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Thursday 6 July 2023

July 2023

MARTY STUART’s first album in 6 years, “Altitude” was recently released here on the Snakefarm label. The album follows the Country Music Hall of Famers’ string of professional and personal achievements in an already unprecedented career. Late last year, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and he is celebrating his 50th year in Nashville and 30th anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member. In December, Stuart and his wife Connie Smith kicked off the grand re-opening of the historic and recently renovated Ellis Theater in his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi, which Stuart has been working to re-open for seven years as part of his Congress of Country Music.Recorded in Nashville with his longtime band The Fabulous Superlatives – Kenny VaughanHarry Stinson and Chris Scruggs – the 13 track collection finds Stuart picking up where he left off on 2017’s Way Out West, exploring a cosmic country landscape populated by dreamers and drifters, misfits and angels, honky-tonk heroes and lonesome lovers.Marty has always been a troubadour for traditional Country music.Having said that, Marty has always had a modern twist to his music too, and sometimes falls between both camps.Whilst the title track, “Altitude” is a superb traditional number, laced with some wonderful steel & fiddle, the album kicks off with the haunting “Lost Byrd Space Train” instrumental, which features more rock guitar riffs than honky tonk.
That’s followed by “Country Star”, which has great biographical lyrics, albeit maybe a little exaggerated (“I was raised by the alligators” and “Fell in love with a woman, who was half wild-cat”). It has a great thumping guitar beat but just didn’t sound as Country as the title may suggest.
“Tomahawk” is another with a thumping beat, a bit like Marty’s Hillbilly Thump sound he created a couple of decades ago. “Time To Dance” is a another good upbeat number.
“Sitting Alone” is another that sounds a bit more 60s/70s, as does the softer ballad, “The Sun Is Quietly Sleeping”.
“Nightriding” has quite a smokey, bluesy feel to it, but was quite enjoyable.
“Angels Came Down”, which closes the collection is the softest, most delicate track on the album, and a lovely way to close out the project.
“I’ve been quoted as saying the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, TN, these days is to play country music. It can be done,” Stuart explains. “On Altitude, there’s twin fiddles, steel guitar, and the legendary Pig Robbins playing piano on what turned out to be one of his last recording sessions. The song is a reminder to me, and to anyone else still interested, that there’s a few of us out here who still know how to make authentic country music. I have an absolute belief that there’s a world of people out there who still love it, as my wife Connie Smith says it’s the ‘cry of the heart,’ Harlan Howard said ‘it’s’ three chords and the truth’ - that’s country music.”
Marty’s built up a legion of fans over the years. They’ll love this album.
Until a few years ago, DARYL MOSLEY was recognised more as a songwriter than recording artist.
His songsmith abilities have led to him being honoured three times as Songwriter of the Year, nine #1 songs, and three Song of the Year awards. Artists who have recorded his songs include Lynn Anderson, Bobby Osborne, Les Butler, the Booth Brothers, and The Grascals.
Throughout the 1990s, Mosley toured as the lead vocalist with the much-celebrated Bluegrass group New Tradition. In 2001, he joined the legendary Osborne Brothers. In 2010, he formed the band The Farm Hands who quickly became one of the most awarded acts in Bluegrass.
In 2020, Mosley stepped more directly into the spotlight with the release of his first solo project for Pinecastle Records.
This month, he releases his third solo album, “A Life Well Lived”, and like his previous albums, it’s a back porch reflection of life. The arrangements are gentle, and the songs of simple life, that Country folks can relate to.
The 11 track collection, produced by Mosley, and mandolin maestro Danny Roberts, was recorded in Ashland City, 25 miles west of Nashville. The title track, which kicks off the album, is a catchy piece inspired by his grandfather.
“When We Were Boys”, “Mayberry State Of Mind” and “We Need More Of That”, remembers life of yesteryear, and “Walking Man” remembers a local hero, who cared for his fellow man in his own way.
There a few gospel inspired numbers, notably “Big God”, which features Ronnie Booth, has a real Southern gospel feel to it, whilst “Working Man’s Prayer” is back to the down home back porch style.
“Bible in The Drawer”, recalls the famous Gideon Bible, to be found in hotel rooms all over the world. It rekindled thoughts in my mind, as to whether I still have the one we got back in school.
“Nobody But Her” is one of the softest ballads on the album. By contrast “Hillbilly Graham” has a strong banjo and fiddle mix, thanks to Tony Wray and Adam Haynes. It’s about a preacher, who didn’t comply with the expected dress code. Not a new story, but certainly a new way of telling the story.
“Thankful” is a joyous finale to the album, featuring the wonderful backing singers, Jaylee Roberts, Sarah Davisdon, Jeanette Williams,and  Riley Dotson, who do a wonderful job throughout the album, but especially on this track.
