Reviews by Mel Hague

DEANA CARTER - “I’M JUST A GIRL” Gravity/Arista Records
It’s been over five years since Deana Carter came on the scene with the cracking album DID I SHAVE MY LEGS FOR THIS? which spawned the award winning single STRAWBERRY WINE and went on to sell over five million units. Her success with Did I Shave My legs For This was so great that Cledus Judd brought out a comic mickey-take album and titled it, Did I Shave My back For This? They say that imitation, serious or comic, is the sincerest form of flattery, it certainly tells you that you’ve scored - in spades.
Fifty minutes through thirteen tracks makes this a very good value-for-money album, but where do you put it? It ain’t country, ok bits of it are, but bits of it are rock/pop and other bits are very folky and some bits quite bluesy. Let’s just say it’s a good music album - a good Deana Carter music album. My copy is a penny-pinching white label job with very little information so, although I know Carter is a songwriter, I don’t know how many of the songs she wrote or which ones so I can’t pass on that, to me, very important information.
Dwight Yoakam joins her on Waiting For Your World, in fact he mostly takes over the track, he certainly makes a terrific contrast to her whispery voice. But make no mistake, this gal can belt it out, some of our female popstars could learn a thing or two, buy the album and listen and study the last track, Girl’s Night and you’ll know what I mean. I wouldn’t normally bother with an album like this, but Carter’s voice has a compelling quality that draws me back. I’ve played this album three times in two days and that’s a lot for me. Good ‘un.

What the hell is going on? It’s not my birthday - that was last month. But this is the third album I’ve reviewed today that I actually like and I generally like about one in five or less. It’s the first commercial recording Johnny’s kid has made in ten years. The album was started in ’93 and then she fell pregnant and lost her voice. The album was shelved while ‘Jake’ was born, but there was no re-birth of her voice for several years, she could barely speak for two and half years. She had to re-assess her self as a person without the singing voice she’d had for many years; the voice that had produced eleven #1 singles for her. She fell back on her writing career of articles and short stories for magazines.
Towards the back end of 2000 her voice re-emerged and work began again on the album with eight of her own songs including the very tasty September When It Comes, which she co-wrote with husband/producer John Leventhal. Old Golden Throat joins her on this song about mortality and reaching and coping with the September of your life. Johnny Cash is there and certainly sounds like it, but it’s a dignified old voice he puts over, now accepting the frailty and using it with the skill he’s developed over the years. Devout Johnny Cash fans will weep and cherish this recording and so they should.
Sheryl Crow and Steve Earle come in on Beautiful Pain and I’ll Change For You respectively adding to what is an absolute cracking album. It’s not country, but I won’t even attempt to put it in a box, it’s just good music and if you like good music then sport a few quid for this and give your senses a treat.
Another good ‘un. Good grief! Where has all the Nashville pap gone to?

PINMONKEY - PINMONKEY Gravity Records - 74321 966702
This is the first country record that has really held my attention in quite some time. The blend of country rock vocals with bluegrass harmonies, acoustic grass instruments and pop/rock drums mixed in with the band and not bang up front in-yer-face, but retaining that modern drive has really worked. These guys are riding the big wave and if they can keep the pot boiling they stand a good chance of crossing all the borders and being around for a very long time.
The guys are all unknown to me and are as follows: Chad Jeffers on guitar, banjo, dobro, lap steel guitar and harmony vocals, Michael Jeffers on bass, Rick Schell on guitar, drums, percussion and harmony vocals and finally: Michael Reynolds on guitar and lead vocals and can this boy sing, terrific voice and spot-on diction. A real treat to listen to his vocalising and he’s supported by brilliant harmonies that are both traditional and modern. Reynolds also contributes two songs from his own pen: Jar Of Clay and The Longest Road, both of which stand up shoulder to shoulder with the other nine. Dolly Parton joins them on harmony vocals on her song Falling Out Of Love With Me and blends in beautifully. Ricky Scaggs jumps in on mandolin on Augusta and is he voice from the past or what? With this new country-grass revival going on it would be great to hear some of the same from old Scaggsy. If this is a taste of the future of country music then bring it on and give me more, give me more, give me more.

