My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Vince Gill

Week ending 3/18:17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales):Young Love/You’re The Reason I’m In Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1967: Where Does The Good Times Go — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1977: She’s Just An Old Love Turned Memory — Charley Pride (RCA)

1987: Baby’s Got A New Baby — S-K-O (MTM)

1997: We Danced Anyway — Deana Carter (Capitol)

2007: Ladies Love Country Boys — Trace Adkins (Capitol)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Sober Saturday Night — Chris Young feat. Vince Gill (RCA)

Classic Rewind: Vince Gill covers ‘Jesus Take The Wheel’

EP Review: Jenny Gill – ‘The House Sessions’

the-house-sessionsThe House Sessions, Jenny Gill’s debut EP, finds her drawing on personal experience as she strives to establish her own voice separate from her esteemed pedigree. Her father, who most everyone knows is Vince Gill, produced the album at the home studio for which the six-song set finds its name.

The material that comprises The House Sessions finds Gill transported to the past while specific memories tied to the lyrics. The gorgeous “Whisky Words,” a ballad concerning an ex who’s all talk, was birthed from her time working at a publishing company tasked with pitching songs to others. It comes across as a record that would’ve been popular in the early-2000s when it likely would’ve done quite well.

“Lean On Love” finds Gill exercising her bluesy side in homage to Bonnie Raitt whom she cites as a primary influence. The tune is excellent, tastefully produced and subtly evocative. “Lonely Lost Me,” the lead single, which features harmonies by Sheryl Crow, is a jazzy ballad that settles into an intoxicating and memorable groove.

Gill’s husband, Sony/ATV executive Josh Van Valkenberg, inspired the title of “Look Where Loving You Landed Me” when he sang the line on their honeymoon. The track is a terrific ballad melding her blues and jazz influences with the personal touches (references to the beach) that keep the song from feeling generic.

The most adventurous track on The House Sessions is Motown classic “The Letter,” which was originally recorded by The Box Tops fifty years ago. I do find it strange that Gill would choose to add a cover song to an EP when she could’ve added another original instead, but she handles the track with ease while showcasing additional aspects of her voice.

Gill freely admits that the gospel-tinged “Your Shadow” is the album’s most personal number. The song tackles the heavy emotions surrounding her good fortune at being Vince’s daughter. The track also contains the most memorable line on the whole project:

And someone will say, I’ll never compare

And I’ll pour my heart out and no one will care

And I’ve got to find a dream that will shine on its own

In the light of your shadow

While it is easy to compare an offspring to their famous parents, Gill doesn’t have that problem on The House Sessions. She makes the album her own with an authentic sound true to her voice and influences. She recorded the album in a week; utilizing studio time her father gave her as a Christmas present. I’m glad he was involved in shaping the sound of the record because the final mixing is clear and clean, devoid of excess. He let each song breathe and find itself musically, which rewards the listener with a rich experience that puts the song, and not ego, front and center.

The House Sessions, which has been available digitally since September, is getting another push this month with renewed publicity and a video for “Lonely Lost Me.” I wouldn’t categorize the project as country per se, as it melds those sensibilities with jazz and blues to find its own place within the musical space. Ultimately genre classification doesn’t matter since The House Sessions wonderfully succeeds in showcasing Gill as a fully formed artist and writer. I look forward any new music she chooses to release in the years to come.

Grade: A

Paul W. Dennis’s favorite albums of 2016

real-country-musicBeing the old man of the blog, I suppose it is inevitable that my favorite albums would differ from those of Razor X and Occasional Hope. There is some overlap, however, and where overlap exists I will not comment on the album

(#) on Razor X’s list / ($) on Occasional Hope’s list

15) Tracy Byrd – All American Texan (#)

14) Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives (#) ($)

13) Rhonda Vincent – All The Rage, Volume One

Alison Krauss fans notwithstanding, Rhonda is the Queen of Bluegrass music and is also adept at country and western swing numbers. Rhonda has a great band and all of the members are featured. Her guitar player, Josh Williams, is on a par with any acoustic player currently going.

12) Balsam Range – Mountain Voodoo

Balsam Range has been around for about a decade, winning the 2014 IBPA “Entertainer of The Year” and Vocal Group of The Year” awards. Their newest album was nominated for several awards. This band is renowned for their vocal harmonies. Their current single “Blue Collar Dreams” is being played on Bluegrass Junction on XM Radio – it’s a goodie and indicative of their material.

11) John Prine – For Better Or Worse ($)

the-life-and-songs-of-emmylou-harris10) Various Artists – Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris
I suspect that Emmylou Harris is the most highly revered female country singer, particularly for younger country fans and pop music fans. The epitome of elegance and grace, Emmylou has also been a champion of traditional country music. This album contains nineteen tracks with a vast array of admirers who gathered at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC on January 10, 2015 to pay tribute. Emmy sings on a few of the tracks but mostly the guests sing songs at least loosely associated with Emmylou. Guests include Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss, Buddy Miller, Rodney Crowell and others.

09) Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show – Sho Nuff Country

Although focusing on bluegrass, this veteran outfit has a strong propensity to record country music of the period before 1980, and they perform it well. For me the highlights are “Six Pack To Go” and “Why Baby Why”, but I really enjoyed the whole album.

08) Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (& guests) – Circling Back: Celebrating 50 Years
Knowing that this ban has been around for fifty years is making me feel old, since I purchased several of their early albums when they originally came out. This album was recorded live at the Ryman on September 14, 2015 and features the current membership (Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, Bob Carpenter and John McEuen) augmented by friends Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Byron House. The guest vocalists include former band members Jimmy Ibbotson and Jackson Browne with John Prine, Alison Krauss, Rodney Crowell and Jerry Jeff Walker also making appearances. Highlights include Alison Krauss singing “Catfish John” , Vince Gill singing “Tennessee Stud” and Sam Bush and Vince Gill teaming up on “Nine Pound Hammer”.

