Willie Nelson – Willie and Family Live

There never has been, nor will there ever be, a better live country album than “Willie and Family Live”. Granted that is just my opinion, but I will tell you this: you will never sway me from that opinion, so don’t even try. I would even go so far as to rank “Willie and Family Live” in the top 5 of any live album of any genre. Then again, like much of Willie’s recording career, it really does it injustice to pigeonhole this record as strictly country music. Sure, that is what is at its core, but it’s so much more.

Willie Nelson is a true artist. Musically, he never tried to be something he wasn’t. Like the truest of outlaws, he rebelled against Memphis and Nashville pressures to sound this way or that. Once he had a following, Willie stuck to his guns and played what Willie wanted to play; what his fans wanted him to play. Willie Nelson was always there, first and foremost, for his fans.

“Willie and Family Live” is exactly what its name implies. Willie’s family was his band, his friends, and his fans. This is their album. This is their story told through the art of Willie Nelson. Some artists use a brush, some use chisel; Willie Nelson uses a Martin N-20 classical guitar that he named Trigger. From 1969 to 1978, when this album was recorded, Willie had used Trigger to create his art so often and so passionately that he had worn a hole right through the top of the guitar. Somehow, that made Trigger sound even sweeter. It’s funny how that can happen. Then again, maybe not. Maybe it was the personal connection Willie made between himself and his fans that got stronger with time that made Trigger sound even better. Yeah, listening to “Willie and Family Live” now, I know that’s what it is.

Christmas With Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins was considered to be a country music artists, but he was every bit as much a contemporary jazz guitarist as he was country. Incorporating his fluid finger picking style with a bit of country twang, he helped create what became known as “The Nashville Sound”, bringing a more a more mainstream audience to the genre.

“Christmas With Chet Atkins” is one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums and one of my favorites by “The Country Gentleman’, as Chet was often referred to as. Vocals on the songs are sparse, as it focuses more on his guitar stylings which lean more towards his jazz side; a joyful mix of traditional arrangements interspersed with a mix of improvisational phrasings and flourishes. It is as relaxing as it is enticing to listen to; a perfect hot cocoa and fireplace kind of album.

I almost wish “Christmas With Chet Atkins” wasn’t a Christmas album. I could listen to it year round, but it seems odd listening to Christmas songs outside of the season. So it’s only this time of year that this record makes it onto my turntable. Then again, I guess it gives me something else to look forward to every Christmas season.

Merry Christmas from The Vinyl Jungle.

The World Of Johnny Horton

Driving out to see my dad for Veterans’ Day yesterday got me thinking about Johnny Horton. I used to hear a lot of his songs when I was growing up. When I ran across this album a while back I had to pick it up for the memories, if for nothig else.

Johnny Horton’s songs weren’t just old school country ballads and rockabilly that gets stuck in your head. Some of his biggest hits, like “The Battle of New Orleans”, “North To Alaska”, and “Sink The Bismark”, were also short history lessons; truly a taste of Americana.

Although his songs are far from being forgotten, and their influence on American music can’t be denied, Johnny Horton’s music isn’t a name often thought of when people think of along with the greats like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Gene Autry, that’s only because his life was cut short in 1960 when he was killed in a tragic car accident at the age of 28; just as his career was starting to take off. But his songs and their influences live on. Songs of a legend in the making.

Jim Croce – Photographs and Memories

Jim Croce was one of the most prolific singer songwriters ever. “Photographs and Memories” is a greatest hits package that proves that point. Throughout his career his songs have evoked emotions and painted musical scenes like no other.

He sang mostly his own songs, but was known on occasion to interpret one by other songwriters. When he did, he alway made it his own. Along with the ones he did pen – songs like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, “Operator”, “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song”, and “Time in a Bottle” – I personally can’t imagine “I Got a Name” being performed by anyone except Croce.

Unfortunately, Jim Croce’s life and songs were cut short when he died in a plane crash while on tour in 1973. He was only 30 years old.

Kris Kristofferson – Jesus Was A Capricorn

Kris Kristofferson is one of the originators of what is now known as outlaw country. All that really means was that his music, in many ways, eschews traditional country music and at times, crosses over with rock and roll. Kristofferson has a DIY, singer songwriter style that both meshed with and cut across the grain of what was popular in country and rock. He wrote, sung, and played songs that were deep-rooted and highly personal. Much in the way Hank Williams changed the sound of country and influenced rock music in the ’50s, Kristofferson, along with a few other “outlaws” from the ’60s and ’70s, redefined country music for a new generation, opening the door for southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, and Charlie Daniels.

Quite often, Kris Kristofferson’s songs shared as much in common with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan as with Merle Haggard and George Jones. Like his other albums, “Jesus was a Capricorn” isn’t an album filled with fiddles and twangy guitars (although there is lap-steel and dobro). It’s an album that focusses on roots and emotion, dedication and defiance.

“Jesus Was a Capricorn”, like the rest of Kristofferson’s catalog, is not really country or rock and roll. He is of that rare breed of performers that fits somewhere in between definitions and outside genres. In a true DIY style, with albums like “Jesus Was a Capricorn”, Kris Kristofferson defined something new with his music; something called outlaw country.

Eagles – The Long Run

I don’t care what kind of music you prefer, it’s nearly impossible to not like the Eagles. All through the ’70s, their albums just seemed to get better and better, culminating in their 6th and final album for nearly 20 years, “The Long Run”.

The Eagles recorded “The Long Run” after being on the road for an excruciatingly long tour supporting the success of their previous album, “Hotel California”. The exhaustion from touring combined with the pressure of trying to come up with a worthy successor to their most successful album to date, resulted in writer’s block setting in for all the band members. It took a year and a half to come up with the songs for “The Long Run”, but it was well worth the wait.

The critics weren’t very receptive to “The Long Run” when it came out, giving it mostly lukewarm reviews. But what do they know? This is easily one of the best and most varied albums by the Eagles. There is something here for everyone, and it’s all something good.

But don’t take my word for it. “The Long Run” topped the album charts in multiple countries including the United States, where it sold over 8 million copies alone. It also scored three hit singles for the Eagles. “Heartache Tonight”, “I Can’t Tell You Why”, and the title track. And “Heartache Tonight” would end up earning the Eagles a Grammy for best rock performance in 1980.

My personal favorite song from this album is the side two opener, “Heartache Tonight”. Partly because of its addicting drum beat that you can’t help but stomp your foot to, partly because of Joe Walsh’s exceptional slide guitar solo, and partly because of the perfect vocal harmonies the Eagles were known for. But mostly, I think I like it because of the writer’s block that had set in. It prompted the Eagles to seek some outside writing assistance from one of my favorite artists and songwriters – fellow Detroiter, Bob Seger.

Linda Ronstadt – Simple Dreams

Linda Ronstadt is probably my favorite female singer of all time. Simple dreams probably my favorite album by her. She had the ability to phrase the lyrics of a song perfectly to the emotion in it. She had one of the most beautiful voices and knew how to adapt it for country, rock, or pop. On “Simple Dreams” she used it for all three.

One of the things I really liked about Linda Ronstadt is that she never placed a lot of Focus on her image. She focused on the music. She had the unique ability to take anything she chose to sing and make it her own. Even if it was a song that was a big hit by another artist, her version never sounded like a carbon copy and it was always exceptional.

Simple dreams is Linda Ronstadt’s most successful album ever. It’s sold more than three and a half million copies in its first year, surpassing Carole King’s “Tapestry” as the most successful album by female recording artist and was nominated for several Grammy awards.