Search This Blog

Monday 6 June 2022

June 2022

We’re going to kick off with two new releases that prove that traditional Country music is very much alive.
ALEX MILLER is a real bright light of hope for traditional Country music. At the young age of 18, 6’ 6” tall Miller is one of the most distinctive Country stylists around.
Alex first found fame as a competitor on American Idol Season 19, but his career began back at the age of seven with shows in and around his hometown of Lancaster, Kentucky. Since departing Idol, Alex has performed at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, five State Fairs , has headlined his own shows, and opened for Hank Williams, Jr., Josh Turner, Lee Brice, and more.
Now, after a couple of taster singles, Alex’s first album, “Miller Time” (Billy Jam Records) is out, and, what a great listen it is. It features 5 songs written by Alex, 4 of them alongside producer Jerry Salley, who has songwriting credits with Patty Loveless, Brad Paisley and Loretta Lynn, as well as performing accolades in the bluegrass world. 
The album kicks off with catchy foot tapper “Breaking The Bank”, which instantly shows this guy’s real Country credentials. It’s the same style that he established with his first couple of singles, “I’m Over You So Get Over Me” and “Don’t Let The Barn Door Hit Ya”, both of which are included in this 10 track album.
He changes pace with his latest single, “Through With You”, a much gentler ballad, but still stone Country. “Boys In Uniform” is a slower patriotic number.
Back to the upbeat songs, “Girls Must Be Clumsy”, is a great fun number, with one of the corniest lyrics we’ve heard in a Country song, “Girls Must Be Clumsy, cause they’re falling for me”! 
One of the songs Alex didn’t write is “Kentucky’s Never Been This Far From Tennessee”, which is a real stand our swing number, laced with twin fiddles and steel guitar licks. “I’m Gone” is another swing number. Then, he really let’s rip with the fast & furious “Freeborn Man”.
When traditional Country music is such a part of you, it’s only natural that Hank Williams is part of the mix. Alex closes his debut album, with a rousing version Hank’s “I’m Gonna Sing”, and he even gets The Oakridge Boys to join in. What an achievement for a young 18 year old, fresh out of school, to have someone as legendary as The Oaks feature on your debut record!
This is a wonderful Real Country Music album. Alex Miller is the Real deal! 
The most Country performer I’ve seen in recent years, has to be JOSHUA HEDLEY, known as the “Mayor of Lower Broad”, after his status in the popular Roberts honky tonk bar in Nashville. Following his highly acclaimed debut album, “Mr Jukebox”, back in 2018, Hedley returns with the highly anticipated “Neon Blue “ (New West ).
Whilst his debut showcased his deep knowledge of country music history, in particular the beery ballads of the 1950s and ‘60s, “Neon Blue”, examines a very different, often forsaken era: the early 1990s. “The last bastion of country music,” says Hedley, “was the early 1990s, roughly 1989 through 1996. You could turn on the radio and immediately know you’re hearing a country song. You could still hear steel guitar and fiddle. But there was a hard fork around 1996 or ‘97, when country veered off into pop territory. “Neon Blue” asks, What if that fork never happened? What if country kept on sounding like country?”
After making Mr. Jukebox with a close group of friends, Hedley decided to record his follow-up with professional session players — a Nashville tradition.
To be honest, to my ears, the music on here goes back further than the 90’s, but that’s alright with me.
The title track is quite a rocky number, which is probably the track which impressed me least on the whole album.
The album kicks off with the catchy “Broke Again”. If you can imagine a cross between Buddy Holly and Alan Jackson, you’ll get a feel for this track.
I have a keen affection for “Country & Western”, a real Country song, with influences from Ernest Tubb, through to George Jones.
“The Last Thing In The World”, a swing influenced honky tonk bar, had echoes of Marty Stuart and George Strait. It’s a real toe tapper. Other honky tonk numbers include the catchy “Bury Me With My Boots On” and the softer “Found In A Bar”.
Slowing things down, “Down To My Last Lie”, is another that you can hear Strait recording, whilst “Free” has a distinct Keith Whitley influence.
When I met Joshua on his last visit to Glasgow, he enthused about Ronnie Milsap, and his influence comes over on “Lets Make A Memory”.
The album closes with the gentle ballad, “River In The Rain”, quite a contrast to the some of the upbeat numbers that dominate this album, but it’s great to hear that Joshua demonstrate his versatile offering on here.
Whilst I’ve likened Joshua Hedley to the likes of Strait & Jackson, he isn’t copying them, but he is sure keeping that tradition alive.
