Long time readers will recall JILL JACKSON from her days with bands called Hogtied and Jacksonville. She then went on to pop stardom with Speedway, who had a handful of pop hits including “Genie In A Bottle”, which was a Top 10 hit.
But, as Jill says in the publicity for her new album recalls, “Being signed to a major label is an amazing experience when you are 22. But with a major comes the moulding into something you never intended to be. I was touring arenas when all I wanted was to play at The Bluebird in Nashville”.
She has been involved with several projects over the years, including forming a band called “The Chaplins”, inspired by Charlie Chaplin.
Her new album, her 5th, is “Are We There Yet?” , which not only takes us on a personal journey throughout her life, but also encompasses all the various influences she’s picked up over the years.
The title track is inspired by the packing the car for the annual summer holiday trip from Paisley to Blackpool, with one Buddy Holly tape for entertainment. We’ve all been there, and Jill really captures the mood well. I love the simple solo mandolin intro.
The album kicks off with “1954”, the story of her grandparents, who met that year, and closes with “Goodbye”, a song she started when her gran was sick, and finished after she passed. That’s how personal this album is for Jill.
Every track is different. The most Country tracks include “Worries”, which is so catchy, whilst
“Hope And Gasoline” is a moody number, which takes her back to being 17 years old, leaving school, and wanting to meet the world. This is probably the strongest song on the album.
She does have a few softer ballads, like “Sweet Lullaby”, which features folk singer Kathleen MacInnes. It’s a really sweet number, and their voices blend beautifully.
“Dynamite” is a modern upbeat number, which recalls the effect crippling anxiety had on her.
From her Chaplin influence from an earlier project, Jill has a 1930’s jazzy style on a few of the songs, and, I have to say, they’re really irresistibly catchy. They include “My Baby”, “Needles And Thread”, which she refers to as her “Lindy Hop”, and “Finally” which has quite a swing to feel to it. This style really suits Jill’s vocals.
Jill has really matured as a singer and songwriter over the years. She displays incredible versatility in the material here, some of it recalling quite traumatic times in her life. Her voice is so pure, it just melts in your ears, and the production, led by the highly acclaimed Boo Heweredine, is just so perfect.
It’s a wonderful album. I cannot recommend it highly enough!
Next up, we have a new CD from Glasgow based bluegrass band, THE DADDY NAGGINS. The band originally formed back in 2010, and have had several line up changes along the way.
Currently the five piece outfit features original members Darren Young (guitar), Garry McFadden (banjo), Laura Beth Salter (mandolin), Hazel Mairs (double bass) and Aileen Reid (Fiddle). They all share lead and harmony vocals.
Their new 10 track was recorded “Live at Celtic Connections 2018”, in two sessions. The first five tracks were performed at The Danny Stage (broadcast live on Celtic Music Radio) at the Royal Concert Hall, and the rest in a live session at Celtic Music Radio’s studios for the “Celtic Country” programme.
The instrumentation is superb throughout, and the harmonies, as I say, are fantastic.
Their song choice is also quite wide. If you think bluegrass music not you’re cup of tea (or moonshine!), then here’s a band who will change your mind.
Yes, they can play mean bluegrass classics like “Roll On Buddy”, and instrumentals like “Flint Hill Special” and “Salt Spring”, but can also breathe new life into The Eagles’ “How Long”, Johnny & June’s “Jackson” and even Elton John’s “Rocket Man”. The also do a cover of the Merle Haggard/Tommy Collins song “Poor Broke Mixed Up Mess Of A Heart”.
The CD opens with Hazel leading the vocals on “Old New Straitsville Moonshine Run”, a good upbeat number, followed by Darren’s bikers song “1952 Vincent Black Lightening”. One track I especially liked was Michael Martin Murphy’s “Carolina In The Pines”.
But I loved every note on this album. A superb album, which shows that you don’t have to travel to East Tennessee or Kentucky to hear first class bluegrass music.
Another home-grown album comes from Glasgow based singer songwriter MICHAEL McMILLAN . Michael is not new to music, having started off playing bagpipes and drums, before discovering The Beatles and The Stones. But it was the American acts like The Eagles, Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen that really influenced him.
