocal blend of Curtis Stone, Jack Daniels and John Wesley Ryles is not the same as that of Curtis Stone, Jack Daniels and Cactus Moser, and the album suffers for it. The CD is an enhanced CD which contains some extra videos and text when played on a CD-ROM drive

I’d give this album a solid B .

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Cold Beer Conversation’

cold beer conversationAlbums these days are usually announced well in advance, with much anxious testing of the waters and delays if singles under-perform. So it was a big shock when George Strait suddenly released his new album on iTunes with just a few days’ notice. It is his first album since retiring from the road, although he simultaneously announced a short Vegas residency.

‘Let It Go’, the first single, sadly showed that country radio has moved on [from real country music] and there is no longer a place for the most consistent hitmaker of the past 35 years. A relaxed tune about taking life as it comes, it was written by Strait with son Bubba and Keith Gattis.

The same trio teamed up with old friend Dean Dillon to write one of the standout songs. ‘Everything I See’, a touching tribute to Strait’s late father John Byron Strait, who died in 2013. The tasteful production support the thoughtful lyrics. Dillon also wrote the gently philosophical defence of faith and optimism, ‘Even When I Can’t Feel It’, with Ben Hayslip and Lee Miller.

The title track, and new single, was written by Hayslip with Jimmy Yeary and Al Anderson, and is a nicely observed conversational number expressing more homespun philosophy. There is a delightful Western Swing confection (written by George and Bubba with Wil Nance and Bob Regan), ‘It Takes All Kinds’, on the theme of mutual tolerance.

Jamey Johnson contributed a couple of songs. The tongue-in-cheek jazzy ode to booze which is ‘Cheaper Than A Shrink’, written with Bill Anderson and Buddy Cannon, was previously recorded by Joe Nichols and is pretty good. Johnson’s other song here, written with Tom Shapiro, ‘Something Going Down’, is a gorgeously seductive and tender love song.

The gently regretful ‘Wish You Well’ is set on a Mexican island resort, with the protagonist set on drinking away his regrets over lost love.

The one real mis-step, ‘Rock Paper Scissors’, written by Bubba with Casey Beathard and Monty Criswell, has a loud rock arrangement which completely overwhelms George’s vocals on what might be a decent breakup song underneath the noise. The Keith Gattis song. ‘It Was Love’ is also over produced in terms of my personal taste, but that fact rather fits the lyrics, which deal with the overpowering nature of young love.

I really liked the mid-tempo ‘Goin’ Goin’ Gone’, a Gattis co-write with Wyatt Earp. It deals with partying over the weekend as a way to forget the protagonist can barely make ends meet on his weekly wage. A likeable bar room chorus adds to the everyman atmosphere:

I put in my forty and they take out way too much
The same old story, same old brown-bag homemade lunch
Might not be the big dream but I guess I can’t complain
It pays the rent but that’s about all that it pays…
Ain’t got no 401
Ain’t got no benefits
They don’t hand out stock options
Not down here in the pits
But I got Ol’ Glory hanging by my front porch light
Might not be the perfect world
But then again, it might

..
I’m overdue so throw it on the card
Bartender, keep it open
I’m just gettin’ started
Come Monday mornin’ I just might be overdrawn
But it’s Friday night so I’m goin’, goin’… gone

The mid-tempo ‘Stop And Drink’ is another celebration of drinking as a way of coping with the annoyances of everyday life.

‘Take Me To Texas’, written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, was originally recorded for the soundtrack to Texas Rising, a TV miniseries dramatising the Texan Revolution against Mexico in the 1830s. It works okay as a standalone song, expressing pride in the
protagonists’ Texas family roots.

Grade: A

Album Review: Jo Dee Messina – ‘Burn’

Jo_Dee_Messina-BurnAfter making history as the first woman to score three consecutive multi-week number one hits, bringing a cover of an old Dottie West tune to number two, and winning the CMA Horizon Award, expectations were unbelievably high for whatever Jo Dee Messina would do next.

