It’s been a fairly quiet start to 2018, as far as new Country music releases are concerned, although the Irish scene continues to flourish with a regular stream of new CD’s, and that’s where we’ll start this month.
LISA STANLEY is one of Ireland’s best known singers, thanks to her TV work with Phil Mack, and the Keep It Country channel. She also toured extensively with Dominic Kirwan last year. Lisa is also the daughter of Irish music legends Masie McDaniel and Fintan Stanley.
Her fourth album, “Heart &Soul” (Rosette Records) is set to really establish her as a singer, as well as TV presenter. With production shared between John Pettifer and Pete Ware, and musicians of the calibre of Sarah Jory, Tom and Paul Sheerin, Charlie and Dave Arkins and Neil Edwards, Lisa has come up with a well produced set of songs, both old & new.
There are classic Country ballads, like “Almost Persuaded”, “Always On My Mind”, “When You Say Nothing At All” and “You Don’t Know”, on which she duets with Dominic Kirwan. She also does a good version of “Cheap Whiskey”, a song previously hidden away on Martina McBride’s debut album.
But, in the main, Lisa gives us an upbeat set. Starting off with the gentle “Precious Memories”, written by one of Ireland’s most prolific writers Shunie Crampsey, which is followed by “Second Fiddle”, with an impressive twin fiddle intro.
Nashville writer Max T Barnes (son of the legendary Max D Barnes) gets in on the act, writing and dueting with Lisa on the catchy “Looking For A Girl”, which is one of my favourite cuts from the whole album. Another which stands out, is “Why, Oh Why”, which is given a real old school classic Country arrangement. Lisa also excels on “Girl With A Fishing Rod”, and Miranda Lambert’s “Famous In A Small Town”.
She also does a take on Wynonna’s “I Saw The Light”, but was most impressed to hear her version of Kirsty McColl’s “They Don’t Know”.
This album has a really impressive variety of material. Lisa has come up with a real winner!
The Kirwan dynasty continues, with BARRY KIRWAN following brother Colm into dad Dominic’s musical world. Barry is no newcomer to the scene, having played drums in his dad’s band, and with Lisa McHugh and Derek Ryan, as well as in the states with Joey & Rory.
Although Barry did release an album, “To Make You Feel My Love” 10 years ago, it wasn’t until the release of “New Beginnings” in 2016, which really launched his solo career. Now, the follow up, “Moments” (Rosette) will further his own place on the Irish & UK Country scene.
There’s a good mix of covers, from “Chattahoochie” and “If I Could Make A Living” to “The Dance” and “I Swear”. The opening track, a bouncy upbeat number, “Merry Mary” was co-written by brother Colm, and there’s also a beautiful story song, “Between The Tracks”, which was written by Rory Feek and Paul Overstreet. It’s certainly the stand out track for me.
We also find a stunning duet with Nianh McClinchey on Townes Van Zante’s “If I Needed You”. Their voices certainly blend beautifully together.
The title track is a lovely number, which was a No.1 Country hit back in 2006 for Canadian boy band Emerson Drive. I also really liked “More Of You”, co-written by Chris Stapleton, and the wonderful rendition of “Dream Of Me”, which goes back to the days of Jim & Jesse McReynolds.
A really good job done.
The whole album was recorded with producer Jonathan Owens in Co.Longford.
THE OUTLAWS are a fun band from Castleblaney, who have just released their third album, “Hanging Out” (Sharpe Music). The album features a few covers, ranging from the title track, written by Austin, TX based Chris Wall, to the often recorded “Drinking Champagne”, to legendary songs like “Jesse James” and “Tom Dooley”. There’s even a cover of Shane McGowan’s “Streams Of Whiskey”.
But there’s also four tracks written by Outlaws main man, Sean Hughes, including recent single, “Martina” and “Forget Your Troubles Tonight”.
The songs all have a fun feel to them, although the lyrics may raise an eyebrow or too. Take the title of Hughes’s original, “She’s Ugly But God Knows I Love Her”, for example. Or even, the cover of Ry Cooder’s “The Girls From Texas”, which suggests that every Lone Star lady carries and uses razors or pistols on their disobedient fella’s. Nice!
But, it’s meant to be a fun record, and we shouldn’t delve too seriously into the lyrics.
In that respect The Outlaws do what they’ve set out to do -produce a fun record. And they do it well!
We’ve a couple of homegrown releases this time. The first comes from Glasgow based JAMES EDWYN & THE BORROWED BAND. “High Fences” (Dead Records Collective) is the follow up to the highly acclaimed “The Tower” album, released in 2014.
