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Friday, 5 April 2019

April 2019

The Country2Country Festival has certainly made its impact on Country music’s popularity in the UK and Europe, and this year heads down under to conquer Australia. To the more traditional Country fan, much of the c2c sound is just too pop, but the promoters do try to spread the musical styles around.
Humphead Records have been big supporters of the festival, which was held in Glasgow, Dublin & London last month. The label released “Country To Country Vol 4” just in time for the festival. A 2CD package, offering 40 tracks, is a good collector’s item for festival goers, and a good introduction to the modern Country scene for those not quite convinced yet.
Not only does the collection include artists who were appearing at this year’s event, like Lady Antebellum, Hunter Hayes, Dustin Lynch and Ashley McBryde, but also previous visitors like Marty Stuart, Sugarland, Lukas Nelson and Maren Morris.
The album features some brand new music, like Cam’s “Diane”, Old Dominion’s “Make It Sweet”, new trio Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks” and “I Believe In You” from Ward Thomas.
It’s an interesting selection. There’s a lot of different tracks on here, although Mo Pitney’s “I Met Merle Haggard Today” is my favourite track.

One of the names who appeared at this year’s Country2Country was CARLY PEARCE, a Kentucky native, who took the Dollywood route into Country music. She got a deal with Sony Music in 2012, which didn’t produce anything at the time. Featuring on a song by Texan Dirt band, The Josh Abbott Band, led to her debut single, and album, “Every Little Thing” being picked up by Big Machine Records.
Her early exposure to music was in bluegrass bands, before she even hit her teens, and she also worked on bluegrass compilations whilst in Dollywood.
But there’s very little of that early bluegrass influence on this album (although, I believe did feature in her set at c2c), which includes 8 songs co-written by the 28 year old singer, many with her producer busbee, who has also worked with Maren Morris and Lady Antebellum, as well as Pink, Gwen Stefanni and Kelly Clarkson. Other writers featured include Shane McAnally, Ashley Gorley, Hillary Lindsey and Allison Veltz.
It is a Country pop album, but I do actually quite like her voice, which shines through above.
The hit singles from the album including the opening track, “Hide The Wine”, which does have a very Maren Morris “My Church” sound, and the softer title track which is a smouldering ballad. The latter hit No.1 of the US Airplay chart.
It is the ballads which I preferred, notably “If My Name was Whiskey”, “You Know Where To Find Me” and “I Need A Ride Home”, which was the stand out track for me.
Having said, I really liked the mid tempo “Catch Fire”. Not particularly Country, but quite catchy and infectious.
The whole album is quite pop Country, as I said, but there was just enough to keep this Country boy interested.

MARTY STUART has built up a career of respect amongst his Country music peers, having “done his time” working and learning from Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash. HumpHead Records latest classic release is Marty’s “The Definitive Collection Vol 2”, a 3CD collection featuring no less than 65 tracks, stretching back to “One More Ride”, a duet with Cash from 1993, and “The Whiskey Aint Workin’ (with Travis Tritt) from 1991, as well as a couple of cuts from the Hillbilly Rock album in the late eighties.
It has to be pointed out that you wont find “Hillbilly Rock”, “Tempted”, “Western Girls” or “Honky Tonk Crowd” on this collection- they were all included on the 44 track Volume 1.
But you will find a wide variety of Stuart’s classic album cuts, from “Sundown In Nashville”, “A Satisfied Mind”, “I’m Blue I’m Lonesome”, “Hey Porter”, “Tear The Woodpile Down” and “Half A Heart”.
There are collaborations with The Old Crow Medicine Show, Loretta Lynn, BB King, Mavis Staples and Del McCoury, which really shows the versatility of the guy.
There are some newly released archive material, such as a 15 year old Marty doing mandolin on a live version of “Rawhide”. The track originally came from a “Live From Vanderbilt” recording in 1974. From the same era comes “Mystery Train/ Tiger Man”. The playing is superb, but Marty’s vocals have thankfully improved over time.
Another instrumental is “Marty Stuart Visits The Moon”, first heard on his “Loves & Luck” album in 1994.
There are some genuinely new 2019 recordings, the highlight being the old timey “Homesick”.
To top it all, the package comes in a small CD sized hardback booklet, which includes some amazing pictures, mainly black & white from a great career. Marty personally put this album together, both musically and photographically.
It includes some incredible moments from Country music history.
A must have!

The phrase “Too Country”, to describe a singer who sticks to their traditional roots, is not a new term. Back in the 90’s, a guy from Kentucky called MARTY BROWN got high acclaim from the traditional Country music fans.  I loved his music, and have continued to play his him over the years. His label, MCA, stuck by him for 3 albums, and released 6 singles, but only 1 charted, reaching a high of just No.74!
But Marty wasn’t a quitter!
He has kept going over the years, with the odd recorded project. He also wrote hit songs for the likes of Tracy Byrd and Trace Adkins. He even entered America’s Got Talent back in 2013, and got to the top 10, with his version of Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” getting 11 Million You Tube hits!
Now, Marty’s been back in the studio, and his latest album, “American Highway” (Plowboy Records), is released in May, marking his welcome return to the recording scene, and hopefully, radio.
I have to say that Marty’s traditional roots, have given way a little. There is definitely a bit more blues in his music, notably on “When The Blues Come Around” and “Casino Winnebago”.
The album kicks off with the drivin’ “American Highway”, followed by “Better Than It’s Ever Been”, which is a rather Country rock number. Again, it has a good driving beat to it.
There’s quite a soul feeling to “Umbrella Lovers”, the lead single from the album. It kinda reminded me of Ronnie Milsap in his heyday! It’s soulful, country, and has enough crossover potential to really get him on the charts.
“Shakin’ All Over The World” is quite different to anything else on the album. It’s quite upbeat and quite poppy, whilst “Right Out Of Left Field” has a bit of a rockabilly feel to it. It works really well.
“Kentucky Blues” is one of the stand out tracks for me. Inspired by Elvis’ “Kentucky Rain”, it conjures up memories of Milsap again, with a dash of Kristofferson and Tom T Hall, all rolled into one.
“Velvet Chains” is another really strong song, written about his daughter growing up, and not being his little girl anymore.
Great to hear Marty Brown back on the scene. Let’s give him some attention this time around!

I often consider TOM RUSSELL to be one of music’s real storytellers. As well as having recorded 35 albums, he has published six books, including a detective novel, and collection of songwriter quotes. His art is on display in several major galleries worldwide.
As a songwriter, he has written for Johnny Cash, Nanci Griffith, kd lang, Tom Paxton and Ian Tyson, amongst others.
His music covers a range of genres. Sounding quite rocky at times, he also creates an image of the wild west, or a tex-mex tavern, or of places around the world.
His latest album, “October In The Railroad Earth” has 10 originals, and one cover. The different styles are still evident, with the common link, being observant stories. The title track opens the album. The lively train song reminds me of just how much his style is like that of Johnny Cash.
His stories range from performing a small gig in “T Bone Steak and Spanish Wine”, and appreciating the poetry of Robert Graves in “Red Oak Texas”.
The album also includes “Small Engine Repair”, an older song he had never recorded. The song was originally written about the man who fixed his lawn mower in El Paso, but was picked up for the 2006 Irish film of the same name, about an aspiring Country singer, played by Scottish actor Iain Glen.
“Isadore Gonzalez”, has a strong Mexican feel to it, yet he talks of playing for the folks of “old England”, and drinking “strong English beer”. Gonzalez was a Mexican vaquero who was touring England in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, back in the 1880’s. He died in a horse accident, and is buried in an unmarked grave in Bristol. And now immortalised in song here.
“When The Road Gets Tough” is another inspired after being stuck in English traffic, somewhere north of London.
The Bakersfield Sound of the 50’s & 60’s, inspired “Highway 46”, a lovely number which recalls some of the areas big names, like Buck, Merle & Spade Cooley.
“Back Streets Of Love” is a nice ballad. It’s also his Anti- GPS song, believing his heart is a better guide than a satellite system.
He rocks it up a bit on “Hand Raised Wolverines”, a song inspired after touring in Canada.
“Pass Me The Gun, Billy” is a cowboy song. His own Wild West adventure, chasing poachers who were shooting at his brothers cattle.
He rounds off the collection with another train song. The first song he learned to play on guitar was “Wreck Of The Old ‘97”, and is included here.
It’s another classic Tom Russell collection of stories put to music, and really enjoyable it was.

NORMAN BORLAND has been a popular name on both sides of the Irish Sea for many years. Originally from Donegal, Norman headed for Scottish shores way back in the 70’s seeking work. His musical journey developed here, through working with Steve James and Toe The Line, whilst developing a name for himself at the same time.  He is now back on the Emerald Isle, and finally making inroads into his native land’s rich musical scene.
His latest album (his 5th, if my sums are right), “Even The Man In The Moon Is Crying” was recorded in Letterkenny, with respected Irish musicians like Jonathan Owens, Brian Kerrigan, Declan O’Hare, Al McQuilken, Mike Cleveland, Richard Nelson, James Blennerhassett and Danny Sheerin.
One thing that makes Norman really stand out from the Irish crowd, is that his music is 100% traditional Country. A huge Haggard fan, the album includes “Working Man Blues” and “The Fugitive”.
The title track is a cover of a Mark Collie song from the 90’s. It was Collie’s biggest hit, and Norman does it real justice. He also does a good cover of Lee Greenwood’s “Dixie Road”.
He does Dolly’s “Gypsy Joe & Me”, although probably owing more to Ray Lynam’s version rather than the original. His version of “If Hollywood Don’t Need You”, is a bit more upbeat than Don Williams’ original. On the ballads side, his cover of the Glen Campbell/Steve Wariner song “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” is superb, as is Collin Raye’s “Angel Of No Mercy”.
The more unusual songs for Norman to record include the popular line dance number , “My Veronica”, which has  been a really successful song for him, and The Derailers’ “The Right Place”.
Country through and through. It’s a superb album.
Available through www.sharpemusic.com

DAVE SHERIFF is one of the UK’s most regular recording acts, and one of the most accomplished performers in the country. Over the years he has embraced the traditional Country scene, the line dance network, and has set his sights on Ireland over the past couple of albums. Many Irish acts have recorded Dave’s songs, and, for his new album, “Donegal Time”, he went to Ireland’s 4th biggest county, to record his latest album (Stomp Records).
Dave has developed a happy beat, which suits the dancers of all persuasions. The album’s title track kicks off the album in that way. There’s also “Yur Never Too Old To Jive”, Fordson Major”, “Play It Again”, and the celtic influenced “Galway Boy”.
But Dave also gives us sentimental ballads, like “Come What May”, “The Next Dance With You”, the really traditional “Don’t Be A Stranger”, which is the stand out track for me.
There’s also a fitting tribute to Gary Perkins on “We’ll Always Have Our Memories”.
Dave has been recording and performing for longer than many of us care to imagine. He knows his audience, and knows just how to deliver his music to the audience.

JASON RINGENBERG is one of the most individual characters in the music business. He found success back in the 80’s with Jason & The Scorchers, a band which mixed Punk rock and Country, has had a chain of solo albums, and more recently developed Farmer Jason, a character aimed at children through music & TV.
His last solo album was released 15 years ago, and the last Scorchers album in 2010. Jason had resigned himself to working on his farm, and do the occasional Farmer Jason gig.
Then, out of the blue, he was commissioned to be Artist in Residence at Sequoia National Park in Southern California. He spend a month there, in a mountain cabin, exploring the park and performing for visitors, and writing.
The result is “Standing Tall”   (Courageous Chicken Music), an eclectic mix of music, and he’s still mixing high energy rock music alongside gentler Country overtones. Included are 7 self written numbers and four inspiring covers.
Although the album kicks off with the title track,   I’ll start with “Here In The Sequoias”, a gentle ballad, with some neat mandolin, and harmonies from Kathy Livingston and Beth Koehler, which really sets the tone for the album.
He captures several heroes throughout the album, including John The Baptist, (John The Baptist Was a Real Humdinger) and John Muir (John Muir Stood Here). Both recapture Jason’s earlier punk roots, as does “God Bless The Ramones”.
“I’m Walking Home”, is a song from the perspective of a disillusioned Conferderate soldier. Completely different to anything else on the album, it has a good lively beat, which lends itself well to the topic.
The covers are just as diverse. “Hobo Bills Last Ride”, an old Jimmie Rodgers song, is given a delicate arrangement, so different to the punk flavoured numbers. Even more diverse is a cover of Jean Shepard’s “Many Happy Hangovers To You”. I can’t imagine what Jean would think of it. The punk overtones are there, but the song remains Country based. A really interesting selection.
And to round it off, he does a gentle version of Dylan’s “Farewell Angelina”.
This is an interesting album. One that you certainly have to listen with an open mind, I certainly enjoyed it.

