My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Willie Nelson

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘The Nashville Tapes’

Adam headed to Nashville to record his latest album in the legendary Studio A, built by Cowboy Jack Clement. Nash Chambers, son of Bill and brother of Kasey, produced. Adam wrote or co-wrote much of the material. He states his musical credo in the charming ‘I’d Rather Be A Highwayman’, happy to play in bars for the sake of the music

Smoky rooms and dimlit nights
Tucked among the neon lights
I play the soundtrack while they drink
But I’m not as lonely as you think
These country songs I live and breathe
Fuel to burn the fire in me
They simply let me be myself
I’m not sayin’ I don’t care for rock and roll
But it don’t feel the same way in my soul

I’d rather be a Highwayman than a Rolling Stone
I’d rather be singing to a barstool some cowboy’s sittin’ on
So nothing makes me give a damn
More than country music can
I’d rather be a Highwayman than a Rolling Stone

Empty faces come in here for the friendly atmosphere
Music seems to wash their cares away
There’s freedom in these country songs I play
Now, I may never make it rich
By the time I call it quits
Not every rainbow ends in gold
But I’ll still be singing as the final curtains close

The power of country music also informs ‘What A Song Can Do’, with its tender recollection of a father where music was the only bond.

They can make you laugh, help you cry
Take you to a place in time that you once knew
Sing you home or say goodbye
Change your mind or change your life
It’s true
Ain’t it funny what a song can do?

The Last Post on ANZAC Day
Or when I hear Amazing Grace or He Stopped Loving Her Today

(For the benefit of anyone unfamiliar with it, ANZAC Day commemorates the sacrifice of Australian and New Zealand soldiers in the First World War, especially at Gallipoli in 1915, and is hugely important in Australian culture.)

Adam pays fond tribute to Willie Nelson with the Bill Chambers co-write ‘When Willie’s Gone’. Mickey Raphael provides harmonica on a track musically recalling ‘On The Road Again’. Raphael also shines on the excellent ‘Less Of A Thinking Man’, about making problems worse by brooding over them.

Another mainstay of Australian country music, Troy Cassar-Daly, helped Adam to write ‘We’ll Have To Drink Our Way Out Of This’. This is a great country song about drinking to get over a woman and the state of the world alike. Adam draws on his Australian heritage in his duet with another Aussie star, Lee Kernaghan, on Slim Dusty’s classic folk-country singalong ‘Three Rivers Hotel’, set in an itinerant railway workers’ tavern. Kernaghan’s Australian accent is much stronger than Adam’s, underlining the character of the song. ‘Those Holden Days’, written by Stewart French, presumably another Australian, is gently nostalgic about a teenager’s first car whose manufacturer has now ceased making cars.

There are a handful of other, less predictable, covers. ‘Never Be Anyone Else But You’ was a pop hit for Ricky Nelson in the late 50s, but has been done in a country style before by Emmylou Harris. Adam’s version is likeably catchy. Neil Diamond’s ‘Solitary Man’ is less successful, pitched in too low a key for Adam’s voice, but is a rare misstep.

‘This Lovin’ You’ is a sweet love song inspired by Adam’s wife. ‘Lucky’ recounts life advice from an old mentor. The mid-tempo ‘Anything You Want Me To’ combines both themes, with a wife thanked for helping him fulfil his potential.

Harvey is one of my favorite Australian country singers, thanks to his hugely listenable deep baritone voice and traditional leaning instincts. This album is excellent and I strongly recommend it.

Grade: A

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Album Review: Adam Harvey and Troy Cassar-Daly – ‘The Great Country Songbook’

In 2013 Adam teamed up with fellow Australian country singer Troy Cassar-Daly for a collection of classic covers with a focus on the music of the 1970s which Adam grew up on. Mixed in with the duets are a number of songs on which either Adam or Troy sings lead.

The pair open with ‘Good Hearted Woman’ which is relaxed and enjoyable, and one of several covers of Waylon & Willie. The others are ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’, sung seriously. Adam also performs a solo version of ‘Luckenbach, Texas’ which suits his voice very well. The duo also cover ‘Coward Of The County’, which doesn’t quite gel as a duet, although each man’s solo lines have believable emotional heft. ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ feels rather karaoke, but ‘I Walk The Line’ is rather enjoyable, with Adam in particular sounding great. One of my favorites of the duets is a really lovely version of ‘Seven Spanish Angels’.

‘Lights On The Hill’ was an Australian country classic, written by Joy McKean for her husband, Aussie legend Slim Dusty in the 70s. Set to a catchy, oddly upbeat mid tempo tune, It is a story song about a trucker killed on the road one rainy night. This one is another duet. Troy also sings another Joy McKean/Slim Dusty classic, ‘Indian Pacific’, about a railway line, on which his natural Australian accent is more in evidence.

Adam takes on ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’. It is a brave attempt, and Adam’s deep baritone sounds great, but who can match George Jones? He is very good on ‘Behind Closed Doors’, and ‘Old Dogs, Children And Watermelon Wine’ is absolutely perfect for his deep voice – wonderful. ‘You’re My Best Friend’ is another strong cover.

Troy has a nice, smooth voice, and he takes the lead on ‘Crystal Chandeliers’, a reproach to an ex wife who has abandoned the protagonist for a rich man. It was never a single for Charley Pride in the US, but was an international success for him. Better still is a lovely version of ‘For The Good Times’, with some gorgeous steel guitar, and a natural, relaxed ;That’s The Way Loves Goes’, which is a real highlight. ‘Mama Tried’ is enjoyable with the same arrangement as the original, and Troy delivers an authentic version of ‘Hey Good Looking’. ‘Oh Lonesome Me’ is quite good too.

There is a very generous helping of material, with 20 tracks. The last is a medley of three songs: a bright fun extract from ‘Thank God I’m A Country Boy’, a soulful ‘Before The Next Teardrop Falls’, and a good humoured ‘On The Road Again’ to wrap things up.

