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Monday 8 August 2011

Aug 2011

Summer's normally quite quiet on the CD release schedule, but not this year. We have loads of new releases to tell you about this time around.

One of my favourite debut albums to come out of Nashville in recent years was from ASHTON SHEPHERD. She had a voice that was just pure Country, and I longed for the day I’d hear more from her.
Well three long years later, “Where Country Grows” arrives (released here on Humphead), and it’s great to hear her Country voice again.
I cannot fault Ashton on this outing. She is good. Her voice is pure Country, and much stronger than a lot of the Nashville pop princesses, who get all the hype.
The title track is a real powerful anthem, sung with such passion, and “More Cows Than People”, “Beer On A Boat” continue the uptempo beat.
A bit more relaxed are “While It Aint Rainin’” and “Rory’s Radio”, which are real homespun Country gems.
Amongst the ballads is one called “I’m Just A Woman”. Her vocals on this number, showing such emotion and vulnerability, make her the female George Jones!
Yes, she is that good!
Without doubt, Ashton Shepherd is the most Country voice on a major Nashville label today.

Reba McEntire comes from a very musical family. Her brother Pake had a couple of big label album releases and sister Susie has made quite a name for herself too.
SUSIE McENTIRE performed as a backing singer for Reba in the early days, but went off in the Christian music route , performing at rodeo’s throughout Oklahoma and Texas. She was more recently seen hosting Rural TV’s Cowboy Church programme.
She has a vocal style, not unlike Reba, but with her own particular twist.
Her latest album, “Passages” features 10 tracks, which are not all Country, but then I wouldn’t say Reba was either.
The album opens with Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen”, which has quite a contemporary feel to it. There’s also a cover of Van Morrison’s “ Someone Like You”, and a gorgeous version of Amy Grant’s “Carry You”.
She does use Country writers, with Ronnie Dunn & Craig Wiseman’s “Believe”, and Steve Azar & Rafe Van Hoy contributing the rather poppy “Big Blue Sky”.
I don’t want to alienate Reba’s fans, but since I first saw Suzie almost 30 years ago, I’ve thought that Susie has had an equally good, if not better vocal style than her sister.

TOM T HALL is something of a Country music institution.He first signed with Mercury Records back in 1967, and has racked up over 50 chart hits, including 7 Numbrr one's.
Known as The Storyteller, he officially retired from recording in the late 90's, but continued to work on bluegrass projects. A few years back, Tom T gave his wife, Miss Dixie, a mock up CD as a Christmas present. It was titled “Tom T Hall sings Miss Dixie”, and signalled Tom T's intention to record an album of songs, they had written together.
Now the album isreleased here in the UK (Drimfire Records), and what a wonderful collection it is. It's still Tom T Hall, and his story songs, but with fabulous bluegrass arrangements.
I just cannot pick favourites, they're all good.
“I'm A Coal Mining Man” and “Leaving Baker County”are the strongest bluegrass arrangements, but still unmistakably Tom T Hall.
Jimmy Martin joins in on “Jimmy Martin's Life Story”, whilst Earl Scruggs joins in on “One Of Those Days (When I Miss Lester Flatt)
It's a superb album, one that I'm really enjoying listeing to.

It’s a while since we’ve heard from Canadian family group, THE RANKIN FAMILY. John Morris, who was the band’s musical director died in a car crash ten years ago, and although the individual members carried on their individual musical ambitions at their own pace, it wasn’t until they did a reunion tour across Canada in 2007 that the flame was rekindled.
“These Are The Moments” was released in Canada in 2009, but only now been released in the UK on Western Songs.
Their harmonies are such a joy to hear once more. The album features six brand new songs, alongside a couple of remixes of popular songs like “Fare Thee Well Love” , the bop along “You Feel The Same Way Too” and the spine chilling “Rise Again”.
But of the new songs, the title track, comes from the opening line off the second track , “Straight Into Love”, a great song written by Jimmy Rankin and Patricia Conroy, with Cookie in lead vocals.
But my favourite cut has to be “Never Alone”, written by Victoria Shaw , Sarah Buxton & Gary Burr, and performed by Heather & Cookie. Heather also gets in on the writing act, with the soft “I Would”.
The other track which stands out for me is Raylene’s “Hopeville”.
I’ve always loved The Rankins.
This album has hardly been off the CD player since it arrived. If you like your Country , with just a little Celtic influence, then this is a must for you!

