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Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Dec 2020

As the pandemic is still heavily impacting the live Scottish Country scene, the planned December issue of "Country Music & Dance In Scotland" magazine wont be published. But we're pleased to let you read the CD reviews which would've appeared in the magazine.

Louisiana born ALECIA NUGENT made her name on the bluegrass scene, with three highly acclaimed albums for Rounder Records between 2004 and 2009, crowning it off with an IBMA Female Vocalist Award in 2009. 
Now she’s back, with a much more traditional Country sound on her latest album, “The Old Side Of Time” (Hillbilly Goddess Music), and I have to say she’s come up with a stunning collection of songs.
The title track, which opens up the album, is a Tom T Hall song. It kicks off with a twin fiddle intro, and I’m instantly hooked. She does a brilliant version of the uptempo song. 
The single released as a taster for the album, “They Don’t Make Em’ Like My Daddy Anymore”, is a superb upbeat number, written by Alecia and Carl Jackson, who worked on her previous albums. There’s Country and a bonus bluegrass version on the album. 
“Too Bad You’re No Good” is upbeat, although different from the other faster tracks on the album. It’s a bit more bluesy, and shows a lot of personality.
Following the title track opener, is a Paul Franklin steel laden ballad called “I Might Have One Too”, proving she can deliver a killer ballad. Other strong ballads include, “Way Too Young For Wings”, which is another co-write from the singer. In fact, she has co-written five of the songs, alongside Nashville top notchers including Larry Cordle, Roger Murrah and Keith Stegall, including the soft and emotional “Sad Song”. Stegall also produced the album. 
She does a fine take on “The Other Woman”, co-written by Brandy Clark and Mark Stephen Jones 
But stand out track for me is “Tell Fort Forth I Said Hello”, written with Larry Cordle and Kevin Denney. It’s a really catchy shuffle number, with some impressive fiddle, steel and honky tonk piano. “I Thought He Never Leave” also has quite an infectious swing beat, after a soulful bluesy start. 
I remember enjoying Alecia’s bluegrass stuff a decade or so ago. It’s been too long, but this knockout album was certainly worth the wait. Certainly one of the highlights of 2020 !

JOSH TURNER made an immediate impact of Country music when he first appeared in Nashville, with his deep rich, Southern drawl. His first album, “Long Black Train” released in 2003 went platinum, and the rest as they say, is history.
Now, on his eight studio album, “Country State Of Mind” (MCA) he honours the Country legends who have been his influences over the years. 
The title track features Chris Jansen, whilst he opens up the collection with a cover of Keith Whitley’s “I’m No Stranger To The Rain”. Many traditional fans consider Whitley to be last great Country singer, but Josh, with his unique tone, certainly delivers a great version of this song, and sets us up for a superb collection of real Country music.  He also takes on Vern Gosdin’s upbeat “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance”, the theme to the “Dukes Of Hazzard”, and the less than obvious Johnny Cash story of “The Caretaker”.
He has quite a few guests from Kris Kristofferson on “Why Me Lord”, John Anderson on “I’ve Got It Made” and Randy Travis on “Forever And Ever Amen”. This is Randy’s first recording since his stroke, back in 2013. 
On the more modern front, Runaway June join Josh on “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me”,  the old Patty Loveless/George Jones song, and Maddie & Tae guest on the old George Strait number “Desperately”. 
He even takes us back to the days of Hank Williams, with the haunting Alan Jackson hit, “Midnight In Montgomery”, as well as the sad and dark “Alone And Forsaken”, with harmonies from Allison Moorer. 
Josh, himself, has one of the most Country voices around these days. For him to honour some of the legends, is a real musical treat. And what I like about this album, is that whilst, he has a number of really well known songs, there’s a good few less obvious choices as well. It all comes together in one of the strongest “Country” albums around! 

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE are Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, who both had individual careers before launching the duo a decade ago. Although influenced by the great married duets of Johnny & June, and George & Tammy, their music is much more modern, yet doesn’t lose that traditional touch. The Birmingham based duo have a number of acclaimed albums to their credit, but their latest project is “Country Darkness”, featuring songs from the pen of Elvis Costello. They released the album across 3 EP’s in the past year, and now the whole collection is released as a full album. They have recreated the songs for duet vocals, and with vocals that work so well together, this makes for a really good listen. They have also enlisted Steve Nieve, Costello’s long time keyboard player, who gets equal billing on the whole project.
The project is a reincarnation of one of Lou’s earlier projects – she wrote and appeared in a play, "They Call Her Natasha", based around a series of Elvis Costello songs, which was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival. 
Costello had a Country side to him over the years, best highlighted in his cover of George Jones’ “Good Year For The Roses”, but it never really come to the fore in his hit records, but more so in his writing. None of the songs on here were hits for Costello, but you may recognise a few of the songs. 
“Stranger In The House” has been recorded as a duet with George Jones, and I recall a version from Rachel Sweet back in the late 70’s. I always loved the song and Lou and Michael do a great version here. 
Loretta Lynn co-wrote “I Feel The Chill Before The Winter Came” with Costello. I’m not sure if Loretta ever recorded it, but the version on here certainly is one of the stand out tracks. 
“I Lost You” is quite breezy & upbeat number which Costello co-wrote with Jim Lauderdale. There’s a lot of Lauderdale’s influence in the version here. 
“Heart Shaped Bruise” has been sung as a duet between Costello and Emmylou Harris, but I cant find an audio recording of it, as a duet before. 
“Different Finger” has a lovely tex mex accordion intro, courtesy of Piero Tucci, before turning into classic Country song which could have come right from Marty Robbins. There’s also some neat Spanish guitar playing from Shez Sheridan. It was a single released from Vol 2, and a really good radio song. 
I love the sound they make together, and picking up a whole realm of songs that have largely remain unknown to a mass audience until now is brave, but enterprising. There’s a bit of everything in these tracks from My Darling Clementine - it works, whatever way they turn.

ROBBIE PETRIE has been a longtime favourite on the Scottish Country music scene. He’s also one of the most traditional sounding singers still performing today. 
Following on from his last album, “Nashville On My Mind”, Robbie went one better, and recorded his latest collection in Music City. “Ever Changing Woman” is a stone Country collection of 13 songs, all produced in a pure Country fashion. 
The title track is a Curly Putman/ Dave Kirby composition, which Merle Haggard recorded for his “Back To The Barrooms” album. It’s just one of seven Haggard songs on the collection. Other include “Shelley’s Winter Love”, “Swinging Doors” and “Here In Frisco”. Robbie is a huge Hag fan, as you can tell.  But Buck Owens is also well represented, with 3 covers, including opening track “Foolin’ Around” and “Together Again”.
Other songs include Mel Street’s “Borrowed Angel”, Tommy Collin’s “New Patches” (a hit for Mel Tillis) and George Strait’s “The Cowboy Rides Away”.   
Robbie engaged the services of Steel guitar player Rusty Danmyer as producer. Over the years, Rusty has worked with Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack and Leann Rimes. The album also features Joe Spivey on fiddle, an inductee of the National Fiddle Hall Of Fame, and member of John Anderson’s band. Nikki Nelson, from Highway 101, is on harmony vocals, rekindling a connection made at the Caithness Festival a few years back. Keith Nixon also adds vocals, Eddie Lange and William Bagby provide guitar, Joey Schmidt on piano, and former Hag drummer Randy Mason complete the credits. 
Robbie sounds great throughout the album, and the production is superb. 
If Merle & Buck is your kinda Country, you’ve love this album ! 

A year or so ago, I told you about an album from Western Isles band, “Tumbling Souls”. Well, lead singer WILLIE CAMPBELL is back with a new solo album, “Nothing’s Going To Bring Me Down” (Invisible King Records).
This was intended to be the next Tumbling Souls album, and studio time had been booked in Glasgow back in March. But as lockdown took effect, Willie chose to take the bull by the horns and self-produce the album. 
Willie describes the themes across this album as “the internal struggle that he lives with, of loving the place that you’re from, but knowing that you have to leave it to make a living or to achieve the goals that you’ve set”. 
All ten songs on the album are self penned. It’s not all Country, but there is quite a Country feel running through some of the songs, probably a throwback to his songwriting expedition to Nashville a decade ago, where he learned so much about honing his craft. The touches of Steel Guitar, courtesy of Lloyd Reid plays a part too. 
The title track was released as a single, and crashed straight into the Scottish Top 40. It features some impressive piano from Keith Morrison, and a real catchy hook line. 
The album kicks off with “Leave Home”, which sets the agenda for the rest of the album. It has influences of Country, rock, pop and celtic music, and is a nice taster for the listen ahead. 
“Keep My Dreams Of Yesterday” is a pleasant ballad, as is “Pages Of The Past”. “Lay Your Burden Down”, whilst more pop inspired, is a really catchy number, which really got into my head. 
The closing track, “Home To Say Goodbye”, has a particular Country feel to it. It’s a very simple, yet melodic, arrangement, and stands out as my favourite track.
Although crossing a number of genres of music, I really liked the album.

DAVE SHERIFF has been one of the real mainstays of the UK Country music scene, and shows no sign of slowing down. With live performing greatly curtailed this year, Dave has still been busy writing and recording, and this new 14 track album, “How Long Is Forever” (Stomp label) is his second album to be released since lockdown. 
Whilst some of his recent albums had had themes (Irish/ driving, etc), this comes across as a general mix of Dave’s differing styles and themes. That said, there are a few songs which touch on old age, notably the very catchy “Too Late Now”, “As I Grow Old” and “Old Age Don’t Come Alone”. “Make Me Love You More” is about sharing life’s journey with a loved one, whilst “I Wish” is a sentimental song about losing a loved one.
Even “The Tourist”, is a haunting realisation that, in our lifetime’s journey, we’re all passing through, just like tourists, appreciating what we have around us. 
The album starts off with a gorgeous steel guitar laden title track, which is one of the album’s highlights. Also worthy of note, are the celtic influenced “Always Have, Always Will” and “We All Need A Friend” both with lovely sentiments, which will appeal to the Irish market.    
“Dance Till The Music Stops” has a catchy holiday/party theme, and it should appeal to the line dancers. “A Little More Loving” has a similar beat. 
With a top team of musicians, like Stephen Smyth, Derek Thurlby, Pete Ware and Adam Linsley, the production is superb. The songs all come from Dave’s own pen, covering a range of styles. 
A thoroughly enjoyable album. Another winner from Dave Sheriff!  

