2017: A Vintage Year So Far – Part 2

There’s so much good music flooding into our ears so far in 2017, let’s jump right into Part 2 or our survey of the keepers from the year so far. As in the previous post, we’re not going in any particular order neither chronological nor ranking preference. I have plenty to choose from across multiple genres. Here we go!

Chris Stapleton – From A Room, Volume 1

Chris Stapleton’s first solo album, which I wrote about two years ago, was such a huge hit, I assume all of you know about him and know he’s released a new album.  Often an artist has a tough time following up something as big and as good as Traveller, but dadgum I think Chris has done it. That’s all I’m going to say about it now. Here’s his take on Gary P. Nunn’s “The Last Thing I Needed, The First Thing This Morning,” which was a big hit for Willie back in the eighties. I heard him on Sirius/XM radio describe it as just about the quintessential country song in terms of structure and content.

 

Charlie And The Regrets – Rivers In The Streets

Front man and primary songwriter Charlie Harrison and his mates sound at first like a bunch of good old boys from Houston (probably because they are.) But their songs on their first full length album stretch across quite a range of tempos and subject matter. They’re seasoned with humor, even when the subject matter is dead serious, and there’s plenty of depth in the lyrics. Fun songs like “Proud Man” are balanced by the beautiful “Houston Rain” with some very interesting dissonant chords that lift the melody from the ordinary. Band member and frequent co-writer Willy T. adds great work on lap steel and dobro. Best of all, the album is paced beautifully, so even when the mood is somber, it’s never dull.

 

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’TajMo

From a band of young newcomers, we jump to a couple of old pros with Taj and Keb.’ When you consider how much influence the former has had on the latter, you may ask why they’ve never collaborated like this before. Like much of the music on their individual albums this one is filled with blues and R&B that is more likely to make you feel good than bring you down. In short, listening to this album is fun with engaging performers, good guitar playing, and an excellent backing band with a tasty horn section. Music like this makes you want to dance and sing along. As one of the song says, “there’ll be nothing on the radio but good news.”

Here’s a fun look at just that tune with Taj, Keb’ and the “Late Show” Band.

 

Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band

This eponymous titled album features Robison, a hugely successful songwriter just on the basis of the hits he wrote for George Strait, and a few good friends having a grand old time. As he says on his own web site, it’s “recorded on analog tape with no digital shenanigans. Just like back when music was good…”  There are three songs by Bruce himself and others by the likes of Jack Ingram, Jason Eady, Micky Braun and even Pete Townshend. (In a strange coincidence, The Who’s “Squeeze Box” is on both this album and TajMo.)

Even the quieter songs and sad ones like the old George Jones weeper, “Still Doin’ Time” reflect the joy the musicians find in this work. It’s short with only nine tunes, but I dare you to try and not smile while you listen.

 

Greg Graffin – Millport

Greg Graffin is a punk rock singer, songwriter and band leader (Bad Religion) who also holds a PhD from Cornell and more recently lectures on subjects like paleontology and evolution at UCLA as well as Cornell. In recent years he’s developed a solo music career as a folk-rocker influenced by the folk and country rock artists who emerged in the Southern California late 60’s – early 70’s music scene of his youth. He tackles serious subjects like Lincoln’s assassination and the demise of small town America with an earnest, energetic and engaging style executed with excellent musicianship surrounded by a band of merry me with comparable talent.

Ruthie Foster – Joy Comes Back

Ruthie Foster, like so many of her fellow Texans, is hard to pin down genre wise. She’s often listed under “blues,” but she’s also soul, folk, gospel, country and who knows what. Joy Comes Back has a little of everything from the gospel tinged title song to a re-working of an old Four Tops hit, “Lovin’ You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” to a toe tappin’ old time country ditty that Jerry Jeff Walker might do. You’ll probably want to add eight of the ten tunes to your regular playlist.

There’s so much fun in so many of the tunes from this batch of albums. What really unites them is the sense of joy all the musicians involved seem to find playing such good music. To tie it all together in a nice bow…I opened this post with Chris Stapleton, and I’m going to close it with one of his songs which became Ruthie’s kick off cut for Joy Comes Back. She’s accompanied by a great band on the album, but this solo, live performance really shows off her voice and Stapleton’s lyrics on his pre – Traveller tune, “What Are You Listening To?

 

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2017: A Vintage Year So Far – Part 1

So far in 2017, I’ve seen a boatload of new music that fits easily under the big tent of Classic CowjazzR&B, to mix at least two metaphors. In the first couple of weeks of February, I was almost overwhelmed by the number and variety of promising looking albums. About half of them proved to be inconsequential, but many turned out upon repeated listening to be great joys. Subsequently, despite a few quiet weeks, the flow of top shelf music has continued.

For this week and the next couple of weeks, therefore, I will pass along to you my recommendations for what I consider the best new releases of the first third of the year. No doubt you may have heard about some of these already, but I hope I’ve found some you love but missed. These will be “quickie” reviews rather than more lengthy descriptions and back stories. Bottom line: I want you to know about these albums. We’ll start with four:

  • Louisianna swamp R&B,
  • classic country,
  • contemporary “commercial” country with classic vocal chops,
  • and a folk album that is contemporary in presentation yet 60’s era classic in commitment  to justice.

Shiny Ribs – I Got Your Medicine

Shiny Ribs leader Kevin Russell was formerly frontman for Austin based band The Gourds. This amazing group was grounded somewhere near the nexus of progressive country and R&B. Russell’s vision, given shape with Shiny Ribs, took him further toward R&B. His new band came to my attention via my youngest brother and his friends who attend Merlefest every year. Their first few albums had some great and some not so great tunes, in my opinion. With this album, he hits his stride as one of the most fun, entertaining and yet never slick acts I’ve heard in a long time. When a song with as much crowd appeal as “I Don’t Give A S- – t” is not even the best song on the album, well it’s a damn fine, fun album. You’ll have to get up off your butt and let it all loose.

 

Allison Krauss – Windy City

Buddy Cannon, who has brilliantly produced Willie Nelson’s last couple of albums, helped Krauss select and develop a marvelous collection of mid-twentieth century album cuts and B-sides by some of country’s best songwriters. As you listen to her voice float over the melodies, you’ll wonder why they weren’t all top ten tunes like “Gentle On My Mind,” which was one of the few here that were. She’s terrific and the arrangements and musicians are first rate. There are several highlights, but my favorite is Roger Miller’s beautiful “River In The Rain” from his score for the Broadway re-imagining of Huckleberry Finn, Big River.

