My Kind of Country

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

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Album Review: Lorraine Jordan and Caroline Road – ‘Country Grass’

country-grass-2016If you like real country music, the kind that was played before 2005, with meaningful lyrics written by master craftsmen like Dallas Frazier, Cindy Walker, Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, Merle Haggard and Tom T Hall, where do you go to hear it live?

Unless you live in Texas, your best choice is to visit a bluegrass festival. Today’s bluegrass acts are vitally concerned about finding good songs, regardless of the copyright dates. They are not concerned about the feeding and watering of mediocre songwriters simply because they are part of the pool of co-writers. A typical bluegrass group will include anywhere from 20% upwards of classic country songs in their repertoire.

Exhibit number one is the most recent album, Country Grass, by Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road. This album is a bit of an outlier, because all of the songs are classic country, but one listen to this album and you will plainly hear that the legacy of 60s-90s country music is in good hands.

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road are a veteran act, having performed at the bluegrass festivals for over fifteen years. Lorraine plays mandolin and handles most of the lead vocals. She is joined by Ben Greene (banjo), Josh Goforth (fiddle), Brad Hudson (dobro) and Jason Moore (upright bass).

In putting this album together of classic country songs, Lorraine assembled a fine cast of guest stars, obtaining the services of the original artist where possible.

The album opens up with the Kentucky Headhunters’ song “Runnin’ Water”, a track from the Kentucky Headhunters’ fourth album. Doug Phelps of the Kentucky Headhunters sings lead on this entertaining track with bandmate Richard Young contributing harmony vocals. This track is straight ahead bluegrass.

Eddy Raven had a #1 record in 1984 with “I Got Mexico” and he chips in with the lead vocals on a track that is more bluegrass flavored than actual bluegrass.

“Darned If I Don’t, Danged If I Do” was a Shenandoah song. Shenandoah’s lead sing Marty Raybon has spent much of the last decade on the bluegrass circuit performing bluegrass versions of Shenandoah hits with his band Full Circle. The song is done in overdrive, but Marty remains one of the premier vocalists.

John Conlee is a long-time Opry veteran who had a decade (1978-1987) long run of top ten hits, including his 1983 #1 hit “Common Man”, taken at about the same tempo as his 1983 hit. Brad Hudson takes a verse of the lead vocal.

country-grass-2015Crystal Gayle had a #1 Country / #18 Pop hit in 1978 with “Waiting For The Times To Get Better”. Crystal and Lorraine trade verses on this one, an elegant sounding song and arrangement.

Lee Greenwood had a #1 record with “Dixie Road” in 1985. Unfortunately, Lee’s voice has eroded over the years so having Troy Pope sing a verse is welcome.

Jim Ed Brown has a top twenty recording of “You Can Have Her” back in 1967. This was probably one of Jim Ed’s last recording before his recent death, but he was in very fine voice indeed. Tommy Long takes part of a verse and harmonizes on this jazzy ballad.

“Boogie Grass Band” was a big hit for Conway Twitty in 1978, the title explaining the feel of the song completely. Unfortunately, Conway has been gone for over twenty years so Lorraine simply got everyone involved in this project to take short vocal turns, preserving the original tempo.

Randy Travis was in no shape to perform so Tommy Long handles the vocals on “Digging Up Bones”. Meanwhile T. G. Sheppard is still with us, so he and Tommy Long handle the vocals on “Do You Want To Go To Heaven”. The instrumentation here is bluegrass, but the tempo remains that of the country ballad that T.G. took to #1 in 1980.

Jesse Keith Whitley is the son of Lorrie Morgan and the late great Keith Whitley. Jesse sounds quite similar to his father and acquits himself well on “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. Jeannette Williams contributes gorgeous harmony vocals to this track which is taken at the same tempo as Keith’s original.

It would be hard to conceive of a bigger country/pop hit than Joe South’s “Rose Garden”, taken to the top of the charts in 1970-1971 by Lynn Anderson. Not only did the song top the country and pop charts in the USA, it went top four or better in nine foreign countries. Lynn Anderson and Lorraine Jordan share the lead vocals on this song, which probably sounds the least similar to the original of all the tracks on this album. Lynn passed away last summer, so this is one of the last tracks (perhaps the last track) she ever recorded.

Lorraine’s band shines on the last track of the album “Last Date”. Although there were several sets of lyrics appended to Floyd Cramer’s piano classic, I don’t really like any of the lyrics I’ve heard, so I appreciate that this was left as an instrumental.

I picked up this disc about a month ago and it has been in heavy rotation in my CD player since them. I was inspired to write this when Jonathan Pappalardo posted a video of John Anderson singing with Lorraine and Carolina Road. John is not on the original (2015) version of the album, but his performance can be purchased on Lorraine’s website http://www.carolinaroadband.com/, and is on the new re-released version.

Even if you do not particularly care for bluegrass you might really like this album, chock full of solid country gold songs, fine vocals and exquisite musicianship. I give it an A-, docking it very slightly for the eroded voices of a few of the guests.

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Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘Just The Two of Us’

R-6803309-1426956528-3477.jpegThe album opens up with “Closer By The Hour”, a song about a relationship moving towards its inevitable consummation. The song is a jog-along ballad written by Al Gore (not the same Al Gore as either of the two Tennessee hack politicos of yesteryear).

Next up is an outstanding version of Tom T. Hall’s “I Washed My Face In The Morning Dew”, This song was Tom T’s first charted single as a singer, reaching #30 in 1967. I think Porter & Dolly missed a bet in not releasing this as a single.

“Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark” is one of those morbid dead child ballads that Dolly excelled in writing. The song was the B-side of “We’ll Get Ahead Someday” but was sufficiently popular that it charted separately at #51 in late 1968 (Record World had it reach #31).

Her two little feet would come running into
Our bedroom almost every night
Her soft little face would be wet from her tears
And her little heart pounding with fright
She’d hold out her arms, then she’d climb in beside us
In her small voice, we’d hear her remark
“Mommie and Daddy, can I sleep here with you
‘Cause Jeannie’s afraid of the dark”

Jerry Chesnut’s “Holding On To Nothin’”was the second Porter & Dolly single released, and the first single from this album. Released in April 1968, the single spent 16 weeks on the charts reaching a peak of #17. The song is a mid-tempo ballad about what happens when the flame burns out.

