My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Tony Joe White

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘God’s Problem Child’

Although he has had to cancel a few shows lately because of illness, 83 year old Willie Nelson is still touring and releasing records at a pace which puts to shame artists a quarter of his age. His latest album is his 62st studio album, and although it is his first of brand new songs for some time, he has written a good proportion of the songs here.

Opener ‘Little House On The Hill’, written by producer Buddy Cannon’s 90-something mother Lyndel Rhodes, has a charmingly old fashioned feel. The delicate piano/harmonica ballad ‘Old Timer;, written by Donnie Fritts and Lenny Le Blanc, Is a pensive reflection on growing old and outliving friends. Understated and beautiful, this is excellent.

‘True Love’, one of a number of songs Willie wrote with Buddy Cannon, is sweetly optimistic. ‘Your Memory Has A Mind Of Its Own’ is a lovely, very traditional country tune about battling with heartbreak. Another favorite is the irony-tinged, ‘I Made A Mistake’:

I told a big lie, Lord
And then I forgot
I thought I was Jesus
And believe me I’m not
I thought I was right
And I was wrong by a lot

‘It Gets Easier’ is a plaintive ballad about love and loss. ‘Lady Luck is about compulsive gamblers.

The wrily amusing ‘Still Not Dead’ was inspired by an erroneous report of Willie’s death:

I woke up still not dead again today
The internet said I had passed away…

I run up and down the road makin’ music as I go
They say my pace would kill a normal man
But I’ve never been accused of bein’ normal anyway

More cynical, ‘Delete And Fast Forward’ is a rare venture by Willie into political commentary.

‘A Woman’s Love’ is a loungy jazz ballad written by Sam Hunter and Mike Reid:

A woman’s love is stronger than a man’s
But it can hold your heart in the palm of his hands.
It’ll keep the faith through the long dark night
It takes a woman’s love, a woman’s love
To see the light.

It’ll make you fly
Sink you like a stone,
It’ll leave you high
Or leave you all alone.
You’ll believe her word
No matter what you’ve heard
Anybody say about it
There’s no life for you without it now

Sonny Throckmorton and Mark Sherrill wrote the gentle, pretty ‘Butterfly’. Tony Joe White and Jamey Johnson wrote the title track, a gloomy blues gospel tune about failure and the enduring love of God. The pair, plus the late Leon Russell, also guest on the song.

The album closes with a touching tribute to Merle Haggard. Gary Nicholson actually wrote ‘He Won’t Ever Be Gone’, but it sounds as if Willie did, with its fond memories of both the musician and the man.

Willie is in surprisingly strong voice given his age and hectic schedule. Combined with the excellent songs included, this is a really good album by a living legend who is still at (or at least not far off) the height of his powers.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Jessi Colter – ‘Out of the Ashes’

Out of the Ashes was released in 2006, four years after the death of Waylon Jennings, and with the exception of a 1996 children’s collection, was Jessi Colter’s first album in 22 years. She teamed up with Don Was, who had a reputation for reinvigorating the careers of other veteran artists both inside and outside of country music. He was best known for his work with Bonnie Raitt and had also worked with Waylon, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson both as individuals and as members of The Highwaymen.

Out of the Ashes is not a straight country album. It is heavy on blues and roots rock, with a touch of Gospel occasionally thrown into the mix. Jessi wrote or co-wrote nine of the album’s twelve tracks. It has an earthier sound than her earlier work and her voice sounds grittier but is still in fine form. It is a concept album but only in the very loosest sense. It is about grieving and eventually emerging from that grief and moving on. It opens with a cover of the Gospel song “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”, given a bluesy treatment, and moves on to the sassy, bluesy “You Can Pick ‘Em”. The piano-driven “The Phoenix Rises” is a beautiful ballad about rebirth and new beginnings and is my favorite. The similarly-themed mid-tempo “Out of the Rain”, performed with its writer Tony Joe White is an older song dating back to the 1980s. Waylon had supplied vocals on an unreleased version and they are incorporated into this version. It signals that Jessi has moved on and is ready to explore new relationships, and she takes the plunge headfirst on the steamy “Velvet and Steel”.