07) Willie Nelson – For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price (#) ($)

06) Time Jumpers – Kid Sister (#)

05) Dallas Wayne – Songs The Jukebox Taught Me ($)

things-we-do-for-dreams04) Trinity River Band – Things I Do For Dreams
I find it odd that Callahan, Florida, a town of about 2000 people, has produced two of my favorite new bluegrass bands in Trinity River Band and Flatt Lonesome. Trinity River Band was nominated for the Emerging Artist award at the recent International Bluegrass Music Association award a few months ago. They play well, sing well and present an effective stage show.

03) Dale Watson – Under The Influence
Had he been born in the 1930s or 1940s, Dale Watson would have been a huge mainstream country star. This album finds Dale tackling a wide array of country and rockabilly classics from bygone years. My favorites from this disc include Dale’s take on the Eddie Rabbitt classic “Pure Love” and his take on the Phil Harris song from the 1940s “That’s What I Like About The South”.

02) Flatt Lonesome – Runaway Train
Flatt Lonesome won the IBMA Vocal Group of The Year award for 2016. They are just flat[t] out good. Their take on Dwight Yoakam’s “You’re The One” has to be heard to be believed, but my favorite track is their cover of the Tommy Collins tune “Mixed Up Mess of A Heart”.

01) Gene Watson – Real. Country. Music ($)
Okay, so I lied, but I cannot let the #1 album go by without the comment that I consider Gene Watson to be the best country male vocalist alive today and that I pray that 2017 sees another new release from Gene.

Top 10 hidden gems of 2016

drinking-with-dollyIn previous years, I’ve compiled a top 10 singles list, but although there have been some encouraging signs on country radio, I didn’t feel inspired by this year’s releases. Instead I want to highlight some of the best individual songs which appeared on albums which didn’t make my top 10 albums list, together with the odd single not yet featured on a full length release.

10. ‘What I’d Say’ – Lorrie Morgan
Realising her voice was in decline, Lorrie took steps to get it back to something approaching its best. This gorgeous reading of the classic was the highlight of her new album.

9. ‘I Never Will Marry’ – Loretta Lynn
Loretta goes old-time country folk on this track from Full Circle. A delight.


8. ‘Pawn Shop’ – Shelley Skidmore

A great Brandy Clark story song about hard lives and broken dreams reminiscent of the best country songs.

7. ‘Can’t Be That Wrong’ – Dolly Parton
A ballad about cheating, guilt and refusal to repent.

6. ‘Drinking With Dolly’ – Stephanie Quayle
A truly delightful wistful reimagining of the lives of country stars of the past.

5. – ‘It’s Just A Dog’ – Mo Pitney
A heartbreaker about the love of a rescue dog.

4. ‘Had A Thing’ – Curtis Grimes
The best song from Curtis’s excellent eight-track EP/album which, with a few more songs would have had a shot at making my top 10 list.

3. ‘Lonesomeville’ – William Michael Morgan
A lovely neotraditional lost love ballad from a young man who is starting to make real headway in the mainstream. Very reminiscent of early Joe Nichols.

2. ‘Still A Child’ – Dori Freeman
25 year old Dori Freman from Virginia is a folk-country singer-songwriter whose self-titled debut album was produced by British folk musician Teddy Thompson. Not all of it is perfect, but her pretty, fragile voice shines, and the best song by far is this graceful waltz. A gentle melody belies a hard hitting lyric rejecting a man who just can’t grow up. Excellent.

1. ‘Sad One Coming On’ – Vince Gill
Vince’s latest solo album was a sad disappointment, but it was almost redeemed by this superb, heartfelt tribute to George Jones, which is an instant classic.

Jonathan Pappalardo’s Favorite Singles of 2016

My favorite singles of the year run the gamut from commercial to obscure and everything in between. Keep reading for career moments from Tim McGraw and Reba McEntire to shining examples of why Lori McKenna and Brandy Clark are more than expert songwriters.

unknown10. Chris Young Feat Cassadee Pope – ‘Think Of You’

Young deserves credit for searching within his own genre for a female collaborator. He deserves praise for co-writing a song that doesn’t use Pope as
window dressing, but rather as a means of furthering the story. This tale of a once-great couple isn’t revelatory, but it’s catchy as hell.

 9. William Michael Morgan – ‘Missing’

The influence George Strait said was absent from country radio came roaring back to life with William Michael Morgan’s follow-up to “I Met A Girl.” “Missing” is an astonishing single in that it makes little compromise to the modern landscape. Warner Bros deserves credit for releasing something this country to radio. Time will tell if they respond favorably.

 500x5008. Kelsey Waldon – ‘All By Myself’

Among its many achievements, a few of which you’ll see highlighted further down, 2016 introduced Kelsey Waldon, a killer traditionalist, to the masses. “All By Myself” is a stern warning to fakers, a biting assessment of authenticity and a woman’s empowerment anthem for the current generation. 

7. Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Something Tamed, Something Wild’

The most common criticism I’ve heard about Mary Chapin Carpenter’s more recent works is she ‘lacks a pulse.’ It may be true to an extent, but I’m not hearing it here. This introspective examination of existential curiosity is one of her finest in recent memory. The parent album it comes from is her best in more than a decade.

6. Time Jumpers – ‘Kid Sister’

Vince Gill’s tribute to Dawn Sears is both personal and touching.

record-year-cover5. Eric Church – ‘Record Year’

Not since “The Song Remembers When” has a song about songs been this clever or powerful. Church proves he’s a master once again, name checking legends at every turn and laying out a jovial tale of heartbreak both ear catching and believable. “Record Year” is undoubtedly the best mainstream single of the year.

 4. Lori McKenna – ‘Wreck You’

The lead single from The Bird and the Rifle is this masterful look at sabotage in which the woman is admitting fault, with brutal candor – “Something between us changed, I’m not sure if its you or me But lately all I do seems to wreck you.”

unspecified-13. Tim McGraw – ‘How I’ll Always Be’

2016 found Tim McGraw in an artistic renaissance, with his strongest back-to-back singles in twenty years. He succeeded in a climate unfavorable to substance without conceding to modern pressures. “Humble & Kind” is the better lyric. But “How I’ll Always Be” shines melodically. Not since “Just To See You Smile” has McGraw sounded this good on record. 

