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Friday, 28 September 2018

Oct 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 6 August 2018

Aug 2018

The title of legend is often given out rather easily at times, but with a career spanning over 50 years, and around 30 Number 1 hits, CHARLEY PRIDE is certainly one of Country music’s real living legends, and he proves it on his new album, “Music In My Heart” (Rosette).
Now into his 80’s, Charley has come out with a stunning Country album, which matches anything he done back in his heyday. Responsible for much of that may be credited to Billy Yates, who produced this album. You can certainly depend on Billy to keep the sound as traditional as a record can be.
Yates co-wrote four of the tracks including the ballads “It Wasn’t That Funny”, “I Learned A Lot” and “Standing In My Way”, as well as the catchy “All By My Lonesome”.
Another two of the tracks are from the pen of “Country” Johnny Mathis, including the bouncy title track, and the catchy “Make Me One More Memory”. Lee Bach contributed another three of the songs.
Other songs include “Natural Feeling For You”, co-written by Ben Peters, who wrote a few of Pride’s biggest hits, including “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” and “It’s Gonna Take a Little Bit Longer”.  This time around, it’s one of Peters’ ballads that has been included.
The album kicks off with “New Patches”, which I remember being the title track to a Mel Tillis album, and there’s also a cover of Merle Haggard’s “The Way It Was in ‘51”.
Stand out track for me is Bill Anderson’s composition, “You Lied To Me”.
Charley is still sounding superb, into his 80’s. I wonder how many of today’s “stars” will still be sounding as good when they’re Charley’s age!
A superb album!
Charley was back in Ireland a few months’ back recording for the “Opry Le Daniel” TV series, which we’ll hopefully see on BBC Alba later in the year.

ASHLEY MONROE was brought to the attention of Country fans through her Pistol Annies collaborations with Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley. The Knoxville native was considered the more traditional Country of the trio on her first couple of albums.
Now on her 4th outing, “Sparrow” (WB), Ashley has lost some of the traditional sparkle, replaced by a more moody smouldering sound.
All twelve tracks on this new album were co-written by Ashley, alongside the likes of Gordie Sampson, Paul Moak, Jon Randall, Waylon Payne and Brendan Benson.
The album kicks off with the slow and sensitive ballad, “Orphan”, which is followed by the more mid-tempo “Hard On A Heart”. It’s a rather strange arrangement, with a strong string element, and, to my ears, comes over as a dated continental Eurovision ballad. “She Wakes Me Up”, was a bit more upbeat.
Other smouldering ballads include “Hands On You” and “Rita”.
“This Heaven” and “Paying Attention”, whilst still ballads, had a bit more depth to them. Similarly, “I’m Trying”, “Daddy I Told You” and “Keys To The Kingdom”, had more of a Country feel to them, than most of the album.
For me, the stand out track is “Mother’s Daughter”, which, with its’ quirky chorus, I really enjoyed.
But I have to say that, whilst it was a pleasant listen, I’d prefer her earlier material.

It’s 16 years since SUGARLAND burst onto the Country scene with “Baby Girl”. The duo of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush undertook some individual projects in recent years, but got together for this year’s c2c festivals, and have now released their sixth studio album, “Bigger” (Big Machine), their first together for 7 years.
Like their previous outings, this album has a largely pop sound, and very little Country music in it. Oh, the production is superb, and the harmonies blend together well. But Nettle’s own vocals are as jaggy as her namesake plant.
They even include some rapping during “On A Roll”. It comes over sounding a bit out of place having a female “southern” accent rapping like that.
There’s also a collaboration with Taylor Swift, on the Swift composed “Babe”.
We do have some really nice “Country-ish” songs on the album. “Mother” works well. But, for me, the last three songs of the 11 track album are the best. “Love Me Like I’m Leaving”, the slow “Tuesday’s Broken”, and the emotional, “Not The Only”, are just enough to save this album, for my Country ears.

LORI McKENNA is labelled in Wikipedia as “an American folk music singer-songwriter”, with 11 albums to her credit.
She came to attention of Country music, by writing the CMA’s Song Of The Year, two years running. She won in 2015 with “Girl Crush”, and again the following year with “Humble & Kind”.
But Lori has been around Nashville for a while now. She signed a Music City publishing deal in 2004, and, the following year, had four cuts on Faith Hill’s “Fireflies” album. That led to her touring with Faith & Tim on the Soul2Soul tour. Her songs have also been cut by Hunter Hayes, Sara Evans and Jimmy Wayne.
For her latest album, “The Tree” (Thirty Tigers), Lori has teamed up with Dave Cobb, best known for working with Chris Stapleton, amongst others.  All 11 tracks are self penned, and delivered in a very simple style. Lori’s voice has a strong, accented drawl, despite hailing from Massachusetts, rather than the south. She kinda reminded me of Lacy J Dalton.
Most of the songs are quite simple arrangements, but she does lift the tempo a bit on tracks like “Young And Angry Again” and “Happy People”.
“People Are Old” has quite an infectious styling, which really appealed to me, and I really liked “You Wont Even Know I’m Gone” and “The Way Back Home”.
“You Cant Break A Woman” is one of the strongest Country ballads on the album, and ticks all the boxes.
The album concludes with the sultry “Like Patsy Would”, just in case the album needs some Country authenticity. It doesn’t. It’s as strong a Country album, as anything out of Nashville recently. 
I really enjoyed this album. I’m finding myself listening to it over & over again.

SCOTTY McCREERY is one of those TV talent show discoveries. The North Carolina native won American Idol in 2011, beating Lauren Alaina in the final. His first album, “Clear As Day” sold over a  million copies, and topped both the Country & Pop charts in the US.
His 4th album, “Seasons Change” (Sony) is his third No.1 album on the Country charts, and sits nicely between the Alan Jackson/George Strait solid Country sound, and the pop mix that comes out of Nashville these days.
The former is best heard on tracks like “Five More Minutes”, the first single from the album. It’s a song about his grandad, which is obviously very personal to him. Other tracks in the more traditional camp include the opening title track, and “Home In My Mind”, a lovely ballad, which closes the album.
“This Is It” rides both camps. Scotty’s delivery is Country, but the arrangement behind him is more modern. “Barefootin’” is similar, reminding me of an early Toby Keith. The stand out tracks, for me, are “Boys From Back Home” and ”Wherever You Are”, both catchy upbeat numbers.
“Wrong Again”, “Move It On Out” and ”Still” are a few of the more Nashville pop songs on the project.
But, all things considered, quite an enjoyable album. Good to hear Scotty brushing off the shackles of American Idol, to give us the real Scotty McCreery.

