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Single Review: Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, "9,999,999 Tears"

kelly-willis-bruce-robison-cheaters-gameWritten by Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.

On their beautiful new album Cheater’s Game, husband and wife Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison get together for the first time to deliver some moving music, including several covers of now-classic country songs. Among them is the Razzy Bailey-penned “9,999,999 Tears.”

In 1966, Bailey recorded “9,999,999 Tears” with Atlantic Records, backed by an all-star cast that included Billy Joe Royal, Joe South, and Freddy Weller. Bailey’s original version of the song is more pop than country, and the harmonies resemble the music of The Righteous Brothers. Ten years later, Dickey Lee made the song his own, giving the tune its now familiar pop- country treatment, and a new twist. As he’s repeating the refrain—”I’ve got 9,999,999 tears to go/And then I don’t know if I’ll be over you”—at the very end of the song, he modulates to a high note on the final word (“you”), thus making the song his own and setting up any subsequent artists covering the song to be measured, in part, by how well they can make this shift at the song’s end. Lee’s version romps off with hard-driving lead guitars and whining pedal steel, with Ronettes-like backing vocals that give the song a pop sensibility.

Willis and Robison’s new version of the song makes it identity clear from the very beginning with fiddles replacing the guitars of Lee’s version. In her raw, intense voice, Willis belts the first two bars almost a cappella before the fiddles kick in, and then we’re off to the races. It’s not just the fiddles that set this tune apart from the earlier versions; it’s also Willis’ voice, so full of yearning, desire, sorrow; she takes us into the heart of a broken relationship here. When Bailey and Lee sang this song, it was as if they were singing a camp song (999 bottles of beer on the wall) for the little

emotion they dredged from the words. When Willis croons the words—“The sun didn’t shine this morning/ It’s been raining the whole day through/ Suddenly without warning, you found somebody new/ That’s when the first tear came, falling from my eyes/ I’m beginning to feel the pain, seeing nothing but cloudy skies”—we ache with her, knowing that just as the tears cloud her judgment and her day, no amount of tears can wash away the hurt that this broken heart feels. Willis delivers the pain of uncertainty and vulnerability in deep ways on this tune; she gets inside the song, using the lyrics and music to take us inside her heart. And, she nails that high note at the song’s end.

Willis and Robison have us cryin’ at the end of their tender and affecting version (it’s a cryin’ song, after all), palpably capturing the heartbreak at the very center of the song.

Written by Razzy Bailey

Grade:  A-

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Single Review: Rhonda Vincent, "I'd Rather Hear I Don't Love You (Than Nothing At All)"

rhonda_vincent_id_rather_hear_i_dont_love_you

Written by Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. of Engine 145

From the moment Hunter Berry’s tearful-sounding fiddle plaintively whines the first four bars of Rhonda Vincent’s new single, we know we’re in for a sad country shuffle. In fact, the notes he strikes on the fiddle anticipate almost note-for-note Vincent’s emphatic, but mournful, tone in her first lines and the song’s chorus. Vincent’s soaring vocals, backed by those doleful fiddles and the pleading resophonic guitar of Brent Burke, deliver a sorrowful breakup song with a twist.

Written by Larry Cordle and Lionel Delmore, and recorded by Josh Logan on his album Somebody Paints the Wall (1988), “I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You” is the perfect “I-can’t-quit-you-baby” song. Hurting from a breakup, the woman calls her lover, knowing that he’s not alone. Still in love, she longs for some physical connection with him, so she’s compelled (“I had to phone”) to call her former lover just to hear his voice. Though her lover tells her she’s calling in vain, the “sound of [his] voice somehow eases the pain.” Rather than giving up all contact with her former lover—or

even enduring the painful silence of his presence when he’s nothing left to say to her—she craves the sound of his voice, hanging on to him by the thin thread of the telephone line, preferring to hear his declaration “I don’t love you” than a dial tone or to feel his absence.

Cleverly written, the song trades on a number of witty phrases that capture the longing for connection as well as the pain the woman is willing to endure just to stay connected. Not wanting to draw out the relationship or conversation, he’s “anxious to hang up,” but she’s “willing to stall,” since she’d “rather hear I don’t love you/than nothing at all.” He’d “like to hang up,” but she’s “just hangin’ on.” She guesses she should say goodbye “before she breaks down and bawls,” but she can’t bring herself to hang up since hearing “I don’t love you” is better than “hearing nothing at all.”

Vincent’s vocal delivery is perfect as she captures the rising tension of the conversation, wringing out the tears and the aching, throbbing heartbreak that comes from knowing what you have to do but being tortured by not being able to do it. The music starts out slowly, building to a crescendo of fiddles and resophonic guitar in the break, capturing the aches, pains, regrets, and even hopes of the lyrics. Vincent’s powerful and touching new single drives straight to the heart.

Written by Larry Cordle and Lionel Delmore

Grade:  A-

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Single Review: Eric Church, “Springsteen”

You already know that feeling.

One Sunday afternoon you go about rummaging through your attic, looking for items to donate to a local rescue mission…..and suddenly you find yourself re-acquainted with a bedroom poster depicting your favorite artist growing up, lightly caked in dust. At that very moment you let out a bittersweet sigh, and fondly stare into space as you reminisce of an early flame that came and went in your life, while that artist contributes the soundtrack to your saudade.

Which brings us to “Springsteen”: the third single from Eric Church’s breakout album Chief and follow-up to his first-ever chart-topping single “Drink In My Hand”.

Predictably, the track is another in a growing line of songs that purposefully references the name of another established artist or hit song (such as “Tim McGraw” and “All Summer Long”) for the purpose of reminiscing on a treasured memory, and is also heavy on references to some of the most definitive hits of that artist’s career (i.e. “I’m On Fire”, “Born to Run”, “Glory Days”, “Born in the USA”). On the surface, it appears little worth examining.

