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Monday 4 August 2014

August 2014

It’s turning out to be a busy summer for CD releases, especially from the ladies.
You have to hand it to MIRANDA LAMBERT. She is, by far, Country music’s leading lady these days, having just been named the ACM Female Vocalist for the 5th straight year.
Her latest album, “Platinum” has been released here in the UK, and certainly makes for an interesting, and for me, a rather disturbing listen.
She has a superb Country voice, when she wants.
The album kicks off with the superb “Girls”. “Pricilla” is an uptempo homage to Elvis’s other half, and works well. “Automatic” is a likeable piece of nostalgia (from a 30 year old !), which has also been released as a radio single here.
Sometimes it’s amazing just what inspires a songwriter. Here, Miranda gets her inspiration for one of the songs from the “Bathroom Sink”. Not a bad song either.  
“Babies Making Babies” is another really strong song, which I really enjoyed.
“Another Sunday In The South” which closes the album is a clever little tribute to 80’s Country band Shenandoah. She was only a kid when they were around. They must’ve made an impression. I wonder how many of her fans remember them today.    
“Hard Staying Sober” is a strong Country hurtin’ and drinkin’ song, which I really liked.
She has several guests on the album. Little Big Town join in on the very listenable ballad, “Smokin’ And Drinkin”. There’s also a rather average pop duet with Carrie Underwood.
Then there’s a track with the wonderful Time Jumpers. “All That’s Left” is fabulous. Great music, and a style that Miranda sounds so suited to. It’s an old Tom T Hall song, and she does it real justice here.
“Little Red Wagon” is quite catchy and different. Unfortunately she uses a word that I didn’t appreciate hearing on a Country album.  Indeed there a couple of tracks with swear words in the title, which at least gives the listener warning. Both are great little numbers – the most Country tracks on the album. Just why she had to reduce herself, and Country music, to this level, I’m afraid I cant get my head around.
There are 16 tracks on the album, which is great value. The CD booklet also has some great photos of Miranda. It’s a superb album, if only she’d watch her language.

There’s no question about GENE WATSON’s Country credentials. But, if there’s any doubt, his latest album, “My Heroes Have Always Been Country”, features some of the greatest Country songs ever written.
He honours the likes of Dottie West, Eddy Arnold, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard and George Jones.  Yet, all of these songs sound so natural for Gene Watson.
He kicks off with “Here Comes My Baby Back Again”, and quite a few standards follow, like “Long Black Veil”, “Make The World Go Away” and “Walk Through This World With Me”.
But not all the songs are as well known, or obvious choices.
“Slide Off Your Satin Sheets” was a Johnny Paycheck hit, whilst “I Forget You Every Day” isn’t one of Merle Haggard’s most obvious hits to cover.
But, whatever songs Gene records, he just oozes Country.
This album proves that Gene Watson is one of Country Music’s Heroes !

WILLIE NELSON appears to be on a mission to record as much material as he can, now that he’s in his 80’s. “Band Of Brothers” (Sony/Legacy) is his third new release in the 14 months since he became an octogenarian. He certainly ain’t slowing down, that’s for sure.
Having said that this is his first album of predominately new material in nearly two decades. He co-wrote, with producer Buddy Cannon, nine of the album’s 14 tracks.
Many of the songs are classic Willie : slow and emotional. It’s the sound that Willie has made his fortune on.
The title track , “Band Of Brothers” is a superb, which although self penned, just has that Ed Bruce written “Mamma’s Don’t Let Your Babies” feel all over it.
I really liked “Guitar In The Corner”, with it’s simple backing. Really straightforward Willie.
“The Wall” the advance single in the States, is the sort of song that Willie’s been doing for years. It works for him, so why change.
He raises a chuckle or two on “Wives & Girlfriends”, where he rates them, up to No.11, with the cheeky line “I love my wives, I love my girlfriend, may they never meet”. Only Willie could get away with that.
Quite ironic, that the next track, is a ballad called “I Thought I Left You”!
Then there’s “Used To Her”, an uptempo ditty with some nice Texas fiddle. The sentiments are quite negative about an ex, but, like “Wives” is quite humourous”.
The remainder of the tracks include a cover of Vince Gill’s “When You Come Around”, which is so different to Vince’s version- Willie has made it his own. There’s also a tribute to “The Songwriters”, written by Canadian Gordie Sampson, and legendary songwriter Bill Anderson, and Billy Joe Shaver’s “Hard To Be An Outlaw”.  Shaver also contributed “The Git Go”, a duet with Jamey Johnson.
Willie can be an acquired taste. But he wouldn’t be here today, if there weren’t enough fans for this type of Country music. It’s another winner from the hard working Willie Nelson.

