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Thursday 23 February 2023

Feb 2023

 We’re starting off with some homegrown Country albums the time around.
Over the past decade or so, BRANDON MCPHEE has expanded his role as entertainer, from being an award winning accordion maestro, to being an equally accomplished singer & songwriter. At the same time he has travelled far from his Caithness home, spreading his popularity all over the Britain, Ireland, and beyond. 
His latest Pan Records album, “Mr Country” features 13 Country songs, which really demonstrate Brandon’s versatility. The album kicks off with an old Ronnie Milsap number, “Back On My Mind”, and goes on through Johnny Cash’s “Cry.Cry”,Cry”, and “The Wall”,  Haggard’s “Branded  Man”, and an especially different version of Don Williams’ “In The Shelter Of Your Eyes”, 
Add to the mix, Willie’s “Sad Songs And Waltzes”, and Elvis’s “There’s Always Me” and you get a real feel for the traditional Country music that he serves up here. 
Anyone that knows Brandon’s music will know how big a Billy Ray Cyrus fan he is, so there’s no surprise to find three of  the Billy Ray’s songs covered here, namely “Where’m I Gonna Live” and the catchy “Milkman’s Eyes”.
He also covers “Bluegrass State Of Mind”, with a more bluegrass appeal than the original.
The most interesting cover though is a song, previously performed by a duo from Illinois called Sable, called “Rainy Days At The Beach”. Brandon does a good job transporting a gulf coast sound to the surfing paradise of the Pentland Firth.   
There’s also two original songs. Brandon’s own “Let’s Start Again”, which takes a despairing look at the world we live in, and exploring the possibilities of starting over again, keeping the good stuff. A nice dream, and a nice song.
He also features the sentimental “Mama’s Gone”, written by Perthshire’s Alex Birnie. The song features some nice harmonies and musical arrangements. It’s slightly different to the rest of the album, but fits in well. 
It’s a truly international production, with Brandon’s vocals and support from Dynamos Manson Grant, Robert Cameron and Keith Macleod, all recorded at Studio D in Wick, with additional musicianship from Ireland’s Crawford Bell and Richard Nelson, while Phillip Anderson in Nashville rounded up Steve Hinson, Hank Singer, Eamon McLoughlin and harmony singer Marcia Ramirez into a studio in Music City. 
The result is “Mr Country” and Brandon is really staking his claim on that title! 

Edinburgh-raised, Nashville based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, JORDAN HARVEY, released his debut EP “It Is What It Is” last month on  BBR Music Group / Broken Bow Records. 
Taking a leap of faith, believing he could make his dream a reality, Harvey moved across the pond and began immediately cutting his teeth playing the graveyard shift at some of Nashville’s most popular honky tonks. Eventually joining the band King Calaway, he gained invaluable experience opening for icon Garth Brooks and performing on national TV shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Late Late Show with James Corden, 
Now he’s released his debut 5 track EP, featuring his previously released debut track “Alabama Girl”, a catchy number that went viral on TikTok with more than 1 million views. He cleverly plays on how “she loves my accent, I love her drawl”. 
“I Will” opens the collection. It’s a rather Nashville pop number, which should fit in well on American Country Radio.  “Along For The Ride” is a good upbeat number, whilst “Thing About Change” is a bit more of a ballad.
Produced by Kevin Bard and Jason Massey and entirely co-written by Jordan, “It Is What It Is”, showcases why the Caledonian cowboy’s (that’s what he’s being labelled in the press release) is being tipped as an artist to watch in 2023. 
He’s just a bit too Nashville pop for me, but he’s ideal material for the massive Country 2 Country audience – and that’s the market that matters these days. 
We wish him all the best ! 

Next up, we welcome album from Aberdeen based NIKKI McKAY, called “More Of You”. 
Nikki was born into a third generation of professional musicians, The first being her Grandfather, the famous Curly McKay's dance band, The second was her father (Michael McKay) a very accomplished, multi instrumental musician, leading a very successful and popular dance band ''Country Edition''.
Nikki got involved in singing and by the age of 18 was performing in her fathers band, both singing all types of Pop ,Rock,Country and Scottish music along with her brother Andrew. 
Nikki studied at Aberdeen College where she studied for four years and gained an ICMA teaching diploma for piano. In 2004 Nikki took part in the BBC programme ''Let's do the show right here''.
The album is a good mix of modern day classics from The Bellamy’s title track, through covers of songs by Emmylou Harris (Beneath Still Waters) to Mary Chapin Carpenter (He Thinks He’ll Keep Her) and The Dixie Chicks (Long Time Gone). 
There’s a few covers of songs from male singers like the opening track, “I Never Really Knew You” (Vince Gill) which really sets the tone, and “Southern Nights” (Glen Campbell). 
There are a couple of non country covers including the Diana Ross hit “Last Time I Saw Him”, and Eddi Reader’s “Perfect” (although Baillie & The Boys did have a Country hit with it). She also delivers a really impressive version of Randy Newman’s “Feel Like Home”. 
This is a good set of cover songs, which I really enjoyed listening to.  I’d like to hear something a little more original, but I’ll look forward to that next time. 