Oh, why do we keep holding on with nothin’ left to hold on to

Let’s be honest with each other that’s at least that we can do

I feel guilty when they envy me and you

We’re holding on with nothin’ left to hold on to

Curly Putman’s “Slip Away Today” is a bit more introspective than many of the pair’s songs, sort of in the vein of Carl & Pearl Butler’s “Don’t Let Me Cross Over”. It is a good song but not one with any real potential as a single.

“The Dark End of the Street” by Dan Penn and Chips Moman, is a song about slipping around and trying to keep it secret by stealing away at the dark end of the street.

At the time this album was released Jerry Chesnut was one of Nashville’s leading songsmiths. The next tow songs “Just The Two of Us” and “Afraid To Love Again” are both nice ballads well suited to Porter and Dolly’s vocal harmonies.

Mack Magaha, the fiddler in Porter’s Wagonmasters and before that in Don Reno & Red Smiley’s Tennessee Cutups , isn’t normally thought of as a songwriter, but he did some song writing with both Reno & Smiley and Porter & Dolly recording his songs. Mack’s “We’ll Get Ahead Someday” is a humorous up-tempo song that was the lead single from the album reaching #5.

The paper says there’s a sale downtown I gotta have some money today

Well there’s things at home that’s never been used you bought last bargain day

Well you go out one Saturday night just spend too much money on wine

Well I work hard all week long and I gotta have a little fun sometimes

We’ll get ahead someday…

If the sun comes up and my wife cuts down we’ll get ahead someday

Even in 1967, Merle Haggard’s songs were in great demand, and Porter and Dolly latched onto a good one in “Somewhere Between”, one of many Haggard compositions that the Hag never got around to releasing as a single (many years later Suzy Bogguss released it as a single). It works well as a duet for Porter and Dolly.

Somewhere between your heart and mine

There’s a window, I can’t see through
 T
here’s a wall so high, it reaches the sky

Somewhere between me and you

I love you so much, I can’t let you go

And sometimes I believe you love me

But somewhere between your heart and mine

There’s a door without any key


The album closes with a pair of Dolly Parton compositions in “The Party” and “I Can”. “The Party” is another one of those morbid ballads that Dolly seemed to crank out so easily. The highlight of the song is Porter’s narration:

The party started out wild and it grew wilder as the night wore on

With drinking laughing teling dirty jokes nobody thinkin’ of home

Then the stranger feeling came over me and it chilled me to the bones

And I told my wife that we’d better leave the party

Cause I felt that we were needed at home

As we rode along I got to thinking of how the kids that mornin’

Had asked if we would take them to church the next day

And how I’d put ’em off like I’d so often done

By sayin’ we’d probably get home too late

Then my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of sirens

As they cut through the still night air
 Then we turned down our street that’s when we saw the fire

The rest was like a nightmare 

We took their little bodies to church the next day

Though we’d left the party early we still got home too late

“I Can” has the feel of folk music. Both of these two Dolly Parton compositions are good album tracks.

Porter and Dolly would record stronger albums as far as song quality is concerned, but of more importance than that was that this early in the game, they had their vocal style down pat. The production on the album sounds like Porter’s solo albums, but that’s a good thing.

Tracks
01. “Closer by the Hour” Al Gore 2:15
02. “I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew” Tom T. Hall 2:45
03. “Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark” Dolly Parton 2:44
04. “Holding On to Nothin'” Jerry Chesnut 2:26
05. “Slip Away Today” Curly Putman 2:37
06. “The Dark End of the Street” Dan Penn, Chips Moman 2:15
07. “Just the Two of Us” Jerry Chesnut 2:36
08. “Afraid to Love Again” Jerry Chesnut, Theresa Beaty 1:53
09. “We’ll Get Ahead Someday” Mack Magaha 1:55
10. “Somewhere Between” Merle Haggard 2:13
11. “The Party” Dolly Parton 2:54
12. “I Can” Dolly Parton 2:06

Classic Rewind: Tom T Hall – ‘Paradise’

Album Review: Rebekah Long – ‘Here I Am’

here i amBluegrass singer and upright bass player Rebekah Long from Georgia has a sweet, light voice, and considerable ability as a songwriter. Her skills are well showcased in her new album. Singer-songwriter Donna Ulisse, who has carved out a real niche for herself in bluegrass in recent years, produced the album, and she and Rebekah wrote most of the material.

The two women co-wrote ‘He’s Never Coming Back Again’, an understated ballad about the pain of lost love, and ‘Nellie Mae’, a pretty tune about an adoptive mother’s love.

The pair were joined by Ulisse’s husband Rick Stanley to write a further three songs. My favorite of these, and possibly my favorite on the album, is the doomladen story song ‘Hairpin Hattie’, whose ghost fatally haunts cheating husbands on the dangerous mountain road she died on herself 80 years earlier outrunning the cops after murdering her own:

She never beckons innocents
The pure of heart they drive on by
Her anger’s for the cheatin’ men
The ones that have a roving eye

‘Ain’t Life Sweet’ is a bright cheerful tune lauding old fashioned rural life, which makes a promising opener to the album, while ‘Sweet Miss Dixie Deen’ is an affectionate tribute to the late wife of Tom T Hall. Rebekah spent several years working for the Halls, and also includes a nice cover of Tom T’s song ‘I Washed My Face In The Mountain Dew’.

A more unexpected cover, but one which works surprisingly well bluegrass style is the sultry ‘Somebody’s Knockin’, the sole country hit for Terri Gibbs in the early 80s. Rebekah doesn’t quite have the forcefulness required to really pull off Merle Haggard’s ‘The Fightin’ Side Of Me’ – it’s pleasant to listen to but unconvincing. The Mel Tillis-penned, and much recorded. ‘Unmitigated Gall’ is more effective, and highly enjoyable. The final cover, Cheryl Wheeler’s ‘I Know This Town’ is a fond tribute to a home town.

The title track and ‘The MapleTree And Me’ are delicately pretty Donna Ulisse songs, the former a tender love song, the latter wistful and poetic. The closing ‘December’, written by Ulisse with Dennis Duff, is atmospheric and bleak

This is a very nice bluegrass album with much to recommend it.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Tom T. Hall and Johnny Rodriguez – ‘You Always Come Back To Hurting Me’

Week ending 3/26/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

0a5c3cc5dde8f7cb6fc488259d1a9a9d1956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): I Forgot to Remember to Forget/Mystery Train — Elvis Presley (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby — The Louvin Brothers (Capitol)

1966: Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line — Buck Owens & The Buckaroos (Capitol)

1976: Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet) — Tom T. Hall (Mercury)

1986: What’s a Memory Like You (Doing in a Love Like This) — John Schneider (MCA)

1996: You Can Feel Bad — Patty Loveless (Epic)

2006: Living In Fast Forward — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2016: You Should Be Here — Cole Swindell (Warner Bros.)

