There’s been so many CD’s recently released that there just isn’t enough time to give a really good listen to them, and not enough space in the magazine to review them all fully. But I’ll try to give credit to as many as I can here.
My Featured Album in this issue is from KATHY MATTEA. “Coal” is a themed album devoted to the mining communities of her native West Virginia, and Kentucky. But I’m sure there’ll be plenty Country fans here, who still have the coal dust in their blood, a generation after the pits closed, that will appreciate the sentiments.
The album has been produced by Marty Stuart, and together with Kathy has come up with a real old time, down home sound, that really captures the whole effect of the dark industrial coal towns.
Kathy has avoided obvious songs like “Coal Miners Daughter” and “Working Man”, choosing songs by the likes of Hazel Dickens, Billy Edd Wheeler, Darrell Scott and Merle Travis.
The album kicks off with “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore”, which may be a train song, but a train which trundelled through the communities that breathed the black stuff. Patty Loveless adds some nice harmonies to “Blue Diamond Mine”.
“The Green Rolling Hills Of West Virginia”, is possibly the best known, and most commercial song on the album. Tim & Mollie O’Brien harmonise on this track.
The most uptempo track is “Coal Tattoo”. It has a great bluegrass feel, and effective double bass at the same time.
It did strike me that these were largely male songs, but Kathy puts in such emotion to each song. No track shows this more that “Black Lung”, which Kathy performs with no backing at all. It’s a gutsy delivery on a song that describes one of the great killers of working lives .
Whilst this may not be an album destined for the top of the charts, it really is a stunning masterpiece. It has awards written all over it.
By the time you read this, “Coal” should be available here in the UK on the Proper label.
Another themed album is “Trains And Boats And Planes” from Nashville born LAURA CANTRELL. Laura was a regular visitor to Scotland until a few years ago when she began a family. She’s missed the travelling so much, she’s chosen travel for the theme for this digital album, which you can only download from websites like I-Tunes.
The 9 track collection does feature three previously released tracks, including “Yonder Comes A Freight Train” and “Big Wheel”. The title cut is the old Burt Bacharach-Hal David classic. She also covers Roger Miller’s “Train Of Life”, then turns to boats with Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald”, and to planes on The Hag’s “Silver Wings”.
I really liked “Howard Hughes Blues”, a fun, uptempo version of John Hartford’s song about the famous aviator and airline owner.
Good to hear Laura on song again.
There’s been quite a few re-issues of late. The biggest promotion is certainly for TAMMY WYNETTE’s “Stand By Your Man – The Best Of Tammy Wynette” (Sony/BMG) , which was released to coincide with the 10th Anniversary of her death.
The album went straight into the UK Album charts, proving that she has still a huge following. Tammy’s heyday was in the mid 70’s when “Stand By Your Man” and “DIVORCE” were both Top 10 hits. Other songs she recorded around then, and featured on this 20 track compilation, include “I Don’t Wanna Play House”, “Take Me To Your World”, “Til I Can Make It On My Own” and “You & Me”.
Tammy recorded quite a few duets with George Jones, and this album includes, “Near You”, “Golden Ring” and “We’re Gonna Hold On”, but it’s the original David Houston duet on “My Elusive Dream” that finds it’s way onto the album.
Tammy also had a Top 3 hit in 1992 with the dreadful “Justified & Ancient” with KLF. That song is also featured here, but apart from that, it’s a good collection to remember Tammy by. Even if you have most of these tracks, they’re probably on Vinyl. Here’s your chance to put them into your CD collection.
Sony/BMG have also released “Legend- The Best Of WILLIE NELSON”. The 20 tracks here include everything from early songs like “Crazy” and “NightLife” through to “Georgia On My Mind” and “Blue Skies” from his Stardust era.
From his outlaw days, there’s “Mamma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”, and “Good Hearted Woman”, and from a few years later, there’s “Highwayman”.
There’s duets with Julio Inglesias and Ray Charles, who are listed on the CD cover, and Merle Haggard, who isn’t. No mention either of Waylon Jennings, or any of his fellow Highgwaymen.
Despite that, another good sampler of Willie Nelson music, for those who don’t have a huge Willie catalogue.
TRISHA YEARWOOD has recently parted ways with MCA Records in Nashville, but the label are getting the most out of Mrs Garth’s music as they can. Only a few months ago, a Greatest Hits was released, and now we have “Love Songs”, a 14 track compilation released here on the Hump Head label.
Trisha is a lovely singer, and had a lot of success during her 15 years at the label. She had 11 No.1 hits, and had the same number of platinum albums.
Is there a market for yet another reissue of her old material?
The songs aren’t all slow ballads, although Trisha delivers these particularly well.
