Tag Archives: Diamond Rio

Diamond Rio, “God is There”

diamond-rioI’ve never been a fan of Contemporary Christian music, mostly because of the bombastic arrangements. I like my religious songs Emmylou or Willie style, with organic production and, if I’m really lucky, a bit of struggle before the redemption.

So it was with great enthusiasm that I dove in to Diamond Rio’s “God is There.” I’ve always loved the sound of this band’s records, even when the material was slight. When the material was solid, like the back-porch bliss of “Meet in the Middle” or tongue-twisting charm of “How Your Love Makes Me Feel”, nothing sounded better.

“God is There” opens promisingly, with a sparse piano accompanying Marty Roe’s voice. It sounds so similar to their best single ever, “You’re Gone”, that it got my hopes up.  The opening verse tells of a young girl struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, feeling abandoned and alone.

The message in response, “God is there”, is a poignant reminder that she’s not alone.  God is there. Unfortunately, so is a frighteningly loud wall of sound that destroys all of the intimacy that had been so delicately crafted.

The cluttered and overwrought production drowns out the band’s distinctive harmonies during the chorus, but what’s worse it that it also drowns out the song’s message. The lesson that the lyrics teach is that God’s presence is always there, even when it can’t be seen or heard. The song is far more effective when the production reinforces that message instead of undermining it.

Grade: B-

Listen: God is There


Filed under Single Reviews

Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters: Darrell Scott

darrell-scottI’m pleased to introduce a new feature to Country Universe readers, which is a spin off of Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists called Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters.

While we all appreciate songwriters for their invaluable contributions to our favorite artists, they still often remain unrecognized as the people behind the scenes and, therefore, stand in the shadows of the big name artists who sing their songs. The purpose of this feature is to spotlight those songwriters who had or have aspirations of being stars, but are better known for sharing their craft with the more visible artists.

Therefore, the criteria for this feature is that the spotlighted songwriter has to have both written songs that other artists have recorded and recorded music of his/her own. For instance, Darrell Scott, Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Robison, etc. are eligible songwriters, since they’ve recorded their own music and written songs for other artists. Conversely, people like Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Clint Black etc. won’t be eligible, since they’ve mostly only written songs for themselves and not others.

Finally, Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters will include a mix of songs that the songwriter has recorded, and songs that he/she has written that other artists have recorded, which will obviously depend on our favorite songs by that songwriter and our preferred version of the chosen song.

With this feature, we hope to help readers realize the contributions of individual songwriters and, perhaps, inspire you to explore the artists’ own discographies as a result.

Last summer I kicked off our Songwriters Series with my favorite modern country music songwriter, Darrell Scott. So, I thought it fitting to do the same with this new feature. Since I’ve already taken up considerable space describing this feature, I encourage you all to refer to my aforementioned spotlight to learn more about the man about which this article is written.

A pertinent note, however, is that most of the songs on this list have been recorded by both Scott and other artists. While the majority of the songs on this particular list will specifically refer to other artists, please assume that Scott’s own recordings are more than worth exploring as well.


Darrell Scott, “Banjo Clark”
Aloha From Nashville

One of the things that I marvel the most about Darrell Scott is his ability to write songs that sound like timeless standards. “Banjo Clark” is one such song. In fact, I had to double check to make sure Scott had actually written this song and that it wasn’t a public domain standard that he revived.


Tim McGraw, “Old Town New”
Live Like You Were Dying

Scott wrote “Old Town New” with another superb modern songwriter, Bruce Robison. So, it’s no surprise that this song about a man wishing that he could make his old town feel new again after a failed relationship is good. While it remained just an album cut on McGraw’s signature album, it’s as good as many of the singles that were released from it.


Suzy Bogguss, “No Way Out”
Give Me Some Wheels

“No Way Out” is up-tempo, but is not devoid of life’s realities. The family experiences familiar hardships, but the husband and wife hold themselves accountable by reminding each other that they’ve “fell in love and there’s no way out.”

While Bogguss’ recording is the superior version, both Darrel Scott’s and Julie Roberts’ versions are good as well. Moreover, this is the first song of Scott’s that was recorded by another artist.


Darrell Scott, “When There’s No One Around”

Family Tree

Garth Brooks recorded a version of “When There’s No One Around”, but Scott’s version is more organic and sonically appealing. It’s a poignant look at who we are when there’s no one around, which is inevitably different than our public personas.


