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Album Review: “Classic Chris Ledoux” by Chris Ledoux

May 8, 2008

Classic Chris Ledoux (W/Dvd)

Although he was a huge flop on the charts, with only two actual hits to his name, Chris Ledoux has earned his place as a country music icon and and inspiration to countless artists, the most famous being the immortal Garth Brooks. This collection spans the greatest of his hits and even adds a DVD featuring videos for all but one of the said hits. In true country music fashion Chris used his talent and entertainment value before his death to prove that sometimes it doesn’t take chart success to succeed, if you have the heart and the love for the music it can all work out. Every single track found here is a sentiment to a master who could have and should have become a legend.

The first track on the album is Chris Ledoux’s own version of Tom Cochrane’s huge hit “Life Is A Highway”. This song has a long history of being a fun and entertaining track and has been covered by only the most privileged artists. So obviously it is impressive to see this hit with a western swing added to it open an album of hits for Ledoux. For those unfamiliar to Chris this song is an important listen because it shows the most of who Chris was as an artist for the artists. He took a huge hit and put his own twist to it, modifying it to his own voice and style quite smoothly with respect to Tom’s original masterpiece.

“Horsepower” really gets into the essential Chris Ledoux. This was his last single before his passing and serves as a pun towards his sport of choice and the modern amazement of people with cars and power. The song is about speed, pure speed and loving it. Ledoux uses references to car parts and horse characteristics as well as life situations to show both a love for cars and horses and the one thing that they have in common, their strength and the speed that comes with it. The statement made in the song is hidden, especially, within the first verse as Ledoux reveals a born instinct to enjoy the things that he does, horseback riding and having fun.

There was a very sentimental side to Ledoux that many probably looked over as a defining factor in his career. His powerful love ballad, “Tougher Than The Rest”, is a great example of this very powerful side hidden underneath his tough cowboy exterior. We find Chris speaking to a woman who has gone through many breakup and heartaches, so many that she is seemingly questioning her trust in a relationship with Chris’s character. To stand up for himself as an adequate lover and a devoted man Chris states that he’s much tougher than the other men that have broken this girl in two and that he’ll be able to hold on to her heart instead of running away or driving her off.

Ledoux’s biggest solo hit was the dance anthem “Cadillac Ranch” which peaked in the top 20 at #17. Shifting from his underestimated, tear-jerking character, we return to his fun side, the side of him that really broke him into the spotlight. This tune actually tells a very interesting story that ends up expressing country pride and inspiring enjoyment and togetherness among his listeners. The story of the song begins with a family being threatened to lose their farm. So because they can’t make a living farming they stick it to the big guys and form their barn into a dance club and bar that becomes a huge hit. Thus the Cadillac Ranch is born in Ledoux’s shout out to entertainment and the underdog.

One of my favorites of Ledoux’s hits is included in “Five Dollar Fine” which takes a whole new course in the genre by avoiding the typical sobbing situations that usually come with a broken heart in a bar. Instead we find a man entering with his heart shattered only to be denied access without a warning, no broken hearts or killjoys. Those in this particular bar are their to have fun, not listen to another sob story, and anyone who doesn’t follow this code and get over themselves pays a $5 fine, a concept I think should be adapted to real life. Chris became very popular for these kinds of tongue and cheek songs that stood against country tradition to basically tell people to enjoy life and stop worrying so much. Songs like this molded Chris into his character and revealed his enjoyment of what he did. I was actually surprised this made the cut considering it never charted, but it serves as the best example of what his outlook on life was.

“For Your Love” is, you guessed it, another love song. Only this time there are no tears or soft vocals, just fast paced and entertaining beats that make up most of Chris Ledoux’s hit list. Chris is once again singing to a woman, but this time about her love and how he would do anything for it. She’s the whole package this time, not just a woman looking for an easy ride and it’s that understanding that brings out the best in the man. He is willing to do whatever it takes to earn it, to keep it, and to eventually enjoy it.

