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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

April 2015

Country music compilations are nothing new. Sony Music’s latest mass market seller is “First Ladies Of Country”, a 2CD , 43 track, collection of Country girls, old & new.
As with many such compilations, many of tracks are the same hits which keep coming out. The diehard fan will already have many of these tracks, but they are the songs that are most likely to sell the album, (and the newer names on it) to a wider audience.
You wont be surprised to find Dolly’s “Jolene”, Tammy’s “Stand By Your Man”, Patsy’s ”Crazy” and “Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden”. There’s also Emmylou. Linda Ronstadt, Tanya Tucker, Billie Jo Spears, The Judds and Martina McBride.
Some of the songs are a little less obvious. I wouldn’t consider “Fancy” to be one of Reba’s obvious selections, and Allison Krauss has more recognisable songs than “Simple Love”.
Some of those included are hardly worthy of “First Lady” status. Gretchen Wilson, did burst onto the scene with “Redneck Woman” in 2004, and Heidi Newfield, short time member of the group Trick Pony, went solo in 2008 to release “Johnny & June”, which failed to hit the Top 10.  There’s a cover version of “Need You Now” by Wonderland, an Irish girlband formed by Louis Walsh which disbanded a few years ago. There’s also a track by Swedish duo, First Aid Kit, who have had some TV exposure over here, but hardly established.
However, great to see Elizabeth Cooks “Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman”, and the real version of Sara Evans’ “No Place That Far”, complete with Vince Gill’s harmonies. When the song was originally released here, they stripped Vince’s harmonies from the track to make it sound less Country.
These compilations are always hard to review. Getting the balance right, between making it commercially attractive to record buyers, and useful to radio in new material, will always be a difficult job. With 43 tracks it’s great value, either way.

The recent Country2Country Festivals around Europe, and spin off concerts in Glasgow, brought some of the newer Nashville names to our attention. Congratulations to the Humphead label, who have come up with a 20 track compilation to mark the event, simply titled “Country to Country”.  Unlike to First Ladies CD, this selection doesn’t feature any tried & tested classic Country “sellers”, but will serve to introduce a number of names that the label have released CD’s from here, so this CD will serve as a shopping window for new Country talent.
There are a few names who will be better known, like Vince Gill, Brad Paisley &  Martina McBride, who have appeared at previous C2C events, alongside some of this year’s acts like Luke Bryan, Kip Moore and Lee Ann Womack.
The most satisfying thing about this album is the inclusion of British acts, like our own Raintown, The Shires, Ward Thomas, and a stand out track from Alan West.
This album serves as a great reminder an event, which may just be a memory by the time you’re reading this. It also serves as a sample of the best of what Country music is today.

LUKE BRYAN has established himself as one of Nashville’s top male stars since bursting onto the scene back in 2007. Before getting his own record contract, the Georgian native had written songs for the likes of Billy Currington and Travis Tritt.  He has won the CMA’s Entertainer Of The Year for the past two years, and made his UK debut in Glasgow last month, followed by headlining the Country2Country festivals around Europe.
“Crash  My Party” (Decca/Capitol Nashville), is his 4th album, and the UK release has an extended 19 tracks featuring no less six tracks that have already topped the American Country charts.
Many of his tracks are hot summer party type songs, notably the opening track, “That’s My Kind Of Night”, “I See You” and “Sunburn Lips”.
“Beer In The Headlights”, “Roller Coaster”, “You’re Mama Should’ve Named You Whiskey” and “Drink A Beer”  have more of a softer summer evening sound, in a rather Kenny Chesney style.
There are a few tracks that stood out, notably “Play It Again”, which I really liked.
“Goodbye Girl” and “Shut It Down” are really nice songs, but “Dirt Road Diary” is probably my favourite.
This is flavour of the month music in Nashville these days. It’s pleasant, easy listening, but it’s not my kind of Country, I have to admit.

KIP MOORE is another of the current crop of Nashville artists who came over for the Country 2 Country Festivals, and included Glasgow in the trip. To coincide with the trip, Humphead released his album “Up All Night”, which was originally released stateside in 2012.  The Deluxe edition does include seven extra cuts, including his debut single “Mary Was The Marrying Kind” and five live tracks.
Moore, from Georgia, moved north to Nashville in 2004, initially to become a songwriter.Then MCA signed him, and this album is the result.
Every track was written by Kip, with help from some of Nashville’s elite writers, including Brett James, Aimee Mayo and Troy Verges.
There’s quite a mix of styles. From relaxing ballads, like “Hey Pretty Girl” and “Faith When I Fall”, to more of a soft rock approach on “Beer Money”, to the more  raw and earthy “Fly Away”, and “Something ‘bout A Truck”. Kip has a definite modern sound, but it’s a modern approach that encompasses Country music. Not everyone in Nashville manages that these days.   
I really liked his debut single, “Mary Was The Marrying Kind”, but have to say that I did quite enjoy the whole album. His second release shouldn’t be far behind.

Another c2c Festival artist was JASON ALDEAN, who has notched up no less than 12 Number One’s from the six albums he has released over the past ten years. Sony Music in the UK have now made all his albums available here for the first time, including his latest album, “Old Boots, New Dirt”.
The album is certainly value for money, with no less than 18 songs, written by accomplished singer songwriters like Rhett Atkins, Neil Thrasher, David Lee Murphy and Dallas Davidson, amongst others.
The tracks range from rather pop sounding numbers like “Burnin’ It Down” , which was the first US single from the album, to softer Country ballads like “Tryin’ To Love Me”, “Don’t Change Gone”  and “Too Fast”.
The title track is a mid tempo track, with a strong production. “Miss That Girl”, the UK single release, is a rather pleasant, if uninspiring song. What track would I have chosen for a UK release ?  Maybe “Fast Lanes”, a soft rock ballad, although my favourite track is the ballad, “Aint No Easy Way”, which closes the album.

So much for Country2Country. We all know that if it’s real Country music you want, then Caithness is the place to be. This year’s Northern Nashville Festival is full of great Texas music, and this next album really got me in the mood.
COBY CARTER is a young man steeped in Western Swing. He was born in Lubbock,Texas and grew up across the state line in New Mexico.
His debut album, “Legends”, is dedicated to Western Swing and Texan influences like Ray Price, George Strait, Buddy Holly and even Glenn Miller!  The project is produced by Bobby Flores, and really captures the Texas Dance hall spirit.
Many of the tracks are uptempo dance numbers, like “Somewhere In Texas”, “Back In The Swing Of Things” and “West Texas Town” (which also features Jody Nix).
He covers George Strait’s “Dance Time In Texas”, and with George coming off the road, this lad could just be the one to fill his travelling shoes.
But there are some real slower numbers, which Cody handles just as well. They include Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town”, Conway Twitty’s “Lost In The Feeling”, and Buddy’s “True Love Ways”.
Leon Rauch and Jake Hooker join in the fun on “That’s What I Like About a Country Song”.
And the Glenn Miller influence ? A western swing version of “In The Mood”, no less.
Young Coby covers a lot of ground on this album, but maintains a fabulous authentic western swing feel throughout.
A must have for Caithness next year !

Someone who is at this year’s Caithness Festival, as he has been in recent years, is local lad, BRANDON McPHEE. 18 year old Brandon has something of a double career. He is highly accomplished in traditional Scottish music circles, as a master of the 3 row button key accordion, and indeed, is the current All Scotland Senior Accordion Champion. But, there is also “The Country Side” to Brandon, which just happens to be the title of his new CD (Pan Records), and this is the side of Brandon that Caithness Festival goers will enjoy on the Saturday afternoon.
The youngster has, of course, worked with Manson Grant & The Dynamos for the past few years, and Manson, Robert & Keith all contribute to the album, which also features Nashville musicians like Steve Hinson on steel guitar, Hank Singer on fiddle, and Music City based Orcadian Phil Anderson.
I quite liked the variety of songs. He’s obviously a big Billy Ray Cyrus fan, covering some of his hits like “She’s Not Crying Anymore”, “Where’m I Gonna Live” and “Could’ve Been Me”. There are a few older songs, like Haggard’s “Branded Man”, Olivia’s “Let Me Be There” and Cash’s “I Got Stripes”.
I enjoyed hearing his version of  “It Must Be Love”, written by Keith Macleod’s father, David, as well as “Rose Of My Heart” and “Wagon Wheel”.
It’s a real feel good album. Brandon handles the songs well, and the whole project is very well produced.
Highly recommended.   

