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Updated September, 2008

John Anderson - All The People Are Talkin' (Reissue)
George Jones - Burn Your Playhouse Down: The Unreleased Duets
The Very Best Of Outlaw Country - Various Artists
Mark Chesnutt - Rollin' with the Flow
Frankie Miller
Chris Ledoux - Classic Chris Ledoux
Patsy Cline - Stop, Look And Listen, etc.
Merle Haggard - The Bluegrass Sessions
Alan Jackson - Good Time
Traditional Country Music on YouTube
Wilburn Brothers ­ Last of the great sibling duos?
Charlie Daniels - Deuces
Brooks & Dunn - Cowboy Town
Little Texas - Missing Years
Dwight Yoakam - Dwight Sings Buck
Travis Tritt - The Storm
Tracy Lawrence - For The Love
Kenny Chesney: Just Who I Am - Poets And Pirates
Blake Shelton ­ Pure BS
Toby Keith - Big Dog Daddy
Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price: Last of the Breed
Waylon Jennings - Nashville Rebel (4CD)
Del Reeves - R.I.P.
Cal Smith - Between Lust And Watching TV
Dennis Linde - R.I.P.
Larry Butler and Willie Nelson - Heavy Hank
Wayne "The Train" Hancock - Tulsa
Steve Earle: Guitar Town - 20 years on
RIP, BUCK OWENS - (My Top 10 Buckbusters)
The Road Hammers - The Future of Truck Driving Songs?
GEORGE JONES - Hits I Missed...And One I Didn't
GEORGE STRAIT - Somewhere Down in Texas
BRAD PAISLEY - Time Well Wasted
HANK THOMPSON - 80 years old
BOBBY BRADDOCK - (Time Marches On)
Country Hits of 1955 - 50 years ago
MERLE HARRARD (30th Album ...)
Mark Chesnutt: Savin' the Honky Tonk

John Anderson -
All The People Are Talkin' (Reissue)

Collector's Choice Music 861

Track List: All the People are Talkin' / Blue Lights and Bubbles / Haunted House / Look What Followed Me Home / Black Sheep / Let Somebody Else Drive / An Occasional Eagle / Things Ain't Been the Same Around the Farm / Call on Me / Old Mexico

Collector's Choice have celebrated the 25th anniversary of John Anderson's classic album, All The People Are Talkin' with a reissue. It's not a pure country album as such, but it's release both then and now, comes into a country music industry that seems unsure of its identity. The sound of the cash till makes a sweeter ring than the steel guitar and it keeps people in a job. We all know that a year or so after this albums release, things picked up for a while via artists like Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle. Let's hope the circle continues and some great honky tonk artists are just around the corner.

Anyway, All The People Are Talkin', what's it like. Anderson is in fine fettle whether delivering in a country or a soul vein. The title track and Things Ain't Been the Same Around the Farm have horns and sound more like the city two hundred miles west of Music City. Haunted House is a fun version that ain't Jerry lee but ain't bad either. The number one hit single from the album was Black Sheep, another high-stepper that has a bar-room rocker sound and some of Anderson's most Andersonish vocals - twisting and stretching words for all they're worth. I love the top 10 rocker Let Somebody Else Drive, co-written by the much missed Mack Vickery.

From the country field we get a brilliant honky tonk beer song in Blue Lights and Bubbles, my favourite of the album. Look What Followed Me Home is done George Jones style and is up there with the ballad, Call On Me. Well worth checking out but to me not quite as good as the packaging suggests.

Shaun Mather
September 2008.

George Jones -
Burn Your Playhouse Down: The Unreleased Duets

Bandit Records

01 You And Me And Time (With Georgette Jones)
02 The Window Up Above (With Leon Russell)
03 She Once Lived Here (With Ricky Skaggs)
04 Rockin' Years (With Dolly Parton)
05 Burn Your Playhouse Down (With Keith Richards)
06 Selfishness In Man (With Vince Gill)
07 Tavern Choir (With Jim Lauderdale)
08 I Always Get It Right With You (With Shelby Lynne)
09 When The Grass Grows Over Me (With Mark Chesnutt)
10 I Always Get Lucky With You (With Mark Knopfler)
11 You're Still On My Mind (With Marty Stuart)
12 Lovin' You, Lovin' Me (With Tammy Wynette)

As you might guess from the subtitle, Burn Your Playhouse Down is a collection of unreleased duets between George Jones and a range of star guests. The album ranges from the mid 70's to the present day but most of the dozen tracks here were rejects from the Bradley Barns Sessions in the early 90's. Fans might find the opening and closing tracks the most intriguing, as they're a couple of special family moments. The closer is a recently discovered 1977 duet with wife of the time, Tammy Wynette. Whilst it doesn't measure up to their biggies, it's interesting nonetheless. One of their most productive moments of this time saw the birth of their only daughter, Georgette. As a country singer you couldn't come from better stock and she shows she's more than capable of living up to the billing with the great opener, You And Me And Time. It's pure country music and at times she sounds a bit like her mum - don't get me wrong, she has her own voice and I like it.

The rest of the album is a roller coaster of highs and lows. Mark Chesnutt is a class act and him and George sound like kindred spirits on When The Grass Grows Over Me. In the same category you can place the shamefully underrated Shelby Lynne who matches the Possum on I Always Get It Right With You. Tavern Choir with Jim Lauderdale sounds like it came from the late 70's and is another gem. When Bradley barns CD came out in 1994 my favourite cuts were Good Year For The Roses with Alan Jackson and One Woman Man with Marty Stuart. Well that partnership is the best one here as well. You're Still On My Mind sees George reaching all the notes he can. Marty Stuart always seems to get the best of out others in these type of projects. I wonder if it's because they appreciate his scholarly knowledge of the music and want to prove themselves to him.

I was left fairly cold by the duets with Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill - their talent is obviously unquestionable but the material isn't the best. Leon Russell's vocal on The Window Up Above denied me hearing George because I had to press the skip button. He nearly makes Van Morrison sound good. The Mark Knopfler track is good, George knows his way around this song, but MK's vocals are really up to it. I'd prefer it if he played more guitar and left the singing to the Master. Surprise package has to be the title track with Keith Richards. Two smoky vocalists having fun, I wonder how much whiskey was downed in the process. Special mention as well to the cover picture from the mid-70s. It's a wonderful study of the man. Some go for the flat-top look of the early days, personally I love this look.

Shaun Mather
September 2008.

The Very Best Of Outlaw Country -
Various Artists

Sony Legacy

With country music in the prime of life in the 60's, with pop success boistering the coffers of country singers across the land, something started to brew down in Texas. Willie Nelson had returned to the Lone Star state, disallusioned at the Nashville conveyor belt. By the 70's he was back home, cutting what he wanted. The sound was coming from the man in jeans not the man in the suit. Whilst his buddy Waylon Jennings stayed in Music City he was ditching the vocals choruses and dancing to his own beat. The term Outlaw was coined and after that pretty much ever guitar picker with a beard and long hair was branded and added to the movement. Whilst it's easy to blanket cover them all under the one heading, there was actually more than one umbrella. Some of it was southern-rock, some was country-rock and some was pure country music but with more hair. This collection highlights the different styles and covers the 70's, 80's, 90's and 00's, and is a delight from start to finish.

Obviously there's a few Willie and Waylon songs and they're top drawer. From the good-ole-boy school of country we get Charlie Daniels' glorious high-stepper, The South's Gonna Do It Again and Hank Williams Jr. and All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight. Billy Joe Shaver's, I Been To Georgia On A Fast Train, is great although I prefered his 90's remake complete with late son Eddie. From the "Wanted" and of the Outlaw concept we get the prison-bound bad boys, Johnny Paycheck and his classic Take This Job And Shove It and David Allan Coe's brilliant You Never Even Called Me By My Name with the hilarious perfect last verse.

There's some cracking southern rock items in the form of Ramblin' Man by the Allmans, Georgia Satellites' Keep Your Hands To Yourself, Flirtin' With Disaster by Molly Hatchet and the kings of the genre, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Gimme Three Steps. There's a trio of women who all kick ass, Jessi Colter (not always my favouriter singer) with Why You Been Gone So Long, Tanya Tucker with the catchy Texas (When I Die) and from more recent times, Gretchen Wilson and the barroom baller, Here For The Party. Others of more recent vintage are Steve Earle and Travis Tritt and Shooter Jennings who holds his own with one of his best, 4th of July.

If you just listen to the music and don't get bugged out by whether a particular song is "Outlaw" music or not, you'll love it. To me, outlaw is more about the attitude than the music, and for that, every song here passes the test.

Shaun Mather
August 2008.

Mark Chesnutt -
Rollin' with the Flow

Lofton Creek 9012

It took Mark Chesnutt two years to gather this collection together and the wait has been well worth it. It stands head and shoulders above most of the soft-rock that comes out of Nashville every day under the wide-of-the-mark-heading, country music. While the packaging might give the small independent label away, the music is the real deal - steel, fiddle, sensitive lyrics, all given a pure honky tonk reading from Mark Chesnutt. Working with producer Jimmy Ritchey, the album features a lot of originals, utilising the songwriting skills of Chesnutt favourites like Roger Springer, Dean Dillon, Tony Martin, and Mark Nesler.

The opener, Things to Do in Wichita is a fine shuffle with MC's vocals kicking ass on 90% of his adversaries. His cover of Charlie Rich's Rollin' with the Flow is nothing short of brilliant. It has all the right country tools and is a bit easier on the strings than Charlie's original. (Come on In) The Whiskey is Fine is a fun romp that lightens the mood. The same applies to Live To Be A 100 which belittles the constant warnings of living wrong, echoeing Alan Jackson's Everything I Love from a few years ago. There's some emotive vocals on Man in the Mirror which he wrote about his dad and Long Way to Go which tells of his first meeting with Waylon Jennings. She Never Got Me Over You was the last song Keith Whitley wrote and again it gets a sensitive reading. To summarise, a great album that ranks up their with his early efforts Long Necks And Short Stories and Too Cold At Home.

Shaun Mather
July 2008

Frankie Miller
Blackland Farmer - The Complete Starday Recordings, and more
Bear Family - BCD 16566 CH

A stunning release from the daddy of all labels, this latest Bear Family feast gives us no fewer than 96 songs from the hugely underrated Frankie Miller. This 3-CD digipac contains his complete Starday recordings, and as always with Bear Family, a 100-page booklet with loads of photos, clippings, a detailed biography and discography. As well as all his single and album tracks for Starday, the set also includes his gospel EP, unissued material including alternate takes, live performances from the Big D Jamboree, plus Frankie's pre-Starday sides for the Cowtown Hoedown label. Then there's his output for United Artists and Stop and some rough vocal/guitar demos from the Starday era. To round the whole package off we get a series of conversations with sleeve-writer Hank Davis where Frankie talks about such things as meeting Elvis at the Hayride, the Blackland Farmer Tape and what it was like to headline a rock show with Roy Orbison and BB King.

Thankfully the quality of the music matches that of the packaging with hours of classic Texas country. Obvious picks are the likes of Blackland Farmer, the shuffling True Blue (which I first heard courtesy of Big Sandy), the Johnny Hortonesque, Poppin' Johnny, the high stepping Reunion and the rockin' Rain Rain. Strictly Nutthn' and Two Lips Away, both from 1960 are top notch country. Tornado is a cross between Dark As A Dungeon and the Delmore Brothers and Talk Of The Town and Gotta Win My Baby Back Again are pure honky tonk. The great live version of the hit Blackland Farmer is introduced by Frankie as the one he's been hitting his biscuits off of.

A brilliant package that should please hillbillies and rural rockabillies alike. Frankie Miller and Bear Family is a match made in heaven.

Shaun Mather
May 2008.

Chris Ledoux -
Classic Chris Ledoux

Capitol B0015XL7S0

Tracklist: Life Is A Highway, Horsepower, Tougher Than The Rest, Cadillac Ranch, Five Dollar Fine, For Your Love, Honky Tonk World, Look At You Girl, Under This Old Hat, This Cowboy's Hat, He Rides The Wild Horses, Stampede, Workin' Man's Dollar, Bang A Drum, Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy

One of my sporting heroes is Graeme Hick, the Worcestershire cricketer who holds the world record for the most centuries by a current player and with his one day record he has hit more hundreds than any cricketer ever. That's one hell of a feat and it's been my pleasure to see him score probably a dozen of them. But ask a guy in Texas or Oklahoma what they think is Hick's most prolific stroke and they'll blank you out, not having a clue who the hell Graeme Hick is. You'll perhaps understand now how I could have gone through most of my life without ever having heard of Chris Ledoux despite him being the World Champion bareback rider in the mid-70's. Rodeoing is about as big in Wales as snowboarding is in Kenya, so if you'll excuse my ignorance about roping and wrangling I'll forgive you for not knowing that Hick can cut a 90 mile an hour ball that's full of length to the cover boundary in the flash of an eye. So Chris Ledoux, what can I say. The first I'd heard mention of him was in the lyrics to Garth Brooks' wonderful 1989 anthem, Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old). Then I saw a couple of his videos on the sadly too brief CMT Europe, and three years ago I heard of his premature death at the age of 56 from a rare form of cancer. Garth's choral endorsement of Lonesome Dove had proved fruitful so I was always intrigued by Chris Ledoux and have contemplated buying his product, but the cost of imported country CD's in the UK will make you toes curl.

Basically, Ledoux was a joint rodeo rider and singer, selling his albums from the back of his pick-up truck at rodeos he was competing in. After the cowboy days came to an end he continued to record before getting a real boost with the aforementioned Garth Brooks hit. It renewed interest and landed Ledoux a deal with Capitol Records in 1992. This CD consists of tracks from the ensuing albums. Only two singles made the charts but the albums sold in big enough quantities for him to get twelve releases. His sound ranges from uptempo, almost novelty numbers to ballad s and best of all, his bar-room numbers.

Five Dollar Fine is a bar-room anthem that must have proved influential to Tracy Byrd, Toby Keith and Brad Paisley and is my favourite on the album. He Rides The Wild Horses pays homage to rodeo riders and is great modern day country. The duet with Garth, Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy is a catchy western swinger that rightfully made the top 20. Under This Old Hat is more of the same and sounds like it could have come off a George Strait album.

The ballads work well with a voice that although not particular earth shattering is believable and eminently listenable. Silence On The Line and Look At You Girl are excellent and his version of Tougher Than The Rest is better than Springsteens. From the opposite end of the spectrum come a few highsteppers in Horsepower, Cadillac Ranch and Joe Ely's manic For Your Love.

There's a couple that don't really hit the spot for me, the duet with Bon Jovi Bang A Drum and worst of all the soft rock of Life Is A Highway. Let's not leave on a bad note though - Stampede is a first class number that portrays the dangers of cowboying and has shades of Ghost Riders In The Sky. Three years after his untimely death, Classic Chris Ledoux serves as a fitting tribute to one of the nice guys, a man who played the part of a singing cowboy for real, not just for the rolling cameras of Hollywood.

Shaun Mather
May 2008.

Patsy Cline -
Stop, Look And Listen -
Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight

Bear Family BCD 16781 AH

Tracklist: I Don't Wanta (1956), Stop, Look And Listen (alt.), Ain't No Wheels On This Ship (We Can't Roll), Stop The World (And Let Me Off), Never No More, Honky Tonk Merry Go Round, Lovesick Blues, I Love You, Honey, Turn The Cards Slowly, Too Many Secrets, Walking Dream, There He Goes, Gotta Lot Of Rhythm In My Soul, In Care Of The Blues, Let The Teardrops Fall, Hungry For Love, Walkin' After Midnight, Love, Love, Love Me Honey Do, Today, Tomorrow And Forever, Don't Ever Leave Me Again, Try Again, A Poor Man's Roses (Or A Rich Man's Gold), How Can I Face Tomorrow, I'm Moving Along, Crazy Dreams, I Don't Wanta (1957) (alt.), Stop, Look And Listen, Love, Love, Love Me Honey Do (alt.), For Rent, Side By Side, Stupid Cupid

Every label owner and his dog have issued a Patsy Cline compilation over the years, so who could give us something fresh that's worth looking at. Bear Family is the obvious answer. To commemorate the 45th Anniversary of the death of Patsy, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, Richard Weise has collated tributes to all three artists under the highly acclaimed Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight series. Running at 31 tracks and with the usual bumper booklet (44 pages!) it oozes the class we now expect from this great label. As befits a collection that promises to "shake the shack" the songs come from the uptempo side of town with her big hits like Crazy and Sweet Dreams finding no room in the inn.

Most of the songs are well known but they've probably never sounded better than they do here, with all songs digitally remastered from the original session tapes. A track by track review is surplus to requirements, you all know what you're getting here. What I would say is that the backing on these early tracks is as big a joy as Patsy's voice. Grady Martin is an absolute legend and with the added attractions of the likes of Don Helms, Tommy Jackson and Bob Moore it's perfection. This collection is country music at its zenith, it never got better than this and the way things look, it'll never get this good again. Tracks like Gotta Lot Of Rhythm In My Soul are pure rockabilly while something like Today Tomorrow And Forever serve as a blueprint for the country-pop idiom that Roy Orbison was to make hay with. First class music given the treatment it deserves - just buy it, it's perfect.

Shaun Mather
May 2008.

