Parton, The Grass Is Blue (Sugar Hill Records 1999) - Dolly
Parton achieved big success with her strong vocals and friendly persona. On The Grass Is Blue,
Dolly returns to her Appalachian roots
to deliver a 13-song bluegrass collection.
The musicians on The Grass is Blue are a strong lot, including Jerry Douglas
on dobro, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Sam
Bush on mandolin, Barry Bales on bass, Jim
Mills on banjo, and Bryan Sutton on guitar. Joining Dolly
as guest harmony vocalists are Rhonda Vincent, Patty
Loveless, Alison Krauss, and Dan
The end result
is a subdued set. The album includes four songs written by Dolly
herself, as well as tracks written by Lester
Flatt ("I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open"), Johnny
Cash ("I Still Miss Someone"), and Hazel
Dickens ("A Few Old Memories").
Yet despite the strong playing and clean vocals, the album tends to drag. There's too much focus on an authentic
bluegrass sound, and too little focus on Dolly's
endearing personality. In the end, The Grass Is Blue is less than it could have been.
Willie Nelson, Night and Day (Pedernales Records 1999) - Night
and Day is an all-instrumental collection from the under-appreciated Willie
Nelson. With 10 tracks, framed by Willie's distinctive guitar sound, Night and Day is a user-friendly
In my book, Willie Nelson gets but a fraction of the acclaim that he
deserves. Now in his mid-60s, Willie is one of America's
best stylists, who has helped define the Texas troubadour genre much as the great Bob
Wills helped define Western Swing.
and Day has an effortless feel, almost akin to jazz stylings. Says Willie,
"I always love these songs. When I was playing every night in Texas you had to play a lot of these tunes,
the folks wanted to hear them . . . sometimes twice a night."
The tracks on Night and Day include "Honeysuckle Rose," a fine version of "Sweet
Georgia Brown," and the classic, "Night and Day" (by Cole
Also included are a couple of tunes associated with the Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhard,
"Vous Et Moi" and "Nuages," which lead off the album. Says Willie,
"I think that Django was the greatest guitarist that ever lived. I love the music and really tried to do him
justice. He was just incredible, the things he could do, and with just two fingers, you know."
Willie on the album are Mickey Raphael
on harmonica, sister Bobbi Nelson on piano, Jody Payne on acoustic guitar, Bee
Spears on bass, Billy English on percussion, and Paul English on drums.
Also appearing is legendary fiddle player Johnny Gimble.
Says Willie, "Johnny and I go back a long, long way. He's from the same part of Texas that I'm from and we
played many, many nights together when we were coming up."
Willie Nelson deserves a lot more respect than he gets. Listen to Night and Day.
Chris Gaines, Greatest Hits (Capitol 1999) - Confused? Uncertain? Yes, I am.
Because country superstar Garth Brooks
has adopted a soft pop persona as "Chris
Gaines," complete with fictitious biography.
That's right. Despite selling 95 million records (a staggering total, second only to the Beatles), Garth Brooks has donned an alternative persona for
his new album, which was produced by Don Was.
Chris Gaines is said to
be a tie-in to a feature film in production for next year (thus, the album is subtitled, "The Pre-Soundtrack
to the Movie
to the liner notes, Chris Gaines is an Australian recording star, with numerous albums to his credit during a 15-year career.
Gaines, like Brooks
himself, has enjoyed large success, including an alleged Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and a 1990 release
(Fornucopia), which is
fictitiously-stated to have debuted at No. 1, and "spent a combined 18 weeks on top of the Billboard Top 200
For Greatest Hits, Garth
worked with songwriters Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Tommy Simms,
the trio who wrote Eric
Clapton's Grammy-winning "Change the World."
three musicians built their reputation in Nashville's contemporary Christian community, and the core of the Chris Gaines
band - Kennedy, Simms, and drummer Chris McHugh - played in the late 80s lineup of Christian rockers White
What to make of all this? Greatest Hits
is soft pop, circa late 70s Kenny
Loggins. Despite Gaines' dark appearance, the album is smooth
pop throughout, with synthesizers and strings. Acknowledges Brooks, "Strange stuff, I know. But you have to hear the music to understand."
One of the catchier songs is "Right Now," which combines elements of the Youngbloods' mellow classic, "Get Together,"
with a spoken-word rap taken from Cheryl
Wheeler's "If It Were Up to Me" (which received airplay
after the Columbine High School shootings). And "Digging for Gold" is passable, drawing from the Fleetwood Mac sound of Tusk.
Brooks has stated that he will not perform live as Gaines, nor will he sing the new songs at his
concerts. Argues Brooks, "Truthfully, this is acting. This is hard. The other stuff, the Garth stuff, it just happens, it's fun. This is
tracks like "Snow in July" are well-crafted pop numbers, there's something different here. Says Brooks, "I stayed out of the studio on all the sessions, let the musicians do their thing,
then I'd just go in and sing. I'd have somebody else sing the vocal rough so I could see if that's the style we
agreed on, or if they wanted to take on that style. In addition, the musicians cut everything in keys way above
my range. A lot of this was a stretch for me."
And for the audience. In the end, Greatest Hits remains an enigma. Garth
Brooks is a huge star, and has enough clout to release anything he pleases.
Maybe it will all come together when we see the film, but for now, Chris
Gaines is a pleasing but forgettable package.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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