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Monday 2 October 2017

Oct 2017

We’ve quite a variety of new releases to tell you about this time around.
One of the strongest albums I’ve heard for a long time has to come from Texan CURTIS GRIMES.
He is, yet another, “discovery” of “The Voice” TV show, but, like the title of his album, he is “Undeniably Country”. With a feast of steel and fiddle, this is a real gem of an album for real Country fans.
He kicks off with “Everything Hank Did”, a superb song that really captures the Hank sound, 21st century style. And he rounds it all off with “Ten Year Town”, which tells of arriving Nashville and its heritage. It’s a brilliant account about how the city has changed over the years.
He is certainly making a statement about today’s Country music scene.
On “If You Ask Me”, a more gentle number, he even reckons that “the best of Country music died in 1989”- controversial stuff!
He's currently promoting his single 'Right About Now' which held the #1 spot for two consecutive weeks on the Texas Regional Radio chart. The track - co-written by Grimes with his producer Trent Willmon, is a good upbeat number.
It follows the earlier single, 'From Where I'm Standing', written by fellow rising country stars Thomas Rhett, Chris Janson, and Jaron Boyer. This track has quite a George Strait feel to it, and namechecks Conway Twitty along the way. The mighty Merle gets a namecheck too, on “Put My Money On That”.
Now based in Nashville, Grimes is currently on tour across the USA, playing festivals, fairs and sold-out headline shows, with plans to visit the UK early in 2018.
His album is pure Country. I enjoyed it a lot. He’s the real deal !

There’s no doubting that TOBY KEITH has been one of the most interesting characters on the Country music scene since he first appeared on the charts back in 1993. 24 years on, and 18 albums later, he has come out with something a bit different.
“The Bus Songs” (Thirty Tigers) is a collection of songs that you can really imagine him singing on the tour bus, just messing around. The subjects range from smoking weed, big women, easy women, golfers, drunks and marines.
The language is colourful, even in the titles.
He comes over as a cross between Shel Silverstien on his classic comedy albums, and Jerry Reed without his guitar. His version of “The Critic” has a “King Of The Road” feel to it, not so much Roger Miller’s version, but rather the one that poked fun at all the TV cops.
Yet, I actually quite like the album. The production is stripped back, and I really think, we’re getting to hear the real Toby Keith.
“Running Block”, about going on a blind date, to help out his buddy, is really catchy, if a little sexist, or should that be size-ist!  By contrast, “The Size I Wear”, “Brand New Bow” and “Get Out Of My Car” finds him showing less than total respect to the fairer sex.
But, it’s a fun album, and I shouldn’t read into it too deep.
Worth a listen !

I have to confess that I’m no fan of BIG & RICH. When they first appeared on the scene back in 2004 with “Save A Horse (Ride a Cowboy)”, I thought it was one of the worst records to have ever come out of Nashville. I still do.
But their new album, “Did It For The Party” (Thirty Tigers) isn’t ALL that bad!
That’s not to say that Big Kenny & John Rich have changed their sound. Tracks like “Congratulations (You’re a Rock Star)” with its “Ching Ching” lines, I could live happy never to hear again. I also didn’t care much for “Funk In The Country”.
But there is some good stuff. I really liked the opening track, “California”. It has the feel of one of these driving with the top down songs. There’s a good Country rock beat to “Wake Up Wanting You”, whilst “Smoke In Her Eyes” has a good modern sound.
“The Long Way Home” is a good song, which leads nicely into “Freedom Road”, which is probably my favourite track on the album. It’s strong on harmonies.
Talking of harmonies, the most different track on the whole album has to be “My Son”, which features gospel group, The Isaacs. It’s a real classy piece. So different to the ching chings earlier.
“Lie, Cheat Or Steal”, which closes the album is also quite a pleasant ballad.
Really pleased to discover that there’s much more to Big & Rich than the songs which radio insist on playing from them. 

