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Old 97'sLove the Holidays
"Love the Holidays" may read like one of those old timey Christmas album titles. You know, those sanitized, safe for the whole family song sets. Granted, there's nothing particularly family unfriendly on this seasonal collection; however, it's still a fairly typical Old 97's album. Vocalist Rhett Miller is just too angsty to ever make completely overjoyed, celebratory music. This album is typical Old 97's music, in the best sense of the term. "Christmas Is... »»»
Taylor MartinSong Dogs
Among the many musical treasures from Asheville, N.C. is one of its best, already veteran, and still growing songwriters, Taylor Martin. The Richmond-raised, 14-year resident of Asheville has tapped into the local music scene in a major way, but also brings the spirit of the West, having spent five years in Utah and influences of southern rock and R&B to his eclectic sound. On "Song Dogs" Martin enlists the support of The Honeycutters' Amanda Anne Platt for producing and... »»»
TellicoWoven Waters
Tellico hails from that bastion of bluegrass and hybrid bluegrass, Asheville, N.C. to deliver its sophomore album "Woven Waters.'' This effort melds their rather inherent bluegrass affinities with British Isle influences, courtesy of producer and bouzouki player Irishman John Doyle. Under Doyle's direction, chord choices and rhythmic dynamics are varied. The intertwining strings of mandolin, banjo, Dobro and guitar create a blend, aptly named in the album title... »»»
Rodney CrowellChristmas Everywhere
Rodney Crowell's "Christmas Everywhere" is a (mostly) melancholy collection of songs, with Christmas time as its setting. It's a strong set of carefully worded tunes, set to widely varying musical backings. All 12 tracks are originals, so if you're seeking out 'Rodney Crowell performs holiday favorites,' this is certainly not for you. However, if you're a little tired of all the trappings associated with the winter season, you'll find an empathetic soul in Crowell... »»»
The MavericksHey! Merry Christmas!
Sometimes, musicians create holiday albums, and it's obvious to the listener the act is breaking character. Maybe they just want to make a buck off the seasonal experience, so they'll put on ill-fitting red clothes and play the part. With "Hey! Merry Christmas!" by The Mavericks, though, one finds another fine album by the group, which just happens to be comprised of songs that concern Christmas. For example, the title track is a piano-pumping, rockabilly Jerry Lee Lewis throwback... »»»
Granville AutomaticRadio Hymns
Songwriters Vanessa Olivarez and Elizabeth Elkins form the duo Granville Automatic, the name borrowed from a 19th Century typewriter. And, as you might guess, leaning on a name like that, they love to write about history. "Radio Hymns" is a journey into Nashville's storied past, beyond the glitz of neon, cowboy hats and Lower Broad to some earlier tales of dark times. Theirs is a side of Music City that few have heard. The music, while haunting in few places, skips along nicely... »»»
Whitey Morgan and the 78'sHard Times and White Lines
Whitey Morgan's fourth studio release exhibits the singer/songwriter's reverence for outlaw country and southern rock. The influence of Hank Williams, Jr. is evident on the opening "Honky Tonk Hell" with lyrics that evoke the Eagles and Elvis Presley ("You'll never check out of this heartbreak hotel"), while "Bourbon and Blues" gives a shout out to Hank Sr. ("I keep gettin' the same advice Hank Williams never used")... »»»
Chely WrightSanta Will Find You!
