My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Weldon Myrick

Album Review: Lee Greenwood – ‘Love’s On The Way’

Released in late 1992, Love’s On The Way was the third album released on the Liberty label and his thirteenth major label studio album. Unfortunately it also signaled the end of Lee Greenwood as a viable chart artist. While the immediate prior release of patriotic songs, American Patriot, had sold platinum in the wake of the cowardly attacks of 9/11/01 and temporarily brought the fading Greenwood back into prominence, this more conventional album again failed to chart. The two singles released from the album made almost no impact – “Before I’m Ever Over You” made the slightest dent on the singles charts reaching #73 and the other single released, “I Never Thought Your Memory Would Ever Go This Far” failed to chart at all despite getting a favorable review in Billboard: “Perhaps country’s Phil Collins, Greenwood has a ballad to brag about. Slow and dreamy instrumentation sets the mood for Greenwood’s pristine performance.”

Of course, by the time this album was released, Greenwood had already turned fifty years old, and was rather long in the tooth for the youth-oriented playlists of the early 1990s. My copy of this album is on an audio cassette so I do not have the songwriter or production credits, although I was able to find the session personnel through other sources.

The album opens up with “Before I’m Ever Over You”, a mid-tempo rocker written by Sandy Ramos and Jerry Van Diver. This is followed by the tender ballads “In Other Words” and “Final Touches”
“Linda Lu” would have made an interesting single. The song was originally an R&B hit in 1959 for Ray Sharpe. Sharpe was sometimes described as the ‘the greatest white-sounding black dude ever’ and the song got some rockabilly airplay as well as R&B.

This is followed by “I Never Thought Your Memory Would Ever Go This Far” (discussed above).

“I Miss The Romance” is a decent nostalgic slow ballad. This is followed by the mid-tempo “Soldier Of Love” and another slow ballad in “Waiting On The Tables To Turn”. All three of these are what I would describe as album filler, albeit of decent quality.

On the other hand “She Wants To Be Wanted Again” is a good song that I can see being a hit had it occurred during Lee’s peak years or had it made its way to Kenny Rogers.

The album closes with the title track “Love’s On The Way”, given a very soulful treatment by Greenwood. This sounds like some something that T. Graham Brown or Con Hunley would have tackled successfully.

This album has a slightly more country sound than does some of his earlier albums; however, the early 1990s were the peak period for the “New Traditionalists” movement. Included among the musicians are such country stalwarts as Don Potter (acoustic guitar); Mark Casstevens (acoustic guitar, mandolin); Steve Gibson (electric guitar); Weldon Myrick & Dan Dugmore (steel guitar); Rob Hajacos (fiddle); Brent Rowan (dobro, electric guitar, bass); Matt Rollings (piano); David Briggs (piano, synthesizer); Mike Lawler (synthesizer, organ); David Hungate, Michael Rhodes (bass); Paul Leim, Eddie Byers (drums); Ron “Snake” Reynolds (percussion); and Andrea Zonn, Greg Gordon, Donna McElroy, Russell Smith, Curtis Young, Carol Chase, Cindy Richardson, Karen Staley, J.D. Martin, Russell Smith (background vocals). Even so this is more of a ‘blue-eyed soul’ album than the market was buying at the time plus, of course, Lee was already well into middle age.

I didn’t dislike any of the songs, but I didn’t really love any of them either. I would give this album a C+ or B-.

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘It’s A Cheating Situation’

It’s a Cheating Situation is the 10th studio album by Moe Bandy and his seventh album of new material. Released in 1979, the album reached #19 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, his best showing in a few years. The album generated two top ten hits and featured the solid country sound that made Moe such a favorite among fans of traditional country music.

The album opened with the title track a fine track featuring Janie Fricke on harmony. Written by Curly Putman and Sonny Throckmorton, the song sailed to #1 on Record World (#2 Billboard, #1 Canadian Country), one of only two solo Bandy singles to reach #1. The song was a bit unusual for Bandy, but effective.