Other favorites include the ballad “The Canyon” — about a couple ready to go their separate ways, and told metaphorically from the point of view of a horse:

Don’t lay your bridle on my shoulder
Don’t bring your bit to my mouth
Don’t lay your blanket on my body
Just take your saddle and move out.

The album closes with another Gospel number “Please Carry Me Home”, performed with Jessi’s co-writer and son Shooter Jennings. The track had previously been included on a multi-artist anthology of songs inspired by the film The Passion of the Christ.

The only track I didn’t care much for was the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, which seems slightly out of place, with its ambiguous references to people “getting stoned”. It’s not clear if this is a drug song or people being pelted metaphorically with stones, or both.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this collection, but the more I listened to it the more I liked it and I ended up enjoying it much more than I expected to. It is available on streaming services and can also be downloaded or purchased on CD.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr – ‘Living Proof: The MGM Recordings (1963-1975’

living proof mgmFor the listener wanting a good overview of Hank Junior’s career with MGM Records, the best place to start is with this 3 CD boxed set released in 1992 by Polygram, the successor label to MGM.

The set is not perfect, far from it, but within its 82 tracks , it does a good job of showing the maturation process of Hank Williams, Jr. as a singer and as an artist. For a record label trying to give an overview of a major artist of the 1960s and 1970s the task is a daunting one. Not counting Christmas albums and hit collections, George Strait released 24 albums between 1981 and 2005. Using the same criteria, Hank released 29 albums between 1963 and 1975. Hank recorded quite a few more songs in thirteen years than did modern day icon Strait in twenty-five years. That’s a lot of songs for MGM/Polygram to wade through.

The set is essentially chronological, although it gives short shrift to the very earliest recordings. In one sense, this is a good thing in that it avoids the ridiculous pop duet album recorded with Connie Francis. In another sense, it is a bad thing in that it misses some of Hank’s efforts to break away from being a clone of his father. Missing are some of the more interesting album tracks from the albums Blue’s My Name and Ballads of The Hills and Plains and essential tracks from My Own Way (“I’m In No Condition”) and My Songs (“I Ain’t Sharin’ Sharon” and “I Wouldn’t Change A Thing About You [Except Your Name]”).

That’s not to say that the track on the collection are not worthy as they most certainly are worthy. It’s simply that the set should run one disc longer. If you listen carefully, you will find that this collection of songs represents Hank’s autobiography up to 1975 – it’s that powerful.

Included are twenty-five of Hank’s forty-one chart hits for MGM (including all six of his #1 singles), examples of Hank as a clone of his father, examples of Hank’s recordings while struggling with the ‘Nashville Sound’ (particularly “All For The Love of Sunshine”, a #1 hit with the Mike Curb Congregation), and the entire Hank Williams and Friends album that closed out his MGM career.

Along the way Hank showed sign of his versatility recording country classics, pop songs (“Endless Sleep”, “Splish Splash”), R&B classics such as Fats Domino’s “Aint That A Shame”, Joe Liggins’ “I’ve Got A Right To Cry”, Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia”, Smokey Robinson’s “My Girl” and a bunch of songs that he wrote himself, some of them really fine efforts. Not meaning to pick on George Strait, but there is more diversity of material and more challenging material in this box, than George has tacked in his thirty-five year recording career. Only Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard ever tackled such a far ranging repertoire.

This box set, for all my quibbles with it, is still an A+. It is still available and I would recommend it to anyone.

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Good Hearted Woman’

220px-Good_Hearted_Woman_cover_artReleased in 1972, Good Hearted Woman found Waylon Jennings making large strides in the direction towards the Outlaw Movement for which he’s most associated. Songwriting credits from the likes of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson were paramount in making the musical shift.

Chet Atkins enlisted Ronnie Light to produce the project after Danny Davis exited the fold to focus his attention on his Brass Band. Jennings noted he put Light through hell during production although his anger was directed at the musicians who didn’t truly understand his artistic vision.

The #3 peaking title track served as the album’s first single. Famous for a version that featured Jennings singing with his co-writer Willie Nelson, “Good Hearted Woman” is presented here with Jennings singing solo (the duet came three years later on Wanted! The Outlaws). The background vocalists are dated and distracting, but the track is otherwise perfect.