Texan CASEY DONAHEW has been making inroads on the Country scene over the last decade or so, with six albums to his credit. The last three have all made the Top 10 on the Country Album sales chart, and his latest, “All Night Party” peaked at No.3, which is no mean feat.
He grew up just outside of Fort Worth, and was active on the Texas rodeo scene for a while.
Most of the tracks are quite upbeat, modern Country numbers, from the opening “Kiss Me”, through “Feel This Right” and “White Trash Bay”. The duo Love & Money guest on “College Years”.
“What Cowboys Do” is a strong Country number, but probably my favourite track on the album is the Mexican flavoured “Jose Escalido”,with some lovely TexMex accordion and horn section. It has a real modern day Marty Robbins feel to it. And it come from his own pen too.
Now his music is spreading over here. He’s in London for the Texas Music Takeover Festival this month, which can only win him more fans.
It’s a bright, fun record. I think we’ll like him over here.

TOM RUSSELL is something of a legend in Americana music. Indeed his brand of story telling songs was universally praised long before the genre of Americana was coined.
Originally from LA, his musical career was born in Vancouver, before relocating to Texas. His latest album, “Folk Hotel” (Proper Records) is his 28th studio album.
He has long blended folk, rock and Country, alongside cowboy ballads and songs of the American west. That blend continues on this new offering.
“Leaving El Paso” and “I’ll Never Leave These Old Horses” recapture that old western feel, whilst “Handsome Johnny”, about JFK, has more of a simple folk ballad. “The Last Time I Saw Hank”, is his country stars’ drinkers anthem- come gospel number, also mentioning George Jones, Jesus and his father and mother.
“Harlan Clancy” begins essentially as a poem, which Tom narrates so effectively, before developing into a story life song. 
Before he got into music, Tom was already well travelled, having worked in Nigeria, Norway, Spain  and Puerto Rico. As a performer, he is a regular visitor to Europe, and on this album he has several European influences, in songs like “The Sparrow Of Swansea”, “All On A Belfast Morning”, “The Day They Dredged The Liffey” and “The Rooftops Of Copenhagen”.
He has a couple of guests on the album, including Eliza Gikyson, who provides harmonies on a couple of tracks, and Joe Ely, who duets on Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, the only song on the album not written by Tom.
The album is finished off with some of Tom’s own artwork.
It’s an interesting experience. One for those that love stories in their songs.

JACK TEMPCHIN is the Eagle that never was.
He wrote several of the bands classics including “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, “Already Gone” and “The Girl From Yesterday”. He also wrote extensively with Glen Frey during the Eagles hiatus period.
Tempchin has also written dozens of hits for big names from George Jones and Emmylou Harris to Candye Kane and Tom Rush, as well recording a number of albums in his own right.
His latest, “Peaceful Easy Feeling: The Songs Of Jack Tempchin” (Blue Elan Records”, is essentially dedicated to the memory of Glenn Frey.
Every song, bar one, was either recorded by The Eagles, or written, or co-written with Frey. They include the iconic title track, “Already Gone” and “It’s Your World Now”. I really like the version of this song, which features mandolin and dobro from Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson.
The tempo is raised on the rather rocky “Privacy” and “Everybody’s Gonna Love Somebody Tonight”.
The only track not related to Glenn Frey is “Slow Dancing (Swaying To The Music)”, which is Jack’s other “Greatest Hit”. Originally a huge hit for Johnny Rivers, it has been recorded several times over, and is featured here as a duet with Rita Coolidge. Great to hear her again.
It’s an interesting, alternate take on some of the Eagles songs, straight from the pen of the writer.

