My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Wayland Patton

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Fellow Travelers/Country Heart’

John Conlee’s career was one of the casualties of the wave of young stars emerging in the late 80s swept away the old guard. Columbia having dispensed with his services, he signed a deal with prominent independent label Sixteenth Avenue, which had also recently picked up superstar Charley Pride.

He decided to ‘Hit The Ground Runnin’’, a nice upbeat tune about moving on with some cheerful accordion. Next up was the reflective ‘River Of Time’, written by Larry Cordle and Jim Rushing (although iTunes miscredits it having confused it with the Judds’ song of the same name). This song looks at the changes in attitude brought as one grows up and older:

I was 16 and strong as a horse
I didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin’
But I knew everything of course
I turned 21 totin’ a gun
And losing some good friends of mine
I was crossing my first dreams of sorrow
On the way down the river of time

This river rolls like a rocket
It don’t meander and wind
Ain’t a power on earth that can stop it
We’re all swept up in the grind
So find your companion
The one that will love you
All the way till the end of the line
It’s the dearest of dreams
In the great scheme of things
Goin’ down the river of time

I woke up at 30 and started to worry
About the glaring mistakes of my past
I still had high aspirations
But I knew that I’d better move fast
Now I’m starin’ at 40 and oh Lordy Lordy
I’m still a long way from the top
I’ve still got the heart but I’m fallin’ apart
Reachin’ the hands of the clock

Both tracks received enough airplay to chart in the 40s.

The third single was ‘Hopelessly Yours’ written by Keith Whitley, Don Cook and Curly Putman. It had been cut a few years earlier by George Jones, and was a bona fide hit a few years later for Lee Greenwood and Suzy Bogguss. Conlee’s version is melancholy and very effective, but despite its quality it got little attention from country radio. The final, non-charting, single was even better. ‘Don’t Get Me Started’ is an emotional ballad written by Hugh Prestwood which portrays the lasting sadness of lost love:

Well, thank you for askin’
I know you mean well
But friend, that’s a story I’d rather not tell
To even begin it would take all night long
And I’d still be right here and she’d still be gone

So don’t get me started
I might never stop
She’s just not a subject that’s easy to drop
There’s dozens of other stories I’ll swap
But don’t get me started on Her
I might never stop

You see, deep in my heart is a dam I have built
For a river of tears over love I have spilled
And the way I make certain that dam will not break
Is to never look back when I’ve made a mistake

Prestwood contributed a number of other tunes to the set. ‘Almost Free’ is about a relationship on the brink:

Last night you pushed me a little too far
I was not coming back when I left in the car
There was a time, an hour or two
I was feeling so free – from you
I picked up a bottle and drove to the Heights
Parked on the ridge and I looked at the lights
The engine was off and the radio on
And the singer sang and I sang along

And I was almost free
There almost wasn’t any you-and-me
I was almost free
Whole new life ahead of me
Almost free

Sunrise rising over the wheel
Bottle’s empty and so is the feel
This car knows it’s the wrong thing to do
But it’s driving me home – to you
Maybe I’m too much in love to be strong
Maybe you knew I’d be back all along
If I could be who you wanted, I would
If I could forget I’d be gone for good

It’s just too hard to walk your line
Maybe baby I’ll cross it next time

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Album Review: Ricky Skaggs – ‘Comin’ Home To Stay’

By 1988 the influx of new, traditionally rooted talent which had come with the rise of the New Traditionalists in the late 80s had squeezed room on radio playlists for more established artists, and for the first time since he burst into the mainstream, a Ricky Skaggs album did not score any top 10 hits.

Lead single ‘I’m Tired’ was a remake of an old Webb Pierce hit penned by Mel Tillis and Ray Price. It hit #3 for Pierce in 1957, but Ricky’s excellent cover disappointingly only made it to #18. It deserved to do better, as did the next single. Another classic cover, a steel-led version of Stonewall Jackson’s ‘Angel On My Mind) That’s Why I’m Walking’ failed to scrape into the top 30. That was a real shame, because it is an excellent, somber interpretation of an excellent song, which is my favorite track on this album.

Top 20 hit ‘Thanks Again’ is a warm-hearted message to loving parents written by Jim Rushing, with a stripped down backing with Ricky’s own acoustic guitar the sole instrument. Perhaps surprisingly, a peak of #17 made this appealing but not obviously commercial number the album’s biggest chart success.

Paul Overstreet’s ‘Old Kind Of Love’, the final single, celebrated a perceived revival of old fashioned family values and squeaked into the top 30. It is quite charming with an attractive melody, but feels rather naive lyrically.