2. Brandy Clark – ‘Love Can Go To Hell’

The genius is in the delivery. Brandy Clark sings this so deadpan, it’s easy to miss the dark humor underneath the surface. I totally missed it, but when it hit me, I never heard this the same way again.

reba-1024x10241. Reba McEntire – ‘Just Like Them Horses’

Tim McGraw wasn’t the only one in the throws of an artistic reawaking in 2016. This tale of a dying man giving positive reassurance to the loved one he’s leaving behind may’ve been too much for radio to bare, the unique take on ‘if you love me, let me go’ too smart for the masses.

Reba eulogized her father with this tune before committing it to record, which only solidified the emotional undertones she brought forth in her performance, her strongest vocal since “If I Had Only Known” twenty-five years ago. “Just Like Them Horses” is just that good, a bone-chilling highlight from a career with far too many to count.

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Higher Ground’

tammywynette_highergroundTammy Wynette spent the better part of the late 1970s and 1980s seeing her commercial fortunes begin to wane. Actress Annette O’Toole portrayed Wynette in a television movie, Stand By Your Man, in May 1981. Her singles were routinely charting top twenty during this time and she returned to the top ten when her cover of Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch,” a duet with Mark Grey, peaked at #6 in 1985.

Our coverage resumes in 1987, which found mainstream country deep in the throngs of a traditional renaissance. Wynette followed suit accordingly with Higher Ground, her twenty-eighth album, produced by Steve Buckingham. While any momentum she may’ve gained from her previous album had cooled, it didn’t stop Epic from pushing ahead with three singles from the set.

The dobro drenched “Your Love,” a mid-tempo ballad featuring Ricky Skaggs hit #12. The neo-traditional “Talkin’ To Myself Again,” with an assist from The O’Kanes, peaked at #16. Both are very good although not memorable enough to stand out amongst iconic hits from the era.

They hit the artistic jackpot with final single “Beneath A Painted Sky,” which found Wynette in perfect harmony with Emmylou Harris. The somewhat kooky lyric details the true love of a daddy to his little girl:

There never was a little girl more wanted than me

I had all the love a child could ever want or need

Daddy gave me everything he could afford to buy

An’ on the ceilin’ in my room, he painted me a sky

 

Beneath the painted sky, that’s where I want to be

A place to go when this old world gets the best of me

A place where dreams come true

And no one ever says ‘goodbye’

Oh, I wish that I could live again, beneath the painted sky

The remainder of the album finds Wynette assisted by a plethora of country’s finest. Gene Watson provides harmony on “Tempted” while Vince Gill, in one of his earliest solo performances, lends his signature falsetto to “I Wasn’t Meant to live my Life Alone.” Ricky Van Shelton, among others, helps liven up the proceedings with the jovial “A Slow Burning Fire.” The Gatlin Brothers are the perfect accompaniment to the title track, a song that feels tailored to their trademark style.

Higher Ground, as a whole, is a gorgeous album. Wynette is still at her peak and the arrangements haven’t aged in the least. I would’ve liked songs that were more memorable, though, or even packed more of a punch. Despite her status as an icon, it’s easy to see how this album fell under the radar – her contemporaries were releasing stronger music that was easier to get noticed. But this is an album that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s well worth checking out.

Grade: B+

50th CMA Awards: Grading the Twenty Performances

Instead of the typical CMA Awards prediction post, I thought it might be fun to rank the twenty performances, all of which brought something special to the evening. Here they are, in ascending order, with commentary:

20.

imrs-phpBeyoncé Feat. Dixie Chicks – Daddy’s Lessons

The most debated moment of the night was the worst performance in recent CMA history, an embarrassment to country music and the fifty years of the organization. Beyoncé was the antithesis of our genre with her staged antics and complete lack of authenticity. If Dixie Chicks had performed this song alone, like they did on tour, it would’ve been a slam-dunk. They were never the problem. Beyoncé is to blame for this mess.

Grade: F

19.

Kelsea Ballerini – Peter Pan

I feel bad for her. It seems Ballerini never got the memo that this was the CMA Awards and not a sideshow at Magic Kingdom. Everything about this was wrong – the visuals, wind machine and, most of all, the dancers. Once I saw the harness in plain sight, I knew it was over.

Grade: F 

 18.

362x204-q100_121d9e867599857df2132b3b6c77e0c8Luke Bryan – Move

Nashville is perennially behind the trends as evidenced by Bryan’s completely out of place performance. One of only two I purposefully fast forwarded through.

Grade: F 

 17.

Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw – May We All 

Stood out like a sore thumb, for all the wrong reasons. Not even McGraw could redeem this disaster.

Grade: F  

16.

gettyimages-620669440-43407842-8b2a-437b-a6e4-f643a1b5b104Carrie Underwood – Dirty Laundry

The newly minted Female Vocalist of the Year gave the third weakest performance of this year’s nominees. I commend her use of an all-female band, but disliked everything else from the visuals to Underwood’s dancing. It all starts with the song and this one is among her worst.

Grade: D+

15.

Thomas Rhett – Die A Happy Man

The biggest hit of the year gave Thomas Rhett a moment his other radio singles proves he doesn’t deserve. He remained gracious throughout the night, proving he can turn it on when it counts. I just wish it wasn’t an act.

Grade: B- 

14.

362x204-q100_b63432d74b677e29d35917efd7490170Keith Urban – Blue Ain’t Your Color

A perfectly serviceable performance of an above average song. He did nothing to stand out from the pack neither adding to nor distracting from the night’s more significant moments.

Grade: B

13.

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – Different for Girls 

At least Bentley wasn’t showcasing the rowdier side of Black. He and King didn’t do anything to stand out and the whole thing was more middle of the road than anything else.

Grade: B

 12.

landscape-1478192054-gettyimages-620693852Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood – Dolly Parton Tribute 

I have nothing against Parton nor do I deny her incredible legacy as a pioneer in the genre. But it’s time to honor someone else. Parton has been lauded and it’s so old at this point, it’s unspectacular. That’s not to say this wasn’t a great medley, it was. I just wish it had been for someone different, like say, Tanya Tucker.

