Live In Prague By Johnny Cash

July 27, 2015


Praise be for National Record Day. It is the time of year when companies raid the vault and issue music the old way, on vinyl. That brings us to the man in black.

Johnny Cash travelled behind the iron curtain in 1978 to Prague, Czechoslovakia for a concert of good old fashioned country music. That performance has now been issued on 180 gram vinyl. There is no CD or DVD, just a record album. The nice touch is the red vinyl because the concert was behind the Soviet Iron Curtain.

1978 found Cash at the crossroads of his career.  His famous television show was in the rear view mirror and he had issued dozens of albums. He was about to graduate to revered country icon when he arrived in Prague. In tow was his backing band, The Tennessee Three, which consisted of five musicians; bassist Marshall Grant, drummer W. S. Holland, guitarist Bob Wooten, guitarist Jerry Hensley, and pianist Earl Ball.

For an artist who had hundreds of songs to draw from, Cash keeps it very basic for this concert, as it is mostly a performance of older and traditional material. Songs such as “Ring Of Fire,” “I Walk The Line,” “Wreck Of The Old ’97,” “Orange Blossom Special,” and “Wabash Cannonball” had been in his repertoire for years. It may have been his fans in Czechoslovakia had little access to his current material but other than “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” it is a concert that could have been performed a decade before. That fact gives the album charm as given the many recordings that have been issued since his death, this one is a unique look at his formative years and has a distinct retro feel.

His deep baritone voice is in fine form and the band is tight. His interaction with a very different audience is intimate and energetic. The sound is pristine and if you own a modern stereo system and turn table, it is an excellent listening experience.

Koncert V Praze (In Prague Live) is a fine addition to the Cash legacy. It is a solid glimpse into what his music was all about.

Band Of Brothers By Willie Nelson

July 22, 2014

81xD3Bfd63L__SL1500_Like Old Man River, Willie Nelson just keeps on rolling along.

Now 81 years old, Willie Nelson shows no signs of slowing down. He began his career in the mid-1950’s and released his first album way back in 1962. Now well over 100 albums into his career, he has issued his fourth new studio album in three years under the title Band Of Brothers.

The best part of his new release is 9 of the 14 songs are original compositions making it the first release of mostly original material since 1996’s Spirit.

While Band Of Brothers is very much a modern recording, there is a wisp of nostalgia involved. Nelson is now an octogenarian, which means most of his life has been lived and sung. Songs such as the originals “Band Of Brothers” and “I’ve Got A Lot Of Traveling To Do,” plus his cover of the Gordie Sampson/Bill Anderson tune “The Songwriters” wistfully reflect his journey while projecting an optimism toward the future.

He does not explore any new ground but covers the old well. His music is subtle and lulls the listener into an appreciation. His voice has always been distinctive and immediately recognizable and has acquired a wonderful patina as the years have passed. His songs such as “Wives And Girlfriends,” “Guitar In A Corner,”  “Send Me A Picture,” and “Used To Her” paint pictures set to music, which is something Willie Nelson has always been able to do.

The cover songs have a little more pep and provide a counterpoint next to his original compositions. Billy Joe Shaver approaches country music from a different perspective than Nelson and his “The Git Go,” featuring a duet with Jamey Johnson and “Hard To Be An Outlaw” provides a welcome relief.  “Crazy Like Me,” co-written by Billy Burnette is more in line with his usual brand of song.

Willie Nelson is an American country icon and it is inspirational for him to be releasing so much quality material this late in his career. Band Of Brothers is an album that adds some additional glow to his legacy.


The Garden Spot Programs 1950 by Hank Williams

June 13, 2014


Hank Williams remains one of the semifinal figures in country and American music over 60 years after his death at the age of 29 in 1953. His voice, style, original material, and personality all combined to make him one of the stars of the post-World War II – pre-rock and roll era. Songs such as “Cold Cold Heart,” “Hey Good Lookin,’” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Jambalaya (On The Bayou),” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” have becomes an accepted part of the musical landscape.

