Showing posts with label album review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label album review. Show all posts

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Retro Album Review - Easy Come, Easy Go - George Strait


I would review new albums, but better sites than mine specialize in it, and frankly, I've tried listening to the reviewers' track recommendations and have found the samples so-so at best. My album reviews, therefore, focus on older releases that a casual country fan may have missed. 

I mentioned in the past that I own twenty-three George Strait albums (plus a boxed set). No, I'm not a fanatic. I own many, many, many CD's, not to mention LP's and those little round 45-RPM discs.

(These are just the CD's, and the rows are two-deep.)
It's no secret that George Strait is my favorite country artist. There's a reason they call him King George. That doesn't mean all twenty-three of my Strait CD's are shiny. At a certain point in time, I made it my goal to buy every one of his releases, just to say I owned them all, but as time went on my dedication flagged. And frankly, I simply stopped buying CD's all together. 
Unlike most every classic country fan, I'm not a huge fan of Strait's early work. It's not bad; it's just not standout. Oh sure, for its time it gleamed, but that was all relative. Country in those days was going through an identity crisis. If you've read my previous posts, you know that I abandoned country in the late seventies, and I had no clue who George Strait even was until my non-musical mother introduced me to him. My husband, who is definitely not a country fan, bought George's greatest hits -- Volume 1 -- just to prove to me his open-mindedness, but he stumbled in his selection. I certainly don't hate the songs; they just don't evince any heart-tugging emotion. 
It wasn't until the nineties that George hit his stride. I suspect he asserted more control over his career as it skyrocketed and didn't reflexively kow-tow to his producer's whims. (Tony Brown is a damn fine producer, but an artist's output should be a collaborative effort.)
Weird thing about George: he is a sucker for that easy-listening, smooth definitely non-country stuff, and he's demonstrated that in recent years. But maybe he's just torn. I like sixties and eighties pop/rock even though my heart belongs to country. And if one's been at the pinnacle of his industry for forty years, he's allowed to record whatever the heck he wants. 
I'm happy to report, however, that Easy Come Easy Go is a country album. And what an album it is!
Songwriter Jim Lauderdale is kind of a goofy, odd guy, but he is one of the best songwriters in country, and he has three tracks on this album -- three of the best tracks, by the way. Lauderdale-penned songs have been very good to George Strait. 
I actually remember bringing this CD home, slipping it into my CD changer and being bowled over by the very first (Lauderdale) track, Stay Out Of My Arms. (solid A)
Track #2, Just Look At Me, written by Gerald Smith and Curtis Wayne, is a solid stone country song; perhaps not as memorable as it could be simply because it's dwarfed by the other tracks on the album (B+):

Easy Come, Easy Go, penned by new Hall Of Famer Dean Dillon along with Aaron Barker, is a solidly-written song, its reputation enhanced by constant radio play (I think this may have been the first single release from the album) and by superb production. (solid B)

#4, I'd Like To Have That One Back (songwriters: Aaron Barker, Bill Shore, and Rick West -- Really? Three people to write a song?) sounds like an outtake from the movie Pure Country. It would have fit well there. It's a decent, albeit generic country song, but perhaps it suffers in comparison to the better album tracks. (going with a B- on this one):
Love Bug, which by far garnered the most attention of all the tracks on the album was written by the great Wayne Kemp and Curtis Wayne, and was (obviously) a sixties hit for George Jones, although some oblivious fans assumed it was an original George Strait recording. What can I say? It's a great, fun song, which is why Jones scored a hit with it originally. Here's a live performance that features Vince Gill (c'mon, this has gotta be an A):

Here comes another Lauderdale song at #6 - I Wasn't Fooling Around. Just perfection. (I love how George sings "A-round".) A+

Without Me Around I'd completely forgotten. This is another Dean Dillon (and John Northrup) tune. Frankly the weakest track on the album. (generous C)

I don't know why, but the title The Man In Love With You rang no bells with me until I just now played the video on YouTube. This is a good song, reminiscent of I Cross My Heart. Written by Steve Dorff and Gary Harju, it's a typical George Strait love song, which the more pensive Strait excels at doing. 

(A-ha! Steve Dorff also wrote I Cross My Heart! Am I good or what?)
I like this one, even though I'd somehow forgotten it. (B+)
That's Where My Baby Feels At Home. Okay, he got me with this one. The song was written by (again) the great Wayne Kemp, along with Curtis Wayne and Faron Young. Again, most novices don't know that this was an early hit for Faron Young, but I know. This is country the way country is supposed to be. (A+++)

The final track on the album proves my point about how much George loves that easy-listening dreck. We Must Be Loving Right, written by Clay Baker and Roger Brown, was also recorded by Barbra Streisand. Need I say more? George tries to country it up with some slide steel, but c'mon. 
I do understand why he closed out the album with this one, though. (C minus?)

Anytime one finds an album with mostly A's and B-plusses, that is a once in a lifetime discovery. Easy Come Easy Go could well be my favorite country album ever, though I hesitate to quantify those things. 

