Covering the Country Music scene in Scotland & N/Ireland
     
Reviews by Mel Hague

HALOS & HORNS - DOLLY PARTON -
Sanctuary Records - SANCD126

I’ve been waiting for some time to get my hands on Halos & Horns because I think she’s brilliant and I can’t let a single album of Dolly’s get past me. Dolly has been dropped by the major labels in favour of the new ‘blond-belly button-babes’, who are being churned out like steel washers with as much talent and staying power as a J cloth. Well, ok, some of ‘em are pretty good and one or two may hang around a year or two, but none of ‘em will have a quarter of the career that Miss Parton has enjoyed.
Halos & Horns is another landmark in a career littered with landmarks and is a prime example of the lady’s endless talents. She produced this excellent 14 track CD that runs a couple of minutes short of an hour, wrote 12 of the songs and gathered a bunch of singers and pickers around her who compliment her to the hilt, none of whom are famous like artists she’s used in the past. There’s no Emmylou Harris or Linda Ronstadt in the background just a talented and hand-picked crew of people who have given their all for Miss Dolly.
It’s not an album you can chuck in the CD slot and sing along or dance to right off; it’s a collection of songs that you must listen to. You need to soak up the stories and then pick out the songs you want to sing or dance to. A lot of stars have fallen by the wayside when they were dropped by the major labels, some have survived on minor labels and some are doing ok through internet sales, but Dolly Parton saw the punch coming and rolled with it and counter-punched with better-than-ever performances both live and on record. The songs she didn’t write are the classics ‘IF’ by David Gates and ‘STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN’ by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, which she gives a tasty bluegrass-type treatment to; who would have even thought of doing that? There’s a rich blend of country, bluegrass, mountain music and folk in the music of this album but most of all it’s Dolly Parton music.
HALOS & HORNS deserves to become a classic album and I can’t say much better than that.

KELLIE COFFEY - WHEN YOU LIE NEXT TO ME - BNA/BMG Records - 74321 956102
Kellie Coffey is a completely new name to me but she’s been around since ‘97/98 singing background for Barbra Streisand on her Millennium album and Las Vegas New Year’s 2000 show, doing vocal jobs for the Disney Organisation and network TV. She co-wrote seven of the eleven songs on this her first album produced by the multi-talented Dan Huff. Her writing talent is substantial or a major label like BNA wouldn’t let her record that many of her own songs on one of their productions. She’s also a very talented singer handling both soft and powerful vocals with great style but I’m afraid we have the common latter-day problem; I wouldn’t be able to pick her out from any bunch of female country vocalists. I hear bits of every other female country singer of the past five years in her voice so as good as she is I wouldn’t recognise her until I’d heard her a few dozen times and her music doesn’t grab me that much.
As modern country goes this is as good or better than most I’ve heard this year and that’s about as much as I can say.

RADNEY FOSTER - LABOUR OF LOVE - Gravity Records 74321 955462
Radney Foster looks more like an intern at a local hospital than a country singer but I really like is voice and although it’s not particularly distinctive it’s a stand-out country voice in this modern country wasteland. This 12 track, 46-minute album was originally released in 1995 according to the press release but it doesn’t say why they’ve put it out again although I agree with them when they say it’s worth another shot. It has the modern drums up front sound for dancing but not enough to blow the singer or the other musos off the stage like so many modern albums do. This was Radney’s second album following in the highly successful footsteps of Del Rio, TX 1959 that provided him with several Top 20 hits. The Dixie Chicks recorded his song Never Say Die so he would have done all right out of that.
For lovers of real country music who want to keep up with the times they should give Radney Foster a listen because, distinct or not, this guy is a real country singer and there’s no mistake about that.
Fave tracks would have to be Willin’ To Walk, Broke Down and the clever Everybody Gets The Blues But I Know How To Keep ‘Em. Good ‘un, worth digging into your pocket.

PAUL MATEKI - SO STRONG 7 Mountains Records - USOFT-0009
Paul Mateki was born in Leeds, but moved to Texas at a very tender age so I guess he’s much more American than British although his voice does sound quite British to me. Maybe that’s a part of his success in country music - the voice is different from most and he has been very successful both in his ‘native’ America and when he’s toured over here. Of all the places in the world I would like to visit or live I think Texas has been top of my list forever - well, maybe one day - dream on.
Paul Mateki has written most of the songs on this new 12-track collection and he’s dedicated the album to the new love in his life - Helen, who has become his ‘rock’.
He has a light voice which he uses to great ability tackling a terrific variety of songs so the listener doesn’t get bogged down with too much of one style, but he manages to retain his own distinctive vocal sound throughout.
The dedication to Helen has set the standard for the album where most of the songs are actually written to her rather than about her, a very personal recording which I’m certain will appeal immensely to the ladies - my wife likes it very much and she ain’t easy to please and I think it’s a damn good country record.The lad is going great guns in Europe; getting regular airplay and topping the European Radio Charts on a regular basis and that can’t be bad. He also came third in the Major/Indies chart for most plays in the month of August. I do believe we’ll be hearing a lot more of Paul Mateki and I’ll be making the effort to catch his show when he tours over her next year.

