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Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Feb 2018

It’s been a fairly quiet start to 2018, as far as new Country music releases are concerned, although the Irish scene continues to flourish with a regular stream of new CD’s, and that’s where we’ll start this month.
LISA STANLEY is one of Ireland’s best known singers, thanks to her TV work with Phil Mack, and the Keep It Country channel. She also toured extensively with Dominic Kirwan last year.  Lisa is also the daughter of Irish music legends Masie McDaniel and Fintan Stanley.
Her fourth album, “Heart &Soul” (Rosette Records) is set to really establish her as a singer, as well as TV presenter. With production shared between John Pettifer and Pete Ware, and musicians of the calibre of Sarah Jory, Tom and Paul Sheerin, Charlie and Dave Arkins and Neil Edwards, Lisa has come up with a well produced set of songs, both old & new.
There are classic Country ballads, like “Almost Persuaded”, “Always On My Mind”, “When You Say Nothing At All” and “You Don’t Know”, on which she duets with Dominic Kirwan. She also does a good version of “Cheap Whiskey”, a song previously hidden away on Martina McBride’s debut album.
But, in the main, Lisa gives us an upbeat set. Starting off with the gentle “Precious Memories”, written by one of Ireland’s most prolific writers Shunie Crampsey, which is followed by “Second Fiddle”, with an impressive twin fiddle intro.
Nashville writer Max T Barnes (son of the legendary Max D Barnes) gets in on the act, writing and dueting with Lisa on the catchy “Looking For A Girl”, which is one of my favourite cuts from the whole album. Another which stands out, is “Why, Oh Why”, which is given a real old school classic Country arrangement. Lisa also excels on “Girl With A Fishing Rod”, and Miranda Lambert’s “Famous In A Small Town”.
She also does a take on Wynonna’s “I Saw The Light”, but was most impressed to hear her version of Kirsty McColl’s “They Don’t Know”.
This album has a really impressive variety of material. Lisa has come up with a real winner!

The Kirwan dynasty continues, with BARRY KIRWAN following brother Colm into dad Dominic’s musical world.  Barry is no newcomer to the scene, having played drums in his dad’s band, and with Lisa McHugh and Derek Ryan, as well as in the states with Joey & Rory.
Although Barry did release an album, “To Make You Feel My Love” 10 years ago, it wasn’t until the release of “New Beginnings” in 2016, which really launched his solo career. Now, the follow up, “Moments” (Rosette) will further his own place on the Irish & UK Country scene.
There’s a good mix of covers, from “Chattahoochie” and “If I Could Make A Living” to “The Dance” and “I Swear”. The opening track, a bouncy upbeat number, “Merry Mary” was co-written by brother Colm, and there’s also a beautiful story song, “Between The Tracks”, which was written by Rory Feek and Paul Overstreet. It’s certainly the stand out track for me.
We also find a stunning duet with Nianh McClinchey on Townes Van Zante’s “If I Needed You”. Their voices certainly blend beautifully together. 
The title track is a lovely number, which was a No.1 Country hit back in 2006 for Canadian boy band Emerson Drive. I also really liked “More Of You”, co-written by Chris Stapleton, and the wonderful rendition of “Dream Of Me”, which goes back to the days of Jim & Jesse McReynolds.
A really good job done.
The whole album was recorded with producer Jonathan Owens in Co.Longford.

THE OUTLAWS are a fun band from Castleblaney, who have just released their third album, “Hanging Out” (Sharpe Music). The album features a few covers, ranging from the title track, written by Austin, TX based Chris Wall, to the often recorded “Drinking Champagne”, to legendary songs like “Jesse James” and “Tom Dooley”. There’s even a cover of Shane McGowan’s “Streams Of Whiskey”.
But there’s also four tracks written by Outlaws main man, Sean Hughes, including recent single, “Martina” and “Forget Your Troubles Tonight”.
The songs all have a fun feel to them, although the lyrics may raise an eyebrow or too. Take the title of Hughes’s original, “She’s Ugly But God Knows I Love Her”, for example.  Or even, the cover of Ry Cooder’s “The Girls From Texas”, which suggests that every Lone Star lady carries and uses razors or pistols on their disobedient fella’s. Nice!
But, it’s meant to be a fun record, and we shouldn’t delve too seriously into the lyrics.
In that respect The Outlaws do what they’ve set out to do -produce a fun record. And they do it well!

We’ve a couple of homegrown releases this time. The first comes from Glasgow based JAMES EDWYN & THE BORROWED BAND. “High Fences” (Dead Records Collective) is the follow up to the highly acclaimed “The Tower” album, released in 2014.
As well as Edwyn, the Borrowed Band features Emma Joyce, Scott Keenan, Ronnie Gilmour, Ross McLaughlin and Neil McDonald. Together, they have created a sound, which blends rock and folk influences with a Country edge.
The opening track, and lead single, is “Passing San Ysidro”, the most upbeat track on the album.
That’s followed by “Try Not To Think Of Now”, and “Get Back Up”, which both have quite a commercial, soft rock sound, which is likely to get some good radio airplay.
“Starlet” has quite a likeable Country rock feel to it, whilst “Never in A While” is a simple ballad, featuring just James and his guitar. “Pushing Statues” is another of the stand out tracks. It’s a bit more mid tempo, and works really well.
All 10 tracks are originals, written by James and the band, and recorded in Lanarkshire, with the help of The National Lottery and Creative Scotland.

THE RED PINE TIMBER COMPANY are an interesting 8 piece outfit, who hail from Perthshire. The line up is led by Gavin JD Munro and Katie Whittaker on vocals, with instrumental support from Michael McNab, David MacFarlane, Chris Small, Neil J Ewen, Thom Bubb and Ivan Sveda.
They grew up around The Southern Fried Festival, but have spread their wings across the Country since then, appearing from c2c in London, to Skye.
Their second album, “Sorry For The Good Times” was released at the end of January on Goldrush Records.
This is the big band’s follow up to their 2014 debut, “Different Lonesone”, and they’ve come up with a full sound. They have created a sound that stands out, thanks mainly to the impressive horn section- not something that would automatically give them a Country feel, but it works for them here. It really gives them a really original sound.
The opening number is perfect example of this. “If You Want Me To” starts off with some rocky sounding guitars, then the horns, before Gavin’s vocals bring in a good upbeat song that is really catchy.
“Look At The Moonlight” is another upbeat number led by Gavin, “Get It Right With You” is a bit more of a fun number, which the horn section takes the lead.
Slower numbers, including “Hollow Tree”, “After You”, “Dry Your Eyes” and “Bar Stool” really showcase the harmonies between Gavin and Katie. “For The Angels”, is an upbeat number, which show great harmonies too.
Katie also excels at the softer ballads, some with the help of steel guitar guest Stuart Nisbett. Good examples of this would be on the haunting “Tracks In The Snow” and “Put Down The Bottle”
But the stand out track is the fast driving “Cutting You Loose”, which is led vocally by Katie. It’s really catchy, and reminded me of something like Emmylou’s “Luxury Liner”. Indeed, Gavin & Katie do have a certain Gram & Emmylou influence.
The vocal duties are shared throughout the album, which was recorded in Perth, and all the songs are band originals.
It’s a big production number, without leaving the homeplace.
It’s well written, well sung, well produced. A superb album. Made right here in Scotland.

DELBERT MCLINTON is not the most obvious artist to get “The Definitive Collection” treatment from the Humphead label, but here he is, with a 2CD, 45 track collection of his music.
More considered as a blues singer, he did write “Victim Of Life’s Circumstances”, for Vince Gill, and “Two More Bottles Of Wine” which Emmylou recorded early on.  The originals are both featured here. This collection does feature a few more Country sounding numbers, like “Object Of My Affection” and “Shotgun Rider”.
There is a version of “In The Jailhouse Now”, but is very different to the versions which Country fans will know from Jimmie Rogers or Webb Pierce. His version of Frankie Miller’s “Sending Me Angels” is worth listening out for.
His career goes back to the 60’s, where he is credited for playing harmonica on Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby”. He is reputed to have instructed John Lennon on blues harmonica playing. He also formed The Rondels, the famed instrumental group.
His biggest hit, was on the Country chart in 1991, with a duet with Tanya Tucker, which is not included on this collection.
Having said that, there’s a good mix of material on this double CD. I think some of it will appeal to Country fans, but it is more Texan blues than anything else!

ROD PICOTT was born in New Hampshire, but these days is very much part of the Nashville Americana scene. His first album was released in 2001. Ten albums later comes “Out Past The Wires” (Welding Rod Records), a 22 track double CD, also available on 2LP.
There’s no particular theme differential between the two CD’s, the songs just reflect the lives of working people, The songs range from whispery ballads like the opening track “Be My Bonnie”, “Blanket Of Stars”, “Holding On” and “The Shape Of You”, to guitar driven rockers like “On The Way Down”, which is much in the style of Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town”, and “Hard Luck Baby”, which perhaps owes a bit more to his hero Bruce Springsteen.
“Take Home Pay” and “Store Bought” kinda falls in the middle, and are quite radio friendly numbers.
Four of the tracks were written with long time friend Slaid Cleaves, including “Fire Inside”, “Better Than I Did” and the softer “Primer Gray”, and “Falling Down”.
The CD is released here on February 16th, ahead of a tour in March, which includes dates in Glasgow and Kinross.

RICK SHEA & THE LOSIN’ END are something of an institution down in San Bernadino, California’s Country music scene. Originally from Maryland, Shea moved to the west coast at the age of 11, and cut his teeth in the coffee houses and honky tonk bars there.
Although he has been compared to the likes of Tom Russell and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, he has very much his own sound, as is demonstrated on his eleventh album, “The Town Where I Live” (Tres Pescadores Records).
The album kicks off with the catchy “Goodbye Alberta”. There’s more Canadian influence on “The Angel Mary And the Rounder Jim”, which has a lot of Ian Tyson influence about it. There are some outstanding harmonies on this track from Mississippi folk singer Claire Holley.
Despite the album title, he gets around, from Alberta to “The Road To Jericho” and “The Starkville Blues”.
He’s on his travels again with the upbeat “(You’re Gonna Miss Me) When I’m Gone”.
“Sweet Little Mama”, which closes the 10 track album, is a Country blues number, given a modern day Jimmie Rogers styling.
Shea wrote all but one song on the album. The exception is a cover of Jack Clement’s “Guess Things Happen That Way”, given an upbeat Buddy Holly-ish sound. It’s certainly different!
I really liked the sound Rick Shea has delivered on this album. Worth checking him out.

TRUE NORTH are a quartet from America’s Pacific Northwest, whose acoustic/bluegrass sound is proving to be a winner!
The band includes Kirsten Grainger, a former finalist at such events as Merlefest, Telluride and the Kerryville Folk Festivals, alongside multi-instrumentalist Dan Wetzel, bassist Suzanne Pearce and Dale Adkins.
Their new album, “Open Road, Broken Heart” is a laid back collection of songs, led mostly by Kirsten’s smouldering vocals. They range from the opening “One Way Ticket” to the guitar laced “Sunday Night Blues”, the lovely “Ratio Of Angels To Demons”, and “You Come Around”.
“Small Wonders” is a bit more uptempo, featuring some neat banjo.
“Mighty Bourbon”, led vocally by Dan, has a touch more of a blues sound, whilst “I’m Gone” is straight bluegrass.
But the tracks where Kirsten & Dan’s vocals blend beautifully together, like on “Seed,Leaf,Flower, Seed”, “Wilder Than Her” and “Without You” really stand out for me.
It’s a lovely laid back listen.