It’s a cheating situation, a stealing invitation
To take what’s not really ours, to make it through the midnight hours
It’s a cheating situation, just a cheap imitation
Doing what we have to do when there’s no love at home

There’s no use in pretending, there’ll be a happy ending
Where our love’s concerned, sweetheart, we both know
We’ll take love where we find it, love and try to hide it
It’s all we got, for we know they’re not gonna let us go

Next up is a more typical Moe Bandy number in “Barstool Mountain”, written by Donn Tankersley and Wayne Carson. The song was the second single released from the album and reached #9. The song had been recorded, as an album track, by Johnny Paycheck a few years earlier on his Take This Job And Shove It album. I like Paycheck but Bandy’s version is far superior

I’ve finally found a place where I can take it
All this loneliness you left behind.
On a mountain that’s no hill for a climber.
Just one step up, sit back and pour the wine.

I climb up on barstool mountain.
High above your world where there’s no pain.
And I’m the king of barstool mountain.
Pretending I don’t love you once again.

“Cheaters Never Win” by Sanger Shafer and Doodle Owens sounds like something Hank Williams might have written, and the comparison is driven home by the arrangement put together for Bandy. Released a decade before, the song would have made a good single for someone.

I don’t know how long you left me here alone
But I sure was a lonesome someone
And I learned from a friend how cheaters never win
Oh, but we sure have more fun.

When empty arms need someone soft to fill them
They’ll start reaching out for almost anyone
My stood to couldn’t stand and cheaters never win
Oh, but we sure have more fun.

“Conscience Where Were You (When I Needed You Last Night)” is a medium slow ballad from the pens of Sanger Shafer and Warren Robb.

I’m not that familiar with songwriter Herb McCollough but his “Try My Love On for Size” is a nice song with steel and fiddle driving the ong along. This song is taken at a moderately up-tempo pace. I really like the song, but I don’t think it would have made for a successful single.

Yeah slip into my arms I think you’ll find a perfect fit
They’ll keep you warm throughout the coldest nights
And these lips will cool the fires that burn you deep inside
My love will hold you close but not too tight.

So try my love on for size
It’ll never shrink or run or fade away
Yes, try my love on for size
Never return it if you’re fully satisfied.

Yes, try my love on for size
Never return it if you’re fully satisfied…

Bobby Barker’s “To Cheat Or Not To Cheat” is a mid-tempo song that asks what I suppose to be the eternal question (my suggestion is ‘Not To Cheat’). It’s an okay song as an album track but nothing more.

While she makes another midnight pot of coffee
We’re mixin’ up just one last glass of gin
And before I even cheat I’m feelin’ guilty
And gin can’t dim these butterflies within.

To cheat or not to cheat, that’s the question
That’s been runnin’ through my mind all evenin’ long
To cheat or not to cheat, what’s the answer
Now I’m pullin’ in my driveway here at home…

Max D. Barnes was a fine songwriter, and “She Stays In The Name of Love” is a good song that I think could have been a good single for someone. Johnny Gimble and Weldon Myrick shine on this track.

I’ve been everything that a man shouldn’t be
I’ve done things a man won’t do
And it’s hard to believe what she sees in me
After all that I put her through.

But I guess that she knows when the bars finally close
She’s the one that I’m thinkin’ of
Well she could leave in the name of a heart full of pain
But she stays in the name of love.

“It Just Helps To Keep The Hurt From Hurtin'” is a fine and wistful Cindy Walker ballad that Moe tackles successfully with just the right amount of trepidation in his voice.

Carl Belew was one of my favorite songwriters, and while his success as a performer was limited, some of his songs became great pop and country classics (“Stop The World and Let Me Off”, “Lonely Street”, “What’s He Doing In My World”, “Am I That Easy To Forget”, “Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon”). “When My Working Girl Comes Home (And Works on Me)” is the sort of album material that Moe excels at singing.