Every so often some previously unreleased material surfaces, which brings is to Naughton Nurseries in Waxahachie, Texas.  Part of their advertising was Naughten Farms Garden Spot programs that featured Hank Williams singing five songs in a 15 minute program. Naughton bought time on dozens of radio stations and distributed the show for airplay and hopefully increased sales. No known copies of these shows were thought to exist until the recent discovery of four shows originally aired on KSIB-AM, Creston, Iowa.

Given the age of the original transcription discs, the producers have done an excellent job of re-mastering the sound and bringing it into the modern age. The release is augmented by some rare photos and liner notes by Williams’s biographer Colin Escott.

The Garden Spot Programs consist of 20 songs and four “Garden Spot jingles.”  The shows, #4. #9, #10, and #11 in the series, are presented in order. Given the close proximity of their original release dates, there is some repetition of material.

At the time these shows were presented every week so he would sing a number of songs that were not usually a part of his repertoire.  While “Lovesick Blues” remains one of his classic compositions; songs such as “Oh Susanna,” “Wedding Bells,” “Jesus Remembered Me,” “Mind Your Own Business,” and “At the First Fall of Snow” travel a different road than much of his well-known material.

The programs also present a laid-back Hank Williams. His presentation and patter show a relaxed musician at the height of his popularity.

I don’t know how much more unreleased Hank Williams material is out there but The Garden Spot Programs, 1950 is a fine example of his style and sound outside of the studio. It is a treasure for any fan of Williams or of the history of country music.

Everlasting by Martina McBride

June 6, 2014


Martina McBride is one of those people who can sing the phone book and make it listenable. She has a god given voice that has perfect tone and clarity. She is one of those modern day singers who treads the line between pop and country.

Here new album does not explore any new territory but covers the old very well. She tackles a number of classic pop and rhythm & blues tunes and moves them over to her own style and approach, which is not always easy.

She gives smooth and simple renditions of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Bring It On Home To Me” and then goes in a different direction with a mellow interpretation of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.”

She is always at her best when she keeps the focus directly on her voice. Fred Neil’s “Little Bit Of Rain” and the assertive “My Babe” highlight one of the purest voices in music. “In The Basement” with Kelly Clarkson and “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” are the type of booming songs on which she built her reputation.

The Gospel Collection (CD) by Charley Pride

May 5, 2014


Charley Pride was a black man in a white man’s business. He was a country superstar when country music was almost exclusively dominated by white musicians and fans. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, he sold tens-of-millions of albums and released 39 number one country singles during the course of his career. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, only Elvis Presley sold more records for the RCA label. He was elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in the year 2000.

He has released 48 studio albums but only two contained gospel music. Real Gone Music has now reissued 1971’s Did You Think To Pray and 1975’s Sunday Morning With Charley Pride under the title The Gospel Collection. The material from Sunday Morning With Charley Pride is making its official debut on CD.

Pride’s voice was somewhat unusual for country music at the time. It had a very smooth quality that enabled him to find commercial success beyond country music’s normal fan base.

Country and gospel music have always been first cousins and Pride was able to make the jump between the two forms with ease.

Each of the albums has a distinct quality. Did You Think To Pray has a more traditional flavor as it mixes some gospel standards with newly created inspirational songs. Sunday Morning With Charley Pride has a more contemporary feel.

Did You Think To Pray is a classic fusion of country and gospel. “Let Me Live” was a hit country single release and finds Pride stretching his vocal ability in an emotional performance. His laid back renditions of “Whispering Home” and “Church In The Wildwood” bring these old chestnuts into the modern age.

Many of the compositions on Sunday Morning With Charley Pride were written especially for him. The Jordanaires and the Nashville Edition provide choir-like backing vocals on the tracks. “Little Delta Church” finds Pride reminiscing about happy childhood memories, while incorporating such hymns as “Amazing Grace,” “In The Sweet By and By,” and “Precious Memories” into the mix. “Brush Arbor Meeting” is a nice nostalgic performance, while “Without Mama Here” is and outstanding ballad.

