My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Wynonna

Classic Rewind: Wynonna – ‘My Strongest Weakness’

Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Revelations’

Wynonna_Judd_-_RevelationsIn the three years between Tell Me Why and Revelations, Wynonna took a much-deserved break in which she scandalously had a child out of wedlock and was four months pregnant with another when she finally married their father. She was absent from radio for the entirety of 1995, a first since she debuted twelve years earlier.

In January 1996, Wynonna put the focus back on her music. She launched her return with the Gary Burr and Mike Reid penned “To Be Loved By You,” a lush yet masterful ballad. The song quickly topped the charts and put her back in the good graces of the country music mainstream.

The only problem was Revelations was unlike anything Wynonna had recorded to date. Gone was the straightforward country she brought to her other solo albums. She instead gifted us with an ambitious album that embraced not only a spiritual longing, but also the bluesy rock she’d hinted at with “No One Else on Earth.”

Country radio didn’t have a place for the record and the subsequent singles began her downward trend. I’ve always adored “Heaven Help My Heart,” and despite its length, thought it deserved to peak higher than #14. She covered similar territory on the R&B tinged “My Angel Is Here,” which peaked at #44 despite having zero country bonafides. She turned up the electric guitars on the fiery “Somebody To Love You” and had even less success. The single peaked at #55.

Wynonna fully surrendered to her gospel tendencies on her revelatory cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” which came from a tribute album released two years earlier. She also succeeds brilliantly with her version of “Change The World.” The pop classic would have its due via Eric Clapton that summer although Wynonna recorded and released her version first.

“Love By Grace” is a sparse ballad that puts her voice front and center. “Don’t Look Back” follows the same trajectory, but with flourishes of steel guitar throughout, is the album’s biggest missed opportunity. If it had been released as a single, it likely would’ve faired much better with country radio than “My Angel Is Here” ever could have.

“Old Enough To Know Better” is straight bluesy rock with an arrangement better suited for the stage than the recording studio. “Dance, Shout” is in the same vein and lets Wynonna take her voice to places it hadn’t yet been.

If you listen to Wynonna’s vocal performances from her earliest Judd recordings until now (1996 in this case), you’d hear an artist coming into her own by discovering the booming grit deep down in her soul. Revelations was the first time she gave into it fully on a record and the results were spectacular. This isn’t a country album by any stretch of imagination, which is a good thing because it allows her to grow into her own as an artist. This is the style that separates the music of Wynonna from that of The Judds. She’ll always be the singer of simple country songs. That will never go away. But Revelations proves she can also be so much more.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Wynonna – ‘No One Else On Earth’

Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Tell Me Why’

tell me whyWynonna’s second solo album was released in May 1993,produced as before by Tony Brown. It did not sell as well as its predecessor, but was still certified platinum, and produced five top 10 hits.

The first single, the title track, was a mid-tempo Karla Bonoff song with a glossy contemporary country-rock feel, and reached #3 on Billboard. This performance was matched by its successor, the more delicate and sophisticated ‘Only Love. Written by Roger Murrah and Marcus Hummon, it doesn’t sound particularly country now, but it featured a strong vocal performance.

My favorite track by far, ‘Is It Over Yet’, is a solemn piano-led ballad with a sensitive string arrangement which allows Wynonna’s emotion-filled voice to shine on a song about the pain of a breakup. It peaked at #7.

The most successful single, ‘Rock Bottom’, only just missed the top of the charts. It was written by the songwriters behind Southern Rockers the Atlanta Rhythm Section, and has a bluesy rock groove which suits Wynonna’s confident growl, although it’s not really my favorite style. The final single, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s ‘Girls With Guitars’, is a strong country rock number celebrating female musicians by telling the story of one young woman’s progress from high school to adult success, defeating the expectations of sexist listeners along the way. Naomi Judd and Lyle Lovett contribute backing vocals on the song.

Jesse Winchester’s ‘Let’s Make A Baby King’ is a Christmas song which New Grass Revival had recorded a few years earlier in more bluegrassy style, and which Wynonna gave a black gospel makeover. While Wynonna’s version was not formally released as a single, it gained some airplay at Christmas. ‘Just Like New’ is another memorable Winchester song, a bluesy story about a car once owned by Elvis. Naomi Judd’s ‘That Was Yesterday’ is performed as a slowed down blues number.

‘Father Sun’ was written by Sheryl Crow, about to make her own breakthrough as a rock singer-songwriter, and has a rather elusive lyric. The production funnels Wynonna’s vocal through an echoey effect which wastes her greatest asset, her powerful voice, and more gospel style backing vocals swamp her at the end.

She does show her more subtle interpretative side with a cover of ‘I Just Drove By’, written and originally recorded by Kimmie Rhodes. This charming song is about sweet memories of childhood innocence, and Wynonna sings it beautifully.

While it is a long way from traditional, and a purist might challenge its country credentials on any level, Wynonna was able to take her place in the diverse sounds of 1990s country music. It’s an accomplished record in its own right, genre considerations aside, but that does make it tough to assign a grade to on a country blog.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Wynonna – ‘I Saw The Light’

Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Wynonna’

51xTAFnKBVLWynonna Judd’s solo debut was one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of 1992, as the music world waited to see what direction her post-Judds career would take. Released in March 1992 and produced by Tony Brown, Wynonna found the songstress straddling the fence between pop and country. Most of the uptempo numbers allowed her to show off her rockin’ side, but others weren’t too different from her work with The Judds. Production-wise, though, the album is more middle-of-the-road than anything she’d done prior, with very little country instrumentation. The steel guitar is noticeably absent, and nearly a quarter century after its release, it’s a little easier now to see this album for what it was: the initial step in Wynonna’s efforts to distance herself from country music.