The album closes with “They Haven’t Made The Drink (That Can Get Me Over You)”, another mid-tempo Sanger Shafer – Doodle Owens honky-tonk classic, featuring Johnny Gimble on fiddle and “Pig” Robbins on piano . For the life of me, I do not understand why this track wasn’t released as a single by Moe or perhaps someone else.

The face on my watch stares up through a scratched up crystal
As if to say I’m sorry it’s too early for the booze
Sometimes my mind wonders from the bottle to the pistol
‘Cause they haven’t made the drink that can get me over you.

The bartenders’ local called a special meeting
They came up with a drink called ‘What’s The Use’
I must have drank a dozen before I broke down cryin’
‘Cause they haven’t made the drink that can get me over you.

There are signs on several tracks of the Moe Bandy sound beginning to soften a little. There’s still plenty of ‘Drifting Cowboy’ steel guitar and Texas-style fiddle but on a few tracks the Jordanaires are a little more prominent than I would like, and the title track is far less honky-tonk that Moe’s usual fare.

Among the musicians helping keep this country are the following: Bob Moore (bass), Johnny Gimble (fiddle, mandolin), Hargus “Pig” Robbins (piano), Bobby Thompson (banjo), Weldon Myrick (steel guitar), and Charlie McCoy (harmonica).

I very much like this album and would rate it an “A”.

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Bandy The Rodeo Clown’

Moe Bandy’s third (and final) album on GRC was Bandy The Rodeo Clown. Released in 1975, the album was the least successful of Moe’s three GRC albums, reaching only #27 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, but the title track (and only single from the album) proved to be Moe’s biggest hit to-date, reaching #7 in the USA and #4 in Canada. The album was a hard-core country fan’s fantasy with such stalwart musicians as Charlie McCoy, Bobby Thompson, Bob Moore, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Leo Jackson, Jimmy Capps, Johnny Gimble, Kenny Malone, Weldon Myrick and Dave Kirby present to ‘keep it country’.

I’m sure that many thought that Moe penned the title track, which was the first track on the album; however, the song actually came for the golden pens of Lefty Frizzell and Whitey Shfer. The story of a rodeo rider toppled by lost love, and winding up a rodeo clown, Moe is entirely believable as he sings the song.

Who was once a bull hooking son of a gun
Now who keeps a pint hid out behind chute number one
Who was riding high till a pretty girl rode him to the ground
Any kid knows where to find me
I’m Bandy The Rodeo Clown

Next up is “Somewhere There’s A Woman”, penned by Rex Gosdin and Les Reed. This song is a standard jog-long ballad that Moe handles well. This is followed by “Give Me Liberty (Or Give Me All Your Love)”, a ballad about a guy who is losing his girlfriend to her old lover.

“Nobody’s Waiting For Me” is a sad slow ballad about a down and outer, what used to be known as a weeper. This song was written by Whitey Shafer – it’s a good song and in the hands of George Jones, it might have been hit single material – but otherwise it is just an album track.

Side one closes with “I Stop And Get Up (To Go Out Of My Mind)”, a mid-tempo ballad with some nice harmonica by Charlie McCoy and fiddle by Johnny Gimble.

Side two opens up with an old warhorse in Don Gibson’s “Oh, Lonesome Me”. I’ve heard better versions, but Moe does an acceptable job with the song. Eddy Raven, who has been enjoying renaissance in bluegrass, penned “I Sure Don’t Need That Memory Tonight”. It’s a decent ballad but nothing more. Better is another Raven tune “Fais Do-Do”, a Cajun-flavored tune that I would liked better had it been taken at a slightly faster tempo. At a faster tempo this song would have made a good single. Yet another Raven song follows in ”Goodbye On Your Mind”, another mid-tempo ballad.

The album closes with “Signs Of A Woman Gone” by Rex Gosdin and Les Reed. The song is slightly up-tempo and while I find the presence of the Jordanaires in the introduction slightly distracting, Bobby Thompson’s fine banjo redeems the song as does Weldon Myrick’s fine steel guitar.