Catching up with a couple of releases next, which have been out for a while, but have just caught our attention lately.
THE REMEDY CLUB are an Irish duo, who are playing on the Friday at the Millport Festival. The Remedy Club are husband and wife KJ McEvoy and Aileen Mythen. Their album, “Lovers, Legends & Lost Causes” was recorded in Co.Wexford, but mastered in Nashville by the legendary Ray Kennedy.
They have a sound that is rich in harmonies, a bit old timey, a bit folky, but a really enjoyable listen whatever.
The harmonies hit you from the first few seconds. “I Miss You” is a gentle number which really hooks you in, and has you intrigued to listen for more. And they don’t disappoint. “The Last Song”, in particular, demonstrates some lovely harmonies.
“When Tom Waits Up” has quite a haunting guitar intro, which leads into a bluesy old timey number. “Django” has a similar style, but, on other tracks they have a much more Country delivery. “Sweet White Lies”, is upbeat and catchy, whilst “This Is Love” is slow and moody.
Most of the tracks are led vocally by Aileen, the exceptions being “Big Ol’ Fancy” which is an upbeat number led by KJ. He also leads on the story song, “Bottom Of The Hill”, and on “Listening To Hank Williams” which really suits his voice.
I love the steel licks, courtesy of David Murphy, which just blend in nicely, throughout the album.  There’s also some nice string arrangements, from KJ’s famous sister Eleanor McEvoy.
I really enjoyed listening to The Remedy Club. Different, but very pleasant.

BARBARA NESBITT was born in Georgia, found her musical footing in San Diego, and lives in Austin, Texas. She’s a regular visitor to these shores, and has built up quite a fan base from her three previous albums. But her latest album, “Right as Rain” really establishes Barbara as an artist.
If you’ve ever seen her on stage, you’ll know just how carefree she can be, and that comes across on this album.
It all kicks off with “At Large In Tennessee”, lead by its’ banjo intro, which sets the scene. 
That’s followed by “Someone I Can’t Live Without”, which is one of the stand out tracks on the album. “Hot Tin Roof” also stands out, with her soaring vocals, and prominent fiddle and banjo.
Kim DeChamps’ steel guitar really shines on the bright & breezy “Beautiful”.
She can also create quite a haunting sound on tracks like “Red” and “Old Devils Can Die”, and also slow the tempo on the emotional “Love Me When I’m Hurtin’ Too”.
“Catch Me On Fire” is a lovely swaying duet, featuring Nick Randolph. Their voices are certainly suited together.
Catchy titles work for Barbara. There’s her anti-relationship song, “Dammit, I Love You”, and at the opposite end of the scale, "I Brought My Pajamas, Let’s Get Drunk”, is certainly worth a listen.
I love Barbara’s voice. It can be strong, yet sound vulnerable. The instrumentation is superb.
The album was recorded in Austin, San Diego, and even Nashville.
With the endless array of female pop singers, masquerading as Country, these days, Barbara Nesbitt is the real thing!

Ireland has a knack of producing an endless stream of Country talent, and there’s no dispute that CLIONA HAGAN has certainly made her impression in the past couple of years.
Cliona first came to her home nation’s attention when she took part in the The All Ireland Talent Show back in 2009. On the show she was billed as an opera singer, and performed “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in the final.  She continued her education, including training as a secondary school teacher at Edinburgh University.
This second album from the Tyrone lass, “Secret Love”, shows a wide variety in her music. She does excel at the upbeat numbers, from Dolly’s “More Where That Come From”, to Paul Kennerley’s “Born To Run”, and Tammy’s “Another Chance”.
But she can slow the tempo, including “The Band Played An Old Time Waltz”, and the recent single “Stop Cheatin’ On Me”, a Kellie Pickler cover, which many readers won’t know over here. Another relatively recent cover is “Head Over Boots”, from the pen of Jon Pardi. There’s also her version of “Old Flames Cant Hold A Candle To You”.
There’s the token Irish stamp, on the old time fun number “McCarthy’s Party”, and a few oldies given a showband styling, including the upbeat versions of “Secret Love”, “I’m Movin’On”, and Jim Reeves’ “The Wilder Your Heart Beats”.
There are a couple of original songs, including a lovely ballad, “Handle with Care”, written by Donegal songwriter Andrew Cox.
The album concludes with the personal “Country Found Me”, written for Cliona by Henry McMahon. It’s a beautifully produced, extremely Country sounding number, where Cliona confesses that her love with Country music came pretty late in life, having grew up with Britney and The Spice Girls. But to say in the song, that the turning point was “Miranda And Jennifer singing Coal Miners Daughter”, just took things too far for me! Someone please play Cliona some Loretta!
A superb album none the less.

You may be excused for not knowing about the musical heritage of Charlie Poole. He was an old time banjo player and Country music musician from North Carolina, who died at the age of 39, back in 1931!   But his music has survived through the likes of John Mellencamp, Joan Baez, The Chieftains and even The Grateful Dead!
Now DAVID DAVIS & THE WARRIOR RIVER BOYS have recorded a full album, inspired by the old time picker. “Didn’t He Ramble : Songs of Charlie Poole” (Rounder) features 14 tracks which really freshens up these classic tunes. Davis, has established himself and his band on the bluegrass scene Stateside, with 8 albums in the past 30 years to his credit.
Despite giving the old songs a fresh sound, the arrangements are still very much in the traditional, bluegrass style.
The songs include “One Moonlight Night”, “May I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister”, “Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee”, “Milwaukee Blues”, “White House Blues” and “Sweet Sunny South”.
I really enjoyed this collection. It was a real breath of fresh air.