It’s 2 years past on 13th February since Scotland lost one of our most successful, and influential  entertainers after a long and varied career which helped establish Country music in these parts. We’re talking SYDNEY DEVINE MBE, of course, and whilst he had his share of knockers, his success and longevity speaks for itself.  
In the months before his sad passing, Sydney had been in the studio laying down some vocal tracks.  Now, with his family’s blessing, these recordings have been released on his 51st album titled “I’ll Remember You” (Scotdisc). 
As you would expect from Sydney, he captures a timeless, varied, collection of songs that his fans will love. 
The title track, an old Elvis song, which opens the 14 track collection, is especially poignant, as is “For The Good Times”, with it’s opening line “The Party’s Over”. There’s a few songs that he recorded previously, like “Travelling Light”, “Merry Go Round World”, “Together Again” and “She Called Me Baby”.
Scotdisc label mate Tommy Scott wrote “I Never Loved No One But You”, which really stood out for me on the album. It had a real old time Sydney feel to it. 
Elsewhere, his cover of Rita MacNeil’s “Working Man” is dedicated to his father, who worked down the pits. 
“I Fall To Pieces” is a duet with Katherine Kerr, done with a lush, string arrangement. He also honours the legendary Hank Williams on “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”.   
The album end’s with “Heroes” a song written by Peter Anthony Best, which Sydney dedicated to the NHS and other vital front line workers, which is rather timely in today’s climate. 
Dougie Stevenson, Bill Garden , Chris MacKenzie and Brian Costello provided the musicianship on a very pleasant album. One for Sydney’s fans to cherish. 

Bluegrass music has a new champion in the form of BILLY STRINGS, who hails from Lansing, Michigan. He got his stage name from an Aunt who called him Billy Strings after seeing him perform multi instruments on stage. Born William Lee Apostol, he was heavily influenced by his stepfather’s bluegrass playing, at a young age. He released his first album in 2017, to rave reviews. His 2019 album , “Home” won a Grammy and his 2021 album, “Renewal” climbed into the Top 10 on the Country album charts. He won New Artist at the IBMA Bluegrass Awards in 2019, and was named Entertainer Of The Year in 2021 & 2022, and the Americana Awards Artist of the Year in 2022.  
“Me & Dad” is his 4th album, a collaboration with his step dad Terry Barber.
 The album is a collection of traditional, country and bluegrass music from George Jones, Doc Watson, Hank Thompson, A.P. Carter, and others. 
Produced by Strings and Gary Paczosa and recorded at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studio, the
record finds Strings and Barber playing with familiar ease, naturally trading off leads both vocally and
on guitar. In addition to Strings and Barber, the album features an all-star band including bassist
Mike Bub, mandolinist Ron McCoury, banjo player Rob McCoury and fiddler Michael Cleveland as well
as special guest appearances by Jerry Douglas, Jason Carter and Strings’ mother, Debra Barber, who
sings on the final track, “I Heard My Mother Weeping.”.
The playing on the uptempo tracks like the opener “Long Journey Home”, “Little White Church”, “Dig A Little Deep In The Well” and the instrumental “Pear Tree” is brilliant.
Contrasting with the slower numbers like “Life To Go” (which features Dad on vocals), “Stone Walls And Steel Bars”, Hank Thompson’s old “Little Blossom” , AP Carter’s “Wandering Boy” and “John Deere Tractor” , which show off vocal emotions, with traditional backing, I really enjoyed this album. 
Bluegrass music is alive and kicking. 