Tony Jackson – Tony Jackson

Quick – name an African American country music singer other than Charlie Pride. Darius Rucker doesn’t count. And when I listened to the first cut of Tony Jackson’s first album, I thought, heck, I could be listening to Darius or any number of young faux country artists. But then I got into the meat of the album, and I found one of the best country voices I’ve ever heard. Unlike Pride, Jackson didn’t grow up on country music. It didn’t cross his radar until he found himself as a US Marine in the middle east, far from home. Much later after quite a few years as a bank executive, he started singing. Fortunately for us he hasn’t stopped. Although he’s quite facile on contemporary pop country, his real strength is classic country. He tackles toughies like George Jones’ “The Grand Tour” and Conway Twitty’s breakout hit, “It’s Only Make Believe” with aplomb. Another particular favorite is the John Sebastian tune, “Last Call.” Tony proves sometimes commercial is cool.

 

Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway

Rhiannon Giddens proved on her debut solo album Tomorrow Is My Turn that she’s an extraordinary talent capable of singing in just about any genre she chooses. Her voice is rich and able to be both powerful and subtle, sometimes within the same song. She can be blue, she can be gay.

Giddens can also be angry, and she can be mournful. She is at heart a folk singer. Not the sappy variety. Freedom Highway in fact has a sharper point of view than her debut. Some of her songs make you a bit uncomfortable. Some lift your spirit. All of them have strong stories to tell. And her voice compels you to listen, to cry, to laugh, to rejoice in her talent.

Giddens was born a decade after the folk boom.  Regardless, she can certainly carry the torch for the likes of Odetta, Judy Collins, Mary Travers (of Peter Paul & Mary) and fellow banjoist Pete Seeger. For evidence, check out her album’s title song written by Pops Staples for the Staples Singers in 1965.

Okay folks, these are my first but by no means final four picks from 2017’s bumper crop. Stay tuned next week for four or five more.

A Big Week For Two All Time Greats

Last week was truly special for music lovers. For starters, Ella Fitzgerald’s birthday was April 25; she would have been 100 years old. Ella was the quintessential female jazz/pop singer, and a case could be made that she would edge out Frank Sinatra as the greatest interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Her influence on vocalists over the decades regardless of genre cannot be over estimated.

In addition, last week saw the release of Willie Nelson’s umpty umpth album, God’s Problem Child, a remarkable collection of songs that may well be his best in quite awhile. Willie’s output of albums is unprecedented, and there have been times, perhaps every couple of dozen albums or so when he almost seemed on auto pilot. Yet at 83, Willie has produced a collection of songs as vital and fresh as his classic tunes were back in the 1960’s.

Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child

Willie writes and sings about growing old with sentiment but never sentimentality. He can convey nostalgia, regret, or sweet memories in one song and stab you with humor the next. A classic example of the latter is “Still Not Dead,” co-written with producer Buddy Cannon, in which he muses about rumors that spread on the internet not too long ago that the old red headed stranger was on his last legs.

 

“It Gets Easier” epitomizes the former, blending quiet humor with the regret in lines like, “I don’t have to do one damn thing that I don’t want to do, except for missing you.”

One of my favorite tunes is “Old Timer” by the great and underrated Donnie Fritts. “You think you are a young bull rider, then you look in the mirror and seen an old timer.”

There’s also a fine tribute to Willie’s great friend Merle Haggard, “He Won’t Ever Be Gone,” written by Gary Nicholson whom I wrote about a few months ago. These two songs, notwithstanding, the strength of the album lies in the seven tunes Willie co-wrote with Cannon.

I also have to say that in addition to Willie’s great writing and singing, any description of the strength of this album has to include his guitar playing, which has not diminished at all with age, and the incomparable harmonica of his long time sideman Mickey Raphael.

 

Ella Fitzgerald And The Count Basie Orchestra – A Perfect Match (Live)

There are literally dozens of Ella Fitzgerald albums I could recommend. For starters over several years in the fifties she recorded a series of albums focused on the songbooks of the stalwarts of the Great American Songbook from Duke Ellington to Cole Porter to the Gershwin’s to Irving Berlin to Rodgers and Hart and others. The collection is excerpted in Best Of The Songbooks. There are many others including great live recordings and her marvelous duets with Louis Armstrong. I happen to like A Perfect Match, which was recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1979. It catches Ella still young enough at 62 to ignite an audience united with one of jazz’s hardest swinging big bands and recorded with reasonably modern technology.

I’ve had the album since it was released on vinyl, and I always get a kick when I put it on. In researching for this post, I found a number of reviews with a variety of quibbles. All I can say in rebuttal is it won the Grammy in 1980 for best female jazz vocal performance. No singer could swing, improvise of scat like Ella as evidenced by the closing number “Basella,” the opener “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” or the romping conclusion to “After You’ve Gone” as you no doubt saw.  And few could match her on love songs tinged in blue like “You’ve Changed” or Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow.” Her rich voice saturates these songs like honey poured over a warm biscuit.

 

Yes, Ella in 1979 may have been past her prime as a vocalist. As a singer who could convey the essence of her songs and both connect with and entertain her audience, however, she was still at the top of her game. She and the Basie orchestra deliver the passion and punch that make for a concert performance to cherish.

And what the heck… Duke Ellington’s birthday was also last week, so I’ll close this week with one of the most beautiful versions of one of the most beautiful songs ever written. From the 1957 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Duke Ellington Songbook recorded with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Here is “Mood Indigo.”

Chuck Berry And The Birth Of Rock ’N’ Roll

A couple of weeks have gone by since the passing of Chuck Berry, and I’ve wrestled with what to say or to recommend to you. So many people have commented on his death, his music and his impact. The New York Times alone had several wonderful articles including one about his best hits and another about the songs that influenced several of his hits followed by subsequent recordings that were in turn influenced by those same hits. Frankly, I really had nothing to add.

Then I came across an album that is a compilation of his early blues tracks for Chess Records. It’s called simply:

Chuck Berry Blues

The album features Chuck covering sixteen tunes primarily from the 1940’s and early 1950’s blues canon – tunes like “House of Blue Lights,” “Route 66,” “Confessin’ The Blues,” “Driftin’ Blues,” “Worried Life Blues” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You.”