That’s not to suggest that Wynonna is a bad album; quite the contrary. I’d have been very happy had she continued in this vein, and I expect she would have enjoyed a longer run at the top of the singles charts if she had. Nevertheless, this is a very enjoyable album and I still consider it to be the best in Wynonna’s solo discography. Wynonna’s solo career had been officially kicked off a few months earlier when she debuted the album’s lead single on the American Music Awards telecast. “She Is His Only Need” is an AC-leaning ballad penned by Dave Loggins. Sonically it’s not very country, but it does keep with country music’s tradition of telling a story. I often thought it could be construed as the further adventures of the couple from The Judds’ hit “Young Love (Strong Love)” from a few years earlier. I’m afraid I found the song rather bland and it’s my least favorite on the album. Pretty much everyone else disagreed with me, though, as it quickly became Wynonna’s first #1 solo hit.

“She Is His Only Need” was followed by two more #1s: the uptempo “I Saw The Light”, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and the rock-tinged “No One Else On Earth”, which is probably Wynonna’s most successful solo single and the one that got the most radio airplay as a recurrent. The fourth single is a beautiful ballad, “My Strongest Weakness”, which was written by Naomi Judd and Mike Reid. Had The Judds remained active, I could easily imagine this one on one of their albums, perhaps with some steel guitar to give it a more country feel. The song reached #4. I had totally forgotten that it had ever been a single; surprisingly, it didn’t have a very long shelf life once it fell off the charts.

By far, the best song on the album is “When I Reach The Place I’m Goin'”, written by Emory Gordy, Jr. and Joe Henry. This one features background vocals by Naomi, and is the most country-sounding song on the album. It’s slightly reminiscent of “Wayfaring Stranger” and is beautifully written and sung. It has a Gospel theme, as does Paul Kennerley’s “Live With Jesus”, which closes the album. The lyrics of It’s Never Easy to Say Goodbye” aren’t overtly religious, but it has a definite Gospel feel.

There aren’t any bad songs on the album, though the opening track “What It Takes” and the Kostas-Marty Stuart number “A Little Bit of Love (Goes a Long, Long Way)” are pure album filler.

Wynonna accomplished its goals of establishing Wynonna Judd as a solo artist, distinct from her prior work with her mother, and it managed to do so without alienating any existing fans. Wynonna would make some unfortunate musical choices in the future, but on her first solo project, she knocked it out of the park.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Wynonna – ‘I Can Only Imagine’

Classic Rewind: Wynonna – ‘She Is His Only Need’

Wynonna’s first solo hit:

Album Review: The Judds – ‘River Of Time’

river of timeRiver Of Time, released in 1989, was the fifth of six studio albums issued by the Judds. By this time the act was becoming more centered on daughter Wynonna and material more suited to her vocal stylings.

The Judds’ first four full-length albums all went to #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, although River Of Time would stall out at #2 (it reached #1 in Canada). Consequently the Judds had Nashville’s A-Team of songwriters pitching material to them.

I do not regard this album as being especially country as the “Soap Sisters” (as Ralph Emery referred to the Judds on his early morning WSMV-TV show in the days before they hit it big) drifted more toward material suitable to Wynonna’s voice. This is an interesting album, with a wide array of material.

Track by Track

“One Man Woman” (Paul Kennerley) – this is a bluesy number about what the narrator is, and what she is looking for (a one woman man). This song was released as a single and reached #8.

“Young Love (Strong Love)” (Kennerley, Kent Robbins) – often simply called “Young Love” is not to be confused with the Sonny James mega-hit of thirty-two years earlier. This song is more of a story song than was Sonny’s classic. This song reached #1 as a single:

She was sitting crossed legged on a hood of a ford
Filing down her nails with a emory board
Talking to her friends about people they knew
And all of the things that young girls do
When she said you see that guy in the baseball cap
I’d like to spend some time with a boy like that

Betty said I seen him at the hardware store
I think his name is Billy, but I’m not sure
And as they talked a little while and he passed by
She smiled at him he just said “hi”
He was thinking to himself as he walked away
Man I’d like to find a girl like her someday

Chorus:
Young love, strong love, true love
It’s a new love
Their gonna make it through the hard times
Walk those lines
Yeah these ties that bind
Young love

“Not My Baby” (Brent Maher, Mike Reid, Mack David) – this is a mid-tempo number that strides the border between jazz and blues. Quitman Dennis takes a nice turn on the clarinet and Sonny Garrish’s tasteful work on the dobro accentuates the effect nicely.

