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Thursday, 11 May 2023

May 2023

Well kick off with our home grown album this time around - the second outing for ALEXANDER’S TIN STAR, featuring Alex Mills and his son, Alex II. Called “Back Home”, the collection includes 10 original songs, with all instruments played by the pair, all produced and engineered by Alex II, who you may well have seen around the circuit in Rosemill Kix. 
The title track is a gentle song about the yearning to find the bright lights, where in reality the security of home is more comforting. It’s a well crafted number, which I really liked. 
The album kicked off with “Best Of Days”, which had celtic feel to it, reminding me of the Runrig inspired bands that are doing so well on the Celtic music scene these days. It has a good beat, with a real homely feeling at the same time. 
“Heart On Fire” is one of the slower numbers, with some nice horns, giving it a nice Tex-Mex feel. 
“Get Along” is a nice upbeat number, with a simple message, as is “On This Boat”. “Dad was Right”, is also quite uptempo, which is neatly followed by “Rewind”. 
“Time”, which closes the album, has quite a haunting intro, before developing into a good mid tempo number, 
The production is superb, and, from a radio point of view, I’d have no problem playing this album up against the big production Nashville sounds.

LOUISE MORRISSEY has been one of most enduring Irish Country music artists. Indeed, she is celebrating 35 years in the business, and has just released the aptly titled “35 Years On”. The album features new, and not so new recordings, with a general theme of the memories of her time in the business, and life generally. 
The album kicks off with the evergreen “Katie Daly”, and the old Forester Sisters hit, “Just In Case”. The first original track is the superb “Daddy’s Toes”, written by Jordan Mogey, Nathan Carter & Joe McShane, a great tribute to her dad. 
That’s followed by “All I Have Today”, written by James McGarrity, a song that really sums up Louise, and her part in the Irish music scene. Other Irish written songs, include Nick McCarthy’s “Another Day”, which really shines for me. 
“Love is Forever” has an old time Irish Country waltz feel to it, and the slower “Your Old Rocking Chair” will bring a lump to your throat, and a tear to your eye. 
The covers include “From A Distance”, Heather Myles’ “Who Did You Call Darlin”, and The New Seekers’ “Circles”- another one looking at her life gone by. 
Then there’s her version of “Rise Again”, a haunting number, which I first heard The Rankin Family sing – it’s a song about reincarnation. 
Louise has always been one of my favourite Irish singers- this collection really has her sounding her best. 
Congratulations on your 35 Year milestone, Louse – Here’s to many more! 

CHELSEA EVANS is the latest Irish newcomer on the block. The Donegal colleen has recently released her debut album, “Where I Belong”, and is already being tipped by industry insiders as the next big thing in Irish Country music.
The album, essentially, is a collection of modern day Country classics, like “ Travelling Soldier”, “Jolene” and “She’s In Love With The Boy”. 
But there are a few interesting offerings in the 11 track collection. 
The album includes her own self-penned title track, “Where I Belong”, a bouncy number which really fits in nicely with the rest of the album.  
The collection begins with a cover of “Past The Point Of Rescue” , written by Irishman Mick Hanly, and is followed by the famed “Home To Donegal”, which, being from the county, really has a lot of emotion.
There’s also couple of Scottish connection’s, as she features Maggie Reilly’s “Every Time We Touch”, and Amy McDonald’s “This Is The Life”. The former is a lovely ballad, which I wasn’t too familiar with. The other has quite a celtic-pop flavour.
She also delivers a stunning version of Jenn Bostic’s “Jealous Of The Angels”. 
But, perhaps, the most interesting cover is “Always Remember Us This Way”, written by pop star Pink, alongside Nashville writers Lori McKenna, Natallie Hemby and Hillary Lindsey. It’s a strongly delivered ballad, which Chelsea handles well.
“Where I Belong” is a good introduction to this new Irish rising star. Look out for her! 

Another of the newer names on the Irish scene is young KATIE MCPARLAND, from Bleary in Co Armagh.
Her dad, Charlie, was in many of Ireland’s showbands including The Young Earls, Tuxedo Junction and The Ravens to name a few, so young Katie grew up, steeped in music.  
Her debut album, "Keep Watching Over Me” was recorded at Hillside Studios, featuring a nice mix of self penned songs and Country, Gospel & pop covers. 
The title track, she wrote in memory of her late mum and best friend. “Songwriting and music helped me
come to terms with the grief and has been therapy in my healing”, Katie explains. . It’s a lovely, sentimental, and obviously personal song for Katie. 
She also wrote “Our Love”, a bouncy, infectious little number.
Another single was a lively cover of Porter & Dolly’s “Forty Miles From Poplar Bluff”.
Other covers range from Buck Owen’s “Where Does The Good Times Go”, Juice Newton’s “Queen Of Hearts”, and Carlene Carter’s “Me & The Wildwood Flower”, to Connie Francis’ “Lipstick On Your Collar”, and the evergreen gospel “Old Rugged Cross”. She does a lively upbeat version of Stephen’s Foster’s eternal “Hard Times” too.
I was particularly impressed with her upbeat approach to Victoria Shaw’s “Never Alone”, which is usually done as a ballad, but Katie raises the tempo on it. 
The upbeat style of the album, is ideal for the live dancing scene in Ireland. She should fit in well. 
As well as building up her singing career, Katie also had a presenting role on Spotlight TV for the show Fresh Country, and she also presents her own radio show.