TERRI CLARK has been one of Canada’s most successful Country girl singers, since she graduated from Tootsies Bar on Nashville’s Lower Broadway to the charts, and numerous high level awards like CCMA Entertainer of The Year.
Her latest album, “Roots & Wings” was released here by Humphead Records at the end of July.
She has co-written most of the tracks on the album, with folks like Victoria Banks (more of which in a moment), Tia Sillers, Deric Ruttan , Kristen Hall and Tom Shapiro, and produced the album herself.
Terri has a strong modern sound, without losing the real Country feel. The songs are about woman, whether she’s on a mission, breaking up, being single, or in a relationship. She has always had a real gutsy beat to her songs.
I particularly enjoyed her biographical “Northern Girl” , and was amazing surprised by the old time Country “Lonesome’s Last Call”- probably the most Country track Terri’s ever recorded. It’s a wonderful cut.
I also enjoyed the simplicity of “Beautiful And Broken” , “Flowers In Stone” and “Smile”.
Then she rocks it up on “We’re Here For A Good Time”, which she describes as “a 70’s Rock classic by Canadian band, Trooper, which I country’d it up a bit”. It’s certainly a bit different, but works for Terri. It probably wouldn’t suit everyone, but Terri pulls it off.
Terri Clark is an immense talent that hasn’t been given too many releases over here.
Appreciate this one.

Canada appears to have an abundance of Country girl singers. Following Terri Clark to Nashville is VICTORIA BANKS, who, as well as a singer, is also establishing herself as a successful writer. She’s written tracks for Terri Clark’s latest abum, and Johnny Reid, amongst others.
“Never Be The Same” is her second album, (OnRamp/EMI Canada). And, as you’d expect, she’s written, or co-written all 11 tracks, and, like Terri, produced the project herself.
She’s certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Victoria’s music is certainly on the modern side of Country. Many of the songs, like “Come On “, “I’m Gone” and “Barefoot Girl” are uptempo radio friendly numbers.
She can also slow things down, like on “Somebody Does” and “Remember That”.
I really enjoyed “Jackson”, which is probably the strongest Country number, and there’s a lovely folksy feel to “The Other Side”.
Victoria is the the current Canadian Country Music Association Female Vocalist. Look out for her repeating that success next month.

THE ROYS, Lee and Elaine, are one of the freshest sounding acts coming out of America at present. Roughstock named them “one to watch” in 2011. Their new album “Lonesome Whistle” (Rural Rythym) is a beautiful CD to listen to.
Several of tracks have a fast paced bluegrass sound, especially “Nothing I Can Do About It Now”, “Give A Ride To The Devil”, “My Oh My, How Time Flies” and the title track, “Lonesome Whistle”.
There’s also a good catchy beat to “Trailblazer”, and also on “Coal Minin’ Man”, which opens the album,
Other tracks have a more laid back homestead sound, like that on “That’s What Makes It Love”, which features Ricky Skaggs & The Whites., “Everything I Ever Wanted” and “I Wonder What God’s Thinking”.
The brother and sister duo share the vocals, and are both equally as strong, and the harmonies are wonderful.
This album was a joy to listen to.

THE BRACKEN BROTHERS from Northern Ireland have made their reputation playing Buck Owens’ hit songs. But their new album, “After My Own Heart” is full of original material written by Edward and George.
That’s not to say that they’ve abandoned Buck.
No way !
They still have that Bakersfield sound, especially on “Forever Aint As Long As It Used To Be”, “Exactly The Girl I’m Looking For” , and of course, “You Cant Beat A Bit Of Buck”.
Another uptempo number, which works well is “The Guy Who Has Everything”
They slow it down on several tracks, like “Here With Me”, “Gone Past Caring” and “First Love”.
A good listen from the boys who were here in Scotland back in May. Lets hope it’s not too long before they’re back.
Available by calling
07732 154772

JODY GALLAGHER grew up in Killybegs, a fishing port in Donegal, the second of seven children. He has a long and varied musical career having played for over 20 years in covers bands, but has only recently taken to songwriting.
His first songs were comedy nuimbers, which caught the attention of Conan Gallen, but he then progressed into writing Country blues.
The result is “Crazy Mixed Up World”, a really nice album featuring 11 of his own songs. His style does have similarities with Guy Clark and JJ Cale amongst others.
He has that sort of “lived in“ vocal style, which really adds authenticity to his songs.
Two of them have already featured here have already been released by Brendan Quinn, including the catchy “Day’s Gonna Come”.
I enjoyed the title track, as well as the catchy “Don’t Have Time Today”, although the whole album was an enjoyable listen.

