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Friday, 29 November 2019

Dec 2019

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.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Oct 2019

It’s VINCE GILL month, with two albums to review in this edition.
The legendary singer, songwriter and guitar player is one of Country music’s most esteemed entertainers :  respected for his modesty, admired for his talent. One night he can be heard jamming with The Time Jumpers at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsay Bar on a weeknight. Next stop, he’s touring around the world’s biggest stages with The Eagles.
“Okie” is his new release. It’s an album which is really close to home for Vince, an “Okie”, himself, having been born in Norman, some 20 miles from Oklahoma City.
Some of Vince’s best music has come from ballads, and this album is full of them.
He starts with “I Don’t Wanna Ride The Rails No More”, a lovely ballad about changing perspectives on life. Change features on several tracks, including “The Price Of Regret” and “What Choice Will You Make”.
"Forever Changed." Is about abuse, and he nearly didn't record it. But many years ago when he performed it live, a band member who heard it ran off the stage in tears, and told him that it was her story. She asked, "How did you know?" And he didn't, but he knows people aren't always kind or fair-minded, or right or true.
“That Old Man Of Mine” is a bit different from the rest of the album. The subject matter diverts Vince from his down home modest real life, to the story of an abusive father, and doing time for serving due justice.
Vince’s modesty comes to the fore on “An Honest Man”, with its line “Let Them Cowboys Be The Heroes, I’ll Just Be an Honest Man”. With some lovely steel guitar from Paul Franklin, it’s one of my favourite tracks on the album.
“The Red Words” is something of a spiritual religious number, which really strikes a chord.
Vince holds family close. He's sung about his father in "The Key To Life." He's sung about his brother in "Go Rest High On That Mountain". He’s sung about daughter Jenny (“Jenny Dreamed Of Trains”), and on this album, has “When My Amy Prays”, and “A Letter To My Mama”, the later co-written with Dean Dillon.
But the stand out tracks are Vince’s tributes to a couple of musical heroes. “Nothin’ Like a Guy Clark Song” speaks for itself, whilst the guy who put “Okie’s” on the map, is honoured on the instantly appealing “A World Without Haggard”. “Black & White” also honours Guy & Merle.
Some of Vince’s biggest hits have been killer ballads. This album really takes up where they left off. There’s some great songs on here, that I wont stop listening to for a long long time.
A stunning album.

From brand new Vince, Humphead take us back to the start of his Nashville career in 1984, with the release of “Oklahoma Borderline”, a 2 CD set, featuring 35 tracks.
At that time, his label RCA, were trying to make him a pop star. I recall him popping “secretly” into the press room at the Wembley Festival. The label flew him in to get him on Radio 1, they didn’t want him doing the Country Festival.
Some of the songs during that time, all featured here, included the upbeat “Victim Of Life’s Circumstances”, “Turn Me Loose”, “Lucy Dee” and “Everybody’s Sweetheart” which were more rockabilly than Country.
But Vince showed just how he could deliver a killer ballad, even back then. I fondly remember “Half A Chance”, which I still play regularly, “The Radio”, “I’ve Been Hearing Things About You” and “If It Weren’t For Him”, which was a duet with Rosanne Cash. How beautifully their voices blended together- why haven’t they done more together over the years?
I had forgotten about “Til The Best Comes Along” – superb Country, with some great steel guitar from Jaydee Maness, and “Oh Carolina”, with lovely harmonies from Emmylou Harris.
Vince’s career never really took off until he moved over to MCA in 1989, but as this collection shows, he did some wonderful stuff in his early career, which shouldn’t be forgotten.
He recorded 3 albums for RCA, and for this collection, there’s a bonus of several tracks, where Vince has added harmonies, on other people’s records.  Included is Pam Tillis’ “It Isn’t Just Raining”, Tammy Wynette’s “I Wasn’t Meant To Live My Life Along” and Sara Evans “No Place That Far”. Interestingly, when this song, which was nominated for CMA Vocal Event of The Year, was originally released in the UK, they stripped Vince’s vocals from the record. There’s also a guest spot on Brad Paisley “Bigger Fish To Fry”. I’m sure there’s a few more “guest” tracks they could’ve unearthed- Baillie & The Boys comes to mind.
As with all of Humphead’s classic collections, there’s an excellent CD booklet written by Alan Cackett.
Two great albums from one of the greatest guys in Country music, from both ends of his career. Both are superb, and both are must haves for any Country music collection!

Someone else whose career is in a reflective mood is CRYSTAL GAYLE. It’s over 40 years since she became a household name with hits like “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and “When I Dream”.
She has just released her first new album in 16 years, “You Don’t Know Me” (Southpaw), which includes 15 tracks, mostly covers of Country classics.  Now, I’m often critical of artists who fill their albums with such tried and tested songs, but Crystal has such a beautiful, and unique vocal style, that she has plenty to offer, even the most over recorded numbers.
The album kicks off with the bouncy Gordon Lightfoot song “Ribbon Of Darkness”, which really gets the tempo going.  But it’s the next track- Hank’s “You Win Again”, which really made its mark. I wasn’t expecting Crystal to make a song that’s been around for so long, so much her own. Then she did the same on “Please Help Me I’m Falling”.  And “There Goes My Everything”, “Crying Time” and “Walking After Midnight”.  Not to mention, the title track, an old Eddy Arnold hit.
Imagine her taking on Lefty Frizzell & Merle Haggard’s “That’s The Way Love Goes”.
One of her early albums was “We Must Believe In Magic”, and Crystal proves here that she has the magic touch on any songs she may touch.
A few of the songs aren’t as well known, but Crystal still makes her mark on George Jones’ “Just One More” and George Strait’s “I’ve Seen That Look On Me A Thousand Times”.
There’s also family connections, as she records brother, Jay Lee Webb’s “You Were Never Mind”, which is one of my favourite tracks.  She also teams up with her sisters, Loretta Lynn and Peggy Sue Wright on Dolly’s “Put It Off Until Tomorrow”. This is the first record the three sisters have ever made together. It probably has more of a Loretta sound, than a Crystal one, but it’s a real event which should’ve happened long ago.
There’s a bonus track of Crystal’s first single from way back in 1970, “I’ve Cried The Blue Right Out Of My Eyes”, a song written by sister Loretta, who wrote a lot of Crystal’s early songs. The track does sound quite dated, but interesting to compare her voice and the productions.
Overall, a wonderful album. Classic Country from one of Country’s Classiest ladies.