AMBER CROSS is a well travelled young woman. Born in Maine, studied in New Mexico, lived all over California (where she still resides), and recorded this album in Austin. She first caught the attention of music critics six years ago with the release of her first album. Now, her third album, “Savage On The Downhill”, has arrived, just in time for a short UK tour, which includes dates in Aberdeen and Edinburgh this month.
Amber had attended a Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Nevada in 2015, and it made such an impression on her, she wondered if her music would fit into the western music scene. Through Chuck Hawthorne, and Ray Bonneville, who ended up producing the album, Amber found herself immersed in the music, and the result is the 10 tracks here.
It’s not a typical western album of the Roy Rogers, or even Chris LeDoux style. Amber has created a modern take on the old, or perhaps I should say New, west.
The album kicks off with the upbeat “Pack Of Lies”, which neatly sets the tone for the album. Other upbeat numbers include “One Last Look”.
The title track is more of a smouldering, haunting number, which features Gurf Morlix playing guitar.
“Eagle & Blue” and “Storms Of Scarcity” are softer melodic numbers, the latter enhanced by some lovely Tim O’Brien fiddle.
Loneliness is covered in several songs, notably the simple “Trinity Gold Mine”, and “Echoes” which captures homelife, and explains why things aren’t as rosy as they seem. This one kind of reminded me of early Loretta songs, although a bit more controlled, and it does feature some lovely steel from Mike Hardwick.
I really liked the simplicity of “Leaving Again”. It’s quite a bouncy little number.
The album closes with “Lone Freighter’s Wail”, an old timey train song, written by producer Ray Bonneville, the only track not penned by Cross, herself.
I love Amber’s voice. It’s accented, and really suits these songs, which bridge old style Country, with a touch of western, folk and even rock in there. I really liked her sound, and loved this album.

TYLOR & THE TRAIN ROBBERS are a band of characters, hailing originally from Helix, Oregon, who really capture a nation of travels on “Best Of The Worst Kind”. The band is led by Tylor Ketchum, who has created a sound which brings forward a passion for the America West.
And from the American West enters “Black Jack” Ketchum, the centrepiece of the album. A Texas cowboy turned outlaw, he was a member of the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, which operated out of the same New Mexico hideout as the famous Wild Bunch led by Butch Cassidy. “Black Jack” is also a distant relative of Tylor Ketchum and the inspiration for the band’s name. Set for release on the anniversary of Black Jack’s hanging, the album is a bit of roots, country and Americana with influences from Texas and Red Dirt country music.
The CD kicks off with the mid tempo “Lost And Lonely Miles”, which sets the tone for the whole album.
“Good At Bad News” is a hard luck story song, telling how sure plans never turn out. “Pay Your Way” has a number of catchy clichés on the “all your eggs in one basket” phrase.
“Fumblin’ For Rhymes” is an upbeat “chasin’ your dreams” song. “Hide Your Goat”, is a driving upbeat number
“Storyteller”, “Before It’s Too Late” and “Few and Far Between” are a bit on the slower side, as is the album’s closer “Place Like This”.
I loved this album. Not for its western overtones, but for the simple fact that Country music used to sound like this. Good to hear Country music, like this, is still getting recorded.

Bluegrass bands are really all round entertainers. Whilst the image of a bluegrass band, may conjure up images of old timey banjo music, and a similarly old timey dress code, today’s bluegrass bands are much more creative in their musical arrangements. Hayseed Dixie, and our own The Daddy Naggins come to mind, as best examples of that.
There’s also CHATHAM COUNTY LINE, who describe themselves as “Newgrass”, a four piece, suited, outfit from Raleigh NC. The quartet have been together for 20 years, and have eight previous albums, and their new album, “Sharing The Covers” (Yep Roc) has just been released.
Yes, it’s an album of covers, but done in a unique bluegrass style. And, indeed, the “covers” aren’t a set of tried and tested numbers. The song choice comes from all genres of music.
The album kicks off with Wilco’s “I Got You (At The End Of The Century)”
They also honour Tom Petty , John Lennon and The Rolling Stones, as well as more Country offerings like “My Baby’s Gone” (The Louvin Brothers) , “Girl On The Billboard” (Del Reeves), “Think Of What You’ve Done” (Carter Family) and “I’m Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar” (Delmore Brothers). There’s an interesting take on John Hartford’s “Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry”, which may have something to say about the wider Nashville redevelopment going on at present. There’s also a superb instrumental, “Walk Don’t Run”, which was one of the biggest hits for The Ventures (America’s version of The Shadows).
The Petty cover, “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, sounds very Country, although Leo Kottle’s “Bumblebee” and The Stone’s “The Last Time” do come over a shady rocky.
Altogether though, a really first class offering. Interesting, fresh arrangements. I really liked this album.

Another bluegrass album comes from JACKSON GRIMM, a multi instrumentalist and singer songwriter from Asheville NC. “The Bull Moose Party” (Vault Records) covers insights into the heartache and desolation felt on a young man’s exodus from home. His bio states that the album doesn’t fit easily into one genre. I’d say that the album fits very nicely into a number of genres.
The nine track collection kicks off with “Appalachia Calling”, an upbeat driving number, which starts with some strong acapella vocals.
“I’d Hold You (But I Don’t Wanna Hold You)” and “Mid America Blues” are a bit less bluegrass. The latter certainly has a subtle bluesy feel, but the three part harmonies really make it an interesting number.
The fiddle intro, from producer Josh Goforth, really adds to “If Not For You”, one of the most straight Country tracks on the album. Described as a waltz, the song also features some neat “high lonesome harmonies”.
“Last Train Home” is something a centrepiece of the album. It’s a “party-grass” number, in the style of the Old Crow Medicine Show.
“Runnin’ Ragged” is a fast foot tappin’ number which really worked well for me.
“Evangelina” and “Paper Airplane” are both much slower numbers. The latter, notably, features some nice harmonies, which reminded me of early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band records
All the tracks were written by Jackson, and made for a really nice listen.

MARK MANDEVILLE & RAIANNE RICHARDS are an old timey, bluegrass influenced duo from Maine, whose music is popular in Canada, as well as their native New England. They have been performing together, and have a string of albums behind them, and their latest, “Live In Manitoba” (Nobody’s Favourite Records), was recorded during a 13 date House Concert tour. The album recreates the atmosphere of the small intimate session, with short introductions and chats popping up in between songs. The quality of the song recordings are, however, so clear, that they could’ve been in a studio.
All but two of the songs were written by the pair. The exceptions being covers of Tom Petty’s “Walls” and Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend”. Both covers really stand out on the album, but don’t let that distract you from the rest of the album.
Most of the vocals are lead by Mark, although it’s Raianne who leads on “Don’t Ever Stop Believing”, ”That Old Machine” and “One More Mile”, although the harmonies together are superb.
“It Wont Be Written On My Grave” is a catchy number which stands out. But, the harmonies are so beautiful, and the instrumentation so simple, that there’s not a bad track on the album.
A lovely listen.

Closer to home are a London based duo of Duncan Menzies and Robin Joe Sangster, who perform under the name of COPPER VIPER. They played their first public show at the Filey Folk Festival in April 2017, and now have their album, “Cut It Down,Count The Rings” released this month.
Their bio suggests that are an acoustic folk group, but there is certainly Country and bluegrass influences evident throughout the 11 self penned tracks, which were recorded in Washington State in America’s Northwest.
Menzies is originally from the North East of Scotland, and developed his fiddle and mandolin skills playing Scottish traditional music.
The music varies from the old timey opener, “Bad Desires”, the breezy “All In One”, to the double bass driven “Fly”,
to slow moody ballads like “Howl” and “Doors”. “Slow Down”, which closes the album features some nice mandolin.
“Hung Up Alone” is a stand out bluegrass number, and they do a really crackin’ job of it.
There’s certainly a lot of variety across the album, covering a range of genres.
Interesting CD cover too, with no artist or title prominent. It’s what’s inside that counts, and I enjoyed it. A nice, if different, listen.

Finally, DANNY SCHMIDT is an Austin, TX based singer songwriter, who has been named in the “50 most significant songwriters in the past 50 years” in the Chicago Tribune. He is up there with Leonard Cohen, Harry Chapin and Townes Van Zante.
“Standard Deviation” (Live Once Records) is his 10th studio album, recorded in Atlanta, and features 10 self penned numbers.
It’s all simple songwriter fayre, largely Danny and his acoustic guitar, with some additional Bass, Piano, steel, strings, banjo, mandolin and harmonica when required. All the songs are pleasant, and Danny’s vocals are really nice and listenable.
The tracks which impressed me most, included “Bones Of Emotion”, a really catchy Country feeling number, and “Newport ‘65”, with some impressive harmonies, from several singers, including his wife Carrie Elkin. “Agents Of Change” is another which worked well for me.
“Last Man Standing” is one of the more upbeat numbers, with a bit more instrumentation, and a catchy chorus lines.
A really pleasant album, released to promote his forthcoming tour, which calls at Glasgow’s Glad Café on May 8th.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Feb 2019

We’ll start off our reviews this time with a superb album from Canada. “Then And Now Vol 1” is a project by the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame, which is in Merritt BC , and produced by Tom and Carly McKillip.
The idea of the album is to team up the Hall of Fame legends with some of Canada’s younger (and not so young) talent, performing some of the legend’s biggest hits.
So you have Ian Tyson, teaming up with Aaron Pritchett and One More Girl on a rockin’ version of “Summer Wages” to kick things off. It’s certainly a bit different to Tyson’s original.
Some of the songs included aren’t really that different to the originals. They include Michelle Wright’s “Take It Like a Man”, where she’s joined by Jess Moskaluke, and “Fox On The Run”, featuring The Good Brothers and current CCMA Group of The Year, The Washboard Union.
But some of the songs are given totally new arrangements, like Sylvia Tyson’s “You Were On My Mind”, which is led by George Canyon, and Gary Fjellgaard’s “Dance With This Old Cowboy”, which features Brett Kissell.
Russell De Carle (ex Prairie Oyster) teams up with Patricia Conroy on the old Oyster classic “Such A Lonely One”. This one is given quite an Everly’s feel, with lovely harmonies.
The stand out track for me is the rockin’ version of “Down By The Henry Moore”, a hit for Murray McLauchlan back in 1975. He’s joined on this version by Belfast born Beverly Mahood, who was only months old when the song was originally released.
There are also collaborations featuring The Family Brown & Kelly Prescott, and Wendell Ferguson & Gord Bamford, before all the “Now” artists join together on a Gordon Lightfoot medley.
Watching the CCMA Awards show recently, it looks like the Country scene there has went the same way as Nashville- down the pop road - but there is some seriously good Canadian Country music on this collection, which should be savoured.
I found it a real feel good album musically, and a treasure to listen to.
The album can be downloaded, and the full physical CD package includes a glossy 24 page booklet and a DVD looking at the making the album.
 www.ccmhalloffame.com

The UK Country scene has developed its own brand in recent years, led by the likes of The Shires and Ward Thomas. It’s good to see Scottish acts getting recognised too. Glasgow based ASHTON LANE, who took their name from the city’s West End entertainment district, went right to No. 1 in the Official UK Country Album Chart with the release of their new album, “The In Between” (OC Records), holding onto the position for a second week.
Esther & Tim O’Connor, who make up the duo have released five previous albums (and another under Esther’s name), but this album raises their profile.
Much of the background to the album can be traced to the duo’s online “Kitchen Sessions” which has 8.7k subscribers. Many of the songs were written alongside fans, including the lead single, “Marilyn Curls”, which is based on the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be publicly executed in Britain.  It offers quite a different sound for them. It’s quite haunting and bluesy.
The title track, which sits nicely half way through the album, is a lovely simple ballad, which really highlights Esther’s pure vocals.
The album kicks off with the bright & breezy “By The Field”, and followed by the mid/up tempo “People In The Valley”, which really caught my attention on my first listen.
I really liked the driving “Growing Up Together”, which has quite a Rickie Lee Jones influence to it (albeit with a less scratchy vocal style).
Esther proves she can perform a mean ballad too, shown to best effect on the haunting “Primrose Hill”, which also offers some really neat harmonies. “Desert Sky” which closes the album has many of the same attributes.  “Under The Wonder” is another which excels in their harmonies.
“I’ll Pray” is another which has a really haunting sound to it. It conjures up images of an old church, without sounding like a gospel number. For me, another of the album’s highlights.
Over time, Ashton Lane have developed a sound that is theirs. In a world where so many groups and singers all sound the same, here is an album, which sounds original. That’s because it is!

