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Tuesday 7 April 2015

April 2015

Country music compilations are nothing new. Sony Music’s latest mass market seller is “First Ladies Of Country”, a 2CD , 43 track, collection of Country girls, old & new.
As with many such compilations, many of tracks are the same hits which keep coming out. The diehard fan will already have many of these tracks, but they are the songs that are most likely to sell the album, (and the newer names on it) to a wider audience.
You wont be surprised to find Dolly’s “Jolene”, Tammy’s “Stand By Your Man”, Patsy’s ”Crazy” and “Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden”. There’s also Emmylou. Linda Ronstadt, Tanya Tucker, Billie Jo Spears, The Judds and Martina McBride.
Some of the songs are a little less obvious. I wouldn’t consider “Fancy” to be one of Reba’s obvious selections, and Allison Krauss has more recognisable songs than “Simple Love”.
Some of those included are hardly worthy of “First Lady” status. Gretchen Wilson, did burst onto the scene with “Redneck Woman” in 2004, and Heidi Newfield, short time member of the group Trick Pony, went solo in 2008 to release “Johnny & June”, which failed to hit the Top 10.  There’s a cover version of “Need You Now” by Wonderland, an Irish girlband formed by Louis Walsh which disbanded a few years ago. There’s also a track by Swedish duo, First Aid Kit, who have had some TV exposure over here, but hardly established.
However, great to see Elizabeth Cooks “Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman”, and the real version of Sara Evans’ “No Place That Far”, complete with Vince Gill’s harmonies. When the song was originally released here, they stripped Vince’s harmonies from the track to make it sound less Country.
These compilations are always hard to review. Getting the balance right, between making it commercially attractive to record buyers, and useful to radio in new material, will always be a difficult job. With 43 tracks it’s great value, either way.

The recent Country2Country Festivals around Europe, and spin off concerts in Glasgow, brought some of the newer Nashville names to our attention. Congratulations to the Humphead label, who have come up with a 20 track compilation to mark the event, simply titled “Country to Country”.  Unlike to First Ladies CD, this selection doesn’t feature any tried & tested classic Country “sellers”, but will serve to introduce a number of names that the label have released CD’s from here, so this CD will serve as a shopping window for new Country talent.
There are a few names who will be better known, like Vince Gill, Brad Paisley &  Martina McBride, who have appeared at previous C2C events, alongside some of this year’s acts like Luke Bryan, Kip Moore and Lee Ann Womack.
The most satisfying thing about this album is the inclusion of British acts, like our own Raintown, The Shires, Ward Thomas, and a stand out track from Alan West.
This album serves as a great reminder an event, which may just be a memory by the time you’re reading this. It also serves as a sample of the best of what Country music is today.

LUKE BRYAN has established himself as one of Nashville’s top male stars since bursting onto the scene back in 2007. Before getting his own record contract, the Georgian native had written songs for the likes of Billy Currington and Travis Tritt.  He has won the CMA’s Entertainer Of The Year for the past two years, and made his UK debut in Glasgow last month, followed by headlining the Country2Country festivals around Europe.
“Crash  My Party” (Decca/Capitol Nashville), is his 4th album, and the UK release has an extended 19 tracks featuring no less six tracks that have already topped the American Country charts.
Many of his tracks are hot summer party type songs, notably the opening track, “That’s My Kind Of Night”, “I See You” and “Sunburn Lips”.
“Beer In The Headlights”, “Roller Coaster”, “You’re Mama Should’ve Named You Whiskey” and “Drink A Beer”  have more of a softer summer evening sound, in a rather Kenny Chesney style.
There are a few tracks that stood out, notably “Play It Again”, which I really liked.
“Goodbye Girl” and “Shut It Down” are really nice songs, but “Dirt Road Diary” is probably my favourite.
This is flavour of the month music in Nashville these days. It’s pleasant, easy listening, but it’s not my kind of Country, I have to admit.

