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Monday, 2 October 2017

Oct 2017

We’ve quite a variety of new releases to tell you about this time around.
One of the strongest albums I’ve heard for a long time has to come from Texan CURTIS GRIMES.
He is, yet another, “discovery” of “The Voice” TV show, but, like the title of his album, he is “Undeniably Country”. With a feast of steel and fiddle, this is a real gem of an album for real Country fans.
He kicks off with “Everything Hank Did”, a superb song that really captures the Hank sound, 21st century style. And he rounds it all off with “Ten Year Town”, which tells of arriving Nashville and its heritage. It’s a brilliant account about how the city has changed over the years.
He is certainly making a statement about today’s Country music scene.
On “If You Ask Me”, a more gentle number, he even reckons that “the best of Country music died in 1989”- controversial stuff!
He's currently promoting his single 'Right About Now' which held the #1 spot for two consecutive weeks on the Texas Regional Radio chart. The track - co-written by Grimes with his producer Trent Willmon, is a good upbeat number.
It follows the earlier single, 'From Where I'm Standing', written by fellow rising country stars Thomas Rhett, Chris Janson, and Jaron Boyer. This track has quite a George Strait feel to it, and namechecks Conway Twitty along the way. The mighty Merle gets a namecheck too, on “Put My Money On That”.
Now based in Nashville, Grimes is currently on tour across the USA, playing festivals, fairs and sold-out headline shows, with plans to visit the UK early in 2018.
His album is pure Country. I enjoyed it a lot. He’s the real deal !

There’s no doubting that TOBY KEITH has been one of the most interesting characters on the Country music scene since he first appeared on the charts back in 1993. 24 years on, and 18 albums later, he has come out with something a bit different.
“The Bus Songs” (Thirty Tigers) is a collection of songs that you can really imagine him singing on the tour bus, just messing around. The subjects range from smoking weed, big women, easy women, golfers, drunks and marines.
The language is colourful, even in the titles.
He comes over as a cross between Shel Silverstien on his classic comedy albums, and Jerry Reed without his guitar. His version of “The Critic” has a “King Of The Road” feel to it, not so much Roger Miller’s version, but rather the one that poked fun at all the TV cops.
Yet, I actually quite like the album. The production is stripped back, and I really think, we’re getting to hear the real Toby Keith.
“Running Block”, about going on a blind date, to help out his buddy, is really catchy, if a little sexist, or should that be size-ist!  By contrast, “The Size I Wear”, “Brand New Bow” and “Get Out Of My Car” finds him showing less than total respect to the fairer sex.
But, it’s a fun album, and I shouldn’t read into it too deep.
Worth a listen !

I have to confess that I’m no fan of BIG & RICH. When they first appeared on the scene back in 2004 with “Save A Horse (Ride a Cowboy)”, I thought it was one of the worst records to have ever come out of Nashville. I still do.
But their new album, “Did It For The Party” (Thirty Tigers) isn’t ALL that bad!
That’s not to say that Big Kenny & John Rich have changed their sound. Tracks like “Congratulations (You’re a Rock Star)” with its “Ching Ching” lines, I could live happy never to hear again. I also didn’t care much for “Funk In The Country”.
But there is some good stuff. I really liked the opening track, “California”. It has the feel of one of these driving with the top down songs. There’s a good Country rock beat to “Wake Up Wanting You”, whilst “Smoke In Her Eyes” has a good modern sound.
“The Long Way Home” is a good song, which leads nicely into “Freedom Road”, which is probably my favourite track on the album. It’s strong on harmonies.
Talking of harmonies, the most different track on the whole album has to be “My Son”, which features gospel group, The Isaacs. It’s a real classy piece. So different to the ching chings earlier.
“Lie, Cheat Or Steal”, which closes the album is also quite a pleasant ballad.
Really pleased to discover that there’s much more to Big & Rich than the songs which radio insist on playing from them. 

Texan CASEY DONAHEW has been making inroads on the Country scene over the last decade or so, with six albums to his credit. The last three have all made the Top 10 on the Country Album sales chart, and his latest, “All Night Party” peaked at No.3, which is no mean feat.
He grew up just outside of Fort Worth, and was active on the Texas rodeo scene for a while.
Most of the tracks are quite upbeat, modern Country numbers, from the opening “Kiss Me”, through “Feel This Right” and “White Trash Bay”. The duo Love & Money guest on “College Years”.
“What Cowboys Do” is a strong Country number, but probably my favourite track on the album is the Mexican flavoured “Jose Escalido”,with some lovely TexMex accordion and horn section. It has a real modern day Marty Robbins feel to it. And it come from his own pen too.
Now his music is spreading over here. He’s in London for the Texas Music Takeover Festival this month, which can only win him more fans.
It’s a bright, fun record. I think we’ll like him over here.

TOM RUSSELL is something of a legend in Americana music. Indeed his brand of story telling songs was universally praised long before the genre of Americana was coined.
Originally from LA, his musical career was born in Vancouver, before relocating to Texas. His latest album, “Folk Hotel” (Proper Records) is his 28th studio album.
He has long blended folk, rock and Country, alongside cowboy ballads and songs of the American west. That blend continues on this new offering.
“Leaving El Paso” and “I’ll Never Leave These Old Horses” recapture that old western feel, whilst “Handsome Johnny”, about JFK, has more of a simple folk ballad. “The Last Time I Saw Hank”, is his country stars’ drinkers anthem- come gospel number, also mentioning George Jones, Jesus and his father and mother.
“Harlan Clancy” begins essentially as a poem, which Tom narrates so effectively, before developing into a story life song. 
Before he got into music, Tom was already well travelled, having worked in Nigeria, Norway, Spain  and Puerto Rico. As a performer, he is a regular visitor to Europe, and on this album he has several European influences, in songs like “The Sparrow Of Swansea”, “All On A Belfast Morning”, “The Day They Dredged The Liffey” and “The Rooftops Of Copenhagen”.
He has a couple of guests on the album, including Eliza Gikyson, who provides harmonies on a couple of tracks, and Joe Ely, who duets on Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, the only song on the album not written by Tom.
The album is finished off with some of Tom’s own artwork.
It’s an interesting experience. One for those that love stories in their songs.

JACK TEMPCHIN is the Eagle that never was.
He wrote several of the bands classics including “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, “Already Gone” and “The Girl From Yesterday”. He also wrote extensively with Glen Frey during the Eagles hiatus period.
Tempchin has also written dozens of hits for big names from George Jones and Emmylou Harris to Candye Kane and Tom Rush, as well recording a number of albums in his own right.
His latest, “Peaceful Easy Feeling: The Songs Of Jack Tempchin” (Blue Elan Records”, is essentially dedicated to the memory of Glenn Frey.
Every song, bar one, was either recorded by The Eagles, or written, or co-written with Frey. They include the iconic title track, “Already Gone” and “It’s Your World Now”. I really like the version of this song, which features mandolin and dobro from Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson.
The tempo is raised on the rather rocky “Privacy” and “Everybody’s Gonna Love Somebody Tonight”.
The only track not related to Glenn Frey is “Slow Dancing (Swaying To The Music)”, which is Jack’s other “Greatest Hit”. Originally a huge hit for Johnny Rivers, it has been recorded several times over, and is featured here as a duet with Rita Coolidge. Great to hear her again.
It’s an interesting, alternate take on some of the Eagles songs, straight from the pen of the writer.

If The Eagles are the greatest Country rock band ever, then Poco were never far behind. Their “Rose Of Cimarron” is right up there with “Lying Eyes” in my mind. So, interesting that in the same post as the Jack Tempchin CD, comes one from RUSTY YOUNG.
Rusty was one of the founding members, and frontman of Poco back in the day. The band officially stopped touring in 2014, but there’s a whole lot of Poco influence on Rusty’s “solo” album, “Waitin’ For The Sun” (Blue Elan Records).
Poco were never a band that you’d call Country. But some of their music certainly appealed to our genre. This album does much the same.
The title track has quite a Country rock (Poco) feel to it, with some neat harmonies, which is followed by the reflective “My Friend”, which features former Poco pals Jim Messina and Ritchie Furey. It’s quite a catchy number, with some nice instrumentation.
Other ex Poco members making contributions include Jack Sundrud, Michael Webb and George Grantham.
“Innocent Man” takes you back to the authentic Poco sound, I recall from the late 70’s. 
“Heaven Tonight” is the album’s love song, while “Hey There” takes a few steps back in the storyline. For straight Country fans, “Down Home” is probably the stand out track. It’s catchy, quirky, and features some really neat fiddle.
“Sara’s Song” is a sentimental little song, written as a first dance at his daughter’s wedding. There’s also a musical interlude with the instrumental, “Seasons”.
And it all rounds off with something of an anthem in “Gonna Let The Rain”.
Talk about reliving your youth!

There’s been an abundance of bluegrass music arrived lately.
Around 2004, a six piece band hit Nashville that was to forever change the perception of bluegrass music. THE GRASCALS quickly won over Dolly Parton, who took them on tour, which led to widespread accolades and popularity for their music. They, notably, took bluegrass to new audiences, without sacrificing the genres’ pure sound.
Their tenth album, “Before Breakfast” (Mountain Home) continues the trend.
There are a few upbeat toe tappers, like the opening “Sleepin’ With The Reaper”, “Delia” and the fun filled “Beer Tree”, written by the late Harley Allen and Robert Ellis Orrall. Paul Overstreet and Billy Smith wrote “Lost And Lonesome”, which really impressed me, and the closing track “Clear Corn Liquor” is a real old timey bluegrass song.
There’s also an original instrumental reel, titled “Lynchburg Chicken Run”.
But the strength of this album is the harmonies most evident in ballads like “Lonesome”, co-written by bass player Terry Smith, and the old Osborne Brothers number “Pathway Of Teardrops”. In a similar vein is an old Flatt & Scruggs gospel classic, “He Took Your Place”, and “There Is You”, written by Kelsi Harrigill from fellow bluegrass band Flatt Lonesome.
The least bluegrass/most straight, Country track is “Demons”, a darker ballad from the pens of whispering Bill Anderson and Jon Randell.
The Grascals are brilliant musicians, with the emphasis on bluegrass instruments like banjo, mandolin and fiddle. Together with their strong melodic harmonies, they have a sound that is such a pleasure to listen to.  I’m loving listening to this “Before Breakfast”, or at any time of the day!

Another, equally as good album comes from DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER.  The 73 year old mandolin player has been part of the bluegrass scene for over 50 years, as members of Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys, JD Crowe’s New South and The Country Gentleman, before founding Quicksilver in the late 70’s. 
Fellow musicians in the band include Josh Swift, Joe Dean, Dustin Pyrtle, Eli Johnson and Stephen Burwell.
With 40 albums under their belt, “Life Is A Story” (Mountain Home) is their latest release.
It all kicks off with the reflective “Kids These Days”, which looks back at days gone by, and what today’s kids will be looking back at, in 20 years time. It’s a nice song. “Little Girl” is another by Harley Allen. This time it’s a bit of a social statement, dealing with the problems of kids growing up in troubled situations.
The ones that really stood out for me, included “Life To My Days” and the old George Jones song “Love Lives Again” (written by George Richey, Carmol Taylor and Norro Wilson)
Another nice ballad is the Donna Ulisse written “Guitar Case”. 
Many of the numbers here veer towards ballads, but there are upbeat traditional bluegrass beats shining through, especially on “Life Of A Hard Working Man”, “I See A Heartbreak Comin’”, “Derailled” and “What Am I Living For”. I also enjoyed “Cry Across Kansas” and the break speed finale, “Drivin’ It Home”.
This album really is a masterclass in bluegrass music. Brilliant musicianship, great songs, fast and slow, all well delivered.
Super stuff.

