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Tuesday 15 February 2011

Jun 2007

“Last Of The Breed” – Lost Highway

Now, if you ever want to know what Country music is, look no further than this superb double album from three of the biggest living legends in Country music.
Collectively, they’ve amassed an amazing 330 Country music chart hits, including 66 Number ones, which have spent no less than 132 weeks at the top.
This 22 track collection, produced by Fred Foster teams the trio up on some really well known classics like Heartaches By The Number, Mom & Dad’s Waltz, Why Me, Pick Me Up On Your Way Down and Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine.
There’s 11 tracks featuring the trio, and all but two feature various duet combinations.
Merle has a solo version of “If I Ever Get Lucky”, whilst Ray teams up with Vince Gill on “Heartaches By The Number”. Kris Kristofferson teams up with Willie & Ray on “Why Me”.
All three are in great voice throughout the album. It’s a masterpiece of an album, and one that should be in every Country music collection.

“A Hundred Miles Or More” – Rounder

Whilst being a highly respected artist in her own right, Alison Krauss has contributed a huge amount to other people’s records. She has the most beautiful harmony voice, which really adds quality to a record.
This new album, whilst featuring five new tracks, is a collection of tracks from soundtracks and concept albums, that haven’t been released on her own albums in the past.
And boy, is there some stand out songs on here.
From the “O Brother” soundtrack comes the haunting “Down To The River To Pray”, with the most gorgeous acapella vocal ever. Alison is on lead with folks like Gillian Welch and Maura O’Connell on backing vocals.
Her duet with James Taylor from The Louvins’ tribute album is the other stand out track. Their “How’s The World Treating You” is so beautiful.
“Whiskey Lullaby”, of course was a huge hit for Brad Paisley, thanks to Alison’s harmonies, and it’s great to hear it again.
Elsewhere ”The Scarlett Tide” and “You Will Be My Ain True Love” are both from the “Cold Mountain” soundtrack, “I Give You To His Heart” is from “The Prince Of Egypt” and “Baby Mine” from “The Best Of Country Sings The Best Of Disney”.
Added to that, her contributions to albums by The Chieftains, Natallie McMaster and John Waite, show just how versatile Krauss can be.
Of the new tracks, two are Don Williams covers. “Lay Down Beside Me” also features John Waite, whilst “You’re Just A Country Boy”, which opens the album really had me hooked.
A superb collection! My only complaint would be that her duet on “Buy Me A Rose” with Kenny Rogers, was worthy of inclusion on such an album, but nevertheless, an album that really emphasised how much I quietly admire Alison Krauss and her contribution to Country music.

Let It Go – Curb

It’s 15 years since Tim McGraw first hit the Country charts, and whilst he’s had some really catchy hits in that time, I reckon that this is my favourite album from the guy who turned 40 last month.
The album kicks off with his current UK single, “Last Dollar (Fly Away)”, which is so radio friendly, and even features his kids. I really enjoyed the song from the very first listen.
“I’m Workin” , co written by Celtic Connections visitor Darrell Scott, is a much softer romantic number, which suits his style well. Talking of romantic ballads, better half, Faith Hill joins Tim on “I Need You”. It’s quite a powerful song compared to the sugary sweet duets they’ve done before.
Faith also contributes her vocals on , what for me, is the stand out track -the album’s closing track. “Shotgun Rider” was co-written by Sherrie Austin, Jeffrey Steele & Anthony Smith. It’s simply the most Country track that Tim has done, and sounds more like Waylon and Jessie, than Tim & Faith. It really works though.
His tribute to “Kristofferson” also works well. Telling of mixing booze and songwriting (not sure what Kris’s reaction will be), and it sounds so Country.
He covers Eddie Rabbitt’s “Suspicions”, a song which never really appealed to me, and Tim, whilst his version is OK, still doesn’t change my mind.
But it’s more than compensated by the first class songs that stand out.
This album’s been three years in the making. I’d like to hear more true Country music from Tim, but this will do for starters.

Waking Up Laughing – RCA

Since her first hit in 1992, Martina has established herself as one of Country music’s top girl singers, collecting several CMA Awards along the way to prove it.
I’ve always thought that her music was just too pop, and that we rarely heard the best of her voice.
Her last album, featuring some timeless Country classics was my favourite album from her. It showed her as a Country singer, and what a stunning Country voice she has.
This new album, which was self produced , like “Timeless”, sees Martina drift back into the Easy listening pop style that doesn’t show her full potential, in my opinion.
The songs aren’t bad. I especially liked the ballads like “Anyway” (co-written by Martina), “Trying to Find A Reason” and “I’ll Still Be Me”
“Cry Cry” was quite catchy, and had me singing along, as did “Beautiful Again”, another co-written by McBride.
Not a bad collection, but having been spoiled by her last album, Martina just doesn’t stand out from the crowd with this offering.

