My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Van Stephenson

Album Review: Lee Greenwood — ‘You’ve Got A Good Love Comin”

Lee Greenwood was celebrating his first two number one singles when MCA readied his fourth album in May 1984. The project went Gold and spawned three top ten hits, and while the album likely isn’t well-remembered today, it was a game changer in Greenwood’s career.

He received his cultural identity from the album’s first single, the patriotic standard “God Bless The U.S.A.” Greenwood was inspired to write the song, which he recorded in November 1983, as his way of coming to terms with the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 after it entered into Soviet Airspace following a navigation error.

What most people don’t know is, “God Bless The U.S.A.” not only wasn’t a #1 hit, it missed the top 5 entirely, peaking at #7. The song saw a major resurgence in popularity following the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, where it re-entered the country charts and peaked at #16. The song itself is excellent and one of the best ‘country pride’ songs I’ve ever heard. It’s regarded as Greenwood’s signature song and 35 years since its original release, the song hasn’t lost any of its popularity.

As far as singles go, two more followed, with mixed chart success. The strong ballad “Fool’s Gold,” a confessional about a “24 Karat mistake,” hit #3. The title track, funky, mid-tempo, and co-written by Van Stephenson (who would form Blackhawk in the mid-90s) reached #9.

Greenwood co-wrote the soft ballad “Worth It For The Ride” with Jan Crutchfield. The remainder of the album doesn’t have much by way of variety in melody or tempo and fits right within the contemporary stylings found on commercial country records from the era. The most adventurous track is “Lean, Mean Lovin’ Machine,” which has a light disco vibe and female backing vocals.

You’ve Got A Good Love Comin’ is dated to modern ears, but it delivers lyrically. This isn’t the most outstanding collection of songs I’ve ever heard, and the only true masterpiece is “Good Bless The U.S.A.,” but the album itself is solid.

Grade: B

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Love Lies’

I always regarded Janie Fricke as primarily a singles artist, and the market apparently agreed as Love Lies, Janie’s eighth album (ninth album if you include the Greatest Hits album released in October 1982) was the first of her albums to reach the top ten of Billboards Country Albums chart, punching in at #10. This would prove to be rarefied air for Janie as only one more album, Black and White, in 1986, would reach the top ten.

Released in late 1983 and produced by Bob Montgomery, Love Lies was the second album he produced for Janie. Love Lies would see three singles released, “Tell Me A Lie” (#1), “Let’s Stop Talking About It” (#1) and “If The Fall Don’t Get You” (#8). “If The Fall Don’t Get You” was the first single to not go top four after eight consecutive such successes.

In the past I had described Janie’s earlier singles as ‘lovey-dovey drivel’ but perhaps I was a bit harsh. Today I would describe her previous singles as ‘confections’. I would not describe any of the singles on this album using such terms. These are more mature songs.

The album opens with “If The Fall Don’t Get You”, a biting commentary on love, co-written by Van Stephenson, who later was a member of BlackHawk.

So you say you’re thinking of falling in love
Going way out on a limb
And it seems like push is coming to shove
Just look at the shape that I’m in

I have paid the price for love
And it ain’t cheap
Better take a long hard look
Before you leap

If the fall don’t get you, baby
And your fading heart is beating still
If the fall don’t get you
Baby, the heartache will

Next up is “Have I Got A Heart For You”, a mid-tempo song which sells the virtues of a heart on the rebound. Written by Keith Stegall, the song is a decent album track.

I would also describe track three “How Do You Fall Out of Love”, a slow ballad of heartbreak as a decent album track. The Nashville String Machine is a little obtrusive but Janie’s voice cuts through the clutter.

“Love Lies” was an early single for Mel McDaniel, reaching #33 in 1979. It would be a few more years before Mel’s career caught fire, but I though his performance of the song was excellent. For whatever reason, the song never made it to one of Mel’s albums, so I am glad that Janie covered the song; however, she should have released it as a single.

Side one of the original vinyl album closed with “Tell Me A Lie”, a song carried over from the previous album It Ain’t Easy. Columbia during the 1970s and 1980s had this annoying habit of pulling songs from an existing album, releasing it as a single, then adding it to the next album. Since albums during this period only had ten songs, this meant that if you purchased both albums, you would get only nineteen different songs at rough two and a half minutes per song. This cover of a Lynn Anderson album track (and later a top 20 pop hit for Sami Jo) reached #1 for Janie.