“Let Me Tell You About Love” (Carl Perkins, Kennerley, Maher) – yes, that Carl Perkins. Fittingly, this up-tempo song reached #1:

Well ever since the day that time began
There’s been this thing ‘tween a woman and a manv We’ll, I don’t know but I do believe
It started in the garden with Adam and Eve
Sampson and Delilah had their fling
‘Til she cut his hair and clipped his wing
It don’t matter how the story’s told
Love stays young it can’t grow old

Chorus:
Let me tell you about love
About the moon and stars above
It’s what we’ve all been dreamin’ of
Let me tell you about love

“Sleepless Nights” (Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant) – the husband and wife team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were legendary songwriters writing many huge hits for the Everly Brothers as well as such country stalwarts as Carl Smith, Jimmie Dickens, Buddy Holly and The Osborne Brothers (“Rocky Top”)River of Time, released in 1989, was the fifth of six studio albums issued by the Judds. By this time the act was becoming more centered on daughter Wynonna and material more suited to her vocal stylings.
The Judds first four full-length albums all went to #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, although River of Time would stall out at #2 (it reached #1 in Canada). Consequently the Judds had Nashville’s A-Team of songwriter’s pitching material to them .

I do not regard this album as being especially country as the “Soap Sisters” (as Ralph Emery referred to the Judds on his early morning WSMV-TV show in the days before they hit it big) drifted more toward material suitable to Wynonna’s voice. This is an interesting album, with a wide array of material

Track by Track

“One Man Woman” (Paul Kennerley) – this is a bluesy number about what the narrator is, and what she is looking for (a one woman man). This song was released as a single and reached #8.

“Young Love (Strong Love)” (Kennerley, Kent Robbins) – often simply called “Young Love” is not to be confused with the Sonny James mega-hit of thirty-two years earlier. This song is more of a story song than was Sonny’s classic. This song reached #1 as a single:

She was sitting crossed legged on a hood of a ford
Filing down her nails with a emory board
Talking to her friends about people they knew
And all of the things that young girls do
When she said you see that guy in the baseball cap
I’d like to spend some time with a boy like that

Betty said I seen him at the hardware store
I think his name is Billy, but I’m not sure
And as they talked a little while and he passed by
She smiled at him he just said “hi”
He was thinking to himself as he walked away
Man I’d like to find a girl like her someday
Chorus:
Young love, strong love, true love
It’s a new love
Their gonna make it through the hard times
Walk those lines
Yeah these ties that bind
Young love

“Not My Baby” (Brent Maher, Mike Reid, Mack David) – this is a mid-tempo number that strides the border between jazz and blues. Quitman Dennis takes a nice turn on the clarinet and Sonny Garrish’s tasteful work on the dobro accentuates the effect nicely.

“Let Me Tell You About Love” (Carl Perkins, Kennerley, Maher) – yes, that Carl Perkins. Fittingly, this up-tempo song reached #1:

Well ever since the day that time began
There’s been this thing ‘tween a woman and a manv We’ll, I don’t know but I do believe
It started in the garden with Adam and Eve
Sampson and Delilah had their fling
‘Til she cut his hair and clipped his wing
It don’t matter how the story’s told
Love stays young it can’t grow old
Chorus:
Let me tell you about love
About the moon and stars above
It’s what we’ve all been dreamin’ of
Let me tell you about love

“Sleepless Nights” (Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant) – the husband and wife team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were legendary songwriters writing many huge hits for the Everly Brothers as well as such country stalwarts as Carl Smith, Jimmie Dickens, Buddy Holly and The Osborne Brothers (“Rocky Top”). This song apparently was written for the Everly Brothers and I remember the Everlys’ recording well (I am a huge Everly Brothers fan). The Judds acquit themselves well, achieving very nice harmonies on this song. I guess it is true that there is nothing like family harmony – I very much like this recording:

Somehow through the days
I don’t give in
I hide the tears
That wait within
Oh, but, then through sleepless nights
I cry again

“Water of Love” (Mark Knopfler) – I know Knopfler mostly from a duet album he cut with Chet Atkins but I understand that his band Dire Straits was hugely successful. This song definitely is not country, it is rather bluesy with a calypso beat:

High and dry in the long hot day
Lost and lonely in every way
Got the flats all around me, sky up above
Yes, I need a little water of love

I’ve been too long lonely and my heart feels pain
Cryin’ out for some soothing rain
I believe I’ve taken enough
Yes, I need a little water of love

“River of Time” (John Jarvis, Naomi Judd) – the title track is a Naomi Judd co-write. The song is a slow ballad with a cocktail lounge jazz piano accompaniment to open the song and more instruments coming in thereafter. The song is nice but at four plus minutes it is too long:

Flow on, river of time
Wash away the pain and heal my mind
Flow on, river of time
Carry me away
And leave it all far behind
Flow on river of time

“Cadillac Red” (Craig Bickhardt, Jarvis, Judd) – this song could be described neo-rockabilly. This kind of song makes for enjoyable listening but is nothing especially memorable. As an album track it serves the purpose of mixing things up after a pair of slow songs:

Well she’s washed and polished
And full of high octane
Ridin’ with the top down
Cruisin’ in the fast land
Her red hairs blowin’ bright as a flame
Cadillac Red’s her name

“Do I Dare” (Don Schlitz, Bickhardt, Maher) – this song addresses the dilemma faced by many a young woman (and perhaps older women as well):

Do I dare show him lovin’?
Do I go for double or nothin’?
Do I act like I don’t care?
Or, do I dare?

Do I do what my heart’s sayin’?
Do I hide my love awaitin’?
Make believe that he’s not there?
Or, do I dare?