Travis Tritt, “It’s A Great Day to Be Alive”
Down the Road I Go

We  all know “It’s A Great Day to Be Alive”, since it was a big hit for Travis Tritt. This song has been recorded by Scott and Cory Morrow. Tritt’s is the definitive version, however. It tries to be hopeful while still somehow managing to feel a little bleak at the same time. While he proclaims that it’s a great day to be alive, there’s a sadness that lurks under the surface that seems to threaten the bright outlook, which is actually more tangible in Scott’s recording.


Darrell Scott, “With A Memory Like Mine”

Real Time

“With A Memory Like Mine” was co-written with his dad, Wayne Scott. Darrell found the beginnings of this song in a notebook of his father’s and encouraged the Elder Scott to finish it with him. Scott’s version, which can be found on a solid project with Tim O’Brien, is darker than the quick paced recording by The John Cowan Band, which is more appropriate for this chillingly sad song. The man sends his son off to war by telling him to “be a good soldier/but return again someday.” His son does return, but in the most devastating way possible for a parent. In a casket.


Martina McBride, “I’m Trying”


“I’m Trying” has been recorded by both Diamond Rio as a duet with Chely Wright and Martina McBride, though McBride’s is the stronger version. It explores a struggling relationship that almost seems like more work than it’s worth. Instead of leaving us with a typical happy or tragic ending, we are only given an assurance that they love each other and they are trying to make things work. The melody is tastefully simple with a fitting production that showcases McBride’s atypical restrained vocals, which translates into appropriate empathy for the characters within the song. It is a simple song with a simple production, but still poignant in a quiet way.


Trace Adkins, “Someday”


Adkins is the only artist to record this song, as far as I know. It’s a beautiful and hopeful song, with tinges of sadness. As is duly noted about Adkins, he sings these more serious songs the best, even if radio disagrees.


Dixie Chicks, “Heartbreak Town”


This is an indictment on Nashville, which is one of two songs written by Scott and recorded by The Chicks that tackles the topic. The song portrays Nashville, a place where so many people hope to enjoy success, as a “heartbreak town, which is something that both the Chicks and Scott have surely learned from personal experience.


Kathy Mattea, “Loves Not Through With You Yet”

Right Out of Nowhere

I’m thrilled that one of my favorite Mattea albums includes this thoughtful, gorgeous Celtic flavored song by Darrell Scott: “You may think that love takes two, but loves a gift from you to you.”


Sara Evans, “Born to Fly”

Born to Fly

Scott happened to write one of Sara Evans’ most recognizable and best hits to date. “Born to Fly” is an infectious coming of age song. While her parents are stable and grounded, that’s not the way the songs’ character wishes to live and she asks, “How do you keep your feet on the ground when you know you were born to fly?”


Darryl Worley, “Family Tree”

I Miss My Friend

While many of Scott’s songs can be heavy, this is an example of his sillier side. Scott does a great version, but Worley cuts loose just the right amount. He clearly revels in singing deliciously smarmy lyrics like, “Well, raisin’ up babies is our new sport/You’re one day late and I’m one dollar short/Now, maybe it was planned or maybe it was a goof/But a cat’s got to dance on a hot tin roof.”


Darrell Scott, “Goodle’ USA”

The Invisible Man

A more watered down version of this song can be heard on Faith Hill’s album. If one doesn’t listen closely, it’s easy to miss the probing lyrics that question the state of America. While Scott’s recording is not quite as polished, the political message is much more overt, which includes his original lyrics that were altered for Hill’s version to be less controversial.


Dixie Chicks, “Long Time Gone”


This is the other song that was written by Scott and recorded by The Chicks that takes Nashville to task. Wrapped in an unshakably catchy melody, “Long Time Gone” disregards conventional niceties and tersely critiques the music that’s being played on the radio:

“Now me and Delia singin’ every Sunday
Watchin’ the children and the garden grow
We listen to the radio to hear what’s cookin’
But the music ain’t got no soul

Now they sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard
They got money but they don’t have cash
They got Junior but they don’t have Hank
I think, I think, I think…the rest is…
A long Time Gone”


Patty Loveless, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”

