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Tuesday 3 April 2012

Apr 2012

There’s no doubt that REBA McENTIRE is one of Country music’s biggest entertainers of all time. Indeed, she has proven herself to be much more of an entertainer than just a singer – she’s acted in films, and her own TV sitcom. She’s performed on Broadway, and her stage show is one of the biggest pieces of theatre ever associated with Country music.
To coincide with her recent Wembley & Belfast Country Festival visit back in February, Humphead released her 34th studio album, “All The Woman I Am”, a ten track collection of songs that cover a wide array of Reba’s magic.
The album kicks off with the flashy sounding “Turn On The Radio”. Not a song that should get Country radio play, but probably will. Then it’s her cover of Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy”. I’m not familiar with the pop star’s version, but Reba’s is very Reba- a strong ballad done in the style that she is so well known for.
There are other ballads, such as “Cry”, “Somebody’s Chelsea” and “The Day She Got Divorced”.
Uptempo numbers include “The Bridge Wont Burn”, “A Little Want To”, and the title track.
It’s Reba- just what you would expect from her. Not the most Country sound around today, but then, Reba’s much bigger than Country these days.

Another new release from the Humphead folks features LYLE LOVETT. This album is final outing for Curb in the States,the label he’s been with since 1985, and the album is rather appropriately called “Release Me”.
The 14 track collection kicks off with a bouncy little instrumental called “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom”, before launching into a really surprisingly strong version of the title track – yes, it’s the Englebert one –with some lovely harmony from no less than kd lang, all wrapped up in a western Swing arrangement.
There’s another duet on “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, with Texan Kat Edmonson. The song has been done so often, and I’m afraid Kat’s squeaky vocal kinda left me cold.
“Understand You” is quite a quaint sounding ballad, in a style we’re not used to hearing Lyle use. Then he delivers Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”, in a style that you’ve never heard the song before. He slows it right down, in quite a hypnotic way.
He really picks up the pace on the racey “White Freightliner”, which worked well. The rest of the album is rather jazzy and bluesy, which Lyle has been directing his music in recent years.
It’s an interesting, and certainly versatile offering.

JANIE FRICKE was one of Country music’s sweethearts back in the eighties, with a string of huge Country hits. She’s still touring, and as popular as ever, even if the hits have dried up.
Her latest recording project is “Country Side Of Bluegrass”, where she takes her old hit songs and gives them a bright and breezy bluegrass arrangement.
Ricky Skaggs did a similar album last year, but with Ricky’s hits already being quite bluegrass, the result wasn’t really earth shattering.
But Janie is different. Her hits were lush Nashville productions, with string sections and the works. To hear hits like “Do Me With Love”, “He’s a Heartache”, ”She’s Single Again”, “I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry” and “Down To My Last Broken Heart”, stripped back with banjo’s and fiddles to the fore, is quite a transformation.
I love them. Both Janie, and her hits, sound so natural in this environment. She even gives the bluegrass treatment to the classic “Please Help Me I’m Falling” (which she recorded on her first album) and “Ring Of Fire”.
The album features some top notch players like Randy Khors, David Talbot, Luke Bulla and Glen Duncan. And singing harmonies is Judy Rodman, her flatmate when the were both demo singers, and singing jingles, before they both got recording deals.
I loved this album, available through ITunes, Amazon and at

DIERKS BENTLEY is one of Nashville’s young traditionalists. Although in the mainstream, he’s very supportive of the more traditional music that got Country music where it is today. Before he got his record deal in 2003, he was a researcher for TNN, seeking out old video footage.
His latest album, “Home”, released here by Humphead back in February, features six songs, co-written by Bentley himself.
His last album was an all out bluegrass affair. This time out, he’s more in the mainstream, but still with an edge.
The title track of the album is quite a heavy, but warming song, which grew on me quite quickly.
“Diamonds Make Babies” stood out as the most Country track on the album, although “When You Gonna Come Around”, a duet with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild, is a very enjoyable duet. “5-1-5-0” is a good uptempo number, whilst I also liked the folksy “Heart Of A Lonely Girl”.
The album closes with a soft ballad, “Thinking Of You”, and as a sentimental little bonus, if you leave the CD playing after the track finishes, his three year old daughter, Evie, gives her version of the song. Nashville’s youngest star!

