My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Wayne Kemp

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Cowboy Dreams’

Released in April 2003, Cowboy Dreams was Adam’s fifth album and the second to be certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association signifying sales of 35,000 albums.

The album opens up with the “Love Bug”, the Wayne Kemp-Curtis Wayne penned hit for George Jones in 1965 and George Strait in 1993, both top ten records. It’s a silly song but Adam handles it well.

Next up is “Call It Love” a nice ballad that I could see George Strait having a hit with in his prime

Just Lookin Back On The Life We’ve Made
The Things We’ve Lost The Words To Say
A Million Words Are Not Enough
Call It Love

I Know That Sometimes I Put You Through
More Than I Should Ask Of You
There Must Be A Reason You Don’t Give Up
Call It Love

I Don’t Know What Else To Call It
When All I Wanna Do
Is Grow Old With You
What Else On Earth Can It Be When Every Time You’re With Me
A Simple Touch Tears Me Up
Call It Love

“When Lonely Met Love” is a nice up-tempo dance floor number:

He was empty as a bottle on a Saturday night
She was sweet as a rose that grows in a garden getting good sunlight
As fate would have it, the unlikely happened
In a parking lot, two worlds collide

When lonely met love, they hit it off
Dancing on the ceiling, couldn’t peel them off
Now they’re real tight, it feels real nice
Lonely ain’t looking, lonely no more
Love started popping like a bag of popcorn
When they opened up, when lonely met love

Those good old ballads of booze, women and cheating have been largely banished from modern country music so “Hush”, so this mid-tempo ballad is a refreshing change of pace

He’s looking in the mirror checking out his hair, putting on his cologne
He ain’t shaved since Tuesday but tonight every little whisker’s gone
He’s going out with the perfect wife but she ain’t his own

Chorus:
Hush…can’t talk about it
Hush…dance all around it
Everybody’s doing it old and young
Don’t breath a word cats got your tongue
Huush

She makes the kids breakfast, packs their lunch, sends them on their way
Makes all the beds and cleans up the kitchen loads the TV tray
But that ain’t coffee in the coffee cup gets her through the day

“She Don’t Know It Yet” is a wistful ballad about a man who has not been able to convey to his woman just how much he really loves her

I really love western swing and “Cowboy For A Day” is a nice example with a subject matter similar to Conway Twitty’s “Don’t Call Him A Cowboy” but with a more upbeat message and taken at a much faster tempo. This would be a great dance number

Adam’s voice is in Trace Adkins / Josh Turner territory but the structure of the album reminds me of many of George Strait’s albums, with a nice mix of slow and up-tempo songs.

My digital copy of the album did not include any information concerning songwriting credits, but it is fair to assume that where I haven’t commented, that Adam had a hand in the writing. I really liked “A Little More To It Than That” and “Little Cowboy Dreams” which I assume are Adam’s compositions. The latter is a really cute song, a father’s words to his son:

Dust off your boots, take off your star
Whistle your rocking horse in from the yard
Take off your hat you’ve tamed the wild west
But son even heroes need to get rest

Close your eyes little man it’s been a long day
And your worn out from riding it seems
Let your work in the saddle
All drift away
Into sweet little cowboy dreams

Old-timer that I am my favorite song on the album goes way back to 1965 when Lefty Frizzell recorded the Hank Cochran-Chuck Howard song “A Little Unfair”. Adam doesn’t sound like Lefty and doesn’t try to sound like Lefty but doers a very effective job with the song:

You want me to love just you while you love your share
Ain’t that being a little unfair
It’s me stay home while you stay gone till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

I can’t see how it can be anything for me
What’s mine is yours but what’s yours is yours
That’s how you wanted to be
You want me to wait for you till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

I can’t see how it can be anything for me
What’s mine is yours but what’s yours is yours
That’s how you wanted to be
You want me to wait for you till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

This is a very country album – fiddle, steel guitar, thoughtful lyrics and everything else you would want in a country album.

Grade: A+

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Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Next In Line’

1968 was the year that country audiences began to get over their skepticism about Conway Twitty’s authenticity and accept him as a bonafide country artist. He enjoyed his first Top 5 hit that year with “The Image of Me” (from the album Here’s Conway Twitty & His Lonely Blue Boys). And shortly thereafter, “Next In Line” hit #1, becoming the first of his 44 #1 Billboard country hits.

“Next In Line”, the only single from the album that shares its name, was written by Wayne Kemp and Curtis Wayne, and produced by Owen Bradley. At this stage of his career, Conway was still recording hardcore country. The song tells the story of unrequited love as the narrator admires from afar his love interest, who is drowning her sorrows over a breakup. He keeps feeding the jukebox to keep her happy and waits for the day that she will “give up the music and the wine” and give him a chance. This was an important record for Conway, although it would eventually be overshadowed by the many hits that followed it.