I’ve been championing the music of TEEA GOANS in recent years. She’s one of the few Nashville based singers who are keeping traditional Country music alive, through her own music. She is regularly featured on the Country Family Reunion TV series, and recently nominated for an Ameripolitan Award.
Her third album, “Memories To Burn” (Crosswinds) is a step back in time, as Teea revisits some classic, but not overdone Country songs. Songs, she says, “that would be familiar to many, but still allow for an experience of rediscovery”.
She kicks off with a medley of “Old Fashioned Love” and “What A Wonderful World”. Following on, Merle Haggard is remembered in “Sing a Sad Song” and “You Take Me For Granted”, Gene Watson on the catchy title track and Ronnie Milsap with “Stranger Things Have Happenned”.
A big fan of the late Ray Price, Teea covers “I Wont Mention It Again”, and lets it swing on Charlie Walker’s “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”. 
She does a delicate version of “What’s Forever For”, written by Rafe Van Hoy, and also features the old favourite hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”.  As a bonus, there’s also a couple of Christmas tracks.
Teea is a lovely singer, and does a really good job delivering these songs. An album, I could listen to over & over again.  

In the last issue, my colleague Ken MacLeod commented on the aging Grand Ole Opry cast list, and mentioned JIM ED BROWN as one of the oldest regulars. He first appeared on the Country scene with his sisters Maxine and Bonnie, as The Browns, back in the 1950’s. and started releasing solo records in 1965, and then duets with Helen Cornelius. According to Wikipedia, Jim hasn’t released a new album since 1980 (a duet with Cornelius), and his last solo album was back in 1974!  It’s really hard to believe!
But Jim Ed is back, at the age of 81, with a long overdue new album, “In Style Again” (Plowboy Records).
It’s an easy listening album, with one or two older songs, but mainly new material, written by Don Cusic, who produced the album. Several of the songs are quite a reflection on life, with titles like “It’s A Good Life”, “Older Guy” and “The Last One”.
Quite a few of the tracks are commercial enough for today’s Country radio.  Standing out for me would be “Lucky Enough”, which was written by Opry pal Bill Anderson, and Canadian youngster Victoria Banks.  “I Love It”, the old Cindy Walker song is given new life. It’s dated, but just so classy.
“Tried And True” is also a catchy number, and features harmonies from none other than Vince Gill.
There are other guests on the album. The Whites join him for the old Forester Sisters hit “I’d Choose You Again”, and Helen Cornelius, who recorded five duet album’s with Jim Ed back in the 70’s, reunites with him on the classic, “Don’t Let Me Crossover”.
And The Browns are reunited for a really special version of “When The Sun Says Hello To The Mountain”. Those unique Brown’s harmonies blend together with Chris Scruggs pedal steel so beautifully.
But, saving the best for last, “Am I Still Country” is a light hearted poke at how Country life (not just the music) has become more cosmopolitan.
It may be 40 years since Jim Ed had a CD out, but he is definitely “In Style Again”. Let’s hope it’s not 40 years before the next one!

Country music has many different facets. One that has stood the test of time, is Western Swing. Bob Wills is credited with being the king of the genre, but Ray Benson and ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL have certainly done their bit to keep the music alive. “Still The King” (Proper) is an incredible tribute to Bob Wills from Asleep At the Wheel and a whole list of Nashville and Texan stars.  This is, in fact Asleep At The Wheel’s third Bob Wills tribute album. Yet, it still sounds fresh.
Merle Haggard teams up with newest Asleep member Emily Gimble (granddaughter of fiddler Johnny Gimble) on “Keeper Of My Heart”, and Willie Nelson joins The Quebe Sisters on “The Navajo Trail”.  George Strait is “South Of The Border, Down Mexico Way”, and Brad Paisley  has “My Window Faces The South”.
Of the lesser known names, Kat Edmonson delivers a smouldering jazzy version of “I Cant Give You Anything But Love”, and I just love Elizabeth Cook’s take on the 30’s tune “I Had Someone Else Before I Had You”. I love Ray Benson’s sleevenotes referring to Cook’s “Betty Boop” style!
The Devil Makes Three gives us “Bubbles In My Beer” and it’s left to Shooter Jennings to deliver his dad Waylon’s own tribute song, “Bob Wills Is Still The King.
There are some really authentic old timey numbers courtesy of Pokey La Farge, Old Crow Medicine Show and Robert Earl Keen, who joins Ray on “Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas”.
Del McCoury lends his vocals to “Silver Dew On The Bluegrass Tonight”,
A Bob Wills classic that always stands out is “Faded Love”, and the version here is no exception. It’s a blending of two superb bands, Asleep At The Wheel and The Time Jumpers, with no less than seven vocals, including Ray Benson,Vince Gill, Ranger Doug, and the recently deceased Dawn Sears. The track was recorded in Vince’s own studio, and is a fitting tribute to Dawn.
22 tracks, great value, and a really honest tribute to the man who inspired Ray Benson, and so much of Texas music.

Once upon a time, we had “Country & Western” music. Over the years, the western side has taken a back seat, but it does still exist. One of the biggest supporters of the western sound is JONI HARMS, who has toured here several times. She’s back in the autumn. Sadly, despite trying to get a Scottish date, it looks like she wont be heading north of the border this time.
But we can, at least, enjoy a most interesting double album from the voice of the west.  It’s a live album, not recorded in her native Oregon, but in Ireland, and is appropriately titled “From Oregon to Ireland”.  Across the 22 tracks, she’s supported by The Sheerin Family Band, and the project is produced by Des Sheerin.
Fans will recognise some of  her most popular numbers featured here, like “Old Fashioned Girl”, “Louisiana Hot Sauce”, “Two Steppin Texas Blues”, “Cowboy Up” and “Catalog Dreams”, but there’s some good, newer material too. “Harms Way” is a beautiful personal ballad about her family upbringing. And there’s a big of a western/celtic feel to the title track. It’s certainly one that will get your feet tappin’.
I remember seeing Joni play at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry a few years back. She’s certainly a superb entertainer, and that really comes across on the album. Glad to hear she got a two song encore, wrapping it all up with her theme song, “Let’s Put The Western Back In The Country”.
Let’s give Joni a big listen on this entertaining double CD.   

The Humphead label have come up with a great series of definitive collections in recent years. Their latest 2CD collection is from PATTI PAGE, with “Sings Country Memories”.  Best known for her “Tennessee  Waltz”, I wasn’t too familiar with much more of her music. But she did chart 20 times on the Country charts between 1949 right up to 1982, and had a lot more pop hits that didn’t hit the Country charts.
This collection has no less than 50 tracks, many of them covers that were hits for others, like Patsy Cline, Hank Locklin, Leroy Van Dyke, Kris Kristofferson and Marty Robbins.  Interesting to hear female versions of “Big Bad John” and “I Walk The Line”. I also noticed that there are two tracks which are also on the Asleep At The Wheel album, reviewed earlier. Very different versions of “Faded Love” and “South Of The Border”.
Most of the tracks have a wonderful nostalgic feel to them. One track which stood out was her cover of The Bee Gees’ “Words”, which, although a nice version, just didn’t fit the album somehow. Just sounded too modern!
The most interesting track, for me, was “Hello, We’re Lonely”, a duet with Tom T Hall. It’s a wonderful track.  Tom T also features on “We’re Not Getting Old”.
Thanks to Humphead, for a great double album of nostalgia, and for greatly increasing my Patti Page music library.