Mountain Soul

Patty Loveless’ recording of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” sounds like a superb arrangement of a forgotten classic, except it isn’t a remake and was written just over ten years ago. While I feel the definitive version was recorded by Patty Loveless, Darrell Scott has recorded two versions that, even if Loveless’ version did not exist, would earn a spot on this list. Through haunting lyrics and melodic structure, “Harlan” tells the tragic story of the bleak existence of coalminers that is just about inevitable:

“But the times got hard and tobacco wasn’t selling
And old granddad knew what he’d do to survive
He went and dug for Harlan coal
And sent the money back to grandma
But he never left Harlan alive

Where the sun comes up about ten in the mornin’
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you’ll fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you’re drinkin’
And you spend your life just thinkin’ of how to get away”

Patty Loveless sings this song with an immense emotional intensity that was likely gathered from personal experience as a daughter of a coalmining father who eventually succumbed to “Black Lung Disease” as a result of coalmining in Kentucky. In fact, each person who has sung this song so far, including Darrell Scott himself, has a personal and deep understanding of the significance of the hopelessness that the lyrics convey, since Brad Paisley, Kathy Mattea and Scott also lived in coalmining towns as children. Consequently, they were all exposed to the horrifying reality of the song’s title that authoritatively proclaims that “you’ll never leave Harlan Alive.”

This list certainly does not exhaust the extent of Darrell Scott’s immeasurable songwriting prowess, but it shows his wide range of capabilities as a diverse composer and lyricist. He can do fun, heartbreak, inspirational, political, social commentary, fast, slow, etc. Moreover, he does it all with poignancy and wit, as it is appropriate.


Filed under Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters

Album Reviews: 16 Biggest Hits (Alabama, Diamond Rio, Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Dolly Parton)

Since their merger a couple of years back, Sony BMG has been combining their budget title lines.   Originating with Sony, the 16 Biggest Hits series has been intended to provide a good career overview of major country acts.    With six more tracks than the Super Hits series, it’s been a good way for consumers to pick up the big tracks by legendary Sony artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Tammy Wynette, and also provided excellent hits compilations for boom years acts like Ricky Van Shelton, Joe Diffie and Collin Raye.

The line has recently been expanded to include some core BMG acts, both legends and superstars still with the label.    Also, with the departure of Patty Loveless from Sony, the first attempt to do a compilation of her fruitful years with the label has been released.

When grading a compilation, the following criteria must be considered: selection of tracks, value for the price, and how it compares to other compilations already on the market.   Here’s a look at how the recent 16 Biggest Hits releases measure up:

16 Biggest Hits


Track Listing: Mountain Music/Song of the South/Love in the First Degree/If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)/Born Country/Feels So Right/The Closer You Get/She and I/Fallin’ Again/Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)/Jukebox in My Mind/Down Home/I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)/Can’t Keep a Good Man Down/Southern Star/High Cotton

The endless string of recent Alabama compilations makes this particular entry a little less necessary.   The track selection treads much of the same ground as the 2004 release Ultimate Alabama, with that collection boasting four more tracks, including the essential hits “Forty Hour Week (For a Livin’)” and “Tennessee River.”   The big problem with cataloging Alabama using the “hits” standard is that it ends up excluding their signature track “My Home’s in Alabama”, which wasn’t a huge chart hit but remains one of their most beloved songs.    If those three tracks had been used in place of some of the lesser-quality hits here, you’d have a collection that was a lot closer to indispensable.  As it is, this one is still a good value, but it isn’t the definitive single-disc set that the band deserves.

Diamond Rio
16 Biggest Hits


Track Listing: How Your Love Makes Me Feel/Walkin’ Away/Holdin’/Meet in the Middle/Unbelievable/Beautiful Mess/One More Day/Love a Little Stronger/Oh Me, Oh My, Sweet Baby/Mirror Mirror/You’re Gone/Nowhere Bound/Norma Jean Riley/In a Week or Two/This Romeo Ain’t Got Julie Yet

One of the tricky things about a series like this is it imposes a framework that each artist must fit into.  That would be great if every artist had exactly 16 big hits, but that’s rarely the case.   Diamond Rio, however, had just the right amount of success to be anthologized this way, with the only major omission here being “Mama Don’t Forget to Pray For Me.”  I’d also have liked them to stick with the chronological approach that used to define this series, but these are minor quibbles.  This is instantly the most complete Diamond Rio collection on the market.

