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Friday 3 February 2017

Feb 2016

BRANDON McPHEE has many strings to his bow. He’s a champion accordionist, and also presenter of the Caithness Music Television programme each week on Keep It Country TV. He’s also built up quite a following on the Country music circuit, both here and in Ireland, and his new album, “In Country Song” (Pan Records) will surely enhance this side of his career.
The album features Robert, Manson & Keith from The Dynamos, where Brandon has served his Country music apprenticeship, as well as Nashville based Orcadian Phil Anderson, Grand Ole Opry staff fiddle player Eamon McLoughlin, Steel guitarist Steve Hinson and Music city session singer Marcia Ramirez. Bringing all that talent together has produced a wonderful sound, which brings out the best in Brandon.
The choice of material is also impressive. There are some well known covers, like “Harper Valley PTA”, “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down”, “Cry Cry Cry” and “Is Anyone Going To San Antone”. But there’s also some impressive, lesser known numbers. Brandon is a big Billy Ray Cyrus fan, and like his previous Country album, he has covered a few Billy Ray numbers, but this time around, he’s chosen some less obvious material.
The title track, is actually the theme to a film that Billy Ray starred in a few years back. It’s a really infectious number that works well here. He also covers “My Everything” and “Bluegrass State Of Mind”, both Billy Ray covers. The album opens with the fun “Milkman’s Eyes”, which was written by Bobby Cyrus (Billy Ray’s brother).
Other tracks include the old Don Williams number, “In The Shelter Of Your Eyes”, Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All”, Elvis’ “Burning Love” and even The Woolpackers’ “Hillbilly Rock, Hillbilly Roll”.
There’s a lot of variety on the album, and really enjoyed it throughout. He’s quite a talent.

In the 12 years since she first appeared on the Country radio, MIRANDA LAMBERT has made quite an impression, with five highly acclaimed albums, six CMA Female Vocalist Awards, and countless other accolades.
Her sixth album, “The Weight Of Her Wings” (RCA) is a double album set, split into two, “The Nerve” and “The Heart”. I’m sure there is some reasoning between the different CD’s, as they are very different albums. I’m missing something though, as I just don’t get it.
CD1, “The Nerve”, has a really strange feel to it. A few of the tracks, like “Highway Vagabond” and “Running Just In Case” sound like they’ve been recorded with very dated equipment, or techniques. I’m sure it’s deliberate. I just don’t know why.
The one track that did impress me was “You Wouldn’t Know Me”, with it’s driving bass. I also quite liked “Getaway Driver”, which is quite a pleasant ballad.
Her latest single, “We Should Be Friends” is quite an irritating pop number, as is “Pink Sunglasses”.
CD2, “The Heart”, is much more of a conventional album, with some really nice sounds on offer.
“Good Ol’ Days” has a real southern lazy summer feel to it, whilst “Like The Birds” has a really catchy feel good chorus line.
“Tin Man”, which opens the CD, is a really nice ballad, whilst I quite enjoyed the closing track, the gentle driving “I’ve Got Wheels”.
But my stand out track has to be “To Learn Her”. Spencer Cullum’s steel guitar intro just makes its’ mark, but Miranda’s vocals are just so Country on this song too. She’s sounds so natural, and mature, with this type of song, I don’t know why she doesn’t do this type of song more often.
Miranda will be here in August. This 24 track CD package will have to keep you going until then.

One of the most refreshing Irish Country albums I’ve heard for some time comes from family group, THE MURPHYS, on their album, “Breaking Ground” (Sharpe Music). The quartet feature dad Pat, with daughters Cindy, Candy and Katie, and they certainly have come up with an original sound.
Their vocals are strongly Irish, which makes them stand out from the crowd, and all the tracks are original, and self written. Candy and Katie are the main writers, with dad contributing on the rousing “Working Mom”, and self composing “Relatively Speaking”. Pat is lead vocalist on the song,
Derek Ryan added his tuppenceworth to the previous single hit “The Man Who Loved Me First”, There’s also an acoustic version of this song added in, as a bonus track to the end of the album.
Family is obviously important to The Murphys. As well as parents being honoured, there’s one for “Sisters”, whilst “Strong Is The One”, deals with father-son relationships.
With them avoiding the typecast “American accent” vocal style, some of the songs do sound a shade folky, but the arrangements are, in the main, Country. The more folky numbers include the gypsy number, “Nelena”.
One of the quirkiest songs on the album, is “Our Beloved Billy”, a bouncy little number. That’s immediately followed by the slower “When Your First Love Says I Do (But To You)”. Two songs that are linked, yet so different.
Other delicate ballads, include “The Empty Room”, a song that explores the emotions involved with Ireland’s Emigration generation.
I loved the whole album, but “The Streets Of Promise” stands out for me. As does the often recorded “My Connermara Marble Ring”, a song actually written by Candy when she was just 16, and sung by sister Cindy.
It’s a little different, but I like it. A group who are “Breaking Ground”. Check out The Murphys.