A couple of Americana releases to round off with this time around.
The BEN MILLER BAND have been around for a dozen years or so. The quartet from Joplin, Mississippi certainly have an interesting sound on their 5th album, “Choke Cherry Tree” (New West), blending Country, folk, bluegrass, rock, and a whole lot more.
There are a number of tracks, which just wont appeal to readers of a Country music magazine, but, then again, there are some magical tracks, which I really had to tell you about.
After a strange intro, the opening track, “Nothing Gets Me Down”, develops into a very pleasant ballad. There’s a hint of some lovely harmonies, which adds to the mix.
“Trapeze” features some nice bluegrass harmony female vocals and a catchy Cajun accordion. It has an old time charm to it, which was quite infectious. “Lighthouse” and “My Own Good Time”, are quite straight forward ballads, which I really quite liked too.
Of the upbeat tracks, the one which stood out is ”Sketchbook”. It’s quite a poppy catchy number.
There’s some interesting sounds on the CD.  Check it out. You might just get hooked.

Country music has some wide boundaries, but LILLY HIATT is right at the edge, on her album, “Trinity Lane” (New West).
Although born in LA, she now calls East Nashville home, and finding her feet in the artistic roots scene in that part of town. Not that music is new to her. Her father is the legendary John Hiatt.
It shows. Like her dad, Lilly’s music is more Rock than Country. But there are some Country touches to her vocals.
I detected that in the opening track, “All Kinds Of People”, and in the title track. “I Wanna Go Home” is probably the most Country of the rockers.
Most of the album has an upbeat rocky feel, but “Imposter” has a gentler beat, and helped me warm to the album. “Different, I Guess” is the strongest Country song, a ballad with some impressive steel guitar to help it along thanks to Josh Kaler.
“So Much You Don’t Know” is an atmospheric slower number, which is growing on me too.
It was quite a strange listen.  Certainly not mainstream, but is growing on me.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Dec 2017

We’ve a bumper bundle of new CD’s this time around, just in time for the Christmas market. What’s really good is the number of home grown Scottish releases amongst them, which is where we’ll start this time around.
Back around the 80’s and 90’s, Orcadian RUBY RENDALL was the Sweetheart of the Scottish Country music scene, touring all over the country, appearing on The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and even presenting two weekly Country music programmes for the BBC. 
Since those days, Ruby has been busy encouraging new talent with her own music school in Aberdeenshire.
But now she’s back with a long awaited new album, “Once Upon A Time” (Roadside Records), which finds Ruby sounding as good as ever. The album is produced by her son Robbie, and is as much his project, as he plays guitars, bass and drums throughout the album. Original band members from way back, Gordie Gunn and Phil Anderson are back in the fold, Gordie playing fiddle & mandolin, and Phil using his Nashville (where he’s now based) contacts to get Steve Hinson to add his steel guitar into the mix.
There are four brand new songs, including the title track and the opening number, “Mr High And Mighty”, co-written by Ruby and Robbie. They have also paired up together on “Waiting For The Love I Have Lost”, a beautiful ballad which just has a slight folksy feel to it. It’s certainly one of the stand out tracks on the album.
Another “new” song, is one that has been hidden away for a while. It’s a co-write with old Orkney pal Elaine Grieve on “Sunday Morning”. It’s a catchy “leaving” song, that works really well.
There are four of Ruby’s previously recorded tracks, including her signature “Ruby Red Wine”, which is hauntingly unplugged here, and “Time Goes By”, a song I’ve always loved since it was on her “Captured” album back in 1991. The version here is slightly faster.
One upbeat track which really stands out is “Bright City Lights”, which has quite an Irish Country influence.
To complete the album, Ruby has picked four covers, from Sara Evans, Kellie Pickler, Rosanne Cash and Patty Loveless, so you can get a feel for just who her influences are.
With the young Robbie’s influence, there is a slightly rocky style on a couple of tracks, especially “Never Like This Before”, “Red High Heels” and “Rosie Strikes Back”.  But it’s a style that Ruby’s vocals suit.
It’s great to have Ruby back with this new release, which is available from Grooves Records in Kirkwall, or via Chalmers Mackay Music School. Email chalmac@btconnect.com for details on payment methods. It's also available thru iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Glasgow born and raised LISA McHUGH continues to one of the most popular of the young artists on the Irish scene, and it’s great to see her spread that popularity back into her homeland, selling out new venues for her, on her recent Scottish tour.
Her latest CD, “Who I Am” continues the formula which has gained Lisa such popularity. It features up beat fun numbers which appeal to the Irish dancing fans, as well as slower ballads for the sit and listen-ers, and some Classic Country, just for good measure.
It all kicks off with the upbeat “Country Girl”, which was written by Lisa and Daniel Martin, and is her latest single. Other upbeat numbers include her last single, “Girl With A Fishing Rod”.
The title track is a song I’ve always loved. It’s also the theme to the TV series “Sue Thomas F.B.Eye”, which started a rerun on the Drama TV channel the same week as Lisa’s album came out. OK, It’s Jessica Andrews doing the TV theme, but still a rather timely coincidence. Lisa gives it a polished, powerful, performance.
There are a few interesting modern covers, including C2C headliners’ Kasey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow”, a catchy number which Lisa does really well, The Shires’ “Daddy’s Little Girl”, and Lori McKenna’s “Happy People”.
But I have to say the two songs which were written by recent Glasgow visitor Brandy Clark, really stand out. “Out Of Heaven” and “Hold My Hand” are both quite heavy ballads, and Lisa delivers!
I also really liked “Dream Of Me”. With quite a down home arrangement, it’s a song which really suits Lisa’s voice.
And for Classic Country, there’s no Dolly this time around, but she does a crackin’ version of Merle’s “Mama Tried”.
It’s another winner from Lisa !

ASHTON LANE are a Glasgow based husband and wife duo of Esther and Tim O’Connor, who have had a great year. They appeared at Country On The Clyde, and The Millport Country Music Festival, stepping up to fill the headlining role when Mark Chesnutt was left stormbound in Texas.
Then a few weeks back their single “Breathe You In” was released and went straight to No.1 in ITunes UK Country chart. The single is a hauntingly beautiful mid tempo number, which is certainly on par with much of the music coming out of Nashville.
There is also a brand new festive single from the couple. “Winter Star” is a haunting ballad which is, perhaps, a shade more pop/contemporary, but a nice listen none the less. I’m sure you’ll hear it on the radio in the next few weeks.
They are very much in the Lady Antebellum style, which really seems to appeal these days.
Not that Ashton Lane are new on the scene. They already have 5 albums to their credit, and have over 1.6 million views to their “Kitchen Sessions” online.
A different version of “Breathe You In” is featured on their most recent album, “Nashville Heart”, which we haven’t reviewed here, so will correct right now.
“Nashville Heart” was recorded not in Music City, but in Motherwell, at The Foundry Music Lab. But the studio can capture the heart and soul of the musician wherever that is. In Ashton Lane’s case, the Tennessee capitol certainly got to their hearts, and it shows here.
The title track starts as a slow a smouldering ballad, which shows some nice harmonies.
“Seventeen”, which opens the album, alongside “One In A Million” and “One Night In California”  stand out for their more Country arrangements, helped by Seoniad Aitken on fiddle.
“Legacy” also has quite a down home feel to it, whilst “Coastline” has quite a haunting , folksy feel to it.
“The Light That You Are”, “Moonlight Drifter” and “When We Were Young” are softer ballads, which appealed to me.
They certainly have a Lady A influence running through the album. But within that Ashton Lane have created their own sound, and it’s all original home grown Country music.
www.ashtonlaneofficial.com

BRIAN HUGHES is one of the most respected singer songwriters on the Scottish scene. “Angel Room Baby” is his 5th album to date, featuring no less than 12 self penned original songs.
He has captured a good mix of upbeat modern Country numbers, as well as some gentle ballads, which may just be a surprise for Brian’s fans.
The album kicks off with “This Time”, a upbeat modern Country number, which he wrote alongside “Nineteen”, the song he wrote for Raintown, and is followed by “Hillbilly Heaven”, a tongue in cheek dig at the “BroCountry” scene. Other upbeat numbers include the Cajun flavoured “Revival Tent”, “Real Bad Good To Go”, and “A Hundred Thousand Kisses”, a song for Amy.
As I say, there’s a few softer ballads too.
“Coming Home”, also known as “Already Gone”, was inspired by the tragic death of Ben Ford, the youngest British soldier, at the time, to be killed in Afghanistan.
“A Fool I Know” is a gentle ballad which I really liked.
The sound of a steel guitar can make a record for me, and that’s certainly the case on “The Hardest Time”. It’s a beautiful, traditional sounding Country song, with the added bonus of Davie Holland on steel.
The album closes with a gentle ballad, “Another Place” which is another highlight of the album.
With the exception of Davie Holland, and piano players Alan Scobie and Alan Ryden, the whole project is Brian’s. He recorded it at home, with all his own material, yet he has captured a sound that is certainly full studio quality.
One to be proud it.
www.brianhughesmusic.com

Another homegrown talent is ROBYN TAYLOR, who hails from Cambuslang. Robyn has been performing for the past thirty years, on the cabaret scene here, and in Spain. Her first recording was back in 2005, but fans have encouraged her to sing more Country songs, so another couple of albums followed, leading to competing in the 2013 Euro Country Masters (the Country version of the Eurovision Song Contest).
Her latest album “The Way I Wanna Be” is described by Robyn as her “life in song – The high’s, the lows, and everything in between”. The album was recorded in Glasgow with Greg Friel at the helm.
There’s certainly quite a variety on the album.
It all kicks off with a rather pop sounding “The Last Real Gentleman”, which was written by Robyn. Indeed, all but one of the 11 songs were written by Robyn, mostly with producer Greg Friel.  The exception is a cover of The Judds’ “Turn It Loose”, which she gives a good raunchy performance on.
The title track has quite an upbeat, Raintown type, sound to it. There’s also an alternative “disco mix” (showing my age there!) of the song to close off the CD.
There are some other upbeat numbers, notably “Stop My Heart”, which has quite a jolly feel to it, and really stood out for me. There’s also an acoustic version as a bonus track on the CD. “Better Days” also has quite a bright and breezy feel to it.
But I do have to say that I liked the ballads, especially “In The Arms Of Love”, which was a finalist in the UK Songwriters Contest last year. It is a lovely ballad, which would easily crossover between Country and mainsteam pop. Others ballads include “Memories In The Sky” “You Can’t Love A Memory”, and “Leave Me Behind”, which is the most simple arrangement on the album. It’s a nice slow ballad which works really well.
Most singers that have worked the cabaret and club scene are content singing covers, so it’s really good to hear Robyn developing her own songwriting, and having the belief to put her own songs out there.  I’d describe her style as modern crossover Country, and the new breed of Country fans who go out of their way to support the current crop of American acts, would do well to check out talents like Robyn, much closer to home!
www.robyntaylorofficial.com

