ALBUM REVIEW: George Strait, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind

First let me start by asking forgiveness from all my fellow country music enthusiasts. I have a terrible debt that I must confess.

I’ve barely ever listened to George Strait.

I truly apologize. He has charted 44 number one singles on the Billboard charts and has 60 number ones when counting other charts. He has also sold nearly 100 million records worldwide. To say the least, I’m late to the game.

IMG_2439What better day to educate myself about the King of Country then the eve of his birthday? I have around 4 of his albums in my collection due to my mom buying them for me. She always buys albums for me when she finds them. We are both constant garage-salers and thrift store hoppers.

In one of the piles that my Mom bought me was George Strait’s Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind. Honestly, I didn’t think much of the record. I already had other country favorites and I was really tired of hearing how amazing Strait was, then there is my mom’s endless talk about his butt.

Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind was released in 1984 and quickly shot its way to the top of the Billboard country chart. This album generally comes a little late in country music for my tastes. I don’t listen to much 1980’s country unless it’s The Judds, Reba McEntire, or Dwight Yoakam. I’m more of a 1960’s and 1970’s classic country fan, but yet again, I have been proven wrong.

This album opens with the title track “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind.” To my surprise Strait’s vocals didn’t remain on a stagnant line like I always thought, yet they came full of tear drops and intricate country stylings. This broken heart ballad comes with all the fixens’: pleadin’, reminiscin’, and drinkin.’ It’s the sequel to “By The Time I Get to Phoenix.”

Next is one of my favorites, “Any Old Time.” It comes with a heavy country swing rhythm and some rather fancy fiddlin’. Strait was clearly no longer thinking of Fort Worth.

IMG_2440“Honk Tonk Saturday Night” finishes out side A. This song is another ballad of sorts that echoes Loretta Lynn’s “Honky Tonk Girl.” Strait’s vocals convey the same contentment and loneliness Lynn’s did years before.

Side B starts with “I Should Have Watched That First Step” and “Love Comes From The Other Side of Town.” Both of these songs have classic country themes with a little extra boot scootin’ mixed in. The true highlights of side B though are the last two singles from this album “The Cowboy Rides Away” and “The Fireman.”

“The Cowboy Rides Away” is 80’s country at it’s best, sprinkled with the heritage of the legends before. It’s the confidence in Strait’s voice that catches my attention. Although the song comes from a vulnerable state (a breakup), he finds his confidence in riding away, knowing there will be something else along the path. That mixed with the instrumentation of this song makes this an undeniable hit.

Lastly, we have “The Fireman,” the last single from this album. It’s a close relative to “Any Old Time.” I can imagine a group of couples two steppin’ to this song easily. Strait’s consistent vocals give this song sustainability while showing Strait’s versatile vocal ability.

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So as I sit here on the eve of George Strait’s 64th birthday, I find myself musically improvished. I hate the fact that I have not given Strait the time he deserves until now. What I find the most exquisite about Strait is how his voice is always stable. It never seems to give out or lose pitch, but it always conveys a direct fluid emotion.

With the discovery of George Strait, I have realized I am just another honky-tonk boy. You see, honky tonkin’ is a style of living. It’s about hitting the high of highs and the low of lows while maintaining a sound character. That’s what Strait’s voice, the longevity of his career, and his character portrays. When was the last time you saw George Strait in the tabloids?

I now realize I have always been a honky-tonk boy. Now I have a Strait road to travel.

ALBUM REVIEW: Tina Turner, Tina Turns Country on!

There is barely any debate among music critics and listeners wheather or not Tina Turner is an impeccable artist. She has a style that cannot be replicated and a legacy that is sealed into society’s consciousness. Find me one person that doesn’t know when to shake their head during “Proud Mary” and I’d be shocked.

IMG_2377There is more music that often goes unnoticed from her career between being a solo superstar with the album Private Dancer and her tenure with the Ike and Tina Turner Review. Between the years of 1974, a year before she divorced Ike, and 1984, the year “What’s Love Got To Do With It” went number one, Tina recorded multiple albums to little success.

The first of these albums was Tina Turns The Country On! This album finds Tina at her first solo experiment. When looking at music history and the history of Tina’s style, the choice to release an album of country and western covers does not seem like the obvious next step in her career. Yet this album speaks volumes of where Tina was at in 1974 and also widens her breadth as a vocal artist.

This album comes right at the end of Ike and Tina Turner’s marriage. Their popularity had waned in the 70’s due to Ike’s frequent drug use, which resulted in missed and postponed shows. Tina was beginning to build her nerve through inspiration she had found through Buddhism which was the budding of her independence.