WAYLON JENNINGS’ music spanned four decades from the sixties right through to the late nineties. His best known, and most successful music comes from the 32 albums he recorded for RCA, including his famous Outlaw era. 
He moved to MCA Records in 1986 and recorded 4 albums, which have now been released by Humphead Records here in the UK as the double CD “The MCA Recordings – The Ultimate Collection”. 
The first album, “Will The Wolf Survive” was a big No.1 album for him, and featured Steve Earle’s “The Devils Right Hand” and Top 10 singles “Working Without a Net”, “What You’ll Do When I’m Gone”, and “Will The Wolf Survive”. 
“Hanging Tough” produced the number one hit, “Rose In Paradise” and a cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”!
“A Man Called Hoss” was his third album for the label. It was a concept album, written with Roger Murrah, which chronicled Jennings' life and experiences in ten "chapters", each of which corresponds to a single track on the album. Hits from this album, included “Rough And Rowdy Days” and “If Ole Hank Could Only See Us Now”. 
And this collection is completed with the tracks from “Full Circle”, which produced another two Top 40 hits with “How Much Is It Worth To Live In LA” and “Which Way Do I Go (Now That I’ve Been Gone”. 
I do recall Waylon created a more edgier, rockier sound with his move to MCA, with the exception of the “A Man Called Hoss” tracks, which are classic Waylon. 
These aren’t his most memorable tracks- you’ll find them on various RCA collections, but it’s great that Humphead have broadened the material available from another era in Jennings’ long career. As ever, with Humphead releases, there’s a very informative 12 page booklet, written by Alan Cackett.  
This is a collection that deserves to be in your collection.

Singer songwriter LORI McKENNA has been active in the music business for over 20 years, primarily in the American folk scene. Back in 2005, she caught the attention of Faith Hill, who recorded four of her songs for her “Fireflies” album.  Since then, her songs have been recorded by the likes of Sara Evans, Keith Urban, Alison Krauss, Ashley Monroe, Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood. Her most notable songwriting hits are Tim McGraw’s “Humble And Kind” and Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush”, both CMA and Grammy Country Song of the Year award winners. 
Lori has 10 previous albums to her credit, and now releases her 11th collection, “The Balladeer” (Thirty Tigers). The album has been  described by McKenna as the "most personal album" of her career. Of the ten tracks featured on it, seven of them she wrote solo while the remaining three were co-written with frequent collaborators Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose, all of whom are collectively known as the Love Junkies. All three feature on the track “When You’re My Age”, which was the taster single. It’s a sensitive, emotional ballad. 
It all kicks off with “This Town Is A Woman”, another vocal collaboration, this time with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberley Schlapman. It’s a soft reflective ballad, which really shows her vocal prowess, and the harmonies just help top it off. 
This is followed by the album’s title track, which has quite an old west story song feel to it, whilst having a bit Kacey Musgraves sound to it at the same time. A really interesting arrangement.  “Marie” is quite similar. 
“The Dream” and “Uphill” quite a reflective ballads, which really highlights Lori’s vocals.
“Good Fight” is an upbeat number, which she handled really well. “Two Birds”, is really catchy. It may be one that radio may pick up on.
“Stuck In High School” is quite a reflective number, again quite upbeat, then on a similar theme, she closes the album with “Till You’re Grown”. 
Lori’s writing is firmly embedded in Country music these days, but her recent albums have still been better acceptable in folk circles. I think this could be the album which really gets her noticed as a performer on the Country music scene.

GRANGER SMITH has been around the Country scene for over 20 years, recorded 10 albums and 23 singles, but it’s only the past couple of years that Country radio have picked up on his music, with hits like “The Backroads Song” and “If The Boot Fits”. Now, the Dallas native continues to pursue his career with “Country Things” (Wheelhouse Records), and I think his time has come. 
This album has been a long time in the making. He had starting working on the album, when tragedy struck the family, with the sudden death of his youngest son.  
The 18 track collection beings with “Country Things”, one of the few tracks, which Smith didn’t co-write. There’s a nice banjo intro into a song with appreciates down home family values. 
“Hate You Like I Love You” is a modern Nashville sounding song, about getting over a relationship, which has been getting a lot of attention of late with over 6 million streams.
“I Kill Spiders” is a real family song, playing the part of a father and protector for his children. Without being over sentimental, I think it’s a song which fathers will relate to. 
“That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads”, follows on from his first chart album, “Dirt Road Driveway”, and is his latest single. It’s a good upbeat number, which should do well for him. There's a bonus track, which features rapper Lathan Warlick. I have to say, I prefer the first version. He keeps on the driving theme on “Chevy’s, Hemis, Yotas And Fords”. 
“Heroes” is a great anthem, which can be adapted for all the heroes we take for granted in the world today. 
I enjoyed a few of the ballads on the album too, including "Man Made", "That's What Love Looks Like" and "Six String Stories". 
Granger also performs under the name of Earl Dibbles Jr, and it’s with this fun moniker, that he performs a few of the songs, including the rather repetative "Workaholic" and the rather rocky "Diesel" andd "Holler", but it's  “Country (And You Know It)” that really makes its mark. It’s hardly original, based on the nursery rhyme “If Your Happy And You Know It”, but Granger and three others are credited, alongside Joe Raposo (who holds the copyright) for coming up with the Country version. It’s catchy, it’s fun, and could really catch on. 
Altogether, a thoroughly enjoyable album.

25 year old COLTER WALL is a Canadian singer-songwriter from Swift Current, Saskatchewan, who has a distinctive old western sound to his music. That’s in stark contrast to the AC/DC & Led Zeppelin covers he was playing a decade ago.
His third album, “Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs”, (Thirty Tigers) was released a couple of months back and has already hit No. 1 of the UK Country chart and top 10 on the US country chart.
Despite his young age, he sounds much older, which makes this album sound just so much more authentic. 
The title track leads off the album and sets the scene. “Western Swing & Waltzes” is a real old western song, with some great fiddle, steel and harmonica breaks.  
His cover of Marty Robbins’ “Big Iron” is really impressive. And his version of “Cowpoke” is much more authentic than Eddy Arnold’s smooth version. 
There’s story songs about people like “Henry And Sam”, Diamond Joe” and “Talkin’ Prairie Boy” and a horse called “High And Mighty”.
And there’s an uptempo ramble across the plains with “Rocky Mountain Rangers”
What I really like about the album is that the songs are about his own area of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Montana. He’s not tried to impress a bigger audience by adapting to southern states like Texas or Arizona.
If you like real old time western music, this is definitely for you. It is an acquired taste though! 

THE PAWN SHOP SAINTS are a quartet, who have emerged over the past couple of years from the Berkshire Hills of New England. The group are led by Jed Barry, who has built up a solo career at the same time as the group has grown. Their third album, “Ordinary Folks” (Dolly Rocker Records), follows on from the success of “texas, etc…” which made an impression on the Euro Americana charts a year or two back. Supporting Jeb are Michael O’Neill, Josh Pisano and Chris Samson.
Two years ago Jeb wrote fifty songs in fifty days whilst travelling through Appalachian areas of the US, including three he wrote in a Nashville hotel room. “I began pulling off the interstates to hit the small towns where ordinary people live”, he says. “You can drive a couple of miles, and find other worlds”. 
That’s the background to this album. It’s an album of simple observations, with simple arrangements. 
The nine track collection begins with “You Don’t Know The Cumberland”, which tells of the effect of social effects as life changes. “Southern Mansions” has much of the same theme running through it. “New Year’s Eve, Somewhere In The Midwest”, was co-written with Jason Isbell. “Ain’t No Mama Here” is a bit different to the rest of the album, dealing with the loss of parents, and the issues faced by the family left behind. 
“Lynyrd Skynyrd” is about the generation inspired by the iconic Southern Rockers.
The album leaves us with a love song in “Dry River Song” which was really appealing. 
The album was recorded in Massachusetts.  I really enjoyed it. Released here December 11th. 
One of the most surprising albums of the year came from TENNESSEE JET (real name TJ McFarland), who actually hails from Oklahoma. You would never label Jet’s music as straight Nashville- but theirs is some magical Country sounds on his third album, “The Country” (Thirty Tigers). 
The album’s gets your attention from the opening beats of “Stray Dogs”. It has one of these driving road song beats, that just smell of freedom. I was hooked! 
“The Raven & The Dove” is a bit slower, but picks up nicely. It’s about the sort of days you have- “some days are raven, some days are dove”.  
“Off To War” and the closing “Sparklin’ Burnin’ Fuse” are both gentle acoustic numbers. 
There’s some beautiful steel guitar on the intro to the “Someone To You”, one of the mellowest, and straight Country tracks on the album. It’s certainly my favourite track on here. The title track is hidden away on track eight. It’s a gentle simple love song, which I adore for its line, “I miss you like the country radio don’t play no more.”
Just when you were settling into a real Country experience, he hits us with a rockin’ tribute to “Johnny” – Horton that is! I don’t quite get why the “North To Alaska” legend is honoured by such a rocker. He also rocks his way through “Hands On You”.
He covers Townes Van Zante’s “Pancho & Lefty”, with the help of Elizabeth Cook, Cody Jinks and Paul Cauthern. It’s a solid version of the song, but given his originality elsewhere on the album, this track came over as just a little uninspired.  
He also covers “She Talks To Angels”, a Black Crowes song. But with its banjo, fiddle and steel, he really Countryfies it. The harmonies from Elizabeth Cook add something to the mix.
He is considered a bit of an open spirit when it comes to life and music, He says he has “got a head full of metal, but a heart of country gold”. This album, in the main, comes straight from his Country heart. 
Do check it out!

