We’ll start off with North Lanarkshire based HAZEL CUMMING, who recently launched her second album at the Fenwick Hotel in Ayrshire.
“Best Friends” was recorded at Hillside studio in Co.Down, and features acclaimed musicians such as Gerard Dornan, Stephen Smyth, Stevie Kirk and Charlie Arkins, with Carrie Benn, adding some backing vocals.
There are twelve tracks on the album, including three self penned originals.
The title track is a lovely lilting ballad, which honours the bond between mother and daughter. It’s a song that I’m sure will become a Mothers Day favourite in the future. If “My Best Friend” was about her mum, “Here’s to Happy Years” is directed at her husband. It’s a good upbeat happy song, as is “Fake It With A Smile”.
Of the covers, Dolly’s “Cracker Jack” stands out. It’s a song which was hidden away on a 1974 album. Dolly’s got a number of covers which get covered regularly, but good to see one of her lesser known songs getting some recognition.
Other covers include “Suds In The Bucket”, “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”, “How Blue” and “Home To Aherlow”
And there’s a strong ballad performance on Derek Ryan’s “Gods Plan”.
Hazel is certainly influenced by the Country’n’Irish sound, and this album will no doubt get the recognition it deserves in Ireland. I hope the Scottish audiences pick up on this album too.
It’s a happy, upbeat album, which is certainly worth a listen.
DALE WATSON is a real troubadour for traditional Country music, and the founder of the Ameripolitan movement, which supports original music in the honky tonk, western swing, outlaw and rockabilly genres.
Born in Alabama, Dale is now, very much part of the Austin, Texas scene, having travelled via North Carolina, Houston, Los Angeles, Nashville and Baltimore on the way.
He has been regular visitor to the UK, even recording an album, “Live in London” back in 2002, and is back for a date in Glasgow this month.
His latest album, “Call My Lucky” is a superb collection of stone Country, recorded at Sam Phillips studio in Memphis.
The album kicks off with the bouncy title track, which really sets the tone for the album. It’s also his latest single release.
One of the stand out tracks for me, is the simple ballad “Johnny & June”, a duet with Celine Lee.
There’s also a Cash influence on “The Dumb Song”, “You Weren’t Supposed To Feel This Good” and “Run Away”. Dale certainly suits the Cash style, quite naturally.
“Mamma’s Smile” is a lovely old style Country ballad, which really stood out for me.
“Restless” is a good upbeat number, as is “Inside View” and “Who Needs This Man”.
Trucking songs have become something of a trademark for Dale, and this album continues the trend, with “David Buxkemper”, with a steady driving beat. Still on the road, “Tupelo Mississippi and a 57 Fairlane” captures his love of vintage cars.
This album is just so Country. A brilliant album of real Country music!
If there’s any tickets left for his Saint Lukes gig, grab them now!
JIM LAUDERDALE is one of the most respected musicians and writers in Nashville these days. He has collaborated with a vast array of names, from Ralph Stanley, Buddy Miller, Nick Lowe, and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. As a writer, his songs have been recorded by George Strait, Mark Chesnut, Vince Gill and The Dixie Chicks.
The North Carolinian has been making records since 1986, and releases his 32nd album, “In Another World” (Yep Roc) on June 23rd.
Co-produced by Jay Weaver and David Leonard, the 12 track record is a mix of solo tracks and collaborations with co-writers such as the legendary Melba Montgomery, Buddy Cannon, and emerging Americana star Logan Ledger.
Lauderdale is considered something of a free spirit, when it comes to music. He doesn’t record music to fit any particular genres (although he did a “Bluegrass” offering a few years ago). That philosophy continues throughout this album.
The opening track “Some Horses Run Free”, is a good upbeat number to get you interested. Horses get a second mention in “The Graceland Horses”, which has more of a cantor pace to it.
“The Secrets Of The Pyramids”, the first single from the album, features harmonies from Third Man Country singer songwriter Lillie Mae and her brother Frank Rische. Check out the video, which also features Elizabeth Cook.
“Listen” is one of the prettiest songs on the album. It has a really simple, laid back feel, which really appealed to me, as did “For Keeps”, and “I’ll Forgive You If You Don’t”, which are probably the most Country tracks on the album. I also liked the title track, which has a gentle lilt.