Covers collections aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the largely faithful arrangements will seems superfluous to some listeners. However, I really enjoyed this album and am happy to recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Both Sides Now’

Released in 2009, Both Sides Now was Adam’s eighth studio album and second release for Sony Music Australia. Unlike Adam’s previous albums, which were more oriented toward traditional country music, this album featured a wide array of pop music with very little traditional country among the songs selected. Each of the songs also featured with guests mostly from the world of Australian pop music.

Frankly,I expected not to like this album, but I was pleasantly surprised how Adam brought a country feel to the non-country material. Moreover, the strategy of aiming toward the pop market must be adjudged a success as the album was Adams’s first to crack the top twenty albums chart, a place each of Adam’s subsequent albums reached. Plus, this is a pretty good album.

The album opens up with “Stuck In The Middle (With You)” a song composed by Gerry Rafferty and a major pop hit for Gerry’s group Stealer’s Wheel in 1973, becoming a major hit throughout the English- speaking world. Guy Sebastian, an Australian pop star appears with Adam on the song. The arrangement is rather more country sounding than the original hit although it features slide guitar and harmonoica rather than steel guitar.

“Easy” was a top ten pop hit for the R&B group the Commodores and was written by lead singer Lionel Richie. Adam is joined by Wendy Matthews, a pop singer from the 1980s. The rather bland arrangement is true to the original, but Adam’s deep baritone salvages the song.

“Move It On Over” is a humorous Hank Williams classic about an errant husband literally banished to the doghouse for his wayward behavior. Adam is joined by 1990s pop star David Campbell. This song is given a solid county arrangement.

Judy Collins had the big hit in 1968 with Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. Adam is joined by the McClymont’s, a stunningly attractive trio of Australian pop-country singers. The arrangement is fairly true to the original, although a steel guitar can be heard gently playing in the background. This is a really nice track

“Down On The Corner” was a major pop hit penned by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Although not specifically a country song, CCR’s swamp pop sound was embraced by country radio in 1969. I’m not sure why Leo Sayer was chosen for this recording, but it works. Sayer was a major British star during the period encompassing the disco era. He moved to Australia and became an Australian citizen in 2009.

“King of The Road” was Roger Miller’s signature song, performed her in somewhat doo-wop arrangement with really minimal instrumentation. Adam is accompanied by John Williamson, an Australian bush balladeer.

“It’s All Over Now” was written by R&B artists Bobby & Shirley Womack. Bobby’s version barely cracked the top hundred for his group the Valentinos, but when the Rolling Stones recorded the song, it soared to #1 in the UK with significant chart placements elsewhere. Adam is joined by Australian pop singer Shannon Noll. This would be a hard song to mess up and Adam & Shannon do a fine job with the song.

Adam is joined by Troy Cassar-Daley, a major Australian country star on the Willie Nelson-RayCharles duet of “Seven Spanish Angels”. The arrangement is true to the original and Adam & Troy handle the vocals with aplomb.

Webb Pierce had a major US county hit with “In The Jailhouse Now” holding down the #1 slot for twenty-one weeks in 1955. The song is far older than that with authorship claimed by the ‘Father of Country Music’ Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933). It is a fun song with many variations in the lyrics. The arrangement reminds me of the one used by Red Knuckles & The Trailblazers (the alter-ego of the bluegrass band Hot Rize). Cool song with Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson joining in on the fun.

“Have I Told You Lately” is a Van Morrison blues -rocker with Adam joined by Renee Geyer, an Australian R&B/Jazz singer. Ms Geyer takes harmony on this recording, which has some steel guitar on it but is not otherwise very country.

Billy Edd Wheeler has written many fine songs with ”Jackson” being among the most famous. Adam is joined by Beccy Cole, a major Australian county star on this cover of the Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood (or Johnny Cash & June Carter if you prefer) duet.

If you don’t know of Tommy Emmanuel, here is your chance to hear him as he is the man playing guitar on this exquisite recording of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles”. This may be the nicest track on the album – Adam sings it well, and if there is a better guitar player in the world than Tommy Emmanuel, I have yet to hear him (or her).

Grade: B+ / A-

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Second Time Around’

Typically Australian County albums tend to be a mixture of original compositions and covers of Nashville hits. Second Time Around is no exception but it is quite an enjoyable album. Adam’s expressive baritone makes for pleasant listening, and the backing on this album is solidly country.

Unfortunately, my digital download of this album did not come with lyric sheets or, songwriter credits or musician credits. If I don’t mention the songwriter, that means I don’t know who wrote the song, but it is likely that either Adam or another Australian artist would have the songwriting honors.

The album opens with “He Lives My Dream”, an oft-told story about the restlessness of the itinerant musician. In this case the singer’s bus breaks down and while waiting he sees a young family exiting church services. I’m usually not that fond of narrations, but the opening narrative sets up the song nicely.

“Been There Done That” finds the singer seeing an ex-girlfriend at a barroom. She tries to chat him up – but this time he’s not having any.

“Tequila Sunrise” is Adam’s cover of an Eagles’ song. If you liked the song generally, you will like Adam’s rendition, which is laid back and melodic.

“I think I’ll Have Another Bourbon” is a kind of generic drinking song, a slow ballad about a woman who has left him and who he can’t get over. Some interesting harmonica work dominates the bluesy backing.

From this point forward Adam covers some of the greatest songs in the American country music canon.

Adam is no Merle Haggard but “Fightin’ Side Of Me” is effectively presented, as is “Sad Songs And Waltzes”, a song written by Willie Nelson but perhaps better remembered from the Keith Whitley cover version.

“Big Bad John” is one of those songs that everyone over the age of fifty-five has heard, whether or not they listen to country music. Adam’s version pales in comparison to the Jimmy Dean original. The song is not a novelty song, but there is a certain ambiance to the song that no one else has ever managed to duplicate.

Better is “Hello Darlin’“, Adam’s cover of the Conway Twitty classic from 1970. Adam’s deep baritone seems expressly made for the song.

