We’ll start off our reviews this time with a superb album from Canada. “Then And Now Vol 1” is a project by the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame, which is in Merritt BC , and produced by Tom and Carly McKillip.
The idea of the album is to team up the Hall of Fame legends with some of Canada’s younger (and not so young) talent, performing some of the legend’s biggest hits.
So you have Ian Tyson, teaming up with Aaron Pritchett and One More Girl on a rockin’ version of “Summer Wages” to kick things off. It’s certainly a bit different to Tyson’s original.
Some of the songs included aren’t really that different to the originals. They include Michelle Wright’s “Take It Like a Man”, where she’s joined by Jess Moskaluke, and “Fox On The Run”, featuring The Good Brothers and current CCMA Group of The Year, The Washboard Union.
But some of the songs are given totally new arrangements, like Sylvia Tyson’s “You Were On My Mind”, which is led by George Canyon, and Gary Fjellgaard’s “Dance With This Old Cowboy”, which features Brett Kissell.
Russell De Carle (ex Prairie Oyster) teams up with Patricia Conroy on the old Oyster classic “Such A Lonely One”. This one is given quite an Everly’s feel, with lovely harmonies.
The stand out track for me is the rockin’ version of “Down By The Henry Moore”, a hit for Murray McLauchlan back in 1975. He’s joined on this version by Belfast born Beverly Mahood, who was only months old when the song was originally released.
There are also collaborations featuring The Family Brown & Kelly Prescott, and Wendell Ferguson & Gord Bamford, before all the “Now” artists join together on a Gordon Lightfoot medley.
Watching the CCMA Awards show recently, it looks like the Country scene there has went the same way as Nashville- down the pop road - but there is some seriously good Canadian Country music on this collection, which should be savoured.
I found it a real feel good album musically, and a treasure to listen to.
The album can be downloaded, and the full physical CD package includes a glossy 24 page booklet and a DVD looking at the making the album.
The UK Country scene has developed its own brand in recent years, led by the likes of The Shires and Ward Thomas. It’s good to see Scottish acts getting recognised too. Glasgow based ASHTON LANE, who took their name from the city’s West End entertainment district, went right to No. 1 in the Official UK Country Album Chart with the release of their new album, “The In Between” (OC Records), holding onto the position for a second week.
Esther & Tim O’Connor, who make up the duo have released five previous albums (and another under Esther’s name), but this album raises their profile.
Much of the background to the album can be traced to the duo’s online “Kitchen Sessions” which has 8.7k subscribers. Many of the songs were written alongside fans, including the lead single, “Marilyn Curls”, which is based on the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be publicly executed in Britain. It offers quite a different sound for them. It’s quite haunting and bluesy.
The title track, which sits nicely half way through the album, is a lovely simple ballad, which really highlights Esther’s pure vocals.
The album kicks off with the bright & breezy “By The Field”, and followed by the mid/up tempo “People In The Valley”, which really caught my attention on my first listen.
I really liked the driving “Growing Up Together”, which has quite a Rickie Lee Jones influence to it (albeit with a less scratchy vocal style).
Esther proves she can perform a mean ballad too, shown to best effect on the haunting “Primrose Hill”, which also offers some really neat harmonies. “Desert Sky” which closes the album has many of the same attributes. “Under The Wonder” is another which excels in their harmonies.
“I’ll Pray” is another which has a really haunting sound to it. It conjures up images of an old church, without sounding like a gospel number. For me, another of the album’s highlights.
Over time, Ashton Lane have developed a sound that is theirs. In a world where so many groups and singers all sound the same, here is an album, which sounds original. That’s because it is!
Back in 2010, a young Glasgow girl called LISA McHUGH released her first commercial album called “Old Fashioned Girl” (She did record an earlier album of covers before this). It was the start of a career which has seen her move to Ireland to become one of the biggest Country stars there.
After seven highly popular albums, Lisa has taken time out to reflect on the past nine years and look back at the songs which have been “The Best So Far” and released them in one new package (Sharpe Music).
The 20 tracks take us from “I’m A Little Bit Lonely”, which was on her first album (but taken from her Live album here), right up to recent singles “Y’All Come” and “Honey Honey”, her duet with Derek Ryan.
In between there are a number of Dolly covers, like “Applejack”, “Blue Smoke” and “Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That”. Other hits included are Kasey Chambers’ catchy “Hillbilly Girl” and the title track to her last album, “Who I Am” (the theme to TV detective series Sue Thomas F.B.Eye).
This album proves that Lisa’s popularity, with her busy schedule on the Irish dance scene, is thanks to her happy upbeat numbers. But Lisa has had a few notable ballads of note. One example would be the lovely version she does of “Play Me The Waltz of The Angels”. There are also duets with Nathan Carter on “You Cant Make Old Friends” and Malachi Cush on “Peggy Gordon”. There’s also “Daddy’s Little Girl” and “26 Cents”.
