Let’s Keep Walking

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but it isn’t for a lack of spinning. My life season is beginning to speed up and I have been enjoying music with no strings attached.

I’m also attempting to listen to EVERY vinyl in my collection and it’s taking a while. I’m discovering new jewels while relishing in favorites. I’m listening to my collection by artist.  By not writing about what I am listening too, I am sparing you 50 posts over Judy Garland.

Although, a theme has risen through the music I have been listening to at home and work. I have been gravitating towards songs and artists that I feel empowered through. I’m listening to songs that tell me “I’m worthy.”

I am not necessarily going through a depressed stage of my life, but it isn’t my happiness by no means. I need a pick me up. Here are some of the artists that have inspired me to keep walking lately.

As with all my lists, they are in no particular order.

1. John Legend

I have been a fan of Legend on and off for many years now. Recently I have been intently listening to his latest release, Darkness and Light and his first release, 2013’s Get Lifted. What I love about Get Lifted is its straight honesty and how Legend styles hip hop. Darkness and Light has become special to me as I have become more socially aware. Although I am a white male, when legend sings “There is power in the color of my face” in “I Know Better,” it not only brings awareness to problems our society is still facing, but it also reminds me that we are all unique and contribute to God’s vast world.

2. Beyoncé

Sorry B, couldn’t wait for an official release of Lemonade on vinyl.

Beyoncé strives to provide empowerment for women and African-Americans on her albums, especially with her last two releases Beyoncé and Lemonade, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a universal message. As a by-product of her mission, I have also seen that I can be comfortable in my own skin. I just feel pumped to be me when I hear the likes of “***Flawless” and “Formation.” Again these are songs that speak to me as I have begun to dissect my surrounds and become aware of our society. I am not discrediting this, I just think it’s beautiful that she can speak to anybody in any circumstance through her music’s message.

3. Reba McEntire

Now it is not everyday you see Beyonce and Reba in the same list, but my versatile ear is unpredictable from hour to hour. Reba’s latest album, Sing it Now: Songs of Faith and Hope has spoken to me in a way an album hasn’t in many years. Reba is very special to me (read about that here) and this album has helped me as my faith has been growing lately. There is not a more poignant message then her latest single “Back to God.” This world would be a better place if we just gave it back to the Creator and lived the true message of what it means to be like Christ (I will have a full post on this album soon). For unbelievers, I think the universal concept here is if we only would love each other and lay ourselves down for the goodness of others and the world, we could create a better place one action at a time. Below is my favorite lyrics and Reba’s conviction gives me chills.

“You gotta cry, rain tears of pain

Pound the floor and scream His name

‘Cause we’re still worth saving”

So although taking steps into the hurdles of our days may be burdensome and heavy, we have to realize we all have something to contribute to this world, we are all-powerful, and we need to love each other more. If we could realize these simple truths we would truly give this world back to God, and serve a higher purpose than ourselves. We would serve others.

Basically there is power in all of our faces, we must sing and act on faith and hope, and slay while we do it. This world is worth saving.

 

 

Reba McEntire, Self-Titled: Humble Beginnings

I have been a Reba McEntire fan for nearly my entire life. You can read more about that musical journey here. When I began to collect records I knew I had to have every album she had released on vinyl, but there was one little hiccup.

img_0506For the life of me, I could not find her 1977 Mercury self-titled debut. I searched everywhere from garage sales, record stores, and eBay. There is not a significant hit on this album nor did it even chart on Billboards Country Albums. I guess that means there are not many floating around.

Well, I finally found one in Oklahoma, the perfect place for one to be! We love our McEntires in the red dirt and have supported Reba since the beginning. I have now listened to it many times over and I don’t find it insignificant, but a foretelling of what was to come. This album is her humble beginnings.

Reba’s debut album takes a more traditional route compared to her later recordings. It might sound odd to some fans, but it firmly shows where her roots are planted. The album begins with the sweet, mid-tempo “Glad I waited Just For You.” I would say this is “bubblegum country” at it’s finest. One is then quickly taken into the first ballad of the album, “One to One.” This track is a highlight.

