My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Trisha Yearwood

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Forever’

Forever, John Conlee’s second album, and first for MCA, was released in 1979, produced by Bud Logan. The album’s excellent pop-leaning first single “Before My Time” is a ballad about a woman scared by a previous relationship, just like the guy in Trisha Yearwood’s equally wonderful “The Woman Before Me.” The song peaked at #2.

MCA sought fit to release just one more single from the album. “Baby, You’re Something” is a mostly unremarkable and dated heavily-orchestrated ballad. It reached #7.

“Let’s Keep It That Way” finds a man pleading with his would-be mistress to end things before the affair even starts. Devotion leads the way on the title track, which finds Conlee as a man declaring his loyalty to his woman.

“You Never Cross My Mind” finds him trying to convince himself he’s over his love, despite crying himself to sleep at night. The album’s first truly great song is “I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again,” which was recorded by Kenny Rogers on The Gambler a year earlier. Conlee’s version is excellent, despite the heavy orchestration.

The uptick in quality continues on the wonderful “No Relief In Sight,” which was also recorded by Conway Twitty and Dawn Sears. He doesn’t slow down on “The In Crowd,” which finds him coming home to his wife and kids at the end of a long work day.

Looking at the album’s track list I could only wonder if “Crazy” was indeed the song I thought it would be. I have no idea why MCA and/or Conlee would feel the need to include the country standard here, updated to fit within the trends of the late 1970s, except to introduce it to younger audiences who might not be familiar with it. He does handle it well.

Conlee concludes the album with “Somebody’s Leavin,’” which is a stereotypical breakup song, but very good nonetheless. Listening through Forever, I can say the same about the album. There are some excellent tracks, namely those also recorded by other artists, mixed in amongst some filler. In retrospect the singles are among the album’s weakest offerings, especially with more worthy candidates sprinkled throughout.

Forever is very pop-leaning, with heavy orchestration and little to no elements traditional to country music. At least the songs are good to great, which helps a lot.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: Trisha Yearwood — ‘Let’s Be Frank’

It is always nice to encounter new music from Trisha Yearwood, one of the best female vocalists of the pre-millennial generation of country singers. While I would have preferred to have new country music from Ms. Yearwood, I really can’t complain about an album dedicated to the music of Frank Sinatra.

Frank Sinatra was such an omnipresent force in the music I heard growing up, that I find it hard to believe that it has been over twenty years since his death on May 14, 1998. Arriving on the scene in the mid- 1930s Frank continued to have hit records into the early 1980s. Along with Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra is one of the four faces that would belong on a Mount Rushmore of classic pop music (some would insert Perry Como, Joe Williams. Mel Torme or Tony Bennett alongside Crosby and Sinatra but this is my Mount Rushmore). Sinatra recorded for RCA (technically these were issued as Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra), Columbia, Capitol, and Reprise/Warner Brothers. The A&R Director at Columbia was Mitch Miller, who was somewhat addicted to novelty songs and tended to pander to the pop market. Disgusted, Sinatra left Columbia for Capitol, determined to record only quality material. The Capitol and Reprise recordings are chock full of good material. Perfectionist that he was, Sinatra often re-recorded past material, usually bringing a new slant to the material, whether in orchestration, time signatures or approach. None of Sinatra’s remakes could be described as dreary or inferior.

In making this album, Trisha Yearwood has selected eleven songs that Sinatra sang over the course of his long career plus one new song. The album opens up with “Witchcraft”, a top twenty pop hit from 1957, written by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. It would be difficult to top Frank’s recording but Ms. Yearwood gives it a really good effort.

“Drinking Again” is a song I associate with Dinah Washington, one of the most soulful R&B singers ever. I like Yearwood’s version (and Frank’s version, too); however, neither version measures up to the Dinah Washington recording. Sinatra’s version is fairly obscure, appearing on several Sinatra sampler albums and anthologies.

Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen were among Sinatra’s favorite songsmiths, both separately and together. “All The Way” appeared in the film The Joker Is Wild and the song received the 1957 Academy Award for Best Original Song. It reached #2 on Billboard’s airplay charts and is a song that Sinatra would revisit several times. Trisha does a fine job with the song giving a properly nuanced delivery.

“Come Fly With Me” was the title track to one of Sinatra’s biggest albums, reaching #1 in the US and #2 in the UK in 1958. The song was not released as a single but it is a very well known song – if Billboard had charted album tracks, this song, with a swinging arrangement by Billy May, undoubtedly would have been a hit. Trisha does not swing with quite the flair of Sinatra (who does?) but she does a more than satisfactory job with the song.

Nobody associates “(Somewhere) Over The Rainbow” with Frank Sinatra, and although Sinatra recorded E.Y. Harburg’s classic song for Columbia in the mid-1940s, Frank would have been the first to tell you that the song forever belongs to Judy Garland. Sinatra version had the sort of ‘Hearts and Flowers’ arrangement that Columbia’s Axel Stordahl was known for, and Yearwood follows the same approach. Her version is very good, with an understated ending but I would have picked another song for this album.

