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Wednesday 8 August 2012

August 2012

EAMON McCANN is one of the most respected Country singers in Ireland. Over the years he has maintained a true Country sound. His latest album, “In My Own Words”, is just as it says- an album of songs he has written by himself.
They range from the opening “Dance With Me” through to the slower “She Only Sees The Face”, he delivers a strong Country sound with vocals that are often likened to Randy Travis.
Uptempo numbers include “Long Road Without A Turn”, “Forever You’ll Be Mine” and “I’ve Gone Crazy” that keep the album flowing,
“From Love To Loneliness” has a particular Travis sound, and he has another influence in “Johnny Cash Accolade”, which is self explanatory. It’s a good wee tribute.
“When You Come To Land”, “But For Me” and “God Only Knows”  are quite nice ballads, and blend in beautifully.
There’s a few Irish numbers that fit his style nicely, including “Creggan”, “Donegal We’re Going Home” and “Born In Birmingham”.
Recorded by Clive Cutherbertson in Ireland, the album features an array of notable musicians, including Martin Cleary, Paul Gallagher, Al McQuilken, Joe McNamee, Charlie Arkins, Richard Nelson, Jimmy Hendry, Rory Gallacher, Rod McVey & Dessie Hynes, with harmonies from Trionagh Moore and Mary B.
It’s an extremely enjoyable, and well prtoduced album. Well worth checking out!

Over the past twenty years or so, ALAN JACKSON has been one of Nashville’s most consistent hitmakers, having sold over 60 million albums. Despite never having appeared here, he remains one of the Country fans favourites.
He recently departed Arista Records, his only label to date, and this is his first release on his own ACR (Alan’s Country Records) label , “Thirty Miles West”,  and has been released in the UK by Humphead.
If you’ve enjoyed his music in the past, then you’ll enjoy this album. It’s more of the same.
From the opening “Gonna Come Back As A Country Song”, through to “Her Life’s A Song”, “Long Way To Go” and “Life Keeps Brining Me Down”, there’s that familiar AJ sound.
Slower numbers include “Everything But The Wings”, “So You Wont Have To Love Me Anymore” and “She Dont Get High”, but it’s “When I Saw You Leaving”, that really stands out.
Another stand out track is “Dixie Highway”. On this track, Alan is joined by The Zack Brown Band”, and after a quirky little banjo intro, it’s a hard driving catchy number which runs on for nearly seven minutes. I’m sure a radio edit will appear soon.
It did occur to me that Alan, and long time producer Keith Stegall had developed something of a manufactured hit sound, but then again, why change a winning formula. It’s kept Alan ant the top for twenty years. Dont fix what ain’t broke.
It’s Alan Jackson – pure & simple!

Humphead have also reissued Alan’s gospel album, “Precious Memories” from 2006. Alan recorded these songs for his mom, but they turned out so well that the album was released and sold 1.8 milion copies.
On the album he features such standards as “Old Rugged Cross”, “How Great Thou Art”, “Softly & Tenderly”, “I Love To Tell The Story”, “In The Garden” and “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”.
This album was always a side project for Alan, with Brent Mason and Gary Prim providing the music on piano, organ & acoustic guitar, with John Wesley Ryles and Melodie Crittenden on backing vocals.
It is a beautifully produced album, one for AJ and gospel fans alike, and more mainstream than the Kenny Rogers album reviewed last time.

Following in the footsteps of Chris LeDoux, we find TODD FRITSCH, whose latest album “Up Here In The Saddle”  has just hit the streets.  Texas cattle rancher, Todd won fans over a few years back with songs like “Small Town Radio” and “I Dont Live Here Anymore”, before a horrific roping accident and injury sidelined him for several years.
But now, he’s back – riding, roping and performing every chance he gets.
The uptempo numbers, like “Texas Girl” and “That Girl’s Got A Cowboy Heart” really stand out, although the slower title track has quite a nice Strait feel to it.  Indeed Dean Dillon, who has written many a hit for Strait, wrote this one, and actually duets on it too. Throughout the album Dean has co-written five of the songs.
The single from the album is “Calls I Haven’t Made”, a nice reflective number about what could’ve been if only he’d made the call. I’m sure we can all relate to that.
I particularly liked “In A Song”- nice words, nice melody, and “Horses That He Cant Ride Anymore”, which must have been quite personal for him. “Like I Wasn’t There” also left an impression.
It’s good to hear Todd back on form, and this album is well worth a listen.

