Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Clay Walker and Charlie Daniels

Clay Walker – Texas to Tennessee

Clay Walker was one of the Garth rivals in the 1990s but his career was interrupted by MS. New album Texas to Tennessee got a lukewarm write-up from Saving Country Music, which said it sounded like Jason Aldean with steel guitar overdubs and suffers from being less good than other traditional-leaning country albums like Parker McCollum and Luke Combs.

The opening pair are Anything To Do With You, a pledge of allegiance to a lady, and Need A Bar Sometimes, a sub-Aldean crooned tune about the humble drinkery. I Just Wanna Hold You and Catching Up With An Ol Memory are fine sentiments ruined by middle of the dirt road production from Michael Knox, the man who discovered Aldean, while Country Side is a bit of blah with plenty of signifiers (‘Livin’ kinda high, livin’ kinda slow’).

Far better are a pair of ballads, Cowboy Loves A Woman and (particularly sweet) Texas to Tennessee, which Clay could have had radio smashes with in 1996 but which have gone massively out of style as country has attached itself to the urban lifestyle. Exhibit C is You Look Good, where Clay’s lady ‘got that thing about you’ and looks good in various parts of the country, including on a tractor and with a beer in her hand. The album closes with the addictive two-minute party song One More, co-written by David Lee Murphy and full of his characteristic crunching guitars (see plenty of Kenny Chesney songs). There’s plenty of gold here.

Charlie Daniels – Duets

The late Charlie Daniels will forever be known around the world for one five-minute masterpiece, but there’s far more to him than a Devil playing the fiddle in Georgia. His manager has put together an hour-long set that carries on his memory. Everyone who is everyone is on here which, beyond the tracklisting itself, is the best recommendation, as the likes of Ray Charles, Elton John and Frank Sinatra have experienced in their own Duets collections.

The set starts, aptly, with What I’d Say, Ray Charles’ three-chord jam, with Travis Tritt helping out, and Signed Sealed Delivered, with assistance from Bonnie Bramlett from Delaney & Bonnie. Ray has just been announced as a Country Music Hall of Famer, at long last, so this is a smart way to pay homage to Brother Ray’s memory.

Bob Dylan is given a tribute on both Like A Rolling Stone (with Darius Rucker) and the fiddleful Maggie’s Farm (with Earl, Gary and Randy Scruggs), while The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down stays faithful to The Band’s arrangement, adding Vince Gill for good measure.

Dolly Parton brings Charlie in on her tremendous song Daddy’s Old Fiddle, as if knowing that Charlie’s biggest hit – a Hot 100 number one, don’t forget – centred on duelling violinists. Keeping the instrumental feel, Brad Paisley does his patented thing on Jammin For Stevie.

Brenda Lee (the classic sounding Let It Be Me), Del McCoury and his band (the harmony-soaked Evangeline) and Brooks & Dunn (a bluesy Long Haired Country Boy, a Charlie Daniels composition) all appear too, while Gretchen Wilson gives a bluesy interpretation of June Carter Cash’s part on Jackson, while Charlie makes a fine Johnny. Marty Stuart helps Charlie sing his composition God Save Us All From Religion, and Montgomery Gentry chant the fun drinking song Drinkin My Baby Goodbye. Thank God for Luke Combs who is so in thrall to this type of country music.

There are four more tracks written by Charlie himself on a deluxe version of the album which include a Keith Urban duet called The South’s Gonna Do It (Again), Southern Boy (again with Travis Tritt) and Texas, where Ray Benson pops up for a cameo extolling the glories of the mighty state. The arrangement is stunning.

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