There’s a nice steel guitar intro to “One Away”, one of the slower numbers on the album. “When You Cant Have What Your Heart Wants” is a bit more mid tempo.
Despite some lavish steel, “One Away” has a rather dated 60’s Beatles-esque feel to it. And the closing song, “Are You Trying To Make A Song Out Of Us”, has a sound that has come straight out of the soul-funk era.
But, as I say, Jim Lauderdale is not someone you can box into a genre. He has his own style, and for his fans, this will be another winner!
Humphead Records have a knack of coming up with really imaginative compilations. The first of two this month comes from The Southern Gentleman, SONNY JAMES. “The Capitol Hits 1963-1972” features 50 tracks across 2 CD’s, and includes some magical music. My collection was extremely limited of Sonny’s material, so this was most welcome.
The period covered by this collection features music from his second stint at Capitol, which explains why his biggest hit, “Young Love” is not included. But you will find another 20 No.1 Country hits, 16 of which were consecutive chart toppers for him.
Fans from the 60’s & 70’s will recall his hits like “You’re The Only World I Know”, “Take Good Care Of Her” and “Born To Be With You”. He also had Country hits with covers of pop songs like “Only The Lonely” and “It’s Just Matter Of Time” and two Seekers numbers, “I’ll Never Find Another You” and an uptempo “A World Of Our Own”.
I really enjoyed listening to old forgotten hits like “Ask Marie”, “Behind The Tear” and “I’m Getting Gray From Being Blue”, not to mention “On The Fingers Of One Hand”, which was the B’side on “Take Good Care Of Her”.
It’s music from another era. But it’s from an era, when the music was made to last, and this package is testament to that.
A real pleasure to listen to.
Humphead’s other new release is from BOBBY GOLDSBORO, best known for his UK hits “Honey” and “Hello Summertime”, which was used for a Coca Cola TV ad. “With Pen In Hand- The Definitive Hits Collection” has 50 tracks across 2CD’s. The material stretches from his first US pop hit, “See The Funny Little Clown” from 1964, (although the version here is a 1991 re-recording), through to “I’m A Drifter”, “Muddy Mississippi Line” and “Watching Scotty Grow”, which were Country hits around the late 60’s/early 70’s.
But a lot of Bobby’s hits were more pop orientated, and that’s reflected throughout this album. The happy easy listening pop sound was popular during this era, and it’s easy to see how Bobby was such a successful part of it.
The title of this collection also serves to point out that Goldsboro was an accomplished songwriter, as well as a singer. No less than 36 of the tracks here were self penned. But Bobby also wrote for others, including Vikki Carr, Brenda Lee, John Denver and Della Reese.
Whilst I realise that Goldsboro was probably one of these singer-songwriters whose Country music credentials were achieved by accident less than ambition. His main market would have been Top 40 pop, but with a crossover appeal across genres.
It’s all just a bit too pop for me though!
MARY DUFF has established herself on the Irish & International Country music scene over the past 32 years, having recorded her first album back in 1987. She is recognised for her continual touring with Daniel O’Donnell over that time, but has also developed her own solo career, both as a recording and touring artist.
I reckon her new album is her 16th studio solo album, not counting a number of duet albums with Daniel, compilations and live collections.
“Turn Back The Years” (Rosette) is a collection of newly recorded Country classics. Whilst Mary has recorded her fair share of original material in the past, the live audiences, especially with Daniel, appreciate more of the easy listening evergreens, and that’s just what Mary offers on this new collection.
Included are instantly recognisable numbers like “Silver Threads And Golden Needles”, “What I’ve Got In Mind”, “Blue Bayou” and “Snowbird”, alongside Emmylou’s “Beneath Still Waters” and Mary Chapin’s “Down At The Twist & Shout”. As you can tell she’s covering the spectrum with the material here. The title track is an old Hank Williams number, and she also includes Patsy’s “A Poor Man’s Roses”. Leo Sayers’ “When I Need You” also gets the Mary Duff treatment, and Daniel joins Mary on “Crying Time”.