This girl’s got a problem
She don’t know what to do
If there’s some way of tellin’
When a man is true

“Guardian Angels” (Schlitz, Jarvis, Judd) – 3:37 – this was the first Judds’ single in six years not to reach the top ten, peaking at #16. This is a nice story song that probably wasn’t a good choice for release as a single, but it is my nominee (along with “Sleepless Nights”) for the best song on the album:

A hundred year old photograph stares out from a frame
And if you look real close you’ll see, our eyes are just the same
I never met them face to face but I still know them well
From the stories my dear grandma would tell

Elijah was a farmer he knew how to make things grow
And Fanny vowed she’d follow him wherever he would go
As things turned out they never left their small Kentucky farm
But he kept her fed, and she kept him warm

Chorus:
They’re my guardian angels and I know they can see
Every step I take, they are watching over me
I might not know where I’m going but I’m sure where I come from
They’re my guardian angels and I’m their special one

I had heard the four singles from this album, plus my local radio station had played “Cadillac Red” a few times, so I had only heard half the album until a few weeks ago. The songs not previously heard provide a rich cornucopia of musical styles and point to Wynonna’s soon to follow solo career.

I would give this album a B+, mostly because I wasn’t that fond of “Water of Love” and “River of Time”. The album is worth seeking out and is available digitally.

Spotlight Artist: Wynonna

111167610Fun Fact: In an interview with Dan Rather, Wynonna admitted it was her record label that decided on her one name moniker. The marketing strategy was meant to separate her solo music in record stores. Consumers would find Judds under ‘J’ and Wynonna under ‘W.’

Following the conclusion of The Judd’s farewell tour in December 1991, all eyes were on Wynonna as she prepared to launch a solo career. It was just over a month after the tour concluded that she took to the stage at the American Music Awards and unleashed “She His Only Need,” her first solo #1, upon the world for the first time. Three more chart toppers would follow including her signature hit, “No One Else On Earth,” a horn drenched bluesy rocker that went on to become Billboard’s Number One Country Song of 1992. Wynonna ended up with a quintuple platinum certification.

Tell Me Why was released the following year. The album was immediate success and spawned four major hits. Wynonna spent the year touring with Clint Black on the ‘Black and Wy’ tour and enjoyed success with their duet “A Bad Goodbye.” It would be three years before she released her next album, a period in which she contributed to a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute album and was marred in scandal for having a child out of wedlock. She would marry her son’s father in 1996, when she was four months pregnant with her daughter.

Wynonna came back strong in 1996 launching her third album Revelations with the chart topping ballad “To Be Loved By You.” The rest of the album’s singles didn’t fare as well and her presence on country radio began to falter for the first time. Wynonna would only manage to score two Top 20 hits from her next album, 1997’s The Other Side. She got divorced in 1998.

During this time her mother, who had been cleared of the Hepatitis C that forced her retirement, decided to rejoin the spotlight. The Judds reunited and staged their reunion show on December 31, 1999 in Phoenix. A tour followed, as did Wynonna’s fifth album, New Day Dawning. She scored a Top 20 hit with the piano ballad “Can’t Nobody Love You (Like I Do).”

Wynonna’s sixth album brought a return to the spotlight in August 2003. What The World Needs Now Is Love was bolstered by a sizeable hit in the title song and two tracks previously featured on movie soundtracks. She married her former bodyguard that November, a marriage that would end when he was arrested for the assault of child under the age of 13.

Wynonna gained further notoriety with multiple appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show in which she talked openly about her struggles with weight and reignited the media’s obsession with her various personal dramas. A stunning rendition of Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is,” which she recorded for the 2003 album, was a highlight of those appearances.

A live album Her Story: Scenes From A Lifetime, followed in 2005 in conjunction with the release of her autobiography. Her first solo Christmas record was released in late 2006. Wynonna returned to the spotlight in 2009 with the release of a mostly-pop covers collection, Sing Chapter 1. She and her daughter survived a head-on car accident in the summer of 2010.

Wynonna reunited with her mother for “I Will Stand By You,” a promotional single for an Essential Hits collection. She added to her profile as an author with the release of her first novel, Restless Heart. She also had a solo single “Love It Out Loud.”

Her next big career change came when she played Nashville’s 3rd and Lindsley on November 27, 2011. Wynonna debuted her newly formed band ‘Wynonna & The Big Noise’ for the first time that night. The leader of the band is former Highway 101 drummer Cactus Moser, whom she married in June 2012. That August he lost his leg in a horrific motorcycle accident. She competed on Dancing With The Stars the following year.

The band came together for the single “Something You Can’t Live Without” in 2013. Their self-titled debut album was finally released last month to very positive reviews. I hope you enjoy our look back at Wynonna’s solo recordings.

Single Review: Wynonna Judd feat. Jason Isbell – ‘Things That I Lean On’

wynonna-793x526The old adage about even a blind squirrel occasionally finding a nut is apparently true; after more than two decades of releasing bland pop music, Wynonna Judd has finally stumbled across a good song. It’s not clear if if “Things That I Lean On”, written by Travis Meadows and Daniel Sanders is an official radio single, but it is one of a handful of tracks from her upcoming album Wynonna & The Big Noise that is available for download ahead of the album’s official release on February 12th.

