Are you a George Jones guy in a Garth Brooks world? A Loretta Lynn gal trying to understand why people still call Shania Twain a "country" artist?
Well, then this website is for you! Here's your chance to read all about Nashville pop, from the late-'50s "Nashville Sound" and the "countrypolitan" scene of the '70s to today's chart-toppers and pretty-boy hat acts, seen through the lens of DJ Joe Sixpack, a hick music know-it-all with a heart of gold...
Your comments and suggestions are welcome, particularly suggestions for artists or albums I might have missed. Other types of twang are reviewed elsewhere in my Hick Music Guide.
This is the fourth page covering the letter "A"
Tim Ash "Up On Blocks" (A&M Productions, 2013) (MP3)
(Produced by Tim Ash)
Independently produced, wannabee-Top 40 country-pop, tilting towards the "rowdy dudes" end of the spectrum. Ash lays a lot of the same cards and strikes a lot of the same poses as the bigtimers, reminding listeners of guys like Keith Urban on the mellow end and, I dunno, Montgomery Gentry on the more bubbadelic side of things, particularly on songs like "Beertropolis" and "Tattoos, Tractors, Tanktops, And Trucks." This album didn't really capture my imagination, but that doesn't mean Mr. Ash won't become the next big thing in Nashville. I'm certainly no bellwether or commercial success!
Leon Ashley - see artist discography
Susan Ashton "Closer" (Capitol, 1999)
Hmmm. A contemporary Christian singer's big bid for commerical country success, after a decade-long career as a star at the top of her original niche market. Her bright, poppy sound, courtesy of producer Emory Gordy, Jr., has a pleasantly dated sound, but her evangelical Christian reputation may have held her back in the charts. Most of these songs are romantically themed, though the single, "Faith Of The Heart," was a bit preachy. Not bad, but probably not strong enough to break away from her old scene, and not religious enough to please her old fans.
Ernest Ashworth "Greatest Hits" (Curb, 1981)
One of Curb's nicest oldies reissues! Although this omits Ashworth's early Decca singles, but it's a real treat hearing all his best early '60s material from the Hickory label, back when he was regularly featured in the Country Top Ten. Ashworth had an odd, thin voice, not unlike Roger Miller's, and was entirely willing to blend his honkytonk shuffles with a little rock'n'roll bounce. Songs like "Talk Back Trembling Lips," "Pushed In A Corner," and "I Love To Dance With Annie" have a swinging cheerfulness about them, while weeper like "Because I Cared," "The DJ Cried" and "I Take The Chance" (a cover of a Louvin Brothers song) proved him to be a superior balladeer. If you like Roger Miller or Buck Owens, this is a disc well worth tracking down!
Ernest Ashworth "The Best Of The Best Of Ernie Ashworth: Talk Back Trembling Lips" (Gusto, 2004)
Ernest Ashworth "Hits Of Today And Tomorrow" (Hickory, 1964) (LP)
Both of Ashworth's original albums came in the wake of successful singles: this 1964 debut came after "Talk Back Trembling Lips" hit #1 (in the previous year). His LP from five years later gathered some of the singles that came afterwards, few of which cracked the Top Twenty.
Ernest Ashworth "The Best Of Ernie Ashworth" (Hickory, 1969) (LP)
Asleep At The Wheel - see artist discography
Chet Atkins - see artist discography
Rodney Atkins "Honesty" (Curb, 2003)
(Produced by Ted Hewitt, Justin Niebank & Rodney Atkins)
Formulaic Guy-Country pop... The title track opens the album, a shameless weeper about a couple on the rocks, followed by a bunch of cookie-cutter country-pop, many of the songs using awkwardly-placed Big Words, so that we know he's not just some dumb hick singer. I guess he's trying to be a cross between Toby Keith and Lyle Lovett; not sure it's really working for him, but I could see Atkins growing into a more effective, soulful performer. Right now he seems pretty prefab and flimsy: his voice isn't enough to compensate if the production on the song doesn't work for you, and mostly the songs are pretty predictable and trite.
