Tag Archives: Dolly Parton

Single Review: Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan, “I Know What You Did Last Night”

I Know What You Did Last NightGreat singers. Great title. Great song.

Would you expect anything less from a collaboration between Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan, especially one that has them officially being billed as Grits & Glamour?

Much like both ladies were known for doing in their chart-topping days, “I Know What You Did Last Night” weds traditional country structures with the contemporary female experience.  It’s one of those classic conversational duets, with both singers alternating lines and talking as much as singing at certain points.  They don’t quite break the fourth wall, but they push up against it, much like Loretta & Conway and Porter & Dolly would do on their album cuts.

But the girls night out spirit is completely modern, without even a hint of apology for their rowdiness.   If anything, it’s a friendly competition for who did the most partying down, with the details grounded enough in reality that it never becomes a caricature.

Pam and Lorrie toured together for a bit in the nineties, but they’ve been pairing up regularly for a couple of years now, and that helps the collaboration feel natural, not forced.  Grits & Glamour, the tour moniker, has taken on a sound that has elements of both artists but is uniquely its own.   They have more than a few classic recordings between them, with Tillis being especially strong as an albums artist, but I don’t remember either of them having so much pure fun on a studio recording.

In a year that has seen some incredible collaborations already, it looks like Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan are still quite capable of hanging in the big leagues.   I cannot wait to hear the rest of their album.

Written by Al Anderson and Karyn Rochelle

Grade: A

Listen:  I Know What You Did Last Night

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Single Review: Jana Kramer, “I Hope it Rains”

Jana Kramer I Hope it RainsThe coolest thing “I Hope it Rains” has going for it is a piano melody that is mildly reminiscent of Bonnie Tyler’s cover of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”

As for the rest of it, Jana Kramer’s newest effort is mediocre and suffers from being not quite enough of everything it’s trying to be.  It’s twangy, but not twangy enough to suggest an authentic country pedigree.   It’s adolescent, but not adolescent enough to rank among even the lesser Taylor Swift “I’m done with you now wait until the next song about the next guy I’m done with” kiss-off numbers.  It’s a vindictive fantasy, but nothing nearly as vindictive as what Jaron and the Long Road to Love would pray for.

All in all, Kramer would’ve been better off just covering Dolly Parton’s “I Don’t Want to Throw Rice.”  She would’ve accomplished all three tasks in one fell swoop.

Written by Jerry Flowers, Kelley Lovelace, and Rachel Proctor

Grade: C

Listen:

 

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Single Review: Wynonna, "Something You Can't Live Without"

Wynonna Something You Can't Live WithoutIt’s been thirty years since the world was introduced to the voice of Wynonna Judd, a simple guitar strum being nothing close to enough preparation for the otherworldly voice that opened the debut Judds single, “Had a Dream (For the Heart)”:

Thirty years later, after about a decade of Judds music and another two decades of solo work, that voice is still that voice.  Wynonna has the ability to harness a true force of nature, having incredible depth and soul that remains under her complete control.

Less under control is her firebrand personality, an increasingly dramatic public image that has been overshadowing her music in recent years, but that’s mostly because she hasn’t been making nearly enough music.   Really, once she sings two or three notes, who really cares about her public image?

But what happens when that image starts to dictate the music? What happens when producers convince themselves that they have to be

just as loud and dazzling as the lady behind the mic?

“Something You Can’t Live Without” is what happens.

You’ve got Wynonna singing a great song that clearly means a lot to her.  She turns in a ferocious performance.   All the musicians need to do is give her a bit of support while mostly staying out of her way.

Instead, not only is the backing music way too loud, there is a cardinal sin committed that is simply unforgivable.  They actually put a digital effect on her voice.

You do that for bad singers. You do that for mediocre singers.  Sometimes, you even do that for good singers.  But to do it to one of the strongest vocalists popular music has ever seen is an insult.

I really like this record overall, simply because I can hear all that great Wynonna underneath the muck.  But much like those synthesizer-drenched Dolly Parton songs from the eighties, it’s just bewildering that the muck is there in the first place.