I invite you to gaze a little deeper.

“Springsteen” is every bit as semi-melancholy as it is a fond glimpse back at the past, with a gravity of shimmering sadness driving its production that is most closely tied to the Boss’s 1987 tortured-heart testimonial “Tunnel of Love”. Steered by a drum machine, and besprinkled with misty-eyed synthesizers and chatoyant glints of keyboard, “Springsteen” is without question far-removed from decidedly country soundscapes, but more resembles the sound of one of the Boss’s lesser-known releases, “Tougher Than The Rest”, albeit softer around the edges.

Church also channels Springsteen’s spoken-word style of singing here, with an understated, pensive and reflective vocal delivery in the verses that leaves you believing he is re-evaluating his slate of memory as he is speaking. The first verse, which sets the scene in reminiscing on a now seemingly distant world “somewhere between that setting sun, ‘I’m on Fire’ and ‘Born to Run’”, poignantly ends with the last line: “I can still hear the sound of you sayin’ don’t go…

After a decidedly carefree, warm first verse overall, this last line before the first chorus sets the stage to the remaining direction of the track. Church sings the first chorus as though, upon looking back on the amplitude of the memory and suddenly feeling the sting of saudade, he feels the impetus to belt off his chest exactly what he sees in his mind’s eye when he thinks of that former flame: a seventeen-year old self gazing at the stars on a July Saturday night.

The second verse begins with an equal sort of urgency, where he croons:

*

“I bumped into you by happenstance,
you probably wouldn’t even know who I am,
but if I whispered your name,
I bet there’d still be a spark…”

*

He goes on to suggest that he used to be gasoline, admitting that those were the “glory days” and, thus, nothing he has experienced since then has quite compared to them. That doesn’t necessarily suggest or prove, straight up, that the protagonist is unhappy in the present by any stretch. But I do find it telling that he’d use the metaphor of “gasoline” within the second verse, as though he is admitting there’s a sort of vitality which that memory is teeming to the brim with that he has never quite been able to replicate……going so far as to wonder if, perhaps, there’s still time to give it another shot with her. That is, if she still thinks of him.

Does she still fondly regard him? There is slight reason to believe she does, as evinced in the coda, where Church’s propulsive “Whoa whoa, oh oh oh!” softly evokes a call-and-response effect, mimicked by an unknown female voice. Is the voice indeed that of his former lover? Or is it the murmuring of a muse? It could well be interpreted as either.

These emotionally ambiguous nuances, and the burst-of-sunlight-piercing-through-the-clouds production, are what elevate what could otherwise have been a paint-by-numbers ode to young love to a whole other level. You can practically imagine Church standing there outside her house on a Saturday night, holding onto the faintest hope she’s been watching him too as she’s dressed up in blue……….praying she’ll say yes to another dance. And you’re rooting for a happy ending, yet also feel a chill going up your spine fearing his effort will be met in vain: finding his star-crossed self pacing one step forward, two steps back.

“Springsteen” is a gorgeous, bittersweet anthem-to-be that will likely leave even some more hardened hearts simultaneously smile and cry listening. As Church’s best single to date, it will all but certainly take his career to the next level, even as he’s already selling out venues left and right at the dawn of his “Blood, Sweat & Beers” tour as we speak.

Come on, Eric. There’s no foolin’ us that you’re any more tougher than the rest of us, behind that brilliant discount shaded disguise. Lift them up from over your eyes and show us your tears. Atta boy, Chief!

Written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, and Ryan Tyndell

Grade: A-

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Single Review: Zac Brown Band, “No Hurry”

Via Facebook’s “Share” feature, you have probably bumped into a satirical motivational poster by now with this text:

PROCRASTINATION: “Hard Work Often Pays Off After Time, But Laziness Always Pays Off Now.”

On paper, this certainly shows with regard to the newly-released fifth single, “No Hurry”, from the industrious Zac Brown Band’s current album You Get What You Give: vying to tie Rodney Crowell’s record for most Billboard Hot Country Song #1 hits from a single album.

As you could indubitably guess from the title alone, this song depicts a passive protagonist whittling the day away and basking in faineancy without a care in the world. Lyrically, it regurgitates all-too-familiar images associated with relaxed, simple living. Old cane fishing pole? Check! Fold-up easy chair? Check! Hiding out from the “bossman”? Gotta have that, right?

It also follows an all-too-familiar narrative arc, where the first two verses are concerned with personal details, while the third and final verse moves onto more universal ruminations with regards to life and death (“Heaven knows that I ain’t perfect, I’ve raised a little cain. And I plan to raise a whole lot more, before I hear those angels sing…”)……..and feels the need to obligatorily exclaim “Gonna get right with the lord!” immediately after so not to, you know, displease the Focus On The Family types.

From the band that has already given us “Knee Deep” this time around, it sounds, straight-up, consonant to the band’s strengths. Who can go wrong with a harmless ditty that would probably make for a fine official anthem in observance of the Day After New Year’s Day, and the inevitable plentitude of nullified resolutions that appear in its wake?

So, lyrics aside………why does the band sound like it’s trying too hard here?

Ironically, Brown sounds as though he’s trying to give it his all vocally. By the time we reach the climatic final verse, he actually sounds like he’s rehearsing for a Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” television advertisement promo as opposed to singing an ode to quiet living (imagine that…….Zac Brown saluting Mister Croup-Preventing Skullcap Weaver………if not Mister Sweet Tea, Pecan Pie & Homemade Wine Fixer-Upper! ;) )

He certainly doesn’t sound laid-back by that point. He sounds like he’s starting to run a cold sweat. Which underscores the main reason I can’t seem to connect with this. The band actually makes procrastination sound……….dare I say it…………not any fun at all. Even funereal.

