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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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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 30

And so it comes to a close, with the final category:

A Song That Makes You Want to Be a Better Person.

Here are the staff picks:

Tara Seetharam: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Aretha Franklin

Maybe it’s the way the gospel arrangement evokes a guttural reaction or the way the lyrics are shamelessly selfless. As with the best songs, I can’t quite put my finger on why it moves me – but this song makes me want to live for others.

Kevin Coyne: “Hell Yeah” – Neil Diamond

This is how I want to look back on my life when it’s all said and done. I’m about halfway there.

Leeann Ward: “Man in Black” – Johnny Cash

This is a tough and weighty category for sure. “Man in Black” could just as easily fit the “worldview” category for me, but then, “What You Give Away” could fit this one too. Somehow, these lyrics, however, make me want to try harder to be better toward those around me: “I wear the black for those who’ve never read/ Or listened to the words that Jesus said/ About the road to happiness through love and charity/ Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.”

Dan Milliken: “Square One” – Tom Petty

My worst vice is that I’m perpetually behind on several things at once. Not just long-term shoulds, like “I’ve been meaning to call my old pal Jan,” but short-term imperatives like “I need to start that paper that was due three weeks ago.” I’ve gotten away with play-first-and-maybe-work-later for most of my life, and while it’s made me less uptight and more understanding of others’ foibles, it also means I’m usually walking under an invisible raincloud of sorts. The burden of something unfinished – let alone several things – is like an awful condom on the fun you can actually experience, the care you can give to other people, the love or joy you can feel – everything good about living, basically.

I want to be Tom Petty in “Square One.” He’s fought his way through his respective “world of trouble” and finally come out clean. “My slate is clear,” he sings, in the sweetest Tom Petty tone ever; “Rest your head on me, my dear.” With his baggage cleared out, he can finally live fully in the present, taking full advantage of the people and experiences he’s blessed with.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 27

Today’s category is…

A Song That Expresses Your World View (Or Somethin’ Like That.)

Here are the staff picks:

Kevin Coyne: “Something Worth Leaving Behind” – Lee Ann Womack

Live your life for yourself, your life dies with you.  Live it for others, it lives on long after you’re gone.

Leeann Ward: “What You Give Away” – Vince Gill

I like the way this guy thinks. I wholeheartedly believe in this philosophy and tend to be a sucker for any song that expresses it.

Dan Milliken: “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” – The Byrds

Ecclesiastes and Pete Seeger wrote this classic in a Music Row living room after eating some barbecue and swapping stories about their weekends. “Turn! Turn! Turn!” gets that life paints in shades of gray – things that seem undesirable to us may yet be necessary, and different courses of action may be morally sound or not depending on circumstance. But the song also doesn’t shy away from advocating for peace at the end, as if to say, “maybe we’ve already served enough ‘time for war,’ you know?”

Tara Seetharam: “What a Wonderful World” – Louis Armstrong

I know it seems like a simplistic pick, but lately its message has really resonated with me. It’s incredible –mind-blowing, really– how much beauty and humanity you can see in the world every day if you choose to see it. And life is significantly more rewarding when you do.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 19

Today’s category is…

A Song You Hate by an Artist You Love.

Here are the staff picks:

Kevin Coyne: “Honk if You Honky Tonk” – George Strait

Not even Trace Adkins would cut this.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course he would.

But it should be beneath the stature of a legend like George Strait.  His talent helped him pull of “Write This Down” and “Don’t Make Me Come Over There and Love You”, but there was no saving this one.

Leeann Ward: “Pretty Little Adriana” – Vince Gill

Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time likely knows about my love for Vince Gill’s music and even his character. I don’t, however, love every song that he sings, which is probably why I don’t understand those super fans who love every song that their favorite artists sing. That’s certainly not the case for me.

Vince has some album tracks that I don’t like, but one single in particular that has never sat well with me is “Pretty Little Adriana.” The melody is plodding, but my bigger problem is that Vince has said that it was inspired by a missing child by the name of Adriana, but the lyrics sound like an intimately longing love song. And even if it was only very loosely inspired by a child (as fictional license might allow), I still don’t like “little” to be applied to a woman, as in “the little woman,” or in this case, “Pretty little Adriana.”

Dan Milliken: “Why’s it Feel So Long” – Keith Urban

About him sitting on the couch and calling Nicole a half-hour after she’s left for the airport ‘cause he just loves her sOooOoOoOO much. Jack Johnson would gag.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 17

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.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Don-Williams-Lord-I-Hope-This-Day-is-Good-150×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”150″ height=”150″ />Today’s category is…

A Song That Describes You.

Here are the staff picks:

Leeann Ward: “Lord, I Hope This Day is Good” – Don Williams

There might be a song that technically describes me better than this one, but this is the song that perfectly describes how I feel each morning before I start my day. I don’t know why, but I relate to it on a guttural level.

Dan Milliken: “Get Me Through December” – Natalie MacMaster with Alison Krauss

Her heart has grown cold, her love stored away. But she hungers to feel that love again, and wanders the world in search of things to rekindle it, even as she knows that some types of peace can only come from within. Now she’s anticipating another season of dragging herself through the doldrums, her feelings ever unsettled; but she still holds onto some kind of faith, some hope for tomorrow. All she wants is a good reboot, another chance to set her course a little righter. “Just get me through December,” she pleads, “so I can start again.”

Tara Seetharam: “If You Ever Have Forever in Mind” – Vince Gill

As most of you know by now, I connect with music via melody and vocal performance more so than via lyric. Though I’ve yet to identify with the story of this song, the first time I heard it, I remember thinking it immediately felt like “home” – like I had found an extension of myself in the song. it just…fits me.

Kevin Coyne: “Rocking Horse” – Sara Evans

That’s how I live my life. I’m not wired to do it any other way.

 

 

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