On these cuts, you hear an artist looking for his identity, his own original sound. You hear influences of Nat King Cole, Charles Brown, Louis Jordan, and Elmore Leonard, but also you hear a performer who wants to innovate rather than duplicate . In this sense the album reminds me of the Sun Sessions compilation by Elvis Presley. Both albums fall short in places, but both tease us with glimpses of what’s to come. Fittingly, the album ends with the strongest evidence that Chuck was evolving into something special, a scintallating version of W.C. Handy’s “St Louis Blues” that breathes sparkling new life into an old chestnut. The riffs and swagger are clearly emerging.

Beyond Berry’s guitar playing and singing, his songwriting, especially his lyrics, is what not only separated Chuck from other artists, but also separated his music from everything that came before. He captured the day to day joy, frustrations, trials and tribulations of young Americans in the mid-fifties – black and white – and put them to an ebullient beat that defied anyone to sit still when they heard it. In doing so, he converted R&B, with a tiny country seasoning, into a music that galvanized a generation. In my not so humble opinion, he along with three others were the alchemists of rock ’n’ roll.

Rock ’N’ Roll’s Mount Rushmore

In 1955, the top selling record for the year was Perez Prado’s “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.”  Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” was the only rock ‘n’ roll record in the top 30. Just one year later, as an old song goes, rock ’n’ roll was here to stay. There were twelve rock ’n’ roll songs in the top 30, five by Elvis who held the top two spots, plus another two by the Platters who were evolving from easy listening to become a precursor of black vocal groups like the Dells and the Temptations. It’s hard to describe how revolutionary the change was at the time. Here’s what a top ten hit sounded like before the earth moved between 1955 and 1956.

I was there, listening to radio and records, when Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard hit the scene. Yes, there were earlier artists who planted the seed, and giants like Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner and Bill Haley and His Comets were making waves and upsetting the programmers on “Your Hit Parade.” Ray in particular was laying the foundation for what would one day become “Soul” music. But nobody, I mean nobody, generated electricity and heat like Chuck, Elvis, Jerry Lee and Little Richard.

I’m going to list for your consideration my favorite early record by each of these “big four.” Before I list them for you, however, I first must submit that the greatest record in the history of rock ’n’ roll is by far and away Chuck Berry’s “Johnnie B. Good.” It wasn’t the first rock ’n’ roll record. It wasn’t even Chuck’s first hit. But from the opening riff, its story and the musical way it tells the story define the genre. There’s not even a close second. I’ve heard it at least 1000 times including this very afternoon. Without exception, every time I hear it, I’m over taken with glee; I play air guitar; I pound on the steering wheel if I’m in the car; I jump from my chair if I’m at home; I hop out of my booth and onto the dance floor if I’m at a juke joint; I turn it up, and I sing out loud. Having said that, here are my other personal favorites by the Big Four.  When you hear any one of them, you know you’ve heard rock ‘n’ roll.

Chuck Berry – “School Days”

Next to “Johnnie B. Good” this tune best defines rock ’n’ roll in a teenager’s life, the cure for the humdrum and anxiety of high school. There was a joint right across the street from my high school, The Varsity Grill, which fits Berry’s description to a “T,” right down to “dropping the coin right into the slot.”

Elvis Presley – “Heartbreak Hotel”

This was Elvis’ first release on RCA after departing Sun Records, and it went on to be Billboard’s top selling single record for 1956. It’s a different tempo from most of his early rockers, more bluesy and featuring a tinkling piano along with the guitar. But from the opening line, Elvis’ voice commands your attention, and he never lets go.

Jerry Lee Lewis – “Great Balls of Fire”

Jerry Lee only knew one way to play. All out and on fire. Following closely behind Elvis at Sun, he lit up the radio waves with songs like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Breathless,” but for me “Great Balls of Fire” stamped Jerry Lee and rock ’n’ roll itself as something just a little bit dangerous.  Jerry Lee re-recorded the tune for his bio-pic starring Dennis Quaid. Though not the original, this clip from the movie aptly illustrates the mania surrounding early rock ‘n’ roll and recreates a legendary encounter between Jerry Lee and Chuck. Although Jerry Lee got the best of Chuck here, he’s on record quoting his mother as saying, “You and Elvis are good, son — but you’re no Chuck Berry.”

Little Richard – “Lucille”

The first rock ’n’ roll record I ever owned was Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” and it was soon followed by the two sided “Ready Teddy” and “Rip It Up” along with “Long Tall Sally.” I give the nod here to “Lucille,” however, based on its almost subversive opening with the distinctively throbbing rhythm contrasted by sparse well placed piano single note key strokes, then Richard’s pleading squeal – “Lucille, you won’t do your sister’s will.” Little Richard always seemed on the verge of coming completely unglued while pounding his piano and leading his relatively large band. He was early rock ’n’ roll’s most flamboyant showman and set a standard that influenced a wide array of artists from James Brown to Prince, as I think you’ll agree seeing this clip from 1969.

These four records cover the spectrum from day to day teen life to heartbreak to hot new love to pleading for a departed lover to “come back where you belong.” I don’t think anybody can deny that Chuck Berry belongs on rock ’n’ roll’s Mount Rushmore of the genre’s founders. Who do you think should be up there with him? What are your favorite songs from the launch years of rock ’n’ roll? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Meanwhile… the one and only Chuck Berry with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band still rockin’ and rollin’ forty years later.

 

Departures

In the last two weeks of February, the music industry released a veritable flood of interesting albums across a wide spectrum of genres. I’ve been busy listening to music searching for those albums that I can genuinely endorse with enthusiasm. Long time readers of this blog know I don’t necessarily chase the “new,” but rather give each album multiple listenings to separate the wheat from the chaff. By spending the necessary time on all of this new music, I fear I’ve neglected the first obligation of the blogger – to write.

Tonight I’m taking a departure from working through the new music to tell you about a couple of albums that I’ve been enjoying for several years. By coincidence I’ve revisited both in the last few days to “clear the palate” so to speak when taking a break from assessing all the new music. Both albums are by contemporary artists who took a departure themselves to pay homage to two of the giants of jazz singing from the past. Generally, I question my expertise to write knowledgeably about jazz. Occasionally, however, I come across albums that deliver music that one can thoroughly enjoy without necessarily knowing what a diminished chord is. The singers on these two albums made that leap and showed the true depth of their vocal chops while delivering immense pleasure.