But the track which really stands out for me, and has done since her first album, is “There Were Roses”. Although originally on “Old Fashioned Girl”, the 5 ½ minute version here is from “Lisa Live” and is filled with so much emotion. If you’re not familiar with the song, it was written by folk singer Tommy Sands, and tells of the troubles in Northern Ireland, and the killing of two good friends across the religious divide. The song really strikes a chord, and Lisa delivers it so well.
The whole album is a good catch up on her career to date.
ROBBIE PETRIE is, without doubt, one of Scotland’s longest established Country performers, especially in the North East.
Robbie has come up with a real traditional mix of songs for his latest album, “Nashville On My Mind”, which was produced by Ryan Turner, alongside musicians like Danny Sheerin and Charlie Arkins from Ireland, and Max T Barnes, Johnny Lee Carpenter and Rusty Manmyer from Nashville, He’s even got The Benn Sisters on backing vocals.
Songs include The Hag’s “Big City”, “Lonesome Fugitive” and “Mama’s Hungry Eyes”, Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning”, and Paycheck’s “A-11”. There are some other gems, like the Confederate Railroad ballad “When You Leave That Way” and “This Is My Year For Mexico”, which I remember Crystal Gayle doing early in her career. Robbie also does his take on Kathy Mattea’s “Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses”.
It’s a well produced album, featuring some real traditional Country music. They’re all covers, but Robbie does them so well.
Good job Robbie!
MICK FLAVIN has been at the top of the Irish music scene for over 30 years now, and celebrates with a new CD/DVD package, “30 Years Travellin’ To Flavin” (Rosette Records). He has consistently been recognised as one of Ireland’s “most Country of performers”.
The CD was recorded live at the Backstage Theatre in his native Co.Longford, and features 15 songs from that have been signature songs for him, like “Someday You’ll Love Me”, “I’m Gonna Make It After All” and “Lights of Home” to George Jones covers like “Choices”, “A Few Old Country Boys” and “He Started Loving Her Today”, to a Hank Williams set.
Stand out track for me has to be “Legend and the Man”, originally done by Conway Twitty, and later by Keith Whitley. Mick’s version is up there with both.
The DVD features all of the CD tracks, as performed live in Longford, with a number of additional songs, such as “Size 7 Round” (a duet with Mary Duff), “Back Home To Mayo” and “Old Log Cabin”.
There’s also video of Mick visiting some old stomping grounds from his childhood, and rekindling some great memories.
As I say. Mick is one of Ireland’s real Country singers, and this is a fitting marker for his 30th Anniversary in the business. Here’s to the next 30 !
Country music is sung all over the world, not only in the large English speaking countries, but also in smaller places. Our next album comes from the Mediterranean island of Malta.
MARTY RIVER’s first public performance was at the age of 13, singing Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” in a local talent competition.
His first three albums got significant attention and radio play from the international Country music community. Now, Marty releases his fourth album, “Maltese Falcon” (Amberstar), recorded in Nashville, with Gary Carter as producer. Gary also produced his “Midnight Sky” album seven years ago.
The album features 14 self penned songs (with Joseph Spiteri), all given a really polished Country sound. The title track, a lovely ballad, with some affectionate harmonies from Mica Roberts, tells of flying free without a care in the world.
The style of songs on the album is really varied, from the upbeat “Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool” , “If Only These Walls Could Talk” and “Tonight Mr DJ”, to the more mellow “You’re What Keeps Me Going On”, “He’s Walking By My Side”, “Love Is A Wonder” and midtempo numbers like “Texas Lady”.
Jay Jennings adds some trumpets to the Marty Robbins influenced “Magnifico Mexico”. It’s actually a bit more upbeat than anything Robbins done, but still has his feel. In a similar vein is “Sweet Lorena”, this time highlighting Jeff Taylor on accordion.
The Cajun flavoured “Why Don’t You” is another upbeat number, which is the current radio single. It should certainly get some airplay. Again Mica’s harmonies are just spot on.
One particularly interesting number is “February of ‘59”, which of course, remembers the legendary Buddy Holly. A very timely number indeed.
I really enjoyed this album from Marty. A good mix of real Country music, and all original at that.
JIMMY CHARLES is a new name to me, but maybe not to the viewers of “American Idol”, where he got as far as “Hollywood Week”. That was back in 2009. Now he’s in Nashville, and has just recorded a 7 track EP, “Hard Way To Go”.
All but one of the songs was co written by Delaware born, Charles alongside an array of Nashville writers, whose credits read like a who’s who of Country music.
They start off with the beach life influenced “Blue Spaces”, although Jimmy’s blue space is a bit farther north in the Ocean Bay area of Maryland, and bit more rocky than a Jimmy Buffett/ Kenny Chesney beach song. It’s a good lively start to the CD.
That’s followed by his big ballad love song, “She’s Where I Belong” before a smoldering inspirational number in “Rollin’ On”, telling of the trials of life and the ambitions to go after your dreams.
“God And A Woman” is one of the simpliest arrangements on the record. A nice ballad, it really shows off Jimmy’s vocals to best effect.