The track was produced by Wynonna’s husband and Highway 101 member Cactus Moser. Despite the album title’s reference to a “big noise”, there is nothing noisy but this stripped down, and largely acoustic number. The tastefully understated production features an acoustic guitar, some quiet percussion, a little fiddle, and some subtle background courtesy of Jason Isbell, which allow the listener to focus on Wynonna’s powerful voice and the song’s message. Yes, believe it or not, a major label country artist in 2016 has released a song that actually says something. While not a traditional country song (although she does name drop Conway Twitty), the Celtic-flavored number visits some tried and true country themes — temptation, chemical dependency, twelve step programs, faith and prayer, and ultimately redemption.

Wynonna hasn’t had a charting in over a decade and it’s unlikely that this will turn her commercial fortunes around, but it may be the beginning of a new, more artistic phase of her career. I didn’t love every track from the upcoming album that was available for preview on iTunes but I expect that it will contain at least a few more gems. Here’s to hoping that Wynonna has finally gotten around to releasing that evergreen record that we’ve always known she was capable of.

Grade: A

Spotlight Artist: Highway 101

highway 101Paulette Carlson was born in Minnesota in 1952, and began singing in bars there and in North Dakota. She signed her first solo record deal with RCA in 1983, but none of her singles for the label had made much of a splash. Groups were more successful in country music in the 1980s than they had ever been before, and in 1986 Paulette, who had relocated to LA, at the southern end of the iconic Pacific coast road, US Highway 101, recruited three talented musicians in Jack Daniels on lead guitar, Curtis Stone on bass guitar, and Scott (always known as Cactus) Moser on drums, to form the band known as Highway 101. The three men were all making a living as studio session musicians, but wanted a shot at the big time.

The partnership was a magical one, with Paulette’s distinctive vocals matched by the band’s radio-friendly sound. They soon signed to Warner Brothers, and their debut single, Carlson’s ‘The Bed You Made For Me’ was an immediate hit. A string of hits followed in the remaining years of the decade, and they won both the CMA and ACM Vocal Group of the Year awards in 1988.

But there was trouble in store. Paulette Carlson still had solo ambitions, and in 1990 she chose to leave the band in favour of a solo deal with Capitol. Unfortunately for her, the album she released in 1991 featured mainly weak material, and her singles flopped at radio. The boys he left behind had better luck. Realising that Highway 101’s big selling point was the strong female lead, they recruited an able replacement in Nikki Nelson, a 22 year old from California. She made two albums with Highway 101, and their singles gained some airplay, although they fell short of the success of the original brand. Jack Daniels then departed, and the remaining trio moved to Liberty, a new Nashville label founded by legendary exec and producer Jimmy Bowen, for one album and single.

Both Carlson and her former bandmates hankered after former glories, and she, Daniels and Stone teamed up again in 1996. They recorded a new album, suitably entitled Reunited, on Intersound Records, but it was too late to rekindle the fire they had enjoyed on country radio.

Another new start, and new lineup, was briefly created in 1998, featuring Stone, Moser, and two newcomers: vocalist Chrislynn Lee and Charlie White. Subsequently, Nikki Nelson returned as lead vocalist, backed by Moser, Stone, and a frequently changing lead guitarist. Cactus Moser (now married to Wynonna Judd) unfortunately lost a leg in a motorcycle accident in 2012, but continues to tour with Highway 101. Their only recent recorded output is a Christmas single and DVD in 2010.

In between the usual December fare of year-end reviews and Christmas records, we will be surveying the career of Highway 101.

Single Review: Pete Scobell Band Featuring Wynonna Judd – ‘Hearts I Leave Behind’

t235083818-i969744519_s400The patriotic tend from the early 2000s seems to be in a mini resurgence, thanks to Zac Brown Band’s cover of the Jason Isbell-penned “Dress Blues” and Pete Scobell Band’s “Hearts I Leave Behind,” a duet with Wynonna Judd. The latter hit #1 on iTunes the week it was first available for download.

Scobell, a seventeen-year veteran of the US Navy, served six deployments as a Navy SEAL. A married father of three, he served as the opening act for Judd’s Stories and Song tour. When I saw them March 8, they performed their duet during Judd’s encore.

Travis Meadows originally composed the reflective ballad about the struggles he’s faced in his own life. A teenage cancer survivor, he lost his brother in a drowning accident and beat addiction after four stents in rehab. The track eventually made its way to Scobell, who had it with him when he was on tour with the widow of his close friend, American Sniper Chris Kyle. Taya had a visceral reaction to the tune and begged him to record it in honor of Chris’ memory. She essentially felt the track perfectly represented her husband.

“Hearts I Leave Behind” is a delicate acoustic ballad, accentuated with erethral ribbons of organ woven through gentle strums of acoustic guitar. The band elevates the track, kicking in halfway through with lighter accompaniment.

The gorgeous track perfectly blends Scobell and Judd’s voices, when one would expect Judd to overpower the proceedings much like Jennifer Nettles always tends to do when collaborating. But she’s an even more remarkable singer then she lets on because she’s in faultless control of her gifts. When most singers would go for the belt, she quiets down, handling the lyric with masterful precision.

On first listen, “Hearts I Leave Behind” can sound a bit schmaltzy. It takes a few listens before the spiritual aspects of the lyric reveal themselves and you realize this is a song about love and how we never really leave those back on earth who knew us when we were here. It’s a powerful message, presented delicately.

