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Sunday, 4 June 2017

June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 3 April 2017

April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 3 February 2017

Feb 2016

BRANDON McPHEE has many strings to his bow. He’s a champion accordionist, and also presenter of the Caithness Music Television programme each week on Keep It Country TV. He’s also built up quite a following on the Country music circuit, both here and in Ireland, and his new album, “In Country Song” (Pan Records) will surely enhance this side of his career.
The album features Robert, Manson & Keith from The Dynamos, where Brandon has served his Country music apprenticeship, as well as Nashville based Orcadian Phil Anderson, Grand Ole Opry staff fiddle player Eamon McLoughlin, Steel guitarist Steve Hinson and Music city session singer Marcia Ramirez. Bringing all that talent together has produced a wonderful sound, which brings out the best in Brandon.
The choice of material is also impressive. There are some well known covers, like “Harper Valley PTA”, “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down”, “Cry Cry Cry” and “Is Anyone Going To San Antone”. But there’s also some impressive, lesser known numbers. Brandon is a big Billy Ray Cyrus fan, and like his previous Country album, he has covered a few Billy Ray numbers, but this time around, he’s chosen some less obvious material.
The title track, is actually the theme to a film that Billy Ray starred in a few years back. It’s a really infectious number that works well here. He also covers “My Everything” and “Bluegrass State Of Mind”, both Billy Ray covers. The album opens with the fun “Milkman’s Eyes”, which was written by Bobby Cyrus (Billy Ray’s brother).
Other tracks include the old Don Williams number, “In The Shelter Of Your Eyes”, Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All”, Elvis’ “Burning Love” and even The Woolpackers’ “Hillbilly Rock, Hillbilly Roll”.
There’s a lot of variety on the album, and really enjoyed it throughout. He’s quite a talent.

In the 12 years since she first appeared on the Country radio, MIRANDA LAMBERT has made quite an impression, with five highly acclaimed albums, six CMA Female Vocalist Awards, and countless other accolades.
Her sixth album, “The Weight Of Her Wings” (RCA) is a double album set, split into two, “The Nerve” and “The Heart”. I’m sure there is some reasoning between the different CD’s, as they are very different albums. I’m missing something though, as I just don’t get it.
CD1, “The Nerve”, has a really strange feel to it. A few of the tracks, like “Highway Vagabond” and “Running Just In Case” sound like they’ve been recorded with very dated equipment, or techniques. I’m sure it’s deliberate. I just don’t know why.
The one track that did impress me was “You Wouldn’t Know Me”, with it’s driving bass. I also quite liked “Getaway Driver”, which is quite a pleasant ballad.
Her latest single, “We Should Be Friends” is quite an irritating pop number, as is “Pink Sunglasses”.
CD2, “The Heart”, is much more of a conventional album, with some really nice sounds on offer.
“Good Ol’ Days” has a real southern lazy summer feel to it, whilst “Like The Birds” has a really catchy feel good chorus line.
“Tin Man”, which opens the CD, is a really nice ballad, whilst I quite enjoyed the closing track, the gentle driving “I’ve Got Wheels”.
But my stand out track has to be “To Learn Her”. Spencer Cullum’s steel guitar intro just makes its’ mark, but Miranda’s vocals are just so Country on this song too. She’s sounds so natural, and mature, with this type of song, I don’t know why she doesn’t do this type of song more often.
Miranda will be here in August. This 24 track CD package will have to keep you going until then.

One of the most refreshing Irish Country albums I’ve heard for some time comes from family group, THE MURPHYS, on their album, “Breaking Ground” (Sharpe Music). The quartet feature dad Pat, with daughters Cindy, Candy and Katie, and they certainly have come up with an original sound.
Their vocals are strongly Irish, which makes them stand out from the crowd, and all the tracks are original, and self written. Candy and Katie are the main writers, with dad contributing on the rousing “Working Mom”, and self composing “Relatively Speaking”. Pat is lead vocalist on the song,
Derek Ryan added his tuppenceworth to the previous single hit “The Man Who Loved Me First”, There’s also an acoustic version of this song added in, as a bonus track to the end of the album.
Family is obviously important to The Murphys. As well as parents being honoured, there’s one for “Sisters”, whilst “Strong Is The One”, deals with father-son relationships.
With them avoiding the typecast “American accent” vocal style, some of the songs do sound a shade folky, but the arrangements are, in the main, Country. The more folky numbers include the gypsy number, “Nelena”.
One of the quirkiest songs on the album, is “Our Beloved Billy”, a bouncy little number. That’s immediately followed by the slower “When Your First Love Says I Do (But To You)”. Two songs that are linked, yet so different.
Other delicate ballads, include “The Empty Room”, a song that explores the emotions involved with Ireland’s Emigration generation.
I loved the whole album, but “The Streets Of Promise” stands out for me. As does the often recorded “My Connermara Marble Ring”, a song actually written by Candy when she was just 16, and sung by sister Cindy.
It’s a little different, but I like it. A group who are “Breaking Ground”. Check out The Murphys.

Country music fans on both sides of the Irish Sea regularly tune into HUGO DUNCAN’s daily afternoon show on BBC Radio Ulster in their droves. He has recorded too many albums to count, over the years, and has just added another to his collection with “The Singer” (Sharpe).
The album includes 16 tracks, including three originals. Local writer Gerard Dornan contributed two numbers, including the lead single “Wee Susie”, which is about Hugo’s mother. Gerard also contributed the catchy “Way Back When”, which is one of the stand out tracks. Vincent Soye, who penned Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 song, also has a cut on this album. It’s another upbeat number called “Fooled Once Again”.
Elsewhere, Uncle Hugo has recorded a wide selection of evergreen favourites, including Irish favourites like “Isle Of Innisfree”, “Patsy Fegan” and “Forty Shades Of Green”. He also offers quite a relaxing version of “Dirty Old Town”. He does his own versions of John Denver’s “Annies Song”, Tom T Hall’s “One More Last Chance”, and a couple of old Seekers numbers, “Morningtown Ride” and “World Of Our Own”.
I liked the CD sleeve, which has quite a little bit of history on Hugo, as singer and radio presenter. It’s also a nice touch to dedicate the album to the late Gene Stuart, who passed away a year ago.
It’s easy listening at it’s best – The Uncle Hugo way !