The world got their answer in May 2000, when the decidedly very pop “That’s The Way” was shipped to country radio. The track, which was soaked in mandolin, soared to #1. Penned by Annie Roboff and Holly Lamar, “That’s The Way” is undeniably infectious and one of the strongest examples of turn-of-the-century pop-country done right.

When Burn hit stores in August, it became Messina’s first record to top the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Produced once again by Byron Gallimore and Tim McGraw, Burn was distinctively different than it’s predecessors in that it favored bright hooks that would help Messina appeal to a more mainstream audience.

The epic title track, a stunning mid-tempo power ballad, hit radio in October. Written by Tina Arena, Steve Werfel and Pam Reswick, “Burn” was a cover of Arena’s 1997 single, which exploded in her native Australia. Messina took her version to #2.

The third single, “Downtime,” returned Messina to uptempo territory. Written by Phillip Coleman and Carolyn Dawn Johnson, the track peaked at #5. Like “That’s The Way,” “Downtime” succeeds on it’s infectious melody, which is more reliant on drums and guitars than her previous upbeat single. It’s excellent none-the-less.

Messina would return to #1 with the fourth single, a lush pop ballad entitled “Bring On The Rain.” A song about not surrendering to grim circumstances, the Billy Montana and Helen Darling penned number is probably most notable for finally teaming Messina with McGraw, who provides a harmony vocal that gives the song the perfect amount of added texture.

Final single “Dare To Dream,” which came as the album cycle was dying down, fared the worst peaking at #23. Another rollicking uptempo, “Dare To Dream” employs the wall-of-sound production technique and even though Messina sells it hard, it’s not a very strong song.

When Burn came out fifteen years ago, I actually wrote a pretend review for it and noted the album had a heavy reliance on uptempo tracks, which I viewed as a negative for the overall listening experience. I still agree with that assessment. Burn is the type of album where once you’ve heard one uptempo, you’ve really heard them all. The lack of variety might work from a commercial prospective, but it drags the album down.

That being said, my favorite album cut is George Teren and Tom Shapiro’s “If Not You,” another infectious pop-country rocker not to far removed from the singles in this vein. There’s nothing spectacular about the lyric or anything, but the song has stuck with me all these years.

It’s very easy to see why Burn is such a let-down in the wake of Jo Dee Messina and I’m Alright. With significant effort dedicated to eradicating the depth she showed on her previous projects, Burn becomes nothing more than a pandering mainstream product.

What ultimately saves it, though, is the crispness of the production and Messina’s commitment to give her all on every track. There’s nothing overly loud or obnoxious about Burn. Do drum machines replace fiddles and steel guitar? Of course they do. But this is turn-of-the-century commercial country music at it’s finest. What you see is what you get, a time capsule of the sounds that drove the genre in 2000.

Grade: B

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Life, Love And All The Stages’

Her stint at Warner Bros. now over, Holly Dunn once again found herself the flagship artist at a fledgling label when she signed with the newly-formed Nashville division of Chicago-based River North Records. In order to regain her lost commercial momentum, she needed to really knock one out of the park, but unfortunately, 1995’s Life, Love And All The Stages is not the home run she needed.

hollydunnlifeloveFor the first time since 1987’s Cornerstone, her brother Chris Waters was not on board as a co-producer, although he continued to be Holly’s songwriting partner and had a hand in writing nine of the album’s ten tracks, most of them with Holly and their usual collaborator Tom Shapiro. Unfortunately, this time around the songwriting team didn’t seem to have a lot to say, despite the three-year gap since Holly’s previous album. Little about the album’s ten songs is compelling or memorable and the project could have benefited greatly by including some tunes from outside songwriters. Replacing Waters as Holly’s co-producer was Joe Thomas. The album is tastefully produced and Holly’s voice is in good form, but the material is not particularly exciting. It is more contemporary-sounding than most of Holly’s previous work, reflecting country music’s shift away from traditional sounds that began in the mid-nineties.

