Aldean tops charts, some classical country too

By Tom Von Malder | Sep 19, 2016
Photo by: Broken Bow Records The cover of Jason Aldean's new, chart-topping album.

Owls Head — Jason Aldean: They Don't Know (Broken Bow CD, 49:09). Aldean's seventh album, which already has spawned his 17th career country chart-topping single in "Lights Come On," debuted this week atop the Billboard chart, with 131,000 copies sold. It is his third album in a row to debut at the top, beating out Drake's "Views."

Aldean's style of country has its roots in his growing up in a two-lane town, as referenced on the terrific title track and "Reasons to Love L.A.," but musically it takes a guitar-heavy approach, big enough to fill arenas. One plus to the album is that his band plays on each track, giving the album a live quality. "Lights Come On," which is about a blue-collar work week coming to an end, topped by a country music show, was co-written by Florida Georgia Line's Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard. The album's second, current single is "A Little More Summertime," which starts as a ballad, then builds into a big mid-tempo rocker.

Most likely the next single will be the title track, a driving rocker that is the album's absolute best. "This Plane Don't Go There" is a poignant ballad about being unable to go back and fix a relationship. Another ballad, more keyboard-oriented, is "First Time Again," sung with Kelsea Ballerini, the young country-pop star who also recently worked with Taylor Swift. Aldean turns sexy on the rocker, "Comin' in Hot," and there are some drinking songs in "Whiskey'd Up," "All Out of Beer" and the guitar-driven "Any Ol' Barstool." A drivin' driving song is "The Way a Night Should Feel," which goes: "One hand on you and one on the wheel, that's the way a night should feel." Grade B+

Willie Nelson: For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price (Legacy CD, 40:30). When it comes to classic country music, Nelson is a classic himself, but here he teams up with longtime friends, producer Fred Foster and composer/arranger Bergen White, to honor the legendary Ray Price. Foster and White worked together to complete Price's final album, "Beauty Is ..." at Nashville's Ocean Way Studios, where Nelson made this album. Price (1926-2013) was noted for his lush orchestral arrangements and the "Ray Price Shuffle," the groundbreaking 4/4 walking bass line that transformed honky-tonk and country-western swing music in the 1950s. A prime example was his hit, "Crazy Arms," one of the dozen songs Nelson covers here. Nelson's first connection to Price came in 1961.

Price was a seminal figure in post-WWII American country music. The singer/songwriter/guitarist began his career singing on the local Abilene, Texas radio program, "Hillbilly Circus," in 1948, before joining the "Big D Jamboree" in Dallas a year later. When CBS picked up the show, Price began garnering his first national exposure.  Moving to Nashville in the early 1950s, Price became friends with Hank Williams, going on to manage the Drifting Cowboys, after Hank's death in 1953. That same year, Price formed his own band, the Cherokee Cowboys, a country music ensemble that employed Nelson as bassist in 1961. Instant friends, the two had a musical bond that resulted in Price's hit recordings of Nelson-penned songs like the career-defining "Night Life" and "It Always Will Be." Both of which Nelson performs on the new album. "Night Life," became Price's theme music, the song he used to open his shows.

As a visionary and iconoclastic artist, Price not only defined, but also shifted the course of American country music. In the 1950s and 1960s, he kept grassroots country sounds alive through the infusion of rock 'n' roll and pop music elements, going so far as to utilize drums at a time when the Grand Ole Opry had banned them from its stage. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Price became one of the godfathers of "countrypolitan," combining lush orchestral arrangements with smooth-as-silk crooning. Nelson continued to collaborate with Price, releasing the albums, "San Antonio Rose" (1980), "Run That by Me One More Time" (2003) and "Last of the Breed" (2007), the latter a trio album with Merle Haggard. Price sang "Cold War with You," on Nelson's 2012 Legacy album, "Heroes."

On half of this tribute album, Nelson is joined by The Time Jumpers, the Grammy-nominated Western Swing dream team  of Vince Gill (electric and acoustic guitar, harmony vocals), Andy Reiss (electric guitar), Larry Franklin (fiddle), Joe Spivey (Fiddle), Kenny Sears (fiddle), Brad Albin (Bass), Billy Thomas (drums), Jeff Taylor (piano and accordion), Paul Franklin (pedal steel) and Nelson's Family Band harmonica player, Mickey Raphael. Their highlights include the opening "Heartaches By the Number," with its wonderful Western String arrangement, and "City Lights" and "Crazy Arms," two more of Price's biggest hits.