The most interesting cover, to my ears, is her version of The Hag’s “Sing Me Back Home”. It’s a song which has been recorded so many times in recent years, but Mary has stripped it right back, with a beautiful slowed down version led by Steve Milne’s piano, and enhanced by some really effective strings.
It’s an extremely well produced set of easy listening Country songs, performed in a style, which Mary has excelled at over the years.
Since appearing as a contestant on TG4’s Glor Tire TV series back in 2016, OLIVIA DOUGLAS has quickly found recognition as one of Ireland’s brightest new stars. Her popularity has spread across the Irish Sea, with a string of festivals and weekends, as well as the recent Nathan Carter tour, as part of her schedule.
Her second album, “Forever Country” was released last year, and gave her two Irish Country chart topping hits, with her cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” and Brian Warfield’s foot tappin’ “Leaving Tipperary”.
The Co. Offaly lass has quite a mixed bag on the album, ranging from Bill Anderson’s “Bright Lights And Country Music” and Ronnie Milsap’s “Back On My Mnd”, to Lacy J Dalton’s “Hillbilly Girl With The Blues” and Tammy’s “Stand By Your Man”.
There’s a couple of real old time classics, in “Jambalaya” and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”, as well as a couple of Rhonda Vincent covers in “What Else Could I Do” and “Teardrops Over You”, which are my favourite tracks on the whole album.
When Olivia plays live she plays accordion, so it’s no surprise to hear a couple of celtic/Scottish numbers, “Will You Go Lassie Go” and “The Mason’s Apron”.
Throughout the album, Olivia has a fresh, well produced sound which should appeal to the Country as well as Irish fans.
I really enjoyed the album, which was produced by Des Sheerin, and the The Sheerin Family are heavily involved on the musician’s side of the album.
Since the release of the album, Olivia has also released two upbeat happy singles in “A Hug Or Two” and “I’m Off To Lisdoonvarna In The Morning”, which, perhaps, have a bit more Irish influence, than the album has generally. But a good listen all the same.
A couple of years ago, we reviewed an album by SPOOK HANDY, a New Jersey singer songwriter, who has been heavily influenced by American folk music legends Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Following on from his 2016 album with the similar title, “Songs of Pete, Woody & Me, Volume II” was released last month to coincide with, what would’ve been Seeger’s 100th birthday. The album is subtitled “Dedicated To The Proposition” (Akashic Records).
Like the original release, Spook covers not only Pete & Woody covers, but songs that he has written himself, very much in the style his heroes would’ve done.
In case you’re not familiar with Pete & Woody. Seeger was popular on American radio, as far back at the 1940’s but is best known for his part in the protest song movement in the 60’s, with songs like “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, “If I Had A Hammer” and “We Shall Overcome”. Guthrie is best known for songs like “This Land Is Our Land”, “Worried Man Blues”, “Jesse James” and “Cumberland Gap”.
As you see, both had an immense influence on American Folk Culture, and Spook is keeping it going through these albums, and tours across the US & Canada.
This album kicks off with the bluesy “Pete Seeger’s Life”, and includes covers like Woody’s “Mister Charlie Lindbergh” and Pete’s “If I Had A Hammer”, “Letter To Eve” and “Old Devil Time”. Spook added a verse and chorus to Pete’s “The Farmer Is The Man (The Farmer is the One)”, which delivers the same message, we hear from our own farmers today. I guess across the years and different cultures. The message hasn’t got through.
Pete’s own songs include “Better Way”, “Do It In The Name Of Love” and the catchy “Always Have A Song To Sing”, which stood out for me.
And the whole project rounds of with a live version of “Michael Row The Boat Ashore”.
Purely as a listener, it’s a very enjoyable album. But it’s a lot more than that. There has been several albums of late of American Folk Songs, some by Country singers, but Spook, with his connections to Pete & Woody, just makes this album sound a lot more real and authentic.
Getting noticed in the ever growing music scene is important to success. Having a catchy name certainly helps. Next up, we have a five piece band from Nova Scotia, who took their name from a local street musician, who inspired them.
With the release of “Hanging On”, PRETTY ARCHIE showcase a genre-bending mix of folk, bluegrass, country, gospel, rock and vintage soul, all underpinning the band’s East Coast roots, that’s absolutely impossible to pigeonhole.