Fort William’s PAULA MacASKILL is one of the country’s busiest performers. Just looking at her venues list for October alone, she was out 23 nights, mainly in residences locally, but also travelling to Elgin, Dundee and Fife.
Her latest album, “Kind Of Country” features 16 tracks of Country covers, which are actually reissues of music from Paula’s previous albums, which are no longer available.
The titles range from Haggard’s “Back In Love By Monday” to Isla Grant’s “A Dream Come True”,  and from Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All” to Pam Tillis “Mi Vida Loca”, and Garth Brooks’ “If Tomorrow Never Comes”.
She does a lovely take on “Here, There And Everywhere”, a Lennon/ McCartney song, covered by Emmylou Harris, and also takes on the Connie Smith “Once A Day”.
Paula stretches the boundaries a bit with The Mama & Pappa’s “It’s Getting Better” and The Seekers’ “I’ll Never Find Another You”.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen, with a set of songs that will never date. They sound as good today as when Paula originally recorded them.
www.paulamacaskill.co.uk

One of my favourite female singers to emerge out of Nashville in recent years is Missouri born TEEA GOANS. Teea stands out from the Music City cheerleader set, as she keeps it Country, and very much in the traditional mould. She’s even found herself firmly installed within the Country Family Reunion roster.
Her 4th album, “Swing, Shuffle & Sway” (Crosswind) continues the trend she has established in her earlier releases.  The album features a couple of well-known Country classics like “Legend in My Time” and “You Don’t Know Me”, alongside some lesser known covers like “That’s The Thing About Love”, previously recorded by Don Williams, and “Tell Me I’m Crazy”, which Dawn Sears released back in 1992. If the late Ms Sears could deliver a spine chilling torch song, Teea certainly gives her a run for her money here.
But the stunning blockbuster ballad has to be “Just Because She Always Has”. Laced with beautiful steel guitar licks, and Teea’s soaring vocals, this song really stands out.
But as title of the album suggests, there’s more than a little Swing and Shuffle on the album.
It all kicks off with the catchy “Go Down Swingin’, a minor hit for a long forgotten all girl group called Wild Rose. Teea gives it a really fresh lease of life.  There’s a really first class version of Mel Tillis’ “Heart Over Mind”. Then she does a nice swing version Hank Cochran’s “A Way To Survive”, which Dottie West recorded fifty years ago this year.
Mark Wills duets on “It Aint Nothin’”, the old Keith Whitley hit. It’s given a jazzy Country arrangement here, and it works really well.
“Steel Guitar Rag” really is a really refreshing upbeat tribute to it’s creators Leon McAuliffe, Merle Travis and Cliffie Stone.
And there’s some superb gospel too. I really loved the arrangement on the rip roaring “I Know The Lord Will Stand By Me”, and the closing ballad “Mercy Walked In”.
Teea has not only unearthed a collection of forgotten treasures that deserve to be heard again, but she’s given them really beautiful arrangements. I love listening to an album when you can pick out every instrument and its’ purpose on every note.

GENE WATSON has quietly become one of traditional Country music’s greatest singers. With a career stretching back to the 70’s, he is one of the few who have stayed true to his Country roots, and continues to tour and record.
Throughout the years, I can’t say that we’ve seen much of a gospel sound from Gene, but that changes on his latest album, “My Gospel Roots”. That said, in the main, this sounds like a Gene Watson record, just that the song matter is of a gospel nature. 
Any album called “My Country Roots” could easily have been filled with well-known gospel favourites, but Gene has chosen an album of sounds, which do have a Country, rather than gospel pedigree, but are hardly instantly recognisable, with the exception, perhaps of “In The Garden”.
The US single from the album, “Old Roman Soldier” is a prime example. It’s pure Gene.
The opening track, “Praying” was originally recorded by The Louvin Brothers, with Vern Gosdin doing a later version. Gene’s version really sets the tone for a wonderful album ahead.
“Clinging To A Saving Hand” is real traditional Country, previously recorded by Connie Smith and Leann Rimes, whilst “Help Me”, was written by Larry Gatlin.
One of my favourite tracks has to be “Build My Mansion Next To Jesus”. The song written by Dottie Rambo, is really enhanced here by the stunning harmonies from Sonya and Becky from The Isaacs.
“Til The Last Leaf Shall Fall”, an old Sonny James song, is given a refreshing revisit here.
“Fit For A King”, written by Carl Jackson and Jim Rushing is given a smouldering delivery here, different from Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie or Dawn Sears versions.
Away from the trademark Country sound, “Swing Wide Them Golden Gates” does have quite a Southern Gospel sound, courtesy of The Goodman Revival. The closing track in a similar vein, is Martha Carson’s “Satisfied”, a rousing number to round off the CD.
Gospel music isn’t everyone’s taste, but as I said, it’s a Traditional Country album first, and a gospel album second. There’s nothing to fear from having a little gospel in your Country music.

DARIUS RUCKER has established himself very much as a modern Country singer, after having a successful previous career as frontman with Hootie & The Blowfish, and a less than successful solo R&B career.
His first foray into Country music was back in 2008, and quickly established himself with the CMA Award for Best New Artist the following year. Now, 5 albums later, he’s back with “When Was The First Time” (Humphead), featuring 12 songs, all produced by Ross Copperman, a fellow singer songwriter whose songs have been cut by the likes of Billy Currington, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney and Josh Turner. Ross has also contributed five of the songs on this album, with Rucker, himself co-writing on the same number.
The album includes the US hits “If I Told You”, quite a soulful ballad, and opening track “For The First Time”, which is quite an upbeat number.
I really quite liked the reflective “Twenty Something” and the mid tempo “Another Night with You”.
But the stand out track for me was the honky tonk flavoured “Straight To Hell”, which also features Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley.
Darius Rucker has found his home in today’s Country music, encompassing his soulful R&B roots.

Mississippi born & raised, CHARLIE WORSHAM’s CD “Beginning Of Things” (Warner) was released in the UK, to tie in with his recent tour here. It’s his second album, after “Rubberband” launched his solo career in 2013. He had a couple of moderate hits from that album, and hopefully this album will further his career.
Charlie has co-written nine of the tracks on this album, which range from the slow ballad “Old Time’s Sake”, to the strange sounding “I Aint Goin’ Nowhere”. 
The title track is quite a pleasant Country ballad, which I quite enjoyed.
“Southern By The Grace Of God” is quite a strong song of the south, although the last minute gets a bit “noisy” with various instruments trying to outdo each other.
“Call You Up”, by contrast, is quite a soulful pop ballad.
I’m not sure what to make of “Lawn Chair Don’t Care”. It’s quite a light hearted, catchy number, which reminded me somewhat of Roger Miller’s “Do Wacka Do”. Ok, it’s not quite as offbeat as that, but you get my drift.
“I-55” is a good driving song, which stands out for me.
The album kicks off with a catchy short number called “Pants”, with the emphasis on the “short”- it’s only 13 seconds long, and to be honest, it’s the most Country track on the album!

Looking ahead, and I’ve already found one of the best albums of 2018!
Californian LAURA BENITEZ AND THE HEARTACHE release their third album, “With All Its Thorns” (Copperhead Records) on January 26th, and, believe me it’s well worth the wait.
Laura has a pure Country sound, with steel, fiddle & accordion, enough to re-create a modern California Country sound, never heard since the Bakersfield days.
It all kicks off with the upbeat “Something Better Than A Broken Heart”, with it’s swinging, Cajun influence, which had me hooked right away. It was written by Laura and Doug Tieman, the only song on the 11 track collection not written solely by Laura.
Other up tempo numbers include “Our Remember Whens”, “The Fool I Am Right Now” and the really catchy “Whiskey Makes Me Love You”, one of the album’s stand out tracks. The other, I’d really pick out, is the closing track, “Nora Went Down The Mountain”, a sort of bluegrass tinged “Suds In The Bucket” story song, about a wife who leaves her husband without warning.
Slower ballads include “Easier Things To Do”, “Almost The Right One”, “Why Does It Matter”, and the Tex-Mex flavoured “Secrets”.
“In Red” is a bit more soulful, inspired by her spilling red wine down her wedding dress.
The arrangements are traditional, old school, Country, and sound just great.
Definitely recommended!

THE TURNPIKE TROUBADOURS are a Oklahoma six piece band, who are described as “a Roots-Rock powerhouse”, but there is definite Country sound to their music on their new 11 track CD, “A Long Way From Your Heart” (Thirty Tigers).
This their 5th album, and their last three have made significant numbers on the Country album charts, as well as Folk, Indie and Rock charts.  Indeed this latest album went straight in at No.3 in the charts at the end of October.
Led by Evan Felker, who wrote or co-wrote every track, the band have a rock edged Country sound that fits into a number of genres.
Listen out for tracks like the downhome opener, “The Housefire”, the harmony driven “Something To Hold Onto” or the Eagles influenced “The Hard Way”.
I really liked the fast paced “The Winding Star Mountain Blues”, “Pipe Bomb Dream” and the catchy “Tornado Warning”, with lines like “there’s Country Music in the kitchen”.
“Old Time Feeling (Like Before)”, is a more softer, mellow number than most of the album, in a James Taylor kind of way. It’s a nice tune, but has an unnecessary swear word, which will prevent it from getting the airplay it deserves. 
“Sunday Morning Papers” is a really impressive number, with some southern dixieland jazz influence coming through the ether, as they come to terms with the position of rock’n’roll.
They have a really interesting sound, not like anything else in Country music these days.

There’s also been an abundance of new material from Irish stars, old and new.
LOUISE MORRISSEY is now a veteran of the Irish Country music scene. After cutting her musical teeth in the family band, The Morrissey’s, Louise went solo, and is now celebrating 30 years in the business, with a newly released 3CD, 38 track collection called “What’s Another Year”.
I’ve always enjoyed Louise’s music. I think her rich voice has stood out, unrivalled for all these years.
The collection shows the range of material which Louise has covered across the years, and it’s not been straight Country. There’s been Country, of course, represented here by the likes of “Love Can Build A Bridge”, “Timeless And True Love”, “Gulf Coast Highway” and “From a Distance”. But there’s also pop covers like The Seekers’ “Circles” and Steeleye Span’s “All Around My Hat”, Ronan’s “You Raise Me Up” well as Johnny Logan’s Eurovision winner, “What’s Another Year”.
But the focus on this album does seem to veer towards the more folksy, traditional Irish style , which she really excels at.
I do like her versions of “Come Back Paddy Reilly To Ballyjamesduff”, “Come By The Hills” and “The Hills of Home”.
As ever, it’s a hard task selecting songs from 30 years to fit onto one package like this. I could list a number of song which I’d have included, like her home county anthem, “Tipperary On MY Mind”. Never mind, we’ll enjoy what’s here, and look forward to a 4CD package for her 40 years! 

DOMINIC KIRWAN is another of the mainstays of Irish Country music, touring extensively over the past quarter of a century. The Omagh entertainer has covered a multitude of crossover easy listening and middle of the road songs over the years, but Country music has always been at the centre of his repertoire.
His latest album, is “My Country Favourites” (Rosette), which sums up the album. It’s 13 covers, from some of the artists that he’s worked with over the years, like Charley Pride and Kenny Rogers, as well as Buck Owens, George Strait and Garth Brooks.
It all kicks off with Strait’s “Write This Down”, but includes Buck’s “My Heart Skips A Beat” and “Loves Gonna Live Here Again”, as well as “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”, “Hello Darlin” and “Seven Spanish Angels”.
One of the more interesting, lesser known, tracks is a cover of Dolly’s “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning”. Just to highlight the variety on the album, he moves from the raunchy cover of “Friends In Low Places” to the classy string arrangement on Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me”, which is a duet with current touring partner Lisa Stanley.
The album was recorded between Pete Ware’s Parrothouse studio, where The Benn Sisters added harmonies, and musicians like Sarah Jory, Richard Nelson and Charlie Arkins laid down their tracks, and Long Hollow Sound studios in Nashville.
This is Dominic’s first album since his “25 Years… To Be Continued” CD was released in 2014. His legion of fans have been waiting on this new album. It was worth the wait. A superb listen.


