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Monday 4 December 2017

Dec 2017

We’ve a bumper bundle of new CD’s this time around, just in time for the Christmas market. What’s really good is the number of home grown Scottish releases amongst them, which is where we’ll start this time around.
Back around the 80’s and 90’s, Orcadian RUBY RENDALL was the Sweetheart of the Scottish Country music scene, touring all over the country, appearing on The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and even presenting two weekly Country music programmes for the BBC. 
Since those days, Ruby has been busy encouraging new talent with her own music school in Aberdeenshire.
But now she’s back with a long awaited new album, “Once Upon A Time” (Roadside Records), which finds Ruby sounding as good as ever. The album is produced by her son Robbie, and is as much his project, as he plays guitars, bass and drums throughout the album. Original band members from way back, Gordie Gunn and Phil Anderson are back in the fold, Gordie playing fiddle & mandolin, and Phil using his Nashville (where he’s now based) contacts to get Steve Hinson to add his steel guitar into the mix.
There are four brand new songs, including the title track and the opening number, “Mr High And Mighty”, co-written by Ruby and Robbie. They have also paired up together on “Waiting For The Love I Have Lost”, a beautiful ballad which just has a slight folksy feel to it. It’s certainly one of the stand out tracks on the album.
Another “new” song, is one that has been hidden away for a while. It’s a co-write with old Orkney pal Elaine Grieve on “Sunday Morning”. It’s a catchy “leaving” song, that works really well.
There are four of Ruby’s previously recorded tracks, including her signature “Ruby Red Wine”, which is hauntingly unplugged here, and “Time Goes By”, a song I’ve always loved since it was on her “Captured” album back in 1991. The version here is slightly faster.
One upbeat track which really stands out is “Bright City Lights”, which has quite an Irish Country influence.
To complete the album, Ruby has picked four covers, from Sara Evans, Kellie Pickler, Rosanne Cash and Patty Loveless, so you can get a feel for just who her influences are.
With the young Robbie’s influence, there is a slightly rocky style on a couple of tracks, especially “Never Like This Before”, “Red High Heels” and “Rosie Strikes Back”.  But it’s a style that Ruby’s vocals suit.
It’s great to have Ruby back with this new release, which is available from Grooves Records in Kirkwall, or via Chalmers Mackay Music School. Email for details on payment methods. It's also available thru iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Glasgow born and raised LISA McHUGH continues to one of the most popular of the young artists on the Irish scene, and it’s great to see her spread that popularity back into her homeland, selling out new venues for her, on her recent Scottish tour.
Her latest CD, “Who I Am” continues the formula which has gained Lisa such popularity. It features up beat fun numbers which appeal to the Irish dancing fans, as well as slower ballads for the sit and listen-ers, and some Classic Country, just for good measure.
It all kicks off with the upbeat “Country Girl”, which was written by Lisa and Daniel Martin, and is her latest single. Other upbeat numbers include her last single, “Girl With A Fishing Rod”.
The title track is a song I’ve always loved. It’s also the theme to the TV series “Sue Thomas F.B.Eye”, which started a rerun on the Drama TV channel the same week as Lisa’s album came out. OK, It’s Jessica Andrews doing the TV theme, but still a rather timely coincidence. Lisa gives it a polished, powerful, performance.
There are a few interesting modern covers, including C2C headliners’ Kasey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow”, a catchy number which Lisa does really well, The Shires’ “Daddy’s Little Girl”, and Lori McKenna’s “Happy People”.
But I have to say the two songs which were written by recent Glasgow visitor Brandy Clark, really stand out. “Out Of Heaven” and “Hold My Hand” are both quite heavy ballads, and Lisa delivers!
I also really liked “Dream Of Me”. With quite a down home arrangement, it’s a song which really suits Lisa’s voice.
And for Classic Country, there’s no Dolly this time around, but she does a crackin’ version of Merle’s “Mama Tried”.
It’s another winner from Lisa !

