Search This Blog

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Oct 2014

Despite Nashville’s obsession with making Country music into pop these days, there are a few acts who really stand up for the traditional sounds. One of these is OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW, who have really popularised the old timey jug band sound. The group, who have been recording since 1998 were discovered busking outside a North Carolina shop. They are responsible for the huge success of “Wagon Wheel”, for which they received a Platinum Disc.
They are touring here this month, with a Glasgow date included, and their latest album, “Remedy” has been released to coincide with the visit.
Much of the album is uptempo fast paced bluegrass style numbers. There are some more old timey numbers like “Doc’s Day” and “Sweet Home”.
A couple of the slower, and more mainstream tracks, “Dearly Departed Friend” and “Firewater”, have an uncanny Nitty Gritty Dirt Band feel to them.
“Wagon Wheel” was a co-write between frontman Ketch Secor  and the legendary Bob Dylan, and there’s another Dylan co-write on this album. “Sweet Amarillo” features some neat accordion, and I can hear some of those who covered “Wagon Wheel” already working on this song.
This album has already been in the Country Top 5 Albums in the USA, which just goes to show that real Country can sell up there alongside the Nashville non Country stuff.  Although it’s unashamedly dated, they have a sound that is so refreshing to hear, in today’s overproduced Country music scene.

DONNA ULISSE burst onto the Nashville scene back in 1991, with a highly acclaimed album on Atlantic Records. But, unfortunately her music failed to make much of an impact on the charts, and the label dropped her from the roster. To be honest, her music was just too Country for the charts. She has released six albums since, and the latest “Showing My Roots” really bridges her native bluegrass and traditional Country music.
The title track is a heartfelt thanks for folks like Loretta, Merle and Bonnie and, of course Dolly.
She then goes on to do some quite interesting bluegrass covers of Country classics like Loretta’s “Fist City”, and “Somebody Somewhere”,  Tammy’s “You’re  Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad”, Hank Locklin’s “Send Me The Pillow” and Dolly’s “In The Good Old Days When Times Were Bad”.
There are a few straight bluegrass covers too, such as “Howe Mountain Girls Can Love” (Stanley Brothers) and “Wait A Little Longer Please Jesus” (Louvins), as well as a couple of Ricky Skaggs numbers.
She rounds it all off with Sam Bush joining in on Leadbelly’s “Take This Hammer”.
This may be an album of covers, but Donna has chosen wisely.  She takes a unique approach to each song, and performs them beautifully.
It’s a lovely album, and well worth a place in your collection.

The success of the long lost Johnny Cash “Out Amongst The Stars” album, has prompted a lot of new interest in Johnny Cash’s songs. The latest project, is “Look Again To The Wind” (Sony Masterworks), a re-creation of Johnny’s 1964 album, “Bitter Tears: Ballads Of The American Indian”. It was an album which really brought the plight of the native Indian to the masses, and followed a similar, less successful, album from Peter La Farge a year earlier in 1963.
That album, it is suggested “was among the closest to the artist’s heart”. That maybe would suggest to true Cash fans, that it is sacred, and should be left alone. But a small number of influential names like Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch have got together to honour the album, with producer Joe Henry, and this is the result.
Bitter Tears’ biggest hit was “Ballad Of Ira Hayes”, which is covered here by Kris Kristofferson, and the talkie “The Talking Leaves” is narrated by Nancy Blake. Nancy’s husband Norman Blake, who originally played in June Carter’s band delivers an effective “Drums”, one of the best tracks on the CD.
There’s some new life injected into the songs, with Californian indie folk duo, The Milk Carton Kids, contributing to a couple of tracks, and Rhiannon Giddens (from the wonderful Carolina Chocolate Drops), not only performing “The Vanishing Race”, but writing additional lyrics to bring it up to date.  
The original album only had 8 tracks, so a couple of different versions are included here. The new album also includes the title track, which, rather strangely did not appear on the 1964 release. Peter La Farge had written 5 of the tracks, but “Look Again To The Wind” was actually included on his own “Sings Of The Indian” a year earlier. Bill Miller sings it here.
It’s an interesting album. Whether it fulfils its purpose, whether it interferes with sacred tradition, or upholds it, will depend on the individual.

