My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Wayne Perry

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Blue Moon’

TobyKeithBlueMoonThe shuffling of Toby Keith from label to label (all were a subsidiary of Mercury Nashville) had reached its apex by the time Blue Moon, his third album, was released in 1996. Keith was now the flagship artist on the Music City division of A&M, a label originally started in the early 1960s in California. In the process, Harold Shedd was dropped as Keith’s producer. Keith would step up and co-produce the album with Nelson Larkin, who had assisted Shedd on Keith’s previous records.

After he took complete control of his career in the 2000s, Keith reminisced about his 1990s work saying he was known as the ballad singer in his early years. Keith certainly has the voice for such material and from a singles standpoint, Blue Moon delivered. He solely penned the album’s lead single, the title track, which found him at his most tender. The AC-leaning lament, about a guy taking responsibility for his role in ending his relationship, peaked at #2.

The second single was the cinematic “A Woman’s Touch,” which Keith composed with Wayne Perry. The track opens with sweeping guitars and cymbals that nicely give way to more of a typical Keith arrangement. “A Woman’s Touch,” which peaked just outside the top 5, is a very good song although not strong enough to be much remembered today.

The album’s final single (and Keith’s third #1) is probably the greatest use of clever wordplay in a country love song I’ve ever heard. “Me Too,” which Keith co-wrote with frequent collaborator Chuck Cannon, finds him stepping into the shoes of a man who has difficulty saying ‘I love you:’

Oh, I’m just a man, that’s the way I was made

I’m not too good at sayin’ what you need me to say

It’s always right there on the tip of my tongue

It might go unsaid, but it won’t go undone

So when those three little words come so easy to you

I hope you know what I mean when I say, me too

Keith had a hand in writing all but one of the album’s remaining seven tracks, including two with Perry. “She’s Perfect” is a similarly styled ballad and another tune in which Keith admits he’s at fault for the state of his relationship:

There’s nothin’ wrong with her, she’s perfect

She’s as pure as she can be

She’d never say, but the only mistake she ever made was me

It might appear to you she’s broken

By the teardrops in her eyes

But there’s nothin’ wrong with her, she’s perfect

I’m the one who made her cry

Another such ballad is “The Lonely,” the Cannon and Lari White co-write Keith didn’t help compose. The track isn’t terrible, but it isn’t memorable either. “Every Night,” a semi-uptempo, finds Keith helping his woman through the heartbreak wrought from her previous relationship. “She’s Gonna Get It,” the other co-write with Perry, is faux uptempo encumbered by a clumsy lyric. “Lucky Me” is an above average rocker about a man reveling in the emptiness in his home in the wake of a breakup. While the premise shows promise, Keith should’ve gone further with the lyric and provided some kind of interesting twist or clever ending. “Hello,” which finds Keith in Mexico, closes Blue Moon with pure dreck.

“Closin’ Time At Home” may suffer from a suffocating and uninteresting arrangement, but it should’ve been a single. Keith is a man in San Bernardino thinking about the woman he left back home in Tulsa:

If it’s midnight in California, must be closin’ time in Oklahoma

I know that she’s already danced another night away

And these west coast nights sure seem colder

Knowin’ somebody else’s arms will hold her

Midnight in California means it’s closin’ time at home

Blue Moon finds Keith in a holding pattern. The three singles are excellent and kept him within country radio’s good graces. But the album presents a subdued and average Keith not taking any chances either lyrically or sonically. The guy who brought us the memorable run of iconic 1990s fare on his first two studio sets was gone and we still had another three years before he became the artist who took the bull by its horns. This Keith feels like a timid people-pleaser.