ASHTON LANE are a Glasgow based husband and wife duo of Esther and Tim O’Connor, who have had a great year. They appeared at Country On The Clyde, and The Millport Country Music Festival, stepping up to fill the headlining role when Mark Chesnutt was left stormbound in Texas.
Then a few weeks back their single “Breathe You In” was released and went straight to No.1 in ITunes UK Country chart. The single is a hauntingly beautiful mid tempo number, which is certainly on par with much of the music coming out of Nashville.
There is also a brand new festive single from the couple. “Winter Star” is a haunting ballad which is, perhaps, a shade more pop/contemporary, but a nice listen none the less. I’m sure you’ll hear it on the radio in the next few weeks.
They are very much in the Lady Antebellum style, which really seems to appeal these days.
Not that Ashton Lane are new on the scene. They already have 5 albums to their credit, and have over 1.6 million views to their “Kitchen Sessions” online.
A different version of “Breathe You In” is featured on their most recent album, “Nashville Heart”, which we haven’t reviewed here, so will correct right now.
“Nashville Heart” was recorded not in Music City, but in Motherwell, at The Foundry Music Lab. But the studio can capture the heart and soul of the musician wherever that is. In Ashton Lane’s case, the Tennessee capitol certainly got to their hearts, and it shows here.
The title track starts as a slow a smouldering ballad, which shows some nice harmonies.
“Seventeen”, which opens the album, alongside “One In A Million” and “One Night In California”  stand out for their more Country arrangements, helped by Seoniad Aitken on fiddle.
“Legacy” also has quite a down home feel to it, whilst “Coastline” has quite a haunting , folksy feel to it.
“The Light That You Are”, “Moonlight Drifter” and “When We Were Young” are softer ballads, which appealed to me.
They certainly have a Lady A influence running through the album. But within that Ashton Lane have created their own sound, and it’s all original home grown Country music.

BRIAN HUGHES is one of the most respected singer songwriters on the Scottish scene. “Angel Room Baby” is his 5th album to date, featuring no less than 12 self penned original songs.
He has captured a good mix of upbeat modern Country numbers, as well as some gentle ballads, which may just be a surprise for Brian’s fans.
The album kicks off with “This Time”, a upbeat modern Country number, which he wrote alongside “Nineteen”, the song he wrote for Raintown, and is followed by “Hillbilly Heaven”, a tongue in cheek dig at the “BroCountry” scene. Other upbeat numbers include the Cajun flavoured “Revival Tent”, “Real Bad Good To Go”, and “A Hundred Thousand Kisses”, a song for Amy.
As I say, there’s a few softer ballads too.
“Coming Home”, also known as “Already Gone”, was inspired by the tragic death of Ben Ford, the youngest British soldier, at the time, to be killed in Afghanistan.
“A Fool I Know” is a gentle ballad which I really liked.
The sound of a steel guitar can make a record for me, and that’s certainly the case on “The Hardest Time”. It’s a beautiful, traditional sounding Country song, with the added bonus of Davie Holland on steel.
The album closes with a gentle ballad, “Another Place” which is another highlight of the album.
With the exception of Davie Holland, and piano players Alan Scobie and Alan Ryden, the whole project is Brian’s. He recorded it at home, with all his own material, yet he has captured a sound that is certainly full studio quality.
One to be proud it.

Another homegrown talent is ROBYN TAYLOR, who hails from Cambuslang. Robyn has been performing for the past thirty years, on the cabaret scene here, and in Spain. Her first recording was back in 2005, but fans have encouraged her to sing more Country songs, so another couple of albums followed, leading to competing in the 2013 Euro Country Masters (the Country version of the Eurovision Song Contest).
Her latest album “The Way I Wanna Be” is described by Robyn as her “life in song – The high’s, the lows, and everything in between”. The album was recorded in Glasgow with Greg Friel at the helm.
There’s certainly quite a variety on the album.
It all kicks off with a rather pop sounding “The Last Real Gentleman”, which was written by Robyn. Indeed, all but one of the 11 songs were written by Robyn, mostly with producer Greg Friel.  The exception is a cover of The Judds’ “Turn It Loose”, which she gives a good raunchy performance on.
The title track has quite an upbeat, Raintown type, sound to it. There’s also an alternative “disco mix” (showing my age there!) of the song to close off the CD.
There are some other upbeat numbers, notably “Stop My Heart”, which has quite a jolly feel to it, and really stood out for me. There’s also an acoustic version as a bonus track on the CD. “Better Days” also has quite a bright and breezy feel to it.
But I do have to say that I liked the ballads, especially “In The Arms Of Love”, which was a finalist in the UK Songwriters Contest last year. It is a lovely ballad, which would easily crossover between Country and mainsteam pop. Others ballads include “Memories In The Sky” “You Can’t Love A Memory”, and “Leave Me Behind”, which is the most simple arrangement on the album. It’s a nice slow ballad which works really well.
Most singers that have worked the cabaret and club scene are content singing covers, so it’s really good to hear Robyn developing her own songwriting, and having the belief to put her own songs out there.  I’d describe her style as modern crossover Country, and the new breed of Country fans who go out of their way to support the current crop of American acts, would do well to check out talents like Robyn, much closer to home!