This is a solid country album, well sung by Moe with a solid country band. The problem with the album is two-fold: not enough tempo variation, and generally solid but unexciting songs. I do not mind listening to this album, but only the title track was worthy of single release. The first two GRT albums were better but I would still give this album a solid ‘B’.

After this album, Moe would be signed by Columbia, which purchased Moe’s back GRC catalogue. While Moe would not go on to have enormous success as an album seller, he would crank out a steady stream of successful singles for the next thirteen years.

Album Review: Connie Smith – ‘The Lost Tapes’

lost tapesDuring the 1960s and 1970s it was not uncommon for the various branches of the US Military to put together fifteen or thirty minute radio shows for use on country radio stations. Mostly these shows aired on smaller radio stations, usually in air slots where it was difficult for them to sell advertising. Some of these shows, such as COUNTRY MUSIC TIME (a recruiting tool for the US Air Force) and COUNTRY COOKING WITH LEE ARNOLD ( a recruiting program for the Army Reserves) featured some chatter with the weeks’ musical guests followed by some records by the musical guest. Others, such as NAVY HOEDOWN, featured chatter with the featured artist playing with the program’s band.

CONNIE SMITH – THE LOST TAPES comes from the NAVY HOEDOWN radio programs. Unlike most of the military recruiter programs, NAVY HOEDOWN would feature the same artist for four consecutive weeks. Each program was fifteen minutes long, and would feature some chatter with host Hal Durham (later to become the general manager of the Grand Ole Opry), some recruitment plugs and four songs. Marty Stuart is the producer of this reissue project. I remember hearing these programs sometime during 1973 or 1974 so they were probably recorded in 1972 or 1973, which was about the time Connie was moving from RCA to Columbia.

There are no revelations here, as the NAVY HOEDOWN program focused upon the artists’ hits and other songs familiar to the artist. What we do have is eleven excellent recordings of Connie Smith at her vocal peak singing songs. Below is the list of the songs on this project:

1. Just One Time
2. I Never Once Stopped Loving You
3. Louisiana Man
4. Cincinnati, Ohio
5. Just For What I Am
6. Once a Day
7. If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone)
8. Long Black Limousine
9. The Race Is On
10. Amazing Grace
11. How Great Thou Art

Songs 1-7 were songs that were singles for Connie Smith on RCA. Tracks 8 & 9 were hits for other artists and tracks 10 & 11 were gospel songs Ms. Smith has always sung. Cracker Barrel has a CD version with two additional songs, “Where Is My Castle ? ” (my favorite Connie Smith song) and the gospel song “He Touched Me”. The sound quality of the CD is better than the mp3 download.

There are no personnel listings with the digital downloads I obtained so I am guessing as to who plays on the sessions. The steel guitar player clearly is NOT Weldon Myrick, so that alone is enough to give the recordings a different feel than her RCA recordings. My best guess is that Pete Drake is playing the steel guitar. I think the fiddler is Johnny Gimble. From the liner notes, it seems that Marty Stuart is sure that Pete Drake was the steel player and Johnny Gimble was the fiddle player. I have no idea as to the identity of the other musicians on the sessions, but they are clearly members of Nashville’s A-Team.

Regardless of who is playing on the sessions, this is Connie Smith at the absolute peak of her powers with appropriate, but different enough instrumental backing to make this a desirable purchase for her fans. Definitely an A+ recording.

Country Heritage: Jeannie C. Riley

Jeannie C Riley

I want to tell you all a story about a Harper Valley widowed wife
Who had a teenage daughter who attended Harper Valley Junior High
Well, her daughter came home one afternoon and didn’t even stop to play
She said mom I got a note here from the Harper Valley PTA

– Tom T. Hall – 1967

Starting out at the top may not be a good thing. After all, there is no place to go but down. For 23 year-old Jeannie C. Riley, the top of the mountain was reached in August 1968, when “Harper Valley PTA” jumped from No. 81 to No. 1 on the Billboard (all-genres) singles chart. It subsequently reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles Chart and charted in a number of countries around the world (reaching No. 12 in the UK). Jeannie became the first female country singer to simultaneously top the pop and country charts and she won the 1968 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Vocal Performance and the CMA Single of the Year award.