Grade: A

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Classic Rewind: Wynonna – ‘Anywhere With Jesus’

Concert Review: Wynonna and Friends – ‘Stories and Song’

photoShe emerged from the wings, her fiery red mane draped past her shoulders. Dressed in basic black extenuated with a lightly patterned wispy overcoat, Wynonna Judd walked up to the microphone strumming her white acoustic guitar. Alone on stage she started in, belting the glorious beginning to “Mama He’s Crazy.” The band gathered around Judd, who’d taken to sitting on a stool, for the acoustic rendition of “Rock Bottom” that followed, jet setting the audience from 1984 to 1993 with seamless ease.

From the onset it was clear this would be a show unlike any other from Judd, devoid of production, and heavy on the power of that voice. Billed as ‘Wynonna and Friends: Stories and Song’ she traversed the country playing historic theaters armed with her husband Cactus Moser on percussion, a lead guitarist, an upright bass player, and her. Judd’s March 8th stop at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre brought the tour to a close.

For the next two and a half hours Judd navigated through her extensive catalog, opting for surprises over forgone conclusions. She turned soulful with her version of Eric Clapton’s Grammy-winning “Change The World” and contemplative with “Dream Chaser,” a spiritual highlight of The Judd’s catalog. Emotions ran high during “She Is His Only Need,” which had her thanking the audience for her first solo number one, and sass led the way on both “Give A Little Love” and “Turn It Loose,” which had Judd shredding on her harmonica.

“Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good ‘Ol Days)” was a revelation, a hit-upside-the-head reminder of our changing world that’s even more relevant today than it was thirty years ago. The night’s emotional and spiritual center, I was struck by the generational shift – the ‘good ‘ol days’ to kids today are the childhoods of our parents.

The stories aspect of the show was heavy on her relationship with her mother, a much-belabored subject that somehow didn’t feel clichéd. She talked about doing her mother’s hair before each show, seeking revenge by jacking it to Jesus, and reminisced about their appearances with Johnny Carson. Mom would sit next to Carson for the first segment before they’d switch seats during the commercial break.

Judd’s very open observations about the music industry were far more interesting. She lamented about the electronic recording techniques used today. She shed some light on The Judds’ first meeting with RCA Records, a showcase of family harmonies backed by their own guitars. She reminded us that Garth Brooks had opened for them back in the day, a young cowboy who had Naomi wondering if he was going to make it. She mentioned her daughter’s insistence that she hear this new Tim McGraw song, which prompted her to remember when McGraw, and his mullet, opened for her in the early 90s. Judd felt proud she’d ‘helped raise’ many of the stars who came up in her wake.

If you’ve ever followed Judd the person, you know how open she is. She traced her life back to childhood, talking about being the child of an unwed teenage mother saved only by the power of their voices in Appalachia. She then gifted us with a gorgeous rendition of a hymn she and her mother would sing together during that time. She also referenced playing for several presidents even though she didn’t agree politically with any of them.

Judd’s trademark openness became a hindrance, when nine-year-old twin girls made their way to the stage with flowers. The show stopped while selfies were snapped and interviews conducted. Turns out one of them had composed a song (“Possibilities”) Judd asked to have sent to her via Twitter. A second set of concertgoers, armed with a ‘Wynonna’ license plate, were next for pictures as was a man who jumped the stage to join in on the action. Never mind there was a woman begging for Judd’s attention, who finally got it, when she called her ‘Wy, Wy.’

When Judd returned to singing she belted “No One Else On Earth,” which required us in the audience to vigorously sing along. She turned giddy during the encore, when she introduced opening act Pete Scobell, a former navy seal, who devastated with a cover of Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues” during his opening solo set. Judd gushed about her admiration for Scobell, whom she felt should be a huge star, before he snuck on stage to sing their Chris Kyle inspired duet “Hearts I Leave Behind.” It was a tender moment for Scobell, who wore his military heart on his sleeve, and told stories about deceased friends from the Naval Academy and the time he lost 22 comrades in one day.

What struck me about the show, in addition to Judd’s voice, was her band’s passion for playing. Usually when you to a show, thephoto 2 band members are hired to backup a singer and make them look good. Since Judd knew most of these members personally, they were so hungry to be there, they played long after the show had officially ended. There was a joy from Scobell, Moser, and the others that I loved, and rarely see.

What I truly enjoyed the most about the evening was the chance to be reacquainted with an artist I love and see what they’re up to now. I had downloaded “Hearts I Leave Behind” prior to the show, but appreciated it so much more with the context Judd provided not only into the song but also into him.

It truly was a wonderful evening and a very vivid reminder that Wynonna Judd sings circles around every other singer on the planet. She truly is one of the strongest vocalists I’ve ever heard, a fact that only seems to be enriched by age.

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit’

prizefighterThe initial euphoria I felt upon learning that Trisha Yearwood was finally releasing a new album was tempered slightly by the realization that it would be mostly comprised of her old hits along with six new tracks. After a seven-year hiatus, one would think that fans should be able to expect a full-length album’s worth of new material. The older songs included on PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit, are re-recordings of ten of Yearwood’s best known hits. They are faithful enough to the originals that casual fans will probably not notice the difference, with the possible exception of “XXX’s and OOO’s”, which lacks the double-tracked vocal of the original. These re-recordings are the rare exceptions that can hold their own against the orignals, proving that nearly a quarter-century after her debut, Yearwood can still deliver the goods. That being said, the newly-recorded versions don’t bring anything new to the table and no matter how well done they are, one can’t help feeling a little disappointed that Trisha and her producers didn’t make the effort to find a few more new songs to include on the album in their place.

