My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Ty Herndon

Week ending 12/8/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: City Lights — Ray Price (Columbia)

1968: Stand By Your Man — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1978: On My Knees — Charlie Rich with Janie Fricke (Epic)

1988: If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’) — George Strait (MCA)

1998: It Must Be Love — Ty Herndon featuring Sons of the Desert (Epic)

2008: Chicken Fried — Zac Brown Band (Atlantic)

2018: Speechless — Dan + Shay (Warner Nashville)

2018 (Airplay): Lose It — Kane Brown (RCA Nashville)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A

Week ending 5/30/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

f4ac01695547e2a27830265b2fa433c0_lg1955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: This Is It — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1975: I’m Not Lisa — Jessi Colter (Capitol)

1985: Radio Heart — Charly McClain (Epic)

1995: What Mattered Most — Ty Herndon (Epic)

2005: Making Memories Of Us — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): A Guy Walks Into A Bar — Tyler Farr (Columbia)

Album Review – Doug Stone – ‘My Turn’

StonemyturnDoug Stone’s most recent album, My Turn, was issued on Lofton Creek Records in 2007. Produced by the singer himself, the album is comprised solely of original material (none of which he wrote), without any re-recordings of past singles.

With Stone no longer in the good graces of country radio, and My Turn receiving little publicity from the label, it’s unsurprising none of its three single charted. Lead single “Nice Problem” boasts a wonderfully traditional arrangement, and a strong vocal from Stone, but is too sentimental lyrically. The idea of “what a nice problem to have” is just too predicable to work on a truly emotional level. “She Always Gets What She Wants” is a fine uptempo number and good choice for the second single. The title pretty much gives away the song, but it works because Stone doesn’t come off corny. I really like the light production, too.

My favorite of the three singles is “Don’t Tell Mama” a tune I first came to know through The Grascals’ version, which features a duet vocal by George Jones. The song first appeared on Ty Herndon’s Living In The Moment from 1996 and then from Gary Allan’s 1999 Smoke Rings In The Dark. It’s a perfectly cut slice of pure country about a man pleading with a first responder in the wake of his car crash, just before he dies:

Don’t tell Mama I was drinkin’

Lord knows her soul would never rest

I can’t leave this world with Mama thinkin’

I met the Lord with whiskey on my breath

“We’re All About That” is a fairly cliché uptempo rocker laundry-list type song that showed the beginning of this now insufferable trend. Stone keeps up with the high-octane rock of “The Hard Way” but the whole thing fails him by being far too progressive for his far more traditional voice. with a reference to Hank Williams Jr within the first seconds, “That’s How We Roll” plays like a Gretchen Wilson cast-off, a song too demographically specific even for her.

“Dancin’ On Glass” is a smooth-pop love song that fails to be anything great thanks to rudimentary lyrics and bland production. “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” is another laundry-list song, this time in ballad form about rudely stereotypical characteristics of being female. The song is demeaning in nature, which doesn’t help its cause, although it boasts a somewhat listenable production.

Stone is at his best when steel guitar penetrates the production track, thus giving his natural twang some context on a song. “The Right Side of Lonesome” is just one such example of this, a moment where he’s allowed to shine. It’s not a revelatory song by any stretch, but it works because all the necessary pieces come together nicely. “To A Better Place” also fits the traditional criteria, although it just isn’t that great a song, and there’s an odd vocal mix on the chorus that doesn’t do Stone’s voice any justice. He’s far better on “You Were Never Mine To Loose,” a straightforward country song with ample fiddle. It could’ve been written a little stronger, but it works fine just like it is.

When I was listening to the three singles for this review, I was excited to be able to praise Stone for making a record that showcased what he does best instead of an uncharacteristic effort that bowed to mainstream pressure. My Turn is actually neither of those things. It falls somewhere in the middle, settling as a mixed bag of tricks, some that work, and a lot that don’t. But he’s in fine voice throughout, which is nice to see from a country singer past his commercial prime. I just wish he’d been gifted with better songs.

Grade: B

Album Review: Pam Tillis – ‘Homeward Looking Angel’

homeward looking angelPam’s second Arista album, released in 1992, was tastefully produced like its predecessor by Paul Worley and Ed Seay. Although the material was not quite as strong, there was enough to keep her momentum going, and in fact it was more successful commercially than its predecessor.

The first single ‘Shake The Sugar Tree’, written by Chapin Hartford reached #3. A pretty melody, tasteful arrangement, Pam’s confident lead vocal and banked harmonies from Stephanie Bentley (who later had a duet hit with Ty Herndon) apparently lifted from her demo of the song all contribute to making this a very attractive recording of a good song with an assertive attitude as the protagonist gives her neglectful man a warning.

The wistful story song ‘Let That Pony Run’ (about a suburban housewife who finds a new life after her husband leaves her), written by Gretchen Peters, is one of the standout tracks. It is the kind of mature, thoughtful lyric which would get no traction on today’s radio but in 1993 it reached #4. An exquisite vocal is backed up by backing vocals from Pam Rose and Mary Ann Kennedy.

