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Monday 3 April 2017

April 2017

The Country2Country Festival has been and gone for another year, but Humphead Records intend to keep the music alive going forward. They have released a 40 track, 2CD collection, “5 Years Of Country2Country”, featuring tracks from some of the acts that have appeared since the first event in London in 2013.
The package comes complete with a 24 page booklet with some information, and pictures on the artists contained on the two CD’s. Not only that, it comes in a hard back cover, like a CD size book.
Included you’ll find Zac Brown, Reba, Kip Moore, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Old Dominion and Vince Gill, just to name a few.
There are a few tracks included from UK acts, like The Shires and Ward Thomas and there’s also Belfast’s Catherine McGrath, with “Hell Would Have To Freeze Over”. The 19 year old grew up steeped in traditional music, then discovered Taylor Swift !  Yes, her self penned song is quite pop, which makes her ideal c2c material.
The 40 track collection is quite a Nashville pop affair, but then, that’s what Country2Country is all about.  This is a really well presented collection of modern Nashville music, and a valuable memory of the past five years of festivals.

Country2Country visitor REBA McENTIRE used her visit here to support an interesting double album of gospel music, “Sing It Now” (Big Machine). Although, a bit of a different direction for the Oklahoma born superstar, Reba puts her own stamp on the songs, and makes it another Reba album.
The first CD is her versions of traditional gospel classics like “Jesus Loves Me” (the first song she ever sang on stage, apparently), “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder”, “Amazing Grace”, “I’ll Fly Away” and “How Great Thou Art”.
Trisha Yearwood and Kelly Clarkson join in on “Softly And Tenderly”. Although all well known songs, that really didn’t need another cover, Reba does them real justice, and, possibly given them a new lease of life.
By contrast, CD2 is all new material, where Reba delivers some good modern numbers, including “I Got The Lord On My Side”, a bouncy hand clapping anthem type song, co-written by Reba, with mum, Jackie.
It all kicks off with the title track, “Sing It Now”, which really sums up the album. As Reba says on the sleevenotes, “it connected the dots between the hymns and the new material”. It really works.
“God And My Girlfriends” is a great song co-written by talented Canadian singer songwriter Patricia Conroy. It was recorded by fellow Canadian Beverley Mahood a few years back, but great to see Patricia getting a cut from Reba too. Reba says it’s a song that she’s wanted to record for a long time. Well, it was worth the wait, and what a great job she’s done on it. It’s getting lots of deserved attention.
“Back To God” is a powerful song from the pens of Randy Houser and Dallas Davidson. She also puts her heart and soul into powerful arrangements to “Angel On My Shoulder” and “Say A Prayer”.
Other notable contributions include former duet hit partner Linda Davis, who co-wrote the ballad “I Need To Talk To You” and Jessie Alexander and Sarah Buxton who co-wrote (with Steve Moakler), “Angels Singing”. The album closes with a rather different track in “Meanwhile Back At The Cross”, which really appealed to me.
It’s a real Reba album, polished, without losing her own style. A real winner.

MARTY STUART is one of Country music’s true believers. He’s an artist who really has his roots steeped in Country music’s tradition, having worked his way via Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash.
He released his 18th studio album, “Way Out West” (Humphead) just prior to his appearances at the Country2Country Festivals.
This album pays homage to America’s old west, without being a typical cowboy or western album. Supported by his long time band, “His Fabulous Superlatives”- Harry Stinson, Kenny Vaughn and Chris Scruggs, Marty takes us on an emotional roadtrip heading somewhere west of here!
Some of the songs have a good “hillbilly thump” to them, notably “Time Don’t Wait”, and to a lesser extent, “Whole Lotta Highway”. They really let rip on the old Benny Goodman number “Air Mail Special”.
He slows it down on “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” and “Old Mexico”, which Marty delivers in the way Johnny Cash, or even Marty Robbins would’ve done in years gone by. In fact, he even covers “Lost In The Desert”, which Cash recorded one time.
Marty does lose himself in the desert, with the title track, “Way Out West”, an eerie atmospheric number from a true poet.
There are several instrumentals, which recreate the atmosphere of those spaghetti westerns.
It’s a really interesting concept album, one that I know will have been a labour of love for Marty.  I’ll be interested to see what the Country2Country festivals goers thought about it though!