Gifted singer-songwriter ARLO McKINLEY released his debut solo record at age 40 on John Prine’s Oh Boy records - after he almost gave up on music altogether. Indeed he was the last artist signed by Prine, before his passing earlier this year.
“Die Midwestern” is deeply rooted in street soul, country, punk, and gospel and draws on personal stories, set against the backdrop of his hometown of Cincinnati Ohio, and crafted downriver in Memphis’ legendary Sam Phillips Recording Studio. 
There, McKinley recorded ten remarkable songs -some dating back fifteen years - all penned with a weight, honesty and gritty-hope that comes from living in the rustbelt city where his songs were born. 
On “Die Midwestern”, McKinley’s songs bleed truth and emotion from a heart scarred by wild nights and redeemed by soulful Sunday morning confessions. His lyrics are laid bare, stark and arresting in their honesty, and often penned from real-life experience.
The title track reflects on his love/ hate relationship with his home state of Ohio. “I love it because it’s everything that I am, but I hate it because I’ve seen it take my loved ones lives” he says. “I’ve seen it make hopeful people hopeless”. It debates whether to leave home, because, it he doesn’t do it now, he never will.
“Bag Of Pills” is an autobiographical and frank account of the drug issues which affect his hometown. It seems to be a song which embraces the whole album in one song. 
“Suicidal Saturday Night” is one of the strongest Country songs on the album. It’s about criminals on the run or “heartland wanderlust” as The Tennessean labelled it. 
I liked “She’s Always Around”. It’s a traditional Country ballad, and he handles this style of song particularly well.
“Gone For Good” sees McKinley share his lessons from broken relationships, “It’s about me realising how short I fell on even trying to make it work,” he says. 
The album rounds off with “Walking Shoes”, another song of wonderlust, like the title track- if I don’t do it now, I never will theme. 
This album has been a long time in the making. It’s a life story – so far. I really enjoyed the journey. 
The album “Halfway From Nashville” is the next stop on songwriter SEAN HARRISON’s long, twisty, up-and-down road back to music from a long time gone. Sean was born in Music City and raised mostly in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he grew up in the literary home of his father, the late novelist/screenwriter William Harrison, probably best known for the movie “Rollerball”. 
Sean lived some years in Europe, then Texas, with a lot of traveling and finally back home to Fayetteville. He has busked in London, Paris, Florence and Venice, southern Spain and other parts of Europe, New York City and Dallas/Ft. Worth. 
In his early twenties, Sean played full-time in Texas and shared the stage with some legendary songwriters and players. 
After many years playing  music , and writing ,“Halfway From Nashville,” is Sean’s debut album. He kicks off the album with the title track “to let folk know this is a Country album”. It’s quite a slow, acoustic , reflective song, which references to The Hag, Cash and Dylan along the way. 
“Ode To A Goner” is another of the most obvious Country songs on the 12 track album. It’s a co-write with novelist, John Dufresne. “I read a line in one of his books and I just had to have it” Sean explains, “Emailed him, he said cool, and he wrote some beautiful verses for this song, just trading emails with me”. 
Some of his songs sound quite quirky including “Big Decision”, a tongue in cheek relationship song, and “Wake Up Dead”.  “Fingertips”, although a love song, sounds quirky. It’s also one of the tracks featuring Tim Alexander from Asleep At The Wheel, recorded shortly before he died. “Psychedelic” is a fun throwback to the pop culture of his youth. “Paydays” is a Roger Miller inspired song, which worked really well. “Water Towers” is a source of curiosity-and Sean’s viewpoint is “why have them if you cant climb them”.  
 “Go To Girl” is quite an upbeat number, which is should get a bit of radio attention. “Gravel And Dirt”, is steeped in Southern roots, and “Worried” veers towards a driving rock sound, but the vocals still dominate, whilst the album closes with the most delicate “Breath Out Her Name”. 
There are echoes of Shel Silverstien, Ray Stevens and Roger Miller running through the album, but Sean’s not cloning any of them. It’s a very original approach, and an album that’s really growing on me. 

Gary Van Miert is a local cult figure around New York.  Known for looking as if he stole his clothing from Ernest Tubbs closet, the singer-songwriter, musician and all around entertainer honed his skills playing the nightclubs of New Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn and beyond. THE SENSATIONAL COUNTRY BLUES WONDERS started as a vehicle for Van Miert to start performing and take advantage of the vibrant art and music scene in Jersey City. The band’s name is an homage to all the great groups from the golden age of Country & gospel. The band was designed to replicate the original instrumental lineup of acoustic rhythm guitar, electric lead guitar and upright acoustic bass used on the first rock and roll records made by Elvis at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN. 
With live performing off the agenda, he began work on his first original album “The World Will Break Your Heart” (he released an album of covers in 2012).  
The music on the 10 track album sounds refreshingly dated, ranging from the Bakersfield sounding “Second Fiddle To A Steel Guitar” and “I Can Hear The Music Play” to the ragtime influenced “Double Barrell Blues” to the old timey feeling on “I Wont Change Anything”.
“I’m Afraid Of Every Goddam Thing” is superb vintage Country that is just so appealing. And I just love his catchy murder ballad, “My Baby Stabbed Me With A Steak Knife”.
The single, and video released from the album is “Privilege”, which is more of a ballad, and closes the album. 
It’s an interesting album. It certainly doesn’t fit with today’s Nashville sound, but is really refreshing, vibrant, and real !
I really enjoyed it. 

Back in 2017 I introduced you to the music of THE 19TH STREET BAND, an adventurous band, crossing genres from bluegrass and Irish roots to rock, led by Caolaidhe Davis, from Hollywood, Northern Ireland, who emigrated to America’s East Coast back in 2005. Joining Cally in the band is his wife Meghan, a trained violinist, whom he met when she was working in a Washington DC Irish Bar. Fast forward a few years, and the couple found themselves living on 19th Street in Arlington, Virginia, and the band name was born.
They are joined by Greg Hardin and drummer Patty Dougherty , to make up a refreshing, exciting sound that you just cannot pigeon hole into any one genre. 
“Diamond In The Rough” is their second outing, and was recorded in Maryland and Tipperary. 
The album kicks off with three numbers, each of which run over 5 minutes. The opening track, “I Just Had To Say”, has a full minute intro, focusing on different instruments before launching into a catchy, hi-energy fun numbers. The music covered various genres, but the vocals came across as bluegrass.
“Nothing To Do (All Day To Do It)”, which is where the album title comes from, and “Firefly” have quite bluesy inspirations, although switches to an upbeat tempo mid songs.
“Hillbilly Boy” is a fun sounding old timey number, with band chants, which just add to the magic. It works well.
“I’ve Been Waiting” is a catchy, upbeat number, with a folksy, bluegrass approach. “Away From Our Happy Home” tells of taking trains away from the home place. Again it has quite an old timey feel. 
“The Cajun Rock And Roll Stanza” is an interesting, and quite infectious track. On my first listen, I wasn’t too sure about it, but it quickly had me hooked. It’s probably the least Country track on the album, but, as I say it’s quite infectious.
By contrast, “True Love” is a probably the most straight Country song on the album.
Meghan takes the lead track on a couple of tracks, including the lovely “Your Love Is Like The Lone Ranger”, which has superb harmonies, and some catchy fiddle. Probably my favourite track.
Like their previous outing, I really enjoyed the mix of music on this album. Do check them out. 

OWEN MAC is one of the young breed of Irish Country singers, and by young, we mean young!  At the age of 17, he has just released his 5th album. It’s a gospel album called “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be”. 
The album kicks off with “Praying”, which he has also released a video for. 
I like how he, in the main, stays clear of the most obvious gospel songs that everybody does. 
That said, he does include “Jesus Loves Me” (which he really speeds up), and is joined by Tony Allen (Foster & Allen) on “Far Side Banks Of Jordan”. He also features “If We Never Meet Again This Side Of Heaven”, which has previously been recorded by Elvis, Cash, Merle and Ricky Van. 
There’s a couple of songs originally recorded by The Easter Brothers, a gospel group in North Carolina. Desi Mac features on “Jesus Is Living With Me”. And Shauna Mac joins in on “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings On Me”.  
He has dug into American southern gospel for the songs, with songs like “Look For Me” (Howard Goodman) and “Build My Mansion” (Dottie Rambo).  The title track, which closes the album is a traditional song, done in a simple old time style. It’s another hymn from America’s deep south. 
Owen has built up quite a following in his young career. I think many of his followers will appreciate this latest offering. 

Finally, Louisiana native MARGIE SINGLETON has been part of the music industry for the past seven decades, charting nine Top-40 Country hits, including duets with George Jones (Waltz Of The Angels) and Faron Young (Keepin’Up With The Joneses). As a songwriter, Singleton wrote and co-wrote numerous hits for others, including “Laura (What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got)?”, as well for Brook Benton, Johnny Tillotson , Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride, Lynn Anderson, Trini Lopez and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Now at the age of 85, Margie is back, with a new 5 track EP, “Never Mind”. 
I see one of her albums back in the 60’s was called “Sings Country Music With Soul”, and that would be a good description for this set of songs. She starts off with the title track, which is an autobiographical song. As Margie points out on the sleevenotes, “I started singing the first line, ‘I was born in Coushatta Louisiana’ (was going to say in 1935) and my son, Steve joined in with ‘19 never mind.’ That was it!” It’s quite a bluesy arrangement, but that works well for her. Steve also collaborated on “Who’s Gonna Love You When I’m Gone”, which found a creative vibe between mother and son. It’s bright and breezy, and is the most Country track on the collection.
“Lie To Me” is an old song, which she wrote with Brook Benton. Brook had a hit with it in 1962, but Margie had never recorded the song herself- until now!
“Wonder What She’s Doing” and “Missing You” both have a real soulful feel to them. The latter is the one track which Margie didn’t have a hand in writing, having been written by son Steve, who also co-produced the project. 
There is a noticeable blues and soul influence, but still fits within the Country genre. There is steel, courtesy of Steve Hinson and some neat harmonica from Jimbo Sales. 
Good to see that she’s still sounding great.




Thursday, 10 September 2020

Sept 2020

We’ll start our reviews this time around with two singers from the North of Scotland.