Another Irish favourite is ROBERT MIZZELL. He’s actually from Louisiana, but has been living and working in Ireland for over 20 years now. His latest album, “Travelling Shoes” (Dolphin Records) is a stone Country selection of 15 tracks, which should go down well fans.
Most of the numbers are good upbeat tracks like the title track, “She’s On The Way”, “God Bless The Farmer”, “John Deere Beer”, “Gone Gone Gone” and Canadian Gord Bamford’s “Day Job”.
There are ballads too, including Mel Street’s “Borrowed Angel”, and the very simple “Like I Never Loved Before”, a hit for Phil Vasser. One that really impressed me was “He Carried Her Memory”, a beautiful ballad previously recorded by Bradley Walker.
Robert goes back to his childhood in “City Of Shreveport”, and revisits one of his hits of a few years ago. He has slowed “Mama Courtney” down to a ballad. If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s about a remarkable foster mother, who looked after no less than 32 children. Robert feels that the slower version helps get the message across.
This is a stone Country album. No Irish Country here. Just pure Country, and, don’t forget to check out our gig list page, because Robert is here in Scotland in the next few weeks.

NIAMH LYNN has been making quite an impression on Irish audiences in the past year, and brought out her debut album towards the end of 2016. “An Old Fashioned Song” features quite a few songs with an old fashioned, almost rockabilly feel to them. Most obvious of these are “Gotta Lot Of Rhthym In My Soul”, and “Aint No Wheels On My Ship” which is almost rockabilly,  and then several Patsy Cline stringed influenced ballads, “Always”, “He Called Me Baby” and even “Blue”, has more of a Patsy feel to it than Leann Rimes.
The title track is the old Billie Jo Spears hit, and she also does her version of  Connie Smith’s “Once a Day”. An interesting cover is an old Susie Allanson hit, “While I Was Making Love to You”, a good upbeat number, which I enjoyed hearing again.
She can deliver a good ballad too. Her version of “Blue Bayou” is a little bit more upbeat than Linda Ronstadt’s version, leading a bit more towards Roy Orbison perhaps.
There is one original song on the album, written by Declan Quinn. “I’m Missing You” is a big powerful ballad, which Niamh handles well.
It’s a good debut offering, Niamh has a sound that’s a bit different from the other Irish girl singers on the scene today.  

One of the freshest Country sounds I’ve heard from a British outfit for a while comes from a six piece band from the English Midlands, who call themselves THE MOST UGLY CHILD. If their name doesn’t catch your attention, then the lyrics on the first track, including “I could’ve been the greatest Country singer, if it wasn’t for my voice”, certainly will.
Centered around the songwriting partnership of Daniel Wright and Stevie-Leigh Goodison, who have been likened to some of the legendary country duos of yesteryear, the band is made up of some of the finest musicians in the Midlands. Current line up includes Matt Cutler and Max Johnson (The Broomhill String Band), the tightest rhythm section in town, Nicole J Terry (The Rip-Roaring Success) on fiddle and ‘Big’ Jim Widdop (The Sadies, Los Pacaminos, Cold Light Of Day, Buck Shot Soup) on pedal steel and dobro.
Their debut album, “Copper And Lace” is pure Country, with some real lush harmonies, the kind not heard since Gram & Emmylou.
The whole affair kicks off with the lively “What Might Have Been”, which really sets the toes tapping, and the really fast “Golden Gates”. “Lungs” has a neat short banjo intro before bursting into a rather boisterous upbeat number.  
There are slower numbers, like the simply arranged “My Pony”, the romantic “Roses” and the steel laced “Just Another Lesson In Pain”.
Stand out tracks for me include “Queen Of The Honky Tonks”, the catchy “Long Gone Woman Blues”, and the traditional sounding “Today You Said Goodbye”. Then “The Bottle And The Fall” needs no explanation.
The harmonies throughout the album are just superb.
It really is one of the most Country sounding albums to come out of these islands for a long long time.

There’s something about Texas Country music that just makes it rise above everywhere else, especially when it’s live. ROBERT EARL KEEN has been plying his music since 1984 and has 18 albums to his credit. One of the most iconic of these was “No.2 Live Diner”, in 1996, which was recorded at Floors Country Store in Helotes, Texas, just outside of San Antonio.
Now he has returned to the same venue and recorded “Live Dinner Reunion” (Dualtone).  The album really captures the feel of a Texas Honky Tonk, with some superb music.
Guests include Lyle Lovett, Bruce Robison, Cory Morrow, Cody Braun, Cody Canada, and Joe Ely.
Like his famous tune, “The Road Goes On Forever” (the finale on the album, which features Ely),  the gig went on, thus, is featured over 2 CD’s, all beautifully packaged like an authentic café menu, complete with graffiti changing cheesy enchilada’s to greasy!
The music is superb. It’s real raw Texan sound, ranging from the western swing favoured “Ninety Nine Years For One Dark Day”, right through to the rocky “Amarillo Highway”, to bluegrass influenced “Hot Corn, Cold Corn” and ballads like “I’ll Go Downtown” and Robison’s “No Kinda Dancer”.
It’s all great stuff. If you cant get to Texas to savour the sounds for yourself, then this is the next best thing!
Incidentally, the land which is now the town of Helotes, where the album was recorded, was once owned by a Scottish immigrant, Dr. George Marnoch. He had a stagepost and post office here, serving the cowboys enroute from Bandera to San Antonio.

