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Tuesday 3 December 2013

December 2013

Well, as Christmas approaches, there’s lots of new releases, and re-releases out there. We’ll start with the ladies this time around.
LAURA CANTRELL has been a regular visitor to our shores over the years. The Nashville born, New York based singer follows up her highly acclaimed “Kitty Wells Dresses” with a new album of original material, “No Way There From Here”, which was released here on Spit & Polish in time for her Glasgow Americana Festival appearance, three months ahead of a US release.
The album offers quite a variety of material, from the vintage pop sounding opening track, “All The Girls Are Complicated” to the very Country “Driving Down Your Street, which is probably my favourite track on the album.
The title track is quite a slow number, which Laura delivers with such emotion.  It’s followed by “Glass Armour”, a song that was composed across both sides of the Atlantic, with Tracey Ann Campbell from Scottish band Camera Obscura.
“Beg Or Borrow Days” is quite a catchy number, with some neat fiddle from another Scot, John McCusker. Another track that caught my attention, is one that she co-wrote with labelmate Amy Allison, “Cant Wait”. It had a familiar catchy feel, reminding me of Kirsty McColl’s “They Dont Know”.
Laura has built up a big fan base over here. Her sweet vocals lend themselves well to these songs.

HAYLEY OLIVER is one of the most talked about Country artists in the UK these days.
The London born singer, whose early breaks included Joe Pasqale’s “Curtain Call” in 2002, has released two solo albums, and this is her second album as The Hayley Oliver Band.
“Abinger Grove”(Aop), was recorded in Kent, and features 14 tracks, mainly original.
The album kicks off with a couple of quite poppy numbers, but Hayley then gets into her Country stride. “Right Person at The Right Time”, an early single from the album, is a catchy radio friendly song, that you can’t help but like. “Could I Be More”, another single, really shows off her voice. It’s a lovely ballad, and reminded me of Brenda Lee.
“Just Once More” is also a lovely slow ballad that really shows Hayley’s voice to full emotion.
“Good Ole Days” is a good uptempo number, with some lovely fiddle.  “Bright Side Of The Life”, is a superb positive song. “Labour Of Love”, a slower number, has a real Country feel to it.
“The Hand That Rocks The Cradle”, originally recorded by Canadian Rena Gaile, is a really nice song that Hayley delivers really well.
She also turns her hand to rock’n’roll, with a great foot tappin’ version of Charlie Rich’s “I’m Coming Home”.
As well as her band, John Permenter, Albert Lee and Gerry Hogan are also playing on the album.
A really good album. Certainly one to check out.

Another female that is sure to win the hearts of fans over here is JANICE MAYNARD.
She’s from Liberty Hill in Texas, and sounds like it too. She’s already appeared on TV shows like “Tru-Country”, and now has her album , “I’ll Take My Chances” on Yellow Rose Records.
She wrote, or co-wrote seven of the twelve tracks on the album, which was produced by Bobby Flores, who made a huge impression at this year’s Caithness Festival.
As would expect, Janice is true Texan, 100% Country music, with lots of Bobby Flores fiddle and traditional steel guitar.
She kicks off with a cover of Bill Anderson’s “Bright Lights And Country Music”, and covers another of Whispering Bill’s songs, “The Perfect Place”, as well as a Dallas Frazier number.
Leona Williams makes her mark. Janice’s version of Leona’s “Why Be A Dreamer” is one of the album’s strongest songs, then Leona duets on the catchy “Bad Girls”.
Her own songs include the swinging “Dont Settle For A Spark”, and “One Of A Kind Of Heart”, as well as the steel laden “You’re What Makes The World Go Around”,  which all stand up against other Texan singers like Heather Myles or Amber Digby.
She’s a name that certainly going to make its mark in the near future.
A superb introduction.