KIP MOORE is another of the current crop of Nashville artists who came over for the Country 2 Country Festivals, and included Glasgow in the trip. To coincide with the trip, Humphead released his album “Up All Night”, which was originally released stateside in 2012.  The Deluxe edition does include seven extra cuts, including his debut single “Mary Was The Marrying Kind” and five live tracks.
Moore, from Georgia, moved north to Nashville in 2004, initially to become a songwriter.Then MCA signed him, and this album is the result.
Every track was written by Kip, with help from some of Nashville’s elite writers, including Brett James, Aimee Mayo and Troy Verges.
There’s quite a mix of styles. From relaxing ballads, like “Hey Pretty Girl” and “Faith When I Fall”, to more of a soft rock approach on “Beer Money”, to the more  raw and earthy “Fly Away”, and “Something ‘bout A Truck”. Kip has a definite modern sound, but it’s a modern approach that encompasses Country music. Not everyone in Nashville manages that these days.   
I really liked his debut single, “Mary Was The Marrying Kind”, but have to say that I did quite enjoy the whole album. His second release shouldn’t be far behind.

Another c2c Festival artist was JASON ALDEAN, who has notched up no less than 12 Number One’s from the six albums he has released over the past ten years. Sony Music in the UK have now made all his albums available here for the first time, including his latest album, “Old Boots, New Dirt”.
The album is certainly value for money, with no less than 18 songs, written by accomplished singer songwriters like Rhett Atkins, Neil Thrasher, David Lee Murphy and Dallas Davidson, amongst others.
The tracks range from rather pop sounding numbers like “Burnin’ It Down” , which was the first US single from the album, to softer Country ballads like “Tryin’ To Love Me”, “Don’t Change Gone”  and “Too Fast”.
The title track is a mid tempo track, with a strong production. “Miss That Girl”, the UK single release, is a rather pleasant, if uninspiring song. What track would I have chosen for a UK release ?  Maybe “Fast Lanes”, a soft rock ballad, although my favourite track is the ballad, “Aint No Easy Way”, which closes the album.

So much for Country2Country. We all know that if it’s real Country music you want, then Caithness is the place to be. This year’s Northern Nashville Festival is full of great Texas music, and this next album really got me in the mood.
COBY CARTER is a young man steeped in Western Swing. He was born in Lubbock,Texas and grew up across the state line in New Mexico.
His debut album, “Legends”, is dedicated to Western Swing and Texan influences like Ray Price, George Strait, Buddy Holly and even Glenn Miller!  The project is produced by Bobby Flores, and really captures the Texas Dance hall spirit.
Many of the tracks are uptempo dance numbers, like “Somewhere In Texas”, “Back In The Swing Of Things” and “West Texas Town” (which also features Jody Nix).
He covers George Strait’s “Dance Time In Texas”, and with George coming off the road, this lad could just be the one to fill his travelling shoes.
But there are some real slower numbers, which Cody handles just as well. They include Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town”, Conway Twitty’s “Lost In The Feeling”, and Buddy’s “True Love Ways”.
Leon Rauch and Jake Hooker join in the fun on “That’s What I Like About a Country Song”.
And the Glenn Miller influence ? A western swing version of “In The Mood”, no less.
Young Coby covers a lot of ground on this album, but maintains a fabulous authentic western swing feel throughout.
A must have for Caithness next year !

Someone who is at this year’s Caithness Festival, as he has been in recent years, is local lad, BRANDON McPHEE. 18 year old Brandon has something of a double career. He is highly accomplished in traditional Scottish music circles, as a master of the 3 row button key accordion, and indeed, is the current All Scotland Senior Accordion Champion. But, there is also “The Country Side” to Brandon, which just happens to be the title of his new CD (Pan Records), and this is the side of Brandon that Caithness Festival goers will enjoy on the Saturday afternoon.
The youngster has, of course, worked with Manson Grant & The Dynamos for the past few years, and Manson, Robert & Keith all contribute to the album, which also features Nashville musicians like Steve Hinson on steel guitar, Hank Singer on fiddle, and Music City based Orcadian Phil Anderson.
I quite liked the variety of songs. He’s obviously a big Billy Ray Cyrus fan, covering some of his hits like “She’s Not Crying Anymore”, “Where’m I Gonna Live” and “Could’ve Been Me”. There are a few older songs, like Haggard’s “Branded Man”, Olivia’s “Let Me Be There” and Cash’s “I Got Stripes”.
I enjoyed hearing his version of  “It Must Be Love”, written by Keith Macleod’s father, David, as well as “Rose Of My Heart” and “Wagon Wheel”.
It’s a real feel good album. Brandon handles the songs well, and the whole project is very well produced.
Highly recommended.   