Occasionally an album arrives that is just so Country that it blows you away. California raised AJ HOBBS did just that with his album, “Too Much Is Never Enough”(Booker Records), which gets it’s worldwide release on the 17th February.  Whilst AJ is based on the West coast, he does admit to having a lot of Texas in his music, and that shows. He also has a lot of Haggard in his soul as well.
Although he’s played music in various bands for years, it’s only in 2013 that he formed his own band. His first show was opening for Shooter Jennings.
The 12 track album was recorded in several LA studio’s, and produced by renowned West Coast producer and musician Ted Russell Kamp. He calls his music “Outlaw Soul”, but, as I say, there are solid Country influences, especially Merle and Waylon. There’s even a song about them, and a cover of The Hag’s “The Bottle Let Me Down”.  Several other tracks, notably “The Loser” and the closing ballad, “Tomorrow I’ll Be Hurtin’” also have that Hag stamp on them.
The whole album kicks off with the title track, which has quite a rockabilly feel to it, but the Country feel sets in quite quickly. “Daddy Loved The Lord” is a superb number about fighting the booze, and I loved the swing beat to “Are You Going To Tennessee”, again with more than a little Merle influence.
I was also impressed with the honky tonking “Take It Slow”, a duet with fellow Californian Dominique Pruitti. They sound great together.
“A Whole Lot Of You And Me” shows AJ’s more mellow side, and it works real well.
It’s a superb album. This is Real Country music, and one that real Country fans will treasure. There are a few naughty words slipped in on a couple of tracks. Nothing that wouldn’t be out of place in a live honky tonk, but may prevent a radio play or two.  Otherwise, a brilliant album which proves that Country can still be Country!

Now for some Americana releases.
West Viginians STEVE HUSSEY & JAKE EDDY have an interesting album in “The Miller Girl” (Merf Records). Steve is a well known singer songwriter around West Virginia & Ohio, especially in clubs and festivals, whilst 17 year old Jake is a state flat picking champion on guitar, with second place in banjo and third in mandolin.
Steve wrote the songs for the album, and whilst the arrangements were collaborated on between them.
The album was initially a recording project for Steve’s wedding, but grew into a concept album which follows the life of a man, initially lost, but as the album progresses, love sweeps in, and by the tenth cut, everything is rosy. “Long List Of Goodbyes” really stands out for me. It’s a good upbeat, break up song. The opening track is also quite a catchy little number, which entices you into the album.
The title track, is a gentler ballad, which features some nice mandolin.
The whole album is a really nice listen. I really quite enjoyed it. Already it’s had a lot of airplay in Europe ahead of its’ US release. It’s well worth a listen.

Next we have the teaming up of singer songwriters from the southern states and the west coast. BRIGITTE DEMEYER grew up in California on a diet of soul singers like Etta James and Mavis Staples, whilst WILL KIMBOROUGH is from Mobile, Alabama, heavily influenced by the guitar driven rock outfits like ZZ Top, The Allmans and JJ Cale.
But six years ago, they joined their voices and they were destined to make beautiful music together.
Whilst they have collaborated on a couple of album projects, their first duet album, “ Mockingbird Soul” is released this month here in the UK (BDM Music).
Certainly Brigitte’s vocals lean more to the soulful side of things, especially on the title track, “Rainy Day” and “Honey Bee”.
Her vocal style is a bit more mainstream on “Little Easy”, and the opening track, “Eveything”.
Will is no stranger to Americana fans over here, and leads the vocals on “Broken Fences” and “October Song”. “Running Round” is a bright & breezy number, which I’d have no problem playing on Country radio. I also quite liked “I Can Hear Your Voice”.
An interesting album for Americana fans.

JOHN McCUTCHEON is certainly not a new name on the scene. The Wisconsin native has just released his 38th album, “Trolling For Dreams” (Appalsongs). He is best known as an American folk singer, and master of the hammer dulcimer. His biggest claim to fame is writing the wartime peace song “Christmas In The Trenches”.
On this new album, the songs crossover from folk and should interest Country listeners too.
Especially interesting is “Sharecropper’s Son”, which features Tim O’Brien on vocals, and Nashville musician Stuart Duncan on fiddle and mandolin. The legendary pair also feature on the fiddle infused opening track, “Gone”, and the lilting “The Reason I’m Here”.
“Three Chords And The Truth” is an upbeat catchy Country rock number. “New Man Now” is another upbeat track. “This Aint Me” is quite a catchy mid tempo number.
“Between Good and Gone” and “The Bible” are nice relaxing ballads which I also enjoyed.
I found the album to be quite a pleasant listen.

The one way to get noticed is to have a catchy name. ORDINARY ELEPHANT certainly do that. They are the married duo of Crystal Hariu and Peter Damore, who wrote all the tracks on their album, “Before I Go” (Berkalin Records).
They have quite an old timey bluegrass sound, with some nice fiddle, mandolin and banjo.
“Who Am I” is the best testimony to that. It’s a strong bluegrass number, as is “Washington Said East”.
The upbeat “Railroad Man” also stands out. The simple “Leaving Kerrville” also appealed to me.
“Can I Count On You” is a really nice old time waltz that worked really well, and the title track is an equally pleasant ballad.
Ordinary Elephant have quite a pleasant sound. A really nice listen.