As we’ve come to expect from albums released in the 1960s, there are plenty of remakes of songs that had been recently popularized by other artists. 1968 was a particularly good year for country music; among the songs that Twitty covers are Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and “I Started Loving You Again”, Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, and Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, which works surprisingly well from the male perspective. The two Haggard tunes are well done, although “Mama Tried” lacks the original’s signature Telecaster licks. “Folsom Prison Blues”, however, was a bit of a disappointment because, let’s face it, no one can sing that song the way Johnny Cash did.

“Ain’t It Sad to Stand and Watch Love Die” is a song I’d never heard before. It has a Johnny Cash-type vibe to it and quite liked it. It is a bit of a departure for Conway, as it lacks the pedal steel that was so prominent on most of his country recordings up to this point. The steel is back, front and center on “The Things I Lost in You”. The album closer “I’m Checking Out” has a Bakersfield feel to it and sounds like something Buck Owens might have recorded.

Like Conway’s other early Decca albums this is a very strong collection that traditional country fans will want to sample. It’s available on a 2-for-1 disc with Twitty’s next Decca LP Darling, You Know I Wouldn’t Lie.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr – ‘Live At Cobo Hall Detroit’

live at cobo hallAfter fifteen assorted albums in roughly a five year period, MGM finally got around to releasing a live album on Hank Jr. Released in July 1969, MGM SE-4644 was the third of five albums MGM would release in 1969. To my knowledge the album has never been released in any digital format, although Polygram did reissue it on vinyl a few years later.

Cobo Hall (now the Cobo Center) in Detroit might seem a strange venue in which to record a country album, but judging from the album that emerged from the concert it was just fine. Built in 1960 and named for Albert E Cobo (Detroit Mayor 1950-1957), Cobo Hall was one of the nation’s first really large convention centers and I believe that Hank Williams Jr. – Live At Cobo Hall was the first time a major recording label had recorded an album at such a venue.

This 1969 album catches Hank Jr. at a time when he was beginning to be his own man, and not merely a clone of his famous father. While the album has the obligatory Hank Sr. songs, it also features his own hit “Standing In The Shadows” and some covers of more recent material
Side One of the album opens with “Jambalaya”, one of Hank Sr.’s hits. Written by Hank Sr. (possibly with Moon Mullican as co-writer although not so credited) Hank Jr. tackles the song with the proper tempo and enthusiasm.

Next up is the Mel Tillis – Danny Dill classic “Detroit City” which was a hit twice in 1963 by Billy Grammer (under the title “I Wanna Go Home”) and by Bobby Bare. Hank does a nice job with the song.
Hank shows his total comfort with rock songs on his fast take on the Joe South composition “Games People Play”. This would have made a good single but Freddy Weller, a member of the rock group Paul Revere & The Raiders who was attempting to forge a career in country music, beat Hank to the punch taking the song to #1 on the Cashbox and Record World country charts a few months earlier.

That Hank chose to record the song at all was a harbinger of things to come in country music. Until 1968 what some would describe as songs of social consciousness had been rare in country music, in fact aside from Johnny Cash’s songs, they been virtually non-existent. In 1968 three songs, Roy Clark’s “Do You Believe This Town”, Henson Cargill’s “Skip A Rope” and Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA”, had cracked the door open further for this kind of material:

Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean

While they wile away the hours
In their ivory towers
Till they’re covered up with flowers
In the back of a black limousine

Chorus
La-da da da da da da da
La-da da da da da de
Talking ’bout you and me
And the games people play

Oh we make one another cry
Break a heart then we say goodbye
Cross our hearts and we hope to die
That the other was to blame

But neither one ever will give in
So we gaze at an eight by ten
Thinking ’bout the things that might have been
And it’s a dirty rotten shame

It would be unthinkable for Hank to have done a live album without showcasing one of this own hits, so “Standing In The Shadows” is up next. The song got a rousing ovation from the audience.

I know that I’m not great
And some say I imitate
Anymore I don’t know
I’m just doing the best I can

After all I’m standing in the shadows
Of a very famous man

The band is feature on an instrumental, the recent Flatt & Scruggs hit (from the movie Bonnie and Clyde)”Foggy Mountain Breakdown”. It is a good rendition although the banjo player is definitely not in Earl Scrugg’s league. Snippets of several other songs are performed within this track (in jazz they call these ‘signatures’).