When the line up for this year’s Southern Fried Festival was published, and there were two performances from a Dale Watson inspired Englishman, AGS CONNOLLY, I just had to check him out.
And boy, I’m really glad I did.
150% Pure Country.
Ags is from West Oxfordshire, and has attempted song writing for years, but only started taking it seriously after attending a workshop with Nashville based Darrell Scott. Now, his debut album, “How About Now” (Drumfire) has been released to great reviews.
Produced by Dean Owens, the album features musicians like Stuart Nisbet and Jim McDermott, who have played on records by the likes of Justin Currie, The Proclaimers & Deacon Blue.
All the material is written by Ags, and is totally Country.
Kicking off with the traditional “When Country was Proud”, a song that really marks the spot.
It just gets more Country, track by track, with “That’s The Last Time”, “I’m Not Someone You Want To Know” and “A Good Memory For Pain” standing out for me.
He livens it up on “The Dim & Distant Past”, which has a rockabilly beat, but with a sound that pre dates rock’n’roll. Real vintage.
He definitely has a Dale Watson influence, but I hear a few other influences, a bit of David Allan Coe, Johnny Paycheck, and even Johnny Cash and Hank Snow.
On a couple of the slower songs, especially “She Doesn’t Need Anyone Anymore” and “How About Now”, dare I say, I hear a bit of Raymond Froggatt too.
He does a tribute to Texan singer James Hand, which, as he points out, “If you’ve never seen James Hand, I don’t expect you to understand”, but no doubt you’ll seek out his music, after hearing this.
This is vintage Country. It sounds nothing like today’s Nashville sound.
It’s the real deal.

Every so often the record label’s release a big promotion Country compilation, which turns out to be a big seller. For Country fans, they find that they already have many of the tracks, but these albums are aimed at the general public, who may have heard of a few tracks, but discover a number of other artists they hadn’t heard before.
LEGENDS OF COUNTRY, is a 3CD set released by Sony, which features 60 tracks, including Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, Kenny Rogers “Ruby” and Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” amongst others. But there’s also Brooks & Dunn (Cowgirls Don’t Cry), Alabama’s “Song Of The South”, Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffett’s “Five O Clock Somewhere” and David Allan Coe (She Used To Love Me a Lot).
A good collection for someone who doesn’t have a lot of Country music in their collection,. But if you’re reading this, you’ll probably have most of the tracks already.

Now onto our homegrown artist of the month. HEATHER DICKSON from Fife, caught the ear of Texan songwriter Terri Sharp, who asked her to record some of her songs. The result is “Eventually”, an 11 track album, recorded in Nashville with producer Rick Durrett.
The album has a nice mix to it. It kick’s off with “Right Where I Wanna Be”, an uptempo number, which should earn her some good radio airplay. It’s followed by “Perfect Common Stone”, a nice ballad, which, personally, stood out for me.
The title track, “Eventually” is a soft ballad, which really suits Heather’s vocals.
There’s a nice Celtic feel to “Right Out Of The Blue” and “Look Out My Window” thanks to the pipes of David Goodman.
“If You Only Knew” has a good modern Country sound, Heather’s vocals are quite raunchy on this one.
“You Cant Blame The Train” is a good catchy number, originally a Country hit for Don McLean. It’s one of the stand out tracks.
“That’s Love” has a different feel to it again. It’s an uptempo number, with quite a catchy summer feel to it. And the album ends with “Smokin’ Gun” another uptempo number.
A really good, well produced album.

Next up, a new from Nashville name, CASSADEE POPE. The young 23 year old was the winner of the US version of “The Voice”, where she was mentored by Blake Shelton.
Now her debut album, “Frame By Frame” (Decca) has been released here following a whistle stop showcase in London recently.
As I expected, it is fairly Nashville pop, but the girl has a really good voice, and I really enjoyed the songs she’s chosen. She has also co-written five of the 11 tracks. The lead single here in the UK, “I Wish I Could Break Your Heart” was too pop for me, but the album does feature some great tracks.
Track 1 is “Good Times”, a superb opener, which really hits the spot.
“You Hear a Song”, one of her own songs, which she wrote with Nathan Chapman, is a superb ballad that impressed me a lot. A slightly more gentle ballad is “One Song Away”, which I also liked.
Another track which I enjoyed was “Easier To Lie”, but the track that really stood out for me is “11” (which is confusing, as it’s actually track 10). Again, co-written, Cassadee recalls her painful childhood in an emotional delivery, with a simple musical arrangement.
She’s a pretty girl, and has lots of pictures throughout the CD booklet. I don’t like to comparisons, but she’s not unlike a certainly Shania Twain, and, her music, like Shania, perhaps leans more to the pop side, whilst still appealing to Country fans.
Well worth a listen.

