Picks & Pans
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*Makes A Good Coaster
“That’s a great album.”
So said the young repairman attending to the small cracks in my windshield, as he peered into an open window of my parked Honda, noticing the album jacket for Trisha Yearwood’s Let’s Be Frank on the passenger seat opposite the seat-belted driver.
I’d hadn’t finished listening to the CD, but that seal of approval from the audience Yearwood hopes to reach may make what follows superfluous. (I didn’t try to do his job- I still want to do mine- so here goes:)
As anyone would expect, Trisha’s tribute album contains many of the Frank Sinatra standards fans of Ol' Blue Eyes would insist upon (Witchcraft, All the Way, Come Fly With Me, The Lady is a Tramp et al). But it also features songs more associated with other artists, such as Judy Garland (Over the Rainbow) John Raitt, Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones (If I Loved You), five other standards and a song Sinatra didn't live to hear; the "Ms. Yearwood" and Garth Brooks-penned For the Last Time Trisha's done it "her way."
The beauty of Trisha Yearwood’s interpretations of these songs is that, while singing (mostly) hits from the Big Band era and The Great American Songbook, she doesn’t try to be anyone other than herself- let alone Frank Sinatra.
The result is that, while it ain't country, Let's Be Frank pleases both Yearwood's fans and those of the Chairman of the Board.
Walk Through Fire
Hard Way to Go
The similarities between the two Jimmys begin and end with the identical stage name.
Most recently Idol’s Jimmy Charles led Nashville’s November, 2018 Cancer Survivors March, crossing the Cumberland River with fellow marchers by way of the JOHN SEIGENTHALER Pedestrian Bridge, in support of Jimmy's #IAMNOTALONE charity, an event preceding the singer/songwriter's prerelease party for Hard Way To Go.The EP's title song, which closes out an array of material showcasing the range of Jimmy's talent (beginning with the energetic rocker, Blue Spaces, shifting to the pensive torcher, She's Where I Belong, the seemingly autobiographical Rollin' On and the self-explanatory tribute to God and a Woman), is a prayerful "tale of addiction," choices and consequences. Other highlights include I Am Not Alone, a paean to faith in troubled times, and Superman (not to be confused with Donna Fargo's 1973 hit of the same name), which offers tear-jerking support to those tasked with the impossible objective of doing and having it all while battling cancer to boot!
Glen Campbell Sings for the King
Livin' the Dream
Lee Shapiro Plays the Hits of Frankie Valli: A Piano Tribute
It’s been years since instrumentals have been regarded as (terrestrial) radio-friendly. (One of the earliest indications came when the Country Music Association eliminated its “Instrumentalist of the Year” category.)
Some of my favorite recordings are instrumentals and, in my capacity as a music reviewer, I try to do my part to see that they are not overlooked. Enter Lee Shapiro, whom Four Seasons’ fans remember as the group’s musical director and arranger and as the talent, in his own right, who went on to assist his mentor, Frankie Valli when Valli embarked on a solo career.
Though Lee has gone on to work with many other popular music artists since, with the resurgence in interest in the music of Valli and fellow Jersey Boys, courtesy of Broadway and the silver screen, Shapiro rightly believes many of the hits featuring Four Seasons’ lead singer Frankie’s falsetto adapt themselves to piano solos.
The result is Shapiro's instrumental interpretations of 10 familiar songs, four of which Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, My Eyes Adored You, Swearin’ to God, and Fallen Angel, are really the only true Valli solo releases. I’ve Got You Under My Skin, like like Save it For Me, was released by “The Four Seasons Featuring the ‘Sound’ of Frankie Valli.” (The former, of course, was a cover of Frank Sinatra’s original hit version of the Cole Porter classic first performed by Virginia Bruce.)
Music history/marketing lessons aside, Lee Shapiro breathes new life and some new twists into his arrangements of the above-mentioned songs, sticking close to the familiar versions where it makes sense to do so.
Don’t Stop pretty much summarizes the reviewer’s sentiments upon hearing Lee’s piano tribute. Fans won't be able to resist singing along, though, so karaoke, to say nothing of Nashville demo material for aspiring singers who don't write music, may well take up the sales slack if (terrestrial) radio doesn't do its part to make these songs instrumental recurrents.