Side One closes out with an effective version of another Hank Sr. classic “You Win Again”.

Side Two opens with a classic George Jones song penned by Dickey Lee Lipscomb & Steve Duffy, “She Thinks I Still Care”. Hank Jr. isn’t George Jones (who is?) but he handles the song quite well.

Conway Twitty had a many #1 records in his illustrious career but “Darling You Know I Wouldn’t Lie” (#1 Cashbox / #1 Record World / #2 Billboard) is barely remembered today. Hank’s version opens with a nice steel guitar intro – in fact, the steel dominates the whole arrangement. This Wayne Kemp-Red Lane classic is the kind of song Conway Twitty really excelled at, and I really like Hank’s take on the song:

Here I am late again for the last time
And like I promised I just told her goodbye
Please believe me for this time it’s really over
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie

Didn’t I come and tell you about her
How temptation lured she and I
Now I know it was only fascination
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie

I had to let her down easy as slow as I could
After all she’s got feelings too
But it took a little longer than I thought it would
But this time she knows we’re really through

She wanted to hold me forever
And this lipstick shows her final try
And these tears on my shoulders are proof that she failed
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie

The album closes with three Hank Sr. songs. In his earliest recordings Hank Jr. tried to be a clone of his father, but by now he was putting his stamp on the material.

There are many who consider “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” as the greatest country song ever written (personally I’m torn between this song, “El Paso”, and “The Last Letter”), but it is a great song, even if Hank Jr.’s version does not live up to his father’s version (no one else’s version does either). It’s a great song and should be appreciated for what it is.

This is followed by “Your Cheatin’ Heart”; again Hank Jr. cannot quite get that lonesome sound in his voice that his father does, but he does a fine job. For whatever reason, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is not listed on the album cover, which caused me to think this was a shorter album than is actually the case.

The album closes with “I Saw The Light”. Country albums and live country shows frequently closed with gospel songs during this period of time. Unfortunately that tradition faded away in the 1970s
Unfortunately I was unable to find definitive information on the musicians playing on this album. Even PragueFrank’s website did not provide any information. Suffice it to say, it’s a very good band with a proficient steel player, a competent banjo and an excellent honky-tonk style pianist. I hope someday this gets released in a digital format with the missing tracks restored as bonus tracks. By the time this album was issued Hank Jr. had already scored a few more hits on non-Hank Sr. material, so I presume he might performed a few of them.

A few years ago I did an article on the twenty-five greatest live country albums. At that time, I placed this album sixteenth on my list, docking it a bit for the short playing time (based on the album’s back cover). The actual playing time is actually around thirty-two minute, which still seems too short – the album ended with me wanting more.

Obviously I give this album a solid A.

Classic Rewind: Wayne Kemp – ‘Won’t You Come Home (And Talk To A Stranger)/I Turn My Mind On You’

Album Review: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘Backroads’

backroadsRicky’s fourth studio album was released in 1991, and certified platinum before the end of the year. As usual, it was dominated by beautifully sung ballads and a pure country production.

The first three singles continued his admirable chart record by hitting #1. First came ‘Rockin’ Years’, a melodic duet with Dolly Parton (also included on her then-current album Eagle When She Flies). It is a gently melodic ballad about growing old with the one one loves – pretty and delicate with a lovely steel intro. However, I find the rocking ‘I Am A Simple Man’ rather dull. The third chart topper was the gentle tearjerking tribute to a father-son relationship, ‘Keep It Between The Lines’.

A nice, steel-dominated cover of Warner Mack’s downbeat ballad ‘After The Lights Go Out’ only reached an unlucky 13, but deserved better. The pleasant but not that memorable uptempo title track then made it back to #2.

My favorite of the non-singles is ‘Some Things Are Better Left Alone’, a fabulous ballad written by Roger Murrah and Larry Shell about the enduring power of an old flame endangering present happiness:

Every time I stir the ashes
That old fire begins to burn
When I wake those sleepin’ memories
Those old feelings still return

Oh, I shouldn’t think about you
But my heart keeps hangin’ on…

All the smoke from burnin’ bridges
Makes it hard to catch my breath
But the precious love I’m missin’
Is chokin’ me to death

Oh you’re still my strongest weakness
And I’ll love you ’til I’m gone
But I’ll have to remember
Some things are better left alone

Almost as good is the lesser-known classic ‘Who’ll Turn Out The Lights’, a solid country Wayne Kemp/Mack Vickery song previously recorded by George Jones, Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap and Mel Street among others. Ricky’s version is great. ‘If You’re Ever In My Arms Again’ is a nice wistful ballad written by Bobby Braddock.

