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Monday 6 August 2018

Aug 2018

The title of legend is often given out rather easily at times, but with a career spanning over 50 years, and around 30 Number 1 hits, CHARLEY PRIDE is certainly one of Country music’s real living legends, and he proves it on his new album, “Music In My Heart” (Rosette).
Now into his 80’s, Charley has come out with a stunning Country album, which matches anything he done back in his heyday. Responsible for much of that may be credited to Billy Yates, who produced this album. You can certainly depend on Billy to keep the sound as traditional as a record can be.
Yates co-wrote four of the tracks including the ballads “It Wasn’t That Funny”, “I Learned A Lot” and “Standing In My Way”, as well as the catchy “All By My Lonesome”.
Another two of the tracks are from the pen of “Country” Johnny Mathis, including the bouncy title track, and the catchy “Make Me One More Memory”. Lee Bach contributed another three of the songs.
Other songs include “Natural Feeling For You”, co-written by Ben Peters, who wrote a few of Pride’s biggest hits, including “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” and “It’s Gonna Take a Little Bit Longer”.  This time around, it’s one of Peters’ ballads that has been included.
The album kicks off with “New Patches”, which I remember being the title track to a Mel Tillis album, and there’s also a cover of Merle Haggard’s “The Way It Was in ‘51”.
Stand out track for me is Bill Anderson’s composition, “You Lied To Me”.
Charley is still sounding superb, into his 80’s. I wonder how many of today’s “stars” will still be sounding as good when they’re Charley’s age!
A superb album!
Charley was back in Ireland a few months’ back recording for the “Opry Le Daniel” TV series, which we’ll hopefully see on BBC Alba later in the year.

ASHLEY MONROE was brought to the attention of Country fans through her Pistol Annies collaborations with Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley. The Knoxville native was considered the more traditional Country of the trio on her first couple of albums.
Now on her 4th outing, “Sparrow” (WB), Ashley has lost some of the traditional sparkle, replaced by a more moody smouldering sound.
All twelve tracks on this new album were co-written by Ashley, alongside the likes of Gordie Sampson, Paul Moak, Jon Randall, Waylon Payne and Brendan Benson.
The album kicks off with the slow and sensitive ballad, “Orphan”, which is followed by the more mid-tempo “Hard On A Heart”. It’s a rather strange arrangement, with a strong string element, and, to my ears, comes over as a dated continental Eurovision ballad. “She Wakes Me Up”, was a bit more upbeat.
Other smouldering ballads include “Hands On You” and “Rita”.
“This Heaven” and “Paying Attention”, whilst still ballads, had a bit more depth to them. Similarly, “I’m Trying”, “Daddy I Told You” and “Keys To The Kingdom”, had more of a Country feel to them, than most of the album.
For me, the stand out track is “Mother’s Daughter”, which, with its’ quirky chorus, I really enjoyed.
But I have to say that, whilst it was a pleasant listen, I’d prefer her earlier material.

It’s 16 years since SUGARLAND burst onto the Country scene with “Baby Girl”. The duo of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush undertook some individual projects in recent years, but got together for this year’s c2c festivals, and have now released their sixth studio album, “Bigger” (Big Machine), their first together for 7 years.
Like their previous outings, this album has a largely pop sound, and very little Country music in it. Oh, the production is superb, and the harmonies blend together well. But Nettle’s own vocals are as jaggy as her namesake plant.
They even include some rapping during “On A Roll”. It comes over sounding a bit out of place having a female “southern” accent rapping like that.
There’s also a collaboration with Taylor Swift, on the Swift composed “Babe”.
We do have some really nice “Country-ish” songs on the album. “Mother” works well. But, for me, the last three songs of the 11 track album are the best. “Love Me Like I’m Leaving”, the slow “Tuesday’s Broken”, and the emotional, “Not The Only”, are just enough to save this album, for my Country ears.