Only one of the album’s singles, “I Am Who I Am”, actually charted. It reached #56, outperforming most of the singles from Holly’s previous effort Getting It Dunn. “Cowboys Are My Weakness” — a Dunn/Shapiro/Waters composition and not the same song that Trisha Yearwood recorded more than a decade later — and “It’s Not About Blame” were the album’s two non-charting singles. These three tracks are the album’s strongest, so River North appears to have made the correct choices in selecting singles, but they were not strong enough to gain any traction at radio. I enjoyed “Rock-a-Billy”, which Holly wrote by herself, although it is a bit fluffy in the lyrics department.

Overall, Life, Love And All The Stages is a pleasant-sounding album, but one that one tends to play in the background while doing other things and not remember much about afterwards. It is little more than a footnote in the Dunn discography. Cheap used copies are still available, and though the album is not essential listening, it is certainly worth the small outlay of cash required to obtain it.

Grade: B-

Album Review – Holly Dunn – ‘Getting It Dunn’

HollyDunnGettingItDunnA year after releasing her first retrospective, Holly Dunn returned with the album that would serve as closure to the commercial phase of her career. Getting It Dunn was released in June 1992 and spawned four singles, none of which cracked the top 40 on the charts.

Mel Tillis’ mid-tempo honky-tonker “No Love Have I,” served as the first single, peaking at #67. Despite a generous helping of steel, and Dunn’s impeccable vocal, the track didn’t chart higher although it deserved to. The Dunn/Chris Waters/Tom Shapiro penned “As Long As You Belong To Me” charted next, peaking at #68. The mid-tempo rocker had a confident vocal from Dunn, although it just wasn’t commercial enough to pop in the current radio climate. “Golden Years,” the third and final single, did slightly better, peaking at #51. A co-write by Gretchen Peters and Sam Hogin, the track is wonderful despite the somewhat sappy string section heard throughout.

The album’s other notable track is “You Say You Will,” composed by Verlon Thompson and Beth Nielsen Chapman. Dunn’s version of the bluesy Dobro infused number appeared just two months before Trisha Yearwood’s take on her own Hearts in Armor album. Both versions are remarkably similar and equally as good, although Yearwood turned in a slightly more polished take, which helped the pensive tune reach #12 in early 1993. Warner Brothers didn’t release Dunn’s version as a single.

Dunn’s usual co-writers Waters and Shapiro helped her write a few other tunes for the project. “Let Go” is somewhat light, with an engaging drumbeat and muscular electric guitar heard throughout. Steel and synth ballad “I’ve Heard It All” is a revelation, with Dunn playing the part of a jilted lover done with excuses. “You Can Have Him,” marks similar territory and is the best of three, with an engaging beat, and polish that had it ripe to be a single.

Shapiro teamed up with Michael Garvin and Bucky Jones to write “I Laughed Until I Cried,” a fabulous break-up power ballad with one of Dunn’s most emotion filled vocals on the whole album. Craig Wiseman co-wrote “If Your Heart Can’t Do The Talking” with Lynn Langham. The steel and dobro infused mid-tempo number is excellent and wouldn’t have been out of place on one of Yearwood’s early albums. Wally Wilson and Mike Henderson composed “Half A Million Teardrops,” another mid-tempo number and one more example of the excellent recordings found on Getting It Dunn. Karen Brooks and Randy Sharp’s “A Simple I Love You” rounds out the album, and Dunn provides the project’s standout vocal. I love the steel on this, too, although the rest of the production is a touch heavy-handed.

Holly Dunn will always be a quandary to me. Her vocal and songwriting abilities are outstanding, but the production on her records was always lacking in that little bit of extra polish that would’ve sent her over the top to the leagues of say a Trisha Yearwood or a Kathy Mattea. But that isn’t to suggest her music was lacking in any particular way to be less than excellent, it just wasn’t always embraceable by country radio and their standards at the time. But, thankfully, commercial prospects aren’t everything, and Getting It Dunn is another glorious addition to her already wonderful discography.