Our next new lass on the Irish Country scene is SABRINA KANE. Originally from Omagh, she now lives in Donegal, which we know, is a good breeding ground for Country singers. 
I don’t know too much about Sabrina, but I know that her new album, “Pick Me Up” is full of traditional Country covers, There are the well covered “Coal Miners Daughter” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, alongside Dolly’s “Salt In My Tears”, Crystal’s “Why’d You Come In Here”, and Buck Owen’s “Close Up The Honky Tonks”, alongside the more recent “Suds In The Bucket”. 
The title track is an old Charlie Walker number, as is “Still On My Mind”.
She does a great job on the “The World’s Biggest Fool”, a Byron Hill song, previously done by Rhonda Vincent & Teea Goans. Teea also previously recorded “Walk Out Backwards”, a song written way back, by Bill Anderson, and “Memories To Burn”, which opens this collection,  There is a distinct Teea influence coming over in Sabrina’s style here. 
I liked Sabrina’s traditional Country sound, which was produced by Brian Kerrigan, at Harmony Studious in Letterkenny. Well worth checking out. 

Born in Texas but raised in Greenville, South Carolina, JAKE YBARRA  started off singing in choirs as a boy, then playing in Rock bands as a teen. Originally dreaming of a career in baseball, an injury forced Jake onto a different path at the age of 15. After high school, he moved on to college at Furman University, where he earned a degree in Political Science and Government, which included a legislative internship at the European Parliament in Brussels. 
After graduating, Jake got serious about songwriting. Inspired by Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, James McMurtry, John Prine and Lucinda Williams, he turned his full attention to creating music. After gaining positive response to an EP he recorded during lockdown, he has now released his debut album, “Something In The Water”.
The title track, hidden away on track 7, is certainly showing Jake’s storytelling talents.  
The album opens up with, what was the first single to be released, “Late November”, which has a catchy , drivin’ beat, which has echoes of Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town”, but with a bit more of a story to it. 
A more recent single, “Bloodfire”, has a similar, but more of smoky, smoldering feel to it. 
The album, whilst influenced by those above, also has an old time Rock’n’roll vibe, most notably on “A Whole Lot To Remember”. 
There are a few more tender songs, such as “Savannah’s Song”, “Disappear” and “Call Me By My Name”. 
“Long Winter” features some lovely effective accordion way off in the background, as well as some nice harmonies. It neatly captures the atmosphere perfectly. 
“No Reason Or Right”, has a bit of different feel to it, being a bit more “Jim Croce”. It’s quite a gentle, piano led number, which takes the listener inside a 100-year-old love story when a homeowner discovers letters written long ago. “Silly Little Things”, has quite a similar feel.
I really enjoyed the album. It’s a bit different, and refreshing to a lot of the music coming out today. 

JORDAN DAVIS was one of the acts who was on the Country2Country bill this past March, and Snakefarm Records, here in the UK released his second album ‘Bluebird Days’, to coincide with the visit. 
With more than 4 Billion career streams to date, Davis has solidified himself in the industry as one of the most in-demand artists and songwriters. Last year, Davis celebrated several milestones including back-to-back sold out nights headlining the Ryman Auditorium, and his breakout song “Buy Dirt” featuring Luke Bryan, winning the CMA Song of the Year. 
The 35 year old from Louisiana, got his record deal in 2016 for MCA, and is currently enjoying his 7th Top ten Country hit with the gentle, but catchy, ballad “Next Thing You Know”, which is features on the album. 
There’s actually 17 tracks on the album, which is great value for money. 
The title track is a pleasant mid tempo ballad, which is one of the stand out tracks on the album. I really enjoyed this track. 
The album kicks off with “Damn Good Time”, quite a Nashville pop number- it’s a drinkin’ song, but it ain’t honky tonk!  Quite catchy though! 
Quite a few of the tracks are modern Nashville pop, but there are some other tracks which do stand for me, like the ballads, “Tucson Too Late”, and the duet with Danielle Bradberry, “Midnight Crisis”.
The award winning duet with Luke Bryan is included. 
“Several of the songs were written with his brother Jacob, but one track, “Sunday Saints” was written with his brother, and sister Benji, It’s a nice ballad, another of the album’s highlights.  
Davis was involved in the writing of all but one of the 17 tracks. The exception, is another of the ballads, which I do prefer, “What I Wouldn’t Do”.
It’s modern Nashville “Country”, which has a huge following these days, as proved by the success of C2C. Jordan Davis, will, no doubt, have won over lots of fans after this year’s festival. This album is for them !