Merle Haggard -
The Bluegrass Sessions

McCoury Music

Runaway Momma, Pray, What Happened?, Jimmie Rodgers Blues, Learning to Live With Myself, Mama's Hungry Eyes, I Wonder Where to Find You, Holding Things Together, Big City, Momma's Prayers, Wouldn't That Be Something, Blues Stay Away From Me

As the name and the publicity blurb would suggest, this is country legend Merle Haggard trying his hand at bluegrass. To be honest, it isn't all bluegrass, some numbers being just plain old country. The backing band include Marty Stuart and Carl Jackson so the sound is guaranteed. The opener, Runaway Momma is a very likeable number and perhaps the most bluegrass item here. It had me looking forward to the rest but I must say it doesn't really do it for me as an album. Tracks like Momma's Payers ponders along with Merle sounded bored and uninspired. He almost sounds like he's going through the motions on Jimmie Rodgers Blues - how many times do we need this by the way? On paper, his classic Mama's Hungry Eyes done as a duet with Alison Krauss should be great but again it just left me looking for the "skip" button. Basically an okay album for Merle's must-have-everything fans, but casual listeners should start a long way back in the Hag catalogue before arriving here.

Shaun Mather
March 2008.

Alan Jackson -
Good Time

Following a couple of self indulgent albums of the late night supper party and the last supper variety, Alan Jackson has finally got back to basics for an album of unadulterated honky-tonk country music. I'm sure most of his fans lapped up the moody Like A Red Rose and the gospel Precious Memories, I thought they were poor additions to an otherwise exemplary catalogue. In all honesty, Good Time might not be his greatest album, but it sure feels like it after a four-year wait from the 2004 outing, What I Do. As the title suggests, Good Time is a positive, lively affair with the easy going songs like the title track outnumbering the sad songs such as Sissy's Song. There are probably some that would say that Good Time is too happy-go-lucky with not enough serious looks at today's society - not me though. Whilst Where Were You or USA Today may have created waves in the past, I've always been more of a fan of the Thank God For The Radio or Mercury Blues style tonker.

You could never knock Alan Jackson's generous running times and this one is no exception with no fewer than 17 tracks, most of which run to the four minute mark, all of them written by Jackson. The lead off track Small Town Southern Man is a great trademark honky tonker. 1976 is fun reminisce of bygone days, with the wonderful observation, "Wonder Woman sure looked fine/Bionic Man was still prime time." That's what I want from a country lyric, a bit of fun not the doom and gloom of our troubled times. While Long Long Way might be on the bluegrass side of country music, the banjo and general ambience of the song is upbeat and the brisk melody is so much palatable than anything that we got Like A Red Rose. I Still Like Bologna is the type of I'm a good ole Southern boy stuff that AJ excels at. Laid Back and Low Key has the tropical beat and beach-easy lyrics that gives a big nod of the head to his good buddy Jimmy Buffet and there's a great country waltz with When the Love Factor's High. Sissy's Song seeks answers following the premature death of a young girl his family knew and musically has a hint Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning.

So all told, the album lives up to it's title and although it might lack a truly brilliant song is still very good and more than a big step in the right direction, it actually makes me a believer again. Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam are still at the top of the Nashville tree, and at the moment there's no-one else to knock them off their perches.

Shaun Mather
March 2008

Traditional Country Music
on YouTube

Country music was a regular feature on 60's and 70's TV a long time before the days of CMT. Unfortunately that wasn't the case during the 40's and 50's so we've been denied many would be classics, but let's be grateful for small mercies. A lot of the early tv shows have been cropping up on youTube and below are just some of the highlights.
Charlie Rich - The Most Beautiful Girl
Taken from the Dean Martin Show in 1974, the clip shows the Silver Fox rambling around a veranda in Hidden Valley, California. He doesn't look completely at home but you get the feeling that he never did unless he was fishing on the Mississippi.

Marty Robbins and June Carter - Music, Music, Music
The best part of this is the comedy sketch at the beginning with both Marty and June being naturals with a gag. From the mid 50's, the humour is "of the day" but poor old June's singing is poor, whatever the day. There's a quick snatch of a young Floyd Cramer sat at the piano.

Conway Twitty - (I Can't Believe) She Gives it All To Me
A great song, a great performance and some great lamp-chop siddies. You gotta love the way Conway interacts with the camera - you can just feel him trying to get into the minds and knickers of the women viewers. It's okay having the look and the sneer, but you gotta have the voice to back it up, and Conway does.

Faron Young - It's A Great Life
Faron's bright yellow Nudie suit comes to life in technicolour. The great Gordon Terry looks perty as ever on the fiddle. Great clip.

Tom T. Hall & The Storytellers - Ravishing Ruby
From May 1973 we get to see the old Storyteller looking spledido in Mexican poncho and hat. A great performance on one of Tom T Hall's finest.

Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings - The Singing Star's Queen
First aired on March 25th, 1970 this clip features JC and WJ reminiscing about their time sharing an apartment near Nashville in the late '60s. The song is a funny number about those times and is a real blast.

Hank Snow - Music Making Mama from Memphis
From the Perry Como Show in the black and white 50's the picture quality may be suspect but the music and the historical value more than make amends. Tommy Vaden is on fiddle and I think that's Cedric Rainwater on bass.

Webb Pierce - In the Jailhouse Now
Even with the help of Red Sovine and Teddy Wilburn, poor old Webb still sounds flat, but what a sound it is. A great performance with steel and honky tonk guitar competing with the loud suits. A classic.

Jim and Jesse - When I Stop Dreaming
Excellent harmonising on this tribute to Louvin Brothers. Taken from the much missed Wembley Country Festivals, this one from 1981.

The Wilburn Brothers - Hard Times & Blue/Blue Day
The producer might have taken the phrase "back porch picking" a bit far but it's a great performance from the guys who pull out all the stops despite the gold silk shirts.
Shaun Mather
March 2008

Wilburn Brothers ­
Last of the great sibling duos?

Continuing the long line of brother-duos, the Wilburn's were probably the last bona-fide act in the tradition. Had rock 'n' roll not materialised in the mid-50's I'm sure the Everly Brothers may have claimed that honour, but it did and they can't! The brothers, Doyle and Teddy were born in Hardy, Missouri in 1930 and 1931 respectively, the final kids in a bunch of five. Before they reached puberty they were part of the Wilburn family band with brothers Lester and Leslie and sister Geraldine, playing on guitars, mandolin, and fiddle that their dad had bought from the Sears, Roebuck catalogue. A series of local gigs soon made way to appearances throughout the south until in 1940 they came across, and impressed Roy Acuff who arranged for them to join the Grand Ole Opry. They lasted for six months until the Opry were forced to drop them because of child labour infringements.

In 1948 they joined the legendary Louisiana Hayride and had formed a close allegiance with future Hall of Famer Webb Pierce. This exciting period was scuppered by the Korean conflict which saw both Doyle and Teddy called up for action. When they returned from duty they were forced to become a duo as the elder brothers had left the business and Geraldine had gotten herself hitched. Webb Pierce was by now working at the Opry and with the two Wilburns old enough to fight for Uncle Sam and therefore definitely old enough to sing on the radio (!) they rejoined the famed Nashville show. They became a part of Pierce's backing band and signed in their own right to Decca records.

They enjoyed their first hit record in mid 1954 when Sparkling Brown Eyes spent four months on the charts, peaking at number four. They made national television appearances on both The Arthur Godfrey Talent Show and American Bandstand. Over the next 15 years they notched up 30 hit records, including Go Away With Me, Which One is to Blame, Trouble's Back in Town, It's Another World, I Wanna Wanna Wanna, I'm So in Love With You, Go Away With Me, Roll Muddy River, and their biggest single, 1966's Hurt Her Once for Me. From a rocking point of view there was only one record to warrant mention. As with most country artists in the 50's they were tempted into taking a stab at rockabilly. They cut little known but pretty good rocker, Oo Bop Sha Boom which was released as a single (Decca 9-30591).

Their talents didn't just end on the performing front though. They formed the Wil-Helm Talent Agency with former Hank Williams sideman Don Helms and started a music publishing house called Sure-Fire. These helped the early careers of among others, Sonny James, the Osbourne Brothers, Jean Shepherd and most controversially of all, Loretta Lynn, who parted in a sour manner from the set-up. When she collaborated with Hollywood on her biopic Cole Miner's Daughter the Wilburn Brothers were omitted completely from the story line despite their massive role in her career. Such was the ill feeling between the three after the split that Loretta started to use other writers instead of writing herself and letting Sure-Fire get the publishingIn 1963 they started their own weekly TV show, in colour, The Wilburn Brothers Show, that ran until 1974. They were named Duet of the Year in the Music City News Awards in 1967 and were nominated for Vocal Group of the Year at the 1972 CMA Awards.

Doyle died of cancer on October 16, 1982, which left Teddy to carry on as a solo act on the Grand Ole Opry until his own death from congestive heart failure on November 24, 2003. As with most acts from the past, their artistic talent is long forgotten by the country music industry but real fans of the real sound still hold them close to their hearts. Their harmonising and countrypolitan sound still has a freshness today which outshines the majority of stuff the Nashville labels are producing today. If they are to be the last of the sibling duos they certainly carried the torch with proud. The stage is set for someone to take the throne, but when and who will that be?

Top Ten Picks:

1. Trouble's Back In Town - Top 5 hit from 1962 is countrypolitan Nashpop that has the Big O and Jim Reeves written all over it.

2. Trouble Keeps Hanging Around My Door - The Wilburn's revived the Delmore Brothers style on this great Ted Daffan ballad. All that was missing was a Wayne Raney blast on harmonica.

3. Hey, Mr Bluebird with Ernest Tubb - A perfect slice of Nashville pop from the pen of the late-great Cindy Walker that sees Ernest as tuneful as he ever got.

4. Which One Is To Blame - 1959 hit record in the Ray Price shuffle beat. You'd swear the Cherokee Cowboys were backing the boys here.

5. I Wanna, Wanna, Wanna ­ Louisiana music guru J.D. Miller penned this uptempo two minute chunk of fiddle laden hillbilly.

6. Somebody's Back In Town ­ Top ten honky tonker written by Teddy and Doyle and Don Helms.

7. Arkansas ­ a deviation into the folk field that suits the guys to the ground.

8. Sparkling Brown Eyes with Webb Pierce ­ this classic split tempo number was their first hit.

9. Fighting A Mem'ry ­ pure honky tonk from the pen of Danny Walls.

10. Hurt Her Once For Me ­ their biggest hit from 1966 which reminds me of Buck Owens.

Shaun Mather
January 2008.

Charlie Daniels -

Blue Hat Records
1. What'd I Say w/Travis Tritt
2. Signed Sealed Delivered I'm Yours w/Bonnie Bramlett
3. Jackson w/Gretchen Wilson
4. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down w/Vince Gill
5. Maggie's Farm w/Earl, Gary and Randy Scruggs
6. Daddy's Old Fiddle w/Dolly Parton
7. Like A Rolling Stone w/Darius Rucker
8. Evangeline w/The Del McCoury Band
9. Let It Be Me w/Brenda Lee
10. Long Haired Country Boy w/Brooks & Dunn
11. God Save Us All From Religion w/Marty Stuart
12. Drinkin' My Baby Goodbye w/Montgomery Gentry
13. Jammin' For Stevie w/Brad Paisley

For decades Charlie Daniels has been one of the premier exponents of hard rocking country rock with a Southern edge that bridged the gap between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Nashville. I really like some of his early hits like Stroker's Theme, Uneasy Rider, Long Haired Country Boy and his immortal anthem The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Deuces is his second release in less than a year and his seventeenth for Blue Hat Records. I was therefore looking forward to a real treat when I saw the tracklist and guestlist.

Unfortunately, the album isn't all it should be. In fact, some of the songs on offer hear are nothing short of rubbish. Take the opener for instance. Daniels and Travis Tritt are kindred spirits and have worked together at various times over the years but their cover of What'd I Say is shocking - I've heard better at second rate karoake nights - thinking about it, I think I've done better at one of those nights. Jackson with Gretchen Wilson, another combination that on paper looked tailor-made, is Listen to the vocals on Like A Rolling Stone - former Hootie & the Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker manages to make Bob Dylan sound like a good singer. He's apparently blown the rock scene hoping for a career in country music, please God, don't let this happen.

If I need to listen to any Brenda Lee I'll crank up Bigelow 6-200 or My Baby Loves Western Guys and give her insipid and uninspired.take on Let It Be Me a wide berth. Brooks & Dunn are okay on Long Haired Country Boy, but I prefer the original.

¬Ý A few of the numbers that do cut the mustard are The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down with Vince Gill. Daddy's Old Fiddle with Dolly Parton is a the best thing on here, both the music and the vocals catch fire, something the album fails to do in so many places. Another bluegrass number that shows up well is Evangeline with The Del McCoury Band. Drinkin' My Baby Goodbye with Montgomery Gentry actually cooks and is closest the album gets to kick-ass Southern boogie. The closing track, Jammie For Stevie is a funky blues tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan with Brad Paisley joining a few members of Steve Ray's original Double Trouble band.

So altogether a disappointing album, that I can't see many people snapping up. His die-hards will probably bag a copy but I would have thought the general public will give it a miss.

Shaun Mather
December 2007.

Brooks & Dunn -
Cowboy Town

Brooks & Dunn burst on to the scene in the early '90s when their first four singles all went to number one. With the duo now in their 50's and thirty million record sales later they continue to record albums the way they want them, not the way the Music City big-wigs say they should. Don't get me wrong, not everything they've cut is great, but it's always worth a listen. I can't think of any of their albums that haven't had at least a couple of belters and unfortunately, a couple that sound a bit contrived. Cowboy Town fits the same bag.

The title track is one of those rocking tributes to the good old boy life in Ruralville, Tennessee which you either love or hate. I love 'em and if I had a local redneck honky-tonk bar down the road, Cowboy Town would be a regular on the jukebox. On the same Another rocker that hits the spot is the Johnny Cash Junkie (Buck Owens Freak), "I still drive a pick-up, I still wear boots, I grew up country, I'm proud of my roots, red white and blue are the colours I bleed, I'm a Johnny Cash Junkie and a Buck Owens Freak."

Tequila seems destined to become a stadium tour highlight, it goes like the clappers and could become an anthem. The ending is rough and loose, not always what you associate with the Nashville industry. The tribute to the fairer sex, Put A Girl In It is typical B&D radio fooder. They go into left field for the entertaining Drop In The Bucket, which has banjo, shades of ZZ Top and for some reason reminds me of Hank III - confused?

Ballad of Jerry Jeff Walker is perhaps the best song on the album with the great line, "I was young enough to believe I was good enough to be his opening act." JJW joins Kix Brooks on a funny insight into the 70s music scene. Kix Brooks' vocals seem to get better with each release Ronnie Dunn was a great singer from day one. Listen to him on the excellent ballad Cowgirls Don't Cry, he's expressive and soulful, and so damn big when the song builds.

I found God Must Be Busy a bit too coy and overly sincere for my liking. American Dreamer didn't light my fire and neither did the funky Drunk On Love. Chance Of A Lifetime and Proud Of The House We Built are okay without being great.

My Brooks & Dunn Top 5
5. Red Dirt Road
4. Neon Moon
3. Lost And Found
2. Mexican Minutes
1. A Few Good Rides Away

Shaun Mather
November 2007.

Little Texas -
Missing Years

Montage Records

After half a decade out of the limelight, 90's megaband Little Texas are back. Legal injunctions from two former lead singers Brady Seals and Tim Rushlow have ensured the band stayed out of the studio but it appears that the legal wranglings are behind them and the next phase in their career can begin. Having sold over six million albums and enjoyed massive hit singles like God Blessed Texas, What Might Have Been and My Love they still have a big enough audience to make this comeback successful. Now a four-piece, Little Texas comprise swalwarts Porter Howell, Del Gray, Dwayne O'Brien and Duane Propes who has taken over the lead vocals slot.

I first heard them via CMT Europe and adored the single for God Blessed Texas, not least because of it's raunchy video with the Cowboys cheerleaders and those hot bikini gals in the Southfork Ranch swimming pool. Aaah, happy days. They made a living courtesy of some fine harmonising and radio friendly rockers. The new album is more of the same although I would say that Propes' voice might not stack up against either Seals or Rushlow.

Texas 101 is an amusing lesson in the ways of Texas - "if you kill someone you're gonna fry, on Willie's bus you're get high". There's more good old boy anthems in Rebel and Party Life both of which could be hit singles. Of the ballads the highlights are the title track, Knees and So Long. All in all, despite there being no absolute killer tracks, it's an encouraging return that should be good enough to keep the older fans happy and find a newer, younger audience in the process.

Shaun Mather
October 2007

Dwight Yoakam -
Dwight Sings Buck

I don't think anyone was surprised when they heard that Dwight Yoakam was recording a tribute album to Buck Owens. From his music to his earliest interviews, Dwight has always paid tribute to the influence of Buck and they became firm friends. This album was bound to be special, it was just a case of seeing which songs would be chosen. With just 15 tracks there was always going to be a few big omissions, the biggest for me being Waitin' in Your Welfare Line, a song which would have suited Dwight snugger than his hat.

Dwight sings with great passion and the band are excellent, tighter than Dwight's jeans. He also produced the album, ensuring that the Buckaroos sound comes to the fore without any new fangled modern technology getting in the way. The songs are treated with reverence, mostly sticking to the original arrangements. One that deviates a bit is the pedestrian ballad, Only You, which I find awful by either of them.

A track by track review is pointless as all self respecting country fans must be familiar with the originals. Highlights for me are Above and Beyond, Down on the Corner of Love and Love's Gonna Live Here. The best of the slowies is the lead-off single, Close Up The Honky Tonks, a great performance which must have Buck smiling as he looks down. Finest track all told is the energic and bouncy My Heart Skips A Beat, surely a contender for single release. Check this album out, it's one of the most heartfelt tributes you'll ever hear.