2016 (Airplay): Heartbeat — Carrie Underwood (19/Arista)

Album Review: Dave Adkins – ‘Dave Adkins’

dave adkinsBig-voiced bluegrass singer Dave Adkins has just released a second solo album which is worth checking out. Musically this is solid bluegrass with a dominant banjo, but what makes it stand out is Adkins’ voice.

My favourite track is the stunning lost-love ballad ‘Foolosophy’, an outstanding song from two great writers – Larry Cordle and Chris Stapleton. Adkins’s magnificent vocal shows hitherto unguessed elements to his voice as he emotes on this bar room weeper:

Well, I’ve been spending all my nights just searching for some truth
In a bar room with a bottle just crying and trying to prove
That a man can find some peace of mind when a woman he loves leaves
That’s my lonesome heart in foolosophy

Well, I know if I keep drinking
That somehow I won’t hurt
And it won’t take forever to get me over her
Someday soon she’s coming back
It’s just what I believe
That’s my lonesome heart in foolosophy

I bet in a hundred years from now
My researching will show
That a jukebox, smoke and whiskey will heal a broken soul
No doubt I’ll be remembered as Hillbilly Socrates
With my lonesome heart in foolosophy

The mid-tempo ballad ‘Change Her Mind’, one of five on the album which Adkins wrote himself, is very good, with its protagonist’s hope of regaining lost love. He also wrote the cheerfully brisk gospel number ‘A Whole More To Tell’, and the attractive mid-paced love song ‘One And Only’.

Adkins wrote ‘You Don’t Have To Go To Be Gone’ with Paula Breedlove and Brink Brinkman; this is a strong song about a marriage which is hanging on in name only.

The tragic ‘Russell Fork River’ is an intense murder ballad with a twist which Adkins wrote with Dawn Kenny and David Morris. The actual murder is the swift judicial execution of a man believed to have drowned his sweetheart, whose death was actually an accident. The same trio wrote the trucking song ‘Turn And Burn’.

Another dramatic story song, ‘Emmaline’ takes us to Kentucky coal country and a cheating husband whose guilty heart takes him to his death – or has he faked his death to run away with his secret lover?

The subdued ‘Angel Song’ has a very pretty melody and a sad lyric about bereavement. ‘It’s Not Over (Til I Get Over You)’ is an emotional ballad co-written by the great Tom T Hall about facing an empty home after the protagonist’s wife has left.

‘Wasting Away’ is a pacy song written by the late Randall Hylton, and is decent without making the same impact as the ballads. More effectively, Adkins covers John Michael Montgomery’s 1990s country hit ‘Sold’, which works very well given an bluegrass treatment, and is very enjoyable.

This is an excellent bluegrass album from a singer with a strong and distinctive voice.

Grade: A

Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘Your Love and Other Lies’

71+O5-9t0GL._SX522_Released in 1995, Your Love and Other Lies was Buddy Miller’s first solo album, and the first of six to be released over the next decade on the HighTone label. A prior recording – Man on the Moon, also released in 1995 – was credited to Buddy Miller and the Sacred Cows on the obscure Coyote label, and is difficult to find today.

Miller has enjoyed great success in the Americana realm but is largely unknown to mainstream audiences, despite being highly regarded by some of the most prominent names in Nashville. I always find it interesting to speculate why artists like this didn’t enjoy mainstream success. He is a decent, though somewhat limited vocalist, and although the rootsy Your Love and Other Lies was less polished than what country radio wanted, even twenty years ago, it was not as far outside the mainstream at that time as it is today. His age – 43 at the time of this album’s release –may have been an obstacle, but the main reason Buddy Miller never made it as a mainstream major label act is that he doesn’t seem to have ever made any attempt to do so. For those of us who enjoy roots music made with little or no concessions to commercial tastes, this is a very good thing.

Miller had a hand in writing about half of the album’s 13 songs, some of them with his wife Julie, who also contributed two solo compositions and provided harmony vocals on some of the tracks. His good friend Jim Lauderdale also made two contributions (one co-write and one solo composition).

The two songs most likely to be familiar to mainstream country fans – or at least those of a certain age – are very nice covers of the Louvin Brothers’ “You’re Running Wild” and Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis”. Julie’s harmony vocals on the former are spectacular. The latter was recorded by the songwriter himself in 1969, and was a #3 hit for Bobby Bare the following year. It has been covered numerous times since then. I’m tempted to say that it’s my favorite cut on the album, but it’s a tough call. I’m likely partial to it because it’s more familiar to me. Additionally, there are quite a few other contenders , beginning with the opening track “You Wrecked Up My Heart”, a Buddy/Julie co-write that sounds like something that Patty Loveless might have included on one of her 90s albums. To my knowledge, none of these songs were covered by the mainstream artists of the day, which is somewhat surprising.

Julie’s solo composition “Don’t Listen to the Wind” with its fiddle-intro has a Celtic feel to it. Jim Lauderdale’s “Hold On My Love” , featuring harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris, is reminiscent of The Everly Brothers, and Buddy’s solo effort “Watching Amy Dance” is a tear-jerker about an abandoned husband who doesn’t miss his ex but is pining away for the daughter with whom he has lost contact.

I’m less impressed with the album’s two most contemporary numbers: the rock-tinged “I Can’t Slow Down” and “Hole In My Head”. The latter is catchy and sounds like a summertime single for a mainstream artist but the lyrics are on the shallow side.

Although considered by many to be an Americana album, Your Love and Other Lies has plenty of fiddle and pedal steel and is exactly what many of us wish we could hear on country radio. I highly recommend it.
Grade: A

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr – ‘Country Shadows’

country shadowsHank Williams Jr continued to show artistic growth with the release of his seventh album in April 1967. The album’s title refers to the first song on the album, “Standing In The Shadows (of A Very Famous Man)”. The song reached #3 on Record World and was the first of Junior’s own compositions to become a hit. The lyrics encapsulate Junior’s dilemma completely:

I know that I’m not great
And some say I imitate
Anymore I don’t know
I’m just doing the best I can

After all I’m standing in the shadows
Of a very famous man

The second track, “Almost Nearly, But Not Quite Plumb” is an up-tempo novelty that has Hank sounding quite a bit like Jimmy Dean.