Thoughtful may not always be a word applied to holiday music. Capitalization may be a more utilized descriptor. Nevertheless, Chely Wright's "Santa Will Find You" is a brief, but considerate collection of Christmas-inspired songs. The title track was written with military personnel in mind. Santa Claus will reach military men and women no matter how remotely they may be stationed. The lyric applies universally, though, as Wright sings over an orchestrated arrangement: "If... »»»
Blackberry SmokeThe Southern Ground Sessions
Blackberry Smoke's "The Southern Ground Sessions" EP is five versions of songs from the band's recent "Find a Light" album, along with a cover of Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky," which also features vocalist/violinist Amanda Shires. The project takes its name from the Southern Ground studio in Nashville, and this band, which can ramp up its music to Southern rock power - especially in concert - takes a few moments to quiet things down... »»»
Roland White & FriendsTribute To The Kentucky Colonels
The storied history of The Kentucky Colonels - Roland and Clarence White, Roger Bush, Bobby Slone, Billy Ray Latham, LeRoy Mack and others - goes back to 1954 when the California-based White Brothers decided music making was for them. With just two albums to their credit, "The New Sound of Bluegrass America" and "Appalachian Swing!", The Bluegrass Colonels influenced generations of bluegrass players following in their wake. The impact of Clarence White had on acoustic guitar... »»»
Eddie HeinzelmanWherever You Go
If you're at all familiar with session guitarist Eddie Heinzelman, it's from his fine work, both in the studio, and live in a duo format with Radney Foster. This is Heinzelman's second solo album, "Wherever You Go," an upbeat, rocking outing. There's plenty of his blazing guitar, mostly electric on these 10 songs. It's not a pure country effort at all, although it's in the mix alongside Americana, roots rock and some extended jamming too... »»»
Jason Isbell and the 400 UnitLive at the Ryman
Jason Isbell didn't record this live effort at The Ryman Auditorium as a gesture to be country music's savior at The Mother Church of Country Music. The Alabama native's music is country-adjacent at best, more than it is traditional in the way, say, Sturgill Simpson's can be. He may not be coming to the faltering genre's rescue, but he's sure breathing life into modern music in general. "Live From the Ryman" finds Isbell and his sharp band (the 400 Unit)... »»»
For more than two decades, Appleseed Recordings have been releasing politically charged, contemporary and traditionally-rooted folk music. Using those three themes to organize each disc in this three-volume set - protest folk, singer-songwriter folk and traditional folk - Appleseed provides a engrossing cross-section of their 165 releases with a treasure of unreleased recordings intermingled. Connections to country music are largely transitory: the appearance of Steve Earle with Pete Seeger... »»»
Edward David AndersonChasing Butterflies
Edward David Anderson is releasing his third solo album, having done five with Backyard Tire and three with Brother Jed. His solo efforts have been widely lauded, and this collection of tunes recorded in Muscle Shoals should bring plaudits too. It was through a tip from a friend that Anderson connected with Grammy Award winner Jimmy Nutt (The SteelDrivers) from the Shoals region. They quickly developed rapport and agreed to record at Jimmy's NuttHouse Recording Studio in Sheffield... »»»
Martina McBrideIt's the Holiday Season
Martina McBride's second holiday album is called "It's the Holiday Season," and some of this album was tracked at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. So, as you might expect, this music is a throwback to the kinds of albums The Rat Pack (and their contemporaries) once recorded at that same studio mostly in the '60s. McBride's version of "Winter Wonderland" is representative of the sort of music she's recorded for this project. It features a full string... »»»
Becky WarrenUndesirable
In many respects Becky Warren's "Undesirable" mirrors Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" in its rallying cries, its driving, jangling guitars and ultimately its message of hope. This is one of this year's most impressive releases in the category, loosely called Americana, with elements of both a great country and superb rock n' roll album. This follows Warren's lauded solo debut, "War Surplus," that was partly inspired by her own life and... »»»
Bottle RocketsBit Logic
According to the old saying, the more things change the more they stay the same. That is an apt summary for "Bit Logic," the 13th album from the revered St. Louis-based Americana quartet Bottle Rockets. The 12-song set is thematically focused on coping with an ever-changing modern world - a notion that is buoyed by the band's resolute musical direction, which is mostly unaffected by the times. These separate, but related components work in concert to create an interesting artistic... »»»
Ever More NestThe Place That You Call Home
The unusual name Ever More Nest is the project name for New Orleans-based, Shreveport, La.- raised singer-songwriter Kelcy Wilburn (aka Kelcy Mae). She has the poet's gift for lyrics and an engaging, lovely voice. Mae journeyed to Nashville for "The Place That You Call Home" and gathered some of Nashville's best musicians including noted songwriter and producer Neilson Hubbard (Kim Richey), multi-instrumentalist Will Kimbrough (guitar, banjo, mandolin, piano) and Grand Ole... »»»