Jimmy De Martini provides another hearty helping of fiddle here that nevertheless only reinforces this lasting impression that the effort would sound better fitted to a late-autumn dirge than to the scents of early spring. Come on, fellas, you assured me before the only thing I ought to fear is if the tide is going to reach this easy chair!

Then again, as far as we know, perhaps that is the point. After all, “No Hurry”, punctuated by mournful fiddle throughout, may not be so much about celebrating procrastination than, from a more practical standpoint, accepting that we’d be fools not to worry about everything we can’t change in a more philosophical sense…….or else, in doing so, we would be fated to the tagline of another satirical, grimmer motivational poster on the issue of procrastination, depicting a dying goldfish in a dirty bowl:

PROCRASTINATION: “It’s, Hands-Down, Our Favorite Form Of Self-Sabotage”

Either way you skin it, “No Hurry” is a time-waster in that it fails to inspire either a rousing or reflective quality…….resulting in their weakest of ten singles to date. In spite of that, expect this to quite likely make history in making the Zac Brown Band the first group in the history of country music to produce five Billboard Hot Country Song #1s from a single album.

See, what did I tell you? Laziness Always Pays Off Now! Even for a band whose work ethic and rise to stardom has been anything BUT slothful.

Written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durette, and James Otto

Grade: C

Listen: No Hurry

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Single Review: Rascal Flatts, “Banjo”

According to Rascal Flatts bass guitarist Jay DeMarcus, the banjo has become an elusive, endangered species.

(So is a Rascal Flatts rocker that doesn’t want to make you jam with anyone named Elroy, throw away your old Igloo cooler and lose your appetite every time you see a Sonic Drive-In.)

To put the lead single from the formidable trio’s forthcoming eighth studio album in perspective, a brief backstory of the instrument in the spotlight is warranted.

Indeed, the banjo has been long revered as a quintessential ingredient in not only country music, but as an integral part of all American music. Brought to the United States via the slave trade (the earliest documented mentioning of a “banshaw” is generally believed to be 1678, from an autobiographal note in Martinique that describes a convergence of slaves prior to deportation in which one is depicted plucking a “banza”.) Thomas Jefferson, himself, would later recognize this instrument in 1781, who referred to it as a “banjar.”

From the formation of the Sweeney Mistrels to their integration into parlors in mid-nineteenth century Boston, from the emergence of celebrated banjo legends such as Charlie Poole and Earl Scruggs during the mid-twentieth century to helping differentiate American country music from Western European influences then onward……..the banjo, in all its clawhammered, fast-arpeggiated glory, has stood the tests of time and its legacy is secure.

Tragically, recent years have not been kind to this tone-ringed, sometimes fretless, watermark. Since its heyday, it has been relegated from the forefront of traditional American music to something treated like “natural flavor” to add a hint of distinctive zest to modern country radio tracks. You’d be hard-pressed, in fact, to find something on your local radio station’s playlist that prominently features a banjo as opposed to merely being submerged in the mix.

*

But no need to fear, y’all! Rascal Flatts are back to rescue this five-stringed wonder from obscurity………..I guess.

According to an interview by DeMarcus on the eve of this single’s release, he explained that “Banjo” is about “getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life” by driving as far out into the backwoods as you can “until you go so far you start to hear a banjo.”

In theory, that makes for an enticing, musical journey. So why is it that “Banjo” is at its most intimate in the opening minute, and ends at its most obstreperous?

The first two verses bow with a notably banjo (!) driven arrangement, free of schmaltzy string arrangements and Huff’s signature 80′s-rawk sensibilities. Lead vocalist LeVox laments how the “B.S.” has gotten so thick in the concrete jungle that he has decided to rev up his four-wheel drive and make a run for the back roads. By the time the chorus kicks in, the trio suddenly regresses to a standard arena-rock chorus that sounds as though it was cloned from “Summer Nights”, with LeVox beseeching you must “kick it into four-wheel drive when you run out of road, and you go……..until you hear banjo.”

“Banjo” steadily ramps it up from there, where LeVox goes on to brag in the third verse that their “little place of heaven hidden” has not been tracked by the satellites or G.P.S. yet (I’m willing to bet the song’s three co-writers we can eventually track it on Google Maps.) Finally, by the time we reach the song’s coda, rather than being greeted with an intimate, back-patio banjo solo or perhaps a whiff of mountain music, the group finally regresses to its stereotypical stadium-rock histrionics, with the touch-ups of banjo deafended by high octane blasts of electric guitar testosterone as the group fist-pumps to battle cries of “Whoa oh oh!”.

If “Banjo” is any sort of musical statement, it is quite a contradictory one. By DeMarcus’s logic……….shouldn’t the song start off dominated by electric guitar, only to gradually veer closer to traditional instruments and sounds as it goes on? It certainly sounds to me like, the more closer the group drives home to the hinterland, the more noise and distraction there tends to be! Perhaps the B.S. is even thicker where the G.P.S. don’t sleep!

Then again, considering the arrangement, suppose we were to re-think “Banjo”. Perhaps, “Banjo”, if anything, is an existential crisis put to music. It concerns a troubled protagonist, who “can’t take a breath without gettin’ sick” in this wasteland of the 21st century, and is idealistically driven to try and find a relic that has been long believed to have faded into obscurity. The longer and longer he drives on, the more desperate he grows, yet his panglossian disposition encourages him to press on. Finally, by the coda, he has started to become unhinged by his migraine-induced desperation that he, emotionally, has “ran out of road” as he hears what sounds like the last banjo crying insolably as it is being usurped and broken apart by stratocasting poachers.

