We’ll start off our reviews this time around with a few Scots born singer songwriters.
ISLA GRANT is one of Scotland’s most successful Country music writers, with her songs like “Cottage In The Country”, “It’s a Dream Come True” and “Will You Walk With Me” being recorded by many other artists around the world.
Her latest album “Dream Of Me” includes four of her own songs, alongside an interesting selection of covers, from Grand Ole Opry legend Jeannie Seely’s “Leaving And Saying Goodbye”, to bluegrass duo The Osborne Brothers’ “Windy City” , Woody Guthrie’s “When The Roses Bloom Again” and Springsteen’s “Tougher Than The Rest”. On each of the covers, Isla has given the songs her own unique style.
The title track was a hit for Vern Gosdin, although it’s the Alison Krauss version which inspired Isla’s version here. “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”, a gospel song, written back in 1950 by Ira Stanphil, is another which Alison Krauss has also recorded. Another gospel number, “Climb Higher” closes the album, a song which Gene Watson fans will recognise.
Two of Isla’s own songs on the album, are re-recordings, simply as the originals are on old albums which are no longer available, but fans keep asking for them. In both cases, “Single Yellow Rose” and “Keeper Of my Heart” are given new slower arrangements.
Other original songs include the really catchy “Completely Over You” and “No One Knows”.
It’s a lovely easy listening album, which I really enjoyed.
Isla has built up a huge fan base over the years, and this album can only enhance her popularity. Look out also for a Live DVD of her “Opry Le Daniel” TV show, which was shown recently on BBC Alba.
Glasgow singer songwriter ELAINE LENNON will release one of the most eagerly awaited albums on the Scottish music scene during her concert at Celtic Connections on January 24th 2020.
Since her first live appearance last December, Elaine started 2019 winning the prestigious Danny Kyle Award, appeared at both The Millport Country Music Festival and the Glasgow Americana Festival, and has been named as the Nashville Songwriters Association International 2019 “One To Watch”.
Her self titled debut album (Little Sailor Records), recorded at Chem19 Studios in Blantyre, features 10 self written songs and one Country standard. It would be a stretch of the imagination to label this as a Country album, but given that Millport and the NSAI have embraced her, then its only right we feature her in these pages too.
Several of the songs are quite bluesy/jazzy numbers, most notably, the lead single “Trouble”, “This” and “In Songs We Live On”. It’s a style which suits her voice on these songs.
But then again, on other tracks, I hear similarities with the likes of established Country singer songwriters such as Beth Neilsen Chapman and Lori McKenna.
The album kicks off with “Next Friday Night”, which has really grown on me over a few listens. Elaine plays piano, which features heavily throughout the album. The simplicity of the arrangement, highlights the piano, alongside her stunning vocals on this track. Similar ballads include the stunning “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Alone Here With You” and “By Your Side”.
She does lift the tempo on “Little Bird, Little Sailor”. Again a little bluesy, it kinda reminds me of the likes of Bobbie Gentry or Joan Baez. But it shows that Elaine isn’t restricted to piano led ballads.
The one song that Elaine didn’t write, is a cover of Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You”. But it’s a song that she could’ve written. Stripped right down to the piano, and a subtle whiff of steel way off in the background, Elaine delivers a stunning slowed down version of the song. I have to say that having heard the song hundreds of times, I found myself hooked on every word Elaine delivered in this version, more so than I ever did with Patsy!
For a debut album, this is a stunning collection of material, and will establish Elaine as a real force on the Scottish music scene in 2020.
SANDY McLELLAND is an exiled Glaswegian, living these days in the big smoke of London, and beyond.
Throughout a long and respected music career Sandy has contributed to the artistic achievements of numerous artists and projects all over the world. His early days saw him work with the humblest of new pop artists such as Neneh Cherry and Bros, through to established international stars like Paul McCartney & Tears For Fears. He is a 3 times Grammy nominee and has won awards around the world.
His new album, “Cross the Line” brings him to the attention of Country & Americana audiences.
There are vibrant and optimistic themes in songs like the celtic influenced, “We Always Will”, and charming, upbeat offerings, like ”I Believe in You”.
The album kicks off with the title track, a mid tempo number, which has a smouldering vocal, which instantly conjours up comparisons to The Eagles sound.
