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Monday 3 February 2020

Feb 2020

We’ve a load of Irish Country CD’s to get through this time, which were all released in the run up to the busy Christmas period.
Leading the way was the sadly missed JOHNNY LOUGHREY, who built up a solid career between 1990 and 2005, before passing away at the young age of 59. His memory lived on when his son Shaun picked up where Johnny left off, building up his own career, but now fans can really recall Johnny’s career with the re-issue of ALL ten of his albums.
“The Johnny Loughrey Story” (Irish Music) is split into four packages, each with 3 CD’s (or in one case a DVD). As I say, this is the entire Johnny Loughrey collection, from his first album, “The Black Sheep” through to “Altogether Now”, which was recorded in the months before he died, and released after his death.
Johnny’s music stretched from Country standards like “Lonesome Number One”, “Welcome To My World”, “Long Black Veil” and “Rambling Fever”, to Irish favourites like “My County Tyrone”, “My Donegal Shore” and “Going Back To Ireland Again” – too many to mention. The Country songs greatly outnumber the Irish tracks.
One set also includes “The World Of Johnny Loughrey”, a compilation of his earlier material, all included on other discs in the collection, and another includes a DVD featuring the same tracks as the compilation, plus a few bonus tracks.
The complete package features 4 sets (which can be bought separately), 10 original CD’s, 1 compilation CD, 1 DVD, and a total of 172 tracks. Now this is what you call a box set !

Despite being Liverpool born, NATHAN CARTER is one of Ireland’s biggest stars at present, and has always included Irish material in his popular live concerts.  His latest album, “Irish Heartland” develops his love for his adopted homeland even further.
“Irish Heartland” (Sharpe Music) is summed up in the title. 18 tracks of pure Irish magic.
There are a few tracks from earlier in his career – songs which he’s released as singles, like “Temple Bar”, “Winnie O’Neill” and “On The Boat To Liverpool”, and there’s covers from other Country stars like Garth Brooks’ “Ireland”, and Nanci Griffiths’ “Trouble In The Fields”.
There’s also Pete St John’s “The Rare Old Times” and Sean O’Mears “Grace” alongside more traditional fayre like “On The Banks Of The Roses”, “The Mountains Of Mourne” and “Nancy Spain”. 
A few guests from the traditional folk scene have also added to the mix. Finbar Furey duets on “Donnybrook Fair”, “Heart Of The Home” features American celtic band Cherish The Ladies, and The High Kings join Nathan on the singer’s haunting self penned finale “May The Road Rise”, which is also his latest single.
It is a bit more of a folky album than Nathan’s fans will be used to, but I’m sure it’ll still be a huge hit. Nathan’s back in Scotland in next month with his own weekend in Glasgow, and tour dates in April.

Another of Ireland’s biggest male Country singers in recent years has been DEREK RYAN.  But Country wasn’t Derek’s first musical career. He was a member of boy band D-Side, which had three UK Top Ten hits, before embarking on a Country music career in 2010, with the release of “A Mothers Son”.
Ten years down the road, and Derek has released “The Hits” (Sharpe Music), featuring his biggest and most popular songs during the past decade. What makes Derek stand out from the pack is his knack for writing. He has written 16 of the 21 tracks on this album.
Probably his biggest song was “God’s Plan”, a gentle ballad which has been copied by many other artists.  Other ballads include “Life Is A River”, “To Waltz With My Mother Again” and “Made Of Gold”.
But Derek can also write fun, radio friendly songs too, like “Down On Your Uppers”, “Bendigo”, “Kiss Me Mary”, “Ya Cant Stay Here” and “100 Numbers”.
Of the few songs that Derek didn’t write, he really gives a good Irish feel to Canadian Dean Brody’s “It’s Friday”, and a strong delivery on Pete St John’s “Dreamers And Believers”, one of my favourite songs.
There’s a few guests who have helped Derek out along the way, like Sharon Shannon on “Hold Onto Your Heart”, Roly Daniels on “The Wrong Side Of Sober”, Lisa McHugh on “Honey,Honey”, and Cliona Hagan on his recent single, “Only Getting Started”.
Ten years of hit records, and you just know that Derek is just getting started. There’s a lot more to come from him in the years to come.