THE GRAHAMS are another married duo, with Alyssa and Doug basing themselves in the Nashville area. We have previously reviewed their “Glory Train” album, released back in 2015. Several tracks from that CD are featured again here on their new album. But they are different recordings. Their new project is titled “The Grahams And Friends (Live In Studio)”, and features guests such as The Watkins Family, John Fullbright, The Milk Carton Kids and David Garzia and Suzzanne Choffel, not to mention Alvin Youngblood Hart.  If you follow the Americana scene, you’ll be familiar with these names.
Some of the music featured here, also features in a film documentary called “Rattle The Hocks” which captures The Grahams relentless journey exploring the relationship between America’s roots music and it’s railroads.
The music is quite varied from ballads like “Tender Annabelle” and “Broken Bottle”, through to swinging upbeat numbers like “Gambling Girl” and “Kansas City”.
“Blow Wind Blow” and “The Spinner” both have quite a traditional feel to them whilst “Mama” has quite a gospel feel to it.
Whilst the couple write most of their own material, they have covered “City Of New Orleans”, in quite an original way. It’s well worth checking their version out.
They have quite an interesting sound. I quite like it. Check them out.

Nashville is a versatile musical city. It’s famous for its’ mainstream pop flavoured Country. In an area just across the Cumberland River from downtown is East Nashville, which is where the Americana scene is all the rage. But even within these parts, there are many different styles all trying to get your attention.
ADRIAN & MEREDITH, by their own admission, are “roughing up the genre’s edges, with the rule breaking spirit of punk , the vintage twang of old timey folk , a shake of carefree rock’n’roll, and even the occasional frenetic bounce of early swing”.  Yes, it’s quite a concoction.
Their album is “More Than A Little” and it’s certainly different. The duo, and their musicians certainly exert a lot of energy into their music. Recorded in a local east Tennessee studio with Mark Robertson, who is well versed in stretching Americana music’s boundaries.
There is a lot of catchy fiddle. Thanks to Meredith, whist Adrian leads the vocals.
Some of the tracks that stood out included the driving “Birthday Cakes”, and the catchy “Southern Call”.  Quite an interesting listen.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Dec 2016

THE MAVERICKS are one of the best named groups ever. They are a phenomenon here in Britain, but  never made the same chart impact in America. Their blend of Latin, Rock and Country provided the most original sounds to come out of Nashville in recent years. And Country fans across the world embraced their hits like “Dance The Night Away”, “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” and “I’ve Got This Feeling”.
In America, they’ve built up a cult live audience, and it’s the live show that is featured in their latest album, “All Night Live Vol 1” on their own Mono Mundo label.
The album, available on CD, and a double vinyl LP, features 16 tracks. Unlike many “live” albums, this isn’t a set of hits, although, I have to say, many of the songs sound the same.
Most of the numbers are upbeat, danceable tunes, but the tempo does slow, on a few tracks like “Pardon Me”, and the cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”.
The first radio single, “Come Unto Me”, is an epic 7 ½ minute Latin number.
The band these days is still lead by Raul Malo, with Eddie Perez, Jerry Dale McFadden and Paul Deakin. This live set also features Ed Friedland, Matt Cappy, Max Abrams and Michael Guerra.
What can I say? It’s a Mavericks album. One that really captures their electric live sound. If you’re a Mavericks fan, it’s one you’ll want to get your hands on.
And they have a new studio album coming up next year as well.

JOHN PRINE is something of a legend across Folk/Americana/Country fields, having recording over 20 albums in his career. But the latest album from the 70 year old, who was discovered back in 1971 by Kris Kristofferson is a real beauty. “For Better For Worse” teams Prine with a delightful team of wonderful female vocalists such as Iris Dement, Kathy Mattea, Lee Ann Womack, Miranda Lambert and Amanda Shires.
The songs are really appealing too. They include classic hits like “Storms Never Last” (with Lee Ann Womack), “Cold Cold Heart” (Miranda Lambert) and “Falling In Love Again” (Alison Krauss).  They also include classics that weren’t as big a hit as they should have been. I’m talking of Ernest Tubb/Loretta Lynn’s “Who’s Gonna Take The Garbage Out”, and “Mr & Mrs Used To Be”, both  recreated here with Iris Dement, and “Color Of The Blues”, originally a George Jones hit, covered here by Prine and blues singer Susan Tedeschi. It’s a superb version. The old Buck Owens/Rose Maddox duet, “Mental Cruelty” is re-created alongside Kacey Musgraves.
One of the most interesting covers is a slightly upbeat version of Vince Gill’s “Look At Us”, featuring Morganne Stapleton, wife of singer songwriter Chris.
Prine’s vocal style sounds a bit “lived in”, which works well on these songs. On several tracks, he has a distinct Merle Haggard sound. Indeed, my favourite track on the whole collection, is “Remember Me”, which Merle recorded on the 2014 Buddy Holly Tribute. It’s one of two songs featuring the beautiful voice of Kathy Mattea.
To wind up the album , he has recorded “My Happiness” with wife Fiona, and a solo story song, “Just Waiting” rounds it all off.
The traditional sound of the whole album, recreating hits from the days of Ernest & Loretta, George Jones and Conway, and yet sounding so fresh, really appealed to me.  Forget the CMA’s Forever Country series - this is the real Forever Country album of 2016 !

