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Thursday, 6 October 2022

Oct 2022

 A new album from GENE WATSON is always a welcome listen, and his 34th offering, “Outside The Box”, has arrived after a five year wait since “My Gospel Roots”, but well worth the wait. 
Gene released his first album back in 1969, and is still producing some of the purest Country music around. 
The album kicks off with “If I Had Any Pride Left At All”, a slow, traditional ballad, typical of the sound we’d expect from Gene.
“I’m Holding Your Memory” is a straight Gene Watson Country song. Just great to listen to. 
“Who Do You Think You Are” is another classic sounding Gene Watson number, which I just loved. “It Looked Good On Paper” is a real sad one, about a marriage break up, and is followed by “Loneliness Is Eating Me Alive”.
“If She Knew” is slightly more uptempo to any of the other tracks. I stands out on an album, otherwise dominated by killer ballads. “Lie To Me” is a bit more bluesy, and again, different to the rest of the album. 
There are a couple of Country music anthems, which honour the traditions of our music, including the lovely steel laden “Some Fools”, which talks of listening to sad Country songs, and “They Played It”, which honours the musicians who are always in the shadow of the singers. A great song of appreciation.
There are a couple of “duets” on the album, including “Wonderful Future”, with Willie Nelson. It is, to be fair, a very Willie sounding song, but Gene’s magic is evident. The same applies to the Rhonda Vincent duet, “I’ve Got One Of Those Too”, which starts off with Gene, but Rhonda dominates the song. It’s is pure classy Country though, so I don’t mind too much. This pairing just sound so good together.  
It’s another classic Country offering from Gene Watson, who can always be relied upon to Keep it Country.

Formed on Winchester Street in the small mountain town of Castlewood, Virginia (population: 2,045), 49 WINCHESTER started as a group of neighbourhood teenage friends. In 2014 they independently released their eponymous debut, followed two more DIY recording projects. 
Since their formation, there have been hundreds of shows and thousands of miles between the starting line in Castlewood and where 49 Winchester stands today as a rapidly rising band. Now their latest offering “Fortune Favors The Bold” is released on New West Records, a label recognised for talents like Steve Earle, John Hiatt, Dwight Yoakam and Kris Kristofferson. 
The six man band have developed a “unique brand of tear-in-your-beer alt-country, sticky barroom floor rock-n-roll, and high-octane Appalachian folk”, to quote their website. They look like a group Southern rockers (aka Skynyrd), but their sound, whilst having a Southern Country rock edge to it, is much more mellow and relaxing. 
The title track is one of the more pop styled tracks on the album, The 10 track collection begins with some superb harmonies on “Annabel”, which was one of the advance singles from the album. “Man’s Best Friend” is the track that really gets the album into gear. It sounds right out of a Kris Kristofferson or James Gardner movie, and is a stand out track for me. 
“Russell County Line” is a real soft, down home ballad which I really liked, whilst “Damn Darlin”, has a real “tear in my beer” barroom ballad, which stands out.
The closing track “Last Call” is a bit more rocky, but with a real Country feel to it, and even some Jerry Lee inspired piano licks, for good measure. 
All the tracks were written by the band’s frontman Isaac Gibson. 
It’s refreshing to hear a band doing their own thing, and not trying to sound like every other band coming out of Nashville. I thoroughly enjoyed this album.

Texan WADE BOWEN has been making music down in the Lone Star State for over 20 years, and has 12 previous albums, prior to his recent release “Somewhere Between The Secret And The Truth”. His music is a good mix of Texan Red Dirt and Classic Country ballads. 
The title track closes the album. It’s a gentle honky tonk ballad, something that this album excels at. 
It all kicks off with “Everything Has Your Memory”, probably the most modern sounding arrangement across the whole album.  “If You Don’t Miss Me” is much in the same category. 
In between, I really got into a few of the killer ballads, like “Burning Both Ends Of The Bar” , “It’s Gonna Hurt”  and the two duets – “A Beautiful World”, which features singer songwriter Lori McKenna, and “A Guitar, A Singer & A Song” featuring Vince Gill. Wade’s voice certainly suits these type of ballads. 
Whilst I really enjoyed these ballads, he really rocked it up on “She’s Driving Me Crazy”, which has a really good Texan bar beat to it. I really liked it.
Other upbeat numbers include “Honky Tonk Roll”, “Say Goodbye” 
Elsewhere, I also quite enjoyed “The Secret To This Town”, a modern day homesick song. 
I hadn’t really appreciated Wade’s music up til now, but I’m really enjoying this album.

I was quite impressed with LAURA BENITEZ AND THE HEARTACHE on their last album, “With All Its Thorns” back in 2018, and now they’re back with a new collection, “California Centuries” (Copperhead Records).
Lead singer and songwriter Laura Benitez, has been making her mark on stage and screen since 2000. She spent several years appearing in soap operas and commercials in Los Angeles before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004, diving into the region’s rich Americana and Roots music scenes. Taking her musical cues from the Bakersfield sound, and her lyric inspiration from her favorite songwriters Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, Laura began writing songs in 2008, and later she began developing the band. 
They have come up with a sound which features strong lyrics from Laura, but equally strong instrumentation from the band, especially a strong steel guitar influence, in the same way as Gram Parson had been developing in his sound. 
The opening track was slightly rocky for me, but I was quickly in my comfort zone, as I listened to tracks like “A Love Like Yours”, “Plaid Shirt” and the honky tonk ballad, “Are You Using Your Heart”, which I really loved. 
There are a few songs which other musicians may appreciate, notably “All Songs”, which uses some nice harmonies, and the catchy “I’m With The Band”
“The Shot” has quite a bouncy feel, but she really steps up a gear with the bluegrass infused “God Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise”- a really catchy number. 
“Gaslight (We Shouldn’t Talk About It)” is quite topical, as it deals with human tragedies, or the way that individually we don’t deal with it.  “Invisible” and “Bad Things” have an equally air of denial.
I really like this lady’s sound. The album is a real good listen. The Bakersfield Sound lives on with Laura Benitez And The Heartache!

JIM LAUDERDALE  is one of these guys who has been all around Country music for over 35 years, without steering himself down the mainstream path. His early influences centred around Ralph Stanley and bluegrass. He played George Jones in a play at The Ryman based on Tammy Wynette’s life. As a songwriter, he has written for George Strait, Elvis Costello, Vince Gill and The Dixie Chicks. 
And as a solo performer, he has recorded 35 albums- the latest of which, “Game Changer”, was released recently on his own Sky Crunch label. 
The title track, written by Lauderdale, defies it’s title, as it’s a style that the artist has been performing for years, but then, after 35 years & 35 album’s, why change, just for a song title. 
The album’s opener, “That Kind Of Life (That Kind Of Day)”, is a catchy upbeat number, which gets the feet tapping from the start, and features Kenny Vaughn and Chris Scruggs on guitars. Other upbeat numbers include the pre album single, “Friends Again”, “Lightning  Love”, “Hoggin’ My Mind” and “I’ve Heard Of That”.
“Keep It Real” is a big more mid tempo, as is “Let’s Make Some Memories”, 
“We’ve All We’ve Got” was co written with Mary Gauthier and Jaimee Harris. It’s a really gentle pleasant listen. 
Russ Pahl’s  steel guitar makes a big difference on several of the tracks, which really stand out for me. “Wishbone”, was co-written with Australian singer adam Harvey. This one has a real traditional Country sound, which echoes of George Jones, no less. 
It’s Craig Hinson’s steel that adds the magic ingredient to “Our Happy Hour”, a slower ballad, which also benefits from some lovely harmonies from Lillie Mae Rische. I really had to check it wasn’t Emmylou doing the harmonies- they were just so perfect! 
Another highlight is the closing ballad, “I’ll Keep My Heart Open For You”, another real traditional Country sounding song. 
Jim Lauderdale has, once again turned out a masterpiece of an album. I loved it.

North Carolina 6 piece band TOWN MOUNTAIN may be a new name to readers, but with the release of their new album “Lines in the Levee”. they will sure to win many new fans. Their sound, whilst modern in approach, is steeped in the traditions of Southern Appalachian string bands across genres to classic country and old school rock and roll. Their influences scan the across the musical scene The Band and Grateful Dead to Bill Monroe, Townes Van Zandt, Chuck Berry and John Hartford. I also detected a bit of Mellencamp in the mix as well.
The 11 track album licks off with the title track, which has some lively fiddle licks from the outset, mixed with rather more rocky vocals.  “Comeback Kid” is much more of a ballad, as are tracks like “Rene” and “Unsung  Heroes”. “Lean Into The Blue”, which closes the album, shows a lot of tenderness.
“Distant Line” is a bit more mid tempo, as is “Seasons Don’t Change” and “Big Decisions” which really stood out for the harmonies. 
They really rockabilly it up on “Firebound Road”, taking me back to the sounds of Johnnie Allen & Dave Edmunds. The fiddle really adds something to the mix here, and is certainly one of the stand out tracks on the album. There’s even some steel on the upbeat “American Family”. 
In 2022, Town Mountain are different, although many of their influences are rekindled from previous generations, Nevertheless, they breathe a strong blast of fresh air onto the Country music scene. 
“Lines in the Levee” is available across digital platforms, on compact disc, and standard black vinyl. An extremely limited to 100 Coke Bottle Clear vinyl edition will be available at Independent Retailers in North Carolina while a limited to 1,000 Translucent Orange vinyl edition will be available at Independent Retailers worldwide. A limited to 500 Translucent Yellow vinyl edition was available on pre-order. All limited colour vinyl editions will be autographed by the members of Town Mountain.

Raised in Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky,  KELSEY WALDON released her 4th  album in August, “No Regular Dog” , produced by Shooter Jennings.
The album is rooted in deep self-reflection and features her most personal songwriting to date. With these eleven songs, including “Season’s Ending,” a tribute to Waldon’s mentor John Prine, and “Simple as Love,” the first love song she’s written, Waldon solidifies her position as one of music’s most authentic voices—turning the harsh truths of loss, self-doubt and sacrifice into songs that soothe and brighten the soul, all delivered in a strong southern accent. 
The title track, which opens, and closes the album is a smouldering number which slowly ignites the album. It’s the third track in, “Tall and Mighty”, before I really started to warm to the album. Her drawl really suited this number. The same applied to “Backwater Blues”
“You Can Never Tell” really had a traditional Country feel to it, and the chorus really had me hooked. “Peace Alone (Reap What You Sow)” was equally Country, whilst  “Simple As Love” is a really soft ballad, as is the Prine tribute. 
In addition to Waldon (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Jennings (piano, organ, synths), No Regular Dog also features Waldon’s touring band—Nate Felty (drums), Alec Newnam (bass) and Brett Resnick (pedal steel), alongside special guests Doug Pettibone (dobro, guitar) and Aubrey Richmond (fiddle), as well as background vocals from Kyshona Armstrong, Mickie Conley, Maureen Murphy and Kristen Rogers.  
This album is quite a slow burner, but the more I listen to it, the more it’s growing on me. 