Grade: A

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Heart Full Of Love’

Holly’s 1990 follow up to The Blue Rose of Texas, which she produced with brother Chris Waters, was not quite as good as the latter, but is a fine effort nonetheless, with a lot of variety in tempo, style and subject matter, while Holly is in great voice.

Holly’s solo composition, ‘My Anniversary For Being A Fool’ is a lovely sad waltz as the protagonist remembers just how she threw away a true love.  Beautifully and delicately sung, with a prominent steel guitar behind her, it was the first single, but performed surprisingly,and undeservingly, poorly.  She regained traction with ‘You Really Had Me Going’, an up-tempo Dunn/Waters/Tom Shapiro song which became Holly’s first chart topper.  The rock n roll electric guitar solo from Brent Mason is unexpected, but doesn’t overwhelm the song.

The title track was the final single, but only just crept into the top 20.  A mid-tempo love song written by hitmaker Kostas, it is quite pleasant without being at all memorable.

‘The Light In The Window Went Out’ is an excellent song, in which the once-faithful protagonist gives up at last on her complacent ex who thinks he can pick up where he left off:

You thought I’d just keep hanging on

Love like a candle burns down to nothing

When it’s left untended too long

It was written by Holly and Chris with Ron Hellard.  The ironic ‘Temporary Loss Of Memory’ (penned by Holly and Chris with Lonnie Wilson) about a brief pause in a heartbreak is in a more contemporary vein, and isn’t bad.

The usual Waters/Dunn/Shapiro team exercised their social conscience with an emotional look at a homeless family for whom ‘No Place Is Home’.  Some may feel it tries a little too hard to make the hearer feel guilty, but it is clearly heartfelt and beautifully sung.

Waters and Shapiro teamed up with Charlie Black to write ‘My Old Love In New Mexico’, a wistful ballad about missing someone, with pretty Spanish guitar backing Holly.

There are many songs called ‘Home’ out there’; Karla Bonoff’s song of that name, which Holly recorded here, is one of the prettiest with a lovely melody and sweetly yearning vocal.  Just beautiful.

There is a sultry cover of the Marty Robbins classic ‘Don’t Worry’ with backing vocals from the Jordanaires recalling the original era.

The closing ‘Broken Heartland’ has a more contemporary vibe and lacks the emotion implied by the lyrics, but it is the only real misstep.

This was followed by a Greatest Hits album (Milestones), which brought a slowdown as her career suffered from the controversy over that album’s single ‘Maybe I Mean Yes’, which some thought inadvertently made light of the very serious date rape issue.

Cheap copies of Heart Full Of Love are easy to find and well worth acquiring.

Grade: A

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘The Blue Rose of Texas’

HollyDunnTheBlueRoseofTexasShortly after the dissolution of MTM Records, Holly Dunn landed a contract with Warner Bros. and her career enjoyed a resurgence from both an artistic and commercial standpoint. Her Warner Bros. debut, 1989’s The Blue Rose of Texas was produced by Holly and her brother and songwriting partner Chris Waters, and is by far the finest album of her career. Her first single for her new label was “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” which she wrote with Waters and Tom Shapiro. The uptempo number, which finds her frustrated by an overly cautious new love interest, became her first Billboard #1 hit in May 1989. It’s one of the few concessions to radio in what is mostly a very traditional album. Another uptempo number “There Goes My Heart Again”, which features background vocals by Joe Diffie who co-wrote the tune with Lonnie Wilson and Wayne Perry, was the album’s second single, which peaked at #4.