Grade: B

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Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel ft Vince Gill – ‘Corrina Corrina’

Album Review: John Prine and Friends – ‘For Better, Or Worse’

for-better-or-worseBack in 1999 singer-songwriter John Prine released a charming collaboration with a group of country and folk female singers, singing classic country duets. 17 years later here comes a sequel, which is just as delightful. Prine’s gruff vocals are set off by his duettist’s much better voices, and the combinations work very well.

Most of the collaborators are different, with the exception of Fiona Prine (John’s wife) and Iris De Ment. The latter featured on no less than four tracks on the first album, and two here, both originally recorded by Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb. The tongue in cheek opener ‘Who’s Gonna Take Your Garbage Out’ has Iris throwing out her good-for-nothing husband. He complains of being henpecked, while she declares,

Calling a man like you a husband’s like calling an ol’ wildcat a pet

They take a broken marriage more seriously in the sad ‘Mr And Mrs Used To Be’.

The wonderful Lee Ann Womack is ethereally sweet on ‘Storms Never Last’. She is even better on ‘Fifteen Years Ago’, a pained tale of long lasting heartbreak, which was a hit for Conway Twitty. Turning it into a duet transforms the song from one of solo heartache (a la ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’, but with no end in sight) to one of mutual regret, which is almost more poignant. This is my favourite track.

‘Cold, Cold Heart’ doesn’t work as well as a duet lyrically, but the cut shows duet partner Miranda Lambert can do traditional country with a lovely sounding and emotional vocal. Kacey Musgraves hams it up a bit on the ultra-retro ‘Mental Cruelty’, but the track is fun. Holly Williams is good on the sassy back-and-forth of ‘I’m Telling You’, although the song is very short (less than two minutes).

The pure voice of Kathy Mattea makes two appearances. ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ is gorgeously tender and romantic, while ‘Remember Me’ is pretty with a little melancholy undertone. Alison Krauss guests on the gently pretty ‘Falling In Love Again’. Probably the least known singer to a general audience is Morgane Stapleton (wife of Chris), but I’ve loved her voice since she was briefly signed to a major label a decade ago. Her performance on Vince Gill’s ‘Look At Us’ is lovely, and very reminiscent of Lee Ann Womack.

A very pleasant surprise for me was Susan Tedeschi, a blues/rock singer who does an excellent job on ‘Color Of The Blues’. Although she’s not the greatest vocalist, Americana artist Amanda Shires is also decent on ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke’ (one of my favourite songs), and adds a bit of quirky personality.

It’s fair to say that Fiona Prine is not in the same class as the other ladies vocally, but her duet, ‘My Happiness’, is quite pleasant. There is one solo track, the closing ‘Just Waitin’’, a surprisingly entertaining narration.

This is an excellent album which is vying to be my favorite of 2016.

Grade: A+

Retro Album Reviews: New and old music from some veteran artists in 2007

last of the breedBack in the days writing for the 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

LAST OF THE BREED – HAGGARD, NELSON & PRICE

This may be the Holy Grail of classic country recordings. Three legendary figures in Ray Price, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, singing twenty-two selections containing some of the greatest country songs ever written, although not necessarily the biggest hits of Willie, Ray or Merle (except a cover of Ray’s “Heartaches by the Number”). On eleven (11) of the tracks all three artists appear. Ray and Merle each have a solo (Ray’s with Vince Gill assisting), and the rest feature two of the three (with Kris Kristofferson assisting on “Why Me”). The backing band consists of top current session men and some legends who played in the bands of the legends such as Buddy Emmons and Johnny Gimble. Plus the legendary Jordanaires can be heard on several tracks.

Ray Price has had the lowest profile of the three over the last ten or so years, but even at 81 years of age, he is one of the most effective singers on the planet. It is no knock on either Willie or Merle to say that neither is in Ray Price’s league as a pure singer – no one else is either. Maybe this CD will sell well enough to introduce a new generation to the music of Ray Price. If so, it will have done everyone a big favor.

To summarize: Buy It.

Grade: A+

THE RAY STEVENS BOX SET

Good recordings of classic Ray Stevens material but quite a few remakes that lack the sparkle of the originals. In a nutshell, if it was originally issued on Curb or Clyde, it’s probably the original recording but if it was issued on Mercury, Barnaby, Monument, MCA or RCA then it’s likely a remake.

If you haven’t heard these recordings before, or its been a long time since you’ve heard them, beware – you may bust a gut laughing.

Even with the remakes, it’s well worth purchasing.

Grade: B+

16 BIGGEST HITS – JIMMY DICKENS

While it could have been better, this collection gives a balanced look at Jimmy’s career. Best known for his diminutive size and novelty tunes, Jimmy was a superior ballad singer as tunes such as “My Heart’s Bouquet”, “Just When I Needed You”, “Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go)”, “We Could” and “Violet And A Rose” amply demonstrate. Yes, the novelties are here as well as a few of the jump tunes, but it’s the ballads that will enhance your appreciation of Little Jimmy Dickens. I would like to see a more encompassing collection, including more of his hillbilly boogie and his recordings on MCA /Decca, but until that happens this is a fine collection.

Grade: A-

Album Review: The Time Jumpers – ‘Kid Sister’

kid-sisterThe Time Jumpers’ third album is in many ways a tribute to the late Dawn Sears, who died of cancer in December 2014.

Dawn makes her last appearance on record on ‘My San Antonio Rose’, a Freddy Powers song which is quintessential western swing, and performed as a duet with Dawn’s husband Kenny Sears – an unexpected bonus. (Powers also died this year.) Dawn also sang harmony on ‘I Miss You’, a Vince Gill/Ashley Monroe song which was recorded for Gill’s solo Guitar Slinger album but didn’t make the final cut. It is an affecting ballad about enduring love for one who has gone, the verses of which Gill has rewritten to fit Kenny’s grieving for Dawn. ‘This Heartache’ is a very moving song written and sung by Kenny, inspired by his feelings about Dawn’s loss. The title track, written by Gill, was also inspired by Dawn, and the band members’ collective feelings about her.

