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Friday 5 April 2019

April 2019

The Country2Country Festival has certainly made its impact on Country music’s popularity in the UK and Europe, and this year heads down under to conquer Australia. To the more traditional Country fan, much of the c2c sound is just too pop, but the promoters do try to spread the musical styles around.
Humphead Records have been big supporters of the festival, which was held in Glasgow, Dublin & London last month. The label released “Country To Country Vol 4” just in time for the festival. A 2CD package, offering 40 tracks, is a good collector’s item for festival goers, and a good introduction to the modern Country scene for those not quite convinced yet.
Not only does the collection include artists who were appearing at this year’s event, like Lady Antebellum, Hunter Hayes, Dustin Lynch and Ashley McBryde, but also previous visitors like Marty Stuart, Sugarland, Lukas Nelson and Maren Morris.
The album features some brand new music, like Cam’s “Diane”, Old Dominion’s “Make It Sweet”, new trio Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks” and “I Believe In You” from Ward Thomas.
It’s an interesting selection. There’s a lot of different tracks on here, although Mo Pitney’s “I Met Merle Haggard Today” is my favourite track.

One of the names who appeared at this year’s Country2Country was CARLY PEARCE, a Kentucky native, who took the Dollywood route into Country music. She got a deal with Sony Music in 2012, which didn’t produce anything at the time. Featuring on a song by Texan Dirt band, The Josh Abbott Band, led to her debut single, and album, “Every Little Thing” being picked up by Big Machine Records.
Her early exposure to music was in bluegrass bands, before she even hit her teens, and she also worked on bluegrass compilations whilst in Dollywood.
But there’s very little of that early bluegrass influence on this album (although, I believe did feature in her set at c2c), which includes 8 songs co-written by the 28 year old singer, many with her producer busbee, who has also worked with Maren Morris and Lady Antebellum, as well as Pink, Gwen Stefanni and Kelly Clarkson. Other writers featured include Shane McAnally, Ashley Gorley, Hillary Lindsey and Allison Veltz.
It is a Country pop album, but I do actually quite like her voice, which shines through above.
The hit singles from the album including the opening track, “Hide The Wine”, which does have a very Maren Morris “My Church” sound, and the softer title track which is a smouldering ballad. The latter hit No.1 of the US Airplay chart.
It is the ballads which I preferred, notably “If My Name was Whiskey”, “You Know Where To Find Me” and “I Need A Ride Home”, which was the stand out track for me.
Having said, I really liked the mid tempo “Catch Fire”. Not particularly Country, but quite catchy and infectious.
The whole album is quite pop Country, as I said, but there was just enough to keep this Country boy interested.

MARTY STUART has built up a career of respect amongst his Country music peers, having “done his time” working and learning from Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash. HumpHead Records latest classic release is Marty’s “The Definitive Collection Vol 2”, a 3CD collection featuring no less than 65 tracks, stretching back to “One More Ride”, a duet with Cash from 1993, and “The Whiskey Aint Workin’ (with Travis Tritt) from 1991, as well as a couple of cuts from the Hillbilly Rock album in the late eighties.
It has to be pointed out that you wont find “Hillbilly Rock”, “Tempted”, “Western Girls” or “Honky Tonk Crowd” on this collection- they were all included on the 44 track Volume 1.
But you will find a wide variety of Stuart’s classic album cuts, from “Sundown In Nashville”, “A Satisfied Mind”, “I’m Blue I’m Lonesome”, “Hey Porter”, “Tear The Woodpile Down” and “Half A Heart”.
There are collaborations with The Old Crow Medicine Show, Loretta Lynn, BB King, Mavis Staples and Del McCoury, which really shows the versatility of the guy.
There are some newly released archive material, such as a 15 year old Marty doing mandolin on a live version of “Rawhide”. The track originally came from a “Live From Vanderbilt” recording in 1974. From the same era comes “Mystery Train/ Tiger Man”. The playing is superb, but Marty’s vocals have thankfully improved over time.
Another instrumental is “Marty Stuart Visits The Moon”, first heard on his “Loves & Luck” album in 1994.
There are some genuinely new 2019 recordings, the highlight being the old timey “Homesick”.
To top it all, the package comes in a small CD sized hardback booklet, which includes some amazing pictures, mainly black & white from a great career. Marty personally put this album together, both musically and photographically.
It includes some incredible moments from Country music history.
A must have!

