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The Devil Makes ThreeRedemption & Ruin
Charles Baudelaire and Verbal Kint separately and astutely noted that the devil's greatest trick is in convincing the world that he doesn't exist. There could be a corollary concerning the reality of The Devil Makes Three; the trio exists in so many different musical forms that they may well have talked us into believing they're a dozen distinct bands when they are in fact just one single, extraordinarily talented unit. Over the past 14 years, The Devil Makes Three has released... »»»
Bill Kirchen and Austin DeLoneTransatlanticana
Bill Kirchen & Austin de Lone open their collaborative album with "Hounds of the Bakersfield," a cheeky play on words with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective story, "The Hounds of the Baskervilles." But rather than looking for perpetrators of crime, Kirchen and de Lone walk in the footsteps of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and the other Bakersfield greats in search of Central California country music fame. Kirchen even shouts out to The Hag during the song by announcing,... »»»
The Stray BirdsMagic Fire
The difference between current successful Americana road veterans like Mandolin Orange and Mipso, on the one hand, and lamented, late bands like Joy Kills Sorrow and The Deadly Gentlemen, on the other, is razor-thin. "Magic Fire" amply supports The Stray Birds' bid to be an act in for the long haul. "Magic Fire" is a sharp-tongued lyrical success with harmonies and clever arrangements in abundance from the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania band, which has spent the last few... »»»
The Coal MenPushed to the Side
After more than a dozen years, The Coal Men (Dave Coleman and Dave Ray, with Paul Slivka) have steadily if somewhat quietly developed a reputation as a Nashville combo of exceptional talent and fortitude, even while residing under the radar screen. "Pushed to the Side" may reflect the trio's sentiments about not achieving wider recognition, but its grit and confidence suggest they're ready to seize some sort of notoriety whenever the public finally catches up... »»»
Hymn for HerDrive Til U Die
Hymn for Her is a duo that traded in land for wheels. "Drive Til U Die," isn't the first album Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing have partially recorded in their '61 Bambi Airstream trailer, and it likely won't be the last. Hymn for Her has been called "Hells Angels meet the Amish," and they live up to the promise. Their country rock sound hints at the Eagles, while Tight's vocals can range from Stevie Nicks ethereal to down-and-gravel Bonnie Raitt... »»»
Justin MooreKinda Don't Care
The title track on Justin Moore's "Kinda Don't Care" album is so good it almost makes you wish the rest of the tracks were this fine. But they're not. Nevertheless, the song's Waylon Jennings thump-thump groove, its steel guitar-electric guitar interplay and lyric about how a broken heart can tempt even a good man to give into available vices - all on account of induced apathy - transforms it into one memorable country song. Although "Goodbye Back" gives... »»»
Boo RaySea of Lights
Boo Ray knows how to lay down a country groove. It goes long and deep, filled with guitar licks, back beat and the detritus of long nights at honky tonks. Ray is a country-rock artist with a flair for clever lyrics and phrasings. "Sea Of Lights" displays this in abundance. The 10 tracks were cut in 2 days in a live to tape recording session, and the grit and immediacy of the recording environment is apparent. Ray is a veteran of the Southern-rock roadhouse circuit, and his songs... »»»
The Cadillac ThreeBury Me In My Boots
The Cadillac Three may not be much more country than Florida Georgia Line, who help the group out on the track "The South," but they are certainly a better Southern rock band than that hack act. This group incorporates some blues influence from The Black Crowes, mixed in some of The Georgia Satellites' winking sense of humor, to create the enjoyable Southern summer party that is "Bury Me in My Boots." The group reveals its funny side through "Ship Faced," a... »»»
The O'Connor BandComing Home
Mark O'Connor has covered a lot of ground in his musical career; starting as a prodigy on the fiddle, with such disparate mentors as Benny Thomassen and Stephane Grappelli. Back in the '90s, he had a six-year run as CMA's Musician of the Year. In addition to his fiddle prowess, he's won national titles playing flat picking guitar and mandolin. Now, O'Connor has put together the O'Connor Band, which features Mark on strings and vocals, wife Maggie on fiddle, son... »»»
Chris LaneGirl Problems
Chris Lane sounds like he's been addicted to The Voice or at least Adam Levine because his vocals and sometimes his sonics bear a resemblance along with Panic! at the Disco's "Brendon Urie. The leadoff song and country hit "Fix" has the focal dynamics often displayed by Levine with a falsetto, something he resorts to often. Lane also milks the chugging big beats with his breathiness. "Let Me Love You," a cover of R&B artist Mario's 2004 hit, is dotted with... »»»