He has had three albums released before he released “Cross Country” earlier this year. The album, largely influenced by a coast to coast American road trip, featuring 14 self penned tracks, produced at The Foundry Lab by Graeme Duffin (Wet Wet Wet/Ashton Lane).
The projects kicks off with “Alive Again”, which has been a popular Hotdisc Top 10 single. It’s a good radio friendly commercial number, and it’s easy to hear why radio have picked up on it.
The other track which has stirred some reaction is “Scars And Stripes”, another upbeat number, which tells of the “unseen” homeless population across America. It’s a really well constructed song, with a strong message, which hopefully might just hit a nerve or two.
Michael has made a play on words and phrases, not only on “Scars And Stripes”, but also on the likes of “Forgotten But Not Gone” and “Three’s A Cloud”.
There are quite a few ballads, including “Death By Broken Heart”, “My Best Friend” and “Turn Up The Silence”. “My Son” is one of the slower numbers which really stood out for me.
Amongst the other tracks that really worked for me was the catchy “Miracles” and “The Man”.
I really enjoyed this album. A good set of songs, well written and produced.
A homegrown talent you should certainly check out.
What is there to say about WILLIE NELSON ?
He recently celebrated his 85th birthday, with the release of his 67th studio album, “Last Man Standing” (Sony Legacy). In fact, this is his 7th album release since turning 80! The guy just doesn’t slow down.
You do get the feeling that Willie is poking fun, with lyrics like “I don’t want to be the last man standing , on second thoughts, maybe I do”, “bad breath is better than no breath at all”, or “Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded, so I think I’ll stay where I am”.
I liked his logic on “Don’t Tell Noah”. Maybe not telling people what you really think is the recipe for long life, although, I hardly think Willie’s one to hold his tongue!
Willie has covered a variety of styles in throughout his career. He covers most of them in the space of this album.
He adds a bit of Ray Price inspired Texas swing on “Ready To Roar”. If it’s straight Country you want, “Heaven Is Closed” is a superb track. If it’s a honky tonk beat, try “I Aint Got Nothin’”.
“She Made My Day” is catchy number about a women ripping him off, a subject, he’s touched on before. “Me And You” is a cheery upbeat number which I really liked,
He slows the tempo, in his unique Country blues style on “Something You Get Through”.
“I’ll Try To Do Better Next Time” could be a song for an epitaph, but I think we’ve got a lot of Willie still to come.
He’s sounding better than ever, still writing all the tracks (with Buddy Cannon).
An inspiration to us all.
JOHN PRINE doesn’t have the most melodic vocals in the world, but at the age of 71, and with a score of albums to his credit, he has matured a career, based on exquisite songwriting, and down right honest delivery of his songs. Actually Prine’s deep gravelly voice is put down to a battle with squamous cell cancer back in 1998.
The Illinois born songwriter was “discovered” by Kris Kristofferson in Chicago, and there is still an KK influence in his music. I also hear a bit of Johnny Cash’s influence in his delivery.
He puts his gravel voice to best use on his latest album, “The Tree Of Forgiveness” (Oh Boy/Thirty Tigers), a collection of ten self penned, or co-written songs, which was released in April, and went straight into the Top 5 of the US Pop charts.
The album is the follow up to his highly acclaimed 2016 release, “For Better For Worse”, which reached No.2 on the Country album chart, featuring an array of Country girl singers.
This album concentrates on newer material, with the help of writers Pat McLaughlin, Roger Cook, Dan Auerbach, Keith Sykes, and even Phil Spector.
The album kicks off the catchy “Knockin’ On Your Door”, which has quite a back porch singsong feel to it. He even manages a wee George Jones namecheck. Other upbeat numbers include “Crazy Bone”, and “I Have Met My Love Today”, which features some lovely harmony from Brandi Carlile. It’s probably my favourite track. Brandi also features on “God Only Knows”, the song co-written with Phil Spector.
“Summer’s End”, “Caravan Of Fools” and “Boundless Love” are a bit slower, showing a different side to his music.
“The Lonesome Friends Of Science” is the one that really has some of Kristofferson’s influence, and has quite a “round the campfire” feel to it.
The projects rounds off with a poetry and singalong anthem, which features Brandi Carlile again, with Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell, and everyone who was around RCA Studio A when the recording was made.
John Prine has been called “America’s Greatest living songwriter”. This album backs up that claim.