The phrase “Too Country”, to describe a singer who sticks to their traditional roots, is not a new term. Back in the 90’s, a guy from Kentucky called MARTY BROWN got high acclaim from the traditional Country music fans.  I loved his music, and have continued to play his him over the years. His label, MCA, stuck by him for 3 albums, and released 6 singles, but only 1 charted, reaching a high of just No.74!
But Marty wasn’t a quitter!
He has kept going over the years, with the odd recorded project. He also wrote hit songs for the likes of Tracy Byrd and Trace Adkins. He even entered America’s Got Talent back in 2013, and got to the top 10, with his version of Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” getting 11 Million You Tube hits!
Now, Marty’s been back in the studio, and his latest album, “American Highway” (Plowboy Records), is released in May, marking his welcome return to the recording scene, and hopefully, radio.
I have to say that Marty’s traditional roots, have given way a little. There is definitely a bit more blues in his music, notably on “When The Blues Come Around” and “Casino Winnebago”.
The album kicks off with the drivin’ “American Highway”, followed by “Better Than It’s Ever Been”, which is a rather Country rock number. Again, it has a good driving beat to it.
There’s quite a soul feeling to “Umbrella Lovers”, the lead single from the album. It kinda reminded me of Ronnie Milsap in his heyday! It’s soulful, country, and has enough crossover potential to really get him on the charts.
“Shakin’ All Over The World” is quite different to anything else on the album. It’s quite upbeat and quite poppy, whilst “Right Out Of Left Field” has a bit of a rockabilly feel to it. It works really well.
“Kentucky Blues” is one of the stand out tracks for me. Inspired by Elvis’ “Kentucky Rain”, it conjures up memories of Milsap again, with a dash of Kristofferson and Tom T Hall, all rolled into one.
“Velvet Chains” is another really strong song, written about his daughter growing up, and not being his little girl anymore.
Great to hear Marty Brown back on the scene. Let’s give him some attention this time around!

I often consider TOM RUSSELL to be one of music’s real storytellers. As well as having recorded 35 albums, he has published six books, including a detective novel, and collection of songwriter quotes. His art is on display in several major galleries worldwide.
As a songwriter, he has written for Johnny Cash, Nanci Griffith, kd lang, Tom Paxton and Ian Tyson, amongst others.
His music covers a range of genres. Sounding quite rocky at times, he also creates an image of the wild west, or a tex-mex tavern, or of places around the world.
His latest album, “October In The Railroad Earth” has 10 originals, and one cover. The different styles are still evident, with the common link, being observant stories. The title track opens the album. The lively train song reminds me of just how much his style is like that of Johnny Cash.
His stories range from performing a small gig in “T Bone Steak and Spanish Wine”, and appreciating the poetry of Robert Graves in “Red Oak Texas”.
The album also includes “Small Engine Repair”, an older song he had never recorded. The song was originally written about the man who fixed his lawn mower in El Paso, but was picked up for the 2006 Irish film of the same name, about an aspiring Country singer, played by Scottish actor Iain Glen.
“Isadore Gonzalez”, has a strong Mexican feel to it, yet he talks of playing for the folks of “old England”, and drinking “strong English beer”. Gonzalez was a Mexican vaquero who was touring England in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, back in the 1880’s. He died in a horse accident, and is buried in an unmarked grave in Bristol. And now immortalised in song here.
“When The Road Gets Tough” is another inspired after being stuck in English traffic, somewhere north of London.
The Bakersfield Sound of the 50’s & 60’s, inspired “Highway 46”, a lovely number which recalls some of the areas big names, like Buck, Merle & Spade Cooley.
“Back Streets Of Love” is a nice ballad. It’s also his Anti- GPS song, believing his heart is a better guide than a satellite system.
He rocks it up a bit on “Hand Raised Wolverines”, a song inspired after touring in Canada.
“Pass Me The Gun, Billy” is a cowboy song. His own Wild West adventure, chasing poachers who were shooting at his brothers cattle.
He rounds off the collection with another train song. The first song he learned to play on guitar was “Wreck Of The Old ‘97”, and is included here.
It’s another classic Tom Russell collection of stories put to music, and really enjoyable it was.

