My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Walt Wilkins

Album Review: Jamie Richards – ‘Latest And Greatest’

latest-and-greatestThe underrated Oklahoma-born country singer and songwriter Jamie Richards is back with a fine new release, his fifth album. He has a warm mellow voice which is always good to hear, a solid songwriting gift (he wrote or cowrote every song on the album), and is a real country singer. As the title suggests, some of the cuts are new versions of older songs, but there are five new ones as well.

‘Last Call’ (a co-write with Wayd Battle) comes off like an answer to the Lee Ann Womack song of the same name (although in fact it predates it, having made its first appearance on Jamie’s first album back in 2004. While coming from the viewpoint of the man calling up his latenight last resort inevitably lacks the devastating impact of the LAW song, there is some self awareness, as he admits

Don’t know why she still answers

‘Any Way You Want Me To’ (written with Walt Wilkins) and ‘When You Love Somebody’ (written with Bruce Bouton) are nice love songs.

‘Second Hand Smoke’ (the lead single) is a fine song about a man still struggling with the memory of his lost love, despite claiming he is completely over her:

You’d think three years clean would be plenty of time
While you’ve been out of sight, I’ve been out of my mind
Yeah I kicked the habit
I’ m back in control
I’m over you and better alone
But you’re still hangin’ around like second hand smoke

The languid ‘Never Gonna Hear It From Me’, which has an almost hypnotic feel to the melody, is another excellent song about ongoing feelings for an ex. ‘Drive’, the title track from his 2007 album, is another to brood over lost love.

The outstanding ‘Sayin’ Goodbye’ (one of the new songs) again balances the pain of loss and denial. Even better, ‘I’ll Have Another’ is an excellent song about losing a loved one which is revisited from 2013’s All About The Music.

The powerful ‘I’m Not Drinkin’’ is another displaying the protagonist’s attempts to try to keep his dignity and hide his pain from the woman who has caused it:

You say I look a little rough
I look like a man who’s given up …

No I don’t need you to drive me home
Cause I’m not drinkin’
I’m just thirsty
Your leavin’ didn’t even hurt me
I don’t really like the taste of whiskey

The track is augmented by effective backing vocals from Charla Corn.

‘Easier By Now’ (from Richards’ Sideways) is a lovely song with a beautiful melody and another sad lyric.

The fiddle led ‘Whiskey Night’ sees a hard drinker changing his ways (and his diet from whiskey to beer) a little too late:

This ain’t a whiskey night
I won’t be tight and I’ll go home
Goin’ down a dead end road
I lost my way
I lost control
And I won’t lose her without a fight

‘She’s Cold As That Beer She’s Drinking’ is about not getting lucky.

The cheerful mid-tempo ‘Real’ sets out his country boy philosophy of life:

Old boots, old hat
For skinny jeans I’m a bit too fat…
I believe most pretty boys that sing
Don’t know a thing about country twang
That’s just how I feel
Cause I like real

There are two versions of this, one straightforwardly down the line, the other a bonus cut at the end performed as a duet with Texas radio DJ Justin Frazell.

While as a longstanding fan I would have liked more new material, this makes a good introduction for newer listeners. There really isn’t a bad note here. And if you try it you have his previous albums to catch up on.

Grade: A

Album Review: Jamie Richards – ‘All About The Music’

all about the musicOklahoma-born Jamie Richards is one of my favorite Texas Red Dirt/country (with an emphasis on the latter side) singers, as he has a strong, distinctive voice as both singer and songwriter, and he is back with a fine self-produced set of entirely self-written material. His own band provides solid backings, particularly impressive being the multi-instrumentalist Milo Deering who at various points plays steel, fiddle, viola, dobro and acoustic guitar.

