Search This Blog

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Aug 2016

The NASHVILLE TV series has proved to be popular with readers, and you can look forward to Season 4 in the coming months on Sky. I must admit I haven’t seen the programme, and I’m reviewing two CD’s “The Music Of Nashville” Season 4 Volumes 1 and 2, (Big Machine) purely on their musical content.
The series has produced stars in Sam Paladino, Charles Esten, Hayden Panettiere and Clare Bowen. A number of songs have hit the Country charts in recent years, but they haven’t hit the high positions that you’d expect from TV exposure.
I was pleasantly surprised that the music, whilst, in the main part, was original, and modern, it wasn’t as Nashville pop as I expected. One thing I did note was that I didn’t recognise too many of the writers credited, and there were lots of different writers involved. That can only be good in encouraging new writers to Country music. There are a few credits to the more established Al Anderson, Stephanie Lambring, Gordie Sampson, Maren Morris and Matraca Berg.
Some of the tracks that caught my attention included “Plenty Far To Fall” and “The Rubble” (Clare & Sam), “Only Tennessee” (Clare), “Like New” (Charles), “Sleep Tonight” (Chris Carmack & Jonathan Jackson), “Caged Bird” (Aubrey Peebles)  and “I Want To Do Everything For You” (Connie Britton & Riley Smith).
Mark Collie, who had some sizable hits around 1990 plays Frankie Gray in the series, and contributes “Holding On To What I Cant Have”. That gives the series some credibility, if it needed it.   It would’ve been so easy to have filled the series with established Country music, but they’ve avoided that. There is a version of “Crazy”, and I have to say, it’s not a bad version at all. But the inclusion of Steven Tyler singing it, does raise an eyebrow or two.
If you’re a fan of the TV show, or just want to check out some original Country music, then these CD’s with 17 tracks on each volume, are worth checking out.
There’s also UK only digital package “The Nashville Cast : UK Tour Edition”,

MARTINA McBRIDE has a lot to celebrate this year. It’s 25 years since she got her RCA label contract, which netted her a string of half a dozen number one hits. She has also just a celebrated a “big” birthday.
To celebrate, she has just released her latest album, “Reckless” (Big Machine), produced by Nathan Chapman and Dan Huff.
On my first listen, I thought it was a big on the pop side, but the more I listen, the more I’m really warming to it.
The album kicks off with a couple of poppy upbeat numbers including the title track.
But by the time I got to track 5, I was warming to the album. “The Real Thing” features some nice harmony from Buddy Miller. It dips into today’s manufactured world, and appreciates the past. Then Keith Urban joins in on the smouldering “Diamond”, a mid tempo number which reminded me a little of “Independence Day”.
“What’s The Thing About Love”, is a nicely paced uptempo number, which was really catchy.
There are some nice ballads, like the polished “You And You Alone”, which closes the album. It has a very simple piano accompaniment. “We’ll Pick Up Where We Left Off” is another very impressive ballad, with some nice harmonies.
“Low All Afternoon” is probably my favourite track on the album. It’s quite a soft, melodic ballad, which really suited Martina’s style.
After 25 years, we’ve got used to Martina’s sound. However “Reckless” she gets, she doesn’t let you down.

Next up, Missouri native DAVID NAIL, who has quietly been building up a Country music career over the past 15 years. He has had a No. 1 (Let It Rain) in 2011, but hasn’t quite managed to become the big name that he deserves to be. Hopefully, his 4th album, “Fighter” (Humphead) may change that.
This album has been described as his most personal ever, and certainly features no less than seven tracks written or co-written by him.
I do have a bit of a mixed view on David’s music. The first couple of tracks are quite Nashville pop. He just doesn’t stand out from the pack on tracks like “Good At Tonight” and “Night’s On Fire”, which was released here as a single back in the spring when he was over for the c2c festivals.
But there are some nice ballads that I’m really impressed with. “I Wont Let You Go” features some lovely harmony from Vince Gill, and the closing track. “Old Man’s Symphony, which is my personal favourite on the album, features Bear and Bo Rineheart from Christian rock band NEEDTO BREATHE.  There’s also a strong full minute piano intro into “Home”, which features Lori McKenna, who co wrote the song.
The title track, “Fighter”, is also a nice ballad, as is “Babies”.
“Champagne Promise”, which features rising star Logan Brill (who is in the UK later this month at the London meets Nashville Festival) is, to my ears, the most commercial radio friendly track on the album, and must be a future single.
I really enjoyed this album, especially the ballads, and hope this album gets him the attention his music merits.

MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER has just performed at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival, and to tie in with the visit, the New Jersey native released her latest album, “The Things That We Are Made Of” (Lambent Light /Thirty Tigers), here in the UK.
I still love her debut “Hometown Girl” album, and some of the tracks on this new album are quite reminiscent of those early days.
I’m particularly thinking of the opening track, “Something Tamed, Something Wild”, and  “The Middle Ages”, both which I’d rate as the highlights of the album.
“Map Of My Heart” is also quite an upbeat number, but came over just a shade on the pop side.
The title track, which closes the collection is a slow emotional ballad.
“What Does it Mean To Travel”, “The Blue Distance” and “Oh Rosetta” are soft melodic ballads, which I quite liked.
Other ballads, like “Livingston”, “Deep Down My Heart” and “Hand On My Back” are soft smouldering ballads, which have become something of an MCC trademark.
I quite enjoyed the album. Some of the old Mary Chapin, and some of the stuff we’ve grown to love her for.
She doesn’t disappoint.

Georgian native JENNIFER NETTLES came to Country music’s attention as part of  Sugarland in 2004. Since 2012, Jennifer and Sugarland partner Kristian Bush have  worked on separate careers. Her album 2013 album “That Girl” sold 165,000 copies, and topped the US Country charts.
Her follow up, released here a couple of months back, is “Playing With Fire” (Big Machine), a modern album, featuring 12 tracks, ten of which were written or co-written by the singer, alongside the likes of Brandy Clark, Lori McKenna and Shane McAnally.
The title track, which kicks off the album is an upbeat poppy number which didn’t really impress me much. But, listening on, there are some more Country numbers, which really showed just how good a voice Jennifer has.
“Unlove You”, one of the eight tracks co-written with Brandy Clark, is a good strong ballad, as are “Starting Over” and “Salvation Works”.  She really handles these ballads well.
Another Clark co-write is “Drunk In Heels”, a catchy upbeat fun number, which did have a little bit of similarity to Brandy’s “Stripes”. This track really stood out for me.
“Three Days In Bed”, a smouldering ballad, written by Holly Williams was a bit different to the rest of the album. Her solo composition, “Way Back Home” is a bit more of a pop ballad.
The album rounds off with the bouncy “My House” which features another Jennifer – Lopez.
Some of the tracks are a bit too pop for me, but the ballads, especially, are well worth a listen. I did quite enjoy the album.

DIERKS BENTLEY burst onto the scene back in 2003. He has been a constant hitmaker ever since, with 14 Country Number One’s to his credit. Now the singer songwriter from Pheonix, Arizona has released his 8th album, “Black” (Capitol) , which is already proving to be a big winner.
According to the album publicity, “Black” is a 13 track album of break ups, hookups, and mess, from a personal perspective. A lot of the songs, apparently, mirror his relationship with wife Cassidy, whose maiden name is Black.
The album features the hit US Single, “Somewhere On A Beach”, which he bravely released in America in the middle of winter, reaching No.1 in April.
The follow up single is “Different For Girls”, which features Elle King. There’s also a catchy little ballad, featuring rising Country singer Maren Morris.
I do feel much of Dierks music is quite samey. Very little stands out from the pack. In his earlier albums, he used to include a traditional or bluegrass track, but he seems to have moved away from that.
He has built up a huge following, including selling out big venues like The Clyde Auditorium, so he must be doing something right.