Shaun Mather
October 2007

Travis Tritt -
The Storm

The golden days for Travis Tritt may be over, but not before he notched up sales of over 25 million albums, winning two Grammy awards and three Country Music Awards. He's now on a minor label but it hasn't affected his, which still shows him to be the maverick he always was. Always coming from the southern rock end of the country rainbow The Storm finds him mixing the rockers with some powerful ballads. When he first hit the scene I preferred his uptempo songs to the ballads, always thinking that numbers like Anymore were better left to the likes of Doug Stone and Tracy Lawrence. On The Storm though, I would say that some of the best moments come with the slower songs.

The album kicks off with the funky You Never Take Me Dancing which itself kicks off with a moaning Mississippi blues piece of self indulgence. A poor start to the album, but thankfully things pick up. The bets ballads come with the soulful (I Wanna) Feel Too Much and What If Love Hangs On. There's a few filler tracks in Rub Off On Me and Something Stronger Than Me, and I wasn't particularly fond of the title track, again too funky and organ laden. As well as the opening track he also wrote the much better Doesn't The Good Outweigh The Bad with Richard Marx.

So all told, a pretty disappointing album that is a long way from country and even longer from the memorable early hits of the previous decade. If you're looking for something to put on your iPod, give this one a miss and check out his Greatest Hits, some of those really were great.

Shaun Mather
October 2007

Tracy Lawrence
For The Love

Rocky Comfort Records

I'm a big fan of Tracy Lawrence and have always rated him as one of the best modern honky tonk vocalists. He was the premier balladeers of the 90's, although I was never struck by his uptempo numbers which always seemed lightweight and a touch contrived. If The Good Die Young and Renegades, Rebels and Rogues being the perfect examples. A couple of years of personal distress and disturbances coincided with a fall from grace in the public's eye and the world's worst ever mullet remained through it all. His last top 10 was Paint Me a Birmingham back in 2004.

Well, he's had himself a haircut and he's back in the charts - I'm not sure which is the most exciting! He's set up his own label and the early signs are good. The lead single Find Out Who Your Friends Are limped to a reasonable 26th position but the album, For The Love has made it into the top 10. Deservedly so, it's a fine album, not a classic like Alabis, but good nonetheless.

The dreaded up-tempo numbers are better than usual with You Can't Hide Redneck and especially You're Why God Made Me hitting the spot. The latter is splattered with sawing fiddles and is proably his best ever rocker.

It's the ballads that Tracy Lawrence is all about and there's some fine ones this time out. The first single, Friends, is a stellar ballad with sympathetic backing and TL's growling tones. The album closes with another version of the song which sees him joined by Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney, both more popular than TL, but both inferior singers. Other highlights are the title track, As Easy As Our Blessings, Speed of Flight (great fiddle ending which sounds like a soaring bird), Rock And A Soft Place and the uplifting Til I Was A Daddy Too.

I found the vocal patterns on the Just Like Her annoying, spoiling what otherwise would have been a strong one. That's the only negative thing I can say about this release. It's packed with strong songs, great vocals and pure country backing. The fiddle and steel aren't hidden behind some drum machine on this album. So it comes highly recommended to real country fans, aimed squarely at the country music fan without any hint to the pop crowd. I look forward to the next one.

Shaun Mather
September 2007

Kenny Chesney
Just Who I Am - Poets And Pirates


1. Never Wanted Nothing More, 2. Don't Blink, 3. Shiftwork (Duet With George Strait), 4. Just Not Today, 5. Wife And Kids, 6. Got A Little Crazy, 7. Better As A Memory, 8. Dancin' For The Groceries, 9. Wild Ride (Featuring Joe Walsh), 10. Scare Me, 11. Demons

It doesn't seem possible but this is Kenny Chesney's 13th album. I love some of his earlier work but haven't been so enamoured by the Caribbean sounds he has been known to delve into. The duet with George Strait, Shiftwork is the closest he gets to the laid back sounds of Jimmy Buffet. A catchy ditty that makes the most of the wordplay on shiftwork being shit work. There might been a hint of kettle drum on Got A Little Crazy but not enough to spoil a fun song that goes against the grain of most of what in the main is a mature, sensible album.

The opener, Never Wanted Nothing More has already been the obligatory hit single, an ode to the contented man who is more than happy with his lot in life. Don't Blink is a radio friendly warning about the speed that life passes by and how we should make the most of the ride. Talking of which, his cover of Dwight's Wild Ride is a wild ride indeed, with Joe Walsh getting blisters on his fingers as his inspires the band to raise the rafters. Not for the faint hearted and certainly the ballsiest that Chesney has ever sounded. 

David Lee Murphy's Just Not Today is one of those tales of life that KC excels at, this time acknowledging that responsibility is around the corner but what the hell, it's not today. Wife and Kids is about his continued dream to have a wife and kids. I'm not sure whether this has been inspired by his failed marriage to Rene Zelwhatever ­ he's seems the sensitive, family man and roots kind of a fella, so I'm sure it was a hard song for him to come to grips with in the studio, but it was worth it, it's a good song.

Dancin' For The Groceries tells of the woes of a single mother who pole dances to pay the bills and pay for the kids' upkeep. It's thought provoking, so I hope next time you slip a dollar bill into a strippers g-string, you dig deeper and drop her ten bucks! Better As A Memory and Scare Me are more than acceptable, and I really enjoyed the closer, Demons from the pens of Bill Anderson and Jon Randall.

I would say that Just Who I Am - Poets And Pirates is his best for a couple of albums without being a classic. Plenty of well written songs which show an ever growing maturity, but incidently I was surprised to see that for the first time, not one of his own songs is included.

Shaun Mather
September 2007

waves on Toby keith's Show Dog label, Flynnville Train are steeped in the southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels. Brian Flynn (lead vocals), Brent Flynn (lead guitar, vocals),Tim Beeler (Bass, vocals), Jeremy Patterson (rhythm guitar, vocals) and Tommy Bales (Drums) have been paying their dues for no less than 15 years. A hard working band who spend endless hours in the studio honing their skills, they teamed up with producer Richard Young of Kentucky Headhunters fame. Bands like Flynnville Train need a sympathetic producer and label, and they seem to have found just that with Young and Keith. Young had been working in the studio with the band and was impressed enough to pass a demo on to the Headhunters' booking agency, Monterey Peninsula Artists, who also book Toby Keith. Someone from the agency forwarded it to Toby Keith himself, who liked it so much he arranged a showcase at his I Love This Bar & Grill in Harrah's Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Not only did TK sign them to his label but they poened for him on his 2007 tour dates.

Recommended downloads: Last Good Time, High On The Mountain, Nowhere than Somewhere, Tequila Sheila, Redneck Side of Me and Red Nekkid.

Shaun Mather
September 2007

Blake Shelton ­ Pure BS
Warner Brothers
Track listing: This Can't Be Good, Don't Make Me, The More I Drink, I Don't Care, She Don't Love Me, Back There Again, It Ain't Easy Bein' Me, What I Wouldn't Give, I Have Been Lonely, She Can't Get That, The Last Country Song

I've heard two of the first three Blake Shelton albums and they both had their moments without really convincing me that he'd turn into anything more than a run of the mill artist who'd gradually fall off the radar. Well the boy from Oklahoma has made a big leap with the cleverly titled Pure BS, his fourth album on Warner Brothers. Shelton shot to fame in 2001 with his debut single, Austin which spent five weeks at number one, followed by All Over Me and a cover of Possum's Ol' Red. Other hits have included The Baby and Some Beach. Produced by Bobby Braddock, Paul Worley and Brent Rowan and their combined experience has no doubt benefited Blake Shelton and helped make this his best album to date.

Pure BS kicks off with his own composition, a romping country-rock tale of mischief in a small town, This Can't Be Good. Don't Make Me maintains the interest with BS singing with passion before the song takes a turn towards the Eagles. The More I Drink is pure country with great lyrics, confident vocals and unrelenting fiddles. "After a couple of colds ones and someone hands me a shot, hell even buck toothed and bow-legged women start looking hot." 

    Tom Douglas' Back There Again shows a maturity to Shelton we've not seen before. His gives himself and his destructive ways in It Ain't Easy Being Me, a possible single I would have thought. What I Wouldn't Give is a big ballad that perhaps the weakest track here. I Have Been Lonely builds nicely with some fine backing vocals from Rachel Proctor. She Can't Get That has a 70's feel (particularly the guitar) and again shows the improvement of Shelton as an artist. Most of today's hat acts seem so hell bent on keeping their voices in the lower register that they don't always come across as believable. Here BS just sings the song as it demands and it makes for a much more rewarding experience.

Shaun Mather
June 2007.

Toby Keith - Big Dog Daddy
Show Dog Records
Track Listing: High Maintenance Woman - Love Me If You Can - White Rose - Get My Drink On - Wouldn't Wanna Be Ya - Big Dog Daddy - Burnin' Moonlight - Walk it Off - I Know She Hung the Moon - Pump Jack - Hit It

One of the most prolific artists working today, this must be Toby Keith's fifth album in as many years. Following last years White Trash With Money which was co-released by DreamWorks-Universal and his own Show Dog label, this new one comes out solely on Show Dog. It's also the first time that TK has produced an album by himself, although Hit It and Big Dog Daddy were co-produced with Tom Bukovac. He's a full-steam-ahead type of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. And while this may not be to everyone's liking, it's certainly my cup of tea. Some of his previous efforts like I Love This Bar, As Good As I Once Was, I Wanna Talk About Me and Gotta Getcha Some have rightly become bar room anthems.

The self-written and self-proclaiming title track is a blast. From Jerry Lee's Meat Man to Travis Tritt's Eight Foot Tall And Bulletproof, country stars have always been keen to brag about the size of their ten gallon hat or the shine of their belt buckle. With a Lynyrd Skynyrd boogie line it must be a rocking live number. The lyrics on Craig Wiseman's Love Me If You Can make it a powerful ballad. Get My Drink On is a rockin' bit of nonsense from TK, Dean Dillon and Scotty Emerick that is good fun, but unlikely to make a future Greatest Hits collection. The trio also wrote Burnin' Moonlight, a ballad of long-time relationships where the love still simmers like it did the first time. The dobro and fiddles keep it country and I wouldn't be surprised if this saw some action as a single. 

The killer track of the album is the Fred Eaglesmith ode to a bygone age, White Rose. Beautifully written, the song allows TK to treat us to his finest vocal performance to date, even performing the backing vocals himself. According to the release notes, Keith planned to record this on four previous albums, but never got around to it until now. It may have been a blessing in disguise because he might not have had the maturity of voice to have nailed it like he did this time. High Maintenance Woman is the perfect vehicle for the fun side of Toby Keith - she's a high maintenance woman who won't fall for the maintenance man. Wouldn't Wanna Be Ya has a great bar-room jukebox feel to it, and sounds like it could have been written for Tracy Byrd.

I Know She Hung The Moon is a clever co-write with Scotty Emerick, the inspiration for which came about after a conversation between TK and a limo driver on their way to tour Graceland. Taking the old line one further it goes "I know she hung the moon, but I'm the one that held the ladder". Walk It Off talks about how you can walk off an injury but it doesn't really work for a broken heart. The lyrics are are thought provoking, a long way from Big Dog Daddy or Pump Jack, a growling rocker in the Bruce Springsteen mould. Also hard-hitting is the Kid Rockesque, Hit It, a kick ass way to close possibly Toby Keith's finest album to date.

Shaun Mather
June 2007.

Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price
Last of the Breed

Disc 1: My Life's Been A Pleasure, My Mary, Back To Earth, Heartaches By The Number, Mom and Dad's Waltz, Some Other World, Why Me Lord, Lost Highway, I Love You A Thousand Ways, Please Don't Leave Me Any More Darlin', I Gotta Have My Baby Back

Disc 2: Goin' Away Party, If I Ever Get Lucky, Sweet Memories, Pick Me Up On Your Way Down, I Love You Because, Sweet Jesus, Still Water Runs The Deepest, I Love You So Much It Hurts, That Silver-Haired Daddy Of Mine, I'll Keep On Loving You, Night Watch

Does this CD really need reviewing? What you get here is exactly what you'd expect, laid back country music with all the feel of a hot summer night picking on the front porch with cups of ice tea flowing as free as the beer. The three legends are as comfortable in this setting as an old pair of britches, as are the musicians. With pickers of the calibre of Buddy Emmons, Charlie McCoy, Brent Mason, Johnny Gimble and Boots Randolph you can't go wrong. With the Jordanaires on backing vocals and Fred Foster on production duties the list of legends is endless. Quite why it's packaged as a 2CD set when it only runs to just over an hour is beyond me, it's not as if the booklet couldn't fit in a single box!

Willie and Ray's voices don't seem to have changed over the years, but Merle's has been ageing for the past decade or so. That's not to say it isn't great, in fact the rough edges give it a lived in touch. The pickers obviously know their stuff and are comfortable enough with the colleagues not to feel the need to try and outplay one another.

Whilst there's nothing here that takes your breath away, there's also nothing to make you cringe. It's just three of the genre's greatest stars treating us to 22 quality country songs from writers like like Cindy Walker, Mickey Newbury and Floyd Tilman. One highlight for the sake of it, maybe The Jordanaires and McCoy adding a great feel to Kris Kristofferson's Why Me Lord (with KK joining in). Buy this with confidence, but don't expect anything revolutionary. I wonder what George Jones or Hank Thompson think of the album title.

Shaun Mather.
April 2007.

Waylon Jennings
Nashville Rebel (4CD)

Legacy Records/Sony BMG

Five years after the passing of Waylon Jennings the reissue programme of his vast backlog continues to be healthy. Bear Family have done their usual thorough job on various periods of his career, and the double RCA Legends continues to find airtime on my CD player, but this new Legacty boxset is the first serious overview of his whole career. Nashville Rebel is a four-disc, 92 song set which reaches the standards that Waylon deserves. A glimpse at the tracklist will tell you that the music stands for itself, but the whole package is top drawer. The book features loads of rare photos as well as some finely written articles from Rich Kienzle and a particularly thought provoking one from Lenny Kaye. Playing the discs in order gives a great perspective of how the sound of Waylon (and with it, country music) evolved through the years from the uncertain days of the mid '60s to the twilight years of the mid '90s.

The first disc sees Waylon treading water, searching for his sound. The earliest song comes from '58 with the Buddy Holly produced Jole Blon. My feeling of the early years are that the hit records were excellent but the album tracks tended to be little more than filler, whereas by the '70s, virtually any song on every album could have been a single. Sprinkled among the opening CD are some gems like Stop the World And let Me Off, The Chokin' Kind, Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line and the great Cedartown, Georgia. The second and third CD's cover the Outlaw years and are class. Waylon is at the top of his game and the music goes from one golden nuggets to another with genius abounding. 

  The last CD was a bit of a surprising treat for me. I've got some of the later albums but have never really warmed to them, but they sound great here. I've always liked America and Never Could Toe The Mark but I guess I'd overlooked gems like Rough And Rowdy Ways, Wrong and particularly Working Without A Net. The sound is heavier (but Waylon was never exactly Mr Soft) and he relied more on other writers, but it's a strong CD and a marvellous way to round of an overdue release. Buy this 4CD set with confidence and immerse yourself in the rowdy ways of the greatest cowboy of them all. Hos, you were the boss.

Shaun Mather
March 2007    


July 14, 1932 ­ January 1, 2007

Sadly another legend has gone, they seem to be going quicker than ever. What a bummer of a start to the New Year. Del Reeves, the country singer with an edge to his songs, died this week in Nashville following an extended illness. A truly professional entertainer who mixed his shows with classic hits and impressions from Jimmy Stewart and Walter Brennan to Johnny Cash. However, what he's really going to remembered for his own music, generally upbeat trucking songs, but not exclusive. Between 1961 and 1976 he scored no fewer than 26 top 40 hits incluing 8 top tenners. The only number 1 he had was the brilliant Girl on the Billboard in 1965 ­ that's the year I was born, we're kindred spirits me and Del. The song kicked off with him goofing "doodle oo doo doo", it became his trademark and he became known as the Doodle-Oo-Doo-Doo Kid.

He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1966, thrilling audiences for the next 40 years, performed for up to 1 million people a year. Despite this fame he remained a happy, friendly, funny guy, happy with his place in country music history. In the late 1960s, Reeves had his own syndicated TV show, "The Del Reeves Country Carnival." He also appeared in several movies, including "Sam Whiskey," starring Burt Reynolds and Clint Walker.

In 1967 he recorded a song in the called, "I've Used Up My Doodle Do Dos", well he has now, but he'll never be forgotten. More than just a truckers friend, he was friend to country music fans the world over, rest in peace Del.

My Five Faves
1. Girl On the Billboard
2. The Belles of Southern Belle
3. Good Time Charlie's
4. Looking At The World Through A Windshield
5. Women Do Funnt Things to Me
Reserves: My Baby Loves To Rock, Bertha The Bull Hauler, Truck Driver's Girl

If any of you Del reeves fans out there have yet to come across the Road Hammers, have a look at this video

Shaun Mather
January 2007

Country Song of the Week No.1
Cal Smith -
Between Lust And Watching TV

MCA 40265 (June 1974)
Country fans in the early 70's would no doubt have scratched their heads when they saw reviews for Decca's Cal Smith. Any thoughts of a mis-spelling for Carl Smith would have been dispersed as soon as they heard Cal's voice. With a far lower timbre than Carl, Cal Smith was a fine honky tonker in the truest sense. Born in Sabbiaw, Oklahoma on April 7th, 1932, he began his recording career with Kapp Records in the 60's having paid his dues for over a dozen years. He made little impact on the charts until he moved to Decca/MCA in 1972. He scored three numbers one hits over the next two years, The Lord Knows I'm Drinking, Country Bumpkin and It's Time To Pay The Fiddler. It was between the last two that the single Between Lust And Watching TV / Some Kind Of A Woman came out. The top side rose to number 11 on the charts, but why it wasn't another number 1 I've no idea. Maybe it was a bit risqué for the times, with its talk of Playboy magazine winkin' blondes.