Chris Wall never made it as a mainstream country singer, although he had some success as a songwriter. “Trashy Women” was recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1989 and Wall put the song on his superlative album Honky Tonk Heart in 1990, it wasn’t until Confederate Railroad recorded the song a few years later that the song became a top ten country hit. Wall’s song has remained a staple of bar bands since then. Adam does a fine job with the song. I love this song:

Well I was raised in a sophisticated kind of style
But my taste in music and women drove my folks half wild
Mom and Dad had a plan for me, it was debutantes and symphonies
But I like my music hot and my women wild

You see I like my women just a tad on the trashy side
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed
Too much lipstick and too much rouge
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused
I like my women just a tad on the trashy side

Well you should have seen the look on the face of my Dad and Mom
When I showed up at the door with my date for the senior prom
They said, “Pardon us son, she ain’t no kid,
That’s a cocktail waitress in a Dolly Parton wig”
I said, “I know, ain’t she great, Dad?

They say opposites attract, well I don’t agree
I need a woman that’s as tacky as me

Covering a Vern Gosdin classic is an impossible task as there is no way you can sing the song better than “The Voice” did. That said, Adam does a very nice job with “Is It Raining At Your House”.

I do not know the source of “I’d Be Worse off” but I really like the song with kind of a folk-country ballad with some nice harmonica accompaniment. I don’t know if this a single “Down Under” but if it wasn’t, it should have been.

The album closes with the Don Williams classic “I Believe In You” . The arrangement is a clone of the Don Williams original but with a bit more steel guitar.

To an American listener, this album may feel too familiar, but please remember that Adam Harvey was recording the album for Australian audiences, to whom these may have been mostly new songs. At any rate, it is a good album, Adam sings well, I like the band and the arrangements and this would be in the B+ / A= minus range for me.

Week ending 9/1/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Blue, Blue Day — Don Gibson (RCA)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Mama Tried — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: Blue Skies — Willie Nelson (Columbia)

1988: I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried — Rodney Crowell (Columbia)

1998: I’m Alright — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2008: Should’ve Said No — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Drowns The Whiskey — Jason Aldean Feat. Miranda Lambert (Broken Bow)

The History Behind ‘Fox On The Run’

While typically most country and bluegrass songs originate within the genre, occasionally a song arrives from other sources. Willie Nelson had a segment of his career in which he introduced a bunch of pop standards to country audiences.

Probably the most unusual song to enter the genre was “Fox On The Run”, written by an Englishman, Tony Hazzard and originally made a pop hit in England by an early version of the rock group Manfred Mann back in 1968. On at least one of the four British charts (three pop magazines, plus the BBC), the song reached #1 (it was at least top five on the other three pop charts) plus the song did well throughout much of the English speaking world reaching #1 in New Zealand, #7 in Australia and also went top ten in Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. It also reached #15 in Austria. In the US and Canada, the song barely cracked the top 100.

As recorded by Manfred Mann, the song sounds nothing like bluegrass, but as I listened to the song while living in England in 1969, I thought that the lyrics sounded like a country song, and was surprised to find that the songwriter was not an American. In fact, Tony Hazzard sang vocal harmonies on the Manfred Mann recording and had written several other songs that were hits for Manfred Mann.

Apparently, others heard the song as I did for by the time I arrived back in the US in the fall of 1971, the bluegrass duo of Bill Emerson & Cliff Waldron had already recorded their version, followed shortly thereafter by the County Gentlemen bluegrass group. Neither of these records received much airplay on country radio but the song was played on stations that played folk and/or bluegrass.

The song finally became familiar to country audiences when Tom T Hall released it as the single from Magnificent Music Machine, the album in which Tom ‘came out of the closet’ and revealed his undying love for bluegrass.”Fox On The Run” received much country airplay and reached #9 on Billboard’s country chart.

Below I’ve printed the lyrics as sung by Tony Hazzard, a fine singer in his own right. The lyrics that are underlined are sung by Tony but do not appear on any of the other recorded versions (as far as I know).

She walked through the corn leading down to the river,
Her hair shone like gold in the hot morning sun.
She took all the love that a poor man could give her
And left him to die like a fox on the run.

Now everybody knows the reason for The Fall,
When woman tempted man in Paradise’s hall.
This woman, she tempted me and she took me for a ride,
And, like the weary fox, I need a place to hide.

It was many years ago, but it feels like yesterday,
When she led me through the corn on that fateful summer day.
I saw the sunlight in her hair; I saw the promise in her eyes;
And I didn’t even care that her words of love were lies.

Come raise your glass of wine and fortify your soul;
We’ll talk about the world and the friends we used to know.
I’ll illustrate a girl who wandered through my past.
She didn’t care to stay; the picture cannot last.

Just read these lyrics and tell me that this is NOT a country or bluegrass song!

Week ending 6/9/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: All I Have To Do Is Dream / Claudette — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Just Married — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1968: Honey — Bobby Goldsboro (United Artists)

1978: Georgia On My Mind — Willie Nelson (Columbia)

1988: I Told You So — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1998: I Just Want To Dance With You — George Strait (MCA Nashville)

2008: I’m Still A Guy — Brad Paisley (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: One Number Away — Luke Combs (Columbia)

Album Review: Many Barnett – ‘Mandy Barnett’

When Asylum Records released Mandy Barnett’s eponymous album Mandy Barnett in 1996, I hoped I was hearing the first in a long string of albums for this excellent vocalist. Mandy was not unknown to me, having made television appearances in conjunction with her role in the play Always … Patsy Cline, starting around 1994 or 1995. Unfortunately, the market shifted away from anything resembling real country music so while Mandy remains active, her solo recordings remain few and far between.

Mandy Barnett would prove to be Mandy’s only successful chart album in terms of singles, but the contents were strong, the voice is terrific and her artistic integrity has been maintained through the years. The album would reach #60 on the country charts (it reached #28 on the Canadian country charts)

The album opens with “Planet of Love”, a song written by the much underappreciated Jim Lauderdale. The song was never a big hit for anyone, but it has been recorded quite a few times. Mandy’s bluesy take reveals a song that Patsy Cline could have done as well as, but not better than, Mandy herself.

