Label / Cat No: Gusto Records - SD-968X
First Released: 1976
What I Say...
Something strange is happening in Forgotten Albums land (yeah, it's a real place. Shut up.) You see, in the past I've listened to these albums once, maybe twice and reviewed almost as a knee-jerk reaction. But in relaunching this site, and almost by accident I've heard this one now maybe a dozen times, and something strange happened. Despite hating it the first couple listens, I think in this case at least, familiarity has bred content rather than contempt. I'm not going to be adding this to my list of top 100 favourite albums anytime soon, but if you persevere past the two opening tracks, there is something of merit here.
A very quick recap - This album opens with the two 'recitations' - Red Sovine ladles on the emotion in a spoken word short story over a competent country music background. But, but.... at the end of track 2, 'Little Rosa', he finally bursts into song and shows us what he can do, and boy can he do it. It's a great country voice, even if he overreaches at times (listen to the soundclip of 'It Ain't No Big Thing' to see what I mean). It's not one of the all time classic voices, but it's warm and emotive and perfectly suited to this kind of material.
I think it's fair to say that Good Ol' Red isn't breaking any new ground here with either the arrangements or the subject matter of the songs. But then why would he. This is traditional country from Nashville in 1975 - he's hardly likely to be the godfather of disco now, is he? I did find that after a while I was giving more honest subtitles to the songs which I think give a flavour is what we have here.
1. Teddy Bear = Disablement of a child is sad
2. Little Rosa = Death of a child is sad
3. It Ain't No Big Thing = My gal is leaving me
4. Last Mile Of The Way = My gal doesn't appreciate me
5. Bootlegger King = Redeemed by love and Jesus
1. Daddy = My Dad is better than your Dad
2. Love Is = Love is cliches
3. 1460 Elder Street = I'm responsible for the death of a man
4. Does Steppin' Out Mean Daddy Took a Walk = My Dad is worse that your Dad
5. 18 Wheels Hummin' Home Sweet Home = I love my truck - in a healthy way, of course
6. Sad Violins = Sadness is sad
In line with my more usual musical tastes, this album reminded me of Frank Zappa for two reasons. Firstly, there's the fact that when the PMRC were looking to censor or ban records for inappropriate content, one of the leading opposers to any legislation was Zappa for fairly obvious reasons. However, an unlikely ally in the fight against censorship was the Country Music fraternity. Because Country music deals with death, alcohol, and the darker side of the human condition it was ripe to become a target of a blanket censorship created by more sensitive individuals. It may be packaged in a traditional, homely format, but this tradition of Country song is folk music in its essence, songs that deal with the dark realities of life and living.
Secondly, there's more than a touch of 'Truck Driver Divorce' about this album, see...
There are another couple of songs I'd like to highlight. 1460 Elder Street is what you'd get if Porter Waggoner and Roald Dahl had joined forces for an episode of 'Tales of the Unexpected'. A soldier, about to be drafted out to Vietnam picks up a married woman who confides that she's lonesome as her husband is away fighting. After a torrid night of love (my interpretation, I add - Red is far too much of a gentleman to give any of the details away), she decides that she wants to be with the narrator, and tells him that after he comes back, he can live with her at 1460 Elder Street.
Some weeks later, in the heat of battle a grenade lands near our 'hero', and another soldier with nothing left to live for leaps onto the grenade killing himself but saving our chap. When he looks through his effects, he finds a 'Dear John' letter from the late soldier's wife. The return address being.... I won't insult your intelligence.
But this troubles me. You see, the woman in this story gets together with our man because she's lonely as her husband is away. And yet the man she chooses to replace him with is also a soldier and is also going away. How is this going to make things any different or better. And a man died because of this inconsistency. I shouldn't let it bother me, I really shouldn't. But it does.
For me though, there is one standout track on the album, and that's the side one closer 'Bootlegger King'. So it's a trite tale of a dirt poor boy who turns to crime, but is ultimately saved by the love of a good woman, the birth of his child, and finding Jesus. But it's a wryly observed bit of writing, and the music is just excellent. All those ingredients - piano, guitar, steel, fiddly are balanced just perfectly, each taking it in turn to shine, all over a rolling Johnny Cash style beat. It's a catchy little number, and no mistakin'. If there's one lasting tune from this album that makes it into one of my regular listens, it'll be this one.
