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Tuesday 12 June 2012

June 2012

We’ll kick off this time with a new album from one of the most exciting young bands in the country. THE CHICKEN PICKERS have progressed in the three years since they first got to play at the Caithness Festival. This year, they used the event to launch their self titled album, on Pan Records.
The five piece band are made up of Mikey Henderson, on vocals, with Andrew Reynolds, Chris Boxall, Michael Simpson and Ryan Bain, who do all the playing on the album. The only outsider on the album is famed Caithness fiddler Addie Harper, who adds some nice touches.  Mikey, who heads off to Heriott Watt University after the summer,  is credited with producing the album, which must make him one of Country music’s youngest ever producers.
It is an album of covers, but they’ve chosen well, and feature a good mix of classic, and modern Country songs, ranging from Billy Yates’ “Alcohol Abuse” and Hal Ketchum’s “Small Town Saturday Night”, back to “Cotton Fields”, “Wagon Wheel” and “When You Say Nothing At All”.
Chris adds some nice harmonies, and gets his only solo number, as he delivers a catchy Monkees cover on “I’m A Believer”.
Youngsters in the far north don’t have to look far for inspiration in wanting to be a first class Country band, and these guys have found theirs just down the road in Golspie. “Drivin’ My Life Away”, although an Eddie Rabbitt song, is still a Jacks favourite, and the youngsters do a very good road version of the song.  They even cover Geordie Jack’s autobiographical “Something To Say”, and make it their own. I’m sure they’ll change the words in twenty years time, when they can put their own story into the song.
The album is well produced, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to many more.  Available through

Moving down the east coast to the Kingdom of Fife, where JANEY KIRK, has been one of Scotland’s top social club acts for many years. But Janey has always been a Country girl, and really got noticed with her last album, “Sweetheart Darlin’ Of Mine”.
She has worked on that success, got herself on tours with the late Billie Jo Spears, and TV appearances on The Phil Mack Show.
Now she’s back with her new album, “Dont Colour Me Blue”, a song she was introduced to, by Billie Jo. The album features a dozen tracks, with a variety from an uptempo “Banks Of The Ohio”  and Emmylou’s “One Of These Days” to the Osmonds’ rockin’ “Down By The Lazy River”.
Janey is also a keen songwriter, and has written six of the songs here, and co-wrote another.
Her own numbers range from the catchy opening number “I’m A Woman”, the rather fun “Fifty Three” and “Foolin’ Good Country”, to  the rather poppy “We Can Still Be Friends”, and the beautiful ballad “Live For Your Love”, which is my favourite track on the album.  I think it’s probably the song that best showcases Janey’s voice.  I also enjoyed “Portrait of You”, which she co-wrote with Karl Rucker. It’s a bit different.
I enjoyed listening to the album, which is available at local HMV stores.

The lovely LISA McHUGH is getting plenty coverage in this month’s magazine, from her successful appearance in Caithness, to her impending appearance at CMA Festival in Nashville, and she also has a cracking new album to offer her fans.
“Dreams Come True” is her second official album, and is released on the Rosette label, home to Daniel O’Donnell.
Across the fourteen tracks on the album, there’s a really refreshing mix, from her fast paced cover of Rhonda Vincent’s “Court Of Love”  and her latest single “In The Glow Of The Light”  to ballads like “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, and Ronan Keating’s “This I Promise You”, which she does a really nice job on.
There are covers like “Somedays You Gotta Dance” and “The Time Has Come”, but some newer material too, including “Out There Somewhere”, written by rising Irish star Derek Ryan, and the Miranda Lambert hit “I Cant Be Bothered”.
She even goes back in time with her version of “The Lightning Express”, which she does a good job on.
Dolly Parton has obviously made a huge impression on Lisa, as she’s featured three very different Dolly songs on the album. “Why’d You Come In Here” packs a punch, whilst “To Daddy” shows her sentimental side, but it’s the very traditional sounding “False Eyelashes” that stands out for me.
Apart from the superb twin fiddles, I love the story of the girl singer who left home to become a star, and because she hasn’t made it, she’s afraid to face family and friends at home. It could’ve mirrored Lisa’s move from Glasgow to Donegal, but her success has ensured that the song isn’t autobiographical.
But my favourite track has to be the heart wrenching “Words Dont Reach My Heart”, a ballad that Lisa really delivers with such emotion.
It’s a superb album, offering such diversity from one of our most enthusiastic entertainers. And the CD cover is worth having as well, with no less than 16 pictures of the lady herself.