Back in 2010, a young Glasgow girl called LISA McHUGH released her first commercial album called “Old Fashioned Girl” (She did record an earlier album of covers before this). It was the start of a career which has seen her move to Ireland to become one of the biggest Country stars there.
After seven highly popular albums, Lisa has taken time out to reflect on the past nine years and look back at the songs which have been “The Best So Far” and released them in one new package (Sharpe Music).
The 20 tracks take us from “I’m A Little Bit Lonely”, which was on her first album (but taken from her Live album here), right up to recent singles “Y’All Come” and “Honey Honey”, her duet with Derek Ryan. 
In between there are a number of Dolly covers, like “Applejack”, “Blue Smoke” and “Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That”. Other hits included are Kasey Chambers’ catchy “Hillbilly Girl” and the title track to her last album, “Who I Am” (the theme to TV detective series Sue Thomas F.B.Eye).
This album proves that Lisa’s popularity, with her busy schedule on the Irish dance scene, is thanks to her happy upbeat numbers. But Lisa has had a few notable ballads of note. One example would be the lovely version she does of “Play Me The Waltz of The Angels”.  There are also duets with Nathan Carter on “You Cant Make Old Friends” and Malachi Cush on “Peggy Gordon”. There’s also “Daddy’s Little Girl” and “26 Cents”.
But the track which really stands out for me, and has done since her first album, is “There Were Roses”. Although originally on “Old Fashioned Girl”, the 5 ½ minute version here is from “Lisa Live” and is filled with so much emotion. If you’re not familiar with the song, it was written by folk singer Tommy Sands, and tells of the troubles in Northern Ireland, and the killing of two good friends across the religious divide. The song really strikes a chord, and Lisa delivers it so well.
The whole album is a good catch up on her career to date. 

ROBBIE PETRIE is, without doubt, one of Scotland’s longest established Country performers, especially in the North East.
Robbie has come up with a real traditional mix of songs for his latest album, “Nashville On My Mind”, which was produced by Ryan Turner, alongside musicians like Danny Sheerin and Charlie Arkins from Ireland, and Max T Barnes, Johnny Lee Carpenter and Rusty Manmyer from Nashville, He’s even got The Benn Sisters on backing vocals.
Songs include The Hag’s “Big City”, “Lonesome Fugitive” and “Mama’s Hungry Eyes”, Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning”, and Paycheck’s “A-11”. There are some other gems, like the Confederate Railroad ballad “When You Leave That Way” and “This Is My Year For Mexico”, which I remember Crystal Gayle doing early in her career. Robbie also does his take on Kathy Mattea’s “Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses”.
It’s a well produced album, featuring some real traditional Country music. They’re all covers, but Robbie does them so well.
Good job Robbie!

MICK FLAVIN has been at the top of the Irish music scene for over 30 years now, and celebrates with a new CD/DVD package, “30 Years Travellin’ To Flavin” (Rosette Records).  He has consistently been recognised as one of Ireland’s “most Country of performers”.
The CD was recorded live at the Backstage Theatre in his native Co.Longford, and features 15 songs from that have been signature songs for him, like “Someday You’ll Love Me”, “I’m Gonna Make It After All” and “Lights of Home” to George Jones covers like “Choices”, “A Few Old Country Boys” and “He Started Loving Her Today”,  to a Hank Williams set.
Stand out track for me has to be “Legend and the Man”, originally done by Conway Twitty, and later by Keith Whitley. Mick’s version is up there with both.
The DVD features all of the CD tracks, as performed live in Longford, with a number of additional songs, such as “Size 7 Round” (a duet with Mary Duff), “Back Home To Mayo” and “Old Log Cabin”.
There’s also video of Mick visiting some old stomping grounds from his childhood, and rekindling some great memories.
As I say. Mick is one of Ireland’s real Country singers, and this is a fitting marker for his 30th Anniversary in the business. Here’s to the next 30 !

Country music is sung all over the world, not only in the large English speaking countries, but also in smaller places. Our next album comes from the Mediterranean island of Malta.
MARTY RIVER’s first public performance was at the age of 13, singing Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” in a local talent competition.
His first three albums got significant attention and radio play from the international Country music community. Now, Marty releases his fourth album, “Maltese Falcon” (Amberstar), recorded in Nashville, with Gary Carter as producer. Gary also produced his “Midnight Sky” album seven years ago.
The album features 14 self penned songs (with Joseph Spiteri), all given a really polished Country sound. The title track, a lovely ballad, with some affectionate harmonies from Mica Roberts, tells of flying free without a care in the world.
The style of songs on the album is really varied, from the upbeat “Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool” , “If Only These Walls Could Talk” and “Tonight Mr DJ”, to the more mellow “You’re What Keeps Me Going On”, “He’s Walking By My Side”, “Love Is A Wonder” and midtempo numbers like “Texas Lady”.
Jay Jennings adds some trumpets to the Marty Robbins influenced “Magnifico Mexico”. It’s actually a bit more upbeat than anything Robbins done, but still has his feel. In a similar vein is “Sweet Lorena”, this time highlighting Jeff Taylor on accordion.
The Cajun flavoured “Why Don’t You” is another upbeat number, which is the current radio single. It should certainly get some airplay. Again Mica’s harmonies are just spot on.
One particularly interesting number is “February of ‘59”, which of course, remembers the legendary Buddy Holly. A very timely number indeed.
I really enjoyed this album from Marty. A good mix of real Country music, and all original at that.
www.martyrivers.com

JIMMY CHARLES is a new name to me, but maybe not to the viewers of “American Idol”, where he got as far as “Hollywood Week”. That was back in 2009. Now he’s in Nashville, and has just recorded a 7 track EP, “Hard Way To Go”.
All but one of the songs was co written by Delaware born, Charles alongside an array of Nashville writers, whose credits read like a who’s who of Country music.
They start off with the beach life influenced “Blue Spaces”, although Jimmy’s blue space is a bit farther north in the Ocean Bay area of Maryland, and bit more rocky than a Jimmy Buffett/ Kenny Chesney beach song. It’s a good lively start to the CD.
That’s followed by his big ballad love song, “She’s Where I Belong” before a smoldering inspirational number in “Rollin’ On”, telling of the trials of life and the ambitions to go after your dreams.
“God And A Woman” is one of the simpliest arrangements on the record. A nice ballad, it really shows off Jimmy’s vocals to best effect.
Cancer features in the songs, with the lead single from the collection, “I Am Not Alone”, which is quite an anthem, and the powerful and emotional ballad “Superman”, both highlighting the suffering of victims and loved one’s affected by the illness.
The one song he didn’t write, “Hard Way To Go” also has a serious message, as it deals with addictions. It’s another powerful ballad which really shows a lot of emotion.
An interesting collection of songs from a guy, I’m sure we’ll hear more off before too long.

JESS KLEIN is a Rochester, NY born singer songwriter who has released 11 albums over the past couple of decades, mainly labelled as folk or blues. Her songs have contained grassroots social activism, with alt-Country rock overtones.
She found herself in Austin Texas, considered by many to be the live musical centre of the universe, but Jess outgrew the city limits there, and ended up in rural North Carolina, after marrying fellow songwriter Mike June.
It took time for Jess to acclimatise herself to the North Carolina scene, but teaming up with producer Mark Simonson, resulted in this new collection of original material, “Back To My Green” (Blue Rose Records).
The title track is a quite catchy mid tempo song about feeling free in the great outdoors.
It all opens with a radio friendly “In Dreams”, which has quite a subtle pop beat, especially on the chorus which I actually quite liked. “Tougher Than I Seem”, is much more of a ballad, showing a vulnerability in her vocal style. Again the chorus really made the song stand out. In both of these songs, especially in the chorus, she reminded me of a young Olivia Newton John, whose early stuff was quite folky in parts.
The songs include the social statements of “Blair Mountain” (about the 1921 Coal War in Logan County, W Va) and “New Thanksgiving Feast”, dedicated to the Native American pipeline protestors.
Elsewhere, “4 The Girlz” and “I Hear Love” are especially delicate numbers, which really highlights her vocals, whilst “Mammal” was quite a poppy number.
But, for my first listen to Jess Klein, I really enjoyed this album, and I’ll be checking back on her earlier material.
She’s here in April/May. Check out her dates on the gig guide page.

You may think that you’re not too familiar with SEAN McCONNELL’s music, but you may well be. He’s written songs recorded by everyone from Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley to Martina McBride, Rascall Flatts and even Meat Loaf. Last year, he secured his first No.1 song with “Mercy”, recorded by Brett Young, who was on the cover of the last CMDS.
Sean recorded his first album at the age of 15, and has built up a catalogue of no less than 15 titles to date.
Recently performing at Celtic Connections, as support for Ashley Monroe, Sean released “Second Hand Smoke”, a 13 track album, with three co-writes and ten self penned originals.
Growing up in Boston, his family moved to Georgia when he was 10, and now calls Nashville home, where he produced this personal album. With the exception of strings and synths, he played all the instruments you hear on the record.
Sean’s bio points out that he has taken familiar stories, often with biblical roots, and added his own perspective.
The collection starts off with the title track, a soft story ballad, which sets the scene for what is to come. It’s a gentle introduction, which crosses his folk/country roots. By contrast, that’s followed by the more commercial “Here We Go”, which has a dated Paul Simon feel to it.
“Shaky Bridges” has some nice harmonica intro, leading into a gospel favoured number, which relates to the subject of compromises, which really just cover the cracks.
“I Could Have Been an Angel” delves into the relationship between Jesus and The Devil. An interesting take on why we don’t all turn out the same way. Quite deep. “The Devil’s Ball”, on the other hand is about longing for love.
“Greetings From Niagara Falls” is a ballad talking about the loneliness in chasing your dreams. It doesn’t only pick on the Falls, but on musician dreams like Austin. 
“Wrong Side Of Town”, which closes the album, is a very simple, piano led number, which I particularly enjoyed.
“Alien” has quite a pop feel to it, and “Rest My Head” is quite a slow, moody, haunting number. “Another Song About A Breaking Heart” and “I Don’t Want To Know” have more of a modern Nashville influence.
An interesting album, which should finally get Sean some recognition on a wider stage.