If you’re lucky enough to have tickets to see him perform at the Kelvingrove Bandstand in August, you’re in for a wonderful songwriter experience.
JORDAN DAVIS is one of Nashville’s “new breed” for 2018, with the release of his debut album “Home State” (Humphead).
Jordan’s home state is Louisiana, having been born and raised in Shreveport. He’s from a musical family. His brother, Jacob, is also a Country singer, and his father, Stan Paul Davis wrote songs recorded by Tracy Lawrence and Ken Mellons. Jordan, himself has been playing guitar since he was 12 years old, After graduation, he headed north to Music City to pursue his dream.
The 30 year old co-wrote all 12 songs on the album. The publicity that came with the CD states “the imagery in his songs relies on the same specificity behind such classic, lyrically-driven songwriters as John Prine, Jim Croce and Bob McDill”. That’s quite a tall statement, which, I have to say he delivers in a very different style.
The production is very “current Nashville” to my ears. It’s a very modern sound.
The hit single from the album, “Singled Up” also crossed over to the pop charts. It’s quite a poppy number, whilst fitting nicely into today’s Nashville sound.
“Take It From Me”, the album’s opening track is a real upbeat number, as is “More Than I Know” whilst “Goin’ Round”, “Slow Dance In A Parking Lot”, “Leaving New Orleans” and “Sundowners” are softer ballads.
“So Do I” is quite a pleasant number, whilst from the upbeat tracks, “Tough To Tie Down” was the one which caught my attention most.
Jordan isn’t taking his success for granted. The CD sleevenotes have three pages of thanks, including naming everyone at his record label and management Company in person.
It’s a pleasant album, a good modern sound, but, one that, if I’m honest, wasn’t Country enough for me.
Texan BETH NEILSEN CHAPMAN is highly recognised as one of the top female songwriters in Country music, and beyond. Her credits include songs by Faith Hill, Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood, Lorrie Morgan, Roberta Flack and Bonnie Raitt.
But she is also a highly respected singer, with 13 solo albums to her credit. Her last outing was on the cancer awareness project, “Liv On” with Olivia Newton John and Amy Sky. Her latest album, “Hearts Of Glass” (BNC/Proper) was released here in the UK recently, prior to its’ US release.
It’s a powerful collection of heartfelt songs, where vulnerability meets strength. A very personal virtue for Beth.
As you would expect from such a prolific writer, it’s a wholly original album, although some of the songs may have been released before. A couple of the songs are re-recordings. The acoustic “Enough For Me” was co-written by producer Sam Ashworth.
“Come To Mine”, the bright opening track was apparently co-written with Kevin Montgomery and Graham Goldman at a songwriting retreat in Somerset. It’s a really good welcoming song to the album.
Some of the simplest arrangements stand out. “Old Church Hymns & Nursery Rhymes”, “Child Again” and “Dancer To The Drum” are the best examples of this. “You’re Still My Valentine”, again with minimal instrumentation, is a beautiful love song, done in quite a simple jazzy style.
“All For The Love” is also a nice ballad with a shade more of a backing.
Stand out track for me is “If My World Didn’t Have You”, a lovely ballad, which features Rodney Crowell on backing vocals. It’s a song which Willie Nelson previously recorded on his “Horse Called Music” album.
I also liked “Life Goes On”, one of the songs Beth has re-recorded. Previously a piano accompanied arrangement, this new version uses guitar.
I’m really liking this album. Her voice is so pure. Recommended.
MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER recently celebrated 30 years since the release of her first album, “Hometown Girl”, and her latest album, “Sometimes Just The Sky” (Thirty Tigers) marks the event.
For this album she has re-recorded one song from each of her 13 albums to date.
She is probably best known for her upbeat songs like “Down at The Twist & Shout”, “Passionate Kisses” and “I Feel Lucky”, but these songs don’t really represent the real Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Most of her songs over the years have been slow, moody numbers, although she disputed that quite strongly when I asked her about that one time.
But this album reinforces my view on her music.
She has picked some of the slowest songs in her repertoire. Some of them are quite outstanding songs, I won’t deny that. They range from “Heroes And Heroines” from her first album, through “The Moon And St Christopher”, “One Small Heart” “and “The Calling”.
