Search This Blog

Monday 3 December 2012


Nobody can deny that HANK WILLIAMS JR has made his own career. He may be the son of the legendary Hank Snr, but with a career that stretches back to 1964, and well over a hundred chart hits, he has made his own mark on Country music. That mark has always had an edgy Southern Rock/Outlaw/Honky Tonk feel to his music.
His new album, “Old School New Rules” (Humphead) is just what you’d expect from Hank Jr. It’s edgy, honky tonk music, with more than a patriotic slice of real Americana, and old school Country music.
The title track mentions Johnny Cash and Marshall Tucker, whilst he keeps the family tradition alive with “I’m Gonna Get Drunk And Listen To Hank Williams”, on which he duets with Brad Paisley. There’s also a duet with Merle Haggard on “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink”.  He also does a heavy rockin’ version of his fathers’ “You Win Again”.
Always looking to be controversial, he plays the American patriot card on “We Dont Apologise For America”, “Who’s Taking Care Of Number One” and “We’re Gonna Take Back Our Country”, which features a good number of his fathers influences.
Stand out track is the catchy gulf coast number “Three Day Trip”, which sounds like it’s right out of a Raul Malo album. I also enjoyed the humour of the “Stock Market Blues”.
The sleeve notes refer to ESPN’s dropping of his music from Monday Night Football, citing that the network “decided that I had no right to Freedom Of Speech”. It may have riled him into making this album, but it is the best Hank Jr has produced for a while.
I really enjoyed the collection (with the exception of the American patriotic numbers). Country music needs guys like Hank Jr to keep it fresh.

Groups with female lead singers are the current in thing in Nashville’s pop culture. LITTLE BIG TOWN have been around for a few years now, and have really reached the pinnacle of their career with their fifth album, “Tornado”, which has already produced the No.1 single “Pontoon”. The two guys/two girls group, consisting of Karen Fairchild, Kimberley Schlapman, Phillip Sweet & Jimi Westbrook, could be Nashville’s answer to Abba!
Indeed they just have too much of a manufactured pop sound for my ears. The title track, “Front Porch Thing”, “Self Made”, and “On Fire Tonight” are best examples of this. “Cant Go Back”, which is more of a ballad, does feature some nice harmony work, but oh so pop.
There are some nice ballads, such as “Sober” and “Your Side Of The Bed”, but the stand out track for me, is “Night Owl” which closes the album. The male vocal parts sound like the Everly’s and the females sound like The Family Brown. It’s an interesting mix. Sadly, it was the only track which caught my attention, or a rather pop sounding Nashville album.

Now EASTON CORBIN is something else ! The Florida native burst onto the scene with his 2009 debut album, and he’s back with a cracker of a follow up.
“All Over The Road” (Humphead) is an 11 song collection of new material from writers like Carson Chamberlain,(who produced the album), Bob DiPiero, Roger Springer, Michael White, Terry McBride and Shane MacAnally.
Whilst not writing any of the songs himself this time around (he co-wrote four on the previous album), he is certainly inspired by other singer-songwriters.
Corbin became the first male solo artist in 17 years to have his first 2 singles hit No.1, and he should have a few more with this album. The first single is the catchy “Lovin’ You Is Fun”.
I see the title, and opening track, “All Over The Road”, and “Only A Girl” being potential hits too. “A Thing For You”, has a catchy feel to it, with the minimum of instrumentation. I also really liked the simplicity of “Tulsa Texas”.
Most of the tracks have a mid to uptempo beat, but there a few nice ballads in “Dance Real Slow”, “Are You with Me” and “I Think Of You”.
People magazine cited Easton as “ the second coming of George Strait”. With George’s longevity, going back to before Easton was born, that may not be a bad thing.  George is giving up touring – enter Easton Corbin.  He’s the most Country artist coming out of Nashville these days.

