Archive for the 'Country and Western' Category

18
Apr
20

Dave Dudley “Dave Dudley Sings: ‘Listen Betty, I’m Singing Your Song’”

Dave Dudley specialized in country and western truck driving songs—I had another album by him, at one time, seemed to have lost it. This one’s got funny liner notes by Tom T. Hall, as well as a couple of songs by him (including, “Listen Betty…”). Half the songs are by Dave Dudley, and overall there’s a nice mix of drinking songs, sad songs, and driving songs. My favorite is “For the Good Times”—it’s a sad, romantic one by Kris Kristofferson—that guy’s a good songwriter. Though I do like some of the honky-tonk, truck-drivin’ numbers, as well. The album cover is one of the better ones I’ve ever seen, period—it’s just a nostalgic photo of the inside of a diner with a waitress in the foreground picking up dirty plates, Dave Dudley at the counter trying to get her attention, and a jukebox in the background. Dudley’s got a yellow mug of coffee in front of him. We see the waitress in profile, but her expression looks a lot more like, “Give it a rest, buddy,” than “Oh! You’ve got songs on the jukebox!” Though, in this photo, Dudley is presumably acting the part of truck driver. That waitress, though, she looks like a real waitress, and those dishes look like real dirty dishes, and that counter looks like a real diner counter. She’s holding a cleaning rag in her left hand. I wonder if anyone can name another album cover in history with a picture of a woman holding a cleaning rag?

10
Apr
20

Skeeter Davis “The Best of Skeeter Davis” (1978)

I’m not sure how many “Best of Skeeter Davis” records there are out there—I’m not even going to try to figure it out—some are re-releases of previous ones. If you see one in your price range, buy it—you can’t go wrong—it’s Skeeter Davis. This one from 1978 is on the cheapie Pickwick label, has a 98 cent cover—no picture of SD anywhere on the record! There are only nine songs on the record, which means the total playing time is around a half hour. The songs don’t have anything to do with each other, and the sound quality isn’t even consistent. For all those drawbacks, this is still a great record—in part because Skeeter Davis didn’t do anything but make great music. As far as I’m concerned she could have covered breaking glass and it’d be great. Anyway, this record has its share of cornball old-time love songs, like “Love Takes a Lot of My Time,” and one of those with a lot of speaking parts, “Set Him Free.” There’s a cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” which is song I’ve always found beautiful, even though I’ve heard it more times than my stomach growling—and even though there’s an out-of-control fiddler threatening to set a shit-fire, Skeeter Davis’ voice extinguishes it and saves us all. There are more pop songs, too, a King/Goffin, and John D. Loudermilk’s “Sunglasses,” which is dumb, but no more dumb than the beach, which is where I wish I was right now.

13
Mar
20

Mickey Newbury “The Sailor”

I probably mentioned this before—I heard a Mickey Newbury song on the radio, never had heard of him, so kind of got obsessed with him, then bought half a dozen records—none of which stood up to that song (or the memory of it). Still, he’s an interesting guy, a successful Nashville songwriter and recording artist, without being a big star. I suppose fans of his consider him a big star, but you know, not one of that handful everyone knows—and if you think about it, what’s this obsession we have (in this cultural time and place) with being known even by the people who don’t really care about your art? I guess it’s about money, then, right? This is a nice country record, low key, solid songs, straightforward, Nashville studio pros, I guess, the usual themes. Actually, I’m not listening all that close to the lyrics. “A Weed is a Weed”—yes it is. The cover cracks me up—kind of a half-assed nautical mishmash. It made me think of the one room in my parents’ house that was decked out in a kind nautical, “Polynesian” (influenced, no doubt, by a visit to Disney Polynesian Village), and Tiki bar (influenced by visits to the Kon-Tiki in Cleveland and the Kahiki in Columbus). The closest music they played to country was nothing; I had a Johnny Cash 45, “A Boy Named Sue”—but that was more of novelty record. I don’t remember when I started to really like country music—I believe it was with Merle Haggard. At a certain point I just became open to anything. I can listen to this record, but it doesn’t do much for me. It’s just not weird enough, on any level, to really comfort me in any way. And that subtle harmonica doesn’t help, it’s just so easy on the ears (in a bad way). It just occurred to me that the cover could be the background art for the menu of cheesy seafood restaurant—that made me laugh.

07
Dec
19

Skeeter Davis “The Best of Skeeter Davis”

There is a “Best of Skeeter Davis” record from 1983, and 1980, and 1973, and 1978, and 1965. There may be more, but I got tired of looking in the internet. For the most part, they are the same songs—I mean, the first one kept getting reissued—though I noticed some variations. Anyway, this one that I’m listening to right now is a fine vinyl copy from 1965, RCA Victor, mono, 12 songs, it sounds great. On the front cover there’s nice picture of Skeeter, kind of Olan Mills style, that’s in a squarish rectangle with rounded corners that resembles the screen of 1960s television. It says “The Best of Skeeter Davis” and lists the songs. The letters in her name is each a different color. People could get color TV in the early 60s, but 1965 is considered the year the damn burst. It was often advertised by making each letter a different color, such as with the “Color TV” signs at motels. There are brief, very introductory, uncredited liner notes on back, referring to her as a “vivacious blonde Kentuckian.” She was both young and old at this time (around 34) and was, of course, already a star, with half a dozen LPs, lots of singles, and some hit songs. A “best of” record already made sense.