I really like the more simpler arrangements, and Daryl’s music really appeals to me.
I’m going to be playing a lot off this album. Every tracks a gem!
Next, we have a couple of homegrown albums.
ROSEANNE REID won rave reviews for her debut album, “Trails”. And the follow up, “Lawside”, released last month, is already gathering lots of praise. It is named after the residential district of Dundee, near where the family lives. “Someone said to me the other day, that “Lawside” almost sounds like a country and western title,” jokes Roseanne.
Whilst Roseanne’s music defies boundaries, there’s certainly more than just a Country feel to some of the tracks too. Not really surprising as dad is Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers, who have always had a bit of Country mixed in with their unique musical sound. But like her dad, Roseanne’s musical style covers a whole lot of genres.
She started playing folk clubs at the age of 12, and now regularly opens for touring acts like Joshua Hedley and Steve Earle. Indeed Earle dueted on her earlier album.
The 13 track album, recorded in Perth, with producer, musician and fellow Scot David Macfarlane, opens with
“All I Need”, an atmospheric ballad, which demonstrates an unusual, but infectious vocal, not unlike Tanya Tucker or Bonnie Raitt. This track really grew on me, and features harmonies from longtime friend and Edinburgh musician Rory Butler.
“Daisy Chain” is one of my favourite tracks. It’s simplicity, and innocence, really appealed to me. Other Country feeling numbers include “Made Just For You” and “Take Your Time”, with its effective harmonica,  and the steel laden “Something Broken”.
”Mona Lisa” also released as a single, is another of the stand out tracks to my ears. It's got that Celtic / Country singalong feel to it, with the fiddle and accordion and bodhrán drum, instead of a full drum kit.
“Call It Love” has some impressive horns, which doesn’t often feature in the sort of music I’d listen to, but it fits in really nicely.
Other ballads include the emotional “Shine On” which she was moved to write after the passing of TV personality Caroline Flack, “What Constitutes A Sin”, “Till Kingdom Come” and “Couldn’t Wish More For You”.
You’ve probably seen Roseanne supporting touring acts, but she’s really stretching out on her own with this album. She has a real individual sound, which is growing on me.
DEAN OWENS has come a long way from his days with The Felsons. His eight solo albums, mostly recorded in the US, have seen him honour Johnny Cash, collaborate with Scottish fiddler Amy Geddes (as Redwood Mountain) and work with American record & film producer Neilson Hubbard.
Dean’s music has been described as a unique blend of Scottish roots and Americana, but in truth it’s hard to pin down to a single genre. With each album he has pushed his own boundaries, constantly exploring, as his travels have taken him from Scotland’s post industrial heartlands to Nashville, New York and the panoramic vistas of the US deserts.
His most recent album, 2022’s Sinner’s Shrine (recorded with Calexico) won rave reviews for capturing the feel of the American desert.
Now his 9th album - El Tiradito (The Curse of Sinner’s Shrine) – is a double CD release, on the Dutch Continental Record Services. As the name suggests, it’s a little brother to his previous release, as he continues his collaboration with the musicians from Calexico, and the sounds and influences of the US south west desert states.
Disc 1 comprises songs recorded at the Sinner’s Shrine sessions which didn’t quite fit on the original
album, and songs recorded long distance as lockdown kicked in. They were originally released as the long since sold out Desert Trilogy EPs, and (following demand from fans) are now available in one place for the first time.
The mood ranges from big production numbers like “She Was A Raven” and “Dolina”,to the quiet melancholy of “Tombstone Rose” (co-written with Calexico’s Joey Burns), my favourite track,  and “Ashes & Dust”.
Stories of sinners and saints, love and lust, the displaced, the wanderers and the border ghosts.
The slow, and moody, “Mother Road” (inspired by 96 year old Angel Delgadillo whose (now legendary) barber shop still occupies its position on Route 66 (the “mother road”) now bypassed by the Interstate highway) is a reflective, powerful ballad. The unsettlingly edgy “Riverline” was inspired by a book by former US/Mexico border patrol agent Francisco Cantú, while “Dolina” is dark, sultry and mysterious. The slow, and sombre, “Even When I’m Gone” features Dean in solo, reflective mood, before (fittingly) “The End”, which has been described as “the best murder ballad not covered by Johnny Cash!”
The all instrumental Disc 2 is all new, and sees Dean unleashing his full inner Morricone! A theme for an imaginary Western, recorded long distance in various home studios from Tucson to Berlin via Pencaitland, with Calexico musicians John Convertino and Martin Wenk, with Naïm Amor, Tom Hagerman and Dean’s old Felsons buddy Kevin McGuire. It was inspired by the story of Tucson landmark El Tiradito (the Shrine to the Sinner) which reads like a classic Sergio Leone Western – a tragic tale of forbidden passion and blood soaked revenge and retribution.