Whatever this single’s three writers were intending, it misfires as a musical statement of sorts. In spite of this, that contradiction doesn’t necessarily defeat the entire listening experience. I for one appreciate the renewed energy output here, especially following back-to-back ballads (and several album cycles dominated by schmaltzy ballads before that). Also noteworthy is the fact LeVox’s vocal performance here is not nearly as overdone as we have been accustomed to hearing of him overall. LeVox actually sounds like he’s enjoying the ride here, rather than belting as though it’s all life or death. He even sounds rapturously laid-back often, most notably during the verses.

If anything, the group would benefit from channeling this sort of renewed hunger a little more often (minus the last 35 seconds)……………..albeit steering clear of lyrical swamps in the vein of offenders like “Bob That Head” and opting for less of Huff’s trademark rawk bombast. “Banjo” may not offer anything new to the table, but it is certain to become a live setlist standout and I can see numerous listeners tuning this up while burning up calories on the treadmill. Who knows, perhaps live renditions of “Banjo” on their forthcoming tour may provide a refuge for various accomplished banjo players to exhibit their skills from city to city. I hope so, anyway.

If you dare not overthink “Banjo”, you’ll likely at least tolerate it in a way you haven’t been able to tolerate previous rockers from Rascal Flatts. If you are hankering for some clawhammering in its most intimate splendor, however………try not to breathe, and keep on drivin’. You ain’t even close.

Grade: C+

Listen: Banjo

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Suzy Bogguss

Written by Bob Losche.

Suzy Bogguss has been my favorite female vocalist for about 20 years now. The first time I heard her was on some TV show with Jerry Reed in 1991. She sang “Aces” and “Night Riders Lament” and I was hooked. Since then, I’ve seen her in concert about a dozen times from New York to Nashville and in-between. She still tours on her own in addition to her “Wine, Women and Song” shows with great songwriter friends Matraca Berg and Gretchen Peters. Suzy has done some writing herself having co-written 56 songs, including hits “Hey Cinderella” and “Just Like the Weather”.

Besides attending her shows, I have all her albums. In reviewing her 2007 album “Sweet Danger”, the bossman here at CU, Kevin Coyne said “the arrangements of the songs are subtle and low-key, allowing for the vocals to shine and the songs to work on their own merit, not through the bells-and-whistles of clever production”. I believe that Kevin’s statement could be applied to all of Suzy’s albums.

Suzy never throws away a lyric. You never have to guess at the words she sings. Back to Kevin again – In his review of her last single “In Heaven”, he said that “her voice is still as pure and clear as a mountain stream, and she instinctively knows the great truth about singing that too many women these days never learned: it’s not about power, it’s about sincerity”.

Chet Atkins was a big admirer of Suzy, saying “I don’t like hot dogs and I don’t like anchovies. I don’t like people who say there are too many guitar players in the world, and I especially don’t like singers who sneak up on their notes. But I like Suzy Bogguss…she is always in the tone center, her voice sparkles like crystal water, and she ain’t all that bad looking boys and girls–she’s only one of the best.”

As other writers in this series have mentioned, I found it difficult to get down to 25 songs. Suzy’s highest charting single, “Drive South”, didn’t make my list. Here are some of my favorite songs by Suzy Bogguss:

#25

“Shenandoah”

From the 2011 album American Folk Songbook

A beautiful rendition of a traditional American folk song said to date back to the early 19th century.

#24

“Nobody Love, Nobody Gets Hurt”

from the 1998 album Nobody Love, Nobody Gets Hurt

A Bobbie Cryner song about a would be robber who hands the girl behind the counter in a convenience store a note that he meant to say “Nobody Move, Nobody Gets Hurt”; he wrote “Nobody Love …”

#23

“Outbound Plane”

from the 1991 album Aces

Her current love has flown but she knows she’ll fall in love again in this Nanci Griffith and Tom Russell penned song.

#22

“Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me”

from the 2003 album Swing

Duke Ellington composed the music and Bob Russell wrote the lyrics for this song from the 40′s about not paying attention to rumors. Ray Benson produced the album.

#21

“When She Smiled at Him”

from the 1994 album Simpatico

A father daughter song, written by Michael Johnson and Joanie Beeson, that begins “he wasn’t prepared for a daughter, he thought how nice a son would have been, but she had her way with her father, when she smiled at him”. OK, it’s a sweet and sentimental song. Add a star if you have a daughter. I do.

#20

“Somebody to Love”

from the 1998 album Nobody Love, Nobody Gets Hurt

Her last single to crack the country top 40 was written by Matraca Berg, Suzy & hubby Doug Crider. The girl is brokenhearted and wants somebody cause the night is long. But “she’s got to be tough and hold out honey cause, what you really want is somebody to love”.

#19

Diamonds and Tears

from the 1993 album Something Up My Sleeve

In an article Kevin wrote on Matraca Berg, he said the song was “Berg’s finest philosophical moment, a reflection on how the journey of life is its own destination. Even lost love is a form of “higher education”: “I have said and heard the word ‘goodbye’, felt the blade and turned the knife sideways. But I crossed bridges while they burned, to keep from losing what I’ve learned along the way.” The song was co-written by Gary Harrison.

#18

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

from the 2001 album Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

The song is based on the Longfellow poem, “Christmas Bells”, which was written on Christmas Day 1864, a few months before the end of the Civil War. Verse two expresses despair that there’s no peace on earth. In verse three, joy triumphs: “then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth he sleep, the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

#17

“In Heaven”

from the 2007 album Sweet Danger

Solely written by Doug Crider, who has written 184 songs, this song always gets to me. Since I can’t think of a better way to say it (how’s that for sucking up?), I’ll quote Kevin again from his review noted above: “As Bogguss asks her deceased husband for his blessing on the new love she has found, all of the shades of emotion are there in her multi-layered performance: fear, apprehension, guilt, joy, sorrow. You can feel the conflict inside of her character as she sings every line.”

