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Monday, 2 April 2018

April 2018

We’ll kick off the CD reviews this time around, with our own home grown talents.
DEAN OWENS is one of Scotland’s most established Country/Americana singer songwriters. He was part of the iconic group, The Felsons, before breaking out in his own career. Although his focus has primarily been on his own material, he has paid his dues having released albums inspired by both Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
His latest album, “Southern Wind” (At The Helm Records) was recorded in Nashville, featuring fellow Americana singer songwriter Will Kimbrough, amongst others, in the line up.
The title track is a trademark Owens ballad, with some impressive harmonies from The Worry Sisters and Kira Small. “Louisville Lip”, is Dean’s song for his sporting hero Muhammed Ali. It’s a very delicate song, and a wonderful tribute.
I quite liked “When The Whisky’s Not Enough”, a simple ballad that worked really well, as does “Anything Helps”, and “Famous Last Words”.
But there are a number of upbeat numbers too. The catchy “The Last Song”, which, quite inappropriately opens the album, is just one of a number of co-writes with Kimbrough, and is inspired by Ronnie Lane and The Waterboys. Dean calls it his “pub rock song for the end of the night!”
Another upbeat number is “No Way Around It”, which has quite a soulful feel to it. Again Kira Small’s big voice adds to the harmonies. Then there’s almost a reggae feel to “Mother”.
Stand out track for me has to be “Elvis Was My Brother”, inspired by a friend, who felt more in tune with an old Elvis tape than the rest of his family.
Dean covers a lot of ground on this album, but every track is very much his own. He is labelled “celtic spirit, Country soul”.  It’s a sound that serves him well.

The same tagline could also be applied to DAVID LEASK. David was born right here in Scotland, but has made Toronto home for many years now. Through five previous albums, he has encompassed the influences of his homeland with the fresh possibilities of his adopted home. He continues that unique blend of folk,Country, roots rock, celtic and soul on his new CD, “Six in 6/8”.
The CD opens with a mid tempo number, “Indescribable Love”, about the struggle to define love. He does a good job of that here.
He extends the celtic/folk feel on “Red Balloon”, the focus track from the release. It features some lovely flute and whistles, courtesy of Loretto Reid, as well as accordion from Doug Romanov, and dobro from Rob Ikes.
“Caught In The Tide” is more of a Country soul number, with a really catchy chorus line.
“When You Think No One Loves You” is a strong emotional ballad, supported by Jonathan Goldsmith’s well placed piano. That’s followed by “Cant Make It Back Home”, a powerful song which tells of the effects of PTSD on service men and women.
“Between Him & Me”, which closes the CD, is a song which was a long time in the making. Written with his wife, over a 12 year period, the song deals with religious intolerance in world events. A song well delivered.
The CD is quite an album of numbers- just 6 tracks, recorded in 11 different studios, with 10 engineers, with a cast of 19 musicians. Three of the songs are currently semi finalists in the International Songwriting competition. 
David is another great talent Scotland has lost to the world outside. At least we can appreciate his music on this CD.
www.davidleask.com

Regular readers will be aware of a show coming off at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry this month, featuring LIZ CLARKE & Stetsons‘n’Heels. Liz, who also performs under the name of ELIZABETH MACFARLANE, has been a busy part of the Scottish social club circuit for some years, but thanks to exposure on Keep It Country’s Janey Kirk TV show, and her recordings appearing on Soundcloud, people started to take notice of her, most notably in Nashville where T.Jae Christian spotted her potential.
That led to a couple of duets, which appear on her CD, “The Vanishing Breed”.
The title track is one of the duets. It’s a stone Country ballad, which puts the mark on the album. The other duet is “This Feeling So Strong”, which is another ballad, this time sounding a little bit more soulful. There’s also a great version of “Blue Skies Over Georgia”, written by Nashville producer Mark Moseley.
The other tracks are covers ranging from Martina McBride’s “Independence Day”, and Mary Chapin’s “Down at The Twist & Shout” to Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and Tammy’s “Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad”.
It’s a good mix of material, and a perfect sampler of Liz’s music. Make sure you catch her at The Opry on the 8th April.

More homegrown Country music, this time from Country club and festival favourites JAMES N WOOD. They have a wealth of musical experience between them, going back many years, and since they combined their talents, they have really become a major part of the Scottish, and UK Country circuit.
Their CD is simply titled “Volume 2”, the follow up to Volume 1, and already Volume 3 is in the works.
This album is a collection of 13 songs, which should appeal to Country fans, whether they are listeners or dancers.
The songs range from classics like The Eagles’ “Take It Easy”, and Willie’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” and John Denver’s “Somedays Are Diamonds”, to more semi recent hits like “Neon Moon”, “Vertical Expression” and “More Of You”.
There are also a few lesser known numbers, like “Champagne Promises”, a song previously done by David Nail, or “Lonely Drum”, from a Canadian singer called Aaron Goodvin. They even cover the Derek Ryan/Eleanor McEvoy song “Old & Grey”.
I have to say that their version of “Fox On The Run” was particularly appealing, with some neat fiddle standing out. And the closing instrumental of “Ghostriders” is superb.
A good selection of material, all well produced from one of the local scene’s favourite duo’s.
 
Another home grown group is RAGING TWILIGHT, consisting of Jack Law, Dougie Harrison, JC Danti, Duncan Sloan and Colin Robertson. Law’s musical pedigree stretches back to the folk/rock outfit Greenmantle in the 1970’s.
Recorded in Glasgow, the 12 track album, an all self penned by Law collection, is one of these albums that you just cannot label.
There are tracks which are pop/rock influenced, whilst others lean more to the blues. But there’s also quite a few points of interest to Country music fans.
The addition of mandolin and harmonica add to the catchy “Old Glass Jar”, which has quite a folk/country feel.
“Hope Sails The River” and “The Slip”, both slower numbers, have a real Country influence within them, as does “You Cant Get To Heaven”, after the strange sounding intro.
It’s an interesting sound. You probably wont see Raging Twilight in your local Country music club, but they may be worth catching at other venues around Glasgow.

Moving south of the border now.
DAVE SHERIFF is, by far, the most recorded Country music performer in the UK. This year marks 60 years since his first public performance, at Bradfield Village Hall, playing the harmonica.  Since then he has gained nine entries in the Guinness Book Of Records, for his “one man band”. He began writing and recording back in 1991, and seems to have been constantly releasing material ever since.
His latest release, “Tonight, You Made A Memory For Me” (Stomp) is a brand new collection of 14 of his own songs, recorded in Hemel Hempstead, featuring musicians like Derek Thurlby, Graham Walker, Nicky James, Jon J Paul and Martyn Cooper.
Dave has been around long enough to know his audience, and gives them what they want. Although it’s all new material, the songs are delivered in a style which his fans will recognise instantly.
There are cheery upbeat numbers like “Every Day’s A Happy Day”, “Moving Up”, “When I’m Out Tonight”, “Will Ya Dance”, “Where’s The Party”, and the latin flavoured “We’re Off”. Several of these songs have been recorded in Ireland recently.
There are also gentler ballads, like “Right Place Wrong Time” and “I Can Count On You”.
The title track is another of the softer ballads, whilst “I Think About You” is a bit more upbeat, in a Don Williams laid back style, if you know what I mean.
“Three Scores Years And Ten” is done in waltz time, and finds him in quite a nostalgic mood.
Another reflective number is “I’m Glad I’m From The Country”, one of my favourite tracks on the album, as is “Grampy Tell The Story”.
Dave has to be admired for his continued devotion to the UK Country scene, always delivering good and regular original Country music for his fans.
www.davesheriff.co.uk

Music from deepest Derbyshire next, and a lovely album from JOHN STAMP.
John’s musical career had been dormant for 18 years, as he developed his business as a residential childcare specialist. Training in Music & Arts therapy led him to meeting up with singer songwriter Boo Hewerdine in 2012, and the opportunity to do some writing with him.
A couple of years later, he made a short trip to Nashville, where he met up with fellow Derbyshire lad John Hartley, who had contacts with members of Emmylou’s Red Dirt Boys, and Leigh Nash from Sixpence None The Richer.  One thing led to another, and by last year, “Franklin 54” was complete, and ready to hit the market.
As the title suggests, the 9 track album, produced by Hartley, was recorded in Franklin, TN.
The sound is contemporary mix of soft rock, pop, soul, Country and easy listening.
The lead single is “Blowing Me Kisses”, which is a duet with Leigh Nash. It’s quite a poppy, radio friendly number. “Do You Dream” is another quite poppy number, with some nice female harmonies that give it quite a quaint old time feel to it.
It all kicks off with “Stay Calm”, which has quite a southern country rock feel to it.
“The Weather” has a strong guitar intro, but the song itself, is quite a softer ballad. “Words”, “Moon & Stars” and “Hippy Days” are also quite pleasant ballads.
“California”, which closes the album, another ballad, is probably my favourite track. It’s a simple ballad, with some nice harmonies.
It’s a nice listen. Check it out.