Back home, and SYDNEY DEVINE has had a long and colourful career, having started out as part of The White Heather Group in 1953. He has sold records by the millions and sold out theatres all over. And Country music has always been a main part of his music, and without a doubt, responsible for its popularity here in Scotland.
Despite well reported health problems, Sydney keeps busy. He toured Scottish theatres earlier this year, and, in between concerts, spent time in Scotty’s Sound Studios in Kilsyth recording this new album, “I’m Back”.
The title track is one that Sydney has recorded before, and has been something of a signature song for him.  Some of the other songs have also been recorded before, but these are all new recordings.
The album kicks off with Bruce Springsteen’s “Hello Sunshine”. I have to say that Sydney really handles the song really well, and the song stands out on the album.
There are Country favourites like “A Fool Such As I”, “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Paper Roses”, “57 Chevrolet” and “Half As Much”, alongside pop covers like “Beautiful Dreamer”, “Wedding Bells”, “Are You Lonesome Tonight”  and “Always On My Mind”.
I liked his version of “I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight”, an old song that goes all the way back to The Carter Family, and the gospel classic, “In The Garden”.
“Makes Me Wonder If I Ever Said Goodbye”, an old Johnny Rodriguez song, really stood out for me. It could also sum up Sydney’s career. He’s definitely here for the long haul.  But in the meantime, in the words of the title track, he’s back and the fans know just what to expect- “bring me my usual”!

If you’ve ever caught the eclectic UK- American alt-bluegrass band, The Coal Porters, you’ll have seen the amazing talent that is Scots born NEIL BOB HERD. The Coal Porters were a formidable force on the Americana music scene for 17 years, releasing 6 highly acclaimed albums.
After the band’s demise in 2018, Neil formed a new band, The Dirty Little Acoustic Band, as a vehicle for continuing his writing and performing career. And now the recorded result is “Every Soul A Story” (Cattlecall Music) which is released on Vinyl LP & CD on Valentines Day.
For a guy who has lived for many years down in Kent, he has never lost his Scottish twang, which really comes over on this album.  Neil says the album is an extension of the Coal Porters, but with a bit more electric sound and a bit more rockabilly influenced.
It’s certainly a sound that defies any categorisation. But there’s enough Country/Bluegrass influence to interest readers.
The 10 track album, which was recorded in Folkestone, kicks off with a the catchy “Badlands”, which mixes a pop beat with rockabilly rhythms, followed by “As Much As I Need To”, which had a distinct Country feel, again with a rockabilly beat.
Andrew Stafford’s  double bass keeps the rockabilly flavour going on the catchy “Book Inside Them”, which also features fellow ex Coal Porter Gemma White on fiddle. I really liked this track. 
“Leave Only Love (Old Dog)” has bluegrass echoes of his Coal Porters days, but with his Caledonian vocal style shining through, making for a really nice listen.
“The Colour Of Spring” has quite a folksy feel to it, and features some lovely accordion, courtesy of Lucy Edwards, who some may recall as one of The Well Oiled Sisters, an Scottish Alt-Country band of years gone by. This track really stood out for me. 
I also liked the soft ballad, ”Coming Back As Jason”, with some really nice steel licks.
To close the album, “Best Song” isn’t! (in my opinion). It’s just too pop/rock, but, I had enjoyed the album immensely by then.
Well worth checking out this exiled Scotsman.

Next we have a new girl singer to introduce you to. KAILEY NICOLE was Vegas-born and California-raised, but now calls Nashville home, close to the family’s southern roots, which inspire her music.
She got her professional start singing and acting in theatre when she was just nine years old. She’s worked in film, TV, voice-over, and commercials, which has helped set the stage for her recording career. She made her first mark on the music scene in 2015 when she was just 16 years old, with her first EP, “Nashville Stick-up”. Now she’s back with a bold new self titled EP. With this new record, Kailey Nicole has found her harmonious sweet spot –the place where old and new meet.
The opening track, “Brand New Day” is a great introduction to her music. The song was originally a demo for Kenny Chesney. It has a haunting feel to it, yet quirky and upbeat, which really works for the 21 year old. I can’t quite hear Chesney singing it, I have to say. It’s much more suited to Kailey Nicole.
“Diamonds and Coal” is a real uptempo number filled with such energy. It was written after a breakup and leaves you with the sense that Kailey isn’t going to let anything get her down.
Slowing the tempo, “Save Me For A Rainy Day” is a song that Nicole said, “just fell out of me” and was inspired by Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight”. It proves that she can deliver a strong ballad as well as upbeat numbers.
“Country Love Song” starts off softly, but develops into a modern radio friendly upbeat number, which has “hit” written all over it. It was one of the first songs she wrote, when she was just 15.  “Tennessee” was, apparently, also going to be a heartfelt ballad, but somehow ended up being another break speed, fast, driving number. 
“Change My Way” is a bit different to the other tracks. Still a good song, but has more of a pop/retro feel to it. I don’t know if that’s intentional, but it works to showcase another area of Kailey’s talent.

THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS are a bluegrass band from North Carolina, who were happy gigging around their home state, until they teamed up with actor, comedian and banjo player Steve Martin, on his album “Rare Bird Alert” in 2012. The following year, their own solo album won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. Indeed they now have 10 albums to their credit.
For their new album, they’ve went back to their native state for “North Carolina Songbook” (Yep Roc), not only for the its live recording at Merlefest, but for the content, which all honours fellow North Carolinian musicians.
And they cover the whole musical spectrum, from Ben E King’s “Stand By Me”, which opens the set, through blues singer Elizabeth Cotton’s “Shake Sugatree” and jazz pianist Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk”, to James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James”.
Of course bluegrass music is one of the state’s biggest genres, and no surprise to see Earl Scruggs & Charlie Poole recognised on the rip roaring “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” and Doc Watson’s “Your Love Journey”, not to mention banjo picker Ola Belle Reed’s “I’ve Endured”.
Although they cover several genres, all the songs are given the Steep Canyon Rangers treatment. In no way have they tried to copy them.
As a result, we have a superb high energy bluegrass album, which perfectly honours their own home state.
One North Carolinians will be proud of.

THUNDER AND RAIN are a four piece acoustic/bluegrass band from deep in the American Rockies.
Erinn Peet Lukes is the main vocalist and songwriter, supported by Ian Haegele, Dylan McCarthy and Allen Cooke, on bass, mandolin and dobro, respectively. Additional musicians include Chris Herst on dobro, Natalie Pedilla on fiddle and Aaron Youngberg on banjo. You already get a feel for the instrumentation that excels on this beautiful album.
“Passing In The Night” is their third album, featuring 10 tracks recorded in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“Two Ships” is a rip roaring number which really gets the album off to a superb start. Other upbeat numbers include “Run With You”, “Make It Better” and the folksy “Nobody’s Darlin”.
“Walk Right Through The Door Of My Heart” is a really pleasant, easy on the ear, mid tempo, modern bluegrass number, which really appealed to me. “10 Hour Flight” is another ballad, on which Erinn’s vocals really sounded like she flying through the air. Other ballads include “Uncharted Farewell”.
“House Of Light” and “Falling Down A Rabbit Hole” are perhaps a bit more contemporary, but still worked well.
This is a really nice album. I love the simple acoustic arrangements, and Erinn’s lovely vocals.
It certainly worked for me.

Another simply acoustic, bluegrass and old timey offering comes from THE PINE HEARTS, a trio of musicians from Washington State. The band is made up of Joey Capoccia on acoustic guitar, Derek McSwain on mandolin and Dean Shakked on upright bass.
Their fourth album since forming in the early 2010’s, “Back To Sustain” has just been released here.
It was recorded “live” in a community hall in the outskirts of Olympia, using an old Tascam 4 track cassette tape machine. The quality is superb.
The collection kicks off with the title track, a slow, story song, which was a slow burning introduction, but the tempo completely livens up with the catchy traditional “Stealin”, one of the few songs not written by Joey.
Other covers, include Tom Petty’s “Orphan Of The Storm”, which gets a particularly bluegrass makeover, thanks to the mandolin being so prominent. There’s also “Good Luck By The Sea”, from the pen of Scott Nolan, a quirky, upbeat fun number, and Lob Strilla’s “Standing In The Corners”, which has an old west feel, whilst still sounding like it’s rooted in Appalachia.
The rest of the songs are originals.
“Be You On The Bayou” is notable for it’s lengthy intro. “Alright Fine” is one of the slower numbers on the album, whilst “Living With Depression” really demonstrates the trio’s neat harmonies. 
“The Heartache Or The Whiskey” has a particular catchy Country feel to it.
The album rounds off with “All Night Long”, which is how long I could listen to this album for. It’s a bit different for sure, but a good listen, if you enjoy bluegrass and old time sounds.