Jake OwenAmerican Love
Most everyone has made up their mind on bro-country music. Maybe you love the breezy images of the beach dippin' and sippin' lifestyle, or you write it off as empty headed and repetitive. Either way, Florida native Jake Owen was a torchbearer for the genre, and it's rewarded him well - four albums and five Number One singles (remember "Beachin"?). His career has been on a more-or-less upward arc, with higher-profile tours and bigger hits each time out... »»»
Hillary Scott & the Scott FamilyLove Remains
Hillary Scott spends most of her time known as being one-third of Lady Antebellum. With the group on a bit of a hiatus, Scott took a sharp left turn with a spiritual album recorded with her mother, Linda Davis, father, Lang Scott and younger sister, Rylee. The release grew out of the death of Scott's grandfather in 2011, which drew the family together to grieve through religious songs. Here, they merge country ("Safe Heaven" with lots of pedal steel from Dan Dugmore), pop country... »»»
Lori McKennaThe Bird & The Rifle
Lori McKenna's back story is a country song brought to vivid yet unaffected life. Married with five children, the Massachusetts native began exploring her longstanding musical gifts - she wrote her first song at 13 - by playing for family and friends, who then forced her to attend a regional coffee house open mic. After two years of regular gigging with her poignant songs of everyday life and becoming a favorite among Boston folk fans, McKenna self-released her debut, "Paper Wings and... »»»
National Park RadioThe Great Divide
Bluegrass bands face a common dilemma these days, that is, having to tow the line between bowing to tradition while also trying to etch an identity that allows them to sound distinct. National Park Radio succeeded in both regards, thanks to a debut album reflecting their own voice as well as a reverence for their roots. Front man Stefan Szabo has a way with making melodies that are immediately engaging, an easy accessibility that's bound to bring comparisons to the Steep Canyon Rangers, Town... »»»
The Royal HoundsPoker All Night Long
The rockabilly revival didn't end with the demise of The Stray Cats. That spirit of rock, rumble and boogie lives on in the trio The Royal Hounds, a band bred in east Tennessee, tempered by a well-received residency in Las Vegas and, if their dynamic new album "Poker All Night Long" is any indication, stand ready to take on the world. The title suggests some double meaning - it only takes a quick read to figure that out - but it's the band's manic stage shows (which... »»»
John GorkaBefore Beginning
John Gorka travelled the indie route when it was a clearer path to success in a musical landscape untainted by piracy, digital downloads ad paltry songwriting royalties. He came up playing coffeehouses in eastern Pennsylvania where he rose from a basement resident and house MC to performer. Rolling Stone dubbed him "the preeminent male singer-songwriter of the New Folk Movement." Having worked with Shawn Colvin and Lucy Kaplansky, he already had industry cred by the time Red House... »»»
Jeff Scroggins and ColoradoRamblin Feels Good
Touring stalwarts Jeff Scroggins & Colorado return with their third album with Scroggins on 5-string banjo and touring band members Greg Blake (lead vocals and guitar) and Tristan Scroggins (mandolin). They are augmented by studio vets Mark Schatz (bass) and Andy Leftwich (fiddle) along with harmony vocals from Don Rigsby and David Peterson. Scroggins, a well-established Colorado-based performer and instructor, is an impressive musician, one who can hold his own with the best in bluegrass... »»»
The Earls of LeicesterRattle & Roar
In the spirit of "if it was a good idea the first time around, it's got to be worth trying again," Jerry Douglas and his collaborators in the Earls Of Leicester return with a follow-up to their self-titled Grammy-winning debut of two years ago. On the off chance that you missed it the first time around, Douglas pulled the band together, not as just another "tribute" band, but to try and capture the full spirit and exceptional musicianship of the Flatt and Scruggs shows... »»»
David NailThe Fighter
A singer's believability is essential to the success of any album, and David Nail has a way of persuading us that every word he sings on his "Fighter" comes straight from the heart. And it doesn't hurt that the songwriting contained within is topnotch throughout. Two songs, in particular, go straight to the heart in addition to being heartfelt. "Home," which Lori McKenna both sings on and co-wrote, is the first song on this record that will absolutely stop you in your tracks... »»»
Marley's GhostThe Woodstock Sessions
Northern California-based Marley's Ghost have produced a diverse sound for three decades with their mix of bluegrass, country, folk, blues, rock and gospel. On "The Woodstock Sessions," recorded at the famed Levon Helms Studios, the focus is on traditional songs with a few tunes recent enough to be tagged with composer credits. The set kicks off with a spirited rendition of "Blind Fiddler" using the lyrics from Eric Anderson's 1966 version, delivered in a... »»»