The album kicks off with the uptempo “That’s What I Like About You” and her career song, “She’s In Love With The Boy”. Other big hits include “Thinkin’ About You” and the swinging “If I Aint Got You”.
But it’s the big ballads like “Down On My Knees”, “I Don’t Fall In Love So Easy”,
“I‘ll Still Love You More” and the soulful “One Love” that are the album’s real selling points.
If you’re still short on Yearwood music, this could be a nice addition to your collection.
The Humphead label have continued their “2on1” series, re-issuing two albums in one package. The latest artist in the series is LEE ANN WOMACK. Although Lee Ann, the daughter of a Texas Country DJ, first hit the Country charts in 1997, it wasn’t until “I Hope You Dance” came along in 2000, that her career really took off.
This double collection features “I Hope You Dance” and the follow up, “Something Worth Leaving Behind” , which features the hits, “He’ll Be Back”, and “Mendocino County Line”. The 26 track package also includes a great version of Don Williams’ “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good”.
These 2on1 packages are great for picking up albums that you may have missed.
Humphead also have a new release from SUGARLAND. They are a duo of Jennifer Nettles & Kristian Bush. “Enjoy The Ride”, is their second release, and only got its official UK release in April.
The duo first hit the American charts with “Baby Girl” a few years back, and Jennifer has gone on to have her own success dueting with Jon Bon Jovi.
This is a modern album, verging on pop, but there are some interesting numbers like “These Are The Days”, “Want To”, and “April Showers” which demonstrates Jennifer’s great southern vocal style.
The duo wrote all the songs, alongside fellow writers like Bobby Pinson, Tim Owens, Jeff Cohen and Lisa Carver. “Stay”, the song with the most simple arrangement is a full Jennifer number, writing it herself, and delivering it in a powerful and sensitive style.
The album closes with their theme song, “Sugarland”. A very enjoyable album, one for the modern Country fan, which, at the same time doesn’t alienate the tradionalists.
MICHELLE WRIGHT is a longtime Canadian Country sweetheart, and a new album is always worth checking out. “Everything And More” is no exception. Michelle has always had one of the most powerful voices in Country music, and can deliver soulful ballads like she does here with “I Don’t Want To Be That Strong”, and “I’ve Forgotten You”
You may recall Michelle tugging at the heartstrings a few years back, when her “He Would Be Sixteen” tackled the subject of adoption. This time around, she has a song, “Love Me Anyway”, about thirtysomething woman having trouble having a family, She certainly will touch a few nerves with this song, which she delivers with such passion.
She can also deliver more uptempo numbers. Here, I particularly liked the radio friendly album opener, “Everything And More”, “In The Blink Of An Eye”, (both co-written with pal Patricia Conroy and Gerald O’Brien. They make a good team. I also liked “You Cant Lose Them All”, and her version of “My Give A Damn’s Busted” (Previously a hit for JoDee Messina) sure has a kick to it.
“Everything And More” has a worldwide release. Check www.michelle-wright.com for details.
Another Canadian worth watching is KATHLEEN EDWARDS who has just released “Asking For Flowers” (Zoe/ Rounder Records). Kathleen got great reviews for her “Back to Me” album in 2005. She has done a lot of touring since then, and has been working on this new record since the start of 2007.
Kathleen wrote all 11 tracks on the album, and, as with many singer songwriters, the songs display a whole range of emotions. “
The album’s opening track, “Buffallo” and title tracks “Asking For Flowers”, are particularly nice numbers. I also liked “Scared At Night”, which seemed to suit her voice best .“Goodbye California, has a 1 minute 22 second intro (and runs to over 6 minutes long).
The straightest Country song has to be “I Make The Dough,You Get The Glory”. Other uptempo tracks include “Oil Mans War” and “The Cheapest Key”.
There’s also “Oh Canada”- no, it’s not her national anthem, but a rockin’ way to put over a political point or two.
There’s no doubt that GEORGE STRAIT is one of Country’s greatest ever performers. The quiet Texan has been around since the early 80’s and is still at the top. This latest album, “Troubadour”, was released here on the Humphead label to coincide with it’s US release.
Produced with Tony Brown, George has once again got the best of Music Row writers on board, including Leslie Satcher, Buddy Cannon, Doug Johnson, Dennis Morgan,Al Anderson, Robert Earl Keen, and of course Dean Dillon.
Strait has recorded many Dean Dillon numbers throughout the years, and this time around, Dillon (one a recording artist in his own right) duets on the Texas swinging “West Texas Town”.
Patty Loveless also pops by to share her vocals on “House Of Cash”, a song about Johnny Cash’s former home burning down a few years ago.
Stand out tracks include “Brothers Of The Highway” , “Make Her Fall In Love With Me Song”,
He’ll no doubt add to his 62 million albums sold to date, with this superb new album. He just doesn’t let you down. .