‘Call Me Up’ was the obligatory rockabilly number. More to my taste, ‘Oh Heart of Mine’ is a likeable uptempo tune with a bluegrass feel, which was written by Allen Shamblin and Bernie Nelson.

The cute little terrier shown on the album cover was the Sheltons’ own pet, Lucky, who they found starving and abandoned while househunting on first moving to Nashville. She also appeared in the video for ‘Keep It between The Lines’.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘Loving Proof’

loving proofRicky’s second album was released in September 1988. It was another collection of neotraditional country music including an unusually high proportion of covers, and an overwhelming theme of undying love.

There were four top 5 singles, three of which hit the top spot. The first of these, ‘I’ll Leave This World Loving You’ is a beautifully sung slow ballad about a man resigned to forever love the woman who has broken his heart. It was written by Wayne Kemp, who had a minor hit with it himself in 1980, and is the kind of thing George Jones excelled at. It was also Ricky Van Shelton’s forte. Another Kemp song swearing eternal devotion ‘Don’t Send Me No Angels’ (which Jones covered a few years later) is happier in mood, although Ricky delivers it with a solemn intensity.

Also hitting #1 was another cover, Ned Miller’s international hit ‘From A Jack To A King’. The bright paced love song was followed by a slightly less successful cover in the shape of the retro-rockabilly ‘Hole In My Pocket’. The Boudleaux and Felice Bryant song (previously recorded by Little Jimmy Dickens in his youth) peaked at #4. While Ricky clearly enjoyed performing in this style, and did it convincingly enough, he was much more effective as a balladeer. The up-tempo semi-rockabilly ‘Swimming Upstream’, which opens the set, is pleasant but forgettable.

It was back to the ballads, and back to the top with the album’s final single, ‘Living Proof’. This emotion-laden song tells of a woman whose life is dominated by a love enduring through heartbreak, and her eventual reunion with the protagonist.

There are several more fine ballads on offer. ‘Let Me Live With Love And Die With You’ is a romantic declaration written by Skip Ewing and Red Lane. Ricky got a rare co-writing credit on ‘The Picture’ (with his producer Steve Buckingham and Troy Seals). The song has the protagonist looking at a photograph of his lost love with her new man and child, and wishing he was still in her life. He wistfully imagines what the baby would look like if he were the father:

His hair would have been blonder
And his eyes would have been blue
If it was me in the picture with you

Ricky delved back into country music history for another cover, the Wilburn Brothers’ plaintive ‘Somebody’s Back in Town’, which I like a great deal. He also delivers the country standard ‘He’s Got You’ beautifully, with real passion and commitment, paced a little quicker than the Patsy Cline or Jim Reeves classic versions.

This second album was an excellent one, and I like it better than its predecessor. It’s well worth catching up with now. Like the latter, it sold very well and was certified platinum, positioning Ricky as one of the biggest stars of the era.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Wayne Kemp – ‘I Turn My Mind On You’

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 4

For part four of this series, I’ll be using the same criteria as before – just some songs I liked, one song per artist (although I will feel free to comment on other songs by the artist). This part stops in the middle of the letter M.

“Joy To The World” – Murray Kellum (1971)

A nice country cover of a #1 pop hit for Three Dog Night, this reached #26 and was Murray’s biggest hit. He died in a plane crash in 1990 at the too-young age of 47. Hoyt Axton wrote this song.

Honky Tonk Wine” – Wayne Kemp (1973)

Wayne Kemp was better known as a songwriter who penned major hits for the likes of George Jones (“Love Bug”), Conway Twitty (“The Image of Me”) and countless others. This song reached #17, and was Wayne’s biggest hit.

Sweet Desire” – The Kendalls (1978)

A father and daughter duo, Jeannie took on most of the lead vocals while father Royce sang harmony. The Kendalls kept the radio airwaves safe for real country music during the middle and late 1970s. I liked everything the Kendalls ever sang, and have no idea why the new traditionalist movement of 1986 failed to re-ignite their career.

Mama’s Got The Know-How” – Doug Kershaw (1974)

For someone as famous as he is, Doug Kershaw had only seven chart hits as a solo act, to go with his five hits as part of Rusty & Doug. This one got to #77, a fairly normal placing for his solo efforts. Although I liked this song, his Warner Brothers albums of the 1970s were mostly laconic efforts. Read more of this post

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Walls Can Fall’

George’s second MCA album was released in 1992, and showed he was still capable of competing with the younger artists musically, although he was getting squeezed out of radio playlists. Producer Emory Gordy Jr gives the up tempo tracks a muscular rhythmic backing adapted to contemporary radio trends, but the ballads get a more subtle treatment. Gordy’s wife Patty Loveless sings backing vocals, together with Vince Gill.