JIMMY BUFFETT is quite a cult figure in music. He’s been around since the 70’s, had less than a handful of Top 40 Country chart hits, but his music is still enjoyed wherever it’s played.  I remember there were specialist magazines devoted to his gulf coast sound, long before Kenny Chesney made it mainstream.
Of course, being featured on an Alan Jackson hit did his career no harm at all.
Humphead have just released “The Jimmy Buffett Collection : Sun ,Sea And Margaritas”. It’s a double CD featuring 40 tracks. I suspect that only the most hardened Buffett fan will be familiar with all the tracks.
It does include the recognisable one’s like “Margaritaville”, “Changes In Latitude, Changes In Attitude”, “Livingston Saturday Night”, “Boat Drinks” and “Come Monday”.  There’s also few that were hits for others like “Stars On The Water”, “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Stars Fell On Alabama”.  One of Buffett’s great talents was writing songs that just twisted words from famous sayings. There are a few here, like “The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful”, “I Heard I Was In Town” and my favourite “If The Phone Doesn’t Ring It’s Me”.
Great to hear all these great songs, and a lot of Jimmy Buffett stuff I hadn’t heard before.
A superb collection.

ZOE MUTH is one of the most Country voices around these days. She first made her name up in America’s northwest, where she was labelled “Seattle’s Emmylou”. She played bars and cafes, as a young pre-school teacher on minimum wage, to pay for her 2009 debut album, which earned rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now her third album, “World Of Strangers” has just been released here (Signature Sounds), ahead of a tour in the autumn.
This album marks a slight change of direction for Zoe. For, on New Years Day 2013, she uprooted herself from Seattle to Austin, Texas, the home of pure Texan honky tonk music.
She certainly sounds as if she’s settled in quite easily.
All but one of the ten songs are self penned. The exception is a cover of Ronnie Laine’s “April Fool”, which is given a really neat Texan arrangement, including tex mex accordion.
The variety of the songs vary from the steel guitar laden “Mama Needs A Margarita” to the uptempo rockin’ “Too Shiny” , “Make Me Change My Mind”, and the soft slow “Annabelle”, which features some rather un-honky-tonk  arrangements with cello, piano and violin (courtesy of Dixie Chick Martie McGuire, no less).
Bruce Robison is featured on the slow & beautiful “Somebody I Know”, one of the two five minute plus masterpieces on the album. I was also smitten by “Waltz Of  The Wayward Wind”, with its old west feel.
The beauty of Zoe Muth, however, is her heavily accented, sweet vocals. Pure Country!

KATIE McGARRY is a new name to me, but I certainly enjoyed her album “Waiting On”. I believe this is the second album from the singer songwriter from Prince Edward Island.
The press release with the album suggests that Katie is Country/Americana with a dash of folk & pop to wash it down. Her influences range from Patsy Cline to Sheryl Crowe, and The Dixie Chicks to Fleetwood Mac.
The eight track album, all written by Katie kicks off with the catchy mid tempo “Lover For The Night”, which sounds really radio friendly. “Til I’m Already Gone”, “Go Easy” and “Why I Keep Hanging Around” are a bit slower, but really shows Katie’s vocal range.
The closing “It Shall Be Done” is again, quite catchy and radio friendly.
But the one that really knocked me out was “One Of Those Things”, a really catchy Country song that easy gets into your head.
As I say, Katie McGarry is new to me, but I’m really enjoying her music, and hope to hear more, Certainly one worth checking out.