 I’ve found a new planet that only I can see

Just came back to get you let’s leave this misery

Nothing can reach us so far from harm’s way

Only sunshine and rainbows every day

We’ve got to get back there hurry up and get your things

The countdown has started go ahead try on these wings

Don’t need no spaceship for what I’m thinking of

Didn’t I tell you that I’d take you to the planet of love

I should mention that this album was produced by Bill Schnee and Kyle Lehing, but clearly,  both understood what Owen Bradley accomplished with Patsy Cline and at times have created an updated version of that sound.

Next up is “Maybe”, a then-contemporary song aimed at getting Mandy some radio airplay. The son was the second single and peaked at #65. Written by Lauderdale, Rodney Crowell, and John Leventhal, the song should have been a hit but perhaps it was too similar to some other songs currently floating about at the time (I could mentally hear Patty Loveless doing this song)

I know how the story ends where everything works out

I get the feelin’ once again that I can’t shake your doubt

Instead of hidin’ from romance

You’re gonna have to take a chance

 

Baby, don’t say Maybe

There’ll be no comin’ back tomorrow, Baby

“Rainy Days” is a gentle ballad sung to perfection. The song, written by Kostas and Pamela Brown Hayes,   is filler but of a high grade.

“Three Days”, from the pen of Willie Nelson, is also filler. The song was a top ten hit for the great Faron Young back in 1962, and k.d. lang took it to #9 on the Canadian country charts in 1990. This is one of my favorite Willie compositions, and while Mandy does an excellent job with the song, the song seems a little more believable from the male perspective. I love the endless time loop perspective of the song – if this isn’t the definition of depression, I don’t know what would qualify

Three days I dread to see arrive

Three days I hate to be alive

Three days filled with tears and sorrow

Yesterday today and tomorrow

 

There are three days I know that I’ll be blue

Three days that I’ll always dream of you

And it does no good to wish these days would end

‘Cause the same three days start over again

“Baby Don’t You Know” was written by Jamie O’Hara has that traditional vibe, accentuated by the walking bass line and I think that I would have tried this as a single as this is just an excellent track. The song has a great sing-along chorus

Baby don’t you know I still love you

Baby don’t you know I still miss you

Baby don’t you know you’re breaking my heart

Oh, oh, oh

Baby don’t you know I still want you

Baby don’t you know I still need you

Baby don’t you know you’re tearing me apart

Kostas and Tony Perez penned “Now That’s All Right with Me”, the first and most successful single released on from the album. This is a very then-contemporary sounding song with late 90s-early 00s country instrumentation including some steel guitar in the background. The song peaked at #43. I don’t recall the song getting much of a promotional push but perhaps my memory is wrong. I only heard the song a few times on the radio.

Karen Brooks and Randy Sharp wrote “A Simple I Love You”, the last and least successful single released from the album. Mandy sings it well, but the song itself is a rather bland string-laden ballad, the only track on the album to heavily feature strings. The song died at #72.

Two more Kostas songs follow, “I’ll Just Pretend” and “What’s Good For You” (with Kelly Willis as co-writer). The former is a gentle and wistful medium slow ballad; the latter is a bit more up-tempo and a bit more of a downer. Both are excellent songs and well sung.

“Wayfaring Stranger” is one of the great folk/gospel classics, that first appeared in the early to mid-1800s. I’ve heard many versions of the song with many and varied verses. Below is a “standard” version of the lyrics (insofar as any version can be called standard) that is pretty similar to Mandy’s version. This song features very sparse instrumentation

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger

Traveling through a world of woe

But there’s no sickness, toil or danger

In that fair land to which I go

 

I’m going there to see my father

I’m going there no more to roam

I am just going over Jordan

I am just going over home

 

I know dark clouds will gather round me

I know my way is rough and steep

But beautiful fields lie just before me

Where God’s redeemed their vigils keep

 

I’m going home to see my mother

She said she’d meet me when I come

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

I’m just a going over home

It is clear that the producers of this album were trying for radio success with this album. The singles are all good – worth about a B+ but the tracks where the producers let Mandy follow her own inclinations are excellent – an easy A+. I would give this album an A and I still pull it out occasionally and listen to it.

The album is available as a digital download. If you want an actual CD, a later Warner Brothers release titled Many Barnett: The Platinum Collection contains nine of the ten songs on this album and eleven of the twelve songs on her second album I’ve Got A Right To Cry.

Week ending 3/31/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: A World of Our Own — Sunny James (Capitol) 

1978: Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1988: Turn It Loose — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1998: Nothin’ But The Taillights — Clint Black (RCA Nashville)

2008: Small Town Southern Man — Alan Jackson (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Most People Are Good — Luke Bryan (Capitol Nashville) 

Week ending 3/24/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: A World of Our Own — Sunny James (Capitol) 

1978: Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1988: Life Turned Her That Way — Ricky Van Shelton (Columbia)

1998: Nothin’ But The Taillights — Clint Black (RCA Nashville)

2008: All-American Girl — Carrie Underwood (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Broken Halos — Chris Stapleton (Mercury)

Week ending 3/17/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: A World of Our Own — Sunny James (Capitol) 

1978: Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1988: Too Gone Too Long — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1998: Round About Way — George Strait (MCA)

2008: All-American Girl — Carrie Underwood (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Marry Me — Thomas Rhett (Valory Music Group)

Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘On A Good Night’

Released in June 1996, On A Good Night was Wade’s second album on Columbia. Produced by Don Cook, who also sings background on the album, the album climbed to #11 on the country albums chart and reached gold (500,000 sales) status. The album features a Who’s Who of Nashville session musician with Bruce Bouton on steel guitar, Mark Casstevens on acoustic guitar, Rob Hajacos on fiddle, Dennis Burnside on piano and organ, Brent Mason on electric guitar, Glenn Worf on bass guitar and Lonnie Wilson on drums. This is nothing if not a country album.

The album opens up with the title track, written by Larry Boone, Don Cook and Paul Nelson. The first single released from the album, it topped out at #2 on Billboard’s Country chart. The song is a rocking up-tempo romp:

On a good night I could hop in my truck
Round up my friends and with any kind of luck
We could end up howling at a harvest moon
On a good night I could put on my hat
Head down to the honky tonk and dance
But on a real good night I meet a women like you

Brown hair blue eyes once in a life time countrified kind of girl
Heart-breaking chance-taking wild little love making
Shaking up my world
Hey on a good night I can picture the day
All my dreams come true
But on a real good night I meet a women like you

Next up is a nice cover of the Willie Nelson- Hank Cochran collaboration, “Undo The Right”. The original was a top ten hit in 1968 by the ‘Country Caruso’ Johnny Bush. Bush’s recording is one of my top ten all-time favorite recordings. Hayes is no Johnny Bush, but he acquits himself well.