“One For My Baby” is what Sinatra called a ‘saloon song’. A saloon is one of the last places I would expect to find Trisha Yearwood and while she does a nice job with the song, she does not imbue the song with the sense of melancholy that Frank breathed into this Johnny Mercer classic:

 It’s quarter to three

There’s no one in the place

Except you and me

So set ’em up Joe

I got a little story

I think you should know

We’re drinking my friend

To the end

Of a brief episode

Make it one for my baby

And one more for the road …

 

You’d never know it

But buddy I’m a kind of poet

And I’ve got a lot of things

I’d like to say

And when I’m gloomy

Won’t you listen to me

Till it’s talked away

Well, that’s how it goes

And Joe I know your gettin’

Anxious to close

 

And thanks for the cheer

I hope you didn’t mind

My bending your ear

But this torch that I found

It’s gotta be drowned

Or it’s soon might explode

Make it one for my baby

And one more for the road

George & Ira Gershwin created “They All Laughed” back in 1937 for the film Shall We Dance starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Ginger sang the song in the movie and it is a perfect fit for Trisha. While I would not regard this as a Sinatra song (he recorded once, in 1980, as part of his rather odd Trilogy: Past Present and Future album), there is no doubt that Trisha does a superlative job with the song.

 They all laughed at Christopher Columbus

When he said the world was round

They all laughed when Edison recorded sound

They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother

When they said that man could fly

They told Marconi

Wireless was a phony

It’s the same old cry

They laughed at me wanting you

Said I was reaching for the moon

But oh, you came through

Now they’ll have to change their tune

They all said we never could be happy

They laughed at us and how!

But ho, ho, ho!

Who’s got the last laugh now?

“If I Loved You” was a Rodgers & Hammerstein song from the Broadway musical Showboat. Again it is not especially thought of as a Sinatra song, although he recorded it for Columbia and Capitol, but, it is a nice song that Trisha handles well.

 If I loved you,

Time and again I would try to say

All I’d want you to know.

If I loved you,

Words wouldn’t come in an easy way

Round in circles I’d go!

Longin’ to tell you,

But afraid and shy,

I’d let my golden chances pass me by!

Soon you’d leave me,

Off you would go in the mist of day,

Never, never to know how I loved you

If I loved you.

“The Man That Got Away” is another Judy Garland classic, this time from the pens of Harold Arlen & Ira Gershwin. Sinatra sang it as “The Gal That Got Away” but it works better from the feminine perspective, and I prefer Trisha’s version to Frank’s version.

“The Lady Is A Tramp” is a Rodgers & Hart composition from the play Babes In Arms. Trisha sings the song from the feminine perspective, and while the song works better sung from the masculine perspective, the main problem is that Trisha simply doesn’t swing as well as Sinatra.

“For The Last Time” is the only new song on the album, written by Trisha Yearwood and her husband Garth Brooks. It is a very good, but not great, song that Sinatra might have recorded as an album track. I am impressed that they came up with a song that could fit Sinatra’s milieu.

The album closes with “I’ll Be Seeing You”, a song written by Sammy Fain and Irvin Kahal in the late 1930s. While the song was huge hit for Bing Crosby and for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra, Sinatra very much liked the song and also recorded the song for Columbia and Capitol. He also featured it in concert

I’ll be seeing you

In every lovely summer’s day

In everything that’s light and gay

I’ll always think of you that way

 

I’ll find you in the morning sun

And when the night is new

I’ll be looking at the moon

But I’ll be seeing you

This is a very nice album indeed and I would give it an A-, docking it very slightly for some errant choices in material as regards Sinatra. That said, the arrangements are very good to excellent, and the musical accompaniment is excellent (unfortunately my copy is a digital download so I do not have a list of the musicians) and the songs are fine exemplars of well-crafted songs. This album will likely appeal more to fans of classic pop/pop standards than to fans of either traditional country or modern country but I would recommend the album to anyone interested in hearing the magic that occurs when an excellent vocalist is paired with worthy material.

Single Review: Garth Brooks — ‘Stronger Than Me’

I have a confession to make. I’ve been falling for Garth Brooks’ marketing schemes for more than 20 years now. I’ve been smarter about avoiding his wicked games in recent years, but I have my share of his box sets and first addition albums with alternate covers in my expansive music collection. I also own the Chris Gaines album, mostly out of curiosity, which says way too much about my musical gullibility.

Brooks’ most recent marketing ploy occurred two weeks ago when he strong-armed the Country Music Association into letting him play what was then an unnamed new song he had recently recorded in tribute to Trisha Yearwood, live on the show. Neither Yearwood nor the audience had heard the song prior to the telecast.

As the story goes, Brooks approached the CMA with his idea for the performance. The producers turned him down, saying a ballad just wasn’t going to work for them the year. Unaccustomed to being told no, he did whatever he had to do to secure the slot.

I just wanted to hear the song and was honestly upset with the CMA for turning him away. I hate, more than anything, when producers and image consultants control what we see on screen. It’s become far more transparent in recent years on various awards shows.

I don’t believe the CMA corroborated his story, so who knows if it’s accurate, or just another ploy in his plan to drum up pre-buzz for this new song. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day if the song itself is worth the hassle to be given such visible exposure. When all is said and done, a quality song is always worth celebrating.