“Already Gone” is a good upbeat number, as is “I’ve Ever Known”, the track released as a single to radio. “All In The Name Of Love” was a bit rocky for my ears, but Sandy made it work for him.
Some of the slower numbers include “Before The Sun Goes Down”, “Before It’s Now” and “Reason To Believe”, which I really liked.
“River Of Tears” has quite a haunting tribal feel to it, which suits the song perfectly.
“Poor Excuse”, which features vocals by Dee Jay did make its mark on me.
Stand out track has to be the very personal “My Home Town”, and fellow Glaswegians should check out Sandy’s video for the song, and try to work out his route as he drives around the city.
The album was entirely written, performed and produced by Sandy, in his own studio, with the help of a few friends.
‘Cross the Line’ is unashamedly rooted in the American country, blues, folk and soul music he absorbed in his early days in Glasgow. It’s an album which certainly crosses genres, and should appeal to rock & pop fans alongside Country & Americana.
Moving across the North Channel, CHRIS NAPIER is a Country singer from Banbridge in Northern Ireland, whose music is totally traditional Country. He has spent 18 years working on the Irish scene with the likes of Philomena Begley, Stephen Smyth and Gerry Guthrie.
“Take The Smile From Your Face” is his third album, and features a good mix of stone Country covers from the likes of Mark Chesnutt (Old Country) , Travis Tritt (The Restless Kind) and Waylon (Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys).
The title song is a killer Country ballad from one of the most under rated Country singers ever- Scott McQuaig, who was around for a while back in the late 80’s. A great untapped singer, and great to hear his music being brought back to the fore.
There’s also Bryan White’s “Eugene You Genius”, Dolly’s “Gypsy Joe And Me” and Vince Gill’s “We Wont Dance”.
The 13 track album kicks off with “Billy The Kid”, a hit for Billy Dean, back in the 90’s.
Some of the songs are not so well known - “Maybe He Could Miss Her More” is a killer George Jones/ Gene Watson type song, “Lovin’ On Back Streets”, goes back to Mel Street, and there’s Lefty Frizzell’s “She Found The Key”.
The stand out tracks for me, is JD Crowe’s “Tennessee Blues”, but, the song choice throughout the really impressed me. This isn’t just an album of songs, people will know- it’s an album of forgotten treasures, which Chris has rediscovered. He has a great voice, which thrives on the traditional Country songs.
He produced the album in his own studio, played most of the instruments, (his dad helped out on steel, and some college friends provided fiddle).
If you appreciate real Country music, this is one album that you must get your hands on.
An Irishman who needs no introduction is DANIEL O’DONNELL, who, once again, releases a new CD package just in time for the Christmas market. This will enhance his amazing run of being the only artist to chart a new album on the UK album chart every year for the past 33 years, amassing more than 4 million sales, And whatever you think of Daniel, there’s no denying that he gives real value for money. His new release “Halfway To Paradise” (Demon) is a 3CD package, with no less than 60 tracks. If you prefer, there’s an LP Vinyl version with 16 tracks.
Daniel’s music has never been restricted to any particular genre. He has, of course, been most recognised in the Irish Country field, but has also done, Gospel, Irish folk, and rock’n’roll.
This is album features music from his rock’n’roll trilogy of albums released in the 2000’s, which already sold 650,000 units.
I personally wouldn’t consider many of the songs to be rock’n’roll, but certainly nostalgic 50’s & 60’s hits, ranging from Elvis, Buddy, The Everly’s, Ricky Nelson and Cliff Richard covers to “Beautiful Sunday”, “I’m A Believer” , “Secret Love” and “All My Loving”.
There’s also a previously unreleased 9 track live section, featuring medleys of Beatles, Cliff and Elvis songs, as well as three tracks from his long time touring partner Mary Duff.
This collection isn’t his most Country, but that wont matter to Daniel’s army of fans. They’re all songs that everybody knows. Daniel knows his audience, and he knows this will be another huge seller. On it’s first week on release, it charted at No.2 in the Scottish Album charts.