TIM McGRAW remains one of Nashville’s hottest properties, having amassed 44 million album sales, and 32 Number one Country hits. So any new album is eagerly awaited.
This one is probably awaited more eagerly than most. It’s been billed as Country music’s most litigated release. Tim, and his US label, Curb, have spent months fighting in court over it.
But now “Emotional Traffic” has been released (by Rhino Records in the UK), and the label stuck on the CD case claims Tim’s own words as”My best album ever”. We’ll leave that for the fans to decide.
The album has already produced a couple of hit singles, “Felt Good On My Lips” and “Better Than I Used To Be”.
Although at a crossroads in his career, this album doesn’t deviate from the path he’s travelled over the past 20 years. His fans wont be disappointed.

Last year, THE BAND PERRY had a great CMA Awards night, winning Best New Artist, as well as Single and Song Of The Year awards. Their huge song was “If I Die Young”, which was a truly magnificent number, and well deserved the accolades.
Now, to coincide with an appearance in London, Mercury Records have released their album, “The Band Perry” over here.
My first listen didn’t impress me much. They were just to Nashville pop for me, but as I’ve listened again, their sound is growing on me. I especially enjoyed “All Your Life”, “Walk Me Down The Middle” and “Postcard From Paris”. I also liked “Independence”.
The Band Perry are three siblings, Kimberley, Reid and Neil Perry, from Mobile, Alabama. They always had music around at home, and played in bands in their younger days. It was in 2005, they joined forces for a “New Faces show”, and The Band Perry was born.
Having sold over a million copies of their debut album, the family trio have certainly made it.
Their music is contemporary, hopefully enough to get major radio play over here. “If I Die Young” is also released as a single.

We get many albums from American independent labels, many of whom are from aspiring Nashville wannabees, but occasionally, we get one that’s just so Country that you cant help but take notice.
That’s certainly the case with an album called “Run Like The Wind”, from a guy called ISRAEL DAVID (BSW Records). He doesn’t have the slickest Country name, but his music sure is.
Six of the ten songs were written by David Frizzell, with other writers like Lonnie Williams and Sanger D.Shafer also contributing. Whether it’s uptempo numbers like the catchy Merle Haggard sounding “Back In Waco”, and “In The Pines”, or ballads like “Last Dance With You”, “She’s Not In My Bed” or “Distance In Time”, Israel comes over as a superb Country singer.
He also covers “I Ain’t Goin’ If There Ain’t No Hank”, which Frizzell recorded a few years back. And listen out for the western influenced “You’ve Just Been Robbed By Jesse James”- it’s a cracker!
The whole album is great! I couldn’t find out much info on him, but I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more of Israel David- a Country star for the future!

Now for some releases from this side of the Atlantic.
NORMAN BORLAND has a wealth of admirers on both sides of the Irish Sea. His rich, traditional vocals have warmed audiences for many years now.
His latest album, “Choices”, recorded at Glasgow’s Stealth studios, features 15 tracks, all delivered in a pure Country manner.
The songs range from George Jones’ title cut, through Don Williams’ “I Would Like To See You Again” and “Lay Down Beside Me” to Jim Reeves’ “Welcome To My World”.
I really enjoyed Norman’s version of Aaron Tippin’s “How’s The Radio Know”, he does a fine job on the Tracy Lawrence hit “Paint Me a Birmingham”.
There’s also covers of hits by Ronnie Milsap, Heather Myles, Randy Travis, Moe Bandy and Toby Keith. He even stretches back to the sixties with a very credible cover of the Frankie McBride hit, “Five Little Fingers”, and the album also features his recent single, “Catfish John”.
It’s an album of covers, but not songs that have been overdone. I think Norman has chosen well, and I really enjoyed the album.

CHARLIE LANDSBOROUGH is one of Britain’s favourite singer-songwriters, and has just released his 25th album, “Destination” (Edsell)
Unlike his last album, which featured covers, this album is largely Charlie’s own material, what his fans love and respect him for most.
The album was recorded between the UK and Spain, and features quite a few uptempo numbers like “The Lion’s Share”, “I Must Be An Eskimo”, “Serves Me Right” and “Just Getting By”, but it’s the ballads, like “Angel Of Mercy”, ”All He Ever Saw Was You” and “There’s Nothing Time Can Do”, that really show Charlie at his best.
There are a couple of covers, including Don Everly’s “Yesterday Just Passed My Way Again”, which is the stand out track for me on the whole album. It features some really nice instrumentation, including a lovely steel guitar break- now that’s something that doesn’t feature too often on Charlie’s albums.
As ever, Charlie comes up with a winner!