One song I really fondly remember was “This Shirt” from the “Straight From The Heart” album. The new version is really slowed down.
The most upbeat song on the album, is “Naked To The Eye”, which is more lively that the original which was on her “Place In The World” album. It certainly stands out here.
Don’t worry if you have a few of her albums already in your collection. These are very different arrangements.
Country music fans around the 1980’s will surely remember SYLVIA. She had a string of Country hits with songs like “Nobody”, “Drifter” and “The Matador”. The Indiana singer disappeared from the limelight for a while, and whilst still recording, she did some TV work, and worked as a “life coach”. Now she’s released “Second Bloom- The Hits Re-imagined”, a ten track nostalgic journey back to the 80’s and her hits.
Whilst I loved music back then, I have to admit that some of her songs were, perhaps, a shade poppy at the time. On these new recordings, the plush big budget productions are replaced by simpler arrangements, courtesy of co-producer John Mock, with Andy Leftwich on fiddle and Robby Turner on steel, amongst others. Jim Glaser, Vicky Hampton and Lisa Silver are amongst those adding harmonies.
The new versions really bring out Sylvia’s vocals, and the emotions within them.
She re-visits some of her biggest hits, including her first Top 10, “Tumbleweed” and her first two number 1’s “Nobody” and “Drifter”, as well as later hits “Cry Just A Little Bit”, “Like Nothing Ever Happened” and “Snapshot”.
“I Love You By Heart”, a jaunty little number, which was originally a duet with Michael Johnson, is also featured.
To close the album, quite ironically, is “You Cant Go Back Home”, which, of course, is just what Sylvia has done on this album. The beautiful song, which was never a single, obviously means a lot to the singer. It deserves another listen.
I have to say, I really enjoyed listening to all of these songs again.
KASEY MUSGRAVES has quickly build up a following, especially with upbeat quirky songs like “Follow Your Arrow” and “Biscuits”, not to mention the brilliant “High Time”.
The Texan beauty, who celebrates her 30th birthday in August isn’t an overnight sensation though. She had self-released three albums before appearing on the Nashville Star TV talent show back in 2007, where she only came 7th. Earlier this year, she headlined the c2c festival at The Hydro.
Her latest album has none of that quirky sound. “Golden Hour” does have some nice songs on their own merits. “Butterflies” has already been a hit single for her, and the title track has a warm feeling that just soothes over you.
The opening track, “Slow Burn” was quite a pleasant appetiser for the rest of the album.
“Love Is A Wild Thing” is a song that stood out for me, with just a hint of banjo adding to the appeal. And I did really enjoy the piano accompanied closing track, “Rainbow”.
She did lift the tempo on “High Horse”, which was reminiscent of an 80’s soft disco number.
Pleasant as Kasey’s voice is, this album just sounded too samey for me. Even the CD booklet, with the credits, has hard to read white text on a pale pink background. Totally bland, just like the CD itself, I’m afraid.
I was rather disappointed with this album. Bring back the quirky Kasey!
Although KELLY WILLIS was born in Oklahoma, she’s been recognised as part of the Texas music scene for most of her career. She came to the world’s attention in the early 90’s when she was signed to MCA in Nashville. Her three albums for the label received critical acclaim, but failed to make an impact on the charts. That didn’t deter her though. She’s continued to make music, and tour the world.
Her 8th solo album, but her first for over 10 years, “Back Being Blue”(Premium/ Thirty Tigers) has just been released here, ahead of a UK tour next month.
The album was recorded analogue style in husband Bruce Robison’s rural Texas studio. According to the singer, “I attempted to make music that could fit any era, but leans on the simplicity of the music that first inspired me- roots rockabilly, country blues. Kind of a Nick Lowe meets Skeeter Davis meets Crystal Gayle. Sounds that were in full blaze when I first moved to Austin”.
I can certainly hear that when listening to the album. Six of the ten tracks were written by Willis herself.
The album’s title track opens proceedings, in quite a soulful mood, but the rockabilly beat quickly appears on “Only You” and “Modern World”.
“Fools Paradise”, “Freewheeling”, “What The Heart Doesn’t Know” and “We’ll Do It For Love Next Time”, the latter written by Rodney Crowell, are lovely soft ballads.
I especially liked “Afternoon’s Gone Blind”. Written by Karl Straub, it’s really quite melodic.