“Is It That Much Fun To Hurt Someone” is a Hank Jr. co-write that sounds more like something Ricky Nelson should have recorded in his teen idol days. It’s a nice song but not well suited to Hank’s voice
Track five of Side One is “I Can Take Anything” a Merle Kilgore-penned ballad; Merle would become very important in Hank’s career, but at this point in his career he was a third tier country artist who was better known as a songwriter. This slow ballad has the full Nashville Sound treatment.

Side One closes out with “Truck Drivin’ Man”, which is not the same song made famous by Terry Fell, Dave Dudley and others. This song is also known as “Ten Ton Load”:

Well, I pulled out of Georgia with a ten ton load
I’m headin’ down the cold stone that black topper road
Looked out the window at the sky up above
Sat back and I thought of the life that I love
Now you can give a banker a nice easy seat
And you can give the sailor all those sea that he meet
But when it comes to drive and just leave that of me
Cause I know in my heart it’s my destiny

I’ll never give up this truck driving life
For a son to call me daddy or a sweet loving wife
All you people have heard my story when I’m in my cab well I’m in my glory
Now it may be hard for some to understand
I was born and I’ll die the truck driving man
I was born and I’ll die the six wheeler man
I was born and I’ll die the truck driving man

Side Two opens with a killer version of the Jody Reynolds classic “Endless Sleep”. The song barely cracked the top fifty for Hank.

Ran in the water heart full of fear there in the breakers I saw her near
Reached for my darling held her to me stole her away from the angry sea
I looked at the sea and it seemed to say you took your baby from me away
My heart cried out she’s mine to keep I saved my baby from that endless sleep
Endless sleep, endless sleep, endless sleep

Next up is a track from John D Loudermilk (a first cousin to Ira & Charlie Louvin) titled “You’re Running My Life”. I’ve been married too long to comment on this song. This is followed by a Mitchell Torok composition “Pecos Jail” . Both songs are good album tracks but neither would have made a good single.

“In The First Place” is a bluesy ballad that is nothing more than album filler.

Hank Jr. had a hand in writing “I Went To All That Trouble For Nothing”. The song has a smart country blues arrangement somewhat reminiscent of the arrangement Jerry Kennedy devised for Tom T Hall. I would have liked this as a single.

He went to all that trouble for nothin’ I hear them say
It’s too bad that things turned out for him that way
You took my love and turned around and made me blue
I went to all that trouble for nothin’ for you
I turned my back on the girl I thought that she was mine
I gave up my friends and now it seems I’m givin’ up my mind
I did everything you wanted me to do I went to all that trouble for nothin’ for you

Side Two of the album closes with “Going Steady With The Blues”. The arrangement contains some brass and has the feel of a rock and roll ballad. I like the song but I’d like it better with a more bluesy arrangement.

Don’t think that I’ve been lonely because you left me
And broke my heart in two
I’ve got company, I’m going steady with the blues

Yes, every evening while you are dancing and you’re romancing
Oh well, I’m busy too
I’ve got company, I’m going steady with the blues

Very few of these tracks are available in any digital format. “Standing In The Shadows”, “Endless Sleep” and “In The First” place are on the MGM Living Proof Box: 1963-1975, and a few of the songs show up on YouTube. Hank is still finding his way with this album, but the Nashville Sound trappings are subdued and Hank is in good voice.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Southern Star’

41OBKFV1XkLAlabama arrived on the national stage in 1980 at a time when country music was dominated by crossover acts. By mid-decade, however, the pendulum had swung wildly in the opposite direction and by the end of the decade, many veteran acts had been swept off the charts altogether. Those that survived the tide change were forced to adopt a more traditional sound in order to remain relevant. 1989’s Southern Star was Alabama’s back-to-basics album — sort of. While it was less slickly-produced than most of their earlier albums, a traditional album it is not. The radio singles were carefully crafted to appeal to the change in commercial tastes, but on the album cuts the band continued to explore different styles, including Southern rock and pop.

Southern Star found the band working with a new production team. Gone was Harold Shedd, who had co-produced all of their albums for RCA, and in his place were Barry Beckett; Larry Michael Lee, and Josh Leo. The album continued Alabama’s winning streak on the singles charts, with all four of its singles reaching #1, starting with “Song of the South”, a catchy Bob McDill number that had been recorded several times previously — originally by Bobby Bare, and later by Johnny Russell and Tom T. Hall with Earl Scruggs. Ballads were always a strong point for the band and the excellent “If I Had You”, the album’s second chart-topper was no exception. The uptempo “High Cotton” takes a look back through rose-colored glasses at growing up during the Great Depression, and “Southern Star” gives Alabama an opportunity to showcase their tight harmonies.

The rest of the songs on Southern Star could have appeared on any of Alabama’s previous albums. Though the production is more organic, the songs occasionally stray into different musical territory. “Down On The River” is pleasant if not particularly memorable Southern rock song. “She Can” is pop-flavored number that is somewhat marred by a synthesizer, “Dixie Fire”, featuring Jeff Cook on lead vocals, is similarly dated sounding. “Barefootin'” (another Cook-led effort) is a throwaway number with annoying horns.

The Randy Owen-penned “Ole Baugh Road” is one of the better album cuts. The Spanish-tinged “The Borderline”, with Teddy Gentry singing lead with guest Charlie Daniels, is the album’s biggest creative stretch.

Though not without its missteps, Southern Star proved that Alabama was able to adapt to changing commercial tastes and remain relevant after nearly a decade on charts. It was a great way to close out the decade and the album is still worth listening to today.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’

honky tonk heroesWaylon’s 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes was his tribute to the songs of hellraising singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, who was new to Nashville and wrote every song but one. The songs proved ideally suited to Waylon’s increasingly rebellious persona.

The one non-Shaver tune, ‘We Had It All’, perhaps included as a more commercial option for a single, was only a modest hit, sneaking into the top 30. A fairly heavily strung emotional ballad penned by Troy Seals and Donnie Fritts, it is well sung by Waylon, but the arrangement makes it feel out of place on this particular album.

The mid-tempo ‘You Ask Me To’, a Jennings/Shaver co-write, was more successful, peaking at #8. It is a charming declaration of unconditional love, which was also picked up by Elvis Presley.

