My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Whitney Houston

Promo Song Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Broken’

500x500This Sunday (March 20) Fox is airing The Passion: New Orleans a three-hour live musical event modernizing the story of Jesus Christ. Hosted by Tyler Perry, the show will highlight ‘the voices and songs of the most celebrated performers of today.’ Among them is Trisha Yearwood, who will assume the role of Jesus’ mother Mary.

Anytime Yearwood is attached to a musical project, whether it’s an album of her own or a separate endeavor, is an event in and of itself. Her musical contributions this time around find her covering modern pop songs including “I Won’t Give Up” (Jason Mraz), “My Love is Your Love” (Whitney Houston), “Hands” (Jewel) and “You Never Walk Alone” (From Carousel).

Her promotional track, which was made available as an advance download when you pre-order the soundtrack, is “Broken” a song originally released by Alternative band Lifehouse as a single in 2008. Jason Wade, who fronts the band, was inspired to pen the tune after visiting a friend in need of a kidney transplant. It wasn’t a big hit although it peaked at #7 Adult Top 40 chart.

In interviews Yearwood has said the song comes towards the end of the musical in conjunction with a giant lighted cross that will be paraded down the streets of New Orleans as she sings. It’s a powerful anthem and she sings the fire out of it. As indicated by the newly recorded tracks on Prizefighter: Hit After Hit, she hasn’t lost an ounce of her power and vibrato.

I do take issue with the production and not the fact this is purely pop. The whole thing has the feel of a winners single from American Idol – generic and bombastic with mass appeal over nuance. There is absolutely nothing interesting in how this track came together. I’m not surprised seeing as this musical special and Idol air on the same network.

But I have to give the producers credit for casting a fifty-one year old country singer, who has fallen out of favor with radio, as the female lead. It would’ve been easier to go with someone like Carrie Underwood, even if she’s about twenty years younger. All this proves that Yearwood, likely thanks to her cooking show, still has some mass appeal. I, for one, couldn’t be more ecstatic about that.

Trisha Yearwood is my favorite singer, which “Broken” more than affirms. I only wish they had framed her vocal with more subtly to let her and not the arrangement take center stage. If the production had been toned down just a hair, this would’ve been a slam-dunk. As it stands, this is just above very good.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Ray Price – ‘Beauty Is … The Final Sessions’

Ray PriceRay Price’s swan song was recorded last year while the legendary singer was battling pancreatic cancer. Beauty Is … The Final Sessions is a combination of countrypolitan and traditional pop, in the style for which Price was known in the 1970s when he scored such hits as “For The Good Times”, “I Won’t Mention It Again”, and “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me”.

Released on the independent Amerimonte label, Beauty Is contains a number of names among its credits that will be familiar to long-time country fans, from Fred Foster, who produced the project, and Bergen White who conducted the orchestra to Vince Gill and Martina McBride who lend some vocal support. “Beauty Is In The Eyes of The Beholder” was written by Jon Gray and Rich Grissom, and went unrecorded for nearly twenty years, having been rejected by a number of marquee names such as Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, John Michael Montgomery, and Whitney Houston. Kenny Rogers apparently recorded it but that version was never released. The lovely string-laden ballad is the first of two tunes featuring harmony vocals by Vince Gill; the second is a very nice version of the Cindy Walker-penned “Until Then”, which is the best song on the album. Willie Nelson’s “It Always Will Be” is a close second, although the background vocals on this track are a little too saccharine for my liking.

Ray Price began his recording career in 1948 as a honky-tonk singer and was later derided as a pop sell-out when he embraced the countrypolitan sound that was in vogue in the early 70s. There are no hardcore country songs on Beauty Is, but there are a few very nice traditional pop numbers including “I Believe”, “Among My Souvenirs”, and “An Affair To Remember”, which is performed as a duet with Martina McBride.

Beauty Is may be a bit too mellow for some tastes, and it might have benefited from an uptempo number or two, but Price knew who his core audience was and wisely avoided chasing more contemporary trends. Although his voice lacked the range of his heyday, it was in remarkably good condition and it is difficult to remember that Price was an 87-year-old man in failing health at the time these recordings were made. It doesn’t contain any stretches or surprises, but it is a very fitting capstone to a career that spanned more than six decades and a gift that Ray Price fans are sure to treasure.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton – ‘I Will Always Love You’

Dolly says the song was inspired by her decision to break away from The Porter Wagoner Show, and him artistically. It was a #1 country hit in for her 1974 and again in 1982 (Parton’s ’82 recording for The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas Soundtrack also hit the top 20 of the Adult Contemporary chart and charted internationally).  In addition to Whitney Houston’s record-breaking single, which was the Billboard year-end top single of 1993, Vince Gill and Dolly took the song once again to upper reaches of the country chart, peaking at #15 with their version in 1995.  Here’s a 1974 performance of the classic song, introduced by Porter Wagoner.

Spotlight Artist: Dolly Parton

“Dolly Parton came from the mountains of Tennessee.  And she brought them with her.”  