It's a difficult proposition for a band member to go solo after a longstanding highly successful career and try to forge a musical identity that not only isn't all that similar to what's come before, but is also able to stand on its own as musically viable. And despite some false starts in launching his solo career commercially on the country charts, Steven Tyler has managed to make a statement on both counts. Tyler, of course, is the lead singer for the hard charging, sometimes... »»»
NewtownHarlan Road
Lexington, Ky.-based bluegrass outfit NewTown is back with "Harlan Road," featuring the band doing what a good bluegrass band is supposed to do: singing good songs about real life that are made even better by good vocals and hot playing. If there's one thing that Dr. Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe injected into their songs, it was a strong sense of the realities of life that are faced by all classes of people, not just folks who work in coal mines. NewTown, whose members don't... »»»
Sean McConnellSean McConnell
Sean McConnell is a veteran songwriter, but his self-named debut is as fresh as any of the chart-topping country-pop acts for whom he's written. McConnell comes out of the writer's room, where he penned tracks for Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley and even Christina Aguilera, to present a personal project that attracts even non-country fans, although some of his expertise stymies what could be a more candid collection. For example, "Holy Days" opens the collection as a... »»»
Rob Ickes & Trey HensleyThe Country Blues
Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley go for the heart of the matter in "The Country Blues," their sophomore effort. The release offers gritty country-tinged songs, which place the talents of the two men on fine display. The duo is a combination of a grizzled bluegrass veteran (Ickes) and a relative young gun (Hensley). Ickes has fronted Blue Highway for many years and is one of a handful of top-ranked Dobro players in the music business. Hensley is a fresher entry (although he played on the... »»»
Edgar LoudermilkGeorgia Maple
Pinecastle Edgar Loudermilk began his national professional career with Rhonda Vincent, soon moving to Marty Raybon's band and then to IIIrd Tyme Out. Along the way he had two solo projects, then partnered with Dave Adkins for one CD before deciding to go it alone with his own band. He composed or co-composed eight of the tracks here. Loudermilk positions himself as a bluegrass artist and people have been cussing and discussing what "bluegrass" means for years... »»»
Sara WatkinsYoung in All the Wrong Ways
Sara Watkins' voice is powerful. "Young In All The Wrong Ways" showcases her instrument admirably. Watkins burst upon the music scene in 1989, as part of Nickel Creek, teaming with her brother Sean and mandolinist Chris Thile. Nickel Creek had a solid run of recording and live music performances for a couple of decades before the members spread out into other collaborations (Nickel Creek has played a few festival dates most years, alongside their other projects)... »»»
Tommy WomackNamaste
Although little known among the masses, Tommy Womack has a storied career that encompasses any number of solo excursions as well as work with earlier bands like the Government Cheese, Bis-Quits and Daddy. "Namaste," however, is clearly his best work by far, not only due to its supple sway and Dylan-eque delivery (check out "It's Been All Over Before," a song that not only sounds eerily like the Bobster, but which, on first hearing - and subsequent listens as well -... »»»
Sam BushStoryman
It's been seven years since Sam Bush released a collection of songs (2009's "Circles Around Me"), but Bush has never left the bluegrass/jamgrass consciousness. He tours, mostly festivals, with his first-rate Sam Bush Band and has popped up as instrumental collaborator with Frank Solivan, Taylor Swift, Bela Fleck, David Grisman and countless others over the years. "Storyman" is a throwback in the sense that it is an album to be listened to and considered as a whole,... »»»
The Avett BrothersTrue Sadness
The Avett Brothers shows oftentimes offer some of the best bluegrass-inspired instrumental music around as brothers Seth and Scott surround themselves with highly skilled players. Albums, on the other hand, can sometimes be a significantly different matter. Songs on the new "True Sadness," for instance, reveal this act's well-developed introspective side. Sonically, "True Sadness" finds the group exploring beyond its rootsy, Americana expectations... »»»
Clint MorganScofflaw
Clint Morgan, known for his serious blues and boogie woogie piano chops, delivers up a 19-song set full of Americana-flavored blues, boogie woogie and country with healthy doses of old school rock and roll. It's a sound that recalls bits of pieces of artists like Paul Thorn and Watermelon Slim while still allowing plenty of Morgan's ample personality to shine through. The record draws on themes of sin, crime and wrongdoing, harnessing the bluesy notes therein, while also hinting at bits... »»»
