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Tuesday 29 November 2011

December 2011

One of the most interesting releases of the year has to come from LEANN RIMES.
Leann burst onto the scene with “Blue”, a song that had Patsy Cline’s name over it. It proved to be a great career song for young Leann. But the youngster obviously had bigger stars in her eyes. Whilst she has recorded some cracking traditional Country songs in her career, it safe to say that her style has, in the main, evolved into a style much more pop than Country.
She has come part of the way home, with “Lady & Gentlemen” (Curb/Rhino), a concept album that finds her covering big songs, made famous by some of the biggest male stars in Country music. I say part of the way, because the arrangements, at times veer more off to blues that Country, but I do feel that Leann’s vocals fit more comfortably that way. It’s a Leann Rimes album, not a Country album by Leann Rimes.
The bluesier numbers include “16 Tons”, which comes complete with a horn section, and Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name”.
Vince is one of the producers on the album, and his group The Time Jumpers play on the interesting new version of “Blue”. Her career song, is given a Texas Swing feel, and features some mean steel and twin fiddle.
The other songs that come over most Country are Merle’s “I Cant Be Myself”, John Conlee’s “Rose Coloured Glasses”, and she really does an outstanding rendition on George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today”.
She covers “Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line” and “Good Hearted Woman”, which have previously been “answered” in a female perspective by Jean Shepard and Connie Cato. But throughout the album, Leann has generally not changed the gender in the songs.
Other covers include John Anderson’s “Swinging”, which is also released as a single, Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, and a really slowed down version of The Hag’s “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down”
The album also includes two bonus tracks, “Crazy Women”, a rather poppy recent single, and the ballad, “Give”, which she performed on the Songs Of Praise 50th Anniversary programme in October. Neither really fit into the concept of the album, and are really just extra tracks added in.
It’s a really strong album from Leann, and a good listen.

It’s 21 years since MARK CHESNUT first appeared on the Country charts with “Too Cold At Home”. He has is still having hits today, and they’re all captured on the new 2CD, 30 track “Ultimate Collection” released here on Humphead.
You’ll find all the biggies, including “Brother Jukebox”, “Bubba Shot The Jukebox”, “It Sure Is Monday”, “Goin’ Thru The Big D”, “Gonna Get a Life” , “It’s A Little Too Late”, and his Country version of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”.
Mark is one of these guys who has consistently made good Country music through the years – one of hat acts that have stood the test of time.
Together with a 16 page booklet which includes all the lyrics, and a two page foreward by Alan Cackett, this is a great collection to get, if you’ve not picked up all of his albums.

TOBY KEITH has built up quite a following, some for his honky tonk leaning music, and some for his patriotism to his homeland. His latest album, “Clancy’s Tavern” (Humphead) was released to tie in with his visit here at the end of October. Unfortunately, the album release was so close to the tour that it didn’t help support the visit, but hopefully those that did catch him at The Usher Hall, will now buy the album.
The album is quite an interesting collection, and quite different from the material he was having hits with just a few years back.
After the patriotic “Made In America” kicks off the album, I skipped right into “I Need To Hear A Country Song”, and Toby delivers on this album.
The songs range from the catchy “Tryin’ To Fall In Love”, to the folksy title track, which was also released as a single. “Just Another Sundown” is a quiet ballad, whilst “Club Zydeco Moon” is quite a tale about a southern club. There’s more honky tonkin’ in “Beers Ago”, whilst “Red Solo Cup” is one of those fun numbers that just don’t fit into a Country album, but it’s fun and it’s Toby Keith, so what!.
The Deluxe edition also has 4 live cuts, including a good version of “Truck Drivin’ Man”.
I’ve never really got into Toby Keith over the years, but I really enjoyed this album.
Something different.

MARTINA MCBRIDE needs no introduction to readers, having amassed over 18 million album sales, and six Number Ones’s to date.
She has recently shifted labels, and her first album,“Eleven”, on Republic Records was recently released in the UK by Humphead.
Throughout the years, Martina has proved herself on particular songs, whilst others just seem to be pop numbers that are instantly forgettable. This album has more of the same.
“I’m Gonna Love You Through It” is a really strong ballad about a loved one fighting cancer at a young age. It’s a situation that many people face, and sharing the issue will do her credit.
Her Country credentials come to fore on “Teenage Daughters”. Martina co-wrote this parental anthem, and sounds very Loretta on the intro, before the song gets a bit poppy into the chorus.
She does a good romantic duet with Train’s Pat Monahan, and I really liked her ballads “Summer Of Love” and “Long Distance Lullaby”
If you’ve enjoyed Martina’s previous albums, you’ll want to get your hands on “Eleven”. She just doesn’t stand out of the pack of albums I was listening to this time around.