Rodney Atkins "If You're Going Through Hell" (Curb, 2006)
Good ole boy sloganeering is taken to hew heights on this Atkins album, which opens with "These Are My People," in which the downsizing of the American dream is sold as a positive virtue in need of a singalong anthem. Here, the nostalgia-laced middle-American small town that crowds the Country charts is a graveyard of dreams: when the kids in town grew up, nobody got a good job, nobody moved anywhere, they all got thrown out of college after partying a whole bunch, but now they are as happy as can be with their limited horizons and lowered expectations. Shouting matches at Little League games and pounding back a few cold ones at the local tavern count as life's little blessings or, as the chorus goes, "it ain't pretty, but it's real." Ah, okay. So, all those elitist snobs who got a college degree aren't "real" Americans, like all the C-minus average bubbas in your mythical settle-for-less small town. Gotcha. I dunno; personally I find this a little depressing and also offensive: it's not the Middle America I grew up in, and it's not the American dream I remember. Even with a bad economy and a sour political scene, do we really have to celebrate mediocrity and failure? Whatever happened to having faith in America making us better and lifting us up? I mean, look, I know this is just another would-be country hit that's being dumb on purpose because someone, somewhere decided that that's what the country audience should be into, but I've been listening to country music for forty years, and I'm getting tired of all these phony-baloney fake-redneck anthems. It's just not culturally authentic, and it's getting old. Really, really old. On the other hand, if you like this kind of stuff, this album will not disappoint: "Man On A Tractor," "About The South," "Cleaning This Gun"... All pretty much what you'd expect. Sorry, Nashville, I'm just not buying it.
Rodney Atkins "It's America" (Curb, 2008)
(Produced by Ted Hewitt & Rodney Atkins)
Pretty cool, for Top Forty. In fact, I'd say Rodney Atkins has really arrived as a singer. He sounds robust, confident, in control, and pretty funny, too. There's plenty of Nashville formula, to be sure -- small-town chest-thumping, soulful sensitive-guy stuff, and the title track, which is one of those would-be national anthems that you either love or you don't. Where he really hits his stride is on the goofy, manly-man honkytonk novelty songs: "Friends With Tractors" is fun, and "Fifteen Minutes" is a gas, a funny song with a great chorus: "I gave up smokin', drinkin' and wimmin last night/it was the worst fifteen minutes of my life..." Great stuff, worthy of Tracy Byrd, Mark Chesnutt or Toby Keith. If you like bubba-oriented Nashville hits, this disc is pretty good.
Rodney Atkins "Rodney Atkins" (Curb/Crackerbarrel, 2010)
(Produced by Ted Hewitt & Rodney Atkins)
This disc is a reissue of Atkins' 2006 album, If You're Going Through Hell, along with two new tracks, the 2009 single, "Farmer's Daughter," and "More Like Your Memory," which is exclusive to this release. On the opening track, "These Are My People," good ole boy sloganeering is taken to hew heights as the downsizing of the American dream is sold as a positive virtue in need of a singalong anthem. Here, the nostalgia-laced middle-American small town that crowds the Country charts is a graveyard of dreams: when the kids in town grew up, nobody got a good job, nobody moved anywhere, they all got thrown out of college after partying a whole bunch, but now they are as happy as can be with their limited horizons and lowered expectations. Shouting matches at Little League games and pounding back a few cold ones at the local tavern count as life's little blessings or, as the chorus goes, "it ain't pretty, but it's real." Oh, okay -- I get it. So, you're saying that all those elitist snobs who got a college degree aren't "real" Americans, like the C-minus average blue-collar bubbas in this mythical, settle-for-less small town. Gotcha. I dunno; personally I find this a little depressing and also offensive: it's not the Middle America I grew up in, and it's not the American dream I remember. Even with a bad economy and a sour political scene, do we really have to celebrate mediocrity and failure? Whatever happened to having faith in America making us better and lifting us up? I mean, look, I get that this is just another toss-off country hit that's being "dumb" on purpose because someone, somewhere decided that that's what the country audience should be into, but I've been listening to country music for forty years, and I'm getting tired of all these phony-baloney fake-redneck anthems. It's just not culturally authentic, and it's getting old. Really, really old. On the other hand, if you like this kind of stuff, the rest of this album will not disappoint: "Man On A Tractor," "About The South," "Cleaning This Gun"... Pretty much what you'd expect. Sigh.