In addition to co-writing "Night Life," which features a nice sax solo here, Nelson also wrote ""It Always Will Be" (here, more stripped down and semi-spoken) and "I'm Still Not Over You" (written in 1966). There are two Hank Cochran songs: "Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me" (with The Time Jumpers) and "Make the World Go Away" (featuring several backup singers). The closing "For the Good Times" opens with gorgeous strings. Grade: A

Moe Bandy: Lucky Me (Moe Bandy CD, 45:54). There is more of classical country sound in Bandy's first album in about 10 years. Bandy was a chart regular in the 1970s, both alone and with his singing partner Joe Stampley. Bandy was born and grew up in Meridian, Miss., the hometown of country singer Jimmie Rodgers. While his father taught him guitar, Bandy was more interested in rodeo competition during his school years. However, when 18, he assembled a band, Moe And The Mavericks, and found work playing small beer joints, honky-tonks and clubs over a wide area around San Antonio. Eleven years later, he moved to Nashville at the suggestion of record producer Ray Baker and recorded his first hit, "I Just Started Hatin' Cheatin' Songs Today" in 1974. "Bandy the Rodeo Clown" followed the next year, and his career was launched. Between 1979 and 1985, he and Stampley had a series of novelty hits, starting with "Just Good Ol' Boys."

The title track opens the album , with nice swing fiddle and pedal steel. "Everything Hank Williams Did, But Die" is slower honky-tonk, with nice piano and autobiographical lyrics (the song is by  Bill Anderson and Hank Williams). Bandy is joined by The Oak Ridge Boys on both "Hell Stays Open" and "A Place to Hang My Hat. Then, he is joined by Riders in the Sky on "Long Live the Cowboy" (a highlight with its smooth harmonies and harmonica) and "That Horse That You Can't Ride." Other highlights are the ballad "It's Written All Over Your Eyes," the sole song co-written by Bandy; the smooth "That's What I Get For Loving You"; and "The Rarest Flowers," a team-up with Ricky Skaggs. The album also has three unlisted tracks: the very nice "Honky Tonk Moon"; "Broken Bones" with nice guitars (about a cowboy, but could be about his youthful rodeo days as well); and "Things To Do" in which "she crossed me off of her list of things to do." Grade: B+

Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt: Trio: The Complete Trio Collection (Warner/Asylum/Rhino, 3 CDs, 2:26:49). And then there are classics created when three angelic voices combine for what Ronstadt calls "parlor music." As a trio, the three superstars released two albums together, "Trio" (1987) and "Trio II" (1999), that have sold more than five million copies worldwide and won three Grammy Awards. Both albums are included here, as well as a 20-song third disc of rare and unreleased recordings, several of them alternate takes.

The three actually began recording together in the 1970s, but never had the time to come together and record a full album. Highlights of the first album are the pretty heartbreak ballad "Making Plans," a slow take on "To Know Him Is To Love Him" (written by teenaged Phil Spector and a number one hit for The Teddy Bears in 1958) and "Hobo's Meditation," with Ronstadt's only lead vocal and extra fine playing by the band. The latter song is by Jimmie Rodgers. The band included guitarists Ry Cooder, David Lindley and Albert Lee; bassist Kenny Edwards (a former member of The Stone Poneys with Ronstadt); fiddler Mark O'Connor; drummer Russ Kunkel; and Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne. The trio's version of "To Know Him Is To Love Him" topped the country charts, while the singles that followed, "Telling Me Lies" (co-written by Linda Thompson), "Those Memories of You" and Parton's "Wildflowers," all reached the Top Ten.

"Trio II" came 12 years later. Highlights include "Lover's Return," "High Sierra" with its beautiful arrangement, Parton's "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" and an exquisite cover of Neil Young's "After the Goldrush" (the latter won the three a Grammy). "If You Feel  the Blues Movin' In" is nicely played, and also good are "The Blue Train" and a cover of Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home."

Of the alternate takes, the unreleased version of "Wildflowers" is more energetic, while "Making Plans" is a Parton solo, and Parton sings lead on a mid-tempo take of "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," which has a nice extro. Among the unreleased tracks are the upbeat "Waltz Across Texas Tonight," written by Harris and Rodney Crowell; the spiritual "Softly and Tenderly," with an a cappella start by Harris; Parton's "Pleasant As May," on which she sings lead; Parton's sad song, "My Blue Tears"; the upbeat Pop Staples-written gospel song, "You Don't Knock"; an unreleased a cappella version of "Calling My Children Home"; and the Celtic song, "In a Deep Sleep." There also is "Mr. Sandman," a 1954 chart-topper by The Chordettes, which eventually appeared on Harris' "Evangeline" album in 1981, and Crowell's "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," which appeared on Harris' "Blue Kentucky" album in 1979, both earlier examples of the three singing together before making the first "Trio" album.

The set comes with a 20-page booklet. Also available is a single-disc, "My Dear Companion: Selections from the Trio Collection," with 14 selections, four of which are on the collection's third disc; as well as "Farther Along," a double-vinyl set of all the bonus material from the collection. Also, "Trio II" is being released on vinyl for the first time. Grade: A+

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