THE EARLY MAYS are a wonderful, three part harmony, Bluegrass / old time trio featuring Emily Pinkerton, Ellen Gozion and newest member Rachel Eddy. Their self titled debut album got to No.2 in the US Folk charts a few years back, and their new collection, “Chase The Sun” (Bird On The Wing Records) is even better.  Their harmonies really shine through, and the instrumentation is so authentic. There is no lead vocalist amongst them. Each can stand out on their own, and together, their voices truly bond.
Recorded in Pittsburgh, the 13 track album features mainly original material composed by the trio individually. They range from the catchy opening track, “Say-O”, to the beautiful ballads like “Amelia”, and the winter hymn “Narrow Of The Year”.
The non-original numbers, include Elizabeth Cotton’s catchy “Oh Babe, It Aint No Lie”, and the gorgeous “Adieu False Heart” which I recall Linda Ronstadt recording many moons ago.
There’s also a couple of instrumental fiddle & banjo numbers.
But the one that will catch most attention is “I Am A Girl Of Constant Sorrow”. The song (in a male sense) was popularised in the “Oh Brother Where Are Thou” movie. But the girls have went back to 1930’s social activist Sarah Ogan-Gunning’s arrangement, to come up with a much slower, sweet version of the song. It certainly worked for me.
Throughout, the album features simple arrangements, which lets the vocals stand out.
It’s a beautiful album.

The name BIG SADIE conjures up all sorts of images. A Chicago based acoustic/bluegrass band isn’t the most obvious thought, but that’s exactly what we have here.
The band is fronted by Windy City native Elise Bergman, and Appalachian Collin Moore. Together they have blended their influences together. They have been thrilling audience over the past decade, yet “Keep Me Waiting” (Spindle Tree Records) is their debut album.
Well, the wait is over, and it was well worth the wait.
Here, we’ve got a lovely album of old timey bluegrass songs and tunes, which I, for one, really warmed to.
The 12 track all original album kicks off with a couple, which feature lead vocals from Elise. “Only You” has a really strong Country kick to it, which I really liked.
Collin takes over the vocals on “Before Morning”, a good modern bluegrass ballad, with stunning harmonies from Elise. “Need Your Love” is a strong banjo infused bluegrass track, lead by Collin, whilst “Same For Me” is quite a mainstream ballad.
Collin also leads the vocals on the title track, an old timey, almost ragtime feeling fun number.
Elsewhere Elise fronts on the softer “Like A Fool”, the bluesy “Baby It Aint You”, “Next Train Home”  and the folksy “Good Woman”. Quite a contrast in styles, but she shines on them all.
There also a quirky instrumental, “Anni’s Orchard”.
I really enjoyed this album. Let’s hope we get a visit from Big Sadie soon!

Keeping in the bluegrass vein, Michigan’s MARK LAVENGOOD has been stirring up a lot of interest with his third album, “We’ve Come Along”. The multi-instrumentalist is renowned for his dobro playing, which is evident throughout the album.
On the epic 7 minute title track, which opens the CD, Mark plays guitar, dobro, congas, bongos, tom tom and claves, as well as delivering the vocals.
He does have original self written numbers, including “America”, an alternative patriotic song, which may stir a few thoughts along the way.
But he also features some well-established covers, like a rip roaring version of “Ol’ Slew Foot”, a bluegrass version of Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”, and an authentic old timey cover of Arthur Smith’s “Bound To Ride”.
Throughout, Mark is supported by Kyle Rhodes and Jason Dennie on guitars & mandolins , Spencer Cain on Upright bass, and the influential Keith Billik on banjo.
It’s an interesting album.

THE 19TH STREET BAND is an adventurous band, crossing genres from bluegrass to rock, led by Caolaidhe Davis, from Hollywood, Northern Ireland, who emigrated to America’s East Coast back in 2005. He recently brought his music home to Belfast and Bangor, and brought a six track CD, “The Things That Matter” with him.
Joining Cally in the band is his wife Meghan, a trained violinist, whom he met when she was working in a Washington DC Irish Bar. Fast forward a few years, and the couple found themselves living on 19th Street in Arlington, Virginia, and the band name was born.
The CD features a wide mix of styles, a few just a bit too rocky for me, but I did enjoy the catchy bluegrass flavoured opening track “Jump In The Water”.
“Trouble” is also an upbeat number, with lead vocals from Meghan, which I really liked.
The title track is starts off as an emotional ballad, but picks up the tempo nicely.
Doing an internet search for them, brings up Johnny Cash & Dixie Chicks covers, so Country music certainly features in their repertoire.
They have a good sound, and hopefully their next trip over, will see them spread the word further afield.

Irish Country music can be a rather typecast genre. So it’s refreshing when an Irish songwriter appears who does not fit the usual picture.
CIARA SIDINE’s songs lend themselves more to Americana, Roots and Country Blues. Her vocal style has been likened to Maria McKee, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and  Mary Black. To my ears, she’s her own singer. “Unbroken Line” is her second album, following on from 2011’s “Shadow Road Shining”.
Her songs are modern day songs of social justice, with a style stretching back into the past.
The opening track, “Finest Flower” reclaims the voices of women from Ireland’s Mother And Baby Homes, whilst “Watching The Dark” has a smokin’ bluesy feel to it.
“Wooden Bridge” is a fast paced number that bridges the folk revival sound of the 60’s with a Johnny Cash beat. I just loved the acoustic feel to “Little Bird Song”, which closes the album. It has a really nice old timey feel to it.
“River Road” is a pleasant ballad, and I did also enjoy “Take Me With You”. The title track is a nice ballad, although quite mainstream.
Other tracks do lead towards a more bluesy jazz sound.
The songs were all written by Ciara (one with Conor Brady). One that caught my attention was “Woman Of Constant Sorrow”. She has written new lyrics, and has a completely different arrangement to The Early Mays version mentioned earlier.
The album was recorded in Dublin, and proof that not everything out of Ireland is aimed at the dance scene.

Coming home, and Tayside’s Joe Ogilvie & Alex Mills are best known on the local Country club scene as duo, Tin Star. But Joe & Alex have been around for many years, and have written a good number of songs between them. Now they’ve put them down on CD for the first time under the name MILLS OGILVIE.
“Yesterday And Today” is a collection of self penned songs, some of which are many years in the process. Some were, perhaps, not written as Country songs at the time, but they all come together in a modern Country sound in 2017.
Recorded in Dundee, the CD features 12 tracks.
Some of the tracks have quite a pop/rock beat, notably “Someone You Don’t Know” and “Lady Of The North”. Others like “Woman’s Eyes” have a big ballad feel to them.
Other tracks are quite melodic, like “Crazy” and “Losing You”, whilst “Good Old Honky Tonk” is just what’s on the label – a good old honky tonk song. I also liked the beat of “How Lucky”, one that’ll keep the feet tappin’ and dancers on the floor.
One of the tracks, “Good Ol’ Memories” was written by fellow Dundonian Les Barr. It’s a stone Country number, as you would expect.
These songs have been kept under wraps for too long. It’s time for them to be heard. The CD is available at Tin Star’s gigs across the country or through Joe on 07924 490194.

PETER McCLELLAND is quite a busy musician down on the Sussex scene. He plays in two folk music bands (The Blackthorn Band and ThingumaJig), as well as Country band, Montana Rain.  And he has his own solo projects, like his new CD, “Carolina Sky”, (Hobgoblin Records) which is a collection of Pete’s original songs recorded in Sussex and Nashville.
The album takes its inspiration from a number of coast to coast North American road trips. The collection kicks off with the aptly titled “The Appalachian Way”. It really captures the anticipation of a trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The title track is a light and catchy little number, whilst “The Willow Tree” is Peter’s take on an old English Folk song, but has a really nice Country feel to it, none the less.  “Walk This Road” has a bit more of a contemporary sound, but still has a Country air about it. Pat Severs steel guitar delivers that.
“Thinking Of a Song” is apparently influenced by Don Williams, and I have to say that “A Kind Of Kindness” also has quite a lazy Don sound to it too.
Just a couple of tracks seemed to veer off course, notably “War Of Love”, which has more of a continental aura to it, having been inspired following a stay in Germany , whilst “Marie” has a bit more of a Southern blues influence.
Peter plays acoustic, classical and electric guitar, ukulele, banjo and mandolin, and is joined by a number of musicians including Pat Severs (ex Pirates of The Mississippi).
It’s a really pleasant listen.

MATT PATERSHUK is a singer songwriter from Canada’s western provinces, born in BC and living now in Alberta. “Same As I Ever Have Been” (Black Hen Music) is his third album, recorded at Bryan Adams’ Warehouse Studio in Vancouver.
The album had me in two minds. It opens with a rather rocky “Sometimes You’ve Got To Bad Things to Do Good”, which didn’t appeal much to me.
But then he slowed things down with “Gypsy”, and then got into my groove with the catchy “Hot Knuckle Blues”. He came across as a Kris Kristofferson character on this one.
“Blank Pages And Lost Wages” was one of the real Country tracks that appealed to me.
Throughout several tracks, Saskatchewan born folk singer Ana Egge added some really neat harmonies, which is what really won me over. Steve Dawson’s pedal steel just added the icing to the cake.
The title track is a slow Country ballad that really impressed.  “Atlas” is quite a story song. The delivery is quite impressive. And “Sparrows” is quite an effective number too, with some added saxophone, which worked well.
In closing, he delivers an extremely simple 6 ½ minute folky ballad, which was quite infectious.
There were a few of the other tracks that were a bit bluesy, or rocky for me, but, all things considered, there was more than enough for me to say it’s worth checking him out.

AMELIA WHITE is a singer songwriter described as an “East Nashville soothsayer and rock/Americana poet”, who has built up quite a following in Europe.
Her latest album, “Rhythm Of The Rain” (White-Wolf Records)  gets its UK release on October 27th .
She wrote or co-wrote all 9 tracks. He co-writes include the upbeat “Sinking Sun” with Anne McCue and Rich McCully, and the slower “Yuma” with songwriter Ben Glover. This one is a really nice ballad, which, for me, is one of the highlights of the album.
There’s also collaborations with Lori McKenna, John Hadley and Liverpool’s Worry Dolls (Zoe Nicol & Rosie Jones).
The title track is a smokin’ slow burning haunting ballad, as is “Sugar Baby”.
It’s a pleasant listen. A little more rocky than your average Americana singer songwriter album.

RAY WYLIE HUBBARD is something of a legend down in Texas singer songwriting circles. Although born in Oklahoma, he moved to the Lone Star State, when he was seven years old.
His early success as a writer was down to writing “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother”, recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1973.
Ray Wylie has recorded 16 albums prior to his latest release “Tell The Devil I’m Getting’ There As Fast As I Can” (Bordello Records), which gets it’s UK release this month.
Now at the age of 70, his voice is raw and lived in. That helps in the delivery of the songs. He tells a story in his songs, most notable on tracks like “House Of The White Rose Boquet” and “Old Wolf”,
and “Lucifer And The Fallen Angels”.
“Open G” is a guitar master class. It may go above the heads of folks like me, but to musicians, I’m sure it’ll appeal.
He has a number of guests popping up on the album. You’ll find Eric Church and Lucinda Williams on the title track, which is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Then Patty Griffin joins in on “In Times Of Cold”, where the harmonies work well together.