“One to One” echoes 70’s soft rock and shows Reba’s versatile vocals. Ballads are among some of my favorite Reba songs and nobody portrays pure love and pure heartbreak like she does. Although this song is not a “break-up” song, this album does give Reba much room to sing some heart-wrenching tunes.

45db73c6bd77c9326d4e8d185119a4caReba begins to show her emotional chops with songs like “I Was glad To Give My Everything to You,” “Take Your Love Away,” and a cover of Hot’s 1977 hit, “Angel in Your Arms.” One can clearly see where “For My Broken Heart,” “She Thinks His Name Was John,” and “Till You Love Me” come into play later in her career.

Sadly, this album only charted two songs, “I Don’t Want To Be A One Night Stand,” which came in at 88 on Billboards Country Singles chart, and “(There’s Nothing Like The Love) Between A Woman and A Man,” coming in at 86. Each of these songs is memorable, but not chart toppers for late 70’s country.

Lastly, two of the biggest gems are “Why Can’t He Be You” and “Invitation To The Blues.” The first was written by Hank Cochran and previously recorded by Patsy Cline. The later was written by Reba’s Oklahoma contemporary, Roger Miller. Reba’s version of “Why Can’t He Be You” is almost the exact same arrangement as Cline’s and although it still falls short of Cline’s greatness, it is remarkable. Reba’s version proves she had the performing chops in 1977 and it has shown a light to her later career. She was going to be a show stopper.

This album shows an Okie girl making it in the big music world. It’s merely her humble beginnings, just like her ones in the fields of Oklahoma. Although not considered a commercial hit, this album sets a precedent and lays a foundation for Reba’s career.

George Strait, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind: I Guess I’m a Honky Tonk Boy

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.

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.

 

The Scruff After The Shave

I remember the first time I ever heard Neil Diamond. Actually, wait, no I don’t. For as long as I can comprehend there was Neil Diamond. He was not one of those artists that captivated me when I was young, yet I always knew he was somebody important. I was certain he was of legendary status, but I just never explored his music.

FullSizeRender 2Neil Diamond is much like the “American Popular Song,” the first track off of his album You Don’t Bring Me Flowers. Diamond’s catalog and musical genius goes on and on. This album truly encompasses Diamond’s raw talent in the middle of his biggest days.

This vinyl also contains the Diamond classic “Forever in Blue Jeans.” This is a song for summer. With its light guitar and uptempo beat, it reminds me of a warm summer afternoon with that special someone. It strips love of all its complexities into a simple afternoon in blue jeans.

This albums next milestone comes with Diamond’s version of “You’ve Got Troubles.” His rendition of this song comes with all the Diamond charm, including those scruffy vocals, and a riveting piano line, yet it is mixed with a slight disco/ folk feel. I could easily roller skate or protest to this song.

After these light-hearted songs of love and troubles comes the pinnacle of this album and one of the finest songs that Neil Diamond had a hand in composing. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” a duet with Barbra Streisand, has been a long time favorite of mine. I find it to be the companion piece to Lionel Richie and Diana Ross’s “Endless Love.” These songs together show both extremes of romance, yet they can flow in and out of each other.  Streisand’s vocals flow effortlessly over the piano and strings, but Diamond’s vocals provide the concrete of the song.

FullSizeRender 3One can feel the angst in his voice as he contemplates the idea of separation, and he is placing himself in a vulnerable position. It’s clear the downfall of this relationship lies with both sides, yet it is sprung by the simplest situation. They simply no longer bring flowers home anymore, a metaphor that can mean many things. This song is about the spark in a relationship that is essential through little actions and what it means when they go undone.

As one flips this album they are immediately met with a pure dance anthem, “The Dancing Bumble Bee/Bumble Boogie.” This song is composed of pure funk arrangements with a spinning disco ball in mind. This tune insists you must dance.

The listener is then confronted with an eerie and light guitar rift that turns into a dramatic menagerie with “Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons.” This song makes me picture the pilgrims landing on Plymouth in bell bottoms and crop tops coming down the Mayflower with a little boogie. Not a bad idea.