Can't Be Denied
Mark Wayne Glasmire
About Me (A Benefit for the IBMA Trust Fund)
Sideline, Donna Ulisse, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Lonesome River Band, Balsam Range, Love Canon, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, The Grascals and the Mountain Home Family have come together in a musical show of solidarity, to offer these performances of 11 songs, with proceeds benefiting the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Trust Fund.
The spirit of unity is apparent from the beginning, setting the tone (no pun intended) of what is to follow with Sideline’s performance of Their Hands Made the Music, Mark Brinkman’s original composition saluting bluegrass’ icons and all of the “pickers” who seek to carry on the tradition.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver's All of the Good Things We Could Do, with its uplifting call to action, is one of the best songs found here.
Not so The Grascals’ bluegrass version of The Beatles’ Help! Though what has, only in recent years, become a tradition that may have begun much earlier with Ray Stevens’ recording of Misty, grassers have been seemingly all but stepping over each other in order to record a song that has become a classic in another genre.
There are three reasons to do so:
1). To improve upon the original by making it your own to the point where the original is all but forgotten.
2. To redress a grievance when a classic was denied the shelf life and/or recurrent status it deserves.
3. To give a classic a comedic turn
as Stevens did with a Johnny Mathis hit or to otherwise
parody it (think Homer & Jethro, Pinkard & Bowden, Weird Al Yankovic, etc.).
The Grascals fail all of these objectives, though their desire to assist the IBMA trust fund is, obviously, to be commended.
BTW, songwriters’ credit for Help! reads “John W. Lennon and Paul J. McCartney.” John Winston Lennon’s co-writer’s full given name is James Paul McCartney.
All of which brings us to the title song. While it might be a disappointment to The Supremes’ fans, who remember the Motown trio’s 1964 hit of the same name, to country and bluegrass fans Come See About Me is a completely different song, written and first recorded by Conway Twitty in 1977.
In any event, the Doyle Lawson-produced Come See About Me serves as a historically fitting finale, given new meaning with its We Are The World thrust, courtesy of some 20 performing contributors.
With Whirlwind Girl grabbing the most attention (and deservedly so) from those of us receiving prerelease copies I’m also partial to Small Town Living, a paean to what are often seen as nostalgic, though they are arguably timeless, values; ideals certainly worth preserving.
Taken as a whole, Wind evinces Sunshine state sensibilities fashioning an optimism and sense of security that is sometimes tempered by lyrical sentiments of frustration and exasperation.
However, as themes and emotions seemingly run the gamut, this collection, the latest in the six-man-band’s Elements series, proves that, after 25 years together, the Gainesville gang of “sisters” (or, more accurately, “brothers [from another mother]"?) still has it.
From The Crow's Nest
(John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band featuring Herb Pederson, Jon Randall & Mark Fain)
Listen To That Beautiful Sound is the title of not only the opening song from this collection, it sets the stage for a series of sonic delights, offset by themes of sadness and tragedy.
If the 15 songs featured on this project, recorded at SHERYL CROW's home studio, atop a horse barn, seem familiar it's because they were one-third of John's limited edition, 2015 three-CD Divertuoso box set now repositioned to reap the rewards of a wider release.
Jorgenson and his all-star collaborators present timeless music, blending story-songs such as Wandering Boy (a snapshot in time of young Rodney Crowell and his Houston roots) and Whiskey Lullaby (the disturbing, twisted tale of self-destruction) with a few instrumentals ( Ladies Bluff, Feather, Gina) spotlighting the musicianship that brought these respected pickers in their own right together.
Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imaged
Years ago RCA Records hired me to update Sylvia’s press kit biography. Part of my assignment was to use the bio as a means of public disclosure of Sylvia’s divorce- though I was not to use the then presumably-stigmatizing “D” word.
The result was, as best I remember, a description that referenced Sylvia as a “newly single, independent woman of the ‘80s”- or something like that.