Jennings solely penned the harmonica laced “Do No Good Woman” while Nelson took a sole writing credit on “It Should Be Easier Now.” The pedal steel soaked Nelson composition afforded Jennings the opportunity to give a tour de force vocal performance while his own track feels a bit run of the mill.

Chip Taylor and Al Gorgoni’s shuffle “Sweet Dream Woman” peaked at #7. The pesky background vocalists rear their ugly heads again, but other than that the track is excellent. I love Jennings’ vocal, too, but I get the sense he was being constricted. If I had to guess, I bet he would’ve desired to cut loose a lot more than he was able to.

Kristofferson composed the album’s closing track, the excellent recitation “To Beat the Devil.” Jennings’ baritone is the perfect vehicle to convey the story, about a man who happens upon a tavern on a cold winter’s night.

Harlan Howard contributed the honky-tonker “One of my Bad Habits.” With an ear-catching chugging beat the track details the plight of a man coming clean about his reckless behaviors (smoking, drinking, his woman) and trying to do something about them. I love the bright production, complete with both steel and twangy guitars.

Swamp rocker Tony Joe White contributed “Willie and Laura Mae Jones,” one of the album’s standout tracks. White composed the masterful lyric, about a friendship between a white family and their black neighbors, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement; three years prior to the release of Good Hearted Woman. The subtly is masterful. With just one line (‘that was another place, another time’) he’s able to get his message across beautifully.

Canadian Folk-Rocker Gordon Lightfoot graces Good Hearted Woman with his stone country ballad “Same Old Lover Man.” The tender qualities in the lyric and production are equally matched in Jennings’ vocal, which makes use of his higher register. There’s nothing wrong with the track but in the context of the album it feels a bit too light.

“Unsatisfied” is a more typical ballad, with Jennings using his lower register to convey the lyric. While I was listening the melody seemed somewhat familiar and it came to me. To my ears the track is similar to Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey,” which might’ve been intentional or just something I heard. Otherwise, it’s a solid recording.

“I Knew You’d Be Leavin’” is another ballad, but unlike the previous two, has a peppier production that really caught my ear. I wasn’t fond of Jennings’ vocal, it seemed to low for my tastes, but the track itself is very good.

Good Hearted Woman is a wonderful album and well worth checking out to get a better view of Jennings’ recorded output during this era of his career. The proceedings are too clean and careful and “Willie Mae and Laura Jones” should’ve been the album’s second single. But I would still recommend this album as it is another strong entry in Jennings’ discography.

Grade: A 

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘Call Me Insane’

call me insaneI always look forward to listening to a new Dale Watson album and thus far I’ve never been disappointed with his recorded output. Call Me Insane proves to be no exception.

I thoroughly enjoyed this album, although as a diehard western swing/Texas swing fan, I was a little disappointed to see very little evidence of swing in this album. This is an album of honky-tonk music with a strong Bakersfield flavor. Don’t call it country, though, because Dale definitely doesn’t want his music associated with the tepid and insipid stuff currently heard on country radio and television shows like American Idol. Dale recently reiterated this on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition program.

The opening track is “A Day At A Timer” an up-tempo honky-tonker about taking life a day at a time. Danny Levin takes a nice piano solo and Don Pawlak shines on steel guitar

Next up is a “Bug Ya for Love” is a more mid-tempo country song about the pursuit of an unattached woman. Although light-hearted and humorous, the humorless feminists would probably label it a stalker song. The song features extended piano and steel instrumental breaks.
“Burden of the Cross” is the most interesting song on the album, a somber ballad about a roadside memorial being removed to make room for a highway expansion. As most know by now, Dale’s fiancée lost her life in a car accident, and I suspect that Dale was compelled to write this song, Although not so stated in the lyric, the narrator goes back at night and replaces the memorial.

When I heard the instrumental introduction to “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach, Texas”, I thought I would be hearing “Let’s Chase Each Other Around The Room” but the melody changes up and what we have is a song dedicated to the small Texas town, Waylon Jennings made famous several decades ago . Watson extols the town’s simple charms and a fine woman. on this you can hear the strong influence of Lefty Frizzell on Dale’s vocals.