The rollicking harmonica-led title track pays cheerful tribute to those

“Lovable losers, no account boozers
And honky tonk heroes like me”

The more subdued and regretful steel-laced ballad ‘Old Five And Dimers (Like Me)’ is perhaps the best song on the album. It also served as the title track for Shaver’s own debut album the same year, which included the writer’s take on a number of the songs chosen here.

‘Willy The Wandering Gypsy And Me’ paints the portrait of a pair of wild-living ramblers, following the mantra,

“Movin’ is the closest thing to bein’ free”.

The same theme is visited in ‘Low Down Freedom’, with the narrator ready to run out on his latest girl, despite realising his quest for “freedom” has actually cost him “everything I’ll ever lose”.

Shaver wrote ‘Omaha’ with Hillman Hall (brother of the more famous Tom T.). The roamer in this song has started to feel homesick for Nebraska after a spell in California, part of it in jail, and is going back home. Another jailbird, the protagonist of ‘Ain’t No God In Mexico’ finds himself in trouble south of the border.

‘Ride Me Down Easy’ is yet another song about the hardships of a good hearted rambling man’s life:

It’s been a good month of Sundays and a guitar to go
Had a tall drink of yesterday’s wine
Left a lot of good friends some sheeps in the wind
And satisfied women behind.

Ride me down easy Lord, ride me on down
Leave word in the dust where I lay
Say I’m easy, come easy go
And easy to love when I stay

’Black Rose’ is a dramatic story song about temptation and sin:

When the Devil made that woman
Lord, he threw the pattern away
She were built for speed
With the tools You need
To make a new fool every day.

Way down deep and dirty
On the darker side of shame
I caught a cane cuttin’ man and a bottle of gin
With a rose of a different name.

The Devil made me do it the first time
The second time I done it on my own
Lord, put a handle on a simple headed man
Help me leave that black rose alone.

This classic album is the real dawn of Waylon the “Outlaw”. It is also a genuinely great record which deserves to be heard.

Grade: A+

Reissues wish list part 2: MCA and Decca

webb pierceFor most of the Classic Country era, the big four of country record labels were Decca /MCA, RCA, Columbia and Capitol. Of these labels, MCA/Decca has done the poorest job of keeping their artists’ catalogues alive in the form of reissues.

When speaking of the big four labels we will need to define terms.
MCA/Decca refers to recordings released on MCA, Decca, Brunswick and for some periods, Vocalion.

During the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Decca (later MCA) can be argued as having the strongest roster of artists. Such titans as Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, Webb Pierce, Conway Twitty, Jack Greene, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Martin, The Osborne Brothers, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn frequently dominated the charts with many strong second tier acts such as The Wilburn Brothers, Jimmie Davis, Roy Drusky, Jimmie C. Newman, Johnny Wright, Cal Smith, Bill Phillips, Crystal Gayle, Jeanie Seely, Jan Howard and Red Sovine passing through the ranks at various times. Crystal Gayle, of course, became a major star in the late 1970s and 1980s

In the early digital days MCA had virtually nothing of their classic artists available aside from some Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe and Conway Twitty discs. Then in 1991 they started their County Music Hall of Fame Series, showcasing artists elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, because of industry politics, their biggest stars, Webb Pierce and Conway Twitty, had not yet been elected.

Each of the discs contained fifteen or sixteen tracks or about 38 minutes of music. Many of the CDs featured artists who had not been on Decca for many years, and many featured artists who just passed through on their way to bigger and better things or had been bigger stars in the past. Among the CDS in the series were The Carter Family (on Decca 1937-1938), Jimmie Davis, Red Foley, Grandpa Jones (with Decca in the late 1950s – several remakes of King label hits), Loretta Lynn, Uncle Dave Macon (a real old-timer), Tex Ritter (1930s recordings), Roy Rogers, Sons of The Pioneers (with Decca during the 1930s and again in 1954), Hank Thompson (ABC/Dot recordings of the late 1960s and 1970s – MCA purchased the ABC & Dot labels – Hank never actually recorded for MCA/Decca). Floyd Tillman (1939-1944), Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills (Bob’s best years were on Columbia and MGM). The Bob Wills recordings were 1955-1967 recordings on the Decca & Kapp labels – the Kapp recordings usually featured Nashville session players with no real feel for swing and are the least essential recordings Wills ever made.

Each of the CDs mentioned above are undeniably worthy, but are either inadequate or not representative of the artists’ peaks.

Some MCA/Decca artists have been covered by Bear Family, most notably Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Martin and The Osborne Brothers. One could wish for more on some of these artists, but what is available generally is enough; however, it is expensive. Good two-disc sets would be desirable.

During the 1960s, Decca had their artists re-record their hits in order to take advantage of modern stereo technology, since for artists who peaked before 1957, such as Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce and Red Foley, their biggest hits were recorded in monaural sound. An additional consideration for Ernest Tubb was that his then-current band was larger and better with musicians such as Billy Byrd and Buddy Emmons (to name just two) being members of the band. In the case of Ernest Tubb, the re-recordings were superior to the original string band recordings.

In the case of most other artists, I think the originals were better BUT for many years the original recordings were not available and listeners of my generation grew up hearing the stereo remakes whether on records or on the radio. Since the digital era began the stereo remakes have been unavailable except on Bear Family sets. It would be nice if the stereo remakes were available, and it would be nice if MCA/Decca artists were available on decent domestic collections.

Webb Pierce – several domestic releases of Webb Pierce’s hits are available but they generally contain about a dozen songs, all from the 1950s. There is a Bear Family set that covers up to 1958 – it’s great but it misses all of Webb’s lesser later hits. Webb was the #1 country artist of the 1950s according to Billboard, and while he slipped thereafter, he was still the sixth ranked artist of the 1960s with many hits, including a couple of Record World #1s. None of this has been released on CD. What is needed is a good three CD set gathering up Webb’s 1960s (and early 1970s) chart hits plus key album tracks and the stereo remakes of the fifties hits.

For as widely popular as she was. you would expect much of Barbara Mandrell‘s output to be available. Barbara moved from Epic to ABC/Dot and when ABC/Dot was absorbed by MCA, her music was issued on that label. Barbara had 30+ hits for ABC/Dot/MCA with many #1 and top five recordings. Currently, not much is available and she warrants a boxed set.