Humphead Records continue to release superb CD collections on artists that perhaps aren’t heard as often as they should be these days. They have just issued another two brilliant double CD sets of classics from two of the most admired female singers still singing today.
Firstly, JEAN SHEPARD, whose “Country Music : Pure And Simple” is a superb tribute to Jean, who, at 82, is known as The Grand Lady Of The Grand Ole Opry”.  She was a regular visitor to Scotland in the 1970 & 80’s, and introduced the likes of Gerry Ford, Ruby Rendall and Colorado onto The Opry, and, indeed recorded several duets with Gerry.
The Oklahoma based singer notched up 45 Country chart hits between 1953 and 1978, but is still a regular on The Opry nearly 40 years later.
Amongst the tracks on this 50 track collection, you’ll find hits like “Seven Lonely Days”, “A Tear Dropped By”, “Second Fiddle To An Old Guitar”, “Mercy” and “Slippin’ Away”.
There’s also lesser known classics like “Possession Is Nine Tenths Of The Law”, “Many Happy Hangovers To You” and “If Teardrops Were Silver”.
One surprising omission is her first hit, and only Number 1, “A Dear John Letter”.
But, that apart, this is a wonderful collection. I’ve many of the tracks on Vinyl LP’s but it’s great to get them on CD.
OK, they may sound a bit dated. That’s called nostalgia !
It’s also, as the title says “Country Music : Pure & Simple” !

Also from Humphead comes BRENDA LEE “Sings Country – Ultimate Country Collection”.  Unlike Jean, Brenda was an early crossover star, having started in pop and rockabilly, but Country music was never far from Brenda’s lips.
Indeed, her first Country hit was back in 1957, age 12, when “One Step At a Time” reached No.15. That was two years before her “Sweet Nuthin’s” was a million seller, and got her worldwide recognition as a child star.
She went on to have 35 Country hits, many of them included on this new 50 track collection. They do tend to be from the later part of her career in the 70’s & 80’s.
You’ll find “Nobody Wins” (written by Kristofferson), “Sunday Sunrise”, “Wrong Ideas”, “Big Four Poster Bed”, “Rock On Baby” and “He’s My Rock”, which were all Top 10 Country hits. There’s also a couple of tracks featuring The Oakridge Boys, including the memorable “Broken Trust”.
Brenda is one of Music City’s respected elders, and was called on to announce Randy Travis & Charlie Daniels Hall Of Fame inductions a few months back.
This collection is the ideal way to appreciate her Country music side. She’s perhaps more Country than you may have realised. She did the crossover thing and remained Country throughout.

Our home grown CD this time around comes from Borders based KATHY STEWART
Although a native New Yorker, singer songwriter Kathy has lived over here for over 30 years. In that time she has been seen performing with the likes of John Hinshelwood, The City Sinners and Another Country (I still have a couple of Another Country’s cassettes in the library!), and she has opened for the likes of Tom Russell and George Hamilton IV, and even had a song recorded by Vince Gill. Her first solo release earned her HMV’s Best Country Newcomer title back in 2009.
Her third album, “Almost Home”(Treehouse Records) has just been released. It’s a really lovely listen, although probably leans more towards folk and celtic than Country music.
Recorded in Penicuik, with Dave Gray, the album features Kathy’s band The Frequent Flyers.
Stand out tracks for me, included “Old Campaigners”, with it’s simple piano backing and the opening track “The Shine On You”, which had echoes of Mary Chapin running through it.
I have to say that I also enjoyed “Leaving (A Ghost’s Lament)”, a beautiful song, with some lovely violin and pipes. But Kathy’s vocal delivery really makes it for me.
Kathy wrote all but one of the 10 tracks on the album. The exception is “First Robin Of Springtime”, written by Canadian Bruce Murdoch. Another track, the rather bluesy “Go To Bed Happy” was co-written with fellow Borders writer Bob Lawson”.
In the main, not a Country album, but, nevertheless, it’s a beautiful listen.

