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Tuesday 15 February 2011

Aug 2008

Kicking off our reviews this month is a brand new album from TRISHA YEARWOOD. Since leaving her longtime label MCA, they have repackaged several compilations, but this album, “Heaven, Heartache And The Power Of Love” is her brand new outing on the Big Machine label in the US. My copy is on Canada’s Open Road label.
This really is the best I’ve heard Trisha. I’ve always liked her music, but it was rather formulated. This time around, it really sounds like Trisha was given the freedom to experiment and find music that really let her voice out.
“This Is Me Your Talking To” and “Nothin’ Bout Memphis” are powerful ballads, the sort of songs she’s made her trademark. ”Sing You Back To Me”, “Let The Wind Change You”(with Keith Urban) and “Help Me” are less powerful, but nevertheless, quite pleasant.
“We Tried” has a very simple arrangement, and comes over all downhome. Matraca Berg’s “The Dreaming Fields” is quite similar. It’s one of these historic anthems. Her powerful delivery makes it.
“Cowboys Are My Weakness” has a bluesy feel, whilst remaining truly Country!. It’s the kind of song that Suzy Bogguss can make her own, but Trisha proves she has a hidden talent for this type of song too.
She has several uptempo numbers, which give the 13 track album variety.
It’s a really refreshing album. .
One of the new female singers filling Trisha’s place over at Universal is JULIANNE HOUGH. Teenager Julianne is one of these reality TV stars. She is the 2 time winner of Dancing With The Stars (America’s version of Strictly Come Dancing). She now aims to prove that her talent includes singing as well as dancing.
The first track on self titled album (released here by HumpHead) , is the catchy “That Song In My Head”. It’s a really catchy, commercial, radio friendly song, but is more pop than Country.
It sets the tone for the album. It’s a modern Nashville album. It’s not a bad album by any means, but there’s nothing that really left it’s mark on me.
The project was produced by David Malloy, a Nashville veteran, who worked with Eddie Rabbitt and Stella Parton. Writers include Jessica Andrews and Rebecca Lynn Howard, both very talented artists in their own right, but where are they now?
I suspect Julianne will either find a place in more mainstream pop music, or fade into Country music obscurity like Jessica & Rebecca Lynn. Or she may just go back to dancing!
One reality TV singer who has certainly made it in Country music is CARRIE UNDERWOOD. After a few years of award wins in America, Arista Records have just released both her albums in the UK.
The most recent is “Carnival Ride”, which features 13 modern Country songs, from the pens of writers like Ashley Monroe, Gordie Sampson, Neil Thrasher, Steve McEwan, and Aimee Mayo. Carrie has, herself contributed to the writing of 4 of the songs.
Sadly, for me, the album is mainly plain pop music. There’s very little Country music here. The token Country track is a cover of Randy Travis 1988 hit, “I Told You So”, which she does a fair job on.
One Country song doesn’t make it a Country album. Nor does it make Carrie Underwood a Country singer. There’s so many more talented singers out there just waiting for their break. They’ve not been given the chance to take the fastrack to stardom on American Idle (oops, sorry, Idol!)
JEWEL is best known as a pop singer, but she’s been working in Nashville for some years now. You may recall her duet with Merle Haggard on the CMA Awards a few years ago.
Now the young Alaskan, who looks more of a Country girl than an R&B babe, has come clean, and released her own Country album, “Perfectly Clear”, which has already topped the American Country charts!
OK, so she has a commercial modern edge to her music, but there are real signs that this just isn’t a novelty record for her.
“Anyone But You” and “Love By You (Cowboy Waltz” are beautiful traditional Country numbers, complete with wailing steel. The latter really shows off her Country vocals.
The album’s title track, which closes the album, isn’t the best vocally, but like the album generally, the arrangements are really simple, allowing her smokey voice to carry the songs.
I have to admit that I was quite sceptical, but I really did quite enjoy the album.
Another female who really impressed me is ASHTON SHEPARD. Her debut album, “Sounds So Good” really does, and I’m excited to see it released here by Humphead. Two years ago, Ashton was a housewife and mother in southern Alabama, who wrote songs, and sang them in the back shed. She won a talent contest at a local bar, and got to record a 3 song demo, which found its way to Luke Lewis, chairman of Universal Music in Nashville.
With good looks, a sound in the same mould as Gretchen Wilson, and a songwriter too, Lewis snapped her up right away. It all takes hard work and luck, but here’s an honest hard working singer who didn’t need TV to get her a record deal.