TOBY KEITH has been at the top in Country music since he first set the charts alight back in 1993. He has sold over 40 million albums in the US alone. He has amassed a list of 32 No.1 songs, and indeed has topped the charts every year for 20 straight years. What is more surprising is that he has had his own record label, Show Dog Nashville, since 2005.
Now his “Greatest Hits- The Show Dog Years” gets a UK release later this month, featuring a string of smash hits that are instantly recognisable, like the fun, party numbers, “Red Solo Cup”, “Beers Ago”, and “Trailerhood”. I particularly liked the latter.  It’s the type of songs, Toby has made very much his own, over the years.
There are patriotic numbers like “Made In America” and “American Ride”, and other upbeat numbers like “God Love Her” and “High Maintenance Woman”.
There are ballads too, like “Cryin’ for Me (Wayman’s Song)”, “Hope On The Rocks”, “She Never Cried In Front Of Me” and “Love Me If You Can”.
The album features four new(er) songs, including the hit single from earlier this year, “That’s Country Bro”, an anthem paying tribute to the legends of Country music. The cynical side of me considers it just a list of names from a Country’s Who’s Who, but he delivers the directory well.
“Don’t Let The Old Man In”, is a softer ballad, which is featured in the Clint Eastwood movie, “The Mule”. There’s also quite a funky feel to “Back in the 405”, and an alternative remix of “American Ride”.
Toby is an individual, with an individual sound. It’s well captured on this hits collection. There’s not another performer like him.

The child of an American military family, MICHAELA ANNE was raised on the road, living in places as widespread as Washington, California & Italy. She puts her lack of roots, and the questions that raised in her mind, as the driver behind her songwriting.
She first came to the notice of Country music critics in 2014, when The Village Voice hailed her debut offering, “Ease My Mind” as “one of the year’s best Country Albums”. Now her third album, “Desert Dove” (Yep Roc) has just been released in the UK.
She was a new name to me, but one that I was really impressed with, on the strength of this album.
In the main, it is an upbeat, well produced, and a really good listen.
The album kicks off slowly, with “By Own Design”, which is quite a ballad, compared to the rest of the album. 
 “I’m Not The Fire” is a good, uptempo radio friendly number, which I really liked. Other upbeat numbers include “Run Away With Me”, and the catchy “I Wanted Your Opinion”.
“Two Fools” has a real old time Country feel to it, with some honky tonk piano mixed with steel, giving it a really classic feel to it.  “Tattered,Torn And Blue (And Crazy)” also has quite a retro feel to it.
“Child Of The Wind” is one of these “driving” songs, one that’s great to listen to, whilst tearing down a wide open road. One of the stand out tracks for me.
The title track is one of the softer ballads on the album, having quite an atmospheric feeling to it.
“One Heart” is a powerful song, delivered with a strong, soaring vocal, and driving guitar.
The closing track, “Be Easy” is the most simplistic solo ballad- very much Michaela on her own.
Recorded “on location” in San Clemente, California, the album was produced by recent UK visitor Sam Outlaw, and Delta Spirit’s Kelly Winrich.
I really enjoyed this album. A lady to listen out for.

Anyone who comes from a place called Monkey’s Eyebrow (a real place, near Paducah, Kentucky) must be interesting. And KELSEY WALDON fits the bill. After moving to Nashville, she earned a college degree, spent three years bartending at The Nashville Palace, took up touring with her music, and her persistence led her to the Grand Ole Opry stage. She’s toured with the likes of Jamey Johnson and Tyler Childers, as well as her new boss.
She is the first new artist signed to John Prine’s Oh Boy Records label, in 15 years. “White Noise, White Lines” gets it’s UK release this month.
It kick’s off with “Anyhow”, which really demonstrates her deep southern accent, mixed with a driving beat. It certainly captures the listener’s attention.
The title track is a smouldering personal number which was inspired by a pivotal weekend in August 2017, noting that she had just turned 30, fallen in love, there was a stunning solar eclipse, and she befriended members of a Chickasaw tribe (whose chants were recorded on her phone, and featured here).
“Kentucky 1988” recaptures her early childhood. It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album. It’s preceded by a voicemail from her father, just to add a personal touch.
Still in Kentucky, “Black Patch” is a real old time Country number, which recalls a historic battle there.
“Lived And Let Go” is Kelsey’s protest song, inspired by Dylan & Guthrie.
“Very Old Barton” is a rip roaring old style outlaw /hillbilly number, with a strong Waylon feeling to the arrangement. Not that her voice is anything like Waylon’s.
“Run Away” is a slower number, a traditional Country weeper, laced with steel guitar, which really worked well.
“Sunday’s Children” is quite a bluesy, which didn’t appeal to me much, whilst the closing ballad” My Epitaph” was originally written by Ola Belle Reed, but obviously very personal to Kelsey.
But overall, this is a really impressive album. Her southern drawl may not find universal appeal, but her vocal styling really suits the songs on this collection.
Well worth a listen !