If The Eagles are the greatest Country rock band ever, then Poco were never far behind. Their “Rose Of Cimarron” is right up there with “Lying Eyes” in my mind. So, interesting that in the same post as the Jack Tempchin CD, comes one from RUSTY YOUNG.
Rusty was one of the founding members, and frontman of Poco back in the day. The band officially stopped touring in 2014, but there’s a whole lot of Poco influence on Rusty’s “solo” album, “Waitin’ For The Sun” (Blue Elan Records).
Poco were never a band that you’d call Country. But some of their music certainly appealed to our genre. This album does much the same.
The title track has quite a Country rock (Poco) feel to it, with some neat harmonies, which is followed by the reflective “My Friend”, which features former Poco pals Jim Messina and Ritchie Furey. It’s quite a catchy number, with some nice instrumentation.
Other ex Poco members making contributions include Jack Sundrud, Michael Webb and George Grantham.
“Innocent Man” takes you back to the authentic Poco sound, I recall from the late 70’s. 
“Heaven Tonight” is the album’s love song, while “Hey There” takes a few steps back in the storyline. For straight Country fans, “Down Home” is probably the stand out track. It’s catchy, quirky, and features some really neat fiddle.
“Sara’s Song” is a sentimental little song, written as a first dance at his daughter’s wedding. There’s also a musical interlude with the instrumental, “Seasons”.
And it all rounds off with something of an anthem in “Gonna Let The Rain”.
Talk about reliving your youth!

There’s been an abundance of bluegrass music arrived lately.
Around 2004, a six piece band hit Nashville that was to forever change the perception of bluegrass music. THE GRASCALS quickly won over Dolly Parton, who took them on tour, which led to widespread accolades and popularity for their music. They, notably, took bluegrass to new audiences, without sacrificing the genres’ pure sound.
Their tenth album, “Before Breakfast” (Mountain Home) continues the trend.
There are a few upbeat toe tappers, like the opening “Sleepin’ With The Reaper”, “Delia” and the fun filled “Beer Tree”, written by the late Harley Allen and Robert Ellis Orrall. Paul Overstreet and Billy Smith wrote “Lost And Lonesome”, which really impressed me, and the closing track “Clear Corn Liquor” is a real old timey bluegrass song.
There’s also an original instrumental reel, titled “Lynchburg Chicken Run”.
But the strength of this album is the harmonies most evident in ballads like “Lonesome”, co-written by bass player Terry Smith, and the old Osborne Brothers number “Pathway Of Teardrops”. In a similar vein is an old Flatt & Scruggs gospel classic, “He Took Your Place”, and “There Is You”, written by Kelsi Harrigill from fellow bluegrass band Flatt Lonesome.
The least bluegrass/most straight, Country track is “Demons”, a darker ballad from the pens of whispering Bill Anderson and Jon Randell.
The Grascals are brilliant musicians, with the emphasis on bluegrass instruments like banjo, mandolin and fiddle. Together with their strong melodic harmonies, they have a sound that is such a pleasure to listen to.  I’m loving listening to this “Before Breakfast”, or at any time of the day!

Another, equally as good album comes from DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER.  The 73 year old mandolin player has been part of the bluegrass scene for over 50 years, as members of Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys, JD Crowe’s New South and The Country Gentleman, before founding Quicksilver in the late 70’s. 
Fellow musicians in the band include Josh Swift, Joe Dean, Dustin Pyrtle, Eli Johnson and Stephen Burwell.
With 40 albums under their belt, “Life Is A Story” (Mountain Home) is their latest release.
It all kicks off with the reflective “Kids These Days”, which looks back at days gone by, and what today’s kids will be looking back at, in 20 years time. It’s a nice song. “Little Girl” is another by Harley Allen. This time it’s a bit of a social statement, dealing with the problems of kids growing up in troubled situations.
The ones that really stood out for me, included “Life To My Days” and the old George Jones song “Love Lives Again” (written by George Richey, Carmol Taylor and Norro Wilson)
Another nice ballad is the Donna Ulisse written “Guitar Case”. 
Many of the numbers here veer towards ballads, but there are upbeat traditional bluegrass beats shining through, especially on “Life Of A Hard Working Man”, “I See A Heartbreak Comin’”, “Derailled” and “What Am I Living For”. I also enjoyed “Cry Across Kansas” and the break speed finale, “Drivin’ It Home”.
This album really is a masterclass in bluegrass music. Brilliant musicianship, great songs, fast and slow, all well delivered.
Super stuff.