The excellent opener, ‘I’ll Have Another’ (written with Shannon Carpenter) is a great song with a wearied feel about a country singer whose “life is held together by rusty guitar strings”. His traveling lifestyle has led his wife to walk out, leading to a spiral of decline as he drinks away the pain:

I always say I’m gonna give it up this time
As a pretty girl brings a shot up to the stage

If I can’t have the one I want
Then I’ll have another
A glass of whiskey can’t take the place
Of a friend and a lover
But it’s all I know to do
Sit here and drown the truth

‘Never Gonna Hear It from Me’ is a melancholy sounding ballad with a gently soothing melody as the protagonist accepts that she doesn’t love him and decides to stop wearing his heart on his sleeve by breaking away:

You only come around
Cause it makes you feel so good
That someone really loves you
Even if you never could

‘Doesn’t Change A Thing’ (written with Shella Stephen) is a sad fiddle-led song about losing a loved one, and finding ordinary life goes on unaltered. An emotional vocal brings out the protagonist’s pain.

The romantic ballads, the melodic ‘All Time High’ and ‘Let Me Love You’ have tender vocals and are both very convincingly delivered.

Another song with a very strong melody line as well as a neatly crafted lyric is ‘Bottle Of Wine, which was co-written with Wayd Battle, and which I like a great deal. Meeting an alcoholic friend, the protagonist compares the lover who has healed his own emotional scars to the drink his friend can’t live without:

I said, “You’ve never seen me without pain
Cause I found the one who closed the door
On a shattered life that I don’t live any more”
I said, “Don’t get me wrong, I know just where you are
My wounds have healed, but I’ve still got scars”
He offered me a drink and I said “No, I’m fine
Cause I finally found the right bottle of wine”

Milo Deering’s atmospheric steel guitar helps set the mood for the haunting minor-keyed ‘Man In The Neon Moon’. This presents a group of bar room characters, most poignantly the title character, a “king among losers” who “relives his pain at that table every night” and advises others against following his example.

‘Privileges Of Youth’, co-written with Walt Wilkins, relays fond memories of youthful irresponsibility now long past, and is pretty good.

‘She’s Cold As That Beer She’s Drinking’ (a former Texas chart single) has the electric guitar mixed a bit too loud for my taste, but it is a good song about a honky tonking woman trying not to show weakness by falling in love, which is one of the most commercial moments here.

Also a bit on the loud side, but well done, the muscular Southern rock of ‘Older The Bull’ celebrates maturity and experience, getting in a few digs at the current state of country music, which he says “feels like the heart and soul has slowly slipped away. On a similar theme, but a better song, the beaty title track takes a few sharp swipes at untalented stars who look good posing on stage with guitars they can’t play, singing songs with “nothing to say” written by someone else.

This album is a refreshing reminder that good country music is still being made, at least if you look away from the major labels.

Grade: A

Single Review – Kellie Pickler – ‘Someone Somewhere Tonight’

Someone-Somewhere-TonightOne of the great surprises of the spring television season has been Kellie Pickler’s turn on Dancing With The Stars. The show’s platform has been invaluable to her public image, helping her shatter any last strands of the ditzy blonde who came in fifth on American Idol and allowing her to show the confident and mature woman she’s become.

And it seems, unlike Blake Shelton, she’s using the platform for good. Pickler has gotten around to showing us the first signs of the ‘Kellie Country’ she said would come from her Black River Entertainment debut, and the results are beyond expectations. Her new single is “Someone Somewhere Tonight” a too-good-to-ignore Pam Tillis album cut from her 2007 album Rinestoned that perfectly displayed Tillis’ otherwordly voice in a master class of power and control unlike anything Nashville had seen since the Patsy Cline era. Pickler is clearly walking hallowed ground, and thankfully is more than up to the task.

There isn’t much that can be said about the quality of Davis Raines and Walt Wilkins’ lyrics. The story is a striking juxtaposition between innocence (baby’s first steps, a first kiss) and corruptness (death, alcoholism, a life in jail), and their simultaneous harmony in our world. The song would elevate the quality of country music in any era to unimaginable heights, and the artist singing it would have a career moment. “Someone Somewhere Tonight” is just that good.