Blue Moon is the weakest of his Mercury/Polydor/Polygram/A&M recordings. Its no wonder he unapologetically tore down the walls and rebuilt the house. If he’d stayed in this vein, he would’ve been just another 1990s has-been. Toby Keith is too good for material like what he co-wrote, co-produced and recorded here.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘The Blue Rose of Texas’

HollyDunnTheBlueRoseofTexasShortly after the dissolution of MTM Records, Holly Dunn landed a contract with Warner Bros. and her career enjoyed a resurgence from both an artistic and commercial standpoint. Her Warner Bros. debut, 1989’s The Blue Rose of Texas was produced by Holly and her brother and songwriting partner Chris Waters, and is by far the finest album of her career. Her first single for her new label was “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” which she wrote with Waters and Tom Shapiro. The uptempo number, which finds her frustrated by an overly cautious new love interest, became her first Billboard #1 hit in May 1989. It’s one of the few concessions to radio in what is mostly a very traditional album. Another uptempo number “There Goes My Heart Again”, which features background vocals by Joe Diffie who co-wrote the tune with Lonnie Wilson and Wayne Perry, was the album’s second single, which peaked at #4.

Suprisingly, Warner Bros. opted not to release any further singles from the album, despite a warm reception from radio. One track, “No One Takes The Train Anymore”, a ballad beautifully written by Chris Waters and exquisitely performed by Holly, was included on her 1991 greatest hits package Milestones. It became a single in 1991 in the aftermath of the “Maybe I Mean Yes” debacle, but overshadowed by controversy of its predecessor, it became the first Holly Dunn single not to chart. Despite its lack of commercial success, it has always been one of my favorites. It finds Dunn pondering an impending breakup and lamenting the fact that the fast pace of modern life, which includes traveling by car or plane rather than sea or rail, leaves little opportunity for the party that is leaving to change his mind.

The album’s remaining songs are exceptionally strong, even though none of them were released as singles. Approximately half of them were written by one or more members of the Dunn/Waters/Shapiro team with the rest being supplied by some well known outside songwriters. It’s hard to pick favorites, but if pressed I would narrow the list down to three: the Dunn/Waters/Shapiro-written title track, which includes some excellent electric guitar work, the Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet song “There’s No Heart So Strong”, and “Most of All, Why”, which contains some beautiful harmonizing by its writer Dolly Parton. Originally included on Dolly’s 1975 album The Seeker/We Used To, the regret-filled ballad asks the poignant questions:

How did we get here,
Where did it start,
When did we walk out of each other’s hearts?
Where did we lose it,
How did love die,
When, where and how, but most of all, why?

I like all of Dunn’s albums, but this is the one that I play all the way through most often. It’s one of the ten essential albums I’d want with me if I were stranded on a desert island and I’ve never quite understood why it didn’t sell better than it did. I don’t think it is still in print, but copies are still available on Amazon. Pick one up while you still can.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Marty Stuart – ‘Love And Luck’

Marty co-produced his fourth MCA album (released in 1994) with label boss Tony Brown. It lacked the big hitters of its immediate predecessors, with no Tritt duets and no big hits, and the momentum he had developed began to wither away as a result. It’s a fairly solid album with a mixture of country rock and more traditional sounds, and while Marty’s voice was still not distinctive, he interprets the mostly self-penned material convincingly. Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs were recruited to sing harmonies, and Gill in particular is prominent on a number of tracks.

Lead single ‘Kiss Me, I’m Gone’, written by Marty with Bob DiPiero, peaked at a disappointing #26, and deserved to do a little better. The sultry bluesy groove is more memorable than the unremarkable lyric, but overall it is a decent track with an interesting arrangement. It was unwisely followed up by the mid-tempo title track, from the same writing partnership. The banal life advice from a father to a so leaving home is just not very interesting and barely charted. The tender ballad ‘That’s What Love’s About’ has Marty proffering romantic advice about treating a woman well, and is quite attractive with a lovely steel-laced arrangement, but although it was the best of the three singles, it was another flop.