Every song on this record is good, and I could write an article about each one, but I’m not going to even mention them, I mean, individually, at this point, since they’re all on other records that I’ve written about, or am going to write about. No… maybe should… I’m listening to this again. It’s such a great record… every song is good. It’s like the classic county record of all time. Twelve songs by 12 different people or songwriting teams (including one by Skeeter Davis and Carolyn Penick), but somehow, it’s like every song is a Skeeter Davis song, once she’s singing it. She’s like Sinatra in that way. I wonder if those two ever met. This record would be a great birthday or Christmas present for someone—someone who maybe isn’t already a big Skeeter Davis fan, and you want to introduce her to. If I ever see other copies of this for a reasonable price (or the reissued versions), I’m going to buy them and then give them away as presents. Instead of the guy who gives you books you don’t want to read, I’ll be the guy who gives Skeeter Davis records to people who don’t like country music and don’t have record players!

31
Oct
19

Skeeter Davis “My Heart’s in the Country”

This record has the best cover of all the Skeeter Davis records I own (which is a lot, but not nearly enough of them). It’s a full cover color photograph of Skeeter sitting in a barnyard wearing a red and white gingham dress, holding a baby pig. As cute as she is, the pig’s even cuter. The photo is weirdly cropped, as in it doesn’t look cropped—I’m guessing they took a few, but there weren’t a lot to chose from that had sufficient focus when blown up that large, because, I’m no expert, but I believe those little pigs are kind of squirmy. It’s a great cover. There’s also substantial liner notes on the back, by Skeeter Davis, which I’ll read in a bit. I was going to say this isn’t my favorite of her records, which it isn’t, but now that I’m listing to it a few times, while writing this, it’s growing on me. Skeeter Davis records will do that. The title song (by Larry Kingston and Felton Jarvis) is about a singer who has big city success, but nevertheless, she sings, “My heart’s in the country, on a farm in O-hi-o.” Which, of course, strikes a chord with me, as an Ohioan. She is from Kentucky, so this song is a character, but also her, and southern Ohio and Kentucky do have a border, but it’s not necessarily the one drawn up by The Man. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s the Ohioan in her (as well as the Kentuckian in me) that draws me to her so intensely. This song also has one of those spoken parts, which I’m sure some people find corny, but I love that, especially when Skeeter Davis does it.

One thing that’s interesting about Skeeter Davis is that she had success with both pop and country audiences, which is something she talks about in the liner notes, maintaining that her roots are in the country (and this country music). I’m personally not partial to either the pop music or the country music she’s recorded—I must say, I like both equally—and sometimes you can’t really hear a line between them (but sometimes you can). As I’ve said before, above all, I’m song oriented, so it matters little, the genre or style—I’ll like a song, or not so much. The biggest generalization I make when I’m categorizing music I like or don’t like is the degree of jauntiness—and I’m sure people are tired of me using that word, but it best expresses the thing that often turns me off. (Of course, I’m sure there’s a jaunty song out there that I do like, but I can’t think of one right now.) Naturally, both country and pop songs can be jaunty. On this record, which is all hardcore country songs, we have the jaunty and the not jaunty. The not jaunty ones tend to be sad and melancholy—those are my favorites. A few of my favorites here are “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” (by Dolly Parton and Bill Owens), “I’m Living in Two Worlds” (J. Crutchfield) (not about the two worlds of pop and country—it’s a relationship song—and a sad one). And “Before I’m Over You” by Betty Sue Perry, another in the tradition of losing one’s mind (going crazy, insane, etc.) over a love gone wrong. Of course, there are songs that are kind of in between sad and jaunty, the clever country songs—one here I like a lot is “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart,” by Liz Anderson (I always liked that expression, about eating, and there’s nothing I like better than the tradition of inserting “heart” in every expression imaginable).

These liner notes are Skeeter answering the question, “What’s the country like?” She goes on and on with nostalgic descriptions of the things she remembers and loves about country life—sure, it’s sugary and sweet, but really kind of touching, too—at least to me. My favorite part of it is where she’s talking about mothers and fathers, now gone, their particular smells, and she says, “And they were smells you’d like to smell again, but can’t.” I guess that reminds me of what I like about Skeeter Davis—there is this simplicity, clarity, a kind of innocence, but never without an underlying melancholy and world weariness. It also reminds me that I have this autobiography she wrote, called Bus Fare to Kentucky, which I still haven’t read—I’ve got to read it sometime.