Since bursting onto the Country scene back in 1999, BRAD PAISLEY has been one of Country music’s most consistent hitmakers, notching up 22 Number One’s to date. More recently his music had added sound effects and gimmicks (he had Eric Idle on his last outing), and he has more of that on his new album, “Moonshine In The Trunk” (Sony Music).
He still has the noisy tuneless choir that has become part of his sound on recent albums. It is getting rather boring now. Much of his material is sounding very samey because of it.
Having said that, there are some good songs here.
He delivers strong ballads, especially on “Perfect Storm”, “American Flag On The Moon” and “Shattered Glass”. I was rather puzzled by “4WP”, which it rather strangely states on the album “featuring Brad Paisley”. It’s his album- of course he’s on it. Don’t know if it’s just another gimmick to detract from the tuneless instrumentation that spoilt an otherwise good song.
“Cover Girl”, “High Life” and “You Shouldn’t Have To” all  sound quite good, but they all sound the same to me.  
For me, the stand out tracks were “Gone Green”, which was quite catchy, without the inane over instrumentation that spoils the album, and “Country Nation”, which is an great anthem to Country radio, and Country fans.
Then, there’s another gimmick, a hidden extra track. It’s an acoustic version of “Me & Jesus”, which it was well worth listening through the rest of the album to discover. It’s simple & superb.
If you enjoy Brad Paisley, then you’ll love this album. With 15 tracks, it’s great value, but just doesn’t work for me.

Humphead have just issued another couple of classic collections.
The first is from JOHNNY RODGRIGUEZ, who, many will recall from his Caithness Festival visit a couple of years ago. “The Definitive Collection” captures Johnny’s Mercury Years, which covers most of the 70’s when he had the biggest half of hits, including his six Number one’s.
In fact, checking his hits history, the first 15 tracks on this 2 CD collection, are his first 15 chart hits – in the same order they came. Songs include “Riding My Thumb To Mexico”, “Pass Me By If You’re Only Passing Through” and “Love Put A Song In My Heart”.
Other songs, making up the 49 track package, include “It Took Us All Night Long To Say Goodbye”, “Invitation To The Blues” and “Lyin’ Eyes”.
His material isn’t too readily available these days, so this is a great collection to catch up on Johnny Rodriguez material.

Humphead’s other new collection comes from MARTY ROBBINS. “20th Century Drifter ; The MCA Years” had me puzzled. Surely, I thought, Marty was with Columbia Records for most, if not all of his career. But a quick check into the record books confirmed that Marty did leave Columbia for MCA for a three year spell, back around 1973. Modern day fans consider this to be Marty’s “lost years”, so this collection will be especially welcomed by them.
It wasn’t his most successful period, charting 8 songs, but only three made the top ten. But he did have some great songs during that time, and they’re all captured here on this 37 track, 2CD collection.
A must for Marty Robbins fans.

Country music in the UK has often been seen as an older person’s music. (Of course, we all know that’s not true!) These days, some young blood is starting to emerge into our music. Up here we have Raintown, Ireland has guys like Nathan Carter and Derek Ryan, and down south, twin sisters Catherine & Lizzy WARD THOMAS have really made their mark with their debut album, “From Where I Stand”(WTW Music).
At 20 years, the girls have already developed a sound that rivals anything coming out of Nashville.
Most of the album is quite upbeat. A few tracks, notably “Guest List”, are a shade poppy, but no more than anything that gets called Country these days.
“Footnotes (Happy Ending)” and “Take That Train” are a bit more acoustic, and really lets their vocals be heard to full effect. They’re two of my favourite tracks.
The title track, “From Where I Stand”, is a beautiful ballad. Again, their vocals are given priority on this song. “Try” is another ballad, but with a bit heavier production.
All of the songs are written by the girls, except a cover of Dougie MacLean’s “Caledonia”, which with quite a simple piano led musical arrangement is quite effective.
No doubt the song will feature when the Ward Thomas visit Glasgow on November 22nd, as part of a lengthy tour with The Shires, another English duo who have got a lot of attention this year.
The tour, and this album, are both worth checking out.