Suprisingly, Warner Bros. opted not to release any further singles from the album, despite a warm reception from radio. One track, “No One Takes The Train Anymore”, a ballad beautifully written by Chris Waters and exquisitely performed by Holly, was included on her 1991 greatest hits package Milestones. It became a single in 1991 in the aftermath of the “Maybe I Mean Yes” debacle, but overshadowed by controversy of its predecessor, it became the first Holly Dunn single not to chart. Despite its lack of commercial success, it has always been one of my favorites. It finds Dunn pondering an impending breakup and lamenting the fact that the fast pace of modern life, which includes traveling by car or plane rather than sea or rail, leaves little opportunity for the party that is leaving to change his mind.

The album’s remaining songs are exceptionally strong, even though none of them were released as singles. Approximately half of them were written by one or more members of the Dunn/Waters/Shapiro team with the rest being supplied by some well known outside songwriters. It’s hard to pick favorites, but if pressed I would narrow the list down to three: the Dunn/Waters/Shapiro-written title track, which includes some excellent electric guitar work, the Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet song “There’s No Heart So Strong”, and “Most of All, Why”, which contains some beautiful harmonizing by its writer Dolly Parton. Originally included on Dolly’s 1975 album The Seeker/We Used To, the regret-filled ballad asks the poignant questions:

How did we get here,
Where did it start,
When did we walk out of each other’s hearts?
Where did we lose it,
How did love die,
When, where and how, but most of all, why?

I like all of Dunn’s albums, but this is the one that I play all the way through most often. It’s one of the ten essential albums I’d want with me if I were stranded on a desert island and I’ve never quite understood why it didn’t sell better than it did. I don’t think it is still in print, but copies are still available on Amazon. Pick one up while you still can.

Grade: A+

Album Review – Holly Dunn – ‘Across The Rio Grande’

HollyDunnAcrosstheRioGrandeFor her third MTM release Across The Rio Grande, Holly Dunn took a co-producing credit for the first time, working with Tommy West (who produced her previous two releases) and Warren Peterson. Her career was also gaining traction by the time this was released in 1988 and she was now in the good graces of country radio.

Chick Rains and Bill Caswell penned the first single, “That’s What Your Love Does To Me.” The track is an excellent dobro infused uptempo number oozing with charm and personality from Dunn who’s voice is the perfect vehicle for the song. Radio and the fans agreed and the song made it to #5. Michael Johnson and the Forester Sisters also recorded versions of the song around the same time.

Slightly less successful was the second and final single, the #11 peaking “(It’s Always Gonna Be) Someday.” With country music in the thick of the new traditionalist movement by 1988, I would’ve thought this would’ve done much better, maybe even peaking higher than “That’s What Your Love Does To Me.” Could it have been the backup singers or Dunn retro style that was the issue? The song is surely excellent on its own merits even if it may’ve been a little too retro even for 1988.

Dunn and her “(It’s Always Gonna Be) Someday” co-writers Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters teamed up to write three other songs for the project. “City Limit” is a wonderful uptempo number dosed in fiddle with a rather engaging drumbeat. Dunn does a wonderful job vocally too, bringing out the song’s infectious charm. “Have A Heart” is the same sort of dobro infused track and Dunn does a wonderful job here as well. The best of the four is “If Nobody Knew My Name,” an album highlight thanks to gorgeous high lonesome harmonies from Cheryl and Sharon White. The production on the ballad, light guitars and fiddle, is impeccable, too.

“Lonesome Highway” found Dunn teaming up with Budd Lee to write a mid-tempo dobro centric number that was another of the stronger songs on the project and possibly my favorite thing on the whole album thanks in part to the production and Dunn’s vocal delivery. Dunn’s final co-write came courtesy of “On The Wings of an Angel,” which she wrote with Don Schlitz. Her crystal-clear voice is the perfect counterpart to the striking fiddle-laced production.

Billy Joel, three years before he gave Garth Brooks the okay to record “Shameless,” had a country connection with Dunn, who included his “Travelin’ Prayer” on this album. Originally released on Joel’s 1973 album Piano Man, “Travlin’ Prayer” has a chugging beat similar to Gram Parson’s “Luxury Liner.” Dunn veers little from Joel’s recording although she does convert it into a bluegrass song, which works well. Dunn’s vocal is incredible, too, as she’s able to keep up with the rapid fire pace of the song with ease.