Billed as “The Godfather Of Americana”, Lubbock, Texas born DELBERT MCCLINTON has had a very colourful career over the past 60 years, mainly in Blues music as a singer-songwriter, guitarist, harmonica player, and pianist, but he has dabbled in Country music over the years. His highest-charting single was "Tell Me About It", a 1992 duet with Tanya Tucker, which reached number 4 on the Country chart. He has recorded 6 albums, which charted on the Country charts. 
Now, at the age of 81, he’s back with a belter of an album , “Outdated Emotion” (Thirty Tigers), which sees him “reunited with his youth”. He celebrates his coming-of-age musical heroes and performs the country, jazz, blues, and swing tunes that have inspired his career the most. Co-produced with Kevin McKendree at The Rock House in Franklin, TN, the tracklist includes a Ray Charles tribute, Hank Williams' country classics complete with steel guitar and fiddle, and Little Richard’s 1956 rock and roll ballad “Long Tall Sally.” The 16-song collection marks a return to McClinton’s roots and offers listeners a backstage pass to some of the most significant musical moments in American history.
The collection kicks off with “Stagger Lee”, a traditional song first recorded 100 years ago, and been covered by everyone from James Brown and The Righteous Brothers through to “The Grateful Dead” and Charley Pride. McClinton’s version certainly is quite bluesy, but with a Country influence, none the less. 
Many of the tracks are more bluesy, but Country fans should listen out for Hank Williams numbers, “Settin’ The Woods On Fire”, “Jambalaya” and “Move It On Over”, and “Money Honey” which has a real old time Country feel, with some catchy fiddle & steel. 
But the stand out track is one of Delbert’s own songs, reworked to fit in this album. “Two Step Too” is a catchy country number with some neat fiddle. Harmonies add to the mix.
It’s a really interesting album, from a true American musical legend.

We’re off to Ireland next for a new album from SABRINA FALLON.
Over the last few years the Galway lass has been charting an impressive rise to prominence on the Irish country music scene, with several singles, which now appear on her album, ”My Country Favourites”.
Despite the title, it’s not another collection of the same old tried & tested covers. Yes, there are songs that you’ll recognise, like Pussycat’s “Mississippi” and Phil Everly’s “When Will I Be Loved”, made famous, of course, by Linda Ronstadt. There’s more than a fair share of traditional Irish sounds too, including the rousing “Old Maid In The Garrett” and “Waxie’s Dargle”.
She’s called on a few friends that she’s made in the business, to join her on the album. Shane Moore duets on two tracks, namely “Candlelight And Wine” and “If Teardrops were Pennies”, as well as PJ Murrihy joining in on Finbar Furey’s “The Taxi’s Waiting”. The catchy “Good To Be Back Home” features Sina Theil.
For Country fans, there’s two David Ball songs, “Louisiana Melody” (my favourite track on the album) and “You Go And You’re Gone”.  There’s also a lovely waltz, “We Waltz With Love”, which Sabrina wrote for her parents. “Music In Your Heart”, a bouncy anthem, was released earlier as a charity single for an Arts project in her native Galway. 
It’s a very pleasant, easy on the ear, album, which is very much aimed at the Irish Country market, which continues to produce an endless stream of new talent.  
A cousin of country royalty in Mike Denver, Sabrina is more than a performer, having already hosted her own Spotlight TV series. 

With a career span of some 47 years FOSTER & ALLEN have been family favourites for generations. They are eternal providers of easy listening classic songs, and their new album, “We’ll Meet Again” is no different. 
The title track, which opens the 14 track collection, is the Vera Lynn wartime anthem, but you’ll also find “Cotton Fields Back Home”, whose originals also go back to the 40’s (Leadbelly) before Johnny Cash or the Beach Boys got their hands on the song.
They also cover Hank Thompson’s “Who Left The Door To Heaven Open”. 
But the Irish element is especially strong on this album, with “Mullinger Fleadh”, “Kitty Kiernan” and “Grace” all featured alongside Derek Ryan’s “Hold On To Your Hat”, “An Irish Heart”, and a lovely accordion instrumental, “Silver River Waltz”.
I always marvel at the selections on their albums, and find myself asking if they haven’t recorded certain songs before. (Have they never recorded “The Cliffs Of Dooneen” on any of their 40-odd previous albums?) 
Foster & Allen have not been in the business for so long without knowing just what their audience wants to hear, and they have an amazing knack at finding songs that will work for them and their fans. They do it so well.  

The latest in Humphead Records archive releases features North Carolina born DONNA FARGO, who had 38 Country chart hits between 1972 & 1991. Her first four hits were No.1’s, including CMA Single Of The Year, “Happiest Girl In The Whole USA”, “Funny Face”, “Supermom” and “You Were Always There”, which are all featured on the 2 CD- 50 track, “Funny Face- The Universal Recordings”. 
As the Universal roster now includes labels such as ABC Dot & Mercury, this collection features many of her early hits, as well as tracks from her “Winners” album in the early 90’s, which featured a duet with Billy Joe Royal on “Members Only”.  She did record for Warner Brothers for a few years, which are overlooked here, but as she only had one chart topper in that time, we can safely say that this collection covers the major part of her career. 
Some of the songs are not so serious numbers like “Daddy Dumplin’”, “Hot Diggity Dog”, “Rotten Little Song” and “2 Sweet 2 Be 4 Gotten”, but there are more serious songs too, like “I’ll Try A Little Harder”, “Just A Friend Of Mine”, “Only The Strong”, “Whatever I Say”.
What I hadn’t appreciated is just how prolific a songwriter Donna Fargo was. She’s credited with writing no less that 44 of the 50 songs on here (although it was The Gibb Brothers who wrote “Words”).  
As, with all the wonderful Humphead collections, Alan Cackett offers a full insight into Donna’s career in the 12 page booklet that comes with the CD. 
Donna Fargo is one of these artists who did so much for Country music 50 years ago, and particularly,Women in Country, yet is largely forgotten these days. This collection is a nice reminder of her music.
 
When I first got into Canadian Country music, it was for its diversity- from the folksy East Coast influences, to the cowboy sound from out west, and bands like Prairie Oyster and The Goods in between. These days, the Canadian Country scene tends to sound just like Nashville pop. 
But then along comes BOBBY DOVE, who totally restores my faith in Canadian Country music. Bobby has built a following across Canada and beyond, with a sound that is unmistakably Country, but with a real edge to it, in a way that rekindles memories of what kd lang could have been. Born in Montreal, Quebec, Bobby has become known as one of the country’s most dedicated troubadours, crooning live audiences with heart-worn originals, and paying tribute to the golden age of Country music. 
Bobby Dove’s new album, “Hopeless Romantic”, offers eleven new original Americana/Country songs on subjects such as unrequited love, being on the road, a haunted hotel and a hard-rocking pallbearer. Co-produced with Bazil Donovan (Blue Rodeo) and Tim Vesely (Rheostatics) at The Woodshed studio in Toronto, the record includes some of the finest in Canadian Country musicians.
The title track, which opens the album, is a quirky little number, laced with some superb steel, which really got me hooked from the start. “Gas Station Blues” has a bit more drive, with a bit of attitude. 
“Chance In Hell”, which also features Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy is so traditional Country, with lots of steel, twangy guitars, and even some honky tonk piano in the mix, that I was now totally hooked. 
“Like It Or Not, I Love You” has an old western movie feel to it, which is really effective.
“Sometimes It’s A Lonely Road”, and “My World’s Getting Smaller” are sensitive ballads which really show the vulnerability of Dove’s voice, which is a real credit. The latter sounds like a modern day Kitty Wells, in much the same way as Laura Cantrell.
“Golden Years” is a really simple arrangement, with just Dove and a guitar. It’s really effective, in a raw sort of way. 
Then the closing track, “New Endings, New Beginnings”, is another ballad, but more polished, with lots of steel appeal. 
I’m really loving this album, especially the instrumentation. It’s Pure Country! 
The Dove is currently perched in western Manitoba, supporting the launch of  “Hopeless Romantic”, as well as releasing The Bobby Dove Show, a virtual variety show, featuring Bobby’s new songs, and interviews with renowned roots/Country singer-songwriters from across Canada. Sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts, the show can be streamed on Bobby’s social-media as well as on bobbydove.com.

Moving south to Asheville, North Carolina, and a new collection from AMANDA ANNE PLATT & THE HONEYCUTTERS, who we have reviewed in these pages before. This new Post-Pandemic release is a 2CD set called “The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea”. 
The album was initially formed as a collection of singles released in the past couple of years. As the bandleader points out, the two CD#s represent different sides of their creative process, with “The Devil” including the more manic, upbeat and outgoing, whilst “The Deep Blue Sea” being more reclusive, contemplative, and understated. 
Both discs offer ten tracks, all penned by Platt, and recorded in Arden NC. 
I’ve enjoyed their previous albums, and this listen continued that. 
“The Devil”, as pointed out has some upbeat numbers on it. The title track of this disc, is a good uptempo number which is really radio friendly. “Dallas”, on the other hand, is more of a ballad, and indeed more Country. 
Other highlights “Great Confession” is a strong song which stood out for me, whilst “Eurydice” is a much more gentler number.
On “The Deep Blue Sea” album, as described, has more reflective songs, with the stand out tracks being “Another Winter Gone”, “”Reverie” and “This Night”. 
Altogether quite a nice listen.  

RUSTY TINDER is best known as a pianist, but found Country music, as he travelled around, and found his way to California.  
Fate took Rusty on tour with his friend Doug Cameron’s alt-country band Stranger Neighbor for six months, where he realized this sound’s melodic nature was perfect to play on the piano and also fit the way he was feeling. After a big move to LA, Rusty played the piano in the country-rock outfit Von Cotton for eight years, covering the likes of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and George Strait. He was officially hooked on country.
Now Rusty is centre stage with his second album, “Alchemy Road” just released, featuring 12 self penned tracks. It’s not a polished Nashville sound, but is still a very pleasant listen. 
The title track is a slow atmospheric ballad placed half way through the album. The CD opener, “Moonlight Kissed”  has a very quiet beginning, but builds into a catchy little number, which was enough to catch my interest. 
“Tululah” is a mid tempo, western influenced haunting number, which grew nicely. 
“No Longer In The Gray”, “On Top Of The World”  and “Stay” are pleasant ballads, as is “My Name”. 
“Without You” is a shade more rocky, whilst “Let Me Be Found” has quite a celtic/ folky feel to it, and my favourite track on, what is quite a listenable album.
Rusty credits his son as the reason for making his own music the priority this time around. “I’ve thought, What kind of legacy do I want to leave for me and for my son?” he says about the new chapter in his career. “What do I want to put out into this world, and what is it going to take?”
“Alchemy Road” is the answer he came up with. 
A really nice listen. 

Gary Van Miert is a local cult figure around New York.  Known for looking as if he stole his clothing from Ernest Tubbs closet, the singer-songwriter, musician and all around entertainer honed his skills playing the nightclubs of New Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn and beyond. THE SENSATIONAL COUNTRY BLUES WONDERS started as a vehicle for Van Miert to start performing and take advantage of the vibrant art and music scene in Jersey City. The band’s name is an homage to all the great groups from the golden age of Country & gospel. The band was designed to replicate the original instrumental lineup of acoustic rhythm guitar, electric lead guitar and upright acoustic bass used on the first rock and roll records made by Elvis at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.
Following on from the release of “The World Will Break Your Heart” during the early months of the pandemic, now comes the follow up in the form of “The Adventures Of A Psychedelic Cowboy”. This is a 10 track album, which is described as “deeply introspective, trippy, whimsical and spiritual”. Influences mentioned include Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks & The Beatles. 
But despite all that, Van Miert has conjured up a sound that blends the swinging 60’s with Country music, and a whole lot more. 
“The Psychedelic Cowboy Song”, which I guess counts as the title track, does have a certain western feel to it, but not in the way Roy Rogers or even Chris Ledoux would ever have done. It could be a modern day movie theme though.
Many of the songs, like the opener, “There’s a Hole In The Fabric Of My Reality” and “Breathe”, are bit more 60’s pop, but that’s not true of the whole album. 
“I’m Beginning To Live In The Light” starts with some neat fiddle and steel, and develops into a catchy foot tapping Country song, which I really enjoyed. “I’m A Caterpillar” also has a real Country feel to it, whilst “Memphis On My Mind” has a good Rock’n’Roll beat to it. 
“Life Is So Freaking Beautiful” is much more of a ballad, perhaps more pop than Country, but still very appealing.
The album closes out with the catchy “God Is Gonna Take Me Home”. 
Althogether, Gary and The Sensational Country Blues Wonders, have a fresh, different and vibrant sound, which crosses musical genres. It’s a good listen!