Staying down south, and a first album, at the age of 81, for Lancashire raised GARETH OWEN. 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. It won’t surprise you that it’s a long story in the lead up to the release of “Rolling By”, an all original Country music album.
He was playing Othello in the Shakespeare production in Birmingham, when he met a 16 year old Ruby Turner, and ended up managing her career. That led to his interest in music, and after reading an article in NME about Tom T Hall, Gareth checked him out, and from that moment on, became a convert to Country music.
The songs on here are a life’s work. They tell of life. Although Tom T’s influence has extended into the songs, I detect a certain Bobby Bare style in his singing too.
“Jesse James And The Barber” and “Walk Out The Door” are prime examples of this.
“Lady Whiskey”, which opens the album, and namedrops George Jones, is the story of meeting a woman in a bar, which changed his life. On “Nowhere”, he talks of his wife hanging out the washing, but makes it interesting.
“Ashes And Diamonds”, ”Before I Get To Heaven” and “Dream River” are more gentler numbers.
Recorded in Powys, the album features some top notch musicians, including Matt Park on steel and Ed Begley, the producer, on piano. Throughout, Ruby Turner adds some magical harmonies.
It’s a really good listen. Why has it taken him so long ?

Following in parents footsteps is always a difficult path. It seems that, no matter how “different” many try to be, they can’t shake off the family ties. And to be honest, in many cases, it’s the family link which gets media attention.
ASHLEY CAMPBELL, Glen Campbell’s youngest daughter, is a perfect example. She pursued dancing and acting ahead of music, but as fate would have it, she was asked to play banjo in a play during her senior year at University. That gave Ashley the bug, and the incentive to consider a musical career.
Soon after, she began touring with dad, playing banjo, and as a backing singer. This was during the last couple of years of Glen’s touring, and she found herself firmly in her dad’s shoes through his final years.
The release of her debut album, “The Lonely One” (Humphead) comes just months after her dad’s passing, but I have to say that there’s very little of Glen’s musical influence. She has created her own sound, and her own songs, and is still playing the banjo, which is really going to be her trademark, I think.
The album kicks off with a few tracks, like “A New Year” and “Better Boyfriend”, which I found quite poppy, which will no doubt, have went down well at her Country2Country appearance a few weeks back.
The title track, although not strictly Country, has quite a magic feel to it. It has quite a sway to it. It’s track five, and the first one which really caught my attention. But from there, this album just got better and better.
Ashley has quite a sweet voice, but with simple arrangement’s, her prominent banjo, and self harmonies, she won me over on tracks like the upbeat “How Do I Know” and “Looks Like Time”, the haunting “Good For You”, or the beautiful ballads, “Wish I Wanted To” and “What I’m Doin’ Here”.
There’s also quite a reflective “Nothing Day”, which closes the album, with a few honest truths exposed. 
The banjo features even more on “Carl & Ashley’s Breakdown”, which features her godfather, Carl Jackson. Brothers Cal and Shannon also feature on the record.
Ashley doesn’t have the strongest voice in the world, but this is all her own work. 13 songs all co-written, and playing banjo & guitar throughout the album. 
This album really grew on me quite quickly. Give it a listen!

SOUTHERN HALO are three young sisters from Mississippi :  Hannah, Natalia and Christina Morris, who are making a lot of noise in Nashville at present. They had a couple of visits to Scotland last year, hopefully will get back over in support of their second album, “Just Like In The Movies”, which gets released on 27th April.
The title track was released to radio late last year, and it appeared to mark a shift to a more pop sound, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this album full of lovely harmonies and rich Country heritage.
These girls not only play & sing well, but Natalia is a talented writer for the group, having written or co-written 10 of the tracks on this fifteen track collection.
They kick off with a biographical self titled song, which serves as the perfect introduction to the trio. It’s an instantly likeable number, just like the sisters themselves. It’s the first of four tracks co-written with Louisiana singer-songwriter Roxie Dean.
“My Girls And Me” is quite a smouldering girl power anthem. It kinda reminded me of Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman”, mixed with “Black Velvet”!. “I Think Too Much” and “Famous” are other upbeat numbers, which really worked well. I also enjoyed “Getting Back Up”.
But it’s the softer, harmony driven numbers, like “Notice Me” and “Missing Mississippi” that
really appealed to me. The latter was written by Natalia on her first night in Nashville. Another homesick song is “Comin’ Home”, written on the plane on their return from their first European tour.
There are a few tracks which are a bit too pop for me, including the rather irritating “Hey Boy”, which like “Just Like In The Movies”, didn’t come from Natalia’s pen.
But, with 15 tracks, there’s plenty that I really enjoyed about this album. The girls offer some really neat harmonies, and the production is just right.
Beautiful music! 

LANCO are a Nashville based five piece band, who have been making a lot of noise in Nashville for the past few years, and now their debut album, “Hallelujah Nights” (Arista) has finally arrived.
The band name is short for Lancaster & Company, after lead vocalist Brandon Lancaster. According to the sleeve notes, they wanted to take the influence that Country music had on each of the band members, and blend it with their individual musical influences, and create their own sound, with stories which would reflect their lives. They’ve certainly come up with a sound, which has a modern Country feel to it, without being too way out.
Lancaster has written, or co-written, all 11 tracks on the album, including their No. 1 Country hit “Greatest Love Story”, which has also been featured on the Netflix series, “The Ranch”.
It’s the closest to a Country ballad on the album, and is the stand out track on the album for me.
“Born To Love You”, is their latest US single, and opens up the album. It’s a good upbeat number, and is another of the stand out tracks
Most of the tracks are US Country radio friendly, especially “So Long (I Do)”, and the title track, which has those annoying Music City wails, which is so commonplace these days.
“Middle Of The Night” is a bit different, with strong vocal backings, and a really catchy beat.
Several of the songs are just a bit too pop for me, notably, “We Do”, “Win You Over” and “Pick You Up”.
But all things considered, it’s quite an enjoyable album. Certainly one for fans the modern Nashville sound.

KENNY FOSTER is one of Nashville’s “new breed”, and was listed in the “Ten artists you need to know” by Rolling stone magazine. He’s appeared on the “Nashville” TV series, and Scottish fans got their first chance to check him out at last month’s Country On The Clyde event.  For the rest of us, he has released his new album, “Deep Cuts” for our listening pleasure.
The album features a few upbeat radio friendly numbers, especially “Good Enough”, “Revival” and “Made” which features co-writer Daisy Mallory on vocals.
Then, there’s the simpler ballads like the opener, “Stand”, as well as “Good Ol’ Days”, “Old Fashioned” and the piano driven “Change”.
“Everything” is probably the closest to mainstream Country. It’s a very gentle ballad.
He claims his influences include James Taylor, and Garth Brooks. He’s somewhere in between.
Kenny’s come up with a nice laid back sound, which will appeal to the singer songwriter aficionados among us.

The latest hip genre in music is “Texan red dirt”, and one that falls into that category is the new album from WADE BOWEN. Although a new name to me, and probably a lot of you, he’s been around for a while. He was a member of West 84 with Matt Miller, before going solo in 2001. Since then he has released ten albums, including a couple with Randy Rogers, and two live albums.
His latest, “Solid Ground” (Thirty Tigers) gets a UK release this month, ahead of a visit here in the summer for the Black Deer Festival in Sussex.
The album is produced by fellow Texan Keith Gattis, who had his own shot at Nashville fame twenty years back with a superb album, which, sadly didn’t get the attention it deserved. Gattis most recent claim to fame is having two cuts on George Strait’s “Cold Beer Conversations” CD. Gattis has also four of his songs on this album, three co-written with Bowen. Other writing credits include Charlie Worsham, Angeleena Presley and Jon Randell.
Bowen is known as a rocker and an entertainer, but this album spotlights his talents as a musician and songwriter. He is quoted as wanting to respect tradition, but shake it up.
I’d also say that, whilst keeping the rawness of Texas Red Dirt music, this album stakes a claim on the commercial Nashville scene.
The strangely titled, “Death, Dyin’ and Devilled Eggs”, features Jon Randell is one of the most appealing tracks for me. But there’s quite a lot which I liked about this album.
“Fell In Love On Whiskey” is a good driving upbeat Country number.
“7.30” is a seven minute epic. It’s a soft ballad, not too far away from a John Denver vocal, mixed with Tex-mex accordion. The accordion also features in the latin flavoured “Day Of The Dead”.
By contrast , “Couldn’t Make You Love Me” and “Acuna” have quite a rocky feel to them.
“Compass Rose” is quite a mainstream Country mid tempo number, which I’m sure will get some good radio play.
“So Long 6th Street” is quite a strong Country ballad, and features harmonies from Miranda Lambert and Jack Ingram.
I really enjoyed this album. A good progressive sound, but keeping the tradition intact.

When the news of MEL TILLIS passing reached us last November, whilst appreciating the contribution he had made to Country music, having 77 Country chart hits, including 6 Number One’s, and having written classics like “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town”, and “Detroit City”, I had very little of his music in my collection.
So it’s thank you to HumpHead Records for the release of “Memory Maker”, a 2 CD- 50 track of his music from the early to mid-seventies, when he was with MGM Records.  Whilst he reached his peak a few years later, when he moved onto MCA Records, there is certainly some good stuff on here.
He had a good run of top 3 hits during this time, including “Neon Rose”, “Sawmill”, “Midnight, Me And The Blues”, “Stomp Those Grapes” and the title track to this album. He also had a Number One with “I Aint Never”, a song he wrote for Webb Pierce.  They’re all included on this collection.
The collection includes his original version of “Ruby”, which is very different to Kenny Rogers’ version. Highlighting the banjo, it’s almost a bluegrass version of the song.
The music does sound a bit dated, but is undeniably Country, and an absolute pleasure to listen to.

