Tag Archives: Pam Tillis

CU Archives: Linda Ronstadt

linda-ronstadtWe at Country Universe were very saddened to hear of Linda Ronstadt’s recent announcement that she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease eight months ago, and that the disease has resulted in the total loss of her ability to sing.

Though Linda Ronstadt never took up exclusive residence in country territory (or in any one genre for that matter), she had remarkable successes in the country field, including the now-classic Trio project with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, and she served as an important influence for women such as Pam Tillis, Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood. She has also been the subject of several excellent Country Universe features that are well worth revisiting.

First of all, be sure to check out Kevin’s feature on Ronstadt from the 100 Greatest Women countdown, in which she placed at No. 21.

Then take a look at our reader Erik North’s rundown of his 25 favorite Linda Ronstadt songs from Country Universe’s Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists series.

Finally, see Kevin’s reviews of her classic 1975 album Prisoner in Disguise and of her 2006 compilation The Best of Linda Ronstadt:  The Capitol Years.

Below is a selection of videos of Ronstadt in her prime performing some of her best-loved songs. Without a doubt, she will always be remembered as one of the greatest voices in music history, even if she can no longer use that voice today. Please share your own favorite Linda Ronstadt songs and performances in the comments section.

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Album Review: Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan, Dos Divas

Pam-Tillis-Lorrie-Morgan-2013-Cover

Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan
Dos Divas

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If you have a soft spot for the great country artists of the nineties – particularly the generation of mature, articulate women who ruled the genre for much of the decade – the announcement of a duets album between Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan was likely a tremendous cause for excitement.  With both ladies being second-generation country stars, Opry members, touring partners, and great friends, a studio collaboration would seem a natural progression, and the lofty potential is obvious.

There’s a palpable joy in the proceedings as the two gal pals pair up in the studio for the first time, and there’s a sense of good-natured fun evident throughout, with song selections often skewing toward the humorous.  Tillis has a ball with “Old Enough to Be Your Lover” in which her narrator giddily flaunts a romance with a much younger man, a chuckle in her performance as she sings about her young lover not knowing who Richard Nixon was. (I imagine K.T. Oslin would be proud) On the delightfully snarky “Ain’t Enough Roses,” Tillis scoffs that there “ain’t enough roses on God’s green earth” to make her take back her no-good ex.  The line “I hope you saved your sales receipt so you can take ‘em back” is particularly delicious, and Tillis’ sassy delivery milks the song’s humor for all it’s worth.

But the album’s serious moments yield rewards their own.  The writing trio of Shane McAnally, Jessie Jo Dillon, and Country Universe favorite Brandy Clark supplies one of the set’s best-written song’s with “Last Night’s Make Up,” a regretful morning-after ballad in which Morgan’s narrator laments, “If I could wash you off like last night’s make up, looking in the mirror wouldn’t be so hard.”  It’s also one of Morgan’s best vocal turns on the album, demonstrating the level of nuance that she has retained even as her vocal power has noticeably declined.

And while Tillis’ powerhouse vocals have aged with remarkable grace, there are times when the signs of wear and tear on Morgan’s voice prove to be a hindrance.  She stays within her limitations for most of the album, but she occasionally sounds strained when tackling the high notes on the title track, or the rapid-fire verses of honky tonk throwdown “I Know What You Did Last Night.”

In terms of song content, there is a small amount of fat that could have been trimmed.  “That’s So Cool” presents what could have been an interesting account of a middle-aged woman rekindling an old high school romance, but the song is hindered by a lifeless melody and too much time wasted repeating its forgettable title (and if you didn’t like Reba singing about texting and Twitter, you won’t like Lorrie singing about Google and Facebook either).  While one likely wouldn’t doubt the sincerity behind “Another Chance To,” a meditation on the uncertainty of life, it’s unfortunate that the song is clogged up with throwaway lines such as “Every day is a gift” and “I’ve never loved the way I love you.”  Tillis makes the best of a fairly rote love song with “Even the Stars,” but the song still could have been left off with no great loss to the project as a whole.