DAVID FRIZZELL, whilst a successful artist in his own right, is certainly doing his bit in keeping his brother, Lefty’s music alive.
On his latest CD “It’ll Be Alright” (Nashville America label), he features several of Lefty’s hits including an uptempo version of “Always Late” and “I Love You A Thousand Ways”. The album is billed as Frizzell & Friends, and friend Amy Clawson does her take on “If You Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time”.
There’s also a stunning duet with Georgette Jones on “Lefty & Jones”.
On his own songs, David shines on “Take My X-Wife Please”, and “Fill His Shoes” (a daddy song).
There are a few others featured on the record, including ex Statler Brother Jimmy Fortune and a few family members and newer names we may hear of in the future.
It’s good Country music.
Well worth checking out, if you like the traditional sound.

Coming home, we have a really enjoyable album from Elgin based IAN GREIG, who has just released his first album “Look For Me” on Manson Grant’s Pan Record label.
Ian had the idea of recording some of his favourite songs to leave for his grandchildren, and a conversation with Robert Cameron on The Dynamos in Aberdeen led to this album’s release.
It’s an unashamed piece of personal nostalgia, but it’s not an album of tired and overdone hits. The songs come from way back, but most have been long forgotten
We will recognise “My Dixie Darling”, “The Old Lamplighter” and Bill Clifton’s “You Go To Your Church”, but “I’ll Tell The World I Love You” isn’t one of Jim Reeves most obvious covers, nor is “You Cant Divide A Heart” from Willie Nelson’s pen.
From the opening track, “Let The Children Pick The Flowers”, originally done by Webb Pierce, through the catchy treatment of “Far Side Banks Of Jordan”, and the JFK sentiments of “The Emigrant”, I enjoyed every track.
His version of Chris LeDoux’s “Paint Me Back Home In Wyoming” is a beautiful part song/part narration, that really suits Ian’s deep voice.
Recorded in Wick, and Nashville, with musicians like Manson, Robert & Keith from The Dynamos, Phil Anderson, and Nashville pickers Glen Duncan, Hank Singer and Steve Hinson, the production is excellent.
It’s old fashioned country, which still has a huge following. Ian Greig does it really well.

Quite a few Irish releases recently, and topping the list is the latest from BRENDAN QUINN, who has had over 40 years in the business. His new album, “Gotta Get To You” sees him return to Emerald Records, the Belfast label, who were once the main label for Irish music.
Throughout the years, Brendan has sung a variety of material, from Faron Young covers, to Neil Diamond and John Prine. He continues to offer a wide variety of styles on this collection, covering a few rather more modern songs, than you would perhaps imagine Brendan to attempt. Examples include the opening “I Aint As Good As I Once Was”, which is better known as a Toby Keith hit, and Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”.
He also covers Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All”, and a few golden oldies like “Me & You & A Dog Named Boo”, “Seasons In The Sun” You’ve Got A Friend” and Crystal Gayle’s “Wrong Road Again”. They’re a few gems that are great to hear again.
“Congratulations”, was the lead off single from the album, and is quite catchy in Brendan’s own style. He includes “Glory Of True Love”, which has been a popular song in recent years for him.
I particularly enjoyed “Long Hard Road”, with it’s very simple arrangements, and his version of “A Little More Country”.
There’s also a very enjoyable narration on “The Night Hank Williams Died”, which is a well crafted tribute to a guy we all owe credit to.
All in all, a superb album from a guy that, despite his years in the business, can still move forward, without losing the past.
He has a DVD due for release before Christmas too. Look out for it.

Another new Irish release comes from the popular JOHN McNICHOLL.
His 6th album to date, “It’s Your Love” (Aran label) is quite an easy listening selection of songs. The title track is the Tim McGraw/Faith Hill number, and is probably the most up to date song on the album.
The album kicks off with his recent single, the sentimental, “Walk Down The Aisle With Me”, followed by the catchy “As Long As I Got You”, which features some nice fiddle. “Right In The Middle” is also a catchy fun number.
He covers Rodney Crowell’s “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” and Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
There’s a few Irish touches with “If We Only Had Old Ireland Over here” and a closing medley, which features “Mursheen Durkin“ and “Irish Rover” amongst others. There’s also a Don Gibson medley.
He adds a few gospel touches.with a nice version of “In The Garden”, and a very simple, but effective duet with Dana on “Softly & Tenderly”.
I also enjoyed “Nobody Knows”.
Quite a nice listen. I enjoyed this album.