From the same Texan stable comes a refreshing bright and breezy from HANK SINGER, who was with Bobby Flores in Caithness. He was one of the triple fiddles that amazed dancers and listeners alike.
Hank has played on many hit records for folks like George Jones, Ronnie Milsap, Alan Jackson and Miranda Lambert, not to mention, our own Ian Grieg. As he says on the CD sleeve, he recorded his first 45rpm at the age of ten, but this is his first solo project.
Instrumental albums are quite rare these days. Gone are the days when Floyd Cramer topped the charts with “On The Rebound”, but Hank proves instrumentals can still work on “Play Fiddle Play”
There are uptempo numbers like “Flower Of The Flock” and “Orange Blossom Special”,  through the polka sounding “Rutlands Reel”, to the slower “Memory Waltz”, “Weeping Hearts”  and “Last Waltz”.
Sadly we seem to appreciate singers more than instrumetalists these days. With more albums like this, that would surely change.

How many 80 year old’s get to spend their time in the company of some of today’s greatest female singers?  Well, WILLIE NELSON shows no sign of slowing down. His latest collection, “To All The Girls” sees him team up with an array of female talent, for duets on some of his best known numbers, and a few Country classics that he perhaps hadn’t recorded before.
The guests range from Dolly Parton on her composition, “From Here To The Moon And Back” , to Loretta Lynn on The Hag’s “Somewhere Between”.  Then there’s Wynonna helping out on “Bloody Mary Morning”, and Carrie Underwood on “Always On My Mind”.
Add Miranda Lambert, Rosanne Cash, Alison Krauss, Norah Jones, Mavis Staples, Shelby Lynne and Emmylou, and you have quite a line up.
Some of the arrangements may be an acquired taste, but Willie’s fans will love it.
My favourite tracks, feature The Secret Sisters on “It Wont Be Very Long” and “After The Fire Is Gone”, which features Tina Rose (daughter of Leon Russell)

One of the newer names coming out of Nashville these days, who I do enjoy is CHRIS YOUNG.
He has come a long way since wining the “Nashville Star” TV talent show in 2006.
His 4th album, “AM” (Sony) has just been released here, and he will be one of the headliners at next year’s c2c event in London.
The title track is quite a rocky number but works quite well. “We’re Gonna Find It Tonight” is also a driving uptempo number, which sounded just a little bit crowded for me.
“Goodbye” is a particularly strong ballad, which Chris delivers with some strength. The same can be said for “Who I Am With You”. Another ballad which brings in modern technology is “Text Me Texas”, which I really liked.
The album’s closing track, “Lighters In The Air” was also really enjoyable.
In fact, I enjoyed the whole album. One of the few youngsters in Music City that have made an impression on me.

SCOTTY McCREERY is one of those TV talent show discoveries whose career was created by viewers voting for him. He won American Idol, and went on to release a debut album that was to become the best selling album by a solo Country artist in 2011.
Whether he is a genuine Country music artist, or just manufactured as one, remains to be seen.
His second album, “See You Tonight” gets a UK release through Humphead, and, I have to say it’s an Ok listen.
Most of the tracks are pop-country fodder, but quite listenable. “Get Gone With You” is one of the better songs in this category. But there are tracks like “Feel Good Summer Song” which just wasn’t Country to my ears.
“The Dash” was quite an enjoyable ballad, but it was “Carolina Moon”, with it’s lovely fiddle intro and Alison Krauss harmonies, which stood out, and indeed, saved the album for me. If only he had produced a few more tracks like this.
He has co-written 6 of the 16 tracks (on the deluxe edition).
It’s an Ok album if you like manufactured pop music, masquerading as Country.