Next, we have a very pleasant album from THE SIDEMEN, a duo featuring Long Island raised Nick Justice and Blues guitarist Feter Martin Homer. They’re both based out in California now, and a year after deciding to weave together the threads of their individual careers, they have produced their first self titled album, which is now released.
The album kicks off with “Come Dance With Me”, a gentle , lilting melody, with some nice mandolin.
“Meet The Train” is a simple, gentle melody, which was written by Justice, as was “Virginia”, “Secret Soul”, and “Let’s Get Out Of Here”, which has a really nice melody, and some neat harmonies. 
The pair collaborated on “Lady of The Roses”, a western influenced number, which they wrote at The Tucson Folk Festival. 
It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album. “Light As An Angel”, the other song the pair wrote together is a catchy little number, and one of the most Country tracks on the 10 track collection.
Four of tracks, including “Early Sunday” and “Arise” were written by Fetter. Being the bluesy influence in the duo, this comes out in his songs. 
It’s a nice, relaxing listen. Not a Nashville sound, but pleasant, none the less.

Finally this time around, a couple of home grown albums. The first, from Glasgow sextet JAMES EDWYN & THE BORROWED BAND. They are back with their third album, “Highlights Of The Low Nights” following their highly admired album “High Fences”, which we reviewed in the February 2018 magazine.  
As before, their music is a mix of alt-country, indie/folk rock and roots orientated Americana.
The album kicks off with a soft Eagles-ish number called “Gasoline”, which sets the tone for the rest of the album. 
The tracks which will appeal most to Country fans include “Stargazer”, which has a Country rock edge to it, and “Buy Me a Ticket”, which a bit softer, but more uptempo. This is my favourite track on the album. Both tracks benefit from some lovely harmonies from Emma Joyce, who certainly makes her mark on the record. You can even hear a Gram & Emmylou sound going on at times. 
“Never In Her Eyes” is one of the softest tracks on the album, with some simple guitar instrumentation, which really appealed to me.
“Blue” has some nice harmonica leading into a soft ballad, and “Sometimes We Fade” is also a pleasant listen. 
Live, the band continue to move from strength to strength, stepping up to a number of festival main stages and cementing their growing reputation as a formidable live act. Recent highlights have included Celtic Connections and the UK Americana Music Association festival in London. 
It’s not all Country, but a pleasant listen for Country fans, and others. 

'CANYONS & HIGHLANDS' (Black Dust Records) is a new transatlantic music collaboration assembled by Scottish musician/visual artist NORRIE MCCULLOCH and featuring multi instrumentalist Dave McGowan (Teenage Fanclub/Belle & Sebastian), Nashville based live sound engineer Iain Thomson (Molly Tuttle), Stuart Kidd (The Pearlfishers), and fiddle player Christian Sedelmyer (Jerry Douglas band), amongst others. 
The album started out as recordings captured inside a VW campervan in rural Stirlingshire, which then spread wings over the Atlantic to involve inspiring musicians across the USA. 
Words and lines from old postcards gathered on earlier trips to America, inspired many of the songs on this album, which was solely written by McCulloch. 
The whole album has quite a celtic folksy feel to it, but has been split into Canyons and Highlands sides (there are vinyl versions available of the album). I was more attracted to the “Canyon” tracks. 
The 11 track collection begins with “Pushing On / Wolves”, which has strong harmonies from Lavinia Blackwall, blended with a very simple musical arrangement. It was very nice track to open the collection.  “Hurry Up Angel” is a catchy number, as was “Other Side Of The World”. “Took It To Heart” was a bit slower, but worked equally well. 
“Down From The Mountain” has an air of missing loved ones and loved places, a theme that runs through the album, noting titles like “She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and “Drifting Apart”. 
What I really enjoyed most was Norrie’s Scottish brogue, not trying to sound like something he’s not.  
 The album was mastered at West West Side Music in upstate NY by Grammy award-winning mastering engineer Alan Douches.
The project was made possible through funding from Creative Scotland.
A very interesting and pleasant listen. 

Monday, 6 June 2022

June 2022

We’re going to kick off with two new releases that prove that traditional Country music is very much alive.
ALEX MILLER is a real bright light of hope for traditional Country music. At the young age of 18, 6’ 6” tall Miller is one of the most distinctive Country stylists around.
Alex first found fame as a competitor on American Idol Season 19, but his career began back at the age of seven with shows in and around his hometown of Lancaster, Kentucky. Since departing Idol, Alex has performed at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, five State Fairs , has headlined his own shows, and opened for Hank Williams, Jr., Josh Turner, Lee Brice, and more.
Now, after a couple of taster singles, Alex’s first album, “Miller Time” (Billy Jam Records) is out, and, what a great listen it is. It features 5 songs written by Alex, 4 of them alongside producer Jerry Salley, who has songwriting credits with Patty Loveless, Brad Paisley and Loretta Lynn, as well as performing accolades in the bluegrass world. 
The album kicks off with catchy foot tapper “Breaking The Bank”, which instantly shows this guy’s real Country credentials. It’s the same style that he established with his first couple of singles, “I’m Over You So Get Over Me” and “Don’t Let The Barn Door Hit Ya”, both of which are included in this 10 track album.
He changes pace with his latest single, “Through With You”, a much gentler ballad, but still stone Country. “Boys In Uniform” is a slower patriotic number.
Back to the upbeat songs, “Girls Must Be Clumsy”, is a great fun number, with one of the corniest lyrics we’ve heard in a Country song, “Girls Must Be Clumsy, cause they’re falling for me”! 
One of the songs Alex didn’t write is “Kentucky’s Never Been This Far From Tennessee”, which is a real stand our swing number, laced with twin fiddles and steel guitar licks. “I’m Gone” is another swing number. Then, he really let’s rip with the fast & furious “Freeborn Man”.
When traditional Country music is such a part of you, it’s only natural that Hank Williams is part of the mix. Alex closes his debut album, with a rousing version Hank’s “I’m Gonna Sing”, and he even gets The Oakridge Boys to join in. What an achievement for a young 18 year old, fresh out of school, to have someone as legendary as The Oaks feature on your debut record!
This is a wonderful Real Country Music album. Alex Miller is the Real deal! 
 
The most Country performer I’ve seen in recent years, has to be JOSHUA HEDLEY, known as the “Mayor of Lower Broad”, after his status in the popular Roberts honky tonk bar in Nashville. Following his highly acclaimed debut album, “Mr Jukebox”, back in 2018, Hedley returns with the highly anticipated “Neon Blue “ (New West ).
Whilst his debut showcased his deep knowledge of country music history, in particular the beery ballads of the 1950s and ‘60s, “Neon Blue”, examines a very different, often forsaken era: the early 1990s. “The last bastion of country music,” says Hedley, “was the early 1990s, roughly 1989 through 1996. You could turn on the radio and immediately know you’re hearing a country song. You could still hear steel guitar and fiddle. But there was a hard fork around 1996 or ‘97, when country veered off into pop territory. “Neon Blue” asks, What if that fork never happened? What if country kept on sounding like country?”
After making Mr. Jukebox with a close group of friends, Hedley decided to record his follow-up with professional session players — a Nashville tradition.
To be honest, to my ears, the music on here goes back further than the 90’s, but that’s alright with me.
The title track is quite a rocky number, which is probably the track which impressed me least on the whole album.
The album kicks off with the catchy “Broke Again”. If you can imagine a cross between Buddy Holly and Alan Jackson, you’ll get a feel for this track.
I have a keen affection for “Country & Western”, a real Country song, with influences from Ernest Tubb, through to George Jones.
“The Last Thing In The World”, a swing influenced honky tonk bar, had echoes of Marty Stuart and George Strait. It’s a real toe tapper. Other honky tonk numbers include the catchy “Bury Me With My Boots On” and the softer “Found In A Bar”.
Slowing things down, “Down To My Last Lie”, is another that you can hear Strait recording, whilst “Free” has a distinct Keith Whitley influence.
When I met Joshua on his last visit to Glasgow, he enthused about Ronnie Milsap, and his influence comes over on “Lets Make A Memory”.
The album closes with the gentle ballad, “River In The Rain”, quite a contrast to the some of the upbeat numbers that dominate this album, but it’s great to hear that Joshua demonstrate his versatile offering on here.
Whilst I’ve likened Joshua Hedley to the likes of Strait & Jackson, he isn’t copying them, but he is sure keeping that tradition alive.
 It’s a superb album. One that I’ll continue to play for a long long time.
“Neon Blue” is available across digital platforms, on CD, and standard black vinyl, as well as several limited edition vinyl editions. And Joshua is back in Glasgow, at The Glad CafĂ© on June 8th.
 
REBA McENTIRE is one of Country music’s Female icons, with sales of over 40 million albums over her 45 year career. Now, she releases a special CD & DVD package, ”MY CHAINS ARE GONE” (Snakefarm Records) , featuring Reba performing some of the most beloved hymns of all time.
The DVD offers fans a long-requested recording of Reba’s 2017 first ever solo headlining show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN, featuring special guests Trisha Yearwood, Kelly Clarkson and The Isaacs, along with newly captured 2021  performances recorded at Clementine in Nashville, TN.
The CD features many of the same tracks and, again, features guest performances by Christian music singer Lauren Daigle, Kelly Clarkson, Trisha Yearwood and The Isaacs. The songlist includes such standards as “Jesus Loves Me”, “Amazing Grace”, “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder” and “How Great Thou Art”, alongside a good upbeat rendition of “I’ll Fly Away”. The Isaacs feature on the sensitive “In The Garden”, and Kelly Clarkston & Trisha Yearwood join on “Softly & Tenderly”.
Stand out tracks for me though, are Bill & Gloria Gaither’s “Because He Lives”, and “I’d Rather Have Jesus”, (written in 1922 by Rhea F. Miller and George Beverly Shea)  simply because they’ve been  given a real Country  arrangement here, with some wonderful steel guitar.
The biggest surprise of this album is just why it’s taken Reba so long to do a gospel album, especially as she grew up so close to the Rodeo Christian circuit, in which her sister Susie found her vocation.
It’s a nice listen, all the same.
 
JASON ALDEAN has built up quite a career, since he first hit the charts back in 2005. 9 No.1 singles, and 10 albums later, he’s joined the ranks of those Country artists, who are releasing part albums, cumulating in an eventual full release. 
Indeed, in Aldean’s case, he released the 15 track “Macon” last year, with a further 15 track collection “Georgia” being released this spring. The full release of all 30 tracks on “Macon, Georgia”, features 20 new and at least one live hit off each of his previous albums. As well as the CD and digital versions of the full album, the full release is also available in a commemorative 3-disc vinyl set.
The “Macon” disc even features a duet with Carrie Underwood on “If I Didn’t Love You”. Their vocal styles do match nicely.
“Story For Another Glass” is one of the few tracks which caught my attention. Indeed there are a few alcohol related songs (not unusual in Country music, of course) like “That’s What Tequilla Does”, “This Bar Doesn’t Work Anymore” and “Whiskey Me Away”.
I was also quite taken by “Heaven”, which is quite a killer ballad, which should appeal beyond Country music.
“Your Mama” is one of most sensitive tracks on the collection, and is the stand out track for me.
The “live” tracks from previous albums, include “Amarillo Sky”, “Johnny Cash”, “Big Greene Tractor”, “Take A Ride” and “Any Ol’ Barstool”.
Aldean has built up a big fan base over the years, and, they will enjoy this collection of new and live material.
 
