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Monday 31 March 2014

Apr 2014

This month, we’ll kick off with a lady who will be playing in Scotland this month. It’s 25 years since SUZY BOGGUSS launched her career with a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Somewhere Between”. Now she revisits The Hag’s musical library with “Lucky” (Proper), a 12 track collection of Merle’s hits.
According to Suzy, she and husband/co-producer Doug Crider didn’t set out to do an album of Haggard songs. They were working on doing an album blending Country and Blues, and these great Merle hits just kept coming into their thoughts. Eventually they realised that what they really had in mind was this album. It’s not a Merle tribute. Suzy has definitely not set out to cover the songs in The Hag’s style. She has stamped her own arrangements, her own mark on these songs, in much the same way as she did with “Somewhere Between”, quarter of a century ago.
There is certainly a bluesy guitar feel coming over on the songs, which range from the quick paced “Lets Chase Each Other Around The Room Tonight” and “The Running Kind”, through slower “Silver Wings” and “Sing Me Back Home”. “The Bottle Let Me Down” has a particularly bluesy feel to it, but it works well.
“If We Make It Through December”, has a more catchy feel to it, and really captures the positivity that the song has lost in other covers.
I was particularly impressed with her treatment of “Going Where the Lonely Go”. It’s a song that I was never that keen on from Merle, but Suzy really gives it some emotion. I also really enjoyed her version of “You Don’t Have Very Far To Go”, which is probably the least well known song on the album. Suzy cites Emmylou & Linda Ronstadt as inspirations on this one.
There’s quite an impressive array of backing vocalists like recent Celtic Connections visitors Gretchen Peters and Beth Nielsen Chapman, as well as Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall Stewart and Matraca Berg.
I love Suzy Bogguss voice. I always have. And I’m loving listening to her deliver such tasteful versions of some of the greatest Country songs out there. “Lucky” me.
Suzy is appearing at The Northern Nashville Caithness Country Festival at Easter and at St Andrews In The Square, in Glasgow on April 11th for The Fallen Angels Club.

I’m always amazed at the wealth of Country music talent which comes out of The Faroe Islands. HALLUR JOENSON has been one of the main players on the scene there for the past few years, and has built up many contacts internationally, and has brought some of them together for his new “Stars & Legends” album.
The 13 track collection kicks off with “Send Me A Letter Amanda”, featuring Hallur with The Bellamy Brothers. Very much in the Bellamy’s style, the song is a great introduction to the album.
There are two duets with the wonderful Dawn Sears, both written by producer Jakup Zachariassen. Dawn is a member of the highly acclaimed Nashville jam band The Time Jumpers. She has a stunning voice, which lends itself well to torch songs like “My Sweetest Hello”, and “Tonight I’m Coming Home”.
Fellow Time Jumper Vince Gill, and Sonya Isaacs provide some lovely harmony on the old styled “My Door Is Always Open”.
On one of his earlier albums, Hallur recorded a version of Charley Pryde’s “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” in his native Faroese. On this album, he does a duet with the man himself, on that song, and “Crystal Chandeliers”.
Bobby Bare met Hallur when he played in The Faroes in 2011. The pair duet here on “Somewhere To Go”.  There’s also duets with The Gaither’s  Woody Wright (who wrote four songs for the album), Tania Hancheroff, David Peterson, and even guitarist James Burton.
But the highlight for Hallur is dueting with Kris Kristofferson on “Nobody Wins”. He’s even kept in the little bit of chat at the end of the song.
But it’s not just Nashville legends that Hallur has recorded with. There’s a duet with Norwegian outlaw Gunner Thomas, and Icelandic songbird Yohanna. The latter joins Hallur on a beautiful ballad, “Separate Ways”, which is probably the most modern sounding track on the album, and should be getting radio play on pop as well Country stations.
Hallur has delivered a wide ranging package of duets, which cover the spectrum of Country music. All well sung, well produced, and well played on my CD system.
Another great album from The Faroe Islands !