On the note of fun songs we find another anthem tune in “Honkey Tonk World”. What I have always loved about Chris is that he knows what he stands for and assures that everyone else does as well. Chris attempts to shoot down the couch potato and inspire getting up, getting out and having a little fun. In fact he pretty much states you won’t get anywhere in this world unless you do so, after all we’re living in a honkey tonk world. The honkey tonk has always been associated with having fun and enjoying one’s self, so as much as this song may seem to be your average bar anthem it was much more than that to Chris. It was a chance to spread a warning to those who think the world is going to serve them and once again try to put some fun back into life for his fans.

One of the most honorable traits Chris had was his ability to shift from fun to powerful. “Look At You Girl” was an extremely romantic tune that stretched Ledoux’s boundaries that ever “Tougher Than The Rest” didn’t approach. Ledoux’s voice doesn’t overpower the song and instead sounds like he is singing straight to the woman he loves as if speaking his vows at a wedding or dancing close to her where only she can hear him. This song showed a side of Chris that had been mostly hidden up until that point. It’s simple, like most of Chris’s songs, but allowed something different to shine from Chris that had been overlooked by his fun-loving side and entertainment anthems. He has his fast love songs too, like “Under This Old Hat”. This song is about cowboy romance and draws attention to Chris’s trademark cowboy look. He speaks to a woman about the love she brings out in him and how under his hat is the man that loves her to death. His only prayer is that the man she loves will always be under that hat. What was cool about this song in its day is that it brought back a very traditional feel by incorporating the typical country apparel, a hat and boots etc., with the sound and feeling that made country music what it is today.

One of the most personal songs Chris made was “This Cowboy’s Hat” which took a stand against those who put down the cowboys and hat wearers. A cowboy hat usually signs a person to a lifetime of insults and parodies, however those who crack the jokes and make the insults very rarely understand the significance of that hat on a man. We find Chris and a buddy in a bar in this song when a biker insults his friend’s hat and his cowboy look and threatens to do away with it to try and get a rise out of him. However, instead of fighting, the cowboy backs off and explains that this biker can do whatever he wants but there is a lot of people and history in that hat so if he wants to fuss with it he will face everyone that has given it it’s history. His story is so powerful and sincere that the biker backs off, with a whole new respect for the cowboy’s hat. What makes this song so appropriate for Chris’s classic hits is that it is the one and only song that truly shows who Chris was as a person outside of music. This wasn’t to relate to the audience or to make a hit, it was to explain why he wore his hat and why he loved his music and why he was who he was. Sure it went over well in his fan base, but it was more for him than anyone else.

“He Rides Wild Horses” was always a beautiful song. This song has been a popular cover by countless artists and is a great description of why Chris loved horseback riding and the cowboy way so much. It identifies a man who relates more to the wild horses he loves to ride than the people he lives around every day. He has a wild lifestyle and is always on the move. He is a non-conformist and refuses to be tamed and branded. While the song is relatively short, it is another great description of Chris as an artist and a man. He was never willing to change who he was just to fit in, in fact he did relate more to a free and wild horse than an average person.

Now back to the fun stuff with “Stampede”. Keeping with his cowboy concept that is a constant throughout Chris’s songs, this song tells the tale of a couple cowboys camping in the woods who find themselves at one with nature, specifically the stampede of a herd. The cowboys find themselves in the middle of a stampede of cattle in a thunder and lighting storm, a great setting for the story considering the representation of violence and beauty that comes out of both. Chris’s character finds himself in trouble trying to escape the stampede, comparing the feeling to his demons in his blood, and only finds himself face to face with death. Just before being trampled he awakes by the campfire, the events being seen as a dream. However, its not over for him yet. The stampede becomes reality, only now the cowboy understands it more. We never really get to know what happens, we are just left with the understanding of what this stampede it in relation to the cowboys.