DEREK RYAN has quickly established himself as a leading Country music songwriter in Ireland. As well as writing for himself, others have picked up on his songs too. And they cover a versatile range of styles as well.
On his latest album, “The Fire” (Sharpe Music), Derek furthers his role as a market leader, by releasing the album on 12” Vinyl LP, as well as on CD and digital download. The deluxe edition also offers no less than 17 tracks, eight self penned by himself.
Derek, one time member of boy band D-Side, is probably at his best delivering easy listening numbers which should have a fair bit of crossover appeal between Country & pop. “Pretty Little Lonely Eyes”, co-written with Eleanor McEvoy, is a good example of this. It is reported to be Derek’s favourite track from the album, speaking, as it does, of the relationship with his fans.
Another McEvoy co-write is “Full House, Empty Heart”, which is quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that if you get too big for your boots, you’ll lose the heart you put into your music. It’s quite tongue in cheek.
“This Aint Love” and “Where Did You Run”, are both co-writes with Gerry Carney, the latter having quite a folksy feel to it.
The title track, “The Fire” is a smouldering self written ballad, which has quite a pop influence.
There are traditional offerings like the opening track, “Heaven Tonight”, where he’s joined by folk band Gotse. “The Fox” and “Down On Your Uppers” are both good upbeat traditional numbers.
“Homeland”, a Mick Hanley composition was a recent single, and he is joined by brother Adrian on Kevin Sheerin’s popular folk ballad “My Father’s House”.
There are a few covers, like George Strait’s often covered, “Adalida”, and the pleasant “Sweet Forget Me Knot”.
The four additional tracks on the Deluxe Edition are quite varied in themselves. “Friends With Tractors” is a lively upbeat Country number, whilst he slows it down on Randy Travis’ “Promises”, giving it a Vince Gill big ballad style. “Coconut Tree” has quite a tropical feel, and he brings it back home with “The Rose Of Tralee Medley”, which strangely includes “Achy Breaky Heart” and “Old Time Rock’n’Roll”.
Variety is the spice of life. Derek certainly offers that. An album with a bit of something for everyone.

Staying in Ireland, one of the newest singers on the scene is JOHN RAFFERTY, whose debut album “Shake Of A Hand” (Sounds Country), was in popular demand on his recent Scottish tour.
John has a wide variety of covers on the album, kicking off with “Take Me Home Country Roads”, which does feature more than a backing harmony role for The Benn Sisters. This is the song which John performed on “The Voice” when he appeared on the TV show a few years ago.
John had built up his career in Belfast as a Garth Brooks tribute, but there’s no Garth influence on this album, except perhaps, “To Make You Feel My Love”, the Bob Dylan number which Garth did cover one time.
The title track, probably the least known cover on the album, was written by Australian singer Adam Harvey. It’s a really good song, and John delivers it well.
We also hear John’s take on Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy”, The Statlers’ “Bed Of Roses” and The Eagles’ “How Long”. One of the highlight’s has to be the closing duet with Stephen Smyth on “As She’s Walking Away”, quite an upbeat, catchy number.
But I do feel that it’s the big ballads, where John really makes his mark. He really delivers on the Kenny Rogers classic, “She Believes In Me”, Steve Wariner’s “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven” and Vince Gill’s “Pocket Full Of Gold”.  His current single, which will be on his next album, is another Gill ballad. John really gives it all on “Go Rest High On That Mountain”.
Everything on the album is pure Country. Watch out for John Rafferty!


Irish lass BERNIE HEANEY has certainly been making her mark in recent years.
She has just released her second album, “Plenty Of Steel”, featuring 11 tracks, a mix of popular covers and newer material.
The album begins with an upbeat version of “Railroad Bum”, features some nice steel & fiddle throughout. Other upbeat tracks include “Paint The Town Tonight”, “Old Time Fiddle” and “Mi Vida Loca”.
Ballads include “Three Quarter Time”, a lovely song written by Alaskan singer songwriter Bonnie Nichols, and Vince Gill’s “I’ve Been Hearing Things”
Some of the other covers include Lennon/McCartney’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face”,  Tanya Tucker’s “Strong Enough To Bend”, Billie Jo Spears’ “What I’ve Got In Mind” and The Carpenters’ “Top Of The World”.
For Irish influence, check out Seamus Shannon’s “Johnny Brown”, a superb toe tapping number.
Bernie certainly knows how to keep her audience satisfied with a good selection of material here.
Available from irishmusic.co.uk

Moving back across the Atlantic now.
LUCINDA WILLIAMS is something of an acquired taste, but to her fans, she’s an absolute legend.
The 64 year old from Louisiana first recorded in 1978, but it was ten years later, when Mary Chapin Carpenter recorded her “Passionate Kisses” that people really began to notice her. In 1992 she recorded something of a landmark album in “Sweet Old World”.
Now to mark that album’s 25th Anniversary, Lucinda has been back in the studio, and re-recorded the whole project again, with 25 years of added wisdom, technology and vocal changes. She has even included four tracks which were recorded for the original album, but didn’t make the final record. “This Sweet Old World” (Thirty Tigers) was released here at the end of October.
If you’re familiar with the original album, you can expect new life breathed into tracks like “Six Blocks Away”, “Memphis Pearl”, “Pineola” and John Anderson’s “Wild And Blue”.
The original album had a song titled “He Never Got Enough Love”, but as Dylan brought out an album with a similar title around the same time, Lucinda has added new verses, and retitled the song to “Drivin’ Down A Dead End Street”.
Lucinda’s music crosses boundaries from rock, blues and folk, as well as Country. Her raunchy vocals tend to sound more rocky to my ears.

THE WAILIN’ JENNYS may have taken their name from a Texan outlaw, but their music couldn’t be more different. The band were formed in Winnipeg 15 years ago, and have achieved great acclaim and several awards in that time.
The current line up includes original members Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta, with Heather Masse being the latest recruit. They are billed as a Folk Trio. Two of their albums have won Juno awards for Best Roots And Traditional Artist, and they’ve mixed in Bluegrass circles too.
However you want to label them, these girls excel in beautiful harmonies.
Their fourth studio album, “Fifteen” (True North), is actually their first for six years, and gets its’ UK release right after new year.
Of particular interest to Country fans, will be the stunning three part acapella version of Dolly’s “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning”- the same song that features on Dominic Kirwan’s album, but so,so different. “Wildflowers”. a Tom Petty song, is given a beautiful, and timely, treatment here.
But standing out is a hauntingly gorgeous version of early Emmylou’s “Boulder To Birmingham”. The song is probably one of the most stunning Emmylou songs, and these girls give it such a tasteful update.
Elsewhere, “Loves Me Like A Rock” has a Southern gospel influence, and there’s a haunting version of Hank Williams’ “Weary Blues From Waitin’”.
There’s no doubt that these girls’ harmonies are purely stunning. Their sound will be an acquired taste however, and won’t appeal to commercialised audiences.

HEAD FOR THE HILLS are a Colorado based band consisting of Adam Kinghorn, Joe Lessard, Matt Loewen and Sam Parks. They are the type of band which you cannot pigeon hole. Their bio suggests their music is “everything from bluegrass, jazz and even hip hop, to folk and soul”.
“Potions And Poisons” is their 4th album, and certainly is quite an interesting musical melting pot. The more bluegrass sounding tracks include “Give Me a Reason” and “Suit And Tie”.
“Floodwaters” is quite a lively instrumental, with the emphasis on fiddle (or violin as it’s credited here), and bass. Another instrumental, “Buckler” is a catchy, celtic flavoured, upbeat number.
The title track is much more of a folky mid tempo ballad. “Kings And Cowards” also has quite a folky feel to it. The jazzy side of things come to the fore on “Telling Me Lies”. Thankfully, I didn’t find the hip hop style.
Certainly an interesting sound.

THE NOVEL IDEAS is a new name to me, but I hope to hear a lot more. They are a 4 piece band from Massachusetts, featuring main vocalist Sarah Grella, alongside Danny Hoshino, James Parkington  and Daniel Radin. Their self titled album quickly won favour, with its catchy country twang, which I instantly warmed to.
The opening track, “I’m Not Waiting” finds a very simple arrangement, which both showcase’s Sarah’s solo vocals, and the group’s four part harmonies. Sarah’s numbers include the slow and emotional “Lost On The Road”
But this album features vocals of three different songwriters, and every song is different. 
Harmonies are this band’s strong point. “I’ll Try” has echoes of Canada’s Rankin Family, whilst “The Blue Between Us” reminds me of Gram & Emmylou.
A few of the songs are more gentle ballads, namely “Farm”, “Calling You Out” and “I Was Not Around”.
But the stand out track for me has to be “Old Ways”, which has quite a folksy feel, again featuring Sarah on lead vocals, but mixed in nicely with some lovely steel guitar. It’s quite an upbeat number.
I really enjoyed the sound of The Novel Ideas.
Give it a listen – now that’s a Novel Idea!

THUNDER AND RAIN are another Colorado based band, whose roots are in bluegrass music, but have evolved to encompass a full edgy Country sound on their second full album, “Start Believing”.
The origins of the band were duo Erinn Peet-Lukes and Peter Weber, who have since been joined by Ian Haegele and Chris Herbst. All 13 songs are original, written by Erinn and RP Oates, who also lends a hand on guitar, piano & banjo.
Erinn is the main vocalist, and I have to say that I really liked her voice. It’s supported by some neat harmonies from the boys behind her.
The songs range from the sweet opening track, “Cut The Wire” and the mid tempo title track                 to the bass – pop based “Days Before”.
“Wyoming Is For Miles” and “Tennessee is Burning” both have a real Country feel to them, as does “I Wont Try For You LA”, and “Wrong Or Right, Tennessee” is particularly strong on harmonies. 
“Babe, You’re Gonna Leave Me” is a good upbeat anthem.
“What Am I Gonna Do” and “The Reckoning” have a bit more of a folksy feel to them, but that doesn’t detract from their sound at all.
“Otherside” is a catchy upbeat number, which I’d probably rate as my favourite track on the album.
Thunder And Rain have a good harmony driven sound, which fits nicely in today’s Country music, yet could easily crossover towards folk and pop.
This is Mountain Made Colorado Country. It sounds really good to me.

Finally, we’ll sign off in a festive mood. Usually any Christmas albums come in too late for review, but North Carolina’s BALSAM RANGE were quick off the mark with their “It’s Christmas Time” EP (Mountain Home).
The five man group have previously been the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Vocal  Group, Entertainers and Album Of The Year winners. They have released six albums to date.
This festive offering includes Christmas classics like “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and “Jingle Bells”, with different arrangements than we’re used.
The two lesser known songs are from the masters of bluegrass music. “Christmas Lullaby” was written by Doc Watson, and “I’m Going Home, It’s Christmas Time” was penned by Ralph Stanley.
They certainly put a different, bluegrass, slant on the Christmas sound.