This album really has a raw authentic Texan Country sound.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Aug 2017

We’re kicking off with a couple of home grown new releases.
LAURA McGHEE is back home in Angus, after spending seven years writing and recording in Nashville, and touring with the likes of John Carter Cash, John McEuan (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) and The Nashville Celts. She first headed Stateside after graduating from the RSMAD, and her first gig in America was on the same bill as legendary folk singer Pete Seeger.
But, for now, she’s home, and she’s brought with her a superb album, “Life Is Bigger Than A Dream”, the follow up to her highly acclaimed “Celticana” album, which made the Top 40 on the Americana Charts.  
The album brings together the three sides of Laura. Firstly, as a songwriter. She’s worked with people in Music City, like Doug Kahan, Jon & Sally Tiven, Sarah Peasall, Rebecca Moreland, Janie Lidey and Patrick Martin (from The Nashville Celts), and has come up with a good set of songs.
Secondly, Laura’s vocals are well tuned to the songs.
And, finally, as a musician. Laura’s first love was the fiddle, and it’s very prominent throughout the album, especially on the introductions.
The songs range from the impressive title track, one of four she wrote with Doug Kahan  (who has written hits for Trick Pony and Deanna Carter), to the softer “Always Tomorrow”.
“How Leaving Feels”, starts off slow, and builds up to a foot tapping down home catchy little number, with touches of blues and bluegrass along the way.
Her celtic influence emerges on “You Make The Moonshine”, which has a soft haunting feel to it, with references to the celtic sky, and making the moon shine.
“Shoulda Come Over” is a really catchy number, especially the fiddle licks. It’s all about a guy jilting the girl, and what he’s missing, whilst “It’s Still You and Me” tells of a strong team that survives all life throws at it.
“I Got My Mojo Back” is more of an upbeat number. It’s a bit different to the other tracks, with a bit more instrumentation, including harmonica from Charlie McCoy.
But as I say, Laura’s earliest foray into music was with the fiddle at the age of 8, and it’s very much in evidence on the album. As well as the co written songs, there’s two instrumentals. The first is a toe tappin’ traditional American tune, “Salt Creek”, which she does a great job on, and the other, a slow lament, “Commemoration”, which she dedicates to the victims of 9/11.
The album was produced in Nashville by Mike Loudermilk (son of the legend John D Loudermilk), who has worked with Crystal Gayle and Chet Atkins.
It has a celtic feel, without being too folky. I really enjoyed it.
This album has been a long time coming, but it’s been worth the wait.
“Life Is Bigger Than A Dream” is available from online outlets now, and Laura will officially be launching it at the Monifieth Theatre on October 7th.

It was great to read in the last mag, that Jayne Murdoch and Richard Smith, who many readers will remember from the band Hullabaloo, had formed a new duo MONRO, and great to hear their five track EP, “Coming Home” (Smart Indie).
Jayne leads the vocals on all the tracks, which are all quite varied.
The CD kicks off with “Sweet Sorrow”, a catchy number, with more than a hint of bluegrass.
“Let It Go” is another catchy upbeat number, as is “Bubbalee”.
“Walking With Angels” is quite an anthem ballad, and “The Vow” is a beautiful ballad, looking back on how life changes.
Five very different songs, all well produced and performed wonderfully. Jayne has a great voice, and this CD really helps deliver that.
Great to hear Jayne and Richard back. Check them out.
http://smartindierecords.com/product/munro-coming-home

RASCAL FLATTS are one of the longest established “boy bands” on the Nashville Country scene. The trio of Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcos and Joe Don Rooney were formed in Ohio, and first appeared on the Country charts back in 2000. Since then, they have notched up 13 No.1 Country hits.
Now, their 10th studio album (not counting Christmas and Greatest Hits collections) has been released here. “Back To Us” (Big Machine) is a powerful high energy collection of songs from songwriters like Andrew Dorff, Neil Thrasher, Josh Thompson, Luke Laird, Chris Stapleton and Jennifer Hansen.
The trio have a number of writing contributions, but only one which they collaborated together.
That one is “Are You Happy Now”, which also features newcomer Lauren Alaina. It’s quite a pleasant pop ballad.
The album, in general, has quite a Nashville pop sound, the sound you would hear on the radio here, without considering it to be Country!.
“Thieves” is one of the stand out upbeat numbers, with “Love What You’ve Done To The Place” and “Our Night To Shine”, standing out as soulful ballads.
They’ve built up their following throughout the past 17 years, and this album will be welcomed by their fans.

Texan MARK CHESNUTT burst onto the Country scene back in 1990 with “Too Cold At Home”, and followed it up with a string of hits like “Brother Jukebox”, “Old Flames Have New Names”, “Bubba Shot The Jukebox”,”Goin’ Thru The Big D”. “Gonna Get A Life”, and dozens more.
Next month Mark heads for our shores to play The Millport International Country Music Festival, so we thought we’d check out his latest album, “Tradition Lives” (Row Entertainment), and, boy, is Millport in for a real Country treat!
The album kicks off with the catchy “I’ve Got A Quarter In My Pocket”, which is the sort of sound he should be heard all over the radio with. Other upbeat numbers include “Lonely Ain’t The Only Game In Town”, “Look At Me Now” and “Neither Did I”.
His latest summer single Stateside is “Hot”, a kinda bluesy, lazy sunny day sound, which is quite different to the rest of the album.
Other ballads include “Is It Still Cheating”, “Losing You All Over Again”, “You Moved Up In Your World” and “What I Heard”. He still delivers a neat ballad like he did way back on his early days.
There’s no bad tracks on the album, but I really did like “Never Been To Texas”, which could be his take on the current Nashville scene. He highlights and namechecks a number of Country legends, and classic songs, whilst commenting on Music City’s lack of Steel guitars. “If you think Country music is a dying force, you’ve never been to Texas”! Great sentiment, close to my heart.
Mark was always one of the more Country guys on the Nashville scene. Great to see him still sounding just as good’n’Country, if not better than ever.
It’s a cracker of an album. Highly worth checking out.

For the past twenty years, sisters SHELBY LYNNE and ALLISON MOORER have been doing their own thing, and recording no less than 24 albums between them. Now the Alabama raised girls have teamed up on a new album, “Not Dark Yet” (Silver Cross), which is released here on August 18th.
As you would expect, sibling harmonies are the highlight of this album, which was produced by Teddy Thompson.
The choice of material is quite varied, from The Hag’s “Silver Wings” to Nirvana’s “Lithium”, on the way picking up on newer material written by Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires.  They also cover Jessi Colter’s “I’m Looking For Blue Eyes” and Townes Van Zante’s “Lungs”.
They kick off with “My List”, which is a cover of The Killers number, and round it all off with their own composition, “Is It Too Much”. In between, the title track is a Dylan composition.
Stand out track for me has to be “Everytime You Leave”. It’s an old Louvin Brothers song, covered by Emmylou on her iconic “Blue Kentucky Girl” album. I think the version here takes inspiration from both.
It’s an interesting collaboration. A must, if you’re a fan of either, or both, of the sisters.

The Honeycutters are an Ashville, North Carolina band, formed in 2007. Now ten years on, the lead singer, and songwriter is taking the front role on their fifth album.  It’s simply titled “AMANDA ANNE PLATT & THE HONEYCUTTERS” (Organic Records), and is released here this month to coincide with their tour, which includes dates in Kilbarchan, North Berwick and Peebles.
I was really impressed by their last outing “On The Ropes”, and this new album doesn’t disappoint.
They have a sound that encompasses traditional Country with rock and folk. Amanda’s vocals are gutsy, without stretching the boundaries too far. On some of the tracks there’s a real Dixie Chicks sound coming through! On others, it’s a real down home Country sound that really impressed me.
There are 13 self penned tracks on the CD, opening with the soft mid tempo “Birthday Song”. Other slower tracks include “The Guitar Case” and “Learning How To Love Him”, which reminded me of KT Oslin. The harmonies are strong on “The Good Guys”, whilst “Rare Thing” and “The Things We Call Home” are quite traditional Country ballads.
I really enjoyed “What We’ve Got”. The vocals are really Country, and there’s some nice steel guitar from Matthew Smith throughout the track. On the quite lengthy “Eden”, Amanda really delivers a catchy rural life story song, the kind of thing that Kasey Musgraves has made her mark with. She has a real rival here!
I really enjoyed this album, as I did their previous outing. They will really be worth catching on their forthcoming tour.

We’ve a couple of Canadian Country releases on offer this time around.
OVER THE MOON are the duo of Suzanne Levesque and Craig Bignall, who recorded their long awaited debut CD, “Moondancer”, at home in the foothills of Alberta’s Rockies. Neither are strangers to the music scene. Craig is a CCMA award winning instrumentalist on drums & banjo, whilst Suzanne was performing with the family band from the age of twelve, and has more recent toured in a band called The Travelling Mabel’s.
They have a really basic acoustic sound, and according to the sleevenotes, noisy coyotes, cows, and a noisy furnace also added effects to the mix.
Suzanne leads the vocals, and I really enjoyed her contribution throughout the CD, whether from the simple arrangements of the opening “Strangers We Meet” or the heavier “Turtle Mountain”, which tells of a 1903 disaster at Crowsnest Pass.
The duo’s signature song, “Over The Moon” is a sweet sounding 1940’s style swing number, whilst the title track to the album, “Moondancer” comes from the pen of near neighbour Ian Tyson.
“The Hills Of Grey County” is a really soft ballad that tells of the threat of the big city money men who threaten to destroy the rural way of life.
Whilst Suzanne leads the vocals, a couple of tracks feature vocals from Craig, including the catchy swing orientated, “You Don’t Even Know” and “Alberta Moon”.
“By The Mark”, which really displays some beautiful harmonies, has quite a gospel feel to it. It was written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
The duo wrote five of the ten tracks, with “The Hills Of Grey County” being a collaboration between Craig and Steve O’Connor and Darrin Schott.
Together they make beautiful music together. You could say I was “Over The Moon” listening to this CD. I loved it !

VIPER CENTRAL are a group from British Columbia, who decided to shake up the local, and more widespread, bluegrass scene. Although fiddle & banjo remain central to their sound, they also feature steel guitar and various guitar styles in their presentation.
The quintet’s latest album, “The Spirit Of God & Madness” covers an immense range in styles, from upbeat “99 Cents Short” and Gram Parson’s cover of “Luxury Liner”, to the slower, smouldering “Cherry Red”.
The bass influenced bluesy swing opener, “Gold Time” catches your attention with lines like “I  Went Down To Nashville”.  That track is immediately followed by the Latin flavoured “Losing My Mind”. Contrast that with the sweet, celtic, feel of “I Wont Be Left Behind”, which really stands out for me.
Most of the tracks are lead vocally by Kathleen Nisbet, the exception being “Ned Kelly” and a couple of instrumentals, including “Bloodwin Breakdown” and “Devil’s Reel”, which preludes “Devil’s String”, which features more of a joint band harmony lead.  Kathleen’s vocals really tell the story of the songs. A job well done.
Viper Central have a couple of dates in the Highlands, including The Belladrum festival in early August, before touring for the next month across Ireland.