It’s 10 years since BILLY CURRINGTON released his first album, and has had a fair bit of success since with hits like “People are Crazy”, “Must Be Doin’ Something Right” and “Pretty Good at Drinking Beer” .
Now Humphead have released his 5th album, “We Are Tonight”, in the UK, and, I have to say it’s a really good listen.
The album kicks off with his recent hit single, “Hey Girl”, which, I have to confess, didn’t sell the album for me. But that was followed by “The Wingman”, a bouncy number, which really caught my attention. I also enjoyed “One Way Ticket”, and the ballad “23 Degrees South”.
There’s also a great duet with Willie Nelson (he’s not only dueting with ladies these  days). “It’s Hard To Be A Hippie”, is a great singalong number, which really works well.
There are a couple of tracks that didn’t work for me, but in the main, I really enjoyed this album.
Great to see it getting a UK release.

TOBY KEITH has become quite a character in Country music these days.
“Drinks After Work” (Humphead) is his 17th album, and possibly one of his more eclectic offerings.
The title track has already been released as a single, but isn’t the most commercial track on the album.
“Little Miss Tear Stain” and “Before We Knew They Were Good” are both uptempo numbers which would work well at radio.
“The Other Side Of Him” is a good strong ballad, in a style that you wouldn’t associate with Toby, but he surprised me with this offering. Then, there’s the catchy uptempo “Last Living Cowboy”, which he wrote with Scotty Emerick.
I also enjoyed “I’ll Probably Be Out Fishing”, a hard luck story about lost love.
The deluxe edition, which is reported to be extremely limited, has three additional tracks. One is “Call A Marine”, a great track, which just has a couple of words which will prevent it from getting airplay. Another of the bonus tracks, is a duet with rocker Sammy Hagar on “Margaritaville”.
It’s an interesting album. It’ll be a hit with Toby’s fans, but there are a few tracks for everyone here, which makes it worth a listen!.

There’s no argument that ALABAMA were a major force in Country music back in the Eighties.  Until then the only groups to make their mark were The Statlers and The Oakridge Boys. These guys from Fort Payne certainly opened up Country music to the stream of boy bands that were to follow.
“Alabama & Friends” (Humphead) is a celebration of their music from some of today’s big names.  That can be done in different ways.
You can cover the original as closely as you can, or you can deliver your own stamp onto the song.
This collection has a bit of both.
Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan do nothing to “Tennessee River”, or “Love In The First Degree”, whilst Toby Keith kills “She And I”, and Florida Georgia Line’s cover of “I’m In A Hurry”, is painful for those who recall the original.
But I did quite enjoy Rascall Flatts version of “Old Flame”, and Trisha Yearwood made an obvious change to “Forever’s As Far As I’ll Go”, and it’s the stand out cover for me.
The original group are heavily involved in the production, adding harmony vocals to the songs, which makes some of them sound so similar to the originals. They also have two new Alabama recordings, including “That’s How I was Raised”.
Thankfully, many of my favourite Alabama songs aren’t featured here, and remain sacred and intact on their original albums.

JOE ELY has been making music for as long as I can remember. His unique blend of Tex Mex, Rock’n’Roll and Country has been entertaining audiences since 1970, when he was a founding member of The Flatlanders. His first solo effort was in 1977, which is where Humphead Records went back to compile a 41 track 2CD “Definitive Collection” for UK release.
Ely was one of the most identifiable Texan figures in the 70’s & 80’s. His music was always a bit edgier than the Texan music of Heather Myles, Justin Trevino, Rance Norton etc that makes so much of an impression today.
Although a big name in his field, he was never part of the Nashville sound, so many readers may not have a lot of his music in their collection.
Therefore, this collection could prove to be one of the most popular released by Humphead.
There are some superb TexMex tracks like “Mardi Gras Waltz”, “Time For Travellin’”, “The Road Goes On Forever” and “Letter To Laredo”, some hi energy R&R, and there’s some pure Country, like “ Tennessee Is Not The State I’m In” , “Honky Tonk Masquerade”, “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” and “Dallas”.
Probably the two most recognisable songs are “Gallo Del Cielo”, and “She Never Spoke Spanish To Me”, both of which are included here.
As ever with Humphead’s collections, Alan Cackett has written some very informative sleeve notes to accompany the collection.

