Christmas must be coming. Lots of new CD’s to review this time around.
I’m going to start this month with a look at two cracking CD’s from Down Under.
KIRSTY LEE AKERS is a young lady who came to the notice of record producers in the 2007 Toyota Starmaker Talent competition, when she was still in her teens. What a find they made. This lady has a bright breezy feel to her debut album “Little Things”, especially through songs like the title track, the old Little Jimmy Dickens hit “I’m Little But I’m Loud”, “Goin’ To The Beach” and “If You Cant Be Good Be Gone”. Lots of good old fashioned fiddle give the album a feel good traditional sound, yet still incredibly radio friendly.
But the NSW youngster can deliver a mean ballad too. Songs like “I Dream He Dreams Of Me” and “The Real You” really work, as does her own composition, “It Gets To Me”.
However, the stand out track is one called “The Territory”. It’s about a girl growing up in the care of the state, and wondering who’s gonna look out for her when she reaches 18 and left to her own devices. The opening lines, “I was born in the Territory to a woman who never really wanted me, I don’t know if daddy did, I don’t even know who he is”, really sets the scene. It’s a really powerful song from a youngster’s viewpoint. It certainly caught my attention. The lass delivers a really strong version.
Kirsty Lee Akers has the follow up to “Little Things” due for release in the new year. She’s got a hard job following up this excellent debut. I’m sure she’s going to be a huge star, not only in Australia, but internationally.
Next up, I’d like to introduce you to Sophie & Celeste, THE SUNNY COWGIRLS. They are Australia’s downhome Dixie Chicks. They have great family harmonies, and share the songwriting credits. Unlike Kirsty Lee above, the sisters are unmistakably Aussie. Their accents really stand out, and with song titles like “Grog Monster”, “Old Silo” and “Dancing On The Darling”, the songs won’t translate well outside their native land.
But then again, the same should apply to “Neighbours” and “Home & Away”, and if we Brits can love Aussie soaps, why not their music.
They have a good solid driving hi-energy sound, but still 100% Country. They really remind me of a Canadian trio called Farmers Daughter, who had a sound I just loved.
They can handle fast numbers like the collaboration with Adam Brand on “Someday” (the only song either of the girls didn’t write) to soft ballads like “One Of You”.
In my view, two stand out tracks for me. “Ten Bucks In The Glovebox” is a good driving song with a message about being grateful for what you’ve got.
The other worthy of a mention has a Scottish connection. “Kelpie” is a beautiful story of the Kelpie working dog was introduced into Australia. It tells how farmer Jack Gleeson was so taken by George Robertson’s “Scottish dogs”, and one in particular. It’s a true story (I checked it out on Wikipedia).
Two very different artists from Australia. Two totally refreshing sounds, neither overproduced, and I found both very enjoyable. Both are on the Compass Bros label.
Back home, ISLA GRANT is well respected for being one of our top singer songwriters, so when her new album, “Isla Sings Hank” (IGE label) arrived, it marked quite a departure for the lady.
As the title suggests, this is an album of Hank Williams classics, from the opening track, “You Win Again”, to “Move It On Over”, “Hey Good Looking” and “Take These Chains From My Heart”.
What is really impressive, however, is just how she makes many of these numbers sound like they are her own. Best examples of this include, “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight”, “Why Should We Cry Anymore” and “When God Comes And Gathers His Jewels”,
There no less than 14 tracks on here. All of Hank’s biggest hits, done in Isla’s own way. The album was recorded in Galway with some great musicians, including Charlie Arkins, Declan O’Donoghue and Martin Cleary. The whole album has a very traditional Country sound, without losing the Isla Grant sound that is her trademark.
Available from www.islagrant.net
Isla’s old label in Dublin have also released a new Isla Grant album, “Special To Me”. The album features previously released material with some tracks remixed, and is not authorised by Isla.
BUZZARD CREEK rekindle memories of one of the hardest working bands of a generation ago. The Falkirk based duo are back on the scene, and building up their reputation with gigs on the club scene all over the Central belt.
Their new 14 track CD, “Through The Years” features 14 tracks, isn’t an album of songs from the band’s previous existence, but does include a few songs that have clearly stood the test of time.
The choice is simply down to great songs that the band have found popular with audiences. There are classic oldies like Merle Haggard’s “Swinging Doors” and “Sing Me Back Home”, through Gene Watson’s “Carmen” and “Got No Reason Now To Go Home”, to more up to date hits like “Some Beach” and “A Little Less Talk”.
The production is really impressive, especially on the older numbers like “Union Mare & Confederate Grey”. They even manage to squeeze in a bit of rockabilly.