JILL ROGERS AND CRYING TIME play straight-up honky-tonk, 1970’s cross-over country, and elegiac originals. They’ve been packing dance floors, clubs, bars, and listening rooms for a decade in Northern California’s lively country scene. With a beautiful 70’s-era voice, Jill Rogers connects with audiences through her original songs, which are often about love at the edge of dissolution, or a look back at what might have been.
Their 5th album, “Many World’s Theory” was released recently.
It features, mainly original material, and a few classics thrown in, for good measure. They include Del McCoury’s “More Often Than Once In A While”, and “You Left Me A Long Time Ago”, which was written by Willie Nelson, and given a fun Tex-mex treatment here.
The  opening track, “Bird Song”, is a bouncy mid tempo pleasant number.
You can tell that their music is geared to the old time Country dance hall venues, with the elegant waltz tempo , of “California Waltz” and “Tears,Time And Ink”, the western swing beat of the instrumental , “Devil In The Detail” and the polka bounce of “I Only Cry When I’m Drinkin’”.
“Golden Hour”, “Evangeline” are quite catchy and uptempo, and really suit Jill’s vocal style. 
“River Songs” (Lonesome Old River Blues & Big River) is delivered in a really strong Bluegrass style, with a bit of Loretta styled in there too. “The Mess (That Used To Be Me)” is an upbeat, with a strong thumping bass, which showed Jill’s stronger side. 
I really enjoyed this listen. It was a bit dated, but that’s their charm. Music from this era doesn’t get old!. 
Worth a listen.     

And finally, something completely different -  Traditional Country music has often been associated with the cowboys – it used to be Country & Western, after all.  The Western side has much diminished, but there are still a few standing up for the Cowboy Way. 
ANDY HUGHES  is billed as a songster, reciter, storyteller, guitarist, and collector of cowboy songs and poems. The son of an Italian schoolteacher and a rodeo cowboy turned preacher, Andy was born in Lubbock, Texas, in the spring of 1980. He grew up in the small community of Tokio, Texas, where his family paid rent on an old farmhouse by looking after a few head of cattle. It was there that Andy fell in love with traditional music by listening to his father’s cassettes of cowboy songs.
His 4th collection, “Roll On Cowboys” was recently issued. It’s actually a double CD, with a 28 page booklet with a lot of information about the songs, and quotes from the guest artists that appear on the project. 
The 22 track collection features the likes of Brenn Hill, Corb Lund, Tom Russell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Waddie Mitchell, Brigid Reedy, and Michael Martin Murphy. 
Many of the songs are traditional, like “Dodgin’ Joe”, “Little Joe The Wrangler”, “Root Hog Or Die”, “When I Was A Cowboy” and “Rounded Up In Glory”.
Others are from the pens of the likes of Woody Guthrie (“Phildelphia Lawyer”), Andy Wilkinson (“Saddlin’ Up Time” and  “Palo Duro Farewell”) ,  and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (“Makin’ Merry”).
A few of the tracks delve a little deeper into the songs with some archive audio added to the song, notably on “Railroad Bill”. 
Poetry has always been part of western music, and there are a couple of narrations here, including, “Saddlin’ Up Time”, “The Broncos”, and “Passing Of The Trail”. 
Cowboy, or Western Music, is something of a rarity these days. So when a new album appears, it’s always a pleasure to get back to basics, and appreciate the heritage of our Country music. 
I’m really loving listening to this collection! He also hosts a podcast, Cowboy Crossroads which features in-depth interviews with fellow musicians and poets. That’s worth a listen too.  

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Feb 2023

 We’re starting off with some homegrown Country albums the time around.
Over the past decade or so, BRANDON MCPHEE has expanded his role as entertainer, from being an award winning accordion maestro, to being an equally accomplished singer & songwriter. At the same time he has travelled far from his Caithness home, spreading his popularity all over the Britain, Ireland, and beyond. 
His latest Pan Records album, “Mr Country” features 13 Country songs, which really demonstrate Brandon’s versatility. The album kicks off with an old Ronnie Milsap number, “Back On My Mind”, and goes on through Johnny Cash’s “Cry.Cry”,Cry”, and “The Wall”,  Haggard’s “Branded  Man”, and an especially different version of Don Williams’ “In The Shelter Of Your Eyes”, 
Add to the mix, Willie’s “Sad Songs And Waltzes”, and Elvis’s “There’s Always Me” and you get a real feel for the traditional Country music that he serves up here. 
Anyone that knows Brandon’s music will know how big a Billy Ray Cyrus fan he is, so there’s no surprise to find three of  the Billy Ray’s songs covered here, namely “Where’m I Gonna Live” and the catchy “Milkman’s Eyes”.
He also covers “Bluegrass State Of Mind”, with a more bluegrass appeal than the original.
The most interesting cover though is a song, previously performed by a duo from Illinois called Sable, called “Rainy Days At The Beach”. Brandon does a good job transporting a gulf coast sound to the surfing paradise of the Pentland Firth.   
There’s also two original songs. Brandon’s own “Let’s Start Again”, which takes a despairing look at the world we live in, and exploring the possibilities of starting over again, keeping the good stuff. A nice dream, and a nice song.
He also features the sentimental “Mama’s Gone”, written by Perthshire’s Alex Birnie. The song features some nice harmonies and musical arrangements. It’s slightly different to the rest of the album, but fits in well. 
It’s a truly international production, with Brandon’s vocals and support from Dynamos Manson Grant, Robert Cameron and Keith Macleod, all recorded at Studio D in Wick, with additional musicianship from Ireland’s Crawford Bell and Richard Nelson, while Phillip Anderson in Nashville rounded up Steve Hinson, Hank Singer, Eamon McLoughlin and harmony singer Marcia Ramirez into a studio in Music City. 
The result is “Mr Country” and Brandon is really staking his claim on that title! 