Please join me on this departure. I think you’ll find it a timeless adventure.

Deborah Cox – Destination Moon

Deborah Cox came onto the recording scene in 1995 when Clive Davis signed her to Arista Records. After a couple of years she began to achieve considerable record sales and acclaim in hip hop and dance music scoring several number one hits in those genres. In the early 2000’s she began to move back and forth between her hip hop and dance recording career and theater work, such as a run on Broadway in Elton John’s and Tim Rice’s production of Aida. In fact she’s currently starring in the touring company of the theatrical version of the movie The Bodyguard.

In 2007, she took a major departure from her musical comfort zone and released Destination Moon, a tribute to the great jazz and blues singer Dinah Washington. This was not a change of direction. Rather it was just something she wanted to do and in fact worked on for a couple of years. I consider it a huge success, and it’s among my favorite albums.

First, Washington was in many ways a precursor to the great R&B singers. She was in that second generation of jazz singers who were inspired by the likes of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, yet still wedded tightly to the blues. Although she could caress a lyric, she had a sassy personally and projected supreme confidence. Thus she was an excellent choice for a tribute from someone like Cox. Dinah Washington was a unique talent who bridged the transition from jazz to soul so well that she’s in the Rock ’N’ Roll Hall Of Fame. If Cox’s work brought her to the attention of a new generation of music lovers, then I’d say “well done.”

Although Washington’s biggest hit was probably “What A Difference A Day Makes,” I happen to love her in her “Queen of the Blues” mode covering Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues.”

 

The surprise is how damn good Cox is. Released from the repetitive pounding and electronic rhythm of hip and hop and dance music, she really takes hold of Washington’s songs and more than holds her own with a big band backing her. She handles big brassy uptempo numbers like the title track, classy ballads like “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” or gut bucket blues like “New Blowtop Blues” with aplomb. In the early sixties, Washington herself took a departure from her normal jazz setting to record a couple of more commercial pop oriented R&B numbers with Brook Benton. Cox takes on one of those tunes, “Baby, You Got What It Takes,” interestingly with a more jazz oriented arrangement than Miss Dinah’s.

In this video, she not only sings “Destination Moon” but also talks a bit about why she made the album.

 

As I said, Destination Moon was a departure for Cox, and she went immediately back to her comfort zone. This was despite the fact the her album hit number one on the iTunes Top Jazz Albums and number three on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums charts. My recommendation to you is that you enjoy this great departure by Deborah Cox. And my second recommendation is that you give a listen to Dinah Washington herself.
Patti Austin – For Ella

By 2002 when she released For Ella, Patti Austin had already enjoyed a long career dating from the mid-1980’s working in the contemporary intersection of smooth jazz, pop and R&B with a touch of dance thrown in. She distinguished herself from others in the field with her uncommonly rich and supple voice whose almost natural antecedent was Ella Fitzgerald. I had an earlier album by Austin called That Secret Place, which could have easily been discarded if it weren’t for her magnificent vocal instrument and the depth of feeling that cut through the overly slick arrangements. So when I first saw For Ella, my reaction was “aha, Patti’s taken on a project worthy of her talent.” When I realized it had been cut with a classic big band, my anticipation ran even higher. When I heard the record, I smiled with joy by the match of material, singer and band.

Ella started as a teenage singing sensation with the hottest band playing  Harlem’s Apollo theater in the 1930s, The Chick Webb Orchestra. When Webb died, she took over the band. Her career continued to develop in the 1940s when she mastered singing bebop while with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra. During this period, inspired by Louis Armstrong, she took his scat singing to dazzling new heights. Then she really hit her stride in the fifties with a series of landmark recordings, each focused on the songbook of the greatest writers of the thirties, forties and early fifties – everyone from Cole Porter to Duke Ellington to the Gershwins. She became a favorite not only of audiences but also of the musicians and other singers with whom she performed. She could improvise with the best jazz players and hit any note, seemingly in any sequence, whether in beautiful ballads of when swinging like crazy.

In a sense she became a female counterpart to Frank Sinatra as both built their careers from the 1950’s onward by focusing on the “great American songbook.” For starters that means that Patti Austin’s tribute is first of all built upon magnificent songs. She doesn’t try to copy Ella, but she is able to put her own marvelous voice in service to songs associated with Ella in a manner that is fitting and, more importantly to you, thoroughly entertaining. Songs like “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” “Miss Otis Regrets,” “Hard Hearted Hannah,” “Satin Doll” and “The Man I Love” soar anew.  As with Deborah Cox, I hope you enjoy Patti Austin and are inspired to check out Ella Fitzgerald. (Among others, I recommend her pairings with Count Basie.)

Not too many singers could swing toe to toe with Frank, but then again not too many singers could swing toe to toe with Ella. See for yourself:

 

And in the category of why not…

Hey, I needed a break from country, cowjazz and R&B, and I do hope you enjoyed this little departure.  And while we’re on the subject of great singers of great American songs, the Smithsonian’s 2016 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song was awarded to Smokey Robinson, one of my favorite songwriters. I saw the award concert on NPR last week and was particularly enthralled with Smokey singing Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay.” So I’ll leave you with that – one of the great R&B/soul artists takes on a songbook classic.

 

PS Just learned a few hours ago that Chuck Berry, the personification of rock ‘n’ roll passed away at 90. You can expect more on that from me in the coming days.

 

 

 

 

 

Ian Tyson – The Legendary Canadian Cowboy Troubador

There are tons of country singers posing as cowboys, but Ian Tyson is one of the few who are the genuine article. He was a rodeo competitor in his late teens and early twenties. In fact, he learned to play the guitar while recovering from an injury during a rodeo. For those not familiar with Tyson, he first came on the music scene in the early to mid sixties as part of the Greenwich Village branch of the folk music boom. With his girl friend and eventual wife, the native of western Canada came to New York via Toronto, By 1961, the pair were performing as a duo known as Ian and Sylvia on their way to becoming one of the top four or five folk acts. As their career gained traction, he wrote two of the most iconic, enduring songs of the period: “Four Strong Winds” and “Someday Soon.” Both were recorded by multiple artists and sung around campfires for years and years. Those two songs alone make him a musician worth following.