Recorded in Bradley's Barn, Mt Juliet in early 1974 under the production of Owen Bradley, it was part of the highly acclaimed Country Bumpkin album. Between Lust And TV was written by Bill Anderson. I'm not much of an Anderson fan, in fact I think his voice is pathetic, but credit where itŒs due, he sure wrote a beauty here. Cal Smith acknowledged early in his career that songwrtiting wasn't his speciality so he was always on the look for class songs that he could make his own. The song perfectly captures the torment of a man who's torn between the thrill of the neon-lights and the boredom of sitting at home. Unlike most country songs of this ilk, the singer here doesn't succuum ­ yield not to temptation says the mighty Bobby Bland, well, I think Cal Smith was listening. That's not to say that he wasn't tearing his hair out at the thought of those honky tonk queens, who were as hot and sassy and her indoors was cold and prissy.

Taken as a heavy waltz, the picking is exquisite with the steel guitar shining throughout. The lyrics are what turns this from a good honky tonk bar number into an absolute classic. The humour is brilliant. Take a look below.

The life that I'm seeking is not in this bar where I'm sittin'
But it sure ain't at home where the one that I'm married to's knittin'
Happiness may not be here drinking beer feeling it go to my head
But it ain't back at home where she's puttin' in curlers and rollers and dressin' for bed

What I'm looking for ain't the blonde in the corner who's winkin'
But it sure ain't my wife who's devoted her life to dumb thinkin'
Happiness surely still lives in this world and somewhere it's waiting for me
And I know that it must be somewhere between lust and sittin' home watching TV

Somewhere between Playboy magazine and next Tuesday night's PTA
Somewhere between honky tonk queen and what all the dog did today
If a wife and a lover could be one and the same what a beautiful world this would be
And there would be us somewhere between lust and sittin' home watching TV
My wife's a good cook but a man can't exist just on bread
But what I'm hungry for is the one thing that I ain't beeing fed
I haven't been shopping but there's lots of bargains walking through town tempting me
And a body could rust on a diet of lust and sittin' home watching TV

Somewhere between Playboy magazine...

Other recommended downloads: Country Bumpkin, They Don't Make 'em Like My Daddy, The Lord Knows I'm Drinking.

Shaun Mather
January 1, 2007

Dennis Linde ­ R.I.P.

December 27, 2006 - Country songwriter Dennis Linde died this week of a rare lung cancer, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He lived away from the limelight in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee and was rarely seen on Music Row, and never seen at any big hat functions. A quiet man with a quick wit, he made his mark with usually upbeat songs of a humorous nature.

Born in Abilene, Texas on March 18th 1943 he became interested in music after his grandmother bought him a guitar. Although he made a handful of solo albums it was as a writer that he made his name. His songs were recorded from artists as diverse as Elvis, Arthur Alexander, Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Tom Jones, Mark Chesnutt, Shenandoah, Alan Jackson, Tanya Tucker, the Dixie Chicks, Don Williams, Robert Palmer and The Judds. Elvis recorded no fewer than three of his songs, Burning Love, I've Got A Feeeling In My Body and For the Heart.

1993 - Named Nashville Songwriter Association's Songwriter of the Year
1994 - Named BMI's Songwriter of the Year
2001 - Elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame

Top 3 Dennis Linde songs
1. Elvis Presley - Burnin' Love
2. The Talkin' Song Repair Blues - Alan Jackson
3. Callin' Baton Rouge - Garth Brooks

-Shaun Mather

Larry Butler and Willie Nelson
Heavy Hank

NLT Records - NLT-CD-2006

Despite being in his eighth decade, Willie Nelson shows no signs of easing up his hectic touring and recording schedule. He seems to bring out a new album on virtually a monthly basis. You could ask therefore, does the world need another Willie Nelson album, and even more to the point, do we really need another Hank WIlliams tribute album. Well, to follow that line of thought would actually be to miss a trick, because Heavy Hank is a fine album indeed and would be an asset to any record collection.

What of the other guy then, who is Larry Butler. Well, he's a well respected Texan country singer who has been plying his trade as long as Willie, but without the same breaks. In the booklet Willie tells the story of their first meeting. ""I had just left Oregon and Washington headed to Nashville by way of Springfield, MO with a dip down to Houston. I stopped at a place called the Esquire Club on the Hempstead Highway. Larry Butler and his band were rehearsing. I asked for a job and tried to sell him a few songs for $10.00 a piece. He said "Your songs are too good, I'll loan you the money and give you a job." I said, "I must be dreaming," I wasn't - I paid a weeks rent, played a while in Larry Butler's band and made some real friends, Larry and Pat Butler."

The voices compliment each other well, will Willie's legendary nasal delivery contrasting with Larry's deeper, pure honky tonk sound. They try very little harmonising on the album, instead they swap verses, a method which serves the album well. The band are a truly exquisite bunch made from various band members and seasoned legends such as Gene Chrisman, Buddy Spicher and David Zettner. It was predominantly recorded in Austin with Zettner and Butler producing, although the title track was cut at the infamous Burns Station Studio in deepest Tennessee under the watching eyes and ears of Gordon Stinson.

It's with the Burns cut that the album kicks off and I must say it's a top draw honky tonker from the pen of Cheryl Durham-Owens. I'm not sure who she is but she's written a cracker here, in the familiar country vein whereby when life is getting you down, all you need to do is listen to a bit of Hank, and your troubles become a distant memory. Ah, if only life were really like that.

The Hank covers are a delight with the band playing the parts of the Drifting Cowboys to a tea, and Butler and Nelson singing from the heart. The only one that could have done with beefing up a bit is Hey Good Looking, which come over as a bit insipid, otherwise there's not a weak one on offer. Particularly good is I Told A Lie To My Heart and My Son Calls Another Man Daddy. Grab a copy, this is one Hank tribute album you can return to again and again. I hope the single, Heavy Hank does well for them as it's got real radio potential, and could finally give Larry Butler the break he deserves.

Shaun Mather
December 2006

Wayne "The Train" Hancock

Bloodshot Records BS134
I've been a big fan of Wayne "The Train" Hancock since his debut and the live gig he played in Bristol a few years ago was one of the greatest I'd ever seen. His last few albums though have been okay but not up to the standard of that first one. To me they haven't been helped by the trumpet that has seen more and more exposure and the lack of any real killer songs. To me, Thunderstorms And Neon Signs is one of the greatest country songs ever written, ol Hank himself would have been proud of it.

The new album Tulsa has a couple of trumpet interuptions and there are more than a few ballads, but all in all this is an album from the top-drawer. With Dave Biller and Paul Skelton still in the band and the great Lloyd Maines producing, the sound is the classic, no frills honky tonk we know and love. As with all his stuff the album was cut in two and a half days with most songs coming from the first or second takes - what would the Nashville bigwigs think?  

There's a couple of slowies (This Lonely Night in particular) early in the procedings which didn't really hit the switch for me, but the lights definately came on with Ain't Gonna Worry No More and Lord Take My Pain. His mid-tempo numbers always bounce with Chris Darrell slappin' the doghouse to great effect. Brother Music Sister Rhythm, I Don't Care Anymore, Goin' Home Blues and the closer, Goin' To Texas When I'm Through are all typical Wayne the Train numbers in this vein.

The two standout tracks of the album, and destined to be career favourites are the autobiographical Shootin' Star From Texas and No Sleep Blues which for some reason made me think what Hancock would have sounded like if he was on Capitol in the '50s. Buy the album with confidence, but bear in mind that it gets better as the album goes. I was sort of squirming in my seat by the end of track 5, but it comes to life and the last 9 are a gas. The Train keeps a rollin', as someone once said.

Recommended downloads: If you're not familiar with his work, download these and fall in love with country music's biggest hope. Thunderstorms And Neon Signs, Cold Lonesome Wind, That's What Daddy Wants, Miller, Jack & Mad Dog, California Blues, 87 Southbound.

Shaun Mather
November 2006



Oh dear, what is happening. Mr Reliable, Alan Jackson has always been the blue-collar red-necked honky tonk hero of the modern era. Straight ahead country with no hint that he could be anything but the guy with the guitar in the smokey bar-room. Earlier this year he bought out Precious Memories, a heartfelt but somewhat uninspired set of gospel numbers, with nothing to grab the attention other than Rugged Old Cross and I'll Fly Away. Just seven months later he's back with this new release, a collaboration with bluegrass star Alison Krauss.

At a Grand Ole Opry Carnegie Hall show in New York last November, AJ approached Krauss, inviting her to produce his next album, scheduled to a bluegrass affair. For some inexplicable reason she's persuaded him to forget the bluegrass and do this late night, sleep through the songs, project. Some people lable it "late night" music, well it seems to be past my bedtime when I listen to it, because I find my eyes starting to close and a yawn coming on.

Individually the songs are okay, if you heard one of them once in a while on a radio station (late at night!!) you might think it okay, but to listen to a dozen in a row - man that's dedication. Jackson only wrote one of the songs and that was eight years ago. Four of the rest come from Robert Lee Castleman, who has frequently written for Krauss. Her band members including Jerry Douglas and Dan Tyminski provide the backing, with Krauss, Lee Ann Womack and Cheryl White among the backing vocalists.

Anywhere On Earth and Don't Ask Why are boring. Wait A Minute, Don't Change On Me and As Lovely As You are okay. Nobody Said It Would Be Easy and Where Do I Go From Here are not bad. The only song that moved me in any way was Good Imitation Of The Blues where he sounds great (dare I say inspired) and the guitar is tasty.

I know country fans are traditionally the most loyal of all genre's, but AJ will be testing our patience if his next album is anything other than a return to hardcore honky tonk. Some might call it a year of great expansion as an artist, a brave year even. Me, I call it a year of gross self indulgence.

Shaun Mather<
October 2006


Steve Earle
Guitar Town - 20 years on.

Guitar Town (Steve Earle)
Goodbye's All We've Got Left (Steve Earle)
Hillbilly Highway (Steve Earle, Jimbeau Hinson)
Good Ol' Boy (Gettin' Tough) (Steve Earle, Richard Bennett)
My Old Friend The Blues (Steve Earle)
Someday (Steve Earle)
Think It Over (Steve Earle, Richard Bennett)
Fearless Heart (Steve Earle)
Little Rock N' Roller (Steve Earle)
Down The Road (Steve Earle, Jimbeau Hinson, Tony Brown)

The Dukes
Richard Bennett: guitars, 6 string bass and slap bass
Bucky Baxter: pedal steel
Ken Moore: organ and synthesizer
Emory Gordy, Jr.: bass and mandolin
Harry Stinson: drums and vocals
John Jarvis: piano and synthesizer
Paul Franklin: pedal steel on Fearless Heart and Someday
Steve Nathan: synthesizer

It's 20 years since the Texas tornado Steve Earle burst onto the scene with his classic debut, a twanging masterpiece, equal parts, Springsteen, Hank and Duane Eddy. At the time country music was at a crossroads, with the pop strains of the Barbara Mandrell's coming under from a new breed, led by Earle, Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis. Steve Earle was a bit too much of a bad-ass rock'n'roller for the Nashville establishment who embraced him following the first album but turned their back as his music went heavier and his personality went darker.

To all intents and purposes, Guitar Town was a country version of Born In The USA, both albums telling blue-collar stories set to a beat with a healthy amount of rockabilly. Earle's was well placed to dabble with rockabilly, the king of it, Carl Perkins, having recorded Mustang Wine in 1982. That same year Earle released an EP called Pink & Black, featuring his new band, the Dukes. Writer John Lomax was suitably impressed and encouraged Epic Records to sign him in 1983. Lomax and Steve Earle recorded an album for the label but it went unreleased because Epic felt it was too rockabilly oreientated, suggesting he should remake the album in a more commercially style, under the propduction of Emory Gordy, Jr. Two singles failed and after being dropped by Epic, Earle teamed up with Tony Brown, a producer at MCA Records.

The highlights of the album are the uptempo roadhousers like the title track ("Well, I gotta keep rockin' while I still can/Got a two pack habit and motel tan") and Hillbilly Highway with it's hynotic guitar. Wonderful stuff, as is the bravado Good Ol' Boy (Getting Tough). The slower songs are gritty and meaningful, Goodbye's All We've Got Left vying with My Old Friend The Blues for best ballad.

I know that more recent offerings have had rave reviews because they're clever and eclectic, but to me Steve Earle never again captured the magic of Guitar Town. If you can't get enough of the album, check out the Live At Austin, Texas DVD - recorded in 1987 it's a great reminder of what a swaggering ball of hellfire the guy was/is. Most of the sonmgs from Guitar Town are included and he looks brilliant, long before the beard and the excess weight. Hot to trot, give it a shot.

Shaun Mather October 2006

RIP - Buck Owens
(My Top 10 Buckbusters)

As a tribute to Bakersfield country music legend Buck Owens (or Corky Jones for any rockabillies), I'd like to just pick a top 10 of my favourites. I know Bob Timmers got to become friends with Buck recently, and he sure sounded like a real nice bloke (Buck that is!). Listening to the songs below, you remember that his Buckersfield sound was as unique to him as the boom-chicka-boom was to Johnny Cash.

1. Second Fiddle
Buck's first chart hit from the summer of 1959 was a stone cold country song full of steel and fiddle. He gives perhaps his best ever vocal performance. Whilst the country radio stations battled to keep the rockabilly dogs at bay, songs like this must have kept the kinfolk on the homestead happy.

2. Waitin' In Your Welfare Line
"I've got the hungries for your love, and I'm waitin' in your welfare line". I love the version from the Live at Carnegie Hall album where Don Rich takes a short but oh so tasty solo. Oh the innocence of those days - Buck asks her "Give me a hand-out". I'm sure today he'd be asking "give me a hand-job". Not surprising, this went all the way to the top in 1966.

3. Close Up The Honky Tonks
A pure country backing to a hard boiled lyric suggesting the only way to keep his misses at home is to close up the honky tonks - what a tart. If this couldn't fill a salted dance floor, then Dwight Yoakam doesn't paint his trousers on. How this never made it onto the top side of a 45 is beyond me, it says volumes for the quality of stuff he was releasing at this time.

4. Hot Dog
Durting the mid-50s there was a plethera of frustrated honky tonkers turning their hand to the emerging rockabilly sounds. Buck was a great example, tackling the genre with all the exhuberance of a Memphis teenager. Hot Dog oozes teenage pleasures, flashy guitar licks and hot-potato-in-the-mouth vocals, and is one of the greats. Corky the Cat, you was one fine feline!

5. I Don't Care (Just As Long As You Love Me)
Catchy and melodic, it must have surprised no-one when Capitol released this surefire hit in the summer of 1964. Don Rich finds a nice groove again and the heavy acoustic guitar underpins Buck's vocals to a tee. 6. Above And Beyond
This snappy mover went to number three in the country charts in the spring of 1960 and confirmed that Buck was going to be a Hall of Famer, following as it did the top Fiver, Under Your Spell Again.

7. Country Girl (Leavin' Dirty Tracks)
Available on the Young Buck CD (Country Music Hall of Fame - Classics Collection), Country Girl sees Buck in Hank Williams mode. He hadn't yet found his sound but it good fun listenming to him try. It's an energic steel driven number with unrelenting loping guitar. 8. Open Up Your Heart
Buck and Rich do an Everly Brothers on this catchy number one single. Rich's guitar again plays a solid part in the songs appeal.

9. Buckaroo
Can't say I'm the world's greatest lover of country instrumentals, I always think the steel or fiddle should just add about thirty seconds of respite whilst the singer tries to regain his composure following a couple of verses of anguish and pitiful heartache. Buckaroo is a fine exception, with Don Rich's guitar finding a glorious groove that shot the song to the top slot in November 1965. Buck's Polka is no slouch either, but I wouldn't put two instrumentals in a top 10, unless it was a Duane Eddy list I suppose.

10. Foolin' Around
From the Ray Price school of country, this would have warmed the cockles of many a honky tonk lover during the bleak winter of 1961. Buck is on top form, but the fiddle player steals the show, helping push the song just one short of the top spot.

You're going to be missed Buck. Thank God we've still got the music.

Shaun Mather
March 2006.

Hank Williams III
Straight To Hell

BRUC Records CURCD203

First things first, although this is a two CD set I'm only going to review the first one because the second CD is crap beyond your wildest dreams. Ooohhh, a train noise. There's only one train I wanna hear on my record players and that's Wayne Hancock. Congrats to Curb Records for having the balls to release the record, even if they had to launch the Bruc label to do it.

So to the real thing, the thirteen track album that follows four long years Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'. There's no noticable maturity in the writing, but who gives a damn about that. There's enough sobbin' and cryin' in the world, we could do with a couple of rollockin', kick-ass, party artists out there, and Hank III fills that gap. Country, blues and rock 'n' roll has always been about the tortured minds of artists who prayed for all their might that they wouldn't be going to hell for playing the devils music. I genuinely believe that Hank III relishes the fact that one day he can keep the fire ablaze for the horny red guy with the forked tail.

The backing band are brilliant, giving us high-octane rockabilly, swampy redneck hillbilly and down-right pityful hangover honky tonk. Take "Dick In Dixie" for example. Mr Anally-Retentive from Squaresville, Maryland will no doubt be writing to his local country music station demanding a ban on Hank III, whilst what he should be doing is delaying his trip to Confession to soak up the fabulous dobro picking from Randy Kohrs. The use of BR549er Donnie Heron was a wise move, he plays on most tracks on either fiddle or banjo. Andy Gibson on steel and Hawaiian also deserves a mention, he sounds like the ghost of the Drifting Cowboys on the closer, Angel of Sin.