One of the brightest new stars on the Irish scene is NATHAN CARTER. Nathan’s new album. “Time Of My Life” (Sharpe Music) covers quite a variety of styles, and makes for a really pleasant listen.
He has a good uptempo selection of Country covers, including a lively “Delta Dawn” , and a good paced cover of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishing In The Dark”. He does slow down for “Lay Down Beside Me”, a hit, of course, for Don Williams.
He also produces his trump card, by getting Charlie Landsborough to guest on the album, on a duet of Charlie’s “Forever Friend”.
There’s a few Irish tracks, including “The Rainbow In Glenfarne”, about a popular venue, and the catchy “One For The Road”,m both penned by John Farry.
There’s also some pop fair, with Perter Sarsted’s “Where Do You Go To My Lovely”.
I really enjoyed this album , from a young man, we’ll no doubt be hearing more from.

PATRICK FEENEY is another of Ireland’s rising stars, and has just released his new album “Good Thing Going Down”. (CMR Records)
The title track was written by Scotsman David MacLeod, (dad of Slange Ava’s Keith), and gets the 16 track collection off to a great start. He also covers Charlie Landsborough’s “All Passing Through” and Jody Gallagher’s “Days Gone Come”, as well as Irish originals “Firelight” and “Love At First Sight”.
He also covers some classics including “Bonaparte’s Retreat”, “Walk Thru This World With Me”, “She’s In Love With A Rodeo Man”, “Behind Closed Doors” and “Eleven Roses”.
I really enjoyed his cover of Mac McAnally’s “Simple Life” , which is certainly influenced by the The Chieftains version.
It’s a good entertaining album. Well worth a listen, if you like that Irish sound.

North Carolinan BYRON HILL is one of Nashville’s most accomplished songwriters currently, and he gives the original versions of some of the hits he’s written on the 14 track “Radio Songs” CD (BHP Recordings)
You’ll find songs that Byron has written for the likes of George Strait, Johnny Lee, Ray Charles, Anne Murray and Tracy Byrd. The songs are given an authentic simple acoustic treatment, just as you would imagine a songwrier demo-ing.
The songs, including “Pickin’ Up Strangers”, “Fool Hearted Memory”, “Lifestyles Of The Not So Rich And Famous” and “Nothin’ On But The Radio”, were recorded over a two year period.
It’s a nice collection of songs, done just a bit differently from the versions we’re used to.

Last time around, we reviewed a new “friends” album from THE GRASCALS , who have really taken bluegrass into the mainstream stateside. They have also released a 7 track CD, “Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot And Ravelin’”, a tribute to the music of The Andy Griffith TV Show in the USA.
Its real old timey authentic bluegrass that’ll really have your feet tappin’ from the “Dooley” and “Stat All Night” to the instrumental “Ol’ Joe Clark”.
A great sound, and well worth getting your attention !

It’s over quarter of a century since we first discovered the talents of RANDY TRAVIS. Now HumpHead Records have released an interesting “25th Anniversary Celebration”.
The album is full of guests, many part of the Country music scene, and some names we’re not too well aware of. You’ll find guest spots from Jamey Johnson, Carrie Underwood, Shelby Lynne, John Anderson, Kenny Chesney , Alan Jackson and Don Henley amongst others.
Several of the songs, you’ll recognise. Titles like “Forever And Ever Amen”, “Digging Up Bones” and “Is It Still Over”, but there are newer songs too.
One of the real star studded anthems is “Didn’t We Shine”, which features George Jones, Connie Smith, Lorrie Morgan, Ray Price , Gene Watson and Joe Stampley.
When Randy first came on the scene, he was labelled “New Country”. Time proved him to be one of our music’s greatest traditionalists. And it’s great that he’s still making great Country music today!

CONNIE SMITH is a true evergreen legend in Country music. Despite her only chart topper being back in 1964, she continues to be as popular as ever, thanks to her loyalty to the Grand Ole Opry, and her regular appearances on husband Marty Stuart’s TV series.
“Long Line Of Heartaches” is her first new album for years.
It features 12 tracks that can simply be described as Connie Smith. She has a beautiful style of her music, from uptempo numbers like “Pain Of A Broken Heart” and “A Heart Like You”, to slower ballads like “I Don’t Believe That’s How You Feel” and “Blue Heartaches”.
And closes the album with the gospel favoured “Take My Hand”.
The album has no surprises. It’s Connie Smith , just as you would expect to hear her.