Eventually, the folk boom subsided. Some folks singers moved into rock like Dylan. A few moved into country. Others returned to folk albeit with a much lower profile and smaller audiences. Ian and Sylvia eventually amicably split up. He returned to his ranch in western Canada. After a brief hiatus, he began to build a reinvented career singing country and cowboy songs from his base in Alberta. By 1989, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.

Of course his exposure in the US was relatively limited during this period, but he did gain some recognition when Jerry Jeff Walker recorded one of Ian’s songs, “Navajo Rug.” This became one of Jerry Jeff’s biggest crowd pleasers, and many of his fans discovered (or rediscovered) Ian Tyson as a result. And sampling his work from the late eighties and on into the 21st century delivers hours of pleasure.

 

 

Ian Tyson – Live At Longview

Tyson always had a warm, extraordinarily appealing voice. He also has a demeanor that draws people to him, making his performances seem like very personal interaction with every audience member. That’s why I recommend his 2002 release Live At Longview as the best play to start getting acquainted with his music from the second stage of his career. The set list is an excellent cross section of his repertoire starting with “Navajo Rug.” And, of course, it includes “Someday Soon” which was a huge hit for Judy Collins in the sixties and then resurfaced as a hit for Suzy Boggus in the nineties. I originally planned to insert the album version of “Someday Soon” here, but then I ran across this clip from a 1986 reunion concert by Ian and Sylvia joined on the song by the lustrous Judy Collins.

 

All of the songs but one were written by Tyson, with two – “Navajo Rug” and “Sorta Together” – co-written with Tom Russell, another wonderful songwriter I’ll feature in a future post. Most of the tunes are connected to the cowboy life one way or the other. As a wonderful surprise, he takes one detour and jumps into a western swing version of the old Rodgers and Hart chestnut “Blue Moon.” All in all the crowd seems totally enthralled throughout the program, and I think you will be too.

 

Ian Tyson – Carnero Vaquero
Sadly, Tyson suffered an injury and illness which severely impacted his vocal chords several years ago. The good news is that after years of treatment and therapy, and by teaching himself how to sing again, he has recovered. He’s now in his eighties and continues working on his vocal recovery, so his voice is not as supple as before. Still it’s warm and engaging, and he’s put it to good use with his most recent album from 2015. And he’s still working on his ranch, a cowboy to the end. In some of his new songs, he laments the changes encroaching on his beloved west.

 

 

Here’s another of my favorite Ian Tyson songs with a humorous intoduction in which he tells the story of writing “Four Strong Winds.”

 
I’ll close the post with what my seem an odd song choice by Ian Tyson, but it’s one that he manages to fit seamlessly into his cowboy repertoire.

Out With The Old, In With The New – Not So Fast!

There will be loads of good new music to hear and talk about in 2017, I’m sure. Yet in the waning days of 2016 and the snow bound days of early 2017, I decided to slow down my rush to the new and spent some time rummaging through the “dust bins” of yesteryear. There I found a couple of albums that hardly made a ripple when they were released in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and another from the last decade that suffered the same fate. Regardless of their fate, all three are filled with great songs and performances, and despite or because of their relative anonymity, they sound fresh today.

Dionne Warwick – Soulful

By 1969, Dionne Warwick had established herself as a singular talent turning one song after another from the writing and producing team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David into sophisticated pop gold. In doing so, she differentiated herself from the somewhat grittier soul singers like Mary Wells, Betty Everett, Tina Turner, and the soul queen Aretha Franklin. I don’t know her motivation. Maybe she just wanted to remind her audience, and perhaps her peers as well, that she too grew up in the church and could bring the soul whenever she wanted. Whatever the reason, she took a one album break from Bacharach and David, and went to Chips Moman’s American Studios in Memphis. Chips was about as hot as a producer could be at the time working with Neil Diamond and more importantly Elvis Presley on what would become the album that turned around the King’s career, From Elvis In Memphis. Together Dionne and Chips produced this mighty fine collection of classic soul covers.

I shouldn’t say the album didn’t make a ripple because it did reach #2 on Billboard’s R&B chart, #11 on the pop chart, and the lone single, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” reached 16 on the pop charts and 13 on the R&B charts. From a chart perspective, it was one of Warwick’s most successful albums. Still, fairly quickly after its release, Dionne went back in the studio with Bacharach and David and resumed the string of pop songs that had been so successful for the three of them.

Perhaps because of her quick return to pop, or because there was no new material on Soulful, the album has been largely forgotten. It shouldn’t be. Yes Dionne was different from most female soul singers. Where many of them range from nitty gritty to soaring, Dionne’s voice seems to float. But the emotion is there all the same. The album cover photo fits the album’s title and the singer, not to mention the Memphis studio players.

The arrangements for most of the tunes are reminiscent of the originals of songs like “I’m Your Puppet,” “Do Right Man, Do Right Woman,” “People Got To Be Free,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and the aforementioned “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” The one major exception arrangement-wise is on the Beatle’s “A Hard Days Night.” The tempo is slowed to a grinding groove transforming the song from a rock ‘n’ roll romp into R&B dirty dance – a very pleasing change up. It makes me wish Dionne had worked more with Moman and writers like Dan Penn to come up with a new batch of R&B/Soul. Why she didn’t is a mystery to me.

 

 
John Sebastian – The Tarzana Kid

How could an album featuring a multiple hit maker, who took a memorable star turn at Woodstock, with backing by the likes of the Pointer Sisters, Emmylou Harris, Ry Cooder, Lowell George, Buddy Emmons and David Grisman, and with songs by some of the best tunesmiths around fail to even scratch on the charts. It’s not as if the output from all this talent isn’t worthy. In fact, it’s a damn fine album.

The Tarzana Kid, released in 1974, contains several Sebastian penned tunes including a couple of covers of songs from his Lovin’ Spoonful days, and a co-write with George, “Face of Appalachia.” There’s a nice version of John’s “Stories We Could Tell,” which had been the title song of the last Everly Brothers album before their early seventies break up. In fact, the great Phil Everly provides the harmony vocals. There are also entertaining covers of Lowell George’s Little Feat classic “Dixie Chicken.” the old Guy Mitchell chestnut “Singin’ The Blues,” and Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo.” The latter was adventurous then because few, if any, white musicians had tried their hand with reggae at the time.