But there are times when even the lesser songs are elevated by some inspired production choices.   The title track is spiced up with horn-infused Tex-Mex stylings, “That’s So Cool” boasts a delightful banjo line, and a bluesy piano and harmonica-driven arrangement perfectly underscores the quiet vindictiveness of “Ain’t Enough Roses.”  It’s particularly enjoyable to hear Tillis and Morgan sing over a pure traditional country arrangement as they lovingly cover “I’m Tired,” a 1958 Webb Pierce hit co-written by Pam’s legendary dad Mel.  The only glaring production misstep is the audacious, bass-heavy arrangement of “Old Enough to Be Your Love,” weighed down by too much clutter in the mix.

Enjoyable as the album is, it’s hard not to wish that Dos Divas contained a few more full-fledged duets with fewer solos.  The album opens with four duets, and then serves up eight solo tracks with Tillis and Morgan alternating lead vocals before closing with two final duets.  There’s nothing wrong with a duets album including a few solos for variety’s sake, but there’s a point at which it begins to feel like a missed opportunity.  Seeing as we already have plenty of solo material by both ladies, the real treat is hearing them sing together, whether playfully pointing fingers at each other’s rowdy tendencies in “I Know What You Did Last Night” or musing on gossipy small-town Southern culture in “Bless Their Hearts.”  The self-deprecating “What Was I Thinkin'” closes the album on a high note, drawing on Tillis and Morgan’s perspective as women who have done some living, as they look back with amusement on choices large and small that were later regretted.  A tongue-in-cheek conversational tone actively engages the listener while lines of spoken dialogue hint at the song being semi-autobiographical for the two artists.

Ultimately, it all adds up to a very good album, albeit one that could have been even better.  At its best, the album contains moments of pure brilliance, while Tillis and Morgan’s unshakable chemistry is enough to make one hope that this studio collaboration does not turn out to be a one-off.  It’s a fun, entertaining effort by two of country music’s brightest talents of the past twenty years, made all the more enjoyable by the fact that they clearly understand the need to not take themselves too seriously.

Top Tracks:  “Last Night’s Make Up,” “Ain’t Enough Roses,” “What Was I Thinkin'”

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Single Review: Danielle Bradbery, “The Heart of Dixie”

Danielle-Bradbery-The-Heart-of-DixieThe debut single from The Voice Season 4 winner Danielle Bradbery has one of best productions you’re likely to hear on terrestrial country radio, heavy on the sweet sounds of fiddle and mandolin.  “The Heart of Dixie” also boasts an effective melody which rises and dips in a manner most fitting for a story about a woman leaving an unsatisfying life and finding newfound freedom on the open road.  And while the interpretive abilities of an artist still in her teens are often limited (see early LeAnn Rimes as an example), Bradbery at least sounds genuinely engaged in the story she’s telling.

That said, it’s hard not to wish that the story itself were a bit more compelling.  The protagonist “Dixie” doesn’t feel real as a character, and it doesn’t help that she’s named Dixie merely for the sake of a titular pun.  You can tell a bit too easily that she’s the brainchild of three hired-gun Nashville songwriters, and her story begs to be fleshed out with greater dimension and detail.  It’s the kind of story that’s definitely worth telling, but also one that’s been told better and more interestingly in the past.

The single has enough strong points to generate interest in the artist and her future efforts, but as it is, we’re left with a single that is an enjoyable listen, but uninspiring overall.

Written by Brett James, Caitlyn Smith and Troy Verges

Grade:  B-

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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: Kellie Pickler, “Someone Somewhere Tonight”

Kellie-Pickler-Someone-Somewhere-Tonight

A new chapter begins in Kellie Pickler’s career as she prepares to release her first music on her new record label Black River Entertainment.  She kicks things off with a true beauty of a song with the Dave Raines – Walt Wilkins ballad “Someone Somewhere Tonight.”

To call “Someone Somewhere Tonight” a love song feels like an oversimplification of sorts, even though that’s basically what it is.  Far from indulging in empty schmaltz, it’s a song that captures commonality of the human experience, meditating on the endlessly repeating cycles of birth and death while contrasting the different turns life can take based on a person’s choices.