DAVE GUNNING is a Canadian singer-songwriter who has amassed a ton of awards including ECMA’s & Juno’s, in a 23 year musical career, which has seen him record a dozen album’s.
His 13th album, “Up Against The Sky” (Wee House Of Music), like his previous outings, rides the line between East Coast Folk, Country and Celtic music.
I’ve enjoyed several of his earlier albums, so was pleased to get hold of this latest release.
“All That’s Yet To Come”, a co-write with Ray Stewart, one of the most positive songs on the album. It’s quite a catchy anthem of hope.
Although his main influences were Stan Rogers and John Allen Cameron, I identified a distinct Ian Tyson influence on the farming anthems, “Celebrate The Crop”, and “Horse For Sale”.
Away from the farms, he hits the seas, with the “The Loyal Fisherman”, an interesting story song, which he describes as a mini-movie in 4 ½ minutes.
“Ferris Wheel” is a song that took Dave back in time, and asked what happened to his favourite fair attraction, and other memories that raised.
“In The Time I Was Away”, is an upbeat, bouncy little number, about being away from home, and missing out. “Circle Of Boots” takes Dave back a few years, when he toured Canada with George Canyon. Apparently they had a ritual each night where the band and crew would all link arms for a prayer, and he remembers staring at the ground, seeing the circle of boots. An interesting tale from the road.
Dave’s protest song comes along in the form of “Wish I Was Wrong”. Dave is active in a group opposed to the release of treated effluent from a pulp mill, which threatens a local fishery. He certainly raised the profile for the cause on this mournful, but defiant number.
The album winds up with “Beyond The Day”, a song written with Glasgow singer songwriter Paul McKenna. It’s a really nice number.
The whole album is a really nice listen. Country, with folk and celtic influences.

CHARLEY CROCKETT is something of a legend down in Texas. Born in San Benito, he moved to Dallas, and more recently Austin, via New Orleans, California and Paris, France along the way.  He was raised in a trailer park in Los Fresnos, taught himself guitar, got in trouble with the law, and more recently health issues, which lead to him having open heart surgery earlier this year. He’s certainly done a lot of living in his 35 years.
His music style was originally the blues, but veering through American Roots music, has brought him to his sixth album, “The Valley” (Thirty Tigers), which has certainly a lot of Country music on offer. Not, today’s Country music, but real, authentic, traditional Country music, of the Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and Webb Pierce style, following on from his 2017 release “Lil G.L.’s Honky Tonk Jubilee”.
The album opens up with the handclapping, foot tappin’ “Borrowed Time”. It’s a really catchy skiffle type number, which has the listener instantly realising that this album is going to so different to anything else out there.
The title track is the story of his life. There’s a bit of Kristofferson in there, but with a bit more of a Country arrangement, including steel, that you’d get from Kris.
Also boasting some impressive steel guitar is “10,000 Acres (of lonesome)”. From the title alone, you know this is just got to be a killer Country song, and it is!
Slowing things down, “Change Yo’ Mind”, is a traditional Country song, whilst “Motel Time Again” was written by Crockett, alongside Bobby Bare and others. It’s real Country music.
“Big Gold Mine”, “The Way I’m Livin’ (Santa Rosa)”and  “River Of Sorrow” are all good upbeat numbers, which I really enjoyed. 
“If Not The Fool”, is a classic Country crooner number, influenced by bluesy overtones.
There are a few tracks that didn’t work for me, including the bluesy skiffle song “7 Come 11”, one of the few songs not written by Crockett himself.
Another cover is the Buck Owens/Harlan Howard hit, “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache)”. I’ve got to say, that, for a song that’s had so many covers, including The Mavericks, this is a totally different version of the song. Crockett has made it his own.
Crockett doesn’t have the best voice in the world, but that just adds to the authenticity of the songs here. His music is steeped in Country & Blues, when it was much closer linked than it is today. A real fifties feel to the album, which is quite an achievement for a 35 year old.
He was over here on tour last month, and included a Glasgow gig. If you missed him, make sure you grab this album, which is released here on November 22nd.

DREW HOLCOMB & THE NEIGHBORS have been a regular fixture on the Americana side of the Country scene for some years now. The Memphis native has released a dozen albums, which have charted in various musical charts.
This month, his 13th album, “Dragons” (Thirty Tigers) gets a UK release, and is a really catchy collection of songs, which should get airplay on a number of different radio outlets.
The album kicks off with the very commercial sounding “Family”, complete with fashionable Nashville styled chants. It certainly caught my attention.
“End Of The World”, also has quite a mainstream beat, which should fit nicely into modern Country radio formats.
The title track features Sean McConnell and Zach Williams of The Lone Bellow. I has a real Country story song feel to it, complete with spoken lines. I really liked it.
There are a couple of songs, which feature Drew’s good lady Ellie. They include the smouldering, yet infectious “But I’ll Never Forget The Way You Make Me Feel” and “See The World”, which namechecks the legendary Shel Silverstein, which got my attention. This one is quite a poppy easy listening number, but it really works.
“You Want What You Cant Have”, one of two songs co-written with the award winning Lori McKenna, also features vocals from his co-writer. It has a slight reggae beat, but is also one of the most Country feeling songs on the album.
“Maybe”, which features Highwomen singer songwriter Natalie Hemby, is a touch more rocky.
If you like the west coast Eagles sound, check out “Make It Look So Easy”. It’s another written with Lori McKenna.
On a slower note, “You Never Leave My Heart” is more of a ballad, whilst “Bittersweet” is also on the slow side.
I’ve always enjoyed Drew’s previous albums, but this one really stands out for me. Definitely worth a listen !