The inevitable comparisons between Tillis and Pickler are unfair as both bring their own vocal quality to the track with neither turning in the ‘better’ performance. Pickler’s voice is more delicate and twangy and that works to her advantage in selling the story. The urgency she brings to the line Someone somewhere tonight/ Is stuck in a prison/ Breathin’ but just barely livin’ Behind walls of their own” is so breathtaking, I realized I’d forgotten there was a time when country singers actually could relate (on a deeply personal level) to what they were singing about.

The production on the track is mostly stellar, but I could’ve done without the electric guitar that sits just underneath Pickler’s compelling vocal. The accompaniment also gets too loud towards the end, when the song builds to the emotional crescendo. But the prominent fiddle and steel guitar ground it in the traditional place Pickler came from on 100 Proof and not the horrendous pop/rock she tried out on her other two releases. She’s keeping it fairly neo-traditional and deserves credit for sticking to her artistic creativity.

But I’m most impressed that Pickler recorded this song at all, especially in an era where radio doesn’t support music of this high a caliber. If this first taste of her upcoming album is any indication of its quality, than we might be looking at a modern day throwback to the astute female vocalists from the 80s and 90s – ones who actually knew the difference between a great and bad song – and I couldn’t be happier about it. It’s about time someone championed that type of music again, and Pickler seems like the right artist to do just that.

Grade: A- 

Listen here. 

Here’s Kellie giving the story behind the song.

Album Review: Jason Eady – ‘AM Country Heaven’

Mississippi-born and Texas-based Jason Eady moves from the Americana hybrid of his excellent last album When The Money’s All Gone to something more deeply rooted in country. Tastefully produced by Kevin Welch, with backings from Austin-based band Heybale and special Lloyd Maines on steel, it is a low key delight with some excellent songs, almost all written by the extremely talented Eady, occasionally with a co-writer. His pleasing, plaintive voice is ideally suited to his material.

The brilliant title track excoriates the state of country radio, when,

They sing about Jesus and they sing about Jones
And they sing of American pride
But they’re all too damn clean
They’re polished like stones and they won’t sing about cheating or lies…

I knew it was over the day that I overheard a record executive cry
“Keep it all simple, don’t get offensive and don’t play songs in three quarter time”

Well Mr Record Man I hope you don’t take offence
But you’re a hell of a joke I can tell
You’re the reason we’re in AM country heaven
And FM country hell

This sets the tone for an album full of real country music, with songs rooted in real lives.

The excellent ‘Old Guitar And Me’ is a possibly autobiographical tale about growing a little older as a struggling musician, and not quite getting anywhere. Fellow singer-songwriter Walt Wilkins sings backing vocals.

Dealing with the consequences of past choices is a common theme for many of the songs here, with a general mood of acceptance. The subdued and somewhat obscure ‘Tomorrow Morning’ compels attention with its quiet determination,

Cannot live in the light alone
There’s no redemption without the sin
And I must go through darkness knowing
Tomorrow morning I’ll begin again

It ain’t an easy road that I have taken
But I will take it til the end
Every day is joy and sorrow
Tomorrow morning I’ll begin again

The downbeat ‘Wishful Drinking’ has Lloyd Maines’s steel supporting the troubled protagonist’s wistful thoughts about a former lover he desperately hopes (and clearly doesn’t really believe) might still be thinking of him. Eady is very good at bring to life this kind of complex emotion, and he does so on the slow and regretful ‘Longer Walk In The Rain’ considers past choices and a former loved one, and their ongoing emotional impact.

‘I’ll Sure Be Glad When I’m Gone’ (written by Jason with Kevin Welch and Roger Ray) tackles the complex emotions combining relief and regret around an impending breakup. The protagonist of the gentle sounding ‘Lying To Myself’ sounds defeated from the start, as he struggles with life and loss and his own responsibility for the failure of the relationship:

I might need forgiving one of these days
But for now I’ll go on living this way
Running and fighting to survive
Lying to myself to stay alive

The unexpectedly sprightly ‘Paid My Dues’ features bright harmonies from Cary Ann Hearst, and is about a man trying to get over various drug habits, and feeling frustrated by the time it is taking to get better.