We’re off to Canada next, and a duo called WHITEHORSE, who it may surprise you, aren’t based in the Yukon capital, but in Hamilton. Ontario.  They combine the talents of Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet. 
Doucet, is long known as one of Canada’s best guitarists, has journeyed from Winnipeg to Nashville and back again, synthesizing blues, rock and country influences through a varied career.
McClelland, whose own guitar prowess deserves mention, has astonishing vocals which fully expresses and inhabits the characters that populate her songs. 
They share the vocals across the 12 tracks on their 7th album, “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying” (Six Shooter Records).  I do have to confess that I’m loving the tracks where Melissa rakes the lead, starting with the opening track, “If The Loneliness Don’t Kill Me”, a bouncy mid tempo, steel laced number, which really set the mood for a great listen.  “The Road” is a little slower, helping her develop her vocals even more. “Leave Me as You Found Me” is a real stand out torch ballad. Her vocals are just amazing, yet so simple. Wonderful stuff. “Sanity, TN” is another Patsy Cline-esque ballad with is quite a dated appeal, whilst “Lock It Down” also works well.
“Bet The Farm” is a bit more bluesy, but was still quite catchy. 
Luke leads the vocals on the brake-speed “Manitoba Bound” and the light hearted “Division 5”, where he reports his lost love to the Mounties. 
He sounds at his most Country on “I Might Get Over This (But I Wont Stop Loving You)”, which unfortunately has a word which will prevent it from being heard on the radio. Such a pity, because I really enjoyed the song. 
“I Miss The City” is a good toe tapping number, which I really liked.
“Six Feet Away”, a haunting ballad where the harmonies are shared is their lockdown song. The two share vocals on the closing “Scared Of each Other”.
I really enjoyed this album. Simple arrangements, superb vocals, and strong vocals. 
They were in London for the Americana Music Week last month. Let’s hope they’re back soon. In the meantime, this album is a really good listen.
We received quite a few Irish Country albums recently.

Louisiana born ROBERT MIZZELL has called Ireland home for over 20 years now, and has established himself as one of the mainstay artists on the Irish Country scene. Robert’s early musical influences came from his parents – both performed in a Church Gospel group. At the age of 17, Robert moved to Connecticut where he worked with his father in the painting & decorating business. He then joined the US army where he served for a number of years. After his military service he moved to Ireland with dreams of a career in country music.
“Make A Little” is his 13th album release, recorded at Ballyrose Media Studio in Roscommon, featuring 14 tracks. 
The title track is a cover of Midland’s rip roaring second single, which Robert does a strong cover. The album starts off with an equally upbeat cover of The Travelling Wilburys’ “Poor House”. 
Other upbeat numbers include Randy Travis’ “Only Worse” and Johnny Cash’s “Big River”.   
I really liked the catchy Joe McShane/Stephen Smyth number “Where’s a Man Supposed To Go”.
Slowing things down , he covers Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” and “I Loved Her First”, a song originally done by Heartland 15 years ago.  He also takes us back to the Urban Cowboy era with Johnny Lee’s “Looking For Love”. 
He has a couple of duets with his wife Adele, the lovely romantic ballad “Love Remains” and the upbeat poppy “Paradise Tonight”, and another pairing with Noreen Rabbette on the Johnny &  June classic “Jackson” and the Christmas song “The Gift”.
There’s also a live studio recording with producer Wayne Thorose on Diamond Rio’s “One More Day”.
I really enjoyed listening to this album. A good mix, all well produced. It’s mainly covers, but they are not instantly recognisable. I like that. 
Robert has been inducted into Shreveport’s Walk of Stars in recognition of his achievements in the world of Country Music, the highest accolade his own home city can bestow on him. Some other people who are inductees are; Elvis Presley, Merle Kilgore (co writer of Ring of Fire) and Hank Williams Snr. and Jnr.   
Well deserved. Check out the album. 

NATHAN CARTER graced the front cover of the last issue, and this month, he’s back touring Scotland, in support of his latest album, “The Morning After”. 
The title track, which opens the album, is an upbeat fun number, which is supported with a video featuring Philomena Begley.
Other upbeat tracks include the Hall & Oates cover “You Make My Dreams Come True”, which is quite a poppy number, and Clint Black’s drivin’ “Nothing But The Tail Lights”. The driving theme continues with  “Riding My Thumb To Mexico”.
Ballads include Lori McKenna’s “Humble And Kind”, and the beautifully romantic, “This Journey”, as well as “Till We Meet Again” and the gospel evergreen “How Great Thou Art”, which is a live recording from the Royal Philharmonic Theatre in his native Liverpool. 
There’s a folky element throughout Nathan’s music, and this continues on this album, with “Keg Of Brandy” and the collaboration with folk band Ceol, on “Heave Away”.
He also teams up with current touring partner Claudia Buckley on the upbeat “This Love Will Never End”. 
For Country fans, listen out for his Conway Twitty medley. A real nice tribute 
The album is a good mix of material, which will be warmly welcomed by Nathan’s legions of fans, especially those who recently enjoyed his Glasgow weekend.