From down in Australia, comes LACHLAN BRYAN AND THE WYLDES, who released their album, “The Mountain” here recently, to coincide with a European tour, which did include a date in Glasgow.
They caused quite a stir when they turned up in Austin, Texas, a media city, renowned for its’ hard to impress reputation.
Their first album was released in 2010. This is their 4th outing, and has continued to gather awards and recognition for the band.
They have a superb sound, especially on the steel infused “The Secret I’ll Take To My Grave”, and the vocally strong “The Mountain”. They have quite a haunting feel on “Dugdemona”, which is a river in Louisiana, whilst “Travelling Companion” is quite an upbeat number, which I liked.
Other tracks, include “View From The Bridge” and the closing “Til We Meet Again” are gentler, but equally pleasant ballads.
Hopefully, we’ll see Lachlan & the team back here again soon.

Now, to Ireland, and a new CD from PATRICK FEENEY, one of the ever growing popular names on the Irish scene. “Step It Out” is his 10th album, by my reckoning, so he is certainly no newcomer. He’s been playing since he was a young teenager, and made a good choice to pursue music, rather than be a farmer, or a salesman for Cadbury’s, which were his planned career paths.
This new album features a wide mix of songs and styles, from the Irish sounding “Step It Out Mary” to Marty Robbins covers on “Carmen” and “White Sports Coat”, to the gospel “Over & Over” and even Ed Sheerin’s “Pretty Little Galway Girl”. There’s “Goodbye and So Long To You”, a hit way back for The Osborne Brothers, Tim O’Brien’s “Like I Used To Do” and Collin Raye’s “Man Of My Word”.
As ever, you would expect a few Irish Country tracks, and you wont be disappointed, with the lovely James McGarrity song, “Irish Home”, PJ Murrity’s “Soldier On” and Tommy Makem & The Clancy Brothers’ classic “Courtin’In The Kitchen”.
Patrick has also translated Scottish west coast band Tide Lines’ “Far Side Of The World” to Irish, by removing references to the Highlands and The Hebrides, but I’m sure our guys wont be too upset by it.
This album has a bit more Irish than your average Irish Country album, but it’s certainly an entertaining listen.

Now down to England for the next couple of albums.
THE DIABLOS are a Brighton based Country five piece band, who are celebrating their 10th Anniversary currently. The band is made up of Chris Nieto, Danny and Terry O’Loughlin, Adrian Marshall and Geoff Ansell. To mark their anniversary, they have released a Double CD, “The Very Best Of The Diablos”, with 16 studio tracks compiled from their previous four albums, and an 11 track “live” set recorded at Conkers Outdoor Arena in Derbyshire.
They have quite an original sound. In the main, they have quite a rocky feel, but in an earthy Country music way. It’s a sound that is quite listenable, and danceable too. The one’s that stood out for me included “Wrong Guy”, “Whisky, Women & Wine” and “Rhinestones & Diamonds”. The most Country sounding number has to be “Continental”.
There’s a bit of Latin (Mavericks) influence on “Get Her Back” and “The Same Old Moon”.
They do have a few slower numbers, most notably, “You’re In There Somewhere”, “Banks Of The Vilane”, “My Wandering Heart” and “Right By Your Side”.
One track appears on both studio and live CD’s. “Don’t Like Country” is hardly an advert for our genre, but I think the guys should win over the doubters during the 4 minute track.
They have enjoyed a lot of airplay in the past ten years, and have topped the Hotdisc charts on six occasions.
The album has a bit of a cinema theme, from the CD cover, to the promotional bag of popcorn, which came with the review copy of the CD.  It’s because the guys are featured in a movie called “Beast” which is released this summer. The guys have a cameo role playing a Country band in a bar, and the opening track from the CD, “East Coast Run” is featured on the film’s soundtrack.
It’s not quite traditional Country, but, much more Country than a lot of what some call Country these days.
It’s good, original British Country music!.

THE BARHOPPERS, from Suffolk, were recently on a short tour up here, and they kindly passed on a copy of their CD for review. “Something…Old…New…Borrowed…Bluegrass”.
Although Gabbi and David were touring as a duo, they recorded as a trio, with Tony, who adds some magical steel and banjo into the mix.
The CD features quite a mix, from traditional to modern, and a couple of originals too. Gabbi wrote and performed the lively opening cut “Once Bitten Twice Shy”, and the foot tapping “Fast Train”.
There’s a really interesting version of Rhonda Vincent’s “All American Bluegrass Girl”, with the “All” being replaced with “Non”, and a reference to Suffolk added in.
Gabbi leads the vocals on a wide selection of numbers from “Sea Of Cowboy Hats” and “Down At The Twist And Shout”, to a cover of Larry Gatlin’s “Bitter They Are”, and the Hank Cochran classic, “Don’t Touch Me”.
Tony comes to the fore, with a steel guitar instrumental of “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”, and David leads the vocals on “Miles & Miles Of Texas”, “Who Locks The Door” and “Galway Girl”.
The Barhoppers certainly offer a wide variety of material, and I really enjoyed their versions of these songs, as well as their live sets.

Michigan’s ED DUPAS received great acclaim for his “Garage Country” sound on his 2015 album. Now, he’s back, with “Tennessee Night” (Road Trip Songs), on which he continues the garage theme. The album was recorded over three hot sticky days & nights last July at Mackinaw Harvest Studio’s in Grand Rapids.
The concept of this album was born back in 2015, when Ed took a trip to Nashville, a rather unorthodox trip as it turns out. The experiences certainly gave him some interesting song ideas.
The early tracks on the album are quite upbeat, including the opening “Too Big To Fail”, and “Two Wrongs”, inspired by the closing of the Danville Train line.
He then slows the tempo, notably on “Up Ahead”, “and “Some Things”. The title track, “Tennessee Night” is also quite an infectious ballad.
Cole Hansen provides some nice harmony on both that song and on the catchy “Everything Is In Bloom”. Her vocals really stand out, making it one of my favourite tracks on the album.
I really quite enjoyed this “Tennessee Night”, even if it was from Michigan.

Boston singer songwriter SUSAN CATTANEO has received praise and awards for her first four albums, but her new release takes her to a new level.
Her first three albums were essentially songs she had written in Nashville, very much with the current market in mind. Her last album, “Haunted Heart” was considered the first featuring songs she had written for herself.
Now she’s having a full blown out party. Not only does she have, in the region of, 40 musicians contributing, but she has released a blockbuster of a double album. “The Hammer & The Heart”(Jersey Girl Music), out here on August 25th, shows too sides of Susan, with electric and acoustic discs.
The lead song on both CD’s is a gutsy “Work Hard Love Harder”, the first version with The Bottle Rockers, and the gentler second version from the great named Boxcar Lillies.
The first CD, the electric side, does have quite a punchy, rocky feel to it, including the rockabilly homage to vinyl records on “In The Grooves”, which is a really infectious number. You can’t help getting into it.
She does quite a rocky version of “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger”. It’s the same song Lee Ann Womack hit with a few years back, but you’d never recognise it from this rather different version.
She does slow it down on the lovely duet with Bill Kirchen on “When Love Goes Right”.
The second CD, “The Heart”, the acoustic side, is a different sound altogether.
“Ordinary Magic” and “Fade To Blue” are nice ballads.
“Field Of Stone” is quite an emotional take on a new highway’s effect on a local community and families. It’s quite haunting.
“Smoke” is one of the heavier tracks on this CD, featuring Jennifer Kimball. It still works well.
The album rounds off with a rather strange cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Susan’s version certainly fits in quite nicely with the rest of the album.
I like Susan’s voice. She makes music that catches your attention !

Walt Aldridge is an acclaimed Country music songwriter, having written hits for a varied list of stars such as Barbara Mandrell, Travis Tritt, Earl Thomas Conley, Reba, Lou Reed, Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap. Now, his daughter, HANNAH ALDRIDGE is making her mark, especially here in the UK, having spent all of July here on tour, including dates in Glasgow, Stirling, Aberfeldy and at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival.
A native of that southern centre of musical excellence, Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Hannah has certainly learned all about songwriting. “Gold Rush” is her second album, and features ten songs, all self penned or co-writes, with the likes of Andrew Combs, Ashley McBryde and Don Gallardo.
She has quite a haunting sound, with good strong vocals, which give her a smoking rock feel. But don’t let that fool you. Her Southern roots really shine through.
The opening track, “Aftermath” really catches your attention, with its’ Country overtones and rock beat. She certainly sets the scene for what’s to follow.
“Dark Hearted Woman” is one of these infectious, atmospheric songs that get under your skin, whilst I also was really impressed with “Burning Down Birmingham”. It features some neat harmonies that really made an impression on me.
The title track, ”Gold Rush”, is one of the more gentler ballads, and really stood out for me. Other ballads include “The Irony Of Love”.
The album was recorded in Nashville, but isn’t the usual Nashville sound. She certainly has created her own, haunting sound, which seems to be working quite nicely for her.

Finally, something a bit different comes courtesy of BILL BOOTH. Although raised in New England, he is well travelled, and currently lives in Norway. But on his travels, he has picked up influences of Irish, Celtic, Cajun and Maritime Canadian, which all come together on his sixth album, “Some Distant Shore” (Wheeling Records).  Throughout the lyrics, he visits Dublin, Aberdeen, Nova Scotia, California, Dover, Mexico and even Fallujah.
He’s been called a “Cajun Mark Knopfler”, but also likened to JJ Cale, Dylan, Springsteen and Tony Joe White. There’s also a distinct Van Morrison sound.
There is certainly a celtic influence throughout the album, which I liked.
The opening track, “Wild Geese” has a distinct tale of Irish emigration, and that theme runs into “Cliffs Of Dover”, which has a line about leaving Aberdeen, sailing for Nova Scotia.
“Molly McKeen” has a real old time Country feel to it, yet still has an Irish influence running through it. “Raising Cane” also has quite a southern feel to it.
“City Of Rubble” is an emotional take on war torn areas, and the effect on the people on the ground.
A couple of instrumentals, which nicely round out the collection.
The whole album can be summed up in the track titled “Home Is On The Road”. Wherever you are, if you have music, then that’s home. I really enjoyed listening to the album.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

June 2017

We’ve got some really good new CD’s to review this time around.
BRAD PAISLEY previewed some of the material from his new album at c2c a few months back, and now “Love And War” (Arista) is now released here. It’s his 11th album, and is pretty consistent with his previous releases.
His music is largely a guitar driven Country rock sound which makes it easy to cross over into other genres of music. On this album, he teams up with Mick Jagger on the really rocky “Drive Of Shame”. The British label have released this track as a single. There’s also two collaborations with an American rapper, Timbaland. “Grey Goose Chase” and “Solar Power Girl” are both good driving upbeat numbers, with Brad’s guitar playing drowning out the rapper.
The title track features John Fogerty, which is much more Country radio friendly, and then the legendary Bill Anderson joins Brad on “Dying To See Her”. The Country pair wrote the song together.
Other tracks include the single, “Today”, “Heaven South” and “Last Time For Everything”.
Although most of the tracks are uptempo, Brad always does a mean ballad, and this album offers “Gold All Over The Ground”. It was originally a poem written by Johnny Cash, for June Carter, fifty years ago, and published in a book of Cash poems last year. It’s a neat little homage to the man in black.
Another big ballad is “The Devil Is Alive and Well”, which is certainly one of the stand out tracks for me.
Brad is also known as a bit of a fun guy, and this side of him comes out on the quirky “Selfie#The Internetisforever”. He covers the selfie crazy with a rye warning. Take heed.
Releasing the Jagger track as a single really takes a lot away from this album. There’s a lot more to Brad Paisley than pairing up with an ageing rocker from another musical genre.