THE EARLY MAYS are a wonderful, three part harmony, Bluegrass / old time trio featuring Emily Pinkerton, Ellen Gozion and newest member Rachel Eddy. Their self titled debut album got to No.2 in the US Folk charts a few years back, and their new collection, “Chase The Sun” (Bird On The Wing Records) is even better.  Their harmonies really shine through, and the instrumentation is so authentic. There is no lead vocalist amongst them. Each can stand out on their own, and together, their voices truly bond.
Recorded in Pittsburgh, the 13 track album features mainly original material composed by the trio individually. They range from the catchy opening track, “Say-O”, to the beautiful ballads like “Amelia”, and the winter hymn “Narrow Of The Year”.
The non-original numbers, include Elizabeth Cotton’s catchy “Oh Babe, It Aint No Lie”, and the gorgeous “Adieu False Heart” which I recall Linda Ronstadt recording many moons ago.
There’s also a couple of instrumental fiddle & banjo numbers.
But the one that will catch most attention is “I Am A Girl Of Constant Sorrow”. The song (in a male sense) was popularised in the “Oh Brother Where Are Thou” movie. But the girls have went back to 1930’s social activist Sarah Ogan-Gunning’s arrangement, to come up with a much slower, sweet version of the song. It certainly worked for me.
Throughout, the album features simple arrangements, which lets the vocals stand out.
It’s a beautiful album.

The name BIG SADIE conjures up all sorts of images. A Chicago based acoustic/bluegrass band isn’t the most obvious thought, but that’s exactly what we have here.
The band is fronted by Windy City native Elise Bergman, and Appalachian Collin Moore. Together they have blended their influences together. They have been thrilling audience over the past decade, yet “Keep Me Waiting” (Spindle Tree Records) is their debut album.
Well, the wait is over, and it was well worth the wait.
Here, we’ve got a lovely album of old timey bluegrass songs and tunes, which I, for one, really warmed to.
The 12 track all original album kicks off with a couple, which feature lead vocals from Elise. “Only You” has a really strong Country kick to it, which I really liked.
Collin takes over the vocals on “Before Morning”, a good modern bluegrass ballad, with stunning harmonies from Elise. “Need Your Love” is a strong banjo infused bluegrass track, lead by Collin, whilst “Same For Me” is quite a mainstream ballad.
Collin also leads the vocals on the title track, an old timey, almost ragtime feeling fun number.
Elsewhere Elise fronts on the softer “Like A Fool”, the bluesy “Baby It Aint You”, “Next Train Home”  and the folksy “Good Woman”. Quite a contrast in styles, but she shines on them all.
There also a quirky instrumental, “Anni’s Orchard”.
I really enjoyed this album. Let’s hope we get a visit from Big Sadie soon!

Keeping in the bluegrass vein, Michigan’s MARK LAVENGOOD has been stirring up a lot of interest with his third album, “We’ve Come Along”. The multi-instrumentalist is renowned for his dobro playing, which is evident throughout the album.
On the epic 7 minute title track, which opens the CD, Mark plays guitar, dobro, congas, bongos, tom tom and claves, as well as delivering the vocals.
He does have original self written numbers, including “America”, an alternative patriotic song, which may stir a few thoughts along the way.
But he also features some well-established covers, like a rip roaring version of “Ol’ Slew Foot”, a bluegrass version of Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”, and an authentic old timey cover of Arthur Smith’s “Bound To Ride”.
Throughout, Mark is supported by Kyle Rhodes and Jason Dennie on guitars & mandolins , Spencer Cain on Upright bass, and the influential Keith Billik on banjo.
It’s an interesting album.