Jack Greene and Cal Smith both had fairly late starts to their solo careers. While there exist a few hit collections for each artist (on foreign labels), neither is very complete, leaving off key songs. For Cal Smith, since Kapp and MCA are both owned by the same company, a two disc set collecting Cal’s Kapp & MCA/Decca singles should suffice (possibly a single disc with about thirty tracks would be okay).

For Jack Greene, more is needed since Jack had over thirty chart singles for Decca and issued at least fourteen albums plus a hits collection while on MCA/Decca. Jack was a superior vocalist and his albums contain recordings of others’ hits that often were better than the original hits. While not a hit for Jack, his version of “The Last Letter” is the definitive recording of the song.

The Osborne Brothers were bluegrass innovators, developing an almost unique (Jim & Jesse were doing something similar) bluegrass and country hybrid with bluegrass instruments augmented by electric guitar, steel guitar and sometimes other amplified instruments. After leaving MCA/Decca for CMH and other labels, the Osborne Brothers went back to a more traditional bluegrass approach. Almost none of that classic hybrid material is available except for a gospel CD and an excellent but short (ten songs) collection titled Country Bluegrass which seems randomly put together. No bluegrass group ever has huge numbers of hit records on the country charts, but the Osborne Brothers did chart quite a few and they should be available domestically. I would think a single disc set of thirty tracks would be acceptable, although more would be better, of course.

Johnny Wright is better know as part of the duo Johnny & Jack (with Jack Anglin), but after Anglin’s death in 1963, Wright embarked on a successful solo career which saw the release of at least six albums on MCA/Decca plus twelve chart singles including the #1 “Hello Vietnam” , the first chart topper for a Tom T. Hall song. Johnny’s wife was Kitty Wells, and while he never reached her level of success as a solo artist, apparently it never bothered Wright as he and Kitty were married from 1937 until his death in 2011 at the age of 97. A good single disc collection would suffice here.

The bulk of Little Jimmy Dickens’ career occurred for another label, but his time on MCA/Decca saw the release of two albums of new material plus an album featuring remakes of his earlier hits. The Decca albums featured a staple of Jimmy’s live shows “I Love Lucy Brown” and an amusing novelty “How To Catch An African Skeeter Alive”. I think most of this would fit on a single CD.

Wilma Burgess was an excellent singer who came along about four decades too soon. While Wilma did not flaunt being lesbian, neither did she particularly hide it. Consequently, she never got much of a commercial push from her label. Many have recorded “Misty Blue” but none did it as well as Wilma Burgess. She recorded at least five albums for MCA/Decca plus some duets with Bud Logan, former band leader for Jim Reeves. A decent two disc set of this outstanding singer should be easy to compile.

I would like to see a collection on Loretta Lynn’s siblings, Peggy Sue and Jay Lee Webb. Since Loretta’s other well known sibling started on MCA/Decca as well, it should be possible to do a good two CD set of Loretta’s kinfolks. Jay Lee Webb’s “She’s Looking Better By The Minute” is an all-time honky-tonk classic.

My reissues wish list – part 1: Kapp, Mercury and Plantation/Sun

portergibson

roger millerIt should be no surprise to anyone that my tastes in country music run very traditional. While much of the music of the “New Traditionalists” movement of 1986-1999 remains available, as it should since it was digitally recorded, the music of the “Old Traditionalists (roughly 1925-1975) is another story.

When radio converted to digital starting in 1986, most radio stations, particularly FM stations, refused to play anything that was not on compact disc. As a result, a country oldie to these stations meant Alabama, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap and Kenny Rogers (artists whose back catalogue made it to digital formats) while the likes of such superstars as Charley Pride, Sonny James, Ray Price, Carl Smith, Ernest Tubb and Webb Pierce were lost to posterity.

Over time, the older country music began to be available, although often the availability was that of a four plus discs sets from Bear Family that was decidedly overkill for all but the most diehard fans. I am not knocking Bear, which in recent years has begun to issue some single disc collections. The Bear sets are as good as humanly imaginable, terrific sound, fabulous books and many of the discs have 85-87 minutes of music. They are great, but they run $22-$25 per disc.

Eventually more reissue labels emerged, mostly in Europe where the copyright laws had copyright protection lapse after fifty years. This changed recently to 70 years resulting in slowdown in reissues. I think recordings made in 1963 or later have the new 70 year copyright protection.

American record labels started to mine their back catalogues after 1991, but generally only for their biggest stars. A number of decent box sets have been issued, but again, only on the biggest stars.

Enough with my complaining – let’s start with a couple of relatively minor labels, in the first of a new series.

KAPP RECORDS

Kapp was a minor label that was eventually purchased by MCA. The biggest star on the label was pop balladeer Jack Jones, truly a fine singer. In the world of country music it was more of a launching pad for new artists and a resting place for over-the-hill singers.

Bobby Helms (“My Special Angel” & “Fraulein“) was on the label after his pop success waned. One could put together a nice CD of his Kapp recordings.

After many years of knocking about, Freddie Hart landed on Kapp. While I regard Freddie’s Kapp material as his best, he really had no big hits. Eventually Hart landed at Capital where “Easy Loving” made him an ‘overnight’ star. Kapp issued six albums on Freddie Hart, plus a hits collection. The six studio albums probably could fit on a nice two CD set

Mel Tillis released nine albums (plus two hit collections) while on Kapp. It’s not his best material but there were some classic songs (“Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town” / “Something Special” / “All Right (I’ll Sign The Papers)” / “Who’s Julie” / “Goodbye Wheeling” / “Life Turned Her That Way” / “Stateside“/ “Heart Over Mind“) that were as good as anything he ever recorded elsewhere, A nice set with about sixty songs would suffice.

Ernest Tubb was sure that Cal Smith would be a star someday. Someday was about six years later. Meanwhile Kapp released seven albums plus a hits collection on Cal. One of Cal’s Kapp hits (“Drinking Champagne” would be a big hit for George Strait many years later. After a long wait, a decent collection of Cal’s MCA/Decca hit eventually emerged but none of his Kapp classics are available. Cal had some really good songs including “Drinking Champagne”, “You Can’t Housebreak A Tomcat“, “Destination Atlanta G.A“, and “Heaven Is Just A Touch Away“.

MERCURY RECORDS

Foreign labels have done a good job of getting Jerry Lee Lewis and Tom T. Hall back into circulation, but Dave Dudley and Roy Drusky have been badly neglected. Mercury had an additional label, Smash, but artists occasionally moved from Smash to Mercury in midstream.