Born Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson in Stamford, Texas, to Oscar Stephenson, an auto mechanic, and Nora Stephenson, a nurse, and raised in Anson, Texas, Jeannie developed a strong love for country music as a young girl. As a teenager, she made her first public performances, appearing with her uncle Johnny Moore at Jones County Jamboree in nearby Truby, Texas. On December 20, 1962, shortly after high school graduation, she married childhood sweetheart Mickey Riley. Uncle Johnny took Jeannie and Mickey with him on one of his trips to Nashville, which intensified her desire to be a star in Nashville. Along the way she received encouragement from Weldon Myrick, a one-time member of the Jones County Jamboree, who had since become one of the Nashville’s leading steel guitar players.

Mickey and Jeannie had their first child, Kim Michelle Riley, on January 11, 1966. In August of that year, she and Mickey packed their belongings and moved to Nashville, where she worked as a secretary at Passkey Music. She made a few demo records along the way (under the name Jean Riley) and issued a single, “What About Them,” which failed to chart. Among the unreleased recordings, were some demos that were recorded for Aubrey Mayhew’s Little Darlin’ records.

Enter “Harper Valley PTA”. Veteran country singer Margie Singleton, ex-wife of Shelby Singleton (previously associated with Mercury Records), asked Tom T. Hall to write her a song similar to “Ode To Billie Joe,” which she had recorded the previous year. Ever observant, Tom T. noted the name of Harpeth Valley Elementary School while driving through Bellevue, TN. In short order, he wrote “Harper Valley P.T.A.” about a fictional confrontation between a young widow, Stella Johnson, and a local PTA group who objected to her clothing, social drinking and friendliness with the town’s gentlemen. Tom T. Hall’s “talking blues man” demo was not quite geared to Margie Singleton’s style, but what Shelby Singleton saw in the song wasn’t quite up Margie’s alley, either.

Meanwhile, Jeannie had cut a demo of a song written by Royce Clark called “The Old Town Drunk” about a town drunk whose coat had washed up on the banks of the river and watched his own funeral service, then mocked the townsfolk at the end of the service. Remembering the demo and the singer, Shelby rushed the apprehensive Jeannie into the recording studio to record the song on his newly formed Plantation Records. “Harper Valley PTA” was the only the third single ever released on the new label (the Harper Valley PTA album was the first album issued by the label, as well). Jeannie had significant misgivings about recording the song, which she felt was not country enough to establish her as a country singer. She also had misgivings about being paraded about in miniskirts, and apparently hasn’t worn one since leaving Plantation.

Jeannie continued to have success after “Harper Valley PTA,” although nothing ever approached the heights of Tom T. Hall’s classic song. Jeannie made her Opry debut later in 1968 and the immediate follow up, “The Girl Most Likely,” reached No. 6 on the Billboard Country charts (it reached No. 1 on the Cashbox Country chart). Virtually all of her Plantation recordings attempted to capitalize on the feisty Harper Valley PTA persona – a persona which was actually alien to her true personality. Through 1971, she continued to record for Plantation records, scoring a number of minor hits, as well as five other Top Ten singles, including “Country Girl,” “Oh, Singer” and “Good Enough to Be Your Wife.” The sudden fame took a toll on her marriage and she and Mickey Riley divorced in 1970.

She left Plantation in 1971 to record for MGM where she was promised more artistic freedom. The four albums she recorded for MGM found her cast as a more traditional country singer. While her chart success was minimal, much of this material was excellent. The two biggest hits at MGM, both from 1972, were “Give Myself A Party” at No. 12 (No. 5 Cashbox) and “Good Morning Country Rain” at No. 30, the latter of which was her last top 40 single.

