My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Tony King

Album Review: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘RVS III’

RVS IIIRVS III appeared in January 1990, a little more than a year after Loving Proof. Like its predecessors, it was produced by Steve Buckingham and was a mixture of both new material and some carefully selected covers of older songs that were suddenly back in vogue during the New Traditionalist era. This time around, however, there was slightly less emphasis on rockabilly-style numbers on more on ballads which were proving to be Ricky’s strong point.

Preceding the release of RVS III was a maginificent cover of “Statue of a Fool”, which had been a #1 hit for Jack Greene in 1969. Ricky’s version just missed the top spot, peaking at #2, but it remains one of the standout singles of his career and is his greatest moment of this album. The uptempo “I’ve Cried My Last Tear For You”, written by Tony King (who was engaged to Wynonna Judd at the time) and Chris Waters was the next single. This one did reach #1, but it’s not one of my favorites, which is a not a criticism of the song, but a testament to the strength of the rest of the album. Another great ballad “I Meant Every Word He Said”, in which the protagonist is forced to watch the woman he loves marry another man, also topped out at #2. The album’s fourth and final single was a cover of “Life’s Little Ups and Downs”. The blues-tinged track was an underperforming single for Charlie Rich in 1969. Ricky’s version reached #4, and although it provides a change of pace, it’s my least favorite track on the album.

There are only two rocking numbers on RVS III – “Love Is Burnin'”, which is in the same vein as “Crime of Passion” and a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman”. The rest of the album was comprised of ballads, most of which could have been hit singles, but Columbia was likely reluctant to release too many ballads in a row to radio. Among these choice tracks are “You Would Do The Same For Me”, a Rory Bourke-Mike Reid composition that I would have preferred to see as a single in lieu of “Life’s Little Ups and Downs”, “I’m Starting Over” written by Kix Brooks with John Wesley Ryles and Mark Sherrill, and a fantastic version of Cindy Walker’s “Not That I Care”. This beautiful waltz had been a minor hit for Jerry Wallace in 1966 (peaking at #44) and had also been recorded by The Wilburn Brothers.

Another standout is album’s closing track “Sweet Memories”, which had been an adult contemporary hit for Andy Williams in 1968 and covered by Willie Nelson in 1979. Ricky is joined by Brenda Lee, who was long past her commercial peak, but her voice was still strong and lovely and complemented his nicely. The track features a tasteful string arrangement which gives it a little more countrypolitan feel than the rest of the album.

Despite a couple of weak spots, namely “Life’s Little Ups and Downs” and the self-penned and forgettable “I Still Love You”, RVS III is packed with top-drawer material and it quickly attained platinum status as its two predecessors have. However, by this time the formula of a few rockabilly numbers and a lot of ballads, a few old songs and a few new was starting to become predictable and may partially account for Shelton’s relatively brief reign at the top of the charts. Nevertheless, it is an album well worth listening to and I enthusastically recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘A Dream Come True’

A Dream Come True was Rhonda Vincent’s second solo album, and also her second album for Rebel Records, a Roanoke Virginia label that already had a long and distinguished history of preserving and presenting bluegrass music.

Rebel certainly put their best foot forward with this album, assembling a fine cast of musicians to augment Rhonda’s usual supporting cast, with such great musicians as Jerry Douglas (dobro) and Roy Huskey (bass) plus some other guests appearing on selected tracks. Carl Jackson, Kathy Chiavola , Wayland Patton and Tensel Davidson provide vocal harmonies throughout the album.

The album opens up with “Kentucky Sweetheart”, an uptempo romp by bluegrass stalwarts Carl Jackson and Tony King. Blaine Sprouse plays fiddle on this track. The vocal harmonies on this track are somewhat reminiscent of those of the Osborne Brothers during the 1960s. “We Were Almost Like A Dream Come True” is slow ballad co-written by Larry Cordle, a very pretty and wistful song.

One doesn’t think of Pat Alger as a bluegrass songwriter and he isn’t. That said, “Lone Star State of Mind” definitely works as a bluegrass song. This song is performed at a medium fast tempo.

What would a bluegrass album be without a religious song ? The song chosen for this album is a pretty tune titled “Mama’s Angels” from the recently departed Charlie Louvin. Rhonda does a really nice job with this song. David Parmley provides the harmony vocal.

“Wishing Well Blues” is a wistful medium slow ballad which gives Rhonda some opportunity to show off her mandolin playing. “Just For Old Time’s Sake” is a vocal duet with one of Nashville’s finest voices in Jim Ed Brown. I really love this song – Jim Ed and Rhonda harmonize beautifully – and having the great John Hartford playing banjo doesn’t hurt either.

“Break My Heart” is a somewhat generic uptempo number, in that the song itself is nothing special. Rhonda and her cast sound just fine on this number.

Steve Earle and Jimbeau Hinson penned “A Far Cry From You”, a song which was a minor hit for Connie Smith. Today, Rhonda is one of the few vocalists I would compare to Connie Smith, but when this album was recorded in 1989, she was still developing her style. This is not a criticism as Rhonda does an excellent job with this song, but I think if she recorded it today it would be better still.