EVE SELIS is becoming quite a name on the Americana scene. She has no less than seven San Diego Music Awards to her credit, and was recently in England (Gateshead is as fart north as she got) to promote her new album, “Family Tree”.
Unlike many Americana album’s this CD offers a full production, which really gives Eve the edge, and mainstream Country appeal.
The title track is quite a pleasant number, with simple arrangements, which really shop off her voice to perfection.
I really enjoyed the lilting melody of “When Is Everything Enough”  and “Dont You Feel Lonesome”, which has a particularly Country feel to it. Also “I Dont Want To Cry” is a strong Country ballad
The album kicks off which the rather rocky “Rubber & Glue” , which was co-written with Doug Crider (Mr.Suzy Bogguss), whilst  “Crazy That I Love” and “All Roads Lead To You” are rather fast paced pop numbers. At the same time, “Jump In The Road” has a catchy jazzy swing feel to it”.
She covers a wide variety of styles, and closes it all off with a strong version of “Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
She’s didn’t make it to Scotland on this trip, but the album is a worthy compensate.

IAN TYSON is a legend, The writer of “Four Strong Winds” and “Someday Soon” has been part of Canada’s heritage since the sixties folk boom when he performed with his, then, wife, Sylvia.
Now at the age of 78, he’s not slowing down. He’s just released “Raven Singer”, his 14th album for Stony Plain Records.
His voice isn’t what it once was. This is put down to a concert in 2006 where he had to battle the sound system and lost. He seriously damaged his voice, and the virus took two months to pass, and left him with a voice more grainy and hoarse. But Ian fought back, and, if anything, his vocals now deliver a heartfelt, soulful and honest approach to the songs, which, of course, are all his.
Working with a simple arrangement, of bass,guitar and drums, with some added steel, mandolin , piano and pipes on certain tracks, it’s a very acoustic offering indeed.
The real cowboy (he still works his own ranch in Southern Alberta) takes inspiration from the land for “Rio Colorado”, “Saddle Bronc Girl” and “Charles Goodnight’s Grave”, whilst his travels inspired “Back To Baja” and “Under African Skies”.
He revisits “The Circle Is Through”, a song he recorded with Suzy Bogguss twenty years back.
Stand out track is the Scottish inspired “Blueberry Susan”, with mentions of a Hamish McKenzie, and some nice pipes to close out.
It’s sad to hear Ian’s voice not as strong as it once was, but he has mastered just how to use what he has to perfection on these songs. Still a joy to listen to.