TRACY BYRD was been one of Country music’s most consistent hitmakers of the 90’s, and to mark his 20th Anniversary, Humphead have released “The Definitive Collection”, with 20 of his early hits.
Included is his first chart hit, “That’s The Thing About A Memory”, his first No.1, “Holding Heaven”, and a string of other class songs like “Watermelon Crawl”, “Love Lessons”, “Lifestyles Of The Not So Rich And Famous”, “Keeper Of The Stars” and “4 to 1 in Atlanta”,
The great thing about Tracy Byrd is that he is COUNTRY!  He is old school, maintaining a good solid traditional sound to his music, with a taste of Texas Honky tonk thrown in for good measure.
These days, his family run a kitchen firm back in Texas. But his music still makes a great listen today!

TOBY KEITH, who graced the cover of the last issue on CMDS, has had quite an eventful career since first appearing on the charts in 1993, hitting the No.1 spot with his first single, “Should’ve Been A Cowboy”.  He later went through a publicity hyped spat with The Dixie Chicks, but I feel that it’s only since he started his own label, Show Dog, that he has been able to really express himself in his music.
“Hope On The Rocks” is his new album, released here by HumpHead, and features the catchy single “I Like Girls Who Drink Beer”. The title track, which kicks off the album, is a ballad which works well for Toby, but it’s songs like “The Size I Wear” that really show Toby’s fun side.   “Cold Beer Country” is another rather different sounding honky tonk song, which is really infectious.
Other uptempo numbers include “Get Got” and “Haven’t Had A Drink All Day”
I didn’t care much for the rather rocky “Scat Cat” , or the remixes of previous hits “Red Solo Cup” or “Beers Ago”, which totally detract from the original hits.
Nevertheless, an interesting album, and no doubt, a huge seller!

There are no shortage of groups on the American scene these days. LIVEWIRE are one of the hottest new bands on the block, with an album, “Livin” (Way Out West)  which is getting a lot of exposure recently.
They are a six piece outfit from Missouri, and have been together for the past decade honing their craft.  There is a definite Lonestar influence, which will do them no harm, as the formula has certainly worked for many groups.
“Whiskey Sunday” is a particularly catchy number, which stands out for me.
“I’ll Go To Prison” has quite a Hank JR / Southern Rock sound to it, which will make them stand out from the rest of the groups out there. “What Makes You A Man” also has a strong message in its’ lyrics.
Whether they will make it through the charts remains to be seen, but Livewire are certainly as good as any of the current crop of bands coming out of Nashville. Check them out.

Lurking in many Country groups are individuals who really want to be out on their own. Some make the move, and it works. For others, they just disappear, but I’m confident that  CODY McCARVER wont regret leaving Confederate Railroad. He was a member of the popular group for 12 years (albeit, joining the band after they were at the height of their career with songs like “Trashy Women” and “Jesus & Mama”), as keyboardist, but has so much more to offer.
His new album, “I Just Might Live Forever” (AGP) sees him billed as “Country’s newest outlaw”. He certainly rekindles influences of Waylon, David Allan Coe, Hank Jr, all rolled up with a Conderate Railroad sound.
Richard Sterban of The Oakridge Boys adds some “Bow Chicka Wow Wow”, in “Elvira” style, which I can see being a big dancefloor hit. “You Cant Hide Money”, has a good redneck beat, with a bit of humour added in.
He does prove that he can slow it down, on the rather romantic sounding “Left Side Of The Bed”, and I really enjoyed “Redneck Friends Of Mine”.
No fewer than three of the tracks are from movie soundtracks, including “Lets Get Dirty” from the Dirt Track Racing based “LA Dirt”; “Outlaws & Trains”, a softer song from  “Cole Younger & The Black Train”, and the impressive uptempo CD title track, from “Billy The Kid”.
“White Trash With Money” has a great uptempo Country beat , and I don’t even mind the Country rap lines from Colt Ford.  The appearance of Big Smo, another southern rapper, on the closing track did leave me cold, however. I’d also pass on the patriotic “I’m America”, and “Kick It In The Four Wheel Drive”.
But in the main, I really enjoyed this Southern rock experience!