SILVER LAKE 66 is a duo featuring Maria Francis & Jeff Overbo. Their musical paths came together many years back in Minneapolis, before heading to Southern California, and latterly in the North Western state of Oregon.
They recorded an album in 2016 called “Let Go Or Be Dragged”, and now release the follow up “Ragged Heart” in the UK this month.
They offer a unique sound, which blends old time Country, folk & blues, together with really neat vocals which harmonise together beautifully.
The album, which was recorded in Portland, kicks off with Jeff’s “Blue Earth County”, which is a really strong Country anthem, which had me hooked in the first few seconds.
That was followed by the catchy, upbeat title track, this time lead by Maria.
“Broken” has a bit more of a bluesy feel to it, but really suits the duet vocal styling.
“Faded Tattoos”, led vocally by Maria, is a bit more contemporary in its sound.
“Tender”, as you would expect, is more of a ballad. Maria’s vocals sound much more vulnerable this time, and really Country, at the same time.  I could probably say the same about “Broken Dreams & Cigarettes”.
“Hard Thing To Do” has a stunning steel guitar intro, thanks to Brian Daste. On this one, Maria’s vocals are more aligned to the blues. But it works well.
“Check Out To Cash” and “Such A Mess” are Jeff’s turn to slow down the tempo.
He’s more uptempo again on “Like A River”.
I wasn’t familiar with Silver Lake 66”, but was really impressed with this album. Real down home Country, with some blues and a folksy feel at the same time.
It was really quite a refreshing listen!

 RYAN BROOKS is offering a bright fresh sound from the English Midlands. The 24 year old Nottingham based singer songwriter has just released his debut album, “VICE (is where the devil finds his darlings)”.
Citing The Dead South and Johnny Cash amongst his influences, he was certainly going to have an interesting sound. Ryan wrote all the songs, and produced the album in his home studio, playing all the instruments, with the exception of Dan Booth’s violin on a number of tracks.
The title track, hidden deep in the album (track 8) is a mid tempo number, which defies all genre labels.
It all kicks off with the lively foot-tappin’ “Own Sweet Way”, which is almost a HoeDown. It’s really catchy. “Arlene”, is a bouncy little number, which you can’t help liking.
“Dear Departed” is a really upbeat number which stand out for me, as does “City Lights”.
“Find A Way”, another of the album’s upbeat numbers, features Ken Bonsall & Dan Booth (from a band called Ferocious Dog).
“She” is a softer ballad, with almost a continental feel to it, whilst “Red Light Alley” has a mystical mid tempo, haunting feel to it, until it comes to the catchy chorus.
And it all closes down with “Come Over”, which allows Ryan to wear his heart on his sleeve.
It’s an interesting- not like anything else you’ll hear on the UK Country scene today!

Growing up, ED DUPAS was a well travelled child. Born in Houston, he was raised in Manitoba, before his family moved to Detroit, whilst Ed was a teenager. There’s a lot of musical influences made an impression of Dupas over the years.
His third album, “The Lonesome Side Of Town” (Road Trip Songs) get released here in late October, and is certainly worth listening out for.  I have enjoyed his previous outings, but this album really caught my attention from track 1.
The album opens with the title track. It’s a strong, upbeat, stone Country song, given a bit of a personality by Ed’s “Sean Connery” style vocals, especially when he sings about “the lone-shum side of town”. I really liked that. The album was off to a real winner!
By contrast, “Lonely” is a bit more of a ballad, as is “The Things I Miss” and “On MY Way”. “It Tears The Heart Right Out Of Me” is a real Country heartbreaker, whilst “Just For Two” is, perhaps, just a little more lighter. Both are equally pleasing on the ear.
“It All Sounds Like Leaving” is a mid tempo song, which really emphasises just how Country this record is. I’ve got to say, Justin Schipper’s steel licks really helps there.
But it’s the more upbeat tracks which really impressed me most, including “Both Hands On The Wheel”
“State Of The Nation” is a real rocker, with a bit of American patriotism included.
Whilst Ed Dupas music is directed more towards Americana fans, I consider this to be one of the strongest traditional Country music albums of the year. Highly recommended.

Our Irish album this time around comes from singer songwriter TONY McLOUGHLIN, who recently performed at the Millport Country Festival.  Tony’s career stretches back to the days of Donovan, back in the 70’s, and has also involved sharing stages with The Everly Brothers, Nanci Griffith, Steve Earle, Janis Ian and Lee Roy Parnell, to name just a few.
For his latest album, “True Native”, (Fuego label), which is released later this month, Tony went back to Nashville (where he recorded his 2006 album, “Tall Black Horse”), and took with him, fellow Irishman Phillip Donnelly, as producer.
As you’ll guess from seeing who he’s worked with in the past, Tony isn’t a mainstream Irish, or even Country artist. He does have much more of a rugged Country rock / Americana influence running through the album.
Having said that, there are some really nice Country numbers standing out on the album.
“The Colour Of Spring” and “Treeline” both have a really nice bounce to them, and is quite different to anything else on the album.  “If You Were A Bluebird”, written by Butch Hancock, is another of the album’s highlights for me.
On these three tracks especially, lovely harmonies from Californian singer songwriter Jean Anne Chapman Tarleton, really adds to the sound.
“Here Come The Wind” has quite a Bobby Bare sound to it, keeping it sounding Country, but blending in with the rockier feel through the rest of the album.
The opening track is a hard drivin’ “Blood On Blood”, which was originally going to be the title track.  “True Native” is a song which takes the listener to the old west. It’s quite a haunting, atmospheric number.
“Mercury”, which closes the album is quite a slow number, but enhanced greatly by the Dylan-esque harmonica.
An interesting album. Worth a listen.