04
Sep
19

Michael Dinner “The Great Pretender”

I bought this record, used, because I had never heard of it, or him, Michael Dinner, nor could I recall any person, living or dead, having the name of “Dinner” (or Supper, Breakfast, or Lunch, for that matter). When I looked him up on the internet I found who I thought was another Michael Dinner, a successful director and screenwriter, still working—but it turns out it’s the same Michael Dinner! I guess he put out a couple of records in the mid-Seventies (this one is 1974) and then no more. Without further biographical information, I don’t know if his recording career died and then he went into pictures (looks like mostly TV), or if he went into pictures, found success, and was too busy to continue his recording career. We’ll have to ask him to clear that up. (Though, of course, sometimes, that kind of stuff is not very clear, even for the person involved.) You also might wonder why he ended up behind the camera, because if this album cover is any indication, he was pretty hot.

He’s what you’d call, I guess, a singer-songwriter, and the music is, I suppose you could call it, LA country, or California country—it was recorded in LA, and the list of musicians is impressive, lots of familiar names (I’m not going to list them, but it includes Linda Ronstadt). The songs are good, and I have the feeling that they will grow on me after a few more listens. Now it’s a week later—that’s the way things go here at the unpaid, under-appreciated, overly-emotional HQ and Center for Misfit Culture. We don’t care much what you think, but we love you anyway. Anyway, this is definitely a record in which repeat listenings are rewarded, and aren’t those the best kind? “Sunday Morning Fool” is a standout. Dinner has a pretty interesting voice, I mean subtly interesting… he’s a good singer, but more than that, there’s something there that reminds me of Willie Nelson—maybe I’m imagining that, it’s not really pronounced—but I hear that.

Another interesting thing, to me—I feel like I can divide the songs up between the sad and the jaunty (okay, this goes for everyone) and I just really like the ones that are a little more melancholy. I often wonder if the jauntiness is not sometimes coke-fueled, and remember, the years I seem to often focus on—early Seventies—is when the coke flowed like bad puns on grandpa-time. Or so they say. Another interesting observation, Dinner’s two albums were called The Great Pretender (this one) and Tom Thumb the Dreamer. One wonders if he never felt quite at home in this world—and that had something to do with him moving into pictures. But really, this record is pretty good (I’m curious about the other one, now) and you have to wonder about him walking away from a career—if this felt like a career to him, anyway. Also, you have to admire his restraint with respect to not naming this or any other record something like: “Dinner Time,” or “What’s for Dinner,” or “(Call me anything you want, just don’t call me) Late for Dinner.” It probably took great resolve to resit that temptation, and who among us can honestly say they’d have done the same.

25
May
19

Mickey Newbury “Heaven Help the Child”

This is a particularly intriguing album cover—it’s a rustic, matte surface, suggesting something real, with a larger than life, full face photo of Mickey Newbury on back, which, while artfully partially obscured in shadows, also exposes pores, divots, blemishes, and misplaced hairs—and remember, this is far before the days of hi-def, when many careers were ended voluntarily, while others just had to say, what the hell, here’s my zits. It immediately says that Mickey is going to open his heart for us. The front cover is trickier—it’s a 7 ½ x 5 ½ inch glossy photo of Mickey sitting on an old chair next to an old lamp in a room that could be a study, or could be a bedroom. This is essentially a cropped photograph, though, because as we remove the inner sleeve, we discover that this is actually a 12 x 12 inch photo that has been framed by the smaller, die-cut opening in the external cover. Now we see the larger room —which still could be a study, a bedroom, a living room, or a rec-room—or is it now too big for a bedroom? Now you can see the expanse of the old carpet, a stained glass window behind him, a couple of large photo albums on the floor, and that he’s wearing cowboy boots. When you remove the inner sleeve, which has lyrics on the other side, there is a smaller, more atmospheric, blurred version of the cover photograph behind—printed on the inside of album cover! You don’t see that too often. What does it all mean?

Mickey Newbury was a respected Nashville songwriter and recording artist who put out a couple dozen records. Even though his music is somber and his lyrics are dark, he’s good-looking in a way that probably appeals to in-laws and pets, as well as people his own age, and you feel like you could leave your kids with him, or would be comfortable in a car he’s driving. This record, from 1973, is not his first, and a company like Elektra doesn’t spring for the die-cut nonsense if they don’t think you’ll sell a few. There are only eight songs—two are three and half minutes, but the rest are long, quiet, pretty, and melancholy. I like them all, and pretty much everything I’ve heard by him, but I don’t know how passionate I’m going to get about the songs on this record—there is an overall flavor of the mainstream—even if it’s not what I’d imagine as “popular.” The other weird thing is there is a dedication scrawled on the large space at the bottom of the album cover in a red pen that matches the red frame around the die-cut hole, leading me to believe that this is part of the cover—yet when I look up images of this cover on the internet, it’s not there. It seems to say, “To a friend”—though I’m not entirely sure—and then a name—it could be Joe, or José, or Lori, or Josie, or even “you.” If you were giving this record as a present, that is not where you’d write a greeting—it’s so front and center—which leads me to believe this was written by the artist, himself. Mickey Newbury passed away, far too young, in 2002. You can find his records. I wonder what happened to the “friend” to whom he presented this record—which will likely outlive me, and find its way into another haunted record shop.




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