“Stronger Than Me,” which was composed by Matt Rossi and Bobby Terry specifically for Brooks, depicts a man who is awestruck that his woman is always there for him when he needs her:

She always says that I’m the rock that she leans on

But it’s so hard to believe

Cause she is always there when I start losing faith, going crazy

She saves me

And every now and then she just wants me to hold her

But that don’t mean she’s weak

The way she’s unafraid to let her feelings show just means she’s stronger than me

 

She lifts the weight of this whole world off of my shoulders

With nothing but the touch of her hand

And every day and I wake up and she tells me that she loves me

I feel more like a man

I know I always thought I had to have the answer

Be her strength and take the lead

But when it comes to everything that really matters

She’s stronger than me

I really like how Rossi and Terry build up the woman in the relationship to be more than the spouse or girlfriend. The man actually recognizes her worth and admits his own flaws, all characteristics I can stand behind.

I just can’t forgive the execution. This idea that the guy is “saved” or “feels more like a man” simply because of his woman irks me. Those feelings and revelations have to come from within, not as a by-product of a romantic relationship. What happens if the relationship ends? What happens if she’s not there anymore to build him up? He’s defining his well-being based on the relationship instead of standing on his own two feet. He needs to know he can be okay without her, too, a lesson he clearly never learns:

I’d give her anything in life that’s mine to give her

Till the last breath that I breathe

And if I have a choice I pray God takes me first

Because she’s stronger than me

Sonically, the piano-centric arrangement is tasteful, but I don’t hear any ounce of passion in the finished record at all. The mixing is muffled and sounds like they recorded the song into a mobile phone or similar device. Brooks doesn’t display his usual emotion or sincerity vocally, two characteristics that drew me to his music in the first place.

“Stronger Than Me” is very similar to the formula he perfected on Fresh Horses, but comes off like a half-hearted attempt at regaining the glory of that album. “She’s Every Woman” this is not, and that’s a damn shame.

Grade: C

To listen to “Stronger Than Me” click here

Single Review: Garth Brooks – ‘All Day Long’

If you regularly follow current events in the world of country music, then you likely know Garth Brooks would be releasing a new single this week entitled “All Day Long.” In the lead up to the song’s release, Brooks said country music needs a “good damn honky-tonk song” and promised “All Day Long” would bring the fiddle back to country music. To stir the pot further, Brooks described the song as a mix of “Two of a Kind (Workin’ on a Full House), “Ain’t Goin’ Down (Til the Sun Comes Up),” and “Callin’ Baton Rouge.”

Brooks, like Taylor Swift, is a master marketer adapt at selling the listener and the fan whatever product he’s hawking at the current time. Right now that product is “All Night Long.” He got me through the door by stirring the pot of nostalgia by referencing three of his most enduring songs in the same breath as this new one. But just because he can get me through the door, doesn’t mean he can make me stay.

“All Day Long” does have fiddle and a heavy dose of steel. Brooks’ vocal is twangy and harkens back to his heyday in the 1990s. Heck, I can even hear Trisha Yearwood harmonizing with him throughout most of the evensong. I’ll give him credit for bringing all the right ingredients to the table. Each one is there, perfectly audible, and cannot be mistaken.

But “All Day Long” is not a honky-tonk song. I’ll repeat. “All Day Long” is not and never will be a honky-tonk song nor could it pass as one with even the most forgiving definition of the term. It’s faux southern rock with just enough token signifiers that it could pass as “country.” But he’s not fooling anyone. The majority of “All Night Long” is generic attitude with screaming guitars (if they’re not computer generated). The only place I ever hear anything remotely sounding like a fiddle is on the instrumental break on the bridge.

“All Day Long” is a product designed to keep Brooks in the public consciousness until he’s ready to announce his 2019 touring plans, which he’s already said will be his first ever stadium-only tour. It may work on that level, but as a song, it has very little to keep the listener engaged.

Grade: C-

You can hear the song HERE

Classic Rewind: Trisha Yearwood – ‘The Crossing’

Album Review: Kim Richey – ‘Kim Richey’

Kim Richey released her self-titled debut album this week in 1995 on Mercury Records. I remember this music well, from her association with Mary Chapin Carpenter. I even saw her open for Trisha Yearwood during an intimate ‘in the round’ performance during Trisha’s “Real Live Woman” tour in 2000.

To my ears, the song I most know her for is her debut single and biggest hit “Just My Luck,” which hit #47. The song is an excellent up-tempo number about a woman who is fine on her own until she falls in love:

I was livin’ the good life

None of that silly love stuff

Then I went and fell for you

Ain’t that just my luck?

“Just My Luck” feels like a Yearwood song through and through. Her second single, “Those Words We Said” subsequently appeared on Thinkin’ About You that very same year. The mid-tempo ballad, about a woman leaving home after an argument, is fabulous. It performed slightly worse for Richey, stalling at #59. Third single “From Where I Stand,” which peaked at #66, continues in the same vibe and is very good.