She mentioned Skeeter Davis in her description of the album, and pays homage to Skeeter on the classic “I’m a Lover (Not a Fighter), complete with self harmonies, just like on Skeeter’s original.
I really like Kelly’s southern drawl, and her musical style, which is so individual.
Glad to have new music from her, and pleased to see her back in Scotland next month (Jul 29th at Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms).
“SUZY BOGGUSS is probably one of the most underrated female vocalists of the past 30 years”, starts the sleeve notes on a new 3-CD, 50 track collection, “The Definitive Capitol Collection” released here on the HumpHead label.
Having been a Suzy fan, since before she got her Capitol deal, I’d have to agree with that statement.
Most artists on major labels get a big push at the start and have a huge hit, and then have to maintain the hit rate. That didn’t happen with Suzy. It was her third album, “Aces” before she made the breakthrough.
In fact her first few singles, including her smouldering cover of The Inkspots’ “I Don’t Want To Set The World on Fire” didn’t even make it onto an album. Thankfully it is featured on this collection. Another of those early singles, “Come As You Were”, doesn’t even make this collection (Same label mate T Graham Brown went on to have a Top 10 with the song two years later).
But this collection does have a wide range of songs from her 7 Capitol albums, which provided 22 chart singles. “Aces”, her breakthrough song kicks off the album, which includes such gems as “Somewhere Between”, “I Want To Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”, “Hey Cinderella”, “Letting Go”, “Drive South”, and “Hopeless Romantic”.
There are a few duets, with Billy Dean and Lee Greenwood, and a couple from the album she did with Chet Atkins. 12 of the tracks were written, or co-written by the lady herself.
This album brought back some wonderful memories for me. If you’re not as big a Suzy fan as me, this would serve as the perfect introduction to her music.
GRETCHEN PETERS is one of Nashville’s most accomplished singer songwriters. Born in New York, raised in Colorado, she moved to Music City thirty years ago, and wrote hits for the likes of Martina McBride, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Faith Hill, Anne Murray and Shania Twain, amongst others.
But she’s also well established as a recording artist, having eight solo albums, as well as recordings with Bryan Adams and Tom Russell.
Her latest album, “Dancing With The Beast” (Proper) is a very personal affair, and one where she’s reaching out to the women’s movement.
As the publicity for the album states, “Dancing With The Beast” puts female characters at the fore, from teenage girls to old women. And intentionally so. With the 2017 Women’s March and #MeToo Movement as bookends to her writing time, Peters knew that a feminist perspective would be the critical core of the record. She admits, “You can trace the feminist DNA in my songwriting back to ‘Independence Day’ and probably before. The thing that 2017 did is just put it front and center.”
The songs range from the sultry opener “Arguing With Ghosts”, through “The Boy From Rye” and “The Show” to the more lively title track.
The songs cover a range of troubled women, from “Wichita”, hauntingly story about a child and the problems she’s had to endure in her life, to the vulnerable women on “Truckstop Angel”.
There’s a mention of Aberdeen in “Lay Low”, one of the more mainstream tracks on the album (although, I think it’s the Texas town she’s talking about). The album closes on a hopeful note on “Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea”.
Gretchen is a regular visitor to Scotland. She’s in Shetland this month, Perth next month and hosting a Songwriters workshop in Edinburgh in September.
It’s a pleasant listen. Gretchen has built a huge fan base over here over the years, and this is another album for the collection.
We’ve only one Irish album to review this time around. JOE BOYLE is a young Irish singer, with strong West of Scotland connections. He is building up a good following on both sides of the Irish Sea, and that continues with his latest CD, “Just Joe”.
The album features ten tracks, from classics like “Seven Spanish Angels”, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Heartaches By The Number” to a couple of less obvious Josh Turner covers, “T.I.M.E”, which Turner recorded with Randy Travis, and “Whatcha Reckon”.
The album kicks off with The Hag’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”, and there’s also Elvis’s “Cant Help Falling In Love”. I particularly enjoyed his version of Bobby Bare’s “500 Miles Away From Home”, and there’s a rather interesting version of “My Rifle, My Pony & Me” (from Rio Bravo).
Throughout, Joe demonstrates a really strong Country vocal style, and the production is first class.