 It’s a superb album. One that I’ll continue to play for a long long time.
“Neon Blue” is available across digital platforms, on CD, and standard black vinyl, as well as several limited edition vinyl editions. And Joshua is back in Glasgow, at The Glad Café on June 8th.
REBA McENTIRE is one of Country music’s Female icons, with sales of over 40 million albums over her 45 year career. Now, she releases a special CD & DVD package, ”MY CHAINS ARE GONE” (Snakefarm Records) , featuring Reba performing some of the most beloved hymns of all time.
The DVD offers fans a long-requested recording of Reba’s 2017 first ever solo headlining show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN, featuring special guests Trisha Yearwood, Kelly Clarkson and The Isaacs, along with newly captured 2021  performances recorded at Clementine in Nashville, TN.
The CD features many of the same tracks and, again, features guest performances by Christian music singer Lauren Daigle, Kelly Clarkson, Trisha Yearwood and The Isaacs. The songlist includes such standards as “Jesus Loves Me”, “Amazing Grace”, “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder” and “How Great Thou Art”, alongside a good upbeat rendition of “I’ll Fly Away”. The Isaacs feature on the sensitive “In The Garden”, and Kelly Clarkston & Trisha Yearwood join on “Softly & Tenderly”.
Stand out tracks for me though, are Bill & Gloria Gaither’s “Because He Lives”, and “I’d Rather Have Jesus”, (written in 1922 by Rhea F. Miller and George Beverly Shea)  simply because they’ve been  given a real Country  arrangement here, with some wonderful steel guitar.
The biggest surprise of this album is just why it’s taken Reba so long to do a gospel album, especially as she grew up so close to the Rodeo Christian circuit, in which her sister Susie found her vocation.
It’s a nice listen, all the same.
JASON ALDEAN has built up quite a career, since he first hit the charts back in 2005. 9 No.1 singles, and 10 albums later, he’s joined the ranks of those Country artists, who are releasing part albums, cumulating in an eventual full release. 
Indeed, in Aldean’s case, he released the 15 track “Macon” last year, with a further 15 track collection “Georgia” being released this spring. The full release of all 30 tracks on “Macon, Georgia”, features 20 new and at least one live hit off each of his previous albums. As well as the CD and digital versions of the full album, the full release is also available in a commemorative 3-disc vinyl set.
The “Macon” disc even features a duet with Carrie Underwood on “If I Didn’t Love You”. Their vocal styles do match nicely.
“Story For Another Glass” is one of the few tracks which caught my attention. Indeed there are a few alcohol related songs (not unusual in Country music, of course) like “That’s What Tequilla Does”, “This Bar Doesn’t Work Anymore” and “Whiskey Me Away”.
I was also quite taken by “Heaven”, which is quite a killer ballad, which should appeal beyond Country music.
“Your Mama” is one of most sensitive tracks on the collection, and is the stand out track for me.
The “live” tracks from previous albums, include “Amarillo Sky”, “Johnny Cash”, “Big Greene Tractor”, “Take A Ride” and “Any Ol’ Barstool”.
Aldean has built up a big fan base over the years, and, they will enjoy this collection of new and live material.
Another blast from the past is SYLVIA, who had a string of Country hits like “Drifter”, “The Matador” and “Nobody” back in the 80’s. Well, she’s still around, and has just released her 11th album, “Nature Child – A Dreamer's Journey” (Red Pony Records).
A concept album for children, families, and the dreamer in all of us, “Nature Child” is described as a soundtrack to a journey that will inspire young and old alike to pursue their dreams.
The album represents an important milestone for Sylvia. Having written more and more of her own material in recent years, Sylvia co-wrote all the songs here, with writers Verlon Thompson, John Mock, Thom Schuyler, and Craig Bickhardt. The album was recorded in Nashville amid the pandemic with Sylvia’s longtime friend, collaborator, and co-producer, John Mock.
These days, Sylvia has a much more polished sound than the pop flavoured Country hits of 40 years ago. It’s almost classical in parts. There’s always been a hint of that in Sylvia’s material, from the early hits like “Matador”, to a couple of tracks she contributed to a James Galway album, back in 1983.
If you’ve ever seen any of the marvellous big TV productions of “Celtic Women”, well that’s what I’d liken the production of this album to, complete with haunting harmonies, and simple, yet effective instrumentation.  
She even has a track, called “Dancing Over An Emerald Isle,” which starts off as a slow classical air before developing into a jaunty little celtic jig. She uses the Emerald Isle as “a metaphor for the imagination, a land of endless possibilities”. Beautifully performed, it’s very much in Clannad’s style.