As far as the new material goes, Trisha shows that she hasn’t lost her touch when it comes to choosing top-notch material. The title track and lead single “PrizeFighter“, which I reviwewed back in September, is the only one of the six new tracks that seemed tailor-made for radio. The collaboration with Kelly Clarkson peaked at a disappointing buy not surprising #42 on the country airplay chart and didn’t enter the main Billboard country singles chart at all. The remainder of the new material seems decidedly less commercial. The best of the group is “I Remember You”, a stripped-down acoustic ballad written by Kelly Archer, Ben Caver and Brad Rempel. Trisha’s sister provides the harmony vocals and the song is dedicated to their late parents. Almost as good is “Met Him In A Motel Room”, a Rory Lee Feek and Jamie Teachenor tune about a young girl, possibly a prostitute, meeting someone for a clandestine tryst. The setting of the seedy motel is juxtaposed with a church in the next verse. It’s not clear whether the girl is meeting a clergymen or a pillar-of-the-community married man, but she is later contemplating suicide in another motel room, when the sight of a Bible on the beside table gives her pause to reconsider.

“Your Husband’s Been Cheatin’ On Us” and “You Can’t Trust the Weatherman” provide a much-needed change of pace after such heavy material. The former is a bluesy number, a departure for Yearwood and reminsicent of something Wynonna might have recorded. It is told from the point of view of a cast-aside mistress who gets her revenge by telling her ex-lover’s wife about his affair with yet another woman. The song was written by Matraca Berg, Marshall Chapman and Jill McCorkle. “You Can’t Trust The Weatherman”, written by Ashley Gorley, Wade Kirby and Bryan Simpson, is a tongue-in-cheek number about a shotgun wedding that eventually finds the young couple becoming a latter-day Bonne and Clyde — and almost getting away with it. It is the most country-sounding of the album’s new songs.

Despite the somewhat disappointing recycling of so much old material, Trisha Yearwood fans are bound to be happy to finally have something new to sink their teeth into. The album can be purchased on CD or downloaded from GhostTunes.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: John Fogerty and Wynonna Judd – ‘Proud Mary’

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘To All The Girls’

to all the girlsThe newest Willie Nelson album finds Willie treading familiar ground, recording eighteen duets with various female partners. These partners range from young to old, famous to fairly unknown and across a wide array of genres.

The album opens up with the “From Here To The Moon And Back”, an introspective ballad from the catalogue of duet partner Dolly Parton. This song has a very quiet arrangement with piano being the dominant sound, along with a very light string arrangement – very nice song.

Another very quiet song is “She Was No Good For Me” with the normally boisterous Miranda Lambert assisting Willie on an old Waylon Jennings tune. It is nice to hear Miranda sing a song that requires nuance and restraint.

She was a good looking woman no doubt
A high steppin’ mover that men talk about
Everything bad in me she brought it out
And she was just no good for me

[Chorus:]
Don’t be taken by the look in her eyes
If she looks like an angel
It’s a perfect disguise
And for somebody else she may be
But she was just no good for me

“It Won’t Be Very Long” opens with a harmonica intro which comes to a dead stop and then starts to a song with a very country gospel feel – something either Roy Acuff or the Nitty Gritty Dirt band might have tackled. The Secret Sisters aren’t really very well known but probably do the best job of any act on the album of actually harmonizing with Willie. Willie and producer Buddy Cannon wrote this song.

“Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” is a Kris Kristofferson song that originally was a top ten hit for new Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Bare (it reached #1 on Record World) in 1971. In 1974 it reached #1 on Billboard for Ronnie Milsap. I always preferred Bare’s version as I think the song benefited from Bare’s more laid back approach to the song. Nelson and duet partner Rosanne Cash adopt the more relaxed approach to the song, with Willie’s guitar being the dominant sound of the background, but with a tasteful organ undertone by Moose Brown. Willie and Rosanne’s voices really don’t mesh well together and Willie’s eccentric phrasing is difficult for any singer to handle, but actual harmonizing on this tune is kept to a dead minimum.

“Far Away Places” is one of the classics of the American Pop Standards canon. The song was written by Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer way back in 1948, and was an immediate hit by three artists in late 1948-early 1949, reaching #2 for the legendary Bing Crosby, #3 for Margaret Whiting and #6 for Perry Como. The Como version is probably the best remembered version since RCA kept the song available for most of the last 65 years whereas the other versions have frequently been out of print. Willie and partner Sheryl Crow harmonize well and recreate the dreamy feel of the 1948 versions. This is my favorite track on this album:

Far away places with strange soundin’ names
Far away over the sea
Those far away places with the strange soundin’ names
Are callin’, callin’ me

Goin’ to China or maybe Siam
I want to see for myself
Those far away places I’ve been readin’ about
In a book that I took from the shelf

I don’t know how many times Willie has recorded his own “Bloody Mary Morning” but this version must be the fastest version on disc. I’m not a big Wynonna Judd fan but this is the kind of song she handles well. Mike Johnson (steel) and Dan “Man of Constant Sorrow” Tyminski (acoustic guitar) really shine on this track.