Arguably, commercial Country music was founded in the East Tennessee town of Bristol, close to the Virginia border back in 1927. That’s when Ralph Peer headed there, on the look-out for new talent from the heartland of America. In 12 days, Peer recorded 50 different acts, with the view to spreading their music across the country. These sessions discovered, amongst other, Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family.
To coincide with the 90th Anniversary of these historic recordings, Middle Fork Records have launched “1927 Jubilee”, with the intention of reincarnating the spirit, and the sound of the recordings 90 years earlier. The project is currently available on pre-release with a planned CD and Vinyl release within the next month.
The New Bristol Sessions features a number of local acts from North East Tennessee and South West Virginia, performing their own, original music. Most are relatively unknown outside the area, although no doubt hoping to be this century’s Carters. Of course, the area gave birth to one of the most iconic Country stars of all time, and Dolly Parton was happy to support the album and donate a song and recording to the project. “Something More”, is a typical Dolly, homespun number, that fits in so perfectly within the album.
The album opens with Issac & Laura Mainer with ”Little Valley”, which sounds like it was right out of the original 1927 sessions. It has real old time charm, with a distinct Jimmie Rodgers influence. That’s followed by some cracking bluegrass from Carson Peters & Iron Mountain and a lovely song from Julie Williams & Fiddle Scene. Her rendition of “Lonely Road” reminded me of an early Nanci Griffiths. 
I’m sure that when Ralph Peer set foot in town, there were no musical labels and genres. It was all just music. And “1927 Jubilee” hasn’t just captured the old time Country sound, but also other genres, which can be heard across the area today.
To that end, Mary Munsey has quite a folksy sound on her “Diamonds”, and  theres’ a celtic feel to “Fireflies” from Dave Eggar and Virginia Ground. There’s also a celtic rock influence to the quite mystical Tuatha Dea. It’s worth checking out their video for “Get Away Home”, whilst there’s a catchy Eagles influence on “Tennessee Gypsy” from Bone Feather. Fritz & Co and 49 Winchester are quite laid back, easy listening, on “At The Border” and “Anchor” respectively.
I really enjoyed “Rebel’s Pride”, from Richie Owens and The Farm Bureau, It’s a good, fast paced number. Similarly, the interestingly named Moose Roberts and Th’ Monkey Paws, add something with the upbeat “Johnny Deluth”. The vocals are quite raw, but the music is quite intense, reminding me a bit of The Devil Went Down To Georgia.
It’s great to hear such an iconic moment recreated 90 years on, with today’s talent. The area had a wealth of musical talent back then, and obviously still has today.  If nothing else, this album, is a great sampler of the talent of the area today.
http://middleforkrecords.com/1927-jubilee.html

There’s been a few good Bluegrass releases of late. Heading the pile is a six piece Carolina-grass group called SIDELINE. “Front And Center” (Mountain Home Music) is their fourth album, is will surely cement their popularity in America’s Appalachian music scene, and far beyond.
Sideline’s style has set the pace in Bluegrass for over two decades. Founders Steve Dilling, Skip Cherryholmes and Jason Moore can all claim their own historical significance to the genre as members of highly awarded groups, multiple Grand Ole Opry appearances and years of national and international touring.
What started as a side project for the seasoned players soon moved to the front and centre as the three were joined by talents of Nathan Aldridge on fiddle, Bailey Coe with guitar and Troy Boone playing on the mandolin.
They have the type of sound that is definitely true to the roots of bluegrass, but also captures a sound that is very much part of today’s scene, in much the same way as The Grascals.
Most of the tracks are upbeat, banjo led tracks, like “Thunder Dan”, “Bluefield West Virginia Mountain Girl” and “All Of Me”. There’s also a 100mph version of “Cotton Eye Joe”.
There are a few softer numbers, including the lovely “Frozen In Time”, and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter Night”.
This is the sort of bluegrass sound which I really enjoy. Great stuff !

Bluegrass music doesn’t just come from Appalachia, of course. There are some first class outfits on this side of the Atlantic too.
THE OFTEN HERD are based in Newcastle (New-grass ?), led by Robert Hughes and Evan Davies (guitar & mandolin) with superb fiddling from American Niles Krieger, and jazz bassist Sam Quintana.
Three of the songs are originals. “Cool Summer Rain”, which opens the 6 track CD, the slower “Ruined Road” and “Debt To The King” which has a quirky intro, but quickly settles into a driving bluegrass tune.
The covers include Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”, the traditional instrumental “Cattle In The Cane”, and “Sail Away”.
Really enjoyable music!

Some of you enjoy the old timey bluegrass sound, popularised in the film “Oh Brother”. If you do, then you may want to check out ALAN BARNOSKY’s “Old Freight”.
Originally from southeast Michigan, but now a resident of Durham SC, Alan has won admirers after playing events like Merlefest, Telluride and the IBMA Bluegrass Ramble, with his downhome vocals and flat picking guitar style. He is joined by only one other musician, Robert Thornhill on mandolin. It really is as stripped down a sound, as you could get.
The songs range from the title track, which sets us on our travels with this album. He travels elsewhere, from “Roanoke Angeline” (Virginia), past “Bowling Green” (Kentucky), to “Gypsy Sally’s (an open Mic venue in Washington DC). Elsewhere he has “No Place To Go”, so heads for the hills in “I Heart Mountains”.
Throughout the album, a fingerlickin’ good selection of old timey bluegrass.

JOHN McCUTCHEON is something of a legend in American Folk circles, but his acclaim crosses various genres of music. “Ghost Light” is his 39th album, as has already been described by critics as “a library of storytelling”. The album certainly has quite a Country influence.
Throughout the CD, there is quite a bright breezy feel, thanks to Stuart Duncan’s fiddle, kicking off with “A Perfect Day”. “This Road” deals with the transformation of rural America, thanks to Mr Ford’s motor car. Kathy Mattea and Tim O’Brien are also featured on this track, and also on “The Machine”, a deep, emotional account of a war veteran’s view of the Charlotteville events last August.
“Unaware” is the one track, which features McCutcheon’s trademark hammer dulcimer, and adds some magic to the sound. 
“Big Day” is quite a mainstream sounding number. It’s upbeat, and quite radio friendly.
“She Just Dances”, “Me And Jesus” and “Dark Side Of This Town” are a bit more folky, whilst “Burley Coulter At The Bank”, is a slow, piano led ballad about a man, a bank, and changing times.
The album closes with the catchy bluegrass number, using a Woody Guthrie lyric. Again featuring Tim O’Brien and Kathy Mattea, it rounds off a highly enjoyable album.
I really liked it.

Next up is an interesting band from Regina in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, who call themselves THE DEAD SOUTH. They were formed in 2012, and their third album, “Illusion & Doubt (Devil Duck Records) has just been released here, ahead of a tour down south later this month. The album has already found its’ way to No.2 on the US Bluegrass charts, and the Top 30 US Country  I Tunes chart.
The band line up features Nate Hilts, Scott Pringle, Danny Kenyon and Eliza Mary Doyle, with an eclectic array of instruments, including banjo, mandolin and cello.
They have been described as outlaws and modern hillbillies, blending bluegrass and folk music.  The have a quaint, raw vocal style, but the instrumentation really sets the pace.
The album kicks off with a reel toe tapping number, “Boots”, which really sets the scene. That theme continues through “Every Man Needs a Chew”, “Smoochin’ In The Ditch” and “One Armed  Man”.
“The Good Lord”, is a bit more of a mid tempo number, with the added bonus of some nice steel guitar.
“A Hard Day” was particularly enjoyable track. There’s also an instrumental “Delerium”, half way through, which slows the tempo a bit.
It’s quite an interesting album. Some great playing on it.

And finally in this month’s marathon of releases, JEB BARRY AND THE PAWN SHOP SAINTS are based in New England, in the shadows of Arlo Guthrie and James Taylor. But this album draws on a past residency down south.
“Texas, etc” (DollyRocker Recordings) draws on the Lone Star States’ “red dirt Americana” sound, focussing on sparse, acoustic music. It’s a double CD, with 19 tracks, all self penned by Barry. The range from the slow smouldering opener, “Trouble Down In Tennessee” , the catchy “Chainsmoker”, and the bluegrassy “Keep The Devil Away”,  to softer numbers like “Home”, and “Evidence”
It has nothing to do with his Texas living, but simply driven by the Texas nature of the songs, like “Gravel Roads And Whiskey Bars”, “Galveston’92” and “I Cant Live In Houston Anymore”.  It’s not all positive about the state either, with titles like “El Paso Sucks”.
“Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time” stands out for me, helped by the duet vocals from Heather Austin. “Southern Oak”, another of the ballads, was another highlight.
Texan music from New England!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Feb 2018