The title track begins by drifting off into a reverie and then brings listeners joyfully home to nature, for, as Sylvia notes, “Nature calls to us, protects us, and loves us ‘home at last.’ This is really what the whole album is about.”
The opening track, “Avalon” starts off slow and orchestrated, before blossoming into what sounds like a movie theme.
Other tracks include “Every Time A Train Goes By,” in which an American roots sound with a gentle beat giving a sense of motion to the vividly recounted (and true) story of Sylvia confronting her first fears as a young child.
“Don’t Be Afraid To Dream” is another song which could be biographical, telling of a young girl growing up, dreaming of hearing herself sing on the radio, with the moon as her spotlight, and the stars as her audience. It creates a very visual picture, without the use of video.
Sylvia has a lovely voice, and has created an artistic masterpiece with this album. Unfortunately, it’s not mainstream Country, but a really pleasant listen.
Coming home, Alex Mills is one of the most popular performers, especially in the East Coast and Central Belt of Scotland, whether it be in The Diesel Cowboys, The Blue Rose Band, or Rhodes County. In more recent times, Alex played alongside longtime friend Joe Ogilvie in Tin Star. A few years back, Alex and Joe were talking about writing songs for a new album. Unfortunately Joe took ill, and sadly passed away before the album became reality.
Alex teamed up with his son, Alex II (who is also part of the duo Something Borrowed, with his wife Stephanie), to complete writing the album, “Enjoy The Ride”, under the name of ALEXANDER’s TIN STAR.  It’s a truly original album with all the songs self penned, all the instruments are played by the duo, and Alex II engineered & produced the album for Room 6 Music.
The title track opens the album. It an upbeat danceable number (indeed, Lo-Anne Keilloh has composed a line dance for it). Alex confesses to have had The Mavericks in mind, when they wrote and recorded the song.
“Too Many” was a song, originally written back in 1991, became quite poignant during to co-writer Joe’s condition. It’s a nice, laid back number, which I really enjoyed. “Big Ideas And Dreams” is in much the same vein.
If there’s a message in this song, then there’s an even bigger message on “Liquid Diamonds”. This song, (the only one outside of the tight writing circle of the Alex, Alex II & Joe), features lyrics by German author, Hilde Linsel, who connected with Alex during lockdown, when Joe was posting regular songs on Facebook. Hilde sent some lyrics to Alex, and he incorporated them with a melody, and this is the result.
“Heartbreaker” has quite a rocky intro but mellows into an upbeat Country toe tapper. “The Bottle” has quite a contemporary driving beat to it too, as has “Hypnotised”
“Times Like This” is a catchy upbeat number, as is the optimistic “Better Man” and “A Short Time” and “My Thunder”
Joe is remembered, as there are credits to him having contributed lyrics to three of the songs, including his final lyrics, on the album’s closing track, “Life Of The Rodeo”, which he contributed just three weeks before his passing. It’s a soft, gentle, reflective ballad. It’s a lovely tribute.
The production is first class. I really enjoyed this album.
AWKWARD FAMILY PORTRAITS are a Glasgow based roots band, who really stand out for being different.   Covering a jump jive leap that spans rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, classic country, tex mex  and western swing to gypsy jazz and a cool ‘50s lounge lizard groove, this trio certainly defy the boundaries of musical genres. Selected as Tenement TV’s “Ones To Watch for 2018”, the band went on to appear at venues as diverse as Country2Country, Celtic Connections, HebCelt Festival and Belladrum, and  tour extensively across the UK and in The Netherlands and Spain.
Now comes their second album, “Dear Old West” (Holy Smokes Records), which is a real concoction of musical styles.
The 11 track original album kicks off with the catchy “Snakes & Ladders”, which has echoes of the old west. That traditional western feel continues on tracks like “La La Bodega” and “Little Diamond” were really quite nice.
There’s a bit old west Tex mex influence on “Ojos Rojos”.
“Sugar,Honey, Coca Cola” is different again. It’s a bluesy lounge ballad, coming right out of the 1930’s or 40’s.
“All Out Of Luck” has a similar feel, although has a bit more go to it, and I really quite enjoyed it.
“Don’t Know Where It Goes” is probably one of the most Country tracks on the collection, but is very much of the traditional Hank or Lefty inspiration. “These Four Walls”, which starts with an upbeat swing intro, before settling down to an old timey Country styling.
“The Boy Who Never Cried” is a more mainstream ballad, whilst I liked the old time swing feel to “Can You Set This Demon Free”.