The label may not have picked the right songs for radio, because there is some fine fare here.The pacy kissoff song ‘I Ain’t Giving Up On Love’ was written with the legendary Harlan Howard and feels a little too rushed, but is quite enjoyable, with tight harmonies, with the protagonist, battered by loving the girl who rejected his marriage proposal, stating bouncily,

I ain’t giving up on love, I’m just giving up on you

Harlan also co-wrote the high lonesome ‘Oh What A Silent Night’, with the protagonist facing an empty home after his woman has moved out:

The telephone’s been disconnected
But she wouldn’t call me anyway
But even if she did I wouldn’t answer
Cause there’s not one word left to say

This excellent song is a highlight of the record.

I also really enjoyed the shuffle ‘You Can Walk All Over Me’, written by Marty with Wayne Perry. This one offers unconditional surrender when falling in love

The best of the few outside songs is ‘That’s When You’ll Know It’s Over’, written by Butch Carr and Russ Zavitson, which is a gently sad declaration of undying love through the pain of a broken heart with a pretty melody.

The Byrds’ ‘Wheels’ is quite nicely if undadventurously done, with prominent harmonies from Vince Gill and Paul Franklin’s steel, but it could do with a little more urgency. Marty rattles his way through a speeded up emotionless version Billy Joe Shaver’s ‘If I Give My Heart’ which is oceans away from the intensity of the stunning original and is thoroughly disappointing. However, the worst inclusion on the album was the boringly repetitive and tuneless R&B/rock of ‘Shake Your Hips’, cover of an old R&B hit better known as a Rolling Stones cover. This was a waste of a track.

Halfway through he throws in the oddly titled (and Grammy-nominated) instrumental ‘Marty Stuart Visits The Moon’ which has a kind of bluegrass spaghetti western feel featuring Marty’s mandolin and Bela Fleck on banjo.

Overall, this is quite a good record despite its lower commercial success, which successfully balanced traditional and contemporary. If you can find it cheaply enough (and used copies seem to be fairly easy to find), it’s worth checking out.

Grade: B

Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘A Thousand Winding Roads’

Joe’s debut solo album was released on Epic in 1990, and immediately propelled him to stardom; overnight success (at the age of 32) which was thoroughly deserved, because this is an excellent album, and a fine exemplar of the neotraditional movement which all too briefly dominated the genre. It was produced by Bob Montgomery (then also working with Vern Gosdin) and Johnny Slate. They provided a sympathetic backing which showcased Joe’s vocal prowess.

The lead single ‘Home’ (written by Andy Spooner and Fred Lehner), which has the disillusioned protagonist looking wistfully back to his childhood, took Joe right to the top of the charts. It set records as the first ever debut single to hit #1 on all three of the major charts then in existence (Billboard, Radio & Records, and Gavin). The nostalgia feeds on the protagonist’s disillusionment about the dreams he has been pursuing:

The rainbows I’ve been chasing keep on fading before I find my pot of gold…

Now the miles I put behind me ain’t as hard as the miles that lay ahead
And it’s way too late to listen to the words of wisdom that my daddy said
The straight and narrow path he showed me turned into a thousand winding roads
My footsteps carry me away, but in my mind I’m always going home

The pained ballad ‘If You Want Me To’ was almost as successful, reaching #2 in 1991, and is my personal favorite of the four singles from this project. One of Joe’s own songs (written with Larry Williams), it was the first showcase of the apparently effortless slide between registers which is Joe’s most remarkable gift as a vocalist, as the narrator gently tells his beloved he is prepared to do whatever she wants from him, even if:

If it takes good-bye to make you happy
Then I’ll just walk away if you want me to

‘If The Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)’, written by Kim Williams (Larry’s brother) and Ken Spooner, took Joe back to #1, with its witty western swing twist on being broke and too easily swayed by a persuasive car salesman. The optimistic final single was written by Joe with his friend and regular co-writer Lonnie Wilson (who also plays drums and sings backing vocals on the album), about finding a ‘New Way (To Light Up An Old Flame)’. The only really happy song on the album, it was another #2 Billboard hit, and cemented Joe’s status as one of the brightest new stars of the early 90s.