DON WILLIAMS remains one of the most popular Country entertainers on this side of the Atlantic. Now approaching his 75th birthday, he’s embarking on his farewell UK tour next month (He’ll be at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall on May 11th) and has released his latest album, “Reflections” (Sugar Hill) to coincide with the tour.
I have to say that Don is sounding as good as ever. His long time producer Garth Fundis is at the helm, but the arrangements just sound so fresh.
He has quite a wide array of material, from Townes Van Zandt’s “I’ll Be Here In The Morning” (also released as a single), Jesse Winchester’s “If I Were Free” to Guy Clark’s “Talk Is Cheap” and Steve Wariner/Tony Arata’s “The Answer”.  He even does a superb version of Merle Haggatd’s “Sing Me Back Home”.
This is vintage Don. Just relaxing, listenable Country music. Such a pleasure.

 RONNIE MILSAP was one of the most influential singers of the 70’s & 80’s. He had mass crossover appeal between Country, pop and blues. Now, at the age of 71, Ronnie is back with a new album, “Summer Number 17” (Sony).
Although a very easy on the ear album, I have to admit that it’s not particularly “Country”. It includes covers some classic pop & soul numbers, like “Tears On My Pillow”, “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted”, “Mack The Knife” and “Personality”.
There are two duets with Mandy Barnett, including The Stylistic’s old “You Make Me Feel Brand New”.
He also reworks one of his old classics, “Lost In The Fifties Tonight”, and the title track is a new song, but fits well into the nostalgic feel of the 12 track collection.
It’s a nice nostalgic album, for pop fans. I fear Country fans wont be as convinced.

It’s 20 years since we all discovered CHARLIE LANDSBOROUGH through his amazing song “What Colour Is The Wind”. 27 albums later, the genial giant returns to his Merseyside roots, to the famous Cavern, and the music that put that venue, and put the city of Liverpool on the map. “Here,There And Everywhere” is an album of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison compositions.
There are a number of classic Beatles numbers like the title track,“Yesterday”, “Penny Lane”, “Long And Winding Road” and “Ticket To Ride”, alongside some lesser known songs.
It’s amazing just how well Charlie’s vocal style suits these songs , most notably on “And I Lover Her”, “Imagine” and “Crippled Inside”, which features some neat steel guitar.
There are a couple of interesting medleys, including a neat transition from a slow “For No One” into “Here Comes The Sun”.
Although known, and respected for his own writing, I guess after all this time, Charlie felt it was time to honour his hometown heroes. It’s something that he’s featured in his live concerts for a while now. On record, he does it with taste and thoughtfulness. It comes over as a Charlie album, rather than a Beatles tribute.
Nice work Charlie.

DEREK RYAN has really established himself as one of the new young stars of the Irish Country scene. His latest album, “Country Soul” (Sharpe Music) features 14 tracks and is a real mix of original songs, with a few recognisable Country and Irish covers.
The title track is quite a poppy number aimed at the dancers back in Ireland. The same could be said about “Dancing In The Moonlight”. “Welcome Home”, a homecoming song written for last year’s Gathering is really catchy, and I like it a lot.
I was really impressed with the slower, and more Country, “Leave A Light On For Me”, whilst “To Be A Man” is a slower ballad, which he delivers with quite a bit of emotion.
There are covers of Bob McDill’s “Turn Out The Light Love Me Tonight”, Vince Gill’s “Turn Me Loose” and Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind”.
Keeping the Irish end up, is the really catchy “Better Times a Coming”, “The Long Way Home”  and the traditional “Raggle Taggle Gypsy”.
He is getting a big push on the UK mainland this year, with the release of the catchy “100 Numbers” on St.Patricks Day.
Derek delivers a good mix of styles, and will certainly keep you entertained with this new album.

Way back in the late 1990’s a young Irishman called MICHAEL ENGLISH was being tipped as the new Daniel O’Donnell.  He kinda disappeared from the scene, but is now back with a good toe tappin album called “Country Roots”.
The album features a number of his own songs, including the lead single, “The Band Is Back In Town”, a superb showband styled number which does rather emphasise that Michael is back. His other songs include the gentle “Cheers To All”, the sentimental “Mama’s Footsteps”, and the rather poppy “High Five”
The album does lean quite heavily towards the Irish Country style, with lovely ballads like “Eileen” and “Until You’ve Walked In My Shoes”, and uptempo fun numbers like “Locklin’s Bar”.
He also features some interesting covers, including “Simple Things”, which comes from the pen of Paisley’s Paolo Nutini, although could’ve come from any writer in Ireland, such is the arrangement. He takes on a different sound for the classic Hank Thompson song “I Dreamed Of An Old Love Affair”. Just not a sound you’d expect to hear in 2014.  He also covers “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”.
And just in case you don’t remember Michael, he gives an updated version of his popular song “Nearest To Perfect”.
A superb array of styles, but then, that’s what Irish artists thrive at. Michael is one of the best. Good to hear him back.