When an album arrives, with a sleevenote quote from Bill Oddie (The Goodies) praising them, you can’t help wonder what it’s going to be like.
CARDBOARD FOX are an English West Country acoustic quartet featuring Charlotte & Laura (The Carrvick Sisters) who have teamed up with Joe Tozer and John Breeze. They have been playing together since 2013, whilst carrying on with their other projects.
Their second album, “Topspin” encompasses many influences, from jazz, folk & Country, but always rooted in bluegrass.
Nine of the 11 tracks are penned by the band. The exceptions are covers of Gillian Welch’s “Tear My Stillhouse Down”, and “Fireflies”, written by Adam Young.
The album kicks off with a haunting vocal by Charlotte, which lifts into a pleasant mid tempo song. That’s “Empty Skies”, and sets the tone for the album. Most of tracks are quite midtempo, with vocals led by one of the girls.
I especially found “Until The Dawn” quite enchanting. It’s quite folksy, with some lovely mandolin.
“Roll Away” is quite upbeat, and probably the most Country track on the whole album. “On Your Side” brings out a quirky jazzy vocal style. “Nelly” is a folksy traditional sounding instrumental.
There’s a strange pop/rock feel to “Right Swiper”, which for me, didn’t quite fit into the album.
But I can forgo one track out of eleven.
This album was a really nice listen. Lovely vocals, and simple arrangements.
By the way, Bill Oddie’s quote reads,”When I first heard this band, I quite literally shed a tear. They were terrific”. Praise indeed!
They certainly know how to Keep It Country on the European continent. Our next album comes from Germany’s JOLINA CARL. “Forward Back Home” (Ol’ Rockin’ Chair Records) is her 4th album, and her most personal to date. She recorded it in Nashville, and wrote 6 of the 12 tracks.
There are two duets, “Wishing We Had” with Ray Scott, and “I Want To Hear You Say It”, with Billy Yates. Both are superb Country duets.
Of her own songs, “You Were The One” is a personal song about her father, whilst “Bent Metal”, which has quite a bluegrass feel, was inspired by a truck sideswiping her car. “All Through The Years” and “What Really Matters” are both heartfelt ballads.
But, if there’s a theme that keeps coming up through the album, it’s Johnny Cash. She opens with “Get Rhythm”, and also covers Courtney Lynn’s “Thank God For Johnny Cash”, before featuring another of her own compositions, “His Hideway”, inspired by Cash’s farm. It’s a really strong tribute to the Man In Black!
She also covers Amy Winehouse’ “Valerie”, in a rather different bluegrass style, and rounds it all off with “Hallelujah”.
Certainly an interesting album. She’s got a few dates in Ireland at the end of July/ early August. I think we’ll hear more of her before long.
Off to Canada next, and a superb Bluegrass quartette called THE SLOCAN RAMBLERS. Their third album, “Queen City Jubilee” is released this month, and is certainly one for bluegrass fans to pick up on.
Born out of Toronto’s gritty bluegrass scene, the band, which consists of Frank Evans, Adrian Gross, Darryl Poulsen and Alastair Whitehead, show their influences, steeped in The Louvin Brothers.
All but two numbers are originals. The exceptions are the slow “Long Chain Charlie And Moundsville”, written by Don Stover, and AP Carter’s “Sun’s Gonna Shine In My Back Door Someday”.
The album gets off to a flying start with “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues”, which features some superb harmonies, and old time traditions. The upbeat sound continues through songs like “Just To Know”, “Hill To Climb”, “Through & Through”, not to mention “Riley The Furniture Man”.
“First Train In The Morning” is a bit more mid-tempo, whilst “Makin’ Home” is quite a slow number.
There are a number of instrumentals including “Down In The Sagebrush”, “New Morning” and “Shut The Door”, which really show off the instrumental talents.
Bluegrass may not be everyone’s taste, but here’s a band that could just convert you. Brilliant musicianship, great harmonies. I loved it!
I have to admit that AMERICAN AQUARIUM is a new name on me. But the Alt-Country band have been around for the past twelve years, and have previously released seven studio, and two live albums. The original band, led by Raleigh NC based BJ Barham, dissolved last year, but quickly reformed with Texan’s Joe Bybee, Ben Hussey and Shane Boeker joined the fray. Completing the line up is Nashville based steelie Adam Kurtz, who also fronts Buck Owens’ tribute band Buck’n’Stuff.