I’ve been championing the music of TEEA GOANS in recent years. She’s one of the few Nashville based singers who are keeping traditional Country music alive, through her own music. She is regularly featured on the Country Family Reunion TV series, and recently nominated for an Ameripolitan Award.
Her third album, “Memories To Burn” (Crosswinds) is a step back in time, as Teea revisits some classic, but not overdone Country songs. Songs, she says, “that would be familiar to many, but still allow for an experience of rediscovery”.
She kicks off with a medley of “Old Fashioned Love” and “What A Wonderful World”. Following on, Merle Haggard is remembered in “Sing a Sad Song” and “You Take Me For Granted”, Gene Watson on the catchy title track and Ronnie Milsap with “Stranger Things Have Happenned”.
A big fan of the late Ray Price, Teea covers “I Wont Mention It Again”, and lets it swing on Charlie Walker’s “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”. 
She does a delicate version of “What’s Forever For”, written by Rafe Van Hoy, and also features the old favourite hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”.  As a bonus, there’s also a couple of Christmas tracks.
Teea is a lovely singer, and does a really good job delivering these songs. An album, I could listen to over & over again.  

In the last issue, my colleague Ken MacLeod commented on the aging Grand Ole Opry cast list, and mentioned JIM ED BROWN as one of the oldest regulars. He first appeared on the Country scene with his sisters Maxine and Bonnie, as The Browns, back in the 1950’s. and started releasing solo records in 1965, and then duets with Helen Cornelius. According to Wikipedia, Jim hasn’t released a new album since 1980 (a duet with Cornelius), and his last solo album was back in 1974!  It’s really hard to believe!
But Jim Ed is back, at the age of 81, with a long overdue new album, “In Style Again” (Plowboy Records).
It’s an easy listening album, with one or two older songs, but mainly new material, written by Don Cusic, who produced the album. Several of the songs are quite a reflection on life, with titles like “It’s A Good Life”, “Older Guy” and “The Last One”.
Quite a few of the tracks are commercial enough for today’s Country radio.  Standing out for me would be “Lucky Enough”, which was written by Opry pal Bill Anderson, and Canadian youngster Victoria Banks.  “I Love It”, the old Cindy Walker song is given new life. It’s dated, but just so classy.
“Tried And True” is also a catchy number, and features harmonies from none other than Vince Gill.
There are other guests on the album. The Whites join him for the old Forester Sisters hit “I’d Choose You Again”, and Helen Cornelius, who recorded five duet album’s with Jim Ed back in the 70’s, reunites with him on the classic, “Don’t Let Me Crossover”.
And The Browns are reunited for a really special version of “When The Sun Says Hello To The Mountain”. Those unique Brown’s harmonies blend together with Chris Scruggs pedal steel so beautifully.
But, saving the best for last, “Am I Still Country” is a light hearted poke at how Country life (not just the music) has become more cosmopolitan.
It may be 40 years since Jim Ed had a CD out, but he is definitely “In Style Again”. Let’s hope it’s not 40 years before the next one!