MJ Music - MJMCDDB02
This year Darren walked away with the album of the year in the British Country Music Radio Awards sponsored by Southern Country magazine. I don’t know what the opposition was, as I don’t get Southern Country sent to me anymore but I can say that this album is certainly an award winner of some description.
It was recorded at Mervyn J Futter’s studio, which is somewhere out in the wilds of East Anglia but it’s certainly not a hicksville recording. I was quite impressed and I’m not that easy to impress, as most of you know who read my ramblings in the various publications that accept them.
Wayne Golden is a new name to me but he’s a very talented chap contributing drums on most tracks, all the guitars, vocal harmonies and the song arrangements as well as responsibility for the production. The production is very good, as good as any British album I’ve heard in the last few years and Darren is in pretty fine fettle on the vocals, in fact I think Mervyn has actually given a little more body to his voice than what you hear live on stage, which is good. He struggles a little with the top notes but I’m sure his fans won’t notice that too much and it’s only a little bit here and there. Maybe I’m being hypercritical but as a singer myself I notice these things. Overall though the album is very sound vocally, I've never heard him better.
Wayne and Maria Futter handle the harmonies, which are quite complex at times; I especially like their work on THIS HEART, cracking track. There’s a good selection of songs, mainly ballads, which Darren handles best and some classy writers like Bob McDill, Hal Ketchum, Bill Anderson, Rodney Crowell, Merle Haggard and Eddy Raven contribute some excellent songs and that Golden geezer again, he chucked in a couple too. He’s like a bucket of water chucked on a bathroom floor - he gets everywhere. A couple of nice songs though - credit where credit’s due.
This album should do extremely well with all Darren’s fans to draw on and the Album Of The Year Award to boost both sales and Darren’s reputation, a definite winner. Top drawer stuff and well worth the coin, I just wish he hadn’t dredged up American Trilogy to make it 14 tracks through nearly 50 minutes, 13 tracks would have been enough for me but maybe Darren’s superstitious. Just kidding.

Lyle Lovett is a ‘love him’ or ‘hate him’ kind of performer, singer, songwriter, actor the same tags still apply. I have mixed feelings about him; I’ve enjoyed some of his stuff and been quite indifferent about some other offerings. The one thing I definitely like about him is the distinction in his voice, love him or loath him you have no difficulty picking him out and that goes a long way with me. Too many of the new guys are indistinguishable one from the other, the gals are pretty much the same.
I really enjoyed his last album, Anthology Vol. 1 Cowboy Man but this new album; Smile is not in the same league. Of course Anthology was close to a country album and Smile couldn’t be any further away. It’s basically songs from movies and he uses his Large Band like a hotel lounge jazz band and they certainly play the hell out of some of the songs and Lovett sounds quite good on some and pretty dismal on others. The opening track is Blue Skies which I thought was awful but I really enjoyed the second track, Straighten Up And Fly Right which leaned a little toward western swing which is definitely more Lovett’s bag. Some tracks are all right but that’s not good enough for a so-called star of his calibre. His version of Mack The Knife was plain garbage but then I always compare anyone’s version of Mack to the epitome of perfection in Bobby Darin’s brilliant hit of some four decades ago.
I don’t know who the hell Keb Mo is but he duets with Lovett on Till It Shines and I have to say that is a good track. I’m not a gospel fan and track eleven, Pass Me Not with George Duke is a nowhere offering but I’m A Soldier In The Army Of The lord is an absolute cracker. I would venture to say that Straighten Up And Fly Right and Soldier are worth the price of the album if you’re a Lovett fan. If you’re a jazz fan they’ll probably drive you up the wall.
As a country music reviewer, I don’t know why I’m writing about this oddball album but I suppose because Willie Nelson did this kind of thing twenty years ago the promoters figured I should take it on board. Halfway through Blue Skies I nearly tossed it in the bin but I’m glad I listened through it if only for Till It Shines, Fly Right and Soldier. I would advise you to listen before you shell out those hard-earned beans on this strange disc.