Pickler’s performance doesn’t quite possess the sense of age-earned wisdom that enriched previous versions by Kenny Rogers and Pam Tillis, but her comparatively youthful take on the song is effective in its own right.  The poised, graceful lyrical interpreter who fully blossomed on last year’s 100 Proof makes a return as Pickler imbues the song with the gravitas of one who, lest we forget, has put in some hard living in only 26 years.  The arrangement strikes a balance between the modern and the traditional, while allowing plenty of leeway to let the lyric and performance speak.

It’s a compelling performance of a quality song – something far too rare in the modern country format.  Though richly deserving of a mainstream audience, such an astute, insightful ballad would hardly seem the usual go-to for an artist making her first radio bid on a new label, but this release would seem to confirm that Pickler’s pandering days are indeed over.

Only time will tell if the risk will pay off, and if the Black River promotional muscle will have any success in restoring Pickler to her slot at country radio.  But as Pickler ventures out with a new team behind her, and doubtless some increased notoriety in the wake of her recent Dancing with the Stars victory, there may be a reason to hope that “Someone Somewhere Tonight” just might bring a little substance and sincerity back to mainstream country music.

Written by Dave Raines and Walt Wilkins

Grade:  A-

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Single Review: Chris Young, "Aw Naw"

Chris Young Aw NawIt's hard not to root for Chris Young.   He can really sing and his music would sound identifiably country if it was released twenty years ago, making it sound like Hank Williams in comparison to what's passing for it these days.

But he's got to pay the bills, I guess.  “Aw Naw” is a typical 2013 country party song that is easier to tolerate than most of the others because it's sung really well and at least sounds like it's been written and

performed by people of legal drinking age.

Now, even the greatest country artists pandered to the trends of the times.   Check out the hillbilly humor tracks that even Alan Jackson and Pam Tillis recorded in the nineties, or the string-drenched crossover pap that even George Jones and Loretta Lynn succumbed to when Nashville went uptown in the seventies and eighties.

Those songs don't make their way to the essential collections that surface when a great act's radio days are done.   Hopefully, this one won't make it to Chris Young's when his time comes.

Written by Chris DeStefano, Ashley Gorley and Chris Young

Grade: B-

Listen:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmQQu6Kp90o

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Single Review: Dustin Lynch, "She Cranks My Tractor"

Well… it has words that rhyme.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with a good sexy country song, as such have a storied history in the genre.  But there is something to be said for subtlety.  The best attempts are often lightly clever, emotionally raw, or perhaps delivered with the tongue planted firmly in the cheek.

Everything about “She Cranks My Tractor” practically beats the listener over the head, from the pounding bass to the T.M.I. lyrics.  It’s like three minutes of Lynch bellowing “Yee haw!  Farm sex!!!”  The titular metaphor feels corny and tacky (Can you imagine playing this in front of your non-country-fan peers?), and the lyrics lay on the details so thick as to make the listener feel voyeuristic.  It’s

all audacity, with little genuine creativity.

On the positive side:  It has fiddle and banjo.  I like fiddle and banjo.

Dustin Lynch has a great voice, and has earned a coveted spot on country radio playlists.  No need to waste it on this.

Written by Dustin Lynch, Brett Beavers, and Tim Nichols

Grade:  D

Listen:  She Cranks My Tractor

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Concert Review: Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan

Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan
Grits & Glamour Tour
Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center
Bowling Green, Kentucky
October 13, 2012

This past Saturday night, I had the immense pleasure of seeing two favorite artists of mine – contemporary country legends Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan – perform live in concert at the newly completed Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center (SKyPAC) in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  The SKyPAC is a beautifully decorated 1800-seat venue with excellent acoustics, thus providing an ideal atmosphere for Tillis and Morgan’s fantastic Grits & Glamour show.