TOM KEENAN is another Irishman with a new release, but the County Down singer songwriter, who has been playing locally for the past 20 years, has produced quite an ace for his debut album “The Devil’s Playground”.
The album was recorded in Los Angeles, and produced by legendary Pete Anderson, probably best known for producing Dwight Yoakam’s hits.
Two of the tracks come from Anderson’s pen, with “No One Left To Blame” having a Johnny Cash ring to it. “You’ve Got Me Wondering” has more of a Tex Mex feel to it.
Tom , himself wrote three of the songs, including the title track, which features a nice steel intro. “Because Of You”, which closes the project, has quite a Joe Ely feel to it.
Other tracks are covers, such as The Everly’s “So Sad To Watch Good Love Go Bad”, The Maverick’s “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down”, and “Charlie Walker’s “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”.
I enjoyed the album, especially the original material.
Well worth a listen.

Another new album from the Emerald Isle is from a young man named DAVID CRAIG, from Inch Island off Donegal. For the past couple of years, he’s fronted the
“Cufflinks” band, and now launches his solo career with his debut 14 track album , “Good To See You” (Sharpe Music).
Like Tom, David is a songwriter too, and has 6 of his own compositions on the album. He does veer slightly more to the traditional Irish folk influenced sound, with the likes of “Leaving Home”, his wedding song, about the wishes of parents to their son. He then returns the compliment with the bouncy “Here’s To You Mum & Dad”.
“I’ll Keep The Candle Burning” is a sentimental ballad, featuring some nice harmony from Pamela Craig. He also ends the album with a sentimental poem about an alcoholic. With his Donegal brogue, he delivers it well. Poems set to music are rare these days. It’s a brave thing to do, but it works really well for David.
“He Answered My Prayers” is a good uptempo number that keeps the feet tapping, and I really enjoyed “Good Loud Country”, quite humorous, but at the same time, one we can all associate with.
There’s also a bouncy number “Why Does Her Memory Live On”, written by his manager Paddy Malloy.
Elsewhere, the album features Phil Coulter’s “Town I Loved So Well”, John Denver’s “Annie’s Song”, Tom T Hall’s “Promise & The Dream”, John Prine’s “Don’t Bury Me” and Eddy Raven’s “Cowboys Don’t Cry”.
David has captured a good mix on the album. Perhaps a shade more Irish than Country, but he does it really well. I really enjoyed the album.

HUGO DUNCAN does Country music proud with his daily afternoon radio show on BBC Ulster, and commands a huge following for his own performances. His own sound does have a bit more Showband sound than Country band, but that doesn’t seem to matter to his fans.
What he does is Good Happy music, with more than a bit of Country flavour within it.
His new album, “By Request” (CMR Records), features 15 tracks ranging from “Mockingbird Hill” and “Memories Are Made Of This” to “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and “Carolina Moon”.
The opening track, “On The Stage, Underneath The Lights”, written by Daniel O’Donnell , is just so right for Hugo. He’s a born entertainer, and that comes across on this record.
It’s great Middle of The Road easy listening music.

It seems years since FRANK McCAFFREY had a CD released. He was part of the old Ritz Records stable alongside Daniel, Dominic & Mary. His new album, “Here’s To You Ramblin’ Boy” is released on the Rosette label.
As ever, Frank has a soft easy listening sound to his music, and there’s no change to his style here.
The title, and opening track, comes from the pen of Tom Paxton. There’s also Jim Reeves and Willie Nelson covers, and a nice version of Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children”.
There are Irish songs, including his version of the currently popular “Paddy” and “Come Back Paddy Reilly”.
Nice & relaxing.

JANE McNAMEE is one of the newer names on the Irish scene, and has recently released her second album, “How Do I Tell Them” (CMR).
She cites her influences as Crystal Gayle, Mary Black & Maura O’Connell, and she certainly fits into the simple acoustic and piano arrangements well.
Jane has a soft vocal style, which is better suited to some songs that others.
The album kicks off with “Dreaming My Dreams With You”, which works well, as does “How Do I Tell Them”, a song that she wrote herself. Her version of “A Tear Becomes A Rose” is really slowed down, with a very simple backing, which is quite effective. A similar arrangement is applied to “Love Letters”.
“Comfort In A Song”, was written by Charlie McGettigan, who duets on the song with Jane, and is probably the strongest song on the album.
She lifts the tempo with “My Mama Told Me” (The Clapping Son)”, a catchy little number, which is a previous single.
Although there are some nice Country numbers on this album, I picture Jane more at home in a lounge setting, than in a rowdy Country music club or concert setting.

