After a crazy week and a looong deep dive into Randy Travis’s career, I am honestly burnt down to cinders right now, and would like nothing more than a good three-day siesta. The blog must go on, however, and so I decided to trot out the first LITS of the year to at least give me a chance to rest while I pondered the tracks that appeared.
The concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.
Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.
Song #1: Sammy Kershaw, “I Want My Money Back”
Okay, this wasn’t really the song I wanted to start out with. I hit play, close my eyes, and…I’m immediately smacked across the face with a loud, bouncy bass and a prominent pair of fiddles. A double-shot of Starbucks espresso couldn’t have done a better job waking me up…
Thankfully, the title track and leadoff single from Kershaw’s 2003 album is actually pretty decent, offering a darkly-humorous take on the financial frustrations of middle-class America (a take that’s no longer a laughing matter seventeen years later). Despite a few questionable production decisions (what’s with the weird vocal effects on the bridge?), the mix some solid tone and energy to the table, and Kershaw is one of those underrated, likeable 1990s artists that deserves to be remembered more than he is. I may not appreciate the rude awakening, but I guess I’ll get over it.
Song #2: George Strait, “Lead On”
Now that’s more like it. If I had a word to describe the title track and final single from Strait’s 1994 album, it would be relaxed, taking its time with its tone and tempo, but never bogging down under its own weight. The song should be required listening for any artist trying to avoid being a creepy Metro-Bro act, because despite being a booty call at its core, it deftly sidesteps any questions from the press by a) giving both parties a voice, b) making the decision a consensual one, and c) imbuing its characters with honesty (the guy screwed up his last relationship, and he admits it). George Strait pours on the charm like it was maple syrup, and the pop-tinged production gives the track an inviting softness that makes it easy on the ears. One could argue *yawn* that it’s the sort of track someone could fall asleep to, but I’m okay with that right now…
Song #3: Carolyn Dawn Johnson, “I Don’t Want You To Go”
…And then CDJ comes in and ruins the mood. Let me rest, darn it!
All complaining aside, the third single from Johnson’s 2001 debut album Room With A View (and her last stateside hurrah) is pretty decent on balance. Unlike me, the narrator here has no intention of falling asleep anytime soon, and while the writing is a bit generic, Johnson infuses the protagonist with so much spunk that you can’t help but feel for them and their wrecked sleep schedule. The production backs her up with a lot of noise (this track always felt noticeably louder than most of my library), but the guitars and fiddles match Johnson’s attitude and energy, and make the song fun enough to compensate for its stale tale
But seriously, can I get some slower material next?
Song #4: Toby Keith, “Stays In Mexico”
My iPad doesn’t have hands, so this is as close to flipping me off as it can get.
Not only is it borderline-frenetic, but it’s a generic “Mexi-Bro” track chock full of gratuitous drinking, cheating, and ephemeral sugar highs. Keith comes across as a slimy voyeur, the characters are flat and unlikable, the production cranks the noise up to 11 with in-your-face guitars and a horn section, and frankly, the whole thing is so over-the-top that it’s not that much fun in the end. I didn’t want to listen to Johnson right now, but I wouldn’t want to hear this song at any time for any reason. Next!
Song #5: Marty Stuart Ralph Mooney, “Crazy Arms”
A steel guitar solo? I can dig it.
Mooney is credited with writing the song (although more recently, Paul Gilley has been labeled as the true composer), but it’s pop-culture impact is undeniable (it’s one of Ray Price’s signature songs), and Stuart had Mooney lay down an instrumental version for his 2010 album Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions. The funky chord progression that opens every verse and chorus is instantly recognizable, and the pedal steel gives the track a warm, smooth feel that transforms it from a lost-love lament to a happier, reflective tune. (If you’re going to contradict the lyrics like this, the best thing to do is get rid of them completely.) My main complaint is that the song is far too short, and could have used a few other instrument to trade the melody around with. Still, something’s better than nothing, and anything’s better than “Stays In Mexico.” You’re back in my good graces, iPad…for now.
Song #6: Randy Travis ft. Shelby Lynne, “Promises”
…Don’t push your luck, iPad.