The overall mood of this record is one celebrating family and married life. ‘Lord She Sure Is Good At Lovin’ Me’ was written by the period’s superstar, Randy Travis, with Paul Overstreet, and is rather good at portraying domestic bliss, with added conviction lent by using wife Sharon White’s honeyed voice on harmony.

As with his previous album, Ricky included a romantic duet with Sharon. The pretty tune and heartfelt delivery of ‘Home Is Wherever You Are’ is, a sweet ballad written by Wayland Patton, make this one another winner. Her family band The Whites also sing on a traditionally styled gospel quartet. Catchy but lyrically uncompromising, ‘If You Don’t Believe The Bible’ was written by Carl Jackson and Glenn Sutton, and has only acoustic guitars backing the singers.

There is a bit less bluegrass influence than usual, but the album takes its title from the sole (electric) bluegrass number, Jimmy Martin’s bouncily playful ‘Hold Whatcha Got’. A cover of western swing classic ‘San Antonio Rose’ is competent and entertaining but unambitious and ultimately forgettable.

‘Woman, You Won’t Break Mine’ is an offbeat love song giving an ultimatum to a tough female rodeo rider who defied her mother’s dreams of pretty dresses and is trying to slow down her romance:

You went and broke your mama’s heart
But woman, you won’t break mine

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this solidly enjoyable album, which I prefer to its immediate predecessor, but there isn’t anything really standing out either, and the satisfied mood feels a little too comfortable to have an emotional impact. Combined with the lack of big hits, it is no real surprise that it did not sell quite as well as Ricky’s previous work. It is still worth getting if you can find a cheap copy.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘A Dream Come True’

A Dream Come True was Rhonda Vincent’s second solo album, and also her second album for Rebel Records, a Roanoke Virginia label that already had a long and distinguished history of preserving and presenting bluegrass music.

Rebel certainly put their best foot forward with this album, assembling a fine cast of musicians to augment Rhonda’s usual supporting cast, with such great musicians as Jerry Douglas (dobro) and Roy Huskey (bass) plus some other guests appearing on selected tracks. Carl Jackson, Kathy Chiavola , Wayland Patton and Tensel Davidson provide vocal harmonies throughout the album.

The album opens up with “Kentucky Sweetheart”, an uptempo romp by bluegrass stalwarts Carl Jackson and Tony King. Blaine Sprouse plays fiddle on this track. The vocal harmonies on this track are somewhat reminiscent of those of the Osborne Brothers during the 1960s. “We Were Almost Like A Dream Come True” is slow ballad co-written by Larry Cordle, a very pretty and wistful song.

One doesn’t think of Pat Alger as a bluegrass songwriter and he isn’t. That said, “Lone Star State of Mind” definitely works as a bluegrass song. This song is performed at a medium fast tempo.

What would a bluegrass album be without a religious song ? The song chosen for this album is a pretty tune titled “Mama’s Angels” from the recently departed Charlie Louvin. Rhonda does a really nice job with this song. David Parmley provides the harmony vocal.

“Wishing Well Blues” is a wistful medium slow ballad which gives Rhonda some opportunity to show off her mandolin playing. “Just For Old Time’s Sake” is a vocal duet with one of Nashville’s finest voices in Jim Ed Brown. I really love this song – Jim Ed and Rhonda harmonize beautifully – and having the great John Hartford playing banjo doesn’t hurt either.

“Break My Heart” is a somewhat generic uptempo number, in that the song itself is nothing special. Rhonda and her cast sound just fine on this number.

Steve Earle and Jimbeau Hinson penned “A Far Cry From You”, a song which was a minor hit for Connie Smith. Today, Rhonda is one of the few vocalists I would compare to Connie Smith, but when this album was recorded in 1989, she was still developing her style. This is not a criticism as Rhonda does an excellent job with this song, but I think if she recorded it today it would be better still.

Jennifer McCarter and Carl Jackson penned “Love Without A Trace”. Jennifer McCarter was the lead singer of the McCarters, a sister act whose music harkened back to a much earlier style of music. This track is a bit more modern sounding than the music of the McCarters, but it has a lovely and intricate harmony arrangement reminiscent of some older musical styles. Blaine Sprouse plays fiddle on this track.

“Goin’ Gone” is another Pat Alger tune that Kathy Mattea took to #1 in early 1988. I love the arrangement on this tune with Blaine Sprouse and John Hartford doing their thing in a very tasteful manner. It’s a tossup as to whether I like this version better than Mattea’s version.

Allen Reynolds is better known as a producer for such artists as Crystal Gayle, Emmylou Harris and Garth Brooks, but he is also a talented songwriter and “Till I’m Fool Enough To Give It One More Try” is a nice medium fast tempo ballad that Rhonda handles to perfection.