DAVE SHERRIFF, one of the hardest working and longest serving performers on the UK Country scene, is back with a new album, “Let’s Dance”. Since becoming a main part of the scene back in the 70’s , Dave has done everything in Country music, from touring with big American names, recording with The Jordanaires, getting into the Guinness Book Of Records, and being at the centre of the booming line dance scene.
There’s 20 tracks on this new collection, with a wide variety of styles.
“It’s Party Time”, which kicks off the album, and the slower “Around The Fire”, both have quite an Irish feel to them. A few other tracks, like “There’s Still A Mighty Welcome At The Door” is similarly influenced.
“Beer Belly Blues” is quite a fun sounding number, in an old timey Country sort of way.  
“Holiday Romance”, “Ooh La La” and “Costa Fiesta” are quite continental, whilst there are a few “dance” numbers, like “King Of The Jive” and “Funky Cha Cha Baby”, which, may not appeal to diehard Country fans, but will fill any party floor.
There a few slower songs, like “I Miss You So”, which is very influenced by Charlie Landsborough (complete with Pete Brazil on guitar),  “I Love You To The Moon And Back” and “All That I Am”.
And there’s a Scottish influence too. “Highway Number Nine” is inspired by our notorious A9 lonesome highway. He manages a few local place names enroute, from Stirling, Inverness and Brora.
As we’ve come to expect from Dave, a good mix of styles, and with 20 tracks, it’s great value for money.

Talking of Scottish influences, we have a couple of home grown albums to review this time around.

FIRST CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE have an interesting sound on their self titled debut album. The album is predominately the work of Yorick Cormack, the main songwriter of former Glasgow alt-country band The Endrick Brothers.
The other band members are John Carson, Paul Reza and Gordy Turner.
It’s quite a rocky sound that the quartet have brought together. Having said that, the opening track, “My One Track Mind” has a definite Steve Earle feel about it.
“Postcards (From Randy Newman)”, may have a strange title, but has a nice west coast Country feel to it (like Randy Newman, I guess). There are some nice harmonies on offer with “Second Hand Love”, and “Wheels” is quite laid back, in an Eagles sort of way.
The album was produced by Chris Gordon, and recorded in a Glasgow Southside flat, but sounds as good as anything coming out of a custom built studio.
There’s definitely Country influences running through the album, and it’s quite a nice listen, but don’t expect to hear First Charge Of The Light Brigade at your local Country music club.

Fifer JANEY KIRK has been a long time favourite on the Scottish social club and cabaret scene, but has always had the ambition to further her career. Her recent albums, “Sweetheart Darling Of Mine” and “Don’t Colour Me Blue” have established her as a firm favourite on the Country concert circuit and exposure on various Showcase TV programmes, and on concert tours like “Ladies Of Country” and the forthcoming Derek Ryan Scottish tour.
For her new album, “Streets Of Loneliness” (Premier Records), she has teamed up with Jerry Donahue, who was a huge part of the folk music scene in the 1970/80′s with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay. The album has a line up of high profile players and is all self penned songs leaning towards a more modern country genre.
The title track is a really strong uptempo song, and has a great video on You Tube to support it. It’s really radio friendly, and should get her some good radio play.
“Love Triangle” is a catchy uptempo song on an old Country love theme. It works really well.
“Apple” and “Black Widow Spider” are, perhaps, a shade more pop, but still quite listenable. “Count Me Out”, is quite different again, and really brings out the raunchiness in Janey’s voice.
I really enjoyed the catchy “Leave Me Alone”, about someone who thinks too much of themselves.
She can also deliver a neat ballad. “Here We Are” is quite a delicate sounding song, which suits Janey’s voice just as well. But my favourite is “Try Again”, another ballad, which features some really nice instrumentation, thanks to Jerry Donahue, and a really lovely delivery from the singer.
Then to close the album, something of a 4½ minute anthem. In Runrig style, she delivers a danceable uptempo version of “Wild Mountain Thyme”, which slows right down in the middle.
You can tell that Janey has put a lot of effort into the album. It’s an album that really picks up on her versatility and energy.  She has her own sound, and delivers it well.