THE 19TH STREET BAND is an adventurous band, crossing genres from bluegrass to rock, led by Caolaidhe Davis, from Hollywood, Northern Ireland, who emigrated to America’s East Coast back in 2005. He recently brought his music home to Belfast and Bangor, and brought a six track CD, “The Things That Matter” with him.
Joining Cally in the band is his wife Meghan, a trained violinist, whom he met when she was working in a Washington DC Irish Bar. Fast forward a few years, and the couple found themselves living on 19th Street in Arlington, Virginia, and the band name was born.
The CD features a wide mix of styles, a few just a bit too rocky for me, but I did enjoy the catchy bluegrass flavoured opening track “Jump In The Water”.
“Trouble” is also an upbeat number, with lead vocals from Meghan, which I really liked.
The title track is starts off as an emotional ballad, but picks up the tempo nicely.
Doing an internet search for them, brings up Johnny Cash & Dixie Chicks covers, so Country music certainly features in their repertoire.
They have a good sound, and hopefully their next trip over, will see them spread the word further afield.

Irish Country music can be a rather typecast genre. So it’s refreshing when an Irish songwriter appears who does not fit the usual picture.
CIARA SIDINE’s songs lend themselves more to Americana, Roots and Country Blues. Her vocal style has been likened to Maria McKee, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and  Mary Black. To my ears, she’s her own singer. “Unbroken Line” is her second album, following on from 2011’s “Shadow Road Shining”.
Her songs are modern day songs of social justice, with a style stretching back into the past.
The opening track, “Finest Flower” reclaims the voices of women from Ireland’s Mother And Baby Homes, whilst “Watching The Dark” has a smokin’ bluesy feel to it.
“Wooden Bridge” is a fast paced number that bridges the folk revival sound of the 60’s with a Johnny Cash beat. I just loved the acoustic feel to “Little Bird Song”, which closes the album. It has a really nice old timey feel to it.
“River Road” is a pleasant ballad, and I did also enjoy “Take Me With You”. The title track is a nice ballad, although quite mainstream.
Other tracks do lead towards a more bluesy jazz sound.
The songs were all written by Ciara (one with Conor Brady). One that caught my attention was “Woman Of Constant Sorrow”. She has written new lyrics, and has a completely different arrangement to The Early Mays version mentioned earlier.
The album was recorded in Dublin, and proof that not everything out of Ireland is aimed at the dance scene.

Coming home, and Tayside’s Joe Ogilvie & Alex Mills are best known on the local Country club scene as duo, Tin Star. But Joe & Alex have been around for many years, and have written a good number of songs between them. Now they’ve put them down on CD for the first time under the name MILLS OGILVIE.
“Yesterday And Today” is a collection of self penned songs, some of which are many years in the process. Some were, perhaps, not written as Country songs at the time, but they all come together in a modern Country sound in 2017.
Recorded in Dundee, the CD features 12 tracks.
Some of the tracks have quite a pop/rock beat, notably “Someone You Don’t Know” and “Lady Of The North”. Others like “Woman’s Eyes” have a big ballad feel to them.
Other tracks are quite melodic, like “Crazy” and “Losing You”, whilst “Good Old Honky Tonk” is just what’s on the label – a good old honky tonk song. I also liked the beat of “How Lucky”, one that’ll keep the feet tappin’ and dancers on the floor.
One of the tracks, “Good Ol’ Memories” was written by fellow Dundonian Les Barr. It’s a stone Country number, as you would expect.
These songs have been kept under wraps for too long. It’s time for them to be heard. The CD is available at Tin Star’s gigs across the country or through Joe on 07924 490194.