Closing out the set is “Sundown”, an instrumental written by Ms Vincent herself. In recent years Rhonda has developed into quite an accomplished songwriter but at this stage of her career she was relying on others for material. This song provides a nice closing to the album and gives Rhonda a chance to let her pickers shine a little.

A Dream Come True is not Rhonda’s best album, but it is a very entertaining album and shows Rhonda as a recording artist of considerable promise. The powerful rafter-rattling vocals would come later as would her development as a songwriter and development of a sense of humor in her music, only hinted at here and there on this album. This was the first Rhonda Vincent album I purchased, the one that served to get me hooked on Ms. Vincent’s remarkable talents.

This album is somewhere in the range of B+/A-.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘If There Was A Way’

In between his third and fourth albums, Dwight Yoakam released his first hits collection, Just Lookin’ For A Hit, which featured two new songs.  While only ‘Long White Cadillac’ was released to radio, it stalled at #35 (after the title cut and final single from his previous album became his first not to enter the top 40).  So it must have been a relief when the first single from If There Was A Way stormed up the charts to a #11 high spot.  Four more singles from the album would find their way to country’s top 40, with a sixth stalling outside.  If There Was A Way also holds the distinction as the first Dwight Yoakam album not to reach the top spot on the country albums chart, though it did sell platinum like its predecessors.

‘Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose’ introduced this album to radio and follows the signature Dwight Yoakam sound to the letter.  Like his first hits, it features a driving bass line alongside a mish-mash of fiddle and steel, and sounds almost like a close cousin to ‘Streets of Bakersfield’.  It’s a clever lyric with the narrator drowning his sorrows and getting loose to the honky-tonk sounds he holds so dear.  ‘Turn’ was written by Kostas and Wayland Patton and is the only single from the album Dwight didn’t have a hand in writing.

In ‘You’re The One’, the tables have turned on the couple, and now that she wants him back, he gets to savor the feeling of watching her experience the heartache she put him through.  With gentle strings and a smoother melody, it’s one of the least country-sounding tracks on the album, but did fare better than the other singles and became the only top 5 hit among them.  Next at radio was the barroom-ready ‘Nothing’s Changed Here’.  The raw sound comes from the excellent guitar work of Pete Anderson, and the effect sounds as if it were out of the Ernest Tubb songbook, whose own ‘Walkin’ The Floor Over You’ is referenced in the lyrics.  ‘Nothing’s Changed Here’ is another Kostas co-write, this time with Yoakam, and found its way to #15 in the Spring of 1991.

Roger Miller served as co-writer for the album’s fourth single.  Smartly flippant, ‘It Only Hurts When I Cry’ found its way to #7 on the singles chart and it finds a man drowning in his sorrow trying to convince the woman that’s left him that he’s just fine; while a tinkling piano and crying steel guitar frame the lies he’s telling her.

A stone country fiddle cry kicks off my favorite track, a weeping lament to a heart that’s forever taken.  ‘The Heart That You Own’ is one of the many metaphor-driven hits that were so bountiful during this era in country music, and became the last hit single from If There Way A Way, peaking at #18.  Likewise, ‘Send A Message To My Heart’ is another stone-country weeper.  This time, Dwight brings along another Kentucky native to harmonize on this ode to love across the miles.  Neither’s star power could propel it up the charts, and it stalled at #47 as the sixth and final single.

More fancy guitar works shows up in ‘Sad, Sad Music’, but the silence is deafening to the narrator as he sings:

There should be music
Sad, sad music
The kind the movies have
When love like ours goes bad

And as more evidence of Dwight’s homages to his musical heroes are the bluegrass-influenced ‘Since I Started Drinkin’ Again’ and the honky-tonk stroller ‘I Don’t Need It Done’, written by John Sieger.

If There Was A Way continued Dwight Yoakam’s run of making hits out of heartbroke lyrics set to rhythmic hard-drumming honky-tonk, mostly propelled by his own swagger and the raw honky-tonk sound of it all.  Even if doesn’t break any new ground in his sound just yet, this album won’t disappoint fans of Dwight’s previous work.

Grade: B+

This album is still available, both digitally and on CD, from amazon.

Album Review: Tommy Webb – ‘Heartland’

tommy-webb-heartlandTommy Webb is a bluegrass singer who has just released his third album, and his first on the larger independent label Rural Rhythm, which should lead to a higher profile for him.