JOHNNY REID is probably the most successful Country performer ever to be born in Scotland.
Yet, he is largely unknown in his homeland, although he is slowly picking up a cult following here.  He emigrated as a teenager to Ontario, and is now the biggest Country star, and a huge crossover artist in his adopted Canada.
Although he’s spent time in Nashville, as a performer, and a songwriter, it’s Canada that has made him a star. He has a unique sound for Country music. He’s certainly not got that pop flavoured Nashville sound.   But it’s not a traditional Country sound.  He has soul, he can rock, and on some tracks, he certainly stretches the boundaries of Country. I see Johnny as being a huge crossover act if he was to get his records released here.
His latest album (his 8th), “Fire It Up” (EMI Canada) offers quite a unique mix. There’s uptempo numbers like “Lets Have A Party”, “What Makes The World Go Around”  and “Dancin’ Shoes”  and ballads like “Dedicated To You”  and “Love Of A Lifetime” . I do prefer Johnny on his ballads, they suit his gravelly voice better, although the catchy “You Got Me” really stands out.
 He has a couple of duets, “Baby I Know It”, with Carolyn Dawn Johnson , and Serena Ryder joins him on “Walking On Water”.
He wrote all twelve tracks on the album, and the album was recorded at various studio’s in Nashville & Toronto.
What I really love about Johnny though, is his lifelong devotion to the land of his birth, even if he hasn’t had the chance to play here.  He calls his fan club, “The Tartan Army”, and, even on this album, he recalls his roots.
In a beautiful ballad, “Right Where I Belong”, he talks about “I was born by the banks of the river back in 1973, raised up in a steel town, surrounded by fields of green. The fires went out, when the steel went south, soon it was time to leave”, recalling his Lanarkshire upbringing.
Then to close the album , “Till We Meet Again” is a beautiful anthem, eclipsed by the arrival of the Toronto Police Pipe Band, who add something really special to the whole album.
Despite his success in his new home (where he’s been for 24 years), the pipes, and the old homeland, still figure in Johnny Reid’s life.

Moving on to the Nashville albums, and to VINCE GILL, who recently announced that his new album, “Guitar Slinger” would be his last for MCA Records, the label he’s called home since 1989. The album has now been released here in the UK, in time for some European dates next month, including a bluegrass festival in Norway.
The album features twelve tracks, all written, or co-written by Gill, and the whole album was self produced. It kicks off with the gentle rocker of a title track, veers towards soul on “When The Lady Sings The Blues”, and gets all romantic on his duet with wife Amy Grant, on “True Love”.
But it’s as the album gets onto the home straight that the killer Vince Gill ballads come to the fore.
“Bread And Water” and “If I Die” are strong examples of this. They’re up there with “When I Call Your Name” and “Pocket Full Of Gold”. His voice just suits these songs so well, and Paul Franklin’s steel guitar just rounds it off beautifully.
He delivers good old fashioned story songs, with a western feel on the bouncy “Billy Paul” and “The Old Lucky Diamond Motel”, before ending the album in the company of The Time Jumpers, an outfit that Vince has been seen performing around Nashville with. “Buttermilk John” has a really haunting old time bluegrass sound that Vince sounds so natural in (he began his career in bluegrass).
It’s a superb finale to one of the longest record label careers in Nashville today.  Be rest assured you wont have heard the last of Vince.

KENNY ROGERS is one of Country music’s biggest stars, with over 120 hits to his credit. His latest offering is simply called “Faith” (HumpHead), and is his gospel offering. It’s quite a heavy production, at some points sounding like a church service, but at other points is quite refreshing.
He includes classics like “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, “In The Sweet By & Bye”, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”  and “Amazing Grace”, but also includes some newer material.
“Peace” was written by Beth Neilsen Chapman & Michael McDonald, whilst Vince Gill, Al Anderson and Leslie Satcher wrote “The Rock Of Your Love”.
He has some impressive guests in Winfield’s Locket and Point Of Grace, whilst The Whites join in on “I’ll Fly Away”, which is probably the most commercial track on the whole album.
Kenny has loads of fans that will ensure big sales. Otherwise it’s not an album you’ll rush out to buy. But as gospel albums go, Kenny does a fair job.