In a year which we lost Joey Feek, Jackie Storrar and countless family & friends to cancer, it’s good to realise that it can be beaten. British born 70’s singer OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN had her own battle with the illness back in the 90’s, and 22 years on, and cancer free, she endlessly promotes breast cancer awareness.
Her latest project is “LIV-ON”, a collaboration with Nashville singer songwriter BETH NEILSON CHAPMAN and Toronto born songwriter AMY SKY.
This inspiring new project grew out of the three artists’ personal experiences with loss and illness, which they all survived to “LIV ON” and celebrate each day with a depth of gratitude. This labour of love stemmed from the trio sharing their stories together and expressing their deepest feelings from the most difficult to the most celebratory. It’s the hope that this music can uplift hearts burdened by grief while at the same time bring comfort to the listener.
“As a group, it's our intention with this album to create songs with a message of compassion and hope,” said Newton-John. “They are for anyone facing a time of challenge in their life, whether it is grieving a loss - or on the journey to health and recovery.”
The baseline of this album is stunningly beautiful harmonies. The songs are all quite thoughtful ballads. They include Beth’s “Sand And Water” and the upbeat “Stone In My Pocket”, and Amy’s “I Will Take Care Of You”, and a new version of Olivia’s “Grace & Gratitude”.
There are new songs too, like the haunting opening track “My Heart Goes Out To You”, and the rather spine chilling “Immortality”, It certainly gave me goosebumps.
The title track “LIV-ON” is quite an anthem for the trio.
It’s quite a heavy album. It’s one that won’t appeal to some, but will give great comfort to others.
Olivia, Beth & Amy will be bring the album to life, when they visit Glasgow for Celtic Connections next month. That concert will surely be something special !

When the Celtic Connections 2017 line up was announced, the name MARGO PRICE stood out. I wasn’t aware of her music, but decided to check her out. Was I in for a surprise!  
Her album, “Midwest Farmers Daughter” (Third Man Records), released earlier this year, simply blew me away. And it’s not just me. Nashville Scene named the CD “Best Country Record of 2016”. Glad someone in the Music City media recognises good Country music when they hear it.
Originally from Buffalo Prairie, Illinois, she recorded the album in Memphis Sun Studio in just three days.
The 11 track album kicks off with “Hands Of Time”, a real personal journey through her 33 years, and you feel a movie coming on. Boy has this girl lived, and she’s happy to share her story, warts and all, with her audience.
“About To Find Out” has a distinct vintage Loretta feel to it, whilst “Weekender” is a catchy Country number that displays a cute warble that really catches your attention.  “Hurtin’ On The Bottle”, for which the video is on the Celtic Connections website, is a real old fashioned Country Honky Tonk number that I just loved, and  “Desperate And Depressed”, which closes the album, is another simple Country arrangement, but with a bit more of a message to it.
“Since You Put Me Down”, starts out with a real venerable vocal, before the band kicks in with some impressive steel and bass. This one really has a strong Texas beat to it.  The same can be said for “This Town Gets Around”. If I was in any doubt, I’m totally won over now.
By contrast, the rather short “World’s Greatest Loser” is a much softer number, and the vulnerability of her voice returns.
There isn’t a whole lot of Country music coming out of Nashville these days, but this lady is keeping the tradition going, and will be a welcome visitor to our shores at Celtic Connections.

Everybody wants to sing with WILLIE NELSON. At 83 years old, the Texan institution just keeps on going. Hardly a few months go by without a new Willie album. But even with his own status, he still has the respect for other artists that gave him a helping hand all these years back.
Ray Price, who passed away in 2013, was an inspiration to many Texan and Nashville artists. Willie worked with Ray way back in the 60’s, and they have recorded together from time to time throughout the years.
Now, in latest Legacy Recordings release, Willie releases “For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price”. Included are classics like “Heartaches By The  Number”,  “I’ll Be There”, “City Lights” and “Crazy Arms”. He also includes Hank Cochran’s “Make The World Go Away”, which maybe more recognisable as an Eddy Arnold hit, but Ray Price did do the original.
There are three of Willie’s own compositions, “Night Life”, “I’m Still Not Over You”, and “It Always Will Be”. Not a bad deal for Willie – record a tribute, and collect a quarter of the songwriting royalties!
The last of these, was featured on Ray’s final album.  Producer Fred Foster and conductor/arranger Bergen White, worked on that last Price album, and also come together to produce this album, which also features The Time Jumpers on six of the tracks.
It’s a lovely tribute. So many artists would try to emulate their tribute subject, but this is just Willie being Willie, and that’s the way Ray would’ve wanted it.

A few years ago, the crowd at the Caithness Festival really gave a rising star, all the way from Kansas, a very warm Scottish welcome. The young man was RUSTY RIERSON, and he has just released his latest album, “What Happened To My Country”, which should further increase his following.
The album contains 13 tracks, 12 plus an alternative cut. Eight of the tracks were written, or co-written by Rusty.
A couple of tracks have already been radio singles, the catchy “Hey Hey Hello”, and the current “Something Bout You”, a Kevin Welch song, which Don Williams had a cut on. Don just happens to write a few words endorsing the album, and recommended the song to Rusty.
The title track is an upbeat anthem, which starts off about our music, before widening the title to cover America’s woes.
The song which features an alternative take is “That’s How Sure I Am”, which he does a solo version, and ends the album, with the song as a duet with Stephanie Layne, a Minnesota born Country singer, based in Nashville, but very much involved in the equestrian side of things too. The pair really do a great job on the song.
The album is a really good mix of upbeat, and gentler ballads, all Country.
One track which stands out for me is “Faith Ain’t Faith”, a beautiful ballad which really encompasses Rusty’s Christian life. On a more upbeat note, “Rain On My Parade” is a really catchy little number that I really liked.
A bit more downhome, and recalling childhood memories, is the gentle “Life’s Too Short”, which was another stand out track. On a similar note “More” tells of his mid life crisis by approaching 30 !  Life aint even started by then Rusty !
There aint a bad track on the album. It’s a really good listen, and if Rusty left you wanting more after he played in Halkirk in 2014, well this album’s just up your street.