A select group of younger stars provided backing vocals on the age-defying ‘I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair’, with Vince and Patty joined by Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie, Pam Tillis, T. Graham Brown, Mark Chesnutt, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, and Clint Black. George and friends were rewarded with the CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year, in 1993, although the single was only moderately successful, peaking at #34. Written by Billy Yates, Kerry Kurt Phillips and Frank Dycus, the song has never been a favorite of mine despite its accolades. Lyrically it is dangerously close to a novelty song, with slightly overbearing production.

I prefer the cheerfully rebellious ‘Wrong’s What I Do Best’ (written by Dickey Lee, Mike Campbell and Freddy Weller), the vibrant second single, although it flopped at radio, failing to rise above the 60s. It may have been a mistake not to release the closing track, ‘Finally Friday’ (previously recorded by Earl Thomas Conley). George roars and growls his way through this insistently rhythmic ode to the end of the working week in what is in many ways a more successful defiance of age than ‘I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair’.

A ballad was picked for the final (and sadly noncharting) single, but not one of George’s heartbreak specials. The title track is also an older man’s song but a more dignified one, expressing gratitude for a love breaking through the barriers the protagonist has erected over the years, for which Yates and Dycus were also responsible (together with Bruce Bouton). It is a nice but not outstanding song, and there is better fare of the album, including the album’s other love song, veteran Wayne Kemp’s beautiful ‘Don’t Send Me No Angels’.

In the ironic ‘Drive Me To Drink’, George tells his cheating wife to drop him off at the bar on her way to meet her lover:

You’ll be in his arms again
And I’ll be off the road
The highway will be safer
And they’ll have you to thank
If you’re gonna drive me crazy, baby
Drive me to drink

The storyline may be an implausible spin on the phrase which inspired it, but George sells it vocally, and this is probably my favorite of the up-tempo numbers.

One of the standout tracks is ‘What Am I Doing There’, written by Buddy Brock and Zack Turner, a classic sounding slow sad song as fantasies about a lost love imperil a new relationship, with lonesome fiddle backing up George’s sorrowful and guilt-ridden emoting which recalls his very best:

I no longer know what’s real anymore
In the back of my mind I have opened the door
That leads to the past & the love we once shared

How could I explain to the one lying here,
She’s loving me now
What am I doing there?

It is just beaten to the title of my personal favorite on this album by a perfectly structured Gene and Paul Nelson song, ‘There’s The Door’, also recorded by Stacy Dean Campbell, where a man faces a stark choice. Having tried his wife’s patience by staggering home past midnight once too often, he is faced with her ultimatum:

She took a sip of coffee and softly said to me,
“There’s the mantel where we keep our wedding picture
There’s the bedroom where we made both love and war
There’s the ring keeps on slipping off your finger
There’s no reason we should go on anymore
There’s the door”

So I’m back here on this barstool my whole world blown to hell
Behind the bottle there’s a mirror where a fool can see himself
If I were the man I should be and not the one I am
I would go back there this minute and beg for one more chance

There’s the jukebox where I wasted all those quarters
There’s a lady trying to get me out on the floor
And there’s a chance the one I love would still forgive me
It’s a step that I just never took before
There’s the door

I particularly like the fact that we don’t get told whether he makes the choice, and whether that door remains closed or not. My feeling is that he doesn’t, but there is that glimmer of hope.

Also fantastic is the regretful ‘You Must Have Walked Across My Mind Again’, written by Kemp with Warren Robb, which sounds like classic George, as the protagonist wakes up in prison after a drunken brawl which he blames on memories of his ex. George also covers the Haggard classic ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’.

Years of abusing his body with alcohol notwithstanding, George entered his sixties in pretty good shape vocally, and although perhaps his voice was starting to show slight signs of deterioration, his interpretative ability was still second to none. He may have been starting to struggle to compete with younger stars at radio, but this album showed he was still capable of making great music. And although I started out by saying I didn’t much like ‘I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair’, its chart success helped make this Goegre’s first gold-seller since Wine Colored Roses.

It’s still easy to find, and worth adding to your George Jones collection.

Grade: A-

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Step Right Up 1970-1979: A Critical Anthology’

George had become disillusioned with Pappy Daily’s business practices. His marriage to Tammy Wynette in 1969 encouraged him to make the momentous decision to move to her label Epic, and to co-opt her producer Billy Sherrill. George was forced to buy himself out of his Musicor contract, but it was money well spent, even though his chart record remained somewhat inconsistent. George’s move to Epic saw him at the peak of his vocal prowess, married to Billy Sherrill’s smooth, Nashville Sound production.