The Gospel Collection presents two unique stops in the career of country superstar Charley Pride. They remain two of the better gospel albums of the 1970’s and it is nice to have them back in circulation.


Complete Original #1 Hits by Eddy Arnold

June 15, 2013

Eddy Arnold (1918-2008) dominated the American country music scene from the end of World War II until the advent of the rock and roll era in 1955. He made a huge comeback during the mid-1960s and continued to record and tour into his early 80s. All in all he placed 28 songs at the top of Billboard‘s country music chart and they have all been gathered together into one set by Real Gone Music and issued under the title Complete Original #1 Hits. It is the word “original” that is important, as Arnold re-recorded many of his hits during the course of his life but all the tracks here are the original single releases.

Arnold had more of a smooth sound than many of the early country artists and so a number of his releases crossed over to mainstream radio, which enlarged his fan base beyond the country market.

Today it is many times forgotten how commercially dominant he was in the field of country music. During 1947-48, he had the number one record on the Billboard country chart for 60 consecutive weeks. In 1948 he sold more records than every pop artist signed to his label, RCA.  Some of these early hits were “I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms),” “Anytime,” “Bouquet of Roses,” “Texarkana Baby,” and “Just a Little Lovin’ (Will Go a Long Long Way).”

As the 1950s progressed, he moved more toward a pop sound. Gone were the fiddles and pedal steel guitars and in their place were acoustic guitars and a backing male vocal group.  His theme song, “Cattle Call,” was recorded with the Hugo Winterhalter Orchestra.

His commercial appeal  declined during the early rock and roll years but he returned in 1965 with the number one “What’s He Doing in My World.” Five more number ones would follow, including “Make the World Go Away,” which was a top 10 pop hit, “Turn the World Around,” and “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.”

The sound has been cleaned up as well as the original masters will allow. There is also a nice booklet, which gives a good overview of his career.

Complete Original #1 Hits is a treasure trove for any fan of Arnold or of early country music. It is an excellent journey through the career of an early American music superstar.


November 8, 2012

Jody Miller, born 1941, began her career during 1963. While she is best remembered for her series of country singles issued during the 1970s, her early career resulted in a number of singles making it onto the BILBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

Her biggest chart hit was an answer song. Early in 1965 Roger Miller had a huge country and pop hit with his “King Of The Road.” During April of 1965, she issued “Queen Of The House” in response. It reached number 12 on the Pop Charts.

Her country material always a bright and catchy feel to it and in many ways was more of a pop fit than her biggest hit. She continues to perform down to the present day.

Find The One by The Coal Porters

October 14, 2012

There is Bill Monroe bluegrass, there is modern bluegrass, and then there is bluegrass by The Coal Porters.

The Coal Porters were formed during 1989 as a country rock band. A move to England changed their musical direction. Now their style can best be described as a fusion of bluegrass and folk music, or alternative bluegrass if you want a label. While there have been personnel changes, today the basic band consists of Sid Griffin (vocals, mandolin, harmonica, and autoharp), John Breese (banjo), Carly Frey (vocals and violin), Neil Robert Herd (vocals, guitar, and Dobro), and Tali Trow (vocals and bass). They have just released their latest album, Find the One.

The band has always been noted for their original material but here they cover two classic rock tunes. The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” has been a part of their stage act for years and they finally got around to officially recording it with a subtle yet somewhat frenetic version. There is also an acoustic take of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which is a perfect accompaniment for the campfire.

The songwriting skills of the members have always been a strength of the band. “Hush U Babe/Burnham Thorpe” is a trip back to the American Civil War period as it spins a tale of the Underground Railroad. The guest musician on the track is the legendary English folk artist and guitarist extraordinaire, Richard Thompson.