Dailey & VincentThe Sounds Of Christmas
With "The Sounds of Christmas," Dailey & Vincent gift us with an honest-to-goodness country Christmas album. It's tough to find honest-to-goodness country music - let alone Christmas country - but this duo's bluegrass and gospel grounding give their album deep roots. Dolly Parton's big presence on "Road to Bethlehem" adds a sweet touch, even though the new song shares a melody with Bruce Springsteen's "One Step Up." It's one of a few new... »»»
Sarah BorgesLove's Middle Name
Sarah Borges tackles some tough issues on "Love's Middle Name." "House on a Hill" is about the aftermath of a dead relationship. "Are You Still Takin' Them Pills" is pretty self-explanatory in nature. The eventually uplifting message of "Grow Wings" starts with the line "This world is too painful for gentle souls, someone like me." For all that darkness, the album, as is typical of Borges, is still a delight to play... »»»
When Aaron Watson titled his holiday album "An Aaron Watson Family Christmas," he wasn't kidding about the "family" part. Although his children - Jake, Jack and Jolee - are advertised as making cameo appearances, they're actually an essential part. "Christmas Time Is Here," for example, is an all-kids rendition. Watson's kids give this album special charm, while his singing and playing bring the traditional skill. This album includes a couple of new songs... »»»
Eric ChurchDesperate Man
While Eric Church has set the bar high with his previous studio albums, "Desperate Man" is right up there with his best and may just be his most accomplished effort to date. Church continues to write memorable songs in a wide variety of styles, and even when he's not singing over country musical elements, his lyrical voice is always undeniably a country one. He also knows how to have a little fun, especially with "Hanging Around," a soulful, funky tune mixing together... »»»
Town MountainNew Freedom Blues
Town Mountain is a bluegrass band at its core. But here, whilst true to the bluegrass form (drinking - "One Drop In The Bottle; wide open spaces - "North of Cheyenne"; more open spaces- "Lazy River," "Pamlico"), there's an edge to it all. "Life and Debt" is, not surprisingly, a pushback on the New American Normal, as is the title cut. Town Mountain's sixth studio album shows the group's writing strength and confidence in playing... »»»
A four-year recording hiatus did nothing to damper J.P. Harris's creativity. In fact, the carpenter, singer, and songwriter has stretched his sound a bit with "Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing," a 10-song offering on which Harris ventures further afield from his honky-tonk roots while still producing a unique brand of country that is at once contemporary and classic. The first few notes make it crystal clear that something different is afoot. "JP's Florida Blues #1" is... »»»
This set benefitting the fine work of the International Bluegrass Music Association Trust Fund certainly has more positives going for it than negatives. With opening with lines honoring those who came before: "Their hands have made the music, wooden boxes and some strings, bringing life to the melodies our lonesome voices sing - guitar, banjo, fiddle, a mandolin and bass - they put their trust in us now, a lifetime leap of faith"- sang so smoothly by Sideline's Bailey Coe, there is... »»»
To suggest The Earls of Leicester are bluegrass royalty is no false decree. Unlike other self - proclaimed members of the traditional hierarchy - kings, queens, dukes and such - this sextet comes by the honor naturally: it's their name! Four - time International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainers of the Year-the association's premier annual recognition-The Earls of Leicester have spent five years bringing their interpretation of peak Flatt & Scruggs-1954 through 1965-to... »»»
Amy RayHoller
Amy Ray's lovely, commanding, southern voice is just one strength in what might be her best solo album to date, "Holler." Her well-crafted songs range from haunting to uplifting to indigenously Southern in all its glory and duality. The instrumentation brings one big sound, with often as many a dozen to 15 musicians. Alison Brown on banjo is particularly striking. Her solo on "Dadgum Down," for example, is other-worldly. Brown is one of several high profile guests that... »»»
The Louvin Brothers recorded several outstanding albums ("Tragic Songs of Life," "Satan Is Real," "Country Love Ballads," "A Tribute to the Delmore Brothers"...) and even more timeless songs ("Cash on the Barrelhead," "When I Stop Dreaming," "The Knoxville Girl," "Don't Laugh"...). They were members of the Grand Ole Opry, recorded both gospel and secular material, sang in a manner that gave definition to... »»»
Carrie UnderwoodCry Pretty
Carrie Underwood's life was reading straight from the storybooks: one of the few American Idol Winners with ongoing success; a professional athlete for a husband; a beautiful baby boy. The string of great fortune turned sharply in 2017, when Underwood began the unfathomable experience of three consecutive lost pregnancies. This was atop a frightening fall at her home that ended with her face in nearly 50 stitches. Sharing these moments with her fans makes the beamingly-beautiful singer... »»»
Willie NelsonMy Way