The music business can work in mysterious ways. Some artists are a flash in the pan. Others are slow burners. Texan born ERIC PASLEY looks like he’s a slow burner.
His first single, “Never Really Wanted” was released in 2011, but it’s taken him three years to get his self titled debut album out (Humphead). In the meantime, he’s been writing hits for others like Jake Owen, Love And Theft and Eli Young. He wrote all 11 songs on the album, some with others like Jessi Alexander, Walt Aldridge and Rob Crosby.
The album  has quite a modern sound, especially on the likes of “Less Than Whole” and the hits “Never Really Wanted” and “Friday Night”.
But there are some old fashioned Country high spots too. I really liked “Country Side Of Heaven”, with its homespun appeal. There was also some neat instrumentation on “Here Comes Love”, which caught my attention.
“She Don’t Love You” is a beautiful ballad, as is “Deep as It Is Wide”.
One of the best albums to come from a major Nashville label for some time. Watch the name.

Another new name out of Nashville is JON PARDI. He is a native Californian, but doesn’t have much Bakersfield influence, although he does mention it in the words of the title track of his album “Write You A Song” (Humphead).
Pardi is another songwriter who has written, or co-written all the tracks on the album.
Most of it is modern Country radio pop, but there are some nice songs that stand out.
“That Man” is quite a pleasant ballad, whilst there’s some neat fiddle intro on “Love You From Here”. I also liked “Trash A Hotel Room”, if not its’ sentiments.
Not a bad album, but just a shade to Nashville pop for me.

  Our third Humphead release this time around is from Missouri born DAVID NAIL. David is another who was around for a while before getting an album out. His first single was released in 2002, but his debut album “I’m About To Come Alive” wasn’t released until 2009. Now his third album, “I’m A Fire” has just been released both in the USA & Europe.
The album features a good mix of modern Country sounds, which I found quite listenable. Four of the songs were co-written by Nail, with Shane MacAnally, Bob Dipiero, Scooter Carusoe and Neil Thrasher amongst the others putting pen to paper.
“Kiss You Tonight” is a good radio song, and I also enjoyed the more sensitive “The Secret”. “Whatever She’s Got”, is a catchy number, ideal for radio.
But it’s the tracks that feature some good harmonies that stand out for me. Little Big Town join in on “When They’re Gone”, and Lee Ann Womack duets out a stunningly fresh version of “Galveston. But whose are the female harmonies on “Brand New Day”?. Unfortunately the sleevenotes don’t tell us, but they blend with David’s vocals beautifully.
I really enjoyed this album. It didn’t knock me out, but pleasant it was.

Arizona born DIERKS BENTLEY has been part of Capitol Nashville’s roster for the past decade, and his new album “Riser” is his eighth for the label, who have released it here, to coincide with his recent c2c Festival appearances in Dublin and London.
On previous albums, Dierks has given token appreciation to bluegrass music. That is sorely missing from this outing, with the rather unimpressive “Not Enough Bourbon In Kentucky” being the closest he gets this time around.
Much of the album did little for me. It was too pop for me. Many of the songs just sounded so repetitive.
The exception was “Damn These”, which closes the album. It, at least, paid homage to Nashville and Country music. Still didn’t sound very Country though.
“Say You Do” is one of the most enjoyable tracks. It’s laid back easy on the ear feel, appealed to me. The title track is an Ok ballad
“I Hold On”, an uptempo number, has also been released as a single in the UK, in the hope of getting some pop radio airplay.
He’s done more appealing albums, but I guess, if you’ve enjoyed his previous outings, then you should give this a listen too.