“The Room” was written by Chris Waters and Tom Shapiro. Chris is the brother of the late Holly Dunn and produced many of her records. The song is a slow ballad, rather introspective song of getting over the loss of love. It makes a nice change of pace but would not have made a good single.

Wade collaborated with Chick Rains and the redoubtable Bill Anderson on the up-tempo “It’s Over My Head” . The song was released as the third single from the album and topped out at #46. It’s a good song, well sung and I do not understand why it failed to do better:

That just goes to show how crazy love can be
Look at us now baby who would have thought it
I don’t know why you chose me

It’s over my head and I’m six feet tall
This beats anything I ever saw
Well I don’t see what you see in me at all
It’s over my head and I’m six feet tall

Marty Stuart and Chick Rains wrote “ I Still Do”. The song is a medium-slow ballad that I think could have made an effective single. This is not the same song that was a top twenty country hit for Bill Medley in 1984.

Don Cook and Chick Rains teamed up for “My Side of Town”, an up-tempo rocker that serves well to keep tempos appropriately varied on the album.

Wade Hayes and Chick Rains wrote “Where Do I Go To Start All Over”. Released as the second single from the album, the song stiffed, only reaching #42. It’s a nice ballad but and I’m not sure why it didn’t do better, especially since the previous five singles all went top ten or better.

I drove around last night, and tried with all my might
To leave the past behind, cause you stayed on my mind
So I stopped for a drink, I never stopped to think
That it wouldn’t work, It just made it worse
So I came on back home, I hadn’t changed a thing
And sat here all alone, missing you and wondering

Where do I go to start all over
From your memory
Where do I go to start all over
When in your arms is where I won’t be

“Our Time Is Coming was written by Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn and appeared on their Hard Workin’ Man album. The song is a dramatic ballad that Wade does masterfully – in fact it is my favorite song on the album, and I much prefer Wade’s recording to that of Brooks & Dunn.

Times are hard and the money’s tight
Day to day we fight that fight
Nothing new, it’s the same old grind
Uphill all the way

Boss man says forget the raise
Preacher says to keep the faith
Good things come to those who wait
Tomorrow’s another day

Our time is coming
When or where the good Lord only knows
Our time is coming
When this road we’re on will turn to a street of gold

Long as we keep love alive
Something tells me we’ll survive
It’s the little things that’ll get us by
And hold us together

I feel it when you hold me close
Baby we got more than most
Steady through the highs and lows
We’ll go on forever

The album closes with “Hurts Don’t It”, a ballad from the pens of Sam Hogin, Jim McBride & Greg Holland, and the mid-tempo semi-autobiographical “This Is the Life for Me” that Hayes penned with Chick Rains & Gary Nicholson. Dennis Burnside’s piano is well featured on this track.

I really liked this album and would give it an A-.

I am sure that Wade and producer Don Cook was greatly disappointed by the poor chart performance of the last two singles from the album. Accordingly they tried something different.

Unfortunately, that effort failed miserably. As I sit here writing this article I am listening to the single release that effectively killed Wade Hayes’ career at country radio. Intended as the initial single for the next album When The Wrong One Loves You Right, radio reaction to Wade’s cover of the old Glen Campbell hit “Wichita Lineman” single was so negative that the single was withdrawn (it peaked at #55) and ultimately did not appear on that album.

Week ending 3/10/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: Take Me To Your World — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1978: Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1988: Face T0 Face — Alabama feat. K.T. Oslin (RCA)

1998: Round About Way — George Strait (MCA)

2008: Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy) — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Marry Me — Thomas Rhett (Valory Music Group)

Week ending 3/3/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: Skip A Rope — Henson Cargill (Monument)

1978: Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (United Artists)

1988: I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love — Tanya Tucker with Paul Davis and Paul Overstreet (Capitol)

1998: What If I Said — Anita Cochran with Steve Wariner (Warner Bros. Nashville)

2008: Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy) — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Five More Minutes — Scotty McCreery (Triple Tigers)

 

Johnny Cash: A Look Back

We lost Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash within months of each other back in 2003, so 2018 marks a very sad 15th-anniversary farewell to the “Man In Black”.

The release last year of UNEARTHED, a nine album 180 gram vinyl box set (originally released on CD two months after his death) of unreleased tracks recorded by Rick Rubin, (it features some interesting pairings such as Fiona Apple providing guest vocals on Cat Stevens’ “Father & Son,” and the late Joe Strummer’s duets with Cash on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”) provides us with a excuse to take another look back at his career.

While modern country radio has no use for the likes of Johnny Cash, preferring more commercial fodder, other sections of the music industry have kept his music alive, whether on Willie’s Roadhouse (Sirius XM Radio) or through the musical press. Cover bands continue to play his music and while younger so-called country singers play music that bears little connection to country music, his music remains a staple of Roots-Rock, Texas Red-Dirt and Bluegrass performers

Make no mistake about it: Johnny Cash was a huge commercial success, despite his own apparent lack of concern about how commercial his music was at any given moment–Cash’s inquisitive artistry meant that he flitted from realm to realm, sometimes touching down in areas with limited commercial appeal.

Cash had 24 songs reach #1 on the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World country charts (often all three), but unlike more chart-oriented artists including Webb Pierce, Buck Owens, Sonny James, Alabama, Conway Twitty or George Strait, Cash never ran off a long string of consecutive #1s, with his longest streak being four during 1968 when “Roseanna’s Going Wild,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and his iconic “Folsom Prison Blues” all reached the top of one of the charts.