KEITH MACLEOD’s musical fan base has stretched far and wide from his Sutherland home. He has performed, and recorded in several Highland based bands over the years, and can still occasionally be seen performing with Maggie & Tennessee Express. Keith was born into his music. His father, David, was a big music fan, as well as a songwriter. Keith realised, at an early age, that the words meant as much to him, if not more so, than the music.
A good few years ago, Keith recorded an album of his father’s songs, which proved very popular, and helped him build up his popularity, and even exposure on BBC Alba’s Ceol Country.
He has recorded a few “singles” since then, but now comes his second album, “Acoustic Originals”, which is, as the title suggests, a collection of 10 original songs recorded in a simple acoustic style.
A couple of songs get second airings from his first album, namely “Dirty Ashtrays” and “Grandma’s Pictures”. He has also recorded another of his father’s songs, “The Bottle”.  The other 7 songs are from Keith’s own pen.
Despite the acoustic approach, Keith delivers a strong “full” sound on each track.
Most of the songs are strong ballads, especially. “If Seeing Is Believing” and “Where I Did”.
“My Heart Helped My Hands” is a really strong Country song, the sort of song you can imagine a Gene Watson doing.
One of the most sensitive tracks, “Banjo” is about the family dog, a song which anyone with pets, will associate with. “Be Patient”, which closes the album, is another thoughtful, sensitive song, which really puts life into perspective.
“I Know An Angel” is a bit more upbeat, and is quite catchy. It’s certainly a bit different to the rest of the album.
It’s a really nice album, and one I’d definitely recommend.
Keith tells me “it was recorded with the intention of it being a bit raw and focusing on the words. There’s a bit of room noise etc, but I wanted it to be authentic”.
The initial CD pressing was quite modest, which makes it all the most precious to get these songs into your collection.
You can contact Keith via his Facebook page, or his website www.keith-macleod.com
 
RUBY RENDALL was making quite a name for herself thirty years ago. She was popular on the road with her own band, having come down from Orkney, was part of Colorado for a while, guesting on the Opry in Nashville with Jean Shepard, and had her own radio programmes on the BBC, both in Aberdeen, and across Scotland.
Since then, Ruby has concentrated on her music school in Aberdeenshire, but still has a loyal fan base who encourage her to do the odd gigs.
“No More Broken Promises” (Roadside Records) was a cassette only release from Ruby, way back in 1988. Now, 32 years on, the album is available on CD for the first time, thanks to Gordon Gunn, who has freshened up the sound, and remastered the album for this release.
The bright & breezy title track was written by Nashville based Mark Mosely, who has worked and encouraged many UK Country over the years. Mark produced Ruby’s next album, so must’ve been impressed with her sound.
The album kicks off with “Hard Hearted”, a fast paced bluegrass number originally done by Jim & Jesse McReynolds. That’s followed by Highway 101’s “The Bed You Made For Me”, and Nanci Griffiths’ slow anthem, “From a Distance”. From the first three songs you get an immediate idea of just how versatile a repertoire that Ruby offers.
“What You Gonna Do” is a catchy number written by Shetland based Mackie Sutherland. It’s just one of two tracks written by Mackie on the album, the other being “Please Wont You Stay”.
There’s Cajun and tex mex influences on “Our Last Night”.
Other tracks include another bluegrass cover in “Too Late To Cry”, Hoyt Axton’s “Lion In The Winter” and a haunting version of “White Rhythm And Blues”, which brings back memories of Linda Ronstadt’s version.
Closing off the album, is my favourite track on the album, ”My Heart’s In Trouble (Over You)”- a really catchy number.
It’s really good to hear this album again. One that certainly deserves to be upgraded to CD status.
Incidentally, Ruby has picked “From A Distance” for a single, which proceeds will be donated to the CLAN Cancer charity in the North East.
 
DAVE SHERIFF has been one of the British Country music mainstays over the past 50 years. And still he keeps up the momentum with regular live concert and festival appearances as well as CD & DVD releases.
His latest collection, “Angel Wings” features 15 self written tracks, covering a variety of styles, from ballads to foot tappers. Musicians include Stephen Smyth, Derek Thurlby, Wayne Golden and Adam Linsley.
The album kicks off with the title track, an emotional ballad inspired by the unfortunate situation where friends and family haven’t been allowed to be with loved ones in their final hours during the recent Coronavirus pandemic.  From another angle, “Big UP For The Trucks” honours the lorry drivers who have kept the country supplied during the lockdown.
He looks to better times on “Good Time Country Music Show”, “Have a Good Time With Me” and “Dance The Conga”. He honours Country music on “We Love Country”, which namedrops Merle, Kenny and Colin Raye. There’s also a sentimental tribute to his friend Nicky James who passed away so suddenly earlier in the year on “Speak From Your Heart”.
Other ballads include the self inspirational “The Way That I Am”, which really stood out for me.
He lifts the tempo on tracks like “Your Love”,”I Don’t Really Wanna Dance”, “Don’t Lose a Diamond” and “Uncondition My Condition”.
In recent years Dave has written quite a few songs that have been picked up by Irish artists, and I can hear “Old Friends and New Friends” being another in the future.
There’s a couple of duets on the album. “Memories In Malta” features Spotlight TV host Marisa D’Amato, whilst George Payling joins in on what can only be considered a Dave Sheriff classic, “We’ve Got Memories”.
It’s another winner from Dave Sheriff.
 
AMBER DIGBY won many fans over here from her appearances at the Northern Nashville Caithness Festival, with her traditional style. I was one of them.
With seven previous albums, the most recent being back in 2013, new music from Amber was long overdue, and here it is. “Heroes, Mentors And Friends- The Legends Project” (Heart Of Texas). The title tells it just as it is.  Whilst many singers get round to recording a collection of classics, Amber has collected a stunning set of songs, which are not the most obvious tried and tested numbers. But she has lined up an amazing list of, as the title suggests, musical heroes and mentors, and musical friends.
Mix in stunning steel guitar from Tommy Detamore and fiddle, courtesy of Hank Singer, and the best of musicians in the business, and we have a real cracker of an album, which I could listen to on repeat all day long.
The best known song on the album features the legendary Loretta Lynn on the Kitty Wells’ classic “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. When you consider that it took a lifetime for Loretta to record a duet with her sister Crystal Gayle, this is a real big deal. And their version is the real deal. It’s just superb!
She also duets with other legendary ladies, including Jeannie Seely on “Today Is Not The Day” and Jeannie C. Riley on “The Heart He Kicks Around”.
The opening track, “Texas Dance Hall Girl” is a Heart Of Texas standard. This version of the Justin Tubb number features Jerry Naill.  Amber really sounds so at home doing the Texas swing numbers.
She joins The Whites on the bouncy “I’m Hanging Around” and Moe Bandy on “Soft Lights & Hard Country Music”.
She can also deliver traditional Country ballads, like “You Go Around”, which features Johnny Rodriguez, and the stunning “It Should Be Easier Now”, with Willie Nelson. Texas legend Johnny Bush joins in on “I’ll Warm By The Flame”, Larry Gatlin on “Take Back It’s Over”, and big fan Vince Gill rounds off the collection on “Under These Conditions”.
Vince is quoted as saying “When Amber Digby sings – people listen”. That certainly applies to me. She has a great Country voice, with some great players behind her. And that makes for one remarkable album.
You probably won’t hear a better pure COUNTRY album this year!
 
Calling Native Tennessean DARYL MOSLEY a singer/songwriter is only correct in the most basic sense. Daryl is a gifted songwriter and storyteller who paints vivid pictures of life as it could be, used to be, or might have been. The experiences of life, work, faith, and love that resonate so strongly in this community are the very foundation of his songwriting. Daryl writes about real, salt-of-the-earth people and their personal struggles and victories on life's journey.
Mosley's musical poetry has led to him being twice honoured as Songwriter of the Year, six #1 songs, and three Song of the Year awards. Other artists including Lynn Anderson, Bobby Osborne, Josh Williams, the Booth Brothers, and Carolina Blue are among the many who have recorded Daryl Mosley songs.
Throughout the 1990s, Mosley toured as the lead vocalist with the much-celebrated bluegrass group New Tradition. In 2001, he joined the legendary Osborne Brothers. In 2010, he formed the band, The Farm Hands, who quickly became one of the most awarded acts in bluegrass music. Yet, the common thread throughout his career has been the union of Mosley's picturesque songs and his easy vocal delivery.
In 2020, Mosley's talents step brighter into the spotlight with the release of his first solo album. “The Secret of Life” (Pinecastle Records) is an album of Daryl’s originals delivered pure and honest.
The title track is a gentle, mandolin infused, number, inspired by a local barber, who, like the whole album, is based on simple, family values. 
The opening track, “A Few Years Ago” is a lovely song looking back at mistakes made growing older and wiser.  “I’d Write You” is an interesting song. He questions how other less creative types express their love, whilst appreciating that his creative talent allows him to express his feelings and thoughts through writing.
I really liked “In A Country Town”, inspired by his own hometown of Waverly,TN, just west of Nashville, and how traditions and values are maintained. Similar themes run through “All The Way Home” and “It Never Gets Old”.  
Whilst the album, in the main, is a gentle stroll, the one track which stands out is “Do What The Good Book Says”, which has a real good time gospel feel to it. The closing track, “Heartache’s Moving On” is also quite catchy and upbeat.
There are a couple of old tracks from his “New Tradition” days, including “Hands In Wood” and “A Piece At A Time”. If they tell us anything, it’s that Daryl has been writing and playing this type of music for many years.
His solo debut album is long overdue. All original material, performed gently and effectively. A really nice listen.
 
Mickey Newbury is one of these guys who has quietly contributed to Country music, gaining high respect from others in the business, without too much public recognition. As a songwriter and performer, he racked up a 35 year career before his passing in 2002. His biggest hit was “American Trilogy”, later recorded by Elvis, and a staple of the Scottish Country club scene to this day. But he was much more than a one song man. Indeed, over 1500 versions of his songs have been recorded, across the musical genres from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Tom Jones and Roy Orbison to Waylon & Willie to BB King.
Now, GRETCHEN PETERS, one of today’s most respected singer songwriters pays her own homage to the legend on her new album , “The Night You Wrote That Song : The Songs Of Mickey Newbury” (Scarlet Letter Records).
The title track is one of my favourite tracks on the whole album. Originally recorded by Newbury back in 1979, it has a lovely lilting old time waltz feel to it.
Much of the music Gretchen has recorded over the past two decades has been emotional, soulful ballads, and she has captured these songs in her trademark style. “Wish I Was”, which features harmonica wizard Charlie McCoy, is a prime example of that, as is her cover of one of Newbury’s train songs “Frisco Depot” and the classic “San Francisco Mabel Joy”. Equally pleasing on the ear are “Heaven Help The Child” and “She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye”.
Her view that “Newbury was Country music’s Leonard Cohen” is echoed in the opening track “The Sailor” and “Saint Cecelia”, and takes things a generation further back with “Three Bells For Stephen”, where Gretchen tributes Newbury tributing Stephen Foster. 
“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”, which was one of Kenny Rogers’ early hits is a bit more jazzy, and Gretchen keeps the smokey atmosphere that the song is famous for.
“Leavin’ Kentucky” has quite a soft rock feel to it, yet starts off with some lovely Appalachian fiddle. It’s a particularly strong delivery from Gretchen. Different to most of the album, but really works for her.
The biggest difference on the album though, has to be her rollicking upbeat version of “Why’d You Been Gone So Long”, recorded by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, The Nightdrivers, Bill Anderson and Jeannie C Riley. But Gretchen’s version, which also features Kim Richey really rocks!
Gretchen says that there was only two criteria for what songs she’d consider for the album – “Did I love it? And Did I think I could bring something of myself to it?”  I think she really has captured the second. She avoided the obvious “Trilogy”, but instead went for songs that she could really put herself into.
She recorded the songs in the same studio in Madison, TN  where Newbury recorded many of his most inspiring albums in the 60’s & 70’s. And helping along the way are folks like Will Kimbrough, Buddy Miller, Barry Walsh, Nelson Hubbard  and Wayne Moss.
It’s a fine tribute from one songwriter to another.
 