Alan Jackson
16 Biggest Hits


Track Listing: Chattahoochee/Gone Country/It Must Be Love/Midnight in Montgomery/Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow/Don’t Rock the Jukebox/Mercury Blues/Here in the Real World/Pop a Top/That’d Be Alright/I Don’t Even Know Your Name/Gone Crazy/I’ll Go On Loving You/Little Man/Who’s Cheatin’ Who/Summertime Blues

It’s a tough call to make, given that every track here ranges from very good to legendary, but Alan Jackson already has two excellent Greatest Hits collections on the market, with a stunning 20-track first volume that covers his early career and a second volume with another 18 hits.    Sure, this is the first compilation that covers both eras, but it doesn’t do it particularly well.   Five of these sixteen songs are covers, which is far too many for a collection by one of the genre’s best singer-songwriters.   And they didn’t have the courage to really include all of the biggest hits:  “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”, “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, “Livin’ on Love”, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Remember When” would be needed for this live up to its title.

Patty Loveless
16 Biggest Hits


Track Listing: Timber I’m Falling In Love/Chains/Blame it On Your Heart/You Will/How Can I Help You Say Goodbye/I Try to Think About Elvis/Here I Am/You Don’t Even Know Who I Am/Halfway Down/You Can Feel Bad/A Thousand Times a Day/Lonely Too Long/She Drew a Broken Heart/You Don’t Seem to Miss Me/That’s The Kind of Mood I’m In/Lovin’ All Night

It’s disappointing that MCA’s Definitive Collection for Patty Loveless is more thorough, given that it was her years with Sony that have made her a serious contender for the Hall of Fame.  Sony was nice enough to give MCA “You Can Feel Bad” and “Lonely Too Long” to tack on to their Loveless collection, which ended up with 22 tracks.   MCA returned the favor by allowing “Timber I’m Falling In Love” and “Chains” to be used on this collection, but that’s a net loss for two reasons: one, Tony Brown’s dated eighties production sounds out of place next to Emory Gordy’s flawless work with Loveless in the nineties; and two, that leaves room for only fourteen more tracks from the Sony years.

That said, this is now the most complete overview of her years with the label, and it includes six hits that were left off of Classics, her first hits compilation with Sony.  However, because of the MCA tracks being squeezed on, there’s no room for “Nothin’ But the Wheel”, “On Your Way Home”, “My Kind of Woman/My Kind of Man”, “To Have You Back Again”, “The Boys are Back in Town” or “The Last Thing on My Mind”, any two of which would’ve made this a better collection.   Actually, picking three and leaving off the mediocre “You Will” would’ve been even better!  Here’s hoping Loveless get the two-disc Essential collection that her years at Sony warrants.

Dolly Parton
16 Biggest Hits


Track Listing: Here You Come Again/9 to 5/Jolene/Islands in the Stream/I Will Always Love You/Coat of Many Colors/The Seeker/Two Doors Down/Single Women/All I Can Do/Heartbreak Express/Don’t Call it Love/Love is Like a Butterfly/Rockin’ Years/Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That/Romeo

Like the Alabama and Alan Jackson collections, this gives enough of the big hits to look like it’s going to be definitive, but then decides to go for the filler instead of finishing the job.  This could have been a perennial catalog smash for Sony BMG like the Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings entries are, but they decided to go cheap in the end.  This starts off with one huge hit after another, and then…”Heartbreak Express”?  “Don’t Call it Love”?  “Romeo”????   Are you kidding me?

I actually love “Single Women”, an often-overlooked gem, but most of the rest of this collection will leave even a casual fan wondering what happened to the hits.   I give them credit for using the definitive 1974 version of “I Will Always Love You”, but in the end, consumers have much better options to get their Dolly fix, even on a tight budget.

If you’re a casual fan wanting a career overview, you can get the 20-track Ultimate Dolly Parton from iTunes for only $8.91, less than they’re charging for this set.   But if you’re serious about getting the very best of this legendary artist, the way to go is the two single-disc, 20-track  Essential Dolly Parton collections released by RCA in the mid-nineties, which are $9.99 each at iTunes.   Not to be confused with the double CD that was released last year, these two collections are the only significant collections of her RCA years (until they finally do a real box set.)  Strangely, Vol. 1 covers the eighties crossover era, while it’s Vol. 2 that delves into her far more significant traditional country work in the 60’s and 70’s.    Buy the second volume first!

1 Comment

Filed under Album Reviews