Songs such as “Crocodile Tears” were staples of classic country music – the same old story of a lover that has died and a heartbroken lover trying to convince himself that his ex still loves him.

“Jonesin’ For Jones” is a tribute to the departed king of the honky-tonkers, George Jones. This upbeat song finds Dale wanting to see the George perform again. As Dale puts it ‘thank God that his music still lives on’. Amen to that! The lyrics name a number of George’ song and there are musical signatures of several songs, most notably “White Lightning”. I think George would really like this song.

“I’m Through Hurtin’” finds our hero seeking pain relief through a night on the town. I love the steel guitar work on this mid-tempo ballad, This is followed by the title track “Call Me Insane” a very slow ballad about a man who hopes for a better end to relationships than he has experienced in the past. He retains hope even though it may be insane to do so. Dale’s vocals are very nuanced and full of intospection. The use of trombone, sax and trumpet as accents is masterfully handled.

“Heaven’s Gonna Have a Honky Tonk” is honky-tonker about Dale’s concept of heaven and his thanks for being allowed to live the life he lives.

I read in the good book
Heaven is a place
Where the only thing we’ll have
Is all we’ll want
If he said it
Then it’s true
Well I’ve got news for you
Heaven’s gonna have a honky-tonk

I’m not really wild about songs sung in two languages. For instance I always preferred Jack Greene’s original version of “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” to Freddy Fender’s later bilingual version (that Greene was a far superior vocalist also figured into the equation). That said, “Tienes Cabeza de Palo” is a nice changeup. The Bing translator translates this a ‘You Have A Stick Head’ but I suspect it means something like ‘You’re hard headed’) Mariachi horns highlight the production.

“I Owe It All to You” is a ballad in which Dale thanks his woman’s ex for being such a jerk that she ended the relationship . “Forever Valentine” is an ideal ballad with which to follow up the previous song.

Dale picks up the tempo again with “Hot Dang” a song that compares falling in love with a sunny day. The melody reminds me at times of “The Race Is On” and the song is a bit of a throwaway.

Up to this point all of the songs on the album were written or co-written by Dale. The album ends with a Tony Joe White composition “Mamas Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies.” The title, an inversion of Ed Bruce’s 1976 top twenty hit that Waylon & Willie took to #1 in 1978, exhots mothers to raise their sons as cowboys.
Once again, Dale Watson has a tight honky-tonk band, this time without a fiddle in the band. Lloyd Maines plays acoustic guitar while Dale plays the electric lead. Don Pawlak is on steel with Chris Crepps on upright bass and Mike Bernal on drums. On the few tracks where brass is used, it is The Wise Guys at work (Jon Blondell – trombone, Jerry Colarusso – saxophone, Ricky White – trumpet)

I like this album, I like it a lot and while it is not one of my favorite Dale Watson albums, it is still one that has been playing in my car CD player for the last week and is a worthy entry into the Dale Watson canon.

A-

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Goin’ Down Rockin’ – The Last Recordings’

It’s been over a decade (February 2002) since we lost the great Waylon Jennings, and four years since the release of Waylon Forever, the collaboration released by his son Shooter Jennings. Since Waylon had been in poor health during the years immediately prior to his death, I had assumed (and feared) that we’d heard the last new recordings from Ol’ Waylon.

It turns out that I was wrong, and I’ve seldom been so pleased to be wrong about something. In September 2012, Goin’ Down Rockin’: The Last Recordings will be released. The album will include twelve songs, written and recorded by Jennings along with his bassist Robby Turner during the last years of his life.

Jennings recorded the songs only playing his guitar and singing while accompanied by Turner on the bass. Further instrumentation was planned, but it was stopped due to Jennings’ death in 2002. Turner completed the recordings ten years later with the help of members of Jennings’ band The Waylors.