NORMAN BORLAND has been a popular name on both sides of the Irish Sea for many years. Originally from Donegal, Norman headed for Scottish shores way back in the 70’s seeking work. His musical journey developed here, through working with Steve James and Toe The Line, whilst developing a name for himself at the same time.  He is now back on the Emerald Isle, and finally making inroads into his native land’s rich musical scene.
His latest album (his 5th, if my sums are right), “Even The Man In The Moon Is Crying” was recorded in Letterkenny, with respected Irish musicians like Jonathan Owens, Brian Kerrigan, Declan O’Hare, Al McQuilken, Mike Cleveland, Richard Nelson, James Blennerhassett and Danny Sheerin.
One thing that makes Norman really stand out from the Irish crowd, is that his music is 100% traditional Country. A huge Haggard fan, the album includes “Working Man Blues” and “The Fugitive”.
The title track is a cover of a Mark Collie song from the 90’s. It was Collie’s biggest hit, and Norman does it real justice. He also does a good cover of Lee Greenwood’s “Dixie Road”.
He does Dolly’s “Gypsy Joe & Me”, although probably owing more to Ray Lynam’s version rather than the original. His version of “If Hollywood Don’t Need You”, is a bit more upbeat than Don Williams’ original. On the ballads side, his cover of the Glen Campbell/Steve Wariner song “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” is superb, as is Collin Raye’s “Angel Of No Mercy”.
The more unusual songs for Norman to record include the popular line dance number , “My Veronica”, which has  been a really successful song for him, and The Derailers’ “The Right Place”.
Country through and through. It’s a superb album.
Available through

DAVE SHERIFF is one of the UK’s most regular recording acts, and one of the most accomplished performers in the country. Over the years he has embraced the traditional Country scene, the line dance network, and has set his sights on Ireland over the past couple of albums. Many Irish acts have recorded Dave’s songs, and, for his new album, “Donegal Time”, he went to Ireland’s 4th biggest county, to record his latest album (Stomp Records).
Dave has developed a happy beat, which suits the dancers of all persuasions. The album’s title track kicks off the album in that way. There’s also “Yur Never Too Old To Jive”, Fordson Major”, “Play It Again”, and the celtic influenced “Galway Boy”.
But Dave also gives us sentimental ballads, like “Come What May”, “The Next Dance With You”, the really traditional “Don’t Be A Stranger”, which is the stand out track for me.
There’s also a fitting tribute to Gary Perkins on “We’ll Always Have Our Memories”.
Dave has been recording and performing for longer than many of us care to imagine. He knows his audience, and knows just how to deliver his music to the audience.

JASON RINGENBERG is one of the most individual characters in the music business. He found success back in the 80’s with Jason & The Scorchers, a band which mixed Punk rock and Country, has had a chain of solo albums, and more recently developed Farmer Jason, a character aimed at children through music & TV.
His last solo album was released 15 years ago, and the last Scorchers album in 2010. Jason had resigned himself to working on his farm, and do the occasional Farmer Jason gig.
Then, out of the blue, he was commissioned to be Artist in Residence at Sequoia National Park in Southern California. He spend a month there, in a mountain cabin, exploring the park and performing for visitors, and writing.
The result is “Standing Tall”   (Courageous Chicken Music), an eclectic mix of music, and he’s still mixing high energy rock music alongside gentler Country overtones. Included are 7 self written numbers and four inspiring covers.
Although the album kicks off with the title track,   I’ll start with “Here In The Sequoias”, a gentle ballad, with some neat mandolin, and harmonies from Kathy Livingston and Beth Koehler, which really sets the tone for the album.
He captures several heroes throughout the album, including John The Baptist, (John The Baptist Was a Real Humdinger) and John Muir (John Muir Stood Here). Both recapture Jason’s earlier punk roots, as does “God Bless The Ramones”.
“I’m Walking Home”, is a song from the perspective of a disillusioned Conferderate soldier. Completely different to anything else on the album, it has a good lively beat, which lends itself well to the topic.
The covers are just as diverse. “Hobo Bills Last Ride”, an old Jimmie Rodgers song, is given a delicate arrangement, so different to the punk flavoured numbers. Even more diverse is a cover of Jean Shepard’s “Many Happy Hangovers To You”. I can’t imagine what Jean would think of it. The punk overtones are there, but the song remains Country based. A really interesting selection.
And to round it off, he does a gentle version of Dylan’s “Farewell Angelina”.
This is an interesting album. One that you certainly have to listen with an open mind, I certainly enjoyed it.