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Razor X’s Top Albums of 2017

Another year has come and gone, and once again we lament the deplorable state of mainstream country music, while pointing out a few glimmers of hope that will never be heard on the radio. Among this year’s highlights are:

10. Dailey & Vincent – ‘Patriots and Poets’

Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent had quite a year, which included being inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry in March, followed by the release of one of the best bluegrass albums of the year. This generous sample of bluegrass and spiritual tunes is the perfect showcase for the duo’s trademark harmonies.

9. Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary – ‘American Grandstand’

Not to be outdone, Darrin’s big sister Rhonda also turned in a stellar collection, teaming up this time with her former label mate Daryle Singletary. Although heavily reliant on cover material, there are some new songs here as well. This is a real treat for those who are starved for some real country music.

8. Charley Pride – ‘Music In My Heart’

The legendary Charley Pride returned after a six-year recording hiatus, with one of the strongest offerings of his post-major label career. Sirius XM subscribers who listen to Willie’s Roadhouse will no doubt be familiar with “You’re Still In These Crazy Arms of Mine”, which was my favorite song on the album. Like the Vincent/Singletary album, this one has its share of remakes but there’s not a weak one to be found.

7. Reba McEntire – ‘Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope’

Reba McEntire is my favorite female singer, but I’ve been disappointed with her offerings over the last decade more times than I care to remember. This double album which is divided evenly between traditional hymns and more contemporary inspirational songs shows that when commercial considerations are cast aside, Reba is still in a class all by herself. I’m cautiously optimistic that this album is a sign that she’s finally stopped chasing chart success and ready to release some worthwhile material again.

6. Sunny Sweeney – ‘Trophy’

While it’s regrettable that Sunny Sweeney never enjoyed the mainstream success she deserved, getting out of her major label deal was the best thing that ever happened to her from a creative standpoint. While Concrete was a bit too eclectic for my liking, Trophy gets it just right and is her best offering since Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame. “Bottle By My Bed”, which she co-wrote with Lori McKenna, would be a monster hit in a sane world.

5. Alison Krauss – ‘Windy City’

Alison Krauss is another artist with whom I’d become a bit disillusioned, but she redeemed herself nicely with this collection of cover songs, which aren’t quite classics for the most part, but deserved to be introduced to a new audience. This is the best album she’s done in years — arguably the best of her career.

4. Zephaniah OHora with the 18 Wheelers – ‘This Highway’

This collection of original material which recreates the Bakersfield and countrypolitan sounds of the 60s was a pleasant surprise. Although it could have benefited from a little more variety in tempo, this a wonderful album and I hope that it is the first of many from this native of Brooklyn.

3. & 2. Chris Stapleton: ‘From A Room: Volumes 1 & 2’

These widely anticipated follow-ups to 2015’s Traveller were presumably intended to be a double album, but Mercury Records seems to have gotten cold feet about the sales potential of a double set, so they split it into two separate releases. Both discs feature very sparse production and gorgeous harmonies from Chris’ wife Morgane Hayes-Stapleton. With a heavy blues influence, theses albums are not traditional country, but there are a perfect antidote to the overproduced pop masquerading as country music on the radio today. I liked the second volume slightly better than the first.

1. Willie Nelson and The Boys: ‘Willie’s Stash, Volume 2’

This collection finds the Red-Headed Stranger teaming up with his two sons Lukas and Micah and digging deeply into the catalog of Hank Williams. Despite their youth, the younger Nelsons show obvious enthusiasm for the material, proving that Willie raised those boys right. This was a pleasure from start to finish. My favorite track was the Hank Cochran-penned “Can I Sleep In Your Arms”, which was hit for Cochran’s then-wife Jeannie Seely in 1973 and later recorded by Willie for his Red-Headed Stranger album.

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Hello Darlin’

Note: I never owned this album on vinyl so I am working off a CD released on MCA Special Products in 1991, The songs are the same as on the initial vinyl release but the sequence of the songs is different on the CD.

Issued in June 1970, Hello Darlin’ was the ninth solo studio album released by Conway Twitty on Decca. The album was Conway’s first #1 country album and was eventually certified “Gold”. It also reached #65 on Billboard’s all genres chart, the highest that any of Conway’s country albums would reach, although reporting of country albums on the all-genres chart was very suspect and country albums were frequently under-reported by record shop personnel.

The CD opens with the Felice & Boudreaux Bryant classic “Rocky Top”. At the time, “Rocky Top” was a fairly new song that had not been covered to death. The Osborne Brothers had a hit with the song in 1968 and the combination of Doug Dillard, Gene Clark and Donna Washburn had a really nice version of the song on a Dillard & Clark album from that same year. Conway’s version has a banjo on it with what is otherwise an up-tempo Nashville production. Needless to say, Conway sings the song very well although he changes the words very slightly to accommodate his own phrasing.

Next up is “I’ll Get Over Losing You” a song written by Conway, a somewhat generic ballad about lost love. As always Conway sings it well, making for pleasant listening.

Conway also penned “Up Comes The Bottle” a mid-tempo song about the effects of alcohol. It’s a good song, well sung by Conway

Up comes the bottle and down goes the man

I can’t help him but I can understand

When up comes the bottle

And down, down, down, goes the man.

 

You may find him anywhere there’s heartache and despair

With loneliness so heavy you can feel it in the air

And the only thing that matters is the drink in his hand

Then up comes the bottle

And down, down, down, goes the man.

Bill Anderson wrote “You and Your Sweet Love”, which charted for Connie Smith in 1969, While I prefer Connie’s version, it would have made a good Conway Twitty single, one of many such songs stranded as album tracks on the early Conway Twitty albums. I seem to recall that Connie Smith wrote the liner notes for the vinyl album’s back cover.

The self-penned “Hello Darlin’” is the song for which Conway is best remembered, although “It’s Only Make Believe” was a huge pop hit in 1958 and by far his biggest seller. “Hello Darlin’“ reached #1 and stayed there for four weeks. The song is about a man who runs into an old flame, reigniting old feelings in the process. This was the only single released from the album.

 Hello darlin’

Nice to see you

It’s been a long time

You’re just as lovely

As you used to be

 

How’s your new love

Are you happy?

Hope you’re doin’ fine

Just to know means so much to me

 

What’s that darlin’

How am I doin’?