Fort William’s PAULA MacASKILL is one of the country’s busiest performers. Just looking at her venues list for October alone, she was out 23 nights, mainly in residences locally, but also travelling to Elgin, Dundee and Fife.
Her latest album, “Kind Of Country” features 16 tracks of Country covers, which are actually reissues of music from Paula’s previous albums, which are no longer available.
The titles range from Haggard’s “Back In Love By Monday” to Isla Grant’s “A Dream Come True”,  and from Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All” to Pam Tillis “Mi Vida Loca”, and Garth Brooks’ “If Tomorrow Never Comes”.
She does a lovely take on “Here, There And Everywhere”, a Lennon/ McCartney song, covered by Emmylou Harris, and also takes on the Connie Smith “Once A Day”.
Paula stretches the boundaries a bit with The Mama & Pappa’s “It’s Getting Better” and The Seekers’ “I’ll Never Find Another You”.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen, with a set of songs that will never date. They sound as good today as when Paula originally recorded them.

One of my favourite female singers to emerge out of Nashville in recent years is Missouri born TEEA GOANS. Teea stands out from the Music City cheerleader set, as she keeps it Country, and very much in the traditional mould. She’s even found herself firmly installed within the Country Family Reunion roster.
Her 4th album, “Swing, Shuffle & Sway” (Crosswind) continues the trend she has established in her earlier releases.  The album features a couple of well-known Country classics like “Legend in My Time” and “You Don’t Know Me”, alongside some lesser known covers like “That’s The Thing About Love”, previously recorded by Don Williams, and “Tell Me I’m Crazy”, which Dawn Sears released back in 1992. If the late Ms Sears could deliver a spine chilling torch song, Teea certainly gives her a run for her money here.
But the stunning blockbuster ballad has to be “Just Because She Always Has”. Laced with beautiful steel guitar licks, and Teea’s soaring vocals, this song really stands out.
But as title of the album suggests, there’s more than a little Swing and Shuffle on the album.
It all kicks off with the catchy “Go Down Swingin’, a minor hit for a long forgotten all girl group called Wild Rose. Teea gives it a really fresh lease of life.  There’s a really first class version of Mel Tillis’ “Heart Over Mind”. Then she does a nice swing version Hank Cochran’s “A Way To Survive”, which Dottie West recorded fifty years ago this year.
Mark Wills duets on “It Aint Nothin’”, the old Keith Whitley hit. It’s given a jazzy Country arrangement here, and it works really well.
“Steel Guitar Rag” really is a really refreshing upbeat tribute to it’s creators Leon McAuliffe, Merle Travis and Cliffie Stone.
And there’s some superb gospel too. I really loved the arrangement on the rip roaring “I Know The Lord Will Stand By Me”, and the closing ballad “Mercy Walked In”.
Teea has not only unearthed a collection of forgotten treasures that deserve to be heard again, but she’s given them really beautiful arrangements. I love listening to an album when you can pick out every instrument and its’ purpose on every note.