I'm not ashamed to say I actually quite like this album. Well, I am a little ashamed, and I am of course excluding the title track, but overall it's a good Country album. The musicianship is brilliant, the arrangements excellent, and Red Sovine has a warm and inviting voice. I can't help but with he'd put it to slightly better use, but hey, it was a different time.
And for those of you who remember those heady, carefree days of part one of this review, this is the two minutes of scratched vinyl that was a welcome relief after the first two songs.
1. Teddy Bear
2. Little Rosa
3. It Ain't No Big Thing
4. Last Mile Of The Way
5. Bootlegger King
2. Love Is
3. 1460 Elder Street
4. Does Steppin' Out Mean Daddy Took A Walk
5. 18 Wheels Hummin' Home Sweet Home
6. Sad Violins
3 or 7 out of 10, depending on whether it's the first listen or the sixth...
Label / Cat No: Gusto Records - SD-968X
First Released: 1976
What else I Say...
OK, so what was meant to be an album review turned into a bit of a rant about just the first song. Sadly, I suspect that we're going to be walking down a well trodden path here, but join with me anyway as we move on to the next track...
'Little Rosa' is another recitation song, that is Red Sovine uses every ounce of his sincerity to regale us over a mournful steel guitar with the story of a grieving Italian immigrant trying to have a moment's peace over the grave of his late daughter. Well, that escalated quickly, I mean at least Teddy Bear for all his disabilities was a living breathing child. Two songs in and we're dealing with infant mortality. That's a pretty steep curve by anyone's standards.
It seems that Red recorded this song originally in 1956, and twenty years later re-recorded it, presumably in the belief that it fitted the light-hearted tone of this album. It opens with the kind of close-harmony female singing that seems more fitting for 1956 than 1976, and which is absent from the original. And while the production values are better, I think I prefer the orginal for two reasons.
Firstly, it's very slightly slower, a bit more sparse with the instrumentation, and just seems to fit the delicate subject matter better even if the tremulous emotion in Mr. Sovine's voice is just over the edge of believability. And secondly, because in the intervening 20 years, Red has obviously been practising his cod Italian accent, and lays it on so much more thickly.
At first I was quite shocked - we live in an age where even the gentlest mocking of the peculiarities of someone speaking English as a second tongue is frowned upon and the comedy accent is all but a thing of the past. But actually, this was recorded in 1956 and 1976, and things were different then. Just using Italian as an example as Red is here, we still found it "hilarious" with Joe Dolce and 'Shaddup You Face' in 1981, and still finding it just as funny 8 years later with this sort of thing...
I do believe that after Red has intoned "... during the course of our conversation and in his broken English this is the story just as he told it to me..." it would be a bit weird if he then went on to relate the tale in his West Virginian drawl. I suppose any humour we hear is derived from the very fact that we are used to hearing the 'comedy' Italian accent, and it does trigger those memories of 'Allo 'Allo and Mind Your Language.
And to be fair, there is no mockery at all - the purpose of this song is to tug at your heartstrings, pure and simple, and a pro like Red wouldn't undermine that by even hinting that the man telling the tale to him was a figure of fun. Actually, looking at the lyrics written down gave me something that the recorded version didn't.
The over-sentimentality of the song version hides the compassion of the narrator. After all, this is a story that starts with Red going to visit the grave of a friend, noticing a man crying at a graveside, and him going over, putting a hand on his shoulder and engaging with the mourner. There's a kindness, an empathy which isn't the focus of the song, but which jumped out at me when I ignored the delivery and just looked at the text. I was surprised to find myself suddenly thinking about the song in a different way. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that songs about grieving fathers needs more than a couple of listens before the effect wears off, and I shan't be adding this to a playlist anytime soon, but it did make me more open to this album as a whole. It's odd, as this song is just as 'mawkishly sentimental' as Teddy Bear in many ways, but whereas that left me cold and feeling deliberately manipulated, 'Little Rosa' with even a little reflection became quite sweet and endearing.
And so that just leaves us with the whole of the rest of the album to deal with in one post! Yeah, I can do that, surely.... So for now, here's Red Sovine with his 1956 version of 'Little Rosa' as performed in 1962. Try not to be too dazzled by the Rhinestones.