I’m doin’ alright

Except I can’t sleep

I cry all night ’til dawn

 

What I’m tryin’ to say is

I love you and I miss you

And I’m so sorry

That I did you wrong

Conway would revisit the theme with his next single “Fifteen Years Ago”. I saw Conway in concert several times before this song was released and several times after. From 1971 onward, this was his opening number and “It’s Only Make Believe” his closing number, perfect bookends for a great show.

“Rose” (not to be mistaken for the maudlin Amanda McBroom composition “The Rose” that Bette Midler would record later and Conway would cover) was written by L.E. White, a staff writer for Conway’s publishing company. This song is a ballad about a brother whose sister has strayed off-track in life.

“Reuben James” was a top thirty pop hit for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition (it went top ten in Canada, New Zealand and Australia) that was covered by a large number of American country artists. This is a nice mid-tempo track.

Bill Anderson also wrote “I Never Once Stopped Loving You”, which reached #5 for Connie Smith in 1970, Again, I prefer Connie’s version, but Conway does a nice job with this ballad

It is difficult to find a country album of the late 1960s-early 1970s that does not contain a Dallas Frazier composition. This album features “Will You Visit Me On Sundays” which was a top twenty single for Charlie Louvin in 1968, and the title track of a 1970 George Jones album. I can’t say that Conway’s version is better than Charlie Louvin or George Jones (the lyric seems perfect for Charlie’s weathered voice) but this would have made a good Conway Twitty single.

 Just outside these prison bars

The hanging tree is waitin’

At sunrise I’ll meet darkness

And death will say hello

Darling, touch your lips to mine

And tell me you love me

Promise me again before you go

 

Will you visit me on Sundays?

Will you bring me pretty flowers?

Will your big blue eyes be misty?

Will you brush away a tear?

Fred Rose write the classic “Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain”, a song that both Hank Williams and Rof Acuff had recorded. Since Willie Nelson had yet to record this song (Willie’s version would be released in 1975), this was not a cover of somebody else’s hit single, but simply case of Conway going “deep catalog” in finding a song that he liked. Conway’s version is not the sparse recording that Willie released but a normal Owen Bradley production applied to a classic Fred Rose composition from the 1940s.

The album closes with “I’m So Used To Loving You”, the fourth of Conway’s own compositions on the album. This is a good song that somebody somewhere should have released as a single.

I’m so used to loving you sweetheart

You’re on my mind each minute we’re apart

And I love you more each day that we go through

You’re my life and I’ll live it loving you

 

I’m so used to loving you it seems

I can’t stand the thought of losing you not even in my dream

Hold me close and tell me what I’d do without you

I couldn’t take it, I’m so used to loving you

Conway Twitty was a good and prolific songwriter who would use his own compositions on his albums, but, unlike some singer-songwriters, only if they were good songs. Through this album, the highest number of Conway Twitty and/or Mickey Jaco compositions on an album was four. There would be one future album in which he wrote eight of the ten songs (there must be a story behind this since it is a complete outlier) and several on which he wrote one or none of the songs

None of the Conway Twitty compositions that I’ve ever heard were duds, and many of them fell in the very good-to-great category

This album is a solid A with solid country production throughout

Album Review: Willie Nelson and The Boys: ‘Willie’s Stash, Volume 2’

This collection is a follow-up to Willie Nelson’s 2014 collaboration his sister Bobbie, December Day:  Willie’s Stash, Volume 1.   This time around Willie is teamed up with his two youngest sons, Micah and Lukas, who join him on eleven country classics and one contemporary number that leans heavily on the Hank Williams catalog.

Material-wise, there are no real surprises here.   As always when Willie Nelson records cover material, the unknown is always how much Willie will deviate from the originals.  In the case of this album, the answer is not much.   The seven Williams songs are handled reverently.   The two younger Nelsons, despite their youth, show great enthusiasm for the material and one gets the distinct impression that they have great respect and passion for, it and that these are not just a bunch of old songs that Dad forced them to record.    The three Nelsons harmonize well together, as family groups typically do, and there are some fantastic steel guitar solos courtesy of Mike Johnson.  Rarely have these old chestnuts sounded so energetic.

The one thing that did surprise me is how good Willie’s voice sounds throughout the album, with little signs of the wear-and-tear that has been apparent on some of his recent work.  From what I can gather, these recordings were made in 2011 and 2012, so that partially explains it.  However, his voice is noticeably stronger than it was on 2010’s Country Music collection for Rounder.  Whatever the reason, it’s good to hear Willie in such good vocal form.

This album could have been titled The Nelsons Sing Hank, since some of country music’s famous Hanks wrote the marjority of the album’s songs.  In addition to the seven Williams numbers (“Move It On Over”, “Mind Your Own Business”, “ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” , “Cold Cold Heart”, “Mansion on the Hill”, and “Why Don’t You Love Me”), the album contains a remake of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On”, Hank Locklin’s “Send Me The Pillow You Dream On”, and Hank Cochran’s “Can I Sleep In Your Arms”, which is my favorite song on the album.  Set to the melody of “Red River Valley”, it was a hit in 1973 for Cochran’s then-wife Jeannie Seely, and it was later recorded by Willie for his Red Headed Stranger album in 1975.

The album is rounded out by a cover of Willie’s original composition “Healing Hands of Time” and a modern-folk tune “My Tears Fall” written by singer/songwriter Alyssa Miller.  This contemporary number fits in surprisingly wel l with these old classics and doesn’t sound out of place at all next to them.

Buddy Cannon’s production is tastefully understated and for the most part the album has a sitting around the living room jam-session type feel to it.  I cannot find any fault with it, other than to say I wish it had been released as a double album.   I highly recommend it without reservation.

Grade:  A+

Book Review: Freddy Powers and Catherine Powers with Jake Brown – ‘The Spree Of 83’

Freddy Powers, country-jazz musician and songwriter, was an influential figure, not least as sidekick to Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. The book was started a few years before his death last year aged 84, with the help of his wife Catherine and professional writer Jake Brown.