The other original songs tend to meander along, with stops at 1960s Top 40, traditional bluegrass, and country, yet are united by the basic non-electric approach of mandolin, fiddle, banjo, guitar, and bass (but no drums). Through it all their tight harmonies support the personal, poetic, and incisive lyrics of such songs as “Never Right His Wrong,” “Heroes,” “Farmers’ Hands,” “Ask Me Again,” and “Gospel Shore.”.

It was a wise decision to hire John Wood as producer. His work with the likes of Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, and The Incredible String Band provided the means for a perfect tune-up for the Coal Porters. The album has a live feel and the production is impeccable, which highlights the contributions of the members both individually and collectively.

The Coal Porters are a band that has found their niche and seem comfortable with it. They have the ability to create material that is true to their musical vision, which is also entertaining. Find the One is a fine introduction to their sound and music.

Article first published as Music Review: The Coal Porters – Find the One on Blogcritics.

The Unbelieveable Guitar And Voice of Jerry Reed/Nashville Underground by Jerry Reed

June 28, 2012

Jerry Reed was a star during country music’s middle period, in between the southern drawl and twangy sound of the 1950s and ’60s and the power pop country music of the 1990s and 2000s. He may have been somewhat under appreciated during his lifetime but he was a guitar virtuoso, a gifted songwriter, and an energetic vocalist with good tone and style.

Despite all his accolades and success, for many people he will always be remembered as good ol’ boy trucker Cledus “The Snowman” Snow from the Smokey And The Bandit film series.

Real Gone Music has now reissued and combined his first two albums, The Unbelievable Guitar & Voice Of Jerry Reed and Nashville Underground. Those early albums established the style and sound that would carry him throughout his career.

His first album remains notable for two compositions recorded by Elvis Presley. “U.S. Male” and “Guitar Man” became hits for “The King” and Elvis brought Jerry Reed along to the recording sessions to provide some of the guitar work. His original take on “Guitar Man” contained a solo acoustic performance that introduced his instrumental dexterity. Likewise, “U.S. Male” contained some guitar runs and a tough-guy vocal. The instrumental “The Claw” was a showcase for his picking abilities.

Country music was very different back during the late ’60s and some of the tracks are a reflection of that era. “It Don’t Work That Way,” “You’re Young,” and “If I Promise” are typical country ballads of the time period.

Nashville Underground contained more traditional country fare and a few tracks where he branched out a bit. Chet Atkins was his early producer and mentor at the time and “Remembering,” “A Thing Called Love,” “and “Almost Crazy” reflected his string-laden foundation that was known as the “countrypolitan sound” at the time.

The centerpiece of the release was “Tupelo Mississippi Flash,” which was a semi-fictional tribute to Elvis. A trio of cover songs found Reed trying to expand his musical horizons. He just rolls through Ray Acuff’s classic “Wabash Cannonball.” He went in a gospel direction with Ray Charles’ “Hallelulujah I Love You So.” Finally, there was a personalized reading of the old folk song “John Henry.”

The return of these two early albums will hopefully help to resurrect the career of Jerry Reed and prove that he should be remembered as more than just Burt Reynolds’ sidekick. If you are a fan of country music, then this is a worthwhile buy as it contains some mighty fine pickin’.

Article first published as Music Review: Jerry Reed – The Unbelievable Guitar And Voice Of Jerry Reed/Nashville Underground on Blogcritics.

It’s Only Make Believe 45 by Conway Twitty

June 19, 2012

Harold Lloyd Jenkins, better known as Conway Twitty, 1933-1993, was a country music superstar. Between 1968 and 1986 he had 40 singles reach the number one position on the BILLBOATD MAGAZINE Pop Country Charts.

Before he became involved with country music he charted a number of pop singles, 1957-1962. While many of these releases have been over shadowed by his country music, one of them was the biggest hit of his long career.

“It’s Only Make Believe” was released during the late summer of 1958 and went on to spend two weeks in the number one position. It was very close to a rockabilly sound but had a pop sheen. The song has since been covered by dozens of artists.