Country music from The Netherlands is always popular when Dutch acts appear at the Caithness Festival, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a beautiful 2CD set from a trio called CHANGE OF KEY titled “When Music Calls My Name”.
The band are made up of  Danielle Poot, who is the trio’s lead vocalist, with Marijke and Joop de-Jong. All the songs were written by the girls, with Joop also involved in one track.
The beautifully packaged set, featuring a 20 page booklet with lyrics, is split into 2. CD1 is all acoustic arrangements, and CD2 is electric. The title track is included on both discs, and I have to say, I prefer the “electric” version, with it’s accordion.
The acoustic set starts off with a beautiful number, “Unconditional Love”, and continues with “Heaven’s Perfect Husband Catalogue”, which has a western swing sound about it. It’s quite a fun number, and is also featured on a video on CD1, which is really well put together.
Other tracks on the Acoustic CD range from the beautifully arranged ”Even After My Time Is Through”, “Settle For Lies” and “When I’m Dreaming” to the catchy bluegrassy “Smart Enough To Wonder” and “Friendship Is A Two Way Street”.
Usually when you get Acoustic & Electric CD packages, the electric package is really way over the top, but not with Change Of Key. Here, the Electric CD just slightly less Acoustic. The arrangements are still quite simple.
“The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time” and “Broken Home Blues” are probably the most progressive tracks, but are still quite catchy.  “An Old Suitcase Filled With Yesteryears”, is one of my favourite tracks, with some nice steel and banjo.
“Living With The Lack Of Love” would certainly not have been out of place on CD1, although it has some steel on it, whilst “If This Were A Movie” and “After The Beep” both have a bit of swing.
On “The Gift Of Giving”, Rhonda Vincent joins them on lead vocal.
I really enjoyed the album, with 21 tracks, 20 different songs, plus a very entertaining video, and a well produced package all round.
Another winner from Holland.

TOMMY WOMACK’s album, “Now What” was quite a surprise!
The CD cover, showing a miserable looking guy on the cover didn’t prepare me for the good music that waited me inside.
Womack has written and recorded everything from, folk to rock. He’s a Kentucky boy, living in Nashville, but doesn’t conform to the Nashville world.  He’s recorded several albums, both solo and with an outfit called Government Cheese back in eighties & nineties. He even contributed to The Gene Pitney Story.
This album opens with the fast paced “Play That Cheap Trick,Cheap Trick Play”, a good up tempo number. I also loved “I Love You To Pieces”, a good Country rockin number.
He slows things down on “Bye & Bye”, which he excelled at. I also liked “Lets Have Another Cigarette”, which closes the album. It’s a slower number, but with a rough & ready Country tag.
“On & Off The Wagon” is quite different. It’s a bit hard to define, but I reckon that’s fine with Tommy. It’s quite interesting.
However, I’d pass on “90 Miles an Hour Down a Dead End Street”, which he simply raps through.
And “Guilty Snake Blues” is too jazz for me.
Nevertheless, a very interesting album, which, in the main, I really enjoyed.

Of the younger guys in Nashville these days, no one has a more Country voice than JOSH TURNER, whose latest album , “Punching Bag” has just been released here. (Humphead).
The South Carolina boy, who will be 35 later this year, shows such tradition in his voice, way beyond his years.
The album kicks off with a rather gimmicky intro in true Wrestling style, leading into the album’s title track, which is actually quite a good uptempo opener.
“Whatcha Reckon” rather annoyed me a bit. It’s a good uptempo number, ideal for radio play, but is just so, so Alan Jackson.   Another, just too catchy, number is “Left Hand Man”, It has real hit potential, but I feel it’s one of these songs that’ll drive me nuts, if I hear it too often.
“Cold Shoulder”, a rare ballad on the album is just superb. With some lovely steel, and his deep voice, it’s a George Jones kind of song, without sounding anything like Jones.
The most serious, and sombre track has to be “Pallbearer”, which really suits his rich deep voice. He is joined on this track, by Marty Stuart on mandolin, and Iris Dement on harmony vocals,
Also guesting is Ricky Skaggs on a bouncy bluegrass flavoured number, “For The Love Of God”.
If the album opening was gimmicky, then the catchy “Find Me A Baby” adds to the fun. His wife, and three kids (the youngest just 18 months old) are heard on the track. It’s effective, and didn’t detract from a good song.
Josh penned eight of the twelve songs, and, if you go for the deluxe edition, you get “live” versions of “Punching Bag” and four of his previous hits including “Your Man” and “Long Black Train”.
Great value.and a great voice.
What more could you ask for.