We like to discover Country music from all over the world. Our next album comes from ANITA WAGNER, She’s no newcomer to the music scene, having represented Austria in the 1984 Eurovision Song Contest. She released an album a few years ago, which got her back into the business, and has now gone Country on her new release, “A Woman For You” (WIR Records).
The album was produced by Peter Jordan, who wrote all 12 songs on the album, and Anita is backed by the musicians from The Dirty Nuggets Band.
The songs include some upbeat numbers like “Say Hello”, which opens the album, “About Me”, “Bread And Beans” and “Not Sometime”.
There are also some moody ballads, including “When A Woman Loves A Man”, “Prisoner In Blues” and “I’m So Sorry”, which you can really feel the emotion Anita injects into each of them.
The title track is a strong ballad, which stands out as one of the album’s highlights.
There is a definite Europop sound to the album, which might not have been so evident if she had went for a bunch of well known covers. I guess I have to praise her for doing her own thing, and not trying to sound American! It just doesn’t sound quite Country enough for me though!
I know, I’m never satisfied!

We’re heading Down Under for a new album from Alt-Country/Americana outfit LACHLAN BRYAN & THE WYLDES, who have made inroads into the European & US markets in the past nine years, through regular touring, and the release of four albums. On their recent UK tour, they played two different Glasgow venues.
“Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music” is a great title for an album, which covers quite a bit of ground through its’ 12 tracks.
The collection opens with the semi-political “I Hope That I’m Wrong”, inspired by the “Me Too” movement last year.
“Careless Hearts” is quite a melodic number, which I really quite liked, but I was most impressed with the more upbeat tracks, like “It Tears Me Up (Everytime You Turn Me Down)”.
He really slows it down on the piano led “Sweet Bird Of Youth”, and on “Stolen Again”, “In New York”, and “Peace In The Valley” (not the gospel classic).
But the stand out tracks for me are the two that feature guest vocalists. “The Basics Of Love”, which features Kiwi, Shanley Del, really recaptures the old Waylon & Jessi sound, whilst Canadian Lindi Ortega joins in on “Don’t You Take It Too Bad”.  Harmonies on both are outstanding.
It was quite an interesting listen.

Singer songwriter PHILIP MARINO is an exiled American in Essex. His 4th album, “Chasing Ghosts” was recorded on a converted boathouse along the River Orwell in Suffolk, and features ten self penned songs.
Marino’s influences include North American folk era singers like Jim Croce, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, and that comes across on some of the songs here, including “In Your Hands” and “The Way We Live”.
The opening track, “The Way It Goes” starts quite mellow, but gets quite rocky in parts.
Ballads include “In My Blood”, which likens himself to his parents, and “This Time”, which reflects of being half way through his life, his past and how he can change for the future.
Stand out track for me is “No Turning Back”, which has quite a catchy feel to it, complete with nice harmonies from co-producer Adam Bowers and Louisa Charrington, and even some effective finger clicks, and I liked the twist in tempo at the end. Quite unexpected.
A really nice listen. 

Finally this time around is a new name on the block. LETITIA VANSANT is a Baltimore based singer songwriter, whose life history is more political than musical. She has a degree in Human Rights & Humanitarian Studies and worked for the Obama campaign.
But realising the strength of music, she gave up the 9 to 5 job to follow the musical dream. Last year she won the Kerryville New Folk Songwriting Contest, following in the footsteps of Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith.
Now comes her new album, her first national, and international release, “Gut To The Studs”, which gets its release here on August 27th.
Whilst, essentially an acoustic folk music album, after a few listens, I was really quite warming to her vocal charms, and there’s certainly a few tracks which wouldn’t be out of place on Country radio.
The opening track, “Where I’m Bound” which emphasising the importance of persevering, got me interested right away. The title track is a bit more up tempo, asking “is it wrong to want what I want”.
I liked the simplicity, and catchy chorus, on “Sweet Magnolia”, and “Dandelion” for similar reasons”.
Stand out track for me is “The Field”, in which Letitia likens her inner journey to the labour of farming. Her voice sounds so pure and vulnerable, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and upright bass. Beautiful.
The only track not written by Letitia is a stripped back cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”. A really nice version.
A really pleasant listen. One of Letitia’s other projects is Rusty Sal, a classic Country/honky tonk band. I’d love to hear that!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

June 2018

We’ll start off with a few home grown releases this time around.
Long time readers will recall JILL JACKSON from her days with bands called Hogtied and Jacksonville. She then went on to pop stardom with Speedway, who had a handful of pop hits including “Genie In A Bottle”, which was a Top 10 hit.
But, as Jill says in the publicity for her new album recalls, “Being signed to a major label is an amazing experience when you are 22. But with a major comes the moulding into something you never intended to be. I was touring arenas when all I wanted was to play at The Bluebird in Nashville”.
She has been involved with several projects over the years, including forming a band called “The Chaplins”, inspired by Charlie Chaplin.
Her new album, her 5th, is “Are We There Yet?” , which not only takes us on a personal journey throughout her life, but also encompasses all the various influences she’s picked up over the years.
The title track is inspired by the packing the car for the annual summer holiday trip from Paisley to Blackpool, with one Buddy Holly tape for entertainment. We’ve all been there, and Jill really captures the mood well. I love the simple solo mandolin intro.
The album kicks off with “1954”, the story of her grandparents, who met that year, and closes with “Goodbye”, a song she started when her gran was sick, and finished after she passed. That’s how personal this album is for Jill.
Every track is different. The most Country tracks include “Worries”, which is so catchy, whilst
“Hope And Gasoline” is a moody number, which takes her back to being 17 years old, leaving school, and wanting to meet the world. This is probably the strongest song on the album.
She does have a few softer ballads, like “Sweet Lullaby”, which features folk singer Kathleen MacInnes. It’s a really sweet number, and their voices blend beautifully.
“Dynamite” is a modern upbeat number, which recalls the effect crippling anxiety had on her.
From her Chaplin influence from an earlier project, Jill has a 1930’s jazzy style on a few of the songs, and, I have to say, they’re really irresistibly catchy. They include “My Baby”, “Needles And Thread”, which she refers to as her “Lindy Hop”, and “Finally” which has quite a swing to feel to it.  This style really suits Jill’s vocals.
Jill has really matured as a singer and songwriter over the years. She displays incredible versatility in the material here, some of it recalling quite traumatic times in her life.  Her voice is so pure, it just melts in your ears, and the production, led by the highly acclaimed Boo Heweredine, is just so perfect.
It’s a wonderful album. I cannot recommend it highly enough! 

