Staff Picks for July/August 2009
The Quintessential Hank Thompson 1948-1979 by Hank Thompson
New releases from George Strait and Reba McEntire received the lion’s share of attention this cycle, which means a couple excellent albums slipped under the radar. Gene Watson returned with A Taste of the Truth, which, in my opinion, is one of the best albums of the year. The record features a lovely guest appearance from Rhonda Vincent on the heartbreaking “Staying Together;” if money’s too tight to buy the entire album, at least buy that song. One of my alt-country favorites, Paul Burch, released Still Your Man, which has been getting heavy rotation at Casa Juli. But I’ve gotten the most bang out of my buck with this Hank Thompson compilation from Australian label Raven. It’s one disc and 30 of his best known songs, including “Six Pack to Go,” “Oklahoma Hills,” and, of course, “Wild Side of Life.” Priced at $18, it’s a damn good deal, and a fine addition to any car stereo.
A Taste of the Truth by Gene Watson
Until recently, I’d yet to tackle the majority of the Gene Watson catalog beyond the requisite “Farewell Party,” “Fourteen Carat Mind” and “Love in the Hot Afternoon.” His latest release, Taste of the Truth, however, reignited my interest in the famous balladeer and prompted a slew of tear-in-my-beer additions to my musical collection. This album finds Watson doing what he does best, particularly on cuts such as “‘Till A Better Memory Comes Along” and “Staying Together,” a near-perfect duet with bluegrass darling Rhonda Vincent. Although the title track feels sluggish, my favorite is “Three Minutes at a Time,” a full-circle song that finds Watson drowning his sorrows in a traditional country tearjerker infamously (and ironically) known for its power to mend a heartache—precisely the type of tune the country legend has recorded for the last four decades.
A Taste of the Truth by Gene Watson
Gene Watson is the easy pick this cycle, but that doesn’t take anything away from releases by the likes of Grant Langston, The Lovell Sisters, or a few others I didn’t get a chance to listen to; Watson is just too good to pass up. “We’ve Got a Pulse,” a duet with Trace Adkins, is an answer song of sorts to “Murder On Music Row,” but “Three Minutes At a Time,” a song about heartache, works surprisingly well for the pessimists amongst us. Whatever the case, if you like country music, you’ll like A Taste of the Truth.
A Taste of the Truth by Gene Watson
The fresh-faced youngsters of Gloriana and Love and Theft (who both released albums during the eligibility period) probably haven’t heard of Gene Watson, but he could sure enough out-sing them. Watson’s musical vision hasn’t changed much since his 1975 Capitol debut; he’s still a soul brother with an affinity for miserably sad country ballads, and he’s still in possession of one of the finest voices the genre has ever known. With A Taste of the Truth, Watson has assembled his strongest and saddest set of (mostly) new material this millennium. “’Till a Better Memory Comes Along,” “Three Minutes at a Time,” “Use Me Again” and the Rebecca Lynn Howard-penned title track particularly shine.
Together Again by Deryl Dodd
Ken Morton, Jr.
Place To Turn Around by Wade Hayes
I’d like laud two very strong freshman entries by Sarah Darling and David Nail, but my pick this month goes to an artist who has been off the radar but who has made an incredible indie album. On songs like “Every Time I Give The Devil A Ride” and “Good Day To Go Crazy,” we’re reminded what a great guitarist and underrated instrumentalist Hayes has is. The beautiful acoustic production of Place To Turn Around is fantastic, my favorite piece being the haunting mandolin “singing” harmony on the title track. Each song is well-written and some even pull heartstrings, like the terrific pleading lyrics for God to perform a healing miracle on “What’s A Broken Heart For You.”
Twang by George Strait
I hate to be the unoriginal one, but there is no denying King George. Strait has nothing left to prove, but he keeps churning out album gems. Save for “The Breath You Take,” Twang has some of the strongest material of Strait’s career. The standard heartbreaks (“Beautiful Day for Goodbye,” “Easy as You Go”) and sentimentality (“He’s Got That Something Special”) are there, but Strait mixes things up by making the younger generation Google terms like “Zydeco” and “El Rey.” At age 57, Strait is showing no signs of slowing down—and let’s hope it stays that way.
Somewhere Beyond The Roses by Kieran Kane
A band consisting of a banjo, saxophone, electric guitar and minimal percussion isn’t exactly easy to categorize–not that it would matter to Kane, who’s released his latest solo album after a string of releases with Kevin Welch and Fats Kaplin. The title track has a bluegrass feel, albeit with a sax in the background. Others, like “Way Down Below,” are more bluesy, though with a banjo front and center. “More To It Than This,” taken from a conversation with Merle Haggard, takes all the shine off of the professional musician’s life and is one of the best and most brutal songs I’ve heard about music as a business. “Unfaithful Heart,” featuring steel guitar from Kaplin, should be a chart-topper and deserves to be picked up by a daring mainstream artist.
Play Time by Brady Seals
The lyrical brilliance of “My Love” not withstanding, Little Texas may be one of modern country music’s most underrated acts. After all, we are nearing twenty years since the band’s debut, and a fair chunk of its catalog remains radio relevant and sounds as good today as it did back in the early 90s. That staying power is due, in large part, to the musical sensibilities of its founders, one of whom is Brady Seals. Play Time, Seals’ latest independent effort–and his first since 2004’s Thompson Square–is a full-on party record (containing not a single ballad), and I didn’t expect to like it. But lead single “Ho Down” caught me off guard with its equally obvious and gutsy humor, and this splendidly written little album snuck up on me. The jokes are funny, the scenes are tangible and the lack of pretense is refreshing. Play Time will never amount to more than a tiny blip on the country music radar, but it’s still a highly enjoyable record that will almost certainly exceed your expectations.
- Leeann Ward: Sheesh, Paul, that's a random/strange dig!
- Jack Williams: After reading that New Yorker article, I canceled my pre-order of the Basement Tapes box set. I love Bob …
- Leeann Ward: Wow! How terrible for Dixie Hall and Tom.
- Ken Morton, Jr.: Another twisted collection of songs to put into the Friday Five Hall of Fame, Juli.
- Arlene: I'd have included "Omie Wise." Doc Watson's is the version I'm familiar with but I think it's been recorded by …
- luckyoldsun: I think the number one country murder ballad is "Frankie and Johnny"--by Jimmie. Also, how about "Delia's Gone" from Harry Belafonte …
- Juli Thanki: Colloquial use of "fantastic" as a synonym for "excellent" dates back to the 1930s. And if it's good enough for …
- Paul W Dennis: I think "Banks of The Ohio", "Miller's Cave" and "It's Nothing to Me" are far creepier than several of the …
- Paul W Dennis: The Hight article is interesting, although I don't know that I would describe it as fantastic, but then I know …
- Dana M: I'm actually excited to hear a new Reba album. As for the Alan Jackson tour, I hope he announces Canadian …