Cancer features in the songs, with the lead single from the collection, “I Am Not Alone”, which is quite an anthem, and the powerful and emotional ballad “Superman”, both highlighting the suffering of victims and loved one’s affected by the illness.
The one song he didn’t write, “Hard Way To Go” also has a serious message, as it deals with addictions. It’s another powerful ballad which really shows a lot of emotion.
An interesting collection of songs from a guy, I’m sure we’ll hear more off before too long.
JESS KLEIN is a Rochester, NY born singer songwriter who has released 11 albums over the past couple of decades, mainly labelled as folk or blues. Her songs have contained grassroots social activism, with alt-Country rock overtones.
She found herself in Austin Texas, considered by many to be the live musical centre of the universe, but Jess outgrew the city limits there, and ended up in rural North Carolina, after marrying fellow songwriter Mike June.
It took time for Jess to acclimatise herself to the North Carolina scene, but teaming up with producer Mark Simonson, resulted in this new collection of original material, “Back To My Green” (Blue Rose Records).
The title track is a quite catchy mid tempo song about feeling free in the great outdoors.
It all opens with a radio friendly “In Dreams”, which has quite a subtle pop beat, especially on the chorus which I actually quite liked. “Tougher Than I Seem”, is much more of a ballad, showing a vulnerability in her vocal style. Again the chorus really made the song stand out. In both of these songs, especially in the chorus, she reminded me of a young Olivia Newton John, whose early stuff was quite folky in parts.
The songs include the social statements of “Blair Mountain” (about the 1921 Coal War in Logan County, W Va) and “New Thanksgiving Feast”, dedicated to the Native American pipeline protestors.
Elsewhere, “4 The Girlz” and “I Hear Love” are especially delicate numbers, which really highlights her vocals, whilst “Mammal” was quite a poppy number.
But, for my first listen to Jess Klein, I really enjoyed this album, and I’ll be checking back on her earlier material.
She’s here in April/May. Check out her dates on the gig guide page.
You may think that you’re not too familiar with SEAN McCONNELL’s music, but you may well be. He’s written songs recorded by everyone from Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley to Martina McBride, Rascall Flatts and even Meat Loaf. Last year, he secured his first No.1 song with “Mercy”, recorded by Brett Young, who was on the cover of the last CMDS.
Sean recorded his first album at the age of 15, and has built up a catalogue of no less than 15 titles to date.
Recently performing at Celtic Connections, as support for Ashley Monroe, Sean released “Second Hand Smoke”, a 13 track album, with three co-writes and ten self penned originals.
Growing up in Boston, his family moved to Georgia when he was 10, and now calls Nashville home, where he produced this personal album. With the exception of strings and synths, he played all the instruments you hear on the record.
Sean’s bio points out that he has taken familiar stories, often with biblical roots, and added his own perspective.
The collection starts off with the title track, a soft story ballad, which sets the scene for what is to come. It’s a gentle introduction, which crosses his folk/country roots. By contrast, that’s followed by the more commercial “Here We Go”, which has a dated Paul Simon feel to it.
“Shaky Bridges” has some nice harmonica intro, leading into a gospel favoured number, which relates to the subject of compromises, which really just cover the cracks.
“I Could Have Been an Angel” delves into the relationship between Jesus and The Devil. An interesting take on why we don’t all turn out the same way. Quite deep. “The Devil’s Ball”, on the other hand is about longing for love.
“Greetings From Niagara Falls” is a ballad talking about the loneliness in chasing your dreams. It doesn’t only pick on the Falls, but on musician dreams like Austin.
“Wrong Side Of Town”, which closes the album, is a very simple, piano led number, which I particularly enjoyed.
“Alien” has quite a pop feel to it, and “Rest My Head” is quite a slow, moody, haunting number. “Another Song About A Breaking Heart” and “I Don’t Want To Know” have more of a modern Nashville influence.
An interesting album, which should finally get Sean some recognition on a wider stage.
Finally, DEVIN DAWSON is one of Nashville’s new breed of male singers, who has been making a name for himself since his album, “Dark Horse” (WB) was released last year. He recently toured here as support to Dan & Shay.
The Californian native sold 223,000 units of his first single, “All On Me”, which reached No.2 on the Country charts. It’s a pleasant mid tempo number, with a catchy hook. A style that is popular in Nashville these days.
Unfortunately, the other two singles released from the album, “Asking For A Friend” and the title track, have failed to make an impact on the chart, although the album itself reached No.5.
The album starts off with “Dip”, a rather loud r&b number, which would’ve been a quick switch off for me, if I hadn’t the job of reviewing the whole album. Thankfully, there are some really nice, if poppy, numbers on the album.
“Asking For A Friend”, “Second Hand Heart” and “Dark Horse” all stand out for me. They all demonstrate vocals above simpler arrangements.
Other tracks, including “Second To Last”, “I Don’t Care Who Sees” and “War Paint” are all quite a poppy numbers.