Vince has written a charming introduction for the band, ‘We’re The Time Jumpers’. ‘Honky Tonkin’ is not the Hank Williams classic, but an entertaining love song written by Gill with Troy Seals, about adopting a simple domestic life and abandoning the protagonist’s old ‘favorite thing to do’. Some fabulous fiddle is particularly notable.

The band revive the effervescent ‘I Hear You Talkin’’, written by Cindy Walker with country legend Faron Young in the 50s. Joe Spivey sings lead on the Time Jumpers’ delightful version.

Moving away from western swing, ‘Table For Two’ is a gorgeous sad country ballad originally written by Gill with Max D. Barnes for Loretta Lynn. The Time Jumpers’ performance has weeping steel and a lovely vocal from Gill, and would have fitted in perfectly on one of his classic solo albums. Beautiful. The delicate ballad ‘The True Love Meant For Me’, which has an exquisite Gill vocal, is also outstanding.

“Ranger Doug” Green sings his own ‘Empty Rooms’, a stately mid-tempo tune about living with a broken heart. The quirky ‘Bloodshot Eyes’ is a cover of an old Hank Penny tune, which is an amusing takedown of a drunken partner:

Your eyes look like two cherries
In a glass of buttermilk

Don’t roll those bloodshot eyes at me
I can tell you’ve been out on the spree
It’s plain that you’re lying
When you say you’ve been crying
Don’t roll those bloodshot eyes at me

Looks like our little romance has kinda quietened down
You oughta to join a circus
You’d make a real good clown

‘Blue Highway Blue’ is a smooth jazzy ballad sung by band member Billy Thomas; a bit less to my personal taste than other racks, but very well done. The Gill-fronted blues ‘Sweet Rowena’ was also not quite my cup of tea.

Wonderful steel guitar player Paul Franklin is nominated for the umpteenth time this year as CMA Musician of the Year – isn’t it time he won? As a key member of the Time Jumpers, he contributes throughout the album, but gets a special chance to shine on his self-composed instrumental ‘All Aboard’.

I was very much looking forward to the release of this album, and I am pleased to report that I am not disappointed. Brilliantly played throughout, this is an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable album.

Grade: A

Edited to add: the Time Jumpers are currently running a contest on facebook to win a copy: https://www.facebook.com/TheTimeJumpers/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED&fref=nf

Classic Rewind: Vince Gill – ‘Threaten Me With Heaven’

Single Review: Willie Nelson & Time Jumpers – ‘Heartaches By The Number’

willie-nelson-for-the-good-times-a-tribute-to-ray-price-album-cover“Heartaches By The Number,” written by Harlan Howard, saw life as both a country and pop song in 1959. While Guy Mitchell scored a Billboard Hot 100 #1 with the song, it was Ray Price who brought it to #2 on the Hot C&W Sides Chart with the song’s original release. The track has now become a standard thanks to notable recordings by the likes of George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis and Waylon Jennings, among others. Cyndi Lauper even featured it on her country album just this year.

Willie Nelson is giving the song a new lease on life as the first single from his For The Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price, the culmination of a fifty-year friendship that endured until Price died in December 2014. His version is fantastic, thanks in no small part to the Time Jumpers, who provide the gorgeous steel and fiddle dominant musical accompaniment.

I have to say I was more than apprehensive about the pairing, which I thought looked intriguing on paper, but might come off as a mish-mash in execution. Nelson’s unique vocal delivery, especially in recent years, has made collaborating a challenge. But on “Heartaches By The Number” he sounds as vibrant as he has in years. Nelson more than holds his own with the energetic arrangement. The recording is crisp, clean, country and among the most splendid pieces of music I’ve heard all year.

“Heartaches By The Number” is also an outstanding jumping off point for the Time Jumpers, who’s fantastic Kid Sister drops early next month. Although he hates being singled out when talking about the band, these recordings go a long way in making up for the acquired taste of Vince Gill’s most recent solo album.

As if “Heartaches By The Number” and the addition of the Time Jumpers aren’t exciting enough, For The Good Times was produced by another legend, Fred Foster, who is entering The Country Music Hall of Fame this year. With those pedigrees, I cannot wait to hear what the rest of the album has in store.

Grade: A+

Single Review: Vince Gill – ‘Take Me Down’

gill-pub_hires_2_lg_wide-9ee349425fd113510d77574f8280a73deb9f1543-s900-c85Vince Gill has reached the stage in his career when he can record pretty much what he wants with no particular need to pander to commercial considerations.  Sometimes  that’s a good thing for an artist, at others it may lead to self-indulgence.

While I wouldn’t call this new single self-indulgent, it does represent a side of Vince’s artistry which isn’t my favourite. A mellow mid tempo ballad, it is beautifully sung with Vince’s vocals at their warmest and sweetest. The lyric is both romantic and sexy, lauding an existing relationship which has lost none of its fire. The production is understated and allows the voice to shine. The downside for me is that the admittedly pretty melody and arrangement are country at its most sophisticated, AC leaning.

Vince co-wrote the song with Nashville based former pop star Richard Marx, with whom he has worked before, and with Jillian Jacqueline, an aspiring artist Marx is producing. You may possibly remember her as a child back in 2001, billed just as Jillian, when she contributed to a low-charting single by Billy Dean and Suzy Bogguss called ‘Keep Mom And Dad In Love’.

It’s pleasant enough to listen to, and if not viewed through my traditional-leaning country fan ears would be a very fine offering. But it doesn’t really appeal to me viscerally. Little Big Town add harmonies, but if anything they flatten out the emotional impact for me.

This is hard to review, because objectively it is extremely well done and there is no substantive criticism I can make. If it falls short for me, that feels more like a failure on my part to appreciate it.

Grade: A-/B depending on whether it’s judged as a country song.