DARIN AND BROOKE ALDRIDGE are a married couple from North Carolina, where the Appalachian approach to bluegrass music really blends well.  Their eighth album, “Faster and Farther” (Mountain Home) is true testament to that.  Darin is a former member of The Country Gentlemen, and Brooke has one of these irresistible voices, not too removed from the likes of Rhonda Vincent. They both handle lead vocals well, together they blend their voices beautifully, and then add in some simple, authentic down-home arrangements, and the result is one stunning album.
The songs are from established writers and performers like Carl Jackson, John Cowan, Darrell Scott and Pat Flynn. Most of the numbers are new to me, but quickly liked.
The songs range from the catchy upbeat “Kingdom Come”, “Lila” and “Cumberland Plateau”, to mid tempo tracks like “Fit For A King” or “Mountains In Mississippi” to story songs like “Eugene And Diane”.  I really like to the softer ballads like “Highway Of Heartache”, “Still Falling” and “Heaven Just Got Sweeter For You”.
Brooke also picks up on the Ian Tyson classic, “Someday Soon”, and John Cowan and Vince Gill both add their vocals to the CD.
I loved this album. It reminded me a lot of The Whites, and the albums they made a good few years back. The music here is timeless.

JIM LAUDERDALE is one of the most versatile guys around Nashville these days. The North Carolina native had a couple of major label albums in the late 80’s and 1990’s, which produced hits like “Stay Out Of My Arms” and “Maybe”. His music wasn’t the most commercial, but became highly respected amongst his peers. He has no less than 28 studio albums to his name, the latest, “London Southern” recorded in Balham in South London.
Over the years Jim’s music has crossed boundaries from rock & pop, through Buck Owens’ Bakersfield sound, Texas, Bluegrass and Americana. Last year he was given the Wagonmaster Award at the US Americana Awards, and has just appeared at Celtic Connections as part of this year’s Transatlantic Sessions with Aly Bain and Eddi Reader.  As a songwriter, he has written for everyone from Vince Gill and Patty Loveless to Elvis Costello and Blake Shelton.
This album began its life on a previous visit to our shores, as Jim claims some of the songs were born in Glasgow, Liverpool and London.  Produced by Neil Brocklebank and Robert Trehern, and featuring other players from Nick Lowe’s band, Jim has come up with an interesting mix.
The album kicks off with “Sweet Time”, a catch old time classic Country sounding number, with some nice piano work from Geraint Watkins.
“I Love You More” has a smokey blues feel to it, as does “If I Cant Resist”.
Some of the numbers have quite a pop feel to them, notably “You Came To Get Me”, and “I Cant Do Without You” but others have a real catchy Country feel to them. “Don’t Shut Me Down” stands out, as does “This Is A Door” and “No Right Way To Be Wrong”.
It’s not the most Country album Jim Lauderdale has done, but he’s such a versatile musician that I’m sure recording in London, it was never going to be so.  Still a great album though.

JOSH TURNER has one of the most Country voices around these days. His deep southern drawl has been part of the Country scene since 2003, when his “Long Black Train” arrived in Music City. His latest album, “Deep South” (Humphead) was released here last month, and I have to say that it didn’t disappoint.
Despite his last album “Punching Bag” hitting No.1 on the Country charts, and No.4 on the US Pop charts, it’s taken 5 years to get this new album released. The first single from “Deep South” was released in 2014, and didn’t quite make the impact of his previously hits, so the US label put the album release on hold.  That single was “Lay Low”, a rather slow ballad, which is probably one of the least impressive tracks on the album. I’m glad the label eventually released the full CD.
The album kicks off with the title track, an anthem to southern living, which I guess, “Southern Drawl” also applies. He’s singing about a girl, but Josh, himself, has one of the deepest Southern drawl’s around.
Upbeat tracks include the racey “One Like Mine” and “All About You”.
He does slow the tempo on a few tracks like “Hometown Girl”, “Beach Bums” and “Never Had a Reason”.
Some of the arrangements were more modern than suited the songs, but Josh’s vocals make such a mark on the songs here, that he overcomes that distraction.
But, then to close the album, something completely different. “Hawiian Girl” was written by Josh, but it sounds right out of a Hank Snow collection. It has a really refreshing sound, and enhanced by the harmonies of Ho’Okena, a Hawaiian musical group, which just gives it authenticity.
I really enjoyed the album. Josh is one of the newer guys around Nashville that still sound Country!