ROBERT MIZZELL is another of Ireland’s most popular acts over the past 20 years, having arrived on the Emerald Isle from his native Louisiana. He has the unique talent of performing traditional Country music on the Irish dance scene, as well the concert circuit.
His latest album, “Postcard From Paris” (Sharpe Music) features a dozen songs, quite a few of which have been played on radio as singles over the past year.
“Mama Knows”, “The Farmer” and “Livin The Life” are all good upbeat radio friendly numbers that fans will have been waiting on getting hold of, on an album. “Hey Ho” and “She’s My Baby” are also catchy upbeat numbers.
His soft, sensitive side comes through on “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”, a song to help loved ones through the most personal challenges.
There’s Classic American Country, with a “Gambler Medley” featuring 3 Kenny Rogers hits in one, and “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”, and The Possum’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
The title track, a ballad, which closes the album, is a real international affair. Written by Jay Lee Webb (brother of Loretta & Crystal), “Postcard From Paris” is one of three tracks which feature the 30 piece Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra, recorded in Sofia.
Robert has build up a strong fan base over the years. This album can only enhance his standing on the Irish Country scene.
DAVE SHERIFF has been part of the British Country scene since the 70’s, when he paid his dues as a session player for Pete Sayers and Kelvin Henderson. He has seen fads come and go, and has developed his style accordingly, maintaining his place at the top of the scene.
For his latest album, Dave has picked 30 of his most popular songs over the years, and put them together on “Drive Time”, available on a USB stick, so you can take him with you wherever you are, whether on the computer or in the car. It’ll even fit into many of the most modern TV systems.
Included are some of Dave’s best loved numbers like “Best Of Friends”, “Couldn’t Find The Words To Say Goodbye”, “Waltz Of A Lifetime”, “We’ve Got Memories” and “Don’t Be A Stranger”.
There are line dance favourites, like “Red Hot Salsa”, “Oasis” and party numbers like “We’re Off On A Holiday”, “It’s Time For A Party” and “Will Ya Dance”.
You’ll find a few Irish numbers like “Down To Killarney” and “A Song For All Ireland”, and even his Scottish road song, “Highway Number Nine” gets a reprise.
With music available in so many formats these days, it’ll be interesting to see if releasing it on USB appeals to the music buying public. Dave certainly knows how to adapt his music to suit the trends of the day, so this could be the first of many!
KELLY STEWARD is a Midwestern American singer songwriter from Rockford, Illinois. Her bio states that she is “reminiscent of mid 70's female singer-songwriters like Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez and Linda Ronstadt with a Laurel Canyon via Midwest Americana feel”.
After a couple of EP’s, Kelly now releases her first full album, “Tales And Tributes Of The Deserving And Not So” (Glass Wing Records).
The opening track, “Golden Sun”, was inspired by her return to Illinios, from a time in LA, travelling back east to a better tomorrow. “Mississippi Risin’” touches on the divide in America today, whilst “Outlaw” is quite a bluesy story about a Honky Tonk scuffle, an accidental shooting and a fugitive on the run.
“Generation” is the track which really got me hooked. Probably Dan Pitney’s steel intro helped, but I really liked Kelly’s vocals on this track, as she personally views her own battles in the music industry, as she cries for the days when the song and the message mattered more than the monetary take.
“Heartbreak Heart” kept me interested. With a bit of a driving beat, she really recreated a bit of a retro Ronstadt sound on this one.
“Restless Kind” started off quite bluesy, but evolved into a bright & breezy Country sound. She really has quite a different sound of this one, and I have to say, sounding more of a southerner than from Chicago. The album closes with the upbeat “No Time For Loving You”.
This album has really grown on me. Give it a listen.
Singer songwriter KEVIN BROWN makes his home in rural Northeastern Washington state, not too far from the farms where his two sets of great-grandparents settled a century ago. The rich natural surroundings serve as a metaphor for exploring the landscapes of the heart and soul -- faith, family, love, the passage of time, and the interwoven fabric of earth and humanity.
In addition to his songwriting, Kevin is well-known in the Inland Northwest as the host of the popular radio program Front Porch Bluegrass heard weekly since 2002 on Spokane Public Radio, and as mandolin player in the popular and long-running Rhythm & Bluegrass band Big Red Barn.