Now, for something different.  “The 45th Parallel”, is the title of a new CD from NEPTUNE’S CAR, the duo of Holly Hanson and Steve Hayes, who are from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. They have a lovely vocal driven acoustic sound, which I loved.
The title track is about a small town called Atlanta, Michigan, which is located half way between the North Pole and the equator. There’s also a superb uptempo road song, which takes us from Ann Arbor Up North Atlanta”, before they head farther west to Montana, for “Fly Fishing the Big Hole”. 
“BackCountry” is a short medium tempo banjo influenced number, which should appeal to bluegrass and folk fans. “Emily Dickenson” is the track which stood out for me. It’s about a historic poet from Massachusetts.
“River Street” and “The Storm” both features Steve on lead vocals. They offer quite a contrast to the rest of the album, which is lead vocally by Holly.
“Emily Dickenson” is the track which stood out for me. It’s about a historic poet from Massachusetts
9 of the 10 tracks are originals. The exception is a Sandy Denny cover, “By The Time It Gets Dark”, which they deliver as their own.
They have a really nice sound. I really enjoyed this album.

CAROLINE COTTER is a well travelled young lady. She’s worked and lived in places like Thailand, Peru, Spain & Portugal, but home is Maine in America’s north east. She has already got recognition by winning the 2012 Maine Songwriters Association Songwriting Contest. The singer songwriter gets her first major release with “Dreaming As I Do”, an eleven track collection of interesting and varied songs, ranging from the catchy “ Bella Blue” to the simply acoustic closure , “This Place”. In between, there are classical touches in “Journey In C “, and even a couple of effective French language songs. Stand out track for me is “A Midnight Escape”.
Now for some real authentic old timey bluegrass, from Oregon’s THE FOGHORN STRING BAND, who were formed in 2000, and have since taken their music all over the world, from Orkney & Shetland folk festivals to Malaysia, and they’ll be back in Edinburgh & Glasgow next month. “Devil In The Seat” is their eighth album, and they are sounding superb, it has to be said.
Their tracks range from hoedown fiddle tunes like “Chicken Reel” and “Paddy On The Turnpike” to beautiful harmony rich ballads like “What Will We Do” and “Henry Lee”.
Songs led vocally by the guys Caleb Klaunder and Sammy Lind, sound more oldtimey, than those lead by the girls, Reed Willms and Yukon based Nadine Landry.
I really like their sound. A really enjoyable album.

BILL FEEHELY is a singer songwriter, actor and playwright based in Nashville. He wrote the book for “American Duet”, with fellow Music City singer songwriter Marcus Hummon. His musical upbringing was back in New Jersey, with a band called The Ranchers.
Now Feehely is back to music, with an interesting album, titled “Lucky Struck”, produced by his wife Celeste Krenz, who also co-wrote two of the songs.
He has been likened to Steve Earle. I’d say that he’s not quite as edgy as Earle. More of a Mellencamp sound to me. He has a much more smouldering feel to his music, especially on “Independence” and “House Of Cards”.
Tracks like “Thousand Stories” and “I’m Alright” are more uptempo. And “Bottom Town”, probably stands out as the most mainstream Country track on the album.
“Fly Away” is a haunting ballad which works really well, whilst “Wild Horse” has such a lovely feel to it.
He is using voice synthesisers on a few tracks, like “Side Pockets”, but it’s quite catchy, and the steel guitar, and chorus, makes it work.
It’s certainly a different sounding album. One that’s quite refreshing to listen to. Worth checking out.

Finally, another homegrown album, this time from Alloa’s BILLY HAMMOND. His “Shades Of Country” CD was recorded at the town’s Bowmar Soundspace studio, and features a mixed 14 track selection.
The album kicks off with the old Randy Travis hit “1982”, and he goes on to cover Charley Pryde’s “Comfort Of Your Wings” , Becky Hobbs’ “Jones On The Jukebox”, Alabama’s “Old Flame” and Dr Hook’s “Sylvia’s Mother”, amongst others.
There are a couple of Irish flavoured tracks, “Back In 68” and “Belle Of Liverpool”, which are possibly the strongest tracks on the album. I also liked the uptempo version of “Speed Of the Sound Of Loneliness”.

Billy had been singing around local venues for many years. Good to hear him eventually putting some of his favourite songs down on disc. 

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Feb 2015

It’s great to be able to feature so many homegrown artists amongst our reviews this time around. But we’re starting off the new year, with a look back at some of the best British Country tracks of the past year. Each month, DJ’s around Europe are serviced with The Hotdisc, which Jackie Blair tells you about in each edition of CMDS. At the end of each year Silver Heart Records make the “Best Of British & Irish Country” available for sale to Country fans at a great price.
The 2014 collection features 18 tracks, from well established names like Charlie Boston, Gary Curtis and Mexican Joe Walker.
There are plenty Scottish Connections, with Megan Adams, a talented youngster from Stirling, who got a lot of attention for her version of The Dixie Chick’s “Travelling Soldier”. Such an appropriate song, given Megan’s role in The Poppy Girls group, who performed on the Festival Of Remembrance in 2013. You may recall Megan stealing the show by running off to meet her Dad, who had come back from military service to surprise her! Young Megan does a great version of the song, and I love the pipes on it too.
Another Stirling connection is Kathryn Anderson, who, although lives in the South Of England now, is originally from the city. Her original song, “The Road Less Travelled” is featured on this compilation, and you’ll read more about Kathryn farther down the page.
From The Borders, George Inglis brings us “A Horse Called Bob”, which is a really catchy number.
Then we have Dave Sherriff and his road anthem, “Highway Number Nine”, about the road to The Highlands.  There’s also Sam Hollyman’s “Where I Wanna Be”, which is not a bad song, and we’re glad that Sam wants to be in Scotland, but his notion that “there’s only two weeks of summer up in Scotland”, didn’t win him any favours from me!
There are two tracks each from Tony Clarke and Mim Grey, plus a slow ballad from The Diablos, a western influenced instrumental, “Trail Of Tears”, from Rob Allen, and tracks from Atlanta, and The Hicksville Band.
My own highlights would include the really well titled “Bright Side of Life” from Hayley Oliver, and the Texas influenced Ian Highland/Frank Jennings collaboration on “Pride”.
But altogether, a great package of homegrown Country music, which shows just how good we can do it over here.
Buying this CD would be a great way of supporting our own British Country music artists.
You’ll can buy the whole album, or individual tracks from ITunes, or if you want a physical CD, check out

In the last issue we introduced you to Glasgow singer songwriter MARTHA L HEALY, with her Acoustic EP. Well, she launched her full Nashville recorded CD “Better Days” at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry on St. Andrews Night, and what a superb album it is.
The title track kicks it all off with some lovely Cajun accordion. It’s a good time uptempo fun song to get things started with.
“The Lovin’ Kind”, which follows, is a very interesting track. The intro has quite an “eastern” feel to it, but once into the song, Martha delivers a great vocal performance like one of the 60’s pop divas.
“Enough”, “13 Hours”, “House Of Love” and “Shame,Shame,Shame” are sensitive ballads which Martha proves she can handle as well as the fun infused “Too Much Vodka”, which comes from the pen of Wendy Newcomer.
“Burtonport” stands out for being different. The song digs into Martha’s Irish heritage, but also comes over with an old southern Texas feel to it. It’s about the village where Martha’s Nana grew up in Co. Donegal in Ireland. It's the story of how she passed on a strong sense of identity and roots down through the generations. A real personal song that really works.
Martha has a lot of soul in her voice, which she uses to best effect across the album. With simple musical arrangements, and boosted by Rory Hoffman’s  accordion, this is an exceptionally strong debut album.
You must give her a listen.