DVD REVIEW
Best Of Friends – Dave Sheriff
With the advent of Keep It Country TV, the demand for Country music video is just as important as the CD these days.
Earlier in the year, we reviewed Dave Sheriff’s latest CD with The Britpickers, a selection of Britain’s best Country music pickers. Now comes a DVD, “Best Of Friends”, featuring 11 self penned songs from Dave. Unlike some releases, the DVD isn’t a straight copy of the CD. The running order is different, and there are a couple of tracks only on the CD. To make up for it, there’s a video of Dave’s 2000 appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, introduced by Porter Wagoner.  
The other notable difference from the CD is that Carole Gordon duets with Dave on 5 of the DVD tracks, compared to two on the CD. The additional duets include “Best Of Friends”, “Don’t Come Running To Me” and Damned If I Do”.
“From There Til Now”, a retrospective look back at Dave’s time of the music scene, is a good tribute, with the video largely set within the studio. By contrast, other tracks use some lovely scenery as a backdrop, notably on “Forget These Angry Words” and “Turn Back Time”.
“Red Hot Salsa”, featured in the new Trainspotting film, is included, with some authentic salsa dancing that I’m sure wasn’t captured at a Country music club in the UK!

It’s an enjoyable view. An ideal Christmas present for any Dave Sheriff fan!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Oct 2017

We’ve quite a variety of new releases to tell you about this time around.
One of the strongest albums I’ve heard for a long time has to come from Texan CURTIS GRIMES.
He is, yet another, “discovery” of “The Voice” TV show, but, like the title of his album, he is “Undeniably Country”. With a feast of steel and fiddle, this is a real gem of an album for real Country fans.
He kicks off with “Everything Hank Did”, a superb song that really captures the Hank sound, 21st century style. And he rounds it all off with “Ten Year Town”, which tells of arriving Nashville and its heritage. It’s a brilliant account about how the city has changed over the years.
He is certainly making a statement about today’s Country music scene.
On “If You Ask Me”, a more gentle number, he even reckons that “the best of Country music died in 1989”- controversial stuff!
He's currently promoting his single 'Right About Now' which held the #1 spot for two consecutive weeks on the Texas Regional Radio chart. The track - co-written by Grimes with his producer Trent Willmon, is a good upbeat number.
It follows the earlier single, 'From Where I'm Standing', written by fellow rising country stars Thomas Rhett, Chris Janson, and Jaron Boyer. This track has quite a George Strait feel to it, and namechecks Conway Twitty along the way. The mighty Merle gets a namecheck too, on “Put My Money On That”.
Now based in Nashville, Grimes is currently on tour across the USA, playing festivals, fairs and sold-out headline shows, with plans to visit the UK early in 2018.
His album is pure Country. I enjoyed it a lot. He’s the real deal !

There’s no doubting that TOBY KEITH has been one of the most interesting characters on the Country music scene since he first appeared on the charts back in 1993. 24 years on, and 18 albums later, he has come out with something a bit different.
“The Bus Songs” (Thirty Tigers) is a collection of songs that you can really imagine him singing on the tour bus, just messing around. The subjects range from smoking weed, big women, easy women, golfers, drunks and marines.
The language is colourful, even in the titles.
He comes over as a cross between Shel Silverstien on his classic comedy albums, and Jerry Reed without his guitar. His version of “The Critic” has a “King Of The Road” feel to it, not so much Roger Miller’s version, but rather the one that poked fun at all the TV cops.
Yet, I actually quite like the album. The production is stripped back, and I really think, we’re getting to hear the real Toby Keith.
“Running Block”, about going on a blind date, to help out his buddy, is really catchy, if a little sexist, or should that be size-ist!  By contrast, “The Size I Wear”, “Brand New Bow” and “Get Out Of My Car” finds him showing less than total respect to the fairer sex.
But, it’s a fun album, and I shouldn’t read into it too deep.
Worth a listen !

I have to confess that I’m no fan of BIG & RICH. When they first appeared on the scene back in 2004 with “Save A Horse (Ride a Cowboy)”, I thought it was one of the worst records to have ever come out of Nashville. I still do.
But their new album, “Did It For The Party” (Thirty Tigers) isn’t ALL that bad!
That’s not to say that Big Kenny & John Rich have changed their sound. Tracks like “Congratulations (You’re a Rock Star)” with its “Ching Ching” lines, I could live happy never to hear again. I also didn’t care much for “Funk In The Country”.
But there is some good stuff. I really liked the opening track, “California”. It has the feel of one of these driving with the top down songs. There’s a good Country rock beat to “Wake Up Wanting You”, whilst “Smoke In Her Eyes” has a good modern sound.
“The Long Way Home” is a good song, which leads nicely into “Freedom Road”, which is probably my favourite track on the album. It’s strong on harmonies.
Talking of harmonies, the most different track on the whole album has to be “My Son”, which features gospel group, The Isaacs. It’s a real classy piece. So different to the ching chings earlier.
“Lie, Cheat Or Steal”, which closes the album is also quite a pleasant ballad.
Really pleased to discover that there’s much more to Big & Rich than the songs which radio insist on playing from them. 

Texan CASEY DONAHEW has been making inroads on the Country scene over the last decade or so, with six albums to his credit. The last three have all made the Top 10 on the Country Album sales chart, and his latest, “All Night Party” peaked at No.3, which is no mean feat.
He grew up just outside of Fort Worth, and was active on the Texas rodeo scene for a while.
Most of the tracks are quite upbeat, modern Country numbers, from the opening “Kiss Me”, through “Feel This Right” and “White Trash Bay”. The duo Love & Money guest on “College Years”.
“What Cowboys Do” is a strong Country number, but probably my favourite track on the album is the Mexican flavoured “Jose Escalido”,with some lovely TexMex accordion and horn section. It has a real modern day Marty Robbins feel to it. And it come from his own pen too.
Now his music is spreading over here. He’s in London for the Texas Music Takeover Festival this month, which can only win him more fans.
It’s a bright, fun record. I think we’ll like him over here.

TOM RUSSELL is something of a legend in Americana music. Indeed his brand of story telling songs was universally praised long before the genre of Americana was coined.
Originally from LA, his musical career was born in Vancouver, before relocating to Texas. His latest album, “Folk Hotel” (Proper Records) is his 28th studio album.
He has long blended folk, rock and Country, alongside cowboy ballads and songs of the American west. That blend continues on this new offering.
“Leaving El Paso” and “I’ll Never Leave These Old Horses” recapture that old western feel, whilst “Handsome Johnny”, about JFK, has more of a simple folk ballad. “The Last Time I Saw Hank”, is his country stars’ drinkers anthem- come gospel number, also mentioning George Jones, Jesus and his father and mother.
“Harlan Clancy” begins essentially as a poem, which Tom narrates so effectively, before developing into a story life song. 
Before he got into music, Tom was already well travelled, having worked in Nigeria, Norway, Spain  and Puerto Rico. As a performer, he is a regular visitor to Europe, and on this album he has several European influences, in songs like “The Sparrow Of Swansea”, “All On A Belfast Morning”, “The Day They Dredged The Liffey” and “The Rooftops Of Copenhagen”.
He has a couple of guests on the album, including Eliza Gikyson, who provides harmonies on a couple of tracks, and Joe Ely, who duets on Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, the only song on the album not written by Tom.
The album is finished off with some of Tom’s own artwork.
It’s an interesting experience. One for those that love stories in their songs.

JACK TEMPCHIN is the Eagle that never was.
He wrote several of the bands classics including “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, “Already Gone” and “The Girl From Yesterday”. He also wrote extensively with Glen Frey during the Eagles hiatus period.
Tempchin has also written dozens of hits for big names from George Jones and Emmylou Harris to Candye Kane and Tom Rush, as well recording a number of albums in his own right.
His latest, “Peaceful Easy Feeling: The Songs Of Jack Tempchin” (Blue Elan Records”, is essentially dedicated to the memory of Glenn Frey.
Every song, bar one, was either recorded by The Eagles, or written, or co-written with Frey. They include the iconic title track, “Already Gone” and “It’s Your World Now”. I really like the version of this song, which features mandolin and dobro from Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson.
The tempo is raised on the rather rocky “Privacy” and “Everybody’s Gonna Love Somebody Tonight”.
The only track not related to Glenn Frey is “Slow Dancing (Swaying To The Music)”, which is Jack’s other “Greatest Hit”. Originally a huge hit for Johnny Rivers, it has been recorded several times over, and is featured here as a duet with Rita Coolidge. Great to hear her again.
It’s an interesting, alternate take on some of the Eagles songs, straight from the pen of the writer.

If The Eagles are the greatest Country rock band ever, then Poco were never far behind. Their “Rose Of Cimarron” is right up there with “Lying Eyes” in my mind. So, interesting that in the same post as the Jack Tempchin CD, comes one from RUSTY YOUNG.
Rusty was one of the founding members, and frontman of Poco back in the day. The band officially stopped touring in 2014, but there’s a whole lot of Poco influence on Rusty’s “solo” album, “Waitin’ For The Sun” (Blue Elan Records).
Poco were never a band that you’d call Country. But some of their music certainly appealed to our genre. This album does much the same.
The title track has quite a Country rock (Poco) feel to it, with some neat harmonies, which is followed by the reflective “My Friend”, which features former Poco pals Jim Messina and Ritchie Furey. It’s quite a catchy number, with some nice instrumentation.
Other ex Poco members making contributions include Jack Sundrud, Michael Webb and George Grantham.
“Innocent Man” takes you back to the authentic Poco sound, I recall from the late 70’s. 
“Heaven Tonight” is the album’s love song, while “Hey There” takes a few steps back in the storyline. For straight Country fans, “Down Home” is probably the stand out track. It’s catchy, quirky, and features some really neat fiddle.
“Sara’s Song” is a sentimental little song, written as a first dance at his daughter’s wedding. There’s also a musical interlude with the instrumental, “Seasons”.
And it all rounds off with something of an anthem in “Gonna Let The Rain”.
Talk about reliving your youth!

There’s been an abundance of bluegrass music arrived lately.
Around 2004, a six piece band hit Nashville that was to forever change the perception of bluegrass music. THE GRASCALS quickly won over Dolly Parton, who took them on tour, which led to widespread accolades and popularity for their music. They, notably, took bluegrass to new audiences, without sacrificing the genres’ pure sound.
Their tenth album, “Before Breakfast” (Mountain Home) continues the trend.
There are a few upbeat toe tappers, like the opening “Sleepin’ With The Reaper”, “Delia” and the fun filled “Beer Tree”, written by the late Harley Allen and Robert Ellis Orrall. Paul Overstreet and Billy Smith wrote “Lost And Lonesome”, which really impressed me, and the closing track “Clear Corn Liquor” is a real old timey bluegrass song.
There’s also an original instrumental reel, titled “Lynchburg Chicken Run”.
But the strength of this album is the harmonies most evident in ballads like “Lonesome”, co-written by bass player Terry Smith, and the old Osborne Brothers number “Pathway Of Teardrops”. In a similar vein is an old Flatt & Scruggs gospel classic, “He Took Your Place”, and “There Is You”, written by Kelsi Harrigill from fellow bluegrass band Flatt Lonesome.
The least bluegrass/most straight, Country track is “Demons”, a darker ballad from the pens of whispering Bill Anderson and Jon Randell.
The Grascals are brilliant musicians, with the emphasis on bluegrass instruments like banjo, mandolin and fiddle. Together with their strong melodic harmonies, they have a sound that is such a pleasure to listen to.  I’m loving listening to this “Before Breakfast”, or at any time of the day!