Edinburgh-raised, Nashville based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, JORDAN HARVEY, released his debut EP “It Is What It Is” last month on  BBR Music Group / Broken Bow Records. 
Taking a leap of faith, believing he could make his dream a reality, Harvey moved across the pond and began immediately cutting his teeth playing the graveyard shift at some of Nashville’s most popular honky tonks. Eventually joining the band King Calaway, he gained invaluable experience opening for icon Garth Brooks and performing on national TV shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Late Late Show with James Corden, 
Now he’s released his debut 5 track EP, featuring his previously released debut track “Alabama Girl”, a catchy number that went viral on TikTok with more than 1 million views. He cleverly plays on how “she loves my accent, I love her drawl”. 
“I Will” opens the collection. It’s a rather Nashville pop number, which should fit in well on American Country Radio.  “Along For The Ride” is a good upbeat number, whilst “Thing About Change” is a bit more of a ballad.
Produced by Kevin Bard and Jason Massey and entirely co-written by Jordan, “It Is What It Is”, showcases why the Caledonian cowboy’s (that’s what he’s being labelled in the press release) is being tipped as an artist to watch in 2023. 
He’s just a bit too Nashville pop for me, but he’s ideal material for the massive Country 2 Country audience – and that’s the market that matters these days. 
We wish him all the best ! 

Next up, we welcome album from Aberdeen based NIKKI McKAY, called “More Of You”. 
Nikki was born into a third generation of professional musicians, The first being her Grandfather, the famous Curly McKay's dance band, The second was her father (Michael McKay) a very accomplished, multi instrumental musician, leading a very successful and popular dance band ''Country Edition''.
Nikki got involved in singing and by the age of 18 was performing in her fathers band, both singing all types of Pop ,Rock,Country and Scottish music along with her brother Andrew. 
Nikki studied at Aberdeen College where she studied for four years and gained an ICMA teaching diploma for piano. In 2004 Nikki took part in the BBC programme ''Let's do the show right here''.
The album is a good mix of modern day classics from The Bellamy’s title track, through covers of songs by Emmylou Harris (Beneath Still Waters) to Mary Chapin Carpenter (He Thinks He’ll Keep Her) and The Dixie Chicks (Long Time Gone). 
There’s a few covers of songs from male singers like the opening track, “I Never Really Knew You” (Vince Gill) which really sets the tone, and “Southern Nights” (Glen Campbell). 
There are a couple of non country covers including the Diana Ross hit “Last Time I Saw Him”, and Eddi Reader’s “Perfect” (although Baillie & The Boys did have a Country hit with it). She also delivers a really impressive version of Randy Newman’s “Feel Like Home”. 
This is a good set of cover songs, which I really enjoyed listening to.  I’d like to hear something a little more original, but I’ll look forward to that next time. 

It’s 2 years past on 13th February since Scotland lost one of our most successful, and influential  entertainers after a long and varied career which helped establish Country music in these parts. We’re talking SYDNEY DEVINE MBE, of course, and whilst he had his share of knockers, his success and longevity speaks for itself.  
In the months before his sad passing, Sydney had been in the studio laying down some vocal tracks.  Now, with his family’s blessing, these recordings have been released on his 51st album titled “I’ll Remember You” (Scotdisc). 
As you would expect from Sydney, he captures a timeless, varied, collection of songs that his fans will love. 
The title track, an old Elvis song, which opens the 14 track collection, is especially poignant, as is “For The Good Times”, with it’s opening line “The Party’s Over”. There’s a few songs that he recorded previously, like “Travelling Light”, “Merry Go Round World”, “Together Again” and “She Called Me Baby”.
Scotdisc label mate Tommy Scott wrote “I Never Loved No One But You”, which really stood out for me on the album. It had a real old time Sydney feel to it. 
Elsewhere, his cover of Rita MacNeil’s “Working Man” is dedicated to his father, who worked down the pits. 
“I Fall To Pieces” is a duet with Katherine Kerr, done with a lush, string arrangement. He also honours the legendary Hank Williams on “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”.   
The album end’s with “Heroes” a song written by Peter Anthony Best, which Sydney dedicated to the NHS and other vital front line workers, which is rather timely in today’s climate. 
Dougie Stevenson, Bill Garden , Chris MacKenzie and Brian Costello provided the musicianship on a very pleasant album. One for Sydney’s fans to cherish. 

Bluegrass music has a new champion in the form of BILLY STRINGS, who hails from Lansing, Michigan. He got his stage name from an Aunt who called him Billy Strings after seeing him perform multi instruments on stage. Born William Lee Apostol, he was heavily influenced by his stepfather’s bluegrass playing, at a young age. He released his first album in 2017, to rave reviews. His 2019 album , “Home” won a Grammy and his 2021 album, “Renewal” climbed into the Top 10 on the Country album charts. He won New Artist at the IBMA Bluegrass Awards in 2019, and was named Entertainer Of The Year in 2021 & 2022, and the Americana Awards Artist of the Year in 2022.  
“Me & Dad” is his 4th album, a collaboration with his step dad Terry Barber.
 The album is a collection of traditional, country and bluegrass music from George Jones, Doc Watson, Hank Thompson, A.P. Carter, and others. 
Produced by Strings and Gary Paczosa and recorded at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studio, the
record finds Strings and Barber playing with familiar ease, naturally trading off leads both vocally and
on guitar. In addition to Strings and Barber, the album features an all-star band including bassist
Mike Bub, mandolinist Ron McCoury, banjo player Rob McCoury and fiddler Michael Cleveland as well
as special guest appearances by Jerry Douglas, Jason Carter and Strings’ mother, Debra Barber, who
sings on the final track, “I Heard My Mother Weeping.”.
The playing on the uptempo tracks like the opener “Long Journey Home”, “Little White Church”, “Dig A Little Deep In The Well” and the instrumental “Pear Tree” is brilliant.
Contrasting with the slower numbers like “Life To Go” (which features Dad on vocals), “Stone Walls And Steel Bars”, Hank Thompson’s old “Little Blossom” , AP Carter’s “Wandering Boy” and “John Deere Tractor” , which show off vocal emotions, with traditional backing, I really enjoyed this album. 
Bluegrass music is alive and kicking. 