From Scotland’s Far North, comes one of our longest surviving bands. THE DYNAMOS who go back to the early 1960’s, and their latest outing is a look back at their history in the aptly titled “50 Years And More” (Pan Records). The band have seen more than a few changes in line up over the years, with only drummer Robert Cameron lasting the course.  Robert’s shares some great memories in the extremely fascinating CD booklet.
There were many vocalists throughout the past 50+ years, and this album features eight singers from the past to the present- Anne Duff, Geordie Jack, Brian Henderson, Heather Mackay, David Shearer, Manson Grant, and the newer breed of Keith Macleod and Brandon McPhee.
The Dynamos are known for their versatility, and the ability to change styles from Country to Pop to Scottish with ease. Where else would you find “Loch Lomond” and “Beer Barrel Polka” alongside “I Knew The Bride” , “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” and “Farewell Party”. It’s a format that has stood the test of time, and will continue to do for many years to come.
I really enjoyed reading about the Dynamo’s half century, and the songs that have meant so much to them, and their fans. There’s also a DVD which shares even more memories.

Last year marked the 50th Anniversary of the death of Jim Reeves, who, to this day, remains one of Country music’s favourite singers. Elgin’s IAN GREIG has marked the event by sharing some of his memories of Gentleman Jim, on “Jim Reeves Remembered” (Pan Records).
The album kicks off with a “Tribute To Jim Reeves”, the old Larry Cunningham hit, and closes with Ian’s own self penned tribute, and in between ten of Jim’s songs that struck a chord with Ian.
Many tribute albums to Jim have concentrated on his vast array of hits, but Ian has avoided the most obvious covers, although he does cover “I Love You Because”, the first Jim Reeves song he heard on the jukebox. That was certainly sixpence well spent!
Elsewhere, there’s “I’m Gonna Change Everything”, “Across The Bridge”, “This World Is Not My Home” and “You Kept Me Awake Last Night”.
As Ian says on the CD sleeve notes, he has tried to pay tribute to his hero, not by mocking his voice, but by singing his songs. Having said that, Ian’s voice certainly suits these songs to a tee.
The album was recorded in Wick, with additional recording in Nashville by Phil Anderson, including Hank Singer on fiddle, and vocal harmonies by Marcia Ramirez, a Nashville singer songwriter, who has also appeared on dozens of CD’s from Nashville stars like Rodney Crowell, Hank Williams Jr and Billy Dean,
Ian has come up with a wonderful tribute to his hero. Jim would’ve been proud, I’m sure.

KATHRYN ANDERSON, although based in the south of England, was born in Stirling. She is a singer songwriter and has just recently spent a month in Nashville working on new songs, and picking up some local gigs like Tootsie’s. In the meantime, we can listen to “The Road Less Travelled” a six track CD recorded on a previous visit to Music City.
The EP features a couple of tracks that have already been sent to radio, including “Write a Letter” and “Just Another Country Song”. Both are catchy numbers, which have won her many fans. “Wrong Side Of The Radio” is also one that I think would work at radio.
The title track is a good upbeat number to kick off the CD, but the one that really impressed me was “Guitar For Sale”. Don’t know if it’s based on a personal experience, but it’s about having to leave her beloved guitar behind, because the airline won’t let her carry it on board. Only a songwriter could come up with such a traumatic problem, and then sing about it. Great song.
Really enjoyed this CD, and look forward to hear more before long.

Another Scottish release is from the GLG BAND, from The Borders. George L Goodfellow has been playing music since the late sixties, originally in a folk band, but most recently collaborating on writing songs with American based musicians. “Distractions” is his 5th album, and features 14 tracks all written, or co-written by George.
The album features a nice selection of songs, most notably the opening track, “I Miss You Already”, “When I Walk” and “Tell Me”.
“Ava’s Song”, “What Is It I’ve Done Wrong” and “Ah’m Thinkin” are a bit more uptempo, and “These Four Walls” stands out for being really traditional Country. 
“Old Home Movies” is quite a catchy number, which is possibly the one most likely to pick up airplay.
There are also two songs, which feature Hawick songstress Lois Niblo, “No Dignity”, which is a duet, and “Are You Sure”, which she leads.
It’s a really pleasant listen, and worth checking out.

TRISHA YEARWOOD is one of my favourite singers. It’s incredible to think that it’s 24 years since caught our attention with “She’s In Love With The Boy”, after which she notched up an impressive list of hits and sales of 15 million albums worldwide.
She has been a bit quiet on the charts in recent years, concentrating on her Cookery TV show in America, publishing cook books, getting a few acting roles, and, of course, fulfilling her role as Mrs Garth Brooks!.
But Ms Yearwood is back, with a new album, or perhaps we should say half a new album, in “Prizefighter” (RCA). For some reason, the label have released 6 new songs, and packaged them with 10 previously released numbers.  Now, on one hand, familiarity sells, but for Trisha’s long time fans, six new songs after a seven year hiatus, is not great value, especially if you have most of the previously released hits.
Having said that, it was good to hear songs like “Walkaway Joe”, “How Do I Live” (much better than Leann’s version), and “The Song Remembers When” again. But I’ve got several hits albums already  with these hits.
Of the new songs, the album kicks off with a duet with Kelly Clarkson, winner of the first American Idol TV show. The song, whilst having the Yearwood stamp on it, is a bit more poppy than we’re used to from Trisha. It’s a good solid radio friendly hit, which should get her back on radio.
The other new songs are mainly ballads, including the soft “I Remember You”, and “The End Of The World”, (not the Skeeter Davis hit).
“Your Husband’s Cheatin’ On Us”, is a haunting bluesy number, in “Ode To Billy Joe” style, which came from Matraca Berg’s pen. It’s an interesting track, but, didn’t really appeal to me.
She really rocks it up on “You Cant Trust The Weatherman”. It’s not her usual style, but she does a good job with this track.
However, the one that’s getting a lot of attention is “Met Him In A Motel Room”, co-written by Rory Feek (Joey & Rory). It’s a beautifully crafted song, and Trisha delivers it with style. Great job.
It’s a really good album. Great if you don’t have a lot of Trish’s music, but if you’re a fan, you might just feel a little short changed.

Since WILLIE NELSON turned 80, he has showed no sign of slowing down with his CD releases.
“December Day” (Sony) is Vol.1 of Willie’s Stash, a planned series of archive recordings, that may never have been released before.
This particular 18 track CD features his sister, Bobbie, on keyboards, and indeed, shares the credits.
Willie has covered a whole spectrum of musical styles, and quite a few of his albums, like the legendary “Stardust” album, was more jazz, than Country. This album, falls into the same category.
The simple arrangements, the laid back styles, not to mention songs like Irving Berlin’s “Alexanders Ragtime Band” , “What’ll I Do” and “Always” ; Al Johnson’s “Anniversary Song” , and even “Mona Lisa”, emphasis that. But there are also a number of Willie’s own compositions, including “Who’ll Buy The Memories” and “My Own Peculiar Way”.
Willie’s voice is unique, and, if you’re a fan of the man, it’s a must for your collection, but it’s not the most Country sounding album he has released.

Staying over to Texas, we have a really refreshing new sound from KIMMIE RHODES. Her latest album, released here in March, to coincide with a tour of Ireland & England is called “Cowgirl Boudoir” (Sunbird Records).
An accomplished singer-songwriter, Kimmie has 14 previous albums to her credit, and has had her songs recorded by Willie Nelson, Wynonna Judd and Trisha Yearwood, to name just three.
This album features a variety of styles, including some mainstream Country tracks.
There’s some outstanding steel licks on “Lover Killing Time”, which Kimmie delivers vocally in a traditional honky tonk styling.
“Trouble Is” and “Yes” also sound traditional Country. Other tracks, like “None Of Us Are Innocent” and “The Sky Fell Down” owe more to a sixties pop influence.
“Me Again”, is a soft bouncy number, whilst “Don’t Leave Me Like This” is a very pretty arrangements, which really sparkles.
It’s an interesting album. One I really enjoyed listening too.