LAUREN ALAINA is another ex-American Idol contestant now finding her home in Nashville. She was runner up in the 2011 series. Immediately after the series she was assigned to a record deal, and her debut album, “Wildflower” hit No.2 on the Country charts, and No.5 on the US pop charts.  Yet it’s taken six years for her to release the follow up, “Road Less Travelled” (Humphead) which has just been released here in the UK.
Lauren is no stranger to Nashville. She first arrived when she was just 12 years old, and performed at Tootsies. The Georgia native is a veteran of contests, whether talent or pageant, and was a cheerleader in high school.
But she’s not just a pretty face. She co-wrote all 12 tracks on this album.
As with many of today’s Nashville based girls, Lauren does have more of a pop sound than Country, But there are a few tracks that did appeal to me. The title track, “Road Less Travelled” is quite catchy, and also the title track to her first movie role, due for release this spring.  “Think Outside The Boy” and “Painting Pillows” are both really nice songs. I also quite liked “Same Day Different Bottle” and “Pretty”.
“Next Boyfriend” is another quite pop sounding number, but offers the corniest of chat up lines, “You look a lot like my next boyfriend”.  
I did enjoy her ballads more, I’d have to say. But she certainly has a superb voice, and is a talented writer. If you like your Country with more than a bit of pop, Lauren Alaina is well worth checking out.

Staying with the girls. JENNY GILL has one of Nashville’s greatest pedigrees. She’s the daughter of Vince Gill, and her mum, Janis was a Sweetheart of The Rodeo. She’s grown up with their music, and even recorded and performed on stage with dad.
And now, Jenny has launched her own career with a 6 track EP, simply called “The House Sessions”, recorded at Vince’s home studio. She’s not just another chip of the block though. Jenny has really honed her craft before taking the big step into recording. She wrote five of the six songs, and has her own sound.
She has quite a soulful feeling to her music, especially on “Lonely Lost Me”, “Lean On Love” and “The Letter”, but “That’s Where Loving You Has Landed Me”, really shows her vocals, and features some really nice steel.
“Whiskey Words” is different again. This time she has a very simple arrangement, and is probably the most Country track on the CD.
Jenny is perhaps a bit more soul than Country, but she sure has a superb voice.

Occasionally, you may find a singer or songwriter run their own independent record label, and a few performers have gone onto major label management roles after their own career. But I haven’t heard of a record label executive go on to become a singer-songwriter, but that is exactly what WYATT EASTERLING has done. He was head of A&R at Atlantic Records in Nashville, signing and producing John Michael Montgomery and Michael Johnson amongst others. As a writer, he’s had cuts by Neal McCoy and Joe Diffie.
But Wyatt had originally arrived in Nashville as a recording artist, with an album under his arm. And in recent years, he has got back to doing just what he loves- making the music.
He moved back to his native North Carolina, and the result is this latest album, his third acoustic CD, called “Divining Rod” (Pheonix Rising Records).
It’s a really pleasant easy listen, featuring a dozen songs, all but one self-penned. The exception is a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Pacing The Cage”.
The album begins with “Stumbling Towards The Light”, one of two songs that features harmonies from Canadian singer Lisa Brokop, and her husband Paul Jefferson. The song tells of some of Wyatt’s struggles in life.
The track’s which particularly caught my ear include “Scars”, which is quite a wee story song, the quite catchy “Don’t Cry For Me”, and the closing ballad “Somewhere Down The Road”.
By the very acoustic nature of the recording, it’s quite a folksy sounding album, but years in Nashville have not gone to waste, it’s quite a nice listen for Country fans too.

AGS CONNOLLY has possibly, the most Country sound of any artist in Britain today!  That’s a tall statement I know, but, if you’ve heard him, you’ll surely agree. Whilst he has his own sound, honed in deepest rural Oxfordshire, there’s certainly a Dale Watson / Austin Texas, influence to his music.
His debut album in 2014 got rave reviews from all who heard it, and his new release “Nothin’ Unexpected” (At The Helm Records) will only increase Ag’s popularity.
From the opening fiddle on “I Hope You’re Unhappy” (courtesy of Eamon McLaughlin), you know that you’re listening to real authentic Country music.
Certainly the Texan swing numbers really won me over. “Neon Jail” and “Haunts Like These” really captured the Texas dance hall atmosphere.
Many of the songs are quite slow, but Ags voice really oozes with honest emotion on them. “Do You Realise That Now”, appeals to me, with its’ beautiful tex mex accordion from Michael Guerra (The Mavericks), giving it a lovely Spanish flavour.  “Nothing Unexpected” is a ballad about visiting an old haunt, and life’s changes. Other reflective numbers include “Fifteen Years” and “Slow Burner”. All but one song is from Ags’ own pen. The exception is “I Suppose”, written by Louden Wainwright III.
To make such a Texas influenced record, you’d imagine that Ags would head for The Lone Star State. But, no!  Try Pencaitland in East Lothian ! The album was produced by Dean Owens, and features Dean’s regular musicians like Stuart Nesbit and Kev McGuire.
It’s great that such great sounding authentic Texan music can be produced over here. Ags is back up in this these parts next month. He’s well worth catching.