Next up, we have a new CD from Glasgow based bluegrass band, THE DADDY NAGGINS. The band originally formed back in 2010, and have had several line up changes along the way.
Currently the five piece outfit features original members Darren Young (guitar), Garry McFadden (banjo), Laura Beth Salter (mandolin), Hazel Mairs (double bass) and Aileen Reid (Fiddle).  They all share lead and harmony vocals.
Their new 10 track was recorded “Live at Celtic Connections 2018”, in two sessions. The first five tracks were performed at The Danny Stage (broadcast live on Celtic Music Radio) at the Royal Concert Hall, and the rest in a live session at Celtic Music Radio’s studios for the “Celtic Country” programme.
The instrumentation is superb throughout, and the harmonies, as I say, are fantastic.
Their song choice is also quite wide. If you think bluegrass music not you’re cup of tea (or moonshine!), then here’s a band who will change your mind.
Yes, they can play mean bluegrass classics like “Roll On Buddy”, and instrumentals like “Flint Hill Special” and “Salt Spring”, but can also breathe new life into The Eagles’ “How Long”, Johnny & June’s “Jackson” and even Elton John’s “Rocket Man”. The also do a cover of the Merle Haggard/Tommy Collins song “Poor Broke Mixed Up Mess Of A Heart”.
The CD opens with Hazel leading the vocals on “Old New Straitsville Moonshine Run”, a good upbeat number, followed by Darren’s bikers song “1952 Vincent Black Lightening”. One track I especially liked was Michael Martin Murphy’s “Carolina In The Pines”.
But I loved every note on this album. A superb album, which shows that you don’t have to travel to East Tennessee or Kentucky to hear first class bluegrass music.

Another home-grown album comes from Glasgow based singer songwriter MICHAEL McMILLAN . Michael is not new to music, having started off playing bagpipes and drums, before discovering The Beatles and The Stones. But it was the American acts like The Eagles, Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen that really influenced him.
He has had three albums released before he released “Cross Country” earlier this year. The album, largely influenced by a coast to coast American road trip, featuring 14 self penned tracks, produced at The Foundry Lab by Graeme Duffin (Wet Wet Wet/Ashton Lane).
The projects kicks off with “Alive Again”, which has been a popular Hotdisc Top 10 single. It’s a good radio friendly commercial number, and it’s easy to hear why radio have picked up on it.
The other track which has stirred some reaction is “Scars And Stripes”, another upbeat number, which tells of the “unseen” homeless population across America. It’s a really well constructed song, with a strong message, which hopefully might just hit a nerve or two.
Michael has made a play on words and phrases, not only on “Scars And Stripes”, but also on the likes of “Forgotten But Not Gone” and “Three’s A Cloud”.
There are quite a few ballads, including “Death By Broken Heart”, “My Best Friend” and “Turn Up The Silence”. “My Son” is one of the slower numbers which really stood out for me.
Amongst the other tracks that really worked for me was the catchy “Miracles” and “The Man”.
I really enjoyed this album. A good set of songs, well written and produced.
A homegrown talent you should certainly check out.

What is there to say about WILLIE NELSON ?
He recently celebrated his 85th birthday, with the release of his 67th studio album, “Last Man Standing” (Sony Legacy). In fact, this is his 7th album release since turning 80!  The guy just doesn’t slow down.
You do get the feeling that Willie is poking fun, with lyrics like “I don’t want to be the last man standing , on second thoughts, maybe I do”, “bad breath is better than no breath at all”, or “Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded, so I think I’ll stay where I am”.
I liked his logic on “Don’t Tell Noah”. Maybe not telling people what you really think is the recipe for long life, although, I hardly think Willie’s one to hold his tongue!
Willie has covered a variety of styles in throughout his career. He covers most of them in the space of this album.
He adds a bit of Ray Price inspired Texas swing on “Ready To Roar”. If it’s straight Country you want, “Heaven Is Closed” is a superb track. If it’s a honky tonk beat, try “I Aint Got Nothin’”.
“She Made My Day” is catchy number about a women ripping him off, a subject, he’s touched on before. “Me And You” is a cheery upbeat number which I really liked,
He slows the tempo, in his unique Country blues style on “Something You Get Through”.
“I’ll Try To Do Better Next Time” could be a song for an epitaph, but I think we’ve got a lot of Willie still to come.
He’s sounding better than ever, still writing all the tracks (with Buddy Cannon).
An inspiration to us all.

JOHN PRINE doesn’t have the most melodic vocals in the world, but at the age of 71, and with a score of albums to his credit, he has matured a career, based on exquisite songwriting, and down right honest delivery of his songs. Actually Prine’s deep gravelly voice is put down to a battle with squamous cell cancer back in 1998.
The Illinois born songwriter was “discovered” by Kris Kristofferson in Chicago, and there is still an KK influence in his music. I also hear a bit of Johnny Cash’s influence in his delivery.
He puts his gravel voice to best use on his latest album, “The Tree Of Forgiveness” (Oh Boy/Thirty Tigers), a collection of ten self penned, or co-written songs, which was released in April, and went straight into the Top 5 of the US Pop charts.
The album is the follow up to his highly acclaimed 2016 release, “For Better For Worse”, which reached No.2 on the Country album chart, featuring an array of Country girl singers.
This album concentrates on newer material, with the help of writers Pat McLaughlin, Roger Cook, Dan Auerbach, Keith Sykes, and even Phil Spector.
The album kicks off the catchy “Knockin’ On Your Door”, which has quite a back porch singsong feel to it. He even manages a wee George Jones namecheck. Other upbeat numbers include “Crazy Bone”, and “I Have Met My Love Today”, which features some lovely harmony from Brandi Carlile. It’s probably my favourite track. Brandi also features on “God Only Knows”, the song co-written with Phil Spector.
“Summer’s End”, “Caravan Of Fools” and “Boundless Love” are a bit slower, showing a different side to his music.
“The Lonesome Friends Of Science” is the one that really has some of Kristofferson’s influence, and has quite a “round the campfire” feel to it.
The projects rounds off with a poetry and singalong anthem, which features Brandi Carlile again, with Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell, and everyone who was around RCA Studio A when the recording was made.
John Prine has been called “America’s Greatest living songwriter”. This album backs up that claim.
If you’re lucky enough to have tickets to see him perform at the Kelvingrove Bandstand in August, you’re in for a wonderful songwriter experience.