So many of today’s Country musicians, especially those down in Texas cite RAY PRICE as their biggest influence. Ray was a huge Country star from as back as the 1940’s right through until his death in 2013.
His music ranged from Western Swing right across to polished ballads. He worked until late in his career, and had been working on a new album before he died.
That album, “Beauty Is … The Final Sessions” has now been released (AmeriMonte label), as a fitting tribute, It features two songs featuring Vince Gill, and one duet with Martina McBride.
The album is mostly stringed ballads. Ray was certainly still in fine voice right until the end. The songs are not exactly my cup of tea, but I can appreciate a golden voice when I hear it.
You’ll recognise a few of the standards, like “Beautiful Dreamer”, “I Wish I was Eighteen Again”, “Among My Souvenirs”, and “I Believe”.
How sadly appropriate is “No More Songs To Sing”.
A legend… sadly missed.

Humphead Records keep coming up with classic reissues, and their latest is an absolute beauty. FARON YOUNG was one of Country music’s leading figures back in the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s. He notched up 89 Country chart hits over a 36 year period, with Number One’s like “Live Fast Love Hard Die Young”, “Hello Walls” and “Four In The Morning”.
“Wine Me Up : The Best Of The Mercury Years” covers Young’s career from the mid sixties (he was with Capitol previously) . Included are three duets with Margie Singleton. It’s a double CD, with 50 tracks.
There hasn’t been a lot of Faron Young music on the market in recent times. This is a great reminder of his music.

To Canada next, and a self released CD from CHRIS CULGIN, who hails from the Peterborough, Ontario area. His album, “It’s Only Time”, is a real feel good album, with, largely upbeat songs about various aspects of rural life.
He doesn’t have a Nashville sound. But it’s a real Country sound, with a bit of rural rock thrown in. Not too unlike John Cougar Mellencamp or Neil Young. As well as playing clubs around Ontario, he’s one of the impressive band of musicians you hear playing around Toronto’s subway stations.
It all kicks off with “You Were Always Dancing”, which has some nice memories about “playing a 78”. The song kind of sums up what music is all about.
“Hell’s A Box House” is really fast paced, whilst “Clutter” has a much softer beat.
“Car Crash” has a nice catchy feel to it, which I quite liked.
“Ex” is a cracker. It tells about how TV soaps do reflect small village life, as he talks about romantic problems, with lines like, “You Ex is the mother of your best friend’s kid”, “she used to be yours, then she was mine, and I hear our friend Mike is waiting in line”. It’s got a good beat, and some nice steel & fiddle too.  I really liked “Never Learned To Read” too- a good upbeat radio friendly number.   
There’s an interesting instrumental in “Cowgirl Song”. It’s not too many instrumentals you hear today, that entertain you, rather than just a musician playing around to fill a spot on an album.
Then there’s the hidden track. The final track, “Caught Myself in A Wind”, is a rather slow atmospheric number, which runs to over 5 minutes. If you let the CD run, after over 2 ½ minutes of dead air, Chris is back with a belter of a Country song, “The Less I Know”. There’s lots of fiddle & steel, a great Country beat, and my favourite track on the album. But why hide it, Chris ?   
Loved the album, nevertheless.

ANNIE KEATING is one of these American singer songwriters who find themselves popular with European audiences. She has toured Scotland several times, and played the Glasgow Americana Festival.
Her new album, “Make Believing” is completely self written, and co produced with Jason Mercer, who also plays bass, double bass, banjo, and guitar on the album.
“Coney Island” kicks off the album, and is a nice introduction to the 11 track collection. The addition of Trina Hamlin’s harmonica really adds something to one of the stand out tracks on the album.
“Sink Or Swim” is a little more upbeat, and features a bit more instrumentation, but still works well. “Know How To Fall” is another quick paced track, whilst “Sunny Dirt Road” is an easy listening trip off the beaten track, and “Still Broken” is a very fragile song.
But the song that stands out for me is “One Good Morning”, with it’s catchy banjo and fiddle. It’s really bright & breezy.
It’s a nice album. Worth checking her out.    

THE MULLIGAN BROTHERS got great reviews for their first album , released in 2013. Now the Mobile, Alabama, based quartet are back with a new album, “Via Portland”. They have quite a laid back soft southern sound, not unlike the likes of Jackson Browne, or even, it has been suggested our own Sutherland Brothers & Quiver!
The vocals from Ross Newell are certainly radio friendly, and he also wrote most of the songs on the 11 track collection.
The collection kicks off with a rather haunting, and sensitive “Wait For Me”, which is followed by the slightly more mainstream, “City Full Of Streets”, which isn’t unlike some of the more recent Tim McGraw tracks. “I Don’t Want To Know”, is a bit more uptempo, as is “So Are You”.
“The Road That Leads Me Home” is quite a nice melodic track, but the track that really worked for me, was the more uptempo “Louise”.
An interesting album, and the fact that it’s released here, would suggest that their working on playing over here. Look out for them.

Finally, Memphis born, Nashville based singer songwriter, DREW HOLCOMB was over here for the recent Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, and to tie in with the visit, his latest album, “Medicine” was given a UK release (Magnolia Music).
The album, all written by Drew, was recorded over an eight day period, in East Nashville. The songs cover topics as diverse as loyalty, hardship, marriage, alienation and faith.
From the gentle opener “American Beauty”, the album rises to an almost rowdy atmosphere on “Shine Like Lightning” (courtesy of his band, The Neighbors).
Elsewhere, “You’ll Always Be My Girl” with its’ minimal keyboard arrangement was just beautiful.
The outstanding track, though, was “I’ve Got You”, which features some nice harmonies from “Neighbor”, wife Ellie. There’s some nice whistles on it too.

In the main, it’s an album of ballads, which are quite listenable. The exception would be the rather rocky “The Last Thing We Do”, which, in my opinion, didn’t fit in with the rest of the album. But then, you can’t satisfy everyone.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

December 2014

In the run up to Christmas, we’ve a bumper bundle of great music to tell you about in this issue.
Let’s start off with the homegrown releases.

JACQUI SHARKEY grew up in Glasgow, but is based in West Donegal these days. After great reviews for her last album “A New Dawn”, Jacqui is back with “Love And Other Things”, which was produced by Manus Lunny from Capercaille.
Jacqui’s rich warm vocals are often compared to Anne Murray, but Jacqui makes no concessions on this album. There’s no Anne Murray songs. There are four that she has written herself. “My Perfect Storm” is a beautiful song (co-written with Ian Smith), which instantly caught my attention.  The pairing also wrote “Remember Who You Are”, which had quite a folky feel to it.  Other originals include “Pretty Words”, which was a single for Jacqui some months back.  
There are also covers of the Nanci Griffith/Tom Russell hit “Outbound Plane” , the James Taylor/Carole King classic “You’ve Got A Friend”, Mary Chapin’s’ “I Was a Bird” and the traditional “The Water Is Wide”.  One interesting cover was “Tell These Hands”, written by Australian singer Sara Storer. It’s quite a light upbeat number, which showed a different side to Jacqui.
Jacqui cut her musical roots while at University in Glasgow.  She’s another wonderful Scottish talent which we’ve let go home to Ireland.
She’s a lovely singer, and “Love And Other Things” is a lovely album to have in your collection.

Someone else who has taken the same path as Jacqui is LISA McHUGH. Lisa grew up in Glasgow, but moved over to Donegal to pursue her musical career, and it has certainly paid off for her. She has quickly become one of the busiest and most popular entertainers on the Irish Country scene. And she has spread her wings lately, by branching out into TV presentation, with her own series on Irish TV.
No wonder it’s taken 2 ½ years to get time to release her third major album, “A Life That’s Good” (Sharpe Music).
The album features a bright mix of Country, old & new, a little bit of pop, and even a couple of Irish tunes.
There are three of Lisa’s recent singles here, “Hey I’m A Woman”, “Applejack” and the current radio hit “Hillbilly Girl”. There’s covers of Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s In Love With The Boy” , Shania’s “Any Man Of Mine” and even Roy Acuff’s classic “Night Train To Memphis”, (athough, very much based on Dolly Parton’s version) which is one of the stand out tracks.
The title track comes from the Nashville TV series soundtrack, written by Ashley Monroe & Sarah Siskind, and there’s also songs from Kasey Musgraves, John Legend, and even Taylor Swift !
Lisa co-wrote “Hey, I’m a Woman” and also wrote “Left To Love”, a beautiful ballad that stands out on a largely uptempo album. I hope it proves to be a winner, and encourages Lisa to further her writing.
The two Irish numbers are the rousing “Ireland” written by New Jersey born Americana artist Greg Trooper, and the ever popular “Home To Donegal”, which she does an exceedingly warm version of.
It’s been a while coming, but well worth the wait. Another winner from Lisa McHugh!