In 1974, Jeannie found religion and turned her attention more toward gospel music, although she recorded some secular music for MCA/Dot thereafter. Jeannie and Mickey remarried and Jeannie’s autobiography, From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top, was published in 1980, with a gospel album of the same name issued at that time.

The years after 1980 were difficult for Ms Riley, who was reported as suffering from long-term clinical depression. In 1994, Jeannie’s family had her committed to a hospital for evaluation after she fell into a deep depression. She and husband Mickey again divorced. At some point she received the appropriate treatment and pulled her life back together.
There is an active website for Jeannie C. Riley but it does not list any tour dates so I am not sure if she is actively performing. Her daughter, Kim Michelle Riley, recorded an album under the name Riley Coyle in 1993 which featured the song “Country In My Genes,” which Loretta Lynn had some success with a few years later. Jeannie sang with her daughter on one of the tracks on the album. Jeannie also appeared as a guest on the Tommy Cash album Let An Old Racehorse Run in 1994. Both albums were on the Playback label. Read more of this post

Album Review: Sammy Kershaw – ‘Haunted Heart’

Sammy Kershaw’s sophomore effort reunited him with producers Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson, whose collaboration had helped Don’t Go Near The Water achieve platinum-level sales. 1993’s Haunted Heart continues in a similar vein. It too achieved platinum status, but it also improved upon its predecessor’s inconsistent success with country radio; all of Haunted Heart’s four singles landed in the Top 10, unlike Sammy’s previous effort which had produced only two Top 10 hits.

Straight out of the box, the catchy lead single “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful”, written by Bob McDill and Paul Harrison, rose all the way to #1, becoming the first and only chart-topper of Kershaw’s career. The upbeat title track was the album’s worst performing single, peaking at #9, while the similar sounding “Queen Of My Double Wide Trailer” performed slightly better, reaching #7. The latter song, written by Dennis Linde, is marred by somewhat cliched and silly lyrics, but its catchy beat makes it enjoyable nonetheless. The fourth and final single, “I Can’t Reach Her Anymore” is the best of the group and ranks right up there with “Yard Sale” as one of Kershaw’s best singles.

Aside from the hit singles, Haunted Heart is noteworthy for some of its supporting personnel. The legendary Weldon Myrick, famous for his work with Connie Smith, plays steel guitar on that album, and one of the background vocalists is Sammy’s labelmate, the then largely unknown Shania Twain. She can be heard most prominently on the excellent Dean Dillon and Danny Kees composition “What Might Have Been”. It’s too bad that Shania’s own discography doesn’t contain material like this. Another standout track is the beautiful ballad “Still Lovin’ You”, which despite its inclusion on Sammy’s 1995 The Hits: Chapter 1 compilation, was never released as a single. The steel guitar track and Melonie Cannon’s harmony vocals are beautiful.

However, not all of the album’s material is stellar; there are two duds in particular — the novelty tune “Neon Leon” which really wears thin with repeated listenings, and “You’ve Got A Lock On My Heart”, which was written by producer Buddy Cannon with Larry Bastian. Heavy on electric guitar, it’s the least traditional song on the album. Another artist might have made it work, but it’s a stretch for Sammy and it really doesn’t fit well with the rest of the album. All is forgiven however, with the closing track, a contemporary take on the Bill Monroe classic “Cry, Cry Darlin'”. Unlike the original, this version does not have a bluegrass arrangement; the electric guitar is a bit intrusive at times, but the pedal steel and harmony vocals are superb.