“Goin’ Down Rockin’” is the leadoff track for the album. It is probably my least favorite track in the album, mostly because I don’t like the guitar work on the cut, but even so I like the song. Swamp legend Tony Joe White assists with vocals. Waylon doesn’t appear to be in particularly good voice on this track so I assume it’s one of the last tracks recorded. In a way the song’s chorus perfectly reflects Waylon’s outlook on life:

Spent a little time in the congregation, that’s how I was raised
Spent a little time in trouble, but I do have my ways
If I can’t go down rockin’, I ain’t gonna go down at all

“Belle Of The Ball” has more of a contemporary country sound, with nice steel guitar work. The song is a gentle and reflective ballad about one of the things that did go right. I don’t know if the song is specifically about his wife Jessi Colter but it would certainly fit

A vagabond dreamer, a rhymer and singer of songs
Singing to no one and nowhere to really belong
I met a beautiful lady, a pure Southern belle of the ball
Like Scarlett O’Hara, loved no one and wanted them all

There is a nice you tube video of Shooter Jennings that you can watch until the album becomes available on September 11, 2012.

“If My Harley Was Runnin'” is the lament many of us have felt – nothing in life is working (including personal relationships) and there is no way to run – but watch out because if ever he gets his Harley working as he’ll be long gone. I wasn’t that impressed with the song the first time I heard it, but it certainly has grown on me with repeated playing.

“I Do Believe” is a very reflective song taken at a slow tempo, not overtly religious but very spiritual just the same. Another song that has grown on me with repetition:

In my own way I’m a believer
But not in voices I can’t hear
I believe in a loving father
One I never have to fear
That I should live life at its fullest
Just as long as I am here

“Friends In California” and “The Ways of The World” are just decent country songs, performed well . The latter has the same tempo and pattern as one of Waylon’s biggest hits “Amanda”, a song I think you could easily sing to this melody. “Shakin’ The Blues” is a slow song. Again a decent lyric improved by the fact that Waylon is the artist singing it.

Waylon was always a master at medium fast tempo blues-rockers and “Never Say Die” is no exception. The song is on a par with any similar such songs Waylon recorded in his long and distinguished career

Well, there’s snow on the mountain, a fire down below
No place to hide, but there’s no place to go
Seems like I’m surrounded by the trouble in the air
If there’s any way out I can’t find it anywhere

Chorus: But I’ll never say die
Never say die
I ain’t givin’ in or givin’ up without a try
No, I’ll never say die

I love “Wastin’ Time”, the most solidly country song of the bunch. The best county songs are about troubles, sorrows and laments and no one did them better than Ol’ Waylon

I’ve made up my mind to make my move
It’s just a waste of time to wait on you
I’m set to leave and you’re set in your ways
You can’t change and if you can’t I can’t stay

I’ve been wasting time that I can’t spare
Wastin’ love when you don’t care
And the one conclusion I’ve come to
I’ve been wasting time and a lot of good love on you

“Sad Songs And Waltzes” is an older song that I first heard on a Keith Whitley album some years ago. I very much liked Keith’s version but Waylon has more resignation in his vocals which gives the song a different flavor, so I wouldn’t want to choose between the two versions.

I’ve been married a long time so I don’t have any recent experience with barroom angels. Even so, I don’t suspect that things have changed much. Forty years ago “She Was No Good For Me” might have become a radio classic. Even if radio won’t play it today, it’s a fine song:

She was wonderfully wicked and wild
With the looks of a woman
And the ways of a child
She could twist me or turn me
With a look or a smile
And she was just no good for me

Don’t be taken by the look in her eyes
If she looks like an angel
It’s a perfect disguise
And for somebody else she may be
But she was just no good for me

The album ends with “Wrong Road To Nashville” , a song which has a strong Cajun flavoring with Cajun fiddles and rhythm, and a few vocal scats lifted from “Jolie Blon”. Lyrically this song is not that strong, but it is a pleasant aural experience.

Apparently there wasn’t a great backlog of unreleased Waylon Jennings material at the time of his death, so this may be the last Waylon Jennings album of new material. If so, Waylon has exited on a very high note. Kudos to Robby Turner for the exemplary job he did in finishing off the masters in a manner befitting a legend. Kudos also to Waylon Jennings for being that legend.

Grade: A-