Another blast from the past is SYLVIA, who had a string of Country hits like “Drifter”, “The Matador” and “Nobody” back in the 80’s. Well, she’s still around, and has just released her 11th album, “Nature Child – A Dreamer's Journey” (Red Pony Records).
A concept album for children, families, and the dreamer in all of us, “Nature Child” is described as a soundtrack to a journey that will inspire young and old alike to pursue their dreams.
The album represents an important milestone for Sylvia. Having written more and more of her own material in recent years, Sylvia co-wrote all the songs here, with writers Verlon Thompson, John Mock, Thom Schuyler, and Craig Bickhardt. The album was recorded in Nashville amid the pandemic with Sylvia’s longtime friend, collaborator, and co-producer, John Mock.
These days, Sylvia has a much more polished sound than the pop flavoured Country hits of 40 years ago. It’s almost classical in parts. There’s always been a hint of that in Sylvia’s material, from the early hits like “Matador”, to a couple of tracks she contributed to a James Galway album, back in 1983.
If you’ve ever seen any of the marvellous big TV productions of “Celtic Women”, well that’s what I’d liken the production of this album to, complete with haunting harmonies, and simple, yet effective instrumentation.  
She even has a track, called “Dancing Over An Emerald Isle,” which starts off as a slow classical air before developing into a jaunty little celtic jig. She uses the Emerald Isle as “a metaphor for the imagination, a land of endless possibilities”. Beautifully performed, it’s very much in Clannad’s style.
The title track begins by drifting off into a reverie and then brings listeners joyfully home to nature, for, as Sylvia notes, “Nature calls to us, protects us, and loves us ‘home at last.’ This is really what the whole album is about.”
The opening track, “Avalon” starts off slow and orchestrated, before blossoming into what sounds like a movie theme.
Other tracks include “Every Time A Train Goes By,” in which an American roots sound with a gentle beat giving a sense of motion to the vividly recounted (and true) story of Sylvia confronting her first fears as a young child.
“Don’t Be Afraid To Dream” is another song which could be biographical, telling of a young girl growing up, dreaming of hearing herself sing on the radio, with the moon as her spotlight, and the stars as her audience. It creates a very visual picture, without the use of video.
Sylvia has a lovely voice, and has created an artistic masterpiece with this album. Unfortunately, it’s not mainstream Country, but a really pleasant listen.
 
Coming home, Alex Mills is one of the most popular performers, especially in the East Coast and Central Belt of Scotland, whether it be in The Diesel Cowboys, The Blue Rose Band, or Rhodes County. In more recent times, Alex played alongside longtime friend Joe Ogilvie in Tin Star. A few years back, Alex and Joe were talking about writing songs for a new album. Unfortunately Joe took ill, and sadly passed away before the album became reality.
Alex teamed up with his son, Alex II (who is also part of the duo Something Borrowed, with his wife Stephanie), to complete writing the album, “Enjoy The Ride”, under the name of ALEXANDER’s TIN STAR.  It’s a truly original album with all the songs self penned, all the instruments are played by the duo, and Alex II engineered & produced the album for Room 6 Music.
The title track opens the album. It an upbeat danceable number (indeed, Lo-Anne Keilloh has composed a line dance for it). Alex confesses to have had The Mavericks in mind, when they wrote and recorded the song.
“Too Many” was a song, originally written back in 1991, became quite poignant during to co-writer Joe’s condition. It’s a nice, laid back number, which I really enjoyed. “Big Ideas And Dreams” is in much the same vein.
If there’s a message in this song, then there’s an even bigger message on “Liquid Diamonds”. This song, (the only one outside of the tight writing circle of the Alex, Alex II & Joe), features lyrics by German author, Hilde Linsel, who connected with Alex during lockdown, when Joe was posting regular songs on Facebook. Hilde sent some lyrics to Alex, and he incorporated them with a melody, and this is the result.
“Heartbreaker” has quite a rocky intro but mellows into an upbeat Country toe tapper. “The Bottle” has quite a contemporary driving beat to it too, as has “Hypnotised”
“Times Like This” is a catchy upbeat number, as is the optimistic “Better Man” and “A Short Time” and “My Thunder”
Joe is remembered, as there are credits to him having contributed lyrics to three of the songs, including his final lyrics, on the album’s closing track, “Life Of The Rodeo”, which he contributed just three weeks before his passing. It’s a soft, gentle, reflective ballad. It’s a lovely tribute.
The production is first class. I really enjoyed this album.
 
AWKWARD FAMILY PORTRAITS are a Glasgow based roots band, who really stand out for being different.   Covering a jump jive leap that spans rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, classic country, tex mex  and western swing to gypsy jazz and a cool ‘50s lounge lizard groove, this trio certainly defy the boundaries of musical genres. Selected as Tenement TV’s “Ones To Watch for 2018”, the band went on to appear at venues as diverse as Country2Country, Celtic Connections, HebCelt Festival and Belladrum, and  tour extensively across the UK and in The Netherlands and Spain.
Now comes their second album, “Dear Old West” (Holy Smokes Records), which is a real concoction of musical styles.
The 11 track original album kicks off with the catchy “Snakes & Ladders”, which has echoes of the old west. That traditional western feel continues on tracks like “La La Bodega” and “Little Diamond” were really quite nice.
There’s a bit old west Tex mex influence on “Ojos Rojos”.
“Sugar,Honey, Coca Cola” is different again. It’s a bluesy lounge ballad, coming right out of the 1930’s or 40’s.
“All Out Of Luck” has a similar feel, although has a bit more go to it, and I really quite enjoyed it.
“Don’t Know Where It Goes” is probably one of the most Country tracks on the collection, but is very much of the traditional Hank or Lefty inspiration. “These Four Walls”, which starts with an upbeat swing intro, before settling down to an old timey Country styling.
“The Boy Who Never Cried” is a more mainstream ballad, whilst I liked the old time swing feel to “Can You Set This Demon Free”.
The Awkward Family Portraits are a real specialist taste. They’re music doesn’t fit nicely into any box, especially modern Country, but it is a real blast of fresh air. 
 
On the Irish scene, County Antrim’s ALASTAIR COYLES has been making a name  for himself in recent years. He’s actually been singing on the Northern Irish scene for the past 18 years and “Ring Of Gold and Gift of Silver” is his fifth album to date. 
Alastair has good traditional deep vocals, which he uses to blend his Country & Irish styles on this album. On this album, he has featured a number of songs from fellow Irish writers.
Probably best known would be Charlie McGettigan and Paul Harrington’s 1994 Eurovision winner, “Rock And Roll Kids”, which Alastair does a really nice job on.  
Elsewhere, he does an emotional tribute to one of Ireland’s biggest Country legend’s on “Big Tom Sang Gentle Mother”, and his native county is honoured on “The County Of Antrim”, written by Jordan Mogey and Joe McShane. BG Pollock wrote the title track, as well as “Ha’penny Hearts Of Gold”, a lovely song recalling childhood, I’ve got to say this is one of my favourite tracks on the album.
But it’s not all Irish. He covers Jimmy Fortune’s “I Believe”, a song which has been gaining a lot of recognition in gospel music circles of late. He also covers the Ed Bruce classic, “Texas (When I Die)”.  There’s also a version of Harlan Howard’s upbeat “Sunday Morning Christian”.
Altogether, this is a very enjoyable album, certainly for the Irish Country fans.
This album, and his previous releases are available from www.alastaircoyles.co.uk
 
We’ve a few old timey/ bluegrass releases from Canada come in recently.
We have previously reviewed THE SLOCAN RAMBLERS last two albums in these pages, and their latest, “Up The Hill And Through The Fog”, recorded at Union Sound Studios in Toronto, can now be added to the collection.
The Ramblers are a four piece outfit featuring Darryl Polsen, Adrian Gross and Frank Evans, with Charles James joining them for this recording.
The album features 11 self penned originals, the exception being a Tom Petty cover, “A Mind With A Heart Of It’s Own”, which is given a bit of a rocky treatment, which is generally out of line with the rest of the album.
The album kicks off with the rather bluesy “I Don’t Know”, but quickly gets into upbeat bluegrass gear with “You Said Goodbye”, and continues with similar upbeat numbers like “Bill Fernie”, “Bury My Troubles”, and “Bring Me Down Low”.
Slower, mandolin infused numbers like “Would You Come Back Home”, which offers some nice harmonies really worked for me too. “Streetcar Lullaby” is also quite a pleasant ballad, influenced by one of Toronto’s City centre public transport options. I also liked the mid tempo “The River Roaming Song”.
There are also quite intensive instrumentals in “Snow Owl”, “Platform Four” and “Harefoot’s Retreat”.
I found the album a really enjoyable listen. These guys can certainly play!
 
Heading out west, we find a trio of guys called THE WARDENS. Scott Ward, Bradley Bischoff and Ray Schmidt have been touring the smallest and remotest venues across Alberta and up to Alaska and south to California, since forming in 2009. When the touring was stopped in 2020 when the pandemic hit, they put their energy into putting this album together. It’s called “Sold Out At The Ironwood”, which at this point is a dream, or a goal, but, on this performance, it’s not an impossible dream. The Ironwood is a venue on Calgary’s 9th Avenue.
Based out of the Banff National Park area, these guys are influenced by the cowboys who brought their campfire storytelling traditions to the area. The Wardens are keeping that tradition, and the stories alive.
The harmonies are superb throughout, as is the instrumentation.
The 12 track album kicks off with the very simple, “The Code”, about the rules that ensure the tradition survives. It’s a lovely introduction to the album.
Although dealing with western influences, there is quite a folksy feel to many of the tracks, notably on “Timberwolf Reprise” and the fiddle instrumental “Selkirk Snow”.
A few have more mainstream arrangements, like “Half-Mile Honeymoon”.
The harmonies really stand out on tracks like “The Legend Of Wild Bill” and “Coming Home”.     
I kept hearing Ian Tyson’s inspiration coming through across the album, but especially on “Thousand Rescues”. Tyson, of course, is a Canadian legend, who, similarly, sang about the Canadian heartland.
Just to get the full appreciation of The Wardens, there are a couple of live tracks recorded at Calgary’s Bow Valley Music Club. The quality of these recordings are on par with the studio tracks.
I really enjoyed this album. Different and refreshing.
 
Our third Canadian CD takes us north into the Yukon. THE LUCKY ONES won many fans from their debut album last year, and now follow up with “Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance”.
Recorded over a four day span, the group describe the album as “no frills, only honest old time hillbilly music, with a Yukon twist”. The songs are drawn from real life in the far north.
The album kicks off with the story of “Kate and Dan”, the story of two notorious criminals, who met their fate at the end of the rope.
The harmonies are outstanding on a number of tracks, notably on the bluegrass influenced “Goodbye Train”,”Jake”, and the honky tonk flavoured “Fifth Of You”.
“My Gal Is Good To Me”, the only song not written within the band, is a catchy old time honky tonk number.
“Keno City Love Song” is a soft gentle, yet humorous, ballad, which has been likened to Kristofferson. It’s a lovely story of arriving into a new place, and following in love with it instantly.  Another soft ballad is “Red The Skies”.
“Broken Bow Stomp” has more than a personal touch for fiddler Kieran Polle, as it came from him leaning on his fiddle to break his bow.
Thankfully, it didn’t affect the album. An interesting listen.
 