Mandolin riffs are front and center on Shapiro and Waters’ “The Stronger The Tie.” The spiritual number is reminiscent of something Kathy Mattea would record and quite good even if it leans in a more contemporary vein. Spanish infused “Just Across The Rio Grande,” the album’s title track, is excellent although somewhat thematically out of place.

Across The Rio Grande is a wonderful album complete with many stellar moments from Dunn. The album isn’t as commercial as the albums her contemporaries were releasing at the time, but its still full of excellent songs with nice production and Dunn’s beautiful voice. Across The Rio Grande definitely has a late 80s sheen to it and thus it hasn’t aged as gracefully as it could’ve, but that doesn’t hinder the listener’s enjoyment at all. It’s also a shame the album is out of print as it’s a worthwhile addition to any record collection.

Grade: A 

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Cornerstone’

cornerstoneHolly’s second album for MTM, released in 1987, built on the success of ‘Daddy’s Hands’ and a hit duet with Michael Martin Murphey (the charming ‘A Face In The Crowd’), and saw her cementing her status as a rising star for the fledgeling label.  Her high soprano voice is well suited to the songs selected.

The mid-tempo ‘Love Someone Like Me’, which Holly wrote with Radney Foster, was the lead single, and it only just missed the top spot on the country chart.  It had previously been recorded bluegrass style by the group New Grass Revival; Holly’s version is a little more on the pop-country side and the production has dated a bit, but it isn’t bad, thanks mainly to her vocal.

Better is ‘Only When I Love’, a post-breakup number in which the protagonist is mostly okay – until she falls for someone else.  It was one of a brace of songs written by Holly with her most frequent writing partners, Tom Shapiro and her brother Chris Waters, and reached #4.

Holly and Chris wrote the third and last single ‘Strangers Again, a rueful ballad about the pain of a breakup, in which they are left

not even friends.

Wistful fiddle backs up Holly’s emotional vocal, making this by far my favorite of the singles.

The Dunn/Waters/Shapiro team also wrote one of my favorite tracks, ‘Why Wyoming’, in which a cowboy’s jilted sweetheart bemoans the competition of the wide open spaces:

He’s the only cowboy that I’ve got

And you’ve got all you need

He could never love a woman

Like he loves being free

Tell me, why, Wyoming

Do you take him from me?

 

The beautiful ballad ‘Fewer Threads Than These’ (also recorded by Dan Seals) is another highlight, with Holly supported by a sympathetic harmony vocal.

Jim Croce’s ‘Lover’s Cross’ is a pretty sounding but angsty ballad about breaking away from a difficult relationship:

It seems that you wanted a martyr

Just a regular girl wouldn’t do

But I can’t hang upon no lover’s cross for you

The small town lifestyle is often idealised in country songs, and the big city seen as a poor alternative.  Holly offers a more jaundiced view with her vibrant reading of ‘Small Towns (Are Smaller For Girls)’.  This winsome depiction of the limitations of small town life for a restless teenager was written by Mark D Sanders, Alice Randall and Verlon Thompson.  The protagonist feels stifled and restricted by a life where:

Everybody that she knew knew every move she made

So she stood behind the backstop playing sweet 16

While the boys were stealing bases and pitching for their dreams

She knows that there’s gotta be more

Small towns are smaller for girls

She learned to dance around desire

And act like the nice girls act

So the boys found out about love with the girls across the tracks

While their souls burned holes through the heat of the southern night

She was reading about New York City with her daddy’s flashlight

Holly hedges her bets a little though, with her fond tribute to a ‘Little Frame House’, with the Whites singing harmony vocals.  The title track is an idealistic eulogy to the central importance of love, written by Dave Loggins and Don Schlitz.