As ever, an interesting eclectic album from Dean, which you can’t box into any category.
Moving south, “Siempre” is the fourth studio album from AGS CONNOLLY and marks a change in direction for the traditional country singer-songwriter – yet without leaving his trademark honky tonk sound behind. As with his previous project, “Siempre” was produced by Ags himself and recorded at Woodworm Studios in Oxfordshire with London-based players in guitarist Rob Updegraff, bass player Anna Robinson and drummer Chris ‘CJ’ Jones, and legendary UK pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole who added dobro to one track.
This album transport Ags from his native Oxfordshire, to the Texas border towns, merging them with Tejano music and barroom waltzes while also accommodating his honky tonk and singer-songwriter roots.
He kicks off the 10 track collection with “Headed South For A While”, a good catchy road song, with quite a modern arrangement for Ags, but still keeping that traditional vibe.
“Change My Mind” has quite a vintage tex mex feel, courtesy of Michael Guerra, as does “Senora (Whatever Comes First)”, a bouncy fun number.
“Tell Me What You’re Gonna Tell Me”, “I Trust My Heart These Days” and “Overwhelmed” have a more mellow feel to them. “In Love at All” and “Turn Out” are other ballads which are really nice listens.
“I’d Be Good For You” is probably the most mainstream Country ballad, with some lovely fiddle from Nashville fiddle player Billy Contreras.
For the Tex-Mex tracks, Ags taught himself to play bajo quinto, a traditional Tejano instrument. “I knew if I was gonna do it I had to do it right”, Ags says. “Wes McGhee (the legendary UK country artist who spent years playing in Austin) told me you need the bajo for an authentic sound - he should know as he was making records like this decades ago.” Ags pays tribute to McGhee by covering his song “Half Forgotten Tunes”, a song that has echoes of vintage Willie Nelson.
“It’s best described as a Texas music album”, Ags explains. “Texas-style country is my favourite, and it takes many forms. I wanted to celebrate them all.”
Ags Connolly is widely considered to be one of the best “Country” artists ever to emerge from the UK. His popularity in the US has grown considerably since the release of “Wrong Again”, and he has also established himself in countries like the Netherlands and Sweden that value his traditional sound. “Siempre” – which also features cover art by eminent designer Stephen Averill – is the next step in his growth as an artist and as a figure in UK country music.
Next up, we head over the Irish Sea for a brand new album from one of the Ireland’s brightest young stars, DAVID JAMES. “The Promise” is David’s first album release since signing his record deal with Demon Records.
The 12 track album consists of both covers & original material.
The title track is a powerful anthem to his homeland, with a lovely celtic feel to it. The album also includes the hit single ''Don't Take the Good Times For Granted'', a duet with Daniel O Donnell.
The 12 track collection begins with the catchy cajun flavoured “Louisiana”, and is quickly followed by a cover of Exile’s “Woke Up In Love”, a Country No.1 song from 40 years ago.
You’ll also recognise Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain”.
“The Best Of Friends” and “Take Your Time” are both catchy Irish numbers.
“Beautiful As Usual”, an early single for David, is a bit more of a pop number, compared to the rest of the album, but still quite enjoyable.  
He’s well travelled on the album, with “Killarney In My Dreams, “Home To Donegal” and “Far Away in Australia”, But for me, the stand out track is a very emotional cover of Billy Connolly’s “I Wish I Was in Glasgow”. It’s a song that really gets your attention. Nobody does it like The Big Yin, but David really does the song justice.
The whole album is a really good listen.
“I’m very proud of how the album has turned out” said David.
As well as promoting the album, David has had a mentoring role on the recent Glor Tire TV series, and is currently hosting the afternoon show on Donegal’s Highland Radio, which is well worth a listen, He was part of the Highland Radio Glasgow Week, back in May.
Recalling the modern, esoteric lyricism of Guy Clark and Billy Joe Shaver and the Southern traditions of old-time music and bluegrass, veteran Americana singer-songwriter-guitar player ED SNODDERLY releases his 10th album, “Chimney Smoke”, later this month, which I have to say, I found a very enjoyable listen.
The title track ‘Chimney Smoke offers a vivid depiction of Appalachian life, and growing up. It’s a catchy foot tapper.
The opening track, “Better Just Ride The Mule”, sets the scene, of growing up in Appalachia.
‘Gone With Gone and Long Time’, a dazzling meditation on the stages of grief, which features harmony vocals from Hall of  Fame songwriter Gretchen Peters. It’s one of the stand out tracks on the album, with some really neat instrumentation.
“The Diamond Stream”, billed as a Bonus track is quite a catchy little number.
“Barn” is a real upbeat track, and “Walking In The Sunshine Again” rolls along quite nicely too.