That’s one of my favorite (and Dolly’s too) in the countless digs taken by the singer and scores of others over the years on the breadth of Dolly Parton’s famous figure.  Dolly wears the Smoky Mountains not just on her chest, but in her heart as well.  Even as she became one of the biggest stars in the world in the 1980s , and a pop culture icon, she has always remained a grounded, approachable country girl.  Recent years have seen her go back to her musical roots with a stunning trilogy of bluegrass albums, but not before she broke more chart and sales records than I can list here as one of the most consistent and best-selling mainstream country and pop stars of her generation.

Born Dolly Rebecca Parton, the fourth of twelve children to Avie and Robert Parton, on January 19, 1946, the young Dolly picked up her musical ambitions at an early age.  She began singing to a yard full of chickens and siblings by age 4, when she also began writing her first melodies and rhymes.  By age 9, she was appearing on a local Knoxville variety radio show, and by 13, had recorded her first single for the small Goldband Records, titled “Puppy Love”.  That record led to her first Opry appearance in 1959.  It would be another 5 years, following her high school graduation, before Dolly went to Nashville full-time to pursue her dreams.  There, she was signed to Fred Foster’s Monument label, primarily as a pop singer.  After having success as a songwriter on the country charts with “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” and “Fuel to the Flame” – both top 10 hits – Foster decided to pitch her to the country market.  Her first country singles didn’t blaze up the charts, but did get Music Row to talking about the curvaceous blonde with the bubbly personality and distinctive voice.

Through those first singles, Dolly caught the attention of country star Porter Wagoner, who at the time had his own syndicated network television show.  She joined the cast of The Porter Wagoner Show in 1967, where she earned her first taste of national recognition.  It was also through Porter that Dolly signed to RCA Records, her label home for the next 17 years.  By 1970, Dolly had scored 6 consecutive top 10 hits as Porter’s new duet partner, but was just beginning to blossom on her own.  A cover of Jimmie Rodger’s “Mule Skinner Blues” became her first solo top 10 that year, before she hit pay dirt with her own composition, “Joshua” going all the way to the top.  From there, Dolly began a run of hit singles that would continue for the next two decades.  But in 1974, she made the decision to exit Wagoner’s show, leaving the host more than disgruntled at her departure.  Wagoner later sued Parton for a sum of approximately $1 million.  In the midst of her leaving, Dolly penned one of the most hauntingly beautiful – and most successful – love songs of our time to tell Porter how she felt.  “I Will Always Love You” has since hit the top spot on the country charts twice for Parton, and was the most-played pop song of 1993, thanks to Whitney Houston’s recording.

Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Dolly continued to churn out hits.  In 1977, she changed management teams and set her sights on the bright lights of Hollywood and the recognition that comes with crossover hits.  True to her word, her first attempt at crossing over, the timeless “Here You Come Again” went to #3 on the pop charts and held a lock on the country top spot for a month.  The album it came from also became Dolly’s first platinum album, but she was far from finished with million-sellers or the pop charts.  She racked up 2 more top 40 pop hits as the 1970s became the ’80s, before releasing the biggest hit of her career so far with the title track to her first motion picture.  “9 to 5”  hit #1 all across the board, and also earned Dolly her first Oscar nomination for Best Original Song (she would repeat this nomination in 2006, though she lost both times).

As the 1980s dawned, Dolly Parton was a household name, thanks in no small part to countless mentions on late night talk shows like Johnny Carson, where during one appearance the late night king opined “I’d give a year’s pay to peek under that sweater” to an absolutely giddy Parton in the guest chair.  Following her co-starring role in 9 to 5, alongside the incomparable Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, she would star with Burt Reynolds in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 1982, with Sylvester Stallone in the universally panned Rhinestone in 1984, and then with a host of strong female leads like Julia Roberts, Sally Field, and Shirley MacLaine in 1989’s now-classic Steel Magnolias.  During this period, Dolly’s chart success became more spotty, but she was still racking up hits throughout the decade, and ended the ’80s one a strong note with her best album in ages, and a pair of #1 hits.

Relegated to the status of elder statesman by the ’90s boom, Dolly would continue releasing new music, and charted another chart-topper in 1992, in a duet with Ricky Van Shelton.  She continued to regularly release new music, though radio was becoming less and less interested in her singles.  A 1998 album of contemporary country sounds failed to chart any singles, and Dolly took a sabbatical from contemporary country for nearly a decade afterwards, turning her attention to bluegrass and remakes of patriotic songs as well as standards.  She returned to mainstream country in 2008 with the much-heralded Backwoods Barbie, though still didn’t garner much love from country radio.  A 2006 “duet” with Brad Paisley, where Parton’s vocals are limited to high-in-the-mix harmonies, earned her the final #1 of her career so far.  “When I Get Where I’m Goin'” became the 25th chart-topper of her career, a record at the time, and she is now tied with Reba McEntire as the female artist with the most career #1’s.

Building more than just a multimedia empire with her music and movies, Dolly has branched out in more venues than just about anyone else in show business.  In 1985, she opened her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, TN.  Now in its 26th season, the park continues to grow and sees more than 2 million visitors annually.  She has also created the Imagination Library, which provides books to children from birth to age 5, in an effort to kickstart in them a love of reading the printed word.