Finally, just a quick mention of a new single from MIKIE HENDERSON, from Caithness. Mikie, you’ll recall was one of The Chicken Pickers, one of the young bands who really established themselves at the Northern Nashville Festivals, a while back. His Scottish culture and American country music influences make for a unique sound, accompanied by honest tales of love, loss and life.
The new song, is a war tribute to the fallen, called “Victory in Europe”, which Mikie released on May 8th – VE Day.  
“A few years ago on May 8th”, he recalled, “I was watching the Victory in Europe Day
celebrations on TV - “the War that would end all wars”... I happened to change the channel and couldn’t believe I was watching our MPs debating whether or not to bomb Syria. The irony that that conversation was happening while we were celebrating the end of World War 2, inspired this song. Although I release this song in tribute of the Fallen of all wars – past and present – I also want to release this song in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. As I sit here on the 8th of May, on Victory in Europe Day , Thinking about the Fallen, who fought to keep me here today”.
Recorded in Bristol, it’s a stirring tune, written and sung with real conviction, but he’s also going for the modern Country fan with the song, as he finishes up the press release with “For fans of Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, and Eagles”.
Do check it out. It’s on all the usual streaming services.
 
BOOK REVIEW
A Hit With a Bullet – Sammy Sadler (Indigo River Publishing)

 
I’ve got to admit that I’m not a book reader, but it’s one I really wanted to get reading, and I’m really glad that I did.
The author, Sammy Sadler is originally from Northern Texas, but made his way, like many others, to Nashville, in the hope of becoming a star. He got signed to an independent label called Evergreen Records, who also had Robin Lee on its roster at the time. I had played some of Sammy’s records on my University Radio Airthrey programme, and the proved quite popular earning him the accolade of our New Star to watch back in 1988.
But this story really starts one March night in 1989 on Nashville’s Music Row, when Sammy & a friend Kevin Hughes were gunned down by a masked man right there in the street. Sammy survived but his friend didn’t. This wasn’t any random shooting though! Kevin worked for Cashbox magazine, as the guy who compiled the Country music & Independent label charts. It transpires through the book that Kevin was trying to remove the corruption that had infiltrated the chart and the magazine. 
It took the next 13 years before record plugger Richard D.Antonio  was finally found guilty of all the charges.
Sammy was eventually able to get hold of the police records, and this book really delves into all the avenues and dead end leads, the many innocent people (including Sammy himself), whom the police had suspected during their investigation.
But this isn’t just a whodunit. It’s the intriguing tale of chart-fixing in the music business, with record pluggers not just trying to falsely adjust the Cashbox charts, but bribing, and even blatantly paying, the radio stations to report playing records they weren’t, even highlighting one instance where the physical records were held up at the pressing plant, and hadn’t been sent out. There’s also revelations about how the Shoney’s restaurant, which was close to Music Row, at the time, being used by unscrupulous promoters to pick on eager wannabee singers, promising them stardom. I recall the ads in the music papers at the time – “For $1000 , you get a recording session, and your record guaranteed radio play & chart placings”.
There’s lots of personal memories for me in this book. A lot of names mentioned who I’ve met over the years, including some of the sharks. A lot of places I know as well.
But even without the personal memories, it’s an intriguing insight into how corrupt the music business can be. This was the ultimate “Murder On Music Row” – not only did Kevin Hughes lose his life trying to do what’s right, Cashbox magazine ended up being closed down, and the whole music business was held in disrepute.
Sammy has continued to pursue music, and his latest album “1989”, features covers of hits from the year, that he’ll never forget.

Monday, 29 November 2021

Apr 2022

 I’ve been quite a fan of TEEA GOANS since she arrived in Music City from her native Missouri, and she released her first album, over a decade ago. Teea firmly found a home in the traditional old school Country scene, with her appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and on the Country’s Family Reunion TV series. 
Whilst her first four albums were largely covers of classic Country and swing numbers, her new album, “All Over The Map” features 10 songs, which she co-wrote, mostly with producer Jim “Moose” Brown.  But they all fit nicely with the sound that she has developed over her previous albums. 
The album opens with the catchy mid tempo “Enjoy The View”, which is along the theme of enjoy today, as it’s just part of life’s journey. The track features some lovely fiddle & mandolin from Jenee Fleenor, a singer songwriter and player, who was the first female CMA Female Musician Of The Year, back in 2019. Her contribution on this album proves her worth.
I just love the uptempo “swing” numbers like “There’s More To Me”, which features background vocals by Mo Pitney, which is a nice bonus. Pitney also features on “Beat Of A Back Road”. 
“The Detour” is a bright & breezy upbeat road song, which also stood out for me. 
 “Untangled” is one of the simpler ballads that stands out. It has quite a haunting, atmospheric feel to it. “Story Telling Time” is much in the same vein.  Other ballads include “Just Another Day”, which is just Teea with piano accompaniment, and “That’s What I Know”, the beautiful closing track, which  features Vince Gill on harmonies. 
The jazzy, soulful sound that she has featured in previous albums, resurfaces on “What’s A Girl To Do”, which is a bit different to the rest of the album, but really demonstrates Teea’s vocal ability.
I love Teea’s simple vocal deliveries, and hearing her perform on her own songs is a real joy. 
One of my favourite albums of the year. 

TOBY KEITH recently released his first all-new album in more than five years. “Peso In My Pocket” was co-produced by Kenny Greenberg and Keith, and features the highest Billboard Country Airplay chart debut of his career with the lead single "Old School." 
Though Keith has accomplished much since the 2015 release of 35 MPH Town - perhaps most notably in writing the Clint Eastwood inspired "Don't Let The Old Man In" - a new studio album was long overdue. And “Peso In My Pocket” has more than a little to do with the worldwide pandemic. "My whole musical career, I haven't been off the road this long," Keith says, calling 2020, "a reset button I never would have hit."
Also deserving of credit for the collection is Mexico, where Keith has a house he stayed at for the first several months of the crisis. 
As a result, Toby came up with more than a few songwriting pesos in his pocket, as he added outside contributors to the mix. Notable songwriting credits include The Warren Brothers, Ryan Hurd, Maren Morris, Jesse Jo Dillon, Brett Tyler, and Sammy Hagar. 
The title track is a catchy, typical Toby Keith number, which made more of an impact on me than the opening track, “Oklahoma Borderline”.  
Keb Mo joined Keith in the studio on a cover of his "Old Me Better," which was the lead single from the album. I have to be honest, this song didn’t appeal much to me, and I was thinking that I did like the Old Toby better. 
But we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. There’s some crackin’ songs on this album.  My favourites would have to be “Days I Should’ve Died”, the pure country honky tonk killer ballad, “She’s Drinkin’Again” and the upbeat tex mex flavoured “Thunderbird”.
Keith also offers a tribute to the late John Prine on the Prine-John Mellencamp co-write "Take A Look At My Heart."
Like Toby Keith’s previous album’s he covers a lot of styles here- some I like, some I don’t, and that consistency remains.  Toby’s fans will love it !
 
Next is an excellent second solo album from award-winning bluegrass singer/songwriter DARYL MOSELY, devoted to the “Small Town Dreamer”. Throughout the '90s, Daryl toured as lead vocalist/bass player with much-celebrated Bluegrass group The New Tradition, then in 2001, he joined the legendary Osborne Brothers. In 2010, Mosley formed The Farm Hands, which quickly became one of the most awarded bands in Bluegrass. In 2020, Daryl stepped into the solo spotlight with “The Secret Of Life”. Inbetween times, Mosley has written six #1 songs, and been honoured as Songwriter of the Year twice. 
This new collection includes 12 new tracks, all spotlighting the Waverly, Tennessee native’s small town roots and humble upbringing. The record was co-produced by Mosley and The Grascals’ Danny Roberts. 
The first taste of “Small Town Dreamer” came via the lead single “Transistor Radio” which pays homage to the good ole’ days and simpler times. The song gives a shout-out to the Grand Ole Opry, Elvis, Bill Monroe, Aretha Franklin, Motown and other music heroes. 
“Here’s To The Dreamers” is the key inspiration for the album’s title and its empowering lyrics offer an optimistic approach for tough times.
“You Are The Reason” and “Hillbilly Dust” are the strongest Country songs on the collection, whilst “I Cant Go Home Anymore”, “The Way I Was Raised” and “Sing Me A Song About A Train”, are stronger bluegrass numbers.
One of the album’s most interesting stories is “The Waverly Train Disaster,” which has nothing to do with Edinburgh, but rather Mosely’s hometown , and recalls a 1978 tanker explosion that killed 16 people and caused over $1.8 million in damage. 
In addition to straight-forward forays into Bluegrass and Country numbers, the project also features two well-crafted Gospel tunes: “He’s With Me”, which is absolutely beautiful, and “Mama’s Bible.” 
The album from start to finish centres around Daryl’s one-of-a-kind storytelling and his chameleon-like ability to segue gently through multiple genres, whilst the harmonies of Jaelee Roberts and Jeanette Williams are really on the icing on the cake. 
This is my kind of Country music. Simple stories, simple arrangements, and beautiful harmonies. 

STURGILL SIMPSON is considered one of the most daring musical artists around these days. Since his first album back in 2013, he has consistently scored high praise from the media, and high placings across Country, Rock and pop charts, both in America and Europe. 
“The Ballad Of Dood & Juanita” is his third album in the past twelve months, following the success of “Cuttin’ Grass” Volumes 1 & 2. This album written and recorded in less than a week, is a Civil War era story, inspired by grandfather. 
He has used many of the same musicians that featured on the “Cuttin’ Grass” albums, including young Sierra Hull, Stuart Duncan, Tim O’Brien and Jelly Roll Johnson. He even pulls in Willie Nelson to play guitar. 
There are so many traditional elements to this album, from the bluegrass sounds of  “Go In Peace” to the Tex- mex feel of “Juanita”, to “ Shamrock” which sounds like it’s right out of a Clint Eastwood movie, and from the Waylon outlaw feel on “Ol’Dude” and “One In The Saddle, One On The Ground” to a Cash/ Haggard  influence on “Played Out”. 
As with other concept albums, there is story setting short interludes, and here we have Civil War marching intro and Epilogues, as well as tribute to “Sam”, a faithful old hound.
I loved this album! Sturgill Simpson is such a talent, and this album has such a traditional sound, that it’s a real winner for me. If you want to go all the way, as well as CD & downloads, it’s also out on vinyl .

LAUREN ALAINA is another of the reality TV created stars. She was runner up on American Idol back in 2011, and came in fourth on Dancing With The Stars in 2019, and has appeared in a TV movie titled after her album “The Road Less Travelled”, and more recently in a TV movie “Roadhouse Romance”.
Musically, her first album, following her American Idol hype was a Top 5 hit in both the Country & Pop charts. It took 6 years for the follow up, which still made No.3 on the Country charts, but only sold a tenth of her debut album sales. 
Now her third album, “Sitting Pretty On Top Of The World” has been released. Like many other girl singers coming out of Nashville, it’s quite poppy. But I do quite like her voice. It’s not as “shouty” as some of the others. 
The album is heavy on pleasant ballads, with the title track, “I’m Not Sad Anymore”, “Change My Mind” and “You’re Not a Cowboy”  being a few of the stand out tracks.
“What Do You Think Of“ is a big ballad number featuring Danish pop band Lukas Graham. Trisha Yearwood duets on “Getting Good”, the only track not co-writtten by the singer, which is one of my favourite tracks on the album. 
There’s another duet, the smoking, “Getting Over Him”, which features Jon Pardi. This is the single released to promote the album.
Of the more uptempo numbers, I really enjoyed “Same Story, Different Saturday Night” which stands out for me.
Alongside award-winning songwriters Liz Rose, Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and more, Lauren co-wrote 14 of the 15 songs on the album. 
Quite a pleasant listen.