We’re off to Canada next, and a duo called WHITEHORSE, who it may surprise you, aren’t based in the Yukon capital, but in Hamilton. Ontario.  They combine the talents of Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet. 
Doucet, is long known as one of Canada’s best guitarists, has journeyed from Winnipeg to Nashville and back again, synthesizing blues, rock and country influences through a varied career.
McClelland, whose own guitar prowess deserves mention, has astonishing vocals which fully expresses and inhabits the characters that populate her songs. 
They share the vocals across the 12 tracks on their 7th album, “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying” (Six Shooter Records).  I do have to confess that I’m loving the tracks where Melissa rakes the lead, starting with the opening track, “If The Loneliness Don’t Kill Me”, a bouncy mid tempo, steel laced number, which really set the mood for a great listen.  “The Road” is a little slower, helping her develop her vocals even more. “Leave Me as You Found Me” is a real stand out torch ballad. Her vocals are just amazing, yet so simple. Wonderful stuff. “Sanity, TN” is another Patsy Cline-esque ballad with is quite a dated appeal, whilst “Lock It Down” also works well.
“Bet The Farm” is a bit more bluesy, but was still quite catchy. 
Luke leads the vocals on the brake-speed “Manitoba Bound” and the light hearted “Division 5”, where he reports his lost love to the Mounties. 
He sounds at his most Country on “I Might Get Over This (But I Wont Stop Loving You)”, which unfortunately has a word which will prevent it from being heard on the radio. Such a pity, because I really enjoyed the song. 
“I Miss The City” is a good toe tapping number, which I really liked.
“Six Feet Away”, a haunting ballad where the harmonies are shared is their lockdown song. The two share vocals on the closing “Scared Of each Other”.
I really enjoyed this album. Simple arrangements, superb vocals, and strong vocals. 
They were in London for the Americana Music Week last month. Let’s hope they’re back soon. In the meantime, this album is a really good listen.
We received quite a few Irish Country albums recently.

Louisiana born ROBERT MIZZELL has called Ireland home for over 20 years now, and has established himself as one of the mainstay artists on the Irish Country scene. Robert’s early musical influences came from his parents – both performed in a Church Gospel group. At the age of 17, Robert moved to Connecticut where he worked with his father in the painting & decorating business. He then joined the US army where he served for a number of years. After his military service he moved to Ireland with dreams of a career in country music.
“Make A Little” is his 13th album release, recorded at Ballyrose Media Studio in Roscommon, featuring 14 tracks. 
The title track is a cover of Midland’s rip roaring second single, which Robert does a strong cover. The album starts off with an equally upbeat cover of The Travelling Wilburys’ “Poor House”. 
Other upbeat numbers include Randy Travis’ “Only Worse” and Johnny Cash’s “Big River”.   
I really liked the catchy Joe McShane/Stephen Smyth number “Where’s a Man Supposed To Go”.
Slowing things down , he covers Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” and “I Loved Her First”, a song originally done by Heartland 15 years ago.  He also takes us back to the Urban Cowboy era with Johnny Lee’s “Looking For Love”. 
He has a couple of duets with his wife Adele, the lovely romantic ballad “Love Remains” and the upbeat poppy “Paradise Tonight”, and another pairing with Noreen Rabbette on the Johnny &  June classic “Jackson” and the Christmas song “The Gift”.
There’s also a live studio recording with producer Wayne Thorose on Diamond Rio’s “One More Day”.
I really enjoyed listening to this album. A good mix, all well produced. It’s mainly covers, but they are not instantly recognisable. I like that. 
Robert has been inducted into Shreveport’s Walk of Stars in recognition of his achievements in the world of Country Music, the highest accolade his own home city can bestow on him. Some other people who are inductees are; Elvis Presley, Merle Kilgore (co writer of Ring of Fire) and Hank Williams Snr. and Jnr.   
Well deserved. Check out the album. 

NATHAN CARTER graced the front cover of the last issue, and this month, he’s back touring Scotland, in support of his latest album, “The Morning After”. 
The title track, which opens the album, is an upbeat fun number, which is supported with a video featuring Philomena Begley.
Other upbeat tracks include the Hall & Oates cover “You Make My Dreams Come True”, which is quite a poppy number, and Clint Black’s drivin’ “Nothing But The Tail Lights”. The driving theme continues with  “Riding My Thumb To Mexico”.
Ballads include Lori McKenna’s “Humble And Kind”, and the beautifully romantic, “This Journey”, as well as “Till We Meet Again” and the gospel evergreen “How Great Thou Art”, which is a live recording from the Royal Philharmonic Theatre in his native Liverpool. 
There’s a folky element throughout Nathan’s music, and this continues on this album, with “Keg Of Brandy” and the collaboration with folk band Ceol, on “Heave Away”.
He also teams up with current touring partner Claudia Buckley on the upbeat “This Love Will Never End”. 
For Country fans, listen out for his Conway Twitty medley. A real nice tribute 
The album is a good mix of material, which will be warmly welcomed by Nathan’s legions of fans, especially those who recently enjoyed his Glasgow weekend.