What George (and Tony) did so deftly was incorporate the best of ninety's songwriting with choice songs from the past. 
And thus rope us in and never let go.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Retro Album Review ~ "Country Music" ~ Marty Stuart

Like me, Marty Stuart is a fan and a student of country music (I'm not comparing myself to Marty Stuart, by the by). The tale of Marty's extensive country music memorabilia collection is well-documented, so I'm not here to tell that tale. As is the story of his teenage debut as part of the Flatt and Scruggs band. And everybody knows about Marty's link to Johnny Cash.

I first was introduced to Marty Stuart via a CMT music video, and that subtle three-boot kick did it for me. Hillbilly Rock was a natural hit, and the next time I saw Marty, he had teamed up with Travis Tritt for an album that featured a couple of outstanding real country tracks.

Marty would be the first to tell you he's not a natural singer. But who cares? In the "Whiskey Ain't Workin'" performance, I defy you to tell me that this is not the most organic musician you've ever witnessed. And that's Marty's strength. That, and arrangement.

"The Pilgrim" is considered a masterpiece. And it was. My husband, no country fan, introduced me to the album. He even, unbeknownst to me, bought tickets for us to see Marty in concert ~ the first live performance we ever saw together.

Then Marty formed a fabulous band that just happened to be, coincidentally, called The Fabulous Superlatives. 

I kept the album, "Country Music" close to the vest. Only real country lovers would understand. And here's the genius of Marty Stuart ~ he throws you a curve that stabs you in the heart. He knows musical emotion. Anyone who perceives that music pierces one's guts is a true genius.

I haven't researched Marty's reason for titling it "Country Music", but I can probably figure it out.  He starts and ends the album with old classics, throws in a duet with Merle Haggard in the middle, and rounds everything out with some renaissance "Marty" music.

1. A Satisfied Mind

Marty puts his own spin on this song first made famous by Porter Wagoner, but covered by many, many artists. Even Dylan recorded it. Marty changes up the melody a bit, and it's a strong opener.

2. Fool For Love

A Marty original. Marty's songs judiciously employ minor chords, which immediately add gravity to a song that otherwise might be just a writing exercise.

3. If There Ain't There Ought'a Be

Easily the weakest track on the album. Hearing it today, it sounds completely nineties-dated. And I'm not a fan of the rap that starts the song.

4. Here I Am

The second-best song on the LP and another Marty original. I first became enamored of the song because of the arrangement and soaring steel guitar. Then I thought about the lyrics. What a plain-spoken ode to love.

5. Sundown In Nashville

If you buy this album for no other reason, buy it for this track. (I guess you could be a cheap-ass and just download this single track, but c'mon.) This track has it all. Seriously. ALL. If you love country music ~ you know the kind I mean ~ it gets no better than this. The song was written by Dwayne Warwick and was first recorded by Carl Butler and Pearl (odd name for a duo, and I'm no feminist, but Pearl obviously knew her place) who actually recorded some classic songs, such as "Don't Let Me Cross Over" and "We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning". This one is tops, thanks to Marty.

6. By George

Odd little ditty. Again, this sounds dated, reminiscent of a Joe Diffie song. I don't hate it, but tonight is probably the second time I've listened to it, ever.

7. Farmer's Blues

Obviously this track got the only notice of any on the album, due to Marty's duet with Merle Haggard. I'm a farmer's daughter, so I automatically was on board. And you know how I feel about Merle, and here's Merle yodeling! Takes me back to the Jimmie Rodgers albums of my young years.

8. Wishful Thinkin'

Unfortunately, this is not the excellent song by the same name by Wynn Stewart. I think I kind of hate this one, but every album has its duds.

9. If You Wanted Me Around

Nice Telecaster work on this track. Otherwise, it's a throwaway.

10. Too Much Month (At The End Of The Money)

I sort of like this one when it gets to the bridge. Again, it's very nineties-centric (not that there's anything wrong with that).

11. Tip Your Hat

Marty wanted to honor the legends with this song, and I admire anyone who doesn't forget. The same sentiment could have been executed better, although the mandolin solo at the end takes Marty back to his roots.

12. Walls Of A Prison

This is a Johnny Cash song and a tribute to the Man In Black. The arrangement saves it from being lackluster. I can appreciate the sentiment without falling in love with the song.

No album is fool-proof. I've bought CD's that had one (count 'em, one) good track. I've most likely bought scores of those. If you get two great songs, you are fortunate. If you get three or four, it was worth laying your money down.

Therefore, I'm giving "Country Music":

I'm tucking this album away, and only sharing it with you. I could go on and on about Marty Stuart and all he's done for people like me. He's never gotten any due, except as a country music commentator. But he's so...soooo much more.

Buy it if you love country. At least buy it for "Sundown In Nashville". Good grief; don't say I didn't share the down low.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Retro Album Review ~ Buenos Noches From A Lonely Room

I returned gently to the country music fold. I don't remember quite how it happened. I vaguely recollect sitting in my car, waiting for the kids to alight from the elementary school door, and apathetically punching the buttons on the car radio. Y93 was my go-to channel, but something boring was playing; maybe a Debbie Gibson song, so I clicked the preset for KQDY and caught something that actually sounded like country music ~ maybe Rosanne Cash or that new guy whose voice I liked but didn't know his name...George somebody.