And she is pure Country – with a capital”C”.
Just listen to Track 4. It’s called “I Ain’t Dead Yet”. It should be adopted as an anthem for traditional Country music. With gals like Ashton around, Country music is here to stay – despite what they try to do to it!
After all these girls, let’s give the guys a break. CHUCK WICKS has just released his debut “Starting Now” album on RCA in the States.
The soft “Stealing Cinderella” was his first single, and it’s a really good introduction song. It really shows off his voice. I really enjoyed the title track, which is a well delivered ballad.
“When You’re Single” and “What If You Stay” are similar soft ballads which suit his voice best.
Other songs have a good driving radio friendly beat. “All I Ever Wanted” is the follow up single, and opens the album, whilst “She’s Gonna Hurt Somebody” is a really good road song.
Chuck co-wrote all but one of the songs on the album. It’s quite a modern sound. I hear a bit of Brad Paisley in his style, but also guys like Phil Vasser coming through too. I’m sure Chuck will be a favourite at American Radio, and I look foreward to hearing more of his music in the future.
Talking of PHIL VASSER, Humphead have released his latest album, “Prayer Of A Common Man” here in the UK. This is Phil’s 4th album, and 4 years since his last outing.
The 12 track album was co-produced with Mark Wright, and Vasser wrote or co-wrote all but two of the tracks. It’s a modern album. There’s lots of radio friendly pop Country on here, from the catchy “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” to power ballads title track, to the driving beat of “Why Don’t Ya”, which features the Cajun influence of The Los Lonely Boys).
My favourite track would be the soft ballad, “Let Me Love You Tonight”. Some other tracks like, “Baby Rocks” are just too loud for me.
But not a bad album, as modern Nashville sounds go.
There’s no doubt that Texan artists really have traditional Country music in their blood. That certainly applies to ZANE LEWIS, whose self titled album is just what you want in real Country music.
He’s a clever guy, having left university with an advertising degree, and launched his own magazine, “Western & English Today”, which was bought out by the national “Cowboys & Indians” magazine. He used the money to launch his musical career. His first album , “This Town” landed three Texan Country Chart hits. Now Zane is going international with this new album.
It was recorded in Nashville, but is pure Country. I especially liked “Becky Brown’s Daddy”, “Even A Leaf” and “Fly” (one of only two songs he co-wrote for the album).
My favourite, though, has to be the Haggard influenced “Off The Record”.
Zane has a pure Country style, with a Texas edge. Check it out at
Memphis born, and Austin, Texas based BOB CHEEVERS is in the middle of a lengthy UK tour to promote his album, “Fiona’s World” (Berkelin Records) , The singer songwriter was so inspired by English artist Fiona Long, who sketched a picture of him & the moon at a gig in Southampton, that the whole album was largely inspired by her.
Fiona’s own vocals appear on “Pictures Of Strangers”, a song that tells about their initial meeting.
There’s two directly influenced songs, the title track, and “Fiona’s Moon”. There’s also “New Forest Girl”, which has two versions, one slower, and the other billed as “New Forest Hoedown”.
I found this to be quite an interesting album. Cheever’s musical and vocals are in the same style as Willie Nelson, and should appeal to you, if you like Willie. Check out the gig guide, and catch him if you can when he’s in tour this month!.
Closer to home, and NORMAN BORLAND is a name that many readers, especially in the West of Scotland will recognise. Norman has just released his second album, One In A Million”, which, although recorded at Stealth Recording Studio in Glasgow, is aimed at his native Irish market.
The album features 15 songs, which only a few songs are instantly recognisable. These include John Denver’s “Back Home Again” and “Somedays Are Diamonds”, and Gail Davies’ “Someone Is Looking For Someone Like You”.
There’s also George Strait’s “Love Without End, Amen”, Buck Owens’ “Roll Out The Red Carpet” and the more recent Josh Turner hit “Me & God”. Norman does very good covers of each of them.
The title track closes the album. It’s a sentimental little song about babies. Norman does a good version, without being over sentimental.
With a rich vocal style like Mick Flavin, it’s no surprise that he really does a good job on “The Rarest Flowers”.
I also enjoyed “Highway Of Life” and “The Same Way You Came In “.
Norman’s in fine voice throughout the album, which is well worth a listen!
It’s available on his website
ONE DAY 40 is the group that picked up where the popular Evangeline left off. The band are George Adams, John Naismith, Andy Holmes and Billy Matthews, and the album “Unfinished Business” features 12 original self penned songs.