My Drinkin' Problem is pure honky tonk with Hank III relishing the quarrels with the wife - "She said she was gonna quit me, if I didn't quit the booze, so I just started drinkin' more, to see if she would really choose". Choose she did and "my drinkin' problem left today". Shades of of his grandaddy who was a regular visitor to the doghouse. D.Ray White sounds like a true tale of a West Virginian clan, country boys to the core. It's shows genuine affection for blue collar people who just get along by their own means, honest and true. He ain't just paying them lip service to increase his fan base, these are his people and he's proud of it. Nashville might try and brush them under the carpet to concentrate on cheeky little tales of the wholesome guys and gals flirting behind pappy's barn, but Hank III brings the lowdown sinners to the front, warts and all.

Highlights of the album, if possible, are Low Down and Crazed Country Rebel, but then there's Thrown Out Of The Bar (very Wayne Hancock), Country Heroes and Straight To Hell. This is one hell of an album, and is the best modern CD I've heard for quite a while. If I hear a better album this year, I'll be pleasantly surpised. Hank III has finally made the album he's always hinted at. If Hollywood was to remake Deliverance, this would be the soundtrack. A stunner.

Shaun Mather
March 2006


Gary Bennett
Human Condition

Landslide Records LDCD-1032

Human Condition is the first solo album for former BR549 frontman Gary Bennett, nigh on four years since his last trip to the studios. After sharing the limelight with Chuck Mead, Bennett is free as a bird, able to write and record what he pleases. Luckily for everyone, what he pleases, pleases the ear. Whereas Chuck Mead brought the rockabilly edge to BR549, it now appears that their Flying Burrito Brothers/Gram Parsons feel came from the influence of Bennett. This whole album has a FBB quality, leading me to guess that it was Bennett who bought Hickory Wind to the BR549 table.

I'll be perfectly honest with you and admit that I didn't like this album on first hearing, save for the opener and closer. It was only by luck that I gave it a second spin, but I'm glad I did. There's a real beauty to tracks like Heading Home and My Illusion. The picking is a treat throughout, not surprising when it includes Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart) on guitar, Jimmy Lester (Webb Wilder, Los Straitjackets) on drums and friend of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, Mark Winchester (Planet Rockers, Brian Setzer) on bass. Marty Stuart plays mandolin on several tracks and last but no means least, Lloyd Green plays some of the tastiest pedal steel you'll ever hear.

The Parsons fest is given a rest for numbers like That's What I'm Here For, a swinging foot-tapper in the You're A Humdinger mold and the hard-driving American Dreamin'. It's a great album closer and could even get radio play - the guitar is certainly heavy enough!!

A long overdue release that will please fans of BR549 and genuine country fans in equal measure. You'll be happy to know that his unique, pure country voice has lost none of it's tear-in-the-throat quality. If anything, the laid back nature of the songs even accentuates it. It's good to have him back and I hope that GB and Landslide Records have enough success with the release to warrant a follow-up.

Shaun Mather
March 2006.



HUX Records - HUX 071

Hux Records of London have an interesting catalogue that includes reissues of Gene Vincent (White Lightnin'), Gene Watson (Love In The Hot Afternoon/Paper Rosie) and Stoney Edwards (Stoney Edwards/She's My Rock) amongst others. That catalogue just got even better with the release of the great Tom T Hall and two of his finest albums on one CD.

1971's In Search of a Song is a stunning album, chock full of songs of everyday life told only as the Storyteller can. He wrote every song, and there's no hint of gimmicky material that sometimes crept into his work, just clever songwriting full of wit and observation. The music is also of the highest quality, with the material bringing the best out of the Nashville A-Team pickers Pete Drake, Bob Moore, Buddy Harman and Pig Robbins. Charlie McCoy's harmonica is brilliant throughout and listen to producer Jerry Kennedy's hot guitar on Tulsa Telephone Book and The Little Lady Preacher.

The album only sprung one hit single, The Year That Clayton Delaney Died, which went to number one. Who's Gonna Feed Them Hogs is well known thanks to being on countless Greatest Hits packages and Second Handed Flowers will be familiar to most thanks to George Jones' version.

Ramona's Revenge is a mouth-dropping tale of Ramona, "who couldn't speak or couldn't spell", but gets pregnant by Bad-Eyed Thompson who "could squint that eye and spit tobacco thirty feet", which "Ramona considered that to be one of the better local acts"!! Equally funny is Tulsa Telephone Book, "Readin' that Tulsa telephone book can drive a guy insane, especially if that girl you're looking for has no last name, I got to find her and tell her I don't want our love to end, So I'm readin' that Tulsa telephone book again".

Today's country stars could do worse than listen to Trip to Hyden, It Sure Can get Cold in Des Moines or Kentucky, February 27, 1971. It's exquisite songwriting, exploring human emotions and the effects of passing time.

The Rhymer and Other Five And Dimers from 1973 is a fine collection of originals with just one cover, Billy Joe Shaver's great Old Five And Dimers Like Me. The albums kicks off in Marty Robbins style with the top 3 hit Ravishing Ruby. Spokane Motel Blues bemoans the fact that while Cash and Waylon and just about everyone else are living it up in places across the land, he's stuck in a motel in Spokane writing a song. Apparently the good folk of Spokane weren't enamoured by the song but the rest of the country were, pushing the song to number 6 in the charts.

Don't Forget The Coffee Billy Joe and Looking Forward To Seeing You Again are fine reminises of bygone days. The beautifully written I Flew Over Our House Last Night has always been one of my favourites and Pete Drake is exquisite on steel. A rare duffer is Song For Uncle Curt, a forced tribute with words just not coming easy. Man Who Hated Freckles cleverly deals with the hypocrisies of prejudice, and everyone knows the class of Old Five And Dimers, the version here made even better by the sublime harmonica blowing of Charlie McCoy. The album with a couple of so-so duets with Patti Page.

Alan Gardiner's complains in his sleevenotes that whilst Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and the like are revered as leading singer-songwriters of the '70s, Tom T Hall is unjustly overlooked, probably because he was too country. I'd agree with that sentiment, and listening to these albums only emphasises the quality of his writing. The guy is a legend whose songs will never become dated, least not while people still have hearts and minds.

Shaun Mather
February 2006.

Waylon Jennings
5th Anniversary

Five years ago this month, Waylon Jennings, the Nashville Rebel, the hoss of all hosses, died following a long fight against diabetes. Whilst the months following his death were filled with tributes and accolades, it seems to have gone all quiet again as Nashville sneaks back to its bad habits of finding a gimmick and flogging it to death. What's it this year, country rap I think. Anyway, here's 10 of the best from Waylon, the man who bent for no-one and walked his own walk.

1 - I Can't Keep My Hands Off Of You
From the pens of Mack Vickery and Bobby Borcher, this sensual ballad is one of mty favourite three songs of all time, by anyone not just Waylon. For some reason I can't seem to convince others of its greatness, but in the little sad world inside my head, it's a classic. From The Ramblin'Man era when Waylon was at his peak as an artist and a chart act, it is the one song I wish I could have written as a token of true affection. Did I mention I like this song? Waylon sounds so vulnerable and beautiful and Ralph Mooney's steel guitar adds to the ache. In the sleevenotes for the Ramblin' Man reissue on Buddha records, Rich Kienzle says this "raunchy ditty, could only have been an album track, given the prim standards of '70s country radio". It might be sensual, but it's an honest admission of devoted love, surely that's not as risque as "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, would you hold it against me" or a 15 year old Tanya Tucker asking "Would you lay with me in a field of stone". Ah, whatever. I just can't believe that this isn't the biggest song in country music history.

2 - The Chokin' Kind
This tender Harlan Howard ballad hit #8 in the country charts through the summer of '67. Everyone talks about how Waylon's world took on new life once he'd become his own producer, but can anyone tell me what Chet Atkins does wrong behind the board here. This ain't Nashville pop, there might be some harmonies from the Nashville Sounds, but Chip Young's acoustic guitar patterns and Charlie McCoy's harmonica more than compensate. A classic, with Waylon showing a vulnerable side that surfuced less and less as the years progressed, "Your love scares me to death girl it's the chokin' kind".

3 - Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way
Autobiographical outlaw classic, with Waylon dominating the listener with forceful vocals and jangly lead guitar. It tells of the struggles he faced in Music City, and the expectations placed on him by being on the top contenders to capture Luke The Drifters' crown. I suppose if you had to explain what Waylon Jennings and the Outlaw movement meant to a visiting martian, you might just play this song.

4 - Amanda
Waylon opens his heart out to his little ol gal, "Amanda you light up my life, fate should have made you a gentleman's wife", not stuck this roughneck cowboy. I'm sure Amanda was happy enough, especially if he serenaded her with this. It's a classy ballad with a beautifully understated solo from Waylon's Telecaster, that spent most of the summer of '79 at the top of the charts. Had he lived, it would have been a perfect vehicle for Elvis and James Burton.

5 - Cedartown, Georgia
A man can only take so much shit from his gal. Double cross an outlaw like Waylon and you just know you're gonna pay the price - the ultimate price. The cold ruthless manner is staggering, "I made up my mind what I'm a gonna do, Eased in the pawnshop and bought a 22". and he's gonna put her on a train to Georgia. Man, the guy has to be an outlaw. "there's gonna be a lot of kinfolk squawlin' and a grievin', coz that Cedartown gal ain't breatin'".

6 - Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out Of Hand
This 1978 number one tells the true story of Waylon's drug bust whilst he was recording. The song rocks like the clappers, with Waylon's voice and guitar showing an aggressive manner we haven't witnessed before. Pissed off by the witch hunt for the Nashville rebels, "Someone called us outlaws in some old magazine, and New York sent a posse down like I ain't ever seen", Waylon manages to turn a bitter moment into an all-time classic.

7 - Belle of the Ball
Belle of the Ball was heard in bars and bedrooms across the nation in 1977 courtesy of being the b-side of the Willie and Waylon duet Luchenbach, Texas. A wistful tale of a beautiful Southern belle who breaks the hearts of the many men that fall at her feet. She loves and leaves, the guy loves andf grieves. Musically it's typical Waylon with tasteful guitar fills and Ralph Mooney "steeling" the show as he so often did.

8 - This Time
I love the acoustic guitar work here and Don Brooks' harmonica. Produced by Willie and Waylon the self-written song was his first to the top of the charts in the spring of 1974. The lyrics see him giving the woman the ultimatum, treat him a bit better or else this cowboy's gonna find himself another cowgirl to ride bareback.

9 - I've Been A Long Time Leaving (I'll Be A Long Time Gone)
Woop-woop, woop-woop. This may not be the greatest song that Waylon ever recorded but I juts love that woop-woop, and the playful couplets before it.

10 - Stop The World (And Let Me Off)
Waylon's first hit, this 1965 Carl Belew-WS Stevenson number is a solid uptempo romp. Chet Atkins gave the song a fuller sound than Waylon employed once he took over the production reins in the early '70s. The guitars reverberate throughout and compete with Waylon's vocals for Most Echo of the Year Award.

Notable omissions include If You Could Touch Her At All, Are You ready For The Country, Ladies Love Outlaws, I've Always Been Crazy, Ain't Living Long Like This, Dreaming My Dreams and about two hundred others. There's also no end of classic duets or collaborations that I've deliberatly avoided like Luckenbach Texas with Willie Nelson or The Night Hank Williams Came to Town with Johnny Cash.

Shaun Mather
February 2006


Palo Duro label

The latest release from honky tonk troubadour Dale Watson comes with some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the album has some of his best songs for nearly a decade, the bad news is it might be his last. Following the death of his fiancée Terri Herbert in a road accident, Watson went off the rails including a well publicised suicide attempt. With the help of some good friends he has now overcome the worst of his problems and is back on track. This all coincided with a visit to Austin by Hollywood director Zalman King (9-1/2 Weeks, Red Shoe Diaries) who was searching for an actor to play a country singer for the film "Austin Angel". Upon meetying Watson he decided to postp[one the film and decided to make a documentary on the real deal instead. Dealing with all the inner demons that Watson has had to live with in recent times, the documentary is called "Crazy Again" and is set to premiere at Austin's legendary South By Southwest festival in March.

Following the release of the film and the new album, Dale Watson is moving north to Portland to be near his two children. It's a sad blow for the country lovers of Texas and a major problem for the future of hardcore country music which has been lucky to have Watson at it's helm for the past dozen years or so. His original plan was to jack in music all together whilst his kids grew up, but his management have persuaded him to continue his career on a part time basis, on the understanding that he had a special gift that wasn't his to throw away!

So to the album, and after a few less than inspiring outings (understandably in the circumstances) in recent years, it's good to be able to report that he's back on song with some unrelenting honky tonk. Fiddles and steel are well to the fore and the whole sound has a more padded out feel than a decade ago. I'm not saying that's necessarily good, it's just a fact. He explains the title with "No matter how old we are, we always knew some old guy or somebody in our family that always said, 'Heeah!" For the American market, the album is going to be titled "No Help Wanted".

Darlin' Look At Me Now, I Don't Feel Too Lucky Today and Sit And Drink And Cry see him reach the standards of the Cheatin' Heart Attack era, great slabs of Texas honky tonk with tasty licks and vocals from the Church of Merle. I Ain't Been Right, Since I've Been Left has a catchy Cajun feel and would surely be a good dance hall filler.

I Wish I Was Crazy Again is a tragic, brutally honest tribute to Terri, with one of Swatson's finest ever vocals ala Hag, "Well they say I went crazy, by crazy I mean mentally insane/ Had a world where I still had you, and I wish I was crazy again". My Heart Is Yours is such a beautiful ballad I poured myself a beer so I could cry into it.

Truckin' Queen is the closest thing you'll hear to prime time Jerry Reed, the tale of a cross dressing trucker, "he's got a string or white pearls, around his big red neck, and a scruffy beard and the hair on his back makes the neglige stick out".

The only tracks that didn't exactly set the barn aflame were the ones with trumpets. Tequila And Teardrops is hipswaying Tex-Mex with perhaps a tad too much Mex in the mix. The brass section is there again for Whiskey Or God, spoiling what could have been a good galloper.

The album doesn't appear to be widely available on the web yet, with a split release date of January for Europe and March in the States. Despite his break from the business there's also going to be a book about his life and a live DVD filmed in Holland. Quiet times indeed!

I hope Dale finds what he's looking for up north, and that he returns to the scene with a briefcase full of honky tonk classics, written with a clear mind. You don't have to be a twisted wreck to write a country song - do you?

Shaun Mather
February 2006

Charlie Rich

Boss Man / Very Special Love Songs
The Silver Fox / Everytime You Touch Me (I Get High)

Edsel Records

Released as final part of their tranch through Charlie's Epic Recordings, Edsel have again come up with the goods in terms of both presentation and sound quality. The sleevenotes by the UK's Chris Bolton are also a treat, thought provocking and detailed.

By the mid 70's Charlie Rich was finally on top of the world after a couple of decades of disappointment on labels like Sun, Hi and RCA. His singles for Epic, Behind Closed Doors and The Most Beautiful Girl In The World became worldwide smashes and are still remembered today. As well as the singles hitting it big, three of the four albums here went to the top of the country charts and made it into the pop Top 20's. Over the years Nashville producer Billy Sherrill has been chastised for adding layers of strings to geniune honky tonkers like George Jones when a layer of fiddles would have sufficed. His role in recognising that this approach would pay dividends with Charlie Rich should not be overlooked. Much as I worship at the Church of Sam, it wasn't until the introduction of Sherrill that Rich was able to sustain a successful run of hit singles.

Boss Man is one of my favourite Charlie Rich albums, a marvellous mixture of everything that made Charlie's heart tick. Down On The River and Memphis And Arkansas Bridge are so so thick with Memphis Soul that you assume he must have had brown Mississippi mud-water running through his veins instead of blood. Nice 'n Easy, Have A Heart and I Can't Even Drink it Away all hit the spot, as does Sherrill's I Do My Swingin' At Home. I defy 90% of today's hit acts to try and put half as much feeling into Curly Putman's Golden Slipper Rose as Charlie does here. The only number that leaves me cold is Jimmy Reed's Big Boss Man.

1974's Very Special Love Songs saw Rich and producer Billy Sherrill drilling the countrypolitan goldmine artistically and financially. It was a massive hit album and featured eleven pearls mainly from the pens of Charlie, wife Margaret Ann and Billy Sherrill. Charlie's voice never sounded more engaging and the whiskey soaked smokey vocals add to his natural lush timbre on tracks like Pretty People, A Field of Yellow Daisies and There Won't Be Anymore. Play Why, Oh Why in the dark with just a glass of bourbon and you'll find yourself singing along with your body twisting and stretching like Ray Charles in full flow. Highlights abound but He Follows in My Footsteps and There Won't Be Anymore would perhaps be the pick, then again there's Take Time To Love and A Satisfied Mind - let's face it, there's not a weak song here, it's a gem of an album.

Silver Fox was a break from the normal Nashville formula. The a-side was a journey through his career to date, done medley style, although at under twenty minutes it obviously had one or two holes! A new fan might be forgiven for thinking there was little heartache (or time, labels, etc) between Break Up and Behind Closed Doors. He talks between the songs in a gravelly drawl before lauching into highly entertaining versions of earlier career tracks like a storming crack at Break Up and heartfelt takes on Don't Put No Headstone On My Grave and I Feel Like Goin' Home. His departure from Sun records was analised in splendid style - "Killer was selling about 20 million records a year, I was selling 20, so you know who moved on."

Side two sticks closer to the Nashville way, five tracks mixing a couple of hits, two strong fillers (if that's not a contradiction) and a cover. Don't get me wrong, it's quality stuff, Charlie's appealing voice is as smooth as ever. Pieces Of My Life is good but perhaps lacks the passion and power of Elvis'. My Elusive Dreams (#3)is one of the best songs he ever did and I'm also partial to the sugary number 1 hit I Love My Friend. The self-written Your Place Is Here With Me sees him in supper club mode whilst the misses wrote the beautifully reflective Whatever Happened.