Country music has many different facets. One that has stood the test of time, is Western Swing. Bob Wills is credited with being the king of the genre, but Ray Benson and ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL have certainly done their bit to keep the music alive. “Still The King” (Proper) is an incredible tribute to Bob Wills from Asleep At the Wheel and a whole list of Nashville and Texan stars.  This is, in fact Asleep At The Wheel’s third Bob Wills tribute album. Yet, it still sounds fresh.
Merle Haggard teams up with newest Asleep member Emily Gimble (granddaughter of fiddler Johnny Gimble) on “Keeper Of My Heart”, and Willie Nelson joins The Quebe Sisters on “The Navajo Trail”.  George Strait is “South Of The Border, Down Mexico Way”, and Brad Paisley  has “My Window Faces The South”.
Of the lesser known names, Kat Edmonson delivers a smouldering jazzy version of “I Cant Give You Anything But Love”, and I just love Elizabeth Cook’s take on the 30’s tune “I Had Someone Else Before I Had You”. I love Ray Benson’s sleevenotes referring to Cook’s “Betty Boop” style!
The Devil Makes Three gives us “Bubbles In My Beer” and it’s left to Shooter Jennings to deliver his dad Waylon’s own tribute song, “Bob Wills Is Still The King.
There are some really authentic old timey numbers courtesy of Pokey La Farge, Old Crow Medicine Show and Robert Earl Keen, who joins Ray on “Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas”.
Del McCoury lends his vocals to “Silver Dew On The Bluegrass Tonight”,
A Bob Wills classic that always stands out is “Faded Love”, and the version here is no exception. It’s a blending of two superb bands, Asleep At The Wheel and The Time Jumpers, with no less than seven vocals, including Ray Benson,Vince Gill, Ranger Doug, and the recently deceased Dawn Sears. The track was recorded in Vince’s own studio, and is a fitting tribute to Dawn.
22 tracks, great value, and a really honest tribute to the man who inspired Ray Benson, and so much of Texas music.

Once upon a time, we had “Country & Western” music. Over the years, the western side has taken a back seat, but it does still exist. One of the biggest supporters of the western sound is JONI HARMS, who has toured here several times. She’s back in the autumn. Sadly, despite trying to get a Scottish date, it looks like she wont be heading north of the border this time.
But we can, at least, enjoy a most interesting double album from the voice of the west.  It’s a live album, not recorded in her native Oregon, but in Ireland, and is appropriately titled “From Oregon to Ireland”.  Across the 22 tracks, she’s supported by The Sheerin Family Band, and the project is produced by Des Sheerin.
Fans will recognise some of  her most popular numbers featured here, like “Old Fashioned Girl”, “Louisiana Hot Sauce”, “Two Steppin Texas Blues”, “Cowboy Up” and “Catalog Dreams”, but there’s some good, newer material too. “Harms Way” is a beautiful personal ballad about her family upbringing. And there’s a big of a western/celtic feel to the title track. It’s certainly one that will get your feet tappin’.
I remember seeing Joni play at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry a few years back. She’s certainly a superb entertainer, and that really comes across on the album. Glad to hear she got a two song encore, wrapping it all up with her theme song, “Let’s Put The Western Back In The Country”.
Let’s give Joni a big listen on this entertaining double CD.   

The Humphead label have come up with a great series of definitive collections in recent years. Their latest 2CD collection is from PATTI PAGE, with “Sings Country Memories”.  Best known for her “Tennessee  Waltz”, I wasn’t too familiar with much more of her music. But she did chart 20 times on the Country charts between 1949 right up to 1982, and had a lot more pop hits that didn’t hit the Country charts.
This collection has no less than 50 tracks, many of them covers that were hits for others, like Patsy Cline, Hank Locklin, Leroy Van Dyke, Kris Kristofferson and Marty Robbins.  Interesting to hear female versions of “Big Bad John” and “I Walk The Line”. I also noticed that there are two tracks which are also on the Asleep At The Wheel album, reviewed earlier. Very different versions of “Faded Love” and “South Of The Border”.
Most of the tracks have a wonderful nostalgic feel to them. One track which stood out was her cover of The Bee Gees’ “Words”, which, although a nice version, just didn’t fit the album somehow. Just sounded too modern!
The most interesting track, for me, was “Hello, We’re Lonely”, a duet with Tom T Hall. It’s a wonderful track.  Tom T also features on “We’re Not Getting Old”.
Thanks to Humphead, for a great double album of nostalgia, and for greatly increasing my Patti Page music library.