MO PITNEY made quite an impression when he released his debut album back in 2016. Here was a young guy, signed to a Nashville record label, who actually sounds Country!
It’s taken four years, but Mo has finally released his second album, “Ain’t Looking Back” (Curb), and fans wont be disappointed by the wait.
The title track is a strong, well produced number, which has echoes of a spaghetti western, blended with today’s modern sounds. The opening track is a lovely biographical number called “A Music Man”, which also features Jamey Johnson.
The other collaboration on the album, is a real old timey jamboree, alongside His All Star Band, on the stand out “Old Home Place”.
“Local Honey” is another catchy number which works really well.
“Right Now With You” and “Aint Bad For A Good Ol’ Boy”, his current single, are both catchy radio friendly numbers.
“Looks Like Rain”, “Mattress On The Floor” and “Old Stuff Better” are pleasant, but I have to say “Plain And Simple”, is the stand out ballad for me. 
The closing track is a heavy / gospel tinged ballad called “Jonas”, which was really impressive.
Welcome back Mo. We’ve been waiting four years on his second album, and it’s finally here.
 
BILL KIRCHEN is known as the Titan Of The Telecaster, but he’s much more than that.
His career stretches back to the late 60’s and over time he has covered all genres of music. He first come to mass attention as member of Commander Cody And The Lost Planet Airmen, one of the most iconic Country/Rock outfits of their time.
In 2006 he signed to Proper Records, a UK based label, where he released three albums.
Now these tracks have been put together in one package, “The Proper Years”, with a few bonus tracks along the way. Altogether, there’s 38 tracks, kicking off with a rockabilly inspired “Hammer Of The Honkytonk Gods”, with namechecks for Johnny Cash, Merle & Roy, and his famous telecaster. It’s a great start which really wets the appetite. “Heart Of Gold” is another in much in the same mould.
“Get A Little Gonner” and the breezy “Valley Of The Moon”, which features Norton Buffalo, are just two of my favourite tracks – very Country indeed. Also standing out was “Arkansas Diamond” and “Tell Me The Reason”. But I really liked everything on this album.
He even hits us with Dale Watson styled, fast driving trucking songs in “Semi-Truck” and “Truck Stop At The End Of The World”, as well as the more straight Country “Mama Hated Diesels”.
Ballads include “Skid Row In My Mind”, “If It’s Really Got To Be This Way”, “Down To Seeds And Stems”, and “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”.
“Devil With The Blue Dress On” is a bit more bluesy with “Oh Brother” type harmonies, which makes for interesting listening. By contrast, the next track, “One More Day” is quite old timey bluegrass inspired.
Some of the covers which slipped into the album include a superb slowed down Everly’s influenced version of “Shelley’s Winter Love”, (with Paul Carrack) and Roger Miller’s “Husband & Wives”, which is a duet with Asleep At The Wheel’s Chris O’Connell.  There’s also a Jerry Reed inspired “Hot Rod Lincoln”. Maria Muldaur duets on the jazzy “Aint Got Time For The Blues”.
The UK connection is highlighted on the rockin’ “I Don’t Work That Cheap”, which starts with the line “I went over to England in a time machine”. This track reunited Bill with the Commander Cody. And throughout there’s the influence of Nick Lowe and Geraint Watkins, who shared harmonies on many of the tracks.
This is an absolute knock out of an album. I was familiar with Bill’s name, but just never realised just what brilliant music he made. This is one re-issue that was most definitely required. 
 
JAIME WYATT has lived a turbulent short life- the sort of life Music Row types would keep hidden in the closet, but not Jaime. She may not be proud of her past, but it’s hers, and she cant change it. She’s an immensely talented singer-songwriter who signed her first record label deal as a teenager, and achieved early success before losing that deal and being put through the music-industry wringer. Her life was in a mess when she released her much-lauded 2017 EP, “Felony Blues”.
For her latest album, “Neon Cross” (New West Records), she tells it like is. With the help of Waylon’s son Shooter Jennings, who produced the album, she demonstrates a powerful delivery, one that would have been quite at home in the old “Outlaw” movement. 
“I tried not to have any filter with these songs,” Wyatt says about her open-book approach to writing. “Because I’ll be honest — it feels like I’m gonna die if I don’t tell people how I feel and who I am. It sounds so dramatic, but that’s the truth. It’s been just this gnarly, gnarly process, but one that is so human. So, there’s been a lot of turmoil and drama. But this record is a lot about rebirth, too.”
The title track is an upbeat rocky type number. The 11 track album actually begins with the rather solemn ballad, “Sweet Mess”, which may be a suitable title to sum up Jaime’s life.  These two tracks, I have to be honest, didn’t quite appeal to me, but there was plenty that did on this album.
“LIVIN”, laced with some beautiful steel guitar, has the gutsy approach, and sound of a modern day Loretta, which I really liked.
By complete contrast, the much softer “By Your Side” and the more upbeat “Goodbye Queen” reminded me of Linda Ronstadt. Then it was a kd lang influence which came to fore on the anthem “Just A Woman”, which also features Jessi Colter. This has to be the stand out track on the album.
“Make Something Outta Me” and “Rattlesnake Girl” are other upbeat numbers, which I really liked.
The album’s closes out with “Demon Tied To A Chair In My Brain”, which has a real old timey arrangement. I liked it, but it might not be for everyone.
If there’s one lesson to be gleaned from “Neon Cross”, it’s that life, in all its inherent messiness, goes on. And through it all — good times and bad, triumph and trouble, dreaming and desperation — Wyatt continues, to borrow the title of one of her new songs, just “L I V I N”.
I really enjoyed this album. There are a couple of track’s which I’d consider were great for radio play, but probably wont get played because of a couple of ill chosen words, which is a real pity.
Jamie Wyatt’s Neon Cross will be available across digital platforms, on compact disc, and standard black vinyl. A limited to 500 Neon Pink Coloured Vinyl edition will be available at Independent Retailers and a limited Seafoam Green Coloured Vinyl edition is available exclusively via NEW WEST RECORDS.
 
As well as Amber Digby’s new album, Heart Of Texas Records have been busy releasing some great traditional Country music, some of it from the vaults of time.
HANK THOMPSON is certainly a Country music legend. The Texan singer was one of the big names to burst onto the scene in the post war years, releasing around 50 albums, and notching up 79 hit records, in a career which stretched right through to the 1980’s. He’s probably best known for hits like “Wild Side Of Life”, “Blackboard Of My Heart” and “Humpty Dumpty Heart”. Sadly, he died back in 2007, but boy, did he leave us some wonderful music. Heart Of Texas have re-issued four of his albums from the 60’s in two CD packages.
One CD features the albums “Where Is The Circus” and “Gold Standard Collection”, which were originally recorded for the United Artists label, who chose not to release them, so the Warner Brothers label released them. It really is a joy to listen to Country music, the way it sounded back in the 60’s. There’s a strong Ernest Tubb influence running through his music. There’s also the Western swing influence that he was famous for. “Where Is The Circus” has largely new material including a reworking of one of his biggest hits on “New Blackboard Of My Heart”.  The “Gold Standard Collection” is Thompson’s take on other’s big Country hits, and he really does a grand job on the likes of “She Thinks I Still Care”, “He’ll Have To Go”, “Together Again” and “Cold Cold Heart”, amongst others.
The second CD features the album’s “On Tap, In The Can or In The Bottle” and “Smoky The Bar”. These were Hank’s first two album for the Dot label. As his Warner’s career was short lived, several of the tracks from the “Where Is The Circus” album are also on this collection. They include “I’ll Set The Teardrops To Music”, “I’ve Got A Date With A Teardrop”, “The Big One Got Away”, and, my favourite, “Number One On The Hurt Parade” – what a great title !  (For those that don’t get it, back then the “charts” as we call them, was called “The Hit Parade”.
Also included on this collection are the really catchy “Let The Four Winds Choose”, “Let’s Get Drunk And Be Somebody”, “New Records On The Jukebox”, “Girl In The Night” and “Bright Lights And Blonde Haired Women”.
There’s also his version of Glenn Sutton’s “What Made Milwaukee Famous”, recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis and Rod Stewart, and Nat Stuckey’s “Pop A Top”.
Thompson had a great voice, mixed with some superb musicians, including Curtis Potter, Glen Campbell, Merle Travis, Johnny Gimble, Hargus Pig Robbins, Pete Wade and Bob Moore.
A great listen – Real Country music !
 