Recorded at Park Lane studios in Glasgow, the guys have put a lot of energy into the songs. As with their Evangeline material, it’s not aimed at the Country music club or linedancer. But this will appeal to both the Country fan who appreciates the talent of songwriters and original material, and the wider audience, pop & rock fans, student venues etc.
“50 Miles” is a haunting song that’s already had a bit of airplay.
Horse joins George on a duet for the acoustic “Love Aint Always Pretty”. The song is one of the highlights on the album. Probably the most Country song on the album is “Sad Cowboy”, inspired by one of their fans, who called them that.
“Unfinished Business” is a first class album. It defies labels, so should appeal to country fans, and those who think they don’t like Country music alike.
Check it out at their Myspace :
At the end of their recent visit to The Prairie Star club, I got, not one, but two CD’s from WAYNE STEWART, who is building up quite a popular following on the local scene.
The albums, “Some Dude Singing” and “Heading For Somewhere” are similar in style, and aimed, very much, at the local club audience.
There’s 14 tracks on one and 15 on the other, and include such songs as “Mi Vida Loca”, “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”, “Dance The Night Away”, “Good Hearted Woman” and “Past The Point Of Rescue”.
You’ll can check out Wayne’s whereabout’s in the gig pages.
Moving down south, and to an album from five piece Brighton based band, The DIABLOS. These guys have quite an original sound. It kinda mixes Tex Mex with 60’s pop, and still comes out Country. There is a strong guitar influence. Their album, “Welcome To The Club” kicks off with a slow ballad, but quickly picks up tempo.
I really enjoyed “Sweet Water”, whilst “What You Do” has quite an Olde English folsky feel about it, which works for them, whilst “East Coast Run” is more akin to R&R, and “Same Old Moon”has more of a relaxed Caribbean sound.
These guys certainly offer quite a variety.
Check out their website
Europe & Scandinavia has huge Country music fan bases, and some really interesting aspiring singers. CHARLEE PORTER is a young female singer-songwriter from Sweden. The talented lass has written, or co-written all 12 tracks on her self-titled album.
The CD does have a fresh songwriter, Americana sound, but tracks like “Second Chance” with its effective banjo and harmonica, really light up the album. In fact the instrumentation is quite inspiring, from Hammond organ to double bass, mellotron, dobro, lapsteel, alongside guitars and piano.
Other tracks worthy of a mention are the old timey “Red Slick Dress”, the folksy “My Great Grandma” and the catchy “If You Don’t Catch Me Now”. They all show what versality this young lady has. She really offers a lot of variety in this album.
The album is all original, all sung in English, recorded in Stockholm, and well wiorth checking out.
Also from Sweden, is JILL JOHNSON. The Malmo native has a very polished album released here by Humphead, titled “Music Row”. Not only has she recorded the album in Nashville, the package includes a video of the making of the album, and a 24 page booklet, with lots of pictures and a very detailed journal of her time in Nashville.
The album is made of covers, but not songs that have been done to death. There’s an obvious Judds influence, with “Mama He’s Crazy” and “Why Not Me”, and there’s also two Linda Ronstadt covers (three if you count Trio’s “To Know Him Is To Love Him”). Her cover of Dolly’s “Jolene” is quite original, much slower than the hit version. She also does an incredible job on John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”.
Canada’s Road Hammers join her on The Eagles rocker, “Life In The Fast Lane”. How neat a collaboration is that?
Jill has a superb voice that can be raunchy or tender. The production is superb, and surpasses much of the big label projects coming out of Music Row.
And finally, I’d like to introduce you to HALLUR. He’s from our near neighbours to the north, The Faroe Islands. When we’ve been in Caithness, we always make a point of listening to a superb Saturday morning Country music programme that booms in on medium wave from the islands. They seem to like their Country music very traditional. And Hallur Joensen backs up this theory with this excellent album called “Pickin’ Time In Nashville”.
As the title suggests, Hallur recorded the album in Music City. Starstruck & Cool Tools Studios to be precise. Musicians include Glenn Worf, Paul Franklin, John Hobbs, Brent Mason,Glen Duncan and even James Burton!
The sound is very traditional throughout!
It’s mainly covers, from John Prine’s “Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness”, to Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love To Rose” and Charley Pryde’s “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”. He also covers a couple of lesser known Hank Williams, one of which, “Heaven Holds All My Treasures” is a beautiful duet with Laura Lee Ray. It really is a stunning performance.