Country music fans on both sides of the Irish Sea regularly tune into HUGO DUNCAN’s daily afternoon show on BBC Radio Ulster in their droves. He has recorded too many albums to count, over the years, and has just added another to his collection with “The Singer” (Sharpe).
The album includes 16 tracks, including three originals. Local writer Gerard Dornan contributed two numbers, including the lead single “Wee Susie”, which is about Hugo’s mother. Gerard also contributed the catchy “Way Back When”, which is one of the stand out tracks. Vincent Soye, who penned Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 song, also has a cut on this album. It’s another upbeat number called “Fooled Once Again”.
Elsewhere, Uncle Hugo has recorded a wide selection of evergreen favourites, including Irish favourites like “Isle Of Innisfree”, “Patsy Fegan” and “Forty Shades Of Green”. He also offers quite a relaxing version of “Dirty Old Town”. He does his own versions of John Denver’s “Annies Song”, Tom T Hall’s “One More Last Chance”, and a couple of old Seekers numbers, “Morningtown Ride” and “World Of Our Own”.
I liked the CD sleeve, which has quite a little bit of history on Hugo, as singer and radio presenter. It’s also a nice touch to dedicate the album to the late Gene Stuart, who passed away a year ago.
It’s easy listening at it’s best – The Uncle Hugo way !

Another Irish favourite is ROBERT MIZZELL. He’s actually from Louisiana, but has been living and working in Ireland for over 20 years now. His latest album, “Travelling Shoes” (Dolphin Records) is a stone Country selection of 15 tracks, which should go down well fans.
Most of the numbers are good upbeat tracks like the title track, “She’s On The Way”, “God Bless The Farmer”, “John Deere Beer”, “Gone Gone Gone” and Canadian Gord Bamford’s “Day Job”.
There are ballads too, including Mel Street’s “Borrowed Angel”, and the very simple “Like I Never Loved Before”, a hit for Phil Vasser. One that really impressed me was “He Carried Her Memory”, a beautiful ballad previously recorded by Bradley Walker.
Robert goes back to his childhood in “City Of Shreveport”, and revisits one of his hits of a few years ago. He has slowed “Mama Courtney” down to a ballad. If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s about a remarkable foster mother, who looked after no less than 32 children. Robert feels that the slower version helps get the message across.
This is a stone Country album. No Irish Country here. Just pure Country, and, don’t forget to check out our gig list page, because Robert is here in Scotland in the next few weeks.

NIAMH LYNN has been making quite an impression on Irish audiences in the past year, and brought out her debut album towards the end of 2016. “An Old Fashioned Song” features quite a few songs with an old fashioned, almost rockabilly feel to them. Most obvious of these are “Gotta Lot Of Rhthym In My Soul”, and “Aint No Wheels On My Ship” which is almost rockabilly,  and then several Patsy Cline stringed influenced ballads, “Always”, “He Called Me Baby” and even “Blue”, has more of a Patsy feel to it than Leann Rimes.
The title track is the old Billie Jo Spears hit, and she also does her version of  Connie Smith’s “Once a Day”. An interesting cover is an old Susie Allanson hit, “While I Was Making Love to You”, a good upbeat number, which I enjoyed hearing again.
She can deliver a good ballad too. Her version of “Blue Bayou” is a little bit more upbeat than Linda Ronstadt’s version, leading a bit more towards Roy Orbison perhaps.
There is one original song on the album, written by Declan Quinn. “I’m Missing You” is a big powerful ballad, which Niamh handles well.
It’s a good debut offering, Niamh has a sound that’s a bit different from the other Irish girl singers on the scene today.  

One of the freshest Country sounds I’ve heard from a British outfit for a while comes from a six piece band from the English Midlands, who call themselves THE MOST UGLY CHILD. If their name doesn’t catch your attention, then the lyrics on the first track, including “I could’ve been the greatest Country singer, if it wasn’t for my voice”, certainly will.
Centered around the songwriting partnership of Daniel Wright and Stevie-Leigh Goodison, who have been likened to some of the legendary country duos of yesteryear, the band is made up of some of the finest musicians in the Midlands. Current line up includes Matt Cutler and Max Johnson (The Broomhill String Band), the tightest rhythm section in town, Nicole J Terry (The Rip-Roaring Success) on fiddle and ‘Big’ Jim Widdop (The Sadies, Los Pacaminos, Cold Light Of Day, Buck Shot Soup) on pedal steel and dobro.
Their debut album, “Copper And Lace” is pure Country, with some real lush harmonies, the kind not heard since Gram & Emmylou.
The whole affair kicks off with the lively “What Might Have Been”, which really sets the toes tapping, and the really fast “Golden Gates”. “Lungs” has a neat short banjo intro before bursting into a rather boisterous upbeat number.  
There are slower numbers, like the simply arranged “My Pony”, the romantic “Roses” and the steel laced “Just Another Lesson In Pain”.
Stand out tracks for me include “Queen Of The Honky Tonks”, the catchy “Long Gone Woman Blues”, and the traditional sounding “Today You Said Goodbye”. Then “The Bottle And The Fall” needs no explanation.
The harmonies throughout the album are just superb.
It really is one of the most Country sounding albums to come out of these islands for a long long time.