Here’s one of my personal favorites from an early Lovin’ Spoonful album given an acoustic treatment on The Tarzana Kid with the great Ry Cooder backing John on slide guitar and mandolin.

So despite great talent, strong songs and the very engaging Sebastian, the album bombed. Ironically Sebastian had a surprise #1 hit with “Welcome Back,” the theme song for the hit TV comedy “Welcome Back Kotter” two years later. His label Reprise rushed out an album to cash in on the hit, and for my money it’s nowhere near as good as The Tarzana Kid. The point is, this is a really fine album, if you like well crafted songs played by genuine talents in a manner that feels like you’re all just sitting around the living room having a good time. I’m darn glad I found it, and I’m tickled to be able to tell you about it.

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives – Souls’ Chapel

Marty Stuart hasn’t had a hit since the early 1990’s, and this is an album of gospel songs, so it’s easy to understand why the album barely scratched into the top 100 on the country charts and produced no singles. It’s a shame because this is one terrific album. First, forget it’s gospel because it’s really rockabilly that could have been cut in Sun Studios in 1956 complete with extra reverb on the simmering guitars.

Marty was born to sing rockabilly, just born too late. Plus his band, the Fabulous Superlatives are aptly named not only for their playing but also for their harmony singing and their turns on lead vocals that Marty generously shares. I’m not a big fan of gospel music typically, but here it’s the emotional grit that gives the band traction. I can’t get the soulful voices and bent strings on songs like “There’s A Rainbow (At The End of Every Storm) out of my mine. These may be songs of praise, but the performances are country fried Rhythm and Blues as well.

My least favorite song on the album is the first, so I suggest you skip over that one and jump right into “Lord, Give Me Just A Little More Time,” a sentiment we probably all embrace.

Last Minute Shopping For Music Lovers

Ho! Ho! Ho! Christmas is closer than right around the corner, so if you’re looking for a last minute stocking stuffer for yourself or your favorite music lover, I’ve got one recommendation for each of the genres I cover in “Finding Classic CowjazzR&B.”

Let’s start with Cowjazz…

Robert Earl Keen – Live Dinner Reunion

Robert Earl released No. 2 Live Dinner in 1996, and it’s one of his best albums for sure. Makes sense, therefore, that he would try to recapture the magic with a twentieth anniversary reunion back at the scene of the original, John T. Flores Country Store in Helotes, Texas. I’m not going to compare the two efforts, and I’m not going to quibble over the fact that every tune on the new one has been released before, some multiple times. What’s new and fresh about it is the enthusiastic performances themselves. Keen and his band are relaxed and rolling. And he’s brought along enough special guests like Lyle Lovett, Bruce Robison, Cody Braun and Cody Canada to juice up both his own band and the crowd. Here he is with Lyle on the song that started both of their careers.

Very generously, he even steps aside completely to let Joe Ely close the show with “The Road Goes On Forever And The Party Never Ends.” After all, Ely’s the singer who put Keen’s song on the map in the first place. The whole thing’s just damn good fun.

 

How about some good old rock n’ roll?

The Rolling Stones – Blue And Lonesome

The story goes that the Stones were messing around in the studio earlier this year warming up to record an album of new material. To get the juices flowing they went all the way back to their roots and started playing a bunch of Chicago blues from the late forties and early fifties. It sounded so good, and they were having so much fun, they postponed the original project, and in short order, with much of it recorded “live,” they produced this fiery, energetic homage to the music that inspired them in the first place. There’s a cut or two that don’t work for me, but by and large, they did Muddy, Little Milton, Willie Dixon – and themselves – proud.

For old folkies at heart like me…

John McKuen – Made In Brooklyn

John McKuen got his musical start during the folk boom of the late fifties and early sixties before becoming the multi-instrumentalist playing leads on banjo, mandolin and fiddle for the seminal folk/country/rock group The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Over the years he’s indulged his folkie heart with side projects, this being his most recent. He lured several terrific acoustic players and singers like David Bromberg, John Cowan, John Carter Cash, even Steve Martin, and others to a small, primarily jazz studio in Brooklyn. They recorded a serious collection of folk and traditional country tunes drawn from across many decades. McKuen and his friends prove that energetic playing need not not be loud or raucous to be a lively counterpoint to more languid numbers. The result here is a varied lineup of traditional tunes and reimagined newer songs that is both soothing and entertaining. Check out this folk version of Warren Zevon’s bizarre tale of the “Excitable Boy” featuring Steve Martin on banjo and multiple singers.

As good as the music is, however, it’s the recording method described on McKuen’s web site that makes this album unique. Without getting too technical, David and Chesky have been perfecting the art of recording musicians “live”  in a resonant church with a single, specially designed multi-directional microphone, primarily on extremely hi fidelity jazz records dating from the mid-eighties. Everyone is grouped in a circle around the mic. There is no over dubbing or re-mixing later. The onus is on the players and singers to get it right. A note or pluck of a string might be slightly off, but with artists this talented, it usually means a richer reality. While the album is enjoyable on any decent stereo, the beauty of the recording technique can really be heard using headphones. I listened using just the ear buds that came with my old iPhone 5S and was astounded by the spatial clarity audible among the instruments and voices. It truly sounds as if you’re sitting in the middle of the circle of musicians. If you like folk music with a slight country tinge and enjoy immersing yourself as you listen, this album is for you.

 

And, of course, we need a little R&B

Robin McKelle – Mess Around

I first encountered Robin McKelle as a Berklee College of Music trained jazz singer fronting a big band with a lustrous voice in a manner akin to Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn. Turns out, however, that she grew up listening to R&B divas like Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight. By the time of this 2010 release, she had made her way just across the border from jazz to R&B. She kept moving deeper into R&B/Soul on later records, but I really like her in the spot she occupies here.

She writes as well as sings, so the album is a mix of originals like the title song – a nod to Ray Charles’ first hit with a similar name – and R&B standards like Ray’s “Lonely Avenue.” McKelle’s approach is more R&B than jazz, but the musicians are primarily drawn from jazz circles. The result is a refreshing take on time tested material. And yes, you can dance to it, if you like.
I guess no list of mine can be complete without a Texas bred country singer.