And as a treat, here's Red in glorious technicolour performing the song with Webb Pierce, who appears to be wearing one of Abba's outfits.
Label / Cat No: Gusto Records - SD-968X
First Released: 1976
What The Album Blurb Says:
The Country Music industry is made up of all sorts of people. Most of the performers seem to have one particular area in which they excel. Some have great personalties [sic] which overcome thier lack of talent, some are beautiful to look at, some are fantastic musicians, some have superior voice qualities, and I could go on and on.
I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that every successful entertainer possesses a certain quality which seems to set him apart from all the rest. The fact that he or she is unique is one reason for that artist's success. I believe that to become a superstar you must have a voice that is easily recognizable. For instance, when you hear Johnny Cash, you know immediatly [sic] that it is Johnny Cash. Nobody has to tell you. The same is true of Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow and all the others.
Red Sovine is a man with that quality of voice. He is gifted with that certain unique difference that sets him apart from all the rest. His voice seems to have been especially designed to allow him to do the kind of songs which have made him as popular as he is. When I listen to Phantom 309, Giddy Up Go, and now to Teddy Bear, I know that there is no other man who could have done them any better. He is the best in the world at what he does. And most performers will tell you that it is much more difficult to talk a lyric than to sing it. Red Sovine tells his stories with a warmth that is untouchable. He milks every drop of meaning out of every song he records.
I was present when no less than a dozen people heard Teddy Bear for the first time, and without exception, They all reached for something to wipe that uncontrollable tear from their face. Those tears let you know that the performer has captured the song and projected the words with believability, and believability is what recording is all about.
Red, I envy you. I wish that I had the ability to do what you do with a spoken lyric. For what you do, you are the best in the world.
And, incidentally, the first time I ever heard about Teddy Bear was in a telephone conversation with Charlie Dick.......... He didn't see me pull my hankerchief [sic] out of my pocket....... Nobody did.
What I Say...
Back in the heady days of 2010, when the world seemed young and fresh and hope was abundant, I pre-recorded a load of albums so they were ready to pop onto my steam powered phone and listen to at my leisure. I'd set the album recording, go and do something else, and pop back just to flip the vinyl over and check. These files have been sitting on my hard drive, faithfully backed up and transferred onto each new computer, waiting for their moment in the sun.
On playing back this particular album, I found that the third song, "It Ain't No Big Thing" included 2 minutes of the needle stuck in a groove. As I was driving at the time, forwarding through wasn't really an option, and as I listened hypnotised by the repetitive 'can it be, can it be, can it be' I had a sudden realisation that I was enjoying this loop more than I had the previous two songs.
A comment on a previous incarnation of this blog called me 'fashionably cynical' when I announced my dislike for the mawkishly sentimental. It's the only time I've ever been called fashionable, so I choose to take it as a compliment. However, if the mawkishly sentimental is your thing, then these opening tracks are definitely for you.
Red, or Woodrow as his mother knew him, found a niche market in country music with his sentimental and/or trucker songs. I've encountered albums full of trucker songs before, and I'll be honest, it didn't really turn me into a fan. In 'Teddy Bear' Red is clearly mining deeply into both seams - bear with me while I try and explain....
'Teddy Bear' is the C.B. handle of a disabled (or in the acceptable parlance of the time, 'crippled') boy, who is lonely and calling up truckers. We find out in sequence that a) his mother has told him not to use the radio, b) he uses it anyway because he gets lonesome sometimes, c) he gets lonesome because his Mom's at work, and d) his Mom's at work because his Dad, an erstwhile trucker, died in an accident a while ago because he was driving home in the snow and let his desire to get back to the family overbear his ability to drive safely in hazardous conditions.
After telling his tale of woe to a soft-hearted trucker over the radio, he says he has to go because his Mom will be home soon. This duplicity is unforgivable - he knows he's doing wrong, as he's aware he has to hide his actions from his grieving single parent, but Teddy Bear doesn't care. As he's leaving, the trucker asks him his address, and Teddy Bear gives it to him!
I know we live in an age where we're all aware of the dangers of giving out too much personal information over the internet, but even in 1975 I'm sure this would be considered a risky move, but nobody, especially Red seems overly bothered that a disabled boy has announced to strangers over the radio that he's home alone. Anyway, our soft-hearted trucker immediately turns his rig around to go to the house, only to find on his arrival that all the truckers around were queued up around the block to take Teddy Bear for a ride in their cab. That fashionably cynical part of me can't help casting Teddy Bear as a master manipulator, playing these truckers like a cheap violin, making them come round and take him out for trips.