TONY BOOTH won many friends when he appeared at the Caithness Festival back in 2011 (was it really that long ago?). The Florida born, but Texan based, singer has a career stretching back to the 1970’s when he had 14 Country hits, including “The Key’s In The Mailbox”, “Irma Jackson” and “Lonesome 7-7203”, and was a member of Buck Owen’s All-American Show, and that’s where this album comes in.
These master recordings from the 70’s had been stored in the vaults in Bakersfield for half a century, before Jim Shaw at Buck Owens Enterprises contacted Tracy Pitcox at Heart Of Texas Records about them. Many of the tracks had never been released before.
The result is this 21 track collection, “Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like”, which features some great Country music. It has to be said that Tony’s style crosses into Easy listening, so appeal’s to an audience beyond Country music. That shows best in the title track, which has also been recorded by Tom Jones, Glen Campbell & Rita Coolidge, and even Status Quo!   That’s one of the few songs that you’ll recognise on the album, apart from 4 Everly Brothers numbers, recorded with his brother Larry.
“Potters Field”, which is one the real stand out tracks for me, is a mid tempo story song – the type that was once the cornerstone of Country music. Another of my favourites has to be the softer “Letting Go”. 
There are a couple of upbeat rockabilly flavoured numbers include “Watch Out For Lucy” and “John Law”. Other upbeat numbers include “Arms Of A Tennessee Woman”, “Lady Alone” and “Carmen Jones”, another of the stand out tracks for me.
Ballads include “She Spread Her Wings”, “I’ll Give Up”, “Fading Tail Lights”, “Nothing Seems To Work Anymore”   and the old Johnny Duncan/Janie Fricke hit “Atlanta Georgia Stray”.
I really enjoyed this album. More pure Country from Heart Of Texas Records.
 
MARY LOU TURNER is best known for the duet career with Bill Anderson back in the 70’s. Bill had discovered her performing on the famous Wheeling Jamboree in West Virginia, and she fitted into Bill’s touring and TV shows, when Jan Howard left to pursue her solo career. Mary Lou recorded two duet albums with Anderson, and had a string of solo singles which charted, the highest reaching No.25.  
Since then Mary Lou has been relatively quiet on the recording front, but kept her involvement with the music scene.  She has re-emerged on Heart Of Texas Records with “A Sentimental Music Journey”, a collection of 12 songs from Country music’s history.
From way back, she covers the title track from the 40’s, Eddy Arnold’s “I’ll Hold You In My Heart” and “I Really Don’t Want To Know”, and Jo Stafford’s “Keep It A Secret”.
A bit more up to date are Vince Gill’s “Look At Us”, and John Anderson’s “Your Lying Blue Eyes”.
In between, she covers Don Gibson’s “I Cant Stop Loving You”, “Night Train To Memphis”, with Buck Trent, and George Jones’ “Walk Through This World With Me”, done here as a duet with Dallas Wayne.
Two songs stand out being a bit different. The Platters’ “Only You” is given a bit of a western swing treatment, which really makes the song feel fresh, whilst she’s slowed down Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”, which is really effective.
Good to hear Mary Lou back on song after so long, and with such a nice set of songs and arrangements. A really nice listen.
 
FRANKIE MILLER – the Texan singer (as opposed to the Scottish one, famed for his Country tinged hit “Darlin’) has been flying the flag for traditional Country music since the 1950’s. His biggest hit was “Blackland Farmer” which charted twice within 2 years in 1959 & 1961.  Throughout his career, he has enjoyed a special relationship with George Jones, working honky tonks and dancehalls like they were brothers, collaborating on songs and touring together. George even arranged a record contract for Frankie.
Now, at the age of 88, Frankie brings some of The Possums’s biggest hits, and lesser known songs together on “A Friend Remembered – My Tribute To George Jones”. Frankie is in superb voice, whilst musicians like Justin Trevino, Hank Singer, Jim Loesseberg, Robyn Reinhard and Charlie Walton, just blend together to make this a superb listen.
Classic Jones songs include a slightly slower than the original version of “Why Baby Why”, as well as “I’m Ragged But I’m Right”, which opens the 14 track collection, “Accidentally On Purpose”, “Walk Through This World With Me”, the rockin’ “White Lightening” and the relatively recent “Choices”.
Some of the lesser known songs include “You’re In My Heart”, “Cup Of Loneliness” and “Old Old House”, which is one which stands out for me. The song was written by Hal Bynum, who contributes to the sleeve notes on the CD. Hal gives credit to Frankie for getting the song to George, which was on the flip side of his Top 20 hit “Wrong Number” in 1965.
Another which hits the mark for me is “Open Pit Mine” a real old time Country story song. You just don’t get songs like that anymore!
The album rounds off with a short, under a minute, recollection of “Back When George Had A Flat Top”.
The songs are done in Frankie’s style. There’s no attempt to imitate George, and it really works.
The arrangements are just so Country. Another Heart Of Texas winner!
 
Our final Heart Of Texas release is from DENNIS STROUGHMATT. Known today as a master French Creole fiddler, Dennis was raised with a love for the music of Bob Wills, Ray Price, Tony Booth, Johnny Bush, and Darrell McCall by his father Jack Stroughmatt.  When Dennis began to recognize the music that surrounded him, it was the sound of twin fiddle and steel guitar that got him excited, and bopping in the middle of the living room floor.  With time and different moves, Dennis eventually became enamoured with the French Creole music that was local to southern Illinois and southeast Missouri...but that Honky Tonk sound was every present, always in the back of his mind and his heart. 
“The Same Old Me” marks his second homage to Ray Price And The Cherokee  Cowboys”. His previously released tracks recorded between 2013-2016 are joined by 9 newly recorded tracks, to make this a wonderful 22 track collection.
Ray Price was a major influence on Country music, but many readers may not realise just how influential, until you just look at the tracklist on this album- “City Lights”, “Make The World Go Away”, “Night Life”, “Release Me”, “San Antone Rose”, “Bubbles In My Beer”, “I’ll Be There” and “Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me” – just to name a few. The magic ingredient is the twin Texas fiddles, which gave Price a unique sound. Dennis recreates that with the help of the legendary Buddy Spicher.
There are a few guests popping up throughout the album , including Mel Tillis Jr on “Heart Over Mind”, Leona Williams on “You Wouldn’t Know Love” and Tony Booth on “Under Your Spell Again”.
Dennis has a fine voice which works well on these songs. It’s a fine homage to The Cherokee Cowboy, but a superb album in its own right.
Heart Of Texas Records are available direct from Brady, Texas online @ www.hillbillyhits.com/heart-of-texas-records/heart-of-texas2, or in the UK from www.smartchoicemusic.com & Amazon.
 
Next up, a new album from Northern Ireland’s CLANNA, who has quite a musical pedigree. The Armagh lass toured extensively with her family band, The Hanna Sisters, and Dominic Kirwan. She was named Best New Act by the Irish World newspaper, and wrote a song for the Irish Olympic team in 2012.
She released her first album in 2017, and now comes “Surprisingly Grounded”, her latest release.
The album has very simple acoustic arrangements, which really show off Clanna’s crystal clear Irish accent. There’s a definite celtic/folk feel throughout the album, blended beautifully with Country and bluegrass leanings.  Clanna’s voice is certainly more folksy than Country, but she does an exquisite job on the songs included here.
The album kicks off with Alan Jackson’s “The Older I Get”, done in a rather different style to the original. There’s also very different versions of Ags Connolly’s songs “Get Out Of My Mind” and “That’s The Last Time”. She also does a beautiful job on Nanci Griffith’s “Once In A Very Blue Moon”.
Irish writers are well represented with a lovely version of the late Christie Hennessy’s “Remember Me”, and fellow Northern Irish songwriter Maurice Dickson’s beautiful love song “Wine and Roses” in which she adds her own contemporary stamp to each one. 
Also worthy of a mention are Clanna’s own compositions, particularly the song “Mayada” dedicated to her late friend, and also the closing track “You Stood By My Side”, which was inspired after hearing a corona virus survivor describe their fight against the disease and the ensuing depression that followed along with their admiration for those who stood by their side and saved their life. It’s probably the stand out track on the album.
It’s a lovely album. I really enjoyed the listen!
 
Galway born ULTAN CONLAN is a well travelled singer songwriter, who defies musical boundaries, but should certainly appeal to Country music listeners on his 4th album “There’s A Waltz” (Dark Sideout Records). The album was recorded in LA, produced by acclaimed bluegrass and Grammy winning producer Sean Watkins, best known for his work with Nickelcreek. The Californian connection came after several trips there, and on one occasion sharing a stage with Jackson Browne and Shelby Lynne on a rendition of Neil Young’s “Long May You Run”.
All ten tracks on the album were written by Conlan (two co-writes).
The title track is a slow song with simple instrumentation, and slow fiddles and steel guitar on the lengthy instrumental end to the track. The album opens with “The Long Mile”, a slow and melodic number which is really gentle and relaxing. A lovely start to the album. And the project closes in similar vein with “A Landslide”.
In between, “Moments In Time” is another strong, melodic number which caught my attention. Other tracks that I was particularly taken with include “In The Blink Of An Eye”. Its fiddle gives it quite a folksy feel.
“A Long Way Back”, appropriately, opens in a real old time fiddle style, leading into a sensitive jazz styled number. “Don’t Let Her Slip Away” is a guitar driven ballad, which works well. There’s some nice harmony from Sara Watkins on this track. “World From a Window” has quite a rocky intro but quickly slows down into another ballad. “Sparks Of The Divine” has a more midtempo sway to it, which was quite pleasant.
He has been likened to Roy Orbison. I hadn’t heard it myself, until “Where The Shadows Outgrow The Light”. There is certainly a lot of the Big O’s influence on this track, whilst not sounding too like him.
This was a pleasant album. As I say, Ultan defies musical boundaries. It’s not Country, but should appeal to Country listeners. It’s not folk, pop, rock or jazz. It’s just Ultan Conlan. Give him a listen!
 
THE CORB LUND BAND have been Canada’s leading roots band over the past quarter of a century. The Albertan released his first album back in 1995, and has since racked up a cabinet full of Juno, CCMA, Canadian Folk and Indie awards. He’s even won awards in France, and toured the UK several times.
Now, after 5 years away from the studio, Corb is back, better than ever, with a new album, “Agricultural Tragic” (New West).
The album’s title is also the name of Lund’s self-applied subgenre. While examining his own body of work, he noticed and wryly named this larger narrative string of rural adversities. So-called “Ag-Trag” themes continue to feature prominently in Lund’s latest songwriting, thus leading him to choose “Agricultural Tragic” for the name of his 10th full-length studio album.
We begin the trail ride with the slightly dangerous sort of fun, exemplified by its first track and single, “90 Seconds of Your Time.”
His music cant be boxed into any particular genre. He’s certainly got that old western/rodeo influence, but mixed in with the Indie Rock scene, and everything inbetween.
There’s a cute duet with fellow Canadian singer songwriter Jaida Dreyer on “I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey”. It’s a really catchy number, and totally Country. If you can imagine Johnny Cash dueting with Loretta Lynn, you’ll get an idea of how this track sounds. A farmer, when not playing music, it’s not surprising to find some down home Country good time sounds coming through. “Dance With Your Spurs On” and “Ranchin’ Ridin’ Romance (Two Out Of Three Aint Bad)” are good example of this. If you want to take it a big further into Cowboy Poetry, don’t miss “Tattoos Blues”. It’s so different.
There is a hi energy rocky sound on some of the tracks, notably “Oklahomans”.
Not quite as rocky, but still fast paced, is “Grizzly Bear Blues” and “Rat Patrol”.
Although he has a Hi energy feel to his music, he can calm things down, notably on “Raining Horses”, “Louis L’Amour” and “Never Not Had Horses”.
It’s an interesting, and really enjoyable album, featuring the sound of the Albertan heartland.
 