Hank Cochran was one of Nashville’s most legendary songwriters writing major hits for Patsy Cline, Ray Price, Eddy Arnold ,George Strait and others. Cochran was also a recording artist between 1962 and 1980, scoring seven times on the country music charts, with his greatest solo success being the No. 20 "Sally Was a Good Old Girl".
He moved to Nashville , aged 24 and teamed with Harlan Howard to write the song "I Fall to Pieces." For Patsy Cline, who also recorded Cochran's "She's Got You"  and "Why Can't He Be You". He was one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Sadly, he died on July 15, 2010, aged 74, but his music lives on, and now relative newcomer on the Country scene, JAMEY JOHNSON has released an album dedicated to the songwriter. “Living For a Song”  (which was also the title track to Hank’s last album). The album, released here by Decca, features 16 tracks with some really impressive partners,
Emmylou joins in on “Dont Touch Me”, Allison Krauss on “Make The World Go Away”, Ray Price on “You wouldn’t Know Love”, Elvis Costello on “She’ll Be Back”, and George strait on “The Eagle”. And I just loved “A-11” with Ronnie Dunn.  There’s also several contributions from Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Leon Russell and Kris Kristofferson.
On previous releases Jamey has sounded like more of an outlaw, but on this outing he really shows his traditional roots. It’s a wonderful tribute to one of the few people that Nashville can truly consider a legend.

The first of our home grown Scottish releases this time comes from Hamilton based TOM HOGAN, who was most recently been touring around the clubs as one half of Tequilla. “Keeping It Real”, is all Tom’s own work. He wrote all 10 songs (one co-written with Frank Young), played all the instruments, and produced the whole project, which was recorded in Strathaven.
The album is given a full sound, and features a good variety of songs. The album kicks off with “Heart Of The Country”, a good foot tappin’ number, which features some nicely placed harmonies from Irene Hulme, before he mellows a little for “Never Let You Down”.
Moving along, “Thinking About You Now”, which has a good uptempo beat to it.  “Words Alone” features keyboards a bit more, and perhaps more of a crossover appeal rather than straight Country!
But “Movin’ On” brings him back home. It’s a good driving guitar number, which suits his vocal style.
“It Aint Me” slows the pace again, and features some impressive instrumentation in its’ 47 second intro.  “Rollin It Over”, “For The Other And Me” and “Thought You Were The One” are also quite slow.
The album closes with a rather haunting number, “Tonight The Cowboy Rides Away.  Again featuring some interesting instrumentation.
Tom’s quite an accomplished guitar & keyboard player, and this album shows that side, as well as his vocals and songwriting skills.
Quite a talent.

DEAN OWENS has been part of the Scottish scene, originally with his acclaimed Country rock band The Felsons, and then as a solo singer-songwriter. His new album is “Cash Back – Songs I Learned From Johnny” on the Drumfire label.
This is the recorded work following an evening of  Cash songs that Dean was part of at this summer’s Southern Fried Festival in Perth.
Will Kimborough, who plays on the session, claims that “this is not your everyday Johnny Cash tribute album “ (of which there have been a few) .
Dean has certainly put his own stamp on these songs. Although he has avoided the tried and tested “Ring Of Fire” and “Thing Called Love” and the like, he does include “I Still Miss Someone”, “Give My Love To Rose” and “I Walk The Line”. He also covers songs, that Cash recorded, but didn’t write, such as Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” and Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”.
I particularly enjoyed his cover of Nick Lowe’s (one time son in law of Johnny) “Without Love”, and The Stones ”No Expectations”.
From Dean’s own pen, comes “The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin”, a catchy , effective tribute, with lots of title dropping into the lyrics.  
It’s not Johnny Cash as you know him. By the same token, it’s not Dean Owens, as you’ve come to expect.
His most Country outing to date. One that will appeal to the Cash fans too.