Whilst “Just Like You River” and “Before School” are really slow laments.
Inbetween there’s “Jump Dance South” and “Crow’s Fever”, which are a bit different to the rest of the album, being a bit for pop influenced.
“Chimney Smoke” had its origins in Snodderly’s desire not only to make the best record possible but in the concept of creating a quintessential “Southern” album, a chronicle of both his Appalachian roots and his own personal upbringing.
Aided throughout by “the Shoestring Seven,” a who’s-who of veteran musicians including Shawn Camp, Chris Scruggs and Kenny Vaughan, the album also features singers Amythyst Kiah, Maura O’Connell and Malcolm Holcombe.
In 1976, Snodderly co-founded (with friend, Joe “Tank” Leach) the now-iconic music venue, the Down Home
Coffeehouse and Pickin’ Parlor in Johnson City, TN.  Long known as The Down Home, it’s an intimate listening room that has played host to countless acts in bluegrass, folk, old-time and blues music.
This album will fit in nice there. A really nice listen.
Finally, an album that’s not out until next month, but as this is the last chance I have to review it, I didn’t want readers to miss out on it.
Ten years following the release of the critically-acclaimed “Bakersfield” album, which remembered Merle Haggard & Buck Owens, country music icon VINCE GILL and legendary musician PAUL FRANKLIN, have joined forces again for their latest project, “Sweet Memories: The Music of Ray Price & The Cherokee Cowboys”. The 11-track album contains material that might be surprising to even the most die-hard of Price’s fans.
“We kind of shopped for the unfamiliar,” Vince explained. “Eddie Stubbs [the former Grand Ole Opry announcer, WSM disc jockey and music scholar] was part of this process, although he didn't know it at the time. I'd listen to him at night and call him up and say, 'Play something for me I've never heard before.' He’d often play something that knocked me out, and I'd take note of all the songs. I had maybe 30 different ones for Paul to listen to—some so outside the box that I didn't know them, and Paul didn't either.”
In addition to choosing material that was less than predictable, as co-producers of “Sweet Memories”, Gill and Franklin approached the recording from a different angle as well.
Gill explains, “This isn’t a sound-alike record. I never wanted to do that. I don't think any of these songs sound comparable to the original.”
The final component was their take on the musicians, from the original The Cherokee Cowboys band to the stellar lineup of players contributing to the album.
Gill acknowledges, “There were some unbelievably gifted musicians who were such a part of those original records. We were drawn to them probably as much as we were drawn to Ray.”
The musicians contributing to “Sweet Memories” include: Tom Bukovac (electric guitar), Dennis Crouch (bass), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Steve Gibson (electric guitar), John Jarvis (piano), Greg Morrow (drums), Wendy Moten (harmony vocals), the late Michael Rhodes (electric bass), Jerry Roe (drums), Derek Wells (electric guitar), and Andrea Zonn (harmony vocals).
The title track was written by Mickey Newbury, which Price recorded in 1971. The album features songs written by an array of Country music royalty from Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare, Hank Cochran, Joe Allison, Marty Robbins, Hank Snr, and Willie Nelson (who played in Price’s band in the early days) , as well as Price’s own “Your Old Love Letters”.
There’s even a version of “Danny Boy”!
The taster track, streaming now, is “Kissing Your Picture (Is So Cold)”, which Ray wrote with Mel Tillis & Wayne Walker. Ray recorded it back in 1958, the flip side to “That’s What It’s Like To Be Lonesome”, which was the follow up to “City Lights”. Vince & Paul’s version is full of wonderful twin fiddles- I cant wait to hear the whole album.
“I’m excited this music is getting out there in a way we feel brings new life and new ideas to it,” Franklin notes. “And hopefully will expose a younger generation to Ray’s music.”
And that wraps up our CD reviews for the magazine. Over the years, the music has changed, and we’ve tried to cover it all, from the latest Nashville & Americana sounds, to the active scene across the UK and Ireland. We’ve especially tried to support the Scottish Country music artists through these pages, whenever they’ve made their music available for review. Of course, the way we receive music has also changed. Despite the reported surge in vinyl sales, the Country music market has become more digital, especially since lockdown. That makes it more difficult for a reviewer like me. Whereas I’m used to putting a CD in the player, and browsing through the CD booklet and credits whilst listening to it, these days, sometimes all we get are mp3’s with no supporting information, sometimes not even a CD cover. Changing times.
A reminder that all the reviews I’ve done for the magazine, since 2005 – all 1450 of them, can be viewed online at There’s even a search box, to look up your favourite artist.  There was probably more reviews prior to 2005, but that’s when we started the blog.
Thanks to Brigitte for the space to share my thoughts over the years, and hope I didn’t offend too many artists, who put a whole lot of time, money and effort into producing their pride & joys!

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