One of the first Country albums that you should seek out in 2015 is from a young Glasgow guy called DANIEL MEADE.  His first album, “As Good As Bad Can Be”, got rave reviews since it’s release in 2013.  That led to several impressive gigs with the likes of Sturgill Simpson and most recently, The Old Crow Medicine Show. Daniel headed for Nashville back at the start of the year, and came back with a superb album, “Keep Right Away” (From The Top Records), which is released January 19th.
All the tracks are self penned, with a couple of co-writes.  Daniel’s style is old style Country with a superb modern approach. He has been likened to Hank Williams, Jerry Lee, Justin Townes Earle and The Old Crow Medicine Show. I’d throw in BR549 and Junior Brown for good measure. That should give you an idea of what to expect from Daniel.
The album kicks off with the uptempo radio single “Long Gone Wrong”, which has already received Radio 2 national airplay.
In the main, the album is upbeat, with tracks like the title track, “Rising River Blues”, “Trying” and  “Livin’ On Tootsie Time”.
“Not My Heart Again”, another feel good number which bridges classic Country honky tonk with a bluegrass beat, features some smart harmonies from Shelby Colvin. There’s also a duet with singer songwriter Diana Jones, “Help Me Tonight”, which is one the slowest songs on the album. Their voices work well together and really shows another side of Daniel.
“Sometimes A Fool’s The Last To Know”, is another ballad which stands out. Pure Country.
There’s a false start to “Sing It Loud”, which features Joshua Hedley. It really ads to the live atmosphere that comes over on the album. It’s a rowdy homage to the way Country music was once loved.
Daniel may be turning the clock back to a time when Country was Country. But I’m all for that. It’s already a strong contender for my Album of the Year 2015.  A stunning album.

MARTHA L HEALY is a Glasgow singer songwriter who is going to catch our attention, following the release of her album “Better Days”, which was recorded in Nashville.
As an advance to the album, Martha has the “Better Days EP (Unplugged) doing the rounds.   It features 5 tracks. There’s quite a variety of material, which really shows this little lady’s vocal talent .
“Enough” is a nice acoustic opener, whilst the closing track, “Healin’ Wind is even more simply arranged.  “Shame” is a strong painful ballad, made all the more effective by some neat harmonica. “13 Hours”, another ballad, has a strong Country feel to it.
But just to show her variety, Martha hits the bottle on ”Vodka”, a song written by Carrie Newcomer. There are several songs on the same theme, but Martha really delivers on this uptempo morning after post mortem. Great song, some really nice instrumentation, and really catchy.
I was really impressed with Martha’s vocal style. We’re gonna hear a lot more of her.
Her album release party was at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry on St.Andrews night, and we’ll review it fully in the next issue.

DEAN OWENS is one of Scotland’s most respected singer songwriters and modern Country troubadours. He found his feet playing with The Felsons, but is very much established as a solo artist these days.
His latest release, which came out just in time for Remembrance Day, is a 4 track EP called “No Man’s Land”. The lead track, which is supported by a You Tube video, “Closer To You”, was inspired by the story of a soldier returning from the front writing to his loved one about how it gets harder to be away from home the closer you get to returning, Dean has written a song that poignantly describes the emotions of those at war and those they love.
There are three further war themed songs and with a stunning cover featuring the original painting ‘Sea Of Red’ by Philip Braham. Recorded in Nashville and produced by Neilson Hubbard, ‘Closer To Home’ is taken from the forthcoming album, ‘Into The Sea’.

Moving across the Atlantic, June 7th 2014 was the end of an era. That was the date of GEORGE STRAIT’s final concert. Now the soundtrack to that momentous event in Arlington, Texas is released on “Live From AT & T Stadium : The Cowboy Rides Away”.
The 20 track collection features many of Strait’s hits from the past 30 years, with guests appearing on many of the tracks, including Vince Gill, Eric Church, Sheryl Crow, Faith Hill, and, of course, Alan Jackson is on hand for “Murder On Music Row”.
There’s a sentimental “I’ll Always Remember You”, looking back at his career in song, and a star studded “All My Ex’s Live In Texas”.
It’s a great send off for George Strait fans.

There’s no questioning TIM McGRAW’s credentials in Country music. He has been one of Country music’s biggest names consistently over the past 25 years. His new album, “Sundown Heaven Town” (Decca/Big Machine) is quite a shift in direction however.
To my ears, Tim has found a softer, more down home country sound, that I wasn’t familiar with.
Amongst the tracks that really caught my attention include “City Lights”, “Shotgun Rider”, “Diamond Rings & Old Barstools” and  “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s”.
The album has 13 tracks, with an additional five tracks on the deluxe version.
This album quite surprised me. One of my favourite Tim McGraw albums for some time.

With hits like “I Hope You Dance” and “Never Again, Again”, LEE ANN WOMACK was one of Nashville’s sweethearts in the late nineties, and early 2000’s.  Incredibly, it’s been seven years since we last heard from Womack, but her new album, “The Way I’m Living” (Sugar Hill) was well worth the wait.
Her first album was really Country, but she did blend into the Nashville music machine after that. Now, she’s back with the most Country album you could imagine.  She has recorded songs written by Neil Young, Hayes Carll, Bruce Robison and Mindy Smith amongst others, but given them a real authentic rootsy, even bluegrass feel, and she sounds so much at home on this recording.
The title track has quite a southern blues feel to it, but works quite well.
The opening track, “Fly” is very soft and delicate, as is “Same Kind Of Different”, which has some lovely fiddle work from Aubrie Haynie and Hank Singer.
Her Country credentials really took over on the third track in. “Chances Are” was written by Hayes Carll, and features some fabulous steel guitar from Paul Franklin. It’s the sound that you associate with a hot Vince Gill ballad. Boy, can Franklin make a record!
The steel also features on the catchy “Sleeping With The Devil”, which is my personal favourite.  I also enjoyed the album’s closing track, “When I Come Around”, which despite its’ celtic feel, was written by Mexican born (Nashville based) Mando Saenz.
Indeed, I really loved this album. Certainly one of my album’s of the year. Highly recommended.

LADY ANTEBELLUM have set something of a standard for groups in Nashville, since they formed eight years ago. The male/female pop vocal styled trio created a sound that acts on both sides of the Atlantic have strived to copy.
Their latest album “747” was released here to coincide with a London date, and features much the same sound that they created with their signature song “Need You Now”.
That’s best demonstrated by “Lie With Me”, which is the UK single from the album.
Some of the other songs, notably “Bartender” and “Sounded Good At The Time”, which are well produced, are aimed more at pop fans.  
“One Great Mystery” is probably my favourite cut on the album, certainly the most Country,
“Down South” and “Just A Girl” both started off really down home Country, but quickly morphed into the same sound that the rest of the album had.    
No doubt this album will continue Lady A’s domination of the Country group market.