That was all it took. I began to explore this "new" country. I purchase a cassette tape by the Sweethearts of the Radio and played it in the background while I did my housecleaning. I bought another one ~ it may have been the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band ~ and I wore out those two tapes, not yet convinced to plunge full-bore back into the country cosmos. After all, country had betrayed me before.

But I was supremely curious. I began hitting the KQ94 button more regularly, and before long I simply left the car radio tuned to that channel. I found wonders! Yes, some of the old-timers were still around ~ The Oaks and Alabama ~ but there were all these new guys! Randy Travis and Ricky Van Shelton and Highway 101 and Kathy Mattea and Foster and Lloyd...and that new guy, George...

And I heard a song that was revelatory, "Guitars, Cadillacs". It combined everything I'd ever loved about country into a brash, bass-thumping, Telecaster twanging, two-step twirling slice of perfection.

This "Dwight" dude was different but familiar. He was no crooner ~ he had a Kentucky tenor that took a bit of adjustment for my ears to settle on. But I liked it. His songs tore at my heart, the way my mom and dad's country had once stabbed me in the gut, but better in a way I'd once only imagined sublime country could be.

When I finally took the dive and committed to country again, I became omnivorous. Now it was CD's, and I turned into the Musicland pest, scouring the racks every week for new glorious sounds.

Inevitably I stumbled upon "Buenos Noches From A Lonely Room".

Dwight's third album didn't foster many hits, but it set a marker that still stands. Country was always about singles. That changed briefly with Merle in the sixties, but nobody in country set out to make a statement. They only strived to make a dollar. Buenos Noches From A Lonely Room wasn't a concept album, but it became one. I purchased every one of Dwight Yoakam's CD's and this one ranks at the top. I've "liked" his later releases, but when I hear this one, it's fresh. It doesn't spoil with repetition. That's not an easy feat.

No live video, but this is the lead track:

Track 5:

Track 7:

Track 6:

Track 8 (and the number one ~ I heard this by Buck and his Buckaroos, so it wasn't relevatory like it was for others, and not, by any stretch my favorite):

Track 4:

There's not a lot in life that brings joy. 

This album does.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Album Review ~ Old Yellow Moon ~ Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell

For those who read my blog regularly, you know that I don't buy music anymore.  That is partially my fault and partially the music business's fault.

I will take the blame for being stuck in the past, but in my defense, if good music was being made, do you think I wouldn't buy it?

To me, an artist has to prove themselves.  I didn't buy Billy Ray Cyrus's album in 1992, and history has proven me correct.  BR was a one-hit wonder.  I'm not going to squander my hard-fought dollars on a flash in the pan.

Emmylou and Rodney, though, I know.  I've known them since the early nineteen seventies.  Okay, I didn't know that Rodney was "Rodney".  I just knew he was "that guy who sang backup for Emmylou", and he apparently (my liner notes told me) wrote a bunch of the songs she was singing.

Elite Hotel was a wondrous thing.  A country music album for music lovers who had been left in the dust by leisure-suited hipsters who were entranced by the likes of Dave and Sugar.

Rodney stepped out on his own a bit later; a decade or so later, actually. 

Apparently, Rodney liked to do things in a big way, because his 1988 Diamonds and Dirt produced five consecutive number one singles; and is, to me, one of the best country albums of all time.

So, when these two decided to get back together, lo these many, many years later, I was intrigued.

Old Yellow Moon was a birthday gift. 

Emmylou has white hair now; and Rodney probably does, too; under that hat.  But it bears repeating:  chronological age does not render one useless and hapless.   True talent triumphs.

So, I listened to the album tonight.

Is it sacrilegious to say that my favorite tracks were not written by Rodney Crowell?

My absolute favorite track is a song that I loved back when Waylon recorded it; and what could be better than hearing two of my favorite artists singing it?

I was surprised to learn that Allen Reynolds had written "Dreaming My Dreams".  What I remember about Allen Reynolds is that he wrote a bunch of pop-tart songs for Crystal Gayle; but I guess I sold him way short.  Dreaming My Dreams is a gorgeous song.  I'm just glad that Crystal Gayle didn't make a hit of it.

You may or may not know that Vince Gill was also one of Emmylou's backup singers; way back when.  Here he is, introducing Emmylou and Rodney; in an admittedly poor quality video; singing another of my ultimate favorite country songs, "Invitation to the Blues"; which was written by Roger Miller:

Oh, but it's not just old songs.  Nay.  This album contains many good tracks, including "Spanish Dancer", "Back When We Were Beautiful" (written by the great Matraca Berg); "Here We Are"; actually written by Rodney!  And the title track, "Old Yellow Moon":

 I give this album a solid B+.

But you know me; I'm a sucker for the old (or new) tried and true.