33 year old DEREK RYAN began his career in a pop boy band called D-Side, but for the past ten years has been pursuing a Country career across Ireland and beyond. After six albums to his credit, the last two topping the Irish charts, Derek returns with, not one but two, new albums.
“Happy Man” is a good mix of 14 songs, mostly, but not exclusively, written by the singer.
Amongst the covers are Christy Moore’s “City Of Chicago”, Tom Waits “Jersey Girl”, Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy” and a couple of Bryan Adams songs, the upbeat “You Belong To Me” and “When You Love Somebody”.
The CD kicks off with the rather pop sounding “Happy Man”, which works well as an opener to set the mood, perhaps more live than on CD. “You’re Only Young Once” and “Stay All Night” are similar.
I was really impressed with “Onto The Whiskey I Go”, a really catchy number, and really Country sounding. “Sax,Drums & Rock’n’Roll” is another really catchy number that I enjoyed. Probably more of a showband sound, but it’s a sound that still goes down well.
He adds some traditional Irish magic on the foot tapping “Won’t Ya Come Down To Yarmouth Town”. More of a folksy ballad is the lovely “Sixty Years Ago”, written by Seamus Doran. Derek explains that the style of this song, is one of his strongest areas, and I wouldn’t disagree.  Another number which has a folksy feel to it is “Carry Me Home”, which Derek wrote with Marc Roberts. Again he really feels at home with this style of music.
His second album release, “This Is Me”, is his Nashville Sessions album, featuring 11 tracks, all written or co-written by the County Carlow native.  The album covers quite a variety in styles.
The title track, written with Eleanor McEvoy, nicely sums up where Derek’s music fits in today. It’s a good strong song, which serves as an introduction to the album, which may be a little different to what his fans have come to expect from him.
“Some Days” and “Fine Line” are quite catchy little numbers, but I did think that “Brand New Day” and “100 Numbers” are quite pop sounding.
“Better Than Being Alone” is a strong ballad that would sound equally at home on US Country radio, or pop radio here.  He also features a new version of his song “God’s Plan”, which has been recorded by several Irish based singers in recent years.
“Connemara Sky” is an interesting number, which I quite liked. It encompassed folk, country and pop/rock vibes, and blended together really nicely.
With so many Irish singers doing a lot of the same material, it’s always refreshing to hear one branching out and doing his own thing.
That said, I think, “This Is Me” may be a harder sell than “Happy Man”. Derek will be hoping one sells the other.

CLIONA HAGAN is this year’s biggest Irish rising star. With 2 ITunes chart topping singles, and her own TV show on Keep It Country, the Country Tyrone lass has certainly made her mark this past year. But she’s no overnight success. She was a finalist on RTE’s “All Ireland Talent Show” back in 2009, and at that time, was billed as an opera singer. She has Scottish connections too, having graduated as a secondary teacher at Edinburgh University.
But Country music was always her goal, and the advent of Keep It Country TV has really helped her career, as now she has her first album, “Straight To You” just released (Sharpe Music).
The title track, “I Came Straight To You”, her current single, is an old Patty Loveless number, but Cliona certainly puts her own stamp on it. It’s a good uptempo number that will keep dancers happy on the Irish scene. Her classical voice training has no doubt helped her reach the range of notes required for “The Cowboy Yodel”. It’s a classic song, but one few can sing. Cliona really excels with it.
For Irish traditionalists, she really adds something to “Let Him Go Let Him Tarry”.  “Happy Heart” and “We’re All Gonna Die Someday” are also catchy upbeat numbers.
I was pleased to see a couple of covers from a generation ago from two of my favourite girl singers. She does a good job on “I Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry” (Janie Fricke) and “Dancing Your Memory Away” (Charly McClain).  Her version of Victoria Shaw’s “Never Alone” is also a winner.
She also has an original song, “Smile” from the pen of John Farry.
There are a couple of more pop sounding numbers on the album, including the earlier single, “Dance On” and the Sugarland cover “Stuck On You”. She also does a rather interesting version of “Travelling Soldier”. I’m a little undecided about Cliona’s take on the Dixie Chicks number. Having heard numerous version, all at the same tempo, Cliona has given the song a quicker beat. I’m not sure it really works, but good to hear someone do something different with the song.
On the whole, though, this is an excellent debut album, and one that can only add the cream on top of a great year for Cliona.

ANDY COONEY was born into a New York based Irish-American family, and has built up a musical career around that. His dozen or so albums capture Irish, Gospel, classics and Country songs.
He has recorded with The New York Tenors, Phil Coulter, The RTE Orchestra, as well as Crystal Gayle and Larry Gatlin.
Indeed he spent time back in the 1980’s writing in Nashville. Some of the songs he wrote are only getting an airing now, in his latest album, “Irish Country Skyline” (Sharpe).
One example, Andy tells us, is “On The Eight Day”, which he wrote 29 years ago. It was shopped around Nashville. And whilst it had a lot of interest, remained uncut until Andy revisited it here.
One of the catchiest numbers is “Country Music Was Born”, which features Mick Flavin and Johnny Brady. Not only that, but Andy wrote the song with Nathan Carter, Joe McShane & John Alexander.
One of the writers he worked with in Nashville all these years back was Sheb Wooley, and there are three of Sheb’s songs on this album. Songs that Andy says are being recorded for the first time. They certainly add the Country to an album, which does tend to lean heavily on the Irish side of things.
Recorded in Co. Longford, the whole production is very polished, and is a really good listen.
If you like your Country & Irish, then you’ll really enjoy this album, I’m sure.

CARMEL SILVER began her recording career at the sprightly age of 77 !  Before that, Dublin born Carmel had been a nurse in her adopted city of Coventry in the West Midlands. After giving up her work, she pursued more artistic avenues, including writing poetry, travelling and music. The latter saw her performing in churches across the Midlands, and as far as Spain, where she sings every St Patricks Day.
Like her previous albums, which sold over 15,000 copies, her new album, “The Colour Of His Love”, was produced by Terry Bradford, who has also worked with Charlie Landsborough and Dominic Kirwan.
The album is essentially an album of songs of hope and inspiration. Carmel has a gentle, pleasant voice, making the album easy on the ear. You’ll recognise many of the songs as gospel standards, like “In The Garden”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “Michael Row The Boat Ashore” and “Amazing Grace”.
The title track is an original, written by producer Terry, and his wife Susie Arvesen, and features a choir from The Gilbertson Primary School. It’s a very nice track, in line with the rest of the album.
It wont be everyone’s cup of tea, but we probably all know someone in our families who will appreciate Carmel’s music.

