Last Friday I had the pleasure of seeing Leona Williams in concert. I was excited to see this country legend and she didn’t disappoint. After the show she even talked to my friends and I for around an hour over her career. It was a music fan’s heaven.
Williams has a really interesting history in country music. Besides having her own chart successes and performing at the Grand Ol’Opry, she worked in Loretta Lynn’s first touring band, has written numerous number one hits, and worked with the best in the business. She was also married to that one guy Merle Haggard. Have you heard of him?
With all my new facts in mind I decided I needed to visit some of her albums in my collection. I decided to start with her 1983 duet album with Haggard, Heart to Heart. Although none of these songs were as chart successful as their previous duet “The Bull and The Beaver,” this album still holds many diamonds that often go unnoticed.
For the most part Heart to Heart is a pretty mellow album. Side A has the only two songs that Williams and Haggard penned together. First there is “Let’s Pretend We’re Not Married Tonight.” This song speaks about forgetting about all the idiosyncrasies that come with marriage and just enjoying each other once more. This song has a twist and fits right into any classic country catalog.
Then there is “We’re Strangers Again.” This closes out side A with heartbreak only country music could capture. This amiable tune talks of a relationship that has fallen apart. Set to gentle guitar rifts and a steady two stepping beat, this track could easily find its way on to a dance floor today. They also did Ernest Tubb’s “Waltz Across Texas” in between there.
Side B creates a more uptempo feel, but the music stays relaxed. My favorites from this side are the more upbeat tracks, “Don’t Ever Let Your Lover Sleep Alone” and Rose Maddox’s “Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down.”
“Don’t Ever Let Your Lover Sleep Alone” was written by Haggard. It’s a fun duet between the two, basically saying never to leave your lover to their own vices. Although there is a weird effect placed on William’s voice in this song that threw me off. It doesn’t sound bad, it just sounds different. Then there is the enjoyable and conventional classic country hoedown tune with “Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down.” This song sounds like it was just plain fun to record.
This album charted at number 44 and came off the heals of two other duet albums Haggard had made. These records were with Willie Nelson and George Jones. This was quite a switch up for the “outlaw” showing a more vulnerable and “sappy” side to Haggard.
But, the real gem of this album is the talent of Williams. I am not discrediting Haggard, but everybody was familiar with his talent. Williams has one of the best country voices the industry has ever heard and she gives this album some of its best moments. Williams provides harmonies that are not easily compared. She is her own artist while completely blending with another.
In the end this album didn’t do much for their marriage and it was actually released after they were separated. Nonetheless, Haggard and Williams were together for nearly ten years and she wrote and contributed to some of Haggard’s biggest hits. With this album and their writing they made musical gold.
Of course I think you could tell me to spin anything of the bull’s or the beaver’s and I’d have to say “10-4.”
Don’t forget to read my tribute to Merle Haggard, An Okie From California.