CD Reviews

 

STAR RATING SYSTEM
10. EXCELLENT
8. VERY GOOD
6. GOOD
4. AVERAGE
2. BELOW AVERAGE

 

JOHN BERRY
I GIVE MY HEART
Star Rating:
* * * * * * * * - -
If, Time In A Bottle, Will You Marry Me, Your Love Amazes Me, Faithfully, I Just Wanna Stop, I Give My Heart, Since The Day I Met You, Love Look What You've Done To Me, Let's Stay Together, Lady.
Born in Aiken, South Carolina, and raised in the Atlanta, Georgia area, John grew up in an eclectic musical household. His father listened to concert pianist Van Clyburn, his mother had a strong taste for gospel, and his brother became an opera singer. John gravitated to both soul and country music and began recording his own albums at home in 1979. Two years later, he started performing solo acoustic shows in North-east Georgia, then expanded around the South-east, building a strong name and following. As his reputation grew, so did the demand for his self-styled recordings.

In 1994 John had his first #1 single with “Your Love Amazes Me,” followed closely by “She’s Taken a Shine” and “Standing on the Edge of Goodbye”. Other Top 10 releases included “You and Only You” "I Think About It All The Time", "What's In It For Me", "If I Had Any Pride Left At All", and “Change My Mind.” "Standing On The Edge", as well as his edgy top 10 hit “Kiss Me in the Car,” showed off John’s songwriting ability. Since then, John has been recording on his own independent label, Clear Sky Records.

This latest cd from John, has 11 tracks and is ballads from start to finish, which might raise a frown here and there, but that is what he does best, so why not? "I Give My Heart" is certainly not an album for dancing to.........unless you want to 'Smooch' that is. No, this is an album that is best listened to cuddled up with your loved one on the sofa.

John has a wonderfully soulful and emotive voice that would be difficult to tie down to any one style of music, so I didn't go into reviewing this album expecting a strictly, COUNTRY music album. In fact, one listen to the album told me that there was hardly any country music on offer here at all. An album for country music purists this is not! But the more eclectic listener is in for a treat!

For the 11 tracks on here, John looks to singer/songwriters as varied as Al Green (Lets Stay Together), David Gates (If), Jim Croce (Time In A Bottle) and Lionel Ritchie (Lady) as well as including a self penned effort, the beautiful "Since The Day That I Met You" and a co-write with John Hall and David Lee Murphy, "Will You Marry Me", which at the time of writing this review, has just been released to radio and is already being used in wedding proposals!

Personal favourites on here include the much recorded David Gates tune that was a massive hit for his own band, Bread, and also lolly-pop licking T.V. cop, Kojak, alias Telly Savalas. I'm talking of course about the song that is simply titled, "If". John does a wonderful reading of the song here, in fact, I would go so far as to say that this is probably, my favourite version! I also like the Al Green song, "Lets Stay Together". Released by Al in 1972, the song brings back many memories for me in the second year of my marriage. There's also a re-release here of John's first #1, "Your Love Amazes Me", which is still my favourite of all that John has done. The track was previously released on his self titled album, which I was amazed to find(no pun intended) is over 10 years ago now.(Doesn't time pass quickly when you are getting old-er!)

With multiple gold and platinum albums and nominations from the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music, and the Grammy's, John has clearly forged an appreciation from the music industry and fans alike. Two such fan's include former President George H. Bush and wife Barbara, who invited John to sing for Mr. Bush's birthday party.

Highly recommended listening!!

"I Give My Heart", on Clear Sky Records, is available on www.johnberry.net or by calling his fan club at 615-297-7002.

©2004

MARK HOLT & KIMBERLEE HOLT TULLY
ACOUSTICALLY NATIVE
Star Rating: * * * * * * * * * *
Tracks; El Paso City, Midnight Rider, One Last Dance, Roll'n With The Flow, Cattle Call, Me & My Uncle, You're In My Arms To Stay, All Over Now, Why Me Lord, Frank Sinatra Medley; One More For The Road,/The Way You Look Tonight, Cowboy Up/Riding For America.

Hailing from Idaho, siblings Mark Holt and Kimberlee Holt Tully were raised on a wide variety of music, ranging from John Denver to Merle Haggard and Charlie Rich to Sammy Davis Jr., while along the way, they also discovered bluegrass, quoting influences as Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice.

With many years of performance experience under their belts, Mark and Kimberlee have now released their debut album, "Acoustically Native," produced by Bil VornDick,....who has also worked with Alison Krauss.....and coinciding with the 20th anniversary of Marty Robbins' death on October 18, 2002.

This album is like a breath of fresh air among today's pop influenced music that is being passed off as Country. There was a time when male vocalists could instantly be told apart as soon as you heard them open their mouth, but sadly that seems to be fading with most of today's artists sounding the same, or at least that is, until I heard Mark. Mark has a unique voice, that is instantly recognisable as he sings these songs with real passion. I just love the laughs on "Me & My Uncle", which show to me that the man is really enjoying the music that he sings and plays. Wonderful!!

The album consists mainly of covers while there are four originals, 3 penned by Mark and one by Mark and Kimberlee together. I'll start first with the covers and there's an absolutely splendid version of "El Paso City" to open the album, one that the legendary Marty Robbins himself would have been proud of. I have never heard this song done better since the great man himself!! There are also great version's of Gregg Allman's "Midnight Rider", the Jerry Hayes penned "Rollin' With The Flow"......... a comeback hit for Charlie Rich in 1977......... the much recorded "Cattle Call" and the gospel classic, "Why Me Lord", penned by Kris Kristofferson. Uniquely,.....I think....the album also includes a medley of two Frank Sinatra tracks; "One More For The Road" and "The Way You Look Tonight".