LORI McKENNA is labelled in Wikipedia as “an American folk music singer-songwriter”, with 11 albums to her credit.
She came to attention of Country music, by writing the CMA’s Song Of The Year, two years running. She won in 2015 with “Girl Crush”, and again the following year with “Humble & Kind”.
But Lori has been around Nashville for a while now. She signed a Music City publishing deal in 2004, and, the following year, had four cuts on Faith Hill’s “Fireflies” album. That led to her touring with Faith & Tim on the Soul2Soul tour. Her songs have also been cut by Hunter Hayes, Sara Evans and Jimmy Wayne.
For her latest album, “The Tree” (Thirty Tigers), Lori has teamed up with Dave Cobb, best known for working with Chris Stapleton, amongst others.  All 11 tracks are self penned, and delivered in a very simple style. Lori’s voice has a strong, accented drawl, despite hailing from Massachusetts, rather than the south. She kinda reminded me of Lacy J Dalton.
Most of the songs are quite simple arrangements, but she does lift the tempo a bit on tracks like “Young And Angry Again” and “Happy People”.
“People Are Old” has quite an infectious styling, which really appealed to me, and I really liked “You Wont Even Know I’m Gone” and “The Way Back Home”.
“You Cant Break A Woman” is one of the strongest Country ballads on the album, and ticks all the boxes.
The album concludes with the sultry “Like Patsy Would”, just in case the album needs some Country authenticity. It doesn’t. It’s as strong a Country album, as anything out of Nashville recently. 
I really enjoyed this album. I’m finding myself listening to it over & over again.

SCOTTY McCREERY is one of those TV talent show discoveries. The North Carolina native won American Idol in 2011, beating Lauren Alaina in the final. His first album, “Clear As Day” sold over a  million copies, and topped both the Country & Pop charts in the US.
His 4th album, “Seasons Change” (Sony) is his third No.1 album on the Country charts, and sits nicely between the Alan Jackson/George Strait solid Country sound, and the pop mix that comes out of Nashville these days.
The former is best heard on tracks like “Five More Minutes”, the first single from the album. It’s a song about his grandad, which is obviously very personal to him. Other tracks in the more traditional camp include the opening title track, and “Home In My Mind”, a lovely ballad, which closes the album.
“This Is It” rides both camps. Scotty’s delivery is Country, but the arrangement behind him is more modern. “Barefootin’” is similar, reminding me of an early Toby Keith. The stand out tracks, for me, are “Boys From Back Home” and ”Wherever You Are”, both catchy upbeat numbers.
“Wrong Again”, “Move It On Out” and ”Still” are a few of the more Nashville pop songs on the project.
But, all things considered, quite an enjoyable album. Good to hear Scotty brushing off the shackles of American Idol, to give us the real Scotty McCreery.

Catching up with a couple of releases next, which have been out for a while, but have just caught our attention lately.
THE REMEDY CLUB are an Irish duo, who are playing on the Friday at the Millport Festival. The Remedy Club are husband and wife KJ McEvoy and Aileen Mythen. Their album, “Lovers, Legends & Lost Causes” was recorded in Co.Wexford, but mastered in Nashville by the legendary Ray Kennedy.
They have a sound that is rich in harmonies, a bit old timey, a bit folky, but a really enjoyable listen whatever.
The harmonies hit you from the first few seconds. “I Miss You” is a gentle number which really hooks you in, and has you intrigued to listen for more. And they don’t disappoint. “The Last Song”, in particular, demonstrates some lovely harmonies.
“When Tom Waits Up” has quite a haunting guitar intro, which leads into a bluesy old timey number. “Django” has a similar style, but, on other tracks they have a much more Country delivery. “Sweet White Lies”, is upbeat and catchy, whilst “This Is Love” is slow and moody.
Most of the tracks are led vocally by Aileen, the exceptions being “Big Ol’ Fancy” which is an upbeat number led by KJ. He also leads on the story song, “Bottom Of The Hill”, and on “Listening To Hank Williams” which really suits his voice.
I love the steel licks, courtesy of David Murphy, which just blend in nicely, throughout the album.  There’s also some nice string arrangements, from KJ’s famous sister Eleanor McEvoy.
I really enjoyed listening to The Remedy Club. Different, but very pleasant.