Heartbreak also comes uptempo with the drinking-to-forget-the-heartbreak song ‘I Ain’t Leavin’ Til She’s Gone’ (written by Joe with Wayne Perry and Lonnie Wilson). Joe wails,

One drink’s too many
Ten ain’t enough
Lord, but she’s still here
So I’ll have one more

More western swing is on offer with the similarly themed ‘Liquid Heartache’, another of Joe’s songs, this one written with the veteran Red Lane, with a great groove which really lets the musicians stretch out.

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Spotlight Artist: Joe Diffie

Joe Diffie hit the country music scene just months after the fabled Class of ’89, and like several of the 1989 alumni, Joe’s first releases to country radio shot right up the charts, and he was on his way to a decade-long run of success that includes 16 top 10 hits, five of which went to #1. In the meantime, Joe Diffie racked up 4 consecutive gold-selling albums, with two of these going all the way to platinum for shipments of over 1,000,000 copies. Best known today for his sometimes clever, always fun, novelty songs, mostly about the joys and simplicity of rural life, Diffie was also an able balladeer, and his best performances come from not the lightweight charm of songs like ‘Bigger Than The Beatles’ or ‘Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox’, but from his neo-traditional offerings like ‘Home’ and ‘A Night To Remember’.

Joseph Logan Diffie was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on December 28, 1958, but his family would make several moves across country before settling back in Oklahoma for Joe’s high school years. His father was a guitar and banjo player and his mother a singer. The family also performed together regularly, and as part of Joe’s aunt’s country band. It was in this band that Joe made his first public performance, at age 4. Joe would go on to college to pursue a degree in medicine, but dropped out after marrying for the first of three times in 1977. While working several blue-collar jobs on the side, Joe continued to pursue his music career, performing in the gospel group, Higher Purpose. Later, he would front a bluegrass band billed as Special Edition.

In 1986, following a divorce from his first wife, and and after some initial songwriting success, Joe made the move to Nashville to follow his musical ambitions full-time. The legendary Hank Thompson had recorded Joe’s ‘Love On The Rocks’. In Music City, he found work as an in-demand demo singer and continued to hone his songwriting skills. In 1989, Holly Dunn had a top 5 hit with ‘There Goes My Heart Again’, a song Joe had co-written with Lonnie Wilson and Wayne Perry. A recording contract with Epic soon followed, and Joe issued his debut for the label in September of 1990. The album’s first single, the unforgettable ‘Home’, quickly shot to the top of the country singles chart, and the album produced another chart-topper and 2 #2 hits as well.

Following the success of his debut album, Joe went on to release a string of highly successful albums for the Epic label between 1990 -99. His years at Epic would ultimately prove to be his most commercially successful. Shortly after his exit from Epic, Joe moved over to Monument Records and his only album for the label, In Another World, earned him another top 10 hit in the title track. Subsequently, another label change to the independent Broken Bow netted him another top 20 hit in 2004.

Recently, Joe has signed to Rounder Records, and the label first issued a live album, recorded at the famous Billy Bob’s in Fort Wort, Texas, on the singer in 2008. Last year saw The Ultimate Collection, which consists of re-recordings of his Epic hits for the Rounder imprint.  Joe now plans to release his first new music in 6 years.  Also from Rounder, Homecoming: A Bluegrass Collection arrives August 24.

Joe Diffie, to me, was always a bit of a double-personality artist. There was the goofy, fun-loving moustached and mulleted singer of up-tempo ditties. And then, even with the same look, Joe could be just as convincing while nailing you to the wall with a great country lyric, as he does with ‘Is It Cold In Here’. But the interesting aspect about Joe was that he seemed to have a firm grasp on both personas and maneuvered them both very well. This month, we’ll be taking a look back through the catalog of Joe Diffie, and offering our own take on both sides of Joe Diffie’s musical personality.  We hope you enjoy reading our thoughts, and that we re-discover some of our old favorites, and maybe introduce some of you to some great music along the way.