Not one to rest on his laurels, Willie Nelson's second studio release of the calendar year finds the artist dipping back into the Great American Songbook. Previous collections, including 1978's stellar Stardust, 2009's "American Classic" and 2016's "Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin," established Nelson as one of the finest modern interpreters of American standards. So, it is only fitting that he now pays tribute to the man widely recognized as the... »»»
Asleep at the WheelNew Routes
The heyday of Western Swing music has long since come and gone. Sure, there are those that still keep the tradition alive and well, and there are those that are working to renew trails. That is exactly what Asleep At The Wheel is doing, with "New Routes." One of the beauties of Western Swing music is its diversity. It draws from swing, country, jazz, folk and even blues styles of music. With so much variety to draw from, the enormously talented band created a beautifully rich and dynamic... »»»
Alejandro EscovedoThe Crossing
 
Alejandro Escovedo's "The Crossing" is an extensive concept album. Social commentary and nostalgia are in evidence as Escovedo examines the immigrant experience delivered in a diverse mix of country, folk, blues and jazz over the course of an hour with a nod to the artist's roots in punk rock. Amongst the more tasteful tracks is a cover of Joe Ely's "Silver City" on which the songwriter joins Escovedo on harmony vocals. The recurring theme of immigration is... »»»
Steve ForbertThe Magic Tree
Particularly if you've been listening to Steve Forbert's music for many years, you're bound to have some fun with his new memoir, "Big City Cat." The book, which lifts its title from that of a track on "Alive on Arrival," his 1978 debut LP, offers lots of commentary on the inspiration for Forbert's songs and the making of his albums. You'll also discover mentions of many of the artists he admires-some predictable (assorted folkies), some rather... »»»
Kathy Kallick BandHorrible World
Kathy Kallick voice is warm and inviting, even when singing songs with the coldest of themes: she knows her way around a murderin' outlaw song as well as anyone and yet embraces the complexities of relationships and daily life with ease. While she performs in a range of situations, never is she stronger than when fronting a vibrant, driving bluegrass band. "Horrible World" continues the Kathy Kallick Band's streak of excellence. As always, her songs are meaningful creations... »»»
Elise DavisCactus
Elise Davis tells stories and brings relatable, realistic lyrics rather overly relying on imagery, metaphors and symbolism. That was the general take on her widely acclaimed 2016 "The Token." Some of that assessment holds true again here on "Cactus," but let's step back just a bit because she's slyly clever too. Davis chose the album title from the plant that symbolizes independence. It doesn't need much water. It can be beautiful, but don't get too close... »»»
Ruston KellyDying Star
There is a certain joy that comes from listening to a debut album and discovering, track by track, the arrival of a bright new talent. It's not a wet-behind-the-ears singer with a batch of anonymous songs, hoping to get radio airplay. Rather, it's someone with an already-established vision and a clear voice. Ruston Kelly's "Dying Star" may have a few too many cuss words to get the airplay it deserves, but it should be considered as one of the best debuts of the year... »»»
Armadillo RoadHonky Tonk Way
The second release from the Austin-based quintet Armadillo Road is a mix of traditional country and southern rock at times delivered with a hard alt.-country edge. Frontmen Tee-Jay Hill (bass) and Jeremy Edens (rhythm guitar) share songwriting and lead vocal duties, with Hill providing much of the classic country influence. The tale of lost love "There's No One" recalls Buck Owens with a touch of Robbie Fulks, while the swaggering "Never Been Loved" ("But if you... »»»
William Elliott WhitmoreKilonova
Iowa native William Elliott Whitmore grew up on a fourth generation family farm where he still lives with his wife and children, which should give some indication as to the rooted nature of his folky/rootsy songwriting sensibilities. His three albums for Southern Records were essentially a trilogy that dealt with his grief at the clustered deaths of his parents and grandparents and his internal struggle to process their losses. The attention those albums garnered earned him a contract with major... »»»
The Stray BirdsLet It Pass
This is the swan song for The Stray Birds unfortunately, but at least they are parting with another musical triumph. This record barely got made as founding members, fiddler/guitarist/banjoist/vocalist Maya de Vitry and fiddle/guitarist/mandolist/vocalist Oliver Craven fought through an ending romantic relationship while deciding to collaborate musically. That decision was enough to get "Let It Pass" done, but recently the band announced that they were calling it quits... »»»
Kathy MatteaPretty Bird
"Pretty Bird" is Kathy Mattea's first studio album in six years, following 2012's "Follow Me Home." The major reason for this gap was Mattea's realization that her voice was changing so much, she felt as if she was losing it altogether. Through vocal coaching and dedicated perseverance she has emerged, singing in a lower, albeit richer voice, for a strong album of interpretative covers. Keep in mind that Mattea has won two Grammys, four CMA Awards, has... »»»
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