BARBARA NESBITT was born in Georgia, found her musical footing in San Diego, and lives in Austin, Texas. She’s a regular visitor to these shores, and has built up quite a fan base from her three previous albums. But her latest album, “Right as Rain” really establishes Barbara as an artist.
If you’ve ever seen her on stage, you’ll know just how carefree she can be, and that comes across on this album.
It all kicks off with “At Large In Tennessee”, lead by its’ banjo intro, which sets the scene. 
That’s followed by “Someone I Can’t Live Without”, which is one of the stand out tracks on the album. “Hot Tin Roof” also stands out, with her soaring vocals, and prominent fiddle and banjo.
Kim DeChamps’ steel guitar really shines on the bright & breezy “Beautiful”.
She can also create quite a haunting sound on tracks like “Red” and “Old Devils Can Die”, and also slow the tempo on the emotional “Love Me When I’m Hurtin’ Too”.
“Catch Me On Fire” is a lovely swaying duet, featuring Nick Randolph. Their voices are certainly suited together.
Catchy titles work for Barbara. There’s her anti-relationship song, “Dammit, I Love You”, and at the opposite end of the scale, "I Brought My Pajamas, Let’s Get Drunk”, is certainly worth a listen.
I love Barbara’s voice. It can be strong, yet sound vulnerable. The instrumentation is superb.
The album was recorded in Austin, San Diego, and even Nashville.
With the endless array of female pop singers, masquerading as Country, these days, Barbara Nesbitt is the real thing!

Ireland has a knack of producing an endless stream of Country talent, and there’s no dispute that CLIONA HAGAN has certainly made her impression in the past couple of years.
Cliona first came to her home nation’s attention when she took part in the The All Ireland Talent Show back in 2009. On the show she was billed as an opera singer, and performed “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in the final.  She continued her education, including training as a secondary school teacher at Edinburgh University.
This second album from the Tyrone lass, “Secret Love”, shows a wide variety in her music. She does excel at the upbeat numbers, from Dolly’s “More Where That Come From”, to Paul Kennerley’s “Born To Run”, and Tammy’s “Another Chance”.
But she can slow the tempo, including “The Band Played An Old Time Waltz”, and the recent single “Stop Cheatin’ On Me”, a Kellie Pickler cover, which many readers won’t know over here. Another relatively recent cover is “Head Over Boots”, from the pen of Jon Pardi. There’s also her version of “Old Flames Cant Hold A Candle To You”.
There’s the token Irish stamp, on the old time fun number “McCarthy’s Party”, and a few oldies given a showband styling, including the upbeat versions of “Secret Love”, “I’m Movin’On”, and Jim Reeves’ “The Wilder Your Heart Beats”.
There are a couple of original songs, including a lovely ballad, “Handle with Care”, written by Donegal songwriter Andrew Cox.
The album concludes with the personal “Country Found Me”, written for Cliona by Henry McMahon. It’s a beautifully produced, extremely Country sounding number, where Cliona confesses that her love with Country music came pretty late in life, having grew up with Britney and The Spice Girls. But to say in the song, that the turning point was “Miranda And Jennifer singing Coal Miners Daughter”, just took things too far for me! Someone please play Cliona some Loretta!
A superb album none the less.

You may be excused for not knowing about the musical heritage of Charlie Poole. He was an old time banjo player and Country music musician from North Carolina, who died at the age of 39, back in 1931!   But his music has survived through the likes of John Mellencamp, Joan Baez, The Chieftains and even The Grateful Dead!
Now DAVID DAVIS & THE WARRIOR RIVER BOYS have recorded a full album, inspired by the old time picker. “Didn’t He Ramble : Songs of Charlie Poole” (Rounder) features 14 tracks which really freshens up these classic tunes. Davis, has established himself and his band on the bluegrass scene Stateside, with 8 albums in the past 30 years to his credit.
Despite giving the old songs a fresh sound, the arrangements are still very much in the traditional, bluegrass style.
The songs include “One Moonlight Night”, “May I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister”, “Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee”, “Milwaukee Blues”, “White House Blues” and “Sweet Sunny South”.
I really enjoyed this collection. It was a real breath of fresh air.