Finally, DEVIN DAWSON is one of Nashville’s new breed of male singers, who has been making a name for himself since his album, “Dark Horse” (WB) was released last year. He recently toured here as support to Dan & Shay.
The Californian native sold 223,000 units of his first single, “All On Me”, which reached No.2 on the Country charts. It’s a pleasant mid tempo number, with a catchy hook. A style that is popular in Nashville these days.
Unfortunately, the other two singles released from the album, “Asking For A Friend” and the title track, have failed to make an impact on the chart, although the album itself reached No.5.
The album starts off with “Dip”, a rather loud r&b number, which would’ve been a quick switch off for me, if I hadn’t the job of reviewing the whole album. Thankfully, there are some really nice, if poppy, numbers on the album.
“Asking For A Friend”, “Second Hand Heart” and “Dark Horse” all stand out for me. They all demonstrate vocals above simpler arrangements.
Other tracks, including “Second To Last”, “I Don’t Care Who Sees” and “War Paint” are all quite a poppy numbers.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Dec 2018

CHARLIE LANDSBOROUGH recently rounded off his 16 date farewell tour of Scotland, as he prepares to run down his touring schedule over the next year. To mark the tour, Charlie’s latest album, “The Attic Collection” (Lana Records) features re recordings of some of his best loved songs, as well as five new songs.
Several of the songs were recorded in Jim Donaldson’s Attic, thus giving the collection its title.
All but two of the songs, are Charlie’s own compositions. The exceptions include Mark Knopfler’s “Why Worry”, and a first time recording of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice”.
Some of the songs are not his best known, but, obviously have special meaning for Charlie, enough for him to re-record them. They include ballads like the piano led “How Do You Do Those Things”, and the gentle lilting “Child Of Candlelight”.
Of the known songs, you’ll find new versions of “Part Of Me”, “Dance with Me” and “Heaven Knows”, which has some nice mandolin, which stands out for me.
Amongst the new songs is the mid tempo “Winter Without You”, the upbeat, reflective “Golden Days” and “How Rich I Really Am”, as well as the quick paced “Somewhere, Sometime”.
Charlie’s still sounding really on top form on this collection. It won’t be the last we hear from him. Although he’s cutting out the touring, he does intend to continue writing and recording.
In the meantime, this 20 track “The Attic Collection” is a great keepsake of the concerts we’ve enjoyed from the lovable scouser over the years.

WILL BANISTER has built up a solid following on this side of the Atlantic since he first appeared at the Wembley Festival back in 2012. The flame was reignited during his recent UK tour which included the Ayr Festival.
With three albums already to his credit, Rollercoaster Records, the label famed for its vintage Rock’n’Roll releases, have dug into the archives and released “Coverin’ Tracks – The Early Recordings”, a title that kinda tells it all.
Here is an early Will performing 11 Country classics, in a pure Country style, ranging from George Jones’ “The Race Is On” and Charley Pride’s “Is Anyone Going To San Antone” to slower ballads like Charlie Rich “Good Time Charlies Got The Blues” and Freddie Fender’s “Before The Next Teardrop Falls”.  There’s also a lovely version of the Keith Whitley hit, “Miami My Amy”. It’s 30 years next year since we lost Whitley, yet he is still inspiring today’s young traditionalists.
He also honours Moe Bandy with “Bandy The Rodeo Clown”, and goes back to the 40’s for Leon Payne’s “Teach Me To Forget”, done in more of a 60’s Merle Haggard styling. A later Haggard song, “The Seashores Of Old Mexico” also gets the Banister treatment.
It’s all superb stuff. Covers done with honesty and integrity. A nice mix, with known, but not overdone songs.
But that’s not all.
The CD also has 6 tracks recorded at the 2012 Wembley Festival, four of them self penned, including “Turned Her Onto Country” and “Give Me One Minute”, as well as a couple of classics, “Lovesick Blues” and “White Lightening”.
If you’ve been turned onto Will Banister, or just looking for some superb traditional Country, then this is an album that should be in your collection.

CONNIE SMITH is certainly a legend in Country music. She arrived on the scene in 1964, and had a number one with her debut single, Bill Anderson’s “Once a Day”. Although she never repeated that feat, she did go on to have almost 50 Chart hits, record 53 albums, marry Marty Stuart in 1997, and still performs today, most notably as one of the true Country legends on The Grand Ole Opry.
Now HumpHead Records honour Connie with “My Part Of Forever Vol 1 – The Ultimate Collection 1972-2018”.
Connie’s most successful period was with RCA, the label she was with between 1964-1972. Her hits from that period are widely available. This collection picks up from her switch to Columbia Records, and brings us right up to date. It’s material that is much harder to find, so this will be a real prize for fans of Connie, who came over to the Northern Nashville Festival in 2013.
Some of the tracks include “Aint Love A Good Thing”, “Dallas”, “I Still Feel The Same About You”, “When a House Is Not A Home”, “Aint You Ever Gonna Cry” and “How Long”, just to name a few.
Her last chart hit, which I still have on a vinyl single, was “A Far Cry From You”, which was written by Steve Earle. That song is featured here, as are songs from more recent Warner and Sugar Hill label projects. There’s even a brand new track, “I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name”, with Buck Trent, recorded earlier this year.
The 2 CD- 50 track collection, also features ten recordings from a session she did for the US Armed Forces Network. They include some of her biggest RCA hits, including “Once a Day”, “Just For What I Am” and “Cincinnati Ohio”, alongside gospel classics, “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art”.
The CD package comes complete with a 24 page booklet with an excellent biography of the lady from Alan Cackett, as well as details of each songs original release. 

It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly 50 years since The New Seekers were hitting the pop charts around the world with hits like “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” (used as a worldwide TV ad for Coca Cola) and “Beg, Steal Or Borrow”. Lead singer with the group back then was one EVE GRAHAM from Perthshire.
Eve recorded a Scottish album and a Christmas collection around 12 years back, and is back with a new collection, “A Matter Of Time” (Scotdisc). 
The album maintains Eve’s New Seekers connections. The project is produced by Australian born David Mackay, who was her producer all these years ago. In between times, he’s produced the likes of Cliff Richard, Bonnie Tyler, The Bee Gees and Elaine Paige.
Several of the songs were written by David Mindel, a songwriter who began his career as a record plugger during The New Seekers heyday. One of them, “The Nashville Dream”, is a quirky fun number, although I’m sure the lyrics may be a bit close to home for many aspiring Music City songwriters. It captures, so well, the struggles of an aspiring songwriter in Music City.
Another Nashville connection is songwriter Angela Kaset, who has written some great songs for the likes of Suzy Bogguss, Linda Davis and Aaron Tippin. Angela’s biggest hit was “Something In Red”, recorded by Lorrie Morgan. Eve records a very nice version of the song on this album, alongside two more numbers written by Angela, “I Could Be The One”, which has quite a vintage New Seekers sound to it, and the fun “Turning Into My Mother”. 
There’a also a couple of songs penned by Muscle Shoals native Michael Anthony Curtis, including the celtic infused “When I Am No More” and the reflective “The Last Time”.
She does a nice version of Dougie McLean’s “Caledonia”.
The tracks which worked best for me include “Slipping Away” and the delicate “Catch The Wild Wind”, which closes the album. It’s really the stand out track for me.
Essentially, it’s a nice easy listening, middle of the road collection, and good to hear Eve still recording after all these years.

Next up is a Pennsylvianian singer songwriter, MARK WAYNE GLASMIRE, who has been around the music scene since 1982, when he released his first LP.
Now, six albums later, and having settled in Arlington, Texas, Mark is back with “Cant Be Denied” (Traceway Records), a 12 track collection of songs all written, or co-written by the man himself.
You may be familiar with Mark’s music, as he had a 9 week run at the top of the Country Hotdisc chart back in 2011 with a song called “I Like You”.
His music has been likened to The Eagles and Crosby Stills & Nash, and there is certainly that pop/folk influence running through the album.
The album kicks off with a couple of radio friendly, catchy numbers, including “I’ve Got A Feeling”, which certainly has that Eagles feel to it, and the title track. Other upbeat numbers include “Feel Your Love”, ”Out Of The Frying Pan” and the really strong driving beat of “Deep Inside My Heart”, which is the stand out track for me. “Without You” is a beautiful ballad which instantly appealed, and “This Too Shall Pass” is also a very pleasant ballad.
“Gone Too Soon” is a nice, reflective number, which recalls the love of a grandparent.
“Alysia” has a few different influences. There’s a bit of a gulf coast, Jimmy Buffett, influence, without losing the easy listening folksy feel to it. “Borderline”, by contrast, has quite a haunting feel to it.
The closing track, “Thru My Eyes” is an interesting lesson in life, with some thoughtful words in there.
Special mention for Mark’s sleevenotes, which he manages to include all the song titles. Something only a songwriter would do!
A really nice listen. Worth checking out!

STEPHANIE URBINA JONES brings a different sound to the Country classics on her new album, “Tularosa”.
In the past Stephanie has been best known for doing her own songs, and writing hits for others, including the title track to Lorrie Morgan’s  “Shakin’ Things Up”, and the No.1 hit “My Baby’s Got a Smile On Her Face” for “The Voice” winner Craig Wayne Boyd.
The San Antonio native picked up a lot of Latin vibes growing up, and after graduating from the University Of Texas, she continued her studies in Mexico, although her musical direction took her to Nashville.
Throughout her 6 album career, she has developed her own Tex Mex Sound, in much the same way as Freddie Fender did years ago. But this album takes her to new heights.
With a Mariachi band in tow, she has picked a number of real Country classics to give the latin treatment to. They include “Walkin’ After Midnight”, “Rose Garden”, “Tiger By The Tail” and “Is Anyone Going To San Antone”. There’s a few ballads too, like “Cold Cold Heart”, “Seven Spanish Angels”, “Silver Wings” and “For The Good Times”.
Add “Harper Valley PTA” and “You Aint Woman Enough” to the mix, and you get a real Mexican feel to the album. Normally, I’d be critical for the inclusion of such a collection of really well done numbers, but Stephanie has really done something different & creative with them (and they’re great for “guess the intro” competitions).
To top it all there are Spanish versions of “Jolene” and “Ring Of Fire”.

If bringing a Mexican sound to Nashville sounds strange, then bringing the sound of Hawaii to Scottish tunes may just exceed it.
DOUGIE STEVENSON has long been recognised as one of our premier steel guitar and dobro players, having been in Legend, and supported everyone from Boxcar Willie, Stella Parton & Billie Jo Spears to Sydney Devine, and scores of other artists.
Back in 1979, Dougie released a solo steel guitar album, “Steel On My Mind”. Now, 40 years on, comes the follow up, “Scottish Steel Guitar Chillout Album” (Scotdisc).
The title sums up the album. It’s a nice relaxing collection of Scottish anthems like “Dark Island”, “Over The Sea To Skye”, “Caledonia” and “Westering Home”, with the help of musicians like accordionist Stuart Anderson and Laura Beth Salter on mandolin.
I love the steel guitar sound, and enjoyed this collection, but this is more of a Scottish collection, rather than Country. But certainly one to chillout with. 

Readers will recall that LIZ CLARKE held her “Stetsons & Heels” show at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry earlier in the year. If you need a reminder of the night, check out her latest album, “A Night At The Opry”, which features many of the songs which were featured on the night.
Although her last album, “The Vanishing Breed” featured a few more original numbers, this album features a wide range of classic Country hits, which everyone will know, although not overdone.
Alongside “Coat Of Many Colours”, “Funny Face” and “Sing Me An Old Fashioned Song”, you’ll find more recent songs like “Suds In The Bucket” and “Girl Crush”.
And it’s not just female covers which Liz has picked up on. She also takes on Marty Stuart’s “Tempted”, and Dwight’s “Guitars, Cadillacs” and “Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose”.
Liz also teams up with Donnie Henderson for a duet on The Bellamy’s “I Need More Of You”.
And there’s a celtic twist too with Karl Denver’s “Voices Of The Highlands” and “Home To Donegal”, featured in the 20 track collection, which was recorded at Stealth Studio in Glasgow.
Liz has also just released her second duet single with Paul Jackson from Sunderland. Under the banner of “JACKSON & CLARKE”, the duo have delivered an original romantic ballad called “Loves Embrace”. Their previous collaboration was on an old Tim McGraw/Faith Hill song. This song could also have been from the Nashville couple. Paul & Liz deliver a really strong vocal, harmonising together beautifully. Be sure to check it out. 