Another familiar tune, “You’ll Never Know” was the second single off of Mindy McCready’s sophomore album, If I Don’t Stay The Night in 1998. It’s always been one of my favorite singles from McCready and I didn’t realize until today that Richey had co-written it.

“Just Like The Moon” is equally excellent, with an engaging melody. “Let The Sun Fall Down” is a sparse ballad that nicely showcases Richey’s effective voice. “Sweet Mysteries” is a sweet ballad about a woman wondering why a man fell in love with her in the first place. “Can’t Find the Words” continues in the same vein, but finds a woman unable to properly tell her man she loves him. Richey is calling her man’s bluff on “That’s A Lie,” a very good song about confrontation.

“Echoes of Love” is an ear-catching rocker and a nice change of pace. “Here I Go Again” and “That’s Exactly What I Mean” are mid-tempo and fall in the same sonic makeup of “That’s My Luck.” Both are very strong and well executed. “Good,” which continues in that same vein, is a fine way to close out the album.

Richie reminds me a lot, at least on this record, as a country music answer to the pop females who dominated the Lilith Fair Circuit. In researching Richey for this review, I found out her song “Desire” was actually recorded by Dixie Chicks on Shouldn’t A Told You That in 1993.

Kim Richey is a great album that introduced a fine songwriter into the country music elite. I highly recommend seeking this one out.

Grade: A

Week ending 4/14/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Oh Lonesome Me / I Can’t Stop Loving You — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Oh Lonesome Me — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1968: You Are My Treasure — Jack Greene (Decca)

1978: Someone Loves You Honey — Charley Pride (RCA)

1988: Famous Last Words of a Fool — George Strait (MCA)

1998: Perfect Love — Trisha Yearwood (MCA)

2008: You’re Gonna Miss This — Trace Adkins (Capitol Nashville) 

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Most People Are Good — Luke Bryan (Capitol Nashville) 

Album Review: Jann Browne – ‘Count Me In’

Jann Browne had parted ways with Curb Records by the time her third album Count Me In was released in 1995. Seeing as it was her first independent record, no singles were released to country radio.

The twelve-track album includes four songs Browne co-wrote with Pat Gallagher. “Baby Goodbye” is a bluesy ballad accentuated with gorgeous lead guitar licks, while “When The Darkest Hours Pass” is mid-paced and delightful. “White Roses” is a mournful ballad brimming with dobro and “Dear Loretta” concerns a woman writing a letter after moving away and landing a job in New York City.

Browne co-wrote every track on the album, including writing two solo. “Hearts On The Blue Train” is an engaging slick rocker that opens the record with energy and gusto. “Red Moon over Lugano” is a western waltz complete with Spanish elements and ear-catching accordion work.

Lee Ann Womack found a lot to love on “Trouble’s Here,” a nice twangy shuffle she included as an album track on her eponymous album two years later. Both versions are equally excellent, which is saying a lot after Womack has lent her vocal to track. In another era, this song would’ve garnered the attention it so richly deserved.

It was one of six songs Browne co-wrote with Matthew Barnes, including the title track, which starts slowly before picking up the tempo with a percussion-heavy arrangement that nearly drowns out her vocal. “One Tired Man” is an album highlight, a sinister ballad about a man coming face-to-face with his many demons.

“Long Time Gone” is song of escape, an anthem for moving on with confidence. “Ain’t No Promise (In The Promise Land)” is a killer contemporary ballad, with strong production and a simply perfect lyric. “I Have No Witness” is even better and it’s shameful the song remained an album track.

Count Me In perfectly exemplifies why the female insurgence of the 1990s was so important to the vitality of country music. The women of country music during that era set the lyrical standard and influenced a generation of country music fans of which I’m proud to say I’m a part.

This album is a songwriting goldmine that should never have fallen through the cracks. It was clear by 1995 that Jann Browne did not have a place as an artist in mainstream country music. But, Womack and “Trouble’s Here” not withstanding, Count Me In should’ve made the rounds behind the scenes for cuts by Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride and the like, who held (and continue to hold) Matraca Berg and Gretchen Peters to the highest standard. Judging by this album alone, Browne should’ve stood right along side them.

I highly recommend seeking this one out if you’re able to come across a copy.

Grade: A

Week ending 4/7/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: How Long Will My Baby Be Gone — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1978: Ready For The Times to Get Better — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1988: Love Will Find Its Way To You — Reba McEntire (MCA)

1998: Perfect Love — Trisha Yearwood (MCA)

2008: Small Town Southern Man — Alan Jackson (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Most People Are Good — Luke Bryan (Capitol Nashville) 

BREAKING NEWS: Johnny Gimble, Dottie West and Ricky Skaggs headed to the Country Music Hall of Fame

The press conference, which just concluded in the Rotunda, was hosted by Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks:

Christmas Rewind: Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks – ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’

Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘A Life That’s Good’

Lisa McHugh released her sophomore album, A Life That’s Good, in October 2014. The title track, co-written by Sara Siskind and Ashley Monore, is a sweet ballad about personal fulfillment that first appeared early on in the second season of Nashville.