One of the most Country sounding guys that has come out of Nashville in a while has to be Alabama boy, SHANE OWENS. He formed his own band in 1996 and his first gig was opening for Confederate Railroad in Ozark, Alabama. Shane has never stopped playing, but the Country music business has dealt him some nasty blows. Back in 2005, he released an album for a label just before the label folded, and a few years later, he recorded another album just in time for that label to go under too. This time, though, Shane owned the masters, and they form the nucleus of his finally released album, “Where I’m Comin’ From” (Amerimonte Records).
Thankfully, as one of the tracks on the album says, “Country Never Goes Out Of Style”. This album has been a long, long time in the making, and, frankly it’s a disgrace that Nashville has ignored Shane for so long. But now, he’s got the album out, and, let’s hope his time has come. Certainly, the scene is crying out for real Country music like this.
He covers growing up, playing baseball, girls, and honky tonking. The title track really looks back at a time where respect was a family value worth singing about.
“All The Beer In Alabama” is a really nice love song, but if it’s a honky tonk song, you really want, it has to be “Alcohol Of Fame”. It’s a real fun song, and there’s even a line dance for it.  There’s also  “Chicken Truck”, on which he’s joined by John Anderson (who recorded it way back).
Back to the ballads, and “Blame It On A Woman”, is a real George Strait type Country ballad. Other ballads include “God And The Ground She Walks On”.
“19” is quite a heavy number, telling the story of a small town boy, who went off to the marines, and didn’t return alive.
No one could blame him for taking a poke at the Music City business, but he does it with a degree of diplomacy. He says “Nashville, You Ain’t Hollywood”, adding “You’re still a Country town”. It’s a really good song, one any city would be proud of. It was originally recorded by Linda Hargrove many moons ago, so I guess “Country Never Goes Out Of Style”.
Randy Travis has sung his praises, and has exclaimed “To Shane, I gladly pass the baton”.
Shane Owens music has been hidden away for too long. The time is now right to bring back the real Country music !

SOUTHERN HALO are three sisters from Mississippi who have been getting a lot of attention lately on the back of their self titled debut album.
Christina, Natalia and Hannah are from the blues town of Cleveland, deep in the Mississippi Delta. Although they were raised on their blues, Nashville came calling, and in 2014, they were finalists at the Texaco Country Showdown at The Ryman.
They have a modern Country pop sound, with every one of the tracks on their album being what you would say was radio friendly.  The girls were heavily involved with the writing, including “Life Rolls On”, which they wrote between them.  Several songs have been heavily promoted as radio singles, including the catchy “Little White Dress”, “Rewind” and “Living Like That”.
Most of the tracks are quite uptempo, including the rocky “I Ain’t Crazy (But My Daddy Is)” and “Moonshine, co-written by Kelsea Ballerini, and performed by the baby of the group, Hannah.
There are a few ballads, including “I Don’t Wanna Move On” and “This Song”, which really impressed me. Their harmonies really stand out on this track.
They are a talented trio, good vocals, and the album is well produced. Good Modern Country.

AARON WATSON, a Texan from Amarillo, is one of the current breed of singers who are making sure that Country stays Country. He has been making albums since 1999, but it was as recent as 2015, that we wider world really took notice of his talent, when his album “Underdog” became the first male vocalist with an independently released and distributed album, to debut at No.1 on the Country Album charts across America.
Now he has followed up with “Vaquero” (BIG/Thirty Tigers), his 13th album, which has reached the No.2 spot in the same chart. He also made an appearance at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival, back in January.
This guy really is the real thing. Pure Country music at its best.
There isn’t a bad track on the album, and there’s plenty of them. Sixteen tracks, giving great value for money.  They vary from upbeat numbers like “They Don’t Make Em Like They Used To”, “One Two Step At A Time” and “Amen Amigo”  to slower ballads like “Texas Lullaby”, “Big Love in a Small Town” and “Diamonds & Daughters”.
The title track, “Vaquero” is a real old style Ol’ western ballad, and “Clear Isabel” is similar, if a bit more upbeat.
In a Country music scene dominated by pop acts, it’s really good to find someone like Aaron Watson really making a name for himself by playing real Country music.
If you buy one Country album this year, make sure it’s this one!

SAM OUTLAW was born in Aberdeen (South Dakota, that is), but now calls Southern California home, and So-Cal is his own brand of Country music. He made quite an impression with his debut album, “Angeleno”, and his new album has been widely anticipated.
“Tenderheart” (Six Shooter Records), his second album, is, as the title may suggest, just a bit more mellow than his debut release. It was track five before there are signs of upbeat honky tonk or Country.  Not that he doesn’t deliver a good ballad. I really enjoyed the title track, as well as “Bougainvillea, I Think” and “Everyone’s Looking For Home”.
But from Track Five, it’s the sort of album I was expecting. Superb Country music.
“Trouble” is a good driving number, kinda reminiscent of an early Steve Earle. “Two Broken Hearts” is a mid tempo number that really worked for me. “All My Life” and “Dry In The Sun” are very simply arranged, bouncy, little numbers that are really catchy.
“She’s Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of)” is a superb Country ballad, complete with lovely steel licks courtesy of Jeremy Long. Molly Jensen adds some nice harmonies on “Look At You Now”
Sam, who will be back in Scotland at the end of July for Perth’s Southern Fried Festival, certainly shows that he’s superb at traditional Country music, but that he can deliver a polished ballad too.

ANGALEENA PRESLEY is another coming over to Southern Fried. She is one third of The Pistol Annies, the Country girl supergroup that also features Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe. The Kentucky born singer is, to date, the least recognised third member of the group, but has been working hard to get on an equal footing with the others.
Her debut album, “American Middle Class” got some great reviews, and she has performed in the UK several times. Her follow up, “Wrangled” (Thirty Tigers) has just been released, prior to her visit in the summer.
According to the singer, the album is an explicitly forthright journey through her experience in the business of Country Music. She tackles uncomfortable realities like the discrimination against female artists at the height of Bro-Country, the high school mentality of Music Row, and the pain that's just beneath the surface of the road to stardom.
I have to say that it’s quite a strange album, but one that is slowly growing on me. She wrote, or co-wrote all 12 tracks on the album. The opening track sees her reunited with her Pistol Annie’s pals on “Dreams Don’t Come True”, quite a soft ballad that grows on you.
“Only Blood”, a real old fashioned Country number, was written alongside Chris Stapleton, and features Chris’s wife Morgane, whilst Shawn Camp plays Guy Clark’s mondola and No.10 guitar on “Cheer Up Little Darling”, believed to be the last song Guy wrote before passing away last year.  And the legendary Wanda Jackson co-wrote “Good Girl Down”.
The tracks that stood out for me, included the soft pop “Outlaw”, the confrontational “Bless My Heart”, and the rip roaring “Motel Bible”. I loved that track.
But, the same can’t be said for “Country”, which features hip hopper Yelawolf, sound effects, and a heavy metal bass line. A few screams of “Yeeha” is the only thing remotely Country about this track. It’s just 3 minutes and 25 seconds of unbearable noise.
But, just skip track 4, and enjoy the other tracks on the album. It’s growing on me.

Canadian singer songwriter TIA McGRAFF has a new 7 track CD out, “Nothin’ To Lose”, most of which she performed at Celtic Music Radio’s House concert at the start of May. The CD features six tracks written by Tia and husband Tommy Parham, and one, “Rock’s You Cant Move”, which Tommy composed with Rob Crosby and Will Rambeaux. It’s probably the most straight Country song on the CD, telling the story of the struggles of John Moses, a black farmer, who shared his wisdom with his neighbours. It was originally recorded by Lee Greenwood, but Tia really puts her mark on the song.
The CD kicks off with quite a British feel to it, with “Dartmoor”, an area that has made an impression on her, and especially ponies she saw there.  One of the singles from her previous album was “Baby’s Got A Banjo”, and Tommy’s got the banjo out once again, for the title track, a really impressive song.
“Faithful Ones”, has quite a gospel crusade feel to it. It’s a slow number, but nevertheless conjures up an image of a gathering. The closing track, “Change A Comin” is of a similar vein, albeit a little more upbeat.
The other tracks, “Masterpiece” and “Faraway Man” are both really pleasant numbers too.
Tia has a lovely voice, and you can really hear her personality shine through on these recordings. The production is very simple, acoustic style. It really suits these songs, and a beautiful listen.
www.tiamcgraff.com

Heading up our homegrown releases is a wonderful recreation of old American folk songs from REDWOOD MOUNTAIN, a duo that features Dean Owens and fiddler Amy Geddes.
The self titled CD has been built around Alan Lomax’ “The Book Of American Folk Songs”. A friend, Neil May, gave Dean a first edition copy of the book, who became intrigued by the lyrics and characters, and began devoting new arrangements too them.
Dean’s old Nashville pal Suzy Bogguss did a similar project a few years ago, and whilst Suzy choose some of the best known old American Folk Songs, Dean and Amy have gone for much lesser known songs. Throughout the album, Amy’s fiddle and harmonies beautifully contrast Dean’s vocals.
Many of the songs are performed in an old timey, ballad style. Certain songs, like “On The Range Of The Buffalo” had me thinking that Dean’s interpretations were similar to what you’d expect Marty Stuart to come up with.
“Run Boys Run”, is the one track which really shows Amy’s harmonies off, and also the Double Bass, played by Kevin McGuire, the only other musician on the project.
“Fair Thee Well Honey”, has an old English (Greensleeves) feel to it.
The first minute of “East Virginia” needed no instrumentation, before Amy’s fiddle just squeezes in for effect. It’s a beautiful arrangement, and really stands out.
There are a couple of numbers with a bit more upbeat, modern arrangements, like “Railroad Man” and “Rye Whiskey”.
There’s also a couple of fiddle instrumentals, one composed by Dean, the other by Amy.
As was with Dean’s previous Johnny Cash and Hank Williams albums, the project concludes with a Dean Owens’ original. “Take It Easy, But Take It”, is a modern song, but still fits in with the rest of the album. Dean has certainly got himself immersed in this music, and the result is this beautiful album.
He’ll be touring with the project in the summer, including The Southern Fried Festival in July, In the meantime, get the album from his website www.deanowens.com

ISLA GRANT is one of Scotland’s biggest musical exports. She’s continues to be one of the most popular names on the Irish concert circuit. She’s off on a tour of Newfoundland this month, and in the autumn has a 2 ½ month tour of Australia and New Zealand lined up.
Although Isla is well recognised as a songwriter, having written such well covered songs as “Cottage In The Country” and “It’s a Dream Come True”, her latest 16 track album, “I’m A Survivor” only has three self penned numbers.  This gives us an insight into Isla’s own musical tastes, and quite varied they are.
She kicks off the album with Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice”, covers Willie Nelson’s “Alice In Hullaland” and “Nothing I Can Do About It Now” (written by Beth Neilson Chapman), Marty Robbins’ “Fly Butterfly Fly”, and a couple of Lacy J Dalton songs, including the title track, “I’m A Survivor”.
She even has one for the line dancers, with a cover of Rick Springfield’s “Speak To The Stars”.
But one that really sounds close to one of her own composition’s is “The Bridle On The Wall”, written way back in 1936 by Carson Robertson. Boy, has Isla put her own stamp on it. One of the album’s highlights, for sure.
Talking of her own songs, “Love Me” and “A Love That Used To Be” are both nice melodies with lovely lyrics. “Back Home”, is a real Isla style homecoming song. Isla’s done so much travelling over the years, but still calls Scotland home. It’s a really heartfelt homely number.
Elsewhere, I really loved her treatment of “Leavin’ And Sayin’ Goodbye”, originally a hit for Grand Ole Opry legend Jeannie Seeley. A special mention for “They Called It Music”, a catchy number originally done by bluegrass band, The Gibson Brothers. Isla really sparkles on this number.
The album closes with the sensitive “In The Time That You Gave Me”, which is a song, so associated with Joey Feek.
Another lovely heartwarming collection of songs from the wonderful Isla.
www.islagrant.net