The Grits & Glamour tour is all about the fans, and all about great music.  No unnecessary gimmicks, bells, or whistles – just Tillis and Morgan singing their hearts out, joined by a small four-piece band.  Both ladies were in fine voice, boasting some absolutely gorgeous harmonies, as they performed together backed by fiddle, bass, guitar, and keyboard.  Such simplicity created a warm, laid-back, almost familial environment as Tillis and Morgan treated the eager crowd to a selection of best-loved tunes, all the while cutting up like one would expect from a couple of longtime girlfriends, and sharing often-humorous personal anecdotes – such as Tillis’ account of being mistaken for Patty Loveless at a Waffle House, by a fan from Knockemstiff, Ohio. (Google it – It’s a real place)

The bulk of the concert set list consisted of

a selection of well-known hits from both artists, finished off with covers of classic songs that are close to their hearts, as well as some more recent cuts.  The two opened the show with a lovely duet version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”  From that point onward, they alternated between performing Morgan’s hits and Tillis’ hits, beginning with Morgan’s “Watch Me” (performed in a fierce fiddle-laden arrangement quite different from the relative slickness of the 1992 hit version) and Tillis’ “Shake the Sugar Tree.”  Obviously, both ladies have had more than enough hits to fill up an entire set list (Tillis has had 13 Top 10 country hits; Morgan has had 14), but Tillis and Morgan did a fine job covering the main highlights of their careers, such that virtually any audience member could enjoy the thrill of hearing something familiar.  Though the hits dominated the set list, Tillis and Morgan also performed standout cuts from each of their most recent albums.  Tillis performed “Train Without a Whistle” from her 2007 career-best effort Rhinestoned, while Morgan gave a heartrending performance of “How Does It Feel” from 2010’s I Walk Alone

A major facet of what makes Grits & Glamour such a broadly enjoyable show is the way its two headliners simply exude genuine love for great country music new and old.  They commented on the increased scarcity of “real” country music in modern times, but Tillis nonetheless assured the audience that “We got it all – fiddles, steel guitar, mandolins – and we ain’t ever lettin’ go of it!”  Both ladies shared a common experience of growing up with the musical heritage of a famous parent – an experience they recollected with fond enthusiasm – being the daughters of singer-songwriter legend Mel Tillis, and of late Opry star George Morgan, respectively.   One of the night’s most memorable moments was a heartfelt tribute to Tillis and Morgan’s famous fathers, as they eased into a medley of George Morgan’s 1949 signature “Candy Kisses” and Mel Tillis’ classic composition “Burning Memories,” a hit first for Ray Price in 1964, and then for Mel Tillis himself in 1977.  In addition, the ladies also lovingly covered classics such as Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World” and Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.”

As the show neared its end, Tillis and Morgan were met with the loudest applause of the night as they treated the audience to performances of their respective signature classics – Tillis’ “Maybe It Was Memphis,” and Morgan’s “Something In Red.”  They then rose to their feet for an inspired performance of gospel song “Jesus On the Line.”  After an encore, they returned to the stage to perform brief snippets of Morgan’s 1993 number one “What Part of No” and Tillis’ 1990 debut hit “Don’t Tell Me What to Do.”  Then came one of the biggest highlights of the evening as the two closed out the show by tearing into the rousing up-tempo number “I Know What You Did Last Night” – a new song which is to appear on Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan’s forthcoming Grits & Glamour duets record.  After the show ended, Tillis and Morgan headed out to the atrium to sign autographs for a crowd of enthusiastic concertgoers.

Needless to say, the Grits & Glamour concert experience was more than enough to whet one’s appetite for the ladies’ soon-to-be-completed duet effort.  The unique chemistry shared between the two outstanding talents was on full display throughout the evening.  If you have the opportunity to catch any of Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan’s future shows on the Grits & Glamour tour, you will be in for a real country music treat.

Set list:

“Both Sides Now”
“Watch Me”
“Shake the Sugar Tree”
“Except for Monday”
“Cleopatra, Queen of Denial”
“A Picture of Me (Without You)”
“Train Without a Whistle”
Medley:  “Candy Kisses”/ “Burning Memories”
“The End of the World”
“Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)”
“How Does It Feel”
“Spilled Perfume”
“King of the Road”
“I Guess You Had to Be There”
“Maybe It Was Memphis”
“Something In Red”
“Jesus On the Line”

Encore:

“What Part of No”
“Don’t Tell Me What to Do”
“I Know What You Did Last Night”

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Single Review: Joanna Smith, "We Can't Be Friends"

Listening to the new Joanna Smith single, I’m reminded of when Lee Ann Womack first hit it big. I was impressed by

her taste in material and I thought the production of her records was impeccable.