#16

“Goodnight”

from the 1999 album Suzy Bogguss

This Charlie Black and Dana Hunt song is a perfect fit for my playlists of songs mentioning a U.S. city or state. The woman is trying to get back with her lover, but keeps just missing him. The chorus goes “So goodnight Raleigh, goodnight Durham, goodnight Atlanta and Macon and Jacksonville, Live from high atop the hood of my car, I’m signing off, sweet dreams baby, wherever you are”.

#15

“She Said, He Heard”

from the 1996 album Give Me Some Wheels

A song Suzy wrote with Don Schlitz about the different planets men and women sometimes occupy. “She said ‘I’m mad’, he heard ‘I’m leaving’, she said ‘I’m sad’, he heard ‘It’s all your fault’.”

#14

“How Come You Go to Her”

from the 1992 album Voices in the Wind

A what’s she got that that I ain’t got song from Anthony Smith, Michael Garvin and Suzy. “You said it was heaven in my arms, so how come they ain’t holding you.”

#13

“Cold Day in July”

from the 1992 album Voices in the Wind

“You always said that the day you’d leave me, would be a cold day in July”. I love the Dixie Chicks but Suzy’s earlier recording of this Richard Leigh song from 1981 blows them out of the water.

#12

“Just Like the Weather”

from the 1993 album Something Up My Sleeve

Her man is thinking about leaving, so she uses the changeability of the weather as a metaphor to convince him to stay and tough it out. A Bogguss-Crider writing collaboration that resulted in a top ten hit.

#11

“I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”

from the 1989 album Somewhere Between

Suzy’s cover of Country Music Hall of Famer Patsy Montana’s signature song first released in 1935. Love Suzy’s yodeling.

#10

“Saying Goodbye to a Friend”

from the 1996 album Give Me Some Wheels

A song from Angela Kaset and Doug Gill about trying to get over the loss of a loved one. Lines like “These little things that shouldn’t matter, make something inside me shatter” and “like a scene in a rearview mirror, I thought I’d got past it, now I’m looking at it again” reflect the singer’s state of mind.

#9

“Handyman’s Dream”

from the 1989 album Somewhere Between

A bouncy Gary Nicholson-Pam Tillis tune about potential as expressed by lines like: “I’m a little rundown from lack of attention, but my possibilities are too numerous to mention” and “I need a man who’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves, If you could only picture what the end result will be”. Hmm.

#8

“Someday Soon”

from the 1991 album Aces

An Ian Tyson classic, first recorded in 1964. The woman’s problem: “He loves his damned old rodeo as much as he loves me.” Today her problem would more likely be playing golf or watching football.

#7

“Letting Go”

from the 1991 album Aces

A song from hubby Doug and Matt Rollings that parents sending their kids off to college for the first time can appreciate. I speak from first hand experience.

#6

“Eat at Joe’s”

from the 1992 album Voices in the Wind

In this Berg-Harrison tune about a waitress in an all night diner, Suzy’s sounds a bit sassy as she sings “here’s a hot top on your coffee, honey you’re a mess, I ain’t your wife, I ain’t your momma, but I’ll do I guess”.

#5

“It’s Not Gonna Happen Today”

from the 2007 album Sweet Danger

Kevin’s comment: “Bogguss co-wrote one of the strongest tracks on the album, the dark and despondent “It’s Not Gonna Happen Today.” It finds the narrator hiding out in her house on an autumn afternoon, with the leaves piling up outside. “I don’t really want to face all the things I’ve left undone,” she confesses. “At least a thousand things…maybe only one.” Suzy’s co-writers were Greg Barnhill and Doug Crider.

#4

“Night Rider’s Lament”

from the 1989 album Somewhere Between

There’s low pay and no advancement so why does this cowboy ride and rope for his living in this Michael Burton song? The end of the chorus provides the answer to the suggestion that “he must have gone crazy out there”:

But he’s never seen the Northern Lights
Never seen a hawk on the wing
He’s never seen Spring hit the Great Divide
And never heard Ol’ Camp Cookie sing.

Suzy’s yodeling at the end is awesome.

#3

“Something Up My Sleeve”

from the 1993 album Something Up My Sleeve

A duet with Billy Dean penned by Suzi Ragsdale and Verlon Thompson. The relationship isn’t working out for either party but neither one wants to leave. Suzy sings the first verse and Billy the second. In the third verse they alternate lines, Suzy then Billy responding. In the fourth verse, they again alternate, Billy with Suzy answering. They end together singing “I wish I had the power to make us both believe, I wish I had something up my sleeve.” Both contribute equally, a true duet, and their voices, Suzy’s soprano and Billy’s baritone, go so well together.

#2

“Hey Cinderella”

from the 1993 album Something Up My Sleeve

The fantasy of the first two verses turns into “dreams that lost their way” by the end of the third verse. The chorus begins “Hey Cinderella” and ends with the question “Does the shoe fit you now?” In the song’s second half, reality has totally set in. There’s talk of compromising and coming to terms with our vanity. Suzy co-wrote the song with Berg and Harrison.

#1

“Aces”

from the 1991 album Aces

Writer Cheryl Wheeler once explained that the song is about 3 persons. A and the singer, B, are former lovers. A introduces B to C and the latter two get together. A and C were also former lovers. B is singing to A who complained about B and C getting together. Hence, she sings “you can’t deal me the Aces and think I wouldn’t play.”