Raised in New York state, RUTHIE COLLINS quickly found way to Nashville. Signed to Curb Records back in 2011, her songs straddle the line between Americana, Bluegrass, and modern Country, upheld by buoyant and agile vocals reminiscent of her musical icons, Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris.
Her new album “Cold Comfort” (Curb) was released here back in April, and has been receiving some great reaction and airplay.
At home in nature, as well as in Nashville’s honky tonk bars, Collins considers the Joshua Tree National Park in California the place that holds the deepest meaning for her and her music; The first single from her new album, a song called “Joshua Tree”, was inspired by the love-story-turned-tragedy between Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. For Collins, the song feels “like a lucky charm," infused with the special energy of a place she’s returned to many times for inspiration, recharging, and peace. “This song means many things to me now. It’s not only a snapshot of a great love story that almost was, but it’s the idea that love is never truly gone, because love cannot die. No matter where you are in the world or in time, love always exists.”
It’s a gentle number which really emphasises the vulnerability in her voice, at the same time as her strengths. It’s quite a powerful number.
That’s followed by a much more mainstream sounding “Cheater”. The instrumentation is quite light, allowing Ruthie’s vocals to shine through. “Hey Little Girl” is also quite mainstream, coming over a bit more pop to my ears.
“Dang Dallas”, “Untold” and “Wish You Were Here” are soft, tender ballads. “You Cant Remember” and the closing “Beg Steal Borrow” are two of the most powerful ballads, again demonstrating Ruthie’s tender vocals.
“Bad Woman” has a bit heavier backing in parts, a bit bluesy in parts, and quite repetitive. It wasn’t one of my favourite tracks.
The album’s title track is quite a heavy ballad which work’s quite well for her.
Collins’ music features some upright bass and traditional bluegrass instrumentation in a style that’s both old-fashioned and completely modern.
Well worth checking out.

The following reviews didn't make the September printed issue of CMDS, but are included here,
 
Back in the days, an old LP record sleeve had space for lots of pictures and sleevenotes. In the early days of the CD, they came in long boxes, which fitted into the LP shelves in stores. These days if you download an album on mp3, you get a set of files, and maybe a pointless jpeg intending to be an album cover.
Completely bucking the trend is Canadian DIY troubadour SCOTT COOK. He’s been making his home on the road since 2007, touring across North America, Europe, Oceania, South Africa and even Taiwan. When not touring, and even when he is, he has recorded seven studio albums, the latest of which has quite a spectacular CD cover.
The 12 track CD, entitled “Tangle Of Souls” is tucked into the back page of a 240 page cloth bound – hard back book, which includes stories and inspirations behind the songs, together with the lyrics, and even the chords, so readers can play his music. Sized just a bit bigger than the CD, it looks like a bible.
The music on the CD is just as impressive.
The title track is quite an upbeat number, inspired by the thought that “the more I’ve travelled around this world, the bigger it’s gotten”.
The collection opens with the catchy old timey “Put Your Good Foot In The Road”, which sets us into gear for this musical travelogue, which really got me interested. The Old time bluegrass stringband sound also features on “Rollin’ To You”, a real foot tappin’ song. The inspiration for this track actually came from an act he saw perform in Australia.
“Passing Thru”, one of only two songs he didn’t write, is quite a gentle upbeat “movement” song, previously recorded by Leonard Cohen, The Highwaymen, Earl Scruggs and Pete Seeger. It works well for him.
The other cover he includes here is Scotty Dunbar’s “Why Am I Leaving My Home Again”, a lovely melodic homesick song inspired by a quote by A.A.Milne. It’s a natural fit for a natural rambler.
“Leave A Light On” is a softer, gentler number which he introduces as a “low-budget love song”. Other slower numbers include “Just Enough Empties”, “Tulsa” and “Say Can You See”, which gently steps into the American political scene.
The closing track, “Right To Roam” is a lovely instrumental, which bridges the old time sound he captured earlier, with a romantic celtic feel. He wrote the tune in the Great Smokey Mountains, on an escape from Nashville, but the title comes from over here, as he notes in the lavish book, “I first heard of the right to roam in Scotland, when I wanted to cross a farmers field”.
It’s a really nice listen. Hopefully this travelling troubadour makes it back over here to roam again one day soon.
 
BRANT MILLER may be a new name to us, but he has been honing his craft for the past 30 years. Growing up in New York, his early influences were Pete Seeger and Don McLean. He worked as a forester, but music was never far from his ambitions. He got several cuts on Nashville records, recorded 2 CD’s with a trio called 2nd Nature, playing twice at the Ryman, and won the Chris Austin Songwriting Festival at Merlefest.
Now comes a wonderful album, Roots, Rhymes and Branches” (Miller Woods Records) which blends music and nature with a Country-Bluegrass-folk sound, which I certainly enjoyed.
The album kicks off with “No Interest In That”, with an appealing harmonica intro, which lead into a self centred song, which I think a lot of us would relate to, even if we wont admit it.
“Highway Of My Dreams” is one of those catchy bluegrass flavoured numbers. Others include “Genesis Road” and “It’s Never Too Late”. They really shine on the album.
He can slow the tempo right down on “Everything You Need” and the closing track, “Love Is A Living Thing”, whilst adding an old time western swing feel to “We’re Vintage”, and a celtic influence on “Dublin Or Nothin’”.
The influence of his forestry career comes through in tracks like “Trees Got You Covered”, “Listen To This Guitar Sing” and “Our Love Is Always In Season”.
For “Roots, Rhymes, and Branches,” Brant gathered some of his friends, who are among Nashville’s finest musicians, to play and sing harmony. These include Musicians Hall of Fame member Chris Leuzinger, Grammy-winning fiddler Glen Duncan, and Catherine Marx, long-time pianist for Reba McEntire.  Brant was also very fortunate to have his sister, Danish singing icon Tamra Rosanes, to sing harmonies.  In addition to all lead vocals, Brant is featured on harmonica, mandolin, and acoustic guitar. 
I really enjoyed this album.  Refreshing !
 
BEN BEDFORD is a songwriter from Illinois, who has made his mark, primarily, on the US folk scene, since his first album was released in 2007. Since then he has made inroads into Europe, but his first three albums were never released on this side of the Atlantic.
Now his latest release, “Portraits” (Cavalier Recordings) encompasses the best of his first three albums on a 12 track compilation of all original material, recorded at two Nashville studios between 2007 & 2012.
The CD starts off with some authentic old time banjo, which leads into an eight minute story about “Lincoln’s Man”. There’s also a jaunty little number about “John The Baptist”, and “Amelia”, inspired by flying pioneer Amelia Earhart, which has a real celtic feel to it.
“Guinevere Is Sleeping”, is another with quite a celtic influence. 
But there are some songs which were Country enough to appeal to me. Examples include “Migrant Mother”, and “Goodbye Jack”, which closes the album. “The Only Story” is the one that really caught my attention though. A good upbeat number, which I really enjoyed.
Ben has the sort of a John Denver / James Taylor / Michael Martin Murphy sound- easy listening.
I really enjoyed this CD.
 
CHARLEY CROCKETT, a distant relation to Davy Crockett, has been building up a following over his 8 album career, mostly in the Blues musical genre, but there’s a fair bit of Country in his sound as well. In fact, these days he is labelled as a Country Break Out Artist.
His latest album, “Welcome To The Hard Times” (Thirty Tigers) could sum up his life of late.
In January 2019, he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a congenial heart condition, as well as Aortic Valve disease, and had to undergo life saving heart surgery. He feels the experience inspired this album. But his experiences run a lot deeper than recent events. Charley grew up in poverty, and busked his way from New Orleans to the subways of New York City. He lost his sister to addiction, and has had run in’s with the law, even being incriminated for his brothers’ crimes.
The title track kicks off the album, and is followed by “Run Horse Run”, a galloping spaghetti western beat, which has an accompanied video shot in the Sierra Nevadas. Later on, “Paint It Blue” has a bit of the same sound.
“Don’t Cry” is a slower, bluesy number. Other bluesy numbers include “Fool Somebody”, “Wreck Me” and “Raining In My Heart”
The steel intro into “Tennessee Special” certainly got me interested.  “Lily My Dear” is a catchy old timey Country number, whilst “Blackjack County Chain” is a much slower, smouldering number.
“The Man That Time Forget” is another slow, old time Country number, which, for me is one of the stand out tracks on the whole album.
Crocket has quite a “lived in” voice – he certainly sounding more life experienced than his 36 years of life.
An interesting listen!
 
JUSTIN WELLS grew up in Louisiana & Kentucky. Being raised in the south, he rebelled against commercial Country music, placing his allegiance with bands like Pink Floyd & Guns’n’Roses. At college he launched a Southern Rock band, Fifth On The Floor, which built up quite a cult following.  By their third album, Justin was veering back towards Country Music. They teamed up with Shooter Jennings, and the album charted on the Billboard Country charts, and the picked up bookings supporting Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell.
After the band split, Wells continued to pursue music and writing. His solo album, “Dawn In The Distance” clocked up a top 3 position on Amazons Alt Country /Americana chart.
Now he’s back with “The United State” (Singular Recordings), a journey through life, which he describes as “starting in the womb, and ends after death”.  Inbetween he covers a full range of life’s emotions, in differing styles and genres of music.
There are definitive Country influences running throughout the album.
Amongst the tracks of particular, are “The Screaming Song” and “The Bridge”, which both have quite a Chris Stapleton sound to them, whilst “Walls Fall Down” has a Steve Earle/Shooter Jennings feel to it. It worked particularly well.
“Temporary Blues” is one of the more commercial Country tracks on the album, but for my money, “No Time For A Broken Heart” is my favourite track. It’s quite uptempo, with an edgy Country feel.
Certainly worth a listen.
 