The reinvention was consistent with the odd inconsistency of Sylvia being known to her fans, from the time of her first major label release, by her first name (a distinction afforded singers like Barbra Streisand, Reba McEntire, and so forth, only after their first and last names were fully pressed in public consciousness).
Immediately known popularly by her first name, Sylvia was constantly asked her surname. And, periodically, Sylvia has added that maiden name or married name, as seemed to make sense at the time, for performance billing or other promotional purposes.
Sylvia brings that same deliberation to the task of choosing just 10 career favorites, then, respecting listeners’ reverence for the originals, re-imaging them with a 21st century sound that showcases Sylvia’a creativity and artistic growth along with the work of today’s most in-demand musicians and background vocalists (not to mention the iconic Jim Glaser).
Sylvia fulfills her challenge to bridge that gap between the performances that created her fan base and the artistic growth that has sustained it. All the while Sylvia manages to keep the integrity of the partnerships she formed with the songwriting team of Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan (Nobody, Tumbleweed, Sweet Yesterday, Like Nothing Ever Happened, Snapshot and- the only song in this collection that wasn’t released as a single- You Can’t Go Back Home) and the other songwriters whose work is also featured here.
And, just to underscore that, with the passage of time, you really can’t go home again, Sylvia’s 1985 Top 10 hit, I Love You By Heart (written by Jerry Gillespie and Stan Webb) featured Michael Johnson. That pairing of solo artists is sobering in light of the notation, on Second Bloom...'s track listing of I Love You By Heart. This time out, Sylvia relies on background singers to take up the slack as she dedicates her performance "in memory of Michael Johnson."
Crazy Like Me
Heard in tandem with Billy Burnette’s book of the same name (reviewed here) or purchased as a standalone musical treat, these 14 songs feature Billy Burnette at this best.
Now rockin’ with a Medicare card (issued May 8, 2018), Billy has lost none of his arresting musical inheritance; the chops, musicianship and swagger that brought him to the attention of his erstwhile bandmates, Fleetwood Mac.
Billy accurately describes his latest album as a “mish-mosh of hits and things people have never heard.”
Burnette opens with his appropriately-energized version of Tear It Up, the classic written and recorded by The Rock ‘N Roll Trio rockabilly pioneers Dorsey Burnette, Johnny Burnette and Paul Burlison. Billy first released the raucous, infectious audience favorite on his self-titled CBS in 1980 and later Fleetwood Mac seized the opportunity to adopt it as its standard response to its stage audiences’ demands for an encore.
Burnette’s performance of (All I Can Do) Is Dream You, a song Billy and David Malloy wrote for Roy Orbison, makes it easy to understand why Orbison embraced the lyric.
The title song (which Billy wrote with Dennis Morgan and Shawn Camp) evokes appreciation for a mirror-imaged mate.
Billy’s rendering of River of Love, another Burnette, Morgan and Camp copyright, will please Burnette’s fans as much as George Strait’s cut (which became Strait’s 57th number one single in 2008.
Billy’s ability to make Do I Ever Cross Your Mind (co-written with Michael Smotherman) Burnette’s own is quite a testament to those who might wonder if it’s possible to breathe new life into a song sung by Ray Charles and Bonnie Raitt.
It's Late is yet another example of Billy’s timeless musical tributes to his father, Dorsey Burnette (who wrote it) and to the Burnettes' friend, Ricky Nelson, who had the 1959 hit version.
So grab your blue suede dancin’ shoes (saddle shoes will do) and let Billy Burnette supply the rockabilly. You still have it- and so does Billy!
Just Like in the Movies
Jana Kramer may have written (with Brian Kierulf and Catt Gravitt) and recorded it first, but the title song, one of 14 found on Southern Halo’s newest release, and project finale, is a perfect fit for what the sister trio’s Natalia “Nata” Morris quite rightly describes as a concept album.
Indeed, with only a year in age separating the eldest Morris sister (Nata) from middle sister Hannah, with Christina (“Tinka”) Morris arriving a year after Hannah’s birth, the Morris sisters are close enough in age, not to mention DNA, to have experienced the gamut of emotions that tie the themes of these songs together.