I can’t compare this new line up against the previous set up, but on their new album, “Things Change” (New West), they live up to the Alt-Country label. There are certainly Country overtones, but with quite a rocky influence too. Think John Cougar Mellencamp, and you’ll be on the right track.
All songs were written by Barham, often about earlier life experiences, “When We Were Younger Men” is one of the album highlights for me, helped by the wailing steel guitar throughout. The steel also helps out on the softer ballad “One Day At A Time”. By contrast, the title track is quite a soft rocker.
“Work Conquers All” and “I Gave Up The Drinking” are the straightest Country songs on the album, whilst “Shadow Of You” had quite a folksy feel to it.
I found the album quite an interesting, and pleasant listen. They’re over here in the autumn, but only have dates down south so far.
JAMES SCOTT BULLARD has a real raw rocky edge to his music. “Full Tilt Boogie”, his 6th full album, (Big Mavis Records) certainly crosses the boundaries from Southern rock to the outlaw sound. I do hear some early Waylon influence in here.
The south Carolina native claims to come from a mixed clan of Irish, German, Native American and Hillbilly Moonshiners! His dad was a Country/bluegrass musician, and taught the youngster his first chords. But the young Bullard was more into Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. He started a rock band, but slowly drifted back towards Country music. Still today, he finds his music too Country for rock, and too Rock to be Country, but has found his niche in fringe characters like bikers, rodeo riders and renegades, Indeed he has been told that his music sounds like it should come from a modern day “Smokey & The Bandits” movie.
The album starts off with “Lord, Have Mercy”, which has a good Country Honky Tonk sound, albeit with a heavy metal guitar playing through it. “Wicked Ways”, “All To Pieces” also have the heavy metal beat to Country sounding songs.
“Hey Hey Mama” and “Warpath” have more or a blues influence.
But tracks like “Jesus, Jail Or Texas”, “The Next Tear” and “Back To You” exude a real raw Country sound.
It’s an interesting sound, which over the piece, I really enjoyed.
COLD TONE HARVEST are a quartet from South East Michigan, consisting of Andrew Sigworth, Brian Williams, Ozzie Andrews and Tony Pace. Sigworth is the lead vocalist and songwriter, having composed all 12 tracks on “After You”, their debut full length CD.
Most of the songs are slow ballads, but there are a couple of upbeat Country numbers, “Adeline” and “Daniel” which really make the album for me.
There’s also “Hold On”, a more upbeat number, which has a rather old timey English folk song sound, yet modern arrangement. It’s quite hard to describe.
But in the main, the album is quite slow, with “Wake Me” standing out. There are some nice harmonies from Erin Zindle, who really adds to the sound.
If you like your singer songwriters, this could be worth checking out.
I SEE HAWKS IN L.A. is quite a mouthful for a band name, but that’s exactly what we have here.
The California Country band released their first album back in 2001, and they have quietly been going about their business since, steadily building up a fanbase across the world.
The band consists of original members Rob Waller and Paul Lacques, alongside Paul Marshall and Victoria Jacobs. Waller is the main vocalist, but Jacobs, the group’s drummer, leads the vocals on a couple of tracks.
Although the twang isn’t as evident, the California element has me thinking about how this compares with the famous Bakersfield sound. There’s certainly plenty steel guitars, and some strong harmonies that really impressed me.
The ballads really win it for me, especially those featuring the steel, like “Pour Me”. I also enjoyed the gentle rhythm on tracks like “Singing In The Wind”, “The Isolation Mountains” and “Tearing Me In Two”.
There are upbeat numbers like “Stoned With Melisa” and the really rockin’ “The Last Man In Tujunga” and “King Of The Rosemead Boogie”.
The opening track, “Ballad For The Trees” is a gentler upbeat number, and the catchy “Live and Never Learn” won me over quite early on.
This was really quite an enjoyable listen. They’re heading our way in August, with dates at Belladum, and on Skye. Check them out.
Another Californian Country album comes from BEN BOSTICK. Although South Carolina born, he’s So-Cal based these days. His second album, “Hellfire” has quite a rough and ready, even rocky, edge to his Country sound.