Golspie based COLORADO were, without doubt, the most successful Country music band that Scotland has ever produced, having won the BCMA Group Of The Year award right through the 1980’s. They appeared regularly at the Wembley Festival, as well as huge events across Europe and beyond.  Geordie is still going strong, despite several attempts to retire, and the fan base just keeps going, thru the generations.
For some time now, younger fans, many who weren’t around in the 80’s, have been asking for the old Colorado albums, and now several of the old vinyl albums have been digitised and made available through the usual download and streaming services.
They include, “Tennessee Inspiration”, which includes their original version of “The Green Fields Of France”, which featured legendary Nashville steelie Lloyd Green, as well as such favourites as “Tennessee Whiskey & Texas Women” (which featured Davy Duff on lead vocals), “Boogie Grass Saturday Night” and the Stewart Ross song “A Part Of Me Will Stay With You”.
Their first album, “Colorado Sing Country Music”, which featured the Cajun classic “Thibodeaux And His Cajun Band” is also available, as is the self titled album, “Colorado”, with “All My Cloudy Days Are Gone”.
“Exclusive”, which the original album cover was a mock up of a newspaper called “The Colorado Times”, featured the catchy “Crazy Celtic Music”, which featured Tommy Collins, “Makin’ Friends” with George Hamilton IV, and their stunning version of “The Dark Island”.
And “Still Rollin”, an early retrospective look back at their career at that point, with songs like “We’ve Got Something To Say”, “Stories We Could Tell” and “Saving The Best For Last” completes the list.
I’ve still got all these albums on their original vinyl, but its pure nostalgia to hear them in today’s digital glory.

These days BRANDON McPHEE is flying the musical flag for the Far North. Like Colorado, he has successfully blended his local roots with Country music. His new EP teams him up with Foster & Allen, no less, as they perform a really impressive version of the Skipinnish number, “Walking On The Waves”. The song has been covered a fair bit recently, but I have to say that Brandon, Mick & Tony have a real winner on their hands with this version. The second track is Brandon’s own version of “Old Town Road”, the recent No.1 UK Pop hit for Billy Ray Cyrus & rapper Lil Nas X. No rapping on Brandon’s version thankfully!
The EP is completed with the powerful “Take These Wings”, and the accordion tune “The Bluebird”, written by Will Starr. A good mix of Country and Scottish on one CD.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Aug 2019

DOMINIC KIRWAN celebrates his 30 years as a recording artist, with “Time Of My Life” (Rosette), a 12 track collection of easy listening, generally Country tracks, which is just the sort of music he has been so successful with, over the years.
There are covers from the likes of Kenny Rogers (Lady), Glen Campbell (Southern Nights & Wichita Lineman) and George Strait (The Chair).
He covers Alan Jackson’s “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”, and “The Older I Get”, a lovely ballad, which stands out on the album for me.  He even takes on Aaron Tippin’s “You’ve Got To Stand For Something” and The Hag’s “That’s The Way Love Goes”.
Veering away from the Country, “Once In A Lifetime” has quite a soulful feel to it, as does the duet with son Barry, on “The Long Goodbye”, a song written by Paul Brady, Ronan Keating and Kix Brooks.
He also offers an interesting arrangement to Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”. 
The title track, the old Green Day hit, is given a vibrant celtic feel, and it really works well.
After 30 years Dominic really knows his audience, and knows just what songs will work. This collection continues the trend. A good mix of known, and slightly lesser known numbers, some strong ballads, together with more upbeat numbers.
It’s another winner from Dominic.

Philomena Begley’s son AIDAN QUINN was well received when he released his album “Overworked & Underpaid”, which instantly established him as part of the Irish Country scene.
It seems incredible that it’s taken Aidan 6 years to follow up with new music.
But it’s certainly been worth the wait. “Home Away From Home” (H & H Music) is a superb album in every way. I really like Aidan’s voice. He can sound so Country one minute, and then his Irish side really comes through on the more Celtic influenced numbers. The production is first class throughout, with no less than three producers, Brian Kerrigan, Dave Arkins and Stephen Smyth being involved in the album.
The album kicks off with “Friend Of Mine”, which was originally featured on the Nashville TV series, although is well suited to the Irish audiences. The next two tracks are Country classics. Firstly, there’s the catchy “Life Of A Poor Boy”, which takes us back to Stonewall Jackson days. That’s followed by the Merle Haggard ballad “What Have You Got Planned Tonight Diana”, which has been a popular song for Irish artists to record of late.  Other Country covers include Kristofferson’s “Why Me Lord”, Waylon & Willie’s “Good Hearted Woman”, Gene Watson’s “Circus That You Call The Rodeo” and “May The Wind Be Always At Your Back”, which takes us back to Miki & Griff days.
The Irish side is covered by The Murphy’s “Tallulah”, “Josie’s Country Tavern” and the Sean Keane written title track.
He does really spirited versions of “Grace”, “Flying Home From Aherlow” and “Lovely Leitrim” too. There’s a seven song “Country & Irish medley, and it’s all rounded off with a duet with mum Philomena, on Tom Paxton’s classic “Last Thing On My Mind”,
This is a really strong album. Aidan has a great voice, suiting both stone Country and traditional Irish songs.