There’s something about Texas Country music that just makes it rise above everywhere else, especially when it’s live. ROBERT EARL KEEN has been plying his music since 1984 and has 18 albums to his credit. One of the most iconic of these was “No.2 Live Diner”, in 1996, which was recorded at Floors Country Store in Helotes, Texas, just outside of San Antonio.
Now he has returned to the same venue and recorded “Live Dinner Reunion” (Dualtone).  The album really captures the feel of a Texas Honky Tonk, with some superb music.
Guests include Lyle Lovett, Bruce Robison, Cory Morrow, Cody Braun, Cody Canada, and Joe Ely.
Like his famous tune, “The Road Goes On Forever” (the finale on the album, which features Ely),  the gig went on, thus, is featured over 2 CD’s, all beautifully packaged like an authentic café menu, complete with graffiti changing cheesy enchilada’s to greasy!
The music is superb. It’s real raw Texan sound, ranging from the western swing favoured “Ninety Nine Years For One Dark Day”, right through to the rocky “Amarillo Highway”, to bluegrass influenced “Hot Corn, Cold Corn” and ballads like “I’ll Go Downtown” and Robison’s “No Kinda Dancer”.
It’s all great stuff. If you cant get to Texas to savour the sounds for yourself, then this is the next best thing!
Incidentally, the land which is now the town of Helotes, where the album was recorded, was once owned by a Scottish immigrant, Dr. George Marnoch. He had a stagepost and post office here, serving the cowboys enroute from Bandera to San Antonio.

Occasionally an album arrives that is just so Country that it blows you away. California raised AJ HOBBS did just that with his album, “Too Much Is Never Enough”(Booker Records), which gets it’s worldwide release on the 17th February.  Whilst AJ is based on the West coast, he does admit to having a lot of Texas in his music, and that shows. He also has a lot of Haggard in his soul as well.
Although he’s played music in various bands for years, it’s only in 2013 that he formed his own band. His first show was opening for Shooter Jennings.
The 12 track album was recorded in several LA studio’s, and produced by renowned West Coast producer and musician Ted Russell Kamp. He calls his music “Outlaw Soul”, but, as I say, there are solid Country influences, especially Merle and Waylon. There’s even a song about them, and a cover of The Hag’s “The Bottle Let Me Down”.  Several other tracks, notably “The Loser” and the closing ballad, “Tomorrow I’ll Be Hurtin’” also have that Hag stamp on them.
The whole album kicks off with the title track, which has quite a rockabilly feel to it, but the Country feel sets in quite quickly. “Daddy Loved The Lord” is a superb number about fighting the booze, and I loved the swing beat to “Are You Going To Tennessee”, again with more than a little Merle influence.
I was also impressed with the honky tonking “Take It Slow”, a duet with fellow Californian Dominique Pruitti. They sound great together.
“A Whole Lot Of You And Me” shows AJ’s more mellow side, and it works real well.
It’s a superb album. This is Real Country music, and one that real Country fans will treasure. There are a few naughty words slipped in on a couple of tracks. Nothing that wouldn’t be out of place in a live honky tonk, but may prevent a radio play or two.  Otherwise, a brilliant album which proves that Country can still be Country!

Now for some Americana releases.
West Viginians STEVE HUSSEY & JAKE EDDY have an interesting album in “The Miller Girl” (Merf Records). Steve is a well known singer songwriter around West Virginia & Ohio, especially in clubs and festivals, whilst 17 year old Jake is a state flat picking champion on guitar, with second place in banjo and third in mandolin.
Steve wrote the songs for the album, and whilst the arrangements were collaborated on between them.
The album was initially a recording project for Steve’s wedding, but grew into a concept album which follows the life of a man, initially lost, but as the album progresses, love sweeps in, and by the tenth cut, everything is rosy. “Long List Of Goodbyes” really stands out for me. It’s a good upbeat, break up song. The opening track is also quite a catchy little number, which entices you into the album.
The title track, is a gentler ballad, which features some nice mandolin.
The whole album is a really nice listen. I really quite enjoyed it. Already it’s had a lot of airplay in Europe ahead of its’ US release. It’s well worth a listen.