There’s no question that MANSON GRANT & THE DYNAMOS are one of Scotland’s most successful  bands playing Country music. They are also quite different to any other group on the local scene, being the closest thing we have to the old Irish showbands.
Of course, that means when you see them, you’re in for a full blown entertainment experience, rather than a full Country show.
Having said that, their new album is simply called  “Country” (Pan Records) and reinforces their place in Country music.
There are twelve tracks on the album, mainly covers like “Daydreams About Night Things”, “Silver Haired Daddy”, “Streets of Bakersfield” and “Pass Me By”, which are performed in a good time dancing beat, as you’d expect.
Manson is featured on vocals on 8 of the tracks, including “The Mountains Are Higher In Scotland”, an original song, written by George Mack, and Keith MacLeod leads the vocals on Vince Gill’s “Pocket Full Of Gold”. The Dynamo’s also feature teenage award winning accordion wizard Brandon McPhee, who is featured on the instrumental “Celtic Cajun”, and on the vocals on Marty Robbins’ “Castle In The Sky”. Brandon proves to be as good a singer as he is on the accordion.
The album was recorded in Wick, but with additional work by Nashville’s resident Orcadian Phillip Anderson, who has added the talents of Steve Hinson and Fiddler Hank Singer into the mix.
It all comes out sounding good & fresh. Another winner from the far north!

Like him or loath him, you cannot deny that SYDNEY DEVINE is the most recognised Country music performer in Scotland. Everybody knows him.  He may not be everyone’s idea of what Country music is, but having been on the scene for 45 years, and still selling out the Glasgow Pavilion for three nights last month, the guy is a force to be recognised.
His latest Scotdisc release is a double album, “Tiny Bubbles And The Signature Songs”, with 43 instantly recognisable songs.
CD1 is all new recordings, but not new songs. These are new versions of the songs Sydney has been known for years. Songs like “Legend In My Time”, “Maggie”, “Almost Persuaded” , “The Answer To Everything” and “Crying Time”.  CD2 has more of the songs that he made his own, like “Laura”, “The Lightening Express”, “Scotland Forever”, and of course, “Tiny Bubbles”.
All recorded in Kilsyth, produced by Tommy Scott and Bill Garden, and featuring Steel guitar from Dougie Stevenson, guitars by Chas McKenzie, and harmonies from Eve Graham and Kevin Finn (from The New Seekers), this is just what you’d expect from Sydney.
No surprises. Just great singalong songs.
His fans will love it. If you’re not a fan, then this won’t win you over.

There’s no doubt that Ireland keeps producing talented Country performers, and indeed is attracting youngsters both in audiences, and as performers. Lisa McHugh moved over to Donegal from Glasgow to pursue her career, and two lovely London lassies, Carrie & Leann Benn, moved to Enniskillen to pursue their career. So far it’s worked for them, and THE BENN SISTERS, have just released their third album, which coincided with a recent Scottish tour with Nathan Carter, and another around now with Shaun Loughrey.
The album, “Girls Night Out” (Diamond Records) is a collection of classic Country tracks from the girls’ inspirations, from Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn to The Dixie Chicks and Gretchen Wilson.
You’ll find classics like “The Black Hills Of Dakota”, “Rose Garden” and “Blue Kentucky Girl”. Although there are a couple of duets, most of the tracks are performed by one or other of the girls.
Recorded mainly in Essex, the album features musicians like Wayne Golden, Richard Nelson and Eamon McLaughlin. It’s a good easy listening selection of well known songs, for any singalong party this Christmas.

From the fresh faced Benn Sisters, to the legendary FOSTER & ALLEN, who have a new double album released, called “The Ultimate Collection” (Demon Music Group). It’s apparently 30 years since Mick & Tony appeared on Top Of The Pops, and this album is a good collection of the songs they’ve made their own over the past three decades.
They are, of course, masters of the easy listening sound, and this is the ultimate easy listening album, with a touch of Country, Irish, Pop and Folk influences.  Old favourites include “Bunch Of Thyme”, “After All These Years”, “Old Flames” “When You Were Sweet Sixteen” and “The Wild Rover”.
You’ll tap your feet to “Mary Lou”, “Walk Tall”, “Johnny Will” and ”Happiness”, a reminisce with “The Old Rustic Bridge”, “Silver Threads Amongst The Gold”  and “The OId Rugged Cross”.
There are “duets” with Daniel O’Donnell, Gloria Hunniford and Jimmy Shand!  There are Cliff Richard covers in “Power To All Our Friends” and “The Young Ones”!. And there’s “A Tribute To Tommy Makem”.
You certainly cannot knock the duo for their versatility, and giving their fans value for money, with 40 tracks on this double CD collection.