Such natural, God-given talent needs organic music to back her up.  I don’t care if it’s Memphis blues instead of Nashville country.  Just let her surroundings be as real as she is, and save all the artifice for the reality show circuit.

Written by Cactus Moser and Wynonna

Grade: B

 

 

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A Conversation with Amber Hayes

Amber Hayes

Independent country artist Amber Hayes released her first EP C’mon in the summer of 2010, and has since been covering all media ground, building up a solid fan following without the support of a major label.  She had already added “theater performer” to her resume back in 2008, when she was cast as Kathy in the Conway Twitty musical.  The year 2012 brought about the release of her second EP Any Day Is a Good Day, as well as her screen debut in the film Cowgirls ‘n Angels.  Amber Hayes recently spoke with Country Universe to discuss her accomplishments over the past year.

Ben Foster:  How would you describe what your journey has been like in the two years since you released the C’mon EP, and how is that reflected on Any Day Is a Good Day?

Amber Hayes:  I think it definitely reflects in the song “Any Day Is a Good Day,” because I just feel so blessed for all the opportunities I’ve gotten over the last two years.  I’ve gotten to perform overseas and be in a movie and sing the National Anthem at two NFL games.  It’s just been really exciting, and I’ve been really blessed.

What kind of lyrical themes do you deal with on this record?

I think it’s pretty diverse.  I’ve got “Somewhere Out West” which is a story song about a girl trying to find her father.  When I was on WSM the other morning, Bill Cody said “I see ‘Somewhere Out West’ as not just a story song about a little girl.”  “Somewhere Out West” is like what they’re looking for in their life, so I think it definitely doesn’t just have to be about that storyline.  “Suspicious” is just fun – kind of a laid-back feel to it.  “Built This Wall” is more like in your face,  independent.  Then we have “Far Far Away,” and it’s definitely towards the love side of it all – a little vulnerable.  So I think it definitely shows different sides.

What can you tell about your inspiration for writing the title track “Any Day Is a Good Day”?

I wish I could tell you exactly what it was, but when we got into the room that day, we just started talking and throwing out some ideas, and nothing was really going anywhere.  Somebody just said something about it being a good day, and wanting to write a positive song, and so we just kind of came up with that.  But what’s cool about that is one of the co-writers with me, he’s blind.  He has a different outlook on “Any Day Is a Good Day” because his day compared to ours is a little bit harder.  I think when we got done writing that song, it was pretty cool because he sang the work tape, and we were like ‘Oh my gosh, you know this is pretty awesome.’  Our day compared to his is so much easier, but his outlook on it is just like ‘I’m not going to worry about it.  If I can wake up, it’s a good day.’

What kind of experience was it for you being involved in the Cowgirls N’ Angels film?

It was so fun.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself because people will say ‘You were in a movie,’ and it’s like almost kind of hard to believe a little bit, but it was definitely a really cool experience – something I had never been around.  I had done theater, but had never done any kind of movie or TV or anything like that.  It was pretty cool.  The scene that I’m in is a bar scene, and I am the girl singing in the bar, so it kind of made sense.  But I got to sing two of my songs from the C’mon EP, and the stars actually line danced to “C’mon,” so it’s very cool.

What was it like working with Richie McDonald?

He’s very nice.  He’s so nice.  When we wrote this song ["Always There for Me"], and we were trying to decide who to sing it with, he came to mind because I love his voice.  It’s soothing, plus it commands, and I thought it sounds like a dad.  He was just very easy to work with, and so nice.  It’s pretty cool.  He’s done so many great things in his career.  That I got to record with him and perform with him was awesome.

You’ve also branched into television with having four of your songs selected for use in The CW’s Heart of Dixie.  How did that feel?

I’ve been a fan of Heart of Dixie since it actually started coming on TV.  I’ve just always loved the show because it reminds me of where I grew up, and I just always knew that they had a lot of great country music in there, and I kind of in the back of my mind thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if I actually got some music on that show?”  Then we did, and it was really awesome.  I was watching the first season a couple of weekends ago, and all of the placements we got are in the first season, so it really cool to watch that, and then it’s like “Oh gosh, there’s the song!”  So it was neat!