Atlanta "Pictures" (MCA, 1984) (LP)
Atlanta "Atlanta" (MCA, 1984) (LP)
Bobby Austin "Apartment No. 9" (Capitol, 1967) (LP)
(Produced by Fuzzy Owen)
Singer Bobby Austin was a longtime member of the West Coast country scene... He moved to LA in the 1950s and played local club dates before landing a job playing bass in Wynn Stewart's band -- he also played with Buck Owens and Tommy Collins, and probably everyone else in Bakersfield at the time. Austin had his own moment in the spotlight with the success of "Apartment No. 9," a 1966 single that originally came out on the independent Tally label, and came close to cracking the Top 20, peaking at #21. That success led to a couple of LPs on Capitol Records, and while his later singles never did as well, Austin laid down some nice, rootsy recordings that stand up pretty well over the years. This first album is his best, with powerful debts to Buck and Merle Haggard, sticking to a generally downtempo mode with pretty familiar-sounding backing. About half the songs were Austin originals, rounded out by a couple of Haggard tunes, a Wayne Walker oldie, and of course "Apartment No. 9," which was written by Johnny Paycheck. All in all, a decent if understated set of honkytonk ballads. Worth a spin!
Bobby Austin "An Old Love Never Dies" (Capitol, 1968) (LP)
(Produced by Fuzzy Owen)
A lesser entry in the Bakersfield ouvre, though worth checking out, I suppose. There's some good material, and solid backing by an unnamed but very West Coast-y band, but the sad truth is, Austin's vocals are a pretty hard sell. He's singing very much in the style of his old boss, Wynn Stewart, but even Wynn is an acquired taste and Austin doesn't quite hit the right
Bryan Austin "Bryan Austin" (Capitol, 1994)
Chad Austin "Chad Austin" (Asylum, 2000)
I'm sorry, but country stars just don't get to be named "Chad." They don't. Sorry, dude, but what were you thinking? Way too yuppie and Wall Street. Anyway, despite the country-club first name, here's an amiable also-ran... His voice is a little unusual and lacks oompf, while the material and execution are all just so-so. Some okay shuffle tunes, though, like "Shows Ta Go Ya," but nothing that made a dent in the charts... Will he be back for more? Hmmm... I guess time will tell.
Darlene Austin "Holding On" (SSW, 2000)
Dreadful, synthy, soul-y country from the 1980s... Reminiscent of K. T. Oslin, the Judds and stuff like that... I think this CD is a collection of her singles from 1982-87, all of which were strictly Back Forty material. Doesn't do much for me, but I imagine there'll be some diehard fans out there who'll be glad to see this stuff in print again. A couple of songs, "I'm Gone Beat You to the Truck" and "Sunday Go to Cheatin' Clothes" are relatively rootsy and upbeat, but mostly this is tinkly-keyboards material, very much "of its time," and not material that ages well. If you want, you can order it directly from the artist.
Sherrie Austin "Words" (Arista, 1997)
At first glance, the chirpy, vivacious Austin seems like a breath of fresh air, but the thrill doesn't last. Her debut album opens with a twisting, Tanya Tucker-ish rebel-rock snarl ("Lucky In Love"), a mood that's somewhat sustained on the next track... And then it all goes to pot when the overly-obvious, issue-y, femme-oriented ballads kick in. Too many of those, and too many useless, distracting production touches slathered atop the uptempo tunes, which is where Austin may be at her best. Of her albums, this is probably the best, but still there's nothing on here that I'd need to come back to.