It’s been a fairly quiet start to 2018, as far as new Country music releases are concerned, although the Irish scene continues to flourish with a regular stream of new CD’s, and that’s where we’ll start this month.
LISA STANLEY is one of Ireland’s best known singers, thanks to her TV work with Phil Mack, and the Keep It Country channel. She also toured extensively with Dominic Kirwan last year.  Lisa is also the daughter of Irish music legends Masie McDaniel and Fintan Stanley.
Her fourth album, “Heart &Soul” (Rosette Records) is set to really establish her as a singer, as well as TV presenter. With production shared between John Pettifer and Pete Ware, and musicians of the calibre of Sarah Jory, Tom and Paul Sheerin, Charlie and Dave Arkins and Neil Edwards, Lisa has come up with a well produced set of songs, both old & new.
There are classic Country ballads, like “Almost Persuaded”, “Always On My Mind”, “When You Say Nothing At All” and “You Don’t Know”, on which she duets with Dominic Kirwan. She also does a good version of “Cheap Whiskey”, a song previously hidden away on Martina McBride’s debut album.
But, in the main, Lisa gives us an upbeat set. Starting off with the gentle “Precious Memories”, written by one of Ireland’s most prolific writers Shunie Crampsey, which is followed by “Second Fiddle”, with an impressive twin fiddle intro.
Nashville writer Max T Barnes (son of the legendary Max D Barnes) gets in on the act, writing and dueting with Lisa on the catchy “Looking For A Girl”, which is one of my favourite cuts from the whole album. Another which stands out, is “Why, Oh Why”, which is given a real old school classic Country arrangement. Lisa also excels on “Girl With A Fishing Rod”, and Miranda Lambert’s “Famous In A Small Town”.
She also does a take on Wynonna’s “I Saw The Light”, but was most impressed to hear her version of Kirsty McColl’s “They Don’t Know”.
This album has a really impressive variety of material. Lisa has come up with a real winner!

The Kirwan dynasty continues, with BARRY KIRWAN following brother Colm into dad Dominic’s musical world.  Barry is no newcomer to the scene, having played drums in his dad’s band, and with Lisa McHugh and Derek Ryan, as well as in the states with Joey & Rory.
Although Barry did release an album, “To Make You Feel My Love” 10 years ago, it wasn’t until the release of “New Beginnings” in 2016, which really launched his solo career. Now, the follow up, “Moments” (Rosette) will further his own place on the Irish & UK Country scene.
There’s a good mix of covers, from “Chattahoochie” and “If I Could Make A Living” to “The Dance” and “I Swear”. The opening track, a bouncy upbeat number, “Merry Mary” was co-written by brother Colm, and there’s also a beautiful story song, “Between The Tracks”, which was written by Rory Feek and Paul Overstreet. It’s certainly the stand out track for me.
We also find a stunning duet with Nianh McClinchey on Townes Van Zante’s “If I Needed You”. Their voices certainly blend beautifully together. 
The title track is a lovely number, which was a No.1 Country hit back in 2006 for Canadian boy band Emerson Drive. I also really liked “More Of You”, co-written by Chris Stapleton, and the wonderful rendition of “Dream Of Me”, which goes back to the days of Jim & Jesse McReynolds.
A really good job done.
The whole album was recorded with producer Jonathan Owens in Co.Longford.

THE OUTLAWS are a fun band from Castleblaney, who have just released their third album, “Hanging Out” (Sharpe Music). The album features a few covers, ranging from the title track, written by Austin, TX based Chris Wall, to the often recorded “Drinking Champagne”, to legendary songs like “Jesse James” and “Tom Dooley”. There’s even a cover of Shane McGowan’s “Streams Of Whiskey”.
But there’s also four tracks written by Outlaws main man, Sean Hughes, including recent single, “Martina” and “Forget Your Troubles Tonight”.
The songs all have a fun feel to them, although the lyrics may raise an eyebrow or too. Take the title of Hughes’s original, “She’s Ugly But God Knows I Love Her”, for example.  Or even, the cover of Ry Cooder’s “The Girls From Texas”, which suggests that every Lone Star lady carries and uses razors or pistols on their disobedient fella’s. Nice!
But, it’s meant to be a fun record, and we shouldn’t delve too seriously into the lyrics.
In that respect The Outlaws do what they’ve set out to do -produce a fun record. And they do it well!

We’ve a couple of homegrown releases this time. The first comes from Glasgow based JAMES EDWYN & THE BORROWED BAND. “High Fences” (Dead Records Collective) is the follow up to the highly acclaimed “The Tower” album, released in 2014.
As well as Edwyn, the Borrowed Band features Emma Joyce, Scott Keenan, Ronnie Gilmour, Ross McLaughlin and Neil McDonald. Together, they have created a sound, which blends rock and folk influences with a Country edge.
The opening track, and lead single, is “Passing San Ysidro”, the most upbeat track on the album.
That’s followed by “Try Not To Think Of Now”, and “Get Back Up”, which both have quite a commercial, soft rock sound, which is likely to get some good radio airplay.
“Starlet” has quite a likeable Country rock feel to it, whilst “Never in A While” is a simple ballad, featuring just James and his guitar. “Pushing Statues” is another of the stand out tracks. It’s a bit more mid tempo, and works really well.
All 10 tracks are originals, written by James and the band, and recorded in Lanarkshire, with the help of The National Lottery and Creative Scotland.

THE RED PINE TIMBER COMPANY are an interesting 8 piece outfit, who hail from Perthshire. The line up is led by Gavin JD Munro and Katie Whittaker on vocals, with instrumental support from Michael McNab, David MacFarlane, Chris Small, Neil J Ewen, Thom Bubb and Ivan Sveda.
They grew up around The Southern Fried Festival, but have spread their wings across the Country since then, appearing from c2c in London, to Skye.
Their second album, “Sorry For The Good Times” was released at the end of January on Goldrush Records.
This is the big band’s follow up to their 2014 debut, “Different Lonesone”, and they’ve come up with a full sound. They have created a sound that stands out, thanks mainly to the impressive horn section- not something that would automatically give them a Country feel, but it works for them here. It really gives them a really original sound.
The opening number is perfect example of this. “If You Want Me To” starts off with some rocky sounding guitars, then the horns, before Gavin’s vocals bring in a good upbeat song that is really catchy.
“Look At The Moonlight” is another upbeat number led by Gavin, “Get It Right With You” is a bit more of a fun number, which the horn section takes the lead.
Slower numbers, including “Hollow Tree”, “After You”, “Dry Your Eyes” and “Bar Stool” really showcase the harmonies between Gavin and Katie. “For The Angels”, is an upbeat number, which show great harmonies too.
Katie also excels at the softer ballads, some with the help of steel guitar guest Stuart Nisbett. Good examples of this would be on the haunting “Tracks In The Snow” and “Put Down The Bottle”
But the stand out track is the fast driving “Cutting You Loose”, which is led vocally by Katie. It’s really catchy, and reminded me of something like Emmylou’s “Luxury Liner”. Indeed, Gavin & Katie do have a certain Gram & Emmylou influence.
The vocal duties are shared throughout the album, which was recorded in Perth, and all the songs are band originals.
It’s a big production number, without leaving the homeplace.
It’s well written, well sung, well produced. A superb album. Made right here in Scotland.

DELBERT MCLINTON is not the most obvious artist to get “The Definitive Collection” treatment from the Humphead label, but here he is, with a 2CD, 45 track collection of his music.
More considered as a blues singer, he did write “Victim Of Life’s Circumstances”, for Vince Gill, and “Two More Bottles Of Wine” which Emmylou recorded early on.  The originals are both featured here. This collection does feature a few more Country sounding numbers, like “Object Of My Affection” and “Shotgun Rider”.
There is a version of “In The Jailhouse Now”, but is very different to the versions which Country fans will know from Jimmie Rogers or Webb Pierce. His version of Frankie Miller’s “Sending Me Angels” is worth listening out for.
His career goes back to the 60’s, where he is credited for playing harmonica on Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby”. He is reputed to have instructed John Lennon on blues harmonica playing. He also formed The Rondels, the famed instrumental group.
His biggest hit, was on the Country chart in 1991, with a duet with Tanya Tucker, which is not included on this collection.
Having said that, there’s a good mix of material on this double CD. I think some of it will appeal to Country fans, but it is more Texan blues than anything else!

ROD PICOTT was born in New Hampshire, but these days is very much part of the Nashville Americana scene. His first album was released in 2001. Ten albums later comes “Out Past The Wires” (Welding Rod Records), a 22 track double CD, also available on 2LP.
There’s no particular theme differential between the two CD’s, the songs just reflect the lives of working people, The songs range from whispery ballads like the opening track “Be My Bonnie”, “Blanket Of Stars”, “Holding On” and “The Shape Of You”, to guitar driven rockers like “On The Way Down”, which is much in the style of Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town”, and “Hard Luck Baby”, which perhaps owes a bit more to his hero Bruce Springsteen.
“Take Home Pay” and “Store Bought” kinda falls in the middle, and are quite radio friendly numbers.
Four of the tracks were written with long time friend Slaid Cleaves, including “Fire Inside”, “Better Than I Did” and the softer “Primer Gray”, and “Falling Down”.
The CD is released here on February 16th, ahead of a tour in March, which includes dates in Glasgow and Kinross.