Every country singer has that one song that brings tears and reflection to the faces of anyone who hears it. For Chris that song was “Silence On The Line” which surrounds a bull rider calling home after his last fall in hopes of a full welcome back to the life he lived before setting off on his risky lifestyle. The first chorus has him talking with his wife who is silent on the line at the cowboy’s request to return home. She finally responds with a not so heartwarming welcome explaining that she still needs him to keep her life and the lives of her kids in shape. However, her heart is not too welcoming to the cowboy’s next request as he explains how a man he is acquainted with was badly injured and has lost his ability to walk, requiring a caretaker. He asks, in a very calm and hopeful manner, if she would allow him to bring him home to care for him and she once again goes silent. When she comes back on she is not so welcoming to the idea of a handicapped man living off of their family with no real helpful or purposeful quality about him at all. She wants her husband to leave his friend behind and come home as a useful man. Sadly we discover the man on crutches is the cowboy and upon discovering his uselessness as a cripple he decides not to go home, but instead to head to Mexico. This song was very important in Chris’s career because it allowed him to connect with more than the just romantic part of is fans and produce a genuine “thinking song” of his own.

Like many country artists, Ledoux had a respect for the working man. In fact he takes a unique character as a dollar bill in “Workin’ Man’s Dollar”. Instead of pouting through the eyes of the overlooked working man, Chris speaks through the dollar who is the life and heart of such a man and allows this inanimate object to tell the issues and crossroads of the blue collar minority man. I actually think this could have been a huge hit in today’s world with the gas prices the way they are.

The final two songs on this album of classics are collaborations with two huge artists from two totally different worlds. “Bang The Drum” teamed Bon Jovi with Chris for his shot at a rock/country mix which is actually a very respectable track to this day. It brought Chris into a more modern sound which actually worked for him quite well. This was also the early foreshadowing of the rock band’s eventual crossover into country music. This song was a nice team up especially because it put together two of the most respectable artists from their respective genres to sing a song about playing music that really means something to everyone, from the injured to the underdog. The closing track is none other than the one and only top 10 hit of Chris’s career and his duet with the one artist that respected him the most, Garth Brooks. “Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy” was the only real hit Chris ever had and his apprentice Mr. Brooks made that possible. This song shows off the great sense of humor that Chris had in his life when looking at himself and his music. The two country icons teamed together to ask the woman what they would do after the cowboy had his one night stand and now he wants to stay. There is more to a cowboy than just good looks and a cool looking hat, the question is whether girls can keep up with the rest they have to offer or not.

Although Chris became one of the most famous radio flop artists in country music, he also became a huge icon in the eyes and ears of prospective singers from all over the music world. He was respectable, enjoyable, talented and he enjoyed his life and his career to its fullest. He made sure, through his music, that every person who heard his sound understood his respect and outlook on life and that they should have the same. Every quality that defines this genre was contained inside Ledoux and every track on this collection supports that. It is a great example of who he was as a man, who he was as an icon, and who he should have been as a hit maker and a legend. Chris was a man of life, happiness and pure heart and although this collection is missing a few solid hits that were more successful, it’s a very entertaining introduction to new listeners to this amazing artist and it shows that he will continue to live on in the hearts of his fans forever.

 

4.5 Stars

 

Produced by Mike Ragogna

Tracks:

CD –

  1. Life Is A Highway
  2. Horsepower
  3. Tougher Than The Rest
  4. Cadillac Ranch
  5. Five Dollar Fine
  6. For Your Love
  7. Honkey Tonk World
  8. Look At You Girl
  9. Under This Old Hat
  10. This Cowboy’s Hat
  11. He Rides The Wild Horses
  12. Stampede
  13. Silence On The Line
  14. Workin’ Man’s Dollar
  15. Bang A Drum (with Jon Bon Jovi)
  16. Watcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy (with Garth Brooks)

DVD – contains videos off tracks 1-15 from the list above and a bonus tracks: “Riding For A Fall”

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One Comment leave one →
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