One of the biggest hits in Nashville in the past year was “If I Die Young”, from THE BAND PERRY.
They are a family trio of Kimberley, Reid and Neil, from Alabama, who have all been around music since schooldays.
Their debut album has sold over a million copies stateside, and Mercury/Republic Records have now released the album here, to coincide with a short tour that will bring them to Glasgow’s ABC on 8th July.
My initial listen was that they were just another Nashville pop act, but the album grew on me after a couple of listens. “All My Life” features some nice banjo, and some lovely soft vocals from Kimberley. I also liked the acoustic feel to “Postcard From Paris”, “Lasso”, and “Walk Me Down The Middle” . Meanwhile “Independence” has a bit more attitude, but still works well.
There are a few more rock’n’roll influenced numbers, especially “Miss You Being Gone”.
They will, unfortunately, be compared to Lady Antebelum, and Little Big Town, but I think Kimberley has the more talented vocal style. “If I Die Young” was such a great song. Glad to report that this album shows they have more great songs on offer.

DOMINIC KIRWAN remains one of the most popular entertainers on both sides of the Irish Sea. His latest album, “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good”(Rosette), is a collection of 18 Inspirational songs, aimed at his largely middle of the road audience.
Kicking off with the title track, which Don Williams, and later Lee Ann Womack, made a Country standard, Dominic sets the scene for an easy listening set of numbers that everybody knows and loves. He covers “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, “What A Wonderful World”, “You Got A Friend”, “How Great Thou Art”, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, “Old Rugged Cross” and “You Raise Me Up”, amongst others.
For hard core Country fans, he delivers Derek Ryan’s “God’s Plan” and Rory Feek’s (Joey & Rory) “Better Place”, both relatively new songs, as well as the classic “Walk Thru This World With Me”.
A faultless performance. Well produced. Just what you would expect from Dominic.

Dominic’s son COLM KIRWAN  has flown the nest and has been in Nashville for the past couple of years, honing his craft as a songwriter. To coincide with his recent tour back here with Don Williams, his “Nashville” album was released here by Country House Records.
As you may expect, Colm has a more modern Nashville sound than Dad, but there are some home influences like the tin whistles on “Whole Lotta You”,and “Never Alone”, a lovely song I first heard The Rankins sing. I really like Colm’s arrangement here.
Most of the songs are quite upbeat, US Country radio friendly, with “Warm Me Sugar”, which opens the album , and “Jumpin’ In” being perfect examples.
“You Know That You’ll Know” is a softer number, which I really liked, and “No Anchors” is also quite soft.
There’s a folksy feel to “A Thousand Wild Horses”, and “The Lumber Song” which worked really well.
He also does a good job on “I Love The Way You Love Me”, co-written by Victoria Shaw, who produced the album.
The one thing that surprised me was that, Colm having went to Nashville to develop his songwriting career, has only been involved in writing one song. “Rain” is quite a catchy upbeat number which he co-wrote with Julie Forester (who was on the Songwriters show at The Ferry in Glasgow, with Colm, a couple of years back) and Kristi Manna.
I really enjoyed this album. Colm has a good voice, and has finally broken free on this album. He should get noticed on both sides of the Atlantic with this offering.

Manchester born SHAUN LOUGHREY will be no stranger to readers who watch “Hot Country” and the other programmes on Showcase TV. Shaun’s dad was the popular Johnny Loughrey, who passed away in 2005. Shaun has continued to carry the name, and develop his carer to where he finds himself as one of the most popular singers around Ireland today.
His latest release is a double album, “Two Sides Of Me”, one CD of “American” Country and the other devoted to Irish Country.
A common complaint with many Irish acts is the lack of original material, and that certainly applies to this album, but Shaun really does a good job on the covers he works here.
He kicks off  with a Johnny Cash medley, before taking on Tom T Hall’s “Pamela Brown”, which is certainly not a song you hear every day. Shaun does a good job on it. He also covers “Before The Next Teardrop Falls”, “Fourteen Carat Mind” , “The Gambler” and Country Roads”.
His fiancée, Carrie Benn, joins him on “Good Hearted Woman”, in what is a very good version. Carrie & sister Leanne are backing singers throughout the album, and really add to Shaun’s sound.
The Irish CD features more instantly recognisable songs like “Pretty Little Girl From Omagh”, “Galway Girl” and “Paddy”, and I have to mention “Locklin’s Bar” , a great Irish Honky Tonk number.
A really enjoyable listen. Well produced, and an album than can only enhance his career.

