As we’ve seen with far too many artists in mainstream country these days, the industry simply isn’t allowing its artists to develop into something more (a recent example is Cam unfortunately). These days a single that misses the top twenty or worse is a sign of trouble.
Furthermore, for a genre that celebrates its roots, authenticity and tradition, it’s certainly the first one to throw out its legends in favor of new blood as evidenced by the late ’80s to the early ’90s.
John Anderson is the rare success story of an artist who not only had several flop singles, but also already had a career full of hits that most other artists would be proud of. Whether you love or hate “Sa-wing-ennnn” (it’s actually ‘Swingin’ ‘ for those who don’t know), it’s definitely a song you can remember, and Anderson proved he was a fantastic emotive interpreter with “1959.”
Still, with three number one singles under his belt, by the time his career started to peter out around 1986, it looked like Anderson had had a good run.
Six years later, his comeback story is still one of the greatest in the genre’s history. It’s safe to say nobody expected Anderson to have anymore hits by 1992. The lead single to his comeback album, Seminole Windtitled “Who Got Our Love” only made it to No. 67. Despite switching from Warner Brothers to MCA and finally to BNA Records for this album, it looked to be another ho-hum era for Anderson at first.
For some unknown reason, “Straight Tequila Night” took off like a bullet and catapulted Anderson right back into stardom as if he never left. Maybe it was Jimmy Bowen’s influence. Maybe it’s because it’s a classic heartbreak song in country music with homages to bars, alcohol and if I didn’t mention it, heartbreak. Maybe it’s because the song has one of the most recognizable choruses and hooks in ’90s country. Whatever it was, it finally became Anderson’s fourth No. 1 single in March 1992.
Truthfully while I might call 1993’s Solid Ground my personal favorite Anderson album, it’s hard to go wrong with calling this album his best, if only for the landmark songs it carries. The interweaving electric guitar with the fiddle on “Straight Tequila Night” is just one more unforgettable feature I forgot to mention.
What’s perhaps most intriguing and wonderful about this album is its sequencing. While it’s not my favorite Anderson song, “Who Got Our Love” at least kicks things off with a nice burst of energy before introducing the big comeback single. “Last Night I Laid Your Memory To Rest” and “Let Go Of The Stone” play out like mirror opposites of each other, with the narrator in the former track finally moving on from a heartache before helping someone else do the same in the latter track. The fiddle and piano at the beginning of the former track also sound like an accordion playing, which is an odd but nice touch.
That dual thematic arc is revisited later on “Cold Day In Hell,” a bitterly classic country song followed by “When It Comes To You,” by far the album’s most interesting track sonically. It was first recorded by the song’s writer, Mark Knopfler for his band the Dire Straits for their On Every Street album. Dark, murky and soaked in swampy goodness, this track is a perfect marriage of a good lyric with Anderson’s vocal delivery. Like “Cold Day In Hell” Anderson is holding nothing back with this song.
“Hillbilly Hollywood” is a song that’s an homage to Anderson’s love of music as well as a fun little treasure trove of lyrical references and Easter eggs. The ironic part about calling it “Hillbilly Hollywood” though is that Anderson knows first and foremost it’s a business. You can’t accuse him of not knowing his history.
Of course, the album’s best song (and one of country music’s greatest songs) is the title track. The song was penned solely by Anderson and explores the plight of the Native Americans, with the music video even being shot in the Florida Everglades. On a deeper level, the “wind” could also mean winds of change, with Anderson subtly stating that “progress” doesn’t always lead to something better in the end. With a beautiful piano opening bolstered by a fantastic fiddle melody, this is an excellent example of Anderson’s ability to write, sharp, honest songs. Environmental destruction is something country music rarely, if ever addresses, but Anderson proved why he deserved to make a comeback in the first place.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the album’s weaker points though. “Who Got Our Love” is an oddball of a song all around not helped by Anderson’s annoying, pushy delivery. It really makes no difference “who got our love” Anderson (is that even the right way to say it? Wouldn’t it be “who has?” I honestly don’t know). The point is, she’s moved on and so should you! To be fair, he does later on with “Last Night I Laid Your Memory To Rest,” but this song itself is just an annoying mess of nothing ultimately.
“Steamy Windows” is for some reason a song that’s been covered way too many times. First it appeared on Tina Turner’s 1989 album Foreign Affairs before appearing here. Later it was recorded by Kenny Chesney for his album, I Will Stand in 1997 and James Taylor’s album Covers in 2003. It’s an alright sex song but that’s about it. The lyrics are fairly unoriginal and it doesn’t fit well with the remaining tracks.
Still, the late ’80s to the early ’90s were arguably country music’s best moments, and it rarely got better than Seminole Wind. It’s Anderson’s best seller with over two million copies sold, and its artistic value easily matches its commercial value. Far from a fluke too, Anderson would have a few more successful albums after this before his train would finally run out of steam for good. Despite this, Seminole Wind is a fantastic snapshot of Anderson at his best. The only unfortunate part is that it’s a hard album to track down.
Album highlights: “Seminole Wind,” “When It Comes To You,” “Hillbilly Hollywood,” “Straight Tequila Night,” “Last Night I Laid Your Memory To Rest”
(Robert of Robert’s Country Opinion Blog has let me know that the “Seminole Wind” video is included in one of the videos that plays on loop at the Country Music Hall of Fame)