Fall – Curb Records

Clay has been one of these hard working guys who has made great records, without getting the recognition at the big awards ceremonies. He has, nevertheless, had four million selling albums, and this could be his fifth.
Produced by Keith Stegall, and featuring no less than six songs from Clay’s own pen,
the collection kicks off with the really catchy “Fore She Was Mama”, which is the album’s first single, and still there after 6 months out on the charts. It’s a really good radio song.
The title cut is a well delivered ballad from the pens of Clay Mills, Sonny Lemare & Shane Minor. The song shows Clay’s vocal style at it’s best on a big ballad.
Other highlights include the swinging “Workin’Man”, which really works well, whilst “Mexico”, as you may expect, has a catchy latin feel, and “Average Joe”, which is my favourite cut. It’s a good bouncy song, about him being just like you & me.
“She Likes It In The Morning” , “You’re My Witness” are really listenable ballads, but I really enjoyed the sentiments in “It Aint Pretty (But It’s Beautiful)”, about being able to appreciate the lesser things in life.
Most interesting track has to be Clay’s duet with Freddie Fender on “Before The Next Teardrop Falls”, recorded before Freddy’s passing last year. It’s a nice tribute to include the track now.
It’s great to see John Wesley Ryles still around, singing backing vocals on quite a few tracks. Melodie Crittenden adds a female touch to the vocals on a couple of tracks too.
Good to hear Clay sounding great. Diagnosed with MS 10 years ago, he has found courage in his music to carry on, and now now feels “healthier than I was 10 years ago” he says in the CD bio.
A great album, from one of the most Country guys on today’s Country scene.

That’s Nice ‘n’Country

There’s no shortage of Irish Country singers, but I have to say that Stephen Smyth is one of the best and freshest talents around. Formerly a member of Philomena Begley’s band, Stephen headed out on the road with his own band just two years ago. He has already played Scottish venues, including the Northern Nashville Festival last year, and has built up quite a following.
This is his third album, and features a good mix of Country classics, and lesser known numbers. “Hold Me In Your Arms” is probably the most typical Irish Country track, which he does do well, but it’s the classics like Bob Wills “Bubbles In My Beer”, Kent Robbins “Play Born To Lose Again”, Crystal Gayle’s “This Is My Year For Mexico” and Mel Tillis’ “Burning Memories” that work best of all for me. They’re great songs that just haven’t been covered too often.
There’s a couple of Dave Sherriff numbers, “Waltz Of A Lifetime” and “ Aint Love A Wonderful Thing”, which are more in the sentimental mood.
Also worthy of a mention is the quickstep,”That’s How A Cowgirl Says Goodbye”, written by Larry Boone and Tracy Lawrence
This is an album that stretches the memory a little – You’ve heard the songs before, but not too often. I like that. It’s good to see Leon McCrum still around, adding her harmonies to tracks like the CD opener “Wild Weekend”.

Pure BS – Warner Bros (US release)

Since Blake Shelton burst onto the scene a few years ago with “Austin”, he’s been a firm favourite with both contemporary and traditional Country fans. This latest album, his third, continues to impress.
He has wrapped up an album of emotions, honky tonk, loneliness
The catchiest track has to be “The More I Drink”, taking a wry look at the problem many have when they have a few.
“She Don’t Love Me” also stands out. It puts over the emotion of an ex- who he was dreading meeting, but instead of confrontation, she had moved on. The song depicts the hurt encountered this way.
Of the ballads, I enjoyed “I Don’t Care”, which brings in his faithful old answerphone again, maybe hoping to recreate another “Austin”, and “She Cant Get That At Home”. “It Aint Easy Bein’ Me” sees him really feeling sorry for himself.. There’s some neat lines, like “You wont find it on a road map… but if you make enough wrong turns, it’s hard to miss”. Clever stuff.
The album’s closer, “The Last Country Song” about a honky tonk being closed down really works well, and includes appeareances from George Jones and John Anderson. It’s a great track to finish the album, and leaves you wanting to play it all over again.
Produced by Bobby Braddock, Brent Rowan and Paul Worley, the 11 track collection features 3 songs co-written by Shelton. Other writers include David Lee Murphy, Dean Dillon & Rachel Proctor.
A thoroughly good album, that I wont tire listening to.