And finally for this month, a brand new single from THE HAYLEYS, who recently marked their 30th Anniversary in the business.
“Lotty's Song” is a beautiful, yet powerful song, designed as a message of hope, for people of all ages, who have, or are going through mental health issues. The song came to Becky, from the beautiful daughter, of a very close friend of the group. The Hayley’s are well known for their beautiful voices, and their ability to deliver such stunning songs. This is up there with their best.
There is also a video, filmed, directed, & produced by James Varley. Just search for “Lotty’s Song” on YouTube, and the song itself, is available from your usual download or streaming site.
The group are using the song to raise funds for the phenomenal charity, MIND, who do so much for people, including raising awareness of the once taboo subject. To donate any amount, no matter how large or small, please visit:
The Hayleys are back in Scotland next month at the new Johny B Events in Methil (March 27th) and also at Lee Blackstone’s Easter Jamboree in Prestwick on April 10th.

One of the biggest events in Country music in the past year has been the completion of a 16 hour documentary on the history of our music. “Country Music”, directed by acclaimed documentary maker Ken Burns, traces Country music back to the early days, and brings in all the different influences, which have blended together to make Country music what it is today.
Country Music explores questions –– such as “What is country music?” and “Where did it come from”?, whilst focusing on the biographies of the fascinating characters who created and shaped it — from the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks and many more — as well as the times in which they lived. Much like the music itself, the film tells unforgettable stories of hardships and joys shared by everyday people.
No one has told the story this way before.
The series was first shown on PBS stations across America in September, and an 8 hour edited version was shown on BBC 4 on Friday nights in the run up to Christmas. The full series is now released on a DVD box set.