Now, for something different.  “The 45th Parallel”, is the title of a new CD from NEPTUNE’S CAR, the duo of Holly Hanson and Steve Hayes, who are from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. They have a lovely vocal driven acoustic sound, which I loved.
The title track is about a small town called Atlanta, Michigan, which is located half way between the North Pole and the equator. There’s also a superb uptempo road song, which takes us from Ann Arbor Up North Atlanta”, before they head farther west to Montana, for “Fly Fishing the Big Hole”. 
“BackCountry” is a short medium tempo banjo influenced number, which should appeal to bluegrass and folk fans. “Emily Dickenson” is the track which stood out for me. It’s about a historic poet from Massachusetts.
“River Street” and “The Storm” both features Steve on lead vocals. They offer quite a contrast to the rest of the album, which is lead vocally by Holly.
“Emily Dickenson” is the track which stood out for me. It’s about a historic poet from Massachusetts
9 of the 10 tracks are originals. The exception is a Sandy Denny cover, “By The Time It Gets Dark”, which they deliver as their own.
They have a really nice sound. I really enjoyed this album.

CAROLINE COTTER is a well travelled young lady. She’s worked and lived in places like Thailand, Peru, Spain & Portugal, but home is Maine in America’s north east. She has already got recognition by winning the 2012 Maine Songwriters Association Songwriting Contest. The singer songwriter gets her first major release with “Dreaming As I Do”, an eleven track collection of interesting and varied songs, ranging from the catchy “ Bella Blue” to the simply acoustic closure , “This Place”. In between, there are classical touches in “Journey In C “, and even a couple of effective French language songs. Stand out track for me is “A Midnight Escape”.
Now for some real authentic old timey bluegrass, from Oregon’s THE FOGHORN STRING BAND, who were formed in 2000, and have since taken their music all over the world, from Orkney & Shetland folk festivals to Malaysia, and they’ll be back in Edinburgh & Glasgow next month. “Devil In The Seat” is their eighth album, and they are sounding superb, it has to be said.
Their tracks range from hoedown fiddle tunes like “Chicken Reel” and “Paddy On The Turnpike” to beautiful harmony rich ballads like “What Will We Do” and “Henry Lee”.
Songs led vocally by the guys Caleb Klaunder and Sammy Lind, sound more oldtimey, than those lead by the girls, Reed Willms and Yukon based Nadine Landry.
I really like their sound. A really enjoyable album.

BILL FEEHELY is a singer songwriter, actor and playwright based in Nashville. He wrote the book for “American Duet”, with fellow Music City singer songwriter Marcus Hummon. His musical upbringing was back in New Jersey, with a band called The Ranchers.
Now Feehely is back to music, with an interesting album, titled “Lucky Struck”, produced by his wife Celeste Krenz, who also co-wrote two of the songs.
He has been likened to Steve Earle. I’d say that he’s not quite as edgy as Earle. More of a Mellencamp sound to me. He has a much more smouldering feel to his music, especially on “Independence” and “House Of Cards”.
Tracks like “Thousand Stories” and “I’m Alright” are more uptempo. And “Bottom Town”, probably stands out as the most mainstream Country track on the album.
“Fly Away” is a haunting ballad which works really well, whilst “Wild Horse” has such a lovely feel to it.
He is using voice synthesisers on a few tracks, like “Side Pockets”, but it’s quite catchy, and the steel guitar, and chorus, makes it work.
It’s certainly a different sounding album. One that’s quite refreshing to listen to. Worth checking out.

Finally, another homegrown album, this time from Alloa’s BILLY HAMMOND. His “Shades Of Country” CD was recorded at the town’s Bowmar Soundspace studio, and features a mixed 14 track selection.
The album kicks off with the old Randy Travis hit “1982”, and he goes on to cover Charley Pryde’s “Comfort Of Your Wings” , Becky Hobbs’ “Jones On The Jukebox”, Alabama’s “Old Flame” and Dr Hook’s “Sylvia’s Mother”, amongst others.
There are a couple of Irish flavoured tracks, “Back In 68” and “Belle Of Liverpool”, which are possibly the strongest tracks on the album. I also liked the uptempo version of “Speed Of the Sound Of Loneliness”.

Billy had been singing around local venues for many years. Good to hear him eventually putting some of his favourite songs down on disc. 

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