This superb compilation contains six of George’s last tracks for Musicor, and over 20 of the finest tracks he recorded in his first eight years on Epic. These were the years of his troubled marriage to and divorce from Tammy Wynette, and the years his intensifying battles with drugs and alcohol earned him the inglorious nickname ‘No Show Jones’ and saw his health break down, but in the studio George Jones was creating magic and leading up to what many will call his finest moment on record. Step Right Up mixes classic hits with some well-chosen lesser known album cuts. The material is almost uniformly great here, concentrating on the sad songs at which George Jones has always excelled. Vocally George does not put a foot wrong, although some aspects of the production, mainly the backing vocals, now sound a little dated. The only reason to debate whether this album is worth buying is whether you might not try to get hold of the constituent albums, at least some of which are available on CD reissues.

George’s first single of the 70s, as he approached the end of his time with Musicor, was ‘Where Grass Won’t Grow’, a bleak, echoey tale of rural poverty in Tennessee,

Trying to grow corn and cotton on ground so poor that grass won’t grow

culminating in the death of the protagonist’s wife, buried in that same soil. The song, written by George’s old friend and drinking partner Earl Montgomery, was perhaps too downbeat to chart higher than the lower reaches of the top 30, but its quality led it to become regarded as a classic Jones record.

The exquisite expression of emotional devastation in ‘A Good Year For The Roses’ (written by Jerry Chestnut) is one of George’s most masterly vocal performances, reaching #2 on Billboard.

A handful of less well-known late Musicor cuts are also included. The tender steel-laced ballad of love for the protagonist’s motherless child, ‘She’s Mine’, co-written by George with Jack Ripley, was a top 10 hit. Slightly less successful, peaking at #13, was a great Dallas Frazier/Sanger D Shafer composition ‘Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong’, in which George manfully tries to pretend everything’s alright and his wife isn’t cheating on him, unusually featuring the Jones Boys’ backing. Another Dallas Frazier song (this time with A L Owens), ‘She’s As Close As I Can Get To Loving You’, has another great lead vocal, but is marred by excessive Nashville Sound backing vocals. Wayne Kemp’s ballad ‘Image Of Me’ has the protagonist confessing his shame that he has “dragged down” a simple old-fashioned country girl and made her into a honky-tonk angel, with another very fine vocal performance. Earl Montgomery’s ‘Right Won’t Touch A Hand’, a passionate confession of regret for jealousy which destroyed a relationship, was yet another top 10 hit in 1971.

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Carrying Your Love With Me’

Carrying Your LoveGeorge Strait’s 1997 album Carrying Your Love With Me came out when he was at the peak of his commercial success. It followed up the triple platinum Blue Clear Sky, released the previous year, and achieved the same status itself (the last of his studio albums to do so to date). It was also the first of his albums to reach the top of the Billboard album charts across all genres.

The last single from Blue Clear Sky, the excellent traditional-sounding ‘King Of The Mountain’, had been a flop by George’s standards, barely squeezing into the top 20, making it only his third single ever not to make the top 10. The label may have been concerned that this was a sign that George’s run at the top was coming to an end, and they made sure that the first two singles from the new album were more radio-friendly. The first, the relaxed and melodic ‘One Night At A Time’, filled the bill well enough to not only go to #1 on the country charts, but to gain some pop airplay as well. Written by Roger Cook, Eddie Kilgallon and Earl Bud Lee, the song seems designed for George’s crooning style, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that the lyric is actually a cheating song, and not one burdened with guilt. It was followed to the top of the chart by the title track, a laid-back love song set to a charming tune written by Jeff Stevens and Steve Bogard. Neither song stands today among Strait’s all-time classics, but George sounds great. In much the same musical style, but rather dull, is Jackson Leap’s ‘She’ll Leave You With A Smile’, a warning to a friend about a heartless woman, which is one of three tracks embellished with a subtle string arrangement.

The third single was a cover of Vern Gosdin’s classic ‘Today My World Slipped Away’, one of the orchestrated numbers, which reached #3 (seven slots higher than the original managed back in 1982). It is a wonderful song, imbued with intense sadness at the end of a marriage, and George gives it a perfectly restrained reading which is almost as good as the original. That he falls just a little short is no criticism of George Strait, but a tribute to the greatness of Gosdin. The third track with strings is Bobby Braddock’s ‘The Nerve’, which I was surprised wasn’t releasd as a single. The story is a little unfocused as it has brief snapshots of the narrator’s love story, that of his parents, and finally a look back several generations to the ancestor who first came to America and fell in love with an Indian girl, with not quite enough of any one of those stories, but it has a sweet feel, a pretty tune and a tender vocal, which should all have worked well on radio.