Sherrie Austin "Love In The Real World" (Arista, 1999)
Austin has a reedy, thin voice, which I guess could pass for a young Tanya Tucker or Rachel Sweet, if it weren't for her lack of ooompf in the clinch, and the generic sexy/come-on quality of the lyrics. The phony virginal lure of "Never Been Kissed" is kinda icky (and the song is really just teenieboppish bubblegum pop, worthy of Debbie Gibson, Pebbles and their ilk... ) Even a song like "Little Bird," which starts off with a promising Texas shuffle backbeat, devolves into hackneyed, blaring rock guitar riffs. And then those damn power ballads kick in! (Including one recycled from the last album... yeesh.) Austin's marginally cute, but definitely a second stringer.
Sherrie Austin "Followin' A Feelin' " (Madacy, 2001)
(Produced by Will Rambeaux)
This disc opens with a bland cover of Dolly Parton's classic, "Jolene," then slides sideways from there. When Austin just sings, it's okay, but as soon as the songs get high-concept or take on an overly-obvious "common touch" (playing up to the harried, late-for-the-bus, working class hero inside us all...) things get kinda yawnsville. For the most part, this album just seems overly intellectualized, overly calculated and tres formulaic. Songs like "In Our Own Sweet Time" and "Back Where I Belong" function okay as glitzy '80s-ish pop, but as country...? Nope. I can't think of a single song on here, really, that caught my sincere interest.
Sherrie Austin "Streets Of Heaven" (Broken Bow, 2003)
The title track -- a shameless weeper about a little girl dying and going to heaven -- is the album's highlight. The rest of this album is pretty vapid... Embarassingly so, actually. It's like hearing the daily diary of some would-be poet in junior high put to music, with appallingly blunt, simplistic lyrics and lame turns of phrase that I'm sure she thought were the bee's knees when she first wrote 'em. And, yes, Austin (co)wrote all but one of the songs on here. So she's prolific... good for her. Too bad she's not also a little more skillful. Poppy, formulaic rock-drenched Nashville nothingness.
Gene Autry -- see artist discography
Hoyt Axton -- see artist profile
Steve Azar "Heartbreak Town" (River North/Polygram, 1996)
(Produced by Joe Thomas, with Steve Azar & A. J. Masters)
Aggressively generic country-rock with a little bit of a Southern rock/honkytonk vibe... Azar's a pretty poor singer, though, and while he seems enthusiastic, the material is really weak and the arrangements and studio backup are uniformly sterile and unexciting. On the opening track, "I Never Stopped Lovin' You," I charitably thought, oh this kinda sounds like the Mavericks... But it was downhill from there, and this disc swiftly got on my nerves. Since Azar wrote all but one of the songs on here, I suppose this could be viewed as a sort of glorified songwriter's demo, but even then, there's nothing on here that stood out, or that I'd want to hear again, whether by Azar or some other artist. Pass.
Steve Azar "Waitin' On Joe" (Mercury Nashville, 2002)
Although he flopped the first time around, Azar came back a few years later and scored a big hit with this album's opener, "I Don't Have To Be (Until Monday)," a catchy, cute ode to the power of playing hooky from work... The rest of the album tilts towards softer, sappier ballads, but there's also some twang in there, and Azar, with his modest, moderate vocal presence, may stand out from the flock of blustery, too-slick modern Nashvillers... The single is great, that's for sure.
Steve Azar "Indianola" (Dang Records, 2007)
Steve Azar "Slide On Over Here" (Ride Records, 2009)
Steve Azar "Delta Soul, Volume One" (Redeye, 2011)
Commercial Country Albums - Letter "B"
Hick Music Index