Rhett Akins was one of the most interesting artists to emerge from the Nashville Country scene in the 90’s with hits like “Don’t Get Me Started” and “That Aint My Truck”. Now his son, THOMAS RHETT has followed in his father’s footsteps with the release of his debut album, “It Goes Like This”(Decca).
In fact, Thomas isn’t that new to the scene. As a songwriter, he’s already had songs recorded by Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line.
Despite his father’s musical pedigree, young Thomas was raised on Rock & R&B as well as Country. And it shows in this album.
Kicking off with “Whatcha Got In That Cup”, with it’s driving rocky/r&b beat, didn’t fill me with any enthusiasm for the rest of the album.
Country music is a wide spectrum, and seems to get wider every day. This album really stretches the boundaries. Most of the tracks are not what I’d consider to be Country, but there are some flashes of Country inspiration.
“Something To Do With My Hands”, is still quite rocky, but with a lot more of a Country edge. “In A Minute”, is quite a pleasant ballad, as is “Take You Home”. “Sorry For Partying” is certainly a morning after Country song. It does get a little repetitive however
The stand out track would be “Beer With Jesus”- definitely Country! He can do it when he wants.
The track that killed the album off for me was “Front Porch Junkies”. I was hoping for something downhome front porch swing, but it couldn’t be farther away from that. It’s just pure R&B. This has no place in Country music. A miss for me.

SARA EVANS has been around Country music since 1997, and is best known for hits like “Suds In The Bucket”, “No Place That Far” and “Three Chords & The Truth”.  Her 7th album, “Slow Me Down” has just been released here (Sony), and I have to say I’m a shade disappointed by it.
Despite her pedigree in the business, this album just doesn’t stand out from all the other Nashville pop-country girls out there.
It’s a well produced pop Country album, but I listened well into the album, before anything really caught my attention.
She is joined by pop singer Gavin DeGraw on “Not Over You” and Isaac Slade from rock band The Frey, on “Cant Stop Loving You”.
“If I Run” is a good strong ballad, but still rather pop idol material.
“Good Love Is Hard To Find”, which is track 8, was the first song that caught my attention. It’s the sort of ballad that we’ve grown to love Sara for. For a more uptempo number, I really enjoyed “Revival”. To have started the album with this track, rather that close it, could have made such a difference.
But it’s “Better Off”, with its harmonies from Vince Gill that really stand out. It has quite a Celtic feel to it, and works really well.
A few real golden touches saved the album.

Our home grown offering this month comes from Perth based RED PINE TIMBER COMPANY, which emerged five years ago from the embers of the band Southpaw.
Now they have released their debut album, “Different Lonesome” on their own Red Pine Record label.
They have, at one stage featured 11 band members, but eight have settled into the current line up for this album, recorded in The Fair City’s Clearwater Studios.
With so many musicians, playing everything from banjo and harmonica to saxophone, it’s reasonable to expect quite an array of musical styles on offer.
All the songs were written by front man Gavin JD Munro.
The title track is a 6 ½ minute epic, featuring song great harmonica, and beautiful harmonies between Gavin and Katie Burgoyne.
Indeed the harmonies work well throughout the album, especially on tracks like “Dark Clouds” and ballads, like “Save My Soul” and the stand out track “Speaking Of Your Name”. Their voices certainly give an air of Gram & Emmylou.
Other tracks, like “Bad Taste”, “The Way I Was” and “Sermon On The Street” are more uptempo, whilst “No Direction” is a soft ballad that showcases Katie’s vocals.
Altogether, a very interesting album.

Some musical acts are hard to categorise, but you can just tell that when you receive an album in the post from a band called THE JIGANTICS, that they’re going provide an interesting listen. The album is called “Daisy Roots” (Rawtone)
This English outfit are described as “Nu-folk”, but take in Country, Blues, Jazz, Rock and several other influences. From the opening track, “Swimming Song”, I was writing them off as a fun folk group. But I’m glad I kept listening for the eclectic mix that was to develop.
“The Valley” is a soft ballad, as are their versions of “Lakes Of Pontchatrain” and “Black Mountain Lullaby”.
Then how can you resist as title like “Bad Liver And A Broken Heart”. Yes, it’s the most Country track on the album. A good beat, and a song that works really well. “Hold On”, is also quite Country, more of a ballad.
I was also quite impressed with “Keys To Your Door”, with it’s lovely accordion backing.
Not all Country, but enough to merit a listen if you get the chance.