The production on the up-tempo ‘Wrap Me Up’ (a Radney Foster co-write) sounds a bit tinny now, and this is the only track I really don’t like.

This is not easy to find at a reasonable price these days (partly because it was on a label which lasted only a few years), but it is a fine album which is well worth checking out if you can find it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Holly Dunn’

HollyDunnIn the mid 1980s country music was in a state of transition as the Urban Cowboy sound began to fall out of favor with radio and fans. Artists like George Strait, Ricky Skaggs, Reba McEntire and The Judds had begun to pull the music back to its traditional roots but it wasn’t until Randy Travis’ big breakthrough in 1986 that the last nail was finally driven into the Urban Cowboy coffin. Holly Dunn’s eponymous debut album was released during this transition, and although it has its traditional moments, the album is mostly in the fading but not yet dead pop-country vein of the day.

Produced by Tommy West, the album contains ten songs, half of which were either written or co-written by Holly. Interestingly, none of five tracks in which Holly had a hand in writing were collaborations with her brother Chris Waters and Tom Shairo, although Tom and Chris did write one song, “That’s A Real Good Way To Get Yourself Loved”, with Michael Garvin. The album opens with “Two Too Many”, one of Holly’s compositions which was also her first single to crack the Top 40, landing at #39. It’s a lightweight but catchy number, and though not particularly noteworthy, it is actually one of the album’s better tracks. It was of course, completely overshadowed by the album’s second single, “Daddy’s Hands”, Dunn’s first bonafide hit and the song for which she is best remembered today.

Unfortunately, aside from “Daddy’s Hands” there is nothing particularly memorable about this album at all, despite some impressive names among the songwriting credits. “Burnin’ Wheel”, a Radney Foster co-write with Billy Aerts and Mickey Cates is a piece of lightweight fluff, and “My Heart Holds On” is certainly one of Hugh Prestwood’s poorer efforts. I like Gary Burr’s “Someone Carried You” a little better, but it isn’t an example of his best work, either.

Although the material certainly could have been stronger, the album’s main flaw is the production. Already falling out of favor in 1986, the pop-country arrangements that permeate every track except “Daddy’s Hands” sound terribly dated today. The album does have its bright spots; I rather like “Your Memory (Won’t Let Go Of Me)” and “The Sweetest Love I Never Knew”, but I wish they had been recorded a few years later after Holly had begun to co-produce her albums and had moved away from the Urban Cowboy sound.

None of this is to say that Holly Dunn is a bad album; it certainly has its enjoyable moments but it pales in comparison to most of her later work, beginning with her next album, 1987’s Cornerstone. I quite liked Holly Dunn back in 1986 but it hasn’t aged well. The album is long out of print and virtually impossible to find, but only “Daddy’s Hands” is essential listening and it is available elsewhere. The rest of the album is interesting only as a footnote in the Dunn discography and as a snapshot of her career in its earlier stages.

Grade: B

Spotlight Artist: Holly Dunn

Holly DunnSan Antonio, Texas native Holly Dunn was born on August 22, 1957. In high school, she was part of a musical group known as the Freedom Folk and was later a part of Abilene Christian University’s touring choir. After graduating for Abilene, she joined her brother, who is known professionally as Chris Waters, as a songwriter in Nashville. One of their biggest successes came in 1984 when Louise Mandrell scored a Top 10 hit with their composition “I’m Not Through Loving You Yet”, a co-write with Tom Shapiro, with whom they would pen many more songs in the future.

During this time, Holly had also been working as a demo singer and in 1985 she was signed to a recording contract by the fledgling MTM label. Her first two singles “Playing For Keeps” and “My Heart Holds On” reached the lower rungs of the Billboard country singles chart. Her third release , 1986’s “Two Too Many” cracked the Top 40 and she struck paydirt with her fourth single, a song called “Daddy’s Hands”, written as a tribute to her father, which climbed all the way to #7 and became her career record. Her records consistently reached the Top 10 through the end of the 1980s.