Writers Wayne Carson, Mark James and John Christopher, Jr cashed in big time with “You Were Always On My Mind” as it was a hit thrice (Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson) and appeared on many albums generating many millions of sales (and royalties for the songwriters). On this recording Willie is joined by Carrie Underwood in a nice version with fairly minimal backing.

During the 1960s and 1970s semi-permanent male-female duos abounded, nearly all of whom tackled Merle Haggard’s “Somewhere Between”. It’s a great song and Willie is joined by the legendary Loretta Lynn, singing in better voice than anything I’ve heard from her recently. Willie and Loretta trade verses (usually in different keys) and do not harmonize except one line at the end. It’s a great song and full justice is done to the song.

“No Mas Amore” written by Keith Gattis and Sammy Barrett, is given the Mexican treatment by Willie and partner Alison Krauss complete with trumpets. Willies band member Mickey Raphael plays chord harmonica and bass harmonica; Alison’s band member Dan Tyminski adds background vocals and plays mandolin. Usually Alison Krauss duets produce a certain magic, but this one is merely pleasant listening.

“Back To Earth” features Melonie Cannon on this Willie Nelson ballad, taken at a languid pace. The song is nothing special but Melanie and Willie execute it well.

Mavis Staples is one of the best known gospel singers, carrying on the fine tradition of the legendary Staples Family. “Grandma’s Hands” was penned by Bill Withers, probably best known for his monster hits “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean On Me”. The song was about Wither’s own grandma and is an affectionate look at a loved one, now departed. Willie and Mavis give it a bit of a ‘swamp blues pop’ treatment that fits the song exactly.

“Walkin” features Wiliie’s good friend Norah Jones on a Willie composition. This is a bluesy slow ballad about leaving.

“Till The End of World” is an old Vaughn Horton standard given an up-tempo western swing arrangement. Back in 1949 Ernest Tubb, Jimmy Wakely and Johnny Bond all had top twelve hits with the song, then in 1952 Bing Crosby and ace guitarist Grady Martin took it back into the top ten. Shelby Lynne reestablishes her country credibility with this effort.

“Will You Remember Mine” is a lovely ballad from Willie’s pen. I don’t know anything about Lily Meola but she is a perfect complement to Willie on this song.

Gone are the times when I held you close
And pressed your lips to mine
Now when you kissed another’s lips
Will you remember mine?

I’m sure we’ve all had this thought – indeed.

“Dry Lightning” comes from the pen of Bruce Springsteen. Emmylou Harris can sing with anyone. Therefore it is no surprise that this song works as a duet. It’s another slow ballad, but Emmylou, as usual is exquisite.

I first ran across Brandi Carlile some years ago when the late and lamented Borders chain distributed sampler CDs of her work. On “Making Believe” she proves both that she can sing effective harmony and can sing country music with feeling. This song was written by Jimmy Work but is best remembered as a major hit for Kitty Wells in 1955, with Emmylou Harris taking it back to the top ten in 1977.

“Have You Ever Seen The Rain” is a John Fogarty composition given a slow folk arrangement that enables Willie and (I think) daughter Paula Nelson to convey the lyrics in an uncluttered manner. I really like this recording.

Tina Rose is the daughter of Leon & Mary Russell. Willie recorded an album with Leon Russell in 1979, so it seems only proper that he should record a song with Leon’s daughter. I’m not that impressed with Ms Russell’s vocals, but they work well enough on the vehicle chosen, L.E White’s “After The Fire Is Gone”, which White’s boss, Conway Twitty took to the top of the charts with Loretta Lynn in 1971. Willie and Tina don’t have the chemistry Conway and Loretta had (few do) but the end result is worthwhile.

It remains true:
There’s nothing cold as ashes
After the fire’s gone

All told, there is a very pleasant offering from Willie – I’d give it a B+, mostly because a few more up-tempo numbers were needed. Willie, of course, is always Willie, and as always, he was chosen well in his selection of female guests.

Week ending 6/29/13: #1 albums this week in country music history

alabama - the closer you get1968: Bobby Goldsboro – Honey (United Artists)

1973: Charlie Rich – Behind Closed Doors (Epic)

1978: Willie Nelson – Stardust (Columbia)

1983: Alabama – The Closer You Get (RCA)

1988: Reba McEntire – Reba (MCA)

1993: Wynonna – Tell Me Why (MCA/Curb)

1998: Various Artists – Hope Floats: Music from the Motion Picture (Capitol)

2003: George Strait – Honkytonkville (MCA)

2008: Jewel – Perfectly Clear (Valory)

2013: Florida Georgia Line – Here’s To the Good Times (Republic Nashville)

Week ending 6/22/13: #1 albums this week in country music history

reba mcentire - reba1968: Loretta Lynn – Fist City (Decca)

1973: Charlie Rich – Behind Closed Doors (Epic)

1978: Willie Nelson – Stardust (Columbia)

1983: Alabama – The Closer You Get (RCA)

1988: Reba McEntire – Reba (MCA)

1993: Wynonna – Tell Me Why (MCA/Curb)

1998: Various Artists – Hope Floats: Music from the Motion Picture (Capitol)

2003: Lonestar – From There to Here: Greatest Hits (BNA)

2008: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2013: Blake Shelton – Based on a True Story (Warner Brothers)