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Boxcars of Memories (Ashwood Recordings)
By Kevin Gibson
Alan Rhody is one of those guys that your average surface-level music fan in Louisville may not have heard of – but chances are that fan may have heard one of Rhody's songs at some point.
Rhody, a Louisville native, penned a No. 1 hit ("I'll Be True to You") for the Oak Ridge Boys back in the late 1970s, and has been covered by the likes of Suzy Boggus, Lorrie Morgan, Del McCoury, Tanya Tucker, George Jones, Toby Keith, the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Ricky Van Shelton. Not a bad resume for a songwriter, no matter where he or she calls home.
Rhody has released a new album of originals, co-writes and covers that shows him in fine form via a stripped-down, live-in-the-studio sound that suits him well. Rhody is one of those fine musical story-tellers, the guy whose voice is just imperfect enough to be completely credible telling stories of pain, love, lost love and hard times. And with the exception of two tracks, Rhody plays all of the instruments on this disc as well.
This is a great album to listen to while staring out the window during a rainstorm and clutching a cold beer. Rhody is all about the song and its inherent emotional strength, as evidenced with the opening verse of "Tryin' to Find a Feelin'", which describes a "heart full of arrows, love and regret."
The song is about looking back, analyzing old emotions and what they meant when they were being felt versus what they mean in the present. The song evolves into a train metaphor (thus the album title, Boxcars of Memories) that hauls a faint optimism mixed in with the song's original uncertainty.
Rhody's "The Truth" is a first-person account from, well, the personification of the truth, and it's a tune that makes one wonder how it could not have been written before. Its gentle presentation makes it disarming in its … well, truth.
"I'm the tear in a drunk man's eye / The last breath when a soldier dies / I'm a newborn baby's cry." His assertion that "I'll always be around" is also tempered with "That don't mean I'm bound to be brought into the light," another truth that is all too prevalent – and this is a point the songwriter clearly finds unacceptable.
Another highlight is his collaboration with Tim Krekel, titled "Backstroke Up Main Street." The lyric is fairly simple and simply talks about life changes and growing up, with adulthood's trappings and responsibilities. But this one clearly has country radio potential, with its everyman perspective and easy melody. This sounds like a song one of the glitzy country boys of today could turn into a redneck hit by cranking up the tempo a bit and adding plenty of production. (I mean this as a compliment; I really do.)
But the album isn't over until you've heard "That's My Love," the only full-band recording on the disc. Lyrically, it's not nearly as deep as the rest of the stuff here, but it's a fun, countrified romp featuring backing vocals by Deborah Allen. While the song never seems to take off the way your ear will want it to, the interplay between Allen and Rhody is enough to make it work.
Rhody's songwriting skills certainly haven't diminished significantly as he nears 63, and he sounds in fine voice with this collection as well. As a man who has traveled all over North America sharing his music with the world, Rhody makes one wonder how many memories he has stored away in his own boxcars, waiting to be turned into more songs.
Find out more at alanrhody.com.