The last three songs on this album are solely written by Diamond. The biggest gem from this trilogy is “Diamond Girls.” It’s a Diamond power ballad with a major disco bass line that tells the story of a girl giving her all for the sake of her dreams and a better life. This is Diamond’s version of Gentry’s (or McEntire’s) “Fancy.”

IMG_2108Diamond is in all his glory with this album. He encompasses many emotions from the air of an uptempo disco party to the trampling of flowers. What I find most intriguing about this album though is his vocal performance. You Don’t Bring Me Flowers really brings Diamond’s voice to fruitionI’ve listened to him many times, but I have now finally pinpointed exactly what his voice mirrors.

Diamond’s vocals are essentially the scruff you get hours after a good shave. His voice is crisp and clean yet it possess a grit. A man can never fully rid himself of this issue, just like Diamond has been in music forever. One cannot quite get a hold of those tiny 5 o’clock shadow hairs either, just like one cannot pinpoint Diamond’s voice, writings, and longevity.

Diamond’s music is timeless. His writings are authentic. He is a pillar in the evolution of music.

He is the scruff after the shave where it gets real.

 

Grandma, Tell Me About The Good Ol’Days

“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.

Lynn and her late husband Doolittle.

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.”

74282205-x600It 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_Lynn_022_V2Side 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-lynn-full-circle-cover-413x413This 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.

A Playlist for Your Labor Day

Here we are! Another year has almost come and gone and now we can no longer wear white. Labor Day is the signal of great things to come and that statement does come with a hint of sarcasm.

Labor Day was created in 1887 after the Central Labor Union and Knights of Labor had their first parade, or strike if you will, in New York City. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law declaring the first Monday of every September Labor Day. I guess back then one day was enough,  but couldn’t we have at least gone for a week?

Nonetheless, for your listening pleasure, I have collecting some labor songs to commemorate this monumental day.

“She Works Hard for the Money,” Donna Summer, 1983 

Everybody loves this disco and dance infringed number Donna Summer so graciously gave us in the early 1980’s. This song reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was later nominated for a Grammy. Inspired by real events, Summer wrote the song after talking with a restroom attendant in Los Angeles.

“9 to 5”, Dolly Parton, 1980

There isn’t a better way then to start your day then with a cup of ambition. Parton released this pop infused tune as a companion to her movie of the same title starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Has there been a song that commemorates a working person better than “9 to 5?” I think not. Once I hear the opening of this song and its piano infringed riff, there is no stopping me. I’ll belt this song at the top of my lungs till it’s over….and then start it again.

“Take This Job and Shove It,” Johnny Paycheck, 1977

This song was originally written by David Allen Coe, but eventually fell in the lap of Johnny Paycheck. This song peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Hot Country charts. As “9 to 5” explains getting ready for the grind, this song aptly explains one’s attitude once 5 rolls around. Another interesting fact about this song, it was produced by the late and legendary Billy Sherrill.

“A Hard Day’s Night,” The Beatles, 1964

We can’t forget about the bit of romance there is in working a job….or can we? This song hit number one in both the U.S. and U.K. and was also a companion piece to a movie of the same title. The song generally speaks of one who works all day so that his girl can have everything she wants. I just hope she has a job too. Nonetheless, it’s just one of the nice sentiments that the Beatles left us. I’m sure they’ll regret this when yesterday comes.

“Is There Life Out There,” Reba McEntire, 1992

Now when one initially hears this song, they don’t think of a hard day’s work, but I think we need to leave this list on an optimistic point. This song talks about a girl, both working in her personal and private life, wondering if it is all worth it. As Reba reminds us, there is life out there and endless potential. This song is just one of Reba’s 377 number 1 singles on the Hot Country charts.

That my friends is what you can all enjoy on this fine Labor Day Monday. Sometimes working is a joy, sometimes it’s rough, but it is always worth it in the end. We may always work hard for the money, and it often takes us 9 to 5, but we can’t ever truly just take the job and shove it. Remember after a hard day’s night there is always life out there…..

And a paycheck.