His latest album, his fourth to date, is titled “Heroes And Sparrows” (Turkey King Music) and was recorded over a weekend in Idaho. It would be hard to pigeon-hole Kevin’s music, but there is certainly the influence of his rural surroundings running through the album.
The album kicks off with the pleasant, easy listening number, “The Distant Lights Of Nowhere”, which sets the tone for the album.
“Chattaroy” is quite a catchy number, which tells of a farmers dreams of live on the ocean.
“Owls” is a beautiful ballad which features the harmonies of Natalie Padilla, who also plays fiddle and clawhammer banjo throughout the album. Other softer ballads include “The Stone Walls Of Ireland”, inspired, as you’d expect, by a walk on the Emerald Isle, and “The Moon Might Make A Mess Of Me Tonight”.
Kevin’s fingerpicking style comes to fore on tracks like “Paper Flowers” and the closing track, “For Goodness Sake”.
“When I Go Out At Night”, is a catchy bluegrassy song, which stood out for me on the album.
There’s also a slow waltz instrumental on “The Lillies And The Sparrows”.
It’s a nice, gentle listen, with some really nice bluegrass instrumentation, and good songs, which deserve a listen.
SI KAHN is something of an American musical institution. He came along at the back end of the folk revival era, and has been an activist on civil rights and environmental issues, whilst recording a string of albums over the past 45 years. He has also toured and recorded music on the European continent.
This year also mark’s Si’s 75th birthday, and to mark the occasion, Strictly Country Records in Holland have released a 5CD Box set called “Si Kahn at 75 : The Europe Sessions”. They’ve also released “Best Of The Rest”, a 20 track collection of Si’s personal picks from the box set.
Although his music is widely acclaimed in American folk music circles, his style stretches across into Country and Bluegrass too. Indeed, Kathy Mattea and Rosanne Cash contribute to the album’s sleevenotes.
All styles are covered in this album.
It kicks off in bluegrass style with “Down On The Merrimack River”, a catchy number which tells of immigrants and slaves chasing work across the country, a theme also covered in “Sailing To Alaska”.
“Rock Me, Roll Me” is one of the straightest Country songs on the album, aided by German bluegrass band The Looping Brothers. The band also help out on a few other tracks, including “To Hear Doc Watson Play”. He also enrols a Dutch duo, Ygdrassil, on the sensitive “I Have Seen Freedom”, which reviews 50 years working in the Civil Rights Movement, and Liz Meyer on “The Gap”.
British influence comes in the form of “Wigan Pier”, inspired by George Orwell’s book on British Coal Mines.
There are soft mainstream ballads, like “My Old Times”, and “When The Morning Breaks”
There’s even some humour in a monologue called “The Senator”, where he poses the question, what if a male politician had gotten pregnant? Quite amusing!
Si Kahn is one of these guys who has contributed so much to music on both sides of the Atlantic, yet, perhaps hasn’t achieved the mainstream recognition he deserves. It’s never too late.
THE GOSSAMER STRINGS are an old timey bluegrass flavoured folk duo from Eugene, Oregon, who neatly mix their homage to the past whilst bringing a crisp, and modern sound, making the material, very much their own.
Kyle McGonegle and Liat Lis blend their harmonies beautifully on their second album, “Due To The Darkness”, with Liat playing banjo and Kyle on guitar & mandolin. The result is a pleasant easy listening old timey bluegrass back porch sound, which I really quite liked.
The album features 8 self penned originals, and three traditionals, “Going To The West”, “Sandy Boys” and “Train On The Island”, which closes off the album. Like the other tracks, it features superb harmonies and some fabulous banjo picking.
Before all that, it’s a gentle, slow start to the album, with Liat leading the vocals on the lovely “She Cant Hear Her Heart”. The title track is a bit more uptempo, written about the Badlands of South Dakota. “Following Through” is a bit of a waltz, whilst “No Fire” is, again , more upbeat.
“Try Your Hand” starts off a bit slower, with a long intro before picking up the tempo, which ties in neatly with the song about the reluctance to try new relationships. Harmonies are definitely to the fore in “Everything Breaks”, especially starting off a cappella.
There’s also the instrumental, “Big Sky”, which shows off their musicianship skills once again.
A really nice listen.