Kris KristoffersonThe Cedar Creek Sessions
Picture Kris Kristofferson in your mind, and he's likely not a young man. There's probably a salt-and-pepper beard and a wizened look on a lined face that's seen its share of tavern punches. But it's hard to wrap one's head around the concept of the actor/songwriter today at 80. Slowing down has never been in the Texas troubadour's blood, though. And so we come to this 2016 double-album recording of a frantic, mostly-live recording session in Austin from 20214... »»»
LoCashThe Fighters
Locash is no stranger to the country charts, albeit in a behind the scenes role. Chris Lucas and Preston Burst co-wrote Keith Urban's number one 1 "You Gonna Fly" and Tim McGraw's Top 10 "Truck Yeah." Many hit singles feel like they were written inorganically in a cubicle and presented to a focus group. The duo's own Top 5 hit, "I Love This Life" is no exception. Its bouncy intro and standard issue country clichés like trucks, camo hats and... »»»
Irene KelleyThese Hills
Irene Kelley has created a bluegrass record, which seems just right - well-conceived with outstanding songwriting and singing and powerful musicianship. From the trickle down banjo run which introduces "Carolina Wind" to the soulful mountain vibe which exemplifies the final cut, "Before You Call Me Home," Kelly makes a case for the currency and relevance of bluegrass music in 2016. Kelly's voice is true and the song-writing never falters. She has written songs for... »»»
Sarah JaroszUndercurrent
No longer just a startlingly talented young bluegrass musician, on her latest, Sarah Jarosz shows her growth both as a person and an artist. This is her first recording done while she wasn't in either high school or college, the first since her move to New York City three years ago, and the first time she has included only new original material. It may be the middle one of those firsts that had the most influence on the end results; there is little to no traditional bluegrass material here... »»»
Brandy ClarkBig Day in a Small Town
There are two components to Brandy Clark. First is her songwriting, which gained her much street cred, penning songs for the likes of Miranda Lambert ("Mama's Broken Heart" with Kacey Musgraves and Shane McAnally), The Band Perry ("Better Dig Two"), Keith Urban, Reba McEntire and a slew for Musgraves and Jennifer Nettles. And then there's her own artistic career with her major label debut finally coming close to three years after her extremely well-received (with... »»»
Colvin & EarleColvin & Earle
Colvin & Earle aren't George Jones and Tammy Wynette, nor are they Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. No, they're not a classic duet partnership, where two voices come together in perfect harmony, like a choir in a Coca-Cola commercial. Instead, they're two fiercely independent singer/songwriters and also a few of the last hardcore troubadours. Produced by fellow troubadour Buddy Miller, "Colvin & Earle" is about three-quarters singer/songwriter songs and a quarter much-loved covers... »»»
Drew BaldridgeDirt On Us
Drew Baldridge has a strong voice that's made for contemporary country music. The problem is that he's given very little country music to sing, and what is there can hardly be considered "contemporary." There's a fine line between "retro cool" and "dated," and "Dirt on Us" never really figures out how to toe the line, wasting fine vocals with subpar songs. The opening track, "Train," sums up so many of the problems... »»»
Frankie BallardEI Rio
The rough-edged, soulful vocalist Frankie Ballard certainly receives some high-powered songwriting help on "El Rio." Chris Stapleton, considered country music's savior by some, contributes to a couple of songs, and hit makers Chris Janson and Kip Moore also each have co-writing credits on the release. Perhaps most telling inclusion of all, however, is Ballard's cover of Bob Seger's love song, "You'll Accomp'ny Me." Much like Seger before him, Ballard... »»»
Michael FracassoHere Come the Savages
Michael Fracasso's career encompasses nine albums and collaborations with some of the best artists in the business. Over the years, he's worked with such luminaries as Patty Griffin, Charlie Sexton and Lucinda Williams and won critical kudos in the process. Sadly - and surprisingly - he's still not known beyond a small circle of admirers, a fact that's not only somewhat astonishing, but also frustratingly inexplicable considering the high level of quality control he maintains... »»»
Ana Egge & the SentimentalsSay That Now
Some artists live through their music. Ana Egge, on the other hand, has actually lived her music. Having grown up on a small farm in a remote region of North Dakota, she learned the ways of the world from a very specific point of view. Her parents were hippies who escaped the city to live off the land. Alfalfa sprouts and tofu were essentials. Shoes were not. Little wonder then that Egge's Americana credentials have always been impeccable. Her 2015 release, "Bright Shadow,"... »»»
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