Reba McEntire, Love Somebody: Life Doesn’t Go Out Like That

My parents divorced when I was 5 years old. I remember my friend’s parents were divorced and she would tell me about it, but I always knew that wouldn’t be me. My little 5 year-old world was in perfect formation and as hard as concrete. How nice it was be to be that naive.

Until my parents split later that next year.

Issues ensued with the split and 5, 6, 7, 8, year old me had some pretty tough situations. This is when music became my pillar. It stablized me and provided a channel for my emotions. It was always there for me and it never left. It was my distraction and safety.

49fb0424b3a89093cb1fc2c710e66f89We did not have a lot of money and often times our entertainment came in the form of renting movies from Blockbuster. Every now and then Blockbuster would have a sale with all their previously used VHS. My mom would pick out movies and buy them for me, usually for $5 or less. She knew I loved music and she purchased a Reba concert on VHS for me.

Now this was not sitcom or even modern Reba. This was early 90’s Reba with red hair ratted to the ceiling, fringe, and too many costume changes to count. To say the least, I was mesmorized.

I watched that VHS so many times. Recently, I found the same program on Youtube and I still have it memorized. So when I say that I am a life long Reba fan, I ain’t jokin’ ya’ll.

In that VHS, she opened with Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and sang all her classic songs including “Does He Love You,” “Walk On,” “Take it Back,” “Why Haven’t I Heard From You,” and “Fancy.” It was 90’s Reba at her best and she entertained me for hours on end.

Now let’s fast forward 20 years. A few weeks ago Reba released her 27th studio album entitled Love Somebody. Considering my long history with Reba, I always buy her albums the first day of release. I was really excited about this album since Reba has now moved to the new Nash Icon record label.

1035x1035-Reba_LoveSomebody_CoverThis album has everything I wanted as a Reba fan, but it had an even deeper message for me. I love the sassy tunes like “Going Out Like That,” “Livin’ Ain’t Killed Me Yet,” and “Until They Don’t Love You.” I love the breakup songs like “She Got Drunk Last Night,” “I’ll Go On,” and her duet with Jennifer Nettles, “Enough.” Then she gives us a great story song with “Love Land.” Nobody sings a breakup or story song with the same conviction and emotion as Reba.

“Enough” is a great sequel to Reba’s 1993 hit with Linda Davis, “Does He Love You.”  She also recalls and sings another song for her father who has now passed away, “Them Horses.” This is a very different view point then “The Greatest Man I Never Knew.” These are amongst my top favorites.

Although there are two songs on this album that really speak to me both in the past and the present. They are songs of pure love, the title track, “Love Somebody,” and the Reba penned “Pray for Peace.”

reba-mcentire-aint-going-out-like-that-music-video-2015-03-13b-400pxThat’s exactly how I survived all those years of emotional turmoil through the love of many, but most importantly, my mom. I never once saw her cry. She was a pillar of strength. She never showed me her weakness. She gave up so I could have when it came to clothes, toys, you name it.

She even gave up a couple books to buy me a handful of previously viewed VHS’.

Through her pain, she was able to love somebody and luckily that was me. It’s something I can never repay, but it’s a payment never expected. My mom loves me around the world and back, but secretly I love her around the moon and back.

Then there is “Pray for Peace.” I love Reba’s story of this song, but it made me realize where I am now. I am at peace. At 25 I am at peace with my life, relationships, and my potential. I have many struggles I deal with daily, but I’ve made it this far and turning around isn’t even an option.

Through love I gained peace.

reba-mcentires-quotes-7Reba’s music provided a distraction and comfort for a troubled young boy. Her music has also provided a commentary throughout my life. It’s a debt many of us owe so many artists who give us a piece of themselves. Thank you Reba.

I witnessed my mom go down and rise back to the the top. One thing I have learned though all of life is how you often get bucked off your horse and get dirt in your hair. You even probably gained a few bruises and had your pride hurt from that fall, but in the end my mom is always a “Survivor.” Reba highlights this in many of her songs over the years and has recently brought this idea full circle for me.

Through her love my mama has now taught me to never go out like that and that there is always life out there.