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’

easycomeIn 1992, George Strait teamed up with a new producer, ending an eight-year professional relationship with Jimmy Bowen, who had moved on to assume the presidency of rival label Capitol Nashville. The association with Tony Brown would prove to be even more enduring, lasting until the present day. A change in producers almost always results in a different musical direction. The first Brown-Strait collaboration, the soundtrack album to Pure Country, was certainly a departure for Strait, but due to its nature, a film soundtrack album isn’t always a good representation of an artist’s work. Our first glimpse at the direction in which Strait’s career would go can be seen with the 1993 album Easy Come, Easy Go.

At first glance, Easy Come, Easy Go seems to be a throwback to the Bowen years, perhaps as a reassurance to fans that Strait had no intention of continuing in the pop-country vein that had prevailed on the Pure Country soundtrack. The album opens with the Texas dance hall number, “Stay Out of My Arms”, the first of two songs contributed by Jim Lauderdale. The second Lauderdale-penned track, “I Wasn’t Fooling Around”, co-written with John Leventhal, continues in a similar vein. Also among the songwriting credits for the album are Curtis Wayne and Wayne Kemp, both of whom had contributed to Strait’s earlier projects. Between them, the duo contributed a total of three tracks to this album. “Lovebug” is a cover of the 1966 hit that Wayne and Kemp had written for George Jones. The pair teamed up with the legendary Faron Young to write the song “That’s Where My Baby Feels At Home”, and Wayne wrote “Just Look At Me” with Gerald Smith.

Despite these nods to Strait’s traditional roots, Easy Come, Easy Go does mark a shift in musical direction, seen most evidently on the title track, an Aaron Barker-Dean Dillon composition. “Easy Come, Easy Go”, the first single and the only one from this collection to go all the way to #1, marks the beginning of the modern George Strait. As the title suggests, this is a laid-back tune, not a hardcore honky-tonker. By 1993, the neotraditionalist movement was definitely winding down. This move to a more mainstream sound is likely a recognition of this, as well as an acknowledgment that most artists at the stage in their careers which Strait’s now was, usually began to experience declining commercial fortunes. Someone at MCA or in the Strait camp was obviously savvy enough to stay ahead of the curve and tweak their formula just enough to keep King George in the game.

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Ocean Front Property’

Ocean Front PropertyStrait was on a serious hot streak in 1987 when he released Ocean Front Property, his seventh studio album, co-produced with Jimmy Bowen again. Each of the three singles from the album went to #1, starting with the title track, and the album itself was the first album ever to debut at the top of the Billboard Country Album charts. At present, it is the only one of his 80s releases to have achieved double platinum status.

That title track, written by Dean Dillon, Hank Cochran and Royce Porter, has become one of George’s classics, with its ironic lyric telling his ex that he’s over her, and barely concealed subtext that only an idiot could believe that:

“I don’t love you, and now if you’ll buy that
I’ve got some ocean front property in Arizona
From my front porch you can see the sea …
If you buy that, I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free”

Dean Dillon contributed two further songs, the solo composition ‘I’m All Behind You Now’, a resigned post-breakup number which closes the album in sightly downbeat mood, and the sweetly melancholic ‘Without You Here’, where he teamed up again with Royce Porter to produce the tale of a wife who can’t enjoy herself on a Caribbean cruise because her husband isn’t with her:

“There’s just no fun in the sun to be had
Without you here
It’s no place to be
This dream vacation is a bad situation
I’m in misery
In a sea of tears
Without you here”

It’s not altogether clear why they’re not vacationing together, but one assumes business kept him at home.  There is a happy ending, as he misses her too, and ends up flying out to join her. The song’s phrasing is very characteristic of Dillon’s work, and the song has faint but subtle Caribbean tinges to the production which do not stop it from sounding country.

The second single was another all-time Strait classic, the amusing western swing ‘All My Exes Live In Texas’, written by the great Sanger D Shafer. He had written ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’ with his third wife Darlene, and he wrote this one with his fourth wife Lyndia. On one level this might be dismissed as little more than a novelty song, as the narrator reels off a list of the exes after his blood resulting in him escaping to Tennessee, but George’s laidback ironic delivery carries the track.

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’

Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your MindGeorge Strait’s fourth album, released in 1984, marked yet another advance in his career. He started working with a new producer (his third), label head Jimmy Bowen, but for the first time George himself received a co-production credit, something he has done ever since. There was no obvious change in musical direction, as the album was once more a solidly country production, still flying in the face of country radio’s pop influences. The musicians are in great form throughout, especially fiddle great Johnny Gimble, who positively sparkles. George’s vocals are still a little rawer than his more recent fans will be accustomed to hearing him.