JAMIE DONNELLY is one of the newer names to emerge on the Irish Country music scene. The 22 year old lass from Strabane was the 2022 Best Female Newcomer Award winner at the Northern Ireland Country Music Awards, and will be one of the contestants to watch in the 2023 Glor Tire TV series.
Her second full album, “This One’s For The Girls” was released at the tail end of last year, featuring a good mix of covers from modern and traditional Country female singers including Martina McBride’s title track, Dolly, Tammy, Mary Chapin, The (Dixie) Chicks and Lorrie Morgan.
I particularly liked her version of Kelsea Ballerini’s “Hole In The Bottle”, and was really pleased to hear her take on Australia’s Sunny Cowgirls’ “Ten Bucks In The Glovebox”. “Raindance” is another Aussie cover, previously recorded by Sara Storer. I enjoyed both of these.
Even more interesting was her version of “Daddy’s Lessons”, which was originally a hit for Beyonce.  Whilst the song is certainly more contemporary sounding than other tracks on the album, Jamie has delivered in in a very Country styling. A great version. 
Jamie Donnelly is certainly a name we should be looking out for in 2023. 

Ballina based GERRY GUTHRIE’s new 11 track album ‘This Ain’t My First Rodeo’ was also released towards the end of last year. 
This is Gerry’s sixth studio album and contains some classic, and lesser known Country songs, among them the title track ‘This Ain’t My First Rodeo’, a cover of a Vern Gosdin hit, and a timely version of Garth Brooks’ evergreen signature song ‘The Dance’, and a really nice version of the old Eagles hit, “The Girl From Yesterday”.
His version of ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ is catchy and uptempo, as is the album opener,‘The Doghouse’, which was originally recorded by John Conlee.  
Gerry has a great knack for finding and reviving hidden gems from the golden age of Country Music. This collection is no exception, and features ‘Hello Walls’ written by country icon Willie Nelson and first recorded by Faron Young. Gerry has also adapted ‘The Mermaid’, a light hearted number written by Bobby Bare, and given it an arrangement that is sure to be a floor filler every night.
Also receiving the Gerry Guthrie treatment on this album are Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ and Radney Foster’s “Just Call Me Lonesome”. 
The Louisiana Man Robert Mizzell joins Gerry on a duet “What The Buck”, a tongue in cheek look at the changes modern Country Music has experienced. It’s a catchy number, which I really liked. 
This is a good upbeat album, aimed primarily at filling the dancefloors, but should still be appreciated by those who just want to listen in. 

After recording 5 singles, ROSSI M (Ross Malloy) has now released his debut album, “The County I Love Best”, a nice selection of Country’n’Irish  numbers, produced and arranged by Glen Flynn.
The title track is written by TV presenter Michael Commins, a lilting tribute to his native Laois, which is also recognised in “Miles to Laois” and “An Old Man’s Wish”.  Michael also wrote a couple of the other tracks, “Blue Kilkenny Eyes” and the gentle. “You Waltzed So Softly Through My Mind”. There is a further Irish feel to the album, with “Shack in Ballyhaise” written by Teresa O’ Donnell. 
On the more Country side of the album, he covers The Glasers’ “She’s Sweet, She’s Kind and She’s Mine” and Tex-mex mamma Rosie Flores’ “Midnight To Moonlight”, although has much more of an Irish than TexMex feel to it.  
“The Kingdom I Call Home” was written by Dickey Lee, but this version probably owes more to Hugo Duncan’s version. I also enjoyed the simple arrangement on James Shevlin’s “Railroad Train” and also Niall Finnegan’s “Souvenirs”. 
This album offered a bit more Irish than Country, but a nice listen nevertheless.

“Don’t Make Me Dream” is the second album released by County Wexford’s MICHELLE MURPHY. 
This album features some great old school country numbers, with a number of original tracks as well. 
The title track is an old Connie Smith song, but Michelle puts her own mark on the song. 
The album kicks off with an original- a foot tappin’ dance number, “Don’t Forget Your Dancin’ Shoes”, written by the very talented Shunie Crampsey. 
There’s also three songs written by London songwriter Jon Philibert, the bouncy “I Hadn’t Counted You” and the more traditional ballad, “You’ll Always Be New To Me”. Jon also wrote the more sentimental “Love Doing It’s Thing”, which is a really nice song, with some nice twin fiddle. 
The covers are really well thought out, ranging from Ricky Skaggs’ “Crying My Heart Out Over You”, to Janie Fricke’s “Down To My Last Broken Heart”, Olivia’s “ If You Love Me Let Me Know”, Crystal’s “Before I’m Fool Enough”, and Haggard’s “Branded”.  
The closing track, “Birmingham Jail” is an especially nice listen. 
I really enjoyed this album. Give her a listen. 