We like to discover Country music from all over the world. Our next album comes from ANITA WAGNER, She’s no newcomer to the music scene, having represented Austria in the 1984 Eurovision Song Contest. She released an album a few years ago, which got her back into the business, and has now gone Country on her new release, “A Woman For You” (WIR Records).
The album was produced by Peter Jordan, who wrote all 12 songs on the album, and Anita is backed by the musicians from The Dirty Nuggets Band.
The songs include some upbeat numbers like “Say Hello”, which opens the album, “About Me”, “Bread And Beans” and “Not Sometime”.
There are also some moody ballads, including “When A Woman Loves A Man”, “Prisoner In Blues” and “I’m So Sorry”, which you can really feel the emotion Anita injects into each of them.
The title track is a strong ballad, which stands out as one of the album’s highlights.
There is a definite Europop sound to the album, which might not have been so evident if she had went for a bunch of well known covers. I guess I have to praise her for doing her own thing, and not trying to sound American! It just doesn’t sound quite Country enough for me though!
I know, I’m never satisfied!

We’re heading Down Under for a new album from Alt-Country/Americana outfit LACHLAN BRYAN & THE WYLDES, who have made inroads into the European & US markets in the past nine years, through regular touring, and the release of four albums. On their recent UK tour, they played two different Glasgow venues.
“Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music” is a great title for an album, which covers quite a bit of ground through its’ 12 tracks.
The collection opens with the semi-political “I Hope That I’m Wrong”, inspired by the “Me Too” movement last year.
“Careless Hearts” is quite a melodic number, which I really quite liked, but I was most impressed with the more upbeat tracks, like “It Tears Me Up (Everytime You Turn Me Down)”.
He really slows it down on the piano led “Sweet Bird Of Youth”, and on “Stolen Again”, “In New York”, and “Peace In The Valley” (not the gospel classic).
But the stand out tracks for me are the two that feature guest vocalists. “The Basics Of Love”, which features Kiwi, Shanley Del, really recaptures the old Waylon & Jessi sound, whilst Canadian Lindi Ortega joins in on “Don’t You Take It Too Bad”.  Harmonies on both are outstanding.
It was quite an interesting listen.

Singer songwriter PHILIP MARINO is an exiled American in Essex. His 4th album, “Chasing Ghosts” was recorded on a converted boathouse along the River Orwell in Suffolk, and features ten self penned songs.
Marino’s influences include North American folk era singers like Jim Croce, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, and that comes across on some of the songs here, including “In Your Hands” and “The Way We Live”.
The opening track, “The Way It Goes” starts quite mellow, but gets quite rocky in parts.
Ballads include “In My Blood”, which likens himself to his parents, and “This Time”, which reflects of being half way through his life, his past and how he can change for the future.
Stand out track for me is “No Turning Back”, which has quite a catchy feel to it, complete with nice harmonies from co-producer Adam Bowers and Louisa Charrington, and even some effective finger clicks, and I liked the twist in tempo at the end. Quite unexpected.
A really nice listen. 

Finally this time around is a new name on the block. LETITIA VANSANT is a Baltimore based singer songwriter, whose life history is more political than musical. She has a degree in Human Rights & Humanitarian Studies and worked for the Obama campaign.
But realising the strength of music, she gave up the 9 to 5 job to follow the musical dream. Last year she won the Kerryville New Folk Songwriting Contest, following in the footsteps of Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith.
Now comes her new album, her first national, and international release, “Gut To The Studs”, which gets its release here on August 27th.
Whilst, essentially an acoustic folk music album, after a few listens, I was really quite warming to her vocal charms, and there’s certainly a few tracks which wouldn’t be out of place on Country radio.
The opening track, “Where I’m Bound” which emphasising the importance of persevering, got me interested right away. The title track is a bit more up tempo, asking “is it wrong to want what I want”.
I liked the simplicity, and catchy chorus, on “Sweet Magnolia”, and “Dandelion” for similar reasons”.
Stand out track for me is “The Field”, in which Letitia likens her inner journey to the labour of farming. Her voice sounds so pure and vulnerable, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and upright bass. Beautiful.
The only track not written by Letitia is a stripped back cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”. A really nice version.
A really pleasant listen. One of Letitia’s other projects is Rusty Sal, a classic Country/honky tonk band. I’d love to hear that!

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