On a more positive note, Patty Loveless duets on the delightful bluegrass of ‘Man On A Mountain’, a love song between a wild mountain man (and “a mountain of a man” to boot) and the valley town girl he calls his lily of the valley, but he doesn’t want to get married and she won’t “live in sin” with him. They have allowed their differences to come between them but long for one another. Patty is at her mountain best on this charming song, and her presence on this track is likely to bring the album as a whole some much-deserved attention. The song was written by Eady with Matt Powell, Drew Kennedy, and Josh Grider.

The sardonic up-tempo ‘Forget About The Truth’ offers another change of mood as the protagonist is disillusioned about his girlfriend but is prepared to overlook the lies at least for another night together.

‘Sober On The Weekends’ (0ne of two songs not written by Eady, but by Scott Copeland) is a drinking song with a blues groove about a girlfriend who spend her weeks drinking and her weekends with her man getting high on love instead. The other Copeland song, Water Into Wine has tastefully subtle gospel backing vocals from the Trishas’ Jamie Wilson. In this interesting song, a backslider and onetime choir singer takes refuge in the bottle and “earthly desires that consume what’s left of my life”.

This is one of those rare albums where there really are no weaker tracks. If you like this, I’d also recommend downloading the excellent ‘Promises In Pieces’ and ‘Cry Pretty’ from When The Money’s All Gone, which are on similar stylistic lines and great songs.

Grade: A

There’s a short interview with Jason Eady over at Country California.

Album Review: Jamie Richards – ‘Sideways’

Jamie Richards is one of those solid Texan country singers who has been forging a regional career without troubling national radio. He is signed to the Daily family’s Houston-based D Records, which has just released his fourth album (the earlier ones are well worth checking out, too). He has a rich voice full of character with a distinctive slightly grainy tone, excellent relaxed phrasing. He spent some time as a staff songwriter for Curb in Nashville and wrote all but three of the songs here, most of which are very good. He also produced the record with Greg White.

The album opens with a five–song sequence of sad, mainly mid-tempo, songs about failing to get over an ex, and as he mentions some lows and highs in his personal life in the liner notes, these may be autobiographical. My favorite track is the chugging ‘Half Drunk’. This solo composition has the broken-hearted protagonist regretting his inability to drown his sorrows due to lack of cash:

You were too good to be true
I guess that’s why you weren’t…

It takes more than just a few of my favorite ice-cold beers
Hell, I’ll break out the Jack and Coke and I’ll make you disappear
Oh but you’ll be back when I come down and remember how it could have been
So for now I’ll do my best to forget you once again

I’m sittin’ here half drunk
Cause I ran out of money
Yeah I would’a been all the way
If I’d’a had just one more 20

Almost as good is ‘A Whole Lot Lonely’ (embarrassingly misspelt ‘Lonley’ on the cover), another intensely honest post-breakup number involving the protagonist talking to a drink-induced hallucination of his ex, and apologising to her shade for that real-life call at 3 a.m., explaining sadly:

I was a little drunk
But a whole lot lonely

The equally downbeat ‘Easier By Now’ (another excellent song) finds the singer still struggling with the memories despite the passage of years:

It should be easier by now
I should have long forgot that smile
Even after all this time and all the love I pushed aside
I always come back to you somehow

The title track seems to date back to Jamie’s time writing for Curb, and is a co-write with former Curb artist Ken Mellons. It’s a fine song with a resigned feel about struggling to find equilibrium after the end of a relationship; he knows drinking isn’t the answer, but it’s the only option.