Thursday, 15 December 2022

Dec 2022

 Texan, BETH NEILSEN CHAPMAN has been one of Country music’s most successful songwriters over the past couple of decades, having given Faith Hill “This Kiss”, Martina McBride “Happy Girl”, Lorrie Morgan “Five Minutes” and Tanya Tucker “Strong Enough To Bend”, amongst many others.
As a performer, she has recorded 14 albums, the latest being “Crazy Town”. Like previous outings, whilst her writing has widely been acclaimed in Country music circles, her own music is much less defined, and is more all encompassing Adult Contemporary than Country.  
The album kicks off with “All Around The World”,  the bouncy call for the world to be better place. It’s a really catchy radio friendly number which crosses musical genres. 
“Put A Woman In Charge” is much more of a soul anthem, and similarly “Four Cleave Clover”,  and “The Universe” and “Pocket Of My Past” didn’t appeal much to me .  
Having said that, “Dancing With The Past” is quite a catchy pop-Country upbeat number.  
The ballads on this album are much more appealing. “With Time” is a piano led emotion filled number, which I really liked. 
But the stand out track is the beautiful celtic flavoured ballad “Walk You To Heaven”, which is the stunning finale to the album. It’s also been released here in the UK as a single. 
Beth Nielsen Chapman will be back in Scotland for Celtic Connections in the New Year. 

Someone who was in Scotland earlier this year, at the Millport Festival was SUNNY SWEENEY, who has also just released her 5th album, “Married Alone”.
The Houston native is one of these Country girls, who is just too Country for Nashville. Despite her 2nd album “Concrete” being a Top 10 Country album, generating three chart singles, she has never repeated that success with her later efforts. Despite that she has amassed over 100 million streams of her music, which suggests that her fan base is much bigger than the support she gets from Country radio.  
The title track is a delicate ballad that features harmonies from Vince Gill. It’s a beautiful emotional song about married couples in name only.  “How’d I End Up Lonely Again” is the sequel. An equally beautiful ballad, with some lovely steel licks. 
The album begins with the catchy, downhome “Tie Me Up”, and goes on to feature a mixture of ballads like “Fool Like Me” “Wasting One On You” and “All I Don’t Need” a the delicate “Still Here”.
“Someday You’ll Call my Name” is an upbeat racer of a song, dominated by a driving rock guitar.  
In between, there’s the  midtempo “A Song Cant Fix Everything”, which features Paul Caulthern (who also co-produced the album).  
“Want You To Miss Me” and “Leaving Is My Middle Name” have quite a rocky arrangements.
 The driving guitar makes several of the tracks sound much more rock sounding that they need to be. 
For me, it spoilt the sound, which, otherwise was shaping up to be a good Country listen. 

ISLA GRANT has been one of Scotland’s biggest selling recording artists over the past thirty years, especially in Ireland where she has charted on the pop charts. After a car accident in 1992, which forced her off the circuit for 5 years, she took up songwriting, which has been her trademark since, with “Cottage In The Country”, “A Dream Come True” and “A Single Yellow Rose” having been recorded by many other artists. 
Isla is a victim of the dreaded Covid-19, and was forced to retire from touring, following encountering the infection. 
Isla is missing meeting up with her fans on the road, but has put together a new album of Inspirational songs, “In The Time That You Gave Me”, which should be a best seller at this time of year. 
The album does feature a number of tracks that have been released previously, and not all the songs are Isla’s own compositions. 
The emotional title track, written by Nashville writers Shawn Camp and Dennis Morgan, was previously recorded by Joey & Rory. Isla has her own stamp on it. In contrast, the 12 track collection kicks off with the joyous, uplifting “Speak To The Sky”, an old Seekers hit, which is also a line dance favourite. 
Her own songs include the equally uplifting “A Train Called Glory”, and one of her older songs, “Will You Walk With Me”. The version on here, is from her live album from Daniel O’Donnell’s TV show.
Other songs include “Climb Higher”, “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”, “Healing Time” and
“I Had A Dream Last Night”. 
There’s also two old Jim Reeves songs from husband Al, “Satan Cant Hold Me” and “Evening Prayer”. 
It’s a lovely album, showing Isla’s more inspirational side. 
www.islagrant.net 

South of the border, down Newcastle way, we find ROB HERON & THE TEA PAD ORCHESTRA, a musical genre denial quintet, who have appeared at such diverse events as Glastonbury to the Cambridge Folk Festival, to village halls & barns over the last decade, and now have five albums to their credit. 
Their latest, “The Party’s Over” is a broad mix, crossing western swing, Cajun, blues, traditional Country, rock’n’roll, brass and soul, and even a little yodel. The whole album was written in between January and May of this year, and recorded in three days in a Tyneside studio.
The album kicks off with the title track, a bouncy, old time Country/party foot tapper, which really wetted the appetite for the rest of the album. “She Hypnotised Me” which follows, couldn’t be more different. It has a classy brass presence, but had a really catchy hook to it. I really liked it. 
“My Salad Days” starts with a Hank Williams Lovesick Blues yodel intro, which leads into a stone Country sounding heartbreak song. Then “Snip Snap Shout” comes along with an authentic Cajun influence, courtesy of Colin Nicolson’s brilliant accordion. 
The old west is catered for, on the galloping “The Horse That You Rode In On”, whilst “Remind Me Tomorrow” is a 50’s style rock’n’roll ballad. 
Talking of ballads, “Right To Roam” is a folksy-old time ballad, complete with an effective harmonica from Tom Cronin.
The only song not written by Heron is Paul Weber’s “Trouble Is”, a simple slower number, which has quite a quaint appeal to it. 
This album covers a lot of ground, and Rob & the band do a great job with it. 
A very interesting album. 