AMERICAN YOUNG  is made up of singer/songwriters Kristy Osmunson and Jon Stone, both of whom found success in Nashville before joining forces in 2013. 
Prior to launching American Young, Osmunson, a fiddle player and former member of vocal group Bomshel, had songs recorded by Joey + Rory (“Cheater Cheater”), among others; while Stone was an in-demand producer who had cuts recorded by Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton, and others. Following the release of their self-titled CD which featured the singles “Love Is War” and “Wasn’t Gonna Drink Tonight,” American Young was nominated three years in a row for a British Country Music Association Touring Award, which they won in 2019 solidifying their place as global ambassadors of Country music. Amongst their UK dates was an appearance at the Millport Country Music Festival.
Now they have released their second album “AYII”. 
To preview the album, they released “Happy Again”, a soft harmony driven ballad which I really quite enjoyed and was quite looking forward to the album. 
Unfortunately “AYII” is quite a Nashville pop sounding affair, which will find its place on Country radio stations where listeners tune in purely for background music. It’s all pleasant enough, but very few tracks struck a chord in my mind. The exception, possibly, is “Soundtrack Of Your Life”, which is a bit more uptempo. The other saving grace is a cover of John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind”. I’m not quite sure how this song fits in with the rest of the album, but it is welcomed. 
The album closes with “Country Girls”, another track which just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album. It’s quite an R&B number, more rap than Country. 
I was quite disappointed with this album, but, as I say, it will fit nicely into bland daytime Country radio formats.  

Next off, we’re heading for tranquillity of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, where we find a duo called OVER THE MOON”. Suzanne Levesque and Craig Bignell met when he was hired as a musician at a studio where her, then, band were recording a CD. They’ve been together ever since. 
Their second album, “Chinook Waltz” was recently released, featuring 10 beautifully crafted songs.
The album starts off with “Lonesome Bluebird”, one of five original songs written by the couple. 
They include the title track, which has a lovely old Ian Tyson feel to it, albeit with Suzanne’s gorgeous vocals, and the equally lovely “When She Rides”. 
“John Ware” is a more upbeat ballad in honour of a local legend, who grew up in slavery in South Carolina, and ended up being one of Alberta’s most respected and loved cowboys. 
“I’m Not Cool” is a bit different- a bit of old time swing, but really works well.  
Of the covers, they do a lovely version of near neighbour Ian Tyson’s  “Someday Soon”, as well as Buddy & Julie Miller’s “I Cant Get Over You”.  Their harmonies really come to the fore on “Kentucky”, a really slowed down version of the song inspired by The Everly’s version. They also do a version of the folk classic “Darcy Farrow”, which has been done by everyone from Ian & Sylvia, to John Denver, and our own Colorado.  One song that is very different is “They Cant Blackout The Moon”, which goes back to wartime and bandleader Harry Roy. It’s quaint, and really refreshing. 
Throughout the album their harmonies really shine. I loved listening to this album. 

When you’ve spent the past 40 years having hit after hit, even some of the most popular songs from way back, may disappear off the radar. That may be the reason that REBA has come out with a 3 CD, 30 track selection of hits, which she splits into “Revived Remixed & Revisited”. 
“REVIVED” features new arrangements of fan favourites like “Is There Life Out There” and “Can’t Even Get The Blues” recorded with Reba’s touring band. This disc also features one of my all time favourites, “Whoever’s In New England”.
“REVISITED” produced by the Grammy® award-winning Dave Cobb strips back songs like “Somebody Should Leave” and “How Blue” to let the raw power of Reba’s vocals shine and features a long-awaited pairing between Reba and Dolly Parton on one of the red haired Oklahoman’s most famous duets, “Does He Love You”, which was originally done with Linda Davis back in 1993. 
But it’s the “REMIXED” tracks which takes her more uptempo songs like “Little Rock” and “I’m A Survivor” and spins them in ways like you’ve never heard Reba before. The strangest arrangement has to be the Donna Summer “I Feel Love” influenced beat on “The Night The Lights Went In Georgia”(Eric Kupper remix). I don’t know what audience she aims to appeal to with an arrangement like this. It sounds so strange. There’s a similar upbeat remix on “Does He Love You”, without  Dolly this time. “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”, “Fancy” and “Turn The Radio On” have similar mashed up sounds. Not for me, I’m afraid. 
Interesting stuff, but whether Reba has stretched her boundaries too far this time remains to be seen. 

After a tumultuous 1967 for JOHNNY CASH, the year 1968 was bookended by what would become his two iconic, highest-grossing albums, “At Folsom Prison” and “At San Quentin”. But now, fifty-three years later, a lost chapter has emerged to enrich and complement the story of that very good year. 
“Bear Sonic Journals : Johnny Cash At The Carousel Ballroom” recorded on April 24th, 1968 in San Francisco, captures the man in black at the height of his charismatic powers. Confidently departing from the more formalised setlist he’d been doing, we hear him in playful and powerful dialogue with his new bride June Carter and his longtime musicians—guitarist Luther Perkins, bassist Marshall Grant and drummer W.S. Holland—connecting with an audience more accustomed to the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, who were among the collective of artists who had briefly operated the venue, which later became the Fillmore West.
The 28 track collection includes well known Cash classics like “Guess Things Happen That Way”, “Give My Love To Rose”, “Ring Of Fire”, “I Walk The Line”, and “Forty Shades Of Green”, alongside other songs, made more famous by others, including “Green Green Grass Of Home”, “Long Black Veil” and “Orange Blossom Special”. June Carter is also featured on “Jackson” and “Wildwood Flower”.
The concert was recorded by innovative sound wizard Owsley “Bear” Stanley capturing Cash’s unadorned voice entirely on the right channel and the Tennessee Three all on the left; setting the listener right between Johnny and his band as if they were centre stage at the Carousel. 
The sound is dated, but it’s another amazing piece of Johnny Cash history, which every fan of The Man In Black will want to own. 

WANDA JACKSON is probably best known for her biggest Country hits, “Right Or Wrong” and “In The Middle Of A Heartache” which go back to 1961. But Wanda’s early beginnings were steeped in rock’n’roll, a genre that she returned to in later years. 
She is the subject of the Humphead label’s latest release of golden treasures, with the 49 track “Capitol Country Keepsakes”, which cover her releases for the iconic Nashville label between 1965-1973.  Although she had been with Capitol since 1956, and had those two biggest hits for the label, this collection picks up on her career in 1965. 
Having said that, there are some great Country recordings here, proving that Wanda should have been up there with Patsy, Connie and Tammy. 
“Tears Will Be The Chaser For Your Wine”, “A Woman Lives For Love”, “Fancy Satin Pillows” and “The Box It Came In” were Top 20 Country hits, and all featured here alongside “A Girl Don’t Have To Drink To Have Fun”  and “My Big Iron Skillet”, which I recognised instantly. 
There’s also  covers like Patsy’s “Crazy”, “If I Had A Hammer”, “Let’s Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello”, “We’ll Sing In The Sunshine”, “Love’s Gonna Live Here” and “Just Between You And Me” as well as early versions of  “Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)” and “Love Of The Common People”, before they were hits elsewhere.
This is a magical treasure trove of forgotten gems which I really enjoyed listening to. And, as with other Humphead collections. There’s a booklet with a superb biography from Alan Cackett.

Finally, a homegrown album to enjoy.  MALCOLM MACWATT may be a new name to many readers, but he already has 4 albums and 3 EP’s to his credit, since he started recording in 2018.  His latest album, “Settler”, fuses Americana music with a Celtic edge to it, and is released on the US based Need To Know music label.
Hailing from Morayshire with the Highlands and North Sea as a constant backdrop, MacWatt was raised listening to the folklore and music of Scotland. His love for the outdoors saw him spending much of his life as a keen hillwalker, snowboarder and surfer; learning first hand that the Highlands are beautiful and uplifting but unforgivingly harsh if taken for granted. Like many other young men from the area, he worked on the offshore oil rigs where the power of the North Sea was a constant reminder to remain humble in the face of nature. 
“Throughout history the Scots have settled all over the world”, Malcolm points out, “ my family included. I’m a mixed-race Scot with a keen interest in ideas surrounding heritage and identity. Nations were built by people seeking a better life and it is easy to forget our own ancestors were all settlers and immigrants at one time.”  
MacWatt weaves Scottish balladry with Appalachian string band influences to tell stories of loss, injustice and arduous journeys. 
It’s the Appalachian banjo sound which starts off the album with “Avalanche And Landslide”, which features Austin based Jaimee Harris, who is just one of the guest vocalists on the album, from both sides of the Atlantic. 
Whilst the fusion blends the sounds of both sides of the Atlantic, other more Appalachian influenced numbers include “Letter From San Francisco” and “Banjo Lullaby”.
On the Celtic side, NY based Laura Cantrell adds her vocals to “The Curse Of Molly McPhee”, whilst “Ghosts Of Caledonia” is inspired by the legions of Scots who have been “settlers” in places all over the world.  The same theme runs through “My Bonny Boys Have Gone”, a lovely simpler ballad, with some wonderful harmonies from songwriter Gretchen Peters. 
“The Miller’s Daughter”, featuring Eliza McCarthy, “John Rae’s Welcome Home” with Kris Drever, and “Trespass” complete the more Celtic side of the album. 
The album closes with the more Country-ish “North Atlantic Summer”, which is a delightful track, and probably my favourite track.
With the exception of Phil Dearing, who plays bass on the album, and Kris Drever providing electric guitar on one track, MacWatt plays all other instruments.
This is one of these albums which blend Country, Bluegrass and folk music defying all boundaries. I found it a very enjoyable listen.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Oct 2021

A new album from ALAN JACKSON is always an event. It’s been six years since his last release, but he’s back out of semi retirement with a fabulous 21 track collection, which is vintage Alan, the sort of music that shot him to the top back in 1990.
The title of his new album is “Where Have You Gone”, which opens the album. It’s a sentimental lament to traditional Country music, soft steel guitars and words from the heart. It’s a song that his fans with relate directly with the tall Georgian native. Everything he yearns for in this song, is renewed in the next 20 songs. A one man crusade you could say.  
There are the jolly trademark Alan Jackson songs reminiscent of “Chattahoochee”, in “Where the Cottonwood Grows”, “Living On Empty”, “Back” and “Write It In Red”. 
He does seem to have relied a little on some golden nectar for a number of the songs here, including “Wishful Drinkin’”, “Beer 10” and “I Was Tequila” as well as some emotional ballads like “I Can Be That Something”, “Way Down In My Bottle” and “The Boot”.
Closer to his heart are ballads like “You’ll Always Be My Baby” and “I Do”, which he wrote for his daughter’s wedding, and “Where Her Heart Is”, which was written for his mama’s funeral. Both are beautiful heartfelt songs, which many readers will relate to.  
Also fitting this theme are “Things That Matter” and “A Man Who Never Cries”, one of my favourite tracks on the album. 
The album also includes a tribute to Merle Haggard on “That’s The Way Life Goes” and his single from 2017, “The Older I Get”.
At the age of 62, Alan Jackson is back, with one of Country music’s must have albums of 2021. 