And so as the song ends, our primary trucker is going home, safe in the knowledge that he's made a little boy happy when Teddy Bear's Mom comes over the radio to say Thank You to all the truckers who've made Teddy Bear so happy. The same Mom who had been telling Teddy Bear not to use the CB while she was out. Seems that she was won over easily - more manipulation from the boy himself no doubt.
All this is delivered in Red's sincerity-overdriven voice over what is admittedly a really nice country tune. All the ingredients are there - steel guitar introduction, rolling piano, brushed drums, but the cloying sentimentality of this song just leaves me cold. When this was released in the mid-seventies, it proved to be Red's biggest hit and stormed the Country Music charts. And to be fair, if I try really hard to remember what it was like before the cynicism took over, I can sort of understand why people would latch onto this - though that's for another post. But looking at some of the comments under the YouTube video for this song, people still unironically (is that a word?) consider it to be a great track, and the manufactured sentimentality doesn't seem to bother them the way it does me.
From what I can make out, this was Red's career peak which to me seems a shame as there are so many better tracks on this album. Red also recorded a song called 'Little Joe' in which Teddy Bear as an adult is a character. Except apparently by this stage, Teddy Bear can walk. Given the evidence above of his abilities in manipulation, is it so far fetched of me to speculate that his attention seeking behaviour might also extend to pretending he couldn't walk? Yes, yes it probably is, but I'm just putting it out there.
Having dwelt so long on the title track, I'm going to break with tradition and split this review into a number of parts. After all, if you thought that this song was cloyingly sentimental, just wait until we get to track two...
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, Teddy Bear by Red Sovine
Little Joe, the 'sort of follow up' to Teddy Bear. I hope you have your hankies ready - he's upped the ante, and on top of the sentimentality and truckers, we also have a heroic dog. I know!!
And because I can't resist a foreign language song, here's a cover of Teddy Bear in Dutch. You can't say I don't treat you right, you lucky people.
For those of you who want to have a go at being Red Sovine for a day (and why wouldn't you, eh?) there's a Karaoke version of 'Teddy Bear' here. Go on, you know you want to. And oddly enough, I'm pretty convinced that it wouldn't be too hard to use the same track for 'The Green Green Grass of Home'.
Label / Cat. No: Ebony Records - ERC1
First Released: 1978
What The Album Blurb Says...
Carl Gibson, being of Cherokee Indian descent, is one of the most fiercely independent men I know, (this being a typical Indian trait). He created this record almost entirely alone and unaided. It has been my privilege to witness a great talent at work. His "Sessions" in the studio would make good writing for a "Best Seller" alone. His moods during the recording, the anguish when he fell short of his aims, his great elation when "things" went right. He is voted by Opinion Poll as one of the World's leading "Country Fingerstyle Guitarists", to me, after watching him, this is an understatement!!! His Vocal Range is second to none. To see him "LIVE" is sensational, but it's impossible to appreciate his great talent by just one or even two performances. He created this Album with just his voice, one electric guitar, one acoustic guitar, bass and a tambourine, and his deep determination to 'achieve'. Well, he certainly has achieved, in this case, a more beautiful portrayal of Vocal and Instrumental talent than I've ever heard in this field before. His outstanding arrangements of 'Ghost Riders' and 'Skip-a-Rope" are, I'm sure, going to be among the biggest hits in the field of Country, since they were first written two decades ago. I may add at this stage, that he puts great store by his choice of sound engineer Des Bennett, the only other person to work with Carl on the Album. He acknowledges Des to be certainly one of the best in Britain today...
Carl has just one particular life-long friend who has recently become his co-producer and adviser, Jeff Purnell. In General Production, Research, Publicity Promotions and the fiercely competitive field of Marketing, Jeff has no equal! He handles all of these with a quiet but extremely powerful driving force, as well as being an influence on Carl, which proves a steadying effect. Every decade carries a provincial "Star Maker". I believe Jeff Purnell to be in this category.
"Chapter One" can only pave the way to Chapter Two, Chapter Th.....
WATCH FOR THEM....
