Hello music lovers and a happy Spring to you all. I want to talk about a songwriter project I'm sure some of you have heard about already, or even have in your collection. I think this one deserves some special recognition. I'm speaking of the Liberty Records "Songwriters Series," conceived by A&R whiz Renee Bell.
The only other such undertaking by a major label in Nashville I can recall in recent years was RCA's "Signature" series, a compilation of noted writers at the time which received little or no promotion and went virtually unnoticed by the public. By contrast, the Liberty series consists of four individual albums on CD and cassette format as well as a compilation. The four songwriters signed were Pat Alger (four No. 1 hits for Garth Brooks, among others); Kostas (several No. 1 hits by Patty Loveless and Dwight Yoakam); Jill Colueei (No. 1 hits by Travis Tritt and Wynonna); and Jon Vezner (Top 10 hits by Kathy Mattea and Steve Wariner).
Released in September of 1994, the series was launched with plenty of press as well as in-store appearances by the quartet of writers. They were also sent on a 12-city tour, including parts of Canada from mid-October through November 20. Rather than the in-the-round format, they performed four across the stage, exchanging songs. So far the individual discs have sold a little over 7,000 each and the compilation is at around 15,000. A live performance was filmed and is due to be shown on network TV soon.
Whether the label plans another series of writers in the future is still undecided at this point, but I think it's very much to Liberty's credit for recognizing some of the industry's finest songwriters. Forging new paths of exposure for performing songwriters is always a welcome thing and very fitting for Liberty's recently retired Jimmy Bowen.
To my knowledge there were no singles released, although the compilation serves as a good sampling of selected cuts and was sent to radio. I don't think chart action was the intention.
Jill Colueei has been a singer and writer most of her life and is very much on the pop side of the musical spectrum. In addition to co-writing "No One Else On Earth" (Wynonna), with Sony-Tree's Sam Lorber and Stewart Harris, she's written or co-written hits and cuts for Michelle Wright, Anne Murray, Andy Childs, Lacy J. Dalton and others. She's also written songs in the films "Little Nikita" (Columbia), "White Water Summer" (Columbia) and "God Bless You, Uncle Sam" (MGM). She's been the lead vocalist on TV songs for the ABC-TV Theme, "America's Funniest Home Videos" Theme, The Disney Channel Theme and CBS's "Lonesome Dove" mini-series. She's sung commercials for Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Burger King, Coors Beer, Toyota and many others.
Her slightly raspy voice is most appealing. Her CD, loaded with big ballads, overall is very impressive, sharing production credits with Pamela Rose of the pop duo Kennedy-Rose. Crisp drum sounds and keyboards dominate the sound. I have no idea why she hasn't become a successful recording artist in her own right before now, except that she simply didn't want to pursue that path earlier in her career.
Kostas comes on strong with tight arrangements and a very unusual voice. It's not a typical sounding country voice, which I think is definitely on his side. His songs are so commercial and yet refreshing at the same time. The only cut that comes off a little too "radio" for radio's sake is "Two Timin' Two Stepper." Standouts include "If You Think" and "Ain't That Lonely Yet," which was co-written with Dwight Yoakam.
Kostas is an individual in lifestyle as well as musically. He lives in the mountains of Montana with his dog Sonny and likes it that way just fine. I have heard he's planning to split his time here and has just bought a house.
Georgia native Pat Alger started in the folk-singing community of Woodstock, N. Y., in the Seventies and struck first as a writer with "First Time Love" by Livingston Taylor just before coming to Nashville. His strong friendship with producer Jim Rooney led to his partnership at Forerunner Music and eventually paid off big with cuts by everybody from Canadian John Allen Cameron, Brenda Lee and Nanci Griffith to Kathy Mattea, Don Williams and Garth Brooks. Pat's record is warm, personable and folky and a treat to any listener who leans to the acoustic side. "Tear In Mamma's Eye," co-written with Bobby Fischer, is perhaps the best song on the album. The beautiful "We've Heard It All Before" actually makes a poignant social statement. Good God!
Of the four collections, Jon Vezner's comes off on the thin side musically. Jon's more a writer than a singer. The Grammy winner from 1990, "Where've You Been," is a great song co-written with the fresh and imaginative talent of Don Henry and is definitely a standout. "Something Still," co-written with Mary-Chapin Carpenter, is also a great piece of writing, but the cutesy "Don't Let That Hat Go to Your Head" falls short of its attempt to make a comment about the "hat" thing in country music these days. Stick to your serious ballads, John. You're good at it.
I highly recommend this entire collection of four strong singer/songwriters to any aspiring songwriters as well as fans of thoughtful, well-presented music. The compilation of two songs from each would be an excellent introduction. Again, I applaud Renee Bell and Jimmy Bowen for making it happen!
Alan Rhody is a Louisville native. A hit songwriter and touring acoustic performer based in Nashville, Tenn., he can be contacted at P. 0. Box 121231, Nashville, TN 37212.