The lyrics to Southern Halo (which Nata cowrote with Roxie Dean) answer the questions of why and how the Morris sisters bill themselves as something more attention-getting than- well, say, The Morris Sisters.
As a matter of fact, the (semi)-autobiographical themes throughout these songs resonate with songs like My Girls and Me (suggesting, like Sisters Sledge, the Morris siblings, too “are family” with an unbreakable bond), Missing Mississippi (and what homesick native, born into a generation for whom the Dixiecrats are largely ancient history, doesn’t pine for the Magnolia state?) and Famous (Nata and cowriter Alex Dooley’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on celebrity).
Listening to Notice Me it seem like the song should be titled “Hey Boy.” Until, a few songs later, a song with an entirely different theme actually titled Hey Boy appears.
Not a celebrity? No sisters? Not from Mississippi?
If you over-analyze, are resilient, have been in love, have been dumped when you didn’t see it coming and/or have found your soul mate, you’ll want to add Just Like in the Movies to your collection.
Front and Center
Sideline‘s fourth album includes 12 songs- like most LPs used to- that are an eclectic blend of old-time bluegrass instrumentation with traditional Christian dogma and familiar lyrical themes.
There are story songs of complex characters like Thunder Dan and (to a lesser degree) Lysander Hayes along with salutes to other influences such as a Bluefield WV Mtn. Girl. Along the way, things get a little bit preachy for those not among the flock (I Long to See His Face, Satan’s Chains), while another values song, Old Time Way will either strike a chord or seem less than innovative, depending upon the listener’s mindset.
Along the way listeners are treated to a mix of memories and melancholy with Sideline’s interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s Song for a Winter’s Night being a real standout.
Sideline closes with a little dance music; an instrumental version of Cotton Eyed Joe that heightens fans’ awareness of the sextet’s musicianship that positions them Front and Center.
Here's To You
Here’s To You would be memorable, and otherwise have an historical significance, simply because the album was recorded only days before Troy Gentry's death from injuries sustained in a helicopter crash.
Posthumously issued releases traditionally sell more copies than those that drop (no pun intended) independent of such sorrow, but Eddie Montgomery remains very much alive and has vowed to memorialize Gentry by continuing the duo’s music.
Thankfully, Montgomery is able to do so on the strength of an album that stands on its own, beginning with Shotgun Wedding a lyrically-clever story-song, written by Eddie, Phillip Eugene O’Donnell and Gary Hannon, that works despite (or perhaps because of) what Troy opined was the song’s similarity to Hillbilly Shoes.
Better Me, written by Jamie Moore, Randy Montana and Josh Hoge, the first single out of the chute, is thought to be a song Gentry wished he’d written himself. Played during Troy’s funeral, the song seems autobiographical, in that, by all accounts, during what turned out to be the last years of his life, Gentry was beginning to take stock of his choices and was working to change what needed improvement.
I found eight of the remaining 10 songs variously entertaining, this, despite the fact that a couple of them aren't all that strong. Needing a Beer is a reworked update of a song or, more accurately, a series of songs, variously pandering, or paying homage, to the working man/people, patriots/those thought to be conservative/fringe Republicans, white collar professionals or whatever demographics are deemed currently topical and, in this case, Montgomery Gentry fans.
“God Bless America, Baby,” indeed!
Similarly, That’s The Thing about America is a reworked update of any number of songs; in this case those purporting to be patriotic statements about polarizing points-of-view and the freedom to express them.
The message is tolerance, but given two drastically opposing views on several issues and the sometimes stereotypically-inflammatory manner in which the lyrics address them, the listener knows exactly where the Troy stood and where the writers (Craig Wiseman, Jeffrey Steele and Shane Minor) and Eddie Montgomery stand.
If you enjoyed Unplugged from Daryl’s House Club you’ll love Sister Hazel’s newest release, Water.
An EP with seven great tracks, Water features a song for every mood just as H2O, whether it represents drowning, a raindrop or a tear, arguably figures figuratively, if not literally, in the themes of all of these message songs.
Roll On Bye has a breezy, carefree vibe bolstered with lyrics that exude confidence consistent with knowing the water's always fine when your significant other has your back.