RACHEL HARRINGTON is a singer songwriter from America’s North West, who has been building quite a following since she appeared on the scene in 2004. Around six years ago, she took a break from the music, a bit longer that she anticipated. She was recently back on a tour which included a few Scottish dates and will be back next summer when the plan is to have a new CD, “Hush The Wild Horses” released.
For her most recent tour, Rachel recorded an album of covers, “I Wish I Was In Austin”. It’s an acoustic set, recorded at home, with a minimal amount of instrumentation.
The title comes from Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues”. She also covers songs from inspirations like Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Townes Van Zante and Dave Alvin.
For Country fans, you’ll find her takes on Willie Nelson’s “All Of Me”, The Judds’ “Tears For You”, Randy Travis’ “On The Other Hand”, and “Those Memories Of You”, inspired by the Trio of Dolly, Linda & Emmylou.
Most of the songs are quite slow versions. The exception is Bob Dylan’s “Lonesome When You Go”, inspired by Shawn Colvin’s version, which is a bit more upbeat.
The album has a real songwriter’s acoustic feel to it. It really captures Rachel’s emotions to best effect.
The album will be available as a download @ https://skinnydennis.bandcamp.com/

TELLICO are an Asheville, North Carolina modern bluegrass quartet, who have cleverly embraced today’s Appalachian sound, and blended it with celtic influences from “the old country”.  Much of that sound may be down to Irish born, but Asheville based John Doyle, who produced the album, “Woven Waters” (Organic Records) just across the stateline in Johnson City, TN.
The vocals are shared between Virginia native Anya Hinkle and Mississippi born Greg Stiglets, with Jed Willis and Aaron Ballance providing mandolin, steel and dobro. All the songs were written by Anya & Greg.
Anya’s vocals hit you within seconds of the opening track, “Courage For The Morning”, a bright and breezy number which really won me over. Most of Anya’s numbers are quite uptempo, with the exception of “It’s Just Rain”, which is more midtempo, and the closing track, “Like November”, which is a beautiful ballad. 
Greg takes the lead vocally on “Palisades” and “Salsa” which are a bit slower, but just as effective.  “New Moon” starts slow and moody, before lifting the tempo.
When they combine their talents, both writing and vocally, like on the slower “Fill The Air”, they just blend together beautifully. 
I really liked both voices, and thoroughly enjoyed this album.

The Rankin Family were a Canadian institution back in the 90’s conjuring up a fresh celtic approach which also crossed over into Country music and other genres. Their albums have sold over 1.5 million copies. Tragedy struck in 2000, when John Morris was killed in a road accident in Cape Breton, and Raylene passed away in 2012 after a long battle with cancer. The remaining members continued with solo projects, and JIMMY RANKIN headed for Nashville, and went on to record half a dozen solo albums, many garnering Country awards and nominations from the CCMA, The Juno’s and East Coast Music Awards.
For his new solo effort, “Moving East” (True North), Jimmy has returned to his East Coast roots, with, perhaps a more folksy approach to his music.
Having said that, the album opens with the catchy “Loving You Never Gets Old”, which is a co-write with fellow Canadian Country singer songwriter Patricia Conroy. Also worthy of a mention is the jiving “Been Away” which really rekindles memories of that unique Rankins sound. “Turn That Boat Around” also has that old family band feel to it.
“No More I’ll Go Roving” is certainly more folky, but still has a Country feel to it.
“Thin Ice”, “The Rawleigh Man”, “Down At The Shore” and “Haul Away The Whale” have some infectious sea shanty style chants (which sound much more authentic than the chants that feature so often in today’s Nashville hits).
As the album moves on, the emotions run deeper. He doesn’t hold back with the language on “These Roads” (bearing in mind that he lost his brother in a road accident), and on “Highlander”, he traces the arrival from Scotland “three lifetimes ago”, and there’s a catchy set of fiddle reels to close out the album.
If you like your Country music on the Celtic edge, this one’s for you.

The Indigo Girls have found a niche in the market for their harmony laden folksy sound over the years. One half of the duo, AMY RAY has also pursued a solo career, with half a dozen albums released since the turn of the century. They’ve covered a wide spectrum, as her first album was labelled as “southern punk”. In contrast her new album, “Holler” (Daemon Records) is a really enjoyable Country album.
After a short instrumental prelude, the album bursts into life with “Sure Feels Good Anyway”, quite an upbeat rocky number, but most definitely Country.
“Last Taxi Fare”, is quite a melodic ballad, which features Vince Gill (who will be in Glasgow with the Eagles next July) and Brandi Carlisle on harmonies.
“Oh City Man” features some catchy banjo from Alison Brown, who is heard throughout the album, and Matt Smith’s pedal steel really adds to the closing anthem  “Didn’t Know A Damn Thing”.
“Sparrow’s Boogie” has a bit of everything from bluegrass overtones to jazz/funk influences. It’s a good upbeat number.
But the stand out track for me has to be “Tonight I’m Paying The Rent”, about playing at The Bluebird in Nashville. Recent Glasgow visitors, The Wood Brothers add harmonies to the track, but it’s the real honky tonk sound that really makes the track stand out.
“Jesus Is A Walking Man” is traditional bluegrass, featuring Rutha Mae Harris of The Freedom Singers
The title track is a delicate ballad, as is “Sparrow’s Lullaby” and “Bondsman (Evening in Missouri)” and I also enjoyed, the, oh, too short (only 1:06) “Old Lady Interlude”. “Fine With The Dark” is just Amy and her guitar.
This has to one of the most surprisingly good albums of the year. You cant pigeon hole Amy, except to put this CD in the excellent category.

THE JAYWALKERS are a refreshing trio of musicians from Chester, who seamlessly blend easy listening Country music, blazing bluegrass and traditional folk music. Jay Bradberry is the lead vocalist, fiddler & guitarist, ably supported by Lucille Williams on double bass and Mike Giverin on mandolins and guitars. “Time To Save The World” is the band’s fourth album, recorded in Bath with producer Josh Clark. The album features ten original tracks, one by Jay, and the others by Mike, and one cover, we’ll mention in a moment.
The opening cut track, “Homage To The Fromage” is the one tune written by Jay. It’s a fiddle instrumental.
“What Do I Know” has a nice mandolin intro, before Jay’s haunting vocals arrive on the scene. The tempo picks up into quite a catchy beat. It is one of the folk-ier numbers.
The other tracks include the fiddle laden “How Many Whiskeys”, a stone Country song, and the softer “(Please) Rescue Me”, and “This Is The One” which really highlights Jay’s lovely vocal range.
I also liked the more midtempo “Life I Choose”.
“Too Close For Comfort” is quite an interesting song, not quite fitting into any genre.
“Burnt Chilli Creek” is a foot tappin’ bluegrass instrumental.
“Set Me Free” has quite a jazzy feel to it, as did “This Time”, which blends nicely into the slow “End Of The World” instrumental.
The cover is Johnny Cash’s “Big River”, recorded “live” around a single microphone (and a bottle of wine).
I really enjoyed this album. I like Jay’s vocal style, and the instrumentation was just spot on.

Back in April we reviewed a debut album, at the age of 81, by Lancashire raised GARETH OWEN.
Gareth has wasted no more time getting his second album, “I’m Out Of This Place” recorded and released.
Throughout his life, Gareth has been involved in poetry, having several volumes of his work published, and was the presenter of the BBC’s long running “Poetry Please” series. He also wrote numerous BBC plays and short stories.
With a lifetime of experience to put into song, Gareth has come up with 10 new tracks.
Centrepiece of the album is “Waltzing Kid”, where “Part 1” opens the album, “Part 2”, half way through and “Raise a Glass” later in the album. The tracks recreate images of the old west, with some lovely harmonies from SJ Mortimer.
Elsewhere, “Ribbon of Sky Blue Lace” has an emotional spoken intro, leading into a lovely soft number.
“The Preacher” also conjures up an old west image. 
A number of girls get a song check, including “Julie”, “Marie” and “Rosalita”.
The album rounds off with a party with a Tom T Hall sounding “Happy With That”. I’d be too.
A really nice album. Really easy listening stuff.

GARRICK RAWLINGS is a real well travelled singer songwriter, born in Wichita, Kansas, raised in Michigan, and now calls Arizona home, having detoured via California, Indiana and Chicago. He served as road manager for Rambling Jack Elliott, so he knows the road.
These days he plays all over America’s vast South West, and has just released his self titled second album (Peloponnese Records), the follow up to his “Million Miles” garage recording 15 years ago.
He covers quite an array of styles throughout the album.
The album kicks off with “I Want To Run Away”, a bouncy upbeat number, which got me interested right away.
“Lost In Time” is a jolly upbeat catchy number, as are “Friend Of The Devil” and “I Don’t Care What You Say”.
On a slower note, there’s the steel laden “Whiskey, Cryin’, Pain…”
“Lights Of Marfa” and “Lincoln Penny” are delivered in more of a story ballad style.
“Eye Of A Thief” is much the same, but more spoken than sung. “Million Miles” gets revisited 15 years on. It’s a bit heavier than the other tracks, with a quite a haunting delivery.
Perla Batalla, who sang, wrote & toured with Leonard Cohen, makes an appearance on “No Tengo Palabras”, which means “I Have No Words”. Their vocals harmonise well together, and the half Spanish/half English arrangements really work.
Elsewhere Jiami Lyn Shuey and Paul Marshall (I See Hawks in LA) provide some really influencial harmonies.
The whole project was produced by Rick Shea at studios in Arizona and California.
It’s a really nice listen. Check it out!

THE FOGHORN STRINGBAND are a quartet of quality bluegrass musicians from Oregon, Minnesota  and Quebec. The band originally formed back in 2000, and with several line up changes, and eight albums before them, they have now released their 9th album, “Rock Island Grange”, named after the historic Grange Hall on Orcas Island in Washington State, where the album was recorded. 
Their line up of girls Reeb Willms and Nadine Landry, with male counterparts Stephen Lind, and founder member Caleb Klauder, are considered the gold standard in old time American string band music, so could be considered the Abba of Old Time Bluegrass!
Many of the tracks are instrumental fiddle tunes.
There are some nice old timey songs, including “Pretty Fair Miss Out In The Garden”, “The Violet And The Rose” and Hazel Dickens’ “Only The Lonely”.
They also revisit a few old time foot tappin’ Carter Family favourites, “Lonesome Homesick Blues”, “Lonesome Valley” and “Give Me The Roses”.
There are 19 tracks on the CD, giving great value for money, but let it run and five are encored.
The CD sleeve folds out as well, with some nice stories about the tunes and songs.
They are an acquired taste. But if you like old time bluegrass music, these folks just do it so well.

BEN DE LA COUR hails originally from Brooklyn, where he was playing dive bars ten years before he was legally allowed inside them, but is now based down in Nashville, having arrived via LA & New Orleans.
His latest album, “The High Cost Of Living Strange” (Flour Sack Cape Records), which Ben labels as “Americanoir” is eight tracks of interesting stories and observations.
The title track, which closes the CD, has quite a heavy rock, thick smoke, feel to it, but it’s not representative of the album, as a whole.
The project kicks off with the light and bouncy “Dixie Crystals”. Later, “Face Down Penny” is quite a catchy upbeat number.
The fine line between life and death is picked up in quite a light hearted way on “Just Like The Blues”, with lines like “one foot on the pedal, one foot in the grave”. Quite a catchy number.
He does a bit of name dropping throughout the album, with the slow “Guy Clark’s Fiddle” standing out. “Uncle Boudreaux Went To Texas”, a slow story ballad mentions Waylon, Willie and Townes Van Zante. I love the simple, but effective accordion from Jeff Lisenby on this track.
“Tupelo” is a slow haunting number, which has echoes of Elvis and “Black Velvet”. It’s dark and moody, but really effective.
Stand out track though has to be “Company Town”, the sad story of places, where the work has all dried up and the people scrape by.
It’s an interesting album, well performed, and worth a listen.