Another, equally as good album comes from DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER.  The 73 year old mandolin player has been part of the bluegrass scene for over 50 years, as members of Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys, JD Crowe’s New South and The Country Gentleman, before founding Quicksilver in the late 70’s. 
Fellow musicians in the band include Josh Swift, Joe Dean, Dustin Pyrtle, Eli Johnson and Stephen Burwell.
With 40 albums under their belt, “Life Is A Story” (Mountain Home) is their latest release.
It all kicks off with the reflective “Kids These Days”, which looks back at days gone by, and what today’s kids will be looking back at, in 20 years time. It’s a nice song. “Little Girl” is another by Harley Allen. This time it’s a bit of a social statement, dealing with the problems of kids growing up in troubled situations.
The ones that really stood out for me, included “Life To My Days” and the old George Jones song “Love Lives Again” (written by George Richey, Carmol Taylor and Norro Wilson)
Another nice ballad is the Donna Ulisse written “Guitar Case”. 
Many of the numbers here veer towards ballads, but there are upbeat traditional bluegrass beats shining through, especially on “Life Of A Hard Working Man”, “I See A Heartbreak Comin’”, “Derailled” and “What Am I Living For”. I also enjoyed “Cry Across Kansas” and the break speed finale, “Drivin’ It Home”.
This album really is a masterclass in bluegrass music. Brilliant musicianship, great songs, fast and slow, all well delivered.
Super stuff.

THE EARLY MAYS are a wonderful, three part harmony, Bluegrass / old time trio featuring Emily Pinkerton, Ellen Gozion and newest member Rachel Eddy. Their self titled debut album got to No.2 in the US Folk charts a few years back, and their new collection, “Chase The Sun” (Bird On The Wing Records) is even better.  Their harmonies really shine through, and the instrumentation is so authentic. There is no lead vocalist amongst them. Each can stand out on their own, and together, their voices truly bond.
Recorded in Pittsburgh, the 13 track album features mainly original material composed by the trio individually. They range from the catchy opening track, “Say-O”, to the beautiful ballads like “Amelia”, and the winter hymn “Narrow Of The Year”.
The non-original numbers, include Elizabeth Cotton’s catchy “Oh Babe, It Aint No Lie”, and the gorgeous “Adieu False Heart” which I recall Linda Ronstadt recording many moons ago.
There’s also a couple of instrumental fiddle & banjo numbers.
But the one that will catch most attention is “I Am A Girl Of Constant Sorrow”. The song (in a male sense) was popularised in the “Oh Brother Where Are Thou” movie. But the girls have went back to 1930’s social activist Sarah Ogan-Gunning’s arrangement, to come up with a much slower, sweet version of the song. It certainly worked for me.
Throughout, the album features simple arrangements, which lets the vocals stand out.
It’s a beautiful album.

The name BIG SADIE conjures up all sorts of images. A Chicago based acoustic/bluegrass band isn’t the most obvious thought, but that’s exactly what we have here.
The band is fronted by Windy City native Elise Bergman, and Appalachian Collin Moore. Together they have blended their influences together. They have been thrilling audience over the past decade, yet “Keep Me Waiting” (Spindle Tree Records) is their debut album.
Well, the wait is over, and it was well worth the wait.
Here, we’ve got a lovely album of old timey bluegrass songs and tunes, which I, for one, really warmed to.
The 12 track all original album kicks off with a couple, which feature lead vocals from Elise. “Only You” has a really strong Country kick to it, which I really liked.
Collin takes over the vocals on “Before Morning”, a good modern bluegrass ballad, with stunning harmonies from Elise. “Need Your Love” is a strong banjo infused bluegrass track, lead by Collin, whilst “Same For Me” is quite a mainstream ballad.
Collin also leads the vocals on the title track, an old timey, almost ragtime feeling fun number.
Elsewhere Elise fronts on the softer “Like A Fool”, the bluesy “Baby It Aint You”, “Next Train Home”  and the folksy “Good Woman”. Quite a contrast in styles, but she shines on them all.
There also a quirky instrumental, “Anni’s Orchard”.
I really enjoyed this album. Let’s hope we get a visit from Big Sadie soon!

Keeping in the bluegrass vein, Michigan’s MARK LAVENGOOD has been stirring up a lot of interest with his third album, “We’ve Come Along”. The multi-instrumentalist is renowned for his dobro playing, which is evident throughout the album.
On the epic 7 minute title track, which opens the CD, Mark plays guitar, dobro, congas, bongos, tom tom and claves, as well as delivering the vocals.
He does have original self written numbers, including “America”, an alternative patriotic song, which may stir a few thoughts along the way.
But he also features some well-established covers, like a rip roaring version of “Ol’ Slew Foot”, a bluegrass version of Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”, and an authentic old timey cover of Arthur Smith’s “Bound To Ride”.
Throughout, Mark is supported by Kyle Rhodes and Jason Dennie on guitars & mandolins , Spencer Cain on Upright bass, and the influential Keith Billik on banjo.
It’s an interesting album.

THE 19TH STREET BAND is an adventurous band, crossing genres from bluegrass to rock, led by Caolaidhe Davis, from Hollywood, Northern Ireland, who emigrated to America’s East Coast back in 2005. He recently brought his music home to Belfast and Bangor, and brought a six track CD, “The Things That Matter” with him.
Joining Cally in the band is his wife Meghan, a trained violinist, whom he met when she was working in a Washington DC Irish Bar. Fast forward a few years, and the couple found themselves living on 19th Street in Arlington, Virginia, and the band name was born.
The CD features a wide mix of styles, a few just a bit too rocky for me, but I did enjoy the catchy bluegrass flavoured opening track “Jump In The Water”.
“Trouble” is also an upbeat number, with lead vocals from Meghan, which I really liked.
The title track is starts off as an emotional ballad, but picks up the tempo nicely.
Doing an internet search for them, brings up Johnny Cash & Dixie Chicks covers, so Country music certainly features in their repertoire.
They have a good sound, and hopefully their next trip over, will see them spread the word further afield.

Irish Country music can be a rather typecast genre. So it’s refreshing when an Irish songwriter appears who does not fit the usual picture.
CIARA SIDINE’s songs lend themselves more to Americana, Roots and Country Blues. Her vocal style has been likened to Maria McKee, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and  Mary Black. To my ears, she’s her own singer. “Unbroken Line” is her second album, following on from 2011’s “Shadow Road Shining”.
Her songs are modern day songs of social justice, with a style stretching back into the past.
The opening track, “Finest Flower” reclaims the voices of women from Ireland’s Mother And Baby Homes, whilst “Watching The Dark” has a smokin’ bluesy feel to it.
“Wooden Bridge” is a fast paced number that bridges the folk revival sound of the 60’s with a Johnny Cash beat. I just loved the acoustic feel to “Little Bird Song”, which closes the album. It has a really nice old timey feel to it.
“River Road” is a pleasant ballad, and I did also enjoy “Take Me With You”. The title track is a nice ballad, although quite mainstream.
Other tracks do lead towards a more bluesy jazz sound.
The songs were all written by Ciara (one with Conor Brady). One that caught my attention was “Woman Of Constant Sorrow”. She has written new lyrics, and has a completely different arrangement to The Early Mays version mentioned earlier.
The album was recorded in Dublin, and proof that not everything out of Ireland is aimed at the dance scene.

Coming home, and Tayside’s Joe Ogilvie & Alex Mills are best known on the local Country club scene as duo, Tin Star. But Joe & Alex have been around for many years, and have written a good number of songs between them. Now they’ve put them down on CD for the first time under the name MILLS OGILVIE.
“Yesterday And Today” is a collection of self penned songs, some of which are many years in the process. Some were, perhaps, not written as Country songs at the time, but they all come together in a modern Country sound in 2017.
Recorded in Dundee, the CD features 12 tracks.
Some of the tracks have quite a pop/rock beat, notably “Someone You Don’t Know” and “Lady Of The North”. Others like “Woman’s Eyes” have a big ballad feel to them.
Other tracks are quite melodic, like “Crazy” and “Losing You”, whilst “Good Old Honky Tonk” is just what’s on the label – a good old honky tonk song. I also liked the beat of “How Lucky”, one that’ll keep the feet tappin’ and dancers on the floor.
One of the tracks, “Good Ol’ Memories” was written by fellow Dundonian Les Barr. It’s a stone Country number, as you would expect.
These songs have been kept under wraps for too long. It’s time for them to be heard. The CD is available at Tin Star’s gigs across the country or through Joe on 07924 490194.

PETER McCLELLAND is quite a busy musician down on the Sussex scene. He plays in two folk music bands (The Blackthorn Band and ThingumaJig), as well as Country band, Montana Rain.  And he has his own solo projects, like his new CD, “Carolina Sky”, (Hobgoblin Records) which is a collection of Pete’s original songs recorded in Sussex and Nashville.
The album takes its inspiration from a number of coast to coast North American road trips. The collection kicks off with the aptly titled “The Appalachian Way”. It really captures the anticipation of a trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The title track is a light and catchy little number, whilst “The Willow Tree” is Peter’s take on an old English Folk song, but has a really nice Country feel to it, none the less.  “Walk This Road” has a bit more of a contemporary sound, but still has a Country air about it. Pat Severs steel guitar delivers that.
“Thinking Of a Song” is apparently influenced by Don Williams, and I have to say that “A Kind Of Kindness” also has quite a lazy Don sound to it too.
Just a couple of tracks seemed to veer off course, notably “War Of Love”, which has more of a continental aura to it, having been inspired following a stay in Germany , whilst “Marie” has a bit more of a Southern blues influence.
Peter plays acoustic, classical and electric guitar, ukulele, banjo and mandolin, and is joined by a number of musicians including Pat Severs (ex Pirates of The Mississippi).
It’s a really pleasant listen.

MATT PATERSHUK is a singer songwriter from Canada’s western provinces, born in BC and living now in Alberta. “Same As I Ever Have Been” (Black Hen Music) is his third album, recorded at Bryan Adams’ Warehouse Studio in Vancouver.
The album had me in two minds. It opens with a rather rocky “Sometimes You’ve Got To Bad Things to Do Good”, which didn’t appeal much to me.
But then he slowed things down with “Gypsy”, and then got into my groove with the catchy “Hot Knuckle Blues”. He came across as a Kris Kristofferson character on this one.
“Blank Pages And Lost Wages” was one of the real Country tracks that appealed to me.
Throughout several tracks, Saskatchewan born folk singer Ana Egge added some really neat harmonies, which is what really won me over. Steve Dawson’s pedal steel just added the icing to the cake.
The title track is a slow Country ballad that really impressed.  “Atlas” is quite a story song. The delivery is quite impressive. And “Sparrows” is quite an effective number too, with some added saxophone, which worked well.
In closing, he delivers an extremely simple 6 ½ minute folky ballad, which was quite infectious.
There were a few of the other tracks that were a bit bluesy, or rocky for me, but, all things considered, there was more than enough for me to say it’s worth checking him out.