What I Say
I would have thought it a pretty basic requirement that the person writing your sleeve notes should probably like you. It can only help to sell your record if you get a kind word or two extolling your virtues, and saying what a great singer / musician / human being you are. At first glance, it seems that Patti Noble is doing a fantastic job at selling Carl Gibson - if you take the gushing prose at face value, you'd think that here was a talent unparalleled in the Country Music field, that Patti had discovered a new Dylan or McCartney.
But look a bit closer. He's described variously as 'fiercely independent' (read: stubborn, awkward and impossible to work with), has only one life-long friend (is anti-social), and needs a 'steadying effect' (is difficult to manage). Underneath the high praise, I think that Patti's had just about all she can of Carl's artistic temperament, and this is her chance to let the world know what he's really like. She'd have been more honest if she'd just scrawled 'I think this man is an absolute shit' across the back of the album.
Oh well, I can't vouch for his character, but I hardly think it's surprising that a Cherokee might harbour a tendency towards fierce independence. You can hardly blame them.
Of course, talk about Native American musicians, and thoughts turn immediately to Jimmy Carl Black. What do you mean who? Jimmy Carl Black was a member of Frank Zappa's original 'Mother's of Invention' which in my eyes elevates him to hero status without question. Oops - I've given to much away. Anyway, my mate Shaun, through a series of 'too complicated to go into now circumstances' once let Jimmy sleep in his bed. Jimmy duly thanked Shaun by autographing his toilet door. When Shaun then moved house from Haringey to Lewes, the door moved with them. Some poor sod bought a nice house in London without a toilet door all because of Frank Zappa's drummer.
Well, it's not much of an anecdote, but at least it's 100% true. And besides, it's curious to notice that Carl and Jimmy share a moustache. Well, I don't mean they have one between them, but they both wear the same style. I am ignorant of Indian ways, so I can't venture an opinion as to whether it's part of their cultural heritage, but personally I think it's probably just a coincidence.
Anyway, back to the album. I think it was a brave assertion of Patti Noble's that this 'Chapter One' would pave the way for future Chapters. I have to say, I've scoured the internet, and I can't find any mention of Carl, let alone of Chapter's Two, Three or beyond. I assume it's safe to say that this was pretty much it, and that it failed to live up to the high ambitions that Carl held. It also strikes me that this being record catalog number ERC1 that this was probably something of a vanity project, and that Ebony Records didn't survive (in this incarnation at least) very much after this album was released.
I mean, Carl has an OK voice - he can hold a tune which is more than I can. He seems to have quite a range, demonstrated in 'Ghost Riders' and 'Rose Marie' where the high notes are frankly scary. His guitar picking is fine. What more can I say? It's fine.
But this album doesn't make any kind of statement. It's a competent musician playing it safe with a pile of standards. There's no individuality, nothing to make this stand out against the other countless covers of 'Ruby' (Don't Take Your Love To Town) or 'Rose Marie'. I'm not searching for endless novelty, and there's no point in change for the sake of it, but I think it goes some way to explaining why Carl Gibson isn't remembered as an outstanding international artist. There is no character or personality in this album. It's just those same old songs. Again.
If there is anything that marks this album out, it's that Carl has a tendency to sound anguished. Yes, he does anguished very well. The cries of 'Johnny , remember me' closing the song of the same name takes that 60s schlock to a whole new level. But this anguish is best demonstrated on 'Scarborough Fair', my favourite track from this album. The 'remember me to one who lives there' no longer sounds like a request to send your best wishes, but an animal response to being forgotten by your true love. It actually made me stop in my tracks and listen, which was a nice contrast to the rest of the album.
If only he hadn't followed it by an overly jangly and jolly version of 'Ring of Fire'. The fool.
No Carl Gibson, I'm afraid, so here's the original JCB instead...
1. Ghost Riders
2. Okie From Muskogee
3. Fight'n Side Of Me
4. Scarborough Fair
5. Ring of Fire
6. Johnny Remember Me
7. Bobbie Magee
2. There'll Never Be
3. Rose Marie
5. Lonesome Me
6. Spanish Eyes
7. Phoenix Arizona
3 out of 10, (2 points for Scarborough Fair, 1 for Johnny Remember Me)
Label / Cat. No: Karma Records KZ1002LS
First Released: 1979
What The Album Blurb Says...