CARRIE UNDERWOOD is without doubt the hottest female singer in Music City these days, and her latest album, “Blown Away” (Arista) was released to coincide with a London concert back in June.
The singer came to Nashville by winning the American Idol TV talent show. With such mainstream attention, she must’ve been pressured into a full blown pop career, but she opted for Nashville.
That’s not to say that she’s particularly Country. She’s had a stream of Country hits, but, in the main, has developed a rather pop sound.
This album continues that trend. “Good Girl”, her current single, kicks off the album, but is pure pop.
It’s followed by the title track. Again there’s no Country influence here, but it is a very strong pop song, and one I would enjoy listening to on radio. We’ve several more pop numbers, before “Do You Think About Me”, track 5, is the first track that I’d be comfortable playing on a Country music programme.
From there, things do improve. “Nobody Ever Told You” even features some banjo. “Thank God For Hometowns”  is possibly my favourite track. A big Country ballad, with big Country values.
I also enjoyed “Good In Goodbye” and “Wine After Whiskey”, again both strong ballads.
 “Forever Changed” is a beautiful ballad, if a bit over produced, with lush backings.
The most uptempo track is the cracking “Cupid’s Got A Shotgun”, a really fast paced number that stands out from the rest of the album.
The British version of the album , also features four of her biggest hits including “Jesus Take The Wheel” and “Last Name”.
Good value for money, with 18 tracks. I was disappointed in the first four tracks, but after that,  she won me over.

Two of the Americans who were over in Caithness back in April have new albums out since their visit, although a few of you may have got your hands on advance copies they brought over.
JERRY KILGORE impressed many with his appearance.
He’s pure Country, and that’s on show on “Telephone, Tx”, a 13 track collection of songs that all came from his own pen.
From the opening track, “You Cant Hide A Heartache”, a Texan styled number, right through to the title track which closes the album, this is 100% Country.
If you like honky tonk songs, then check out “If You Want To Keep Your Beer Cold” , “Doin’ My Own Thing” , “Aint On The Menu” and “Born Rich”.
“Places To Go”, “Leavin’ Feelin’ ” and “Cinnamon Bay”  are slower numbers, but work just as good as his uptempo numbers.  “The Truth” is quite philosophical, with it’s tagline,”There’s three sides to every story, your side, my side & the truth”. Quite true.
 “Life Goes On” is quite a laid back number, with a kinda Gulf coast feel to it, whilst the title track, in fact, is quite a moody, atmospheric number.
A superb album, and a great reminder of his visit back at Easter.

Sisters MOORE & MOORE were also Caithness visitors back in the spring. Debbie & Carrie launched their latest album, “Show Me Your Country” officially at the CMA Festival in June.
Like their live set in Halkirk, the girls kick off with the album’s title track. It’s quite a rocky number, and doesn’t really set you up for just Country these girls are.
“Not Tonight I’ve A Heartache” is a real traditional  old timey catchy number, that really gets attention., whilst “Satisfy That Hunger” is kinda bluesy, without losing it’s Country feel.
“I’ll Have You (For The Rest Of My Life)” is a wedding day song with a distance. It’s a love song, where everything is perfect, even when everything goes wrong.
I really enjoyed “Summer Love” , “Mississippi Missing You” and “Think About You”, but it’s the closing track, “Where Were You Coming From” that really stood out for me.
In fact, I enjoyed the whole album. Their voices blend beautifully together. The songs are all their own.

Canada’s ABRAMS BROTHERS have a unique sound, which blends folk, country, bluegrass and rock music into a mix that brews up quite blend. The group made up of brothers John & James, and cousin Elijah, have built up quite a following on the festival circuit across their native land.
That popularity is now extending across the Atlantic, with the release of “Northern Redemption”, their fourth album to date.
“Nothing At All” was the album’s first track, released to Canadian Country radio. It has quite an Eagles sound, albeit a shade rocky, whilst I’d consider the slower “While You Sleep” more at home on Country radio. The song features some nice steel guitar and good harmonies.
Harmonies, Beatles style, feature heavily on “Windows”, a song which just sounds so Sixties to me, I’m afraid.
The more bluegrassy numbers like “ Where I’m Bound” and the album’s title track stand out for me.
It’s all original material, with songs written by the guys with a few friends, including producer Chris Brown.
The trio are due a UK visit soon. Look out for them.