Everytime You Touch Me (I Get High) saw a full return to the formula, one which showed equal elements of Charlie's eclectic leanings towards country, jazz, Memphis soul and even a touch of pure honky tonk. The album provided three top 10 hits with the title track getting to number 3 and Ben Peters' All Over Me climbing to the fourth spot. His version of the r'n'b standard Since I Fell For You is astounding in it's beauty but it stalled at number 10, no doubt harmed by the recent bad press Charlie was getting following his antics at the CMA Awards when he burnt the card with John Denver's name on it.

The songwriting skills of his lovely wife Margaret Ann shouldn't be overlooked. If her songs were recorded by various artists, not just Charlie, I'm sure she would today be recognised as a bonfide Nashville songsmith in her own right. She provides a couple of gems here in the shape of the beautifully melodic A Little Bit Here (A Little Bit There) and Pass On By which Charlie had earlier recorded for Hi Records. It's another late night jazz/blues number which would sound brilliant in the right Hollywood movie. It's a song that if you heard for the first time on the radio, you'd just know that it had some Memphis involvement.

I'm not aware of Nashville session bass plater Henry Strelecki being a prolofic songwriter but his You And I is more than acceptible, as is Charlie's version of She. Over a decade after he'd first nailed it, we're trated to a great stomp through Midnight Blues, complete with tinkling piano and BB King style guitar - a glorious way to round out the album.

Congratulations to Edsel on another cracking set of release, now for the United Artist albums!!

Shaun Mather
January 2006

The Road Hammers
The Future of Truck Driving Songs?

I gotta be honest with you here - I hadn't heard of the Road Hammers until a couple of weeks ago. As you can imagine, trucking songs aren't all the rage in Pontrhydfendigaid, but my mate Neil Welch has moved from wooly Wales to windy Toronto and he gave me the nudge. No stranger to the early works of Dwight and Garth, Neil happened upon The Road Hammers whilst watching CMT Canada (who have been big supporters of the band since their inception last year), and made the Transatlantic call to give me the low down.

The band play country music in a hard-driving, ass-kicking style, with their trucking songs featuring a healthy splash of good-ol'-boy Southern Rock. In other words, they sound like Dave Dudley being backed by Lynyrd Skynyrd circa 1975. Lead singer and founder of the band is Jason McCoy, the 2004 Canadian Country Music Association Male Vocalist of The Year.

Their self-titled debut album was released on Open Road Recordings in the summer of 2005 and was a seemless mix of classic trucking tunes and originals written in the same vein. CMT Canada filmed the making of the album, and showed it in a six-part series which brought the band to a massive new audience. As well as featuring the band, the series documented the whole trucking lifestyle.

Their music is the perfect companion to a long road trip, with it's infectious beat and excellent vocals. Anyone with the slighest interest in truckin' songs should check them out, as should anyone who finds the usual Nashville fodder a bit too tame. The band are in their infancy, but will hopefully enjoy a long and successful lifespan. They do a song called Nashville Bound. I hope they're not, because I'm sure a Nashville label would end up changing their sound, adding echo to the drums and vocals. They should be left alone, they're perfect as they are. If you like what you hear, check out Jason McCoy's solo work as well, he's a class act.

Road Hammers Top 5
1. Girl On The Billboard
I love Del Reeves' original but am tempted to say that The Road Hammers version is even better. It's got a chugging beat that just won't stop and I love the guitar solo. If this was to be a big hit on the Country charts perhaps we could even see a reserugence in this sadly neglected genre. I defy anyone to hear this and not sing it for the rest of the day.

2. Nashville Bound
A storming in the Charlie Daniels mould. The dobro and guitar combine for some tasty picking and the drummer pounds the skins as the band scorch down the road, "hell bent and Nashville Bound".

3. East Bound And Down.
The band stay close to Jerry Reed's original with the banjo well to the fore. Everything I said about Girl On The Billboard applies here. I think it's Clayton Bellamy on the vocals with McCoy, and they do a great job together. Shit hot picking again - JR would be proud.

4. I'm A Road Hammer
The bands anthem which is no doubt a show stopping highlight of their act, it's a Skynyrdesque slow burning. Play it loud and singalong as you cruise around town. CB's are optional!

5. The Hammer Goin' Down
It was a close call for the fifth spot with their harmonically perfect cover of Little Feat's Willin' just missing out. The Hammer Goin' Down just gets the nod, another hypnotic slab of highwaybilly. They really excel at these foot-tapping numbers with tasty picking and that great groove. You can almost hear the wheels go around as you listen.

It's about time we had a trucking song revival, and if so, why not have The Road Hammers as its flagship group. Check 'em out, these guys smoke. I'll bet they're great live, hopefully one day they'll come over to the UK and I can see for myself. For now I'll just have to dig 'em on the car stereo as I cruise along the B4340. It ain't got the romance of Highway 51 but what can you do.

Shaun Mather
January 2006

Hits I Missed...And One I Didn't
Bandit Records
Just as it says on the label, the latest CD from George Jones, fifty years after he first burst onto the scene, is a collection of songs that he was originally offered but turned them down, only to see them hit big for other artists. It's a great concept and happily, it works really well with not one duff track. George is still in fine voice and the lived-in strains his voice now shows adds to the lyrical content of a lot of these songs. Much the same way that Johnny Cash's later stuff achieved more feel due to the advancement of age, George is able to give songs like Funny How Time Slips Away more credibility than even Willie's original. Another big plus with this album is the backing band. Although Brent Mason, Paul Franklin, Glenn Worf, Pig Robbins et al have spent the last couple of decades playing ten hours a day in the Nashville studios, they still manage top sound fresh here. I suppose playing with George not some upstart, and pride in wanting to match or even better the originals played a part as well. They give the album a hard country sound with a seamless quality, that belies the fact that some of the songs were actually written forty years apart. Credit should also go to producer Keith Stegall who has done a good job at the helm for George in recent years. He's resisted all temptation to add slushy strings and has kept the backing vocals subtle ­ well played that man!

Hindsight is a great weapon, but it still seems hard to believe that George could have turned down tracks like Too Cold At Home and Here In The Real World, songs which have always sounded like stone-cold-George classics. Less obvious George fodder at the time must have been numbers like Henson Cargill's Skip A Rope and perhaps Ray Charles' Busted, but they get a great airing here, both being highlights with Busted having a splendid bit of Cajun in the middle. It's hard to pick a favourite track, but I suppose it would have to be If You're Gonna Do Me Wrong. Written by Vern Gosdin and Max D Barnes for the Burrito Brothers, the song fits GJ like a glove, with his vocals and the fiddle playing themselves a great slab of hillbilly heartache. The Blues Man sees him duet with Dolly Parton and it's a treat, with George milking every syllable like a dairy farmer.

The One I Didn't in the albums title refers to the remake of He Stopped Loving Her Today. George Jones has been telling anyone who'll listen that he sings this song better now than when he originally cut it (against his will), I'm not sure if you beat perfection but he does nail it again ­ the timbre in his voice giving the chills as only he can. I don't suppose country radio will dig any of this, but who cares, once you buy this you won't have the radio on. A classic album that in time will sit proudly next to his 70s and 80s catalogue.          

Shaun Mather
October 2005

Somewhere Down in Texas
MCA Nashville 000444602
On the first hearing I was a bit disappointed with George Strait's 33rd album, but have enjoyed it more with subsequent listenings. I think the reason for my initial feelings was that it lacked the hard edged country of 2003's Honkytonkville. Somewhere Down in Texas is more laid back and just a bit too pleasant. The very fact that it is his 33rd album can't help either - I mean, what can you do that's inspiring after 25 years. He's reached a no-win situation nowadays where a radical change would be met with outrage and more of the same is met with a yawn. Life's a bitch hey?

The title track and If The Whole World Was a Honky Tonk are pure Strait. Texas pays homage to his favourite State, and will no doubt appeal more the natives than anyone else - I can imagine it going down pretty good at any Lone Star gigs! Much better is the clever She Let Herself Go, from legendary Strait songsmith Dean Dillon. ("He wondered how she'd take it when he said goodbye / But he had no idea, when he hit the road / That without him in her life, she'd let herself go ... Let herself go on a singles cruise / To Vegas once, then to Honolulu ... When he said he didn't love her no more / She let herself go."). The duet with Lee Ann Womack leaves me cold and bored, but I enjoyed the cover of Merle Haggard's The Seashores of Old Mexico.  

I've no doubt this will be a huge hit album with hit singles all over radio for the next 18 months, and I suppose that's justified. I just hope that the 34rd will be more like the 32nd. Having said that, you can buy this with confidence, you know what you'll get and it's good stuff.
Shaun Mather
September 2005

Time Well Wasted
Brad Paisley's fourth album, Time Well Wasted finally hits the stores, a couple of years after it's hugely successful predecessor Mud On The Tires. How big he can get with this one is anyone guess. The sky's the limit because good as Mud was, Time Well Wasted is even better. Whereas his earlier albums saw him as a young upstart with a bucket load of potential, this time sees him cement himself as one of the established flag bearers for traditional country music. This album will surely establish him as the real deal who should now enjoy the longevity of someone like Alan Jackson or even George Strait. He sings well, continues to develop as a song writer and is a shit-hot guitar picker of the highest order. 

As well as his playing, another thing that stands him apart from the crowd is his humour. Whilst in the past he has bordered on the wrong side of gimmicky, this time he's spot on the money. Flowers sees a desperate man plead with his hard woman "Stop the senseless killing/ can't you hear the roses cry/ tell me, how many flowers have to die". The lead off track, Alcohol is written from the perspective of the drink, bragging that it can make anybody pretty, been known to cause a few births and can even make white people dance. You Need A Man Around Here hits the spot as well, "You've got more candles than a midnight mass/ That fancy mirror adds a touch of class/ But do you know how good a mounted bass/ Would look there on that wall".

Following the enormous success of the beautiful duet with Alison Krauss (Whiskey Lullaby) it's no surprise to see venture down that path again, this time with Dolly Parton on the gentle When I Get Where I'm Going. Alan Jackson joins Brad for a fine reading of Guy Clark's Out In The Parkin' Lot. This is probably my favourite track of the album, although I'm also rather partial to the driving opener, The World, with it's hypnotic guitar and fiddle work.  

Shaun Mather
September 2005

80 years old
Western swing legend Hank Thompson celebrates his 80th birthday this week, and he's still going strong. He was born on 3 September 1925 in Waco, Texas to Bohemian immigrants. He grew up idolizing Western swing and country musicians like Bob Wills, Gene Autry and Jimmie Rodgers. He used his influences well, developing a unique style that was one part western swing and one part honky tonk ­ it continues to serve him well, six decades later.

Following a spell in the Navy he joined the radio business, forming the Brazos Valley Boys, a band he dubbed who soon became a popular local live act. They made their debut for the Globe label in 1946 with the wonderful Whoa Sailor. A couple of singles followed for Bluebonnet, before he was signed by Capitol in 1947, an association that would last for the next 18 years. It was two years before he scored his first major hit for them with Humpty Dumpty Heart, he ended the year with another five hits. In 1951, he hooked up with producer Ken Nelson and hit with The Wild Side of Life (# 1 for 15 weeks), which inspired an answer record by Kitty Wells called It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, which also topped the country charts.

He enjoyed 27 Top 20 hits during the '50s with five Top Tens in 1954 alone. Hee was on fire during the early Œ50s with highlights of the hits being Waiting In The Lobby Of Your Heart, Wake Up Irene, Yesterdays Girl and the bad women warning, Honky Tonk Girl. He was the first country artist to tour with a sound and lighting system, the first to receive corporate sponsorship, and the first to record in high-fidelity stereo. He was instrumental in helping the careers of Merle Travis and Wanda Jackson. He cut two semi-concept albums that have withstood the test of time, Dance Ranch (1958) and Songs For Rounders (1959) and in 1961 he recorded the first live album ever released in the history of country music, At The Golden Nugget.

In 1965 he moved to Warner Bros. then ABC/Dot in 1968, and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. His welcoming voice and always strong band support have ensured that he has been able to stay in the business and even today records and tours. In '97 he recorded a high profile album HT And Friends with a mixture of country acts from George Jones to Marty Stuart. The pick of the album and I'd go as far as to say one of the best of his career, was Gotta Sell Them Chickens with Junior Brown. Bear Family has released a 12 CD-set: Hank Thompson and his Brazos Valley Boys (BCD 15904) which features 323 songs from 1946-1964. But there are also several good single-CD comps, like Vintage Collection (20 Capitol tracks).

Shaun Mather
September 2005


Bobby Braddock ­ 65
(Time Marches On)
Country music has always been about the songs, whether it be as a diary of the times or no more than a whimsical tale of lost love. The lyrics have always played an important role ­ just ask Floyd Cramer!! As country music has evolved through the 20th Century and up to the present day, the image of the performer has grown, but essentially he still needs a strong set of lyrics to get the songs heard on radio. That's why the role of the country songwriter is so significant. Their job might seem easy, sit on your ass in a Nashville cafŽ sipping coffee, waiting for the mid morning traffic to subside so you can concentrate on the next great rhyme. The reality is a bit harsher though ­ you work for weeks to write a song then battle for years to get it to an artist. Most acts today listen to thousands of demos before they record their 10 track album. You need to be good to survive, and none are better than Bobby Braddock.

Braddock was born Robert Valentine Braddock, 65 years ago this month in the town of Lakeland, Florida. He wrote his first song at the age of eight by which time he was taking piano lessons and developing an early affection for music. He dabbled throughout his early days, writing, performing and producing. His big break came in 1966 when he was joined Marty Robbins' band. Robbins recorded Bobby's song "While You're Dancing" which hit the top 30. It resulted in Braddock landing a job as a staff writer for Tree International (now Sony/ATV) where he has remained for the last four decades.

During his career he has written over a thousand songs, with over 80 hitting the charts. Of those, around 35 have made the Top 10 and over a dozen reaching the heralded number one spot. Not surprisingly he was inducted to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1981 as its youngest living member and to date has received 26 BMI performance awards.

Here is my top 10 favourite tracks from the golden pen of Bobby Braddock.

1. He Stopped Loving Her Today ­ George Jones
This song won every award going at the time and was recently voted by the public as the greatest country song of all time. Co-written with Curly Puttman it's a masterpiece about a guy who vows never to quit loving his estranged babe until the day he dies. An interview with Braddock reveals the history of the song and also his modesty; "I wrote this with the great Curly Putman. He says I brought him the idea of a man loving a woman so much that it took death to put out the fire. We put together quite a bit of it one afternoon, then I finished it at home that night. A couple of years later, producer Billy Sherrill wanted to record it on George Jones, but he asked for an additional verse, one about the woman returning for the funeral. Coincidentally, Curly and I had done that initially and discarded it. So we wrote three or four versions of the verse before we came up with one that Billy accepted. I never thought the song was all that special until Billy played the Jones recording for me, and I realized for the first time that it was something significant. I've always felt that the vocal and the production elevated it mightily. I do think the character in the song is a terrible role model; he should have gotten on with his life." In an interview with Music Row Magazine he reiterated the feeling, "I still feel like I've written better songs, and so has Curly Putman. I honestly think it was just a great recording. Curly says I brought in the idea, but we worked on it, and we thought of it as a dark comedy, really."

2. Time Marches On ­ Tracy Lawrence
To me this is one of the greatest songs ever written. It tells the history of a family through a couple of generations in three minutes. It's beautifully crafted and would be a perfect vehicle for teaching someone song-writing. Tracy Lawrence's contribution shouldn't be overlooked either, when he sings heartfelt songs like this he is the real done (however, he should forget the up-tempo novelties). Braddock and Lawrence also teamed up for the superb Texas Tornado. Enjoy the Time Marches On lyrics below.

3. Come On In ­ Jerry Lee Lewis
A hit for Sonny James and the Oak Ridge Boys as well as Jerry Lee, this probably more than any of the other songs in this list is here because of the performance rather than the song. That's not belittling the song, but Jerry Lee is just beautiful here. When he's on top form like this even George Jones can't compete. What sometimes let Jerry Lee's country albums down was one or two over sentimental songs, not so here, this is a classic tale of a guy who seems to have been bitten once too often and is scared to get bitten once more but desperate to have the hound back anyway. I'd love to know what Bobby Braddock thinks of this version.

4. I Wanna Talk About Me ­ Toby Keith
Five weeks at number one proves the worth of this little gem. Purists no doubt scoff at this quick-fire, fun-filled dittie, and no doubt question it's country status, but the history of country music is dotted with novelty tracks. From Pistol Packin' Mama to Move It On Over, the country audience has always indulged itself in a bit of letting-the-hair-down. Not every song can be about the serious aspects of life ­ if you're following a mules ass around a field all day, the last thing you need to hear is how life's a bitch ­ you know that. For those who are prepared to get past the "Toby Keith is modern so he must be crap" barrier, there's plenty here to enjoy ­ and it needed someone with Keith's kick-ass bravado and solid beat to get this message across to it's full potential. See the full set of lyrics below.

5. I Did The Right Thing ­ Johnny Paycheck
From 1977, this little beauty sees a man almost tortured by his honesty. All that cheating fun he was denying himself ­ man what a bummer. Just prior to his death Paycheck remembered "That came across good. That was one of my favourites." Paycheck one of a small group of honky tonkers who could take a great set of lyrics like this and make the listener share his heartache.