The Awkward Family Portraits are a real specialist taste. They’re music doesn’t fit nicely into any box, especially modern Country, but it is a real blast of fresh air. 
On the Irish scene, County Antrim’s ALASTAIR COYLES has been making a name  for himself in recent years. He’s actually been singing on the Northern Irish scene for the past 18 years and “Ring Of Gold and Gift of Silver” is his fifth album to date. 
Alastair has good traditional deep vocals, which he uses to blend his Country & Irish styles on this album. On this album, he has featured a number of songs from fellow Irish writers.
Probably best known would be Charlie McGettigan and Paul Harrington’s 1994 Eurovision winner, “Rock And Roll Kids”, which Alastair does a really nice job on.  
Elsewhere, he does an emotional tribute to one of Ireland’s biggest Country legend’s on “Big Tom Sang Gentle Mother”, and his native county is honoured on “The County Of Antrim”, written by Jordan Mogey and Joe McShane. BG Pollock wrote the title track, as well as “Ha’penny Hearts Of Gold”, a lovely song recalling childhood, I’ve got to say this is one of my favourite tracks on the album.
But it’s not all Irish. He covers Jimmy Fortune’s “I Believe”, a song which has been gaining a lot of recognition in gospel music circles of late. He also covers the Ed Bruce classic, “Texas (When I Die)”.  There’s also a version of Harlan Howard’s upbeat “Sunday Morning Christian”.
Altogether, this is a very enjoyable album, certainly for the Irish Country fans.
This album, and his previous releases are available from
We’ve a few old timey/ bluegrass releases from Canada come in recently.
We have previously reviewed THE SLOCAN RAMBLERS last two albums in these pages, and their latest, “Up The Hill And Through The Fog”, recorded at Union Sound Studios in Toronto, can now be added to the collection.
The Ramblers are a four piece outfit featuring Darryl Polsen, Adrian Gross and Frank Evans, with Charles James joining them for this recording.
The album features 11 self penned originals, the exception being a Tom Petty cover, “A Mind With A Heart Of It’s Own”, which is given a bit of a rocky treatment, which is generally out of line with the rest of the album.
The album kicks off with the rather bluesy “I Don’t Know”, but quickly gets into upbeat bluegrass gear with “You Said Goodbye”, and continues with similar upbeat numbers like “Bill Fernie”, “Bury My Troubles”, and “Bring Me Down Low”.
Slower, mandolin infused numbers like “Would You Come Back Home”, which offers some nice harmonies really worked for me too. “Streetcar Lullaby” is also quite a pleasant ballad, influenced by one of Toronto’s City centre public transport options. I also liked the mid tempo “The River Roaming Song”.
There are also quite intensive instrumentals in “Snow Owl”, “Platform Four” and “Harefoot’s Retreat”.
I found the album a really enjoyable listen. These guys can certainly play!
Heading out west, we find a trio of guys called THE WARDENS. Scott Ward, Bradley Bischoff and Ray Schmidt have been touring the smallest and remotest venues across Alberta and up to Alaska and south to California, since forming in 2009. When the touring was stopped in 2020 when the pandemic hit, they put their energy into putting this album together. It’s called “Sold Out At The Ironwood”, which at this point is a dream, or a goal, but, on this performance, it’s not an impossible dream. The Ironwood is a venue on Calgary’s 9th Avenue.
Based out of the Banff National Park area, these guys are influenced by the cowboys who brought their campfire storytelling traditions to the area. The Wardens are keeping that tradition, and the stories alive.
The harmonies are superb throughout, as is the instrumentation.
The 12 track album kicks off with the very simple, “The Code”, about the rules that ensure the tradition survives. It’s a lovely introduction to the album.
Although dealing with western influences, there is quite a folksy feel to many of the tracks, notably on “Timberwolf Reprise” and the fiddle instrumental “Selkirk Snow”.
A few have more mainstream arrangements, like “Half-Mile Honeymoon”.
The harmonies really stand out on tracks like “The Legend Of Wild Bill” and “Coming Home”.     
I kept hearing Ian Tyson’s inspiration coming through across the album, but especially on “Thousand Rescues”. Tyson, of course, is a Canadian legend, who, similarly, sang about the Canadian heartland.
Just to get the full appreciation of The Wardens, there are a couple of live tracks recorded at Calgary’s Bow Valley Music Club. The quality of these recordings are on par with the studio tracks.
I really enjoyed this album. Different and refreshing.
Our third Canadian CD takes us north into the Yukon. THE LUCKY ONES won many fans from their debut album last year, and now follow up with “Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance”.