JAMIE DONNELLY is one of the newer names to emerge on the Irish Country music scene. The 22 year old lass from Strabane was the 2022 Best Female Newcomer Award winner at the Northern Ireland Country Music Awards, and will be one of the contestants to watch in the 2023 Glor Tire TV series.
Her second full album, “This One’s For The Girls” was released at the tail end of last year, featuring a good mix of covers from modern and traditional Country female singers including Martina McBride’s title track, Dolly, Tammy, Mary Chapin, The (Dixie) Chicks and Lorrie Morgan.
I particularly liked her version of Kelsea Ballerini’s “Hole In The Bottle”, and was really pleased to hear her take on Australia’s Sunny Cowgirls’ “Ten Bucks In The Glovebox”. “Raindance” is another Aussie cover, previously recorded by Sara Storer. I enjoyed both of these.
Even more interesting was her version of “Daddy’s Lessons”, which was originally a hit for Beyonce.  Whilst the song is certainly more contemporary sounding than other tracks on the album, Jamie has delivered in in a very Country styling. A great version. 
Jamie Donnelly is certainly a name we should be looking out for in 2023. 

Ballina based GERRY GUTHRIE’s new 11 track album ‘This Ain’t My First Rodeo’ was also released towards the end of last year. 
This is Gerry’s sixth studio album and contains some classic, and lesser known Country songs, among them the title track ‘This Ain’t My First Rodeo’, a cover of a Vern Gosdin hit, and a timely version of Garth Brooks’ evergreen signature song ‘The Dance’, and a really nice version of the old Eagles hit, “The Girl From Yesterday”.
His version of ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ is catchy and uptempo, as is the album opener,‘The Doghouse’, which was originally recorded by John Conlee.  
Gerry has a great knack for finding and reviving hidden gems from the golden age of Country Music. This collection is no exception, and features ‘Hello Walls’ written by country icon Willie Nelson and first recorded by Faron Young. Gerry has also adapted ‘The Mermaid’, a light hearted number written by Bobby Bare, and given it an arrangement that is sure to be a floor filler every night.
Also receiving the Gerry Guthrie treatment on this album are Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ and Radney Foster’s “Just Call Me Lonesome”. 
The Louisiana Man Robert Mizzell joins Gerry on a duet “What The Buck”, a tongue in cheek look at the changes modern Country Music has experienced. It’s a catchy number, which I really liked. 
This is a good upbeat album, aimed primarily at filling the dancefloors, but should still be appreciated by those who just want to listen in. 

After recording 5 singles, ROSSI M (Ross Malloy) has now released his debut album, “The County I Love Best”, a nice selection of Country’n’Irish  numbers, produced and arranged by Glen Flynn.
The title track is written by TV presenter Michael Commins, a lilting tribute to his native Laois, which is also recognised in “Miles to Laois” and “An Old Man’s Wish”.  Michael also wrote a couple of the other tracks, “Blue Kilkenny Eyes” and the gentle. “You Waltzed So Softly Through My Mind”. There is a further Irish feel to the album, with “Shack in Ballyhaise” written by Teresa O’ Donnell. 
On the more Country side of the album, he covers The Glasers’ “She’s Sweet, She’s Kind and She’s Mine” and Tex-mex mamma Rosie Flores’ “Midnight To Moonlight”, although has much more of an Irish than TexMex feel to it.  
“The Kingdom I Call Home” was written by Dickey Lee, but this version probably owes more to Hugo Duncan’s version. I also enjoyed the simple arrangement on James Shevlin’s “Railroad Train” and also Niall Finnegan’s “Souvenirs”. 
This album offered a bit more Irish than Country, but a nice listen nevertheless.

“Don’t Make Me Dream” is the second album released by County Wexford’s MICHELLE MURPHY. 
This album features some great old school country numbers, with a number of original tracks as well. 
The title track is an old Connie Smith song, but Michelle puts her own mark on the song. 
The album kicks off with an original- a foot tappin’ dance number, “Don’t Forget Your Dancin’ Shoes”, written by the very talented Shunie Crampsey. 
There’s also three songs written by London songwriter Jon Philibert, the bouncy “I Hadn’t Counted You” and the more traditional ballad, “You’ll Always Be New To Me”. Jon also wrote the more sentimental “Love Doing It’s Thing”, which is a really nice song, with some nice twin fiddle. 
The covers are really well thought out, ranging from Ricky Skaggs’ “Crying My Heart Out Over You”, to Janie Fricke’s “Down To My Last Broken Heart”, Olivia’s “ If You Love Me Let Me Know”, Crystal’s “Before I’m Fool Enough”, and Haggard’s “Branded”.  
The closing track, “Birmingham Jail” is an especially nice listen. 
I really enjoyed this album. Give her a listen. 

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