That’s the diamond in the rough when it comes to Tina’s first solo album: independence. For the first time, she was given the most freedom on how she was going to conduct herself as a muscian.

Tina Turns The Country On! is completely…country. Tina knows country because she was brought up in Tennessee, but I don’t think anybody was expecting her to sing it. Each song is a cover of a country hit with a new arrangement and that arrangement was…country.

Tina Turner, the queen of rock and roll R&B, now had twang.

IMG_2378I could see Tina doing a twist off of Ray Charles successes from his early 1960’s country themed albums, but I didn’t expect a performance I would have readily seen on The Wilburn Brothers Show or The Johnny Cash Show. I was expecting a blended mix of early R&B and country, but instead she fit in perfectly right next to Loretta Lynn.

There are three levels of Tina within the album and with each level she becomes more…Tina. I call the first level “Mid-Tina.” This level finds Tina singing with the roughness we have all grown to love, but mixed with smooth twang. We find this on the songs “Bayou Song, “If You Love Me Let Me Know,” and “Don’t Talk Now.”

Next we venture into “Tina Turned Up.” This is the Tina we generally find in her earlier recordings with Ike Turner. These elements are found in songs such as Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On.”

Lastly, we have “Tina Turned Down.” In this level, Tina demonstrates her chops for delivering straightforward and easy masterpieces. This level contains all my favorite songs from this album. First she sings a vulnerable and rousing rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night.” Her voice is as smooth and liquid as melted butter. Her performance of this song finds her vocals in their most purest form. It is like they come from a child.

Tina-Album-Tina-Turns-The-Country-On-Promo-02Then there is the hopeful Dolly Parton cover “There’ll Always Be Music.” I could easily see a choir erupting behind Tina at any moment during this recording. Her genuine love of unadulterated music is on complete view. She then closes out the album with “The Love That Light’s Our Way.” This song eludes to the concrete truth that love will always prevail and lead the way, a sentiment that was muddled for Tina at this time. Her vocals in this song will convince anybody, that truth and love always prevails, something she still believed deep down.

This album begins to encapsulate the independent artistry of Tina Turner. It shows that she was not only a musical interpreter that crossed genres, but one that can reach the furthest of human emotions in the same fell swoop. She takes country music, flips it on its head, reconstructs it, and sings it her way, but she was still under a jail cell.

Her later solo efforts were to be completely independent of Ike Turner in all regards. This album shows that all you need sometimes is to let someone shake their own tail-feather and to never restrict someone to be a private dancer. This artistry within Tina was nearly untapped and it was time for the world to hear it.

It was time for Tina to be Tina.

ALBUM REVIEW: Loretta Lynn, Full Circle

“He [Doolittle Lynn] said every one of ’em was a hit…..shoot it was a hit and miss.”

This quote comes from the beginning of Loretta Lynn’s new album, Full Circle, from the Coal Miner’s Daughter herself. She claimed her husband (Doolittle Lynn) insisted every song she ever wrote was a hit. Loretta didn’t agree.

But everybody can be wrong sometimes.

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Lynn and her late husband Doolittle.

It has been over 10 years since Lynn has released an album of new material. Her last album, Van Lear Rose, was released in 2004. It was produced by Jack White and had great commercial and critical success. It is one of her most profound works, but her fans and the country music crowd are not writing Lynn off any time soon. Her new album is met with anticipation and excitement.

As a long time Lynn devotee I was counting down the days since she first confirmed she would be releasing a new album. I have nearly every album Lynn has made (I am only missing 1!). I’ve seen her in concert and have spent hundreds of dollars on memorabilia. Once the release date came I contacted my local record store to see if they received this new gem on vinyl.

They immediately put it behind the counter for me to come purchase. They have lived with me through my Lynn pilgrimage. This is serious business.

I rushed home once I purchased this record and immediately put it on my turntable. It’s safe to say it was love at first spin.

The album opens with a conversation between Lynn and what I assume is her producers John Carter Cash (Johnny Cash and June Carter’s son) and Patsy Lynn Russell (Lynn’s Daughter), and various studio musicians. She easily recalls the first song she ever wrote, “Whispering Sea” taking the listener back to the beginning of her career. She then opens this album with a modern version of “Whispering Sea.”