6. Silent Partners ­ Waylon Jennings
Another clever song with great lyrics from Waylon's 1992 album, Too Too Dumb For New York City, Too Ugly For L.A. George Jones also did a good version in the 90's. We've all had quiet moments with the partner, but have you ever though of summarising it like this ­ welcome to the genius mind of a top country songwriter! "Silent partners they don't say a word / She is the adjective and he is the verb / They speak with their bodies and they talk with their eyes / They don't make no promises so they don't tell no lies". Wonderful stuff. Check out the full set of lyrics below.

7. I Believe the South Is Gonna Rise Again - Tanya Tucker
When I first heard this I wondered what a young whippersnapper like Tanya would know about the mature subject matter here, but then you listen to her love songs from the same time and you get the feeling she was well developed for her age! You gotta believe her if she's says the South will rise again ­ this sassy gal could make anything rise.

8. D-I-V-O-R-C-E ­ Tammy Wynette
Although Tammy Wynette isn't my favourite singer by any stretch of the imagination, there's no denying the brilliance of this song. It's the story of a broken marriage where the couple spell out the words so their 5 year old can't understand them, and if anyone could sing of divorce with such conviction it's Tammy. 

9. Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad as Losing You) ­ George Jones
It was a toss-up between this and Billy B Bad a fun romp from George's recent past. I've plumbed Nothing Ever Hurt Me as it's typical Possum, love struck and tearing up at the seams. It was a deserving top 10 hit and even served as the title track of the 1973 album it came from. 

10. Old Flames Have New Names - Mark Chesnutt
Mark Chesnutt is one of the genuine country singers these days ­ he wears a hat to keep his head warm not because it helps his image! Old Flames, from the wonderful 1992 release Longnecks and Short Stories album is the type of up-tempo western swing/honky tonk hybrid that Chesnutt excels at. I love the line when he gets back to Texas after years away, "I pulled out my black book and called up my old lovers / I got five newlyweds and two expectant mothers".

A few other classics that could have made the list include You Catch A Falling Star by John Anderson, Golden Ring by George and Tammy and Wild Irish Rose and Her Name Is... for George. Happy birthday Bobby, here's to the next classic.

Shaun Mather
August 2005

Assorted lyrics

He said I'll love you 'til I die
She told him you'll forget in time
As the years went slowly by
She still prayed upon his mind

He kept her picture on his wall
Went half crazy now and then
He still loved her through it all
Hoping she'd come back again

Kept some letters by his bed
Dated 1962
He had underlined in red
Every single I love you.

I went to see him just today
Oh but I didn't see no tears
All dressed up to go away
First time I'd seen him smile in years

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

Ya' know she came to see him one last time
Oh, we all wondered if she would
And it kept running through my mind
This time he's over her for good

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

Sister cries out, from her baby bed.
Brother runs in with feathers on his head.
Mama's in her room learnin how to sew.
Daddy's drinkin beer listenen to the radio.
Hank Williams sings Kaw-Liga and Dear John
Time marches on, time marches on.

Sister's using rouge and clear complection soap.
Brother's wearin beads and he smokes alot of dope.
Mama is depressed barely makes a sound.
Daddy's got a girlfriend in another town.
Bob Dylan sings like a Rolling Stone.
Time marches on, time marches on.

South moves north, North moves south
A star is born, a star burns out.
the only thing that stays the same is everything
changes, everything changes.

Sister calls herself a sexy grandma.
Brother's on a diet for high cholesterol.
Mama's out of touch with reality.
Daddy's in the ground beneath the maple tree.
As the Angles sing an old Hank Williams song.
Time marches on, time marches on. Time marches on, time
marches on. Time marches on. Time marches on.

You called me up from Amarillo,
Said you were comin' to town,
I thought I'd like to tell you hello,
And drive an old friend around,
I pulled up to the airport,
Confident and cool,
But when you stepped off that plane,
I knew I was your fool,

My little Texas tornado,
Blowin' me away again,
I swore it wouldn't happen again,
But I looked at you and then,
I'm like a tumbleweed,
In a wild west Texas wind,
You're blowin' me away,

You're lyin' with me in Atlanta,
Such a beautiful life,
You play me like a piano,
I'll always let you get by,
I know I'll go through hell girl,
When you find someone else,
But right now I'm in heaven,
And I can't help myself,

My little Texas tornado,
Blowin' me away again,
I swore it wouldn't happen again,
But I looked at you and then,
I'm like a tumbleweed,
In a wild west Texas wind,
You're blowin' me away,

I'm like a tumbleweed,
In a wild west Texas wind,
You're blowin' me away,

We talk about your work how your boss is a jerk
We talk about your church and your head when it hurts
We talk about the troubles you've been having with your brother
About your daddy and your mother and your crazy ex-lover
We talk about your friends and the places that you've been
We talk about your skin and the dimples on your chin
The polish on your toes and the run in your hose
And God knows we're gonna talk about your clothes
You know talking about you makes me smile
But every once in awhile
I wanna talk about me

We talk about your dreams and we talk about your schemes
your high school team and your moisturizer creme
We talk about your nanna up in Muncie, Indiana
We talk about your grandma down in Alabama
We talk about your guys of every shape and size
The ones that you despise and the ones you idolize
We talk about your heart, about your brains and your smarts
And your medical charts and where you start
You know talking about you makes me grin
But every now and then
I wanna talk about me

He stands in the doorway, his hands upon his hips
She stands by the punch bowl, a sweet smile on her lips
He slowly walks up to her, she reaches out for him
It's almost like some magnet is pullin both of them
Then he says...
And she says...

Silent partners, they don't say a word
She is the adjective and he is the verb
They speak with their bodies and they talk with their eyes
They don't make no promises so they don't tell no lies
Silent partners
Silent partners

Later in their love-nest at half-past ecstasy
They cling to each other and lie there silently
She would like to tell him what she feels in her heart
And he would like to bare his soul,
But don't know where to start
So he says...
And she says...

Mama never had a flower garden cause cotton grew right up to our front door
Daddy never went on a vacation he died a tired old man at forty-four
Our neighbors in the big house called us redneck
Cause we lived in a poor sharecropper shack
The Jackson's down the road were poor like we were
But our skin was white and their was black
But I believe the south is gonna rise again
But not the way we thought it would back then
I mean everybody hand in hand I believe the south is gonna rise again

I see wooded parks and big skyscarpers where dirty rundown shack stood once before
I see sons and daughter and sharecroppers but they're not pickin' cotton anymore
But more important I see human kindness as we forget the bad and keep the good
A brand new breeze is blowing cross the southland
And I see a brand new kind of brotherhood
Yes I believe the south is gonna...
I believe the south is gonna rise again I believe the south is gonna rise again

I left town two years ago and moved on up to Idaho
But swore that Id be back again - Pick up where I left off, oh man
Grown up sexy Texas babies I got back in town tonight
Anticipating much delight
I pulled out my black book and called up my old lovers
I got five newlyweds and two expectant mothers

All my old flames have new names
There's a lot of girls in town
Who tied the knot and settled down
I thought Id start a fire with one of my old flames
But theyve all got new names

My sexy little dirt road sport is now called Mrs. Davenport
My pretty little black-eyed Susies now Mrs. Susan Van Der Hoosie
Rosie who could blow my mind is sister Rose on channel nine
The wildest lover of my life is now a federal judges wife
They dont want to recognize this old familiar face
Im just a bad reminder of their wild and woolly days


Dwight Yoakam:
Blame The Vain
New West NW6075
             When I read a couple of weeks ago that Dwight had split from long time corroborator Pete Anderson I was a bit nervous. When the article also mentioned the new album would feature bongos and synthesisers, the nervousness was really starting to show in my underwear. But after first hearing, I was happy to report that fans need fear not, the ole Dwightster has delivered the goods again. Twenty years on from Guitars, Cadillacs he's still country to the core, with a generous sprinkling of rockabilly thrown in to spice things up.
             Filling what could have been a considerable void left by Anderson is guitarist Keith Gattis, who has covered for Dwight like Bob Wootton did for Johnny Cash when Luther Perkins tragically perished. Blame The Vain sees DY producing himself and he's gone for a hard hitting honky tonk groove that is fairly relentless from the opening strains of the title track through to the closer, The Last Heart In Line. The first single, Intentional Heartache is a hard rocking number. The song finishes with some off the cuff ranting from Dwight. He kicks off the otherwise superb She'll Remember in the same pointless way, although this time he adopts a crappy English accent ­ a strange way to spoil a song. Three Good Reasons is one of those mid-tempo tonkers that Dwight does better than anyone, a highlight of the album.    
             I'm not gonna kid you into thinking that this is the perfect album - far from it. I think it lacks any real killer tracks, there's nothing as memorable as Thousand Miles From Nowhere or I Sang Dixie. I also think the couple of ballads like Lucky That Way are okay but pale into insignificance compared to his earlier classics like Two Doors Down or Try Not To Look So Pretty.
             When Dwight's comes to London in a couple of weeks, fans can rest easy in the knowledge that the new band is more than up to scratch. Let's just hope he plays the classics ­ i.e. he promotes the new Best Of album, not Blame The Vain. On second thoughts, who gives a damn what he sings ­ just strut your stuff Dwight ­ I can't wait.
Shaun Mather
June 2005

From Don McLeese...
When Dwight Yoakam burst onto the charts with his first album in 1986, he was the young honky tonk firebrand who set out to remind Nashville of its noble past and celebrate the accomplishments of Bakersfield heroes such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. The irony is that nearly 20 years later, Yoakam is in pretty much the same boat as the artists he championed in the 1980s ‹ he's a respected veteran of the country scene who still has a loyal audience but lost the interest of the major labels and isn't drawing the attention he used to get. But if any of this troubles him, you'd never guess to listen to 2005's Blame the Vain, which is his sharpest and liveliest set in some time. With Yoakam producing himself for a change without the help of longtime studio partner Pete Anderson, Blame the Vain also finds him fronting a new band anchored by guitarist Keith Gattis, and the new blood seems to have done wonders for Yoakam ‹ while he wasn't exactly in a slump, Blame the Vain boasts a sharper and more energetic approach than his last several efforts, with "Just Passin' Time," "Three Good Reasons," and the title cut revealing that Yoakam is still a honky tonk man supreme. Elsewhere, the whacked-out intro to "She'll Remember" and the ad-libbed final rant on "Intentional Heartache" show Yoakam's firmly in touch with his inner goofball weirdo, the songwriting is both literate and down-home in the manner of his best work, and he sings up a storm from front to back. Two decades into his career, Dwight Yoakam is still the man who is too country for Nashville, and on Blame the Vain he shows he's got too much strength and soul to let anyone hold him down ‹ this is inspired stuff from a rebel who still has plenty to offer.
             This is Dwight's first album without his long time collaborator, producer and friend Pete Anderson. It has received A LOT of critical praise in the US and Dwight himself has said he has found a sense of excitement in music he has rarely experienced since he kick started the New-Traditionalist Country scene in the 80's.
             It IS a good album, no doubt about it, but then so was his last, "Population Me" and anyone expecting a radical departure will not find it here. The songs are well crafted and this will almost ceratinly rank as one of Dwight's better albums, but it isn't a new direction as much as an assured and spirited serving of what Dwight does so well.
             If you like Dwight, but have felt some of his albums miss the mark, you can probably buy this without a worry - it's a very fine record. If you don't own any Dwight at all - maybe kick off with "Guitars, Cadillacs...", "Population Me" or (even though it pains me to recommend a compilation) his "Greatest Hits" album. Dwight is a real thoroughbred, you will not be disappointed.
             Dwight Yoakam occupies a singular position in contemporary country. No artist has better balanced mainstream commercial success with artistic, alt-country credibility, while somehow managing to embody both the music's most traditional and its most progressive impulses. Blame the Vain marks a milestone for Yoakam as his first self-produced effort since splitting with producer/guitarist/bandleader Pete Anderson. While the material seems to document the end of a relationship and the hope for romantic renewal, there's a freewheeling playfulness to the arrangements--the bongo-driven, rock & roll urgency of "International Heartache," the faux British accent and synthesizer intro on "She'll Remember," the shifting time signatures of "Watch Out." The tear-in-your-beer balladry of "Lucky That Way" and "Does It Show" should satisfy those who take their honky-tonk straight, no chaser, while the homage paid to timeless Roy Orbison ("Just Passin' Time"), early Johnny Cash ("I'll Pretend") and later Elvis Presley ("When I First Came Here") attests to the range and richness of Yoakam's artistry. He may no longer have the hits like he once did, but he hasn't lost the vision. --Don McLeese
             From the Artist: "There's a lot of Reckless joy on this album," says Dwight Yoakam, "we never left a session that wasn't flat out fun."


Country Hits of 1955:
50 Years Ago

             1955 was a strange year for country music. The traditional sounds were still prevalent with the likes of the Louvin Brothers, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Snow, but it was also the dawn of a new era with debut releases for two future giants of the genre, Johnny Cash and George Jones. Nashville was rapidly becoming the centre of the country music industry, with cities like Los Angeles providing less hits to the market, whilst new studios were sprouting in Nashville. 1955 was also the start of country music's biggest battle to date, as the early strains of rock 'n' roll started to take effect. As we know, country managed to withstand the competition and is still going strong today. Purists have remained unhappy with the change in the country music sound over the years but I'm sure that if it had stayed static, country music could today be a footnote like doo-wop or some such.

1 - When I Stop Dreamin' - Louvin Brothers
(Capitol 3177)
             They sang as one as fought as two - role models for the Everly Brothers in more ways than one. Following a long line of sibling duos in pure country harmony singing, they were at the peak of their powers in 1955. They'd had their own radio show for over a decade and had made their debut for Decca six years earlier. By '55 they were on Capitol and this was the first chart entry of their careers. When I Stop Dreamin' is the perfect marriage of voices - beautiful.

2 - In The Jailhouse Now - Webb Pierce
(Decca 29391)
             Webb was one of the great honky tonkers who was able to hide his limited vocal abilities with some cracking songs and a simple arrangement. Whenever I hear this song I always have a chuckle at the thought of our Webb spending time behind bars. I can just picture him sat there with some massive mass-murderer cracking his knuckles while our Webb draws up the design for a guitar shaped swimming pool, in his flashy Nudie suit. 1955 was a massive year for Webb. It was the year he left the Louisiana Hayride and moved from Shreveport to Nashville. He'd only been charting for three years by this time and Jailhouse was already his ninth chart-topper. Between Jailhouse, Love Love Love and I Don't Care he spent an amazing 46 weeks at number 1 during the year. The Opry invited him to join their ranks as they quietly kissed his ass.

3 - Cry, Cry, Cry - Johnny Cash
(Sun 221)
             When this lil-ol-tune peaked at #4, large parts of the States were witnessing the boom-chika-boom rhythm of Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two for the first time. It's impossible to ignore their sound, it was so simple but so listenable. Fifty years later these early Cash songs still sound spot-on, they don't need tweaking, or overdubs. You can just picture JC after the session, sitting in Taylor's Café next door to the Sun studio, telling Mr Phillips that he's sorry about the band's limitations. And how much credit does Sam Phillips deserve for saying, "it's okay son, we can sell it as is". Do you think Johnny would have got a contract from any Nashville label at that time? It was okay for Columbia to sign him three years later when he'd made his mark, but I don't see them taking JC, Luther and Marshall as they were in '55. Hopefully Johnny and Luther are playing for Sam up above.

4 - Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young - Faron Young
(Capitol 3056)
             Talk about singing your life's philosophy. The song is an exciting up-tempo ditty with Faron singing with the exuberance the lyrics demand. The steel and fiddle give it a Hankiness that couldn't fail - and it didn't. It rose all the way to the top, and saw Faron aim at the public's happy side four years later with the similarly peppy, It's A Great Life (If You Don't Weaken).

5 - I Love You Mostly - Lefty Frizzell
(Columbia 21328)
             Honky tonker Lefty was coming to the end of a golden period by 1955. Between '50 and '52 he'd enjoyed 13 hits, honky tonk classics one and all. By this time Lefty's personal life was starting to drift against the tide and drinking was already getting to be a problem. Not surprisingly, he was only to chart two more entries before a mini-revival in 1963. I Love You Mostly was cut in Dallas on October 5th, 1954 and is typical Lefty fodder. Syllable stretching vocals and a barn-full of fiddle, steel and mandolin.

6 - Why Baby Why - George Jones
(Starday 202)
             The tail end of '55 was when America started it's (mercifully) still running love affair with the fabulous George Jones, regarded by many as the greatest honky tonk singer in the history of country music. Why Baby Why was co-written by George and his childhood buddy Darrell Edwards. Pappy Daily took George to the newly opened Gold Star Studio in Houston to cut the record as a duet with Sonny Burns. Fate reared it's head and Burns failed to show-up. Daily got George to record both parts and the resultant single went to number four, despite strong competition from the Red Sovine/Webb Pierce duet which went all the way to the top. I find it pretty funny that George starts his chart career trying to figure out women, and then spends the rest of his social live doing likewise.

7 - I Forgot To Remember To Forget - Elvis Presley
(Sun 223)
             The new kid on the block was still tossing his quiff over whether to turn full-time or carry on driving a truck. His previous single Baby Let's Play House had hit the charts and even the little green men from Mars were talking about his earth shattering stage shows. I Forgot To Remember To Forget was the flip side of the rockabilly anthem Mystery Train and was written by a couple of Memphis boys, Stan Kesler and Charlie Feathers. It's a crunchy, hiccupy number and was justified in taking the future King to the top. The pop charts weren't quiet ready but the country folk down south knew enough to make it a biggie on the country market.