Another Humphead collection worthy of note is a new “Two On One” collection, featuring the first two albums from CMA Entertainer Of The Year , GEORGE STRAIT. They have packaged “Strait Country” and “Strait From The Heart”, onto one 20 track CD.
It brought back some wonderful memories for me, as I remember meeting up with the promotions girl at MCA at the time (who now has her own music publishing company). She was raving about their brand new artist, and I must’ve gave her a rather sceptical look, as I remember her saying, “Yeah, I know, PR hype, but he is good, believe me”. And, boy was she right! George Strait was to go on to become the biggest Country star of my generation, and is still going strong.
These albums featured such well known Strait classics as “Fool Hearted Memory”, “Marina Del Ray” and “Amarillo By Morning” , but there’s also some great music like ”Unwound”, “Honky Tonk Downstairs” and “Friday Night Fever”, that certainly deserves to be heard again.
I had these two albums on vinyl, Great to have them on CD.

There’s no disputing that GLEN CAMPBELL remains one of the best known crossover Country artists of all time. Now Humphead release “The Definitive Collection”, a 48 track, 2 CD, celebration of his music.
My first instinct was to question the need for another Glen Campbell release, but it is15 years since his “Capitol Years” was released, so, probably a collection like this, released in time for Christmas,  will find a market.
Campbell has been playing music since the 1950’s, and first signed to Capitol Records in 1962.  He’s released over 70 albums, and sold 45 million records.
Complimented by a booklet with a comprehensive biography by Alan Cackett, this collection features the big hits like “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Gentle On My Mind” and “Wichita Lineman”, but also a lot of lesser known material too.
There’s “Kentucky Means Paradise” from his early stint with The Green River Boys, and duets with Tanya Tucker, Rita Coolidge, Anne Murray, and, of course, Bobbie Gentry.
A great tribute to one of easy listening’s true legends, who is not in the best of health these days.

THE NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND are one of Country music’s most interesting group’s. They are best known for their trilogy of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” albums, but have laid down a wealth of material out with these projects. They were formed in 1966, and still playing today. There have been many changes to the line up in that time, which perhaps explains the vast array of styles that the group have played over the years.
I love the way that Jeff Hanna’s vocals blend beautifully with their simple instrumentation. They can seamlessly move from traditional numbers like “Sixteen Tons” or ”I SawThe Light”, to Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr Bojangles” through to the Caribbean flavoured “American Dream”.
They have been on many record labels over the years, and Humphead have managed to collate 42 tracks for a new collection, “Jamalaya : The Definitive Collection”, for release in the UK.
There are many tracks from the Circle albums, featuring collaborations with the likes of Jimmy Martin, Doc Watson, Rosanne Cash, John Hiatt, Alison Krauss (although she doesn’t get a credit) and Johnny Cash.
Other duets feature Linda Ronstadt and John Denver.
Some of their biggest hits were on Warner Brothers in the 1980’s, which haven’t been captured for this collection, however, some of these songs, including “Pardners,Brothers & Friends”  and “Fishin’ In The Dark” were later recorded live, and are featured here.
That last one took me back to a Peterborough Festival in the 80’s when all the lights went out in the marquee, but they kept playing “Fishin’ in The Dark” – in the dark.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were, or should I say, are, the real deal. A real Country band. I can hear me playing this double album a lot.

Closer to home, London born CHARLIE BOSTON is quite unique in British Country music. “White Creek Pike” (Lara) is his sixth album of original self penned material. Quite a feat.
The 17 track album was produced by Mark Moseley in Nashville.
Charlie has quite a variety of styles on the album, from the uptempo opening track, “You Really Are An Angel”, to the folky “Carry My Heartaches Away” and “Please Dont Turn Me Away”, and the bluegrassy tinged “I Wish I Could Fly” to the more big band “Micheal Sneaky Pete Burton”, a tribute to the late Somerset musician.
“Trade With The Devil” is a catchy uptempo number, whilst he slows it down on tracks like “Your Love Will Hold Me”. “Why Cant You Love Me” has quite a soft gospel feel to it, whilst “Train Bound For Nowhere” has an old time Country feel to it.
“What’s Good For You” is a duet with Texan Carolyn Martin.
I really enjoyed the album. A lot of different styles. Charlie’s vocals aren’t the strongest, but he knows how to deliver his songs.
Well worth a listen.