Here, at last, is the long awaited first album by Shropshire’s ‘Mr Entertainment’ Tony Best – and if you are reading this wondering whether or not to buy one, read no more. Buy it now! You won’t be disappointed.
Including as it does 14 of the songs for which he gets the most requests, all the songs are favourites ranging from old country music standards to recent chart hits for Larry Gatlin and Kenny Rogers. Add a few of Don Williams’ most popular songs, a couple of the best loved country gospel numbers and a fine version of the Bee Gees’ hit ‘Words’, and you have the recipe for a great album that will be eagerly snapped up by Tony Best’s many fans.
And you can count me as one of his biggest fans. Like many professional acts who travel all over Britain singing country music, I first met Tony when we appeared together a few years ago at a show in the small Shropshire village of Minsterley. I took an immediate liking to the warm, friendly personality of the man described as “22 stones of entertainment” – and what better description!
He was born in South Wales, entered the Forces straight from school, and served in the R.A.F. for twelve years, during which time he entertained in such places as Germany, Cyprus, Aden and the Persian Gulf. On leaving the service, Tony spent some time playing in groups, appearing in many different parts of the country. But it is since he came to live in the thriving Shropshire town of Shrewsbury that he has established himself as one of the most talented all-round entertainers in the business.
As a comedian, he will soon have you rocking with laughter – he was recently voted the winner of an award as ‘Comedian of the Year’ by Staffordshire and Cheshire Clubland; an excellent compere for any kind of show with the ability to get an audience with him from the first minute he walks on stage; a talented musician, usually playing accordion to back his own fine singing voice, and the versatility to entertain any type of audience, from a chidren’s party to a rugby club stag night.
This then is a brief look at the big man with the big talent, who is destined to be one of the big names in all-round entertainment, Tony Best. I am proud to have been asked by Tony to write these few words, and proud to know him as a friend.
Good Luck in everything you do, Tony, and here’s to continued success.
What I Say
Oh what a fantastic find this is for so many reasons. I’ve mentioned before that I have a strict rule when choosing albums for review, and that is that I go by cover alone. I don’t allow anything to get in the way of that snap decision, not even reading the sleeve notes. So imagine my excitement when I found I’d got an album by a local artist, Shropshire being only 7 miles from my front door.
I can’t think of any other famous people from Shropshire except Percy Thrower, so history wasn’t really on Tony’s side in terms of heritage. After all, I’ve been to Minsterley village hall, and it’s really not the most auspicious of venues in which to be discovered.
The cover shows our Tony in a leather bomber jacket, looking for all the world like Arthur Scargill’s cheeky younger brother, his warm, avuncular face oozing reassurance. This is a man you can trust to deliver the goods. On the back of the album we get a full body shot of Tony standing next to an ornamental chair - relaxed pose, one hand on the back of the chair, the other tucked into his trouser pocket. His blue suit is buttoned up, but the lack of tie shows his devil-may-care attitude. The album is also autographed to ‘June & Jim’, who have clearly treasured this album since 1979, as it’s in mint condition.
My favourite aspect of this album is that the title and artist rhyme – Tony Best – By Request. I think that albums would be a lot more interesting in general if artists took more effort to rhyme their name with the album title. Who wouldn’t want to buy ‘On The Cover of Vogue’ by Kylie Minogue? Or ‘Playing With Dave In The Park’ by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. At the very least, you now have a game to while away long hours with the family over Christmas. Consider that my gift to you. You’re welcome.
I have doubts as to whether anyone would bill themselves these days as ’22 Stones of Entertainment’. It probably contravenes some kind of hate crime law, but this album hails from less enlightened times, and Tony’s size defines the man. Which makes it all the more surprising to find that he has quite a high register, coping admirably with the Bee Gees classic ‘Words’, and hitting a worryingly high final note on ‘I Don’t Want To Cry’.
Tony’s strengths are without doubt the country tunes. This whole work is dripping in country, whereby even the more rockin’ numbers have the benefit of steel guitars draped all over them (played, I might add, by the gloriously named ‘Slim Pickens’). This is a man who takes his Country Music seriously – and boy does he take it seriously (but of that more later….) His voice isn’t as bombastic as you might expect, though clearly a history of working the clubs comes through in some of the dramatics that his vocal melodies display. There’s a fragility in most of the songs here, but give him a standard like ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, and he turns in a polished and professional performance.