Florida based TOM SHED is a Grammy nominated singer songwriter, who injects humour and social beliefs into his music. His latest album, “Mama’s Going Out” (Curly Maple Music) certainly covers a lot of ground.
Tom, maybe doesn’t have the best voice around, and the production is a bit basic, but that just adds to his authentic style.
The opening track is an uptempo homage to single mums, whilst he sings of the Native Indian in “Congratulations Standing Bear”. He tells of the murder of a game warden in “Plumes”, and about relationships in “Scream & Shout”.
The banjo influenced “Tomorrow” has quite a neat look at the future, in a rather optimistic way. He also lets rip on “Banjo goes NASCAR”, which is a superb little instrumental.
But the stand out track has to be “It Don’t Mean Your Country”. He wont get mainstream US “country radio” plays with this song which pokes at today’s country stars, with lines like they’re “all hat and no horse” and “You’ve got to be Country music, not just duet”.
But he certainly gets my vote.

KRIS DELMHORST grew up in Brooklyn NY, but her musical home is in Boston MA where she cut her teeth on open mics, bar gigs, and subway busking before embarking on her life as an internationally touring songwriter.
Delmhorst now lives in the hills of western Massachusetts with her husband, songwriter Jeffrey Foucault, with whom she occasionally performs as part of the collective Redbird. She has released six albums on respected indie label Signature Sounds.
Her latest album, “Blood Test” has just been released, her first of original music since 2008′s critically acclaimed album “Shotgun Singer”. A prolific writer and constant collaborator, Delmhorst continues to share her unique perspective in this new work. The album describes a moment of reckoning and centering in the songwriter’s life, and in society as a whole.
The title track to the album is one of the more uptempo offerings on the 12 track album. “We Deliver” also has quite an infectious beat to it.  “Temporary Sun” has quite a full sound, whilst “Bright Green World” is a much more commercial sounding uptempo number.
“Homeless” is a much slower song, but Kris delivers it well, as she does on “92nd Street”, for which she has a video available for checking out online.
I liked “Little Frame”, quite a simple song, with some nice piano and steel guitar mixed together. But more impressively, showed her vocals at her best. “My Ohio” also stood out.
An interesting listen. Certainly one if you enjoy female singer songwriters.

RED MOLLY are a New York based folk/Americana trio consisting of Molly Venter, Laurie MacAllister and Abbie Gardner. They formed ten years ago, and boast some beautiful harmonies.
Their latest CD, “The Red Album” is released at the end of August, in advance of an October tour which includes a date at Glasgow’s CCA on 23rd.
Whilst several of the tracks are quite folksy, there are quite a few songs which are well suited to Country Radio.
“You Don’t Have The Heart For It”, written and sung by Abbey, is a beautiful Country song, laced with some really wonderful steel guitar of Adam Ollendorff.
“My Baby Loves Me”, written by Molly, wouldn’t be out of place on Country radio either. It’s quite an uptempo catchy number.
There are a couple of covers, the most notable being Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound”, which really suits their harmonies.
A really nice listen.

Next up, a new CD from MICHAEL-ANN, a young lady from Kansas, who certainly packs a full sound into her first full album called “Heavy Load”.
She has written all but one of the tracks, and certainly impressed me with the range of material. It’s a real feel good mix in the main. Definitely Country, with bluegrass, folk, blues and rock overtones throughout.
The album kicks off with the downhome fiddle foot tapper, “Any Day”, which certainly lures you into the rest of the album. Later on, “Bumble Bee” keep the feet tapping.
Tracks like “Never Mind” and “Trail Of My Tears” continue to keep me interested, with their  open road drivin’ beats.
The title track, “Heavy Load”, has a more serious tone, with lines like “Seems to me I’m in need of healing… Well You Got to Help A Troubled Soul”. The song is very much in the style of Linda Ronstadt.
“Mama’s Sleepin”, starts off bluesy, and turns into a rip roarin’ modern bluegrass number.
“Hard To Breathe”, “Bring It On Home” and “I Would” are slower Country ballads, and she sounds at home with this style of song, as she is with the more uptempo numbers.
Altogether, this was a delightful album to listen to, and will enjoy listening it to more in the near future.

Our final review this time around, is from JANE KRAMER, an Oregon based, but North Carolina raised, singer-songwriter. Her album, “Break & Bloom” is not due for release until September, but I’m delighted to be able to review this for you this month.
Jane has an amazing voice, one that blends the Appalachian bluegrass style of Carolina, to the Americana hotbed in the north west.
The Appalachian style is best evident on tracks like “Nobody’s Woman Tonight”, “Hold My Whiskey” and ”Mourning Dove”.
She sounds more like a singer songwriter on “Georgia”, “That Muddy Waters” and “One Precious Life”.  Then she goes all gypsy style on “Any Way You Like, Child”.
An interesting voice. Not mainstream, by any means, but if you like your music a little different, Jane is worth checking out.

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