What can you tell us about your contribution to Liam Sullivan’s new book Making the Scene:  Nashville?

Well, Liam came to my album release show that we did with WSM at Station Inn.  I met him then, and he asked if he could interview me for this book, so we just sat down and talked, and I just kind of told him my story like an interview type thing.  I kind of just forgot about it, and then when I found out it came out, I just started looking into it, and come to find out I actually made the book, so it was really cool.  So it’s a great book about Nashville, what you should do when you come to town, and great places to go – even if you’re not into the music industry, but just visiting.

Let’s talk about some of your musical heroes.  In what ways do you endeavor to carry on the musical legacy of the women in country music who have inspired you?

My biggest influences are Reba and Dolly and Barbara Mandrell probably, but I love people like Jeannie Seely and Jean Shephard, and I’ve also had the big honor of knowing both of those women and working with them.  I just am so grateful to people like them who still to this day get to go on the Opry every week and sing country music, and they’re so proud to represent country music in such a great way.  They’re so classy.  I think that’s the deal with all these people that I love.  If I could say one word that sums them up, it’s class.  They’re great entertainers.  I think that every single one of those women, when they walk out onstage, they have you right in the palm of their hand.  Of course, Dolly and Reba and Barbara Mandrell have all done a little bit of everything, and that’s what I want to be, and that’s what I want to do.  I definitely want my fans to go away from a show

thinking ‘Wow, this was so fun’ and ‘She puts on a great show,’ and I can’t wait to go back again.

You pay tribute to one of your heroes with the song “Me and Loretta.”  How did that song come about?

Well, I wrote that song with Brian Eckert and Brady Seals, and Brady is a huge traditional country music fan.  He said “You know, we should write a song about your love for country music, or somebody that you love.”  He loves Loretta, and he knows Loretta and has worked with her in the past.  He said “You know, every song of Loretta’s that you hear you’ve gone through, somebody has lived.  Let’s just make it where you’re like talking to her, or in the car with her or something,” and we came out with “Me and Loretta.”  I think it’s a pretty cool story.  I think it’s just kind of like with “Somewhere Out West.”  Loretta can be whoever you want it to be, but to me it’s just Loretta.  Every one of her songs is just so real, and like I said, you’ve lived it at some point in your life.

What’s next for Amber Hayes?

“Any Day Is a Good Day” is the single, and we’ll see what happens with that.  Just booking stuff for 2013, and I don’t know.  I guess I’ll just see what happens!  I’m just so excited to get new music out, just because it’s been two years, and I’ve done a lot since then.  I feel like I’ve really built up a lot of new fans, and old fans that need to hear some new music, so it’s exciting!

Official website:  www.amberhayesmusic.com 

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Retro Single Reviews: Dolly Parton, 1975-1976

Today is Dolly Parton’s 67th birthday.  What better time to revisit and relaunch our ongoing feature that reviews every single that she’s released in her illustrious career?

This post will look at her four singles from late 1975 through the end of 1976.  Three were solo efforts, while the fourth was her final release of the decade that was a collaboration with Porter Wagoner.

Dolly Parton The Seeker and We Used To

“We Used To”
1975
Peak: #9

Written by Dolly Parton

It was clear by this point that Parton had designs on the pop market, but she hadn’t yet found the right way to make her style work in that format. So we get overlong pop ballads like this, which ramble on forever because Parton’s restraining her vocal trademarks that would make the record too identifiably country.

Grade: B-

Dolly Parton Hey Lucky Lady

“Hey, Lucky Lady”
1976
Peak: #19

Written by Dolly Parton

Then again, even when she was being proudly country at this period, the material still wasn’t always up to snuff. It’s a shame that “Shattered Image” wasn’t sent to radio as the lead single from All I Can Do instead of of this endlessly repetitive ditty. This probably held the record for the most times a title was repeated in one song until Little Texas released “My Love” two decades later.