RICK SHEA & THE LOSIN’ END are something of an institution down in San Bernadino, California’s Country music scene. Originally from Maryland, Shea moved to the west coast at the age of 11, and cut his teeth in the coffee houses and honky tonk bars there.
Although he has been compared to the likes of Tom Russell and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, he has very much his own sound, as is demonstrated on his eleventh album, “The Town Where I Live” (Tres Pescadores Records).
The album kicks off with the catchy “Goodbye Alberta”. There’s more Canadian influence on “The Angel Mary And the Rounder Jim”, which has a lot of Ian Tyson influence about it. There are some outstanding harmonies on this track from Mississippi folk singer Claire Holley.
Despite the album title, he gets around, from Alberta to “The Road To Jericho” and “The Starkville Blues”.
He’s on his travels again with the upbeat “(You’re Gonna Miss Me) When I’m Gone”.
“Sweet Little Mama”, which closes the 10 track album, is a Country blues number, given a modern day Jimmie Rogers styling.
Shea wrote all but one song on the album. The exception is a cover of Jack Clement’s “Guess Things Happen That Way”, given an upbeat Buddy Holly-ish sound. It’s certainly different!
I really liked the sound Rick Shea has delivered on this album. Worth checking him out.

TRUE NORTH are a quartet from America’s Pacific Northwest, whose acoustic/bluegrass sound is proving to be a winner!
The band includes Kirsten Grainger, a former finalist at such events as Merlefest, Telluride and the Kerryville Folk Festivals, alongside multi-instrumentalist Dan Wetzel, bassist Suzanne Pearce and Dale Adkins.
Their new album, “Open Road, Broken Heart” is a laid back collection of songs, led mostly by Kirsten’s smouldering vocals. They range from the opening “One Way Ticket” to the guitar laced “Sunday Night Blues”, the lovely “Ratio Of Angels To Demons”, and “You Come Around”.
“Small Wonders” is a bit more uptempo, featuring some neat banjo.
“Mighty Bourbon”, led vocally by Dan, has a touch more of a blues sound, whilst “I’m Gone” is straight bluegrass.
But the tracks where Kirsten & Dan’s vocals blend beautifully together, like on “Seed,Leaf,Flower, Seed”, “Wilder Than Her” and “Without You” really stand out for me.
It’s a lovely laid back listen.

A couple of Americana releases to round off with this time around.
The BEN MILLER BAND have been around for a dozen years or so. The quartet from Joplin, Mississippi certainly have an interesting sound on their 5th album, “Choke Cherry Tree” (New West), blending Country, folk, bluegrass, rock, and a whole lot more.
There are a number of tracks, which just wont appeal to readers of a Country music magazine, but, then again, there are some magical tracks, which I really had to tell you about.
After a strange intro, the opening track, “Nothing Gets Me Down”, develops into a very pleasant ballad. There’s a hint of some lovely harmonies, which adds to the mix.
“Trapeze” features some nice bluegrass harmony female vocals and a catchy Cajun accordion. It has an old time charm to it, which was quite infectious. “Lighthouse” and “My Own Good Time”, are quite straight forward ballads, which I really quite liked too.
Of the upbeat tracks, the one which stood out is ”Sketchbook”. It’s quite a poppy catchy number.
There’s some interesting sounds on the CD.  Check it out. You might just get hooked.

Country music has some wide boundaries, but LILLY HIATT is right at the edge, on her album, “Trinity Lane” (New West).
Although born in LA, she now calls East Nashville home, and finding her feet in the artistic roots scene in that part of town. Not that music is new to her. Her father is the legendary John Hiatt.
It shows. Like her dad, Lilly’s music is more Rock than Country. But there are some Country touches to her vocals.
I detected that in the opening track, “All Kinds Of People”, and in the title track. “I Wanna Go Home” is probably the most Country of the rockers.
Most of the album has an upbeat rocky feel, but “Imposter” has a gentler beat, and helped me warm to the album. “Different, I Guess” is the strongest Country song, a ballad with some impressive steel guitar to help it along thanks to Josh Kaler.
“So Much You Don’t Know” is an atmospheric slower number, which is growing on me too.
It was quite a strange listen.  Certainly not mainstream, but is growing on me.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Dec 2017

We’ve a bumper bundle of new CD’s this time around, just in time for the Christmas market. What’s really good is the number of home grown Scottish releases amongst them, which is where we’ll start this time around.
Back around the 80’s and 90’s, Orcadian RUBY RENDALL was the Sweetheart of the Scottish Country music scene, touring all over the country, appearing on The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and even presenting two weekly Country music programmes for the BBC. 
Since those days, Ruby has been busy encouraging new talent with her own music school in Aberdeenshire.
But now she’s back with a long awaited new album, “Once Upon A Time” (Roadside Records), which finds Ruby sounding as good as ever. The album is produced by her son Robbie, and is as much his project, as he plays guitars, bass and drums throughout the album. Original band members from way back, Gordie Gunn and Phil Anderson are back in the fold, Gordie playing fiddle & mandolin, and Phil using his Nashville (where he’s now based) contacts to get Steve Hinson to add his steel guitar into the mix.
There are four brand new songs, including the title track and the opening number, “Mr High And Mighty”, co-written by Ruby and Robbie. They have also paired up together on “Waiting For The Love I Have Lost”, a beautiful ballad which just has a slight folksy feel to it. It’s certainly one of the stand out tracks on the album.
Another “new” song, is one that has been hidden away for a while. It’s a co-write with old Orkney pal Elaine Grieve on “Sunday Morning”. It’s a catchy “leaving” song, that works really well.
There are four of Ruby’s previously recorded tracks, including her signature “Ruby Red Wine”, which is hauntingly unplugged here, and “Time Goes By”, a song I’ve always loved since it was on her “Captured” album back in 1991. The version here is slightly faster.
One upbeat track which really stands out is “Bright City Lights”, which has quite an Irish Country influence.
To complete the album, Ruby has picked four covers, from Sara Evans, Kellie Pickler, Rosanne Cash and Patty Loveless, so you can get a feel for just who her influences are.
With the young Robbie’s influence, there is a slightly rocky style on a couple of tracks, especially “Never Like This Before”, “Red High Heels” and “Rosie Strikes Back”.  But it’s a style that Ruby’s vocals suit.
It’s great to have Ruby back with this new release, which is available from Grooves Records in Kirkwall, or via Chalmers Mackay Music School. Email chalmac@btconnect.com for details on payment methods. It's also available thru iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Glasgow born and raised LISA McHUGH continues to one of the most popular of the young artists on the Irish scene, and it’s great to see her spread that popularity back into her homeland, selling out new venues for her, on her recent Scottish tour.
Her latest CD, “Who I Am” continues the formula which has gained Lisa such popularity. It features up beat fun numbers which appeal to the Irish dancing fans, as well as slower ballads for the sit and listen-ers, and some Classic Country, just for good measure.
It all kicks off with the upbeat “Country Girl”, which was written by Lisa and Daniel Martin, and is her latest single. Other upbeat numbers include her last single, “Girl With A Fishing Rod”.
The title track is a song I’ve always loved. It’s also the theme to the TV series “Sue Thomas F.B.Eye”, which started a rerun on the Drama TV channel the same week as Lisa’s album came out. OK, It’s Jessica Andrews doing the TV theme, but still a rather timely coincidence. Lisa gives it a polished, powerful, performance.
There are a few interesting modern covers, including C2C headliners’ Kasey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow”, a catchy number which Lisa does really well, The Shires’ “Daddy’s Little Girl”, and Lori McKenna’s “Happy People”.
But I have to say the two songs which were written by recent Glasgow visitor Brandy Clark, really stand out. “Out Of Heaven” and “Hold My Hand” are both quite heavy ballads, and Lisa delivers!
I also really liked “Dream Of Me”. With quite a down home arrangement, it’s a song which really suits Lisa’s voice.
And for Classic Country, there’s no Dolly this time around, but she does a crackin’ version of Merle’s “Mama Tried”.
It’s another winner from Lisa !

ASHTON LANE are a Glasgow based husband and wife duo of Esther and Tim O’Connor, who have had a great year. They appeared at Country On The Clyde, and The Millport Country Music Festival, stepping up to fill the headlining role when Mark Chesnutt was left stormbound in Texas.
Then a few weeks back their single “Breathe You In” was released and went straight to No.1 in ITunes UK Country chart. The single is a hauntingly beautiful mid tempo number, which is certainly on par with much of the music coming out of Nashville.
There is also a brand new festive single from the couple. “Winter Star” is a haunting ballad which is, perhaps, a shade more pop/contemporary, but a nice listen none the less. I’m sure you’ll hear it on the radio in the next few weeks.
They are very much in the Lady Antebellum style, which really seems to appeal these days.
Not that Ashton Lane are new on the scene. They already have 5 albums to their credit, and have over 1.6 million views to their “Kitchen Sessions” online.
A different version of “Breathe You In” is featured on their most recent album, “Nashville Heart”, which we haven’t reviewed here, so will correct right now.
“Nashville Heart” was recorded not in Music City, but in Motherwell, at The Foundry Music Lab. But the studio can capture the heart and soul of the musician wherever that is. In Ashton Lane’s case, the Tennessee capitol certainly got to their hearts, and it shows here.
The title track starts as a slow a smouldering ballad, which shows some nice harmonies.
“Seventeen”, which opens the album, alongside “One In A Million” and “One Night In California”  stand out for their more Country arrangements, helped by Seoniad Aitken on fiddle.
“Legacy” also has quite a down home feel to it, whilst “Coastline” has quite a haunting , folksy feel to it.
“The Light That You Are”, “Moonlight Drifter” and “When We Were Young” are softer ballads, which appealed to me.
They certainly have a Lady A influence running through the album. But within that Ashton Lane have created their own sound, and it’s all original home grown Country music.
www.ashtonlaneofficial.com