All 11 songs were written by Ben, who cites his influences as Waylon, Springsteen and The Rolling Stones. That gives a fair idea of what to expect from this album.
Some of the tracks are just too way out rock for me, but there are some Country highlights too. The title track is a catchy Waylon type number, whilst “Blow Off Some Steam” has quite a rockabilly feel to it. “Tornado” has a Jerry Reed influence to it- a good upbeat story song.
I also liked “The Other Side Of Wrong” and “How Much Lower Can I Get”.
“Work, Sleep, Repeat” is probably the most mainstream Country number on the album.
Overall, I quite enjoyed the album. Worth checking out!
ROD ABERNETHY has quite a list of achievements. The North Carolina native first recorded back in 1975, before joining a local rock band called Arrogance. He has recorded for many labels over the years, and has provided music for over 70 computer games, including The Hobbitt, Transformers Animated, Jaws :Unleasehed and The Sims Bustin’ Out”.
So, I hear you ask, why does he get a mention here?
Well, he has a new double CD just released called “The Man I’m Supposed To Be” (Songs From Downstairs Records). One CD highlights his acclaimed guitar picking, on both 6 and 12 string guitars, in the style of Leo Kottke, Tommy Emmanuel and John Fahey. The tracks range from the quirky “Lucky Seven” and “Hopscotch” to the slow hypnotic “Sleepytime”, and the celtic influenced “Abby”.
The other CD showcases his simple acoustic singing style.
All but two of the songs are written by Abernethy. One of them, “The Man I’m Supposed To Be”, was written by BJ Barham (of the earlier mentioned American Aquarium), but is delivered in a very personal style by Rod, and quite suitably lends itself to the album title.
All of the songs are delivered in a soft James Taylor style. It kicks off with the gentle “Simple & True”, which I really liked. It has a soft Celtic influence, whilst maintaining its’ southern roots.
“The Bucket Song”, which was co-written by Nashville songwriter Wyatt Easterling, has more of a bluesy feel to it, whilst “The Bridge At Sagamore” has more of a haunting sound, blending bluegrass with Dylan.
There is a “driving” song, “Carolina Roads”, which is quite mid tempo, ideal for a slow Sunday drive.
The vocals CD finishes with “Pleasant Street”, which sums up the album.
A very pleasant listen.
From Chicago, our next release comes from MARSHALL HJERTSTEDT. “Carnivals And Other Tragedies” is a 7 track collection of self penned material, described as spanning folk-rock and roots, whilst in the spirit of Ian Tyson and Tom Paxton.
I certainly found the songs a pleasant listen, which should appeal to Country listeners, especially fans of singer songwriters.
This is his third album, and starts off with “Carnival Ride”, quite an upbeat number, which I really enjoyed. “Merry Go Around” is labelled as a songwriters lament, complete with a soft fiddle shuffle.
“The Devil Is in The Details” has quite an eerie haunting feel to it, whilst “El Nino”, has a soft Latin influence, as the self-confessed weather buff tells of the driest place of earth in South America.
The CD rounds out with the quite mainstream “Lost And Found” and the quite melodic “The River”.
A nice listen.
Rounding off, a couple of singles worthy of a mention here.
SHEEP IN WOLVES CLOTHING are an Edinburgh based band featuring Ohio born Teresa Workman Noble on lead vocals, alongside Manual Munoz Ibanez, Michael Pisanek and Murray McLauchlin.
Influenced by modern stars like Miranda Lambert, Cam and Ashley Monroe, the band have released their new single “A Storm in The Night”, a guitar driven song, which I really enjoyed. It has a catchy upbeat feel to it.
It’s also included on their self titled double EP, which also features their debit single, “Standing Rock”, which tells of the plight of the Indian Reservation, whose lives are threatened by the building of an oil pipeline near to their land.
Other tracks featured are “Over You” and a cover of Kasey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow”, as well as an a capella version of “Wayfaring Stranger”.
Finally, KELTIC STORM, led by Irish Country music promoter James McGarrity, have come up with a song that tells of the links between the Scots and the Irish. “The Shamrock And Tartan” is a lovely song, which includes many of the cultural similarities and differences across the sea.
And it’s all in a good cause. The proceeds from the 99p I-Tunes downloads will benefit homeless charities in both Scotland and Ireland, through the Simon Community.