Off to Ireland now, JIM DEVINE is another of the rising stars on the scene there. He’s very much concentrating on the upbeat dance scene, if the music on his second CD, “We’re Here To Stay” (De-Vine) is anything to go by.
The album features a variety of Country covers, from “Sold (Grundy County Auction)” and “Why Don’t We Just Dance” to Alan Jackson’s “Remember When”, and “Bob Wills’ “All Night Long”, as well as a couple of Vince Gill songs, “Riding The Rodeo” and “Pocket Full Of Gold”.
He even manages a cover of Bryan Adams “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman”.
From the Irish side, he does a good upbeat “Crooked Jack” from the pen of Pat Gallagher, and a superb version of the ballad, “Destination Donegal”, written by John McCauley. I have to say that these two songs stood out for me.
The production is first class, and Jim can certainly deliver the songs. The Country covers just didn’t make Jim stand out from the pack.
But if you’re appetite is for more new Irish talent, then Jim Devine is one for you.

NATHAN CARTER is the most successful artist on the Irish scene these days. “Stayin’ Up All Night” is his second release for the major Decca label, and has already topped the charts with it.
He proves himself on stage to be a great entertainer, but this album lets him show off his songwriting talents too. He has written eight of the songs featured here. His staple diet is upbeat fun numbers that will keep dancers happy. They include singles “Wanna Dance”, “Temple Bar” and “Skinny Dippin”. Some are collaborations with others like Joe McShane, Don Mescall, his manager John Farry and Canadian Ralph Murray.
He does slow it down on emotional numbers like “Liverpool” (his hometown) “Don’t Know Lonely”, “Island Town”, and “Thank You”, which closes the album.
Nathan has included a few covers, such as Dolly’s “Two Doors Down” and the Kenny Rogers hit “Buy Me a Rose”. He also does quite an original version of the folk classic, “Banks Of The Roses”, which Stephen & Lesley McKenna have composed a line dance for (see the last issue).
Having the freedom to perform his own material, and have the support of a major label is not only good for Nathan, but for the whole UK Country music scene.

For some reason, Jersey has never been a place that you would readily associate with Country Music, but JOHN WORT HANNAM was born on the Channel Island, although is now based in Fort Macleod in Alberta, Canada.
After earning a degree in Native American studies, and teaching on a reserve for three years, he pursued his passion for music. He has a string of Canadian Folk Music Awards, after being influenced by the likes of Louden Wainwright III and Tom Russell.
“Love Lives On” is his 5th album, and was released here to co-incide with a visit here this summer, including The Maverick Festival in Suffolk.
I really enjoyed this album. It has a folksy feel, with a definitive celtic edge to it.
It all starts with the upbeat “Roll Roll Roll”, and the really catchy “Over The Moon”, although he slowed the tempo on tracks like “Chasing The Song” and “Man Of God”.
Although based in Western Canada, his attention was directed eastwards on tracks like “Labrador” and “Good Nite Nova Scotia”.
Stand out tracks for me included the quirky feeling upbeat “Heart For Sale” and the slower “Molly & Me”.
It’s a little different, but I liked it.

TIA McGRAFF is a Canadian singer that has been making waves over the past few years. In fact she introduces herself as a Canadian born of Transylvanian/Scots decent, and married to an American.
She’s been in Nashville since the late 90’s, and it shows on her new album, “Crazy Beautiful” (Bandana Records). It’s a very polished production, recorded in Nashville, Austin and her native Ontario.
Despite her last album, “Break The Chains” getting her recognition on the Roots Music Chart, and various Americana magazines, this album has a much fuller production, and is the sort of sound that Nashville should be putting out.
Edgy, modern Country.
The opening “What A Heart Must Do” is a good uptempo number, as is the catchy “Forever”, but the one that really catches the attention is the rip roaring “Baby’s Got a Banjo”. It is a really commercial radio friendly number.
But there are ballads too, including the title track, “Crazy Beautiful”, the lovely “The One I’ve Waited For”, “Mesa Gold” and the haunting “Wing Walker”.  “Long Ride Home”, which she co-wrote with David Starr and Cynthia Smith Starr, is a really nice track.
And the closing track, “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” deserves a special mention too. It has a gospel feel to it, but with just a simple banjo accompaniment, it really stands out.
I thoroughly enjoyed this album. The modern Country sound I do like.