BRIAN HUGHES is one of the most respected singer songwriters on the Scottish scene. “Angel Room Baby” is his 5th album to date, featuring no less than 12 self penned original songs.
He has captured a good mix of upbeat modern Country numbers, as well as some gentle ballads, which may just be a surprise for Brian’s fans.
The album kicks off with “This Time”, a upbeat modern Country number, which he wrote alongside “Nineteen”, the song he wrote for Raintown, and is followed by “Hillbilly Heaven”, a tongue in cheek dig at the “BroCountry” scene. Other upbeat numbers include the Cajun flavoured “Revival Tent”, “Real Bad Good To Go”, and “A Hundred Thousand Kisses”, a song for Amy.
As I say, there’s a few softer ballads too.
“Coming Home”, also known as “Already Gone”, was inspired by the tragic death of Ben Ford, the youngest British soldier, at the time, to be killed in Afghanistan.
“A Fool I Know” is a gentle ballad which I really liked.
The sound of a steel guitar can make a record for me, and that’s certainly the case on “The Hardest Time”. It’s a beautiful, traditional sounding Country song, with the added bonus of Davie Holland on steel.
The album closes with a gentle ballad, “Another Place” which is another highlight of the album.
With the exception of Davie Holland, and piano players Alan Scobie and Alan Ryden, the whole project is Brian’s. He recorded it at home, with all his own material, yet he has captured a sound that is certainly full studio quality.
One to be proud it.
www.brianhughesmusic.com

Another homegrown talent is ROBYN TAYLOR, who hails from Cambuslang. Robyn has been performing for the past thirty years, on the cabaret scene here, and in Spain. Her first recording was back in 2005, but fans have encouraged her to sing more Country songs, so another couple of albums followed, leading to competing in the 2013 Euro Country Masters (the Country version of the Eurovision Song Contest).
Her latest album “The Way I Wanna Be” is described by Robyn as her “life in song – The high’s, the lows, and everything in between”. The album was recorded in Glasgow with Greg Friel at the helm.
There’s certainly quite a variety on the album.
It all kicks off with a rather pop sounding “The Last Real Gentleman”, which was written by Robyn. Indeed, all but one of the 11 songs were written by Robyn, mostly with producer Greg Friel.  The exception is a cover of The Judds’ “Turn It Loose”, which she gives a good raunchy performance on.
The title track has quite an upbeat, Raintown type, sound to it. There’s also an alternative “disco mix” (showing my age there!) of the song to close off the CD.
There are some other upbeat numbers, notably “Stop My Heart”, which has quite a jolly feel to it, and really stood out for me. There’s also an acoustic version as a bonus track on the CD. “Better Days” also has quite a bright and breezy feel to it.
But I do have to say that I liked the ballads, especially “In The Arms Of Love”, which was a finalist in the UK Songwriters Contest last year. It is a lovely ballad, which would easily crossover between Country and mainsteam pop. Others ballads include “Memories In The Sky” “You Can’t Love A Memory”, and “Leave Me Behind”, which is the most simple arrangement on the album. It’s a nice slow ballad which works really well.
Most singers that have worked the cabaret and club scene are content singing covers, so it’s really good to hear Robyn developing her own songwriting, and having the belief to put her own songs out there.  I’d describe her style as modern crossover Country, and the new breed of Country fans who go out of their way to support the current crop of American acts, would do well to check out talents like Robyn, much closer to home!
www.robyntaylorofficial.com

Fort William’s PAULA MacASKILL is one of the country’s busiest performers. Just looking at her venues list for October alone, she was out 23 nights, mainly in residences locally, but also travelling to Elgin, Dundee and Fife.
Her latest album, “Kind Of Country” features 16 tracks of Country covers, which are actually reissues of music from Paula’s previous albums, which are no longer available.
The titles range from Haggard’s “Back In Love By Monday” to Isla Grant’s “A Dream Come True”,  and from Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All” to Pam Tillis “Mi Vida Loca”, and Garth Brooks’ “If Tomorrow Never Comes”.
She does a lovely take on “Here, There And Everywhere”, a Lennon/ McCartney song, covered by Emmylou Harris, and also takes on the Connie Smith “Once A Day”.
Paula stretches the boundaries a bit with The Mama & Pappa’s “It’s Getting Better” and The Seekers’ “I’ll Never Find Another You”.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen, with a set of songs that will never date. They sound as good today as when Paula originally recorded them.
www.paulamacaskill.co.uk

One of my favourite female singers to emerge out of Nashville in recent years is Missouri born TEEA GOANS. Teea stands out from the Music City cheerleader set, as she keeps it Country, and very much in the traditional mould. She’s even found herself firmly installed within the Country Family Reunion roster.
Her 4th album, “Swing, Shuffle & Sway” (Crosswind) continues the trend she has established in her earlier releases.  The album features a couple of well-known Country classics like “Legend in My Time” and “You Don’t Know Me”, alongside some lesser known covers like “That’s The Thing About Love”, previously recorded by Don Williams, and “Tell Me I’m Crazy”, which Dawn Sears released back in 1992. If the late Ms Sears could deliver a spine chilling torch song, Teea certainly gives her a run for her money here.
But the stunning blockbuster ballad has to be “Just Because She Always Has”. Laced with beautiful steel guitar licks, and Teea’s soaring vocals, this song really stands out.
But as title of the album suggests, there’s more than a little Swing and Shuffle on the album.
It all kicks off with the catchy “Go Down Swingin’, a minor hit for a long forgotten all girl group called Wild Rose. Teea gives it a really fresh lease of life.  There’s a really first class version of Mel Tillis’ “Heart Over Mind”. Then she does a nice swing version Hank Cochran’s “A Way To Survive”, which Dottie West recorded fifty years ago this year.
Mark Wills duets on “It Aint Nothin’”, the old Keith Whitley hit. It’s given a jazzy Country arrangement here, and it works really well.
“Steel Guitar Rag” really is a really refreshing upbeat tribute to it’s creators Leon McAuliffe, Merle Travis and Cliffie Stone.
And there’s some superb gospel too. I really loved the arrangement on the rip roaring “I Know The Lord Will Stand By Me”, and the closing ballad “Mercy Walked In”.
Teea has not only unearthed a collection of forgotten treasures that deserve to be heard again, but she’s given them really beautiful arrangements. I love listening to an album when you can pick out every instrument and its’ purpose on every note.

GENE WATSON has quietly become one of traditional Country music’s greatest singers. With a career stretching back to the 70’s, he is one of the few who have stayed true to his Country roots, and continues to tour and record.
Throughout the years, I can’t say that we’ve seen much of a gospel sound from Gene, but that changes on his latest album, “My Gospel Roots”. That said, in the main, this sounds like a Gene Watson record, just that the song matter is of a gospel nature. 
Any album called “My Country Roots” could easily have been filled with well-known gospel favourites, but Gene has chosen an album of sounds, which do have a Country, rather than gospel pedigree, but are hardly instantly recognisable, with the exception, perhaps of “In The Garden”.
The US single from the album, “Old Roman Soldier” is a prime example. It’s pure Gene.
The opening track, “Praying” was originally recorded by The Louvin Brothers, with Vern Gosdin doing a later version. Gene’s version really sets the tone for a wonderful album ahead.
“Clinging To A Saving Hand” is real traditional Country, previously recorded by Connie Smith and Leann Rimes, whilst “Help Me”, was written by Larry Gatlin.
One of my favourite tracks has to be “Build My Mansion Next To Jesus”. The song written by Dottie Rambo, is really enhanced here by the stunning harmonies from Sonya and Becky from The Isaacs.
“Til The Last Leaf Shall Fall”, an old Sonny James song, is given a refreshing revisit here.
“Fit For A King”, written by Carl Jackson and Jim Rushing is given a smouldering delivery here, different from Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie or Dawn Sears versions.
Away from the trademark Country sound, “Swing Wide Them Golden Gates” does have quite a Southern Gospel sound, courtesy of The Goodman Revival. The closing track in a similar vein, is Martha Carson’s “Satisfied”, a rousing number to round off the CD.
Gospel music isn’t everyone’s taste, but as I said, it’s a Traditional Country album first, and a gospel album second. There’s nothing to fear from having a little gospel in your Country music.

DARIUS RUCKER has established himself very much as a modern Country singer, after having a successful previous career as frontman with Hootie & The Blowfish, and a less than successful solo R&B career.
His first foray into Country music was back in 2008, and quickly established himself with the CMA Award for Best New Artist the following year. Now, 5 albums later, he’s back with “When Was The First Time” (Humphead), featuring 12 songs, all produced by Ross Copperman, a fellow singer songwriter whose songs have been cut by the likes of Billy Currington, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney and Josh Turner. Ross has also contributed five of the songs on this album, with Rucker, himself co-writing on the same number.
The album includes the US hits “If I Told You”, quite a soulful ballad, and opening track “For The First Time”, which is quite an upbeat number.
I really quite liked the reflective “Twenty Something” and the mid tempo “Another Night with You”.
But the stand out track for me was the honky tonk flavoured “Straight To Hell”, which also features Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley.
Darius Rucker has found his home in today’s Country music, encompassing his soulful R&B roots.