Loretta LynnIt has been 56 years since Lynn first recorded this song. It was the B side to her first single “Honky Tonk Girl.” I went back and listened to the orignal recording to compare it to her new version. Both versions are excellent in both composition and deliverance. The first version portrays a naive and vulnerable spirit whereas today’s version has elements of maturity, grace, and wisdom. It’s profound what happened here and to think this was the first song! This same element is heard in her remakes of “Everybody Want’s to Go to Heaven” and “Fist City.”

The album proceeds into a new composition, “Secret Love.” This song sounds like it could be off of her first album. She then sings a song entitled “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” This is a simple answer, everybody. Lynn was one of the primary writers of this song and the listener is once again met with a tone and deliverance that sounds so fresh it could come from one of her first albums, yet it shows the continued humility Lynn possess. This is what I believe has sustained her in the music industry and what has fueled her staying power.

The answer to the question this song asks “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” is a hard one to answer. Lynn will have listeners from the past, present, and future miss her. Her music is immortal and her wisdom is timeless. So whos gonna miss her? It will forever be impossible to answer.

Next we are met with a story song, “Black Jack David.” There are three chief story tellers in country music, Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Reba McEntire. All three tell their stories differently, but each one makes you live their tale. Wrapping up Side A is Lynn’s version of the classic song, “Always on My Mind.” Lynn gives a rousing performance that I feel reminiscences on her life. It reminds me of her late husband and her children and the love she has for her entire family. That’s who she talks to in her spiritual and encompassing performance of this classic ballad.

Loretta LynnSide B contains the new tunes, “Wine Into Water,” the spiritual “In The Pines,” and “Band of Gold.” These again sound as fresh as Lynn’s first recordings, but they encompass that same wisdom to her listeners. The greatest takeaways from Side B are her duets with Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson.

First, she duets with Elvis Costello on “Everything it Takes.” This is your classic country song talking of love lost to another woman. It is a lecture to her man about how his new woman will “take everything he’s got.” This track that could be easily taken from her 1966 album, You Ain’t Woman Enough.

Lastly, she duets with her fellow country legend, Willie Nelson on “Lay Me Down.” This song is classic gold. This song talks about the contentment both performers feel in the life they have led. There’s a sense of spirit and deftness this song brings to the listener that I have never felt before. Both singer’s vocals easily glide over the melody with confidence and breadth. This is a piece of country gold from some of the last real country survivors. This songs a treasure chest that you get something new out of with each listen.

To be honest, I was expecting something amazing with this album, but I was not expecting it to place me in a musical trance. This album completely takes over your spirit as you travel through it. It is full of emotions, strife, triumph, strength, and accomplishment, but the most important quality this album exemplifies is wisdom.

Loretta LynnThis album is your mom, grandmother, or mentor simply sitting in their chair telling you of their life and what they have done. They tell you all about the good times and they never shy away from giving advice, yet they don’t shield you from the downtimes. This album is simply life as narrated by Loretta Lynn.The title of the album, Full Circle, describes the journey these songs take you on while visiting old habits and discovering new gems.

This is just the first album of nearly 96 new recordings Lynn has made. It is dubbed as “Volume One of The Cash Cabin Recordings.” I am already eagerly awaiting volume 2. It’s just the story the Judds told us about grandpa, but now it’s grandma’s turn. Grandma’s are the sale of the earth and this grandma has just begun talking.

And as we all know, you never tell Grandma to hush unless you want to go to fist city.

ALBUM REVIEW: Loretta Lynn, Loretta Lynn Sings

“I’d like to introduce myself…I’m the other woman,” says Loretta Lynn on the third track from her 1963 debut album Loretta Lynn Sings. This was her first major album on Decca and she penned a total of 3 songs on the album.

This album is pure country and is the beginning of a massive stream of hits for Lynn. Omaeba- Loretta LynnThis record contains her first top 10 hit, “Success,” along with her top 20 hit “The Other Woman.” Not bad for a male dominated country music scene.

The road Lynn rode to stardom was not full of trailblazing female singers, especially not female songwriters. It’s easy to argue that Kitty Wells was the first in 1952 with her self penned, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honkey Tonk Angels.”

Wells was the original. Then came the prodigy.

Five years after Wells entered the music scene, a jar of molasses was broken on every country music fan’s head. Patsy Cline, the undisputed queen of Country music, came out in 1957 with her song “Walkin After Midnight,” which charted at number two. This was followed by a stream of country music classics that can never be replicated.

Then around 1960, came a little honky-tonk gal, Loretta Lynn. Cline and Lynn became good friends once Lynn started frequenting Nashville and became a hit on the Grand Ole Opry. Unfortunately, both Cline’s career and their friendship were cut short in 1963, around 2 months after Lynn’s debut album.

