These reviews will all be included in the next issue, hopefully August, but I wanted to get them out there in a timely fashion, in the meantime.
AMBER DIGBY won many fans over here from her appearances at the Northern Nashville Caithness Festival, with her traditional style. I was one of them.
With seven previous albums, the most recent being back in 2013, new music from Amber was long overdue, and here it is. “Heroes, Mentors And Friends- The Legends Project” (Heart Of Texas). The title tells it just as it is. Whilst many singers get round to recording a collection of classics, Amber has collected a stunning set of songs, which are not the most obvious tried and tested numbers. But she has lined up an amazing list of, as the title suggests, musical heroes and mentors, and musical friends.
Mix in stunning steel guitar from Tommy Detamore and fiddle, courtesy of Hank Singer, and the best of musicians in the business, and we have a real cracker of an album, which I could listen to on repeat all day long.
The best known song on the album features the legendary Loretta Lynn on the Kitty Wells’ classic “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. When you consider that it took a lifetime for Loretta to record a duet with her sister Crystal Gayle, this is a real big deal. And their version is the real deal. It’s just superb!
She also duets with other legendary ladies, including Jeannie Seely on “Today Is Not The Day” and Jeannie C. Riley on “The Heart He Kicks Around”.
The opening track, “Texas Dance Hall Girl” is a Heart Of Texas standard. This version of the Justin Tubb number features Jerry Naill. Amber really sounds so at home doing the Texas swing numbers.
She joins The Whites on the bouncy “I’m Hanging Around” and Moe Bandy on “Soft Lights & Hard Country Music”.
She can also deliver traditional Country ballads, like “You Go Around”, which features Johnny Rodriguez, and the stunning “It Should Be Easier Now”, with Willie Nelson. Texas legend Johnny Bush joins in on “I’ll Warm By The Flame”, Larry Gatlin on “Take Back It’s Over”, and big fan Vince Gill rounds off the collection on “Under These Conditions”.
Vince is quoted as saying “When Amber Digby sings – people listen”. That certainly applies to me. She has a great Country voice, with some great players behind her. And that makes for one remarkable album.
You probably won’t hear a better pure COUNTRY album this year!
Calling Native Tennessean DARYL MOSLEY a singer/songwriter is only correct in the most basic sense. Daryl is a gifted songwriter and storyteller who paints vivid pictures of life as it could be, used to be, or might have been. The experiences of life, work, faith, and love that resonate so strongly in this community are the very foundation of his songwriting. Daryl writes about real, salt-of-the-earth people and their personal struggles and victories on life's journey.
Mosley's musical poetry has led to him being twice honoured as Songwriter of the Year, six #1 songs, and three Song of the Year awards. Other artists including Lynn Anderson, Bobby Osborne, Josh Williams, the Booth Brothers, and Carolina Blue are among the many who have recorded Daryl Mosley songs.
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 music. Yet, the common thread throughout his career has been the union of Mosley's picturesque songs and his easy vocal delivery.
In 2020, Mosley's talents step brighter into the spotlight with the release of his first solo album. “The Secret of Life” (Pinecastle Records) is an album of Daryl’s originals delivered pure and honest.
The title track is a gentle, mandolin infused, number, inspired by a local barber, who, like the whole album, is based on simple, family values.
The opening track, “A Few Years Ago” is a lovely song looking back at mistakes made growing older and wiser. “I’d Write You” is an interesting song. He questions how other less creative types express their love, whilst appreciating that his creative talent allows him to express his feelings and thoughts through writing.
I really liked “In A Country Town”, inspired by his own hometown of Waverly,TN, just west of Nashville, and how traditions and values are maintained. Similar themes run through “All The Way Home” and “It Never Gets Old”.
Whilst the album, in the main, is a gentle stroll, the one track which stands out is “Do What The Good Book Says”, which has a real good time gospel feel to it. The closing track, “Heartache’s Moving On” is also quite catchy and upbeat.
There are a couple of old tracks from his “New Tradition” days, including “Hands In Wood” and “A Piece At A Time”. If they tell us anything, it’s that Daryl has been writing and playing this type of music for many years.
His solo debut album is long overdue. All original material, performed gently and effectively. A really nice listen.
Mickey Newbury is one of these guys who has quietly contributed to Country music, gaining high respect from others in the business, without too much public recognition. As a songwriter and performer, he racked up a 35 year career before his passing in 2002. His biggest hit was “American Trilogy”, later recorded by Elvis, and a staple of the Scottish Country club scene to this day. But he was much more than a one song man. Indeed, over 1500 versions of his songs have been recorded, across the musical genres from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Tom Jones and Roy Orbison to Waylon & Willie to BB King.
Now, GRETCHEN PETERS, one of today’s most respected singer songwriters pays her own homage to the legend on her new album , “The Night You Wrote That Song : The Songs Of Mickey Newbury” (Scarlet Letter Records).