Most of the songs, like the CD booklet is in English, although he has Faroese versions of “Fraulien” and “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”. Even though I don’t understand the words, they both sound superb.
This has to be the most Country album of the year – in any language! Be sure to check out
We in Britain tend to discount European Country acts (like we do our own), but check these albums out. They’re as good as the Americans any day.

There’s been a lot of praise hyped on Vancouver based JESSIE FARRELL in the past few months, so I had to make a point of getting hold of her album.
The album kicks off with the very bouncy “Lets Talk About Love”, which I can see being a favourite with pop flavoured Country radio. That was followed by “I Guess”, which is even more of a pop song. She did sound more Country by track 3. “Fell Right Into You”, and that was followed by “Best Of Me”, which was getting big licks on CMT, so had kinda grown on me anyway. “Falling Asleep” is quite a nice ballad.
But sadly I was disappointed. Jessie is a good singer, and having co-written all the tracks, is obviously a talented lady. But I don’t see Country music being her natural home, and am quite surprised at the reaction she’s had in the Canadian Country music press.The album is called “Nothing Fancy” (Universal). Says it all really!
DAVE GUNNING’s album “House For Sale” proved to be a very nice listen.
Recorded in Cape Breton, and featuring 11 songs, nine if which were co-written by Dave, the album has quite a folksy feel.
But there are some stand out Country tracks.
“Cowboy’s Dream”, co-written with George Canyon (more of later) is a modern day Cowboy song. It really works well. I also enjoyed “Hard Working Hands” and “Dust To Dust” (songs of the land). The more Celtic “Colleen Malone” also works well.
I really enjoyed this album. Check it out at
Nova Scotia’s GEORGE CANYON has had great success in Canada since being runner up in the first “Nashville Star” show a few years back. His success has been with new material, but for his most recent release, he has followed Alan Jackson & Martina McBride, in doing an album of “Classics” (EMI Canada).
Here we have 13 of the biggest classics of them all, from George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, to Don Williams “You’re My Best Friend”, to Conway Twitty’s “Hello Darlin”. He also covers Ray Charles, Waylon, Johnny Cash, Charley Pryde, Merle Haggard, Ray Price and Johnny Horton.
With George’s rich vocals, he does incredibily good versions of these songs. He doesn’t do much with them, keeping them in the same tradions, but does a good job.
With British artists, I’d tend to criticise any artist doing an album of covers like this. Usually it’s because they don’t have the belief in original material, and the covers aren’t good enough. In North America, it’s different. The original material is there. Folks like George have done it, but being a modern popular name doing these old covers, they’re taking these old songs to a new younger audience. Keeping the tradition alive.
It’s a while since we’ve heard of RITA MACNEILL. Best known for her “Working Man” hit, Rita is still around, although, unlike George, already appeals to a much older audience.
Her latest album is “Songs My Mother Loved” (Luprock), so the songs on here really take you back. Songs include “You Don’t Know Me”, “North To Alaska”, “Green Green Grass Of Home”, “It’s Almost Tomorrow”, “The Wayward Wind”, “Four Walls” and “From A Jack To A King”. She also covers the “Eriskay Love Lilt”.
Rita has quite an unusual vocal style, and didn’t quite know what to expect with a few of these numbers, but she manages them in her own style.
Whilst there are Country songs on here, they are songs which have crossed boundaries a long time ago. This isn’t what I’d class as a Country album, but certainly one for the nostalgists , who’ll have the originals on old ‘78’s up in the attic.
Heading out west, it’s good to see CORI BREWSTER getting a UK release for her album, “Large Bird Leaving”, in anticipation of a forthcoming tour.
I have an old album from Cori which dates back to 1994. She’s certainly changed her style since then, from a catchy commercial style to more of an acoustic, darker sound today.
Like before, Cori has written most of the songs. The exeptions being Cheryl Wheelers, “Ghandi Buddha” and “Only You” from the pen of Edith Wallace.
Wheeler is listed as an inspiration, along with Dolly, Rosanne Cash and fellow Canadian Lynn Miles. She covers Chery’s song with passion, and is certainly one of the album’s highlights.
Other tracks of note include “What Casanova” which has quite a nice Celtic feel to it.
The album’s closing track, “She’s Still Beautiful” also stands out. The sofdt accordian really adds something to the arrangement.
The album was recorded in Edmonton, Winnipeg and at home in Camrose,Alberta. For more info on Cori, check out and hopefully we’ll see her over here soon.

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