Mercury released eighteen albums plus three hits collections on Dave Dudley and all we have available is one stinking CD collection with twelve songs on it, two of the tracks being remakes of “Six Days On The Road” and “Cowboy Boots”. Dave had thirty-one chart hits for Mercury. C’mon, if nothing else a nice two CD set with the thirty-one chart hits plus some key album cuts. The King of The Truckers deserves no less – so beloved by truck drivers was Dave that the Teamsters Union gave Dave a gold union membership card.

Roy Drusky was a smooth voiced balladeer who had over forty chart records, eight with Decca and thirty two with Mercury. Same comment applies to Ray as applies to Dave Dudley – a nice two disc set is needed.

Roger Miller may have been the most talented performer to ever record in the country music genre. Roger barely even need a guitar to keep folks entertained. Back in 1991 & 1992 Polygram (the label that purchased Mercury ) issued a pair of two twenty song CDs, one featuring songs Roger wrote that were hits for other artist and the other featuring Roger’s hits. Eventually a modest boxed set was issued, but those are long out of print. Although they were good efforts, Roger’s albums deserve to be reissued intact.

PLANTATION/SUN INTERNATIONAL

During the late 1960s – early 1970s, Plantation became kind of an old folks’ home for country artists on the way down. Many a fading star re-recorded their greatest hits for label owner Shelby Singleton. For many of these older artists, it was the only way for them to keep their music available for their fans. Webb Pierce, Jimmie Davis, Jimmy C. Newman, Hank Locklin, Charlie Walker, Kitty Wells, Dave Dudley and Roy Drusky were among the artists that had twenty song cassettes issued, and for some artists, there was some new material recorded. I don’t think Plantation has much more than thirty or so songs recorded for these veteran artists (except Webb Pierce), so they should just take everything they have on a given artist and issue a CD. True, the original recording were better but all of these recordings were at least decent.

I do not pretend that this is an exhaustive list as there are many more artists whose artistry justifies more than is currently available. I noticed that Country Universe recently posted a Wish List segment on their Daily Top Five Feature. This series was not inspired by their article as I had this nearly completed before they posted their feature.

Week ending 2/28/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

mel-mcdaniel-200-0707091955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1965: I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: I Care/Sneaky Snake — Tom T. Hall (Mercury)

1985: Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On — Mel McDaniel (Capitol)

1995: Old Enough To Know Better — Wade Hayes (Columbia)

2005: Bless The Broken Road — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Sun Daze — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

Classic Rewind: Jeannie C. Riley – ‘Return To Harper Valley PTA’

A sequel to the Tom T. Hall-penned classic:

Week ending 11/22/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

tomthall1_h1954 (Sales): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me) — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: Country Is — Tom T. Hall (Mercury)

1984: Give Me One More Chance — Exile (Epic)

1994: Shut Up And Kiss Me — Mary-Chapin Carpenter (Columbia)

2004: In A Real Love — Phil Vassar (Arista)

2014: Something In The Water — Carrie Underwood (Arista Nashville)

2014 (Airplay): Neon Light — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Album Review: The Crowe Brothers – ‘Forty Years Old’

forty years old

Straddling the boundaries between traditional country and bluegrass, the close sibling Louvin-style harmonies of Josh and Wayne Crowe are always worth hearing, especially as the duo have a penchant for picking great songs. Their latest album is no exception.

A number of country classics given bluegrass instrumentation include the opening ‘Lost Highway’, written by Leon Payne but best known from Hank Williams’ recording. the Crowe Brothers’ version is excellent. I also enjoyed ‘Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Got A Heartache’, which is suitably plaintive, with soaring fiddle. The romantic ‘Send Me The Pillow’ is also nicely done, while a bluegrass classic ‘Don’t Let Our Love Die’ is beautiful. The pleasantly philosophical ‘Someday My Ship Will Sail’ is less well known, but the Allen Reynolds tune has been recorded in the past by Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash.

‘I’ve Got The Moon On My Side’ was written by Tom T Hall and wife Dixie with Troy Engle. It has been released as a single for bluegrass radio. It has a perky feel as the protagonist takes comfort in the country moonlight while his ex lives it up in town. The quirky ‘Livin’ In A Mobile Home’ was written by country songwriters Rory Michael Bourke and Ronny Scaife. It celebrates a life on the road in a Winnebago, and is entertaining and memorable.

‘Green Fields Of Erin’ is about the Irish emigrant experience and the longing for home.

The more-or-less title track ‘You Turned Forty Years Old’ is an old man’s fond tribute as his beloved son reaches a landmark age, written by Steve Watts. A charming lullaby rhythm and melody make this very memorable as the protagonist reminisces about his boy’s childhood.

‘Where Will You Be’ is a gospel tune written by Wayne Crowe and delivered with good cheer. ‘Angel Mother’ is an old fashioned (in a good way) pure bluegrass tribute to a mother. The set closes with the rapid-paced ‘Two Feet On The Floor’, which is typical up-tempo bluegrass.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Junior Sisk & Ramblers’ Choice – ‘Trouble Follows Me’

trouble follows meOver the past few years Virginia’s Junior Sisk and Ramblers’ Choice have been making quite a name for themselves in bluegrass. Sisk was named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year last year. His latest album is an excellent example of his work, and has great appeal for bluegrass fans who like songs with substance alongside sparkling musicianship.

The vibrant opener ‘Honky Tonked To Death’ is a great mixture of uptempo bluegrass vocals and arrangement and a honky tonk country song, written by Bill Castle. The unrepentant protagonist blames the break up of his marriage on his drinking habits:

I guess our love began to die when I found swinging doors
And every night I stayed out late it died a little more

The rhythmic ‘Don’t Think About it Too Long’ celebrates making music. It is co-written by Ronnie Bowman, who also wrote the high lonesome ballad ‘A Cold Empty Bottle, a story song about a man whose broken heart (and love of sad country songs) only feed his alcoholism.

‘I’d Rather Be Lonesome’ is a plaintive up-tempo disclaimer of love for an unfaithful woman. ‘Gonna Make Her Mine’ is perkier, about a shy man’s determination to declare his unrequited love for a neighbour’s daughter.

The title track, written by Sisk, is a fast-paced story song about a hard-pressed farmer who turns to crime after losing his farm. He ends up in a new prison built on his former home.