What we have here is a product of its times. It’s country music in the traditional mould. It’s not going to break down any barriers. But if you like your Country Music sung by a Welshman in Shropshire with a mid-Atlantic twang, then Tony really is your Best option.
1. San Antonio Rose
2. You’re My Best Friend
4. One Day At A Time
5. I Don’t Want To Cry
6. Turn Out The Light (Love Me Tonight)
7. The Old Rugged Cross
1. Love – Or Something Like It
2. A Legend In My Time
3. Today I Started Loving You Again
5. Some Broken Hearts Never Mend
6. Nobody’s Child
7. China Doll
8.75 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Hallmark Records HMA 230
First Released: Sometime After 1963
What The Album Blurb Says...
Comfortable. At first glance it doesn't seem the ideal word to sum up the sound of Miki and Griff, but listen a little closer to the kind of songs that they sing to the way in which they're presented and you may, after all, find it a rather apt appraisal.
They're comfortable because everything that they do vocally is easy on the ear and has a warm and friendly approach, rather like the greeting of an old and much loved friend. It's an approach that this two-some have found success with ever since they teamed up and began delighting stage and television audiences. And in the late 1950's they began to find recording success, notably with "Little Bitty Tear" which, despite the formidable competition offered by Burl Ives, gave the couple a solid chart hit.
This collection of songs encompasses titles that Miki and Griff fans know and love. "Vaya Con Dios" "Can't stop loving you" "Tennessee Waltz" and "Hold back tomorrow" are the sorty of songs we expect Miki and Griff to sing and because they perform them so delightfully and with their own natural charm, listening is, well... comfortable?
What I Say
I had no idea that there was an English country movement in the late 50s. However, I should have guessed - growing up in Suffolk in the 70s, where the populace was 20 years behind the times, the proliferation of Country bands (I'm told I mustn't call it Country & Western) should have been a giveaway.
I'd also never heard of Miki and Griff, but the album cover just oozed drew me in. The slightly older lady with pearl necklace (ooer missus) and very 50s dress sitting on a mock stile while a slightly leering gentleman in acryclic cardigan and a side parting you could use as a set square leans in in a vaguely threatening way is classic charity shop record cover. There's even the kind of toy cat that causes nightmares in over-sensitive children lurking between the happy couple.
The music? Well, the music is incidental - I could look at these two all day, but the assessment of 'comfortable' is one I'd go along with. If only because all the tunes seem vaguely familiar. The title track, which opens the album, is just a distillation of every country-lite tune you've ever heard. The steel guitar is understated, and you can just feel the guitarist wanted to break out and wail all over it. Rockin' Alone tells a sad story of geriatric abuse, and in what was obviously a more innocent time, Griff (and I am assuming Griff is the male in this partnership) says he knows of some teenagers who would love to have an old lady like this to look after, as if she were their own granny. These days the teens would nick her pension to spend on cider. Probably. Yes, yes, I know there are some perfectly lovely teenagers out there, before anyone starts complaining. Which is unlikely, really, seeing as nobody reads this yet. Or possibly ever....
Anyway, yes, so the tunes continue. Vaya Con Dios.... well, it probably sounded exotic in 1962. I don't speak Spanish, so for all I know it could mean "take twice daily with food". I don't remember what 'I can't stop loving you' was like, and 'The Tears Break Out On Me' is a maudlin tale, comparing crying to some kind of nasty rash. What where they thinking?
I have to admit that my mind wandered by the time I got to Side 2, mainly because it was all so samey. There were moments where you could just tell that Miki & Griff wanted to rock out a little more, let rip, scare the older generation. This is evident by the Chas & Dave style chorus in Crystal Chandeliers. But thankfully they managed to just about keep a lid on things, and their light country stylings won out.
So in short, probably what you expect from the cover. Inoffensive British take on American country music. Comfortable? Like a pair of tweed slippers. But perhaps 'Predictable' is a better word for it.
A Little Bitty Tear
Rockin' Alone (In An Old Rocking Chair)
Vaya Con Dios
I Can't Stop Loving You
The Tears Break Out On Me
Hold Back Tomorrow
I Want To Stay Here
Have I Stayed Away Too Long
6 out of 10