JORDAN DAVIS is one of Nashville’s “new breed” for 2018, with the release of his debut album “Home State” (Humphead).
Jordan’s home state is Louisiana, having been born and raised in Shreveport. He’s from a musical family. His brother, Jacob, is also a Country singer, and his father, Stan Paul Davis wrote songs recorded by Tracy Lawrence and Ken Mellons. Jordan, himself has been playing guitar since he was 12 years old, After graduation, he headed north to Music City to pursue his dream.
The 30 year old co-wrote all 12 songs on the album. The publicity that came with the CD states “the imagery in his songs relies on the same specificity behind such classic, lyrically-driven songwriters as John Prine, Jim Croce and Bob McDill”. That’s quite a tall statement, which, I have to say he delivers in a very different style.
The production is very “current Nashville” to my ears. It’s a very modern sound.
The hit single from the album, “Singled Up” also crossed over to the pop charts. It’s quite a poppy number, whilst fitting nicely into today’s Nashville sound.
“Take It From Me”, the album’s opening track is a real upbeat number, as is “More Than I Know” whilst “Goin’ Round”, “Slow Dance In A Parking Lot”, “Leaving New Orleans” and “Sundowners” are softer ballads.
“So Do I” is quite a pleasant number, whilst from the upbeat tracks, “Tough To Tie Down” was the one which caught my attention most.
Jordan isn’t taking his success for granted. The CD sleevenotes have three pages of thanks, including naming everyone at his record label and management Company in person.
It’s a pleasant album, a good modern sound, but, one that, if I’m honest, wasn’t Country enough for me.

Texan BETH NEILSEN CHAPMAN is highly recognised as one of the top female songwriters in Country music, and beyond. Her credits include songs by Faith Hill, Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood, Lorrie Morgan, Roberta Flack and Bonnie Raitt.
But she is also a highly respected singer, with 13 solo albums to her credit. Her last outing was on the cancer awareness project, “Liv On” with Olivia Newton John and Amy Sky. Her latest album, “Hearts Of Glass” (BNC/Proper) was released here in the UK recently, prior to its’ US release.
It’s a powerful collection of heartfelt songs, where vulnerability meets strength. A very personal virtue for Beth.
As you would expect from such a prolific writer, it’s a wholly original album, although some of the songs may have been released before. A couple of the songs are re-recordings. The acoustic “Enough For Me” was co-written by producer Sam Ashworth.
“Come To Mine”, the bright opening track was apparently co-written with Kevin Montgomery and Graham Goldman at a songwriting retreat in Somerset. It’s a really good welcoming song to the album.
Some of the simplest arrangements stand out. “Old Church Hymns & Nursery Rhymes”, “Child Again” and “Dancer To The Drum” are the best examples of this. “You’re Still My Valentine”, again with minimal instrumentation, is a beautiful love song, done in quite a simple jazzy style.
“All For The Love” is also a nice ballad with a shade more of a backing.
Stand out track for me is “If My World Didn’t Have You”, a lovely ballad, which features Rodney Crowell on backing vocals. It’s a song which Willie Nelson previously recorded on his “Horse Called Music” album.
I also liked “Life Goes On”, one of the songs Beth has re-recorded. Previously a piano accompanied arrangement, this new version uses guitar.
I’m really liking this album. Her voice is so pure. Recommended.

MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER recently celebrated 30 years since the release of her first album, “Hometown Girl”, and her latest album, “Sometimes Just The Sky” (Thirty Tigers) marks the event.
For this album she has re-recorded one song from each of her 13 albums to date.
She is probably best known for her upbeat songs like “Down at The Twist & Shout”, “Passionate Kisses” and “I Feel Lucky”, but these songs don’t really represent the real Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Most of her songs over the years have been slow, moody numbers, although she disputed that quite strongly when I asked her about that one time.
But this album reinforces my view on her music.
She has picked some of the slowest songs in her repertoire. Some of them are quite outstanding songs, I won’t deny that. They range from “Heroes And Heroines” from her first album, through “The Moon And St Christopher”, “One Small Heart” “and “The Calling”.
One song I really fondly remember was “This Shirt” from the “Straight From The Heart” album. The new version is really slowed down.
The most upbeat song on the album, is “Naked To The Eye”, which is more lively that the original which was on her “Place In The World” album. It certainly stands out here.
Don’t worry if you have a few of her albums already in your collection. These are very different arrangements.

Country music fans around the 1980’s will surely remember SYLVIA. She had a string of Country hits with songs like “Nobody”, “Drifter” and “The Matador”. The Indiana singer disappeared from the limelight for a while, and whilst still recording, she did some TV work, and worked as a “life coach”. Now she’s released “Second Bloom- The Hits Re-imagined”, a ten track nostalgic journey back to the 80’s and her hits.
Whilst I loved music back then, I have to admit that some of her songs were, perhaps, a shade poppy at the time.  On these new recordings, the plush big budget productions are replaced by simpler arrangements, courtesy of co-producer John Mock, with Andy Leftwich on fiddle and Robby Turner on steel, amongst others. Jim Glaser, Vicky Hampton and Lisa Silver are amongst those adding harmonies.
The new versions really bring out Sylvia’s vocals, and the emotions within them.
She re-visits some of her biggest hits, including her first Top 10, “Tumbleweed” and her first two number 1’s “Nobody” and “Drifter”, as well as later hits “Cry Just A Little Bit”, “Like Nothing Ever Happened” and “Snapshot”.
“I Love You By Heart”, a jaunty little number, which was originally a duet with Michael Johnson, is also featured.
To close the album, quite ironically, is “You Cant Go Back Home”, which, of course, is just what Sylvia has done on this album. The beautiful song, which was never a single, obviously means a lot to the singer. It deserves another listen.
I have to say, I really enjoyed listening to all of these songs again.