It is neither biography not autobiography, coming across more as a set of clippings, or the script for a documentary’s voiceovers. Freddy himself, Catherine, and various friends and colleagues from his past (including the late Haggard), are all quoted at length talking about the man and incidents in his life, with each original interview or set of interviews chopped up and scattered through the book, interspersed with reviews of albums and concerts from the press, and the lyrics of many of Powers’ songs. I would have preferred some overarching third (or first) person narrative which would have made it feel more cohesive. (It could also have done with a sharper eye proofreading, as there are a few spelling errors throughout.) There is also a chapter comprising rare photographs, but unfortunately these do not translate well to a kindle reading. However, there are some fascinating anecdotes and the book offers some insight into Haggard at the peak of his career.

The book’s title comes from the period in the early 80s (actually covering several years, not just the 1983 of the title) when Freddy and Haggard lived on adjacent houseboats on Lake Shasta. Both separated or divorced and happy to be single again, they engaged in a hedonistic mix of drugs and sex with an everchanging group of women, while writing songs. It’s probably not the book to read if you want to believe your heroes never have feet of clay, although to be fair everyone involved seems to have had a really good time with no regrets.

This period is not the sole focus of the book, although as an incredibly creative time it does loom quite large in the story. Freddy also talks about his childhood and early career, and about his love story with his last wife Catherine (20 years his junior but very evidently the love of his life). In his last years, when the ravages of Parkinson’s disease stopped him from playing the guitar, he adopted more of a cuddly grandpa persona and served as mentor to young female artists, including Texas artist Pauline Reese and Mary Sarah.

So the content is absorbing; it’s just a shame that it was not better produced with more editorial input.

Grade: B

Spotlight Artist: Kenny Rogers

Our October spotlight artist has had a career spanning more than fifty years and has enjoyed tremendous success in a variety of musical genres. Kenneth Ray Rogers was born on August 21, 1938 in Houston, Texas. His recording career dates back to the 1950s. After enjoying a minor hit in 1957 with “That Crazy Feeling” he joined a jazz group called The Bobby Doyle Three. After the group disbanded in 1965 he had a brief stint with the New Christy Minstrels. A year later, he and some of his bandmates formed a new group, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. Marketed primarily as a rock group, The First Edition dabbled in a variety of styles, including psychedelic pop, folk, and R&B. In 1969 the group enjoyed a Top 40 country hit with the Mel Tillis-penned “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”. Although it was only a modest success on the country charts, it reached the Top 10 on both the pop and adult contemporary charts.

After The First Edition disbanded, Rogers reinvented himself as a country artist, signing a solo deal with United Artists Records 1n 1975. His first single for the label, “Love Lifted Me” reached the Top 20 on the country charts. Two more minor hits followed, and in 1977 he enjoyed his breakthrough hit “Lucille”, a story song about an aborted one-night stand that occurs shortly after the narrator witnesses the breakup of his partner’s marriage in a bar. It reached #1 on the country charts and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and enjoyed international success as well. For the rest of the 1970s and well into the 1980s, Kenny Rogers was country music’s best selling artist. Most of his records enjoyed success on both the pop and country charts.

He recorded a number of hit duets with United Artists labelmate Dottie West in the late 1970s, beginning with 1978’s “Every Time Two Fools Collide”. The exposure not only revived West’s solo career; it took it to new heights. In 1980 she enjoyed her first solo #1 hit, twenty years into her recording career.

Also in 1978, Rogers released the song with which he is most closely identified today: “The Gambler”, which led to a number of made-for-TV movies with Rogers in the starring role. In 1980 he teamed up with Lionel Richie, who wrote and produced “Lady”, Rogers’ only solo record to top the Billboard Hot 100.

United Artists was sold to EMI in 1978 and was renamed Liberty Records in 1980. Rogers remained with the label until 1983, when he signed a $20 million deal with RCA (a huge sum in those days). His last #1 hit for Liberty was a remake of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” performed as a duet with Scottish singer Sheena Easton. After signing with RCA, Rogers teamed up with Barry Gibb, who produced and wrote most of the material for Eyes That See In The Dark,
the debut album for his new label. The first single from that project was “Islands in the Stream”, which found Kenny collaborating for the first time with Dolly Parton. Although country in name and marketing only, the tune quickly topped the country charts and reached the top of the Hot 100 as well, marking the second and last time that either artist would top that chart. It went on to become a global hit.

At the same time, Liberty Records was still releasing Kenny Rogers singles, and “Scarlet Fever”, his final release for his former label, became a #5 country hit at the same time “Islands in the Stream” was climbing the charts. Rogers remained with RCA through the end of the decade. During his tenure with the label, his music became more adult-contemporary oriented while the rest of country music went in the opposite direction when the New Traditionalist movement got underway. In 1989, Kenny moved to Reprise Records (his label during his First Edition days), and his chart success began to become less consistent.

The 1990s marked the beginning of a long dry spell. He left Warner/Reprise and eventually started his own label Dreamcatcher. In 1999 he enjoyed a surprise late-career hit when “The Greatest”, a tune about a young boy dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player, reached #26 on the country charts. Many regarded the surprise hit as an outlier, but country music had not yet heard the last of Kenny Rogers. He enjoyed another unexpected hit in 1999 when “Buy Me a Rose” went to #1, making the 61-year-old Kenny Rogers the oldest artist to ever top the Billboard country chart. The record was broken a few years later when 69-year-old Willie Nelson topped the chart with his Toby Keith duet “Beer For My Horses”.

The success of “Buy Me a Rose” was enough to make the major labels take another look at Kenny Rogers. He released “Water & Bridges” for Capitol in 2006 and You Can’t Make Old Friends for Warner Bros in 2013. The title track of the latter paired him up once again with Dolly Parton. That same year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Two years later he announced his retirement and embarked on a farewell tour that is scheduled to conclude in Nashville at the end of this month.

Critics have often derided Kenny Rogers as not authentically country, and there is no doubt that because he tried to maintain a presence on both the pop and country charts, not all of his music will appeal to everyone. That being said, there is no denying his contributions to and impact on the country genre. We can’t possibly do justice to a 50-year career in just one month, so we’ll be focusing mainly on his country successes of the 1970s and 1980s.