ALAN WEST has established himself as one of Britain’s leading Country music singer songwriters over three decades. The talented guy from England’s south west, who was mentored by Kelvin Henderson, really got noticed a few years ago when the duo he was part of , “West & Elliot”, won BCMA awards for Finest Duo and album of the year.
As a solo, Alan has been busy on the recording scene, and has a 6 track CD recently released on Neo Music. “The Way It Is”, features some really nice songs, including “Alaska (Take Me Back)”, the uptempo “It’s Enough To Kill Ya”, and the catchy “Horner Hawkins”.
In fact Alan has quite a folksy edge to his vocals, and the suit the songs here. He certainly doesn’t come across as a John Denver soundalike, but he does have a similar laid back sound that Denver was renowned for.
Recorded between Nashville and Devon, Alan displays a unique interpretation of British Country music, not trying to copy the Nashville sound. The instrumentation is kept to minimum, featuring fiddle, drums, banjo and guitar. He has enlisted some neat musicians like Pat McInerney, Thomm Jutz, Leanne Etheridge , Dean Barnes and Justin Moses. Well worth checking out.

Three of the tracks on Alan’s CD come from the pen of STEVE BLACK, who has his own album out too.
Steve has always been around the entertainment business, whether it’s been writing songs, plays or comedy. He’s worked in radio, TV , theatres & clubs, so you could say he is an all round entertainer.
“All the Best” is a full 11 track collection, and is very similar to Alan’s offering, featuring more of the same. It kicks off with the uptempo “Come On Home”, but also features delicate ballads like “Lately” and “Blink Of An Eye”, haunting numbers like “You Think You’re Lonely” and a rather folksy “Killing Fields”.
Again recorded in both Nashville & the UK, Steve has written the whole album, and a really pleasant set of songs it is. I especially liked “Jesse James” and “Children Of The Rodeo”.

BLUE HORIZON are a popular band on the Country scene down south, and have made inroads into Scotland recently, at last month’s Aberdeen festival, and will be back for Spring Into Country next month. The band are led by Christine Ringer, who previously fronted a band called Key West. She is joined by Dave Harris and Mark Hepps.
Their album, “Whiskey Lullaby” is aimed at club audiences, with a dozen cover songs that go down well at live shows.
There’s a bit of Mary Chapin, some Heather Myles, and a bit of Brad Paisley. They also offer some golden oldies too, like “The Last Cheaters Waltz” and “Seven Spanish Angels”
The production is first class, and Christine shows a good vocal style across the album.
Well worth checking them out.

NATHAN CARTER is one of Ireland’s rising stars.
His latest album, “The Live Show” (Sharpe Music) is just that, a live recording from Cookstown, Co Tyrone.
It shows that Nathan is a very versatile entertainer, covering everything from a Buck Owens medley and Don Williams’ “Lay Down Beside Me” to Irish and Beatles medleys.
It’s a good going album, spoiled a bit by the fades between tracks, instead of letting the album just flow like a live concert.
I don’t think there’s any new material on here. Most of the songs have been recorded on his studio albums in recent years. The medleys may be the exception.
One for the fans though!

OTIS GIBBS is quite a character. A giant of a man, he is something of a free spirit, in life, as well as music. He’s planted over 7000 trees, slept in hobo jungles, was his 5th grade yo-yo champion, and has even been known to wrestle bears. He’s certainly not your run of the mill country artist. Having said that, he now lives in the Nashville area, and offers a really diverse alternative to the music they’re making up on Music Row.
On his latest album, “Harder Than Hammered Hell”, released on his own Wanamaker label on May 7th, he wrote all the music, and features Otis with only four other musicians. That’s it – this is as live as a studio album can get.
I described Otis’ vocal style on a previous review as “lived in”, and I’d still say that, but, how he uses that to make his songs come to life is quite amazing.
“Big Whiskers” is the stand out track for me. It has reflections of classic Cash in his story song days. Gibbs really tells it well. I also enjoyed the driving feel of “Detroit Steel”. “Dont Worry Kid” is a bit softer, and could really be adapted into a mainstream Country number. And I liked the bouncy Lyle Lovett arrangement on “Second Best”.
If you like folk Country rockers like Neil Young, Bob Seger, and, of course, Dylan, don’t ignore Otis Gibbs.