Another Canadian album, this time a bluegrass CD, comes from THE HIGH BAR GANG, which features the vocal talents of Shari Ulrich, Wendy Bird and Kirby Barber alongside musicians Dave Barber and Barney Bentall, with support from Rob Becker and Colin Nairne.
They formed in 2010, and quickly found a legion of fans on both sides of the Atlantic, and nods from both the Juno Awards and Canadian Folk Music Awards.
Their second album , “Someday The Heart Will Trouble The Mind” (True North) is given a UK release this month. It’s pure, beautiful, bluegrass, rich in harmonies and simple musicianship.
The material is carefully chosen, ranging from Dolly Parton’s “Silver Dagger” and Steve Earle’s “Long Lonesome Highway Blues”, right back to Flatt & Scruggs’ “Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky” and Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”. There’s a couple of Pete Rowan numbers too.
There’s even an interesting arrangement of “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart” credited to Hank Williams and Norah Jones. I wonder how they managed to collaborate on that one.
I love the sound they’ve created on this album. Certainly one for bluegrass fans.

EVE SELIS is something of a veteran in singer songwriter circles. “See Me With Your Heart” (Hippie Chick Records) is her 9th album, and she has a string of San Diego Music Awards, stretching back to 1999.
The album was released to coincide with her latest European tour, which sadly didn’t include any Scottish dates.
The album offers quite a variety in styles.
It opens with quite an upbeat number, “Fearless Heart”, which sounds so mainstream, and should be ideal radio material.
The title track is a nice slow number, whilst “Cant See Past Myself” is quite a pleasant ballad, as is “The Man He Never Was”.
“While The Night Is Young” is a really strong Country ballad that really impressed me.
The closing track, “Love Has The Final say” is quite a strong power ballad.
She can rock it up a big too. “Little Wars” has a good driving beat to it, and works really well. However, “Still Have A Long Way To Go” is an all out rock number . Too heavy for me, I’m afraid.  “Slow Down” is another that’s just a shade rocky for me.
Recorded in Nashville, she co-wrote all the songs, proving that she is quite a talented lady indeed. Quite an enjoyable listen.

IVAS JOHN is certainly a new name to me. He’s the son of Lithuanian immigrants, born and raised in Chicago. His father was a popular fixture on The Windy City’s vibrant folk and blues scene back in the 60’s.
Ivas carries on that tradition on his album “Good Day’s a Comin” (Right Side Up Records). His music is a pleasant mix of Appalachian old timey music, Merle Travis/Chet Atkins influenced guitar picking, and a touch of southern blues.
The album features 4 self penned numbers, another four co-written with his father, and four interesting covers.
His own songs include the opening “Goin’ Back To Arkansas”, and immediately I was transfixed by the neat Atkins style guitar. It’s a style also evident on his other penned numbers, “Roll Mississippi”, “Payday Boogie” and the slower guitar solo instrumental, “Sunday Morning Blues”, which closes the album.
Of the songs, co-written with Dad, “All Along” has quite a Country feel to it, whilst “Things Aint Been The Same” and “Keep Your Train Movin” are certainly more bluesy.
Onto the covers, and two were songs I was familiar with by female singers, so it was interesting to hear the different style here. Firstly Tom Paxton’s “Cant Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound”, I recognised from Nanci Griffiths’ “Other Voices” CD, and Allen Reynolds’ “ Wrong Road Again” was an early hit for Crystal Gayle. It’s a much slower version here though.
His cover of Merle Travis’ “Dark As A Dungeon” is deliberately slowed down, to good effect.  The other track, “Greenville Trestle High” is a catchy bluegrass style train song. I really liked it.
The production has little instrumentation. Just guitars, fiddle, upright bass, mandolin and dobro, with a little light drum. It’s all you need to make beautiful music.
I really liked the whole album. I’m not usually impressed by guitar playing, but Ivas certainly produced a relaxing listenable sound here.