Casual Sammy Kershaw fans may be content to own just his hits compilations, but there are enough gems among this collection’s album cuts to make it worth purchasing. It can be easily obtained at bargain prices.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Connie Smith – ‘Just For What I Am’

The past decade or so hasn’t produced much great country music, forcing many fans to mine the back catalogs of some of the genre’s legends, in search of material that they might have initially overlooked. Germany’s Bear Family Records has released numerous extensive box sets of many legendary artists and in doing so has been a Godsend to fans of classic country music. Last month they released a second set of Connie Smith’s music, a little more than a week after it was announced that the Sweetheart of the Grand Ole Opry would finally be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Just For What I Am
is a companion piece to 2001’s Born To Sing, picking up where the earlier collection left off. Together the two collections represent the singer’s entire RCA catalog, marking the first time in decades that many of these classic recordings have been commercially available. It covers the period from 1967 through 1972, and contains 151 tracks, spanning five discs. It contains 14 Top 20 singles, several Gospel numbers, and Connie’s take on many of the then-current hits of her contemporaries, such as Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty and Waylon Jennings. It also contains nine tracks that were never released by RCA. The highest charting single in the collection is “Just One Time”, a Don Gibson number that Connie took to #2 in 1971. My personal favorites among the singles are “I Never Once Stopped Loving You” written by Bill Anderson and Jan Howard, and the Dallas Frazier compositions “Where Is My Castle” and “If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone)”, both of which feature the great Johnny Gimble on fiddle and stands in stark contrast to the countrypolitan that was dominating the country charts at the time.

Smith’s singles from this era were great, but most of them have been available for quite some time on the small handful of compilations that RCA saw fit to release on CD. The real gems are the album cuts, most of which have been unavailable since their initial release 40 years ago or more. Of particular interest are the covers of other artists’ hits. Waylon Jennings’ “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” seems like an unlikely choice for Connie Smith, but she attacks it with gusto, altering the lyrics slightly to represent the female point of view. Jerry Reed’s “Natchilly Ain’t No Good” gets a similar treatment, as do Conway Twitty’s signature tunes “Hello, Darlin'” and “I Can’t Believe You Stopped Loving Me”. Her rendition of Loretta Lynn’s “Before I’m Over You” rivals the original, and her version of “Here Comes My Baby” is superior to Dottie West’s Grammy winning record. My favorite of the cover songs is “If My Heart Had Windows”, which had been a Top 10 for George Jones in 1967. Patty Loveless would later score her first Top 10 hit when she covered the tune in 1988. Another highlight is Harlan Howard’s heartbreaking “The Deepening Snow”. I’d previously heard this song on Tammy Wynette’s 1992 box set; inexplicably, neither Wynette’s nor Smith’s version was ever released as a single.

It was common in the 60s and 70s for male and female labelmates to become duet partners. RCA wanted to pair Connie up with Waylon Jennings, but she resisted, fearing that a hit Jennings-Smith duet would require her to spend more time on the road promoting it. In retrospect, it’s regrettable because Jennings and Smith would have been an amazing pairing. Instead, Connie teamed up with Nat Stuckey, a singer-songwriter who had written such hits as Jim Ed Brown’s “Pop A Top” and Buck Owens’ “Waiting In Your Welfare Line”, and who would go on to co-write “Diggin’ Up Bones” with Paul Overstreet and Al Gore (not the former Vice President). That tune would become a #1 hit for Randy Travis in 1986. Smith recorded two duet albums with Stuckey, and although he was a fine vocalist, it is here that the material falters a bit. Still, there are some gems among their duets. I especially like their take on The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” and the Gospel standard “Whispering Hope.” Connie also recorded a handful of duets with Dallas Frazier, who is a great songwriter but not much of a singer.

Among the previously unreleased tracks are Connie’s interpretations of Mel Tillis’and Webb Pierce’s “I Ain’t Never”, Johnny Paycheck’s “(S)he’s All I Got”, Porter Wagoner’s “What Ain’t To Be Just Might Happen” and Dottie West’s somewhat sappy “Country Girl”.

Producer Bob Ferguson was largely responsible for creating the unique Connie Smith sound, but much of the credit should go to steel guitarist Weldon Myrick, who was featured prominently on many of Connie’s recordings. His tribute “Connie’s Song” closes out the collection. It is a steel guitar-led instrumental medley of some of Connie’s biggest hits: “Once A Day, “Then and Only Then”, and “I Can’t Remember”.