KASEY MUSGRAVES has quickly build up a following, especially with upbeat quirky songs like “Follow Your Arrow” and “Biscuits”, not to mention the brilliant “High Time”. 
The Texan beauty, who celebrates her 30th birthday in August isn’t an overnight sensation though. She had self-released three albums before appearing on the Nashville Star TV talent show back in 2007, where she only came 7th. Earlier this year, she headlined the c2c festival at The Hydro.
Her latest album has none of that quirky sound. “Golden Hour” does have some nice songs on their own merits. “Butterflies” has already been a hit single for her, and the title track has a warm feeling that just soothes over you.
The opening track, “Slow Burn” was quite a pleasant appetiser for the rest of the album.
“Love Is A Wild Thing” is a song that stood out for me, with just a hint of banjo adding to the appeal. And I did really enjoy the piano accompanied closing track, “Rainbow”.
She did lift the tempo on “High Horse”, which was reminiscent of an 80’s soft disco number.
Pleasant as Kasey’s voice is, this album just sounded too samey for me. Even the CD booklet, with the credits, has hard to read white text on a pale pink background. Totally bland, just like the CD itself, I’m afraid.
I was rather disappointed with this album. Bring back the quirky Kasey!

Although KELLY WILLIS was born in Oklahoma, she’s been recognised as part of the Texas music scene for most of her career. She came to the world’s attention in the early 90’s when she was signed to MCA in Nashville. Her three albums for the label received critical acclaim, but failed to make an impact on the charts. That didn’t deter her though. She’s continued to make music, and tour the world.
Her 8th solo album, but her first for over 10 years, “Back Being Blue”(Premium/ Thirty Tigers) has just been released here, ahead of a UK tour next month.
The album was recorded analogue style in husband Bruce Robison’s rural Texas studio. According to the singer, “I attempted to make music that could fit any era, but leans on the simplicity of the music that first inspired me- roots rockabilly, country blues. Kind of a Nick Lowe meets Skeeter Davis meets Crystal Gayle. Sounds that were in full blaze when I first moved to Austin”.
I can certainly hear that when listening to the album. Six of the ten tracks were written by Willis herself.
The album’s title track opens proceedings, in quite a soulful mood, but the rockabilly beat quickly appears on “Only You” and “Modern World”.
“Fools Paradise”, “Freewheeling”, “What The Heart Doesn’t Know” and “We’ll Do It For Love Next Time”, the latter written by Rodney Crowell, are lovely soft ballads. 
I especially liked “Afternoon’s Gone Blind”. Written by Karl Straub, it’s really quite melodic.
She mentioned Skeeter Davis in her description of the album, and pays homage to Skeeter on the classic “I’m a Lover (Not a Fighter), complete with self harmonies, just like on Skeeter’s original.
I really like Kelly’s southern drawl, and her musical style, which is so individual.
Glad to have new music from her, and pleased to see her back in Scotland next month (Jul 29th at Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms).

“SUZY BOGGUSS is probably one of the most underrated female vocalists of the past 30 years”, starts the sleeve notes on a new 3-CD, 50 track collection, “The Definitive Capitol Collection” released here on the HumpHead label.
Having been a Suzy fan, since before she got her Capitol deal, I’d have to agree with that statement.
Most artists on major labels get a big push at the start and have a huge hit, and then have to maintain the hit rate. That didn’t happen with Suzy. It was her third album, “Aces” before she made the breakthrough.
In fact her first few singles, including her smouldering cover of The Inkspots’ “I Don’t Want To Set The World on Fire” didn’t even make it onto an album. Thankfully it is featured on this collection. Another of those early singles, “Come As You Were”, doesn’t even make this collection (Same label mate T Graham Brown went on to have a Top 10 with the song two years later).
But this collection does have a wide range of songs from her 7 Capitol albums, which provided 22 chart singles. “Aces”, her breakthrough song kicks off the album, which includes such gems as “Somewhere Between”, “I Want To Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”, “Hey Cinderella”, “Letting Go”, “Drive South”, and “Hopeless Romantic”. 
There are a few duets, with Billy Dean and Lee Greenwood, and a couple from the album she did with Chet Atkins. 12 of the tracks were written, or co-written by the lady herself.
This album brought back some wonderful memories for me. If you’re not as big a Suzy fan as me, this would serve as the perfect introduction to her music.

GRETCHEN PETERS is one of Nashville’s most accomplished singer songwriters. Born in New York, raised in Colorado, she moved to Music City thirty years ago, and wrote hits for the likes of Martina McBride, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Faith Hill, Anne Murray and Shania Twain, amongst others.
But she’s also well established as a recording artist, having eight solo albums, as well as recordings with Bryan Adams and Tom Russell.
Her latest album, “Dancing With The Beast” (Proper) is a very personal affair, and one where she’s reaching out to the women’s movement.
As the publicity for the album states, “Dancing With The Beast” puts female characters at the fore, from teenage girls to old women. And intentionally so. With the 2017 Women’s March and #MeToo Movement as bookends to her writing time, Peters knew that a feminist perspective would be the critical core of the record. She admits, “You can trace the feminist DNA in my songwriting back to ‘Independence Day’ and probably before. The thing that 2017 did is just put it front and center.”
The songs range from the sultry opener “Arguing With Ghosts”, through “The Boy From Rye” and “The Show” to the more lively title track.
The songs cover a range of troubled women, from “Wichita”, hauntingly story about a child and the problems she’s had to endure in her life, to the vulnerable women on “Truckstop Angel”.
There’s a mention of Aberdeen in “Lay Low”, one of the more mainstream tracks on the album (although, I think it’s the Texas town she’s talking about). The album closes on a hopeful note on “Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea”.
Gretchen is a regular visitor to Scotland. She’s in Shetland this month, Perth next month and hosting a Songwriters workshop in Edinburgh in September.
It’s a pleasant listen. Gretchen has built a huge fan base over here over the years, and this is another album for the collection.

We’ve only one Irish album to review this time around. JOE BOYLE is a young Irish singer, with strong West of Scotland connections. He is building up a good following on both sides of the Irish Sea, and that continues with his latest CD, “Just Joe”.
The album features ten tracks, from classics like “Seven Spanish Angels”, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Heartaches By The Number” to a couple of less obvious Josh Turner covers, “T.I.M.E”, which Turner recorded with Randy Travis, and “Whatcha Reckon”.
The album kicks off with The Hag’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”, and there’s also Elvis’s “Cant Help Falling In Love”. I particularly enjoyed his version of Bobby Bare’s “500 Miles Away From Home”, and there’s a rather interesting version of “My Rifle, My Pony & Me” (from Rio Bravo).
Throughout, Joe demonstrates a really strong Country vocal style, and the production is first class.
Highly recommended.