Since the lyrics do not mention this third party, C, another interpretation could be that of mentor and protege. The former trains the latter and makes her a star but never wants to relinquish control. (Porter and Dolly?) Lines like “you feel undermined and hurt again” and “compromise and realize you can never really run every thing you start” could fit this second scenario. This has been how I always interpreted the lyrics. Cheryl’s explanation can be found on her website.

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Album Review: Gary Nicholson, Texas Songbook

Gary Nicholson
Texas Songbook


Written by Bob Losche

Texas Songbook is the latest album from country/blues singer/songwriter Gary Nicholson, a recent inductee into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame. Nicholson is best known for writing familiar radio hits such as”The Trouble With the Truth” (Patty Loveless), “One More Last Chance” (Vince Gill), “Squeeze Me In” (Garth Brooks/Trisha Yearwood), and “She Couldn’t Change Me” (Montgomery Gentry), among many others.

Although he left Texas for Nashville over 30 years ago, Nicholson remains a Texan at heart, and all 13 songs on Texas Songbook have a Texas connection.

Produced by Gary and recorded in Austin at Asleep at the Wheel’s Bismeaux Records, the album features Texas musicians and co-writers, the latter group including the likes of Lee Roy Parnell, Delbert McClinton, Guy Clark and Allen Shamblin among others. There’s plenty of fiddle and steel guitar as well as effective use of the harmonica and accordion in this collection of swinging and two-stepping, dance hall and honky-tonk style music.

Many country music fans may already be familiar with some of the songs on this album: “Fallin’ & Flyin’ “, written with the late Stephen Bruton and performed by Jeff Bridges, was featured in the movie “Crazy Heart.” The island flavored “Live, Laugh, Love” was written with Allen Shamblin and previously recorded by Clay Walker on his 1999 album of the same title. It’s a “seize the moment” song.

Previously recorded by George Strait, Delbert McClinton and Del McCoury, “Same Kind of Crazy” written with Delbert McClinton, gets things rocking. McClinton plays harmonica with backing vocals by Randy Rogers. The man is smitten because his new girl is the same kind of crazy as he is. The third verse begins, “It’s getting hard to use a ladder ’cause I keep climbing down just to kiss her” and concludes with the best line of the song, “she talks in her sleep but she always gets my name right.”

My favorite track on the album is “Talkin’ Texan”, which was written with Jon Randall Stewart. I especially love the chorus: “there’s nothin’ he ain’t seen or done,/ he’s always got the biggest one/ he ain’t lyin’, he’s just talkin’ Texan”

Another co-write with Jon Randall, along with Guy Clark, is “Some Days You Write the Song”, which was the title song of Clark’s 2009 Grammy nominated record, Some Days the Song Writes You. Musing on the mystery of the song writing process, Nicholson sings, “Somedays you write the song, some days the song writes you.”

The cool sounding “Messin’ with My Woman”, written with John Hadley and Seth Walker, is a swinging tune with attitude. “Don’t be messin’ with my woman, when I’m out on the road, let my song be your warning, you can’t say you ain’t been told.” If the guy does mess with his woman, he’s “gonna take a whole lot of doctors to put you back the way you were”, with background singers Ray Benson and Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel chiming in “they’d never get it right, they’d never get it right”.

The well executed fiddle and steel guitar filled “Texas Weather”, written with Lee Roy Parnell, opens the album by comparing the singer’s relationship with his woman to the volatile weather of his home state. He contrasts “angry voices, bitter cold and tender words that warm the soul”. “We know if we only wait a while we’ll see that rainbow smile”. The theme is a bit predictable. It reminds me of the saying, “If you don’t like the weather in (fill in the blank), wait 5 minutes.”

With a swinging melody that I love, “She Feels Like Texas” was written with Kimmie Rhodes. The girl’s “in a lone star state of mind, everywhere she goes.” Whenever she sees a foreign tourist attraction, she compares it to something from Texas, including calling the Eiffel Tower “the biggest oil rig I believe I’ve ever seen”.

“A Woman in Texas, A Woman in Tennessee” is a solo writing effort by Gary that he calls “a true story I made up”. Both women wondered where he was half the time. The situation gets more complicated as the song progresses: children with both, an accidental meeting of the families and the revelation of another family in Louisiana.

“Listen to Willie” is a tribute to the Redheaded Stranger written with Kevin Welch. Except for the chorus, the lyrics consist essentially of Willie Nelson song titles: “You’ve always been a ‘good hearted woman’, and I’d hate to see your ‘blue eyes cryin’ in the rain’. Other titles cleverly connected to compose the verses include “funny how time slips away”, “you were always on my mind”, “night life”, “on the road again”, “crazy” and about a half dozen others. Add a star if you’re a Willie fan. It is clever but after a few listens, I got tired of it

“Bless ‘em All”, written solely by Gary, bless him, features the gospel singing McCrary Sisters. Bless them too. The song mentions about a dozen religions, bless ‘em all, and concludes that “we got to all come together and find a better way to live”.

“Texas Ruby”, written with Jim Croce’s son AJ, features Marcia Ball on piano and Jim Hoke on saxophone. It tells of a stripper who gets on a street car in New Orleans on a real hot and sticky day and starts doing her thing. It’s a mildly amusing tune that AJ previously recorded in ’06 on his “Early On” cd.

“Lone Star Blues” was written with Delbert McClinton and has been previously covered by Delbert & George Strait. In the first scenario, he signs up for the rodeo. “I drew a bull called original sin, heard he’d killed a couple of men”, … but “he got disqualified when the bull up and died”. The chorus and last two scenarios gave me the blues and should have died too. The chorus speaks of north, south, east and west Texas blues, together the Lone Star Blues.