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE is an interesting British duo, whose harmonies are to the fore on “How Do You Plead” (Drumfire).
The duo are Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish.
Michael has toured Country venues for many years, both solo and in The Good Sons, and Lou has been equally busy, having worked with the likes of Elvis Costello and Bryan Ferry, as well as recording 4 albums on her own.
Now the pair have got together to form a partnership that instantly conjures up labels like “Britain’s Gram & Emmylou”.
All 13 tracks are self penned, recorded in London, and feature some well renowned musicians, who have worked with the likes of Chris Hillman, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Van Morrison and Bill Wyman.
The themes running through the album include love, separation, bitterness and acrimony.
“100.000 Words” and “I Bought Some Roses”, are good catchy tongue in cheek numbers, whilst “Goodbye Week” has a strong Texas honky tonk sound, and there’s some nice fiddle on “Departure Lounge”.
“The Other Half” has a vintage feel, written by Lou, sounds right out of a Patsy Cline album. There’s also a very traditional feel to “Reserved For Me And You”.
I loved this album.
Great harmonies, simple arrangements. Superb.

DAVE MONTANA, from the North East Of England, is a popular attraction on the club scene across the UK, and from listening to his album, “Big Montana Sky”, I can see why.
This is his 6th album release since the 50 year old burst onto the scene ten years ago.
The album, recorded in Salisbury, features a good mix of modern Country covers from the likes of Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Neal McCoy and Tracy Lawrence.
Throughout the album, the production is first class.
There’s some nice uptempo banjo on “The Best Thing That I Had Goin’”, whilst he does a good version of “Someone Had To Teach You”.
The album closes with a beautiful 7 minute (almost) version of The Zack Brown Band’s “Free”. It really is quite an anthem.
Dave has a good modern sound, and has chosen songs from today’s biggest names, without going for the obvious covers. It worked.

I had the pleasure of meeting Australian KAREN LYNNE a good few years ago, when she visited Edinburgh. Her music has usually focussed on folksy ballads, and more recently bluegrass. But on her latest album, “Heart Songs Laugh Lines”, she describes herself as old fashioned Country, and what a joy it was to listen to.
With a lovely voice, and very simple arrangements, she begins with Carlene Carter’s “Unbreakable Heart”, before dueting with Randy Kolirs on The Louvins’ “Everytime You Leave”. I have to say their voices blend together beautifully.
She covers some more recent numbers, including Vince Gill’s “Jenny Dreams Of Trains”, George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart” and Leann womack’s “Why They Call It Falling”.
She crosses the commonwealth by covering Gordon Lightfoot’s “Dreamland” too.
“The Road That Brought Me Here” is a bit more uptempo. It’s a song, co-written by Karen & Alan Caswell, which takes a poke at the music business and it’s attitude towards women, but ended up being a personal life story. “Friends”, co-written by Joni Harms, which closes the album, is a bright & breezy number that really stands out.
Her rendition of “You Beat All I’ve Ever Seen” has a beautiful old time feel to it. It was written by Kathy Louvin, Kostas and Melba Montgomery. It’s one of my favourite tracks, as is “There For You”, another that Karen co-wrote with Alan Caswell.
Karen has nine albums to her credit, having tried to roll with the flow. This time around, she sounds at home with herself. She comes over strong in her conviction and comfortable with her material.
I really enjoyed this album. Totally refreshing.

CARRIE RODRIGUEZ is no stranger to Scotland, usually in the company of Chip Taylor. For her latest recording, has teamed up with Belfast born BEN KYLE, front man of Minneapolis based group Romantica.
It’s a strange combination for a Country album, but it works well on the eight track mini-album, titled “We Still Love Our Country” (Ninth Street Opus).
To be honest, although Carrie’s name is on the CD, it’s really Ben’s album, with Carrie providing harmonies.
The opening track, “Your Lonely Heart”, written by Ben, is really traditional Country, and I also enjoyed the honky tonk influenced “You’re Still On My Mind”.
Carrie’s vocals do feature predominantly in “Fire Alarm”, which was written by the pair.
They include a couple of covers including Townes Van Zante’s “If You Needed Me” , and The Bryant’s “Love Hurts”, as well as John Prine’s (and recorded by Gail Davies) “Unwed Fathers”.
Stand out track is the Louvin’s “My Baby’s Gone”, done in real Gram Parson’s/Emmylou style.
I was disappointed that (a) Carrie didn’t feature more on the album, and (b) there’s only eight tracks, but the quality of the music makes up for it.