Back to Canada, and to the West Coast. PHARIS AND JASON ROMERO have a classic story. Some scratchy old records and a custom banjo led to their meeting in 2007, and they quickly knew they were in for the long haul. They've since released six records, toured all over, and garnered two Juno awards, multiple Canadian Folk Music Awards, and performances on A Prairie Home Companion and CBC's The Vinyl Cafe.  They also have a thriving boutique banjo business, so it’s no surprise to find the banjo featuring so widely in their music.
Throughout their new album, “Bet On Love” (Lula Records), recorded in Horsefly BC, the couple share the writing and vocal duties. Pharis does most of the vocals, although Jason does make vocal collaborations.
The opening track, “Hometown Blues” is a bright & breezy introduction to the album, which certainly kept me listening on.
The title track displays some breath-takingly beautiful vocals from Pharis. 
“New Day”, the lead single from the album is a gentle melodic number, with a message that offers so much hope in these troubled times- a new day- new beginning! “Right In The Garden” is much in the same style.
“We All Fall” has quite a reflective story to it, about meeting someone who gives you the world, and is gone the next. It’s quite a catchy little number which really stood out for me. “Kind Girl” is also quite a catchy, perhaps more folksy than the other tracks.
“Roll On My Friend” is one of the few tracks where Jason leads the vocals. He also features on the albums closing track “World Stop Turning”, which is quite a slow number.
There is quite a celtic flavour on the instrumental called “New Caledonia”.
This was an extremely pleasant listen. I really liked the way Pharis self-harmonises with herself, and whilst featuring the banjo predominately, the sound on each track was so different.
 
A totally new name to me is G.F.PATRICK, although he’s certainly not new to the music, as he was a member of an award winning bluegrass inspired folk band called Black Horse Motel. For his debut solo album, “One Town Over” (Need To Know Records) he crosses over to the Country rock sound, which works for me.
I like the introduction on his bio, which states “Philadephia- based guitarist and songwriter uses a Georgia-born post-Country voice to examine the lives of everyday people”.
It certainly has that southern rootsy sound, with influences of Mellencamp and Steve Earle amongst others.
The title track is one of slower tracks on the album. “Like Father” is another which stands out.
The 14 track (15 if you include the hidden track) begins with “Mud”, a mid tempo number inspired by the weight of our dreams, which can eventually bring us down. It really sets the tone for the album. That’s followed by the slower “Truckers Song”, one of the more mainstream Country tracks on the album. Yet it has the emotion of living far from home, as he grew up travelling between his native Georgia and his adopted Philadelphia.
“Tennessee” really struck a chord with me. It’s bright and breezy and real radio friendly. Inspired by the musicians mecca, it expresses where we stop short of our goals.
“Anger Of Magdalene” is a strong, guitar influenced “Guitar Town” meets “I’ve Been Everywhere” number. It’s actually a murder ballad.
A few of the songs veer towards a dark side, including the human cost of mining on “James McGovern”, and “Til The Day We Die”, both good rocky numbers, and the Country influenced “Blood On The Bottle”.  “Beauty Fades”, which talks of changing relationships, follows the same theme.
The hidden track, “Weep” is a gentle ballad to close the album.
If you like your Country a little edgy, a bit more Country-rock, then this will worth checking out.
 
Alabama born JASON ISBELL has been making quite a mark on the Country & Americana music scene in the last few years. As well as being a former member of the Drive By Truckers, Isbell has built up a following as a solo act with 6 solo studio albums, and 4 live albums to his credit.
His latest effort is “Reunions” (Thirty Tigers), which sees him give equal billing to his band The 400 Units.
The album kicks off with the hi-energy, if rather repetitive, “What Have I Done To Help”.
That’s followed by the much more melodic “Dreamsicle” and “Only Children”.
Other laid back tracks include “River”, which is probably my favourite track on the album, purely for its simplicity, “St Peters Autograph” and the closing track “Letting You Go”, which is probably the most Country track on the album.
Other more upbeat guitar driven numbers include “Overseas”, “Running With Our Eyes Closed”  and “It Gets Easier”.
“Be Afraid” is the lead single from the album, described as a melody-packed, anthemic number.
‘Reunions’ was produced by celebrated producer and long time collaborator Dave Cobb. Isbell is widely acclaimed as one of the best songwriters and possesses a devoted audience who have pushed his last two albums into the Top 20 Country chart here in the UK.
 
We usually concentrate our CD review space to full albums, but there seems to be more & more EP’s being released these days.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE are Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, who both had individual careers before launching the duo a decade ago. Although influenced by the great married duets of Johnny & June, and George & Tammy, their music is much more modern, yet doesn’t lose that traditional touch. The Birmingham based duo have a number of acclaimed albums to their credit, but their latest project is “Country Darkness”, two EP’s featuring songs from the pen of Elvis Costello. Volume 1 was released last year, and Volume 2 was released in May. They have recreated the songs for duet vocals, and with vocals that work so well together, this makes for a really good listen.
The project is a reincarnation of one of Lou’s earlier projects – she wrote and appeared in a play, "They Call Her Natasha", based around a series of Elvis Costello songs, which was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival.
The 4 tracks on Vol 2 are led off with “Either Side Of The Same Town”, a slow, powerful ballad, heavily featuring Steve Nieve, Costello’s long time keyboard player, who gets equal billing on the whole project. The version here is quite an anthem. 
“I Lost You” is quite breezy & upbeat number which Costello co-wrote with Jim Lauderdale. There’s a lot of Lauderdale’s influence in the version here.
“Different Finger” has a lovely tex mex accordion intro, courtesy of Piero Tucci, before turning into classic Country song which could have come right from Marty Robbins. There’s also some neat Spanish guitar playing from Shez Sheridan. It’s the single released from the collection, and a really good radio song.
The collection is rounded off with the smouldering and soulful ballad “Too Soon To Know”. I feel this track really shows off the couple’s vocals best, against the haunting instrumentation.
There’s a bit of everything in these tracks from My Darling Clementine-  it works, whatever way they turn.
 
Glasgow born, Donegal based JACQUI SHARKEY has made a name for herself in recent years for her warm, smooth vocal style and lovely ballads. Her new EP, “Home” is her first release since her 2017 cover of The Waterboys’ “Whole Of The Moon”. This 4 track collection shows Jacqui to the best of her vocal ability.
The title track is quite a powerful celtic version of the Karla Bonoff song, whilst “Just An Illusion” is a cover of the Dutch pop group BZN’s hit. Jacqui’s version fits well with her style of music, although you can pick up a little “80’s Eurovision” influence.
“Back To Earth”, a sensitive lament for the broken hearted, is one of these hidden gems from Willie Nelson’s pen. Jacqui’s version is quite spine chilling. It’s a superb.
And the EP is rounded out by one of Jacqui’s own songs, “Until Then”, a sensitive, piano led emotional ballad, written after the tragic death of her friend, Dawn Croke, in a road accident last year.
Jacqui’s voice is as beautiful as ever. When she first appeared on the scene, she was thought of, as having an Anne Murray sound, but, over the years has matured her own style, which, as this collection shows, can adapt to a number of writers styles.
 
Next up, a 6 track album, called “State Of Heartbreak” from the stone Country traditionalist JOEY ALLCORN. It’s his first release in five years and it is well worth the wait for all Honkytonk and traditional country lovers alike.
He is also the web content creator for the Hank Williams museum which supports the traditional sound of his music.
As well as his own writing on this record, there’s a co-write with Rick Edwards and a cover of Faron Young’s ‘Your Time’s Comin’ and of Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”.
The title track opens the album. It’s a good traditional Country honky tonk number, which instantly got me interested in his music. “Same Old Blues” is a real old time Hank Williams sound, and “Lefty Was Right”, is, as you would expect, a reincarnation of the great Lefty Frizzell.
The album was produced by Joey Allcorn and Tom Vrem and features musicians such as Kenny Vaughan, Hank Singer & Eddy Dunlap to name a few.
I love the authentic, real, Country sound which Joey has created here. Only complaint would be that 6 tracks is not enough.
 
CHASE RICE has been making his mark on Country music over the past seven years, with his 2014 album “Ignite The Night” selling over 300,000 copies and topping the US Country album chart. In 2018 “Eyes On You” topped the Country Airplay chart, and hit the Top 40 on the pop chart.
Earlier this year, he released an EP, “The Album Vol 1” and has now followed up with “Vol 2” (BMG/BBR), featuring 4 tracks, three of them written by Rice himself.  He does have a modern sound, which is typical of what’s making the charts in Nashville these days. I have to say that I really enjoyed “Break Up Drunk”, although the other tracks didn’t appeal too much to me. In fact, I’d consider “Belong” to be almost a rap number.
But Chase has plenty of fans, who will no doubt enjoy this short collection.
 
Finally, a new collection from JIMMIE ALLEN who hails from Delaware, but headed for Nashville at the age of 21 to pursue his musical career. He auditioned for a couple of network TV talent shows, but never made it past the first hurdle. But Jimmie kept pushing ahead and in 2017 got himself a record deal. His first two singles topped the Country airplay charts, and were both Top 10’s on the Billboard Country Songs chart. His debut album, “Mercury Lane” just missed a Top 10 placing (there’s still time to make it).
Now he has released an EP of collaborations under the title of “Bettie James”.  It’s modern Nashville pop, but that’s what American “Country” radio plays these days. The lead single from the project is a soft ballad, “This Is Us”, with Noah Cyrus. There are duets with Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley, as well rapper Nelly, actress Rita Wilson and gospel singer Tauren Wells.
Worthy of a mention is a duet with the highly under rated Texan Country singer Mickey Guyton on “Drunk And I Miss You”, which is a bit like “Need You Now”, whilst “Why Things Happen”, features Charley Pride and Darius Rucker. It’s not the sort of sound you’d expect to hear from Charley. I can only imagine that he’s there to try to appeal to traditional Country fans. If that’s the plan, it doesn’t work for me.
It’s a pleasant listen though.