Next up, we have some Canadian roots music, courtesy of Yukon based GORDIE TENTREES & JAXON HALDANE, whose major influence is fellow countryman Fred Eaglesmith. With 600 concerts in 11 countries under their belts, since starting to perform together in 2014, the duo release their album , “GRIT” (Greywood Records) early in the new year, ahead of a UK tour, which includes a number of Scottish dates.
The album is a real touring live album, being recorded over 5 nights in 5 different Western Canadian venues. There are original numbers, mainly from the pen of Tentrees,  a co-write with hero Eaglesmith, and the now legendary “Willie’s Diamond Joe”, written by Willie P Bennett.
Their music crosses from folk to blues, from bluegrass to Country. 
The banjo really comes out on “No Integrity Man” and “Sideman Blues”, but it’s really the slow & moody train song “29 Loads Of Freight”, and the harmony driven “Bottleneck To Wire” which were the stand out tracks for me.

Finally this time, KAZ MURPHY is a New Jersey raised singer songwriter, whose 4th album, “Ride Out The Storm” gets a UK release just after the new year. He first picked up the guitar at age 13, and had written over 100 songs by the time he graduated from high school.
He has been part of the music scene for the past 40 years, building up recognition as a storyteller.
Many storytelling singer songwriters have quite an acoustic sound on their records, but this album has quite a strong, driving instrumentation style to compliment Kaz’ vocals, which reminded me of an early Ian Tyson or John Stewart.
All the songs are self penned, and in the main, quite upbeat. Notable titles include “Thunderhead”, “Somebody Could Be Me”, “Stella Rae” and the closing track, “Rise Me Up”.
The opening track, “When People Together” and “Forget About The World Tonight” are rare ballads on the album.
“Where You Come From” has quite a haunting feel to it.
But the tracks which won me included “Blue Devil Sky”, which is the most straight Country track on the album. I also liked the spoken intro into “Soft Heart”.
A bit different this one, but certainly worth checking out.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Oct 2018


This month sees the long anticipated new album from Glasgow based singer-songwriter MARTHA L HEALY. It’s been four years since she released her highly acclaimed debut album, “Better Days”. Martha took a life sabbatical two years ago, moving to Nashville for several months, to work on “Keep The Flame Alight” (Frog Eye Records), and the end result is released this month, with a launch party on Saturday afternoon, October 6th at The Glad Café in Shawlands, as part of the Glasgow Americana Festival.
The album kicks off with “No Place Like A Home”, a song she started writing before heading for Nashville. It demonstrates that, despite recording the album in the States, Martha’s roots are from this side of the Atlantic. It’s a strong song which really shows that Martha’s magical vocals. A perfect start.
The title track tells of keeping the balance of chasing creative goals, and personal wellbeing.
“Woman With No Shame” is a light and breezy insight into the life of a high flying female executive, who has it all, yet has nothing.
In a similar vein, “Living Someone Else’s Dream” is a bit more uptempo than the other tracks, but covering a lot of common ground- doing what others want, and not doing your own thing.
“Fall In Love Again” is a strong song, about not letting an old love go.
“We Will Be Okey” is a pleasant song offering hope and promise, whilst “Sisters To Strangers” is a ballad, which shares the pain of family break ups.
There is a celtic feel to several of the tracks. “Unmade Bed” is a good example of this. I love the accordion sound on this one. “Mickey” is another. A slower story ballad telling of an Irish lad, who left the home farm in search of fame in London. It’s a really strong song, and a bit different to anything else on the album.
The album covers a range of personal emotions, some ups and some downs. She counters with the closing track, “Don’t Give Up”, offering inspiration and hope. 
Nine of the album's ten tracks were self-penned and the one co-write is with friend and Nashville artist, Wendy Newcomer, who also brings the background vocals. David Spicher produced, with  a host of Nashville session players, including Bill Cooley, who is well known for his work with Kathy Mattea (guitars/bazouki), Todd Lombardo (guitars/mandolin), Rory Hoffman (accordion, piano), Eamon McLoughlin (Fiddle), Dave Racine (Drums) and Chas Williams (Dobro).
Bringing her Nashville experience home, Martha set up a Glasgow chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, who meet regularly, to collaborate on songs together.
Martha has brought her own Nashville experience home with this new album.
A superb album, from a real shining light on the Scottish music scene.
Highly recommended.

BRANDON McPHEE has really made his mark in recent years. Firstly as a champion accordion player, and also as a fine Country singer. He has brought both styles together on his latest album, “All I Want To Do” (Pan Records).
There’s one original song on the album. “She Wrote It In A Country Song”, which was written by Crawford Bell. It’s probably my favourite track on the album.
The album kicks off with Brandon’s version of “Bubbles In My Beer”, a cover of the Willlie Nelson version. There are a few other covers from “the masters”, including Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love To Rose” and Marty Robbins’ “You Gave Me A Mountain”. There’s also his take on “We Should Be Together”, previously recorded by Crystal Gayle and Don Williams.
Brandon is a big Billy Ray Cyrus fan, and has included “Someday, Somewhere, Somehow”, alongside “Achy Breaky Heart”.
He also covers Debby Boone’s “Are You On The Road To Loving Me Again”, acknowledging that he found the song on a Gerry Ford LP he found in a charity shop. Gerry’s playing Brandon’s music on his radio show out in Australia, so this is payback. He does a good job on the song.
There’s more Down Under connections, with two songs which he found courtesy of Australian duo The Sunny Cowgirls, The first, “Take These Wings” is quite a beautiful, inspirational number, the other being a Sunny’s original, “Little Bit Rusty”. He even gets one of them, Celeste, to join him on harmonies on the track.
There is Scottish music on the album too, with a couple of dance tunes, a version of “The Dark Island” and his version of The Alexander Brothers’ “Jimmy Shand The Legend”. Brandon is touring with “The Jimmy Shand Story” this month.
Recorded in Wick, the album features local musicians, Manson Grant, Robert Cameron, Alastair MacDonald, Gordie Gunn, Addie Harper and Keith Macleod, with Ireland’s Crawford Bell, The Benn Sisters and Richard Nelson, alongside Nashville based Orcadian Philip Anderson.
Another winner from young Brandon!

KATEE KROSS is a young lady from Bishopbriggs, who has been making plenty of noise on the Scottish music scene in the past couple of years. She performed twice at last month’s Millport Festival, to add to her list of appearances, which include supporting Seasick Steve at Wembley and the Kelvingrove Bandstand, and working with Barbara Dickson and Sandy Thom, to name a few.
Her third album, “Body & Soul” will be released on Saturday, October 13th at Nice’n’Sleazy in Glasgow.
The album does a great job at showcasing this young lady’s writing and singing talent. Several of the songs have appeared as singles, including the gentle opening track, “Bluebird”, which really is a beautiful introduction to the album. The instrumentation on this track is very simple, and lets Katee’s voice to show it’s full potential. The same applies to “Heart Of Wood”, another stunning song. Other ballads include “Troubled Mind” and “Worried Mind”.  
Of the upbeat songs, another single, “Count To Ten” really stands out. It shows that Katee isn’t just a ballad singer. “Working On The Dream” and “Shadow Falls” are also upbeat numbers, the former having quite a honey bop feel to it.
Although Katee’s music will appeal to Country fans, I think she’s demonstrates a lot of crossover potential. That said, “Old Soul” has particular Country appeal. It has quite a soft Country sway to it, which really stands out for me. And, “After The Show” takes us to another era. With a hint of harmonica, and backing vocals, she conjures up memories of Patsy Cline, without sounding anything like her.
Katee is certainly making an impression with her music, and that can only be enhanced with the release of this new album. Another homegrown talent we should all be getting behind!

Country music from the Western Isles next, and, yes, it’s a bit different to anything you’ve heard on the mainland.
THE TUMBLING SOULS describe themselves as “Brand new music that sounds old, from the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. A super group of local musicians playing cajun, country and folk infused songs”. That sounds pretty accurate to me, if a listen to their new album, “Between The Truth And The Dream” (Wee Studio Records) is anything to go by.
The band is led by Willie Campbell, with Stephen Drummond, Iain Spanish Mackay, David Calum Macmillan, Paul Martin, Keith Morrison, Louisa Maclean Barron and Jane Hepburn Macmillan.
Together they have created a sound, which has a real celtic feel to it, whilst embracing everything from Country and Folk, through to Cajun, bluegrass and even a bit of 60’s pop.
The latter is especially evident on “Heart To My Soul”, with superb harmonies.
The opening track, “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark” recreates the sound of Scottish folk – country bands like The Clydesiders, and is a perfect introduction to the CD. 
“City Of Adelaide” is the catchiest folk song on the album, telling the story of a great grandfather sailing with Scottish emigrants down under. It’s a great wee tune. 
“Wishing My Time” has a superb bluegrass style harmony intro, leading into a superb Country foot tapper.
“Dance A Little Better” is a catchy little number, which reminded me a bit of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It has a nice Cajun feel to it. “Rain And Clay” and the closing “Years Go By” are also good catchy upbeat numbers.
 Stand out Country track for me has to be “Torn In Different Ways”, a mid tempo number, which I really enjoyed.
They slow down the tempo on a couple of numbers, including “King Of The Moon” and “My Foundation”, not to mention “Stornoway at 2am”, which is a really strong song.
Recorded in Berneray, with all songs written by Willie, this is a really interesting, and refreshing album. One you should really check out.

Perth has a long tradition of bands playing original Country Rock music, and LONGSTAY are the latest to join the list. Malcolm Swan and Callum Campbell front the band, with George Staniforth, Cameron McCafferty and Drew Spark-Whitworth. Originally formed as a trio in 2014, they quickly became regulars on the local music scene, and have grown to a 5 piece full country sound with the addition of drums, bass and piano. Despite having this 4 year pedigree on the live circuit, the average age of the band is still only 17!
Now comes their debut album, “Calling Me Home” (Goldrush Records), recorded in their hometown at Clearwater studios, produced by Gavin JD Munro (frontman from The Red Pine Timber Company).
Their musical influences range from Creedence Clearwater Revival through Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, right up to current day artists such as Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton. This heady mix is apparent in their own songs which form the core of their debut album.
All but three of the songs were written by Callum Campbell. The exceptions are John Fogerty’s “Lodi” and Chris Stapleton’s “Fire Away”, alongside Gavin Munro’s “A Ring Of Fire”.
The album kicks off with “Mariah”, an upbeat, guitar driven number, which is a good opener. Most of the album is quite upbeat. Stand out tracks include “My Turn”, which has quite a rocky beat, but the harmonies really shine through.  The closing track, “Leaving” is also really upbeat, with the addition of trombone and trumpet, courtesy of Chris Small. A bit of Red Pine influence coming through here.
“Too Long” and “Summerton” are a bit more mellow, although not what I’d call ballads.
One song, which is very much a ballad, is “Remember”, from which the title track comes from. It’s piano led, and again features some impressive harmonies. It has quite a celtic feel to it too. A bit different from any of the other tracks, but works well for them.
“Thoughts I Cant Find” is also a pleasant ballad, this time, guitar led.
“Forever”, has an impressive harmony led intro, before developing into quite a radio friendly pop-py number.
It is certainly more Country-Rock than mainstream Nashville, but for a team of Perth teenagers, this is one really strong debut album. We’re certainly going to hear more of them. That’s for sure!