The First Time second-guesses as it ponders the what ifs of a broken relationship.
You Won’t See Me Again is the title of a story song embodying dark despondency followed by (spoiler alert?) prayerful recovery.
Shelter is a song about just that- the importance of protection from the elements, others and sometimes even that which is less than your best self.
I Stayed for the Girl is a proclamation offering a new twist on the decisions we make when dueling desires and/or priorities force our hands.
More Than I Want To is a tale of
falling short of your own expectations, or the person you’d like to be,
and somehow being present enough in a relationship to where it might
The collection rounds out with Elements Part 1 (Abilene) a rather strange karmic refrain; but one that works even though listeners can’t imagine- or maybe we can- what is missing in the absence of a “Part Two.”
Bold Like A Lion
Rating **** 1/2
According to a news release issued by Meghan Linsey's publicist, Joey Amato, Linsey calls this the best album she's ever released.
Reviewers had some fun with Jeanne Pruett when, over the course of her recording career, Jeanne would appear with Ralph Emery and proclaim, like clockwork, the same superlative sentiment about whatever her newest release happened to be with each of Pruett’s singles over Meghan may well be right. This CD’s baker’s dozen of largely well-written songs, variously infused with energy, attitude, independence (or the lack thereof), and social conscience, begin with a roar (no pun intended), right out of the box, as the title song opens with lyrics and a sentiment that sets the tone for what follows.
Mr. Homewrecker, Bold…’s first single, lays the responsibility for breaking vows where it belongs. Say It To My Face (featuring Aloe Blaco) is a self-explanatory message to Internet trolls. Freak 4 the Beat (featuring Fred Schneider of the B52s), if properly promoted, will certainly broaden Meghan’s audience, more accustomed to the nuance defining the fine line between Exes and Friends.
I could do without Lover (I find it repetitive and not especially creative filler) but record-buyers, assuming they agree, will readily overlook this lapse, realizing that one-third of the proceeds from Bold Like A Lion are earmarked for Phlando Feeds the Children, “an organization created in memory of Philando Castile, which raises money to provide lunches for elementary school children.”
The Life& Songs of Kris Kristofferson: All-Star Concert Celebration
A twist on the usual tribute album, this CD version is, in effect, an edited version of live performances, featuring not only other artists singing the honoree’s song, but performances by the subject of the tribute himself (i.e., Kris Kristofferson).
Yet only the concert itself captured the total experience. The various edits result in the need for some clarification from Rob Rauffer: “Lady Antebellum (Help Me Make It Through the Night) and Darius Rucker (Under the Gun) are on the broadcast, CD and DVD. Martina McBride (Here Comes That Rainbow Again) is on the CD and DVD but not the broadcast."
As someone who would rather hear Kris sing his own songs, or failing that, hear them from Johnny Cash, Sammi Smith, Ray Price, Roy Drusky and Billy Walker, (who, had they lived, would have the most logical choices for any multimedia Kristofferson tribute project), I’m probably not the best one to review these performances. Though the artists mostly stick to the original melodies and lyrics, the slightest deviation drives me crazy.
But, to paraphrase Hank Williams, Jr., if you want Bocephus’ participation in the project, as Kris (or someone Kristofferson deferred to) evidently did, as the artist best-suited to sing If You Don’t Like Hank Williams…,” then Hank, Jr.’s taking the most number of liberties with a Kristofferson song of any of the participants paying tribute was part of what it took to secure Bocephus’ participation.
Some of the artists, who have no discernible connection to Kris, appeared to have spotted a gravy train and jumped on board. In industry terms, being able to market marquee names, as being associated with an industry “legend” who, paradoxically, has been long put out to pasture, give the project street cred that, in turn, translate to sales.
But if the listener can take, at face value, Eric Church’s explanation of why pairing him with To Beat the Devil has not only context but relevance for Eric’s fans, then it’s easier to believe that Kris’ music has some relevance to those cast as his acolytes- even if, “in real life,” they’re not cutting any of his chestnuts (i.e., the ones like A Moment of Forever that have not already been covered to death) for their own projects.