AMELIA WHITE is a singer songwriter described as an “East Nashville soothsayer and rock/Americana poet”, who has built up quite a following in Europe.
Her latest album, “Rhythm Of The Rain” (White-Wolf Records)  gets its UK release on October 27th .
She wrote or co-wrote all 9 tracks. He co-writes include the upbeat “Sinking Sun” with Anne McCue and Rich McCully, and the slower “Yuma” with songwriter Ben Glover. This one is a really nice ballad, which, for me, is one of the highlights of the album.
There’s also collaborations with Lori McKenna, John Hadley and Liverpool’s Worry Dolls (Zoe Nicol & Rosie Jones).
The title track is a smokin’ slow burning haunting ballad, as is “Sugar Baby”.
It’s a pleasant listen. A little more rocky than your average Americana singer songwriter album.

RAY WYLIE HUBBARD is something of a legend down in Texas singer songwriting circles. Although born in Oklahoma, he moved to the Lone Star State, when he was seven years old.
His early success as a writer was down to writing “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother”, recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1973.
Ray Wylie has recorded 16 albums prior to his latest release “Tell The Devil I’m Getting’ There As Fast As I Can” (Bordello Records), which gets it’s UK release this month.
Now at the age of 70, his voice is raw and lived in. That helps in the delivery of the songs. He tells a story in his songs, most notable on tracks like “House Of The White Rose Boquet” and “Old Wolf”,
and “Lucifer And The Fallen Angels”.
“Open G” is a guitar master class. It may go above the heads of folks like me, but to musicians, I’m sure it’ll appeal.
He has a number of guests popping up on the album. You’ll find Eric Church and Lucinda Williams on the title track, which is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Then Patty Griffin joins in on “In Times Of Cold”, where the harmonies work well together.

This album really has a raw authentic Texan Country sound.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Aug 2017

We’re kicking off with a couple of home grown new releases.
LAURA McGHEE is back home in Angus, after spending seven years writing and recording in Nashville, and touring with the likes of John Carter Cash, John McEuan (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) and The Nashville Celts. She first headed Stateside after graduating from the RSMAD, and her first gig in America was on the same bill as legendary folk singer Pete Seeger.
But, for now, she’s home, and she’s brought with her a superb album, “Life Is Bigger Than A Dream”, the follow up to her highly acclaimed “Celticana” album, which made the Top 40 on the Americana Charts.  
The album brings together the three sides of Laura. Firstly, as a songwriter. She’s worked with people in Music City, like Doug Kahan, Jon & Sally Tiven, Sarah Peasall, Rebecca Moreland, Janie Lidey and Patrick Martin (from The Nashville Celts), and has come up with a good set of songs.
Secondly, Laura’s vocals are well tuned to the songs.
And, finally, as a musician. Laura’s first love was the fiddle, and it’s very prominent throughout the album, especially on the introductions.
The songs range from the impressive title track, one of four she wrote with Doug Kahan  (who has written hits for Trick Pony and Deanna Carter), to the softer “Always Tomorrow”.
“How Leaving Feels”, starts off slow, and builds up to a foot tapping down home catchy little number, with touches of blues and bluegrass along the way.
Her celtic influence emerges on “You Make The Moonshine”, which has a soft haunting feel to it, with references to the celtic sky, and making the moon shine.
“Shoulda Come Over” is a really catchy number, especially the fiddle licks. It’s all about a guy jilting the girl, and what he’s missing, whilst “It’s Still You and Me” tells of a strong team that survives all life throws at it.
“I Got My Mojo Back” is more of an upbeat number. It’s a bit different to the other tracks, with a bit more instrumentation, including harmonica from Charlie McCoy.
But as I say, Laura’s earliest foray into music was with the fiddle at the age of 8, and it’s very much in evidence on the album. As well as the co written songs, there’s two instrumentals. The first is a toe tappin’ traditional American tune, “Salt Creek”, which she does a great job on, and the other, a slow lament, “Commemoration”, which she dedicates to the victims of 9/11.
The album was produced in Nashville by Mike Loudermilk (son of the legend John D Loudermilk), who has worked with Crystal Gayle and Chet Atkins.
It has a celtic feel, without being too folky. I really enjoyed it.
This album has been a long time coming, but it’s been worth the wait.
“Life Is Bigger Than A Dream” is available from online outlets now, and Laura will officially be launching it at the Monifieth Theatre on October 7th.

It was great to read in the last mag, that Jayne Murdoch and Richard Smith, who many readers will remember from the band Hullabaloo, had formed a new duo MONRO, and great to hear their five track EP, “Coming Home” (Smart Indie).
Jayne leads the vocals on all the tracks, which are all quite varied.
The CD kicks off with “Sweet Sorrow”, a catchy number, with more than a hint of bluegrass.
“Let It Go” is another catchy upbeat number, as is “Bubbalee”.
“Walking With Angels” is quite an anthem ballad, and “The Vow” is a beautiful ballad, looking back on how life changes.
Five very different songs, all well produced and performed wonderfully. Jayne has a great voice, and this CD really helps deliver that.
Great to hear Jayne and Richard back. Check them out.
http://smartindierecords.com/product/munro-coming-home

RASCAL FLATTS are one of the longest established “boy bands” on the Nashville Country scene. The trio of Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcos and Joe Don Rooney were formed in Ohio, and first appeared on the Country charts back in 2000. Since then, they have notched up 13 No.1 Country hits.
Now, their 10th studio album (not counting Christmas and Greatest Hits collections) has been released here. “Back To Us” (Big Machine) is a powerful high energy collection of songs from songwriters like Andrew Dorff, Neil Thrasher, Josh Thompson, Luke Laird, Chris Stapleton and Jennifer Hansen.
The trio have a number of writing contributions, but only one which they collaborated together.
That one is “Are You Happy Now”, which also features newcomer Lauren Alaina. It’s quite a pleasant pop ballad.
The album, in general, has quite a Nashville pop sound, the sound you would hear on the radio here, without considering it to be Country!.
“Thieves” is one of the stand out upbeat numbers, with “Love What You’ve Done To The Place” and “Our Night To Shine”, standing out as soulful ballads.
They’ve built up their following throughout the past 17 years, and this album will be welcomed by their fans.

Texan MARK CHESNUTT burst onto the Country scene back in 1990 with “Too Cold At Home”, and followed it up with a string of hits like “Brother Jukebox”, “Old Flames Have New Names”, “Bubba Shot The Jukebox”,”Goin’ Thru The Big D”. “Gonna Get A Life”, and dozens more.
Next month Mark heads for our shores to play The Millport International Country Music Festival, so we thought we’d check out his latest album, “Tradition Lives” (Row Entertainment), and, boy, is Millport in for a real Country treat!
The album kicks off with the catchy “I’ve Got A Quarter In My Pocket”, which is the sort of sound he should be heard all over the radio with. Other upbeat numbers include “Lonely Ain’t The Only Game In Town”, “Look At Me Now” and “Neither Did I”.
His latest summer single Stateside is “Hot”, a kinda bluesy, lazy sunny day sound, which is quite different to the rest of the album.
Other ballads include “Is It Still Cheating”, “Losing You All Over Again”, “You Moved Up In Your World” and “What I Heard”. He still delivers a neat ballad like he did way back on his early days.
There’s no bad tracks on the album, but I really did like “Never Been To Texas”, which could be his take on the current Nashville scene. He highlights and namechecks a number of Country legends, and classic songs, whilst commenting on Music City’s lack of Steel guitars. “If you think Country music is a dying force, you’ve never been to Texas”! Great sentiment, close to my heart.
Mark was always one of the more Country guys on the Nashville scene. Great to see him still sounding just as good’n’Country, if not better than ever.
It’s a cracker of an album. Highly worth checking out.

For the past twenty years, sisters SHELBY LYNNE and ALLISON MOORER have been doing their own thing, and recording no less than 24 albums between them. Now the Alabama raised girls have teamed up on a new album, “Not Dark Yet” (Silver Cross), which is released here on August 18th.
As you would expect, sibling harmonies are the highlight of this album, which was produced by Teddy Thompson.
The choice of material is quite varied, from The Hag’s “Silver Wings” to Nirvana’s “Lithium”, on the way picking up on newer material written by Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires.  They also cover Jessi Colter’s “I’m Looking For Blue Eyes” and Townes Van Zante’s “Lungs”.
They kick off with “My List”, which is a cover of The Killers number, and round it all off with their own composition, “Is It Too Much”. In between, the title track is a Dylan composition.
Stand out track for me has to be “Everytime You Leave”. It’s an old Louvin Brothers song, covered by Emmylou on her iconic “Blue Kentucky Girl” album. I think the version here takes inspiration from both.
It’s an interesting collaboration. A must, if you’re a fan of either, or both, of the sisters.

The Honeycutters are an Ashville, North Carolina band, formed in 2007. Now ten years on, the lead singer, and songwriter is taking the front role on their fifth album.  It’s simply titled “AMANDA ANNE PLATT & THE HONEYCUTTERS” (Organic Records), and is released here this month to coincide with their tour, which includes dates in Kilbarchan, North Berwick and Peebles.
I was really impressed by their last outing “On The Ropes”, and this new album doesn’t disappoint.
They have a sound that encompasses traditional Country with rock and folk. Amanda’s vocals are gutsy, without stretching the boundaries too far. On some of the tracks there’s a real Dixie Chicks sound coming through! On others, it’s a real down home Country sound that really impressed me.
There are 13 self penned tracks on the CD, opening with the soft mid tempo “Birthday Song”. Other slower tracks include “The Guitar Case” and “Learning How To Love Him”, which reminded me of KT Oslin. The harmonies are strong on “The Good Guys”, whilst “Rare Thing” and “The Things We Call Home” are quite traditional Country ballads.
I really enjoyed “What We’ve Got”. The vocals are really Country, and there’s some nice steel guitar from Matthew Smith throughout the track. On the quite lengthy “Eden”, Amanda really delivers a catchy rural life story song, the kind of thing that Kasey Musgraves has made her mark with. She has a real rival here!
I really enjoyed this album, as I did their previous outing. They will really be worth catching on their forthcoming tour.

We’ve a couple of Canadian Country releases on offer this time around.
OVER THE MOON are the duo of Suzanne Levesque and Craig Bignall, who recorded their long awaited debut CD, “Moondancer”, at home in the foothills of Alberta’s Rockies. Neither are strangers to the music scene. Craig is a CCMA award winning instrumentalist on drums & banjo, whilst Suzanne was performing with the family band from the age of twelve, and has more recent toured in a band called The Travelling Mabel’s.
They have a really basic acoustic sound, and according to the sleevenotes, noisy coyotes, cows, and a noisy furnace also added effects to the mix.
Suzanne leads the vocals, and I really enjoyed her contribution throughout the CD, whether from the simple arrangements of the opening “Strangers We Meet” or the heavier “Turtle Mountain”, which tells of a 1903 disaster at Crowsnest Pass.
The duo’s signature song, “Over The Moon” is a sweet sounding 1940’s style swing number, whilst the title track to the album, “Moondancer” comes from the pen of near neighbour Ian Tyson.
“The Hills Of Grey County” is a really soft ballad that tells of the threat of the big city money men who threaten to destroy the rural way of life.
Whilst Suzanne leads the vocals, a couple of tracks feature vocals from Craig, including the catchy swing orientated, “You Don’t Even Know” and “Alberta Moon”.
“By The Mark”, which really displays some beautiful harmonies, has quite a gospel feel to it. It was written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
The duo wrote five of the ten tracks, with “The Hills Of Grey County” being a collaboration between Craig and Steve O’Connor and Darrin Schott.
Together they make beautiful music together. You could say I was “Over The Moon” listening to this CD. I loved it !