Still busier than ever, Dolly recently wrote the music for a Broadway adaption of 9 to 5, which earned her first Tony nominations, and has just released her first new album in 3 years.  We’ll be looking over the many aspects of her storied career throughout July.  So keep reading as we explore the life and times of country music’s most beloved and most colorful character.

Second chances

Chris Young’s third single “Voices”, released in 2008, was his best chart performance to date; nevertheless stalled at #37. It was included on his sophomore album the following year. Since then, he has racked up two #1 hits, and RCA is re-releasing “Voices” as Young’s next single. Apparently the label has faith in the song and believes that will get more attention from radio now that Chris has had his commercial breakthrough.

Though uncommon, it’s not the first time an artist has re-released a record that underperformed on the charts. One of the more famous examples is “On The Other Hand.” Originally released in June 1985 as the major label debut of the then-unknown Randy Travis, the Don Schlitz-Paul Overstreet composition peaked at an underwhelming #67. Travis’ next single, “1982”, fared much better, climbing all the way to #6. Warner Bros., believing that timing is everything, decided to give “On The Other Hand” another chance and re-released it in April 1986. This time it went all the way to #1, and suddenly Randy Travis was the hottest commodity in Nashville.

In 1982, Dolly Parton became the first artist in the history of the Billboard country chart to reach the #1 spot twice with the same song, when “I Will Always Love You”, a newly re-recorded version of her 1974 hit, reached the top spot. It wasn’t the last time Dolly raided her back catalog in search of a new hit. In 1977, as she was beginning the crossover phase of her career, “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning” just missed the Top 10, peaking at #11. She remade the song in 1992 for the Straight Talk soundtrack. This time around it failed to chart. In 1995 she again resurrected “I Will Always Love You” as a duet with Vince Gill, after Whitney Houston’s mega hit pop version revived interest in the song. The Parton-Gill version, reportedly Dolly’s favorite incarnation of the song, reached #15 in Billboard. Dolly also re-recorded 1970’s “Down From Dover” for her 2001 Little Sparrow project, though neither version was released as a single. She’s also remade other album tracks over the years, such as “Shattered Image” and “What A Heartache.”

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Songwriters sound off

The recent minor Twitter storm elicited by Miranda Lambert’s hurt feelings over singer-songwriter Patty Griffin saying in Entertainment Weekly that she thought the latter’s cover of her song ‘Getting Ready’ on 2007’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was “loud”, has led me to think about the question of whether what writers say in public about covers of their songs is generally what they truly think.

In the original interview, Griffin was asked for her opinion of several covers of her songs:

”It doesn’t have to be loud,” she says of Lambert’s raucous ”Getting Ready.” ”To me, it’s tongue-in-cheek. When you’re younger, forces inside of you are telling you to stand on a table and scream and tell people to look at you.”

This is actually a rather more fundamental criticism than the initial impression that volume was the problem. Rather, this sounds like the writer of a song who feels an artist misinterpreted it, in this case by taking the lyric too much on face value.

I have some sympathy for both parties here; it seems perfectly reasonable for Miranda Lambert to be disappointed that her effort did not meet with the approval of Ms. Griffin, who is (or was) obviously someone whose work she admires, and I have no doubt that she approached her cover of the song with a genuine sense of respect. Yet to me it seems naive, and perhaps even disingenuous of any artist to assume that they have done such a favor to a writer by covering their song that it must be met by nothing but grateful plaudits, which is the impression given by Miranda’s follow-up Tweet, “Sad when your hero’s [sic] let you down”.

I believe an artist should have the freedom to interpret a song as they choose, and not necessarily follow the style or feel of the original. But I also believe that the writer is entitled not to like the results, and to say so if they choose to do so. Professional songwriters whose living depends on getting cuts must feel they should keep a tactful silence should they dislike any particular version of one of their songs. I am sure that many more left-field singer-songwriters are also grateful for the money and the name recognition which comes when a successful chart act covers a song – but that doesn’t mean they should feel obliged to say they love the recording whenever they’re asked.

Dolly Parton, on the other hand, stands on the opposite side of the spectrum. She is a very generous songwriter who has been very open to wildly different takes on her songs, for instance Whitney Houston’s pop-R&B reimagining of her ‘I Will Always Love You’ and the stylistic variety of the covers on the tribute album Just Because I’m A Woman. But she is in a different position to some degree given her own status; these covers, whether successful or otherwise, cannot detract from the success Dolly herself originally had with the song. She rarely speaks negatively about anyone in any case. Similarly, Randy Travis, who made his name reclaiming traditional country from pop influences in the 80s, was politely complimentary about current pop-country singer Carrie Underwood’s version of his 1988 hit ‘I Told You So’, and was rewarded by a cameo on the single.

Do you think songwriters should take the money and shut up, or say only nice things about covers of their songs?  Or should they be free to criticize a singer’s interpretation of their lyrics?