Next up, a new name to me, although apparently “Holding Patterns” is AMANDA RHEAUME’s fourth CD release. She’s an Ottawa based singer songwriter, who won a Canadian Folk award for Aboriginal Songwriter Of The Year back in 2014.
Her music is hard to pigeon hole. She has quite a modern sound, a bit of pop, a slight folksy feel, but quite a Country sound too.  And she was involved in writing all 12 tracks on the album.
One of the stand out songs on the album is “Red Dress”, which features Juno Humanitarian Award winner Chantel Krevlazuk. Although a good listen, the song has a deeper message, dealing about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls across Canada.
On a brighter note, “The Day The Mountain Fell” tells the true story about a second cousin, who was labelled “a miracle child”, after surviving a landslide in British Columbia, back in the 50’s.
I liked the driving beat of “Wolf Of Time”, the catchy opening track, “Get To The Heart” and the softer, melodic “This Time Around”.
“Time To Land” and “Beat The Rain” are quite poppy radio friendly numbers, whilst “Dead Horse” and “On Disappearing” are pleasant ballads.
I really enjoyed the album. A little different from the usual Nashville fayre, and all original.
Amanda has been in Europe since the end of October promoting the album, and will be in Edinburgh on January 23rd.  

I always find western swing music really refreshing, and THE WESTERN FLYERS didn’t disappoint with their new album, “Wild Blue Yonder” (Versa-Tone Records).  The trio are Joey McKenna, Katie Glassman, and Gavin Kelso, all individual champions on their own.
The publicity suggests that their music is best savoured where Saturday night meets Sunday morning, and those who slide effortlessly into their groove end up partying like it’s 1949”.
The music here will certainly do that.  You’ll recognise many of the songs, like “Along The Navajo Trail”, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter”, “Old Fashioned Love” and “Tennessee Waltz”.
There’s also a number of fiddle and upright bass instrumentals to keep the party in full swing.
Using early Neumann, Telefunken and RCA ribbon microphones, and other equipment from the era, it all gives a very authentic feel to their sound.
It’s very much an acquired taste, but it’s a sound I just love. And Marty Stuart does too. He wrote the sleevenotes!

Our next album impressed me from the first track right through to the closing note. It comes from West Virginia raised MARTHA FIELDS. “Southern White Lies” is her second album, and is set for a UK release on December 12th.
She really grew up in a musically diverse family. Her father’s side are Texan/ Okie and her mother’s line is steeped in the traditions of Appalachia. Martha blends both, together with some southern blues, and it makes for a sound which has already won fans at Southern Fried and c2c Festivals, as well as events in Lithuania, Holland and Switzerland. Such is her popularity across Europe she is currently based part of the year in France, and she even has a bilingual website. This girl means business.
The album features mainly original self penned, but there are her interpretations of a varied choice of songs, like the traditional bluegrass number, “Lonesome Road Blues”, Jimmie Rodgers’ “California Blues”, and “Tell Me Baby”, written by Mickey Newbury, and best known as a hit for Jerry Lee Lewis or Brenda Lee. She even covers the Janis Joplin number “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do”.
But it’s her own songs that really make the mark for me.
The opening track, “Soul On The Move” is quite a nice taster for what lies ahead. It’s soulful, with a dash of old timey bluegrass. The title track, “Southern White Lies”, a story of family hardship, has also has quite a Country blues feel to it.  The theme continues on the much the railroad racing “Hard Times”. It’s a real breezy feeling number, a stand out track for me.
“Do As You Are Told”, another upbeat number, this time with a distinct Appalachia feel to it.
On a softer note, her beautiful rendition of the traditional gospel song “What Are They Doing In Heaven” is truly stunning.  The arrangement on her own “Where Do We Go Now”, is also worth a listen.
Hopefully we’ll get to see Martha return to Scotland in 2017. In the meantime, listen out for this album. It’s a cracker, just in time for Christmas !

CHICAGO FARMER, is the moniker of Illinois singer songwriter Cody Diekhoff. His 7th album, “Midwest Side Stories” has just been released. It makes for an interesting listen.
His songs deal with mid west issues, like job loss, long shifts, depression, used cars, skateboards and divided nations. His style is very much like Arlo Guthrie or Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. His voice isn’t the most melodic, but it doesn’t need to be to express the emotions required to get the message across.  Good examples are “Two Sides Of The Story”.
I like the new genre label created for “Farms & Factories”. With a driving drum beat, and some fancy fiddlework, the label “workgrass” really works for me.
“Rocco N’Susie” quite appealed to me. It’s a six minute story of a couple and everything going on around them. I also liked the driving beat of “I’m Still Here”.
It’s a bit different, but The Chicago Farmer is growing on me.

Texan PAUL CAUTHEN was in a wild Texicana group called Sons Of Fathers a few years back, but is now out on his own with “My Gospel” (Lightening Rod Records).  Paul is another singer songwriter who is hard to pigeon hole.  But I did detect a certain Waylon Jennings influence on several tracks, He has the same smokey vocal style.
Despite the title, I wouldn’t call it a gospel album. He has gospel overtones through the songs, but they’re his own, down to earth messages, rather than anything from above!
Having said that “Grand Central” sounds quite “churchy”, It actually tells of low points in Paul’s life, shortly after leaving Sons Of Fathers.
It all kicks off with the Waylon sounding “Still Drivin”, which Paul claims to be his “don’t give up anthem”. It also features some neat Jerry Reed influenced picking. “Hanging Out On The Line”, is another I felt was quite Waylon-ish.
“Once You’re Gone” is quite a catchy number, but does develop into quite a rocky number.
The title track closes the album. Paul has a really captivating voice.
I really quite enjoyed this album. Quite different.