Mississippi born & raised, CHARLIE WORSHAM’s CD “Beginning Of Things” (Warner) was released in the UK, to tie in with his recent tour here. It’s his second album, after “Rubberband” launched his solo career in 2013. He had a couple of moderate hits from that album, and hopefully this album will further his career.
Charlie has co-written nine of the tracks on this album, which range from the slow ballad “Old Time’s Sake”, to the strange sounding “I Aint Goin’ Nowhere”. 
The title track is quite a pleasant Country ballad, which I quite enjoyed.
“Southern By The Grace Of God” is quite a strong song of the south, although the last minute gets a bit “noisy” with various instruments trying to outdo each other.
“Call You Up”, by contrast, is quite a soulful pop ballad.
I’m not sure what to make of “Lawn Chair Don’t Care”. It’s quite a light hearted, catchy number, which reminded me somewhat of Roger Miller’s “Do Wacka Do”. Ok, it’s not quite as offbeat as that, but you get my drift.
“I-55” is a good driving song, which stands out for me.
The album kicks off with a catchy short number called “Pants”, with the emphasis on the “short”- it’s only 13 seconds long, and to be honest, it’s the most Country track on the album!

Looking ahead, and I’ve already found one of the best albums of 2018!
Californian LAURA BENITEZ AND THE HEARTACHE release their third album, “With All Its Thorns” (Copperhead Records) on January 26th, and, believe me it’s well worth the wait.
Laura has a pure Country sound, with steel, fiddle & accordion, enough to re-create a modern California Country sound, never heard since the Bakersfield days.
It all kicks off with the upbeat “Something Better Than A Broken Heart”, with it’s swinging, Cajun influence, which had me hooked right away. It was written by Laura and Doug Tieman, the only song on the 11 track collection not written solely by Laura.
Other up tempo numbers include “Our Remember Whens”, “The Fool I Am Right Now” and the really catchy “Whiskey Makes Me Love You”, one of the album’s stand out tracks. The other, I’d really pick out, is the closing track, “Nora Went Down The Mountain”, a sort of bluegrass tinged “Suds In The Bucket” story song, about a wife who leaves her husband without warning.
Slower ballads include “Easier Things To Do”, “Almost The Right One”, “Why Does It Matter”, and the Tex-Mex flavoured “Secrets”.
“In Red” is a bit more soulful, inspired by her spilling red wine down her wedding dress.
The arrangements are traditional, old school, Country, and sound just great.
Definitely recommended!

THE TURNPIKE TROUBADOURS are a Oklahoma six piece band, who are described as “a Roots-Rock powerhouse”, but there is definite Country sound to their music on their new 11 track CD, “A Long Way From Your Heart” (Thirty Tigers).
This their 5th album, and their last three have made significant numbers on the Country album charts, as well as Folk, Indie and Rock charts.  Indeed this latest album went straight in at No.3 in the charts at the end of October.
Led by Evan Felker, who wrote or co-wrote every track, the band have a rock edged Country sound that fits into a number of genres.
Listen out for tracks like the downhome opener, “The Housefire”, the harmony driven “Something To Hold Onto” or the Eagles influenced “The Hard Way”.
I really liked the fast paced “The Winding Star Mountain Blues”, “Pipe Bomb Dream” and the catchy “Tornado Warning”, with lines like “there’s Country Music in the kitchen”.
“Old Time Feeling (Like Before)”, is a more softer, mellow number than most of the album, in a James Taylor kind of way. It’s a nice tune, but has an unnecessary swear word, which will prevent it from getting the airplay it deserves. 
“Sunday Morning Papers” is a really impressive number, with some southern dixieland jazz influence coming through the ether, as they come to terms with the position of rock’n’roll.
They have a really interesting sound, not like anything else in Country music these days.

There’s also been an abundance of new material from Irish stars, old and new.
LOUISE MORRISSEY is now a veteran of the Irish Country music scene. After cutting her musical teeth in the family band, The Morrissey’s, Louise went solo, and is now celebrating 30 years in the business, with a newly released 3CD, 38 track collection called “What’s Another Year”.
I’ve always enjoyed Louise’s music. I think her rich voice has stood out, unrivalled for all these years.
The collection shows the range of material which Louise has covered across the years, and it’s not been straight Country. There’s been Country, of course, represented here by the likes of “Love Can Build A Bridge”, “Timeless And True Love”, “Gulf Coast Highway” and “From a Distance”. But there’s also pop covers like The Seekers’ “Circles” and Steeleye Span’s “All Around My Hat”, Ronan’s “You Raise Me Up” well as Johnny Logan’s Eurovision winner, “What’s Another Year”.
But the focus on this album does seem to veer towards the more folksy, traditional Irish style , which she really excels at.
I do like her versions of “Come Back Paddy Reilly To Ballyjamesduff”, “Come By The Hills” and “The Hills of Home”.
As ever, it’s a hard task selecting songs from 30 years to fit onto one package like this. I could list a number of song which I’d have included, like her home county anthem, “Tipperary On MY Mind”. Never mind, we’ll enjoy what’s here, and look forward to a 4CD package for her 40 years! 

DOMINIC KIRWAN is another of the mainstays of Irish Country music, touring extensively over the past quarter of a century. The Omagh entertainer has covered a multitude of crossover easy listening and middle of the road songs over the years, but Country music has always been at the centre of his repertoire.
His latest album, is “My Country Favourites” (Rosette), which sums up the album. It’s 13 covers, from some of the artists that he’s worked with over the years, like Charley Pride and Kenny Rogers, as well as Buck Owens, George Strait and Garth Brooks.
It all kicks off with Strait’s “Write This Down”, but includes Buck’s “My Heart Skips A Beat” and “Loves Gonna Live Here Again”, as well as “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”, “Hello Darlin” and “Seven Spanish Angels”.
One of the more interesting, lesser known, tracks is a cover of Dolly’s “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning”. Just to highlight the variety on the album, he moves from the raunchy cover of “Friends In Low Places” to the classy string arrangement on Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me”, which is a duet with current touring partner Lisa Stanley.
The album was recorded between Pete Ware’s Parrothouse studio, where The Benn Sisters added harmonies, and musicians like Sarah Jory, Richard Nelson and Charlie Arkins laid down their tracks, and Long Hollow Sound studios in Nashville.
This is Dominic’s first album since his “25 Years… To Be Continued” CD was released in 2014. His legion of fans have been waiting on this new album. It was worth the wait. A superb listen.


DEREK RYAN has quickly established himself as a leading Country music songwriter in Ireland. As well as writing for himself, others have picked up on his songs too. And they cover a versatile range of styles as well.
On his latest album, “The Fire” (Sharpe Music), Derek furthers his role as a market leader, by releasing the album on 12” Vinyl LP, as well as on CD and digital download. The deluxe edition also offers no less than 17 tracks, eight self penned by himself.
Derek, one time member of boy band D-Side, is probably at his best delivering easy listening numbers which should have a fair bit of crossover appeal between Country & pop. “Pretty Little Lonely Eyes”, co-written with Eleanor McEvoy, is a good example of this. It is reported to be Derek’s favourite track from the album, speaking, as it does, of the relationship with his fans.
Another McEvoy co-write is “Full House, Empty Heart”, which is quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that if you get too big for your boots, you’ll lose the heart you put into your music. It’s quite tongue in cheek.
“This Aint Love” and “Where Did You Run”, are both co-writes with Gerry Carney, the latter having quite a folksy feel to it.
The title track, “The Fire” is a smouldering self written ballad, which has quite a pop influence.
There are traditional offerings like the opening track, “Heaven Tonight”, where he’s joined by folk band Gotse. “The Fox” and “Down On Your Uppers” are both good upbeat traditional numbers.
“Homeland”, a Mick Hanley composition was a recent single, and he is joined by brother Adrian on Kevin Sheerin’s popular folk ballad “My Father’s House”.
There are a few covers, like George Strait’s often covered, “Adalida”, and the pleasant “Sweet Forget Me Knot”.
The four additional tracks on the Deluxe Edition are quite varied in themselves. “Friends With Tractors” is a lively upbeat Country number, whilst he slows it down on Randy Travis’ “Promises”, giving it a Vince Gill big ballad style. “Coconut Tree” has quite a tropical feel, and he brings it back home with “The Rose Of Tralee Medley”, which strangely includes “Achy Breaky Heart” and “Old Time Rock’n’Roll”.
Variety is the spice of life. Derek certainly offers that. An album with a bit of something for everyone.

Staying in Ireland, one of the newest singers on the scene is JOHN RAFFERTY, whose debut album “Shake Of A Hand” (Sounds Country), was in popular demand on his recent Scottish tour.
John has a wide variety of covers on the album, kicking off with “Take Me Home Country Roads”, which does feature more than a backing harmony role for The Benn Sisters. This is the song which John performed on “The Voice” when he appeared on the TV show a few years ago.
John had built up his career in Belfast as a Garth Brooks tribute, but there’s no Garth influence on this album, except perhaps, “To Make You Feel My Love”, the Bob Dylan number which Garth did cover one time.
The title track, probably the least known cover on the album, was written by Australian singer Adam Harvey. It’s a really good song, and John delivers it well.
We also hear John’s take on Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy”, The Statlers’ “Bed Of Roses” and The Eagles’ “How Long”. One of the highlight’s has to be the closing duet with Stephen Smyth on “As She’s Walking Away”, quite an upbeat, catchy number.
But I do feel that it’s the big ballads, where John really makes his mark. He really delivers on the Kenny Rogers classic, “She Believes In Me”, Steve Wariner’s “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven” and Vince Gill’s “Pocket Full Of Gold”.  His current single, which will be on his next album, is another Gill ballad. John really gives it all on “Go Rest High On That Mountain”.
Everything on the album is pure Country. Watch out for John Rafferty!