GENE WATSON has quietly become one of traditional Country music’s greatest singers. With a career stretching back to the 70’s, he is one of the few who have stayed true to his Country roots, and continues to tour and record.
Throughout the years, I can’t say that we’ve seen much of a gospel sound from Gene, but that changes on his latest album, “My Gospel Roots”. That said, in the main, this sounds like a Gene Watson record, just that the song matter is of a gospel nature. 
Any album called “My Country Roots” could easily have been filled with well-known gospel favourites, but Gene has chosen an album of sounds, which do have a Country, rather than gospel pedigree, but are hardly instantly recognisable, with the exception, perhaps of “In The Garden”.
The US single from the album, “Old Roman Soldier” is a prime example. It’s pure Gene.
The opening track, “Praying” was originally recorded by The Louvin Brothers, with Vern Gosdin doing a later version. Gene’s version really sets the tone for a wonderful album ahead.
“Clinging To A Saving Hand” is real traditional Country, previously recorded by Connie Smith and Leann Rimes, whilst “Help Me”, was written by Larry Gatlin.
One of my favourite tracks has to be “Build My Mansion Next To Jesus”. The song written by Dottie Rambo, is really enhanced here by the stunning harmonies from Sonya and Becky from The Isaacs.
“Til The Last Leaf Shall Fall”, an old Sonny James song, is given a refreshing revisit here.
“Fit For A King”, written by Carl Jackson and Jim Rushing is given a smouldering delivery here, different from Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie or Dawn Sears versions.
Away from the trademark Country sound, “Swing Wide Them Golden Gates” does have quite a Southern Gospel sound, courtesy of The Goodman Revival. The closing track in a similar vein, is Martha Carson’s “Satisfied”, a rousing number to round off the CD.
Gospel music isn’t everyone’s taste, but as I said, it’s a Traditional Country album first, and a gospel album second. There’s nothing to fear from having a little gospel in your Country music.

DARIUS RUCKER has established himself very much as a modern Country singer, after having a successful previous career as frontman with Hootie & The Blowfish, and a less than successful solo R&B career.
His first foray into Country music was back in 2008, and quickly established himself with the CMA Award for Best New Artist the following year. Now, 5 albums later, he’s back with “When Was The First Time” (Humphead), featuring 12 songs, all produced by Ross Copperman, a fellow singer songwriter whose songs have been cut by the likes of Billy Currington, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney and Josh Turner. Ross has also contributed five of the songs on this album, with Rucker, himself co-writing on the same number.
The album includes the US hits “If I Told You”, quite a soulful ballad, and opening track “For The First Time”, which is quite an upbeat number.
I really quite liked the reflective “Twenty Something” and the mid tempo “Another Night with You”.
But the stand out track for me was the honky tonk flavoured “Straight To Hell”, which also features Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley.
Darius Rucker has found his home in today’s Country music, encompassing his soulful R&B roots.

Mississippi born & raised, CHARLIE WORSHAM’s CD “Beginning Of Things” (Warner) was released in the UK, to tie in with his recent tour here. It’s his second album, after “Rubberband” launched his solo career in 2013. He had a couple of moderate hits from that album, and hopefully this album will further his career.
Charlie has co-written nine of the tracks on this album, which range from the slow ballad “Old Time’s Sake”, to the strange sounding “I Aint Goin’ Nowhere”. 
The title track is quite a pleasant Country ballad, which I quite enjoyed.
“Southern By The Grace Of God” is quite a strong song of the south, although the last minute gets a bit “noisy” with various instruments trying to outdo each other.
“Call You Up”, by contrast, is quite a soulful pop ballad.
I’m not sure what to make of “Lawn Chair Don’t Care”. It’s quite a light hearted, catchy number, which reminded me somewhat of Roger Miller’s “Do Wacka Do”. Ok, it’s not quite as offbeat as that, but you get my drift.
“I-55” is a good driving song, which stands out for me.
The album kicks off with a catchy short number called “Pants”, with the emphasis on the “short”- it’s only 13 seconds long, and to be honest, it’s the most Country track on the album!

Looking ahead, and I’ve already found one of the best albums of 2018!
Californian LAURA BENITEZ AND THE HEARTACHE release their third album, “With All Its Thorns” (Copperhead Records) on January 26th, and, believe me it’s well worth the wait.
Laura has a pure Country sound, with steel, fiddle & accordion, enough to re-create a modern California Country sound, never heard since the Bakersfield days.
It all kicks off with the upbeat “Something Better Than A Broken Heart”, with it’s swinging, Cajun influence, which had me hooked right away. It was written by Laura and Doug Tieman, the only song on the 11 track collection not written solely by Laura.
Other up tempo numbers include “Our Remember Whens”, “The Fool I Am Right Now” and the really catchy “Whiskey Makes Me Love You”, one of the album’s stand out tracks. The other, I’d really pick out, is the closing track, “Nora Went Down The Mountain”, a sort of bluegrass tinged “Suds In The Bucket” story song, about a wife who leaves her husband without warning.
Slower ballads include “Easier Things To Do”, “Almost The Right One”, “Why Does It Matter”, and the Tex-Mex flavoured “Secrets”.
“In Red” is a bit more soulful, inspired by her spilling red wine down her wedding dress.
The arrangements are traditional, old school, Country, and sound just great.
Definitely recommended!