The album is ripe with covers. McHugh opens with “Applejack,” in which she more than adequately channels Dolly Parton. She turns to Trisha Yearwood with “She’s In Love With The Boy,” wrapping her innocent twang around the timeless tale of Katy and Tommy’s burgeoning love. As if to cover all ends of the spectrum, McHugh turns in a fine rendition of “Any Man of Mine,” which typically sounds like cheesy karaoke outside of Shania Twain’s hands.

A Life That’s Good proves McHugh to favor bright and uptempo material, which makes Vince Gill’s “Feels Like Love” the perfect addition to this set. Also excellent is Red-era Taylor Swift’s “Stay Stay Stay.” McHugh improves on Swift’s album track with a far more organic arrangement and mature performance vocally. Kacey Musgraves’ “My House” is also a delight, although I wish McHugh had settled for a bit less mimicry in her inflections.

On an album of curious covers, closing track “On The Road Again,” which has always been one of my favorite songs, stands above the rest. Her version of the Willie Nelson classic is excellent, infusing her own personality while keeping the essence of the song alive.

“Ireland” continues the album’s bright vibe, with an uptempo love song brimming with gorgeously ear catching fiddle. The cautionary “Hey I’m A Woman” finds McHugh delivering a stern warning to her man that she’s not just one of the guys. “What You Get Is What You See” might just be my favorite vocal of McHugh’s on the whole album. “Night Train to Memphis” is bluegrass in mainstream 1990s country style and every bit as wonderful as you might expect. “Hillbilly Girl” is cheesy but not without its charms.

McHugh does slow the pace on occasion, although those moments are rare. “Home to Donegal,” a power ballad, has good intentions but is way too loud and feels a bit staged. “All of Me” is a misplaced cover of John Legend’s song, far too pop, for placement on such a solidly country album. Steel Guitar-laced ballad “Left to Love,” which perfectly displays her sweet voice, is much better.

McHugh is a delight and I quite enjoyed listening to A Life That’s Good. It’s impossible to listen to her and not fall under her spell. There’s truly nothing not to like about what she’s given us here. I only wish she wasn’t so reliant on covering such well-known songs and was putting the focus, instead, on developing her own artistry. But I really can’t complain when an album sounds this good and this country.

Grade: A

Album Review: Varous Artists: ‘Gentle Giants: The Songs Of Don Williams’

Don Williams had a very successful career in Country Music and is pretty much beloved throughout the English-speaking world. Don would have a long run of chart singles (46 as a solo artist) that would run from 1973 to 1992, and he would continue to release albums of new music through 2014.

With such a long discography, the task is twofold: (1) find artists whose styles are sympathetic to the honoree’s style without being mere imitations, and (2) find some interesting catalog songs rather than simply covering the biggest hits. Moreover, tribute albums tend to be a mixed bag with some of them being very good, and others merely star vehicles for current stars rather than genuine tributes. Gentle Giants is a genuine tribute to Don.

This project succeeds in both respects. The artists cover a broad range of styles and while the songs are mostly big hits, a few lesser known songs are covered as well.

The album opens up with the Pistol Annies’ version of “Tulsa Time” a song written by Danny Flowers, one of Don’s band members. The arrangement of this 1979 #1 record for Don is considerably funkier than Don’s arrangement.

“I Believe In You” was written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin, hitting #1 in 1980. This was probably Don’s biggest international hit, even reaching #4 on New Zealand’s pop charts. Brandy Clark does a decent job of the song, although it probably should have been tackled by a more grizzled artist than young Brandy.

“We’ve Got A Good Fire Going” was not one of Don’s bigger hits, only reaching #3 in 1986. Written by master songsmith David Loggins, the song seems perfectly suited for a vocal trio such as Lady Antebellum. The arrangement is very gentle with a light string accompaniment.

There’s a storm rollin’ over the hill
And the willow trees are blowin’
I’m standin’ here starin’ out the window
Safe and warm
I feel her put her arms around me
And it’s a good feelin’ that I’m knowin’
Oh, I’ve got a good woman and we’ve got a good fire goin’

“Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” comes from the pen of Wayland Holyfield. The song reached #1 in 1977, Dierks Bentley gives the song an acoustic, nearly bluegrass arrangement. I love the song and I love Dierks’ performance of the song.

While there are no complete misfires on the album, “Amanda” seems ill suited for the duo of Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton. I really like Chris but his voice is just wrong for this song. His version is acceptable but both Don and ol’ Waylon did far better versions of the song.

Similarly Alison Krauss makes the mistake of slowing the tempo in “Till The Rivers All Run Dry”. Since all of Don’s songs are taken at slow to medium slow tempos, reducing the tempo on any of Don’s songs is a mistake. Alison provides a gorgeous vocal, but the song just seems to drag. Don co-wrote this song with Wayland Holyfield, his fourth #1 from back in 1976.

I regard John Prine as a talented songwriter but a poor vocalist with his vocal efforts ranging from mediocre to terrible. Somehow “Love Is On A Roll” works. It was a good idea to pair him with Roger Cook, especially since Prine and Cook were the writers on the song. Don took this song to #1 in 1983.

Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You”, as sung by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because Amanda Shires is no Emmylou Harris as a harmony singer. I think the song originally was an Emmylou Harris single featuring Don Williams since it was released on Warner Brothers, which was Emmylou’s label. The song only reached #3 but I thought it was an outstanding effort by Don and Emmylou.

“Maggie’s Dream” missed the top ten when released in 1984 but by then Don was staring to lose momentum as a singles artist. Also the album from which the song came, Cafe Carolina, was Don’s least successful album in a decade. Written by David Loggins and Lisa Silver, Trisha Yearwood does a masterful job with the song. I think it has one of the more interesting lyrics that Don ever tackled:

Maggie’s up each morning at four am
By five at the counter at the diner
Her trucker friends out on the road will soon be stopping in
As the lights go on at Cafe Carolina

Maggie’s been a waitress here most all her life
Thirty years of coffee cups and sore feet
The mountains around Ashevill,e she’s never seen the other side
Closer now to fifty than to forty

Maggie’s never had a love
She said she’s never had enough time
To let a man into her life
Aw but Maggie has a dream
She’s had since she was seventeen
To find a husband and be a wife

I am not that familiar with Keb Mo’ but he nailed “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good”, adding a very sincere vocal to an arrangement that is nearly a clone of Don’s original. The song was written by Dave Hanner, best known for his role in the Corbin/Hanner Band. The song reached #1 in 1981.

“Good Ole Boys Like Me”, written by Bob McDill is probably my favorite Don Williams song and Garth Brooks version tells me that Garth definitely grew up on and was inspired by Don’s songs. Billboard had this song dying at #2 but Cashbox and Record World both had it reaching #1.

All said, this is a pretty nice album. Don Williams was a pretty laid back artist and I wish someone had selected some of the more up-tempo songs (admittedly, there were not that many from which to choose). Other than Leon Redbone and Bobby Bare, no one was as good at laid-back as Don Williams.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Trisha Yearwood and friends – ‘I’m Talkin’ Love’

Album Review: Sunny Sweeney – ‘Trophy’

After falling in love with Brandy Clark’s Twelve Stories, Sunny Sweeney tapped Dave Brainard to produce Trophy, which grapples with misery and longing, tackling the well-worn themes with exciting twists and turns. Brainard works to nicely compliment Sweeney’s firecracker personality, giving us a sound far meatier than Clark’s, but in no way less sublime.

Our first taste, which Occasional Hope lovingly reviewed, is the astonishing “Bottle By My Bed,” a heartbreaking tale about Sweeney’s struggles with infertility co-written with Lori McKenna. I, too, have a very personal connection to the track, which details the anguish felt when “you never never wanted something so bad that it hurts.”

Sweeney begs the bartender to reserve judgment and just “Pass The Pain” on the album’s brilliant steel-drenched opener, a decade-old neotraditional ballad she felt was potentially too country for a modern audience. She recorded the song, which features an assist from Trisha Yearwood, at the insistence of her rock-leaning father.

She bookends with the stunning “Unsaid,” a heavily orchestrated ballad written with Caitlyn Smith following the suicide of a friend who was a father of two young children. While the track doesn’t chronicle his story, it lays bare her feelings towards the circumstances:

There’s so much left unsaid

Cuts to the bone to see your name written in stone

Wish I could get it off my chest

Shoulda let go of my pride when I still had the time

Dammit it hurts these words I left unsaid

Sweeney has said Chris Wall’s “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” is her favorite country song ever. The track, a fiddle-drenched waltz popularized by Jerry Jeff Walker, boasts an engaging melody and killer hook:

And I play classical music when it rains,

I play country when I am in pain

But I won’t play Beethoven, the mood’s just not right

Oh, I feel like Hank Williams tonight

I also love “Nothing Wrong With Texas,” another of the four tracks she and McKenna co-wrote for Trophy. The song, an ode to Sweeney’s home state, is an effortless fiddle and steel adorned mid-tempo ballad.

The pair also wrote two distinctly different numbers about Sweeney’s marriage to her second husband Jeff Hellmer, a police sergeant in Austin, Texas. “Grow Old With Me” is a breathtaking love song, in which Sweeney promises, “grow old with me and I’ll keep you young forever.”

The other song is the feisty title track, written in response to Hellmer’s ex calling Sweeney a ‘trophy wife.’ She proves her worth in the situation with a clever, albeit cunning, retort:

I know what you called me

That word fits me to a T

You just think I’m pretty

And you’re just full of jealousy

I don’t make him play the fool

Put him on a pedestal

Something you would never do

Yah, he’s got a trophy now

For putting up with you

Like “Trophy,” the rest of the album trends uptempo, with in-your-face barn burning honky-tonkers. “Better Bad Idea” is a moment of levity, which finds Sweeney on the prowl to be naughty, hoping her man can top the mischief she’s thinking up on her own.

“Why People Change” is an excellent take on failed relationships, with Sweeney questioning why couples can drift apart. The lyric is well-written, and the engaging melody is nothing short of glorious.