Tell me a lie
Say I look familiar
Even though I know
That you don’t even know my name

Tell me a lie
Say you just got into town
Even though I’ve seen you here before
Just hangin’ around

Umm, tell me a lie, say you’re not a married man
Cause you don’t know I saw you slip off your wedding band

Side two of the vinyl album opens up with “Let’s Stop Talking About It”, an up-tempo that reached #1. The song was written by the dynamic trio of Rory Bourke, Rafe Van Hoy & Deborah Allen, who collectively authored many hit singles. You can give your own interpretation to what the lyrics mean:

We’ve had a lot of conversations
We’ve analyzed our situation
There’s only so much that words can say
After awhile they just get in the way

So let’s stop talking about it
And start getting down to love
Let’s stop talking about it
We’ve already said enough

This is followed the Troy Seal-Mike Reid collaboration “Lonely People”, a quiet ballad that makes for a decent album track.

Written by Dennis Linde and Alan Rush, “Walkin’ A Broken Heart” would be released as a single by Don Williams in 1985, reaching #2. Janie does a really nice job with the song and I think the song could have been a big hit for her. I slightly prefer Don’s version but it’s a thin margin of preference.

Walkin’ down this midnight street
Just the sound of two lonely feet
Walkin’ a broken heart
Walkin’ a broken heart

Empty city, not a soul in sight
And a misty rain falls on a perfect night
To walk a broken heart
To walk a broken heart

And I know that you’re thinkin’
This couldn’t happen to you
But you’re a fool for believing
Dreams don’t fly away, cause they do.

Another slow ballad follows in “I’ve Had All The Love I Can Stand”. Janie sings it well, but the song to me is a bit overwrought and not of much interest. The Nashville String Machine is prominent in the arrangement.

The album closes with “Where’s The Fire”, a nice upbeat melody camouflaging a song of angst as the narrator asks her love why he’s in such a hurry to leave.

For me this album is a bit of a mixed bag. Janie is in good voice throughout, and I appreciated the more mature lyrics but I’d like to hear more fiddle and steel. That said, this album is quite worthwhile.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘All I Want’

Once Tim had made his commercial breakthrough, he was able to be a little more adventurous with his third album in 1995. This marks the point at which one can call Tim McGraw an artist rather than just a singer. The song quality was good, but the production (orchstrated as before by James Stroud and Byron Gallimore) lacks subtlety and leans a little too heavily to electric guitars front and center. Although sales were less than for its predecessor, Tim had found a firm place on country radio, as evidenced by five top 5 singles, two of them #1s.

Lead single, the silly but somehow irresistibly catchy ditty ‘I Like It, I Love It’ (complete with a nod to the Big Bopper), was Tim’s third #1. It also had some pop airplay. The singalong nature of the song for once makes crowd noise acceptable. This song should probably fall in the guilty pleasure category, but I don’t even feel guilty about it.

The rather good emotional string-laden ballad ‘Can’t Be Really Gone’, written by Gary Burr, fell just short, peaking at #2. Tim is not one of the best vocalists around, but this is one of his better efforts, with a real emotional commitment to this song about a man in denial about the permanence of his wife’s leaving. Title track ‘All I Want Is A Life’ is an up-tempo rocker without much melody and with too-loud and now dated sounding production, but a relatable lyric about struggling with poverty and aspirations for something more. It was the least successful of the album’s singles, but still peaked at #5.

Also a bit heavily produced but less obtrusively so, ‘She Never Lets It Go To Her Heart’ was another chart-topper, written by the hitmaking team of Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters. The mid-tempo ‘Maybe We Should Just Sleep On It’ (written by Jerry Laseter and Kerry Kurt Phillips) also did well, peaking at #4. These two are okay but not outstanding, and there was better material on the album, such as the relatively understated ballad ‘The Great Divide’, written by Brett Beavers. This is a very good depiction of a couple trapped in a tired marriage, who would rather pay attention to their respective book and TV show than one another. There is still hope their love can be rekindled.