The album offers a fine set of songs which have a pretty cohesive feel, despite a range of tempos, thanks to the solid production, and the subject matter. The songs here cover two basic themes: honky tonking, and lost love/trying to find someone new, with the two merging at times. Indeed, a number of the songs could be interepreted as parts of the same story, and with different sequencing and a couple of changes (omitting ‘The Fireman’ and possibly ‘The Cowboy Rides Away’), this could almost have been presented as a concept album.

The decisions paid off. This was George’s second straight #1 album, eventually selling platinum, and it supported three top 5 singles. It also won both ACM and CMA Album of the Year awards in 1985, and contributed to his winning the Male Vocalist title from both organizations. A massive sea-change was about to roll over the country music industry with an influx of new traditonally-inspired artists, but of all the established artists, George Strait was perhaps in the best position.

Favored songwriter this time around was the legendary Sanger D Shafer, who contributed four of the songs, including the title track, which he wrote with his then-wife Darlene Shafer. ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’ was a #1 hit single and is still one of George Strait’s great classics. Instantly recognisable from the plaintive fiddle opening, George’s vocal is perfectly restrained with just an underlying hint of the pain beneath, as his jilted husband speaks to the ex-wife who has abandoned him for another man in Dallas.

George also picked Shafer’s much-recorded ‘Honky Tonk Saturday Night’, which had been on John Anderson’s Wild And Blue a couple of years earlier. Shafer also wrote the beautifully measured ‘What Did You Expect Me To Do’, which is one of my favorite tracks. Here, another cuckolded husband, this time one who has moved on, offers a gentle reproach to his cheating ex:

“Each time I forgave you, you grew bolder
And each time you hurt me, my heart grew colder
Sure, I loved you, but I’ve found someone new
What did you expect me to do?”

Shafer’s fourth cut was the mid-tempo ‘I Need Someone Like Me’, which feels like a sequel to ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’. The lonely protagonist dreams of finding a woman in the same boat so they can cry on one another’s shoulders:

“Someone lonesome, someone hurtin, someone blue –
That’ll be you
We’ll help each other start all over
A tear for a tear, a shoulder for a shoulder
You’ll be someone that’s born to lose
‘Cause I need someone like me to hold onto.”

It may not sound like the most promising basis for a relationship, but George sells it in the song, as he conveys a mixture of hope and unhappiness. What might be a third stage in the same story comes with the charming waltz, ‘You’re Dancing This Dance All Wrong’, written by John Porter McMeans and Ron Moore, as the protagonist thinks he may have found new love:

“The way that you touch me I want to give in
But it’s not so easy holding you when
You’re dancing this dance all wrong
New steps don’t come easy when old memories hang on
I’m finding I’m falling as the music plays on
Keep dancing this dance all wrong.”

The second single was the melodic ‘The Cowboy Rides Away’, written by Sonny Throckmorton and Casey Kelly which allowed George to exercise the smoother side of his voice as he tracks the end of yet another relationship. The final single was the frenetic double-entendre of ‘The Fireman’ (written by Mack Vickery and Wayne Kemp), not one of my personal favorites despite some smoking fiddle.

Kemp also wrote ‘I Should Have Watched That First Step’, which I much prefer, a rueful admission of regret from a cheating husband who can see his wife slipping away as a result of his own actions:

“Though she’s still lovin’ me
It’s not the way it used to be
That first step did something to her mind
I watched her slip away a little more every day
For my conscience couldn’t live with all that shame
And she’s growing colder since the day I told her
And the love we had will never be the same.”

An unrepentant cheater makes his appearance in Fred J Freiling’s sprightly and surprisingly cheerful ‘Love Comes From the Other Side of Town’, as love has staled at home:

“The feelings that we shared are just no longer there
And love comes from the other side of town
When love means an hour with your stand-in
And not an empty house where love just has been.”

Finally, there is a very authentic-sounding helping of western swing in the form of ‘Any Old Time’; it is insubstantial lyrically but very enjoyable thanks to the impeccable musicianship.

This was George’s finest album to date, and one which helped to consolidate his status as one of the major male country stars of the mid 80s. Its pure country sound has not dated in the manner of more pop contemporaries, and with the success of this album George Strait was in an ideal position to compete on the same stage as the new traditionalists who were about to burst on the scene and change the face of country music, and for whom he had helped to pave the way.

It is still readily available.

Grade: A