Not to be outdone, mum PHILOMENA BEGLEY has a “new” release in the form of a double CD, which has a bit of history attached to it.
“Jive Time”, (H & H Music) is on CD1, which is a collection of 10 fast paced medley’s, is a project which has been in the making for 20 years. Recording began on the CD, but changes in record label resulted in the recordings been lost, and forgotten about until now. Recently discovered and completed, the recordings are all fresh, and newly recorded for the project.
There’s a mix of Country & pop songs in the mix, where you have Buddy, Hank & The Beatles in one set, and Shakin Stevens, Johnny Cash and John Fogerty in another. Medley number 2 features “Blanket On The Ground”, “Queen Of The Silver Dollar”, “Ramblin Man” and “Truck Drivin’ Woman”, four of Philomena’s biggest hits, rolled into one recording.
CD 2 is even more of a historic memory. It’s a live set, recorded at The Whitehall Theatre, Dundee, back in 1990 (were you there?). It was originally a TV show, and later made available on DVD, and is now included in the CD package.
Included are songs like the afore mentioned “Queen Of The Silver Dollar” and “Truck Driving Woman”, alongside “Sentimental Ol’ You”, “Route 65 To Nashville” , “One Drink Is One Too Many” and even “The Dark Island”.
And the package is completed by the addition of four more Philomena classics including “Red Is The Rose” and “The Way Old Friends Do”.
It’s testament to Philomena’s longevity, that recordings she made years ago, can be repackaged these days, and still sounds so great. There’s a lot of great music on this double CD collection.
Staying in Ireland, and an Anglo-Irish quartet who call themselves KEYWEST.
Their publicity cites them as being a fusion of rock, pop & folk, but there are certainly tracks on their album, “Ordinary Superhero” (Marshall Records) which will appeal.
All songs were written by lead vocalist Andy Glover and Andrew Kavanagh, and the album was produced by the pair too.
Their story began busking on the cold Irish streets, just to eat and pay the rent, but were soon blocking streets as crowds gathered to hear them play. On the back of these humble beginnings the band sold 150,000 physical CD’s.
They’ve now grown, and play venues all over the UK and Europe, as well as Ireland.
Their new album is certainly going to gain them even more exposure, I’m sure.
The album kicks off with the upbeat “Somebody To Love”, which is really difficult to label. It may well appeal to Country fans, who like their music a bit more edgy. The same could be said of “C’est La Vie”.
“What Are You Waiting For”, a song about young love, could’ve come right out of today’s Nashville scene. Indeed, it’s more Country than a lot of what’s coming out of Nashville these days. The most obvious Country sounding track is “I’m Not Me Without You”
“Wear Your Love” and “Blood Sweat And Tears” are more of a ballad.
“Ordinary Superhero”, the title track, starts off slow, but builds up to be a bit of a repetitive pop number.
“How Did We Get Here?” is a radio friendly pop-rock number, which could really be a chart hit for them.
It’s an interesting album. I could see Keywest appealing to the Country2Country crowd.

RUNAWAY JUNE is an American All-girl trio country music group consisting of vocalists Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland, and Jennifer Wayne (John Wayne’s grand daughter). Two of the girls are from California, the other from Florida, and they met in Nashville a few years back where they wrote their debut single.
Three years down the road, and their debut album, “Blue Roses” (Wheelhouse Records) has been released. It follows on from their Country2Country appearance in London this past March (they didn’t get to Glasgow), and touring the US dates of Carrie Underwood’s tour.
The album features the radio friendly hit “Buy My Own Drinks”, which has really got a good share of radio airplay, giving the girls some precious exposure.
The girls’ biggest selling point is their flawless harmonies, which stands them apart from many of the pop flavoured female vocalists and bands coming out of Nashville these days.
Whilst album opener, “Head Over Heels” is quite poppy, as is “I Knew The Way” and “Trouble With This Town”, I do quite like their sound.
“Got Me Where You Want Me” is a beautiful ballad. It’s one of the songs on the record, which wasn’t written by any of the girls. “We Were Rich” is another, which has a lot of traditional Country values in its lyrics, and has a catchy arrangement, which I really liked. “I Am Too” is a lovely mid tempo number which really appealed to me.
One track which will be recognised is a cover of Dwight Yoakam’s “Fast As You”. Having female harmonies deliver the song is an interesting listen. It really works!
But it’s the title track, and album closure, which stands out for me though. It’s a lovely, haunting ballad, and well worthy of its status as a title track.
These girls have a good modern sound, but as I say, their harmonies place them above many of the other female vocals coming out of Nashville these days. Well worth a listen.

Although ALICE HOWE hails from Boston, she headed west to Bakersfield, California to pursue her musical career, and to record her debut album, “Visions” (Know Howe Music), where she teamed up with FREEBO, whose credits include Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur and Crosby,Stills & Nash.
She’s been compared to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, but to my ears, she’s got her own, fresh vocal style, which I really liked from the first listen.
The album features five originals, and five iconic covers.
The covers include Taj Mahal’s “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes”, Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice,It’s Alright” and  Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”, which are given her own style, not radically changed, but definitely not a straight cover either.
Most of the originals are collaborations with her producer, although “What We Got Is Gold” is a solo write. It’s a simple, homely ballad, which I really quite liked.
The album kicks off with “Twilight”, a gentle, lilting ballad, which has quite a folksy-country feel to it.  It really captures the listener’s attention for what is to follow. In much the same style, “You Just Never Know”, stood out for me. It has a really strong Country appeal.
“Still On My Mind” is a much slower, delicate number, whilst “Getaway Car” is different to anything else on the album, capturing a more upbeat bluesy style.
Throughout, Alice demonstrates a really pleasant vocal styling, which I really liked.
A superb album. One of my favourites of the year so far!

One of the most interesting collaborations of the year, has to be “Hawks With Good Intentions” (Western Seeds Record Company), which sees the Anglo-American union of US duo I SEE HAWKS IN LA and Liverpool’s “THE GOOD INTENTIONS.
They first met a number of years ago at a house party in the chaparral foothills in Sierra Madre, California, and have shared gigs on both sides of the Atlantic regularly since.
The two outfits began some long distance writing, and the result is this new album, which boasts some really neat harmonies and playing.
Peter Davies from the Merseyside end, leads the vocals on five of the ten tracks. They include the opening track, “Blue Heaven”, a breezy mid tempo number which is a nice welcome to the album. Also lead by Peter is the slower “Rambling Girl”, “Flying Now” and “Epiphany On Town Hal Square”.
Rob Waller from The Hawks, also leads vocals on five tracks, one ,“Rolling The Boxcars”, shared with Peter.
Many of Rob’s tracks, like “Things Like This” and “Steel Rails” have a modern, yet, western feel. I also liked “Will You Watch Over Me From Above”, which is a bit slower.
Victoria Jacobs from LA leads the vocals on the haunting “Hills On Fire”, one of only two tracks which were written from the LA side.
This album was a really nice listen. I really enjoyed listening, and can highly recommend both bands.