‘I Didn’t Ask And She Didn’t Say’ is a nicely observed song, written by Reese Wilson, Van Stephenson and Tony Martin. Flight delays lead to an awkward encounter with a long-past ex, where the real questions remain unanswered. Tim’s voice has an urgency in it betraying the protagonist’s suppressed passion as he recalls past happiness, before they part with everything unresolved:

We said our goodbyes
Swore we’d stay in touch
Then we went our separate ways
Knowing no one ever does

‘When She Wakes Up (And Finds Me Gone)’ is another mature song with complex emotions which is well sung by Tim, but would have worked better for me with more stripped down production. The extended electric guitar solo at the end is excessive and adds nothing worthwhile. ‘Don’t Mention Memphis’ is another good song about a breakup, written by Bill LaBounty and Rand Bishop, but the rhythm is abit jerky and the track is over-produced. The impassioned ‘You Got The Wrong Man’ is also quite entertaining if rather processed sounding, as Tim tries to persuade a woman burnt by love before that he isn’t like the man who broke her heart.

Then there are a couple of real missteps. ‘Renegade’ is a boring rocker with Tim unconvincing as a rebel. ‘That’s Just Me’ is a southern/country boy pride number written by Deryl Dodd which sounds musically a little like a slightly slower ‘Indian Outlaw’. Dodd recorded it himself a couple of years later when making his Columbia Records debut.

Overall, the material selected here was a major advance for Tim McGraw, but the production choices are less palatable. Tim had found his musical direction, and if it was a long way from the traditionalism of his first album, it held a lot of appeal for country radio and cemented his fanbase. Triple platinum sales meant this was not quite as successful as its predecessor, but it is a better, more mature work. Better still, from Tim’s point of view, while topuring in support of the album, he fell in love with opening act Faith Hill, and by the time his next album came out he would be a husband and father.

Used copies are available very cheaply.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘IV’

While riding high on the success of three gold and platinum albums, a consistent run of hit singles and shelves of industry awards, Diamond Rio issued their fourth Arista album, appropriately titled IV in 1996. It would continue their run at the top with 3 more top 5 hits and another hitting the top 20, and would quickly be certified gold.

Lead single ‘Walkin’ Away’ features an easy melody and implores lovers to hold it together, “baby don’t go there, love don’t get nowhere, walkin’ away“. Steel guitar flourishes propel the melody and Marty Roe’s vocal, and helped send it to #2 on the Country Singles chart. ‘That’s What I Get For Loving You’ follows closely to the first single, so much that they mirror one another when played back to back. This track doesn’t follow a disagreement between lovers, but celebrates the pair’s union, and became Diamond Rio’s 11th top 10 hit when it peaked at #4.

The stand-out single was the cheeky ‘It’s All In Your Head’, penned by the great Reese Wilson with Tony Martin and Van Stephenson. With its swampy beat and masterful grasp on the idiosyncracies of the devoutly religious, it is my favorite song from Diamond Rio. It tells the story of a “sidewalk, soapbox preacher lookin’ forward to the end of the world” who marries a “messed up, dressed up waitress with a slightly tarnished heart of gold” from the point of view of the preacher’s caustic son. The preacher is finally felled by snake venom “stronger than his faith“, and he goes out of the world repeating his conspiracy-theory mantra. It was also the album’s least successful single, stopping at #15 on the charts in the Summer of 1996.

IV is characterized by the group’s tight harmonies as they wrap them around their trademark breezy melodies, which elevate even the lesser tracks like “She Sure Did Like To Run” and “Love Takes You There”. The album is not without a few clunkers either. “Is That Too Much To Ask” glides along smoothly with the electric guitar jamming throughout, but its repetitive chorus and mundane lyrics about “wanting it all” leave the entire effort a bore to listen to.

The best tracks come from a pair of ballads. Released as a single in Germany, “She Misses Him On Sunday The Most” tells the story of a widow and the grief she feels most on Sunday mornings, sitting alone in the church pew as a tinkling piano is complimented by an acoustic guitar. “Just Another Heart” makes good use of its card-playing analogies and is a well-written song all around, from the writing team of Skip Ewing and Tim Johnson.

While IV was less successful than its predecessor – it didn’t go platinum – and while it had some definite soft spots, it is still an essential addition to their discography, and a solid effort from the group.

Grade: B

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