AMBER CROSS is a well travelled young woman. Born in Maine, studied in New Mexico, lived all over California (where she still resides), and recorded this album in Austin. She first caught the attention of music critics six years ago with the release of her first album. Now, her third album, “Savage On The Downhill”, has arrived, just in time for a short UK tour, which includes dates in Aberdeen and Edinburgh this month.
Amber had attended a Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Nevada in 2015, and it made such an impression on her, she wondered if her music would fit into the western music scene. Through Chuck Hawthorne, and Ray Bonneville, who ended up producing the album, Amber found herself immersed in the music, and the result is the 10 tracks here.
It’s not a typical western album of the Roy Rogers, or even Chris LeDoux style. Amber has created a modern take on the old, or perhaps I should say New, west.
The album kicks off with the upbeat “Pack Of Lies”, which neatly sets the tone for the album. Other upbeat numbers include “One Last Look”.
The title track is more of a smouldering, haunting number, which features Gurf Morlix playing guitar.
“Eagle & Blue” and “Storms Of Scarcity” are softer melodic numbers, the latter enhanced by some lovely Tim O’Brien fiddle.
Loneliness is covered in several songs, notably the simple “Trinity Gold Mine”, and “Echoes” which captures homelife, and explains why things aren’t as rosy as they seem. This one kind of reminded me of early Loretta songs, although a bit more controlled, and it does feature some lovely steel from Mike Hardwick.
I really liked the simplicity of “Leaving Again”. It’s quite a bouncy little number.
The album closes with “Lone Freighter’s Wail”, an old timey train song, written by producer Ray Bonneville, the only track not penned by Cross, herself.
I love Amber’s voice. It’s accented, and really suits these songs, which bridge old style Country, with a touch of western, folk and even rock in there. I really liked her sound, and loved this album.

TYLOR & THE TRAIN ROBBERS are a band of characters, hailing originally from Helix, Oregon, who really capture a nation of travels on “Best Of The Worst Kind”. The band is led by Tylor Ketchum, who has created a sound which brings forward a passion for the America West.
And from the American West enters “Black Jack” Ketchum, the centrepiece of the album. A Texas cowboy turned outlaw, he was a member of the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, which operated out of the same New Mexico hideout as the famous Wild Bunch led by Butch Cassidy. “Black Jack” is also a distant relative of Tylor Ketchum and the inspiration for the band’s name. Set for release on the anniversary of Black Jack’s hanging, the album is a bit of roots, country and Americana with influences from Texas and Red Dirt country music.
The CD kicks off with the mid tempo “Lost And Lonely Miles”, which sets the tone for the whole album.
“Good At Bad News” is a hard luck story song, telling how sure plans never turn out. “Pay Your Way” has a number of catchy clichés on the “all your eggs in one basket” phrase.
“Fumblin’ For Rhymes” is an upbeat “chasin’ your dreams” song. “Hide Your Goat”, is a driving upbeat number
“Storyteller”, “Before It’s Too Late” and “Few and Far Between” are a bit on the slower side, as is the album’s closer “Place Like This”.
I loved this album. Not for its western overtones, but for the simple fact that Country music used to sound like this. Good to hear Country music, like this, is still getting recorded.

Bluegrass bands are really all round entertainers. Whilst the image of a bluegrass band, may conjure up images of old timey banjo music, and a similarly old timey dress code, today’s bluegrass bands are much more creative in their musical arrangements. Hayseed Dixie, and our own The Daddy Naggins come to mind, as best examples of that.
There’s also CHATHAM COUNTY LINE, who describe themselves as “Newgrass”, a four piece, suited, outfit from Raleigh NC. The quartet have been together for 20 years, and have eight previous albums, and their new album, “Sharing The Covers” (Yep Roc) has just been released.
Yes, it’s an album of covers, but done in a unique bluegrass style. And, indeed, the “covers” aren’t a set of tried and tested numbers. The song choice comes from all genres of music.
The album kicks off with Wilco’s “I Got You (At The End Of The Century)”
They also honour Tom Petty , John Lennon and The Rolling Stones, as well as more Country offerings like “My Baby’s Gone” (The Louvin Brothers) , “Girl On The Billboard” (Del Reeves), “Think Of What You’ve Done” (Carter Family) and “I’m Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar” (Delmore Brothers). There’s an interesting take on John Hartford’s “Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry”, which may have something to say about the wider Nashville redevelopment going on at present. There’s also a superb instrumental, “Walk Don’t Run”, which was one of the biggest hits for The Ventures (America’s version of The Shadows).
The Petty cover, “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, sounds very Country, although Leo Kottle’s “Bumblebee” and The Stone’s “The Last Time” do come over a shady rocky.
Altogether though, a really first class offering. Interesting, fresh arrangements. I really liked this album.