A good album, which can only enhance their careers. Catch them on their next club visit.
DON WILLIAMS remains one of the most loved Country singers in this part of the world. He’s not often thought of as a songwriter though. Well, “The Journey”, a new TV advertised album from Scotland’s own Country House label, sets out to highlight the writing talents of the Gentle Giant.
All the songs have been released before, but it’s good to hear a different selection of Don’s material – and all his own.
The most casual fan will recognise a few of the songs. The album features early hits like “In The Shelter Of Your Eyes”, “Lay Down Beside Me” and “Til The Rivers All Run Dry”. But you’ll also find songs like “Leaving For The Flatlands”, “My Heart To You”, “I Sing For Joy”, and the wonderful “I Need You To Want Me” that, perhaps only his real big fans will be instantly familiar with.
Throughout his career, Don has never made a bad record. Whilst this isn’t a greatest hits collection (and not intended to be), it’s a great Christmas idea for the laid back Don Williams fan in your life.
Now to the most recent releases on the Humphead label.
Kansas born CHELY WRIGHT has been a radio favourite since she first released “He’s A Good Ol’ Boy” back in 1994. The song only made No.58 on the Billboard charts, but the song proved to be a much bigger favourite than the chart position suggested. It was followed by songs like “Sea Of Cowboys Hats” and “Listening To The Radio”, which again won her many fans. But it wasn’t until “Shut Up & Drive” and “Single White Female” hit the Top 10, that Chely Wright really achieved the recognition that she deserved.
Sadly, despite some later hits like “She Went Out For Cigarettes”, “One Night In Vegas” and “Alligator Purse”, Chely has never really had the recognition that her music deserves.
But now, this 20 track midprice “Ultimate Collection” addresses the issue. Here’s a great selection from one of the most under rated songstresses in Nashville.
BILLY CURRINGTON is still one of Nashville’s new boys, despite being a seven year veteran of the scene. He scored two chart toppers from his previous album, and got to sing with Shania on “Party For Two”. Now, three years since his last album, he’s back with “little bit of EVERYTHING”, an 11 track collection, which features 5 self, or co-written numbers.
The album kicks off with the rather funky sounding “Swimmin’ In Sunshine”. There’s also a rocky feel to “That’s How Country Boys Roll”. But they are not typical of the album, which generally has a much softer feel to it.
The Bobby Braddock/Troy James song “People Are Crazy” has to one of my favourite cuts on the album. I also like his own “No One Has Eyes Like You” and “Every Reason Not To Go”.
There’s a calypso feel to “I Shall Return”, a style that has crept into maimnstream Country in recent years. Billy adapts to the style well.
This is a good album, has a “little bit of EVERYTHING”, and well worth investigating.
Notching up Humphead’s 50th Country release in the UK is LEE ANN WOMACK. Best known for “I Hope You Dance”, her new collection is called “Call Me Crazy”.
Lee Ann’s style has changed since she first appeared with a song “Never Again Again”. The promotional info released with the CD likens her to Tammy Wynette. The song subjects certainly relate with Tammy’s sound, but I find Lee Ann’s vocals much more fragile in delivery. That works for her.
The album kicks off with “Last Call”, dealing about her man being in a bar all night.
On “New Again”, she sings the praises of materialistic recycling, and hand me downs.
Social issues come to fore on “I Think I Know”, with lines “I Think I Know What killed Keith Whitley, and it wasn’t just the whiskey”.
Lee Ann is certainly tackling some interesting subjects, and delivering them from the heart.
She also duets on “Everything But Quits”, with George Strait and does a superb version of Jim Lauderdale’s “King Of Broken Hearts”.
This album will grow on you, I’m sure.
Our Canadian album this time around is the long awaited debut from the raunchy voiced CRYSTAL SHAWANDA. Her surname is native Indian for “Dawn Of A New Day”, which is the title of her debut album in both the US & Canada.
I had been very impressed by her early single “You Can Let Go”, a strong song between daughter & daddy, from her first bike, to getting married, and his final days. It’s a real thought provoking number, and Crystal does it really well.
She has a really strong raunchy voice, that hasn’t really been seen since Tanya Tucker & Lacy J Dalton. It works on the raunchier songs as well as softer ballads like “Tender Side” and What Do I Have To Do”.
But she can certainly use those vocals on bigger rockier numbers.
That really shows best with “My Roots Are Showing” – her family roots, of course.
She also tackles “Your Cheatin ‘ Heart”, and certainly doesn’t try to simply cover it. It’s a raunchy bluesy version, that really rocks. That wont win over the traditionalists.