PAUL SACHS is a NYC singer songwriter, who was a new folk winner at the famous Kerrville Festival.
“Love Is A Live” is a pleasant listen. Paul’s voice is quite gentle, but some of the songs on the album have quite a message – even protest songs, but not in an angry tone. Harry Chapin, or Paul Simon comes to mind.
He deals with subjects such as Aids, a father of a new born daughter’s addiction, and subjects of a city shooting. Between the protest songs, are songs of love, like the title track.
“The Killer Inside” is a strange tale of a woman who leaves her family for a man on death row. The song is her story from behind the prison glass.
On “Every Mother’s Son” is about two school friends. One goes off to war, whilst the other stays at home. The subject of refugees is covered in “Families Of The Disappeared”.
Just so it’s not all gloom, the closing track, “The Best Hope Can Do” is a positive closure.
Paul has a pleasant voice, and he handles his messages well.

Another one for those that like their Country mixed with Old Time and Bluegrass sounds. RED TAIL RING are a duo from Kalamazoo, Michigan (yes, it’s a real place!), featuring Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp. Their fourth album, “Fall Away Blues” has just been released here.
The 12 track CD of mainly original songs kicks off with the lush, dreamy title track, featuring Laurel on lead vocals.
On “Love Of The City”, Michael leads the vocals, but Laurel’s harmonies really make this sensitive ballad really something to hear.
Several of the tracks have quite a folky feel, especially “Wonderous Love”, “My New Homeplace”, and “Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies”.
Although the music may be old timey in it’s feel, some of the subjects covered are real current. Take “Gibson Town” for example, which covers the mass shooting in their hometown earlier this year. Then, “Shale Town” deals with the fracking debate.
It’s banjo, fiddle, guitar and two contrasting old time bluegrass vocals. It makes for a very interesting listen.

OK, it’s December. Christmas times a coming. But I do feel violated when I get Christmas music in the post – before Halloween!  Lots of Country stars release Christmas albums. This year’s selection includes Garth & Trisha, Rascall Flatts , Jennifer Nettles, Kasey Musgraves and Amy Grant.
But very few get a UK release. CHRIS YOUNG is spreading his Christmas cheer over here this year, by releasing “It Must Be Christmas” (Sony).  
It’s a bit of the usual fayre with Mel Torme’s “Christmas Song”, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”. Alan Jackson joins him on “There’s A New Kid In Town”, and Brad Paisley on “The First Noel”.
He stretches the Country tag by joining Boys II Men on “Silent Night”, and covering U2’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.
He does include two co-written original tracks. “Under The Weather” and “It Must Be Christmas”. Both are rather unenthusiastic songs about the reality of Christmas, ie : Cold weather, long drives to visit family, and all you see is red and green.
It’s quite a listenable album, but one will be forgotten about by New Year!

The next couple of albums arrived too late to be included in the magazine, but couldn’t wait for the next issue.
KASEY MUSGRAVES has become one of the freshest voices on the American scene in recent years. On “A Very Kacey Christmas” she covers a mixture of standards like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “Let It Snow” and “Rudolph”, as well as some original numbers.
“Christmas Makes Me Cry” is a simple little sad song, which, for me is probably the highlight of the album. She also wrote “Present Without a Bow”, which features fellow Texan Leon Bridges. This one sounds quite pop to my ears. Getting Willie Nelson on board is always a bonus, and to include him in the title, is one way to do that. “A Willie Nice Christmas” is quirky, and really catchy.
She also features the talented Quebe Sisters on one of the Hawaiian influenced “Mele Kalikimaka”, and also features “Feliz Navidad”.
Kasey claims to be influenced by Bing Crosby, Gene Autry and The Andrews Sisters. She has certainly recreated a real old timey feel to this whole album. She even digs up the fifties novelty number “I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas”.
It’s a nice listen, hardly in the same category as her two mainstream, albums.

Now, here’s an album that could really get me into Christmas music. It’s not Country by any means, but really appeals to me. “The Phil Cunningham Christmas Songbook”, features the ace accordion and keyboard wizard, alongside two of Scotland’s most highly acclaimed  Scottish female vocalists, Karen Mathieson and Eddi Reader, as well as John McCusker, Kris Drever, Ian Carr, Kevin McGuire.
It’s a really pleasant easy listening selection of seasonal fayre. Some vocals and some instrumental tracks.
There are interesting versions of “Silent Night”, “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Away In A Manger”.
I loved the originality of “Winter Wonderland” with “The Bluebell Polka”, and “Waltz For Aly”, which blends seamlessly into “Silver Bells”.
The album kicks off with “Santa Will Find You”, written by Mindy Smith and Chely Wright. Mindy also co wrote “I Know The Reason”, two of the tracks that stand out for me.
The album is released in conjunction with the annual tour which kicks off in Stirling on December 16th, then calls at Perth, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Now, this is an album that makes Christmas just that bit special.

Finally, on the home front, we told you before about Fife’s HEATHER DICKSON, who recorded her last album in Nashville, then went down to San Antonio to film the video, and got Bobby Flores, no less, to join her on screen.
Well, Heather has been back to Nashville, and recorded a new EP. The first single has been released via the usual digital outlets. It’s a raunchy little number called “Harley Honey”, which really suits Heather. It was recorded at Music City’s Midtown Studios with Nashville musicians.
Well worth checking out ahead of the full release in the new year.