I said yesterday that I was a fan of everything from Storms Of Life to Under The Influence, Vol. 2, but Travis’s 25th anniversary duet album is by far the weakest in his discography. None of the covers even come close to the original tracks, and “Promises” is no exception: The overproduction (strings, fiddle and steel) deliver the message far less pointedly than the acoustic-guitar-only mix of the original, Travis doesn’t sound great, he and Shelby Lynne (who?) have no vocal chemistry, and the rewriting neede to turn the song into a duet felt clumsy and half-baked. It’s better than “Stays In Mexico,” but there’s no need for this retread when the original was that good. Hey iPad, how about a Travis original to clean up this mess?
Song #7: Randy Travis, “I’d Surrender All”
Wait, you actually listened to me?
The final single from Travis’s 1991 album High Lonesome didn’t reach the height of its sibling singles, but I always felt it measured up from a quality standpoint. The lyrics don’t offer much novelty beyond the “hairspray in the air” line, but Travis is such an emotive singer (his note-holding was especially poignant here) and the production’s light touch, use of minor chords and crying steel guitar gave the song a strong melancholic vibe that put you squarely in the narrator’s corner (even if the song insinuates that they’re clearly to blame for the breakup). I just heard this thing last night during my discography crawl, but it’s the sort of song I could listen to over and over again.
Song #8: Mel Tillis, “Detroit City”
It’s not Bobby Bare, but it’s not bad.
Tillis is the original songwriter of “Detroit City,” but he gave the song to Bare because his stutter made it nearly impossible to get through the spoken-word section after the second verse. When Tillis covers the song live, he tends to ad-lib with the audience as he does in the video above to avoid the spoken section, but in the recording I have he doesn’t even go through the second verse! Tillis does a decent-enough job on the part of the song he does cover, but leaving a job half-finished like this make me feel a little cheated by the performance. It’s okay, but it’s not peak Tillis or “Detroit City,” so I don’t see it doing well on this list.
Song #9: Clint Black, “Spend My Time”
Wow, This is exactly what I was looking for!
Randy Travis is my favorite singer, but Clint Black is the unquestioned #2 in my personal rankings. I’ve always enjoyed his clever turns of phrase and how he can work his way around a topic, and the title track and leadoff single of his 2003 album is a prime example of his work. The piano-driven production establishes a calm, reflective mood, but the writing keeps its eyes on the future as it ponders the present and future passage of time, and Black brings enough optimism to the table to make the character feel earnest and believable. On top of this, the song suits my current subdued mood, while also gently prodding me to keep going and imagine better days ahead. This song is in the running for my favorite Clint Black tunes of all time, and it will definitely compete for the top spot on tonight’s list.
Song #10: Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton, “We’ve Got Tonight”
This isn’t a terrible song to end on. Sure, it’s a sappy, saccharine love song with the sort of pop styling that drive country music to the brink in the post-“Urban Cowboy” 1980s, but there’s a real gentleness behind the piano-and-strings production and Rogers’s surprisingly dialed-back delivery, and Easton’s part turns up the dial with extra power and electric guitars (which Rogers has no trouble keeping up with). The pair has solid vocal chemistry, both singers feel earnest and sympathetic, and even though this is essentially the same booty call as “Lead On,” having both voices in the mix make things at least feel above board and consensual. It’s a harmless, not-quite-memorable track that keeps the post from ending on a downer.
|1.||“Spend My Time”|
|2.||“I’d Surrender All”|
|5.||“I Want My Money Back”|
|6.||“I Don’t Want You To Go”|
|7.||“We’ve Got Tonight”|
|10.||“Stays In Mexico”|
Clint Black may be #2 in my heart, but he’s #1 on tonight’s list. “I’d Surrender All” is good, but “Spend My Time” has more atmospheric production and more interesting writing, outpacing both Travis’s track and Mooney’s steel shuffle. Sadly, there was a bit too much energy provided by some of the tracks, and now I’m wide awake with no hope of rest for another few hours. For a list like this, however, I suppose the trade was worth it.
The next question: How do I “Spend My Time” now that I have it? I guess I have to start grading assignments again…thanks a lot, iPad.