As well as Edwyn, the Borrowed Band features Emma Joyce, Scott Keenan, Ronnie Gilmour, Ross McLaughlin and Neil McDonald. Together, they have created a sound, which blends rock and folk influences with a Country edge.
The opening track, and lead single, is “Passing San Ysidro”, the most upbeat track on the album.
That’s followed by “Try Not To Think Of Now”, and “Get Back Up”, which both have quite a commercial, soft rock sound, which is likely to get some good radio airplay.
“Starlet” has quite a likeable Country rock feel to it, whilst “Never in A While” is a simple ballad, featuring just James and his guitar. “Pushing Statues” is another of the stand out tracks. It’s a bit more mid tempo, and works really well.
All 10 tracks are originals, written by James and the band, and recorded in Lanarkshire, with the help of The National Lottery and Creative Scotland.
THE RED PINE TIMBER COMPANY are an interesting 8 piece outfit, who hail from Perthshire. The line up is led by Gavin JD Munro and Katie Whittaker on vocals, with instrumental support from Michael McNab, David MacFarlane, Chris Small, Neil J Ewen, Thom Bubb and Ivan Sveda.
They grew up around The Southern Fried Festival, but have spread their wings across the Country since then, appearing from c2c in London, to Skye.
Their second album, “Sorry For The Good Times” was released at the end of January on Goldrush Records.
This is the big band’s follow up to their 2014 debut, “Different Lonesone”, and they’ve come up with a full sound. They have created a sound that stands out, thanks mainly to the impressive horn section- not something that would automatically give them a Country feel, but it works for them here. It really gives them a really original sound.
The opening number is perfect example of this. “If You Want Me To” starts off with some rocky sounding guitars, then the horns, before Gavin’s vocals bring in a good upbeat song that is really catchy.
“Look At The Moonlight” is another upbeat number led by Gavin, “Get It Right With You” is a bit more of a fun number, which the horn section takes the lead.
Slower numbers, including “Hollow Tree”, “After You”, “Dry Your Eyes” and “Bar Stool” really showcase the harmonies between Gavin and Katie. “For The Angels”, is an upbeat number, which show great harmonies too.
Katie also excels at the softer ballads, some with the help of steel guitar guest Stuart Nisbett. Good examples of this would be on the haunting “Tracks In The Snow” and “Put Down The Bottle”
But the stand out track is the fast driving “Cutting You Loose”, which is led vocally by Katie. It’s really catchy, and reminded me of something like Emmylou’s “Luxury Liner”. Indeed, Gavin & Katie do have a certain Gram & Emmylou influence.
The vocal duties are shared throughout the album, which was recorded in Perth, and all the songs are band originals.
It’s a big production number, without leaving the homeplace.
It’s well written, well sung, well produced. A superb album. Made right here in Scotland.
DELBERT MCLINTON is not the most obvious artist to get “The Definitive Collection” treatment from the Humphead label, but here he is, with a 2CD, 45 track collection of his music.
More considered as a blues singer, he did write “Victim Of Life’s Circumstances”, for Vince Gill, and “Two More Bottles Of Wine” which Emmylou recorded early on. The originals are both featured here. This collection does feature a few more Country sounding numbers, like “Object Of My Affection” and “Shotgun Rider”.
There is a version of “In The Jailhouse Now”, but is very different to the versions which Country fans will know from Jimmie Rogers or Webb Pierce. His version of Frankie Miller’s “Sending Me Angels” is worth listening out for.
His career goes back to the 60’s, where he is credited for playing harmonica on Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby”. He is reputed to have instructed John Lennon on blues harmonica playing. He also formed The Rondels, the famed instrumental group.
His biggest hit, was on the Country chart in 1991, with a duet with Tanya Tucker, which is not included on this collection.
Having said that, there’s a good mix of material on this double CD. I think some of it will appeal to Country fans, but it is more Texan blues than anything else!
ROD PICOTT was born in New Hampshire, but these days is very much part of the Nashville Americana scene. His first album was released in 2001. Ten albums later comes “Out Past The Wires” (Welding Rod Records), a 22 track double CD, also available on 2LP.
There’s no particular theme differential between the two CD’s, the songs just reflect the lives of working people, The songs range from whispery ballads like the opening track “Be My Bonnie”, “Blanket Of Stars”, “Holding On” and “The Shape Of You”, to guitar driven rockers like “On The Way Down”, which is much in the style of Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town”, and “Hard Luck Baby”, which perhaps owes a bit more to his hero Bruce Springsteen.