NATHAN CARTER is another of the new young breed of Country singers out of Ireland. He recently pulled 400 fans into the Concert Hall in Glasgow, so must be doing something right. By all accounts, he is very much an entertainer, if not 100% Country.
His new album, “Wagon Wheel” (Sharpe Music) would tie in with that perception.
The album kicks off with the catchy title track, which has been recorded quite a few times of late. He also features the old Dobie Gray hit “Drift Away”, and does a great job.
He covers The Dixie Chicks’ “Long Time Gone”, Joe Nichols “Tequilla Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” and the classic “Nobody’s Darlin”, beautifully laced with some neat steel licks from Richard Nelson.
There’s songs by a few Irish writers, including Ben Sands (Hug), Mick Connor (Pub Crawl), Christy Moore (If I Get An Encore) and a couple from John Farry.
He also covers Dougie McLean’s “Caledonia”. I guess we should feel honoured that an Irish singer, born in Liverpool, should want to sing such a Scottish anthem. Why, I’ve not quite worked out.
But, nevertheless, a good catchy, well produced album, that will win him many fans,

PETE KENNEDY has been making quite a name for himself on both sides of the Atlantic during the past year. The singer songwriter from Co, Offaly in Ireland, has been doing some important appearances in Nashville, as well as some fine recording, and songwriting there. Over here, he’s been appearing at festivals like Wolvestock, and on major tours opening for Neil Sedaka & The Stylistics.
He released “Nashville Sessions Vol 1” earlier this year, and has followed up with “Vol 2” (KEMC Records). Each of the CD’s have 6 original songs. Both sessions were produced by Mark Moseley at Sound Control studios in Nashville. Mark has worked with many artists from this side of the ocean.
On Volume 2, Pete has worked with Ayla Brown, a former American idol contestant ,co-writing four of the songs, and dueting on “Do What’s Right”. The duet works really well. It could be Tim & Faith. A good modern Country pop delivery that has hit written all over it.
Volume 2 certainly does have a more modern “Nashville” sound to it, which should appeal the wider audiences that the Sedaka and Stylistics tours will have introduced him to.
“Crazy Country Girl”, co-written with Jo-Leay Gray comes over as the most Country track. It’s catchy, without being too poppy.
Pete has certainly proved that artists on this side of the Atlantic can produce a sound that fits so well into the Nashville groove.

STEPHEN SMYTH has built up quite a following as a solo Country performer on the Irish scene, and is back with, what I make out to be his 8th album, “Classic Country”.
As the album title suggests, it’s an album of well known Country covers, like Conway Twitty “Hello Darlin’ ”, Don Williams’ ”Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” and Ronnie Milsap’s “Pure Love”. There’s also Merle Haggard, Charlie Rich and Glen Campbell covers.
There are two original songs, I’m The Lucky One”, which opens the album, and the sentimental bonus track, “Here At Home In Ireland”, which fit nicely with the rest of the album.
Texan fiddler Bobby Flores (who is on the bill for Caithness next year) adds his magic to the album, as do The Benn Sisters with their lovely harmonies.
It’s a well produced album, but the song choice wont find too many admirers outside his already established fan base.