I think it shows a definite advance over both his 2007 debut album, Eastern Kentucky, and last year’s follow-up, Now That You Are Gone, both of which were released on the smaller Kindred Records. Like those predecessors, the new album features playing entirely by Tommy’s regular band, augmented by producer Ron Stewart on fiddle/mandolin/anything else required. The recording sessions took place at the delightfully named Sleepy Valley Barn studio in Tommy’s home state of Kentucky, and the whole project has a very authentic, organic feel. Tommy hails from Langley, Kentucky, and is clearly steeped in bluegrass traditions. I wouldn’t put him in the top rank of male bluegrass vocalists, but he is firmly in the high lonesome tradition and sings with real feeling for the lyrics. The material he has gathered for this album is very high quality, with a strong overlap with country music, although the treatment is firmly bluegrass.

Two of the tracks are re-recorded versions of songs which appeared on Tommy’s previous releases, which the label probably felt deserved wider attention. The more interesting of these songs is ‘If It Weren’t For Bluegrass Music (I’d Go Crazy)’, a re-write of Clinton Gregory’s minor country hit from 1991, ‘If It Weren’t For Country Music (I’d Go Crazy)’. Tommy gives himself a co-writing credit for altering the allusions from country artists to bluegrass ones, for instance declaring, ‘I’d vote for Ralph Stanley for president’ where the original picks Merle Haggard. The changes work pretty well, although the hook line sounds a little awkward – surely most people normally refer just to “bluegrass” rather than to “bluegrass music” as a rule?

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Retro Album Review: Ricky Skaggs – ‘Highways & Heartaches’

highways-heartaches1Skaggs Family Records recently reissued Ricky Skaggs’ classic Highways & Heartaches album, with plans to reissue three more of his early ‘80s releases. As such, this seems like a good opportunity to revisit Highways & Heartaches:

Released in 1982, Highways & Heartaches was Ricky Skaggs’ second album for Epic Records. The previous year, his Epic debut, the gold-selling Waitin’ For The Sun To Shine, had produced three Top 10 hits, including two #1’s. In 1981, Nashville was still at the height of the Urban Cowboy craze, and there was considerable concern then (as now) that country music was rapidly drifting on an irreversible course towards pop. Therefore, it was nothing short of remarkable that a 27-year-old tradition-based singer, from a bluegrass background, was signed to a major label and given free rein to produce his own album, with little interference from label executives. And that it went on to achieve great commercial success and critical acclaim, was even more astounding.

Whatever fears there may have been about a sophomore slump were quickly alleviated, when Highways & Heartaches quickly outsold its predecessor, becoming Skaggs’ only platinum album, and producing three #1 singles and one more that just missed the top spot.

The album opens with the Guy Clark composition “Heartbroke”, which was the album’s lead single and first #1. It’s interesting to note that this song was also included on the sophomore release of another newcomer who had also made his major label debut in 1981. And like Skaggs, George Strait was also one of the first of a group of artists that would eventually be known as the “neotraditionalists”, who, in a few years’ time would knock virtually all of the pop-country artists of the day off the charts and return country music to its roots.

The next single was the heartfelt “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could”, which also peaked #1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart, as did the toe-tapping up-tempo number “Highway 40 Blues”. “You’ve Got a Lover” just missed the top spot, peaking at #2 in early 1983. Unlike many albums of the day, there is no “filler” on Highways & Heartaches. Any one of the ten tracks could have been released to radio as singles, and all of them would have performed well. My particular favorites among the non-singles are Wayland Patton’s “Don’t Think I’ll Cry” and “Let’s Love the Bad Times Away”, Rodney Crowell’s “One Way Rider”, and the Bill Monroe classic “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’”, with which Skaggs pays homage to his bluegrass roots and That High Lonesome Sound.

Nowadays many albums coming out of Nashville sound like the vocalist is singing along with a karaoke machine. This is decidedly not the case with Highways & Heartaches – or any Skaggs record, for that matter. A roster of top-notch musicians was assembled for this project, from pianist Buck White (Skagg’s father-in-law) to steel-guitarist Weldon Myrick, who had played in Connie Smith’s band and on many of her recordings, to Dobro player Jerry Douglas, and Sharon White (Skaggs’ wife) who provided the background vocals on several tracks. And then there is Skaggs himself, providing the lead vocals and playing several instruments including guitar, mandolin and fiddle.

I’ll admit that as a teenager who had been weaned on Urban Cowboy country-pop, Ricky Skaggs was somewhat of an acquired taste for me, but once acquired, that taste was never lost. Listening to his early ‘80s work makes me hope that the current generation’s answer to Ricky Skaggs will emerge soon.

Grade: A+

Purchase Highways & Heartaches from Amazon.

Listen to Ricky Skaggs at Last FM:

I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could
Highway 40 Blues
You’ve Got a Lover