Another bluegrass album comes from JACKSON GRIMM, a multi instrumentalist and singer songwriter from Asheville NC. “The Bull Moose Party” (Vault Records) covers insights into the heartache and desolation felt on a young man’s exodus from home. His bio states that the album doesn’t fit easily into one genre. I’d say that the album fits very nicely into a number of genres.
The nine track collection kicks off with “Appalachia Calling”, an upbeat driving number, which starts with some strong acapella vocals.
“I’d Hold You (But I Don’t Wanna Hold You)” and “Mid America Blues” are a bit less bluegrass. The latter certainly has a subtle bluesy feel, but the three part harmonies really make it an interesting number.
The fiddle intro, from producer Josh Goforth, really adds to “If Not For You”, one of the most straight Country tracks on the album. Described as a waltz, the song also features some neat “high lonesome harmonies”.
“Last Train Home” is something a centrepiece of the album. It’s a “party-grass” number, in the style of the Old Crow Medicine Show.
“Runnin’ Ragged” is a fast foot tappin’ number which really worked well for me.
“Evangelina” and “Paper Airplane” are both much slower numbers. The latter, notably, features some nice harmonies, which reminded me of early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band records
All the tracks were written by Jackson, and made for a really nice listen.

MARK MANDEVILLE & RAIANNE RICHARDS are an old timey, bluegrass influenced duo from Maine, whose music is popular in Canada, as well as their native New England. They have been performing together, and have a string of albums behind them, and their latest, “Live In Manitoba” (Nobody’s Favourite Records), was recorded during a 13 date House Concert tour. The album recreates the atmosphere of the small intimate session, with short introductions and chats popping up in between songs. The quality of the song recordings are, however, so clear, that they could’ve been in a studio.
All but two of the songs were written by the pair. The exceptions being covers of Tom Petty’s “Walls” and Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend”. Both covers really stand out on the album, but don’t let that distract you from the rest of the album.
Most of the vocals are lead by Mark, although it’s Raianne who leads on “Don’t Ever Stop Believing”, ”That Old Machine” and “One More Mile”, although the harmonies together are superb.
“It Wont Be Written On My Grave” is a catchy number which stands out. But, the harmonies are so beautiful, and the instrumentation so simple, that there’s not a bad track on the album.
A lovely listen.

Closer to home are a London based duo of Duncan Menzies and Robin Joe Sangster, who perform under the name of COPPER VIPER. They played their first public show at the Filey Folk Festival in April 2017, and now have their album, “Cut It Down,Count The Rings” released this month.
Their bio suggests that are an acoustic folk group, but there is certainly Country and bluegrass influences evident throughout the 11 self penned tracks, which were recorded in Washington State in America’s Northwest.
Menzies is originally from the North East of Scotland, and developed his fiddle and mandolin skills playing Scottish traditional music.
The music varies from the old timey opener, “Bad Desires”, the breezy “All In One”, to the double bass driven “Fly”,
to slow moody ballads like “Howl” and “Doors”. “Slow Down”, which closes the album features some nice mandolin.
“Hung Up Alone” is a stand out bluegrass number, and they do a really crackin’ job of it.
There’s certainly a lot of variety across the album, covering a range of genres.
Interesting CD cover too, with no artist or title prominent. It’s what’s inside that counts, and I enjoyed it. A nice, if different, listen.

Finally, DANNY SCHMIDT is an Austin, TX based singer songwriter, who has been named in the “50 most significant songwriters in the past 50 years” in the Chicago Tribune. He is up there with Leonard Cohen, Harry Chapin and Townes Van Zante.
“Standard Deviation” (Live Once Records) is his 10th studio album, recorded in Atlanta, and features 10 self penned numbers.
It’s all simple songwriter fayre, largely Danny and his acoustic guitar, with some additional Bass, Piano, steel, strings, banjo, mandolin and harmonica when required. All the songs are pleasant, and Danny’s vocals are really nice and listenable.
The tracks which impressed me most, included “Bones Of Emotion”, a really catchy Country feeling number, and “Newport ‘65”, with some impressive harmonies, from several singers, including his wife Carrie Elkin. “Agents Of Change” is another which worked well for me.
“Last Man Standing” is one of the more upbeat numbers, with a bit more instrumentation, and a catchy chorus lines.
A really pleasant album, released to promote his forthcoming tour, which calls at Glasgow’s Glad Café on May 8th.

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