Next we have the teaming up of singer songwriters from the southern states and the west coast. BRIGITTE DEMEYER grew up in California on a diet of soul singers like Etta James and Mavis Staples, whilst WILL KIMBOROUGH is from Mobile, Alabama, heavily influenced by the guitar driven rock outfits like ZZ Top, The Allmans and JJ Cale.
But six years ago, they joined their voices and they were destined to make beautiful music together.
Whilst they have collaborated on a couple of album projects, their first duet album, “ Mockingbird Soul” is released this month here in the UK (BDM Music).
Certainly Brigitte’s vocals lean more to the soulful side of things, especially on the title track, “Rainy Day” and “Honey Bee”.
Her vocal style is a bit more mainstream on “Little Easy”, and the opening track, “Eveything”.
Will is no stranger to Americana fans over here, and leads the vocals on “Broken Fences” and “October Song”. “Running Round” is a bright & breezy number, which I’d have no problem playing on Country radio. I also quite liked “I Can Hear Your Voice”.
An interesting album for Americana fans.

JOHN McCUTCHEON is certainly not a new name on the scene. The Wisconsin native has just released his 38th album, “Trolling For Dreams” (Appalsongs). He is best known as an American folk singer, and master of the hammer dulcimer. His biggest claim to fame is writing the wartime peace song “Christmas In The Trenches”.
On this new album, the songs crossover from folk and should interest Country listeners too.
Especially interesting is “Sharecropper’s Son”, which features Tim O’Brien on vocals, and Nashville musician Stuart Duncan on fiddle and mandolin. The legendary pair also feature on the fiddle infused opening track, “Gone”, and the lilting “The Reason I’m Here”.
“Three Chords And The Truth” is an upbeat catchy Country rock number. “New Man Now” is another upbeat track. “This Aint Me” is quite a catchy mid tempo number.
“Between Good and Gone” and “The Bible” are nice relaxing ballads which I also enjoyed.
I found the album to be quite a pleasant listen.

The one way to get noticed is to have a catchy name. ORDINARY ELEPHANT certainly do that. They are the married duo of Crystal Hariu and Peter Damore, who wrote all the tracks on their album, “Before I Go” (Berkalin Records).
They have quite an old timey bluegrass sound, with some nice fiddle, mandolin and banjo.
“Who Am I” is the best testimony to that. It’s a strong bluegrass number, as is “Washington Said East”.
The upbeat “Railroad Man” also stands out. The simple “Leaving Kerrville” also appealed to me.
“Can I Count On You” is a really nice old time waltz that worked really well, and the title track is an equally pleasant ballad.
Ordinary Elephant have quite a pleasant sound. A really nice listen.

THE GRAHAMS are another married duo, with Alyssa and Doug basing themselves in the Nashville area. We have previously reviewed their “Glory Train” album, released back in 2015. Several tracks from that CD are featured again here on their new album. But they are different recordings. Their new project is titled “The Grahams And Friends (Live In Studio)”, and features guests such as The Watkins Family, John Fullbright, The Milk Carton Kids and David Garzia and Suzzanne Choffel, not to mention Alvin Youngblood Hart.  If you follow the Americana scene, you’ll be familiar with these names.
Some of the music featured here, also features in a film documentary called “Rattle The Hocks” which captures The Grahams relentless journey exploring the relationship between America’s roots music and it’s railroads.
The music is quite varied from ballads like “Tender Annabelle” and “Broken Bottle”, through to swinging upbeat numbers like “Gambling Girl” and “Kansas City”.
“Blow Wind Blow” and “The Spinner” both have quite a traditional feel to them whilst “Mama” has quite a gospel feel to it.
Whilst the couple write most of their own material, they have covered “City Of New Orleans”, in quite an original way. It’s well worth checking their version out.
They have quite an interesting sound. I quite like it. Check them out.

Nashville is a versatile musical city. It’s famous for its’ mainstream pop flavoured Country. In an area just across the Cumberland River from downtown is East Nashville, which is where the Americana scene is all the rage. But even within these parts, there are many different styles all trying to get your attention.
ADRIAN & MEREDITH, by their own admission, are “roughing up the genre’s edges, with the rule breaking spirit of punk , the vintage twang of old timey folk , a shake of carefree rock’n’roll, and even the occasional frenetic bounce of early swing”.  Yes, it’s quite a concoction.
Their album is “More Than A Little” and it’s certainly different. The duo, and their musicians certainly exert a lot of energy into their music. Recorded in a local east Tennessee studio with Mark Robertson, who is well versed in stretching Americana music’s boundaries.
There is a lot of catchy fiddle. Thanks to Meredith, whist Adrian leads the vocals.
Some of the tracks that stood out included the driving “Birthday Cakes”, and the catchy “Southern Call”.  Quite an interesting listen.

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