TIFT MERRITT recently played Edinburgh’s Pleasance Theatre, where she promoted her new album, “Another Country”. This is the Carolina born singer-songwriter’s third album, after “Bramble Rose” and the Grammy nominated “Tambourine”.
Tift took herself away from touring for a while, and found herself in Paris. Her time there inspired the writing on this album, for which she teamed up with producer, George Drakoulias.
As with her previous albums, this is a very acoustic affair, with very simple arrangements which show Tift’s lovely voice off. The title track is one of the strongest tracks, but I also enjoyed “Keep You Happy”.
“My Heart Is Free”, “Something To Me” and “I Know What I’m Looking For Now” are a bit more uptempo, and feature a bit more instrumentation, but the lady’s voice still shines through.
There’s no doubt when it comes to GENE WATSON. He’s pure Country. Although his return to Scotland is long overdue, he has been visiting Ireland quite regularly, so hopefully we’ll get to see him someday soon.
In the meantime, his new Shanachie label release “In A Perfect World”, shows that the singer is still in great voice, and singing some great Country material. Although he’s on a label, more associated with folk music, this is 100% pure Country, recorded in Nashville with Brent Rowen, Hargus Pig Robbins, and Sonny Garrish amongst the players. Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran and Tim Mensy are amongst the writers, and Vince Gill, Connie Smith, Joe Nichols and Lee Ann Womack are amongst the guests.
He covers a couple of classics. He really does a good job on The Hag’s “Today I Started Loving You Again”, which has some nice harmonies from Lee Ann Womack.
On “Together Again”, he’s joined by Rhonda Vincent, and what a great version they do. I cant pick out any favourite tracks- they’re all great. A superb Country album.
CARLENE CARTER will be no stranger to readers. But “Stronger” (Yep Roc) is her first album of new material for 13 years! Her life in that time has been quite tough, losing her long time partner, mother, sister and step dad. She also had well reported brushes with the law herself.
But this album does find her back stronger than ever. The songs do reflect the issues that have affected her in recent years. Some are quite dark, others happy and bright.
Her style of music hasn’t changed. She’s always had a unique sound. She’s always had a twangy guitar sound to a lot of her music, a sound that blends a modern sound to her vocals. which lovingly keeps that Carter Family sound alive.
My favourite tracks are the more uptempo “Break My Little Heart In Too”, and “To Change My Heart”.
RANDY THOMPSON is heavily influenced by Steve Young, and that comes across on “Further On”. His new album on the Jackpot label is a good mix of hard driving outlaw and southern rock.
Indeed, he dedicates “Songbird” to Young.
“Goin’ Down To Lynchburg Town” sounds very Steve Young. It’s quite heavy on instrumentation, yet I feel it’s a song that could really have justified a simple bluegrass arrangement.
“Ol’ 97” is a good fast paced train song, whilst he slows things down on “Riptide”, which really shows Randy’s voice to it’s best advantage.
“Rocksalt & Nails” is quite a soft number too, with fiddles making their mark. The album’s title track, which closes the album, is the most traditional Country number on the collection. The lyrics were written by his grandfather Wesley Sober, and found on an old yellowed piece of paper after he died. He certainly done the words justice.
If you like the outlaw sound, this one’s certainly for you.
From Ireland, we’ve a new album from STEPHEN SMYTH. Stephen has a really good voice, and a music style that, like a lot of Irish acts, is great for dancing to.
His 4th album, “Somewhere Under The Rainbow” features 12 tracks, including “Should’ve Asked Her Faster”, and the catchy “Holding A Good Hand”.
He includes two Ray Price covers, ”Soft Rain” and “Take Back Your Old Love Letters”, which work really well. He also does a fair job on “Walk Through This World With Me”.
He tries a bit of western swing with “When In Texas”, and comes home again, with his own composition, “This Is My Home”, which I really enjoyed.
He also features a cover of “Halfway To Paradise”, but does it in a showband style, which certainly is different..
A good album, from one of Ireland’s current big names.
Bluegrass music certainly seems to be in popular demand these days.
From Holland, LIZ MEYER sent her album, “The Storm” (Strictly Country Records), which boasts the musicianship of the likes of Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush and Stuart Duncan amongst others. She certainly has teamed up with Nashville’s elite when recording the album, but this is her album, self produced, and written (except one instrumental track) by the lady herself.
Whilst the album is 100% bluegrass, I did find “Pulled In Both Directions” a bit pop sounding, but that was the only blemish in an otherwise beautiful album.
My favourite tracks would be the banjo influenced “Someday You Will” and the breezy “The Only Wind That Blows”.
You can check Liz and her music out at www.strictlycountryrecords.com.
Liz has also released a double CD compilation of acts who have made their mark on the European Bluegrass scene. The title is “10 Years Of European World Of Bluegrass”, and available through the same website.