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr. & Lois Johnson – ‘Removing the Shadow’

R-4659119-1371346861-1435.jpegRemoving the Shadow sounds like it ought to be Hank Jr.’s declaration of independence from his father’s legacy, but instead it is a song about forgetting an old love and moving on to a new relationship. It’s also the title track of Hank Jr.’s 1970 duets album with Lois Johnson.

Lois Johnson was minor country artist who was active from 1969 to 1984. Her singles for MGM all peaked outside the Top 40, if they charted at all, and the label never released an album of her solo work. After moving on to 20th Century Records, she scored one Top 10 hit in 1975 with “Loving You Will Never Grow Old”. The mere fact that she was Hank Jr.’s labelmate is the most likely the reason she was paired up with him. Whether MGM was looking for a duet partner for Hank or just seeking to increase Johnson’s exposure is unclear. She had a pleasant voice but it was not very distinctive. As as a team, the two lacked the chemistry of the more successful duos of the era: Conway and Loretta, Porter and Dolly, George and Tammy. Hank Jr. needed to be teamed someone with the vocal prowess of a Melba Montgomery or a Connie Smith, but in those days labels limited their choices to someone who was already signed to their roster.

Like many albums of the era, Removing the Shadow relies a lot on cover material. Lois and Hank tackle Johnny and June’s “If I Were a Carpenter”, “Why Don’t You Love Me” (the obligatory Hank Sr. cover), and “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)”, a 1960 pop hit for The Everly Brothers, which has been recorded many times, including versions by Connie Smith in 1976, Steve Wariner in 1978, and Emmylou Harris in 1983. My favorite version is a 1986 album cut by The Sweethearts of the Rodeo with Vince Gill. No one has ever scored a Top 10 hit on the country charts with this song, but Hank and Lois came the closest, taking it to #12. The song is a particular favorite of mine and it’s easily the best cut on this album.

“Removing the Shadow”, which is also quite good, preceded “So Sad” as a single, peaking at #23. I also enjoyed the Cajun-flavored “Party People” and the upbeat honky-tonker “Settin’ the Woods on Fire”. This is an album that has a lot of appeal to traditionalists; it contains very little of the countrypolitan trappings of the era and has plenty of pedal steel. This probably limited its commercial appeal, though it sold well enough that the duo released a follow-up album in 1972. Removing the Shadow peaked at #21 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, but it has never been released on CD. While a digital version could possibly appear in the future, I think it is unlikely, which is somewhat unfortunate. It’s not essential listening but the material is top notch. If you’re a fan of classic country and can find a used vinyl copy somewhere, it’s worth seeking out.

As an aside, Lois Johnson’s last album was released in 1984. She died in Nashville in July 2014 at age 72.

Grade: B+

Album Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Today Is Christmas’

today is christmasLeAnn Rimes has often had one foot in country and one in pop, but as she has struggled to find her audience the last few years she has concentrated more on her country roots with the lovely Vince Gill-produced covers album Lady And Gentleman and the personal Spitfire. Unfortunately on her new Christmas album she has reverted to pop and jazz, and while some of it is well done (some isn’t), none of it is country, which is a disappointment for me . Very brassy production overwhelms a rather bizarre selection of material, although I do have to give her some credit for not repeating the same handful of songs which appear on every other Christmas album. It’s just a shame the result does not pay off better. Also featured instrumentally to better (though non-country) effect is the legendary Booker T Jones on B3 organ and Wurlitzer.

Particularly dreadful is ‘Must Be Santa’, a 1960 pop hit which is a noisy mess dominated by a brass section, and whose admittedly silly lyrics LeAnn dashes out so fast it sounds as if the whole track gas been speeded up artificially. The title track, newly penned by LeAnn and her regular collaborator Darrell Brown, is apparently this year’s Christmas theme for NBC’s Today show. It may work in context as a glorified jingle but it’s very irritating as a standalone song, even in a Christmas party setting.

A cover of Kenny Loggins’ seasonal 1970s soft rock hit ‘Celebrate Me Home’, performed as a duet with pop star Gavin De Graw, is inoffensive but exceptionally boring. A second new Rimes/Brown tune, ‘I Still Believe in Santa Claus’ is bearable but bland MOR. LeAnn’s version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ is very well sung, but isn’t one of my favourite Christmas songs.

A perky version of ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ in medley with Frosty The Snowman’ is quite entertaining, with LeAnn showing off her jazz scatting. The brass instruments are jettisoned here. LeAnn recruits R&B star Aloe Blacc as her duet partner on ‘That Spirit Of Christmas’, originally recorded by Ray Charles. This mellow soul tune works very well, and I enjoyed it.

‘We Need A Little Christmas’ is a loungy ballad from Broadway musical Mame, which LeAnn sings very well, backed by a restrained piano and string arrangement. The similar ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ (originally composed for A Charlie Brown Christmas) is good too, with an accomplished and tender vocal and delicate arrangement. I really liked this.

My favorite track is Brandi Carlile’s ‘The Heartache Can Wait’, a beautiful, understated ballad about holding on to a relationship through one last Christmas. LeAnn’s vocal is excellent, bearing favorable comparison with the very best of her work, and is sympathetically backed by a tasteful string arrangement. It feels a bit out of place in the midst of the party atmosphere which dominates on the album, but is outstanding, and would work on a non-Christmas record. I would definitely recommend this track.

Scottish New Years tune ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and a medley of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ and ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ sound lovely aurally, although she takes too many liberties with the melodies, which are unrecognisable in places.

This is a jazzy pop album rather than a country one, so it wasn’t really to my taste as a whole, but there are some tracks I enjoyed.