THE TURNPIKE TROUBADOURS are a Oklahoma six piece band, who are described as “a Roots-Rock powerhouse”, but there is definite Country sound to their music on their new 11 track CD, “A Long Way From Your Heart” (Thirty Tigers).
This their 5th album, and their last three have made significant numbers on the Country album charts, as well as Folk, Indie and Rock charts.  Indeed this latest album went straight in at No.3 in the charts at the end of October.
Led by Evan Felker, who wrote or co-wrote every track, the band have a rock edged Country sound that fits into a number of genres.
Listen out for tracks like the downhome opener, “The Housefire”, the harmony driven “Something To Hold Onto” or the Eagles influenced “The Hard Way”.
I really liked the fast paced “The Winding Star Mountain Blues”, “Pipe Bomb Dream” and the catchy “Tornado Warning”, with lines like “there’s Country Music in the kitchen”.
“Old Time Feeling (Like Before)”, is a more softer, mellow number than most of the album, in a James Taylor kind of way. It’s a nice tune, but has an unnecessary swear word, which will prevent it from getting the airplay it deserves. 
“Sunday Morning Papers” is a really impressive number, with some southern dixieland jazz influence coming through the ether, as they come to terms with the position of rock’n’roll.
They have a really interesting sound, not like anything else in Country music these days.

There’s also been an abundance of new material from Irish stars, old and new.
LOUISE MORRISSEY is now a veteran of the Irish Country music scene. After cutting her musical teeth in the family band, The Morrissey’s, Louise went solo, and is now celebrating 30 years in the business, with a newly released 3CD, 38 track collection called “What’s Another Year”.
I’ve always enjoyed Louise’s music. I think her rich voice has stood out, unrivalled for all these years.
The collection shows the range of material which Louise has covered across the years, and it’s not been straight Country. There’s been Country, of course, represented here by the likes of “Love Can Build A Bridge”, “Timeless And True Love”, “Gulf Coast Highway” and “From a Distance”. But there’s also pop covers like The Seekers’ “Circles” and Steeleye Span’s “All Around My Hat”, Ronan’s “You Raise Me Up” well as Johnny Logan’s Eurovision winner, “What’s Another Year”.
But the focus on this album does seem to veer towards the more folksy, traditional Irish style , which she really excels at.
I do like her versions of “Come Back Paddy Reilly To Ballyjamesduff”, “Come By The Hills” and “The Hills of Home”.
As ever, it’s a hard task selecting songs from 30 years to fit onto one package like this. I could list a number of song which I’d have included, like her home county anthem, “Tipperary On MY Mind”. Never mind, we’ll enjoy what’s here, and look forward to a 4CD package for her 40 years! 

DOMINIC KIRWAN is another of the mainstays of Irish Country music, touring extensively over the past quarter of a century. The Omagh entertainer has covered a multitude of crossover easy listening and middle of the road songs over the years, but Country music has always been at the centre of his repertoire.
His latest album, is “My Country Favourites” (Rosette), which sums up the album. It’s 13 covers, from some of the artists that he’s worked with over the years, like Charley Pride and Kenny Rogers, as well as Buck Owens, George Strait and Garth Brooks.
It all kicks off with Strait’s “Write This Down”, but includes Buck’s “My Heart Skips A Beat” and “Loves Gonna Live Here Again”, as well as “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”, “Hello Darlin” and “Seven Spanish Angels”.
One of the more interesting, lesser known, tracks is a cover of Dolly’s “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning”. Just to highlight the variety on the album, he moves from the raunchy cover of “Friends In Low Places” to the classy string arrangement on Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me”, which is a duet with current touring partner Lisa Stanley.
The album was recorded between Pete Ware’s Parrothouse studio, where The Benn Sisters added harmonies, and musicians like Sarah Jory, Richard Nelson and Charlie Arkins laid down their tracks, and Long Hollow Sound studios in Nashville.
This is Dominic’s first album since his “25 Years… To Be Continued” CD was released in 2014. His legion of fans have been waiting on this new album. It was worth the wait. A superb listen.