Grade: C

Dolly Parton Porter Wagoner Essential

“Is Forever Longer than Always” (with Porter Wagoner)
1976
Peak: #8

Written by Frank Dycus and Porter Wagoner

There is something poetic about this being their final duet together, aside from some unreleased tracks that would surface in 1980 after a prolonged legal battle.  They went out on a high note, perhaps because of the palpable sadness that permeates the proceedings.

Grade: B+

Dolly Parton All I Can Do

“All I Can Do”
1976
Peak: #3

Written by Dolly Parton

Another ditty, which is surprising given the heaviness of the

album as a whole.   It has a nice groove, but the lyrics are so forgettable that it’s little more than a footnote, residing in the brief valley between her country glory days and her pop superstardom.

Grade: B-

Next: 1977-1978

Previous:   Say Forever You’ll Be Mine (with Porter Wagoner)

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Retro Single Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, "Say Forever You'll Be Mine"

Wagoner Parton Say Forever You'll Be Mine1975 | Peak: #5

 

“Forever is the love,” they sing, “that is true and undemanding.”

Which just goes to show that what makes for a great love doesn’t necessarily make for a great song.

As they were reaching the end of their professional partnership, “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine” was as true to their original sound as it could be, but the song is so undemanding of their combined talent and energy that what we’re left with is as sterile as it is yawningly predictable.

They’re just going through the

motions. The thrill is gone.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: C

Next: 1975-1976

Previous: The Seeker

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Single Review: Brad Paisley, "Southern Comfort Zone"

At his best, Brad Paisley has at times demonstrated the rare ability to balance fresh and modern contemporary sounds with a nod toward

traditional country genre conventions.  On his tasteless new single “Southern Comfort Zone,” that strength sounds it’s been totally buried.

The bombastic arrangement sounds like it was lifted right out of Tim McGraw’s Emotional Traffic, and Paisley’s vocal is slathered in grating, ill-advised reverb effects.  All the noise is so distracting that it’s difficult to even make out what Paisley is singing about, let alone become invested in the lyric on any meaningful level.  It’s hardly country by any stretch of the imagination, and it plainly just sounds bad.

It’s hardly a potent song to begin with.  The lyrics of  “Southern Comfort Zone” remain squarely inside country radio’s comfort zone, with the song’s titular pun being the height of the song’s cleverness.  The depthless verses continue to indulge the notion that the south is the last refuge for people who go to church, listen to country and gospel music, wear jeans and ball caps, etc.  I can give some credit for leaving out the Aldean-esque aggression, but that doesn’t redeem the song’s total lack of purposeful focus, nor the tin-eared trainwreck of a production.

If you want to hear a good song about Southern nostalgia, stick with Dolly Parton’s “Tennessee Homesick Blues.”  Paisley’s “Southern Comfort Zone” is a misguided, watery mess.

Grade:  D-

Listen:  Southern Comfort Zone

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Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, "The Seeker"

1975 | Peak: #2

A southern gospel number that starts slowly and never quite gets where it’s trying to go.

It’s not one of my favorite Parton compositions to begin with, especially considering the depth of her spiritual catalog.  The lyrics are a bit too redundant, and the

arrangement reinforces this by relying too heavily on the monotonous groove that dominates the verses.   It doesn’t build up enough tension to justify the overwrought release that comes with the chorus.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: B-

Next: Say Forever You’ll Be Mine (with Porter Wagoner)

Previous: The Bargain Store

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100 Greatest Men: #37. The Louvin Brothers

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

They would both go on to successful solo careers, but it was the music that Ira and Charlie Louvin made together that earned them a place in the annals of history.

Born in to Appalachian poverty, the Louvin Brothers began their public singing career by performing gospel standards at church.  Their distinctive harmonies and instrumental skills soon earned them a spot on AM radio in Chattanooga.  After Charlie did a brief tour with the Army, the duo moved to Knoxville, where their sound reached a wider audience.

By the late forties, the labels came calling. as did a publishing deal.  The Louvins released a few moderately successful singles before Charlie was sent back overseas, but when he returned, the brothers began incorporating country into their repertoire, a move largely influenced by their appearances on the Opry.   Throughout the fifties and early sixties, they released many of the most significant country compositions of all-time, including standards like the #1 hit “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” and the top ten  “Cash on the Barrelhead.”