CONNIE SMITH is a Grand Ole Opry legend, whose biggest success is still her debut single, “Once A Day” back in 1964. She went on to record 54 albums, her latest is “Cry Of The Heart”, which was released for the singer’s 80th birthday. And Connie’s voice still sounds as good today as it did in her heyday. 
Produced by Marty Stuart, whom she married back in 1997, the album features Harry Stinson and Paul Martin from Marty’s band, alongside the legendary Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins, who played on Connie’s early tracks. 
The project features a total of 11 songs and was kicked off when Dallas Frazier, who had written many a song for Connie through the years, came up with “I Just Believe Me Anymore”, a song which really captures the Connie sound of old. A perfect song for her. From there, the rest just fell into place.  
Smith and Stuart composed both the heart-wrenching "Spare Me No Truth Tonight" and the more upbeat "Here Comes My Back Again" for the project. She also collaborated with songwriter Monty Holmes on the lively "Three Sides”, which is one of the stand out tracks to my ears. 
Marty and Harry Stinson co-wrote "Look Out Heart", whilst "To Pieces" was composed by Carl Jackson. Jackson also co-wrote “I’m Not Over You” with Melba Montgomery. Connie does the song real justice. 
There are also more few covers on the project. 
"A Million and One", which opens the album, was first made commercially successful by Billy Walker, and later Dean Martin, while "All the Time" takes us back to Kitty Wells and Jack Greene. "Heart, We Did All That We Could" was first released as a single by Jean Shepard.
Connie also revisits "Jesus Take a Hold", which was originally composed and recorded by Merle Haggard. Smith had first recorded the song in 1971. She chose to re-record it because "it’s just as relevant today as it was back then, if not more so".
It has to be said that Marty’s influence in the sound is notable. It’s modern, whilst keeping traditional steel vibes. It blends beautifully with Connie’s voice, which sounds as good as she always has. 
Certainly the most Country album of the year. 

RHONDA VINCENT is the undisputed Queen Of Bluegrass, and earlier this year was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Vincent's music career began when she was a child in her family's band The Sally Mountain Show, and winning her first award back in 1974. Eighteen albums later comes “Music Is What I See”, her first new music for 7 years. 
The title track is devoted to a blind busker down on Nashville’s Broadway, which namechecks a number of classic Country & gospel numbers. A really nice number, worthy of being the title track. 
Fiddles and banjo shine through, especially on tracks like “What Ain’t To Be Just Might Happen” written by Porter Wagoner, which opens the 12 song collection. 
Upbeat instrumentation is to the fore on numbers like “I’d Like To Be A Train” and “False Hearted Love”. 
For me, Rhonda excels on emotional ballads, most notably here on “Slowly”, the old Webb Pierce song, as well as2 “I’m Still Not Over You” and “It’s Me Again”.
The album’s closing track, “There’s A Record Book”, which features The Isaacs, is a beautiful gospel inspired ballad. 
One of the early singles from the album was the emotional ballad “Like I Could,” which was written by Jeannie Seely, Erin Enderlin, and Bobby Tomberlin. Jeannie & Erin were on hand when Rhonda performed it at a historic performance as the last artist to host The Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree at the Texas Troubadour Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee, before going back to its original home on lower Broadway.
The album features a couple of more interesting covers, She records the first bluegrass version of “Unchained Melody” and a 2021 Covid ridden parody of Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere”, which is retitled “I Ain’t Been Nowhere”, a song which we can all relate to.
I love Rhonda Vincent’s music. I just love the way she combines Country and bluegrass with ease. She has a truly wonderful sound. Another winner !

One of the most impressive new names I’ve heard coming out of the US Country scene recently is a trio of ladies who call themselves CHAPEL HART. Not only do they display a stunning Country sound, with lovely harmonies, but they dont comply with the stereotypical “look” of a Country girl band! They are different- a breath of fresh air!
The three members of Chapel Hart are sisters Danica Hart and Devynn Hart, and their cousin Trea Swindle, all of whom are natives of Poplarville, Mississippi. Although the group saw its beginnings as a street-performing duo on Royal Street in New Orleans, the three began writing original songs and in 2019. The group independently released their first album, “Out the Mud” the same year, whilst CMT selected Chapel Hart for their class of 2021 "Next Women of Country" 
The trio has the natural ability to bring people together in song and dance through their exhilarating live performances. 
My first listen to the band was the song “You Can Have Him Jolene”, a really catchy, hi energy Country number. Inspired by Dolly’s big hit, which really got me hooked. Do check out the video on Youtube. Then check out their album, “The Girls Are Back In Town”.
They make their mark on uptempo “don’t mess with us” anthems like “Big Ass Waman”, “Tailgate Trophy” and “Jesus And Alcohol” (which features ZZ Top on the video).
But despite their ambitions, they don’t forget their roots, with the homespun “4 Mississippi”.
The album kicks off gently with the beautiful ballad “Nearly Over You”. They have a number of other ballads, including “Just Say I Love You” and “Angel”. Their harmonies are really stunning 
In between there are catchy, back porch numbers like the catchy “I Will Follow”, “Jacqui’s Song” and the smouldering “Red Neck Southern Night”
The title track, which closes the album is a real Country rocker, complete with a few rap lines, with the warning that “We’re the Real Women Of Country and it’s our town now!”
The pop princesses that masquerade as Country singers could be about to be run out of Music City by these divas. They’re the real deal! 
History in the making! 

There’s been a load of new music from reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year ERIC CHURCH released recently – three albums, released within days of each other. Collectively the trilogy is “Heart & Soul”, but all three are available individually. Furthermore, the 6 track middle album, “&” is specifically for his fan club, known as “the Church Choir”, and is available exclusively to those fans and only as a vinyl record.
The total 24 track collection came out of spending 28 days back home in the mountains of North Carolina, where the songs were recorded and written. All, but one, of the tracks was written, or co-written by Church. That one is the rather brash 2020 hit “Stick That In Your Country Song”. 
Over the 15 years that he’s been charting with songs like “Springsteen”, “Drink In My Hand” and “Some Of It”, I have to confess that I’d never really caught onto his music. Over this project, he does show a mellow side on tracks like “Heart Of The Night”,“Crazyland”, “Love Shine Down” (I love the spaghetti western intro), “Rock’n’Roll Found Me”, “Bright Side Girl” and “Jenny.”
The latest single, “Hell Of A View” has more of a gentle feel too. 
A bit more upbeat are tracks like “Bunch Of Nothing”, “Heart On Fire”, “Look Good And You Know It”. 
One of Church’s earlier hits was “Springsteen”, and this collection closes with the simple, acoustic, “Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones”. That sums up the sound that Church has developed over the years- Southern Country rock.  That closing track is a beautiful ballad, by the way, one of my favourite tracks on the collection. 
Quite a nice listen throughout. 

CHASE RICE first surprised fans with “The Album Part I”, in January 2020 while touring the UK/Europe, releasing seven songs. Roll on 17 pandemic affected months and the full 15 track project has been released.  This is the Florida born singers’ 5th album to date. And his first since “Lambs And Lions” back in 2017. 
He wrote, or co-wrote, 11 of the tracks. One of those he didn’t write is “American Nights” which opens the album. Another is “Messy”, a beautiful ballad which really stood out for me. This track features some really impressive female harmonies. Certainly the stand out track for me. 
Mid tempo tracks which appealed to me include “Forever To Go” and “If I Didn’t Have You”.
The closing track, “Drinking Beer, Talking God” is a vocal collaboration with Florida Georgia Line. It’s not a bad track, and one that is growing on me, but, in the main, this isn’t what I’d consider to be Country music. 
The most Country track to my ears is “Break Up Drunk”. 
Having said that, Chase has built up a faithful following on this side of the Atlantic, so this album will, no doubt, be welcomed.

GARY ALLAN is one of these Country stars, who seem to have been around for years, without really hitting the heights that he deserves and that his longevity would suggest. In the 25 years since the released his first album, he’s notched up 4 Number ones, including “Tough Little Boys” and “Nothin’ On But The Radio”.
Now with his 10th album, “Ruthless”, the Californian native gets a UK release on Snakefarm Records – his first for 8 years. It’s been a long time coming, and Gary recorded around 30 tracks, before settling on the 13 which made the album. 
The title track, “Ruthless” is quite a strong ballad, with some effective harmonies. I really liked this track. 
The album opens with “Temptation”, whilst quite a catchy number, but gets totally overshadowed by track 2, “Waste  Of A Whiskey”, which really stood out for me. Another drinking song, was the more of a crooner “Little Glass Of Wine”.
“Slide” had quite catchy feel, as did the more acoustic “Unfiltered”.
 “Pretty Damn Close” and “Trouble Knows Trouble” are quite pleasant ballads, which stood out for me. 
Quite a pleasant listen, and good to have new music from Gary.  

On the home front, West Lothian based singer LIZ CLARKE has released an album of songs that she’s recorded over the past few years, “To Nashville From Love”. The album features 13, mainly original, songs from a mix from sessions over the past few years. 
The album opens with the really catchy “Country Looks Good On Me”, a good traditional foot tapper, written by Irish based American songwriter Sandra Mayer Sovik and Mike Scott-Tracy. It’s a song I really think suits Liz’s style. 
In much the same style, is “You Wont Cheat Me Again”, which I really enjoyed. 
“3 Jobs 2 Kids No Money” is an catchy upbeat song written by London based writer Jon Philbert, who has written songs for Bobby Bare and Tom Jones amongst others. “That’s My Baby Sister” is a similarly styled number, which is one of the radio singles released to promote the album.  
“I’ll Be Gone” is quite a delicate ballad, written by John Mc Keever, who hails from Bonnybridge.
“Blue Skies Over Georgia” is a song written many years ago by Mark Moseley, and Liz does it real justice in bringing it back to the fore.
Liz has a few duet tracks on the album. Two are with Nashville based T Jae Christian, which were also featured on a previous album. “The Vanishing Breed” is a particularly strong Country production, which is a stand out track for me. Another duet with T Jae is “This Feeling That’s So Strong”, which is a bit more soulful. T.Jae also wrote “When Your Heart Tells You It’s Time To Love Again”. 
There’s also three duets with Paul Jackson, who, before last year’s lockdown, she had been building up a live show as Jackson & Clarke. Together they cover the old Tim & Faith hit, “Let’s Make Love”, and two originals penned by Paul, the soulful ballad “Loves Embrace”, and the more upbeat “If You Want Me”. 
That leaves her cover of Karl Denver’s “Voices Of  The Highlands”, which stands out by being  so different to the rest of the album. It’s obviously a song with means a lot to Liz. 
Having been recorded over a number of years, the album embraces the different directions that music has taken Liz during that time. It’s good to listen to the journey. 
Liz had the Jackson & Clarke show planned for the Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry shortly after lockdown began and put the event on hold. Hopefully, it wont be too long before they’re back. 

PAULA MACASKILL is one of the hardest working performers on the Scottish scene, especially in the Lochaber area, playing local tourist venues, although she does tour outwith the area as well. As a result she has built up a huge following over the years. Through lockdown, all that shut down, although Paula, especially in the early days, was a regular, posting live sets on line. It also gave her time to get into the studio to have an album ready for the venues opening up again. 
He result is “Your Forever Friend”. produced at Kirkhill Recording in Inverness, by fellow singer Ronnie Ross, who plays all the instrumentation on the 12 track album. Ronnie also wrote the title track, a lovely, gentle, sentimental ballad which really suits Paula’s style perfectly. 
The album has quite a variety, starting off with Mark Knopfler’s “The Next Time I’m In Town”. The arrangement really fits in with Paula’s gentle easy listening sound. 
The nature of Paula’s live gigs demand a crossover of upbeat Country and more Celtic sounding numbers, so there’s no surprise to find tracks like “Home To Donegal”, “Walking On The Waves”
and a lovely version of Moira Kerr’s “Where Eagles Fly”. Her version of “Wagon Wheel” is also more Nathan than Darius! 
There’s a couple of more pop numbers like Tom Springfield’s timeless “A World Of Our Own” and Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”.
And for Country fans, there’s classics like “From A Jack To A King”, “Take Me Home Country Roads”, “Play Me The Waltz Of The Angels” and “End Of The World”. 
As expected, Paula comes up with another very enjoyable, easy listening MoR album, which defies genres with ease.   