Seattle based RACHEL HARRINGTON has been a regular visitor to Scotland, and other European countries in recent years. She usually tours as a solo artist, or a duo, but her latest tour sees Rachel in a different set up, which you might just catch before her final date in Stirling on April 5th.
She’s teamed up with four fellow female musicians that make up The Knockouts, and the resultant album is “Rachel Harrington and The Knockouts” (Continental Song City), and I have to say, the album does deliver a few knockout punches. The publicity sent out with the CD suggests that you “imagine Loretta Lynn playing Otis Redding songs in a garage in Seattle in 1963”. That does sum up the album quite nicely. There is a raw feel to the music, it’s soulful, It’s Country, and has shades of rock’n’roll. Like Loretta, Rachel hasn’t the most powerful voice, but boy, does she use it to best effect on songs that deliver an emotional story.
All the songs were written by Rachel, and was recorded in Washington state, Tennessee and Massachusetts..
One of the stand out tracks has to be the amusing, but clever, “Hippie In My House”. “Love Him Or Leave Him To Me” is a strong Country song, very much in the traditional Loretta style, whilst “I’d Like To Take The Chance” is another song with good Country leanings.
I also liked the more uptempo “Wedding Ring Vacation” and the bouncy “Moonshine Boy”. She also does a lovely duet with Mark Erelli on “You Show Me Yours”.
If you missed them on tour, make sure you check out the album. It’s a knockout!

Steve Earle’s sister STACEY EARLE and her husband MARK STUART have been part of the Americana scene for a long time, and again are regular European visitors. In fact, this year marks their 20th Anniversary of working together. Along the way, they would marry, tour the world and record countless albums together.
Their latest offering, release here on their own Gearle Records label, is “Dedication”, their first album together for four years, and was apparently inspired after, receiving as a gift, a 1928 Baldwin piano, which the pair have been using to write new songs.
Their music draws from blues, pop, country and rock, and certainly, no two tracks on this album are similar.
Their harmonies blend together nicely on “Dedication” and the catchy “Working on It”, but in the main it’s one or other that takes the lead vocal.
My favourite tracks would be the more mainstream “I’ve Been Wrong, I’ve Been Right”, and the gentler “For A Long Time”, both led by Stacey.
They’ll be touring around the Uk in the next few weeks.

If you enjoy old time traditional music, you’ll enjoy THE CACTUS BLOSSOMS.
They are a five piece band from Minnesota, formed by brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum, and have been likened to Hank Williams and The Everly Brothers.
The album is a true old time honky tonk album, with superb harmonies and simple but effective instrumentation, of dobro, fiddle & bass.
All but two of the tracks were written by the brothers.
The album kicks off with the fiddle introduction to “A Sad Day To Be You”, which is very much in an old Hank style, but then picks up with the jaunty fiddle tune “Lost John Dean” and “Cold Foot Boogie”. They slow it down for “Song Of The Bird”, which features some stunning harmonies, as does “Stoplight Kisses” and “Blue Railroad Train”.
“Lonesome & Blue” has a bit more dobro and bass, and is more of a haunting story song, whilst “Travellers Paradise” again has the harmonies to the fore.
There’s a lot of Louvin’s and Wilburn’s influence as well as Hank and The Everly’s. There’s no doubt that this album will put you in a time warp, but with such beautiful classic sounding Country music, I really enjoyed the trip.

Finally this time around, we’ve an album from HILLFOLK NOIR, who offer an eclectic mix that the band, led by Travis Ward, call “Junkerdash”. It fuses old time Country & bluegrass with folk and blues into a really interesting package.
The band from Boise, Idaho have just released an album called ”Radio Hour”, available on CD, mp3 and even 10” vinyl (to look like an old 78).
They’re not the first to recreate an old time radio show on disc (I recall the Statlers doing it), and it’s a difficult thing to get right. For me, they don’t quite pull it off, but getting past that distraction, there is some really catchy music here.
Uptempo numbers like “Trash Can”, “Dont Mean Nothing” and the infectious “The Great Grizzly Bear Scare” really capture a superb old timey sound.
An acquired taste, but if you like mountain music, check out this album, and catch them on tour all over Scotland in June (dates in the Giglist)

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