Jennifer McCarter and Carl Jackson penned “Love Without A Trace”. Jennifer McCarter was the lead singer of the McCarters, a sister act whose music harkened back to a much earlier style of music. This track is a bit more modern sounding than the music of the McCarters, but it has a lovely and intricate harmony arrangement reminiscent of some older musical styles. Blaine Sprouse plays fiddle on this track.

“Goin’ Gone” is another Pat Alger tune that Kathy Mattea took to #1 in early 1988. I love the arrangement on this tune with Blaine Sprouse and John Hartford doing their thing in a very tasteful manner. It’s a tossup as to whether I like this version better than Mattea’s version.

Allen Reynolds is better known as a producer for such artists as Crystal Gayle, Emmylou Harris and Garth Brooks, but he is also a talented songwriter and “Till I’m Fool Enough To Give It One More Try” is a nice medium fast tempo ballad that Rhonda handles to perfection.

Closing out the set is “Sundown”, an instrumental written by Ms Vincent herself. In recent years Rhonda has developed into quite an accomplished songwriter but at this stage of her career she was relying on others for material. This song provides a nice closing to the album and gives Rhonda a chance to let her pickers shine a little.

A Dream Come True is not Rhonda’s best album, but it is a very entertaining album and shows Rhonda as a recording artist of considerable promise. The powerful rafter-rattling vocals would come later as would her development as a songwriter and development of a sense of humor in her music, only hinted at here and there on this album. This was the first Rhonda Vincent album I purchased, the one that served to get me hooked on Ms. Vincent’s remarkable talents.

This album is somewhere in the range of B+/A-.

Album Review: Brooks & Dunn – ‘Borderline’

BorderlineBrooks & Dunn’s fourth studio album for Arista Records was released in April 1996. The title — Borderline — is an unusually though probably unintentionally descriptive one, as it sums up perfectly the quality of this uneven and somewhat disappointing collection.

A month before the album’s release, things got off to a good start with the advance single, an excellent cover of the 1973 B.W. Stevenson hit, “My Maria”. It was somewhat of a departure for the duo, as it marked only the second time they released a cover song as a single. The first was 1992’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”, which although it was an original Ronnie Dunn composition, had previously been recorded by Asleep at the Wheel. Despite its pop origins, “My Maria” quickly soared to #1 on Billboard’s country singles chart, where it spent three weeks. It was also the publication’s top country song of the year for 1996.

The follow-up single and second track on the album, “I Am That Man”, was written by Terry McBride and Monty Powell. Despite being a bland and somewhat forgettable song, it managed to climb all the way to #2. Things continued on a downward trend with the third single release, “Mama Don’t Get Dressed Up For Nothing”, on which Kix Brooks takes over the lead vocals. Written by Brooks and Dunn along with producer Don Cook, “Mama” is a line dance number in the same vein as “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” that fails to recapture the magic of that earlier hit. The lyrics require an attitude and sassy delivery that Brooks fails to provide. He sounds like he is phoning in his performance; the song could possibly have been saved if Dunn had sung the lead, though it is questionable whether his stronger voice would have been enough to overcome the banality of the lyrics. Radio was apparently in agreement with me on this one, since “Mama” stalled at #13, becoming the first single the duo released that failed to reach the Top 10.

Things picked up considerably with the fourth single, “A Man This Lonely”, which returned the pair to the top of the singles chart when it became their eleventh #1 hit in February 1997. This was followed up by another lackluster single, “Why Would I Say Goodbye”, which, like “Mama Don’t Get Dressed Up For Nothing” featured Kix on lead vocals. It seems an odd choice for a single release; it was possibly chosen in an attempt to give Brooks some more radio exposure as a lead vocalist. Though it peaked at #8, I had totally forgotten that this song had even been a single until I started doing research for this review. I can’t remember ever hearing it on the radio. I would have by-passed it in favor of “One Heartache At A Time”, a Ronnie Dunn-led effort. Written by Brooks with one-time Vince Gill band member and former Wynonna Judd fiance Tony King, “One Heartache At A Time” is my favorite song on the album. Another gem is uptempo fiddle-and-steel driven album closer “White Line Casanova”, which was probably not sufficiently commercial to release to radio. Nonetheless, it’s a standout track on this frustratingly inconsistent album.

The remainder of the songs on the album are generic filler and not worthy of any lengthy discussion. The production is solid throughout the album; it is somewhat baffling to come up with an explanation for why Brooks and Dunn weren’t able to come up with stronger material as they had on their previous releases. Borderline relies a little more on outside songwriters than the previous albums, but this actually one of the collection’s strengths, particularly in the case of “My Maria”.

Despite its flaws, Borderline became the second Brooks & Dunn album to reach #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Certified double-platinum (about 1 million units fewer than its predecessor Waitin’ On Sundown), it marked the beginning of a leveling-off of the duo’s album sales. It is still in print, available at Amazon and iTunes, but is not essential listening as the singles are available on various hits compilations.

Grade: C