LAURA KENNY is a Glasgow girl, who got great reviews for her self written album “Drive” a few years ago. After that album, she decided to travel the world, and got as far as Hong Kong, where she has settled.
Recently she has got back into music, performing around venues like “The Wanch”. She has released an emotional single called “Fallen Soldier”, following a visit to the Death Railway on the Thailand/Burma border, where allied soldiers were captured by the Japanese. Laura found a headstone in the cemetery nearby of a soldier named 'J.D. Kenny, age 25, which as she says in the song, “the same last name as me, and not much older”.  Who wouldn’t be spooked at that?
The event inspired Laura to write this beautiful song, which is available for download on ITunes.
Hopefully, we’ll hear more from Laura before too long.

More Scottish influence in a new album called “North Star” from KYLE CAREY (Americelta Records) who was actually born in Alaska, although her influences have crossed North America and Europe.  She has a unique Gaelic Americana sound. There’s a Gaelic walking song, and a Gaelic version of “Down To The River To Pray” (from Oh Brother). But there are also Country influenced numbers like the bouncy opener “June Day”, and the Appalachian infused “Nora O’Kane”. There’s also a superb version of Kate Wolf’s “Across The Great Divide”.
Recorded at The Gorbals Sound studio in Glasgow, and mixed in Philadelphia, this is a lovely album to listen to. Not a straight Country album, but enough of a mix for me to enjoy.

Whilst Country music is a huge force across Ireland, many of the artists we hear cover a rather narrow part of the musical spectrum. But there are artists who are working outside of this safe part of the spectrum, and are as equally talented and entertaining.
POLLY BARRETT, from Kinsale, went to school in Cork, where she got her musical grounding. Her first album received superb reviews when it was released in 2012, and the follow up, “Probably Me”, will further increase her popularity.
The singer songwriter has a bright, fresh sounding album, which, whilst having some Country influences, is probably better labelled as folk-pop.
Nevertheless, it’s a very enjoyable listen. “Lay Me Down”, “Hasn’t Met You” and “Who Knows” are the most Country flavoured tracks, but I also enjoyed “The Greater Good”, and “Watch Out Jack”.

LISA STANLEY is one of the most recognisable faces on the Irish Country music scene, thanks to her co-hosting The Phil Mack and Keep It Country TV shows and touring on this side of the Irish Sea with Nathan Carter.
Her new duets album features a variety of guests, from new names like Sean McAloon, to the legendary Philomena Begley and Sandy Kelly. Dave Sheriff and Glenn Rogers also feature, and she keeps it in the family by including dad Fintan Stanley, and her aunt, Deirdre McDaniel.
Most of the tracks are strong Country numbers. The stand out songs for me are “Love You All Over Again”, which is performed with songwriter John Farry, and the John Hogan duet “I’ll Be Home Soon”.  
The Dave Sheriff duet, “End In Tears” also stands out, if a little sad and sentimental.
Most of the songs are new to me, but there are a few covers, including a lovely version of “I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight” with Philomena Begley.
“Clogerhead”, the track that features Lisa’s dad on accordion, shows Lisa in a different light to what we’ve grown to expect. The song, about a fishing village, where her dad came from ,in County Louth, on Ireland’s east coast, was recorded live, and is much more of an Irish song than Country, but Lisa’s sounds so much at home with it. It’s a lovely track.
In fact, the whole album is quite a gem.