Although the songs included in “Texas Songbook” do not, for the most part, match some of Gary’s very best songs, the album as a whole is thoroughly enjoyable. The production is light throughout, the music is great and Gary knows how to deliver a song. If you’re into dancing, you’ll double your pleasure with this album.

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Album Review: Steve Wariner, Guitar Laboratory

Written by Paul W. Dennis of The 9513.

Steve Wariner
Guitar Laboratory


Chet Atkins had many disciples, not the least of whom was Steve Wariner. Steve was a major country star and chart presence from 1980-1994 with scattered success both before and after his peak years.

Steve grew up listening to his father’s record collection which included some Merle Travis and everything Chet Atkins recorded. After tours with Dottie West and Bob Luman, Steve signed with RCA as a recording artist and became a friend and student of Chet Atkins. Steve has won many awards and honors but the award of which he is most proud was being awarded the Certified Guitar Player designation by Chet (the only others were Tommy Emmanuel, Jerry Reed and John Knowles).

Guitar Laboratory is a sequel of sorts to his previous album, My Tribute To Chet Atkins, released in 2009 . This album is no stubborn copy or pastiche of Chet’s style but represents a tribute to the spirit of Chet Atkins, covering a wide range of styles and tempos. While I wouldn’t describe this album as a country album, it does contain some country (“Sugarfoot Rag”) as well as some jazz (“A Groove”), some rock (“Telekinesis”), some blues (“Crafty”), some folk/bluegrass (“Up A Red Hill”) and even some Hawai’ian (Waikiki ’79) On some songs such as “Crafty” and “Kentuckiana” Steve sounds very much like Chet; however , on other tracks, not quite so much.

Steve enlists several guest pickers on the album who acquit themselves admirably. Steve is joined on “Sugarfoot Rag” by legendary guitarist Leon Rhodes, a long-time Opry Band member and former member of Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours. Paul Yandell, a long-time associate and musical compadre of Chet’s, joins in on “Pals” and Steve’s son Ryan Wariner shows his musical chops on the rocking “Sting Ray”. The review copy of the album did not include any notes so I am not sure of the identity of any background musicians such as the accordionist and violinist on “I Will Never Forget You (Je Ne T’oulbieri Jamais)” or the trumpeter on “Phyllis and Ramona”, but suffice it to say they are all excellent.

All songs on this album, except “Sugarfoot Rag” were written by Steve Wariner (“Sugarfoot Rag” of course was written by guitar legend Hank Garland). There’s something for everyone on this all instrumental collection, and while I generally prefer vocal albums, I’ve listened to this album five times through thus far, although I’ve played my two favorite tunes “Sugarfoot Rag” and “Up a Red Hill” far more often than that.

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Searching for Gary Harrison

Written by Bob Losche (Music & More)

Google “Gary Harrison songwriter” and you won’t find a website or MySpace. There’s not even a Wikipedia article. Don’t know where he’s from, how he got into songwriting or what he likes to eat for dinner.

As far as I know, he has never made an album. When he co-writes a song, does he write the music or the lyrics or a little of both? Don’t know. He’s a Grammy nominated songwriter as co-writer of “Strawberry Wine”, the 1997 CMA Song of the Year, and has penned many BMI Award-Winning Songs. It appears that his first big hit was “Lying in Love with You”, written with Dean Dillon for Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius. The duet went to #2 in 1979.

Since there is so little data to draw from, a chronological treatment of his illustrious career would be difficult. I’ve decided instead to begin with the collaboration Gary is best known for, his work with Matraca Berg, and then continue with his other significant songwriting collaborations.

In his excellent Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters article on Matraca Berg, Kevin gave us his favorite 25 songs written by Berg. Gary Harrison has frequently collaborated with Matraca. On Kevin’s list the following 9 songs are written by Berg/Harrison:

  • #25 Wild Angels – Martina McBride
  • #22 Give Me Some Wheels – Suzy Bogguss
  • #20 Demolition Angel – Pam Tillis
  • #19 Everybody Knows – Trisha Yearwood
  • #10 Strawberry Wine – Deana Carter
  • #7 Wrong Side of Memphis – Trisha Yearwood
  • #5 Diamonds and Tears – Suzy Bogguss
  • #4 Dreaming Fields – Trisha Yearwood
  • #3 My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again – Patty Loveless

Give a read to Kevin’s write-up for all 25. Kevin asked for comments from his readers on their favorite Matraca Berg songs. In the 29 comments received, three more collaborations with Gary were mentioned that didn’t make Kevin’s cut, including “Hey Cinderella” and “Eat at Joe’s” by Suzy Bogguss and Pinmonkey’s “That Train Don’t Run”.

“Hey Cinderella” is from Suzy’s 1993 CD, Something Up My Sleeve. Fantasy turns into “dreams that lost their way” by the end of the first long verse. In the second verse, reality sets in. In “Eat at Joe’s”, from her 1992 CD, Voices in the Wind, Suzy’s sounds like a sultry waitress in an all night diner – “here’s a hot top on your coffee, honey you’re a mess, I ain’t your wife I ain’t your momma, but I’ll do I guess”. The bridge is a wistful but not really hopeful call out to prince charming.

My favorite Pinmonkey song is still “Barbed Wire and Roses”, but “That Train Don’t Run”, from their 2006 Big Shiny Cars CD, isn’t far behind. It’s up-tempo like Barbed Wire. It was also a single for Matraca Berg from her 1997 “Sunday Morning to Saturday Night” cd. The singer recalls a former lover who may have been a bit on the wild side. It must be “your memory rattlin’ the shutters, that train don’t run by here no more”. The next line is “I lie and listen to the last boxcar, sweet dreams baby wherever you are”. Love that last phrase. Sounds like something Bogie might have said.