Another Englishman with a new album. MICHAEL WESTON KING is better known these days as one half of the duo My Darling Clementine, but he’s still his own man, and has released a new solo album, “The Struggle”, his first such project in 10 years. 
His career stretches back over 30 years, after leaving home in Southport for the musical mecca of Liverpool and forming a country rock band The Good Sons. 
These days, drawing inspiration from the classic Texan songwriters of the 70’s, King has skilfully fused a love of country music with a distinctive political edge to produce albums that are always uniquely his own. “The Struggle” is an out and out singer-songwriter album, embedded in the late 60’s / early 70’s and inspired by artists and writers such as Mickey Newbury, Dan Penn, Jesse Winchester, John Prine, and early Van Morrison. I‘d also say there’s a bit of Charlie Landsborough in there too.
The album includes two co-writes with old friends. “Sugar” was written in Lafayette with the American troubadour Peter Case, while “Theory Of Truthmakers” was co-written with Michael’s much missed friend and collaborator Jackie Leven (from Fife), from an old unused lyric of Jackie’s that was passed on recently by a mutual friend.
Stand out tracks for me, include “Me And Frank” and “Valerie’s Coming Home”.
There’s a quaint celtic feel to the “The Final Reel”, which I really enjoyed. “The Old Soft Shoe” is a particularly nice, reflective song too.  
“The Hardest Thing Of All” is the featured single from the album, which is one of the more mid tempo songs on the collection. 
The album begins and ends with different remixes of the haunting “Weight Of The World”, which is inspired by the police incidents in the States.
Michael has a really strong voice, and delivers these songs with powerful emotion. 

One of the most interesting albums of the year has to come from THE WILLIAMS BROTHERS. Andrew & David are actually twins, and are nephews of the late crooner, Andy Williams. They had three albums released by Warner Brothers between 1987-1993, and had a Top 50 pop hit in 1992. 
In 1995, they recorded an album called “Memories To Burn”, and it’s finally been released at the end November. I have to say it’s been worth the wait, although their sound goes back much farther. Being twins gives them the family harmonies advantage, but I have to say their sound has an uncanny Everly’s influence.  Having said that, Greg Leisz’ steel guitar really adds to the sound. 
The title track is straight laced Buddy Holly/ Everly’s type of number, written by Marvin Etzioni, who plays bass throughout the album. He wrote four of the tracks. Others include the softer “Unanswered Prayers” (not the Garth one) and the bouncy “Cryin’ & Lyin’”, and “You Can Hurt Me”. 
The opening track is the first of two songs penned by Robbie Fulks, who hadn’t broken through as a performer at the time, as his debut album didn’t come out until a year after this recording. “Tears Only Run One Way” has a classic Country feel to it. Certainly a good opening track, and a great choice for the promotional single release. 
“She Took A Lot Of Pills And Died” is a rather blunt tribute to more than one aspiring actress or singer. It’s a catchy number, despite it’s tragic tale, which will stick in your head all day. 
The brothers themselves, who got their first break in an episode of The Partridge Family, back in 1974, wrote “She’s Got That Look In Her Eyes”, a very Everly influenced ballad.
Elsewhere there are covers of Iris Dement’s “Let The Mystery Be” and Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Piney Wood Hills”.
I found this album to be a very enjoyable listen – albeit dated way back beyond its recording date, but a wonderful appreciation of music of that era. 

CROSBY TYLER sounds quite a character. He is a 30 year veteran of the music business, travelling with his songs across the world. He describes himself as “a folk singer who is the product of a schizophrentic father, abusive stepfather, and in general, a dysfunctional family”, which gives him plenty of scope as a songwriter.
His latest album , “Don’t Call The Law On Me” covers the world of the travelling trucker, biker and all round bad boy. 
At the same time, he’s influenced by the likes of Buck Owens, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Robert Earl Keen and even Shel Silverstein.
The title track opens the album. A light hearted, heartbroken honky tonk number of regret. “The Family I Never Had” is a stand out ballad of life on the road in a musical band, and how the group became his family.  “Stop Being An Ol’Redneck” is a real Country look at life, and another which I really enjoyed. Lovely harmonies, from Kimbra West, really added to the appeal of this track in particular. 
“Peace, Love & Beer” was also a good Country honky tonk listen, especially with Mike Khalil’s steel guitar being so prominent. “Fat Of The Land” is a good mid tempo number, which I enjoyed.
“Born A Bad Boy” speaks for itself. There are several road songs, including “Trucker On The Road” and “18 Wheels Of Steel”, whilst “Bikers, Hippies and Honky Tonk Cowboys”, is a shade more rocky. 
The album closes out with “Us Black Sheep Aint Like The Others”, a real anti-social anthem. 
Crosby Tyler certainly isn’t conventional, but that gives him much more of a landscape to draw his influences from. I did quite enjoy the album.  

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.