Recorded over a four day span, the group describe the album as “no frills, only honest old time hillbilly music, with a Yukon twist”. The songs are drawn from real life in the far north.
The album kicks off with the story of “Kate and Dan”, the story of two notorious criminals, who met their fate at the end of the rope.
The harmonies are outstanding on a number of tracks, notably on the bluegrass influenced “Goodbye Train”,”Jake”, and the honky tonk flavoured “Fifth Of You”.
“My Gal Is Good To Me”, the only song not written within the band, is a catchy old time honky tonk number.
“Keno City Love Song” is a soft gentle, yet humorous, ballad, which has been likened to Kristofferson. It’s a lovely story of arriving into a new place, and following in love with it instantly.  Another soft ballad is “Red The Skies”.
“Broken Bow Stomp” has more than a personal touch for fiddler Kieran Polle, as it came from him leaning on his fiddle to break his bow.
Thankfully, it didn’t affect the album. An interesting listen.
Finally, just a quick mention of a new single from MIKIE HENDERSON, from Caithness. Mikie, you’ll recall was one of The Chicken Pickers, one of the young bands who really established themselves at the Northern Nashville Festivals, a while back. His Scottish culture and American country music influences make for a unique sound, accompanied by honest tales of love, loss and life.
The new song, is a war tribute to the fallen, called “Victory in Europe”, which Mikie released on May 8th – VE Day.  
“A few years ago on May 8th”, he recalled, “I was watching the Victory in Europe Day
celebrations on TV - “the War that would end all wars”... I happened to change the channel and couldn’t believe I was watching our MPs debating whether or not to bomb Syria. The irony that that conversation was happening while we were celebrating the end of World War 2, inspired this song. Although I release this song in tribute of the Fallen of all wars – past and present – I also want to release this song in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. As I sit here on the 8th of May, on Victory in Europe Day , Thinking about the Fallen, who fought to keep me here today”.
Recorded in Bristol, it’s a stirring tune, written and sung with real conviction, but he’s also going for the modern Country fan with the song, as he finishes up the press release with “For fans of Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, and Eagles”.
Do check it out. It’s on all the usual streaming services.
A Hit With a Bullet – Sammy Sadler (Indigo River Publishing)

I’ve got to admit that I’m not a book reader, but it’s one I really wanted to get reading, and I’m really glad that I did.
The author, Sammy Sadler is originally from Northern Texas, but made his way, like many others, to Nashville, in the hope of becoming a star. He got signed to an independent label called Evergreen Records, who also had Robin Lee on its roster at the time. I had played some of Sammy’s records on my University Radio Airthrey programme, and the proved quite popular earning him the accolade of our New Star to watch back in 1988.
But this story really starts one March night in 1989 on Nashville’s Music Row, when Sammy & a friend Kevin Hughes were gunned down by a masked man right there in the street. Sammy survived but his friend didn’t. This wasn’t any random shooting though! Kevin worked for Cashbox magazine, as the guy who compiled the Country music & Independent label charts. It transpires through the book that Kevin was trying to remove the corruption that had infiltrated the chart and the magazine. 
It took the next 13 years before record plugger Richard D.Antonio  was finally found guilty of all the charges.
Sammy was eventually able to get hold of the police records, and this book really delves into all the avenues and dead end leads, the many innocent people (including Sammy himself), whom the police had suspected during their investigation.
But this isn’t just a whodunit. It’s the intriguing tale of chart-fixing in the music business, with record pluggers not just trying to falsely adjust the Cashbox charts, but bribing, and even blatantly paying, the radio stations to report playing records they weren’t, even highlighting one instance where the physical records were held up at the pressing plant, and hadn’t been sent out. There’s also revelations about how the Shoney’s restaurant, which was close to Music Row, at the time, being used by unscrupulous promoters to pick on eager wannabee singers, promising them stardom. I recall the ads in the music papers at the time – “For $1000 , you get a recording session, and your record guaranteed radio play & chart placings”.
There’s lots of personal memories for me in this book. A lot of names mentioned who I’ve met over the years, including some of the sharks. A lot of places I know as well.
But even without the personal memories, it’s an intriguing insight into how corrupt the music business can be. This was the ultimate “Murder On Music Row” – not only did Kevin Hughes lose his life trying to do what’s right, Cashbox magazine ended up being closed down, and the whole music business was held in disrepute.
Sammy has continued to pursue music, and his latest album “1989”, features covers of hits from the year, that he’ll never forget.

No comments:

Post a Comment