But in the main, an impressive debut from an exciting star on the rise.
And just the remember the last Canadian to hit Nashville with an Indian name meaning “I’m On My Way”. There was no stopping Shania. Crystal Shawanda’s day is just dawning.
BRAD PAISLEY is one of Country music’s hottest talents. And those that remember seeing him at the Armadillo back in 2000 at that great All day Country festival, will recall just what a guitar wizard he is!
This album really shows off his guitar prowess, from the opening “theme like” ”Huckleberry Jam” to the slower “Kim”. There’s a very simple instrumental of “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”. You’ll also find an all star jam on “Cluster Pluck” featuring James Burton, Albert Lee, Vince Gill, Steve Wariner and others.
The vocal tracks include Keith Urban on “Start A Band”, Steve Wariner on the beautiful “More Than Just This Song” , BB King on “Let The Good Times Roll” , comedian Andy Griffith on “Waitin’ On A Woman” and Buck Owens on “Come On In”. The Buck track has a most interesting story. It features a demo Buck recorded in his office before he passed away. It’s Buck on vocals, mandolin & dobro. It’s great what technology can do.
Instrumental albums don’t really sell well these days, but with the five great duets (all potential hit singles, and CMA Vocal Event nominees), it’s not really the instrumental album that it’s being billed as.
Whether it’s his playing or singing you prefer, Brad Paisley does have one great album in “Play” (Arista)
KENNY CHESNEY, despite being a huge American star, and having his last few albums all released here, has never really caught on outside of America.
Maybe it’s down to the laid back gulf coast retreat influenced songs that are his trademark.
His new album, “Lucky Old Sun” released here on the BNA label follows the formula that’s been so successful for him back home.
He has a few guests throughout the album, including The Wailers, Dave Mathews, Mac MacAnally (on his own “Down The Road”), and Willie Nelson on the rather bluesy title track.
The track that stands out is a lightweight reggae number with the quaint title of “Everyone Wants To Go To Heaven, But Nobody Want To Go Now”. It’s quite a catchy little number that’ll get into your head.
This isn’t a bad album, but it just doesn’t move me. It’ll be great for lying on an isolated beach paradise with the tide out. But there’s not even a ripple of excitement.
If you have enjoyed his previous albums though, then you wont be disappointed this time around.
MIKE DENVER is one of Ireland’s current big names. His latest album, Got A Funny Feelin’” (Sharpe Music) continues his trend of good happy Country music and pop classics.
The Harlan Howard penned opener really gets the party started before he goes all sentimental with a beautiful cover of Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey”. He covers Vince Gill’s lively “Old Time Fiddle”, and Garth Brooks’”The Dance”.
There’s shades of pop, with “Happy Birthday Baby” and “Everyday Is A Beautiful Day”. There’s a token Irish number, in “As Happy As We Were”.
Then there’s George Jones! Yes- thee George Jones. The Possum teams up with Mike on “The Real Deal”, and writes the sleevenotes.
If Jones takes notice of Mike Denver, then you should too. He is Ireland’s big name at the moment.
Next up is a new album called “To Make You Feel My Love” by BARRY KIRWAN.
Barry is the son of the ever popular Dominic, and brother of Colm, who released his debut album last year. Now young Barry, who plays drums in his dad’s band is getting in on the act.
He may have a more poppy sound that either Dominic or Colm, (covers of Dylan, Beatles, Herman’s Hermits and Marmalade) but there are some signs of a Country boy in there. His version of Brad Paisley’s “Flowers” is really impressive, and I enjoyed his versions of “Your Everything” and “Love is Never Ending”.
He also gives his takes on John Micheal Montgomery’s “Be My Baby Tonight” and John Anderson’s “Swingin’”.
There’s two duets, “Callin’ Me” with his dad. It’s probably the strongest song on the album. He also does Alan Jackson’s “ Never Loved Before”, with Sinead Taggart doing the Martina McBride duet.
It’s not a bad album at all. Quite a variety of styles. It can be ordered at www.dominickirwan.com.
If Mike & Barry are relatively new names on the Irish scene, then PHILOMENA BEGLEY is a legend, in every sense of the word.
“I’ll Only Give This Up When It Gives Me Up” is an apt title for her latest album, which marks her 45th year in the business. That’s not a misprint. She began her career in 1963 in The Old Cross Ceili Band.
Today she is still Ireland’s Queen Of Country Music. She is still at the top, and she just seems to get better every time you see her live.