Hands up all those who remember Faron Young - yea I thought so, hardly anybody, well you’d have to be 50+ to have even heard of him being as his last really big hit was It’s Four In The Morning in 1971, which happens to be missing from this album. Of course it's an album of country standards not a Faron Young hits collection but even so I would have thought that Four In The Morning would have been classed as a standard by now and certainly its inclusion would have greatly helped to sell the album.
The collection sounds pretty dated by today’s standards but then most of the songs go back to the 50s and 60s when the Hillbilly Heartthrob was going as strong as any of that era. It’s a time capsule from a time when country music was at its best. You only have to listen to the Willie Nelson hit Hello Walls, which Young very nearly made his own, to know that this was a great era for country music and the music that turned on 90% of the country fans around today - line dancers excepted.
The obligatory Hank Williams songs are here with Young giving us his pristine version of I Can’t Help It, Your Cheatin’ Heart and Hey Good Lookin’ and he does a slightly Latin American version of Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes, which is totally different from the George Jones offering on his album. Faron Young’s star faded in the eighties and sadly he took his own life when he found he couldn’t cope with loss of fame and fortune.
Cracking stuff from a great country artist and you won’t need a mortgage for the purchase.

Ain’t it marvellous, the majors don’t want him on their roster but they’ll put out his old stuff. I guess we should be thankful for these small mercies and 22 tracks for £6.99 is certainly easy on the pocket. In Jones’s early career he recorded a lot of Hank Williams stuff and there are no less than four of Hank’s best on here along with a couple of Bob Wills’, a Roy Acuff and even Johnny Cash’s Give my Love to Rose, which I wasn’t too impressed with, a bit too melodic for me having grown up with the Cash version.
She Thinks I Still Care and The Race Is On are a couple of his chart hits and there is a wonderful version of Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes, which was a country hit before it became a pop hit back in the 50s. It’s a very good mixture and if you’re a recent Jones fan and want to hear his early stuff then this little bargain is an ideal addition to your collection.
Jonesy was born in 1931 and at 72 he is still recording today and still making great country music despite being shunned by the major labels and country radio in general. He’ll always have fans in the UK and most programmers will find a slot for him on country radio because we still love real country music.

First of all I do not claim to be any kind of an expert on Line Dancing, they haven’t written a line dance for two left feet and a walking stick, but please don’t concern yourself, I do not feel left out, or right out, or - whatever. This is a re-release at the bargain price of £6.99 for 20 tracks through 63+ minutes, which I think, is a pretty good bargain - cheap as chips!
The 7th album in the series was voted by line dancers as one of the best compilations of 2002 and according to the flysheet; this volume 8 is equally as good. I don’t have volume 7 to compare, but I enjoyed this album and that’s saying a lot for a non-line dancer who isn’t particularly interested in the genre at all.
I’d almost forgotten George Ducas so I was pleasantly surprised with the opening track of his called Teardrops, in fact I have to say that the first four tracks are real country albeit with the prominent drums. Not a bad start with Ducas, Eddie Rabbitt, Glen Campbell and Dean Miller and of course Mel McDaniel, Lacy J Dalton, Gene Watson and Tanya Tucker are four of my all time favourites who all have tracks on here and each one is excellent, particularly Lacy J. Sandi West has track 5 and I think she should have been on track 20 or preferably track 21 - she let the side down badly.
Mississippi by Pussycat is on the album and somehow it seems a bit tame but maybe my memory’s fading a bit. All in all a pretty good album and the price is right.

© 2004 Country Music & Dance Scotland