March 5, 1963, was a dark day for music.

Cline was gaining momentum daily as the top female country artist. This momentum, and all the work and strife that went into it, could not be ignored. Nobody could replace Cline, but someone could pick up where she left off. Although Lynn’s career really took off in the mid 1960’s, it was then that Cline’s legacy was continued.

photoThat’s where Lynn steps in and this album, Loretta Lynn Sings, becomes a pivotal point in music history. This album laid the foundation of what was to come from Lynn through her vocals and songwriting.

Lynn does not just sing, she feels. Sometimes I don’t think she is singing at all. She is making the sounds of pure emotion. That is what comes out on tracks such as “Success,” “The Other Woman,” Act Naturally,” and “Lonesome 7-7203.” All these tracks express heartache and sorrow from what used to be love. Lynn’s phrasing and vocal “give and take” was something not seen in an artist of that time and, quite frankly, is still rivaled today.

But what I love best about this album is “The Girl That I Am Now,” “World of Forgotten People,” and “A Hundred Proof Heartache.” Lynn wrote all three of these songs. The songs serve as a prelude to what was eventually to come. There was something extra in these songs that weren’t in the others. It’s like a twinkle in your eye. Once you hear it, it’s gone, but you know it was there.

Now at 82, Lynn has blessed the world with her God-given gift of writing and feeling through the channel of singing. She has seen controversy, death, sold out stadiums, and extreme success, all while getting supper ready on time for Doo and the kids.

So really, when you think about it, Loretta Lynn is the other woman. Not the one from Nashville.com-Loretta Lynnthe song (although it’s one of those tunes that proves I wouldn’t take her in a dark alley), but in country music. She was not Kitty Wells or Patsy Cline, but she was a female brave enough to take music by its ponytail and whip it in her direction.

I don’t find Lynn’s vocals in competition with Wells or Cline. They were equally talented, but Lynn kept the momentum going. Many that we consider great today can point their thanks straight back to these three ladies, especially Lynn. She showed that a woman could have a full-fledged successful career in music and stardom.

Now I don’t condone cheatin’, but I’m thankful God Blessed us with the other woman.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose

Not many times have I stopped listening to a record and immediately thought, “Wow! That is one of the best albums I have ever heard!” Yet, that was the case with Loretta Lynn’s Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose.

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Now, as many people know, I am a huge classic country fan. I could sit and listen to the likes of Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, and Dolly Parton all day. Although I am not a fan of what they call country music today, there are a few artists I like, but they are few and far between.

With this album, I did not hear classic country in the style I love. Instead, it was classic country with a proper update. At times you really can tell Jack White’s alternative influences (“Have Mercy”), but the songs contain much of what real country once had (“Trouble on the Line”). Each song contains elements of what country once was, as well as the gritty stories it once told. Country is not about crashing parties or singing dirt road anthems. It’s about really dirty and sticky situations.

Side Note: This is Loretta Lynn’s first album where she wrote all the songs.

It’s hard for me to pick just a few songs to write about, but here are a few of my favorites.

Track 2 “Portland Oregon”: This is a duet between Lynn and Jack White. It is amazing how two voices from two generations can blend so well. It goes to show the timelessness of music. The song opens with a dramatic instrumental and ends with asking for a pitcher to go.

Track 6 “High on a Mountain Top”: The premise of this song is humility mixed with everything you ever need. Lynn talks about how poor her family was, but how she would never leave that “Mountain Top.” They had “flowers growing wild, God-fearin’ people, and how Uncle Joe would pull out his fiddle.” This song proves money doesn’t mean anything when it comes to happiness.

Track 9: “Women’s Prison”: This is the definition of a classic country story. She found her man cheatin’, she shot him dead, now she’s in prison, and the judge wants her head. She reminds us that the “price of love is high.” This song is also infused with obvious Jack White influences, especially in the chorus.

Lastly, Lynn closes with “Story of My Life.” In this song, Lynn condenses her life in just under 3 minutes, but it tells so much about her. She briskly tells you, like she’s your own grandmother, and that if you listen close, she’ll tell you twice. She talks about her children, music career, marriage, and concludes with how blessed she is.

Lynn and White produced sheer musical brilliance with this album. Only one song talks of a rose, but the whole album is a compilation of stories wrapped in Lynn’s twang through White’s assembly. As I wonder through the Kentucky hills and see the beautiful flowers, this is one bouquet that I would stand out among the rest and, Lord, am I glad I picked it.

Music Video for “Portland, Oregon”