One of the recent visitors to Perth’s Southern Fried Festival was the Southern gospel group, BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA. Their latest album, “Take The High Road”, teams the long standing group up with an array of Nashville stars.
That other long standing group, who began in gospel way back, The Oakridge Boys help get the album started on the title track, whilst Jamey Johnson adds his presence to “Have Thine Own Way,Lord”, and Lee Ann Womack joins in on “I Was A Burden”.
Vince Gill, married to gospel singer Amy Grant, joins in on “Can You Give Me A Drink”, and the old standards “I Saw The Light” and “Family Bible” feature Hank Jr and Willie Nelson respectively.
But the group, don’t need Nashville stars to give their music a Country feel.
“I Know A Place”, has both soulful and country echoes.
The album closes with the traditional sounding “Last Mile Of The Way”.
It’s an interesting album – not all Country, by any means, but a refreshing listen, none the less!
NICK 13 is better known as singer songwriter with Tiger Army, a phsycobilly band.
This is his solo debut on Sugar Hill Records. Recorded in Nashville & LA, and has that country feel, which makes it an interesting listen. It features both electric and acoustic guitar arrangements. It is a modern sounding album, with hillbilly overtones.
It has a feel good factor throughout the album, even on titles like “Nashville Winter”,
and “Gamblers Life”.
I really enjoyed tracks like “Nightime Sky” and “Someday”.
Well worth a listen.

Virginian DONNA ULISSE has a refreshing modern bluegrass sound, with lots of fiddle & banjo.
Twenty years back, Donna appeared on the short lived Atlantic Nashville label, and got great reviews, but the label’s demise, sent Donna into the Country music wilderness for a while. Whilst she continued to write songs, it was another 16 years before a second album appeared, and now “An Easy Climb”, is her fourth outing.
I enjoyed this album from start to finish. “Let It Rain” is a good uptempo number to kick off with. Indeed most of the tracks are quite fast, with “Crawlin’ Back” , “Lonesome For You” and “Hand Me Down Home” particularly stronmg.
Having said that, the title track, slows the album down by track 5.
“Her Heart Is A Stone Hard Ground” and “Banks Of Roane River”, are also slower number, but Donna still handles with ease.
The closing track, “Sandy Glen”, with it’s simple instrumentation, has a rather folksy feel to it, but again, Donna shines through.
I thoroughly enjoyed this album. If you like your music, in the style of Rhonda Vincent and The Whites, be sure to check this lady out.

Now for a couple of home grown releases:
Many performers across the world were inspired by Johnny Cash, and there have been many tribute albums to The Man In Black. If you’re going to do a cash album, you have to do it good.
And , I’m glad to say Moray based TREVOR JAMES MAIR has done a good job on his Cash collection. I was especially impressed with the project title, “Mair Cash” !
The album contains 14 Cash classics, done very authentically, yet fresh for today’s audience.
“Give My Love To Rose” kicks off the album, and is follwed by “I Still Miss Someone”, “Busted”, “I Got Stripes”, “I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow”, and there’s a few gospel numbers to round off the album, including “The Old Account”, “Peace In The Valley” and “In The Garden”.
If you want Mair Cash, be sure to check out this album.

BUZZARD CREEK are one of the most popular acts on the Central Scotland circuit, and have just brought out a new CD.
“Pure Country” is quite an apt title for this 15 track collection, which shows the duo’s versatility on the Country scene, and not just appealing to dancers alone.
Here we find some current favourites like “People Are Crazy”, and “Walk The Line Revisited”, but lots of classic oldies too, like “Please Help Me I’m Falling” , “Ramblin’ Fever”, “Margaritaville” and “Louisiana Saturday Night”.
There’s a couple of Eagles tunes just for good measure too.
Being primarily a gig album, therer’s no sleevenotes, but the production is of a good standard, and certainly an album to be picked up by fans.

Although this next release is from Australia, it has good Scottish connections.
PRESENT COMPANY are a quartet of musicians who have a lovely blend of bluegrass, folk and alternative music. “Present Company Included” is their second CD release, and came out just in time for their recent Scottish tour, which saw them perform everywhere from Edinburgh to Dunnet Head, and festivals in Guildtown, Beauly and Stornoway.
They were previously called “Innes & Present Company”. Innes, is Innes Campbell, who grew up in Stirling, before emigrating down under where he is a doctor by profession. Innes is a Tamworth guitar champion. He is joined by George Jackson. Tamworth’s Bluegrass Fiddle champion in 2010 & 2011. George also plays banjo .
Markus Karlsen is on acoustic bass , and Michael Patrick is on mandolin & violin, and they all share the vocals.
Their sound features some good songs, most notably the opening “Say Something Nice”, and the really Country sounding “You Belong Here”. I also enjoyed “The Light Of Day”, which is a bit more folk-country sounding, in the same way Lindisfarne blended the genres.
There’s some fun stuff too, like “Aliens”, and “The Dark Of The Matinee”, one of the folkier numbers on the album., and a number of instrumentals from the fast paced “Ride The Wild Turkey” and “Lethargy”, to the relaxing “Lead Me Away”.
A good listen, well worth checking out.