Our next album comes from Donegal lass ELAINE BOYLE, who has toured with Dominic Kirwan, Gary Gamble, Billie Jo Spears and Stella Parton amongst others. Her latest album, her third, if I’m not mistaken, is a fairly Irish affair, called “Isle Of Hope”.
The title was made popular by Mary Duff a few years back. If you’re not familiar with the song, it tells off a 15 year old Annie Moore, who was one of the first Irish immigrants to land at Ellis Island  enroute to a better life in America. It’s a gorgeous song, and Elaine handles it with sensitivity and emotion. 
Other songs on the collection include the upbeat “The Ferryman”, “Mary From Dungloe” and “Whiskey in The Jar” as well as the more emotional “Town I Loved So Well”, “Noreen Bawn”, “Bright Blue Rose” and “Carrickfergus”.  Although distinctive Irish songs, Elaine has recorded them in a style which will appeal to Country music listeners. 
Away from the Irish, Elaine also covers Highland Scots band Skippinish’ “Walking On The Waves”, Canadian songwriter Ron Hynes’ “Sonny’s Dream” and English duo Splinter’s catchy “Evergreen”, which I really enjoyed. This track really stood out for me, probably because I was unfamiliar with the song. But there’s not a bad track on the album. 
I’ve always enjoyed Elaine’s music, and have to say that this album continues that appreciation. A really enjoyable listen. 

The RYAN TURNER Band are one of the most versatile bands on the Irish scene, catering for all sorts of events from being a Wedding band, to a backing band for touring artists. They have a huge following in the North of Scotland, and the release of Ryan’s latest CD, “Brand New Man” has been much anticipated.
With the live performances being shutdown over the past year, Ryan used the time to put down some recordings, and this is the result. 
There are 11 tracks, ranging from Don Williams’ “If Hollywood Don’t Need You”, and Conway Twitty’s “Fifteen Years Ago” to Phil Vasser’s “I’m Alright” and the Brooks & Dunn cover which gives the album it’s title.  
The opening cut, a Jerry Kilgore song called “I Just Want My Baby Back” is a good upbeat introduction to the album.
There are three Keith Whitley covers, including “I’m Over You”, “Miami My Amy”, and a duet with Carmel Sheerin. That’s one of two duet’s on the album.
The other is, in my opinion, the stand out track. Written by acclaimed Irish songwriter Shunie Crampsey, Ryan teams up with Marty Haggard (son of Merle) on “Dying A Death But Living A Dream”. What a great Country Song title! - and the song itself lives up to the title. 
The production is first class, and 100 % pure Country!
Highly recommended.

THE OAKRIDGE BOYS have been a major musical force since their formation as a gospel group way back in the 1940’s. 
Big bearded William Lee Golden and Duane Allen joined the group in the mid-1960s, and Richard Sterban and Joe Bonsall joined in the early 1970s. Aside from an eight-year gap (1987–95) when Golden left the group and was replaced, this lineup has been together since 1973. 
They have a new album, “Front Porch Singing” recently released in America, but Humphead Records, here in the UK, have just added The Oaks to their “Definitive Collection” series, with a 2 CD, 39 track collection of hits from around the 80’s when they were at the very top of their game. 
Hits like “Elvira”, “American Made”, “Y’all Come Back Saloon” and “Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight” were huge hits for the quartet, as were “You’re The One”, “Dream On” and “Bobbie Sue”. 
They never lost their core gospel values, as demonstrated on songs like “Thank God For Kids”, “Touch A Hand Make A Friend” and “American Family”. 
Two songs, I always liked from The Oaks were the similarly titled  “Come On In” and “Come On In (You Did The Best You Could Do)”, which were recorded 7 years apart. Cleverly, (or perhaps dangerously for radio DJ’s), both songs are track 4 on the respective CD’s. 
As ever with Humphead compilations, there’s an informative 12 page booklet with an interesting bio written by Alan Cackett. 

Canadian collective THE HELLO DARLINS, had built up huge anticipation prior to their first full-length album “Go By Feel” released back in June.
The buzz began building almost immediately after the Calgary, Alberta-based Americana outfit debuted on the scene in early 2020, although the seeds of the band took root in 2016 when vocalist/producer Candace Lacina crossed paths again with keyboardist/producer Mike Little after first meeting at a recording studio years earlier. Once reconnected, they soon found themselves making music together, whilst, at the same time, the couple began inviting others within their circle to participate, including Clayton Bellamy (The Road Hammers), Matt Andersen, Dave and Joey Landreth (aka The Bros. Landreth) and ace fiddler Shane Guse.
On “Go By Feel”, this incredible collection of Canadian talent has forged a hybrid of country, gospel and blues like no other, from the heart-wrenching ballads like and “Prayer For A Sparrow” to the classic country-rocker “Mountain Time”, and the smouldering “Smokin’ Gun”. 
I wouldn’t want to consider The Hello Darlin’s as mainstream Nashville Country pop, but the opening track “Catch That Train” does conjure up quite a Lady A sound. 
“Lonely In Las Vegas” and the title track are both emotional, soulful ballads with suits Candace’s smouldering vocals, as does “Never Get Over You” and “Where Are You”.
Released as a single prior to the album release, “Aberdeen” has an obvious interest over here. On this beautiful, melodic track,  Joey Landreth takes the lead vocals, with some stunning harmonies provided by Candance, not to mention some creative instrumentation, including Tammy Rodgers on mandolin, and Mark on accordion,  which really shines through.  Actually the song hasn’t anything to do with the Granite City though. “Aberdeen” is simply the name of a horse, and is about the loyalty and friendship that is shown beyond fence lines. Still the stand out track!
“Still Waters” is another amazing track, featuring soulful vocals by blues man Matt Andersen. 
When I first got into Canadian Country music, I was attracted by the diversity of styles on offer, between the likes of The Rankins, Prairie Oyster, Farmers Daughter, Michelle Wright etc.  That’s largely disappeared over time, and much of it today, is a clone of the Nashville sound. But The Hello Darlin’s have rekindled the belief for me.  A real winning sound it is! 

Born in Oklahoma, the now Essex-based BOB COLLUM  is back with his band THE WELFARE MOTHERS, and a new album, “This Heart Will Self Destruct” (Fretsore Records).
Raised by his grandparents on the likes of Bob Wills and The Carter Family, Collum quickly embraced the sonic-fusion of transatlantic influences brought through the ongoing ripple effect of The Beatles. What results is a combination of these influences in his own artistic output; home-grown, transatlantic and British are all evident here. Collum reflects on the album as “beginning life on the cusp before the insanity of 2020” with much of the recordings done intermittently with safety taking priority. Initially intended as an EP, the sessions resulted in a full-length album.
The title track has a catchy rockabilly feel to it. “Saved” also has a vintage feel to it. It’s an interesting take on the Lieber and Stoller hit by LaVern Baker (and also recorded by Elvis). 
A more recent single, “From Birmingham” has a strong Country influence. I really enjoyed this track. I loved the accordion and female harmonies shining through on it. Other stand out tracks include the opening track “Parachute” and “Second Fiddle”.
There are a few bluesy numbers, including “Spare Me”, “Tall Glass Of Muddy Water”, but plenty of interest for old timey Country fans. 
 “I think the album captures the last year quite well; songs about anxiety, hope, fear, humour, uncertainty, love, disappointment, redemption, faith, more uncertainty, more fear, more hope etc.”, Collum states. 
With live shows on hiatus, this album takes its listeners on a retrospective journey invoking images of close-knit writing rooms and vintage recording studios, to bustling club nights and Fender-fuelled honky-tonks. 
A good listen.

It would be hard to categorise LAUREN HOUSLEY’s music. There’s a lot of soul and some vintage pop, but a lot of rootsy Country/Americana as well, which should appeal to readers. 
“Girl From The North” (Lovebird Recordings) released on St Georges Day, is her third album, and was recorded in the heart of England’s industrial north – Rotherham, in a studio she and husband/producer Thomas Dibb built underneath a foodhall. 
The album begins with “Bless His Soul”, which is one of the most Country sounding tracks on the album, especially with the steel, courtesy of CJ Hillman. 
“Guaranteed Sunshine” also has a strong modern Country feel to it, although the accompanying press release likens this track to early Sheryl Crow (who, of course has done a fair bit of dabbling in Country music).
“This Aint The Love”, one of the singles released to promote the album, has a catchy feel, with sits somewhere between Patsy Cline and 60’s pop.
“Stay Awake To Dream” is a beautiful ballad which I really enjoyed, whilst “What’s Troubling You Child” has more of a bluesy feel to it.
“Why Are We Making It So Hard” is a catchy mid tempo number which is quite catchy, if a little repetitive. 
Some tracks are old style Britpop with an atmospheric psychedelic sound, such as the lengthy “Breakdown” (over 5 mins) and the short “Two Lovers Lost in Space” (just 75 seconds long).
“Sing To Me” is different again. Her description as an “adult lullaby” is fairly accurate, I’d say. 
The album closes with the rockier “We’re Not Backing Down”, which has a really good beat.
An interesting album, with lots of different styles. A pleasant listen!

ROLAND ROBERTS life is like a musical atlas. He was Memphis born, Alabama raised, Colorado grown, and now a staple in the ever flourishing Alaskan music scene. To add to that, he recorded his debut album, “All About The Timing” (Happy Life Records) in Whitehouse in The Yukon, in Canada’s far north. 
He has been compared to the likes of John Prine, with a classic Country sound, blended with American folk, bluegrass and delta blues in the mix. 
The title track is a bouncy little number, with some life lessons contained within the lyrics. 
The completely self penned album starts off by highlighting his travelling by place checking   Toronto, Colorado and Yukon, in a catchy love song called “Beautiful Soul”.
“Picture On The Wall” has more of a Prine feel to it, as is the slower “Don’t Tell Me Goodbye”. 
“Sittin’ In Nebraska” is a catchy number inspired by being “stuck” there with no way out. 
There’s a much more old timey/bluegrass feel to “Rambling Joe”, whilst the steel intro to “Being Me” was quite appealing. 
“Wake Up” and “Lonely Blues” are two of the more bluesy numbers, whilst the album rounds off with “Keep Movin’ On”, which suggests that Roland will be rollin’ along for the foreseeable future. 
I really quite enjoyed tis album. It’s a little different. 

Finally, If you like your music really old style traditional Country then SUITCASE SAM will take you back to the likes of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers with his latest album, “Goodnight Riverdale Park”.
The album builds on 20’s jazz and 30’s country, both of which are big influences, and there’s also a
bit of The Band and some Willie Nelson-inspired outlaw country included in the 10 original tracks.
The album starts off with the bluesy “Growing Up”, before leading into the Hank styled “Friday Afternoon” and the jazz/ragtime instrumental “Maple Leaf Stomp”. 
You’re already getting the feel for the album. He then takes us to the deep south with the Southern blues/rock feel of “Frankie And Me” and the more, albeit dated, mainstream “Morning Mail”, which I really think is one of the stand out tracks. “Honey I’m Home” is another which really captures what this guy is all about.  
“Edge of Town” is a catchy number with a shade of a honky tonk influence, whilst “The Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad” honours the wayfaring hobo, sharing the escapism, which the harmonica introduction to “Tattered Shoes” keeps that feel rolling on. 
“Goodnight Riverdale Park” was co-produced by Juno Award winning analogue specialist Walter
Sobczak at Toronto’s Revolution Recording studios, who stayed away from computers when capturing the overall Suitcase Sam Sound.
“I think the fact that we recorded it to two-and-a-half-inch tape really sets the album apart,” notes
Sam. 
Suitcase Sam still has no fixed address. He is rumoured to be hailing from “the wilds of Canada.” But he may just find a place in your musical collection. It’s certainly different. Refreshingly vintage.