But on those early hits like “The Fool” and “A Little Past Little Rock”, I always had the nagging feeling that the songs would’ve been better if they’d been recorded by Pam Tillis, who has a similar vocal style but more power and range.

Over time, Womack perfected her vocal technique and created her own distinctive style, one that is best showcased by simple arrangements and tasteful restraint.  The power of later hits like “I May Hate Myself in the Morning” and “Last Call” comes from her ability to accentuate an understated vocal will little punches of twang and power that create a dramatic effect.

So now, fifteen years after Womack first surfaced, I find myself listening to the new single by Joanna Smith and wishing it was being sung by Lee Ann Womack.   Smith’s got a great song, and she sings it well, following Patty Loveless’ golden rule: “Don’t get in the way of the song.”

But she stays out of the way of the song just a little too much, and there aren’t enough moments of twang or power to make the record interesting.    I still hope it gets a shot at radio, as it would be the best breakthrough single for a new female artist in a good long while.   I want to hear more from Smith, so I can hear more of Smith as she hones her style over time.

Grade: B+

Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Shelley Skidmore

Listen: We Can’t Be Friends

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100 Greatest Men: #33. Mel Tillis

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

A comedic flair, a speech impediment, and a famous daughter have often overshadowed the fact that Mel Tillis is one of the finest songwriters and performers in the history of country music.

Tillis hailed from Tampa, Florida, and he discovered music at a young age, playing guitar and singing songs at local talent shows.  Though he had a severe stutter from age three, the impediment disappeared when he sang.  Tillis entered the military, and while stationed in Japan, formed a band called the Westerners.  Once back stateside, he moved to Nashville to jump-start his songwriting career, alternating between Tennessee and Florida until the hits started coming in.

From 1957 to the end of the sixties, Tillis would record for major labels and score a handful of hits, but he had a far bigger impact as a songwriter.  He wrote hits that are now standards, recorded by legends like Webb Pierce (“I Ain’t Never, “No Love Have I”), Bobby Bare (“Detroit City”), Ray Price (“Heart Over Mind”, “Burning Memories”) and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.”)

However, once the seventies arrived, Tillis became a major presence on country radio, scoring dozens of hits, many of which were his own recordings of his compositions that had been hits for other artists in the sixties.   In 1976, he was named CMA’s Entertainer of the Year, the same year he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Tillis’ comedic talents made him an in-demand performer, and he was a fixture on both network and syndicated television shows during the peak years of his career.   He also appeared in several movies, with Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run being the most successful.

As with many of his contemporaries, the hits slowed down

in the eighties, even though other artists continued to score hits with his material, most notably Ricky Skaggs’ chart-topping  recording of “Honey (Open That Door)” in 1984.   He purchased radio stations that he later sold for a big profit, and he became one of the most popular draws in Branson, Missouri, where his theater was a cornerstone for tourist entertainment.

In recent years, Tillis has frequently collaborated with his daughter Pam Tillis, making appearances on her albums and co-headlining a popular Christmas show at Opryland.   Tillis was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2007, and elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame that same year.  In 2010, he released his first comedy album, You Ain’t Gonna Believe This…, on Show Dog Records.

Essential Singles:

  • Heart Over Mind, 1970
  • I Ain’t Never, 1972
  • Good Woman Blues, 1976
  • Heart Healer, 1977
  • I Believe in You, 1978
  • Send Me Down to Tuscon, 1979
  • Coca Cola Cowboy, 1979
  • Southern Rains, 1980

Essential Albums:

  • Life’s That Way, 1967
  • Sawmill, 1973
  • M-M-Mel, 1975
  • Love Revival, 1976
  • Heart Healer, 1977
  • Mr. Entertainer, 1979
  • Your Body is an Outlaw, 1980

Next: #32. ?

Previous: #34. Charlie Rich

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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