PETER McCLELLAND is quite a busy musician down on the Sussex scene. He plays in two folk music bands (The Blackthorn Band and ThingumaJig), as well as Country band, Montana Rain.  And he has his own solo projects, like his new CD, “Carolina Sky”, (Hobgoblin Records) which is a collection of Pete’s original songs recorded in Sussex and Nashville.
The album takes its inspiration from a number of coast to coast North American road trips. The collection kicks off with the aptly titled “The Appalachian Way”. It really captures the anticipation of a trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The title track is a light and catchy little number, whilst “The Willow Tree” is Peter’s take on an old English Folk song, but has a really nice Country feel to it, none the less.  “Walk This Road” has a bit more of a contemporary sound, but still has a Country air about it. Pat Severs steel guitar delivers that.
“Thinking Of a Song” is apparently influenced by Don Williams, and I have to say that “A Kind Of Kindness” also has quite a lazy Don sound to it too.
Just a couple of tracks seemed to veer off course, notably “War Of Love”, which has more of a continental aura to it, having been inspired following a stay in Germany , whilst “Marie” has a bit more of a Southern blues influence.
Peter plays acoustic, classical and electric guitar, ukulele, banjo and mandolin, and is joined by a number of musicians including Pat Severs (ex Pirates of The Mississippi).
It’s a really pleasant listen.

MATT PATERSHUK is a singer songwriter from Canada’s western provinces, born in BC and living now in Alberta. “Same As I Ever Have Been” (Black Hen Music) is his third album, recorded at Bryan Adams’ Warehouse Studio in Vancouver.
The album had me in two minds. It opens with a rather rocky “Sometimes You’ve Got To Bad Things to Do Good”, which didn’t appeal much to me.
But then he slowed things down with “Gypsy”, and then got into my groove with the catchy “Hot Knuckle Blues”. He came across as a Kris Kristofferson character on this one.
“Blank Pages And Lost Wages” was one of the real Country tracks that appealed to me.
Throughout several tracks, Saskatchewan born folk singer Ana Egge added some really neat harmonies, which is what really won me over. Steve Dawson’s pedal steel just added the icing to the cake.
The title track is a slow Country ballad that really impressed.  “Atlas” is quite a story song. The delivery is quite impressive. And “Sparrows” is quite an effective number too, with some added saxophone, which worked well.
In closing, he delivers an extremely simple 6 ½ minute folky ballad, which was quite infectious.
There were a few of the other tracks that were a bit bluesy, or rocky for me, but, all things considered, there was more than enough for me to say it’s worth checking him out.

AMELIA WHITE is a singer songwriter described as an “East Nashville soothsayer and rock/Americana poet”, who has built up quite a following in Europe.
Her latest album, “Rhythm Of The Rain” (White-Wolf Records)  gets its UK release on October 27th .
She wrote or co-wrote all 9 tracks. He co-writes include the upbeat “Sinking Sun” with Anne McCue and Rich McCully, and the slower “Yuma” with songwriter Ben Glover. This one is a really nice ballad, which, for me, is one of the highlights of the album.
There’s also collaborations with Lori McKenna, John Hadley and Liverpool’s Worry Dolls (Zoe Nicol & Rosie Jones).
The title track is a smokin’ slow burning haunting ballad, as is “Sugar Baby”.
It’s a pleasant listen. A little more rocky than your average Americana singer songwriter album.

RAY WYLIE HUBBARD is something of a legend down in Texas singer songwriting circles. Although born in Oklahoma, he moved to the Lone Star State, when he was seven years old.
His early success as a writer was down to writing “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother”, recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1973.
Ray Wylie has recorded 16 albums prior to his latest release “Tell The Devil I’m Getting’ There As Fast As I Can” (Bordello Records), which gets it’s UK release this month.
Now at the age of 70, his voice is raw and lived in. That helps in the delivery of the songs. He tells a story in his songs, most notable on tracks like “House Of The White Rose Boquet” and “Old Wolf”,
and “Lucifer And The Fallen Angels”.
“Open G” is a guitar master class. It may go above the heads of folks like me, but to musicians, I’m sure it’ll appeal.
He has a number of guests popping up on the album. You’ll find Eric Church and Lucinda Williams on the title track, which is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Then Patty Griffin joins in on “In Times Of Cold”, where the harmonies work well together.

This album really has a raw authentic Texan Country sound.

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