The title track is one of my favourite tracks on the whole album. Originally recorded by Newbury back in 1979, it has a lovely lilting old time waltz feel to it.
Much of the music Gretchen has recorded over the past two decades has been emotional, soulful ballads, and she has captured these songs in her trademark style. “Wish I Was”, which features harmonica wizard Charlie McCoy, is a prime example of that, as is her covers of one of Newbury’s train songs “Frisco Depot” and the classic “San Francisco Mabel Joy”. Equally pleasing on the ear are “Heaven Help The Child” and “She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye”.
Her view that “Newbury was Country music’s Leonard Cohen” is echoed in the opening track “The Sailor” and “Saint Cecelia”, and takes things a generation further back with “Three Bells For Stephen”, where Gretchen tributes Newbury tributing Stephen Foster.
“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”, which was one of Kenny Rogers’ early hits is a bit more jazzy, and Gretchen keeps the smokey atmosphere that the song is famous for.
“Leavin’ Kentucky” has quite a soft rock feel to it, yet starts off with some lovely Appalachian fiddle. It’s a particularly strong delivery from Gretchen. Different to most of the album, but really works for her.
The biggest difference on the album though, has to be her rollicking upbeat version of “Why’d You Been Gone So Long”, recorded by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, The Nightdrivers, Bill Anderson and Jeannie C Riley. But Gretchen’s version, which also features Kim Richey really rocks!
Gretchen says that there was only two criteria for what songs she’d consider for the album – “Did I love it? And Did I think I could bring something of myself to it?” I think she really has captured the second. She avoided the obvious “Trilogy”, but instead went for songs that she could really put herself into.
She recorded the songs in the same studio in Madison, TN where Newbury recorded many of his most inspiring albums in the 60’s & 70’s. And helping along the way are folks like Will Kimbrough, Buddy Miller, Barry Walsh, Nelson Hubbard and Wayne Moss.
It’s a fine tribute from one songwriter to another.
Raised in New York state, RUTHIE COLLINS quickly found way to Nashville. Signed to Curb Records back in 2011, her songs straddle the line between Americana, Bluegrass, and modern Country, upheld by buoyant and agile vocals reminiscent of her musical icons, Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris.
Her new album “Cold Comfort” (Curb) was released here back in April, and has been receiving some great reaction and airplay.
At home in nature, as well as in Nashville’s honky tonk bars, Collins considers the Joshua Tree National Park in California the place that holds the deepest meaning for her and her music; The first single from her new album, a song called “Joshua Tree”, was inspired by the love-story-turned-tragedy between Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. For Collins, the song feels “like a lucky charm," infused with the special energy of a place she’s returned to many times for inspiration, recharging, and peace. “This song means many things to me now. It’s not only a snapshot of a great love story that almost was, but it’s the idea that love is never truly gone, because love cannot die. No matter where you are in the world or in time, love always exists.”
It’s a gentle number which really emphasises the vulnerability in her voice, at the same time as her strengths. It’s quite a powerful number.
That’s followed by a much more mainstream sounding “Cheater”. The instrumentation is quite light, allowing Ruthie’s vocals to shine through. “Hey Little Girl” is also quite mainstream, coming over a bit more pop to my ears.
“Dang Dallas”, “Untold” and “Wish You Were Here” are soft, tender ballads. “You Cant Remember” and the closing “Beg Steal Borrow” are two of the most powerful ballads, again demonstrating Ruthie’s tender vocals.
“Bad Woman” has a bit heavier backing in parts, a bit bluesy in parts, and quite repetitive. It wasn’t one of my favourite tracks.
The album’s title track is quite a heavy ballad which work’s quite well for her.
Collins’ music features some upright bass and traditional bluegrass instrumentation in a style that’s both old-fashioned and completely modern.
Well worth checking out.
Throughout the years, as musical fads come and go, Appalachian music has remained intact with its old timey feel. THOMAS AARON GARLOW got the support of his hometown, Hickory NC, United Arts Council through an Innovative Artist Grant, to record his second album, “Waterfalls” (Windsong Management).
The title track was recorded in the old chapel at Church Of The Ascension in his hometown. It sets the tone for a lovely laid back album, of old time traditional values and memories. Some are sad, like “Only One Survived”, which relives the relatively recent (2006) Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia, followed by “Gloria”, immortalising a mountain destroyed by coal strip mining.
“There’s A Hole In His Pocket” is written and performed by the artist’s brother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
But there are some happier memories captured on the album. “REBO” is a fond memorial to his grandfather and the cabin he built for his wife Reba, whilst “Appalachian Lady” and “Wont You” are quite upbeat foot tappers.
The haunting “Cold Mountain Wind” was also recorded in the chapel, given some effective harmonies and fiddle from Molly Barrett.
And it all rounds off with “Katie’s Lullaby”, a personal little number written on the night Thomas was asked by his best friend to be godfather to his unborn baby girl. His friend played the song nightly for the baby to send her to sleep. A lovely sentiment.