DEREK RYAN has quickly established himself as a leading Country music songwriter in Ireland. As well as writing for himself, others have picked up on his songs too. And they cover a versatile range of styles as well.
On his latest album, “The Fire” (Sharpe Music), Derek furthers his role as a market leader, by releasing the album on 12” Vinyl LP, as well as on CD and digital download. The deluxe edition also offers no less than 17 tracks, eight self penned by himself.
Derek, one time member of boy band D-Side, is probably at his best delivering easy listening numbers which should have a fair bit of crossover appeal between Country & pop. “Pretty Little Lonely Eyes”, co-written with Eleanor McEvoy, is a good example of this. It is reported to be Derek’s favourite track from the album, speaking, as it does, of the relationship with his fans.
Another McEvoy co-write is “Full House, Empty Heart”, which is quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that if you get too big for your boots, you’ll lose the heart you put into your music. It’s quite tongue in cheek.
“This Aint Love” and “Where Did You Run”, are both co-writes with Gerry Carney, the latter having quite a folksy feel to it.
The title track, “The Fire” is a smouldering self written ballad, which has quite a pop influence.
There are traditional offerings like the opening track, “Heaven Tonight”, where he’s joined by folk band Gotse. “The Fox” and “Down On Your Uppers” are both good upbeat traditional numbers.
“Homeland”, a Mick Hanley composition was a recent single, and he is joined by brother Adrian on Kevin Sheerin’s popular folk ballad “My Father’s House”.
There are a few covers, like George Strait’s often covered, “Adalida”, and the pleasant “Sweet Forget Me Knot”.
The four additional tracks on the Deluxe Edition are quite varied in themselves. “Friends With Tractors” is a lively upbeat Country number, whilst he slows it down on Randy Travis’ “Promises”, giving it a Vince Gill big ballad style. “Coconut Tree” has quite a tropical feel, and he brings it back home with “The Rose Of Tralee Medley”, which strangely includes “Achy Breaky Heart” and “Old Time Rock’n’Roll”.
Variety is the spice of life. Derek certainly offers that. An album with a bit of something for everyone.

Staying in Ireland, one of the newest singers on the scene is JOHN RAFFERTY, whose debut album “Shake Of A Hand” (Sounds Country), was in popular demand on his recent Scottish tour.
John has a wide variety of covers on the album, kicking off with “Take Me Home Country Roads”, which does feature more than a backing harmony role for The Benn Sisters. This is the song which John performed on “The Voice” when he appeared on the TV show a few years ago.
John had built up his career in Belfast as a Garth Brooks tribute, but there’s no Garth influence on this album, except perhaps, “To Make You Feel My Love”, the Bob Dylan number which Garth did cover one time.
The title track, probably the least known cover on the album, was written by Australian singer Adam Harvey. It’s a really good song, and John delivers it well.
We also hear John’s take on Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy”, The Statlers’ “Bed Of Roses” and The Eagles’ “How Long”. One of the highlight’s has to be the closing duet with Stephen Smyth on “As She’s Walking Away”, quite an upbeat, catchy number.
But I do feel that it’s the big ballads, where John really makes his mark. He really delivers on the Kenny Rogers classic, “She Believes In Me”, Steve Wariner’s “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven” and Vince Gill’s “Pocket Full Of Gold”.  His current single, which will be on his next album, is another Gill ballad. John really gives it all on “Go Rest High On That Mountain”.
Everything on the album is pure Country. Watch out for John Rafferty!