Not much on the Irish side this month, but we have a new 4 track EP from BRENDAN QUINN & THE KICKIN’ MULE, which made for interesting listening. You can trust Brendan to come up with something different, and the sound he has delivered here is certainly different to what we’re used to.
The Kickin’ Mule goes back to the 1990’s when Brendan got together with Arty McGlynn.  Through different line up’s, the band is still around today. This CD features “Let Her Be Me”, written by Donegal singer songwriter Jody Gallagher, who also wrote Brendan’s hit “Days Gonna Come”. Other songs on this EP include the Rodney Crowell/Vince Gill composition, “Let Her Roll”, and the traditional “Sweet Carnlough Bay”.

Over to Canadian next, and a totally refreshing album from THE HIGH BAR BAND.
The seven piece band from Vancouver features three female vocalists on “Lost And Undone” (True North), and it makes for a wonderful listen.
Tracks are mainly well established bluegrass gospel tunes, like “Over In Gloryland”, “Walking In Jerusalem”, “Angel Band”, ”Daniel Prayed”, “Sinners You Better Get Ready”, “The Fields Have Turned Brown” and “I Saw The Light”. There’s obviously a big Ralph Stanley/Bill Monroe influence in the band. To my ears, they have kept the old time authenticity, whilst providing some lovely modern vocals.
There are some, not so old timey.
“All My Tears”, is a Julie Miller song, which I really liked the version here. It featured some beautiful lead vocals and harmonies, and matching instrumentation.
And “Heaven’s Light Is Shining On Me”, has a good modern bluegrass sound.
I really enjoyed this album.
Bright and breezy. Real music. Superb vocals.

TIM GRIMM is a new name to me, but he has been amassing awards and credits since the turn of the century. As well as performing with the likes of Rambling Jack Elliot, and Carrie Newcomer, he has been involved on both sides of the film camera’s acting alongside Harrison Ford in “Clear And Present Danger”, as well as being the inspiration behind the Emmy nominated PBS series “Wilderness Plots”.
His new album, “The Turning Point” (Cavalier) was released here in time for a short tour down south.
His music is a careful blend of folk and Country, and you certainly hear the Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Paxton influences in his music.
You get the feel for the album, just by checking the songlist: “Canyon”, “Indiana”, “The Lake”.
All but one of the songs were self penned, and you can feel his own honest interpretations coming to the fore.
The closing track, “Blame It The Dog”, stands out, just for being different. With lots of fiddle, it’s a fun number which catches your attention.
I really liked the laid back “I Dont Mind”, but it’s “King Of The Folksingers”, which name checks Cash,Guthrie,Dylan, Jerry Jeff and more, that will probably get more attention.

Finally, Another new singer-songwriter to catch up with is Kentucky born, Oregon based, ASHLEIGH FLYNN, who has an interesting album, “A Million Stars” released here on her own Home Perm label.
The uptempo numbers really work for me, especially the banjo influenced “Dirty Hands And Dirty Feet” or “See That Light”. Of the slower numbers, “New Angel In Heaven” really stood out. It’s probably the most Country track on the album.  “Prohibition Rose” has quite an old time Vaudeville feel to it. Certainly wont fit into any of today’s musical categories.
The title track is a nice lament to two cowgirls who rode the outlaw trails in the late 1800’s, which is followed by a rather poppy “How The West Was Won”.
Ashleigh has great vocals, and she can turn to many different styles, from jazz right through to Bluegrass.

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