The playful irony of ‘Cleopatra Queen Of Denial’, written by Pam, her then-husband Bob DiPiero, and Jan Buckingham, peaked just outside the top 10 (at #11).

By far my favourite track is the very traditional ‘Do You Know Where Your Man Is’ (written by Dave Gibson, Russell Smith and Carol Chase), which was another top 20 single. The pensive ballad asks a married woman about the state of her marriage

Did you kiss him when he left this morning
And does he know that he’s needed at home?
Well, if you don’t feel that old thrill
Then somebody else will
And there’s some mighty good women all alone

It’s ten o’clock
Do you know where your man is
And are you sure that he’s doing you right?
Are you still in his heart
When he’s out of your sight?
Do you know where your man is tonight?

It was previously recorded by Barbara Mandrell, whose version is also very fine, but Pam’s just edges it for me. Her beautifully judged vocal is backed by a lovely traditional arrangement with prominent steel guitar.

Opening track ‘How Gone Is Goodbye’ is one of a brace of songs written by Pam with Bob DiPiero. It is a very good song which could easily have been another hit single, with a ballsy (and surprisingly upbeat) delivery and mature lyric with a woman regretting walking out and wondering if she can backtrack.

The excellent ballad ‘We’ve Tried Everything Else’ (written by Pam and Bob with Steve Seskin)might be the same couple a little further down the line, as the protagonist suggests to her ex that getting back together would be the best solution, since new lovers have failed to help them move on:

Neither one of us is feeling any better
All we’ve been doing is fooling ourselves
Baby, you and me were meant to be together
Let’s try love again
We’ve tried everything else

The title track offers a portrait of a young woman who is returning home as the prodigal daughter but who hasn’t given up on her dreams:

Her party dress is tattered but her vision is inspired…

There’s a road ahead and the road behind
All roads lead to home this time

A couple of tracks are less interesting. ‘Love Is Only Human’ is an AC-leaning duet with Diamond Rio’s Marty Roe which is a bit bland, although it is beautifully sung; I would have loved to hear this pairing on a more dynamic song. ‘Rough And Tumble Heart’ was previously recorded in a very similar arrangement by female-led 80s group Highway 101, so Pam’s version, while perfectly listenable, seems redundant, even though she wrote it (with DiPiero and Sam Hogin). ‘Fine, Fine, Very Fine Love’ is just plain boring and Pam’s vocal verges on the screechy.

Although I don’t like this album quite as much as Put Yourself In My Place, it actually sold better, becoming Pam’s first platinum certification. It is a solid and very varied collection with some excellent songs. Used copies can be obtained cheaply, and it’s well worth picking up.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Ty Herndon – ‘What Mattered Most’ (ft Anita Cochran)

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘Unbelievable’

The band’s last release of the 1990s was 1998’s Unbelievable. They were a well-established act by now, and had released their first Greatest Hits set. The new album was slick but played on the group’s strengths to create a radio-friendly yet organic blend. The songs (none of which were written by band members) range from great to mediocre. But even when the material falls short, as it does at times, the record always sounds good, thanks to the band’s harmonies, playing, and the slick but not overdone production (courtesy of the band with Michael D Clute).

The first two singles were both big hits. The one truly great song on the album, the devastating bereavement ballad ‘You’re Gone’, opened the album’s campaign on the singles chart, where it peaked at #4. The disconsolate narrator opens strikingly,

I said “Hello, I think I’m broken”

That facetious initial pickup line draws us into the soaring chorus, set in the present day, when he really is partly broken by the loss of his loved one:

Now I know God has His reasons
But sometimes it’s hard to see them
When I awake and find that you’re not there…

I bless the day I met you
And I thank God that He let you
Lay beside me for a moment that lives on
And the good news is I’m better
For the time we spent together
And the bad news is you’re gone

The song was written by Jon Vezner (husband of Kathy Mattea) and pop songwriter Paul Williams, and remains one of my favorite Diamond Rio recordings, with a beautiful, understated emotion expressed in Marty Roe’s vocal.

The lyrically slight but energetic, charming, and very catchy title track (penned by reliable hit makers Al Anderson and Jeffrey Steele) did even better, just missing the top spot. Disappointingly, the third and last single was then a flop. The understated ‘I Know How The River Feels’ (previously cut by Ty Herndon) failed to make the top 30, making it the band’s worst performing single to date. While its languid pace was admittedly not very radio-friendly, it has a sensitive vocal, pretty tune and tasteful string arrangement, which make it worth listening to.

The frustrated plea to Love, ‘What More Do You Want From Me?’, written by Bob Regan and Mark D Sanders, is very catchy and another favorite of mine. It had been the sole (and non-charting) single from Rhonda Vincent’s very underrated Trouble Free album a year or two earlier. Both versions are great, but Diamond Rio’s harmonies give this version an added force. Also good is the tuneful Bill and Sharon Rice ballad ‘Long Way Back’, in which the protagonist regrets his past choices a little too late to save his relationship, and is stuck brooding in a cafe.