Irish lass BERNIE HEANEY has certainly been making her mark in recent years.
She has just released her second album, “Plenty Of Steel”, featuring 11 tracks, a mix of popular covers and newer material.
The album begins with an upbeat version of “Railroad Bum”, features some nice steel & fiddle throughout. Other upbeat tracks include “Paint The Town Tonight”, “Old Time Fiddle” and “Mi Vida Loca”.
Ballads include “Three Quarter Time”, a lovely song written by Alaskan singer songwriter Bonnie Nichols, and Vince Gill’s “I’ve Been Hearing Things”
Some of the other covers include Lennon/McCartney’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face”,  Tanya Tucker’s “Strong Enough To Bend”, Billie Jo Spears’ “What I’ve Got In Mind” and The Carpenters’ “Top Of The World”.
For Irish influence, check out Seamus Shannon’s “Johnny Brown”, a superb toe tapping number.
Bernie certainly knows how to keep her audience satisfied with a good selection of material here.
Available from

Moving back across the Atlantic now.
LUCINDA WILLIAMS is something of an acquired taste, but to her fans, she’s an absolute legend.
The 64 year old from Louisiana first recorded in 1978, but it was ten years later, when Mary Chapin Carpenter recorded her “Passionate Kisses” that people really began to notice her. In 1992 she recorded something of a landmark album in “Sweet Old World”.
Now to mark that album’s 25th Anniversary, Lucinda has been back in the studio, and re-recorded the whole project again, with 25 years of added wisdom, technology and vocal changes. She has even included four tracks which were recorded for the original album, but didn’t make the final record. “This Sweet Old World” (Thirty Tigers) was released here at the end of October.
If you’re familiar with the original album, you can expect new life breathed into tracks like “Six Blocks Away”, “Memphis Pearl”, “Pineola” and John Anderson’s “Wild And Blue”.
The original album had a song titled “He Never Got Enough Love”, but as Dylan brought out an album with a similar title around the same time, Lucinda has added new verses, and retitled the song to “Drivin’ Down A Dead End Street”.
Lucinda’s music crosses boundaries from rock, blues and folk, as well as Country. Her raunchy vocals tend to sound more rocky to my ears.

THE WAILIN’ JENNYS may have taken their name from a Texan outlaw, but their music couldn’t be more different. The band were formed in Winnipeg 15 years ago, and have achieved great acclaim and several awards in that time.
The current line up includes original members Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta, with Heather Masse being the latest recruit. They are billed as a Folk Trio. Two of their albums have won Juno awards for Best Roots And Traditional Artist, and they’ve mixed in Bluegrass circles too.
However you want to label them, these girls excel in beautiful harmonies.
Their fourth studio album, “Fifteen” (True North), is actually their first for six years, and gets its’ UK release right after new year.
Of particular interest to Country fans, will be the stunning three part acapella version of Dolly’s “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning”- the same song that features on Dominic Kirwan’s album, but so,so different. “Wildflowers”. a Tom Petty song, is given a beautiful, and timely, treatment here.
But standing out is a hauntingly gorgeous version of early Emmylou’s “Boulder To Birmingham”. The song is probably one of the most stunning Emmylou songs, and these girls give it such a tasteful update.
Elsewhere, “Loves Me Like A Rock” has a Southern gospel influence, and there’s a haunting version of Hank Williams’ “Weary Blues From Waitin’”.
There’s no doubt that these girls’ harmonies are purely stunning. Their sound will be an acquired taste however, and won’t appeal to commercialised audiences.

HEAD FOR THE HILLS are a Colorado based band consisting of Adam Kinghorn, Joe Lessard, Matt Loewen and Sam Parks. They are the type of band which you cannot pigeon hole. Their bio suggests their music is “everything from bluegrass, jazz and even hip hop, to folk and soul”.
“Potions And Poisons” is their 4th album, and certainly is quite an interesting musical melting pot. The more bluegrass sounding tracks include “Give Me a Reason” and “Suit And Tie”.
“Floodwaters” is quite a lively instrumental, with the emphasis on fiddle (or violin as it’s credited here), and bass. Another instrumental, “Buckler” is a catchy, celtic flavoured, upbeat number.
The title track is much more of a folky mid tempo ballad. “Kings And Cowards” also has quite a folky feel to it. The jazzy side of things come to the fore on “Telling Me Lies”. Thankfully, I didn’t find the hip hop style.
Certainly an interesting sound.