THE SWON BROTHERS are a new duo from Oklahoma, who are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Carrie Underwood, who grew up right down the street from them. Whilst Carrie won American Idol, Zach & Colton came through the US version of The Voice last year, being mentored by Blake Shelton.
Now their self titled debut album has arrived and is available here digitally, and already have a CMA Vocal Duo nomination to the credit.
Their sound is a cross between The Eagles and the many boybands that blur the lines between Country and pop these days.  “Chasing You Around” and  “Same Old Highway”  are definitely inspired by The Eagles, with some really strong harmonies.
Other tracks, like “Songs That Tell It All”, “This Side Of Heaven” and “Pray For You” are strong modern Country ballads, which I really enjoyed.
The album also includes the single “Later On” and ballads “Breaking” and “Pretty Beautiful” , which would find themselves as at home on pop as well as Country radio.
It’s a good strong debut album, and one that should appeal to Country listeners, as well as more mainstream audiences.

“Painkiller” (Humphead) is the sixth album from LITTLE BIG TOWN, the latest inductees into the Grand Ole Opry. The quartet first hit the charts in 2002, and have had considerable chart success since.
They have a modern sound, but still manage to maintain that Country feel to their music. This album continues that pattern.  The two guy/two girl line up share the vocals, giving a nice variety.
Many of the tracks are quite pop or rocky, but there are some songs that stand out.
“Live Forever” and “Silver & Gold” both have some mixed harmonies, in a haunting Everly’s style.
“Day Drinking”, the single from the album, is a bit different. It features some neat whistle sounds (no credit on the album to suggest how they came up with it), but it works. They do mix styles quite randomly.
Just to confuse me, the title track is one of the most Country sounding tracks on the album, but has quite a reggae feel to it, at the same time. This is certainly not a straight Country album!
“Girl Crush” is a soft ballad, which is probably my favourite cut on the album.

“The Big Revival” is the new album from KENNY CHESNEY (Sony). He’s another artist who has been at the top in America since he first charted over 20 years ago. All of his 14 previous album’s have been certified gold or higher by the RIAA. He’s also won the CMA’s Entertainer of The Year award 4 times.  He also gets his albums released here in Britain, but remains largely unknown to UK fans.
His music of late has tended to have a “gulf coast sound”, but this album moves away from that.
In fact one of the remaining “gulf coast sounds” on the album is “Wild Child”, which features Grace Potter.
This album has more of a crowd participation sound, which, perhaps, reflects his “live” status. Best examples of this are “American Kids” (his 25th No1 Country hit), “Beer Can Chicken”, “Rock Bottom”, and “Til It’s Gone”, which has also been released as a single in the UK.
He does slow it down on tracks like “Don’t It”, which almost has a gospel overtone, and the reflective “If This Bus Could Talk”, which reminded me of an Alabama ballad. It’s the stand out track for me.    
Quite a listenable album.

“A Little Bit Of Ireland in Nashville”, is how our next artist has been described. BERNADETTE, originally from Donegal, has been in Music City for the last twenty years, and has rubbed shoulders with many of Music City’s stars. With two highly rated albums to her credit, she has released her third album, “Not The Same Me”, and I have to say, it’s her best yet.
Her previous albums have been totally Country, but this album does have more of a “homeland” feel to it.
As an emigrant herself, she has featured a couple of songs of early emigrants, like “Isle Of Hope” and “New York Harbour”, written by Scotsman John McKenna. She also features “Camden County Poor”, John Farry’s “Dear Ireland” and Ron Hynes’ “Sonny”, whilst Maura O’Connell joins her on “Rose Of Allendale”.
But this isn’t just an Irish album. Bernadette has some good Country songs on here too.  And they’re not well known covers. She starts off with “Love With A Broken Heart”, a lovely ballad, which is one of Bernadette’s own particular favourites.  I particularly liked the original song, “I Know I Love You”, which sounded so like a Don Williams song to me. She has plans to release this song, as a single and video. Her version of “Tramp On The Street” is wonderful, and gospel influenced “In The Shadows Of Your Wings” is such a strong song.
The only cover I recognised instantly, was Terri Clark’s “Gypsy Boots”, which worked well here.
But the track that really showed such thought and originality was Dolly’s “Nickels & Dimes”, It’s quite a poppy upbeat number, but she manages to slip in a catchy little Irish fiddle jig in the middle. It’s really different, and works really well.
With 16 tracks, it’s a really good value for money.
I really enjoyed this album. Bernadette at her best.

Irish duo FOSTER & ALLEN will be celebrating their 40th year on the road next year, and show no sign of slowing down. They consistently release easy listening album’s each year, which are always big sellers.
I’m always amazed at the range of songs they pick up on. There’s always some Country, some pop, a touch of Irish, but they always deliver a set of songs that fans know and love, and you think they must have recorded these before.
Their new album “Gold & Silver Days” (DMG) has 20 tracks and the songs range from “Try A Little Kindness” and “Working Man”, to “Daydream Believer” and “North To Alaska”. On the Irish side, there’s “The Boys Of Killybegs”, “Green Hills Of Sligo” and “A Hug”,
They are masters of easy listening music, and I cant fault them.

Omagh’s LEE MATTHEWS is one of Ireland ’s Young breed. He’s already made a name for himself with songs like “Sadie’s Got Her New Dress On” and “There’s Irish In Our Eyes”, but his new album, “A Little Bitty Country” (Sharpe Music) shows Lee as an all round entertainer.
Like Derek Ryan, Lee has quite a musical cv covering his 26 years. He started singing at the age of 8, and played in many bands, including The Irish Tenors, a duo with Pete Docherty, and an X Factor group called Open All Areas.
He covers modern Country hits like Alan Jackson’s “Little Bitty”, Joe Nichols’ “Brokenheartsville” and Brad Paisley’s “Mud On The Tyres”, alongside pop covers of “Love Shine A Light” and Lonestar’s “Not a Day Goes By”.
Lee wrote four of the songs, including “That Country Girl”, “Don’t Shut Me Out” and “Mirror On The Wall”.
It’s a really well produced album, which will certainly find lots of fans on the booming Irish Country scene. A real winner, and a name for the future!

Another young Irishman making good music these days is ALASTAIR COYLES, from Ballymoney. Alastair is celebrating his 10th year in the business, with his fourth album, “I’m Over Getting Over You”.
The album is a good mix of good Country and a few 50’s & 60’s pop covers for good measure.
Amongst the stand out tracks are “Mind Of A Child”, a cover of Ray Griff’s “Pretty In Blue” and Patty Cavanagh’s “Wild Old World”. Sean Murray wrote the upbeat title track, and he does an interesting version of Derek Ryan’s “God’s Plan”.  Alastair has a good solid Country voice, ideal for delivering these songs.
The pop cover’s include “Bye Bye Love”, “Ave Maria”, “I’m Into Something Good”, and “Spirit In The Sky”.
Alastair has produced a good mix of material, which should win him more fans on both sides of the Irish Sea.


Earlier this year, Country music remembered Ernest Tubb on what would have been his 100th birthday, and then it September, the 30th Anniversary of his passing was marked.  Perhaps some of today’s generation will be unfamiliar with Tubb, but when you mention his hits like “Waltz Across Texas” and “Walking The Floor Over You”, then his mark on today’s Country music is truly appreciated.
He was known as “The Texas Troubadour”, and was the main influence on many Texan artists, as well as many beyond the Lone Star State.  To honour Ernest, the wonderful artists at Heart Of Texas Records got together to bring us “Thanks A Lot Texas Troubadour : A Tribute to Ernest Tubb”.
The album features covers of 14 ET numbers, from folks like Tony Booth, Johnny Bush, Darrell McCall, Norma Jean and Curtis Potter”. There’s Amber Digby & Justin Trevino” dueting on “Mr & Mrs Used To Be”, Dottsy’s “Waltz Across Texas” and Georgette Jones says “Thanks A Lot”. Georgette’s Dad, George contributes “Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin”, and they even have Dolly Parton singing “Slipping Around”.
The album closes with, the recently departed, George Hamilton IV with “May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You”.
It’s a superb tribute to Ernest Tubb - pure Country, as they only do down in Texas!