“Take Home Pay” and “Store Bought” kinda falls in the middle, and are quite radio friendly numbers.
Four of the tracks were written with long time friend Slaid Cleaves, including “Fire Inside”, “Better Than I Did” and the softer “Primer Gray”, and “Falling Down”.
The CD is released here on February 16th, ahead of a tour in March, which includes dates in Glasgow and Kinross.
RICK SHEA & THE LOSIN’ END are something of an institution down in San Bernadino, California’s Country music scene. Originally from Maryland, Shea moved to the west coast at the age of 11, and cut his teeth in the coffee houses and honky tonk bars there.
Although he has been compared to the likes of Tom Russell and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, he has very much his own sound, as is demonstrated on his eleventh album, “The Town Where I Live” (Tres Pescadores Records).
The album kicks off with the catchy “Goodbye Alberta”. There’s more Canadian influence on “The Angel Mary And the Rounder Jim”, which has a lot of Ian Tyson influence about it. There are some outstanding harmonies on this track from Mississippi folk singer Claire Holley.
Despite the album title, he gets around, from Alberta to “The Road To Jericho” and “The Starkville Blues”.
He’s on his travels again with the upbeat “(You’re Gonna Miss Me) When I’m Gone”.
“Sweet Little Mama”, which closes the 10 track album, is a Country blues number, given a modern day Jimmie Rogers styling.
Shea wrote all but one song on the album. The exception is a cover of Jack Clement’s “Guess Things Happen That Way”, given an upbeat Buddy Holly-ish sound. It’s certainly different!
I really liked the sound Rick Shea has delivered on this album. Worth checking him out.
TRUE NORTH are a quartet from America’s Pacific Northwest, whose acoustic/bluegrass sound is proving to be a winner!
The band includes Kirsten Grainger, a former finalist at such events as Merlefest, Telluride and the Kerryville Folk Festivals, alongside multi-instrumentalist Dan Wetzel, bassist Suzanne Pearce and Dale Adkins.
Their new album, “Open Road, Broken Heart” is a laid back collection of songs, led mostly by Kirsten’s smouldering vocals. They range from the opening “One Way Ticket” to the guitar laced “Sunday Night Blues”, the lovely “Ratio Of Angels To Demons”, and “You Come Around”.
“Small Wonders” is a bit more uptempo, featuring some neat banjo.
“Mighty Bourbon”, led vocally by Dan, has a touch more of a blues sound, whilst “I’m Gone” is straight bluegrass.
But the tracks where Kirsten & Dan’s vocals blend beautifully together, like on “Seed,Leaf,Flower, Seed”, “Wilder Than Her” and “Without You” really stand out for me.
It’s a lovely laid back listen.
A couple of Americana releases to round off with this time around.
The BEN MILLER BAND have been around for a dozen years or so. The quartet from Joplin, Mississippi certainly have an interesting sound on their 5th album, “Choke Cherry Tree” (New West), blending Country, folk, bluegrass, rock, and a whole lot more.
There are a number of tracks, which just wont appeal to readers of a Country music magazine, but, then again, there are some magical tracks, which I really had to tell you about.
After a strange intro, the opening track, “Nothing Gets Me Down”, develops into a very pleasant ballad. There’s a hint of some lovely harmonies, which adds to the mix.
“Trapeze” features some nice bluegrass harmony female vocals and a catchy Cajun accordion. It has an old time charm to it, which was quite infectious. “Lighthouse” and “My Own Good Time”, are quite straight forward ballads, which I really quite liked too.
Of the upbeat tracks, the one which stood out is ”Sketchbook”. It’s quite a poppy catchy number.
There’s some interesting sounds on the CD. Check it out. You might just get hooked.
Country music has some wide boundaries, but LILLY HIATT is right at the edge, on her album, “Trinity Lane” (New West).
Although born in LA, she now calls East Nashville home, and finding her feet in the artistic roots scene in that part of town. Not that music is new to her. Her father is the legendary John Hiatt.
It shows. Like her dad, Lilly’s music is more Rock than Country. But there are some Country touches to her vocals.
I detected that in the opening track, “All Kinds Of People”, and in the title track. “I Wanna Go Home” is probably the most Country of the rockers.
Most of the album has an upbeat rocky feel, but “Imposter” has a gentler beat, and helped me warm to the album. “Different, I Guess” is the strongest Country song, a ballad with some impressive steel guitar to help it along thanks to Josh Kaler.
“So Much You Don’t Know” is an atmospheric slower number, which is growing on me too.
It was quite a strange listen. Certainly not mainstream, but is growing on me.