Although Irish born, NORMAN BORLAND has been around the Scottish Country music scene for many years now. He has built up a following for playing good solid Country music, and that is what you can expect on his new album, “Moved By The Spirit”.
The album, recorded in Yorkshire, features 16 tracks, all well produced and well performed by Norman.
Whilst an album of covers, Norman has chosen a good mix, with probably “Amanda” being the most recognisable number here. There’s a couple of Vince Gill numbers, some Merle and Cash, a bit of Tracy Lawrence and Clint Black too.
The title track is embedded within “Amen Kind Of Love”, a song previously done by Daryl Singletary, whilst the opening track, “Dreaming with My Eyes Wide Open” was a Clay Walker hit. I liked his version of “Brother Jukebox” and his version of Cash’s “Home Of The Blues” really stands out,
I also enjoyed his version of Paul Overstreet’s “Seeing My Father In Me”, and was impressed with his Sam Outlaw cover of “Love Her For A While”.
I was also pleased to hear Norman’s version of Shunie Crampsey’s “Morning Sun And Memories”. The song has been around for many years, but seems to have become very popular lately. Norman’s version is one of the strongest I’ve heard.
Real Country, a good mix and well produced.  A real winning formula.
Available from normanborland@yahoo.co.uk

BILLY HAMMOND is a local singer in the Alloa area who has played his music in local clubs for many years, with Country music very much featured in his sets.  His latest album, “Morning Sun and Memories” features 14 tracks, which I’d say is very much aimed at the Irish style market.
The title track, of course was written by Shunie Crampsey, and Billy does a nice version of it.
There are a wide mix of Country covers like Billy Ray’s “She’s Not Crying Anymore”, Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Hal Ketchum’s “Tonight We Might Just Fall In Love Again”, alongside The Eagles’s “Girl From Yesterday” and The Searchers’ “Walk In The Room”.
But Billy sounds most at home with the Irish influenced numbers like “Absent Friends”, which kicks off the album and, Pete St John’s “Dreamers & Believers” (most recently recorded by Derek Ryan).
Recorded in his hometown at the Bowmar Soundspace, Billy has come up with a really nice listenable album.  He has a good voice, which suits these songs.

MICK FLAVIN is one of the Irish Country scene’s stalwarts. Indeed, he is celebrating his 30th Anniversary in Country Music this year, by releasing a new album, “Country & Gospel” (Rosette Records). Don’t be put off by the title. The gospel tracks are discreetly blended throughout the 15 track collection.
You’ll recognise a couple of the tracks, including “The Fireman” which opens the collection, and “Daytime Friends”, the old Kenny Rogers hit, which is the lead single from the album.
Mick makes his mark on The Hag’s “I Can’t Be Myself”, and Charley Pride’s “Jeannie Norman”, and there’s a duet with Mary Duff on “Size Seven Road”.
Although Mick is 100% Country, there is an Irish influences on “The Last Chance Saloon”.
“He Took Your Place”, “Where We’ll Never Grow Old” and “Who Will Pray For Me” are amongst the gospel songs, but the arrangements Mick delivers with the help of producer Jonathan Owens, have them, very much in the same style as the rest of the album.
Mick has a superb rich Country voice, which suits these songs.   One of Ireland’s true Country performers, and he’s sounding as good as ever.

From a legend, to one of the young breed emerging on the Irish scene. BEN TROY has been one of the numerous child stars in recent years, but has stuck the course, and has now left school, with a bright Country music career ahead of him.
The 18 year old’s debut album is “Gravity” (Ryan Records), and is a mix of covers and newer material. He has been taken under the wing of Derek Ryan, who himself, is one of Ireland’s youngest and newer stars.
Derek has written four of the tracks on the album, including the title track, and bouncy “Original”, which, for me, is probably the stand out track on the whole album. He also wrote “Lost In Your Light” and “Summer Nights”.
Of the covers, Ben is obviously a Don Williams fan, covering two of the gentle giant’s hits, plus Willie’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” and Hank’s “Never Again(Will I Knock On Your Door)”.  The album opens will his version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”, which is also the lead single from the album. The arrangement fits nicely into the album. You’ll also find him doing a really good job on Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times”.
Ben has certainly matured nicely from child star, to one of the young stars who are going to be around for a while.

DAVE SHERIFF is a British Country Music institution. His claim to fame was gaining a place in the Guinness Book Of Records back in the 80’s for his multi-instrument playing. But he has been a stalwart of the whole UK scene, both in his own music, and supporting others. He was around long before the linedance scene, but embraced it, and also found his place amongst the booming Irish dance scene. Dave is the whole package.
His latest project, “The Britpickers” (Stomp Records) does take a rather retrospective look back at the British scene, not only featuring some long standing Sheriff compositions, but features some of the fellow musicians that travelled a similar path. He’s teamed up with the likes of Slim Pickens, Pete Brazil, Nicky James, Bob Pearce, Jon J Paul, Drew Taylor, Graham Walker, Gerry Hogan, Jan Mellon, Drew Taylor, Tony Kaempf, Derek Thurlby, John Dunsterville, Bob Dixon, Barry Smith, Carolyn Lawford and Adam Linsley.
The opening track “From Then Til Now” tries to sum up the scene, and how it’s changed, in just over 3 minutes, and manages to namecheck a few of those missing from the project, like Kelvin Henderson, Bob Newman, Karl Benson and Dennis Wheeler,
There are also appearances from Dane Stevens on “Beer Belly Blues”, whilst Carole Gordon duets beautifully on new versions of “Turn Back Time” and “We’ve Got Memories”. For me, these are the stand out tracks, with Carole’s vocals just adding something special to the songs.
I also really liked the traditional Country sound on “Forget Those Angry Words” and the radio single, “Hey God”.
Of course, “Best Of Friends” is included, as is an updated version of “Red Hot Salsa”, which is featured on the soundtrack of the T2 Trainspotting movie.
As, I say, Dave is a real all-rounder, and can appeal right across the Country scene. He’s sharing the limelight with others on this project, with a statement to those who think Country music is new to the UK.

UNDERHILL ROSE are a North Carolina all girl trio, made up of Molly Rose Reed, Eleanor Underhill and Salley Williamson. Their Appalachian blend of beautiful harmonies and simple arrangements, led by Eleanor’s banjo make for a really relaxing sound.
They have previously released three studio albums, but their new CD features the “Live” sound of the trio, recorded over two starry nights in Asheville and Lexington NC.
They feature a number of tracks from their previous albums, and several covers, which they, perhaps, wouldn’t consider recording otherwise. They include the Nancy Sinatra classic, “These Boots Are Made For Walking” and Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes”. The CD winds up with a version of John Prine’s “Long Monday”.
But the one which impressed me most was “Trouble In Mind”, which is the stand out track for me. It’s an old jazz song from the 1920’s, which has been recorded by everyone from Bob Wills, The Everly’s and Johnny Cash, to Elkie Brooks and Led Zeppelin. These girls give it a real country feel.
They also do a stunning job on Jamey Johnson’s “In Color”, the CMA’s song of the year back in 2009.
Elsewhere I liked the catchy “The End Of 27”, “They Got My Back” and “Love Looks Good On You”.
It’s a really nice listen. They’re here this month on tour. Well worth catching them live.

Now for some real toe tapping Texas music. 82 year old JOHNNY BUSH is a real Country icon down in the Lone Star State, and a hero in the eyes of many of his younger prodigies. His early breaks in the business were down to Ray Price and Willie Nelson. Both are still influencing him today.
His new album is a 20 track collection which celebrates his long career in music. “The Absolute Johnny Bush” (BGM label) was produced by Bill Green in San Antonio, and features a number of fellow Texans like Dale Watson, Bobby Flores, Justin Trevino, Reckless Eric, and even Ray Price.
The sadly missed Price appears on the ballad, “Ain’t Your Memory Got No Pride At All”, which Johnny covers Ray’s “I’ll Be There” and “Each Time”. Johnny wrote “Whiskey River” for Willie Nelson. The song is featured here, as well as covers of Willie’s “Undo The Right” and “I Gotta Get Drunk”, on which Dale Watson joins up.
Other numbers that you’ll recognise include “The Last Thing I Needed (First Thing This Morning)”, another Willie hit, written by Gary P Nunn, Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again”, and “These Lips Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye”, albeit in a western swing style, and not like the hit Forester Sisters or Doug Stone versions.
This isn’t just a celebration of Johnny Bush music, it’s the best of Texas music. I really enjoyed it.

TIM GRIMM, from Southern Indiana, is something of a Rennaisance man in the performing arts world. He has for the past 15 years, blended his love for songwriting, travel, and the storytelling of acting (theatre, film and television).  Amongst his musical influences is Rambling Jack Elliott, Woody Guthrie, Tom Paxton and Johnny Cash.
His latest album, “A Stranger In This Time” (Cavalier Recordings) is a lovely listen of simple arrangements with gentle folk ballads.
The title is wrapped up in the opening track, “These Rolling Hills”, which I really enjoyed.
“So Strong” and “Hard Road” are both quite upbeat, in almost a Texas style, whilst “The Hungry Grass” is much more of a ballad.
“Darlin’ Cory” is a traditional number, and sounds it. He’s really captured an old timey bluegrass feel to this track.
“Thirteen Years” is a spoken track, which conjured up memories of Johnny Cash, with some Shel Silverstein in the blend.
“Black Snake”, written by Grimm Family Band members Jan & Jackson came over a bit more rocky.
Altogether, I found this a very pleasant listen.

RICK MONROE is one of these guys who seem to have been around forever, with several albums since the 1997 release “Legend’s Diner”. Rick is well travelled. He was born in Florida, but grew up in a variety of US states, as well as England. He has performed in 17 countries, and every US state, except Oregon (for whatever reason), and has even played for former Soviet President Gorbachev.
Last year alone he travelled over 100,000 miles to play over 120 shows.
His latest release is a 6 track EP called “Gypsy Soul”, all written, or co-written by Rick himself.
The title track is quite a smouldering country rock number
The opening track, “This Side Of You” and “Better” is powerful radio friendly ballad that should fit in nicely at US Country Radio. “Moment Like This” is quite rocky, whilst “Rage On” is quite bluesy.
“Ease On Down” a really pleasant listen, and probably my favourite track of the collection.

COLTER WALL is a 21 year old singer songwriter from Saskatchewan, but, on listening to his self titled debut full length CD, you’d imagine yourself listening to a guy who has lived life for a lot longer than he has.
Rolling Stone magazine cited him as one of “Ten New Country Artists You Need To Know”. Well he’s made the first step into Europe, with dates in the south of England, Holland and Germany in the past couple of weeks, and already making plans to come back.
The CD features 10 tracks, from the opening guitar ballad “Thirteen Silver Dollars” and the steel laced “Codeine Dream”, to the folksy “Kate McCannon”, and “You Look To Yours”.
He livens proceedings with the catchy, but short, “Motorcycle”.
On “Transcedent Ramblin’ Railroad Blues”, he does rather recreate John Prine’s “Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness”. I don’t know if it’s deliberate, or coincidence, but it certainly keeps it interesting.
One that is certainly a cover, is a slowed down version of “Fraulein”. His arrangement is really interesting.