At MTM, Holly was a big fish in a small pond. The label was unable to compete with its much larger competitors and it folded in 1989. Around the same time, Kenny Rogers asked her to record a duet for his upcoming album, and Holly was invited to join the roster of Rogers’ label, Warner Bros. At Warner Bros., her career seemed to be off to a solid start. Her first solo release for the label, “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me”, became her first #1 hit in 1989. She scored another #1 the following year with “You Really Had Me Going”. In 1991, Warner Bros. released a greatest hits package called Milestones, which contained her hits for the label as well as some earlier material from her MTM years. She found herself at the center of an unwanted controversy when some women’s groups made the charge that album’s new track “Maybe I Mean Yes” advocated date rape. Hoping to end the controversy, Dunn and Warner Bros. quickly withdrew the single from radio, but Holly’s career never really recovered. She remained on the Warner Bros. roster until 1993 but never scored another hit for the label. Two subsequent albums for River North Records failed to revive her recording career.

When her hitmaking days came to an end, Holly served a stint as a DJ for a Detroit radio station and later became a host of TNN’s Opry Backstage. She retired from the music business in 2003 and returned to Texas, where she turned her attention to another artistic passion — painting, following in her mother’s footsteps.

Though Holly’s reign at the top of the charts was relatively brief, she was a regular staple at country radio during the mid-to-late 1980s and scored a number of hits that are fondly remembered today. We hope you’ll enjoy our look back at her career during the month of March.

Album Review – Doug Stone – ‘Make Up In Love’

DougmakeupIn the aftermath of his 1994 Greatest Hits, Volume One Doug Stone’s career began to slow as his neo-traditional style was out of favor with the changing tides in mainstream country music. Following Faith In Me, Faith In You he suffered both a heart attack and mild stroke that resulted in a three-year break from recording and touring. Stone finally resurfaced in the fall of 1999 with Make Up In Love, his first and only project on Atlantic Records.

Under the direction of Wally Wilson Make Up In Love was far poppier then Stone was known for, which isn’t surprising in the Shania Twain dominated climate of the era. The mid-tempo fiddle and drum led title track was the lead single, peaking at #19. It’s an above average song, not exceptional, yet not horrible (I love the strong use of fiddle). I remember the DJ on our local country station playing the song and commenting how great it was to have him back on the airwaves.

A cover of R.B. Greaves’ “Take A Letter Maria,” released next, stalled at #45. Stone does an adequate job on the track, which retains a contemporary country feel, but the horns only accentuate the cheese factor of the overall track. The similarly produced “Surprise,” a forgettable piece of fluff, was the third and final single, peaking at #64.

Written by Wilson, Tom Shapiro, and Sharon Vaughn, “Oh Moon” is a pleasant mid-tempo rocker that exists as nothing more then filler, just like “One Saturday,” written by Neil Thrasher and Ed Berghoff. Steel ballad “Not Me” is closer to Stone’s trademark sound, although the production is a bit vanilla.

From there Make Up In Love does get better. “Room Without A View” has a lovely dose of dobro weaved through the forlorn tale of a man looking to run away from his mistakes and “Deeper Than That” sounds like it could’ve been on one of Stone’s early albums, only with a far stronger chorus. “The Heart Holds On” is a duet with Lesley Satcher that’s just okay, her voice comes off like a less polished Faith Hill and the combination of the two makes for interesting results to say the least. Bobby Braddock wrote the album’s closing number “The Difference Between A Woman and A Man,” and it’s far and away the strongest track on the whole project thanks to Braddock’s keen talent and Wilson’s tasteful yet traditional projection.

While there’s no doubting how good it was to see Stone recording again, Make Up In Love is an effort aimed squarely at country radio and it shows. The songs are mostly forgettable with diluted arrangements that strip the album of anything remotely interesting. But this isn’t a terrible album, just a below average attempt from an artist who’s shown what he can do with far stronger material.

Grade: B-