Grade: B-

Razor X’s top 10 singles of 2015

Compiling a list of the year’s best singles has become one of my least favorite tasks. It seems as though with each passing year country radio gets a little worse. I stopped listening to it in 2007; there is plenty of good music available outside the mainstream, but non-mainstream artists don’t always bother releasing singles to radio. Twenty years ago I’d have had trouble paring my list down to just ten songs; nowadays it is challenge to find ten singles that I like. But in the end, I always manage to find a little wheat among the mountain of chaff. It will come as no surprise to longtime readers to discover that my list is dominated by old favorites who are mostly past their commercial peaks. In fact, my list contains only one bonafide hit, and even that hit #1 without much help from country radio:

fae8ca732384cd6a272747f48c4ebbe010. I Met a Girl — William Michael Morgan

In a stronger year, I wouldn’t have taken much notice of this song but it stands out from the pack because it is a legitimate attempt to get country music back on track without all the hip-hop, bro-country and R&B influences that have come to all but drown out traditional country sounds. It peaked just outside the Top 40, but Morgan has got a good voice and is an artist I’m keeping an eye on for the future.

9. Boy and a Girl Thing — Mo Pitney

Like “I Met a Girl”, this tune is a bit generic but it’s a step in the right direction towards bringing the genre back to its roots. It failed to make the Top 40, but Pitney is an artist that deserves to be heard. Hopefully his music won’t be held hostage by his record label (Curb)

8. Time For That — Clint Black

Clint Black was one of a handful of my old favorites who made a comeback in 2015. It was a shame, but no surprise, that this single did not chart. But regardless of its commercial performance, it sure was good to hear from Clint again.

ashley-monroe-48th-annual-cma-awards-2014-arrivals_44470897. On to Something Good — Ashley Monroe

Ashley Monroe is a very talented artist whose shot at stardom has been hampered by bad timing; she’s had the ill fortune to come along at a time when female artists — particularly traditional-leaning ones — are not given much consideration by country radio. The Blade, produced by Vince Gill and Justin Niebank, is one of the year’s best albums. This single, which got stuck at #53, makes some compromises in an attempt to be heard. Hardcore country it is not, but it is very good, and in another era it would have been a big hit.

6. Cold Beer Conversation — George Strait

The title track of an album that took everyone by surprise proves that drinking songs don’t have to be mindless party songs. It also unofficially marks the beginning of Strait’s post-radio career. After an impressive 35-year-run at the top of the country singles charts, this is his fourth consecutive record not to make the Top 20, and as such, as forced his fans to finally acknowledge that even King George is no longer welcome at country radio.

5. Jim and Jack and Hank — Alan Jackson

This catchy kiss-off tune would have been a big hit during the 90s line-dancing craze. It’s a little light in the lyrics department but is an example of what passed for a fun song on the radio before country music became one big frat party in a cornfield.

lwomack4. Send It On Down — Lee Ann Womack

A beautifully crafted ballad that is a prayer to the Almighty for the strength to make it through adverse times.

3. If I Was Over You — Amanda Watkins feat. Jamey Johnson

This independent release is an interesting pairing between Amanda Watkins (formerly of the pop-country Miss Willie Brown) and Jamey Johnson, which works surprisingly well. It is a stripped down, beautifully produced and well-sung ballad, that can’t possibly have been expected to succeed commercially. However, if Watkns’ forthcoming album is as strong as the lead single, she could be well poised to be country music’s next critics’ darling.

2. Tennessee Whiskey — Chris Stapleton

I surprised myself by ranking this one so highly. When I reviewed Traveller last spring, I commented that Stapleton’s bluesy take on this Dean Dillon tune that was previously recorded by David Allan Coe and a hit for George Jones, was not to my taste. While I still greatly prefer Jones’ version, Stapleton’s remake has grown on me. It is the only decent song to make it to #1 this year, having been driven up the charts by download sales after Stapleton’s CMA wins, and without much help from country radio. It’s a ray of hope that mainstream country may finally start to improve before too much longer.

images-91. I Remember You — Trisha Yearwood

Trisha Yearwood is another old favorite who finally released some new music in 2015. This beautiful, stripped down ballad, on which her sister sings harmony, is a tribute to their late mother, and shows that although radio may have left Trisha Yearwood behind, she can still deliver the goods. This is about as good as it gets.

Occasional Hope’s top 10 singles of 2015

law 2015Country radio may be going from bad to worse with the arrival of the likes of the obviously non-country Sam Hunt, but there have been some superb singles released this year, particularly from female artists. A few of them have even made an impact on radio, proving there is still hope. Among the singles that just missed the cut for my top 10 were the charming first two singles from Kacey Musgraves’ second Mercury album – ‘Biscuits’ and ‘Dime Store Cowgirl’; Sunny Sweeney’s dead-marriage duet with Will Hoge, ‘My Bed’; and Chris Young’s sexy ‘I’m Comin’ Over’.

10. Jon Pardi – ‘Head Over Boots’
Sunny and catchy – this is country rock done exactly right. It’s currently working its way into the top 40.

9. Chris Stapleton‘Nobody To Blame’

Singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton’s unexpected triple victory at this year’s CMA Awards was the pleasantest surprise I’ve had at an awards ceremony in years. Showing why he deserved it, his November single release is an excellent song imbued with his bluesy soulful brand of country music.

burning house8. Cam – Burning House
I hear Camaron Ochs as more folky pop rather than a country singer at heart, but I’ve really liked her two 2015 singles, the upbeat ‘My Mistake’ (about embarking on a one night stand with no regrets), and the gentle melancholy of ‘Burning House’. The haunting melody makes this my favourite of the two, and for a change radio agrees with me, as this has proved to be her breakthrough, with the track at #11 on the country radio chart as of early November. Her debut album is due this month.

shut up and fish7. Maddie & Tae – ‘Shut Up And Fish’
An irresistibly catchy tune from the effervescent duo, which uses its comic trappings to dress up a serious message about sexual harassment.

6. Jason James‘I’ve Been Drinkin’ More’
Perhaps the most obscure of my top 10 singles is this solid barroom shuffle, which sounds like a forgotten county classic:

I’ve been drinkin’ more
Since you’ve been lovin’ me less

5. Jana Kramer – ‘I Got the Boy’
Disappointingly the album it heralded turned out to be otherwise terrible, but I still like Jana Kramer’s mature reflection on the passing of teenage romance, written by Connie Harrington, Tim Nichols and former child TV star Jamie Lynn Spears. Her vocal ability may not stand up to the other women who made my top 10 this year, but on this song at least, she has an appealing warmth. It was another genuine hit, and is still rising.