RAYMIE WILSON is something of a Glasgow musical institution. He’s been playing in the city bars since before he was age to get into such places, played on cruise ships, in a Hendrix tribute band, and with The Legendary Ladies of Rock’n’Roll in Singapore. He later found musician roles touring with Joseph And His Technicolour Dreamcoat”, and “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers”.
All the time, Raymie was jotting down ideas for songs, and thankfully decided to record his original material on several CD’s & EP’s over the past few years.
His latest collection, “Missed Trains, Absent Lovers & Broken Whiskey Bottles” has just been released. The first few tracks, including on the title track, and “Ward 53”, offer quite a raw guitar sound.
There are two very different tracks with the same title. “Chicago Saint (Pt 1)”, is quite bluesy, whilst Part 2, with a bit of banjo flavouring, sounds a bit more Country.
By contrast, “Boy On A Bridge” is quite a story song, with almost a gospel feel to it.
The banjo is prominent again on “Fallen Trees”, a real bluegrassy number, which Raymie’s gravelly vocals really fit quite nicely.
I also enjoyed “The Preacher And The Hobo”, which had quite an upbeat Celtic feel, mixed with Native American overtones.
“The Last Number”, which conveniently closes the album, is probably the straightest Country number, a well constructed ballad, with some nice steel guitar presence.
It’s an interesting album from Raymie, who Glasgow based readers can catch at The Snafflebit (Oct 13th), Blackfriars (Oct 21st/Nov 25th, or Mondays at The Beer Cellar.

Another true Country album comes from JOSHUA HEDLEY, who some of you may have caught live when he played in Glasgow last month.
Joshua was born in Florida, and has been playing fiddle since he was just 8 years old. He moved to Nashville when he was 19, and found himself in demand at places like Robert’s Western World. Such was the respect he gained in that part of town, he was known as “The Mayor of Lower Broad”.
He began writing songs in his late 20’s and unlocked a flood of creativity.
His album, “Mr Jukebox” was released ahead of his tour here, and what a breath of fresh air it was. It’s real Dale Watson inspired “Ameripolitan”, honky tonk!
It all starts with the ultra cool, pure Country ballad “Counting All My Tears”, which recreates a Ricky Van Shelton / Gene Watson sound.
There’s a real Texas dancehall feel to the upbeat numbers like the title track, “This Time” and “Let Them Talk”.
“Weird Thought Thinker” is a bit more mid tempo, and sounds like it comes straight out of a movie. “I Never Shed A Tear” has quite a bouncy feel to it, and would have been all over the radio, had it been around back in the 60’s! “These Walls” also stood out. I could just hear Willie Nelson doing this one!
There are some slower numbers, which come right out of the 50’s/60’s tearjerkers styling, including “Lets Take A Vacation” and “Don’t Waste Your Tears”.
He rounds off the album with the only cover on the CD- a moody, emotional, “When You Wish Upon A Star”.
Rolling Stone calls Hedley, “Country Music’s New King Of Broken Hearts”.
I’d say that he could just be Classic Country music’s saviour. Great to hear some real Country music, as good as this, coming out of Nashville, and even better, seeing him perform it to a sell out crowd in Glasgow!
Pure Country!

A new album from ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL is always something special. Led by its inception, in 1970, by Ray Benson, the band have always done a fine job at keeping the Texas Western Swing sound alive.
“New Routes” (Thirty Tigers) maintains that philosophy, while branching out in new directions. Keeping a band together for 48 years is quite impossible, and it’s no surprise that over 100 musicians have passed through the ranks, whilst recording the band’s 25 albums. They’ve also appeared on a string of other people’s projects.
This album features a “new” team, but still keep the Ol’ Wheel magic. Ray Benson, as ever, is at the helm, with Katie Shore providing the female vocals, as well as Eddie Rivers (steel & sax), Dave Sanger (drums), Dennis Ludiker (fiddle & mandolin), Josh Hoag (bass), Connor Forsyth (piano) and Jay Reynolds (sax & clarinet).
Fort Worth born and raised Katie Shore makes the biggest impression, with a number of lead vocal tracks throughout the album.
She opens with catchy swing number “Jack I’m Mellow”
The ballad “Call It A Day Tonight”, written by Shore & Benson, is the first time, since the 80’s that Benson has co-written with a member of the wheel. It’s a lovely track.
She does sound a bit more jazz/bluesy on a couple of tracks, including “I Am Blue” and “More Days Like This”. Her vocals smoulder irresistibly on these numbers.
“Weary Rambler”, another of Katie’s self penned numbers, starts as a ballad, with the pace rising to mid tempo, quite delightfully.
Katie really lets rip on the Johnny Cash classic “Big River”. June Carter lives on! A really convincing delivery on this one. 
Other covers include a rockin’ version of “Seven Nights To Rock”, and a softer, moody rendition of Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues”. The harmonies really shine on this track. 
The Avett Brothers join up for the closing track. “Willie Got There First”. It’s probably the straightest Country song on the album, with more than a shade of Nelson influence.
There’s also a Scottish connection, as Ray Benson covers Paola Nutini’s hi-energy “Pencil Full Of Lead”. It’s a big production number, with lots of instrumentation mixed with the quickspeed lyrics. An interesting transformation, for sure!
As I said, an Asleep at The Wheel album is always special. Katie Shore really makes this one though!
Wonderful stuff.

TIA McGRAFF is a Canadian singer songwriter whose Scottish roots keep bringing her home. Her mother was a MacDonald from the area around Nairn, and she’s been building a career here through regular visits in recent years.  She’s just finished a lengthy tour of the UK, which saw her return to Nairn, and Fife.
Her latest album, “Stubborn In My Blood” (Bandana Records) is her eighth release, and features a strong set of songs, all but one, written by Tia, and husband Tommy Parham, with a few co-writers along the way.
The title track has a real Celtic feel to it, as she recalls her Scottish and Transylvanian roots (her dad’s side), and how that has formed her. She really captures a Braveheart influence on it.
“Let Em’ See Your Strong”, which was the advance radio single from the album, was co-written with Devon O’Day. It’s a delicate piano led inspirational song, which really demonstrates the emotion that Tia can put into a song. It’s a really powerful performance.
“Travelling By Guitar”, a co-write with Wood Newton, is a musician on the road number. It also features some Texan influence, as Cindy Cashdollar’s dobro was recorded in Austin. It’s a catchy number which captures the life of an aspiring musician.
The album opens with “Pilot Of Change”, which paints a picture of when you need space to take stock of life. “Hole In My Heart” is a gentler number, advising a friend that a heartache will heal.
“Own Your Sunshine”, is an upbeat “go for it” positive song.
“Here With Me Tonight” is probably the most straight Country ballad on the album. It’s a really, gentle love song with a catchy hook. There are a couple of tracks carried over from her EP release last year, including the lovely “Far Away Man”, and the rallying “The Faithful Ones”.
“Forbidden” is a song with a UK connection. Co-written with Pete Riley and Henry Priestman, the song features ukulele & electric guitars from the British pair, recorded in Anglesey. The track, which closes the album, has a different sound to the rest of the album, with some nice harmonies, and simple arrangements. It’s really quite catchy and infectious. I really liked it.
The only song not written by Tia & Tommy is “One Tin Soldier”, a 1960’s anti war song. Tia really delivers the song as her own.
Tia has proved shown her strong on this album, songs of positive inspiration, delivered from the heart, as only someone with “Stubborn In My Blood” can provide.
A really “strong” album.

KATHY MATTEA has been one of my long time favourite artistes. The Cross Lanes, Virginia native made her mark on Country music in the 80’s & 90’s with hits like “Eighteen Wheels & A Dozen Roses”, “Goin’ Gone”, “Where’ve You Been” and “Come From The Heart”.
These days, her music is very different to the hits she was producing back then.
But Kathy actually started her career in a bluegrass band, and the folky/bluegrass influence was always around her, even in many of her hits.
In recent years, her albums have been really stripped down acoustic affairs, and her latest album, “Pretty Bird” (Captain Potato Records) continues the trend.
This album, her first new studio album for 6 years, sees her team up with producer Tim O’Brien.
The title track, which closes the 12 track collection, is an acappella rendition of fellow West Virginian Hazel Dickens’ song. It really shows Kathy’s beautiful vocal range. A stunning track.
Before you get there though, the album begins with the upbeat “Chocolate On My Tongue”, and a superb cover of “Ode To Billie Joe”. She does a take on Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now”, which I really enjoyed. Other covers include Joan Osborn’s “St Theresa”, and Pete Meyer’s “Holy Now”.
“I Cant Stand Alone” was written by Martha Carson back in the 50’s. Kathy’s version is quite spiritual in its style, starting a cappella, and joined by a choir. 
“Little Glass Of Wine” is one of the most gentle ballads, as is “October Song”, which sounds so much like an early Christmas Song. One of the songs I really liked was “Tell Me What You Ache For”. Kathy really delivers from the heart on this one.
Her celtic influences come to fore on the traditional “He Moved Through The Fair”, and “This Love Will Carry”. The latter was written by Kathy’s long time friend and Perthshire folk icon, Dougie MacLean. Dougie also provides harmonies on the track.
As I say, Kathy’s music today is different to her hits of thirty years ago, but this is the real Kathy Mattea. Music straight from her heart.
And about time she was coming back to see us.

There is a constant stream of new talent coming out of Ireland, but JORDAN MOGEY is different from the rest. For a start, he’s 100% Country, but more than that, he writes his own stuff, and writes about experiences in a style that is far beyond his years.
With his previous two albums, he had been likened to a modern day Hank Williams, or a young Johnny Cash.
On this new album, “Love Lovin’ You”, Jordan has a bit more mellow a sound, a bit like the other  Williams (Don), but maintaining an a bit of an attitude. The opening track, “Who Needs You Anyway”, and “Learning To Live” are prime examples of this.
The title track is another gentle ballad, as is the preview single, “Hold Onto That Thought” and “Out Of Her Mind”.
Quite a few of his songs do involve the demon booze. They include the moody “Better Things To Drink About”, the tongue in cheek, remorseful, “What Was I Drinking”, and “The Worst Hour Of My Life”, which although a fun number, gives a realism only gained from experience.
“She’s All Over Me Now” is a bluesy ballad, laced with some beautiful steel licks. It’s pure Country class, in a kind of Mickey Gilley kinda way. It’s Gene Watson who comes to mind, as Jordan delivers another killer Country ballad, “I Wont Have To Worry ‘Bout You Leaving Me Anymore”. Superb stuff.
He lifts the tempo with the fun laden “Rockin’ At The Nursing Home”, in contrast to most of the other songs.
Jordan hasn’t moved on completely from his Hank Williams inspiration, with the inclusion of “Hankaholic”, which namedrops a few of those classic song titles.
As I say, Jordan Mogey is True Country. Brilliant stuff.

KERRY FEARON has quickly established herself on the Country scene, well beyond her native Northern Ireland, in a very short time.  It was only in 2016, she was a finalist in the Irish TV talent show, “Glor Tire” (the same TV which launched Lisa McHugh’s career). Now Kerry hosts her own TV show on Keep It Country TV, and a radio show on Downtown Country.
And now comes her first full size album.
“Honky Tonk Girl” features 10 Country classics, all well produced and performed by the petite singer.
The title track is a cover of the same song which launched Loretta Lynn’s career.
Other songs include Jessi Colter’s “Storms Never Last”, Gordon Lightfoot’s “Cotton Jenny” and Susannah Clark’s “I’ll Be Your San Antone Rose”.
She really stretches back into the archives to bring us Mother Maybelle’s “Jukebox Blues”, a real old timey number, which Kerry really maintains the traditional style.
One of the classics, “Red River Valley” is a duet with fellow Northern Ireland singer songwriter Jordan Mogey. And a great version, it is.
It’s not all classics though.
Kerry does cover a couple of Ashley Monroe ballads’ including “I’m Good At Leavin’” and “If The Devil Don’t Want Me”, giving them both strong traditional arrangements.
Rounding out the listing is “That’s What I Like About You”, written by Kevin Welch, and recorded by James House and Trisha Yearwood, and Emmylou’s “Luxury Liner”.
It’s a good mix of songs, known, but not overdone, and Kerry’s versions are first class. Well worth a listen.