A bit of trivia: I wonder how many times that last phrase, “sweet dreams baby, wherever you are”, has been used in a song. In addition to the Pinmonkey song, I found it in “Goodnight”, written by Charlie Black and Dana Hunt, from Suzy Bogguss’ self-titled 1999 CD. The last line of the chorus is “I’m signing off, sweet dreams baby, wherever you are”. A song by Jedd Hughes, “Time to Say Goodnight” has “sweet dreams baby, sweet dreams baby wherever you are tonight”. It was written by Hughes, Tommy Lee James and Terry McBride and can be found on Hughes’ 2004 CD, Transcontinental. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else finds another instance.

I found another Berg/Harrison collaboration but this time with Jeff Hanna on a Chely Wright song, “Emma Jean’s Guitar”. It’s an album track from Chely’s 1997 Let Me In CD, which featured “Shut Up and Drive”. The story tells of a guitar with Emma Jean’s name etched in the finish found in a pawnshop. The singer wonders about Emma Jean’s hopes and dreams and feels that she’s the guardian of her guitar.

Gary has written quite a few great songs without Matraca. Another frequent co-writer for Gary has been Tim Mensy. My favorite Mensy-Harrison collaboration is Trisha Yearwood’s “Nearest Distant Shore”, an album track from her 1992 Hearts in Armor CD. It’s a song about getting out of a bad relationship: “You did your best but “the one you swore to love is pulling you down, you’re in over your head, chilled to the bone by the waters you’ve tread, chart a course to land before you drown”.

“That Wasn’t Me” was an excellent album track for Martina McBride on her 1993 CD, The Way That I Am. She knows that the guy is still hurting from the memory of an old girlfriend. She tells him “that wasn’t me”. It’s time to move on because she “can no longer pay the price” of his not letting go.

For fans of Mark Chesnutt, there’s “I Just Wanted You to Know”, a #1 song in ’94 from the CD Almost Goodbye and a #6 the same year, “She Dreams”, from What a Way to Live. Other Mensy Harrison collaborations include Doug Stone’s “I Thought It Was You”, a #4 in 1991, “A Singer in the Band”, an album track on Joe Nichol’s Revelation CD in 2004, and a Mark Wills song “Any Fool Can say Goodbye”.

With J.D. Martin, Gary Harrison wrote “Rollin’ Lonely”, a Johnny Lee song from his “Workin’ for a Livin’ ” album, which reached #9 on the charts in 1985, “Domestic Life”, a John Conlee #4 hit from his “American Faces” album in 1987, “Two Car Garage”, a #3 hit in 1983 from the B.J. Thomas album “The Great American Dream” and “Broken Toys”, a song about child abuse from BJ’s 1985 album “Throwin’ Rocks at the Moon”. The last song was written with Gloria Thomas as well as J.D.

Gary co-wrote 3 songs with Tammy Cochran from her “Thirty Something and Single” album released in June of 2009, the title track, “It’s All Over But the Leaving” and “He Really Thinks He’s Got It”.

With Karen Staley, he wrote “Face in the Crowd” which peaked at #4, a duet with Michael Martin Murphey and Holly Dunn from the former’s 1987 “Americana” album and “Now and Then” which Michelle Wright took to #9 in Canada.

Some other Gary Harrison songs are:

- “I Hate Everything” written with Keith Stegall, a #1 for George Strait in 2005. Check out the wake-up call at the end.

- “Alone Some” with Billy Yates, an album track for Billy from his 2005 album “Harmony Man”.

- “Crazy Me” and “I Do It for Your Love” with Richard Marx, from the Kenny Rogers 2000 CD There You Go Again.

Impressive list and I’ve probably missed some songs. If you search BMI.com, you’ll find 918 work titles for Gary Harrison. He’s been so busy, he probably hasn’t had time to set up a website or MySpace.

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Single Review: Dierks Bentley, “Draw Me a Map”

This single review is written by Guest Contributor Jennifer Bernard.

“Draw Me a Map,” the second single from Up on the Ridge, contains lyrics which are cleverly evocative and packed with passion. The acoustic arrangement combined with the vocals of Dierks Bentley and Alison Krauss make for a soothing delivery of words that definitely dive below the surface. Specifically with lines such as “I’d beg forgiveness but I don’t know where to start” and “I’ve never been so at loss, I’m at a canyon I can’t get around or cross,” you can truly feel the anxiety and hopelessness that Bentley illustrates.

What strikes me while listening to this song is the vulnerability of the man in this situation. It is obvious that he regrets letting her go and now understands that she and him are meant to be (“You’re my destiny and destination”). It’s always refreshing to put pride aside and express how one feels on a deeper level which the ballad so strongly conveys. Krauss doesn’t have a major presence in this song which is both dulcet as it is symbolic.  We understand that this song is about the man’s apology and the woman’s forgiveness. Furthermore, with Krauss in the background we are comforted knowing that she is there listening and possibly yearning for their relationship, too.

I’m a huge fan of metaphors, so there’s no mistaking that I appreciate this song’s metaphorical lyrics. No, he’s not asking her to physically draw him a map to help him find her. Rather, he’s desperate for her to tell him how he can come back in her life. It’s a song about a tender subject, so the simple vocals and music execute a harmonious match. Although the tune may not have an outstanding presence or be as memorable as its country ballad predecessors, all in all, this collaboration provides a unique touch to the album and is a nice addition to Bentley’s musical résumé.

Written by Dierks Bentley & Jon Randall Stewart

Grade: B

Listen: Draw Me a Map


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