JOHNNY BRADY is one of the new emerging names from Ireland this year. His debut album, “Livin’ All My Dreams” is a good introduction to the guy.
The album has six originals, from the pen of James McGarrity, and six covers, which include Vince Gill’s “I Never Really Knew You”, Rascall Flatts “Blesss The Broken Road” and Lonestar’s “Mr.Mom”.
Of the originals, “My Mother, My Teacher, My Friend” has typical Irish sentimental qualities, as does “The Place I Call My Home”.  “I Got You” and “Find The Right Girl” are catchy upbeat numbers.
A good catchy album.  With so many Irish acts emerging on the scene, you have to have something special to break away from the pack. This album will determine if the fans think Johnny has it.

Someone with a strong pedigree on the Irish scene and beyond is JOHN HOGAN. Rosette Records have just released his 25th Anniversary “Ultimate Collection”- a 3CD package containing 60 tracks. The package is split into East Listening, Irish & Country favourites, although there is a bit of cross population, especially between the easy listening and Country CD’s.
John’s fans will no doubt have most of the songs on here, but there are ten new songs. They’re not new songs, just new songs for John- including “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, “If I Didn’t  Have A Dime” and Donovan’s “Catch The Wind”.
All his most popular songs over the years are here, including “Cottage In The Country” , “Back Home Again” and “Still Got A Crush On You”. Also included is the beautiful duet “Wearing White” with Noreen Rabbite.
John’s one of these guys who have quietly worked away for quarter of a century entertaining fans on both sides of the Irish Sea, with his easy listening approach to Country music. This is a good record of that journey.

The name VIPER CENTRAL didn’t entice me much when their CD appeared in the mail. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the bright & breezy bluegrass sound it contained.
The group are a quintet from Western Canada, comprising Kathleen Nisbet, Steve Charles, Tyler Rudolph, Tim Tweedale and Mark Vaughn. They have shared the songwriting and vocal credits on the 14 tracks on “Thump & Howl”, their third album, released here to promote their summer trip to the UK and Ireland, including a date at the Summertyne Festival in Gateshead.
They have a unique old timey bluegrass sound, which draws on their Canadian Rockies background, instead of the Appalachians, but it works well.
With songs like “Saskatchewan” and “A Northern Midwife”, the Canadian connection is obvious, but there’s also the western swing influenced rockabilly title track, inspired by a chicken coop in South Vancouver, where they claim Loretta Lynn really was discovered!  Then there’s a true tale from a Northern Ontario lumber camp in “The Donkeyliners Waltz”.
It’s a really refreshing enjoyable album.

GRAHAME LISTER’s album “Bring It On” (Bushranger Music) is quite different to anything else in the column this month.  An Australian, with an album recorded in Nashville, and a veteran of the British Pop & Country music scene.
As I listened to the album, I detected a Chas & Dave Cockney influence to the music, so wasn’t surprised to learn that it was the same guy who wrote “Arfur Daley E’s Alright”, for The Firm, and the cult hit “Star Trekkin”. He also played with Matthews Southern Comfort.
Now he’s returned to his Country rock roots, with a bit of blues, rock & pop thrown in for good measure.
“I’m Gonna Win” offers a good uptempo opening to the album, and “Goin’ Up The Country” really rounds off the 14 track album brilliantly. Inbetween times, “Roll On Summer”, whilst a bit more pop, has a real good feel to it. Of the most Country numbers “In Too Deep”, “I Ain’t” and “The Other Man” really stand out.
It’s different. It’s fun. I really liked this album.

Finally, something completely different. An album that takes us back to the early fifties roots music of America. THE TWO GENTLEMAN BAND, featuring tenor guitarist Andy Bean and string bassist Fuller Condon, employ some real old fashioned techniques on the 12 track collection called “Two At A Time”. There’s no digital technology used here. It was al recorded live on mono analog tape, and the package uses hand set lettering and a linotype machine.
All but two of the songs are original, written by Andy. They include titles like “Pork Chop”, “Panama City Beach” , “Pool Party”, “Cheese & Crackers”, “Tikka Masala” and “Lets Get Happy Together”.
I quite enjoyed the bass driven sounds, and enthusiastic vocals that run throughout the album.
You can feel the “live” sound coming across much more that you’ll ever hear on a modern recording.
Good foot tappin’ music. They’re planning a visit here next year. Look out for them .

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