Another tribute worthy of note is “Remember Me”, the Buddy Holly Country Tribute by FRIZZELL & FRIENDS (Nashville America Records) . The project is recorded in association with The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation, and has been put together by the talented David Frizzell, with a stellar line up which includes Merle Haggard, Jimmy Fortune (from The Statlers), T Graham Brown, Helen Cornelius, and Sonny Curtis.
Each of the 21 tracks are introduced by Frizzell, with information about Buddy’s recording of the song. All the biggies like “Peggy Sue”, “Oh Boy”, “That’ll Be The Day”, “It’s So Easy” and “Rave On” are here, alongside, perhaps, not so well known songs, as “Maria Elana” and “Mailman Bring Me No More Blues”. They’re all given superb country treatments. There’s also the inclusion of “Walk Right Back”, in memory of Phil Everly. The song was written by Sonny Curtis, who played with Buddy before The Crickets.
It’s all great stuff, but the stand out track for me, is “Remember Me”. There’s two version’s. Merle Haggard’s superb version (including Stacey Houston’s harmonies) opens the collection, and a version from David Frizzell, Jimmy Fortune & Helen Cornelius closes the CD.
But this is more than a CD. There’s also a 60 minute long DVD showing the team talking about Buddy, and behind the scenes footage of the recording of the album. All interesting stuff, but my lasting image will be just how frail Merle Haggard looked whilst recording “Remember Me” and “That’ll Be The Day”. After all the Haggard tributes we’ve heard lately, it’s great to see Merle taking part in someone else’s tribute.
Buddy Holly was such an important contributor to popular music. It’s great to hear some real Country music in tribute to him.

Country music in America these days is quite mainstream, and covers a much wider spectrum than it did 20 or 30 years ago. But the boundaries have really been stretched by the release of “Nashville Outlaws” (Decca/Big Machine). Here we have today’s country music names recording an album of covers from glam heavy rock band Motley Crue.
Being a Country boy, I have no idea of the music covered here. What does come over is that bands like Rascall Flatts, Florida Georgia Line and Eli Young Band adapt quite easily to this style of music,
There are a few tracks which actually do sound quite Country, but how close they sound to the original, I wouldn’t know. The tracks that caught my ear, are mainly ballads, like “Home Sweet Home”, from Justin Moore & Vince Neil, “Afraid” by Aaron Lewis, “Looks That Kill”, by Lauren Jenkins, and the catchy “Same Ol’Situation” from Big & Rich.
Other acts included in the project include Leann Rimes, The Mavericks, Gretchen Wilson, and Darius Rucker, who has the most Country track on the album in “Time For Change”.
A strange compilation, but, it actually wasn’t as scary a listen as I thought it might be.

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS are best known as being a West Coast rock band, most popular back in the 1970’s & 80’s with hits like “Listen To The Music” and “Long Train Running”. They had a sound likened to the rockier side of The Eagles, with some close harmonies.
Their highest placing in the UK was No.29, back in 1975 with a number called “Take Me In Your Arms”, and are certainly not as well recognised as The Eagles, although I’m sure some of the tracks on their new album, “Southbound” (Arista), will sound familiar.
For this album, The Doobies have teamed up with Nashville’s current crop of names to join them on some refreshing remakes of their classic hits. Amongst the Country contingent, are The Zack Brown Band, Toby Keith, Blake Shelton, Sara Evans and Brad Paisley.
I’m not too sure who this album is aimed at. Is it likely to make long time Doobies fans turn to Country, or are they expecting today’s young Country fans to appreciate 80’s west Coast rock music.
I can’t see it working either way. I don’t really see the point at all.

Occasionally, along comes an album from an unknown artist, who really blows you away.
That’s how I felt about JAMES CAROTHERS, a McNairy County, Tennessee native, whose “Honky Tonk Land” is the real deal for me.
He now lives in New Mexico, where Country music is more in line with the Texan sound that that of Nashville.  Having said that, he did head back to Music City to record the album, with musicians like Eddie Bayers, Gordon Mote and Wanda Vick.
The 8 track CD kicks off with “New Country Singers”, which places him very much in the traditional mould, by taking a little swipe at today’s Nashville’s hitmakers.  The album also features his very Country single, “I Must Be Alive”, and the catchy “Have Another Round”. The closing track, “Where Did We Come From” is a slower track than the rest of the album, but still fits in nicely.
There’s a bit of Waylon in his style, and a whole lot of Dale Watson.
He wrote all eight of the tracks, and there’s not a bad one between them.
This was a superb introduction to James Carothers. A real Country talent for the future!

THE STRAY BIRDS are an interesting group, formed in Pennsylvania in 2010, and appeared at Celtic Connections in early 2014. The acoustic/roots/bluegrass trio consist of Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven and Charles Muench, have just released their second full album, “Best Medicine” (Yep Roc), and, as I say, it makes an interesting listen.
The album not only offers quite modern tracks like “San Antonio”, but also old timey arrangements on “Pallett” and “Who’s Gonna Shoe”.
There are uptempo numbers like “Adelaide” and “The Bells” and slower ballads like “Never For Nothing” and “Stolen Love”.
Male led tracks, especially “Feathers and Bone” sound a bit more contemporary than the tracks which feature Maya on lead vocal. But together they do provide some nice harmonies.
My favourite tracks include “Simple Man”, and “Black Hills”.
As I say, an interesting album. They have a nice sound, which will enhance their appeal.

JIM KEAVEY’s music is described as “Americana, sprinkled with a hint of 60’s garage rock, Tex-Mex and a sense of humour”.  His new album, Out Of Time”, certainly has evidence of it all.
The North Dakota raised singer songwriter does have the most melodic vocal style, but like many artists can develop songs to suit their style, and Jim certainly does that.
The humorous side of Keavey comes out in titles like “Lucy Aint Got No Arms”, which is quite a catchy little number.
I have to say though, that it’s David Barclay Gomez on the Tex Mex accordion that really makes this album. It’s especially evident on tracks like  ”Eugene To Yuma” and “Ridin’ Boots”.
An interesting outing.
THE EARLY MAYS are an American female trio of musicians. Ellen Gozion, from Pennsylvania, Judith Avers from Kansas and Emily Pinkerton from Indiana first got together at a Christmas Eve concert in a Pittsburgh church. They all had leanings towards the traditional music of The Appalachians, and the Early Mays formed soon after.
They did have a holiday album released in 2012, and now follow it up with a beautiful laid back self titled acoustic album release.
They excel with their three part harmonies, fiddle, banjo and guitar. Individually they wrote 7 of the album’s 13 tracks, which also features traditional numbers like AP Carter’s “Little Darlin’ Pal Of Mine”, “Lonesome John” and “The Blackest Crows”.  There’s also “I’m Sorry Wyoming”, written by Abbie Gardner from Red Molly. It’s one of my favourite tracks.
Other stand out tracks, include the very Country sounding “Old Stone Wall” and the very simply arranged “Take My Time”.
It’s a nice easy listening, worth checking out, if you enjoy the more folksy Appalachian sound.

Finally, BOB CHEEVERS is one of these guys, who, when you listen to his music, makes you wonder why he’s not up there are at the top.  He has written songs for Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, and Elvis had one of his songs on his “to do” list, before he died. His style is a dead ringer for Willie Nelson.
He is a regular visitor to our shores, and indeed, it was thanks to his English guitarist during his 2012 European tour, that this album found its’ title. He had a bumper sticker on his guitar which read “On Earth As It Is In Austin”, and that’s the title of Bob’s new album (Private Angel label).
As a singer songwriter, Bob has written all 15 tracks, and performs them with the simple sound of his guitar, alongside some esteemed Texan musicians.
The likeness to Willie is quite uncanny, especially on tracks like “The Sound Of A Door”, which opens the album, “Made In Mississippi”, and “Falling On Easy Street”.
But it all comes to a head on his full on Willie tribute’s “You Sound So Much Like Willie” and “Blue Eyes Always On My Mind”, as well as the title cut, which is half spoken.
He does have his own sound, on the catchy “My First Rodeo”, and the raunchy sounding “Snake Oil Man”.
All things considered. If you like Willie Nelson, you’ll love Bob Cheevers.