Just For What I Am
comes with extensive liner notes written by Barry Mazor, which are contained in a hardcover book. Like all Bear Family projects, it is beautifully packaged and contains a wealth of material, however, it avoids the trap of exhausting the listener with multiple takes of the same song, false starts and studio chatter which were characteristics of many other Bear Family releases. It is expensive, and will probably only appeal to diehard fans. The price, however, can be rationalized by taking into account that it contains twelve albums’ worth of material. If you’ve got some extra cash in your music budget, it is well worth checking out.

Grade: A+

The 10 best reissues of 2011

I probably spent more money on reissues of old music this year than I did on new music, although I purchased lots of new music. Here is my list of the best reissues of 2011 – just one man’s opinion, listed in no particular order.  No fellow travelers such as Americana, just real country music (at least in my top ten).

 

JESSI COLTER – I’M JESSI COLTER / DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

The Australian label Raven, has issued a number of American country music albums, usually in the form of two-fers. Here Raven presents two albums from the talented Jessi Colter, mother of modern day artist Shooter Jennings and widow of legendary performer Waylon Jennings. While Jessi wasn’t the most prolific recording artist and is actually well served by several of the anthologies available, it is nice to have two of her Capitol albums available, as she originally conceived them.

Her first album for Capitol Records, I’M JESSI COLTER (1975), spawned the #1 Country / #5 Pop hit “I’m Not Lisa” and the follow-up hit “What’s Happened To Blue Eyes”. The album was produced by Waylon Jennings, and features many of the musicians who played on his albums (Reggie Young, Weldon Myrick, Ritchie Albright, Jim Gordon ) but no one would ever mistake the arrangements as anything that would ever appear on a Waylon album, as he deftly tailors the production to fit his bride’s  individual talents. An early take on “Storms Never Last” minus Waylon, is my favorite track on the album. DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH (1976) wasn’t quite as successful reaching #4 on the Country chart and yielding the hits “I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name” (No.29 Country) and “You Hung the Moon (Didn’t You Waylon?)”. The title track “Diamond in the Rough” gives Jessi a chance to stretch and show her blues sensibilities.

This set includes a nice and informative booklet and three bonus tracks from a later Capitol album. If you have no Jessi Colter in your collection, this is a good starting point. Read more of this post

Album Review: Reba McEntire, ‘Have I Got A Deal For You’

Have I Got A Deal For YouReba’s third album for MCA, released in July 1985, saw her on a roll both commercially and artistically. She had just won her first CMA Female Vocalist of the Year title in 1984, and was to win again in 1985 thanks partly to the success of this album. Her rich voice is at its best, and she exercises it on a selection of excellent songs, including a couple she wrote herself. Have I Got A Deal For You was also Reba’s first production credit, alongside the experienced Jimmy Bowen – an important step in her career development, at a time when not that many artists were co-producing their records. The record feels like a natural progression from its predecessor, My Kind Of Country, retaining the traditional feel, with some lovely fiddle from the legendary Johnny Gimble, and steel from Weldon Myrick, but using newly written songs where the latter had mixed old and new.

Only two singles were released, both reaching the top 10: the fiddle-heavy western swing of the title track, written by Michael P Heeney and Jackson Leap is enjoyable if one of the lesser moments here, and reached #6. The excellent and memorable ‘Only In My Mind’, one of the few songs Reba has written, got one spot higher, and deserved to do better still. It tells of the heartstopping moment when with “a move that would have made the wind stand still”, the protagonist’s husband asks her an unexpected question. The answer he gets is a devastating one:

“He said, ‘Have you ever cheated on me?’
I said, ‘Only in my mind’.”

Not an answer designed to make him feel any better, and delivered in a perfectly nuanced manner by Reba as she then addresses the man to whom she has an emotional connection she feels her husband could never understand. Reba also co-wrote ‘She’s The One Loving You Now’ with David Anthony and Leigh Reynolds, where a downbeat lyric sounds almost inappropriately cheery.

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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:

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