Mark also proves his worth as a songwriter with, "One Last Dance", "You're In My Arms To Stay" and "All Over Now" all standing up well alongside the heavyweight covers! The album comes to a close with the co-written "Cowboy Up/Riding For America", a *Bonus* track that was, "Quote", written at the request of the head wrangler for the International horseback trail ride, "Riding For America", which began in Alberta, Canada, south to Wyoming, east to the Statue Of Liberty..........Mark & Kimberlee spent 4 days in the Black Hills of South Dakota with the ride..........and decided to include it on the album as a 'Western' reminder of the attacks on 9/11.

From beginning to end the musicianship is absolutely astounding, with special guests; Stuart Duncan brilliant on fiddle & mandolin, Mark Fain on bass, Randy Kohrs with some truly mesmerising dobro, Scott Vestal on 5-string banjo, Pete Huttlinger playing acoustic guitars, Tim Tapan on piano and Kathy Chiavola providing her always faultless, harmony vocals

Recent recognition for the duo includes "Best Western Nominations" for 2003 by the "Academy of Western Artist's", Best Western Duo/Group, "Rising Stars", and Mark Holt "Best Western Male Performer".

If you are a serious country music fan............particularly if you are a fan of Western, Acoustic and Bluegrass,...........then this is one album you must definitely have in your collection. I haven't heard anything better up to now this year and it will take something special to top it before the the year ends!! Wonderful!!!!!

©2003

BILLY YATES
ANYWHERE BUT NASHVILLE
Star Rating; * * * * * * * * * *
Anywhere But Nashville, All By My Lonesome, This Song Doesn't Rock, The Best Thing In The World, What Are We Thinkin' Blinded By The Bud Light, Roxanne's Bayou, Love Is Standing Still, Alcohol Abuse, Blue Ain't Just A Mood, I'm Just Drinkin' Nothin' Bigger Than Our Love, My Infinite Love, You're Why God Made Me, American Voices. Bonus Christmas Track:Little Annie's Christmas Wish

After moving to Nashville in 1987 with only 10 or 15 songs, that this talented songwriter, considered any good, came the George Jones hit and 1993 CMA Vocal Event of the Year, "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair" along with the title cut of that same album, "Walls Can Fall". Getting George Jones to record one of your song's is something special for any songwriter. To achieve that distinction after having only around a dozen songs to choose from, I find most incredible!!

Since then, Billy has had four more song's recorded by Jones. One of them being the Grammy nominated hit "Choices", along with other cuts by George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans and Gary Allan, just to name a few. He's thankful for all of his successes, but Billy never abandoned his desire to become a recording artist. It's what he went to Nashville to do.

After recording the critically acclaimed self-titled album, 'Billy Yates', which included the hit "Flowers", for the now defunct Almo Sounds label, Billy went on to record for Columbia Records. These days though, you'll find him on his own M. O. D. (My Own Damn) Record Label.

"Anywhere But Nashville" is Billy's second album on the label and like it's predecessor, it contains a very generous amount of tracks. In fact, it goes two better with a total of 16 tracks altogether, counting the Christmas track at the end, "Little Annie's Christmas Wish", a co-write with Larry Holden that must be a sure-fire hit come next December!

The title track is Billy's dig at the Nashville establishment and the way they manipulate their artists. It has a great 'hook', ........."Anywhere But Nashville, I Wanna Be Myself, They Say Some People Go In, Come Out Somebody Else"...... A great song and one that deservedly made # 1 in the HOTDISC INDEPENDENT TOP 10 as well as # 3 in the CHi HOTDISC CHART after it's release to radio as a single at the beginning of the year. In a similar vein, the follow up single, "This Song Doesn't Rock" sees Billy coming out strong, this time on the side of the music, Country Music that is, against the more rock and pop influenced material that Nashville tends to favour these days. Another great song and one that surpassed it's predecessor in the charts, by going to # 1 in both the CHi and the Hotdisc Independent Top10.

Other contenders for single release must be "You're Why God Made Me", a definite dance-floor filler if ever I heard one and the Cajun flavoured "Roxanne's Bayou", an infectious toe tapper that is sure to be a favourite with dancers and listeners alike. Personally, I'm a real sucker for a good 4/4 shuffle and Billy obliges with the wonderful "All By My Lonesome". Every time I play this one, I can't keep my feet still! This is definitely my favourite track on the album!!!

If you like the slower love songs then try "Blue Ain't Just A Mood", or the Vern Gosdin-ish "My Infinite Love". Both great songs! Then there's a reflection on modern times as he asks, "What Are We Thinkin'?" ............"We give our money to a big ol' church that looks just like a castle, while folks are starving. What are we thinkin'? We spend our time working hard instead of playing catch in the backyard with our children". What are we thinkin'?......... Makes you think! As does "American Voices" with it's message of how America is made up of different nationalities and creed's and how we all have our own 'choices'. (Now where have I heard that before?)

As a songwriter, Billy say's that he's been able to develop an honesty in his music, not liking it to be contrived. It shows!! "Anywhere But Nashville" is a superb piece of work!! 16 song's, co-penned with other writers who, many times don't get the credit they deserve, and I feel, deserve a mention here. They are; Jeff Stevens, Terry Clayton, Dean Miller, Byron Hill, Ben Hayslip, Buddy Owens, Donny Lowery, Kim Williams, Will Nance, Roger Brown and a special mention for the late, Annette Grossberg on "My Infinite Love".

I can't recommend this album highly enough. If you like your music COUNTRY, then believe me, Billy Yates is definitely that!! Buy It!!!!

©2004 M.O.D.
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