4. Trisha Yearwood‘I Remember You’
The second single from Trisha Yearwood’s 2014 mixture of hits and fine new songs, Prize Fighter, is an impeccable song, written by Canadians Kelly Archer, Ben Caver and Brad Rempel. My review said it was “as close to perfect as it gets”, and it is an exemplary example of understated subtlety in both the vocal and the production.

jamey johnson3. Jamey Johnson‘Alabama Pines’
Jamey Johnson has not been very forthcoming with new music even now that he has launched his own label. But he did share this single with us earlier this year, even initially allowing it to be downloaded free. A beautiful, steel laced melody, it looks back on his southern childhood and the dreams of a life in music who took him away.

the blade2. Ashley Monroe – ‘The Blade
For most of this year, the title track of Ashley’s latest album has been the song I’ve returned to over and over again. When I reviewed that set I called this a truly outstanding song, and my feelings have not changed. Written by Marc Beeson, Jamie Floyd and Allen Shamblin, produced by Vince Gill and Justin Niebank, and sung by the delicately vulnerable Ashley Monroe, this is a beautiful depiction of the pain of love which lasts longer on one side than the other:

That’s the risk you run when you love
When you love and you give it all you’ve got to give
Knowing all along there’s a chance
There’s a chance you’ll reach and they won’t
You’ll bleed and they don’t
For you, it’s over; for me, it’s not
I kept tryin’ and you just stopped
Now I know how you can sound so brave
Cause you caught it by the handle, baby
And I caught it by the blade

It wasn’t a hit of course – it was far too good for country radio: too country, too subtle, and too female.

1. Lee Ann Womack‘Chances Are’
I thought Ashley Monroe’s single was going to make #1 on my list until I heard late in October that Lee Ann Womack had issued the best song on her critically acclaimed 2014 album The Way I’m Livin’ as its third single. A world-wearied and desperately lonely soul still has hope for love and happiness:

Chances are I took the wrong turn
Every time I had a turn to take
And I guess I broke my own heart
Every chance I had a heart to break
And it seems I spent my whole life
Wishin’ on the same unlucky star
As I watch you ‘cross the barroom, I wonder
What my chances are

Well, I know you’ve been around
And you’ve seen what you needed to see
And at night when you’re dreamin’
You’re probably not dreamin’ ‘bout me
Oh, it’s safe to say I’ve stumbled
But I’ve managed to make it through this far
As I take one step and then another
I wonder what my chances are

I have watched the world go by
Hand in hand and wondered why
I’m still so alone
Could I lay down my foolish pride
Maybe finally find my heart a home

The band has started playing
A simple song I used to know
I take your hand and walk you out
Dance to the rhythm way down low
Every heart has got a story
Mine just has a few scars
But they could heal if you would hold me and tell me
What my chances are
Well, they could heal if you would hold me and tell me
What my chances are

I first heard this excellent song sung by its writer Hayes Carll a few years ago, but LAW’s version of this excellent Hayes Carll song is quite exquisitely beautiful: beautifully sung and interpreted like a masterclass in country music, and tastefully produced with lovely steel guitar dominating the mix. Her unexpected but well deserved nomination as the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year probably won’t gain her airplay for this stunning record, but it’s unmissable.

Album Review: Chris Young – ‘I’m Comin’ Over’

im comin overThere are artists in today’s country whose music I unequivocally loathe. But in most cases, they’re people I didn’t have any particular expectations for. It’s much more painful to listen to a bad record put out by someone you know is capable of so much better – rather like the difference between a bad first date, and the betrayal of finding your spouse of many years is cheating on you. Sadly, that’s how I felt about Chris Young after his last album saw him shifting to the dark side of loud, unsubtle bro-country. Although his first few albums didn’t have consistently strong enough material, his excellent voice and traditional leanings meant I had great hopes for him. I was cautiously encouraged by his latest single, the title track to his new album, which Young produced, and mostly co-wrote, with Carey Crowder. (Link to review). Unfortunately, this song is not wholly representative of an album which is a real mixed bag, but there is a reasonable amount of worthwhile music.

One of the best songs is the one cut which neither Young nor Crowder had a hand in: ‘I Know A Guy’, written by Benjy Davis and Brett Tyler. It opens compellingly, with the protagonist offering assistance to a woman in trouble, before he launches into an impassioned chorus revealing himself as the man being left, and desperate for one last chance. The slow, measured verses work better than the chorus, which is rattled out and lacks melody, but overall this is a strong track.

Young teamed up with the songwriting brothers Brad and Brett Warren to write the excellent ‘Sober Saturday Night’, which features Vince Gill’s harmony and electric guitar. A somber ballad about the misery of a Sunday morning without his ex, which hurts worse than any hangover in times past. This is perhaps the best song on the album.

The last of the songs really worth hearing on this album is ‘What If I Stay’, written by Young with Josh Hoge and Johnny Bulford, a seductive ballad right in Young’s wheelhouse.

‘Callin’ My Name’, written by Young with Crowder and Jonathan Singleton, isn’t bad, either, with a pleasant melody, although it’s a bit fillerish. ‘You Do The Talkin’’, written by Crowder with Liz Rose and Cary Barlowe, is also okay but a bit bland. ‘Alone Tonight’, one of the many songs on the album written by the writing collaboration of Young, Hoge and Crowder, isn’t a bad song, but the insensitive echoey production kills it. ‘Sunshine Overtime’ is an inoffensive beach song.

On the negative side of the balance, the trio’s ‘Heartbeat’ and the football-themed ‘Underdogs’ are horrible – repetitive, monotonous and overly processed. ‘Think Of You’ is a deathly dull and characterless duet with Cassadee Pope, a mediocre pop singer currently masquerading as a country artist following her run on The Voice.

I get the impression that Chris Young is trying to balance the demands of commercial success with songs of more substance and quality, but he hasn’t quite got that balance right here. ( I also have to say that the cover picture is not very flattering, and is calling out for a Farce The Music treatment.)

Grade: B