This album features 17 tracks, many of which will be familiar- songs like “Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)”, “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “Que Sera Sera”. There’s also lesser known songs, like “The Last Supper”, a convincing song of betrayal, and “Family Tree”, which is particularly strong. She also features two Isla Grant song’s, “Listen To The Children” and “Life’s Storybook Cover”.
The 17 track CD is packaged with a nice little DVD, with Philomena taking you into her home town, and snips of some of her most memorable TV appearances throughout the years, including the Wembley Festival.
You cannot argue with someone who has been around for 45 years. This CD/DVD package on the H&H Music label is certainly a nice little celebration of Ms Begley’s career.
Back to the states, and at a time when it seems the youngsters are taking over, it’s interesting to hear a debut album from a 53 year old. St Louis born, BIG BOB YOUNG has been crafting his career all his life, whilst spending time in the Air Force, or working in as diverse jobs as a farrier , a mechanic and a clown. He also spend time in Country and Jazz bands, and both influences are apparent on “Hard Way To Make A Dollar”.
There is a lot of blues influence too, but Country shines through on tracks like “Best Of A Bad Situation”, “Bury Me In Dixie” and “Mississippi Nights”
The “Green Country Stomp” is a good old fashioned hoedown. It’s a good uptempo party number.
The title track has a Chuck Berry rock’n’roll beat which works well.
There’s not a lot of polish about Big Bob Young. This is working man’s music. A bit of everything! A refreshing blast in today’s manufactured music world.
Check him out at www.builtonblues.com.
A few months back, we reviewed a new DVD by DAVID FRIZZELL, and a single called “This Is Our Time”, which featured many names we just don’t hear from these days, like Lacy J Dalton, Jimmy Fortune and Helen Cornelius. Now comes a full album of duets with David and some of these names, and more.
“This is Our Time” comes with a behind the scenes DVD, showing the making of the album.
He teams up with Crystal Gayle on the soft sentimental “Wedding Dress For Sale, and Merle Haggard on brother Lefty’s “If You Got The Money I Got The Time”.
Gene Watson duets on “The Long Black Veil”, and Jeannie Seely joins Frizzell on “Nobody’s Darling But Mine”. There’s also guest spots from T Graham Brown, Joe Stampley, Bobby Bare and Johnny Lee.
His pairing with Lacy J Dalton (best remembered for “Black Coffee”) on “Something ‘Bout You”, and his solo “No Regrets” are the stand out tracks for me.
But if there’s a message in this album, it’s that Country music doesn’t give the support to acts like these any longer. The song “Three Minutes” (which is actually 11 seconds longer than that) takes a swipe at today’s Nashville, and suggests there’s “something missing”. I fear it’s not missing, it’s just ignored.
Don’t ignore this album. This is Country music’s legacy.
Talking about legacy’s, there’s two new packages which will make ideal Christmas presents for the traditional Country fan in your life.
Firstly H&H have released a wonderful 2CD package from JIM REEVES. “I’m A Hit Again” features 36 rare and unreleased tracks, including alternative versions of “Distant Drums”, “Four Walls” and “Am I Losing You”. There’s also a version of “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer “ recorded with The Nashville Symphony from 1961, and a live version of “He’ll Have To Go”. The second CD features extracts from Jim’s American Forces Radio series, including cute jingle,
Some of the songs sound quite refreshing, others very dated, but that’s the beauty of these recordings. “I’m A Hit Again” has also been released as a single. Could he be a hit again after all these years? An interesting thought.
In much the same vein, TimeLife have released a 3 CD, 54 previously unreleased tracks from HANK WILLIAMS. “The Unreleased Recordings” is just the first box in what is a series of recordings from his “Mothers Best” sessions- a radio series sponsored by a milling company, dated 1951. The radio show went out live at 7.15 every morning. These recordings were from the few occasions that Hank was scheduled to be out of town, so were pre-recorded. There’s certainly some gems in here.
They include songs that Hank never released commercially, like “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”,”Cherokee Boogie” and “The Blind Child”.
Hank Williams music these days is a collectors market. They are truly memorable sounds that you’ll be proud to own.
Finally, we finish with a seasonal offering from Canadian sweetheart, MICHELLE WRIGHT. “A Wright Christmas” was originally released a few years ago, but now gets a British release through Proper Distribution.
It features traditional favourites like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “Joy To The World”, “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bell Rock”. Michelle does them with style and tradition.
There’s one original number. “I Know Santa’s Been Here” was written by good friend Patricia Conroy. It’s a jolly number that fits into the Christmas theme very well.
A good party album for Christmas Day.
Merry Christmas, and Happy listening!