ZOE MUTH is the latest name to come out of the exciting Seattle singer songwriter scene. Her first album impressed me, and her second offering, “Starlight Hotel” is just so good.
All ten tracks were written by Zoe, with one being a co-write.
Whilst the album is generally a soft acoustic production that suit singer songwriters, the CD kicks off with a lively horns intro to the more Texan influenced “I’ve Been Gone”, which really gets your attention from the word go . “Let’s Just Be Friends For Tonight” is another true Texan honky tonk styled number.
There’s lots of steel in “If I Cant Trust You With A Quarter” , that works well with Zoe’s soft vocals.
She’s been described as “the spirit of Hank & Merle”, and “Reminicent of Iris Dement”. That should be enough incentive for Country fans to check her out.
Believe me, you wont be disappointed.

A few months back we were impressed by an album from The Secret Sisters, and now I find a group called SWEETBACK SISTERS, who have a knockout album called “Looking For A Fight”, recorded in Brooklyn, New York, although you’d never guess that from the sound.
The group are actually a 6 piece outfit, with four guys and two girls. But it’s the gals, Zara Bode and Emily Miller, who lead the vocals, on what is a totally refreshing album of Country and Texas Swing.
Whether it’s the pure Country of “I Wont Hurt When I Fall Down From This Barstool” , the melodic “Mystery Of You”, the rockabilly influenced “Rattled”, or
the Texas swing of “Texas Bluebonnets”, “Thank You” or “Run Home And Try” , this album really shines.
I really enjoyed the fast paced “Too Many Experts”, and the western styled “Cowboy Ham And Eggs”.
Whilst the album, is largely upbeat happy music, they do prove themselves on slower ballads too, especially on “Don’t Put Her Down, You Help Put Her There” and “Home”.
“Looking For A Fight” has a good Country beat, but is probably the least impressive track vocally.
Modern Country, it is not. It has a definite nostalgic sound, but one that is totally refreshing.

If you enjoy your bluegrass music with a real old timey authentic sound, then listen out for OLD SLEDGE”, whose album, “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” is released August 8th , ahead of a UK tour which kicks off in Scotland from September 22nd.
Old Sledge are the real deal, bringing Blue Ridge Mountain music straight from deepest Virginia. They group are Chance McCoy, multiple West Virginia Fiddle Champion, Sabra Guzman, and Luke Richardson.
There’s 15 tracks on the album, and not a poor track among them. Lots of Fiddle and banjo, and authentic singing.

THE CARRIVICK SISTERS are twins, Laura & Charlotte from South Devon, and sing and perform beautiful bluegrass music. The 21 year olds have already three CD’s released and their new collection, “From The Fields” is released on August 22nd .
The album, recorded at Pure Records Studios, has a really nice sound to it. They girls feature ten original songs , one instrumental and one cover, “Early Early In The Morning”
I really liked the relaxing atmosphere this CD creates. Lovely vocals, nice instrumentation, and good songs, all done in a bluegrassy/ folksy feel.
They’re at The Edinburgh Folk Club next month. They’ll be worth checking out.

ROD PICOTT, is a Nashville based singer-songwriter, originally from South Berwick, Maine. He is a former blue collar worker, and that lifestyle is reflected in his music.
His new album, his seventh, is “Welding Burns” and features three songs, co-written by Slaid Cleaves.
I particulary liked the sound of “Sheetrock Hanger” and “Your Father’s Tattoo”.

Finally, Country music appears to be huge business across the North Sea, in Norway, even before the likes of Alan Jackson decided to make it his European concert stop. They have several first class artists, and include the very talented KARIN WRIGHT, whose new album is titled “Too Rock’n’Roll For Country”.
The press release says that she loves both genres, but certainly proves her Country pedigree with this 15 track collection of original material.
The rockin’ title track kicks off the album, and is really catchy and radio friendly, whilst some lovely steel guitar introduces “Dancing On My Mind”.
She apparently likens herself to Lucinda Williams, but, to my ears, she’s much more mainstream, and, on tracks like “Lucky Once”, and “Little Drop Of Love”, she’s more influenced by Brenda Lee or Wanda Jackson, Then there’s a Carlene Carter sound on “Bit By Bit”.
She does a few ballads, like “Long Lost Highway” and “Room For Me” which she does an equally good job on.
There’s also just a couple of pop numbers, where the Eurovision influence comes in. But don’t let that put you off. There’s 15 tracks here, and most are really enjoyable.

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