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Album Review: Walt Wilkins – ‘Vigil’

Texas based singer-songwriter Walt Wilkins released this album last year, but it escaped my notice at the time. Vigil is a real labor of love, whose making was funded by an anonymous benefactor and whose profits are all being devoted to charity (the Longevity Foundation). More Americana than conventional country, this reveals a Texas troubadour at his most reflective, armed with a rough voice and a poet’s soul. The concept is more formed than on most inspirational records, in that it is built around a night vigil, not quite a dark night of the soul but one involving doubt as well as faith, and perhaps all the more deeply rooted for that, and conveying longing rather than preaching. As a spiritual exercise it is more effective than many more straightforward declarations of faith.

Opening track ‘Be Home Soon’, written by Sam Baker, is the only song not written or co-written by Wilkins himself, but sets the stage perfectly as it depicts the tired narrator on his way home late at night, ready for the night vigil whose concept frames Walt’s own songs. The first of these, written with regular collaborators Liz Rose (best known these days for her work with Taylor Swift) and Davis Raines (credited on the liner notes as ‘This Is All I Know’ , although the lyrics sung appear to be ‘That’s All I Know’) sets out the minutiae of everyday life for a simple man (“life is hard and it hurts sometimes but it proves I’m alive”).

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Album Review: Jason Eady – ‘When The Money’s All Gone’

When The Money's All GoneJason Eady’s new album (his third) is produced by Kevin Welch, and was recorded in Texas, where the Mississippi-born singer-songwriter is based, although the state most frequently mentioned in his lyrics is Louisiana. His initial influences were country, but along the way he fell in love with Texas singer-songwriters, and his music falls on the modern folk-leaning singer-songwriter side of country with blues elements and a very Southern vibe; the record label, meanwhile, is pushing this album as “blue-eyed soul”. Whatever the genre, the end result is very good. Eady is a very poetic writer with an interesting voice, and the lyrics repay close attention. It is disappointing that the lyrics are not included in the liner notes, which claim they are available on the artist’s website (not currently the case). The first time I listened to it I did so paying close attention to each of the songs, and I was enraptured. The second time, I had it on while doing something else, and it did fade into the background, thanks to the lack of variation in tempos and lack of country radio-style obvious hooks. It’s definitely worth investing some time in listening to it.

The album opens arrestingly with the jaunty bluesy-gospel vibe and dominant harmonica of the instantly likeable sinner’s ‘God Fearing Blues’, with backing vocals from the fellow-Texas-based songwriters who make up the Band Of Heathens. The narrator sounds less than depressed as he tells us:

“I got baptized when I was ten
I got a little dirty so I did it again
The preacher said ‘son why are you back so soon?’
I said ‘let’s get this done, I got things to do’
I was saved in the morning
And back that afternoon

Well, I sing ‘Hallejujah’ and I shout ‘Amen’
And I wrestle with the devil and sometimes I win
(Sometimes I lose)
Well, I hate to disappoint you
But I got these no-good living, white line loving, roadhouse singing, good time, God-fearing blues”

A long instrumental outro to this song leads into the title track, another highlight, which Jason wrote with Walt Wilkins, who produced his last album, the excellent Redemption. Along the same lines musically as the previous song, it is a biting response to current economic issues:

“Everything’s had and nothing is owned
Aorund it goes until the money’s all gone…

Lose a little and you can scream and shout
You gotta lose big before they bail you out…

But when the money’s all gone
We’ll get back to work, get back in the garden, get back in the dirt
It’s an ill wind doesn’t blow some good
We can put it back together the way that we should
It might not be the worst thing after all
When the money’s all gone.”

Also in the same vein are the enjoyably mellow ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Fine’, the brooding ‘Watering Hole’ (written with Scott Davis) and the very visual ‘Travelling Show’ (written with Kurt South). ‘Evangeline’ has a Cajun feel with more Band Of Heathens’ backing vocals and accordion, but is one of the less ambitious lyrics. ‘Judgment Day’ (another Scott Davis co-write) is a lyrically rather dark and fatalistic gospel number, but sounds positively hypnotic.

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