BRENDAN QUINN is something of a legend in Irish Country music. He’s been part of the scene since he was a teenager, and that wasn’t yesterday! He has covered many styles in his time, from Irish Country to American, and more recently has developed a more folksy style to some of his songs.
His latest album, “Feels Like Home” continues that trend.
The title track has been covered by several Irish artists in recent years, but Brendan has taken it back closer to it’s Randy Newman origins. From there he takes on Dougie MacLean’s “Caledonia”, and songs written by Ben Sands and Eric Bogle, amongst others.
But he hasn’t lost that Country touch. He does a great versions of “Satisfied Mind”, and “The Long Black Veil” , as well Richard Thompson’s “From Galway To Graceland”, which is very different to  the version by The Indians, which most folk will recognise.
Brendan is certainly not your run of the mill Irish Country singer. He’s done all that. These days, you can feel the emotion that he puts into his music.
An interesting album.

Another Irish album comes from new duo SWEET HARMONY. The Emerald Isle doers seen to breed an endless stream of Country music talent. Myrtle & Malcolm have played in several bands through the years, but last year, got the chance to sing together and they formed the duo. To mark the duo’s first year together on the road, they have released this new album, “You Can Get My Number”. Recorded at Hillside studio, the album is a great party set of mainly uptempo numbers.
Most of the songs are covers, like “I Heard The Bluebirds Sing”, “Someone Is Looking For Someone Like You”, and “Driving Me Out Of My Mind”, but there are two songs written by friend Tracey Grant- the title track, and their theme song.
There are a couple of slower numbers, like “Lay Down Beside Me” and “Today I Started Loving You Again”, as well Irish classic “Lovely Leitrim”.
The album is well produced, and a lovely easy listen. A worthy addition to the Irish scene.

Canadian singer songwriter, and  two time East Coast Music Award winner, CATHERINE McLELLAN was certainly raised into music. Her father, Gene, wrote the gospel classic “Put Your Hand In The Hand” and Anne Murray’s huge hit “Snowbird”. Catherine included a very different version of the latter on her last album “Silhouette”.
Now her new album, “The Raven’s Sun” has arrived, and offers a much more distinct direction than her first offering.  She has a definitive folksy acoustic feel to her songs, but with a definitive leaning towards Country music.
The title track, which kicks off the album, is a lovely, delicate song, with some nice harmonies from producer/guitarist Chris Gauthier. It’s a lovely song, which sets the mood for the album.
“Tell Me Luella” and “Beneath The Lindens” are in a similar vein, as is “Rushing Winding Wind”, which is probably my favourite track.
“Gone Too Soon” and “Don’t Call Me A Stranger” are a shade more uptempo, but still work well.
“Jack’s Song” is quite a pop number, not out of place, but not exactly like the other tracks.
Catherine has a lovely voice. She writes good songs, and has produced a lovely easy on the ear album for your enjoyment.

When Alabama sisters, Laura & Lydia Rogers released their first full album as THE SECRET SISTERS, I was quite captivated by the sound they created. They recorded the album “live” and “acoustic” in the studio, and really showed a delicate fifties style harmony.
As the publicity sheet that accompanied their new album, “Put Your Needle Down” says, they’ve certainly come a long way since that 2010 highly acclaimed album.
From the first few notes, you could tell that their sound had endured a massive makeover. Much heavier backings, and less harmonies evident throughout the album.
“Iuka”, has quite an infectious, haunting southern sound, which stood out on the album, which is much more rock/pop than before. Exceptions are the softer ”Let There Be Lonely”, and “Lonely Island” which, I suppose do have quite an Everly’s sound to them.
I also quite enjoyed “Black & Blue”, but it is more 50/60’s Pop than Country. For me, “River Jordan” was my favourite track. A pacey gospel number.
They have created an unusual sound, and I’m sure there’s a market for them. But after their first album, this one left me rather disappointed.

If you enjoyed the Old Crow Medicine Show, then THE HOT SEATS may be right up your street too.
Their sound is even more authentic and old timey that OCMS, a sound that has built up quite a following over here with regular tours and festival spots at Celtic Connections, Speyfest, Summertyne and The Shetland Folk Festival.
The Hot Seats are a five piece band from Virginia. Their latest album is “Grandad’s Favourite”, and, as on previous outings, it’s a high energy old timey bluegrass fiddle fun experience.  
There are instrumentals like “Snakewinder”, “Grandad’s Favourite” and “Boneparte Crossing The Alps”. Other songs have carefully crafted lyrics.
One of the most interesting songs, simply because it’s an old Faron Young hit, is “Live Fast,Love Hard, Die Young”. Boy, do they make it sound their own!