We’ve a few albums from Canada this time around including a new offering from Celtic Connections visitors MADISON VIOLET.
They are Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, whose voices blend together beautifully. Lisa is the sister of fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, and Brenley boasts of coming from a Canadian “Scottish” town – Kincardine in Ontario,
“The Good In Goodbye” (True North) will be released here January 9th, to tie in with their Glasgow visit later in the month.
“Stuck In Love” is soft ballad which really shows off their harmonies, as is “Home”.
There are some neat bluegrassy touches throughout the album, most notably on “Goin’ Away”, and the breezy “Cindy Cindy”.
They really have a good sound. Catch them if you can.

LYNN MILES is one of Canada’s most accomplished singer songwriters having numerous awards and seven albums to her credit. Her latest, “Fall For Beauty” was released here to coincide with her visit for the Glasgow Americana Festival.
Whilst mainly steeped in Folk and Roots music, Lynn demonstrates a good voice throughout and quite a few tracks have Country influences.
“Fearless Heart”, for example has quite a breezy beat to it, and “Three Chords & The Truth” has quite an old timey feel. It’s not the old Sara Evans number, by the way.
This whole album is original self written numbers.
I also liked the haunting “Cracked & Broken”, and “Save Me”.
Lynn has a superb voice, much stronger than many singer-songwriters, and well worth checking out.

There’s a very wide array of Country music comes out of Canada. The latest group to watch are called NEW COUNTRY REHAB, a 4 piece outfit featuring experienced musicians in John Showman, who won the 2011 Cliff Top Fiddle competition in West Virginia, Ben Whiteley, James Robertson & Roman Tome.
Traditional they are not. They certainly have their own unique take on their songs, but the album is split between self penned material and Hank Williams covers like “Ramblin’ Man”, “The Log Train” and “Mind Your Own Business”. They also transform Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper”.
“The Log Train “ works really well, but “Mind Your Own Business” just doesn’t!
They have a superb instrumental in “Train 45”.
It’s certainly is quite an interesting album. They’re also coming in for Celtic Connections, so look out for them.

Canada, of course, has produced some wonderful musical folk songwriters, like Neil Young, Hank Snow and Gordon Lightfoot. I hear influences of all three in the latest album from Newfie JERRY LEGER.
“Travelling Grey” is Jerry’s fourth album, recorded in Toronto, and featuring 10 self penned tunes. It’s one of those albums, featuring stories, accompanied by simple arrangements. Unlike many singer-songwriters today, his voice fits the stories, in a Dylan or Young style.
“East Coast Queen” also has echoes of the legendary Stompin’ Tom Connors.
I particularly enjoyed the melodic “Dreamer Pretrender”, and the quicker paced title track.
It’s an interesting album. One that kinda goes back to the early singer songwriters golden era.

THE DEADLY GENTLEMEN are described as a new alt/bluegrass band, featuring former Crooked Still member Greg Liszt. The new album, “Carry Me To Home” released to coincide with a recent UK tour, features some bluegrass instrumentation, played in an alternative style.
I do feel that traditional bluegrass is quite sacred, and find it quite hard to accept arrangements that are quite far removed from traditional style. That’s just my opinion of course. The world moves on, and even the most traditional sounds cannot stay preserved forever.
There are some neat banjo, fiddle and mandolin licks throughout the album, and there are some fine harmonies, but in the main, the boundaries are being pushed to the limit.
“Take The Road Is Rocky”, is based on Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues”, but owes more to Bill Haley than Monroe, I’d say.
“Moonshiner”, which closes the album was the track that caught my attention most.

Finally, if you’re looking forward to seeing JOEY & RORY in Caithness next Easter, then you can also spend time with them this Christmas.
Their “A Farmhouse Christmas” album has been released in the UK by Vanguard Records, featuring some classic, and some new material.
The album kicks off with Rory’s “It’s Christmas Time”, an acoustic look at the most popular of seasons, and ends with “Another Wonderful Christmas”, which kinda sums up everyone’s anticlimax of the big day.
“Remember Me”, is about remembering the true Christmas story, which is often lost in today’s commercial world.
“Let It Snow (Somewhere Else)” is a fun number, sung by Rory, from being in a beach paradise at Christmas, and not missing Christmas snow one bit.
Covers include a lovely version of “The Gift”, “Blue Christmas” and “Away In A Manger”.
There’s a special treat in store on their cover of “If We Make It Through December”. No less than Merle Haggard turns up.
“The Diamond O”, written by Stephanie Davis, stood out for me.
As Christmas albums go, I kinda liked this one. It’s more of a tongue in cheek look at Christmas, which appealed to my sense of humour.
Be rest assured, they wont be singing any of the tracks from this album in Caithness. Best to get a copy now.
Merry Christmas !

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