8 - A Satisfied Mind - Porter Wagoner
(RCA 6105)
             With a few misses under his bailing twine belt, the Thin Man From the Plains hadn't really blown into town by 1955. Still based in Missouri he was looking for his big break when he cut this ballad at the KWTO studios in Springfield on 11 September 1954. It hit number one and stayed on the country charts for a whopping 33 weeks, assuring his place on the Opry and the history books. Pure country from the heartfelt lyrics to the sympathetic acoustic backing (Don Warden's steel is mighty fine), it's a peach. Composer Jack Rhodes was on a hot streak and during the period wrote such classics as Waltz Of The Angels, Conscience I'm Guilty, I've Lived A Lot In My Time, Silver Threads And Golden Needles and Beautiful Lies.

9 - Yonder Comes A Sucker - Jim Reeves
(RCA 6200)
             To make the difference obvious between the two Johnny Mathis', one adopted the monikor 'Country' Johnny Mathis. Perhaps Jim Reeves could have done something similar to draw the line between the 'Country' Jim and the pop crooner he turned into. Yonder Comes A Sucker sees him sat firmly on the rural side of the fence. At first it comes across as a novelty from Seven Brides... but the picking is way too good. The sawing fiddle sets the thing off and running, followed some great guitar work from surely Chet Atkins. His playing is a pleasure throughout, as is the ever smooth voice of JR. The record climbed to number four, his sixth top 10 entry in two years.

10 - Would You Mind? - Hank Snow
(RCA 6057)
             An engaging little uptempo ditty that provided proof that no-one can compete with the little guy when it came to annunciation. If his music career hadn't worked out, he'd have made one hell of an auctioneer. He was a regular on charts throughout the decade and Would You Mind didn't alter the pattern, hitting number four. It was a double sided hit with the yearning ballad, Yellow Roses.

11 - Beautiful - Jean Shepard
(Capitol 3222)
             My favourite country gal singer, Jean doesn't disappoint on this drop dead gorgeous ballad. The plonking honky tonk piano is the only blight in an otherwise flawless performance from singer and band alike. Written by Jack Rhodes who was supplying most of her hits at the time, the record rose to number 4 in the summer. 1955 was a year of change for Jean with relocations from Beaumont, Texas to Springfield early in the year, then to Nashville before the year was out. She had four hits during the year, A Satisfied Mind, Take Possession, I Thought Of You and Beautiful Lies.

12 - The Cattle Call - Eddy Arnold
(RCA 6139)
             Written by Tex Owens, Cattle Call was one of the last western hits, a decline which eventually saw the 'w' being removed from the 'c&w' tag. For all it's western ambience, you might be surprised to know that it was cut up north in the big city, at Webster Hall studios in New York on 28 April 1955. As well as a multiple string section, Nashville was represented with the marvellous Hank Garland on guitar and Steve Sholes producing.

13 - There She Goes - Carl Smith
(Columbia 21382)
             The gentleman of the honky-tonk crowd, Carl Smith struck you as the type who would walk the woman home after a bust-up, not drown his sorrows to the sad songs on the neon jukebox. He had smooth vocals but with just enough edge to make him one of the great tonkers of his day. There She Goes had all the ingredients of real country from steel to mandolin and and spent no less than half of 1955 in the charts, eventually climbing into the top 3. The b-side Old Lonesome Times also made the charts, just missing out of a top 10 slot.

14 - In The Jailhouse Now No. 2 - Jimmie Rodgers with Chet Atkins & Hank Snow
(RCA 6092)
             Not that Jimmie's 1930 original needed much tinkering with, but a couple of RCA's big guns, Chet Atkins and Hank Snow and his Rainbow Ranch Boys, enhanced the song to make it more palatable for the tastes of 1955. The spirit of the original is still very much to the fore with credit going to Chet for keeping things simple, using his own inimitable skills to a minimum with some subtle lines. The star of the new take is the Ranch Boy's steel guitarist 'Big' Joe Talbot. Hit the charts in the early part of summer and rose to number 7 during it's three month run. With it's relevant success, I wonder why a follow up wasn't forthcoming.

15 - Sixteen Tons - Tennessee Ernie Ford
(Capitol 3262)
             1955 saw the launch of Ford's television show which was to run for ten years. It was on one of the shows that he sang Merle Travis' Sixteen Tons. The day after the show was aired, the station was inundated with telegrams. Cliffie Stone and Lee Gillette immediately booked the Capitol Towers studio and recorded the song. Carefully arranged by band leader Jack Fascinato, the only part that was off-the-cuff was Ford's finger-snapping, which became an integral part of the song. The single shifted 400,000 copies in eleven days, eventually selling four million copies during a ten-week spell at number one.

Come back next week for 1965.

Shaun Mather
March 2005


Kenny Chesney

I would imagine it's painfully obvious to anyone who reads these pages where I stand with country music. I'm a lover of the old country, honky tonk sound and a loather of the pop sounds that we get fed via the syrupy lips of Tim McGraw and his mates. There's one exception, and I'm not 100% sure why, but I love the songs of Kenny Chesney. He doesn't hide his pop inspirations or aspirations and I think that helps. Nothing hacks me off more than someone telling us they're the next Hank Williams when one listen to their songs tells you they're more akin to Billy Joel.

Another thing that I like about him is his voice. It's infectious and strong and he really excels on the ballads with a fine twang that keeps the music close enough to country to retain the interest. The songs he chooses are without exception, clever stories about growing up and love - good love, not just the ones about love gone wrong. It's this refreshing, good-natured outlook that appeals as well, giving you a warm feeling and a sense of hope. Having said that, my first glimpse of him and the song that I feel is still his best is The Tin Man, a brilliant number that should have set him on the road to superstardom half a dozen years earlier than it happened.

A simple country boy with a friendly aw-chucks personality, Chesney was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1968. He grew up in the small town of Luttrell, TN, the hometown of country legend Chet Atkins. He didn't take music seriously until college, and following graduation in 1991 he moved to Nashville, landing a publishing deal with Acuff-Rose a year later. His signed to Capricorn records but his debut release In My Wildest Dreams came at a time when their country division was disbanded. Despite this, sales of close to 100,000 were enough to interest RCA subsidiary BNA.

His early albums for the label were critically acclaimed and saw some fair sized hits with like All I Need To Know, Fall in Love, When I Close My Eyes and his first number 1, She's Got It All. It was 1999's Everywhere We Go that broke him big, selling over two million copies and a couple of number one hits in You Had Me From Hello and How Forever Feels. The new millenium saw the release of a Greatest Hits package, which included a couple of new numbers, I Lost It and Don't Happen Twice which hit number three and one in the charts.

The two albums since then, No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem and When the Sun Goes Down have lifted his career to a new level. His tours are now the biggest in the business and he is perhaps the ultimate country stadium star. Through it all he's maintained his good ol boy persona and with his "nice" sound and "nice" personality, there's little to suggest that this won't carry on for some time yet.

Kenny Chesney Top 10
1. The Tin Man - One of the best country songs of the '90's. This is country music, pure and simple - the backing has a beautiful sympathetic fiddle and the lyrics and vocals are stunning.
2. Back Where I Come From - The words mean as much to me and my Radnorshire upbringing as it no doubt does to Chesney and his Tennessee childhood. This is what great country (and this is a country song with plenty of fiddle) is about, appealing to anyman from anywhere.
3. Don't Happen Twice - "we sang Bobby McGhee on the hood of my car, made a wish on every star" - the Jerry Lee version I hope! A stadium ballad where you can nearly smell the candles burning. Everyone who's fallen in love can relate to this song.
4. Fall In Love - From his first major label outing, this is another feel-good number with a lovely guitar hook.
5. When The Sun Goes Down - The title track of this years phenomenally successful album is a Buffetesque duet with Uncle Kracker.
6. How Forever Feels - A number one hit record from the "glass is half full" point of view.
7. She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy - the "I hate novelty records" brigade will no doubt scoff, but there's nothing wrong with a bit of a giggle. He's found a hot little totty that finds his farmers tan a turn on - reason enough to rejoice, surely.
8. Never Gonna Feel Like That Again - Nostalgic look back at his sporting youth with beautiful backing and more fine vocals. Refreshing to hear someone sing about happy reminisces instead of wrist slashing memories. I've no idea who plays on his albums but the fiddle playing adds the same sparkle to the songs that Rob Hajocas used to do to Garth Brooks' early efforts.
9. No Shoes No Shirt No Problem - another fun item with a laid back tropical beat and some tasty guitar work. A must have when you're stranded on a desert island!
10. I Go Back - Escapism back to the past wishing time had stopped in it's tracks. Surely we've all been there and done that.

For non-believers, start with the Greatest Hits and When the Sun Goes Down and go from there. All his albums have plenty to recommend them, with highlights not featured above including The Good Stuff, Touchdown Tennessee, Someone Else's Hog, Grandpa Told Me So, On The Coast Of Somewhere Beautiful.... If you fancy a pick-me up tonic on a rainy day, you could do worse than giving Kenny Chesney. He ain't Hank, but he ain't bad either.

Shaun Mather December 2004.


Merle Haggard

MH Presents His 30th Album /
A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today


BGO have really produced the goods with these 2-for-1 CD releases (seven to date, if I'm not mistaken), this time giving us offerings from '74 and '77. Fear not, Presents His 30th Album is as inspiring an album as the title is naff. It came in the middle of a mind boggling run of nine number 1 singles, with the melancholy Things Ain't Funny Anymore being the third in the series. White Man Singin' The Blues and The Girl Who Made Me Laugh could easily been the fourth, as could virtually anything on the album. Although the album isn't revered like albums such as I'm A Lonesome Fugitive, Mama Tried or The Roots Of My Raising, to me it stands up as strong as any of them. By the time an artist gets to his 30th album, inspiration and desire could be in short supply. However, the combination of a God given talent for writing (listen to the variety of Holding Things Together, Don't Give Up On Me and Honky Tonk Night Time Man for proof) and one of the top 5 country voices ever, mean that a decade after his debut he's still contemporary and far from going through the motions. It's amazing how prolific he was at this time - an artist today needs to get one album out every two years, this was Merle's 30th album in ten years. Special mention to Bob Wills' A King Without A Queen which has the swing removed and hardcore honky tonk inserted resulting in a brilliant performance from both Merle and the Hags.

A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today was Merle's last album for Capitol, so understandably half of the album is covers. He could be forgiven for going through the motions and saving his best for his new label, but that wasn't the case. The covers were well chosen and he sings them with beautifully. His take on Jimmy Work's Makin' Believe is the best version I've heard and ol Hank would have tapped his boot to Moanin' The Blues. Of the originals, the title track is another high-class ode to the blue-collar man and Goodbye Lefty is a marvellous, heartfelt tribute to the Lefty Frizzell, who'd died two years earlier. The Running Kind and I'm A White Boy testify to his restless nature and as such are both great additions to his massive arsenal of semi-autobiographical classics.

Shaun Mather
December 2004


Mark Chesnutt
Savin' the Honky Tonk

Vivation VIV01

There's been a lot of publicity about this being one of the years countriest release. Isn't that what labels say about every release? After a couple of listens to this peach it becomes obvious that this is one bit of PR that can't be done under the Trades Description Act. This is pure country music and certainly one of the most enjoyable albums I've heard for a long time. The album cover reminds me of Waylon's Honky Tonk Heroes album and as such is a good indicator of what lays inside.

Just as this type of album hopes to "Save The Honky Tonks", this type of honky tonk music may have saved Mark Chesnutt. After a few ill advised poppier albums, this sees him return in spectacular fashion to the hardcore traditional sound. After some great releases like Too Cold At Home and Old Country, he tried to become the next Garth, much to the detriment of his sound. The new label Vivation don't seem to be so hellbent on getting back to the pop charts and have allowed Chesnutt to cut what he likes. And what he likes seems to coincide with what I like, and I'm a fussy bugger.

The title track is pure country and sounds like it could have been on one of his first few albums. I'm A Saint is another highlight and A Hard Secret To Keep is atmospheric and one of the best songs of his career. Chesnutt's vocals are first class and are beautifully complimented by Larry Franklin's fiddle work. I know it's not pop but surely this could find a place on country radio (dream on), as could the up-tempo numbers What Are We Doing In Love or Don't Ruin It For The Rest Of Us.

Think Like A Woman is fast and fun but even better to these ears is the drinking weeper Then We Can All Go Home. You won't be surprised that Beer Bait and Ammo is a hellraiser and makes you want to go out and buy a camouflaged baseball cap - well, not really, but it's a shit hot song. The only track that doesn't grab me is You Can't Do Me This Way, but one out of fifteen is a pretty good strike rate. The closer is a decidedly low-fi acoustic version of the Billy Joe Shaver classic Honky Tonk Heroes, no doubt a tribute to the honky tonks and Waylon alike.

Let's just hope that sales are sufficient for both the singer and label to stick to this sound, never to return to pop sound. Surely when the dust has settled and his career is assessed in future years, it'll be the hard core country sound that he's remembered for. In my house anyway!

Shaun Mather
November 2004



Arista 82876-63655-2

One of the few mainstream carriers of the honky tonk flame, the great Alan Jackson has just released his much anticipated album, his first for three years. Thankfully the passing of time has done nothing to diminish his stance against the poppier sounds of Nashville. It's still fiddles, steels and good old down home singin' 'n' pickin' - as he sings in the opener "too much of a good thing, is a good thing".

Anyone who likes a rompin' stompin' beer party album will need to look elsewhere, but lovers of the heartfelt ballad could find this album hard to take out of the CD player. He possesses one of the all-time great country voices, regardless of what traditionalists might say. Just because he wasn't plying his trade 50 years ago doesn't mean he can't sing country. He's the real deal. Picking highlights is a bit pointless, let's just say there's no bummers. Actually, there is one that stands out above the others. Dennis Linde's The Talkin' Song Repair Blues is one of the cleverest songs I've heard, take a look at the lyrics below.

The only foot raiser is the Billy Burnette/Shawn Camp co-write, Burnin' The Honky Tonks Down. Does anyone know if Shawn Camp still records? His singles during CMT's European experience were really good and I was amazed at the time that he never broke through, at the expense of some much lessor artists. The album closes with a touching tale of life as the singer, To Do What I Do, recorded live at this years Flameworthy awards in Nashville.

Another superb album to add to his amazingly successful catalogue, let's just hope it's two years not three before the next one. A short tour to Europe wouldn't go amiss either. One show a decade ago doesn't really repay the fans this side of the pond.

The mechanic raised up from under my hood
He shook his head and said, "This ain't good
Your timin' belt's done shrunk one size too small
Those spark plug wires are a little too long
And your main prodsponder's nearly gone
Your injector ports are stripped and that ain't all"
"The torque converter's runnin' low on torque
And that water pump's nearly down a quart
But we caught it all in time so you're in luck"
He said, "I've got the time and I've got the parts
Just give me the word and I'm ready to start
I think we can bring her in for eight hundred bucks"

But don't be downhearted, I can fix it for you, sonny
It won't take too long, it'll just take money
Then he said, "Ain't you that songwriter guy?"
I said, "Yes, I am," he said, "So am I"
And he sat down and played me a song by the grease rack
When he finished singin' he gave me a smile
And I closed my eyes and pondered awhile
And he said, "What do you think?
Now don't hold nothin' back"

Well, I gave him my most sorrowful look
And I said, "This song's got a broken hook
I can order you a new one from Nashville but it won't be cheap
And I know you've been using a cut-rate thesaurus
'Cause your adverbs have backed up into your chorus
Now your verse is runnin' on verbs that are way too weak"

But don't be downhearted, I can fix it for you, sonny
It won't take too long, it'll just take money
And I said, "Hold on friend now I'm not through
I hate to be the one to give you the news
But your whole melodic structure's worked itself loose
It's got so many dotted eighth notes in it
I'd keep her under fifty beats per minute
I mean, that's just me talkin', it's really up to you"

And you've got a bad safety problem with
That dominant chord with the augmented fifth
Just see how dangerously high it raises you up
So just go on over there and work on my car
I'll sit here by the fan and chances are
I can straighten this thing out for eig...nine hundred bucks"

But don't be downhearted, I can fix it for you, sonny
It won't take too long
You guessed it
It may be a hit
I like it

Shaun Mather
October 2004



Various Artists
A stunning tribute album is hard to come by, unless you got this little beauty in your CD rack. Ranking up their with the wonderful Webb Pierce tribute of a couple of years ago, it pays a fitting homage to one of the honky tonk greats. Common denominator between the two sets is producer Robbie Fulks who is turning into the man for these type of albums. He lets the artists add their own steer to the songs without totally losing sight of the originals. Not an easy job, but one that he seems to do with ease. Take for instance the Hank III track, I'm The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised. It's unmistakably Hank III and features all his dark genius, but it's so Paycheck as well. The studio band he's assembled for the project are excellent with Lloyd Green and Redd Volkaert being joined by lessor known (to me anyway!) pickers, Dennis Crouch, Gerald Dowd, Hank Singer and Joe Terry.

Neko Case gives a stomping version of If I'm gonna Sink (I Might As Well Go To The Bottom) Jim Lauderdale guesting on vocals and Joe Terry banging away at the keyboards. My favourite trio are Al Anderson on Someone To Give My Love To, Hank III as mentioned and perhaps best of all, Dallas Wayne with a great take on I Did The Right Thing.

Only a couple of numbers didn't strike much of a chord with me, Mavis Staples' cover of Touch My Heart sounds out of place and I was surprisingly disappointed with Johnny Bush's take on Apartment #9. Outside of those two, it's classy all the way, although I was saddened by the lacklustre voices of both Bobby Bare and Buck Owens. Other golden oldie, and big buddy of Johnny Paycheck is George Jones, who breezes through She's All I Got like the champion he is.

Other goodies include Jim Lauderdale, Dave Alvin, and a great double bass driven duet between Faulks and his Webb co-producer Gail Davies on Shakin' The Blues. Buy this one with confidence, it serves as a great tribute to Johnny Paycheck as well as a damn good album in it's own right.

Shaun Mather
October 2004

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