Evil On Your Mind - Spin Out (US release)

The Stumbleweeds from Massacusets are a band blending traditional Country music and Honky Tonk with rockabilly, in the style of Wanda Jackson. The five piece band is led by Lynette Lenker, who leads the vocals throughout.
The 15 tracks, include 6 originals, and 9 vintage covers, although they’re all in the same style. In true rockabilly style, only 3 of the songs last over 3 minutes long. If it wasn’t for recognising Wanda’s “A Girl Dont Have To Drink To Have Fun” and “Saving My Love” or Harlan Howard’s “Evil On Your Mind”, you wouldn’t be able to pick out the difference.
Although the sound is fifty years old, it still sounds so fresh today. The guitars have real twang, the bass stands out, and Lynette delivers with such authentic vocals.
The stand out Country numbers include the original “Doggone Thing”, a song that would.’ve done Loretta Lynn proud, and the answer to Waylon’s classic in “Only Mamma That’ll Walk The Line”.
“Had Enough” has a good Country beat, whilst “The Trouble With Girls”, is another feminine slant at the honky tonk world.
The most interesting treatment is reserved for “I Love You Because”.We’re so used to Jim Reeves crooning version of the song, but here we have an uptempo thumping version, which is so different, yet really sounds so natural.
“Baby I Still Love You”, another original, has a good beat, with an intro reminicent of kd lang’s “Big Boned Gal”.
The Stumbleweeds owe more to 50’s Female Country than rockabilly, and it’s a sound that sounds so good to me.

Invictus - Wasteland Records (US release)

From the wastelands of New Mexico comes this release, which has a real Americana sound. Cole’s vocals owe more to Mellencamp or Earle than Cash, but the instrumentation featuring guitars, banjo, dobro and accordian really give the album a warm campfire feel.
All the songs were self written, and the album self produced.
Van Gogh’s Moon is quite a slow Gram Parson’s influenced number, with neat accordian links and superb harmonies from Glenda June Fish.”Cold Light Of Day” is another softer number which works well.
Born To Lose has a good Steve Earle Guitar Town type beat, while “Bye Bye Baby” has a Johnny Cash type intro, which leads into a superb story about losing everything and moving on. Similarly “Lucretia Borgia” has a good running beat and some neat banjo.
In between we have “Different Disguise”, which once again benefits from some lovely Glenda June harmonies, as does “Painting The Down”. I also enjoyed “Shotgun Rider”, which runs to 5 minutes 38 seconds.
I’m not particularly impressed by Cole’s vocals style, but it suits the songs and the backing.
One of the better singer songwriter albums that I’ve heard for some time.

Live At Texas Stadium – Humphead Records

Imagine being at a concert with George Strait, Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffett.
Well it did happen back in 2004 at The Texas Stadium in Dallas, and from the sound of it, it was the great event you imagine it to be.
The sound quality is superb. The crowd noise levels are enough to add to the atmosphere, but the guys on stage create enough of an atmosphere to let the listener feel that they are actually there.
The concert follows a pattern- George Strait is introduced on stage first, opening with “Honk If You Honky Tonk”, then he is joined by Alan Jackson on the traditionalist anthem, “Murder On Music Row”. Then we have two Strait solo’s in “Milk Cow Blues” and “Cowboys Like Us”.
George then brings Buffett on stage to duet on “All My Ex’s Live In Texas”, and all three follow on “Hey Good Lookin”.
Jimmy Buffett takes over the stage, but brings Strait back to join him on a rather different version of “Sea Of Heartbreak”. He then solos on “North East Texas Woman” before bringing Alan Jackson on for Guy Clark’s “Boats To Build”.
All three are on stage for “Margaritaville”, and the music on stage is really cooking at this stage.
Alan Jackson takes over the stage now, but Buffett encores on a lively version of “Five O’Clock Somewhere”. Strait returns to join Jackson for “Designated Driver” before Jackson closes with three solo efforts, and interesting songs they are too.
He covers Hank Jr’s “Texas Women”, with a few lyrics, which are just a shade raunchy for Alan. He then offers a bluegrass version of Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road”, before closing with “Where I Come From”.
There’s no encore (maybe that’s for a volume 2)!
My only comment would be that there was just too much thanking each other after each duet, kinda like The Waltons at lights out! But that’s a small price to pay for such a wonderful concert set.
Be assured we’ll never see these three on a stage together in Scotland. This is the closest you’ll get.

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