McKENZIE are no strangers on the Scottish Country scene. Zoe Caryl & Kenny Plenderleith regularly visit here, on tour from their Essex base.
Their new album, “And Then We Wrote”, features quite a variety of material, from the fast paced opener “Runaway Bride”, to the slower “Sign Them For Susan”, which is a really beautiful sentimental number. Zoe really treats the song so sensitively.
“Too Hot To Handle” has quite a haunting western feel to it, as does the catchy “My Sister”, where Zoe is joined by KayD on vocals.
Tim McKay also guests on vocals on “Run Mary Run”.
In recent times Kenny & Zoe have worked on songs with Perthshire songwriter Alex Birnie, and the partnership continues on this album, as Alex collaborates on 6 of the 12 tracks, which, otherwise is an all McKenzie affair.
Amongst the songs that Alex co-wrote are “Too Hot To Handle” , “Coffee Cup Dreams”, and the closing number “The Goodnight Waltz”, a beautiful song to end with.
Stand out track for me is the really catchy “Not Today Jose”, another one, Alex co-wrote. It’s a good fast paced number, which I can really see the linedancers picking up on.
I really enjoyed the album. Well worth checking out.
Check out McKenzie on YouTube & MySpace.

There no doubt that KENNY CHESNEY is one of Country music’s biggest stars these days, having sold over 30 million albums. Despite getting his albums released here, he hasn’t built up the same following as, say Strait or Jackson.  Perhaps his music is just too Gulf Of Mexico for British fans.
His latest album , “Welcome To The Fishbowl” (Sony Music) was released here in June, and features 12 tracks of more of what we’ve learned to expect from Kenny.
This album features the hit single “Come Over” and the duet with Tim McGraw on “Feel Like A Rock Star”!
The album is quite listenable, but fails to ignite any fires. The most uptempo track is “Time Flies”, which still has that lazy Gulf Coast feel to it.
Chesney was involved in writing three of the 12 songs, with contributions from other singer songwriters like Keith Gattis, Shane McAnally, Mike Reid, Skip Ewing and Neil Thrasher.
Stand out track is the live version of the Matraca Berg / Deanna Carter song, “You & Tequilla”, a duet with Grace Potter, which closes the album .
It’s one of these albums, which , if you like Kenny Chesney, you’ll love it. If you’ve never quite worked out why he’s such a star, this album will do little to change your view.

Finally, some real olfd timey bluegrass from a group who have become regular visitors over here.
FURNACE MOUNTAIN consists of  Aimee Curl on Bass and Vocals, Danny Knicely on Mandolin and Fiddle, Dave Van Deventer on Fiddle, and Morgan Morrison on Bouzouki, Guitar and Vocals. Members of the band have been playing together since 1995, and grew up in the same area of Virginia on or near the mountain bearing the same name.
The band has graced stages near and far, from the Yangtzee River in China , to Brookfield Village Hall in Renfrewshire, to the banks of the Shenandoah River where they are the host band of the world famous Watermelon Park Festival each year.
The music of Furnace Mountain is at times lively and raucous, with spirited fiddle melodies weaving in and around the powerful rhythms of the bass and bouzouki. It is at other times poignant and poetic, with sublime vocal harmonies beautifully interpreting some of the oldest songs ever written. Furnace Mountain plays music from the American Appalachian traditions, as well as original compositions, and songs penned by their favorite song writing friends.  
Their new album, “The Road To Berryville”,was recorded “live” in the studio over a two day period, back in February of this year. The album features traditional songs and fiddle tunes, and even a Bob Dylan number “I Want You”, which they tag into a medley with “Candy Girl”. They also do a breezy fiddle laced “Boneparte’s Retreat”.
It’s a really refreshing sound they have, and this album should win them over more friends eager for their next visit to these shores.  

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