Next up is a guy called PETER MULVEY, who hails from Milwaukee. Whilst studying theatre, he played in several bands there. But it wasn’t until he travelled to Dublin in 1989, that he got into music, as a street singer.
He went back to America, where he has recorded several albums. His latest, “Silver Ladder” (Signature Sound) was released here to coincide with a tour of Ireland and England last month.
According to the publicity, Peter has been through a rather turbulent stretch in his personal life of late, and decided to write his way out of it. The result is the twelve songs on this collection, which was produced by Americana legend Chuck Prophet.
The album has quite a variety of styles.
“You Don’t Have To Tell Me” is quite a foot tapper that stood out as the most Country track on the album.
“Where Did You Go” is quite a slow number, but the added vocals of Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins adds some magic. It certainly is one of the album’s highlights.
Some of the tracks, like “Back In The Wind” and “Sympathies” are quite poppy, but if you like singer songwriters, then Peter Mulvey is worth checking out.

AMELIA WHITE was raised on the Boston folk scene, and bought her first guitar when she was only 10 years old. Her first band played rock music, then twelve years ago found herself in Nashville, and found a growing fan base for her original songs.
Her new album, “Old Postcard” (White-Wolf Records) offers the listener an interesting insight into her life.
“Goodbye Today”, with it’s infectious steel chords really caught my attention, whilst the album’s title track recalls her rather less than memorable childhood. As you would expect from the title, “Get Your Cowboy On” is the strongest Country song on the album. Amelia hasn’t a particularly strong voice, but she uses her smokey vocals to best effect on this track.
There are still shades of her rock upbringing, especially on “Mary’s Getting Better” and “River Of My Dreams”.
I like her voice. She’s a bit different. Worth checking out.

ROBBY HECHT is a native Tennessean, but travelled to Wisconsin, San Francisco and Paris, before returning to Nashville to hone his craft. Known for his quiet vulnerable ballads, Hecht has been named as “one of American Songwriter’s favourite Nashville artists”.
His new self titled album has been released here (Old Man Henry Records) prior to a UK tour this summer, which will include at least one Scottish date (July 3rd at The Byre @ Inchyra, Glencarse,Perthshire).
Whilst many of the songs are naturally quite slow, “Papa’s Down The Road Dead”, despite it’s title, is quite a jolly little tune.
“Soon I Was Sleeping” is quite a pleasant ballad, and features the duet talents of Canadian Rose Cousins, who has a really pleasing voice.
“New York City” is a different tribute to the Big Apple. With its’ haunting melody, it is one of the stand out tracks on the album.
The other tracks are all soft ballads, “The Sea & The Shore” being the stand out track.

Making their third tour to Europe (but not Scotland) next month, are four guys from Portland, Maine, calling themselves TUMBLING BONES. They have quite an exciting mix of folk, country and bluegrass on offer, as featured on their album “Loving A Fool”, which will be available in time for their visit. (May 5th release date).
They play bluegrass at amazing speed on tracks like “Bound To Ride” and “Money Is For Spending”, then slow it down completely on the very Country title track. They come up with some old time harmony singing on “Shady Green Pastures”, and some authentic old time recording on “A Voice From On High”.
Most of the tracks are originals, but they do find space on the 13 track album, for a fresh new version of The Louvin’s classic, “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby”.
Great stuff. I really enjoyed this album’s energy.

And, finally, I’ve kept the best for last this time around.
RHONDA VINCENT has been around the bluegrass scene since she was a mere youngster in the 70’s. She’s grown to become the leading light for women in bluegrass music. Recently, especially through duets with Gene Watson, she’s proved herself to be a fine Country stylist too.
For her new album, “Only Me”, she’s bridging the gap, by featuring a bluegrass side and a Country side. The instrumentation is a bit different. It’s fiddles and banjo’s on the first five tracks, and some stunning steel guitar on the remaining tracks.
She does a great job on the Country covers like “Once A Day”, “Beneath Still Waters”  and “Bright Lights And Country Music”, but it’s the bluegrass versions of songs like “I Need Somebody Bad Tonight”, “I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Hear Nothing At All” and the old Melba Montgomery/George Jones hit “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds”,
(which she duets with Daryl Singletary) that really stand out.
She even gets old Willie Nelson in to duet on the title track.
It’s a stunning album- great arrangements, great vocals, great songs. I just loved it, and can’t take it off the CD player.
It’s so early in the year, but this is my album of the year!

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