VIPER CENTRAL are a group from British Columbia, who decided to shake up the local, and more widespread, bluegrass scene. Although fiddle & banjo remain central to their sound, they also feature steel guitar and various guitar styles in their presentation.
The quintet’s latest album, “The Spirit Of God & Madness” covers an immense range in styles, from upbeat “99 Cents Short” and Gram Parson’s cover of “Luxury Liner”, to the slower, smouldering “Cherry Red”.
The bass influenced bluesy swing opener, “Gold Time” catches your attention with lines like “I  Went Down To Nashville”.  That track is immediately followed by the Latin flavoured “Losing My Mind”. Contrast that with the sweet, celtic, feel of “I Wont Be Left Behind”, which really stands out for me.
Most of the tracks are lead vocally by Kathleen Nisbet, the exception being “Ned Kelly” and a couple of instrumentals, including “Bloodwin Breakdown” and “Devil’s Reel”, which preludes “Devil’s String”, which features more of a joint band harmony lead.  Kathleen’s vocals really tell the story of the songs. A job well done.
Viper Central have a couple of dates in the Highlands, including The Belladrum festival in early August, before touring for the next month across Ireland.

From down in Australia, comes LACHLAN BRYAN AND THE WYLDES, who released their album, “The Mountain” here recently, to coincide with a European tour, which did include a date in Glasgow.
They caused quite a stir when they turned up in Austin, Texas, a media city, renowned for its’ hard to impress reputation.
Their first album was released in 2010. This is their 4th outing, and has continued to gather awards and recognition for the band.
They have a superb sound, especially on the steel infused “The Secret I’ll Take To My Grave”, and the vocally strong “The Mountain”. They have quite a haunting feel on “Dugdemona”, which is a river in Louisiana, whilst “Travelling Companion” is quite an upbeat number, which I liked.
Other tracks, include “View From The Bridge” and the closing “Til We Meet Again” are gentler, but equally pleasant ballads.
Hopefully, we’ll see Lachlan & the team back here again soon.

Now, to Ireland, and a new CD from PATRICK FEENEY, one of the ever growing popular names on the Irish scene. “Step It Out” is his 10th album, by my reckoning, so he is certainly no newcomer. He’s been playing since he was a young teenager, and made a good choice to pursue music, rather than be a farmer, or a salesman for Cadbury’s, which were his planned career paths.
This new album features a wide mix of songs and styles, from the Irish sounding “Step It Out Mary” to Marty Robbins covers on “Carmen” and “White Sports Coat”, to the gospel “Over & Over” and even Ed Sheerin’s “Pretty Little Galway Girl”. There’s “Goodbye and So Long To You”, a hit way back for The Osborne Brothers, Tim O’Brien’s “Like I Used To Do” and Collin Raye’s “Man Of My Word”.
As ever, you would expect a few Irish Country tracks, and you wont be disappointed, with the lovely James McGarrity song, “Irish Home”, PJ Murrity’s “Soldier On” and Tommy Makem & The Clancy Brothers’ classic “Courtin’In The Kitchen”.
Patrick has also translated Scottish west coast band Tide Lines’ “Far Side Of The World” to Irish, by removing references to the Highlands and The Hebrides, but I’m sure our guys wont be too upset by it.
This album has a bit more Irish than your average Irish Country album, but it’s certainly an entertaining listen.

Now down to England for the next couple of albums.
THE DIABLOS are a Brighton based Country five piece band, who are celebrating their 10th Anniversary currently. The band is made up of Chris Nieto, Danny and Terry O’Loughlin, Adrian Marshall and Geoff Ansell. To mark their anniversary, they have released a Double CD, “The Very Best Of The Diablos”, with 16 studio tracks compiled from their previous four albums, and an 11 track “live” set recorded at Conkers Outdoor Arena in Derbyshire.
They have quite an original sound. In the main, they have quite a rocky feel, but in an earthy Country music way. It’s a sound that is quite listenable, and danceable too. The one’s that stood out for me included “Wrong Guy”, “Whisky, Women & Wine” and “Rhinestones & Diamonds”. The most Country sounding number has to be “Continental”.
There’s a bit of Latin (Mavericks) influence on “Get Her Back” and “The Same Old Moon”.
They do have a few slower numbers, most notably, “You’re In There Somewhere”, “Banks Of The Vilane”, “My Wandering Heart” and “Right By Your Side”.
One track appears on both studio and live CD’s. “Don’t Like Country” is hardly an advert for our genre, but I think the guys should win over the doubters during the 4 minute track.
They have enjoyed a lot of airplay in the past ten years, and have topped the Hotdisc charts on six occasions.
The album has a bit of a cinema theme, from the CD cover, to the promotional bag of popcorn, which came with the review copy of the CD.  It’s because the guys are featured in a movie called “Beast” which is released this summer. The guys have a cameo role playing a Country band in a bar, and the opening track from the CD, “East Coast Run” is featured on the film’s soundtrack.
It’s not quite traditional Country, but, much more Country than a lot of what some call Country these days.
It’s good, original British Country music!.

THE BARHOPPERS, from Suffolk, were recently on a short tour up here, and they kindly passed on a copy of their CD for review. “Something…Old…New…Borrowed…Bluegrass”.
Although Gabbi and David were touring as a duo, they recorded as a trio, with Tony, who adds some magical steel and banjo into the mix.
The CD features quite a mix, from traditional to modern, and a couple of originals too. Gabbi wrote and performed the lively opening cut “Once Bitten Twice Shy”, and the foot tapping “Fast Train”.
There’s a really interesting version of Rhonda Vincent’s “All American Bluegrass Girl”, with the “All” being replaced with “Non”, and a reference to Suffolk added in.
Gabbi leads the vocals on a wide selection of numbers from “Sea Of Cowboy Hats” and “Down At The Twist And Shout”, to a cover of Larry Gatlin’s “Bitter They Are”, and the Hank Cochran classic, “Don’t Touch Me”.
Tony comes to the fore, with a steel guitar instrumental of “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”, and David leads the vocals on “Miles & Miles Of Texas”, “Who Locks The Door” and “Galway Girl”.
The Barhoppers certainly offer a wide variety of material, and I really enjoyed their versions of these songs, as well as their live sets.

Michigan’s ED DUPAS received great acclaim for his “Garage Country” sound on his 2015 album. Now, he’s back, with “Tennessee Night” (Road Trip Songs), on which he continues the garage theme. The album was recorded over three hot sticky days & nights last July at Mackinaw Harvest Studio’s in Grand Rapids.
The concept of this album was born back in 2015, when Ed took a trip to Nashville, a rather unorthodox trip as it turns out. The experiences certainly gave him some interesting song ideas.
The early tracks on the album are quite upbeat, including the opening “Too Big To Fail”, and “Two Wrongs”, inspired by the closing of the Danville Train line.
He then slows the tempo, notably on “Up Ahead”, “and “Some Things”. The title track, “Tennessee Night” is also quite an infectious ballad.
Cole Hansen provides some nice harmony on both that song and on the catchy “Everything Is In Bloom”. Her vocals really stand out, making it one of my favourite tracks on the album.
I really quite enjoyed this “Tennessee Night”, even if it was from Michigan.

Boston singer songwriter SUSAN CATTANEO has received praise and awards for her first four albums, but her new release takes her to a new level.
Her first three albums were essentially songs she had written in Nashville, very much with the current market in mind. Her last album, “Haunted Heart” was considered the first featuring songs she had written for herself.
Now she’s having a full blown out party. Not only does she have, in the region of, 40 musicians contributing, but she has released a blockbuster of a double album. “The Hammer & The Heart”(Jersey Girl Music), out here on August 25th, shows too sides of Susan, with electric and acoustic discs.
The lead song on both CD’s is a gutsy “Work Hard Love Harder”, the first version with The Bottle Rockers, and the gentler second version from the great named Boxcar Lillies.
The first CD, the electric side, does have quite a punchy, rocky feel to it, including the rockabilly homage to vinyl records on “In The Grooves”, which is a really infectious number. You can’t help getting into it.
She does quite a rocky version of “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger”. It’s the same song Lee Ann Womack hit with a few years back, but you’d never recognise it from this rather different version.
She does slow it down on the lovely duet with Bill Kirchen on “When Love Goes Right”.
The second CD, “The Heart”, the acoustic side, is a different sound altogether.
“Ordinary Magic” and “Fade To Blue” are nice ballads.
“Field Of Stone” is quite an emotional take on a new highway’s effect on a local community and families. It’s quite haunting.
“Smoke” is one of the heavier tracks on this CD, featuring Jennifer Kimball. It still works well.
The album rounds off with a rather strange cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Susan’s version certainly fits in quite nicely with the rest of the album.
I like Susan’s voice. She makes music that catches your attention !

Walt Aldridge is an acclaimed Country music songwriter, having written hits for a varied list of stars such as Barbara Mandrell, Travis Tritt, Earl Thomas Conley, Reba, Lou Reed, Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap. Now, his daughter, HANNAH ALDRIDGE is making her mark, especially here in the UK, having spent all of July here on tour, including dates in Glasgow, Stirling, Aberfeldy and at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival.
A native of that southern centre of musical excellence, Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Hannah has certainly learned all about songwriting. “Gold Rush” is her second album, and features ten songs, all self penned or co-writes, with the likes of Andrew Combs, Ashley McBryde and Don Gallardo.
She has quite a haunting sound, with good strong vocals, which give her a smoking rock feel. But don’t let that fool you. Her Southern roots really shine through.
The opening track, “Aftermath” really catches your attention, with its’ Country overtones and rock beat. She certainly sets the scene for what’s to follow.
“Dark Hearted Woman” is one of these infectious, atmospheric songs that get under your skin, whilst I also was really impressed with “Burning Down Birmingham”. It features some neat harmonies that really made an impression on me.
The title track, ”Gold Rush”, is one of the more gentler ballads, and really stood out for me. Other ballads include “The Irony Of Love”.
The album was recorded in Nashville, but isn’t the usual Nashville sound. She certainly has created her own, haunting sound, which seems to be working quite nicely for her.

Finally, something a bit different comes courtesy of BILL BOOTH. Although raised in New England, he is well travelled, and currently lives in Norway. But on his travels, he has picked up influences of Irish, Celtic, Cajun and Maritime Canadian, which all come together on his sixth album, “Some Distant Shore” (Wheeling Records).  Throughout the lyrics, he visits Dublin, Aberdeen, Nova Scotia, California, Dover, Mexico and even Fallujah.
He’s been called a “Cajun Mark Knopfler”, but also likened to JJ Cale, Dylan, Springsteen and Tony Joe White. There’s also a distinct Van Morrison sound.
There is certainly a celtic influence throughout the album, which I liked.
The opening track, “Wild Geese” has a distinct tale of Irish emigration, and that theme runs into “Cliffs Of Dover”, which has a line about leaving Aberdeen, sailing for Nova Scotia.
“Molly McKeen” has a real old time Country feel to it, yet still has an Irish influence running through it. “Raising Cane” also has quite a southern feel to it.
“City Of Rubble” is an emotional take on war torn areas, and the effect on the people on the ground.
A couple of instrumentals, which nicely round out the collection.
The whole album can be summed up in the track titled “Home Is On The Road”. Wherever you are, if you have music, then that’s home. I really enjoyed listening to the album.