I haven’t been this richly satisfied with an album probably since Twelve Stories. With Trophy, Sweeney has crafted a whip-smart and mature record nodding to tradition while correctly pushing the genre forward. Trophy is what happens when everyone steps aside and puts the focus deservedly on the music, where it belongs.

Grade: A+

Sunny Sweeny was also interviewed on Rolling Stone Country

Album Review: Lari White – ‘Don’t Fence Me In’

dont-fence-me-inThe singles from Wishes would prove to be the peak of Lari White’s popularity. The followup album, Don’t Fence Me In, which saw her stretch her wings artistically, was less successful in the marketplace.

The first single, ‘Ready, Willing And Able’, is quite a good mid-tempo song about being open to falling in love, which Lari delivers with commitment. It was written by Jess Leary and Jody Alan Sweet, and reached the top 20.

The only other single, the vivacious up-tempo ‘Wild At Heart’, failed to make the top 40, and combined with unspectacular sales of the album led to RCA dropping Lari. Lari wrote it with Al Anderson, and it’s pretty good and well performed.

‘Ain’t Gonna Worry About Love No More’ (written by Michael Noble) is in a similar contemporary up-tempo vein.

Lari wrote three songs with her husband Chuck Cannon. The best of these, ‘Something Blue’, is a bluesy torch song about a marriage in the course of disintegrating:

Our love is something old
Her kiss is something new
And now we live on borrowed time
Cause all that’s left is something blue

The upbeat poppy ‘Do It Again’ affirms the narrator’s past choices and mistakes. ‘Next To Love’ is fairly forgettable filler.

‘Ghost Of A Chance’, written by Lari with Chuck Jones, is a low key soulful ballad about fighting the unseen rival of her partner’s ex, with some nice fiddle. This is excellent, and my favourite track.

I also like another ballad, ’The Test’ (written by Don Schlitz and Billy Livsey), although it feels a little bit contrived. A married woman reviews the strength of her relationship on paper, listing all the fights and bad times, which makes her think it must be over – but set against that she has just one positive: she loves him.

‘I’ve Been Waiting For Your Love’ is a pretty AC-leaning ballad written by Stephony Smith and Terry Burns, with some nice fiddle. ‘Woman Of The World’ is an upbeat song about women as survivors.

Rather pretentiously, two tracks have short teasers earlier in the set list. The title track is the Cole Porter-penned standard. Right at the start of the album Lari sings the first chorus fairly straight, with harmony singers Trisha Yearwood and SShelby Lynne, but with old dusty vinyl sound effects. Then almost at the end of the album she launches into a speeded up rockabilly take on the song. It doesn’t really work for me.

Similarly, ‘Soul Searchin’ Blues’ starts out randomly inserted three quarters of the way through with one verse, and then continues right at the end. This is a straight blues tune.

The record is not particularly country, and certainly not traditional, but Lari White was a very talented singer and songwriter, and if you like a slightly poppy/jazzy/AC edge to your country, this album is well worth while.

Although Lari would enjoy one more top 20 hit with ‘Stepping Stone’ on a new label, Lyric Street , and then a top 20 duet with Travis Tritt, that was the end of her mainsteam success.

Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope’

rebaReligious albums, like Christmas albums, are sometimes a hard sell to fans because there is inevitably much overlap in song selection with other artists’ Gospel collections. Reba McEntire avoids falling into that trap with Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope, which was released last week. The generous two-disc collection is evenly divided between traditional hymns and more contemporary inspirational songs. As long as thirty years ago, I can remember Reba saying she wanted to a Gospel album; finally, she has reached a point in her career where commercial pressures have eased enough to allow that dream to become a reality.

Reba produced the collection with Rascal Flatts member Jay DeMarcus. The first disc contains most of the old familiar favorites beginning with “Jesus Loves Me” – the first song Reba sang in public at age four, and progressing on to other standards such as “Oh, How I Love Jesus”, “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder”, “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art”. She is joined by family and friends on a few tracks: her mother and sisters provide the harmonies on “I’ll Fly Away”. The Isaacs appear on a mash-up of “In The Garden” and “Wonderful Peace” and Kelly Clarkson and Trisha Yearwood lend their voices to “Softly and Tenderly”, which closes out the first disc. This track was released as a single in December. It didn’t make the country charts but did reach #43 on the Christian chart. All of these songs are tastefully arranged; the production is appropriately sparse and traditional. Reba and DeMarcus push the envelope slightly on “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, which features some nice steel guitar work (an instrument we rarely hear on Gospel albums). The only tune on the first disc that I didn’t particularly care for was “Oh Happy Day”, on which the production is a cluttered mess of too-loud horns, saxophones and a Gospel choir. Clocking in at more than five and a half minutes, it goes on way too long.

Disc Two contains more modern religious-themed songs, mostly performed in the pop-country style for which Reba is well known. I particularly liked the title track and the current single “Back to God”, which first appeared on Randy Houser’s 2008 debut album. A Houser co-write with Dallas Davidson, Reba’s version of “Back to God” currently resides at #25 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, although it has yet to appear on the airplay chart. “There Is a God” — also quite good — is a remake of the 2009 Lee Ann Womack single. “God and My Girlfriends” sounds as though it could have appeared on any Reba album released during the past twenty years. Not as overtly religious as the title suggests, it probably would have stood a chance of being a hit a few years ago, but probably not now. The upbeat “I Got The Lord on My Side” sounds like an old-time revival song; it was written by Reba and her mother Jackie McEntire.

