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Johnny Rodriguez “Rodriguez” Classic Album Review

Greetings from Asheville, where the good music is as smooth as good coffee.  Today’s Classic Album Review is a journey back to the Spring of 1979.  After spending his first six years of stardom with the Mercury label, Johnny Rodriguez has switched labels, joining Epic and legendary producer Billy Sherrill, and is now seeing his first release for the CBS folks, hit the market.  While with Mercury, Johnny Rodriguez had done well in the album market, to go with a string of seventeen top ten singles, including six number ones.  His album success saw seven of his fourteen Mercury albums make the top ten, with an eighth just missing.  The self-titled Rodriguez didn’t chart as high as many of his Mercury releases (though the last two had failed to chart), peaking only at forty-five on the country albums list.  While the album may have only been moderately successful, the two singles from the album did pretty well.  The first release was a song that I consider to be one of his signature tunes, “Down On The Rio Grande”, along with “Fools For Each Other”.

“Down On The Rio Grande” is the opening track, heralding Johnny Rodriguez’s arrival to the Epic label.  The single would climb into the top ten, during the early Summer of 1979.  The single, along with much of this album, continued a shift that began with his latter Mercury issues, towards a smoother, slicker, more pop-country sound.  Though evident on this track, it actually blends well with the steel guitar and south-of-the-border sounds that are also implemented, here.  In addition, the song features a great melody that even after thirty-three years, will still stick in my head, whenever I hear it.

“Don’t Be Afraid To Say Goodbye” is a solid piece of music that, may not reach the same level of strength as the first track, but is far from being considered merely filler.  The best part of this track is a refrain that really stands out and hooks the listener.  A mid tempo track.

Continuing the medium to medium-slow tempo country-pop grooves is “When The Honeymoon Ends”, which lyrically, could hit home with many troubled marriages.  The lyrics are the obvious strength, here, though one should also find the chord arrangements and key changes to be very interesting, as well.

“Fools For Each Other” was the album’s second single, climbing into the Country 20, during the Fall of 1979, becoming his last solo  hit of the decade.  A strong composition that isn’t hindered by the smooth, slick production of the time, yet I have to admit that I think if it had been arranged in a more traditional style, similar to his earlier hits, this track would have been a killer piece.  Still, though, not one to skip over.

Side one ends with another good composition, “Driftin’ Away”.  Similar in arrangement and tempo to the rest of the first side, but even if you’re not a fan of that era’s country-pop sounds, listen to the song, itself, and be impressed by it’s melody and lyrics.

While side one is a somewhat mellow, chilled-out side, side two actually goes an entirely different direction, beginning with “Mexico Holiday”, which is a lite, rather airy sound that you can’t help but like.  This track is closer to traditional country, with some south-of-the-border stylings mixed in for good measure.  Fun track to listen to.

The beat picks up even more with “Paid Vacation”, a litely rocking track that features a cool, slightly funky sound.  Not quite as strong as most of the tracks on the album (lyrics aren’t as strong as the other nine), but the overall presentation helps make up for that.

With “Street Walker”, Johnny Rodriguez seems to be channeling his inner Lynyrd Skynyrd, as this track is as much Southern Rock as anything.  Again, the song isn’t quite to the same level as the others, but it’s still worth some listening.  And you have to give some credit, here, to Johnny Rodriquez, for showing that he could do a rocker and do it well.

Next, it’s the Gospel side of Johnny Rodriquez, with “Hand On My Shoulder”.  I like this track.  Good solid writing and infectious beat.

The album wraps with “I Give My Life A Second Look”, a nice track, again, showing off some strong writing skills by Johnny Rodriguez.  A good ending track for this collection.

Long out of print,  I actually had some trouble finding used copies of this album.  Originally released in vinyl, 8-track, and cassette formats, I did find a couple of vinyl pieces for around $5.

“Down On The Rio Grande” is the obvious Standout Track choice, here.  There’s actually 3 or 4 songs that could arguably called the Hidden Gem, but my choice is “When The Honeymoon Ends”.  Fine piece of writing.  As for the Weakest Track, I’ll go with the one that I had the least reaction to, “Paid Vacation”, though not a “weak” song, by any stretch, just not quite as strong as the others.

Overall, I like this album.  We often get caught up, when discussing this era, with the country-pop sound and how bad it was, etc., etc.  But, really, more often than not, the results weren’t bad, at all, especially at the hands of a producer like Billy Sherrill.  And I’ll take the late 70′s-early 80′s country-pop sounds over most of today’s gibberish, anytime.  This is a solid album that I would say is pretty consistent.  One thing that is definitely worth noting, particularly since I’ve mentioned, several times, the fine writing on this album, is that nine of the ten tracks were either written or co-written by Johnny Rodriquez.  He’s a very good writer, arguably even underrated.  I say this is an album worth grabbing for some good, solid gold country sounds.  I rate it a 3.5 out of 5.

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