SHELLY-ANN MORGAN 8 Track Demo CD
This young lady contacted me by email a few months ago and asked my advice on starting out in country music and I didn’t know what to say to her because I knew she’d be more interested in New Country as the media have labelled it and I’m not too enamoured with the new stuff. It all sounds the same to me; the singers all sound the same, the songs all sound the same, the production is immaculate but samey and the whole mess is swamped by drums. And I don’t particularly like it - it’s not real country music to me. But I digress and I don’t want my acid rhetorical views to reflect badly on young Shelly-Ann because I think she’s somethin’ else, man.
The gal is from Bradford and don’t we have some good stuff here in Yorkshire? Sorry about the little brag - I couldn’t resist it.
She’s worked the Northern WM Clubs under a the name of Ebony Jordan doing pop, big ballads and some country and her success has covered the area like honey on home-made brown bread but she has always had a love for country and wants to take her career to another level. This 8 track CD is as good a demo as you’re ever likely to hear, in fact if she added 4 more songs it would make a cracking debut country album. Ok, new country but I still like it because she has a very distinctive voice covering a wide range, the production is modern country but tasteful and not overpowered by drums although there’s no loss of punch when it’s needed. Sure I could nit-pic but this is her first foray into recorded country music and I don’t to detract from an over-all cracking collection of songs that she’s given her all to. Her harmonies are breathtaking in places and I’m sure the radio jocks will jump all over this when they finally get a copy. All the songs are co-written by Nashville songsmith Kevin Johnston and if you don’t recognise his name, he had a substantial hit, especially on radio, with ROCK’N’ROLL (I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life). I still have it 45rpm and I intend recording it myself one day.
So, keep a lookout for Shelly-Ann Morgan and go and see her because if she’s anywhere near as good live as she is on disc then you’re in for a treat. I’ll be there.

JOHNNY DUNCAN - LAST TRAIN
…..The Johnny Duncan Story From Tennessee to Taree Rollercoaster Records - RCCD 3045

This is a bit of a blockbuster carrying 29 tracks and running just over 70 minutes of a guy who was something of a legend in Britain in the late 50s and early 60s. Originally from Tennessee over the pond, he came to England and settled here having several hit records on the British charts; most notable being Last Train To San Fernando and Footprints In The Snow. Part of his touring and recording team, known as the Blue Grass Boys, was Denny Wright one of the finest British guitarists in any genre although his main love was jazz.
Duncan died on July 15th, 2000 of bowel cancer in Taree, Ireland where he’d settled. I remember him working the NorthEast clubs in the mid-sixties when I was working the region with my outfit The Westernaires. We actually had a bit of a run-in but it wouldn’t be fair to elaborate on that now. His two main hits were massive radio favourites and were played for many years after their chart success so for quite some time Johnny Duncan was a household name and you can’t do much better than that.
Of the 29 tracks on this collection there are four new songs at the end that were recorded in 1999 in Taree, Ireland and they are pretty good when you consider the old boy was 65 and not in good health.
This collection is a fine legacy to a man who was a genuine bluegrass singer who wouldn’t compromise his style no matter what the trends. A classic, and nicely packaged CD with photos past and recent and an excellent 32 page booklet with a very comprehensive biography.

….and last, but not least…..
A COUNTRY MUSIC GHOST STORY by Dennis Knight
I played The Chestnuts in Glentham, Lincolnshire recently and I was approached by a gentleman by the name of Dennis Knight. I’ve written a couple of western novels and I’m currently writing my third one and I think that’s why he wanted to talk to me because he’s written a short story called A Country Music Ghost Story. Dennis has included three well-known British country music performers in this tale of a ghostly train journey and has left a few clues as to the identity of each one.
Dennis has done a lot of work for charity over many years including country music concerts and of course a lot of country acts have donated their services along the way.
I’m not sure if the proceeds from the sale of this story will be going to charity but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were.
It’s nicely put together in a softback, A5 format and I’m sure it’s worth a pound of anyone’s money. To get your copy of this spooky little tale write to Dennis Knight at Middle Cottage, Highfield Terrace, Glentham, Market Rasen, LN8 2EN or give him a bell on 01673 878701, he’ll be delighted to hear from you and don’t forget to enclose a cheque or P.O. for a pound. Support your country music whatever the form.

...ATTENTION ALL WESTERN ENTHUSIASTS...
‘TO HELL WITH THE BADGE’ & ‘DEATH ON A ROPE’
by Mel Hague
E-mail me
Modestly priced at £5.00 plus £1.00 p&p
Cheque or Postal Orders to: Mel Hague,
37 Wroot Road, Finningley,
Doncaster, DN9 3DR.
Tel. 01302 771287

“I sat up all night reading TO HELL WITH THE BADGE and I haven’t done that in years, I couldn’t put it down. Brilliant!”
Jack Slade, Broken Barrel CMC, Leicester.

© 2003 Country Music & Dance Scotland