‘Two Pump Texaco’ (written by Michael Dulaney and Neil Thrasher) is a nicely detailed and affectionate laid-back portrait of a country boy who is the third generation in his family to work at the titular gas station. The young man in this song is much more fleshed out as a character, and hence much more realistic, than those on most of today’s radio offerings playing on rural life.

Unfortunately, there is more than a little filler. ‘Miss That Girl’, ‘Hold Me Now’, and the closing ‘(I Will) Start all Over Again’ are all nicely sung, well-played and prettily harmonized, but completely forgettable. ‘I Thought I’d Seen Everything’ is a dull love ballad, written by Shania Twain’s husband Mutt Lange and 80s rocker Huey Lewis, lifted only by the harmonies.

Overall, then, this is certainly not the band’s best work, but it is pleasant listening, with some shining moments, particularly ‘You’re Gone’. It sold well enough, and has been certified gold. It is easy to get hold of cheap copies, but it may be an example of a record best digitally cherry-picked.

Grade: B

Album Review: Gary Alan – ‘Smoke Rings In The Dark’

Gary’s label, Decca, folded in 1998, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for his career. Gary, together with the majority of his labelmates (which included Lee Ann Womack and Mark Chesnutt), were transferred to sister label MCA. That meant a change in producer. Mark Wright remained on board, but Byron Hill was relegated to associate producer, with the experienced Tony Brown taking charge. He helped bring a smoother, more commercial sound, with a more layered production and the use of strings. Radio success continued to be mixed, but sales were good, and Smoke Rings In The Dark, released in October 1998, became Gary’s first platinum album.

The outstanding title track, released as the first single, only reached #12 on Billboard, but is one of Gary’s best-remembered hits. Written by Rivers Rutherford and Houston Robert, it marked a stylistic development for Gary heralded by the previous album’s ‘Baby I Will’. It sounds dreamy and sexy, belying a pain-filled lyric about the dying embers of a relationship:

I’ve tried to make you love me
You’ve tried to find a spark
Of the flame that burned
But somehow turned to
Smoke rings in the dark

The loneliness within me
Takes a heavy toll
Cause it burns as slow as whiskey
Through an empty aching soul
And the night is like a dagger
Long and cold and sharp
As I sit here on the front steps
Blowing smoke rings in the dark

I’m not gonna wake you
I’ll go easy on your heart
I’ll just touch your face and drift away
Like smoke rings in the dark

This is one of Gary’s finest moments on record and by far the best track on the album.

His inconsistent streak with radio persisted, as the follow-up, the intense Jamie O’Hara-penned ‘Lovin’ You Against My Will’ stagnated in the 30s. While it is a good song with a slow burning appeal, it lacks melodic interest and the vocals sound a little processed.

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Album Review: Anita Cochran – ‘Serenity’

SerenityFormer Warner Brothers artist Anita Cochran achieved one #1 hit, ‘What If I Said’, in a duet with Steve Wariner, in 1997. None of her solo singles came anywhere near the top of the charts, and it’s not as if her label didn’t persevere – they released two albums and nine singles over a seven year period. She is a talented musician and multi-instrumentalist, and has been touring as part of Terri Clark’s road band. She also produced an album for the unrelated Tammy Cochran in 2007. After several years’ silence on her own account, Anita re-emerges with a new album on her own Straybranch Records.

Her distinctive swooping voice sounds as good as ever, and this is an example of contemporary country which is not over-produced (an example her current boss might have profited from). Anita wrote every song and plays a long list of instruments on the album, including electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo and harmonica. She also arranged the strings (which feature talented Terri Clark bandmate Jenee Fleenor) which are used on several tracks, and produced the set with co-label-owner Mark Thompson.

The controversial former single ‘I Wanna Hear A Cheatin’ Song’ (the last time we heard from Anita) is included here (at least on the physical CD), although no doubt due to licensing issues, it is not available on the digital version on the album. It is actually an excellent song with a lyric about longing for more sad songs which is easy to relate to, as a heartbroken caller to a radio show appeals:

All I hear in this day and time
Are fairy tales and pretty words that rhyme
Everybody’s lovers, everybody’s friends
Same old thing over and over again

I wanna hear a cheatin’ song
About somebody done somebody wrong
A story that’s about my life
With a simple melody

Forget about the I love yous
They weren’t for the heartbroke fools
I wanna hear a cheatin’ song
Dedicated to me

The DJ agrees, and so does a listening Anita. So far, so good, but 2:50 into the song some tacked together segments from old Conway Twitty recordings are incorporated. I appreciate that it was done out of respect for Conway and his musical legacy, but this musical necrophilia makes me cringe. This could have been a standout track if Anita had only decided to rerecord the song solo (as she does with her hit ‘What If I Said’, which sounds great here, with a lovely emotion-infused vocal and some tasteful strings), or using a living partner. If no one was available, she could have used Ty Herndon, who helps out on a couple of the other tracks here, but who seems underused.

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