Back to the Americans.
BOB CHEEVERS should be no stranger to Country fans here, as the Texan singer songwriter has toured here on several occasions. He follows up his 2011 Texas Music Award for Singer Songwriter Of The Year, with a new double album, “Smoke & Mirrors”.
As Bob explains on the sleeve notes, “The phrase Smoke & Mirrors implies deceit, but to me, it also suggests how difficult it can be to see things clearly through life’s many distractions.  The Smoke disc is with a full band, with more of an electric, smokin’ feel to it, whereas the Mirrors disc is all acoustic, with more relevant lyrics”.
Well, if you haven’t heard of Bob, think Willie Nelson, and you’ll get a good idea of what he sounds like. The Smokin’ CD, as he says, has the full band. It’s a good solid Austin, Texas Outlaw sound. I really liked “Texas Diamonds”, “Flesh & Blood”, and the softer “Hope”, which shows Bob’s romantic side. He also does a really good Austin styled version of “Viya Con Dios”.
As expected the Mirrors CD is a rawer acoustic sound, with some specially placed accordion & banjo, for full effect.
One of the most interesting numbers is “Father McKenzie And Eleanor Rigby”, which has more than a passing resemblance to the Beatles song. “Dont Ever Sell Your Saddle” is one of the more uptempo, but still acoustic, numbers, and features some nice fiddle.
I also liked “She Cries Each Time She Hears A Train”, “Widow’s Walk”, and the banjo flavoured gospel number ““Man Named Jesus”.
Bob’s has recently been on tour here. If you missed him, it’s worth catching up with this album.

MATRACA BERG is one of Nashville’s songwriters, who has also a good run of recordings as well.
She has written hits for Reba McEntire (Last One To Know), Deanna Carter (Strawberry Wine), Trisha Yearwood (XXX’s & OOO’s, Wrong Side Of Memphis), Suzy Bogguss (Give Me Some Wheels,) and more recently, Kenny Chesney (You & Tequilla), and at the same time, recording a number of albums herself, over the past 20 odd years.
Her latest album, “Love’s Truck Stop” (Proper) was released to coincide with a short tour, which saw her perform at Glasgow Arches venue.
All 11 songs were co-writen by Berg, and are performed with some impressive background vocalists, like Emmylou Harris, Kim Carnes, Jessi Alexander, and her hubby Jeff Hanna.
There’s no doubt that the lady has a beautiful voice, and she delivers some stunning songs here, but many of them  are quite “dark”, with titles like, “We’re Already Gone”, “I Buried Your Love Alive” and “My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again”. Having said that, “Black Ribbons”, which features Suzy Bogguss and Gretchen Peters, is one of my favourite tracks on the album.
This is very much a songwriters album, one that you’ll love if you appreciate the finer aspects of singer-songwriters, but an acquired taste.

DREW NELSON is a Michigan based singer songwriter, with several CD’s to his credit. His latest, “Tilt-a-Whirl (Red House) has just been released here.
He wrote, or co-wrote all 11 tracks on the album. Many of the songs are quite slow, but there are a few gems.
“St.Jude” was one of my favourite tracks, helped by the lovely harmonies of Jen Sygit, a fellow Michigan singer songwriter. “Lessons” is quite an uptempo number, sung in a style likened to Robert Earle Keen, which I also quite liked.
Drew has quite an interesting vocal style, but,again, quite an acquired taste.  Worth a listen, if you like the singer-songwriter genre.

The Bellamy Brothers have been popular favourites amongst Country fans for moiré than a generation, but there comes a time for a new generation, and it comes in the form of JESSE & NOAH, who are the son and nephew of the famous Brothers.
The new generation, have just released their third album, “Driven Back”, and are noticeably trying to avoid the family ties. There’s no Bellamy name on the CD, and, to be honest, their sound bears no resemblance either.
They are billed, rather widely, as  roots-rock, power-pop and Americana. They certainly don’t aim for the mainstream Country market.
There are as few tracks that stood out for me.
They bypass a generation, and salute their grandfather in “The Homer Bellamy Centennial Blue Yodel”, which is the closest to a Bellamy’s song as you’ll get here. I also quite enjoyed “Travellers Prayer”. Elsewhere “Guilty Of Myself” and “True Lover Doesn’t Beg” are pleasant ballads.
Otherwise, I just didn’t get it. They just didn’t do it for me.
Sorry lads!

No comments:

Post a Comment