Leon Russell – Hank Wilson’s Back

When I read a few weeks ago about the death of multi-talented singer, musician, band leader, producer, arranger Leon Russell, I dusted off an LP I hadn’t listened to in so long I’d all but forgotten about it. In 1973, Russell took a brief detour on his road to rock and pop stardom to assume the persona of country honky tonker Hank Wilson. Only someone like Russell, who combined giant talent with Oklahoma roots, could pull off something like this. In fact I remember thinking it was all a parody when I first saw the album cover. When I put it on the turntable, however, I found “Hank Wilson” to be as genuine as the songs he chose. Russell put as much love as talent into a collection of classics from Hank Williams, George Jones, Leadbelly, Johnny Horton, Bill Monroe and on and on. The best part is, these performances and these songs stand up as tall today as they did 43 years ago. It’s clear everybody involved has chops galore, and they’re having a blast.

 

This close to Christmas, I have to include one song of the season. I heard this young artist Friday night on Sirius/XM’s broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry. I think you’ll agree William Michael Morgan is a new talent to watch when you hear what he does with “White Christmas.” Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year to all.

 

Smokey And The O’Jays Live From Darryl’s House

I’ve been spending the last ten days enjoying Thanksgiving with my daughter and her family in Southern California. Hope you’ve had a good holiday as well. Yesterday we experienced something rather rare in these parts, a drenching rainy afternoon. Stuck unexpectedly indoors, I spent some time on line where I stumbled upon several fabulous videos on YouTube of the O’Jays and Smokey Robinson performing with Darryl Hall’s great band. What a cool way to while a way the hours.

In keeping with the holiday spirit, I’m of course thankful for the O’Jays’ marvelous singing and for the genius of Smokey, perhaps the greatest dual threat singer/songwriter of them all. Beyond that, I must add my thanks for Darryl Hall instigating his great series “Live From Darryl’s House.” It’s a remarkable feat brining Darryl and his great band together with artists and groups spanning every living generation and a fairly wide musical spectrum. Linking them are soulful approaches to music through which Hall manages to find linkages to R&B that give all the sessions a spirited groove. Every musician and singer in the room seems to be having a ball.

The O’Jays set, recorded this year, can be seen in its entirety which runs just under 50 minutes. It’s thrilling all the way through. You can also just check out single songs like this one – my personal favorite form the groups days on Philadelphia International.

 

 

Smokey Robinson and Darryl Hall are connected much more closely than many people realize. One of Hall’s earliest professional gigs before he teamed up with John Oates was a vocal group called the Temptones which was patterned after the Temptations. He met Smokey during joint gigs at Philly’s Uptown theater. Unlike with The O’Jays, I did not find one video covering the entire session, but if you search you’ll find numerous videos from the day. Here’s one that eases from Hall and Oates’ “Sara Smile” to Smokey’s classic “Ooh Baby Bay.” Smokey generously lets Darryl take the lead through most of the second song, yet he still manages to hit the best notes. It’s beautiful work together.

 

 

And for the “what the heck”file, Hall seemed to surprise Smokey by going way back to one of his earliest tunes. Great to enjoy with your leftover turkey and dressing sandwich.

 

 

 

It All Starts With The Song

“Everything worth doing takes time. You have to write a hundred bad songs before you write one good one.” Bob Dylan, interview with The Telegraph’s Edna Gunderson, 10/29/16.

I’ve spent more hours than I care to count over the last few weeks listening to new releases, especially in the Americana vein, that start out with great promise – I like the singer’s voice and the arrangements and the playing of the musicians. But when the album is over there just isn’t any song that I want to hear again. Not just don’t want to hear it right away, but I don’t particularly care if I ever hear any of them again. Since most Americana albums feature singers who write their own material, I want them to consider Dylan’s comment carefully.

There have been many terrific singer-songwriters over the years, who have the good sense to know they need to look farther afield to find really good material. Songwriters as good as Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Smokey Robinson, Ray Charles and even Guy Clark, to name just a few, have been willing to include songs by other writers whose work fits their voice and persona. Because my children read this blog, I’ll put an old “locker room” saying in a different form – those artists know you have to have real chicken to make good chicken salad. Their repertoires and our pleasure were enhanced as a result.

Last week the CMA Awards show featured a retrospective of award winning records and artists over it’s fifty year history. I was struck by the high quality of the songs, whether they were performed by the original artist or one of country’s contemporary stars. One of the beefs I have with commercial country music today is not that the singers aren’t talented, it’s that the songs are so weak and all sound the same. I’ve heard what some of these singers could do with some of country’s great songs.

Vince Gill, another songwriter who readily augments his material with songs by other writers, in an interview about new artists in the Raleigh News and Observer, 11/4/16, concluded by saying…

“At the end of the day…The song he’s singing is either good, or it isn’t.”

So this post is dedicated to great songs, or more specifically this week, great country songs. I have assembled four terrific albums of cover songs by four great singers, two men and two women. The songs covered run the gamut of country music. Most were hits by other artists from the 1940’s through the 1980’s. A few of these songs became hits again for these four artists.

Instead of discussing each album, I will simply list the songs and their writers because that’s where I want to shine the spotlight. The talent of the original singers helped make these song hits, but as these albums demonstrate, a great song could be a hit for any number of singers. This week is all about cerebrating great songwriting while enjoying some really fine singing. I hope you’ll make a mental note of these songwriters’ names, and look for them on other records. You’ll be rewarded with good music.

Alan Jackson – Under The Influence

A collection of songs – some hits some album tracks – that influenced Alan and were part of his repertoire when he first started learning his craft in small honky tonks and dive bars.

“Pop A Top” by Nat Stuckey, original hit by Jim Ed Brown.

“Farewell Party” by Lawton Williams, original hit by Gene Watson.
“Kiss An Angel Good Morning” by Ben Peters, original hit by Charley Pride.
“Right In The Palm Of Your Hand” by Bob McDill, originally recorded by Mel McDaniel.
“The Blues Man” written and recorded by Hank Williams, Jr.
“Revenooer Man” by Johnny Paycheck, original hit by George Jones.
“My Own Kind Of Hat” by Merle Haggard and Red Lane, original hit by Merle.
“She Just Started Liking Cheating Songs” by Kent Robbins, hit by John Anderson.
“The Way I Am” by Sonny Throckmorton, original hit by Merle.
“It Must Be Love” by Bob McDill, original hit by Don Williams.
“Once You’ve Had The Best” by Johnny Paycheck, original hit by George Jones.
“Margaritaville” (featuring Jimmy Buffett) written and recorded by Jimmy Buffett.