Speaking of DEAN OWENS, his new single, “Julie’s Moon” (Drumfire Records) was released last month to coincide with Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal.  All proceeds from sales of the single will be donated to the Marie Curie charity.
Dean is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s finest singer songwriters, with fans including Bob Harris, Ricky Ross, Irvine Welsh and Russell Brand.  His songs including “Raining in Glasgow” and “Man From Leith” have been hailed as classics of Scottish songwriting.
In September 2015 Dean’s beloved big sister Julie finally lost her battle with cancer. She was 50. Julie was a huge supporter of her brother and his music, always encouraging him, always at his gigs. Written very shortly after her death, “Julie’s Moon” is one of Dean’s most personal songs, although it was a subject he would have preferred to avoid. But some songs insist on being written, and the final result is lyrically poignant but also characteristically musically memorable.
It’s a beautiful song, with a really nice arrangement. I really like the way that Brian McAlpine’s accordion discreetly makes its’ mark on the song so beautifully.
The single is available from the main download sites.

Continuing with our homegrown talent, and to an album by NORRIE McCULLOCH , called “Bare Along The Branches” (Black Dust Records).  This is Norrie’s third album, and he’s slowly building up a following on the Americana scene. In the past year he has played Glasgow Americana, Southern Fried and SummerTyne  Festivals.
This album, recorded in the tranquillity of Stirling’s Tolbooth Auditorium, really features a strong production. Players include Dave McGowan, Iain Thompson, Stuart Kidd, Marco Rea and Iain Sloan.
And Norrie has a superb vocal style.
The album kicks off with a rather folk-pop flavoured number “Shutter”, which was quite was quite catchy, as is “Never Leave Behind”.
The more sounding Country numbers include the banjo and mandolin infused “Frozen River”, the harmonica intro’d “Around The Bend” and the simple acoustic “me & my guitar” rendition of “Turn To Dust”.
Slower numbers include “Little Boat”, “Lonely Boy”, “This Time” and 7 minute epilogue “Beggars Wood”.
I really enjoyed the album. Nice CD cover too.

Glasgow singer songwriter RAYMIE WILSON describes himself as “a 50-something singer songwriter”, and his music “an Americana melting pot of Bluegrass, Southern Rock and Pop Country”.
He’s a multi-instrumentalist, who has been around the music business for 40 years, doing everything from being a resident musician at the Glasgow Pavilion, to backing The Supremes and The Shirelles in Singapore. He has been bit writing songs for years, before putting them down in a recording studio. He has previously released an album and an EP, and now comes “Rocky River”, which I think would appeal to a lot of Country clubbers around Scotland.
The 11 track all original album kicks off with the really catchy “I Never Gave Up On You”, which really catches your attention. The title track is also quite commercial.
“Big Jock’s Gone” brings it all back home, with mentions of working in the shipyards, proving that you can produce Scottish Country music. Then, there’s “Whiskeybones”, with some neat banjo, and, yes, the bones get an airing too.
Most of the tracks are quite upbeat, but he can slow it down too. “Sorrow Is A Friend” is different from the rest of the album. It almost has a church sound to it. And it works well with the song. Other slower numbers include “Aint It Funny” and the Latin flavoured “She Was a Beautiful Girl”.
It’s not a big production album, but the energy in Raymie’s presentation really made a strong impression on me. I think the Country clubs will like his sound.
Raymie hosts an Open Mic night at the Beer CafĂ©, in Candleriggs in Glasgow’s Merchant City every Monday. Be sure to check him out.

Next, an interesting album which was born out of a meeting in London’s, now defunct, Gladstone Arms, back in the summer of 2014. Blair Chadwick and Charlie Bateson were looking for instrumentalists and a vocalist respectively. As things transpired, they both found new songwriting partners. They called themselves STEEPWAYS, and the results of the last three years can now be heard on “Holy Smoke” (Mansion House Records), an 11 track collection of original material, which neatly blends British 70’s pop, Country and folk.
They cite influences as diverse as Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings to The Kinks and Cat Stevens.  There certainly is a mix in there. Just when you think they have a place on a Heartbeat TV soundtrack, up pops some impressive steel guitar, courtesy of Darren Buddell.
The album has a real country feel to it, especially on tracks like “Bystander”, “Dying On The Vine” and “Rather Be Alone”, the latter featuring Siobhan Parr(ex Alabama 3).
Then, completely different, is the rockabilly beat of “Chaperone”.
I really liked this album. Good British Country music!