If you’ve any knowledge of American folk music, you’ll be familiar with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. They wrote some of the most iconic songs ever written.
You may not have heard of SPOOK HANDY. And with a name like that, why not, eh!
Spook worked many of the same places as Pete Seeger.  Their paths crossed once Pete began singing one of Spook’s songs, as recently as 2003. Spook’s knowledge of Pete didn’t come through his songs, but more through personal conversations and performing with him for the last ten years of his life. (Pete Seeger passed away in 2014).
This album isn’t intended as a tribute album. According to Spook, it’s about the world we live in today, and the values and concerns embedded in these great songs.
There is, in fact, only one Woody Guthrie song (So Long I’s Been Good To Know You) and four from Pete Seeger’s pen (including “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”). Spook has written four of the songs, including the catchy “Vote”, the song that Pete Seeger picked up on.
There are also updated versions on “My Oklahoma Home Blowed Away”, which both Woody & Pete used to perform.
Most of the songs are upbeat and fun, but the track which really caught my attention was “Hobo’s Lullaby”, written by Goebel Reeves in 1929. “A song Woody taught Pete, and Pete taught me”, according to Spook.
I really liked this album. It’s well produced, well performed, and well put together.

ANNIE KEATING is no stranger to Americana fans. She has played over here several times, including the Glasgow Americana Festival. And the New York based singer songwriter has just released her seventh album, “Trick Star”.
Over the 13 tracks, she covers quite a bit of ground.
The album kicks off with a mid tempo number, “You Bring The Sun”, which is a good start. “Time Come Help Me Forget” and “Creatures” are a bit more upbeat, whilst the title track has a good rock beat to it.
Much of the album is devoted ballads, like “In The Valley” “Trapeze”, “Orchard” and “Growing Season”, but I felt that “Slow Waltz” had a particularly Country feel to it, especially with Chris Tarrow’s infectious steel guitar.
Apparently, the album was born at London’s Barbican Theatre, in a concert featuring The Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The inspiration from that experience found Annie writing “Pheonix”, which closes the album, and features the same Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
It’s a totally different sound to the rest of the album.
Hopefully it wont be long before Annie’s back on tour over here.

MICHAEL McDERMOTT has been performing for over 25 years. Initially he was fusing Irish and American folk music in Chicago coffee houses, later releasing material on big labels like EMI, and hitting the Top 40 on the US Rock music charts.
His latest album, “Willow Springs” (Pauper Sky Records) is released prior to a UK visit scheduled for the end of the year.
It’s an interesting album. Michael has a haunting vocal style, and it suits the eclectic mix of material here.
“These Last Few Days” is an upbeat little number which is quite infectious.
 “Getaway Car” has a really strong Country rock feel to it, whilst the catchy “Half Empty Kinda Guy” has more than a little Irish influence in it.
Other songs, like “Butterfly”, “Shadow In The Window” and “One Minus One” are quite mellow.
“Folk Singer” is another ballad which really worked well. One of the stand out tracks.
“Let A Little Light In” was a bit more upbeat and poppy, but, all things considered, I really enjoyed “Willow Springs”. Something a bit different.

Finally this time, some down home music, courtesy of THE LOWEST PAIR, a duo comprising Kendl Winter and Palmer T Lee. Their album “Fern Girl & Ice Man” (Team Love Records) is just one of two albums they have released lately (the other is titled “Uncertain As It Is”).
The duo were formed three years ago after Kendl, who had already released three solo album on a Washington indie label, and Palmer began playing in string bands around Minneapolis, met on the banks of the Mississippi.
They wrote all the tracks on this release between them (individually). They have quite an interesting sound, very much with a vintage old timey feel to it.  Stand out tracks for me include the opening track “The River Will”, “Sweet Breath” and “Stranger”.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Stewart. I hope you keep up the good work playing acoustic folk music. Keep the Flame Alive!!

    - Spook Handy :->