Next to Texas, where we find ADLER & HEARNE, a duo who have a very easy listening sound riding between bluegrass and jazz. Their album, “Second Nature” (Spring Hollow Records), was produced by Lloyd Maines, a legend, himself in Texas music.
They couple wrote, or co-wrote, the whole album, which kicks off with the ear catching title track, which certainly got me interested. It’s light, homesome, and really shows the pair’s vocals to best effect. It’s followed nicely by “Pine Woods Breeze”, a beautiful steel guitar laced soft ballad.
“Salty Town” offers some lovely harmonies, and with some neat accordion, has a laid back TexMex feel to it.
“Hard, Hard Line” has a real rural feel to it, again with some beautiful harmonies between lines that are almost spoken. I really liked this track.
“Texas’ll Have To Do” ups the tempo, in a style I remember producer Lloyd Maines playing with The Maines Brothers.
Then, they turn things right round, with “The Kiss” and “Addicted To You”,  which  I’d call lounge jazz, which they sound just as at home with. “Soups On” is more of a bluesy number. Then you have the hauntingly different “The Night Mare”.
This is a wonderfully eclectic Texas record. I love their sound.

KENNY BUTTERILL is a real Canadian troubadour. His latest album, “Troubadour Tales” is a good mix of songs from the road. Travelling around, Kenny has been inspired to write songs like “Flying With Buddha”, “Pajaro Dunes” and “Woman With A Canoe”.
He kicks off with the catchy “Good Thing That Couldn’t Happen Here”, before getting into the star studded “Gaia Blues”, which features Glasgow’s own Donovan Leach, although it has to be said, it’s Zoe Muth’s harmonies, and some neat harmonica which really stand out.
Donovan, who also helped mix this track about Mankind's relationship with Mother Earth, remarked, "I really love this important 'green' song of Kenny's dealing with such an urgent matter ... it was a great collaboration with him."
Other world-renowned guests including Cindy Cashdollar, Audrey Auld, John Lee Sanders, Linda McRae, David Grier and Washboard Hank.  Of note, this album marks the last recording of the late Sarah Elizabeth Campbell who adds rich harmony to "Greatest Love Story Never Told."
 "Hocus Pocus," Butterill's personal tribute to JJ Cale, was recorded just three weeks before Cale's passing. It’s quite a haunting track.
“True North” takes him home, whilst, my favourite track, has to be the bouncy “Dead End Of The Dirt Road”.
The album was recorded in ten studios over the past year, and the songs cover as diverse a path.
One for the singer songwriter fans.

Finally, JIM PHOTOGLO was a pop/soft rock artist back in the 1980’s before heading for Nashville as a songwriter. Amongst his biggest credits was The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishing In The Dark”. He released two solo Country albums, before forming novelty bluegrass/Country band Run C&W in the early 1990’s.
Now Photoglo is back with quite a folksy Country sound, evident on his new album, “Halls Of My Heart”. The album kicks off with the catchy “Try Me Tomorrow”. Later, “Brown Eyed Boy”, which refers to the similar Buddy Holly hit, also demonstrates a catchy story delivery.
“Shadows & Light” and “The Hours” are much more of a ballad, whilst “The Brothers Medley” has a bit more of a soul feel to it.
The back to back tracks that struck a chord with me were “My Father’s Son”, where he wants “to be the father, his father never was”. Quite a statement. That’s followed by “What Do I Tell My Son”, so I guess he has fatherhood on his mind, whilst writing this album. I love both these songs.
Despite his background, I detected a significant John Denver influence throughout the album, especially on tracks like “Something Of Me”.
I really enjoyed this album. Lovely laid back easy listening folk-country.

No comments:

Post a Comment