When an album arrives, with a sleevenote quote from Bill Oddie (The Goodies) praising them, you can’t help wonder what it’s going to be like.
CARDBOARD FOX are an English West Country acoustic quartet featuring Charlotte & Laura (The Carrvick Sisters) who have teamed up with Joe Tozer and John Breeze. They have been playing together since 2013, whilst carrying on with their other projects.
Their second album, “Topspin” encompasses many influences, from jazz, folk & Country, but always rooted in bluegrass.
Nine of the 11 tracks are penned by the band. The exceptions are covers of Gillian Welch’s “Tear My Stillhouse Down”, and “Fireflies”, written by Adam Young.
The album kicks off with a haunting vocal by Charlotte, which lifts into a pleasant mid tempo song. That’s “Empty Skies”, and sets the tone for the album. Most of tracks are quite midtempo, with vocals led by one of the girls.
I especially found “Until The Dawn” quite enchanting. It’s quite folksy, with some lovely mandolin.
“Roll Away” is quite upbeat, and probably the most Country track on the whole album. “On Your Side” brings out a quirky jazzy vocal style. “Nelly” is a folksy traditional sounding instrumental.
There’s a strange pop/rock feel to “Right Swiper”, which for me, didn’t quite fit into the album.
But I can forgo one track out of eleven. 
This album was a really nice listen. Lovely vocals, and simple arrangements.
By the way, Bill Oddie’s quote reads,”When I first heard this band, I quite literally shed a tear. They were terrific”. Praise indeed!

They certainly know how to Keep It Country on the European continent. Our next album comes from Germany’s JOLINA CARL. “Forward Back Home” (Ol’ Rockin’ Chair Records) is her 4th album, and her most personal to date. She recorded it in Nashville, and wrote 6 of the 12 tracks.
There are two duets, “Wishing We Had” with Ray Scott, and “I Want To Hear You Say It”, with Billy Yates. Both are superb Country duets.
Of her own songs, “You Were The One” is a personal song about her father, whilst “Bent Metal”, which has quite a bluegrass feel, was inspired by a truck sideswiping her car. “All Through The Years” and “What Really Matters” are both heartfelt ballads.
But, if there’s a theme that keeps coming up through the album, it’s Johnny Cash. She opens with “Get Rhythm”, and also covers Courtney Lynn’s “Thank God For Johnny Cash”, before featuring another of her own compositions, “His Hideway”, inspired by Cash’s farm. It’s a really strong tribute to the Man In Black!
She also covers Amy Winehouse’ “Valerie”, in a rather different bluegrass style, and rounds it all off with “Hallelujah”.
Certainly an interesting album. She’s got a few dates in Ireland at the end of July/ early August. I think we’ll hear more of her before long.

Off to Canada next, and a superb Bluegrass quartette called THE SLOCAN RAMBLERS. Their third album, “Queen City Jubilee” is released this month, and is certainly one for bluegrass fans to pick up on.
Born out of Toronto’s gritty bluegrass scene, the band, which consists of Frank Evans, Adrian Gross, Darryl Poulsen and Alastair Whitehead, show their influences, steeped in The Louvin Brothers.
All but two numbers are originals. The exceptions are the slow “Long Chain Charlie And Moundsville”, written by Don Stover, and AP Carter’s “Sun’s Gonna Shine In My Back Door Someday”.
The album gets off to a flying start with “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues”, which features some superb harmonies, and old time traditions. The upbeat sound continues through songs like “Just To Know”, “Hill To Climb”, “Through & Through”, not to mention “Riley The Furniture Man”.
“First Train In The Morning” is a bit more mid-tempo, whilst “Makin’ Home” is quite a slow number.
There are a number of instrumentals including “Down In The Sagebrush”, “New Morning” and “Shut The Door”, which really show off the instrumental talents.
Bluegrass may not be everyone’s taste, but here’s a band that could just convert you. Brilliant musicianship, great harmonies. I loved it!

I have to admit that AMERICAN AQUARIUM is a new name on me. But the Alt-Country band have been around for the past twelve years, and have previously released seven studio, and two live albums. The original band, led by Raleigh NC based BJ Barham, dissolved last year, but quickly reformed with Texan’s Joe Bybee, Ben Hussey and Shane Boeker joined the fray. Completing the line up is Nashville based steelie Adam Kurtz, who also fronts Buck Owens’ tribute band Buck’n’Stuff.
I can’t compare this new line up against the previous set up, but on their new album, “Things Change” (New West), they live up to the Alt-Country label. There are certainly Country overtones, but with quite a rocky influence too. Think John Cougar Mellencamp, and you’ll be on the right track.
All songs were written by Barham, often about earlier life experiences, “When We Were Younger Men” is one of the album highlights for me, helped by the wailing steel guitar throughout. The steel also helps out on the softer ballad “One Day At A Time”. By contrast, the title track is quite a soft rocker.
“Work Conquers All” and “I Gave Up The Drinking” are the straightest Country songs on the album, whilst “Shadow Of You” had quite a folksy feel to it.
I found the album quite an interesting, and pleasant listen. They’re over here in the autumn, but only have dates down south so far.

JAMES SCOTT BULLARD has a real raw rocky edge to his music. “Full Tilt Boogie”, his 6th full album, (Big Mavis Records) certainly crosses the boundaries from Southern rock to the outlaw sound. I do hear some early Waylon influence in here.
The south Carolina native claims to come from a mixed clan of Irish, German, Native American and Hillbilly Moonshiners! His dad was a Country/bluegrass musician, and taught the youngster his first chords. But the young Bullard was more into Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. He started a rock band, but slowly drifted back towards Country music. Still today, he finds his music too Country for rock, and too Rock to be Country, but has found his niche in fringe characters like bikers, rodeo riders and renegades, Indeed he has been told that his music sounds like it should come from a modern day “Smokey & The Bandits” movie.
The album starts off with “Lord, Have Mercy”, which has a good Country Honky Tonk sound, albeit with a heavy metal guitar playing through it. “Wicked Ways”, “All To Pieces” also have the heavy metal beat to Country sounding songs.
“Hey Hey Mama” and “Warpath” have more or a blues influence.
But tracks like “Jesus, Jail Or Texas”, “The Next Tear” and “Back To You” exude a real raw Country sound.
It’s an interesting sound, which over the piece, I really enjoyed.