It features Americans like Claire Lynch, Bill Clifton, Kate McKenzie,Bob Paisley and Laurie Lewis alongside a selection from over a dozen European countries. You may recognise Rolls Boys, Relief and Monogram who have all toured here for the Scottish Bluegrass Music Association.
The music is all first class, features some multinational collaborations, and certainly proves that Bluegrass isn’t an American domain, and that the Czech and Slovak Republic’s can certainly give Kentucky a run for their money.
Sticking with bluegrass, CORINNE WEST recently played concerts in Dunfermline & Rutherglen as part of a lengthy UK tour to promote her “Second Sight” CD.
Radio 2’s Bob Harris admitted to being “a massive fan” of this lady.
Her album certainly made for a refreshing listen.
Although essentially a fast moving bluegrass album, Corinne slows up for the softer “Hand Full Of Gold”, “Roses To Rust”, “Writing On The Wall” and beautifully celtic flavoured “All Good Things”.
But it’s the uptempo traditional bluegrass tunes like “ Diamonds In The Wind” , “Lost & Found” and the title track which really works best for me!.
BECKY SCHLEGEL grew up in South Dakota, but now lives in Minnesota. Her new album, “For All The World To See” gets it’s national US release on June 17th, but we have a copy. It’s a lovely blend of old time and bluegrass.
Some of the songs like “Lonely” and “Spotlight” have very simple arrangements, and suit Becky’s vocal style, not unlike Alison Krauss.
There are some fast paced bluegrass, especially tracks like “99%”, “Best Time Of The Day”, and the banjo flavoured “I Need Your Love”.
In between, there’s songs like “Sound Of Your Voice”, “Jenny” and “Hills Of South Dakota”, where her voice comes over slightly stronger, and really works. I also enjoyed “Bound For Tennessee”.
Becky is a new name to me, but I’m sure this album will impress many purists. You can check her out at www.beckyschlegel.com or on her Myspace www.MySpace.com/beckyschlegelcom .
Of you like western music, then a couple of new releases will be of interest.
I had heard of BRENN HILL before. This is the sixth album from the Utah Cowboy, whose music is certainly from the same stable as Chris Ledoux..
“What’s A Man Got To Do” features 15 songs, all written by Brenn, who also produced the whole project. Whilst his music is more modern than the old western song, the music still conjours up images of the old west and wide open spaces.
He has ballads of local heroes in Pogue and Elms, and Buffalo Brogan and Jeremiah. Whether they were real, or Brenn has used his imagination, he certainly does it well.
My favourites have to include “Oakbrush” , with it’s effective banjo, “The Onyx Mine”, “Sweetwater Beach” and the fiddle inspired “Jeremiah’s Last Stand”.
Western music is a rare art these days. It’s great to hear the like of Brenn Hill still keeping Country AND Western alive, and doing it so well.
Given more of a push over here, I think British audiences would really enjoy his music.
Now if real traditional cowboy music is your forte. Then RW HAMPTON is the guy for you. I recently received 4 of the 8 albums he’s released over the past 11 years. The latest release is “Oklahoma… Where The West Remains”, which is billed as a Centennial journey in story and song between 1907-2007.
It seems hard to believe that America was still being formed just a hundred years ago. Oklahoma was the 46th state, entering the Union as recently as 1907. This album is a beautiful soundtrack to the state, from it’s Indian and Cherokee background to it’s unique part of American life today. The project was produced by Edna McHolden and Richard E.O’Brien, who, between them, came up with most of the songs, with such titles as “Keeper Of The Plains” and “A Cowboy I Will Stay”. There are a couple of well known numbers like Cindy Walker’s “Dusty Skies” and Jack Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills”. All songs are well performed by RW, and really recapture the old western movie sound.
What really makes this album special is the short spoken links between the numbers. A great soundtrack to the wide open state of Oklahoma.
Closer to home, and a CD from south of the border to close our reviews this time.
MCKENZIE are Zoe Caryl and Kenny Plenderleith, from Epping. Their album, “Walking On Steel” has been getting good reviews especially up here.
Zoe does have a great voice, whether on the pop sounding “Lovestuck”, the bluesy “Are You Coming Out To Play” , or the slower “Step Into The Light”.
Their current single (via Rush Released CD) is “Goldrush”. It’s a really catchy number, which really shows Zoe’s voice. “Chelsea Day”, is a close second.
“My Little One” is a really catchy, if sentimental number.
Kenny also leads the vocals on “I’ve Got A Fender Guitar”.
The album closes with a Scots selection. An instrumental “Dark Isle” is followed by Zoe’s stunning version of “My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose”.
This has to be one of the best UK albums, I’ve heard in a long time, and, apart from the Scottish track, all original, and sounding it!.