BRACKEN SPRINGS is the latest project from Edward Bracken, who we previously heard from, as part of The Bracken Brothers, with brother George.
As was evident from his previous recordings, Edward’s biggest influence was Buck Owens, whom he played alongside several times at Buck’s Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. Buck gave Edward the encouragement to write his own songs, and after writing much of the 2011 album, “After My Own Heart”, his new 5 track EP continues the trend.
Five original songs, which are totally Country, well produced and performed.
“Before You Can Say” is a catchy mid tempo number, whilst “I Love Us” is a bit more upbeat.
I really liked the steel laced ballad, “Please Never Stop Loving Me”, and the quick paced “Bank Of Mum And Dad”, which has quite an Irish radio friendly sound to it. By contrast, “The Bottle Hit Me Back” is a catchy number, somewhere between honky tonk and straight Country. Wherever it lies, it works for me.
A very entertaining EP from Bracken Strings.

Bluegrass has always been a family orientated scene, and one which supported each other. Back in 1987 the IBMA(International Bluegrass Music Association) set up a Bluegrass Trust Fund, to help fellow bluegrass musicians in time of emergencies (bear in mind, America doesn’t have an NHS to look after it’s sick). To date, over $800,000 has been used to support musicians in time of need.
Now a number of artists and musicians on the North Carolina based Mountain Home label have got together to produce, “Come See About Me”, a benefit record for the cause.
Featuring 11 tracks, all specifically recorded for this project, the album features a title track which sees the coming together of over 20 of the musicians who took part in the bigger project in true “Live aid” style.  The track, a solid mid tempo number, enriched with weeping steel, lilting mandolin, fitting dobro and a fluid banjo line, was produced by the legendary Doyle Lawson.
The CD is full of songs, either of hope and inspiration, or of eternal thanks.
The album kicks off with six piece band, Sideline, with “Their Hands Made The Music”, which sets the tone. It’s a gentle, easy listening tribute to musicians, past and present, with the message that “for all that they have given, we cannot give back enough”.
That’s followed by “A Little Trust”, a jaunty little song from Donna Ulisse, who has just one of these beautiful bluegrass voices that I could listen all night to.
As well as leading the title track, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver have two contributions to the album, “All The Good Things We Could Do” and “We’ll Never Walk Again”. 
Balsam Range contribute the upbeat “We’re All In This Together”, and Chris Jones & The Night Drivers deliver on “Glimpse Of The Kingdom”.
One of the most beautiful songs on the album is “Those Tears”, from Darin and Brooke Aldridge. Brooke’s vocals on this song is stunning. She also joins the Lonesome River Band for a cover of Townes Van Zante’s “If I Need You”.
The Grascals bring back The Beatles as they contribute a banjo laden “Help”, an arrangement which works so well.
The other well known cover is Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me”, performed here by five man Love Canon.
Apart from the cause, the music on this album is just such a joy to listen too. Full of inspiration and thanksgiving.

Another interesting modern bluegrass collection is SONGS FROM LYON COUNTY (Gracey Holler Music). The project is the work of Kentucky  songwriter  Dennis Duff, created  from  his  desire  to  write  songs  that  connect  current  and  future  generations  to  a  past  that  is  quickly  disappearing  around  us.  Lyon County, in the south western corner of  Kentucky,  has  a  rich  history. The  civil  war,  tobacco  wars,  floods,  moonshine,  TVA,  the  iron  industry,  and  a  steady  faith  in  God  have  all  had  a  huge  impact  on the area,  its  landscape  and  its  people.  These  songs  were  written  from  the  point  of  view  of  the  people  who  lived  them. 
Songs cover the whole of the bluegrass state, from “The Road To Dover” in the north east corner, to “Castle On The Cumberland”, the state Penitentiary, which overlooks the river. There are stories handed down, like that of the old still at “Wilson Holler”, and “Iron Hill” where the hoboes rode the rails, and ”Night Riders”, with their own brand of law enforcement.
“TC & Pearl”, which features Darin & Brooke Aldridge, is all about Dennis’ parents, who grew up through the great depression.
There’s stories of disasters to hit the area, like the “37 Flood”, and the man made problems caused by the Tennessee Valley Authority (“Hey Mr TVA”).
Paul Brewster, from Ricky Skaggs Band, leads the vocals on the opening track, “Wilson Holler”, whilst Holly Pitney (Mo’s sister) and Bradley Walker join forces of the album’s beautiful closing number.
It’s a really beautifully created project. Lovely music which is Sen ominous with the area, and that captures the life and history of Lyon County.
Something of a musical masterpiece!

Another bluegrass offering comes from the Pacific Northwest of America. THE PINE HEARTS, who release their new album, “Carousel” this month, are led by Joey Capoccia, with Derek McSwain and Dean Shakked. They have proven through their three albums, to have a refreshing sound, with both upbeat tracks and softer ballads.
The album kicks off with the slow and moody “Living With Depression”. It may not be the best opener they could have chosen from a subject point of view. I wouldn’t say it’s representative of the album as a whole. It is, however, a serious song, with a message which they want to get over, and they do succeed in that respect.
Next up, is a true Country sound on “The Pedal Steel Let Me Down Easy”. The instrumentation is superb, with banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and of course, steel guitar caringly placed throughout the song. The vocal delivery is spot on too, reminding me of early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band numbers. I really enjoyed it. That’s followed by the equally as appealing “Open Road”.
“Good Luck By The Sea” and “Crying For Another” are more obvious foot tappin’ bluegrass numbers. “Virginia” doesn’t quite offer the same upbeat pace, but still steeped in beautiful bluegrass notes.
“Back To Sustain”, “Carousel Horses”, “Holding On” and “Keep It Warm” have a softer ballad feel to them, but still keeping that bluegrass feel. 
Most of the songs are written by Capoccia. The exceptions are “Good Luck By The Sea”, and the George Jones classic “Window Up Above”, which is given a real old timey treatment. There’s also a traditional instrumental on “President Garfield’s Hornpipe”.
I really enjoyed listening to this album. The harmonies, the instrumentation, and the arrangements are just spot on. A real pleasure to listen to.

IAN CAL FORD has been around the UK Country & Rockabilly scene for over 30 years. With his band, The Railmen, Ian was especially popular at festivals like Americana, and played all over, including Europe. He even has an album on Germany’s Bear Family label, which specialises in traditional Country music.
These days, Ian performs with his Acoustic Preachers, and is still playing the old time traditional Country songs, 14 of which are featured on his latest CD, “Wood & Wire”.
The album, recorded in Pembrokeshire, features Ian, with the support of Dave Luke on a 1956 Gibson mandolin & Carl Beddis on a 1930 German made Upright bass. Ian’s guitars include a 1937 CF Martin. The full spec of the instruments and microphones, are detailed on the CD credits, which really adds to the authenticity of the project. There’s certainly no modern enhancements in this recording. What you get is an authentic, honest, musical experience. 
One of Ian’s projects around 20 years back was a Johnny Cash album called “Strapped For Cash”, so it’s no surprise that the Cash influence has remained, and there are three Cash compositions on this latest album. “Walk The Line” and two lesser known numbers, “Belshazzar” and “Loading Coal”.
He also does a take on Jimmy Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud”, which Cash also recorded.
There are covers of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Cold On The Shoulder”, The Hag’s “Working Man Blues”, Billy Joe Shaver’s “Willy The Wandering Gypsy And Me”, and even “Delta Dawn”, which launched a young Tanya Tucker’s career. He does a very different version, probably more akin to the original Tennessee singer songwriter Alex Harvey’s version.  
The album kicks off with The Delmore Brothers’ “Blue Railroad Train”, delivered in a Jimmie Rodgers style. That really sets the tone for the album. He also does a deeply soulful version of Hank’s “House Of Gold”, and an effective working of “My Rifle, My Pony And Me”, which Dean Martin & Ricky Nelson popularised in the film, “Rio Bravo”.
“Just Because” dates back to the 1920’s, and has been recorded by many artists, including Elvis Presley. Ian’s version is catchy, yet simple, and probably the closest track to his rockabilly roots here.
Ian has totally captured the old time, traditional Country feel of these songs.
In today’s over produced musical world, this is a breath of fresh air!

There are many Johnny Cash tributes around, mostly concentrating on his pioneering early career, but he picked up an army of new fans in her later years. He, of course, produced a very musical family, most notably through daughter Rosanne and son John Carter Cash, not to mention the expanded Carter Family, which he married into.
Now, the next generation of the Cash clan has arrived.
THOMAS GABRIEL is Cash’s grandson, son of Kathy, who has picked up where Johnny left off. His influence is certainly based on his grandad’s later life, if his album, “Long Way Home” is anything to go by.
The album kicks off with “Everything Must Be Sold”, written by Executive Producer Brian Oxley, who wrote three of the 11 tracks. It’s a song of poor times, and getting what you can with what you have.
“Twangtown” is reflections of a changing Music City, whilst “Get On Home”, moves the scene to Atlanta, with a haunting, chanting number. There’s also a bit of chanting going on in “Never Going To Back To Down”.
Not quite Folsum, but there’s a jail song in “1974”, his prison number, not the year.
 “Come To Me” is one of the most gentle ballads on the album, alongside the title track. I also liked “Always Is Forever”, which was quite pleasant. The album closed with the delicate “Slipping Away”.
I have to confess that I never got into Johnny Cash’s later life music, but have to admit, that his grandson has captured it well.

Sometimes you find that travel is as much part of a musician’s life, as the music itself. That’s certainly the case for MARTHA FIELDS. Born on the West Virginia/East Kentucky border, her music branches out between Appalachia and Texas, made all the more impressive, when you find that she lives part of the year in France, where this album was recorded.
Her third album, “Dancing Shadows” has just been released here, and features a gutsy sound, which nicely cradles Country and rock influences.
The opening track, “Sukey” is an ode to a Cherokee ancestor, who raised her kids in a cave in West Virginia. It’s quite a rock opening track.
Her French connection is captured in the slow and emotion filled “Paris To Austin”, and her travels are also to fore on “Exile”, and “West Virginia In My Bones”. Her homeland also comes through on
“Demona”, which has quite a traditional Appalachian sound to it.
Some of the upbeat numbers were my favourite tracks, including the driving beat of “Last Train To Sanesville” and “Maxine”. There’s even a bit of Rockabilly in “Hillbilly Bop”.
The most Country sounding numbers come towards the end of the album. The bouncy “Fare Thee Well Blues”, laced with some nice steel licks, is a stand out track, but also listen out for “Said And Done”, a good ol’ fashioned foot tapper, taking us back to the era of June Carter.  The album rounds off with a gentle Country waltz, “Lone Wolf Waltz”, which I also really enjoyed.
Martha covers a lot of ground on this album, and is certainly an interesting listen.

What do you call Americana music, which isn’t from America?  Well, a few years back Laura McGhee coined the “Celticana” tag, there’s “Canadiana” and now, courtesy of DAN WEBSTER, comes “Anglicana” !
Dan is a seasoned English singer songwriter, who has just released his fourth album, “Devil Sky” (Paper Plane Records).
The 10 track collection kicks off with “Playing Cards & Late Night Bars”, an update on an earlier recording of a song called “Playing Cards”. It has a really catchy, folksy opening, leading into a good  upbeat number.
The other upbeat track of note is “Bo”, which is a real fun, foot stomping number. It’s a father & son journey through childhood. Dan’s son is actually called Ben, who provides backing vocals on the track.
“Joe” is Dan’s murder ballad. It’s quite uptempo, co-written with Tom Gill and Evie Rapson, It’s the only song Dan didn’t write on his own.
Amongst the slower numbers are the simple “Home Again” and “Haul Away”, which features Danni Nicholls on harmonies. It’s a song of loss and moving on. “Mary Anne” is also a bit of a mellow number, a bittersweet song of hope. Nice harmonies here, courtesy of Evie Rapson. “Freedom In Suburbia” deals with the media and politics, whilst “Nothing At All” takes on the topic of unrequited love.
The album closes on a soft note with “Anyway”, a song of time healing.
It’s a pleasant nice easy listening album. Worth checking out!