THE NOVEL IDEAS is a new name to me, but I hope to hear a lot more. They are a 4 piece band from Massachusetts, featuring main vocalist Sarah Grella, alongside Danny Hoshino, James Parkington  and Daniel Radin. Their self titled album quickly won favour, with its catchy country twang, which I instantly warmed to.
The opening track, “I’m Not Waiting” finds a very simple arrangement, which both showcase’s Sarah’s solo vocals, and the group’s four part harmonies. Sarah’s numbers include the slow and emotional “Lost On The Road”
But this album features vocals of three different songwriters, and every song is different. 
Harmonies are this band’s strong point. “I’ll Try” has echoes of Canada’s Rankin Family, whilst “The Blue Between Us” reminds me of Gram & Emmylou.
A few of the songs are more gentle ballads, namely “Farm”, “Calling You Out” and “I Was Not Around”.
But the stand out track for me has to be “Old Ways”, which has quite a folksy feel, again featuring Sarah on lead vocals, but mixed in nicely with some lovely steel guitar. It’s quite an upbeat number.
I really enjoyed the sound of The Novel Ideas.
Give it a listen – now that’s a Novel Idea!

THUNDER AND RAIN are another Colorado based band, whose roots are in bluegrass music, but have evolved to encompass a full edgy Country sound on their second full album, “Start Believing”.
The origins of the band were duo Erinn Peet-Lukes and Peter Weber, who have since been joined by Ian Haegele and Chris Herbst. All 13 songs are original, written by Erinn and RP Oates, who also lends a hand on guitar, piano & banjo.
Erinn is the main vocalist, and I have to say that I really liked her voice. It’s supported by some neat harmonies from the boys behind her.
The songs range from the sweet opening track, “Cut The Wire” and the mid tempo title track                 to the bass – pop based “Days Before”.
“Wyoming Is For Miles” and “Tennessee is Burning” both have a real Country feel to them, as does “I Wont Try For You LA”, and “Wrong Or Right, Tennessee” is particularly strong on harmonies. 
“Babe, You’re Gonna Leave Me” is a good upbeat anthem.
“What Am I Gonna Do” and “The Reckoning” have a bit more of a folksy feel to them, but that doesn’t detract from their sound at all.
“Otherside” is a catchy upbeat number, which I’d probably rate as my favourite track on the album.
Thunder And Rain have a good harmony driven sound, which fits nicely in today’s Country music, yet could easily crossover towards folk and pop.
This is Mountain Made Colorado Country. It sounds really good to me.

Finally, we’ll sign off in a festive mood. Usually any Christmas albums come in too late for review, but North Carolina’s BALSAM RANGE were quick off the mark with their “It’s Christmas Time” EP (Mountain Home).
The five man group have previously been the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Vocal  Group, Entertainers and Album Of The Year winners. They have released six albums to date.
This festive offering includes Christmas classics like “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and “Jingle Bells”, with different arrangements than we’re used.
The two lesser known songs are from the masters of bluegrass music. “Christmas Lullaby” was written by Doc Watson, and “I’m Going Home, It’s Christmas Time” was penned by Ralph Stanley.
They certainly put a different, bluegrass, slant on the Christmas sound.

Best Of Friends – Dave Sheriff
With the advent of Keep It Country TV, the demand for Country music video is just as important as the CD these days.
Earlier in the year, we reviewed Dave Sheriff’s latest CD with The Britpickers, a selection of Britain’s best Country music pickers. Now comes a DVD, “Best Of Friends”, featuring 11 self penned songs from Dave. Unlike some releases, the DVD isn’t a straight copy of the CD. The running order is different, and there are a couple of tracks only on the CD. To make up for it, there’s a video of Dave’s 2000 appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, introduced by Porter Wagoner.  
The other notable difference from the CD is that Carole Gordon duets with Dave on 5 of the DVD tracks, compared to two on the CD. The additional duets include “Best Of Friends”, “Don’t Come Running To Me” and Damned If I Do”.
“From There Til Now”, a retrospective look back at Dave’s time of the music scene, is a good tribute, with the video largely set within the studio. By contrast, other tracks use some lovely scenery as a backdrop, notably on “Forget These Angry Words” and “Turn Back Time”.
“Red Hot Salsa”, featured in the new Trainspotting film, is included, with some authentic salsa dancing that I’m sure wasn’t captured at a Country music club in the UK!

It’s an enjoyable view. An ideal Christmas present for any Dave Sheriff fan!

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