COLD TONE HARVEST are a quartet from South East Michigan, consisting of Andrew Sigworth, Brian Williams, Ozzie Andrews and Tony Pace. Sigworth is the lead vocalist and songwriter, having composed all 12 tracks on “After You”, their debut full length CD.
Most of the songs are slow ballads, but there are a couple of upbeat Country numbers, “Adeline” and “Daniel” which really make the album for me.
There’s also “Hold On”, a more upbeat number, which has a rather old timey English folk song sound, yet modern arrangement. It’s quite hard to describe.
But in the main, the album is quite slow, with “Wake Me” standing out. There are some nice harmonies from Erin Zindle, who really adds to the sound.
If you like your singer songwriters, this could be worth checking out.

I SEE HAWKS IN L.A. is quite a mouthful for a band name, but that’s exactly what we have here.
The  California Country band released their first album back in 2001, and they have quietly been going about their business since, steadily building up a fanbase across the world.
The band consists of original members Rob Waller and Paul Lacques, alongside Paul Marshall and Victoria Jacobs. Waller is the main vocalist, but Jacobs, the group’s drummer, leads the vocals on a couple of tracks.
Although the twang isn’t as evident, the California element has me thinking about how this compares with the famous Bakersfield sound. There’s certainly plenty steel guitars, and some strong harmonies that really impressed me.
The ballads really win it for me, especially those featuring the steel, like “Pour Me”.  I also enjoyed the gentle rhythm  on tracks like “Singing In The Wind”, “The Isolation Mountains” and “Tearing Me In Two”.
There are upbeat numbers like “Stoned With Melisa” and the really rockin’ “The Last Man In Tujunga” and “King Of The Rosemead Boogie”.
The opening track, “Ballad For The Trees” is a gentler upbeat number, and the catchy “Live and Never Learn” won me over quite early on.
This was really quite an enjoyable listen. They’re heading our way in August, with dates at Belladum, and on Skye. Check them out.

Another Californian Country album comes from BEN BOSTICK. Although South Carolina born, he’s So-Cal based these days. His second album, “Hellfire” has quite a rough and ready, even rocky, edge to his Country sound.
All 11 songs were written by Ben, who cites his influences as Waylon, Springsteen and The Rolling Stones. That gives a fair idea of what to expect from this album.
Some of the tracks are just too way out rock for me, but there are some Country highlights too. The title track is a catchy Waylon type number, whilst “Blow Off Some Steam” has quite a rockabilly feel to it. “Tornado” has a Jerry Reed influence to it- a good upbeat story song.
I also liked “The Other Side Of Wrong” and “How Much Lower Can I Get”.
“Work, Sleep, Repeat” is probably the most mainstream Country number on the album.
Overall, I quite enjoyed the album. Worth checking out!

ROD ABERNETHY has quite a list of achievements. The North Carolina native first recorded back in 1975, before joining a local rock band called Arrogance. He has recorded for many labels over the years, and has provided music for over 70 computer games, including The Hobbitt, Transformers Animated, Jaws :Unleasehed and The Sims Bustin’ Out”.
So, I hear you ask, why does he get a mention here?
Well, he has a new double CD just released called “The Man I’m Supposed To Be” (Songs From Downstairs Records). One CD highlights his acclaimed guitar picking, on both 6 and 12 string guitars, in the style of Leo Kottke, Tommy Emmanuel and John Fahey. The tracks range from the quirky “Lucky Seven” and “Hopscotch” to the slow hypnotic “Sleepytime”, and the celtic influenced “Abby”.
The other CD showcases his simple acoustic singing style.
All but two of the songs are written by Abernethy. One of them, “The Man I’m Supposed To Be”, was written by BJ Barham (of the earlier mentioned American Aquarium), but is delivered in a very personal style by Rod, and quite suitably lends itself to the album title.
All of the songs are delivered in a soft James Taylor style. It kicks off with the gentle “Simple & True”, which I really liked. It has a soft Celtic influence, whilst maintaining its’ southern roots.
“The Bucket Song”, which was co-written by Nashville songwriter Wyatt Easterling, has more of a bluesy feel to it, whilst “The Bridge At Sagamore” has more of a haunting sound, blending bluegrass with Dylan.
There is a “driving” song, “Carolina Roads”, which is quite mid tempo, ideal for a slow Sunday drive.
The vocals CD finishes with “Pleasant Street”, which sums up the album.
A very pleasant listen.

From Chicago, our next release comes from MARSHALL HJERTSTEDT. “Carnivals And Other Tragedies” is a 7 track collection of self penned material, described as spanning folk-rock and roots, whilst in the spirit of Ian Tyson and Tom Paxton.
I certainly found the songs a pleasant listen, which should appeal to Country listeners, especially fans of singer songwriters.
This is his third album, and starts off with “Carnival Ride”, quite an upbeat number, which I really enjoyed. “Merry Go Around” is labelled as a songwriters lament, complete with a soft fiddle shuffle.
“The Devil Is in The Details” has quite an eerie haunting feel to it, whilst “El Nino”, has a soft Latin influence, as the self-confessed weather buff tells of the driest place of earth in South America.
The CD rounds out with the quite mainstream “Lost And Found” and the quite melodic “The River”.
A nice listen.

Rounding off, a couple of singles worthy of a mention here.
SHEEP IN WOLVES CLOTHING are an Edinburgh based band featuring Ohio born Teresa Workman  Noble on lead vocals, alongside Manual Munoz Ibanez, Michael Pisanek and Murray McLauchlin.
Influenced by modern stars like Miranda Lambert, Cam and Ashley Monroe, the band have released their new single “A Storm in The Night”, a guitar driven song, which I really enjoyed. It has a catchy upbeat feel to it. 
It’s also included on their self titled double EP, which also features their debit single, “Standing Rock”, which tells of the plight of the Indian Reservation, whose lives are threatened by the building of an oil pipeline near to their land. 
Other tracks featured are “Over You” and a cover of Kasey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow”, as well as an a capella version of “Wayfaring Stranger”.

Finally, KELTIC STORM, led by Irish Country music promoter James McGarrity, have come up with a song that tells of the links between the Scots and the Irish. “The Shamrock And Tartan” is a lovely song, which includes many of the cultural similarities and differences across the sea.
And it’s all in a good cause. The proceeds from the 99p I-Tunes downloads will benefit homeless charities in both Scotland and Ireland, through the Simon Community.