It all kicks off with a superb Country gospel number, “Aint No Saving Me”, which had me hooked right from the acapella intro.
Most of the tracks are upbeat energy fuelled numbers, from the Country flavoured “Stay The Same” and “This Old Town” to the haunting “You Better Run”, there’s plenty to enjoy on this album.
There’s soul-drenched tracks like “Summer Love” and “Sometimes”, a cautionary tale cleverly disguised as a rip it up party tune like “Night Life”, or the breezy “Holding Out” – a song that’s essentially the band’s mission statement.
The band are: Brian Cathcart (lead vocals, guitar), Matt McNeil (mandolin/guitar), Colin Gillis (harmonica, bass, vocals), Redmond MacDougall, (banjo/percussion/vocals) and Scott MacLean (guitar/mandolin).
The album was recorded in Sydney, Nova Scotia at Soundpark Studios and co-produced by Pretty Archie and Jamie Foulds.
Since their 2013 debut, “Steel City”, the band have built an ever-larger following on the East Coast and across Canada and landed a gig last Summer at Denmark's Tonder Festival, and in support of the new album, the band will be touring the UK and European this year. They’ll be worth catching.
When moving away from Canada to pursue a musical career, Cardiff wouldn’t automatically top the destination list, but that’s exactly the journey taken by our next act. He got a few guys together, and DAREN EEDENS AND THE SLIM PICKIN’S was born.
Their music is hi-energy bluegrass and banjo playing, and it all comes together on this self titled album.
The 10 track album, recorded in Cardiff, kicks off with “31”, the slowest song on the album, with soft instrumentation, and harmonies, where the pace really picks up half way through.
That pace continues to gain momentum as the record goes on. “Forget Me Nots” is a catchy, fiddle led, little number, which stood out for me. It shows echoes of the rockabilly era, with introduction of the telecaster.
Then by the third track, “Don’t Trust”, we’re into full force, with Dave Grubb’s fiddle challenging for a part in Charlie Daniels’ Devil Went Down To Georgia. That fiddle is Hot!
We certainly needed a “Rye Whiskey” after that, although the pace doesn’t slow down much, until we get to “Well Well Well”, one of the songs which Daren relates to the pain of a personal struggle. “Whiskey And Bars” is another of the more haunting numbers, which shows a darker side.
The album concludes with “Hit The Ground Running”, which probably has the most traditional Country influence of all. It’s a ballad, which builds up to a rousing chorus finale with The J Birds.
An interesting album. Another which doesn’t mark the cross in any particular genre.
Finally, THE MOUNTAIN FIREWORK COMPANY are an Anglo-Irish outfit, whose music has been described as “Alternative Bluegrass with a dark treacle folk centre”! Their fourth album, “The Beggar’s Prayer”, released at the end of April has 14 tracks.
The five piece band are made up by Gareth McGahan, who is the songwriter of the band, Grant Allardyce, Brian Powell, Simon Russell and Mike Simmonds.
They certainly have an interesting sound, which has folk and bluegrass overtones on one hand, but with a contemporary sound on the other. I’ve often asked what the difference is between a violinist and a fiddle player (the answer is usually “the fee” ! ), but you can certainly detect Mike’s violin sound here, more distinguished than a fiddle sound.
The title track sounds like it’s from an old movie soundtrack, but with some neat harmonies, sung round the one microphone. It’s quite atmospheric.
“Like A Fire” kicks off the album in a progressive folksy style. It’s upbeat and gets the album off to a good start.
The tempo slows for an interesting little instrumental, “The Fish & The Crow”, before feeding straight into the more upbeat “Refugee” and mid tempo “Ready To Run”.
“The Gravedigger’s Lament” starts off with chants, which sound like it’s right out of “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”.
Robin Williamson contributes the lyrics to the melodic “At The Golden Gate”. “A Long Time Ago” is quite a jaunty folky number.
The more traditional fayre, includes the banjo led “If Only”, an upbeat bluegrass belter, which stood out for me.
“Hello Stranger” is also quite a fresh upbeat number, as is “How Long”.
Another interesting album, which denies all genre boundary walls, which is always good to hear.