This is a lovely, laid back album, where the music just gently sweeps over you.
The old time Appalachian sound remains strong to this day.
DARLIN’ BRANDO is the catchy new name used by Virginia born singer, songwriter & drummer Brandon Goldstien. He has travelled around the US, from LA, Brooklyn, Indiana and Nashville, where he found gigs at the American Legion Post 82 and The Nashville Palace, where he learned that dance ability (particularly the two-step) became one of his most important goals.
That lead to this first collection of songs for the 8 track album, “Also Too”.
The album is a throwback to the days of Gram Parsons. The musicianship, courtesy of The Streise Bar Band is superb, with Adam Kurtz adding some real magic on pedal steel. He even has his own Emmylou, in the form of his new wife, Edith Freni. The two sing a duet together on the first song, “When You Don’t Fight” and their voices are perfectly suited. It’s a really catchy opener to the album that really got me hooked. Edith also features on “Those old Demons”
“Therapy” is more of a driving Country beat that a dance tune, whilst “Weed & Flowers” is more a gentle ballad. “Last Call”, which features AJ Croce, is a real rockabilly belter.
“Crumbling Marraiges” is back to the Bakersfield honky tonk sound, whilst the album rounds off with the acoustic, “The Old Man And The Kid”.
As Darlin’ Brando states “I really enjoy two-stepping and wanted an album that people could two-step to and that would play well in any honky-tonk bar.”
And we really enjoyed it to.
Do check it out.
AMERICAN AQUARIUM are a Alt-Country band formed in Raleigh NC back in 2006. A lot has happened in that time, a lot of band changes, and a string of acclaimed album releases stacked up, but it wasn’t until they signed for the New West label, and the release of “Things Change” in 2018 that people outwith of America’s South East really started to notice them.
Even then the current line up of the six piece band have only been together since last year. BJ Barham has been there from the start though. They have an edgy, Country rock sound, which has been produced over the years, and has been brought to the fore by producer Shooter Jennings on their new album, “Lamentations” (New West).
“Country music was the voice of the people. It wasn’t always the prettiest voice, but it was an honest voice,” says BJ Barham. “I think that’s where country music has lost its way.” He pauses, then adds “I operate in the dark shadows of what we don’t want to talk about in the South.”
It all kicks off with “Me & Mine”, a quiet song which looks back at a family history of troubles, a timely view on what’s went wrong in America, and the greater world. “The Day I Learned To Lie To You” and “How Wicked Was I” are also slow ballads on the album, full of emotion, laced with a slither of steel guitar, which just adds to the emotion.
“Before The Dogwood Blooms” is a one of those “Elusive Dream” type stories, about leaving loved ones for work elsewhere, and promising to return. Along the same lines is “Six Years Come September”, about a lost love, and how that has become a lost life.
“Starts With You”, “Bright Leaf And Burley”, “The Luckier You Get” are good, catchy, upbeat number with more than a little Springsteen and Mellencamp influence.
With its steel intro, “A Better South” is the stand out Country number. And the closing number, “Long Haul” is probably the most important song for Barham, as he deals with three steadfast commitments that he stands by. It’s a real powerful number to close the album.
It may be a shade on the rocky side, but you can certainly feel the Country emotion and roots coming through. I really did enjoy the listen.
We’ve a very different album to finish off with. The NELL & JIM BAND are a Californian old time band led by Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally. “Western Sun” is their third album together, and was released ahead of a planned tour of the UK around now, which has, of course, now been cancelled.
They are actually 5 piece band featuring an array of instruments like banjo, fiddle, accordion, flute, piccolo and glockenspiel, as well as guitar, bass and percussion. It certainly makes for an interesting sound.
The opening track, “By Stars And Sunrise”, opens with a 45 second instrumental intro, which could be the theme to a film or TV show. The vocals on this track demonstrate strong harmonies. It sets the tone for the album nicely. It’s not a sound which will fit into any particular musical genre- there’s elements of folk, jazz, western swing and Country.
I wont go through all 15 tracks, but the most notable include “The Fire”, whose minute long intro is really quite solemn, but blends into a nice Country sounding song. “Hurricane” and “Sequola Gold” both have quite an old time bluegrass/folky feel to them. “Handsome Medley” is more folky, but then “Woe Is Me” is more bluesy.
“My Beautiful Dream”, is a catchy little number, which stood out for me, as did “Travellin’the Road West”, a good upbeat bluegrass number lead vocally by Jim.
What you would expect to have been an obvious bluegrass number – Ralph Stanley’s “Clinch Mountain Backstep” begins with a nearly 90 second drum intro, before Nell’s flute comes in giving it a different sound. It’s not until 2 ½ minutes into the instrumental track that the banjo comes to the fore. It’s certainly a different take on a standard old time bluegrass number.
“Poland” and “Isaac In Kolomej” are different again. With the flute as the main instrument, they’re more like Eastern European polka dance tunes.
If you’re looking for something different, Nell & Jim could be worth a listen.