BOB CHEEVERS has been a troubadour for 50 years now, taking his music all over America and the world. He is celebrating with the aptly titled “Fifty Years” (Howlin’ Dog Records), a 5 CD box set, comprising 83 tracks from his 10 previous albums, with some unreleased master recordings that have been gathering dust in his vault or years.
He grew up in Memphis, influenced by R&B, before spending 25 years on the West coast, playing pop music, followed by 16 years as a journeyman in Nashville, before finding his musical feet in Austin, Texas. Along the way he has written over 3000 songs.
Bob is a regular visitor to the UK, and was here again in February to promote this collection.  If you’ve had the pleasure of catching one of his intimate gigs, you’ll know that he has a distinct Willie Nelson sound, and does has the Willie Nelson look too. Like Willie, his music has a bluesy edge to it.
He has a famous quote, “I don’t know if these stories are true, but they happened to me”.
The collection includes titles like “My Guitar”, “The Man In The Moon and My Heart”, “Is It Ever Gonna Rain” and “Texas Is An Only Child”.
If you need to catch up with your Bob Cheevers collection, this is a great way to do it.

DREW HOLCOLB AND THE NEIGHBORS are a band born out of the booming East Nashville Americana scene, which can be overlooked by mainstream Country media. They have sold over 100,000 albums and played over 1800 concerts worldwide. Their last album, “Medicine”, debuted at No.47 on the Billboard Top 200, as well making its’ mark on the folk, rock & indie charts.
His latest album, his tenth, “Souvenir” (Magnolia Music) should surely, catch Country music’s attention. I found it a really good listen, and one which readers should listen out for when released here on April 21st.
The attached bio claims the album to be “equal parts folk singer, country crooner and pop hook provider”.
The songs are all composed by band members, mainly Holcomb himself, but a couple from Rich Bruntsfield and Nathan Dagger too. They vary from the slow burning “The Morning Song” and “Black And Blue”, to the more upbeat “Mama’s Sunshine, Daddy’s Rain”, “Postcard Memories” and “California”.
“Fight For Love” has quite a radio friendly feel it, whilst “Yellow Rose Of Santa Fe” has a lovely old west influence.  It has some really nice arrangements, and one that really struck a chord with me.
I really enjoyed this album. Hopefully Country media elsewhere will catch up with Drew too.

LYDIA SYLVIA MARTIN really demonstrates some wonderful Appalachian music on her album, “Chasing The Ghost” (Dryad Records).  Many people’s exposure to this style of music remains exclusive to “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”, but this lady really adds to the genre.
She grew up moving between West Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky, and recorded this album in Louisiana. Her influences gained through her life show through here.
The tracks range from upbeat instrumentals like “Liza Jane” and “Fisher Hornpipe” (you really hear the Shetland fiddler influence on American music coming through here), to slow “Oh Brother” type numbers like “Jo Bones” and “Cherry River Line”.
“Lonesome Road Blues” is a nice ballad, performed as a harmony duet with Dirk Powell who produced the album. Dirk’s fiddle is quite prominent on this track.
Phil Wiggins’s banjo really adds to the mix on “C & O Train”.
Won’t be everyone’s taste, but if you like the old style authentic Appalachian sound, check this lady out.

CARRIE ELKIN has, for over two decades, been quietly making a name for herself on the Americana circuit. It was 21 years ago that the Austin based singer songwriter recorded her first album. It’s been six years since her last solo album, as she’s been busy touring with husband Danny Schmidt, as well as The Sam Baker Trio.  But the wait is over, and Carrie is back, with a new album, “The Penny Collector”, dedicated to her father, who passed away in 2015.
Her vocals are quite haunting. Various sources put her in the same bracket as Patty Griffin, Iris Dement, Nanci Griffith or Emmylou. I wouldn’t argue against any of these comparisons. But Carrie has her own sound.
Most of the songs are slow, with very simple arrangements, which really put emphasis on her beautiful voice.
But There are a few more upbeat numbers, namely, “Live Wire”, “My Brother Said”,with “Tilt-A Whirl” building up the tempo as the number progresses.
A really nice listen.

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