Once upon a time RACHEL HARRINGTON was touted as the hardest working girl in Americana music, due to her endless touring schedule. But over the last decade, music has given way to horses, health and family life back home in Washington State. That said, she has made touring visits back to the UK a few times over the past couple of years.
And now comes a new album, “Hush The Wild Horses” (Skinny Dennis), her first solo studio album since 2011.
And with the new album, comes a variety of styles, from slow, atmospheric singer-songwriter ballads to upbeat numbers.
Horses feature in both the opening title track, and the closing “If Wishes Were Horses”, which is a beautiful melodic ballad, which I really enjoyed.
Rachel is something of an open book. Last year, after her UK tour, she posted on Facebook, in great detail, the finances of her tour, and quite an eye opener it was. At the same time, she hasn’t hid her battle with the bottle, and is very proud to share her “Dry since March 2018” status.  One of the stand out tracks, and most Country, is “Drinking About You”.
Other vices are covered in the album, from the haunting “Child Of God”, which deals with child abuse, and “Save Yourself” about her brothers woes.
“Mekong Delta” covers the effects of war on individuals, in this case Rachel’s grandparents, and “The Barn”, influenced by her mother’s school sweetheart, who was killed in Vietnam.
“Drop Zone” is pure rock’n’roll, again influenced by war times.
Other tracks include the soulful “I Meant To Go To Memphis”, “Susannah” (inspired by Guy Clark’s wife) and “Get Out While You Can”.
Rachel’s songs are very personal, and even more so on this album.
Release date is September 6th.

TIM GRIMM is an accomplished folk singer-songwriter from Indiana, who has shared his music with a love of travel, farming and acting. Having moved to Chicago and California, he’s back in rural Indiana, which is reflected in his music.
20 years ago he recorded an album called “Heartland” which tracked his move from Hollywood back to Southern Indiana.
His 12th solo studio album, “Heartland Again” (Vault Records) revisits that original theme. His sons, Jackson & Connor were 5 & 7 years old when the first album came out. Now they’re in the band, and Jackson helped Dad produce the effort.
In an album of mainly original songs, two traditional numbers find their way into the mix, The Carter Family’s “Carter Blues”, and the soulful “Sowin’ On The Mountain” which he learned from Rambling Jack Elliott.
The album kicks off with the atmospheric love song, “Staying In Love”. Other ballads include “Better Days” and “Pumpkin The Cat”.
But it’s the bluegrass inspired upbeat tracks which really appealed to me. “This Old Man” is a tribute to his 86 year old grandad, “She Remembers” is all about a farmers widow, and
I love driving songs, so “Too Hard Drivin’” was right up my street, as was “Down The Road”.
“80 Acres” is his nod to Johnny Cash. A song originally a ballad, is given a fresh upbeat tempo this time around. It really works. It may be in Cash’s style, but Tim has his own sound.
Although billed as a folk singer, there’s plenty on this album, which will appeal to Country fans.
Tim also tours with his music, taking fans with him. Last year, he brought a party of 14 fans on a trip around Scotland, from Edinburgh to Skye and Inverness, and he’s planning to do it again in 2020.

ALICE WALLACE is a Californian Country singer-songwriter, who started playing guitar at the age of 10, and by the time she reached her final year in High school, was performing her own songs at the local Borders bookstore. 
In 2017, she won the Female Vocalist Of the Year Award at the California Country Awards, and after four albums, her talent is about to be appreciated on this side of the Atlantic.
“Into The Blue” (JTM Music) was recently released, ahead of a UK wide tour in October, which includes a date in Edinburgh.
The album starts off with “The Lonely Talking”, a slow, soulful ballad, which, I have to admit didn’t appeal to me, but the album certainly grew on me as I listened on. The title track, “The Blue” is one which certainly caught my attention. With its simple arrangement, Alice is able to demonstrate her vocals, which can sound vulnerable at points, and powerful at the same time. There’s also some neat harmonies from her family, including her father, mother & brother.
There’s a haunting western feel to a couple of tracks, including “Desert Rose”, “Echo Canyon” and “Santa Ana Winds”. “Top Of The World” and “For Califia” both shine through as the most Country tracks on the album.
“When She Cries” has a bluesy, soulful feel to it, but it really works well for her. One of the album’s stand out tracks. “The Same Old Song” is another soulful number. But both have enough Country in them to appeal to Country fans.
“Motorcycle Ride” is a bright and breezy number which I really liked.
The album certainly grew on me over time. I’m sure it will on you too.

BROOKSIE WELLS grew up in the Deep South with parents who fought for Civil Rights and the Equal Rights Amendment. She moved to New York City in the 1970s, where the thriving folk music scene heavily influenced her music. 
Bobby Darin discovered Brooksie at the age of 19, and she wrote for years for Chappell Music, with several of her songs used in recordings and movie soundtracks.
She later recorded with John Lennon's band Elephant's Memory and as a singer with Kid Creole and The Coconuts. 
Over her last couple of albums, Brooksie has returned to her southern roots and her new album, “In My Pocket” (Down Home Diva Records) brings us a fresh, downhome, country influenced collection of songs, all but one self penned.
The exception is Jackson Browne’s “Rock Me on The Water”, sung from a woman’s perspective.
The album kicks off with “Love On”, a mid tempo, song inspired by the fight for civil rights, whilst “Elijay” celebrates the strong community of women in the Georgia mountains.
“Maybe Not” is a gentle lilting song about drowning our sorrows. Other down home ballads include  “Willow Rose” and “Honeysuckle”.
“Rappahannock County”, has a quaint, old English folksy feel to it, which really worked for me.
“Bell Buckle” stood out for me. It has a real old timey, fun, bluegrassy feel, as it tells the feelings of a hungover bride to be on the way to the church.
“Captain John” is the story of a sailor’s life, and a woman considering his life.
The title track, which closes the album is another simple down home ballad.
I really enjoyed this album. Simple arrangements, lovely melodies, and a really nice voice.
Recorded in Falls Church, Virginia and Sparta, Illinois, this album is certainly worth a listen.