They never abandoned their gospel roots, as reflected in a series of classic albums with a spiritual focus.   One of their essential works was the LP Satan is Real, which became notorious for its vivid album artwork along with its music.   The increasing popularity of rock and roll slowed down their success, which sadly led to an alcohol addiction for Ira, who was encouraged to drop his signature mandolin from their sound.   His deterioration was the primary reason the duo disbanded in 1963.

Both brothers pursued solo careers, with Charlie forging out on his own and Ira performing with his new wife, Anne Young.  Tragically, Ira and Anne were killed in an automobile accident in 1965, preventing a reconciliation of the brothers.   Charlie proudly carried on the legacy of the Louvin Brothers, recording and performing right up until his death in 2011.

As years have gone by, the songs and recordings of the Louvin Brothers have become increasingly influential, shaping the sounds of the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, and others.  In 2002, a tribute album by contemporary country, bluegrass, and pop artists was a huge success, winning the Grammy for Best Country Album.   Their sound lives on in the work of every duo built around harmony, from the Everly Brothers to the Judds, their songs have been covered by artists as diverse as James Taylor and Dolly Parton, and their themed albums with powerful artwork are regarded as essential classics by both musicians and graphic designers.

Essential Singles:

  • When I Stop Dreaming, 1955
  • I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby, 1956
  • Hoping That You’re Hoping, 1956
  • You’re Running Wild/Cash on the Barrelhead, 1956
  • My Baby’s Gone, 1958
  • The River of Jordan, 1959
  • How’s the World Treating You, 1961

Essential Albums:

  • The Louvin Brothers, 1956
  • Tragic Songs of Life, 1956
  • Ira and Charlie, 1958
  • Satan is Real, 1959
  • My Baby’s Gone, 1960
  • Sing and Play Their Current Hits, 1964

Next: #36. Ricky Skaggs

Previous: #38. Vince Gill

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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iPod Check: Most Played Song by Twenty Country Artists

Since bringing back Recommend a Track proved so popular, I’m resurrecting another CU oldie but goodie: the iPod check.

I’ve only recently discovered the Most Played feature on iTunes, since it never had any relevance until iPods were large enough in memory to sync all of my music.   So going back to early 2011, I have a lengthy list of the songs I’ve played the most.

So today’s iP0d check:  List your most-played song from twenty different country artists.

You can access this info by going to your own Most Played list and adjusting the number of songs on it – I use 500 for mine – or you can just go to Music and sort by number of plays.  Or you can just pick twenty artists at random and list your most played song for each.  We’re easy here.  (This would also work in Spotify, from what I hear.)

Here’s my top twenty:

  1. Pam Tillis – Deep Down (89 plays)
  2. Keith Urban – I Told You So (81)
  3. Dixie Chicks – Long Time Gone (71)
  4. Taylor Swift – Mean (68)
  5. Trisha Yearwood – Where Are You Now (63)
  6. Patty Loveless – You Can Feel Bad (59)
  7. Emmylou Harris – Easy From Now On (55)
  8. Carrie Underwood – Undo It (50)
  9. Lori McKenna – Lorraine (50)
  10. Dwight Yoakam – Ain’t That Lonely Yet (46)
  11. Sara Evans – Rocking Horse (45)
  12. Sawyer Brown – Cafe on the Corner (45)
  13. Reba McEntire – The Fear of Being Alone (44)
  14. Shania Twain – Up! (43)
  15. Faith

    Hill – Stealing Kisses (41)

  16. Alan Jackson – So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore (40)
  17. Crystal Gayle – Why Have Your Left the One You Left Me For (39)
  18. George Strait – Meanwhile (39)
  19. Lee Ann Womack – I May Hate Myself in the Morning (39)
  20. Aaron Tippin – Whole Lotta Love on the Line (38)

I’m surprised that some of my most played artists overall, like Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and Tim McGraw, don’t have that one big song that I play excessively.  Also, at least half of the songs above aren’t what I would call my favorite song by the given artist.  How about you?

 

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