The slower ‘Walk Slow’, written by Tom T Hall and his wife Dixie, takes a more contemplative, philosophical approach, advising living like a small child to appreciate life fully.

‘Frost On The Bluegrass’ is about the enduring pull of home. ‘Jesus Walked Upon The Water’ is a briskly delivered acappella gospel quartet.

An eclectic selection of covers wounds out the set. The perfectly-constructed country classic ‘All I Have To Offer You Is Me’ works well, while the band also takes on a Carter Stanley tune, the mournful yet up-tempo ‘Our Darling’s Gone’. Most unexpected is a version of Michael Martin Murphey’s ‘What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round’, which also suits a bluegrass interpretation. The band’s Jason Tomlin takes lead vocals on this one.

Grade: A

Album Review: Fayssoux – ‘I Can’t Wait’

fayssouxFayssoux Starling McLean is best known to country fans for her gorgeous harmonies on some of Emmylou Harris’s iconic 70s recordings like ‘Green Rolling Hills Of West Viginina’. She was silent for years, but re-emerged in 2008 with a well-received solo album. The follow-up, on Red Beet Records, is a lovely country-folk confection mixing some well-chosen covers with her own new songs. Her rich, warm voice is tastefully supported by acoustic backings.

The soothing title track is a lovely inspirational song written by Kieran Kane (once of The O’Kanes) with Sean Locke and Claudia Scott. The ballad ‘When The Thought Of You Catches Up With Me’ was previously recorded by its writer David Ball, but Fayssoux brings a new delicacy and sweetness to it which works beautifully.

A lovely understated version of ‘Mama’s Hungry Eyes’ is a real highlight, with Fayssoux convincingly selling the story as though it was her own. Donna Ulisse’s delicate harmony is the perfect ornamentation. ‘Some Things Are Too Good To Last’, written by Jim Lauderdale, is another fine song with sweet harmonies.

‘I Made A Friend Of A Flower Today’ a very charming folky duet with Tom T Hall, who wrote it. This is another favorite track for me.

‘My Brain’ has a jazz rhythm and the vocal is a bit breathy. ‘Hell On A Poor Boy’ (written by poet R B Morris) is bluesy in a wistful way.

Fayssoux wrote a number of the songs with musician/journalist Peter Cooper and/or Thomm Jutz. ‘Golightly Creek’ is a nicely observational song about finding peace by returning to her birthplace.

‘Running out Of Lies’ is a melancholy depiction of the permanent damage caused by earlier heartbreak:
A temporary fix left a scar that’s everlasting

‘The Last Night Of The War’ has an authentic traditional folk feel with its post-Civil War setting.

She wrote ‘Find Your Own Light’ solo, and this is a deeply introspective song about finding oneself. ‘Ragged Old Heart’ is a little more upbeat with a bright tempo, although it too deals with a damaged individual.

This is a lovely record, drawing deeply from the wells of the best country and folk music.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Moonshine In The Trunk’

moonshine in the trunkI used to like Brad Paisley. He was a listenable rather than great vocalist, but a fine songwriter and brilliant guitarist, with a keen appreciation of country music traditions, capable of both comedy and teaching the heart. Somewhere along the way that Brad got lost. Each of his past few records has been less inspired than the last. Last year’s Wheelhouse was a confused mixture of well-meaning but hamhanded lyrics and ill-judged sonic experiments, which failed to appeal to Brad’s fans and is understandably his poorest selling record to date. Radio play has also been a little disappointing by his own standards; he hasn’t had a #1 in three years, although to be fair it’s not as if they’ve picked better material in his place.

‘Crushin’ It’ opens the album with some annoying shouted “heys”, and is a rather boring and slightly over produced song about weekend partying, but at least has some nuance by balancing it against a mundane weekday working reality. Brad’s vocals, however, are quite rudimentary, more spoken than sung, and the whole thing sounds amateurish. The lead single ‘River Bank’ (which topped out at #2) lacks melody and vocal prowess to an even greater degree and has similar annoying backing “vocals”.

The title track is loud and designed to appeal to the bro-country fans, although the guitar playing is showily impressive. ‘Limes’, another drinking song, is a fair song but shouty. Is it not possible to convey having a good time without yelling? I might suggest it’s a realistic depiction of obnoxious drunkenness, but I don’t believe the song is that self-aware.

Current single ‘Perfect Storm’ would be a pleasant little love song typical of Paisley, and his vocal is heartfelt, but the track has some irritating woo woo sound effects and an intrusive electric guitar choking it to death.

‘High Life’ is also cluttered with far too much going on, but it does have a country melody underneath. It is quite an entertaining story song, about a family who sue anyone they can on tenuous grounds, hoping to get money to go away. Carrie Underwood sings backing vocals and contributes a spoken cameo as herself (the protagonist sues her for an unfounded case of plagiarism). It’s one of the more enjoyable tracks on the album, although a more restrained production would have made this a real highlight instead of one by default. The story is made for a video, so this could well be a single at some point.

‘4WP’ is somehow surprisingly likeable despite the cliche’d bro-country lyric. Perhaps it’s because Brad is not taking his girl for granted as most songs of this ilk do, but also the production and arrangement are interesting.

‘Shattered Glass’ is one of Brad’s well-meaning attempts to be meaningful, applauding women reaching for success. On the plus side, the production is understated and tasteful, but I feel I should like this more than I do. Unfortunately the laudable message is undermined by the utterly patronising ‘You Shouldn’t Have To’; the melody of the latter is also rather dull. ‘Cover Girl’ is bearable but boring.

‘American Flag On The Moon’ is introduced with a clip of John F Kennedy announcing the space program; quite a thoughtful look at America’s history of exploration and encouraging the country to be ambitious in its outlook. The melody isn’t a very country one, and there’s the dreaded child chorus, but it’s a pretty decent song.

‘Country Nation’ is a smug complacent endorsement of country radio’s reach. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a single

Brad wrote or co-wrote almost everything here. The best songs, however, are the two brought in from outside. ‘Gone Green’, written by Kenny Lewis, is almost the best song here, with its story of a redneck making changes in his life to adopt environmentally friendly products. The arrangement is charming and pure country, with Emmylou Harris singing a pretty harmony vocal. Best of all, an acoustic cover of Tom T Hall’s gospel tune ‘Me And Jesus’ reminds me of the old Brad.

I don’t know if this album will arrest Brad’s commercial decline. It’s certainly better than his last album – but that’s not saying much.

Grade: C-