SI KAHN is a very recognisable name in the folk music world, especially with regards to civil rights and protest songs. He has been recording since the 70’s, and in 1994 recorded the first of several albums for Strictly Country Records, a bluegrass label based in The Netherlands.
This year, as he celebrates his 75th Birthday, he releases a new album for the label, “It’s a Dog’s Life” with a top notch German bluegrass band called The Lapping Brothers.
The album features 13 tracks, all written by Kahn, with three of the songs lead vocally by the writer. The musicianship of the band is superb. Together, they blend into something that is pure magic.
The album kicks off with “Government On Horseback”, a song that goes back to Ronald Reagan’s era, but is just as relevant today. It’s a fast paced banjo led bluegrass number, which really sets the album off & running. “Goin’ Goin’ Gone” is another one that points it’s lyrics towards the White House. There’s also a political point being made on “Hard Times”.
The album title track is another upbeat fun number, as is “Old Country Store”.
 “Gulf Of Mexico” is a medium paced number telling the story of Vietnamese montagnards, who sided with the US during the war there, ending up fishing for shrimp in the Gulf.
Poverty is covered in a couple of numbers, “Baltimore Blues” and “One Dollar Bill”, whilst “Hudson River New York Upstate Waltz”, talks of working class life and factories closing.
Slower still is “Rats In A Maze”, a song about health and safety in working places. 
There’s also a love song, a mid tempo, soft ballad, that’s a bit different to other tracks on the album.
“44 Years” was a song written for a reunion of the band which played on Si’s first album, but now serves to mark the timespan of his career to date.
I really enjoyed the album, as a listen- great songs, with a great band, and all the more amazing that the album blends life & politics across cultures.

Finally this time around, CHRIS RAWLINS is a folk and roots influenced singer-songwriter based in Chicago, IL distinguished by vivid lyrics, rich vocals and unique finger-style guitar playing. After years spent honing his craft in Chicago’s folk and singer-songwriter circles, his debut album, "Bring on the Rain", has just been released here.
It’s an easy listening album of original self penned songs, mostly performed in a gentle James Taylor fashion.
The album kicks off with “Gravity Or Something”, which is one of the more upbeat numbers on the album. It works as a welcoming introduction to what is still to come. Other upbeat numbers include “Almost Anytime”
“Bring On The Rain”, by contrast, is much more of a dark ballad, and the weather theme continues on “Leaves”, and “Cold Night”, which is a shade more mid tempo. 
“Don’t Forget” is the song which makes best use of his finger style picking. It’s quite catchy, whilst sounding like a real lazy summer day sound.
By contrast, “You & Your Heart”, makes good use of Brian Wilkie’s steel guitar, which totally transformed his sound.
It’s a pleasant, nice easy listening album. Worth a listen.

25 Years ago, George Jones produced one of the most iconic songs in Country music history. “Whose Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” paid tribute to the real legendary pioneers of Country music, and pondered the question just which stars would tomorrow’s Country performers look up as their heroes.
On hearing Mo Pitney’s more recent version of the song, Canadian Country singer LISA BROKOP realised that there weren't any females mentioned in the song!! So Lisa, got to thinking that it would be fun to rewrite it with the legendary ladies in it. And then came up with a feminine twist to the title – “Who’s Gonna Fill Their HEELS!!"
“I was getting ready to head to Calgary the next day to do a Legendary Ladies of Country Show at the Bow Valley Music Club,” Lisa recalled, “and this idea kept turning in my mind. So I came up with the chorus in the car on the way to the airport and then I wrote the rest of it on the plane. Writing a song on the plane was a rare thing in itself! I never do that!! I usually take a nap or read a book or something. But by the time I landed in Calgary I had it done. And then I decided I would sing it for the folks at the show. Me and the band did a quick little rehearsal of it and we did it for an encore at the end of the night. Everybody loved it”!
“Then two days later I made a recording of it on my phone..back in the kitchen”, Lisa laughs, “posted it on my FB page and before I knew it I had 1000's of views and people really seemed to be connecting with it! So now I'm thinking, well maybe I should record it for real in the studio..? By the end of the week I had a completed full band track of the song and it was ready to go. So I sent it out to radio, posted it on FB and there you have it”.
Next stop was the video, which Lisa shot on her iPhone, featuring some of Nashville’s most iconic buildings and inside The Country Music Hall Of Fame.
It could be argued that the woman of Country, like Loretta, Patsy, Tammy, Dolly and Mother Maybelle Carter, who are all mentioned in the song, faced bigger challenges than their male counterparts in breaking into the business.  But what really makes the song stand out, is Lisa herself.
Whilst everyone that heard George Jones original, considered him to be one of the legends himself, Lisa has more conviction when looking up to her i
dols. She’s been in the business for almost 30 years, with 8 albums to her credit, including releases for several of Nashville’s big record labels. In recent years, Lisa has been touring in a “Legendary Ladies Of Country Music” show. It seems so fitting that Lisa is the one to deliver such a stunning tribute to the pioneering women of Country.
Be sure to check out the video on You Tube. 

Monday, 3 June 2019

June 2019

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.
Another winner!

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.