The series begins with a few notables, like Dolly, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Carlene Carter and Garth Brooks putting in their views on just “What Is Country Music “? The first face on screen is Kathy Mattea, whose first job in Nashville was as a tour guide at the old Country Music Hall Of Fame. Kathy recalled a painting on display there, called “The Sources Of Country Music”, which was a perfect introduction to what is covered in the next 16 hours of video.
The first artist under the spotlight was Fiddlin’ John Carson, from Georgia. The first episode also covered the travelling minstrel shows, the birth of radio, including WSM and The Grand Ole Opry, as well as The Bristol Sessions, which is often regarded as the birth of Country music. It certainly launched the careers of The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.   
Episode 2 covers the great depression and the war years, between 1933 and 1945. Record sales were greatly affected during this time. But radio was booming. The WLS Barn Dance in Chicago was where Gene Autry found his feet, and a whole era of singing cowboys were born out of Gene’s success. There’s some interesting footage of when Gene bought his horse Champion on tour to London & Dublin.
Unregulated by US authorities, XERA, a powerhouse radio station across the border, in Del Rio, Mexico began playing Country music, and was heard coast to coast.
Pee Wee King was making his mark on the Opry, as was Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe and Minnie Pearl, whilst Bob Wills was making a different sort of music in Texas, called Western Swing, before Bob and several band members went off to war, although Bob was back playing his music before the war ended.
The post war era is covered in Episode 3, which talks of the development of honky tonk music, a more electric hybrid between acoustic music, deemed too quiet for the rowdy bars, and the western swing bands, which were too big for the bars. This was also the era of Hank Williams short life, leading up to his death in 1953.
This episode also covers Ernest Tubb, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, Bill Monroe, Chet Atkins, Webb Pierce (and his guitar shaped swimming pool) , Hank Thompson, Kitty Wells, and Eddy Arnold, whose smooth sound, at the time was different to all the other emerging stars. Eddy’s place in Country music history is defined by his No1 records in 1948, when 5 of the chart toppers that year were by Arnold. In fact these 5 hits kept him at No.1 continuously for 53 weeks.
Episode 4 takes us into the 50’s and early 60’s, where the Sun Studios in Memphis created new sounds, and the first signs that Country music was expanding its horizons. This episode covers Elvis, Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers, Willie Nelson and Marty Robbins as well the rise of Patsy Cline & Loretta Lynn. The new smooth Nashville sound is touched on, giving Jim Reeves only a fleeting mention on the way. In contrast, Ray Charles recording his Country album, including “I Cant Stop Loving You” is given quite a bit of airtime. This episode also covers the air crash which took the lives of Patsy Cline, fellow singers Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and pilot Randy Hughes. Grand Ole Opry legend Jean Shephard, who was married to Hawkshaw Hawkins, recalls the events (although this was edited out of the BBC version).
There’s a lot more about Johnny Cash in Episode 5, alongside Roger Miller, Roy Acuff, Buck Owens, Connie Smith and Charley Pryde. It covers the mid sixties period when Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard were on the rise. 
In Episode 6, the times the were- a-changing. America was in the thick of the Vietnam war, which was dividing the nation down the middle. There were those protesting against the war, whilst others protested against the protesters. Country music stars often found themselves in the crossfire. Stars like Merle Haggard, whose “Okie From Muskogee” became a huge hit, was interpreted in different ways by different folks. We hear how Jan Howard lost one son in Vietnam, and another at home who couldn’t cope with the grief, and her feelings towards the protest movement.
This episode also discusses the influence of Bob Dylan and The Byrds recording in Nashville, and Willie Nelson, who nobody in Nashville knew what do with him, and Kris Kristofferson.
There’s also the changing sound of bluegrass, and the arrival of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to record the original “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” album, with an array of established Country & Bluegrass musicians. Interesting to see that Opry star Roy Acuff snubbed the project, but turned up on the final day of the recordings, and was totally won over, and joined in with the session.
Episode 7 brings us into 70’s and 80’s, and to where most of us will be able to associate fully with the music. It features Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, Dolly & Porter, Conway & Loretta, Texas songwriters like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zante, Mexican influenced singers like Johnny Rodriguez and Freddie Fender, The Outlaws, Waylon & Willie, and Gram Parsons & Emmylou.
Much is made of the Grand Ole Opry moving from The Ryman, to Opryland, and to the furore when Dame Olivia Newton John was awarded the CMA’s Female Vocalist of The Year Award in 1974. “It shocked me”, claimed Jean Shepard, “It was like the music is getting away from us. We were losing our identity!” How times have changed!
There’s also the story of Vince Gill, back in Oklahoma, playing in a bluegrass band, called Mountain Smoke, who got to open a gig for rock band KISS, which wasn’t  the ideal career break.
The final episode covers the period between 1984 & 1996. It starts with Country music on a downward spiral, Sales were down, radio stations were synchronising playlists, and Johnny Cash had been dropped from the label.
But the video age was about to beckon. Country TV networks TNN & CMT were launched, as well as the careers of the likes of George Strait, Randy Travis, Reba and Dwight Yoakam.
There was also openings for newer “fringe” artists like Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle. Kathy Mattea was also included in this group. They covered The Bluebird Café, and the beautiful song “Where’ve You Been”, written by Kathy’s husband Jon Vezner. Again the BBC edited this section out, but managed to keep the Bluebird’s link with Garth Brooks later on.
That’s followed by Vince Gill, explaining how he started out in a bluegrass band with Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley. Whitley died in 1989, which inspired Vince to write his classic, “Go Rest High On That Mountain”. Vince hadn’t finished the song, but resurrected it after he lost his own brother 4 years later.
It’s a fascinating archive, not only of Country music, but as American life, as a whole. The race divide over the years has been dealt with sensitively and more importantly, sensibility.  As I’ve said, the edited BBC version cut some highlights out in my mind, but the editing was well done.
There are a few omissions from the whole series. Jim Reeves made a bigger contribution to the music than the brief mention he gets. His death, in similar circumstances to Patsy Cline’s has been totally ignored.  In Garth Brooks early career he is described as “singing more Alabama, than Alabama”! The group are not recognised any further than that. And Alan Jackson is totally amiss.
On the other hand, Johnny Cash is covered in so much depth, across several episodes, that it got quite tiring. Yes, Johnny and June, and the Carters have been such an important and influential  part of our music’s heritage,  but there was a bit of overkill here.
But, all in all, a superb journal of Country Music- and 16 hours of homework which everyone needs to watch before calling themselves a Country music fan!

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