“Angel on My Shoulder”, which features a banjo and drum machine suffers from the clichéd production that we’ve heard too much of in mainstream country in recent years. The song itself is not bad, but it is probably the weakest in the collection. “From the Inside Out” is a pretty but somewhat lifeless ballad.

Reba is one of the best female vocalists that country music has ever known and she’s always been one of my favorites. I’ve been critical of many of her musical choices over the past decade or so as she seemed more concerned with chasing trends and maintaining a presence on the radio than just singing good songs. Sing It Now shows that when she puts aside commercial considerations and works with good material, she is still second to none. Despite one or two minor missteps, Sing It Now is a great collection and hopefully a sign of the direction that this talented lady will be going in the future.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘Somebody Loves You’

51jizvcqjml-_ss500After several years of struggling, Crystal Gayle finally enjoyed her breakthrough Top 10 hit with 1974’s “Wrong Road Again”. The two subsequent singles from her debut album both failed build on that success, however, which must have been cause for concern at the time. She rebounded nicely, however, with her sophomore album, which was released in 1975. “Somebody Loves You”, one of three tracks penned by producer Allen Reynolds, reached #8. The album’s second single, “I’ll Get Over You”, the first of several hits written for her by Richard Leigh, became her first chart-topper in early 1976. The simple melody and lyric, beautifully sung, has always been one of my favorites.

Somebody Loves You followed the same basic formula as Crystal’s prior album — more polished than the music that hardcore traditionalists like big sister Loretta were putting out — but still quite country in comparison to Crystal’s later work. Allen Reynolds’ songs are among the best in the collection: the traditional-leaning “Before I’m Over You” and the oft-recorded “Dreaming My Dreams With You” which was made famous by Waylon Jennings. Crystal branches out a bit with the bluesy “Sweet Baby On My Mind”, which sounds very similar to “Night Life”, a 1963 hit for Ray Price penned by Willie Nelson. “I Want To Lose Me In You” by Jim Rushing and Marshall Chapman is a pretty but lyrically light number. The same could be said about “High Time”, which is little more than catchy album filler, but Lloyd Green’s steel guitar gives it a little extra oomph. Crystal and her husband Bill Gatzimos wrote one track for the album, the pleasant but forgettable “Coming Closer”.

Somebody Loves You was an important album in Crystal Gayle’s discography. It finally set her on track for consistent commercial success; during the next decade only two of her singles missed the Top 10. The album is also notable for some of its session personnel: the aforementioned steel guitar great Lloyd Green and background vocalists Janie Fricke, who would go on to have a successful solo career of her own, and Garth Funds, who later became a famous producer for Keith Whitley and Trisha Yearwood, among others.

This is a good album for those who are interested in hearing Crystal’s music before she started enjoying crossover success.

Grade: A

Christmas Rewind: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Sweet Little Jesus Boy’

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘White Christmas Blue’

loretta-lynn-white-christmas-blue-1476726333The crop of Christmas albums has been hit or miss this year with big band affairs aptly showcasing Chris Young and Brett Eldridge’s vocal prowess and Kacey Musgraves’ continued decent into her own quirkiness. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood had the most disappointing record, a haphazard affair unbecoming from an artist (Yearwood) with impeccable song sense who knows better.

Loretta Lynn has released the years most intriguing holiday record, White Christmas Blue, which comes a full fifty years since her Owen Bradley produced Country Christmas. The album is a full-on traditional affair and a delight at every turn.

I usually find fiddle and steel out of place on a Christmas album, but White Christmas Blue is changing that perception for me. The album is mostly comprised of holiday standards, with jovial renditions of “Frosty The Snowman” and “Jingle Bells” sitting comfortably along side “To Heck With Ole Santa Claus,” one of the album’s strongest cuts and a personal favorite of mine. “Blue Christmas,” a full-on honky-tonker in Lynn’s hands, is also excellent.

The ballads don’t hit as hard. It may be the starkness she brings to “Away In A Manger,” “Silent Night” and “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” that didn’t do it for me or the fact I’ve heard them so often, in so may different versions, their simple beauty has begun to wear thin. “’Twas The Night Before Christmas” was a complete surprise, a perfect way to end the album.

White Christmas Blue also boasts two original numbers. “Country Christmas” is a rerecording of the title track from the last album and Lynn hasn’t lost any of the spunk she brought to the original. The other, the title track, is a rather somber affair, which finds Lynn with everything she wants – except her honey:

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m still all alone

It’ll be Christmas day when you come home

Icicles hanging from the eves, snow is glistenin’ from the trees

My Christmas time with you is over due

 

You turn into my white Christmas blue

You turn into my white Christmas blue

I should be saying ho ho ho instead of bu bu bu

Oh Santa Claus would no want you to break my heart in two

You turn into my white Christmas blue

I cannot recommend this album enough.

Grade: A-