Finally this time around, MADISON VIOLET are a Canadian duo made up of Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, who have been writing and playing beautiful music together now for 18 years ago. They have toured here several times, and have built up quite a fan base.
On their more recent album’s they’ve found more of a full sound, but the girls have decided to go back to basics with their latest release, “The Knight Sessions” (Big Lake Music).
When we say back to basics, we mean the real basics. The girls scoured Toronto’s Pawn Shops in a quest to find discarded items, misfit items and outdated electronics. They came across children’s wooden blocks and ukuleles with missing strings, and finally came up with some items that could be used on this new album. It also made their suitcases a bit lighter on their UK tour last month.
It does remove much of the Country sound that they had, but highlights their beautiful voices much more. I really quite liked “Ohio”, “Operator” and “Same Sun”. The intro on “The Heat” reminded me of the noise we created as kids, by blowing through a paper covered comb. Who remembers doing that ?
It’s an interesting sound project. As I say, there’s not much of a Country sound, like they may have had in the past, but it’s certainly different.

Monday, 3 April 2017

April 2017

The Country2Country Festival has been and gone for another year, but Humphead Records intend to keep the music alive going forward. They have released a 40 track, 2CD collection, “5 Years Of Country2Country”, featuring tracks from some of the acts that have appeared since the first event in London in 2013.
The package comes complete with a 24 page booklet with some information, and pictures on the artists contained on the two CD’s. Not only that, it comes in a hard back cover, like a CD size book.
Included you’ll find Zac Brown, Reba, Kip Moore, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Old Dominion and Vince Gill, just to name a few.
There are a few tracks included from UK acts, like The Shires and Ward Thomas and there’s also Belfast’s Catherine McGrath, with “Hell Would Have To Freeze Over”. The 19 year old grew up steeped in traditional music, then discovered Taylor Swift !  Yes, her self penned song is quite pop, which makes her ideal c2c material.
The 40 track collection is quite a Nashville pop affair, but then, that’s what Country2Country is all about.  This is a really well presented collection of modern Nashville music, and a valuable memory of the past five years of festivals.

Country2Country visitor REBA McENTIRE used her visit here to support an interesting double album of gospel music, “Sing It Now” (Big Machine). Although, a bit of a different direction for the Oklahoma born superstar, Reba puts her own stamp on the songs, and makes it another Reba album.
The first CD is her versions of traditional gospel classics like “Jesus Loves Me” (the first song she ever sang on stage, apparently), “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder”, “Amazing Grace”, “I’ll Fly Away” and “How Great Thou Art”.
Trisha Yearwood and Kelly Clarkson join in on “Softly And Tenderly”. Although all well known songs, that really didn’t need another cover, Reba does them real justice, and, possibly given them a new lease of life.
By contrast, CD2 is all new material, where Reba delivers some good modern numbers, including “I Got The Lord On My Side”, a bouncy hand clapping anthem type song, co-written by Reba, with mum, Jackie.
It all kicks off with the title track, “Sing It Now”, which really sums up the album. As Reba says on the sleevenotes, “it connected the dots between the hymns and the new material”. It really works.
“God And My Girlfriends” is a great song co-written by talented Canadian singer songwriter Patricia Conroy. It was recorded by fellow Canadian Beverley Mahood a few years back, but great to see Patricia getting a cut from Reba too. Reba says it’s a song that she’s wanted to record for a long time. Well, it was worth the wait, and what a great job she’s done on it. It’s getting lots of deserved attention.
“Back To God” is a powerful song from the pens of Randy Houser and Dallas Davidson. She also puts her heart and soul into powerful arrangements to “Angel On My Shoulder” and “Say A Prayer”.
Other notable contributions include former duet hit partner Linda Davis, who co-wrote the ballad “I Need To Talk To You” and Jessie Alexander and Sarah Buxton who co-wrote (with Steve Moakler), “Angels Singing”. The album closes with a rather different track in “Meanwhile Back At The Cross”, which really appealed to me.
It’s a real Reba album, polished, without losing her own style. A real winner.

MARTY STUART is one of Country music’s true believers. He’s an artist who really has his roots steeped in Country music’s tradition, having worked his way via Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash.
He released his 18th studio album, “Way Out West” (Humphead) just prior to his appearances at the Country2Country Festivals.
This album pays homage to America’s old west, without being a typical cowboy or western album. Supported by his long time band, “His Fabulous Superlatives”- Harry Stinson, Kenny Vaughn and Chris Scruggs, Marty takes us on an emotional roadtrip heading somewhere west of here!
Some of the songs have a good “hillbilly thump” to them, notably “Time Don’t Wait”, and to a lesser extent, “Whole Lotta Highway”. They really let rip on the old Benny Goodman number “Air Mail Special”.
He slows it down on “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” and “Old Mexico”, which Marty delivers in the way Johnny Cash, or even Marty Robbins would’ve done in years gone by. In fact, he even covers “Lost In The Desert”, which Cash recorded one time.
Marty does lose himself in the desert, with the title track, “Way Out West”, an eerie atmospheric number from a true poet.
There are several instrumentals, which recreate the atmosphere of those spaghetti westerns.
It’s a really interesting concept album, one that I know will have been a labour of love for Marty.  I’ll be interested to see what the Country2Country festivals goers thought about it though!

DARIN AND BROOKE ALDRIDGE are a married couple from North Carolina, where the Appalachian approach to bluegrass music really blends well.  Their eighth album, “Faster and Farther” (Mountain Home) is true testament to that.  Darin is a former member of The Country Gentlemen, and Brooke has one of these irresistible voices, not too removed from the likes of Rhonda Vincent. They both handle lead vocals well, together they blend their voices beautifully, and then add in some simple, authentic down-home arrangements, and the result is one stunning album.
The songs are from established writers and performers like Carl Jackson, John Cowan, Darrell Scott and Pat Flynn. Most of the numbers are new to me, but quickly liked.
The songs range from the catchy upbeat “Kingdom Come”, “Lila” and “Cumberland Plateau”, to mid tempo tracks like “Fit For A King” or “Mountains In Mississippi” to story songs like “Eugene And Diane”.  I really like to the softer ballads like “Highway Of Heartache”, “Still Falling” and “Heaven Just Got Sweeter For You”.
Brooke also picks up on the Ian Tyson classic, “Someday Soon”, and John Cowan and Vince Gill both add their vocals to the CD.
I loved this album. It reminded me a lot of The Whites, and the albums they made a good few years back. The music here is timeless.

JIM LAUDERDALE is one of the most versatile guys around Nashville these days. The North Carolina native had a couple of major label albums in the late 80’s and 1990’s, which produced hits like “Stay Out Of My Arms” and “Maybe”. His music wasn’t the most commercial, but became highly respected amongst his peers. He has no less than 28 studio albums to his name, the latest, “London Southern” recorded in Balham in South London.
Over the years Jim’s music has crossed boundaries from rock & pop, through Buck Owens’ Bakersfield sound, Texas, Bluegrass and Americana. Last year he was given the Wagonmaster Award at the US Americana Awards, and has just appeared at Celtic Connections as part of this year’s Transatlantic Sessions with Aly Bain and Eddi Reader.  As a songwriter, he has written for everyone from Vince Gill and Patty Loveless to Elvis Costello and Blake Shelton.
This album began its life on a previous visit to our shores, as Jim claims some of the songs were born in Glasgow, Liverpool and London.  Produced by Neil Brocklebank and Robert Trehern, and featuring other players from Nick Lowe’s band, Jim has come up with an interesting mix.
The album kicks off with “Sweet Time”, a catch old time classic Country sounding number, with some nice piano work from Geraint Watkins.
“I Love You More” has a smokey blues feel to it, as does “If I Cant Resist”.
Some of the numbers have quite a pop feel to them, notably “You Came To Get Me”, and “I Cant Do Without You” but others have a real catchy Country feel to them. “Don’t Shut Me Down” stands out, as does “This Is A Door” and “No Right Way To Be Wrong”.
It’s not the most Country album Jim Lauderdale has done, but he’s such a versatile musician that I’m sure recording in London, it was never going to be so.  Still a great album though.

JOSH TURNER has one of the most Country voices around these days. His deep southern drawl has been part of the Country scene since 2003, when his “Long Black Train” arrived in Music City. His latest album, “Deep South” (Humphead) was released here last month, and I have to say that it didn’t disappoint.
Despite his last album “Punching Bag” hitting No.1 on the Country charts, and No.4 on the US Pop charts, it’s taken 5 years to get this new album released. The first single from “Deep South” was released in 2014, and didn’t quite make the impact of his previously hits, so the US label put the album release on hold.  That single was “Lay Low”, a rather slow ballad, which is probably one of the least impressive tracks on the album. I’m glad the label eventually released the full CD.
The album kicks off with the title track, an anthem to southern living, which I guess, “Southern Drawl” also applies. He’s singing about a girl, but Josh, himself, has one of the deepest Southern drawl’s around.
Upbeat tracks include the racey “One Like Mine” and “All About You”.
He does slow the tempo on a few tracks like “Hometown Girl”, “Beach Bums” and “Never Had a Reason”.
Some of the arrangements were more modern than suited the songs, but Josh’s vocals make such a mark on the songs here, that he overcomes that distraction.
But, then to close the album, something completely different. “Hawiian Girl” was written by Josh, but it sounds right out of a Hank Snow collection. It has a really refreshing sound, and enhanced by the harmonies of Ho’Okena, a Hawaiian musical group, which just gives it authenticity.
I really enjoyed the album. Josh is one of the newer guys around Nashville that still sound Country!

LAUREN ALAINA is another ex-American Idol contestant now finding her home in Nashville. She was runner up in the 2011 series. Immediately after the series she was assigned to a record deal, and her debut album, “Wildflower” hit No.2 on the Country charts, and No.5 on the US pop charts.  Yet it’s taken six years for her to release the follow up, “Road Less Travelled” (Humphead) which has just been released here in the UK.
Lauren is no stranger to Nashville. She first arrived when she was just 12 years old, and performed at Tootsies. The Georgia native is a veteran of contests, whether talent or pageant, and was a cheerleader in high school.
But she’s not just a pretty face. She co-wrote all 12 tracks on this album.
As with many of today’s Nashville based girls, Lauren does have more of a pop sound than Country, But there are a few tracks that did appeal to me. The title track, “Road Less Travelled” is quite catchy, and also the title track to her first movie role, due for release this spring.  “Think Outside The Boy” and “Painting Pillows” are both really nice songs. I also quite liked “Same Day Different Bottle” and “Pretty”.
“Next Boyfriend” is another quite pop sounding number, but offers the corniest of chat up lines, “You look a lot like my next boyfriend”.  
I did enjoy her ballads more, I’d have to say. But she certainly has a superb voice, and is a talented writer. If you like your Country with more than a bit of pop, Lauren Alaina is well worth checking out.

Staying with the girls. JENNY GILL has one of Nashville’s greatest pedigrees. She’s the daughter of Vince Gill, and her mum, Janis was a Sweetheart of The Rodeo. She’s grown up with their music, and even recorded and performed on stage with dad.
And now, Jenny has launched her own career with a 6 track EP, simply called “The House Sessions”, recorded at Vince’s home studio. She’s not just another chip of the block though. Jenny has really honed her craft before taking the big step into recording. She wrote five of the six songs, and has her own sound.
She has quite a soulful feeling to her music, especially on “Lonely Lost Me”, “Lean On Love” and “The Letter”, but “That’s Where Loving You Has Landed Me”, really shows her vocals, and features some really nice steel.
“Whiskey Words” is different again. This time she has a very simple arrangement, and is probably the most Country track on the CD.
Jenny is perhaps a bit more soul than Country, but she sure has a superb voice.