 

 
Martina McBride – Timeless

An avatar for new pop country sounds in the 1990’s, Martina recorded this 2005 album old style, for example using no guitars or amps newer than 1965, in part as an homage to her Dad, who led a country band when she was growing up in Kansas. Ironically it became her fastest selling album and debuted on the Billboard country charts at #1.

“You Win Again” written and recorded by Hank Williams.
“I’ll Be There” by Rusty Gabbard and Ray Price, original hit by Ray Price, then decades later by Johnny Bush and Gail Davies.
“I Can’t Stop Loving You,” written and recorded by Don Gibson, and also a hit for Ray Charles, of course.
“I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” by Joe South, original hit by Lynn Anderson.
“Today I Started Loving You Again” by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, original hit by Merle.
“You Ain’t Woman Enough” written and recorded by Loretta Lynn.
“Once A Day” by Bill Anderson, original hit by Connie Smith.
“Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” by Harlan Howard, original hit by Charlie Walker.
“I Don’t Hurt Anymore” by Jack Rollins and Don Robertson, original hit by Hank Snow.
“True Love Ways” by Buddy Holly and Norman Petty, originally recorded by Holly but not a hit until released by Peter and Gordon.
“’Til I Can Make It On My Own” by George Richey, Billy Sherrill and Tammy Wynette, original hit by Tammy.

“I Still Miss Someone” (featuring Dolly Parton) by Johnny Cash and Roy Cash, Jr., original recording by Johnny.
“Heartaches By The Number” (featuring Dwight Yoakam) by Harlan Howard, original hit by Ray Price.
“Satin Sheets” by John Volinkaty, original hit by Jeanne Pruitt.
“Thanks A Lot” by Eddie Miller and Don Sessions, original hit by Ernest Tubb.
“Love’s Gonna Live Here” written and recorded by Buck Owens.
“Make The World Go Away” by Hank Cochran, original hit by Eddy Arnold.
“Help Me Make It Through The Night” by Kris Kristofferson, original hit by Sammi Smith.

Most far out story behind the song goes to Satin Sheets. Volinkaty was a Minneapolis factory worker who had never written a song before he got the idea while grocery shopping. He mailed a tape to Jeannie Pruitt who actually took the time to listen to an unsolicited tape. She polished it up, without taking any songwriting credits, recorded it, promoted it herself when her record company thought it was “too country”, and took it to number one.

 
Patty Loveless – Sleepless Nights

Patty was motivated to sing the music she grew up singing in her family’s kitchen. She wanted to bring them to the attention of the contemporary audience in 2008 when the album was released. “I want to inspire and remind people of what country is made of,” she said at the time.

“Why Baby Why” by Darrell Edwards and George Jones, original hit by Jones.
“The Pain Of Loving You” written and recorded by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner.
“He Thinks I Still Care” by Dickey Lee, original hit by George Jones.
“Sleepless Nights” (featuring Vince Gill) by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, original hit by the Everly Brothers.
“Crazy Arms” by Ralph Mooney and Chuck Seals, original hit by Ray Price.

“There Stands The Glass” by Audrey Greisham, Russ Hull and Mary Jean Shurtz, original hit by Webb Pierce.
“That’s All It Took” (featuring Jed Hughes) by Darrell Edwards, Carlos Grier and George Jones original duet hit by Jones and Gene Pitney.
“Color Of The Blues” by George Jones and Lawton Williams, original hit by Jones.
“I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” by Cecil Null, original hit by The Davis Sisters.
“Next In Line” by Wayne Kemp and Curtis Wayne, original hit by Conway Twitty.
“Don’t Let Me Cross Over” by Penny Jay, original hit by Carl Butler and Pearl.
“Please Help Me I’m Falling” by Hal Blair and Don Robertson, original hit by Hank Locklin.
“There Goes My Everything” by Dallas Frazier, original hit by Jack Green.
“Cold Cold Heart” written and recorded by Hank Williams.
“We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning” by Joyce Ann Allsup, original recording by Carl Butler and Pearl.
“If Teardrops Were Pennies” by Carl Butler, original hit by Carl Smith.

Note: The final two songs are bonus tracks on the iTunes version of the album; they’re not on the original CD.

 

George Jones – Hits I Missed…And One I Didn’t

According to the liner notes for the CD released in 2005, “Most of these songs were sent to George Jones to record over the years. All of them went on the become big hits and, as he’d hear them on the radio, he’s laugh about the “hits he missed.”

“Funny How Time Slips Away” by Willie Nelson, original hit by Billy Walker, cover by many others.
“Detroit City” by Mel Tillis and Danny Dill, original hit by Bobby Bare.
“The Blues Man” (featuring Dolly Parton) written and originally recorded by Hank Williams, Jr.
“Here In The Real World” by Alan Jackson and Mark Irwin, original hit by Jackson.
“If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong” by Max Barnes and Vern Gosdin, original hit by Gosdin.
“Today I Started Loving You Again” by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, originally recorded by Merle.
“On The Other Hand” by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, original hit by Randy Travis.
“Pass Me By” by Hillman Hall, original hit by Johnny Rodriguez.
“Skip A Rope” by Glenn Tubb and Jack Moran, original hit by Henson Cargill.
“Too Cold At Home” by Bobby Harden, original hit by Mark Chesnutt.
“Busted” by Harlan Howard, original twin hits by Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, both in 1963.

And the “one I didn’t” was his own biggest hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, who just passed away in the last couple of weeks. Jones recorded this version twenty-five years after the original.

George’s most interesting “pass” was on “The Blues Man.” While Hank, Jr. wrote it about himself, George felt it hit too close to home in his own life – with references to his reputation as “No Show Jones” for example – to record at the time. Thank goodness he decided to not let it pass again, and got a little help from a friend.

Great music, great singers

As Vince said, the song is either good or it isn’t. Perhaps that’s why the award for “Song of the Year” goes to the songwriter. Reading through the liner notes to Patty Loveless’s album, I found these comments: “These songs are classics for a reason. Not just for what they say, who recorded them, who wrote them, but because of the emotional charge they carry.” And when songs like these are covered by the likes of singers like these, they become treasure to be enjoyed anew.
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