Irish lass BERNIE HEANEY has certainly been making her mark in recent years.
She has just released her second album, “Plenty Of Steel”, featuring 11 tracks, a mix of popular covers and newer material.
The album begins with an upbeat version of “Railroad Bum”, features some nice steel & fiddle throughout. Other upbeat tracks include “Paint The Town Tonight”, “Old Time Fiddle” and “Mi Vida Loca”.
Ballads include “Three Quarter Time”, a lovely song written by Alaskan singer songwriter Bonnie Nichols, and Vince Gill’s “I’ve Been Hearing Things”
Some of the other covers include Lennon/McCartney’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face”,  Tanya Tucker’s “Strong Enough To Bend”, Billie Jo Spears’ “What I’ve Got In Mind” and The Carpenters’ “Top Of The World”.
For Irish influence, check out Seamus Shannon’s “Johnny Brown”, a superb toe tapping number.
Bernie certainly knows how to keep her audience satisfied with a good selection of material here.
Available from irishmusic.co.uk

Moving back across the Atlantic now.
LUCINDA WILLIAMS is something of an acquired taste, but to her fans, she’s an absolute legend.
The 64 year old from Louisiana first recorded in 1978, but it was ten years later, when Mary Chapin Carpenter recorded her “Passionate Kisses” that people really began to notice her. In 1992 she recorded something of a landmark album in “Sweet Old World”.
Now to mark that album’s 25th Anniversary, Lucinda has been back in the studio, and re-recorded the whole project again, with 25 years of added wisdom, technology and vocal changes. She has even included four tracks which were recorded for the original album, but didn’t make the final record. “This Sweet Old World” (Thirty Tigers) was released here at the end of October.
If you’re familiar with the original album, you can expect new life breathed into tracks like “Six Blocks Away”, “Memphis Pearl”, “Pineola” and John Anderson’s “Wild And Blue”.
The original album had a song titled “He Never Got Enough Love”, but as Dylan brought out an album with a similar title around the same time, Lucinda has added new verses, and retitled the song to “Drivin’ Down A Dead End Street”.
Lucinda’s music crosses boundaries from rock, blues and folk, as well as Country. Her raunchy vocals tend to sound more rocky to my ears.

THE WAILIN’ JENNYS may have taken their name from a Texan outlaw, but their music couldn’t be more different. The band were formed in Winnipeg 15 years ago, and have achieved great acclaim and several awards in that time.
The current line up includes original members Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta, with Heather Masse being the latest recruit. They are billed as a Folk Trio. Two of their albums have won Juno awards for Best Roots And Traditional Artist, and they’ve mixed in Bluegrass circles too.
However you want to label them, these girls excel in beautiful harmonies.
Their fourth studio album, “Fifteen” (True North), is actually their first for six years, and gets its’ UK release right after new year.
Of particular interest to Country fans, will be the stunning three part acapella version of Dolly’s “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning”- the same song that features on Dominic Kirwan’s album, but so,so different. “Wildflowers”. a Tom Petty song, is given a beautiful, and timely, treatment here.
But standing out is a hauntingly gorgeous version of early Emmylou’s “Boulder To Birmingham”. The song is probably one of the most stunning Emmylou songs, and these girls give it such a tasteful update.
Elsewhere, “Loves Me Like A Rock” has a Southern gospel influence, and there’s a haunting version of Hank Williams’ “Weary Blues From Waitin’”.
There’s no doubt that these girls’ harmonies are purely stunning. Their sound will be an acquired taste however, and won’t appeal to commercialised audiences.

HEAD FOR THE HILLS are a Colorado based band consisting of Adam Kinghorn, Joe Lessard, Matt Loewen and Sam Parks. They are the type of band which you cannot pigeon hole. Their bio suggests their music is “everything from bluegrass, jazz and even hip hop, to folk and soul”.
“Potions And Poisons” is their 4th album, and certainly is quite an interesting musical melting pot. The more bluegrass sounding tracks include “Give Me a Reason” and “Suit And Tie”.
“Floodwaters” is quite a lively instrumental, with the emphasis on fiddle (or violin as it’s credited here), and bass. Another instrumental, “Buckler” is a catchy, celtic flavoured, upbeat number.
The title track is much more of a folky mid tempo ballad. “Kings And Cowards” also has quite a folky feel to it. The jazzy side of things come to the fore on “Telling Me Lies”. Thankfully, I didn’t find the hip hop style.
Certainly an interesting sound.

THE NOVEL IDEAS is a new name to me, but I hope to hear a lot more. They are a 4 piece band from Massachusetts, featuring main vocalist Sarah Grella, alongside Danny Hoshino, James Parkington  and Daniel Radin. Their self titled album quickly won favour, with its catchy country twang, which I instantly warmed to.
The opening track, “I’m Not Waiting” finds a very simple arrangement, which both showcase’s Sarah’s solo vocals, and the group’s four part harmonies. Sarah’s numbers include the slow and emotional “Lost On The Road”
But this album features vocals of three different songwriters, and every song is different. 
Harmonies are this band’s strong point. “I’ll Try” has echoes of Canada’s Rankin Family, whilst “The Blue Between Us” reminds me of Gram & Emmylou.
A few of the songs are more gentle ballads, namely “Farm”, “Calling You Out” and “I Was Not Around”.
But the stand out track for me has to be “Old Ways”, which has quite a folksy feel, again featuring Sarah on lead vocals, but mixed in nicely with some lovely steel guitar. It’s quite an upbeat number.
I really enjoyed the sound of The Novel Ideas.
Give it a listen – now that’s a Novel Idea!

THUNDER AND RAIN are another Colorado based band, whose roots are in bluegrass music, but have evolved to encompass a full edgy Country sound on their second full album, “Start Believing”.
The origins of the band were duo Erinn Peet-Lukes and Peter Weber, who have since been joined by Ian Haegele and Chris Herbst. All 13 songs are original, written by Erinn and RP Oates, who also lends a hand on guitar, piano & banjo.
Erinn is the main vocalist, and I have to say that I really liked her voice. It’s supported by some neat harmonies from the boys behind her.
The songs range from the sweet opening track, “Cut The Wire” and the mid tempo title track                 to the bass – pop based “Days Before”.
“Wyoming Is For Miles” and “Tennessee is Burning” both have a real Country feel to them, as does “I Wont Try For You LA”, and “Wrong Or Right, Tennessee” is particularly strong on harmonies. 
“Babe, You’re Gonna Leave Me” is a good upbeat anthem.
“What Am I Gonna Do” and “The Reckoning” have a bit more of a folksy feel to them, but that doesn’t detract from their sound at all.
“Otherside” is a catchy upbeat number, which I’d probably rate as my favourite track on the album.
Thunder And Rain have a good harmony driven sound, which fits nicely in today’s Country music, yet could easily crossover towards folk and pop.
This is Mountain Made Colorado Country. It sounds really good to me.

Finally, we’ll sign off in a festive mood. Usually any Christmas albums come in too late for review, but North Carolina’s BALSAM RANGE were quick off the mark with their “It’s Christmas Time” EP (Mountain Home).
The five man group have previously been the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Vocal  Group, Entertainers and Album Of The Year winners. They have released six albums to date.
This festive offering includes Christmas classics like “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and “Jingle Bells”, with different arrangements than we’re used.
The two lesser known songs are from the masters of bluegrass music. “Christmas Lullaby” was written by Doc Watson, and “I’m Going Home, It’s Christmas Time” was penned by Ralph Stanley.
They certainly put a different, bluegrass, slant on the Christmas sound.

DVD REVIEW
Best Of Friends – Dave Sheriff
With the advent of Keep It Country TV, the demand for Country music video is just as important as the CD these days.
Earlier in the year, we reviewed Dave Sheriff’s latest CD with The Britpickers, a selection of Britain’s best Country music pickers. Now comes a DVD, “Best Of Friends”, featuring 11 self penned songs from Dave. Unlike some releases, the DVD isn’t a straight copy of the CD. The running order is different, and there are a couple of tracks only on the CD. To make up for it, there’s a video of Dave’s 2000 appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, introduced by Porter Wagoner.  
The other notable difference from the CD is that Carole Gordon duets with Dave on 5 of the DVD tracks, compared to two on the CD. The additional duets include “Best Of Friends”, “Don’t Come Running To Me” and Damned If I Do”.
“From There Til Now”, a retrospective look back at Dave’s time of the music scene, is a good tribute, with the video largely set within the studio. By contrast, other tracks use some lovely scenery as a backdrop, notably on “Forget These Angry Words” and “Turn Back Time”.
“Red Hot Salsa”, featured in the new Trainspotting film, is included, with some authentic salsa dancing that I’m sure wasn’t captured at a Country music club in the UK!

It’s an enjoyable view. An ideal Christmas present for any Dave Sheriff fan!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Oct 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This album really has a raw authentic Texan Country sound.