Occasionally, you may find a singer or songwriter run their own independent record label, and a few performers have gone onto major label management roles after their own career. But I haven’t heard of a record label executive go on to become a singer-songwriter, but that is exactly what WYATT EASTERLING has done. He was head of A&R at Atlantic Records in Nashville, signing and producing John Michael Montgomery and Michael Johnson amongst others. As a writer, he’s had cuts by Neal McCoy and Joe Diffie.
But Wyatt had originally arrived in Nashville as a recording artist, with an album under his arm. And in recent years, he has got back to doing just what he loves- making the music.
He moved back to his native North Carolina, and the result is this latest album, his third acoustic CD, called “Divining Rod” (Pheonix Rising Records).
It’s a really pleasant easy listen, featuring a dozen songs, all but one self-penned. The exception is a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Pacing The Cage”.
The album begins with “Stumbling Towards The Light”, one of two songs that features harmonies from Canadian singer Lisa Brokop, and her husband Paul Jefferson. The song tells of some of Wyatt’s struggles in life.
The track’s which particularly caught my ear include “Scars”, which is quite a wee story song, the quite catchy “Don’t Cry For Me”, and the closing ballad “Somewhere Down The Road”.
By the very acoustic nature of the recording, it’s quite a folksy sounding album, but years in Nashville have not gone to waste, it’s quite a nice listen for Country fans too.

AGS CONNOLLY has possibly, the most Country sound of any artist in Britain today!  That’s a tall statement I know, but, if you’ve heard him, you’ll surely agree. Whilst he has his own sound, honed in deepest rural Oxfordshire, there’s certainly a Dale Watson / Austin Texas, influence to his music.
His debut album in 2014 got rave reviews from all who heard it, and his new release “Nothin’ Unexpected” (At The Helm Records) will only increase Ag’s popularity.
From the opening fiddle on “I Hope You’re Unhappy” (courtesy of Eamon McLaughlin), you know that you’re listening to real authentic Country music.
Certainly the Texan swing numbers really won me over. “Neon Jail” and “Haunts Like These” really captured the Texas dance hall atmosphere.
Many of the songs are quite slow, but Ags voice really oozes with honest emotion on them. “Do You Realise That Now”, appeals to me, with its’ beautiful tex mex accordion from Michael Guerra (The Mavericks), giving it a lovely Spanish flavour.  “Nothing Unexpected” is a ballad about visiting an old haunt, and life’s changes. Other reflective numbers include “Fifteen Years” and “Slow Burner”. All but one song is from Ags’ own pen. The exception is “I Suppose”, written by Louden Wainwright III.
To make such a Texas influenced record, you’d imagine that Ags would head for The Lone Star State. But, no!  Try Pencaitland in East Lothian ! The album was produced by Dean Owens, and features Dean’s regular musicians like Stuart Nesbit and Kev McGuire.
It’s great that such great sounding authentic Texan music can be produced over here. Ags is back up in this these parts next month. He’s well worth catching.

Speaking of DEAN OWENS, his new single, “Julie’s Moon” (Drumfire Records) was released last month to coincide with Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal.  All proceeds from sales of the single will be donated to the Marie Curie charity.
Dean is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s finest singer songwriters, with fans including Bob Harris, Ricky Ross, Irvine Welsh and Russell Brand.  His songs including “Raining in Glasgow” and “Man From Leith” have been hailed as classics of Scottish songwriting.
In September 2015 Dean’s beloved big sister Julie finally lost her battle with cancer. She was 50. Julie was a huge supporter of her brother and his music, always encouraging him, always at his gigs. Written very shortly after her death, “Julie’s Moon” is one of Dean’s most personal songs, although it was a subject he would have preferred to avoid. But some songs insist on being written, and the final result is lyrically poignant but also characteristically musically memorable.
It’s a beautiful song, with a really nice arrangement. I really like the way that Brian McAlpine’s accordion discreetly makes its’ mark on the song so beautifully.
The single is available from the main download sites.

Continuing with our homegrown talent, and to an album by NORRIE McCULLOCH , called “Bare Along The Branches” (Black Dust Records).  This is Norrie’s third album, and he’s slowly building up a following on the Americana scene. In the past year he has played Glasgow Americana, Southern Fried and SummerTyne  Festivals.
This album, recorded in the tranquillity of Stirling’s Tolbooth Auditorium, really features a strong production. Players include Dave McGowan, Iain Thompson, Stuart Kidd, Marco Rea and Iain Sloan.
And Norrie has a superb vocal style.
The album kicks off with a rather folk-pop flavoured number “Shutter”, which was quite was quite catchy, as is “Never Leave Behind”.
The more sounding Country numbers include the banjo and mandolin infused “Frozen River”, the harmonica intro’d “Around The Bend” and the simple acoustic “me & my guitar” rendition of “Turn To Dust”.
Slower numbers include “Little Boat”, “Lonely Boy”, “This Time” and 7 minute epilogue “Beggars Wood”.
I really enjoyed the album. Nice CD cover too.

Glasgow singer songwriter RAYMIE WILSON describes himself as “a 50-something singer songwriter”, and his music “an Americana melting pot of Bluegrass, Southern Rock and Pop Country”.
He’s a multi-instrumentalist, who has been around the music business for 40 years, doing everything from being a resident musician at the Glasgow Pavilion, to backing The Supremes and The Shirelles in Singapore. He has been bit writing songs for years, before putting them down in a recording studio. He has previously released an album and an EP, and now comes “Rocky River”, which I think would appeal to a lot of Country clubbers around Scotland.
The 11 track all original album kicks off with the really catchy “I Never Gave Up On You”, which really catches your attention. The title track is also quite commercial.
“Big Jock’s Gone” brings it all back home, with mentions of working in the shipyards, proving that you can produce Scottish Country music. Then, there’s “Whiskeybones”, with some neat banjo, and, yes, the bones get an airing too.
Most of the tracks are quite upbeat, but he can slow it down too. “Sorrow Is A Friend” is different from the rest of the album. It almost has a church sound to it. And it works well with the song. Other slower numbers include “Aint It Funny” and the Latin flavoured “She Was a Beautiful Girl”.
It’s not a big production album, but the energy in Raymie’s presentation really made a strong impression on me. I think the Country clubs will like his sound.
Raymie hosts an Open Mic night at the Beer CafĂ©, in Candleriggs in Glasgow’s Merchant City every Monday. Be sure to check him out.
www.raymiewilson.com

Next, an interesting album which was born out of a meeting in London’s, now defunct, Gladstone Arms, back in the summer of 2014. Blair Chadwick and Charlie Bateson were looking for instrumentalists and a vocalist respectively. As things transpired, they both found new songwriting partners. They called themselves STEEPWAYS, and the results of the last three years can now be heard on “Holy Smoke” (Mansion House Records), an 11 track collection of original material, which neatly blends British 70’s pop, Country and folk.
They cite influences as diverse as Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings to The Kinks and Cat Stevens.  There certainly is a mix in there. Just when you think they have a place on a Heartbeat TV soundtrack, up pops some impressive steel guitar, courtesy of Darren Buddell.
The album has a real country feel to it, especially on tracks like “Bystander”, “Dying On The Vine” and “Rather Be Alone”, the latter featuring Siobhan Parr(ex Alabama 3).
Then, completely different, is the rockabilly beat of “Chaperone”.
I really liked this album. Good British Country music!

BOB CHEEVERS has been a troubadour for 50 years now, taking his music all over America and the world. He is celebrating with the aptly titled “Fifty Years” (Howlin’ Dog Records), a 5 CD box set, comprising 83 tracks from his 10 previous albums, with some unreleased master recordings that have been gathering dust in his vault or years.
He grew up in Memphis, influenced by R&B, before spending 25 years on the West coast, playing pop music, followed by 16 years as a journeyman in Nashville, before finding his musical feet in Austin, Texas. Along the way he has written over 3000 songs.
Bob is a regular visitor to the UK, and was here again in February to promote this collection.  If you’ve had the pleasure of catching one of his intimate gigs, you’ll know that he has a distinct Willie Nelson sound, and does has the Willie Nelson look too. Like Willie, his music has a bluesy edge to it.
He has a famous quote, “I don’t know if these stories are true, but they happened to me”.
The collection includes titles like “My Guitar”, “The Man In The Moon and My Heart”, “Is It Ever Gonna Rain” and “Texas Is An Only Child”.
If you need to catch up with your Bob Cheevers collection, this is a great way to do it.

DREW HOLCOLB AND THE NEIGHBORS are a band born out of the booming East Nashville Americana scene, which can be overlooked by mainstream Country media. They have sold over 100,000 albums and played over 1800 concerts worldwide. Their last album, “Medicine”, debuted at No.47 on the Billboard Top 200, as well making its’ mark on the folk, rock & indie charts.
His latest album, his tenth, “Souvenir” (Magnolia Music) should surely, catch Country music’s attention. I found it a really good listen, and one which readers should listen out for when released here on April 21st.
The attached bio claims the album to be “equal parts folk singer, country crooner and pop hook provider”.
The songs are all composed by band members, mainly Holcomb himself, but a couple from Rich Bruntsfield and Nathan Dagger too. They vary from the slow burning “The Morning Song” and “Black And Blue”, to the more upbeat “Mama’s Sunshine, Daddy’s Rain”, “Postcard Memories” and “California”.
“Fight For Love” has quite a radio friendly feel it, whilst “Yellow Rose Of Santa Fe” has a lovely old west influence.  It has some really nice arrangements, and one that really struck a chord with me.
I really enjoyed this album. Hopefully Country media elsewhere will catch up with Drew too.

LYDIA SYLVIA MARTIN really demonstrates some wonderful Appalachian music on her album, “Chasing The Ghost” (Dryad Records).  Many people’s exposure to this style of music remains exclusive to “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”, but this lady really adds to the genre.
She grew up moving between West Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky, and recorded this album in Louisiana. Her influences gained through her life show through here.
The tracks range from upbeat instrumentals like “Liza Jane” and “Fisher Hornpipe” (you really hear the Shetland fiddler influence on American music coming through here), to slow “Oh Brother” type numbers like “Jo Bones” and “Cherry River Line”.
“Lonesome Road Blues” is a nice ballad, performed as a harmony duet with Dirk Powell who produced the album. Dirk’s fiddle is quite prominent on this track.
Phil Wiggins’s banjo really adds to the mix on “C & O Train”.
Won’t be everyone’s taste, but if you like the old style authentic Appalachian sound, check this lady out.

CARRIE ELKIN has, for over two decades, been quietly making a name for herself on the Americana circuit. It was 21 years ago that the Austin based singer songwriter recorded her first album. It’s been six years since her last solo album, as she’s been busy touring with husband Danny Schmidt, as well as The Sam Baker Trio.  But the wait is over, and Carrie is back, with a new album, “The Penny Collector”, dedicated to her father, who passed away in 2015.
Her vocals are quite haunting. Various sources put her in the same bracket as Patty Griffin, Iris Dement, Nanci Griffith or Emmylou. I wouldn’t argue against any of these comparisons. But Carrie has her own sound.
Most of the songs are slow, with very simple arrangements, which really put emphasis on her beautiful voice.
But There are a few more upbeat numbers, namely, “Live Wire”, “My Brother Said”,with “Tilt-A Whirl” building up the tempo as the number progresses.
A really nice listen.