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If you're expecting down home, countrified versions of metal band Motley Crue songs from "Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Motley Crue," you probably don't listen to a whole lot of mainstream "country" music. Most likely, this album's original conception was a rather crass attempt to capitalize on the large contingent of classic rock fans that also listen to and enjoy older rock's continuing influence on contemporary country music. And for the most part,... »»»
Cory BrananThe No-Hit Wonder
After only four albums in a dozen years, there's a certain truthfulness that comes with a title like "The No-Hit Wonder." On the other hand, Cory Branan's apparent attempt at modesty belies a talent that deserves to garner notice, thanks to a wry yet infectious songwriting style that takes pains to share its strengths without ever requiring a second listen. If Branan is reticent to show he's worthy of chart placement, it's certainly not evident here... »»»
Frank Solivan & Dirty KitchenCold Spell
Washington, D.C. bandleader Frank Solivan appears to be very aware of the gradual vagaries of his bluegrass world. "Cold Spell" is a clean sounding, polished modern bluegrass album. It goes a bit far out on the branches, but maintains the energy and woody tones of more traditional bluegrass. "Cold Spell" has at its core strong songwriting ideally balanced with exceptional instrumentation, powerful lead vocals and precise and uplifting vocal harmony. A cover of Pure Prairie... »»»
Sam HuntX2C
Sam Hunt is riding the country charts with "Leave the Night On," a rather surprising occurrence considering that the Georgia native has extremely little to do with what remotely constitutes country music on this four song EP. Hunt has gained some acclaim as a song writer, having penned Kenny Chesney's "Come Over," Keith Urban's "Cop Car" and Billy Currington's "We Are Tonight." Hunt fits in perhaps only because of the crossover sounds... »»»
Shooter JenningsDon't Wait Up (For George)
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. This is not a tribute album. For one thing there are only five songs on it. But it's not a tribute EP either. Only three of the five were ever recorded by Jones. Whatever you call it, this is the first of two recordings celebrating two very different musical icons. The second, due in January, will fete another George - Giorgio Moroder, an influential producer who worked with Donna Summer and paved the way for electronic dance music... »»»
Larry SparksLonesome and Then Some
Through 50 years, Larry Sparks has honed a full-bodied, soulful approach to singing bluegrass. He has a wonderful right hand, maintaining unbreakable rhythm while contributing leads that lend a bluesy country resonance to his songs. Sparks and his band form the consistent instrumental core with The Lonesome Ramblers appearing throughout. Tyler Mullins handles the banjo duties and Larry D. Sparks takes care of bass. Jackie Kincaid's tenor is recognizable on most songs... »»»
Sunny SweeneyProvoked
When we last heard from Sunny Sweeney in 2011 with "Concrete," her major label debut on Big Machine showed a very different side of Sweeney, whose album 5 years earlier was appropriately titled "Heartbreakers Hall of Fame." Texas honky tonk and traditional country songs blanketed her debut, but the same could not be said for "Concrete," which was the kind of disc that those bemoaning slicked up country had reason to be right. Sweeney is back and in excellent form on... »»»
Flatt LonesomeToo
The current darlings of the bluegrass world, Flatt Lonesome returns with its second album; "Too" is a considerable improvement over last year's inconsistent debut. The strength of this family-based band, centered about the Robertson siblings, remains the passion for vocal performance. Whether considering Buddy's straightforward approach on "Dangerous Dan," (reminiscent of song co-writer Tim Stafford) or the sweet back-and-forth of sisters Charli and Kelsi (as on... »»»
Every male country singer worth his salt has been influenced by George Jones who died in April 2013; if not vocally, at the very least because of respect for country traditions and love of a fine song. Few, however, have the skills to sing as much like Jones as Sammy Kershaw can. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Kershaw has that whole sincerity thing down pat. For the most part, Kershaw mainly sticks to the most familiar Jones songs. He even has the guts to cover "He Stopped... »»»
Balsam RangeFive
There exists a palatable line separating premier, contemporary bluegrass bands - the Blue Highways, Union Stations and the McCourys - and other truly great bands, and that line takes years to approach. But once traversed, the affect is aurally apparent: the playing is just a notch crisper, the harmonies a stitch cleaner, the interpretation a sliver more innovative. With their previous album "Papertown," Balsam Range edged a significant step toward to that destination; with... »»»
Michael Cleveland and FlamekeeperOn Down the Line
Unlike previous Flamekeeper releases, there are few bluegrass household names associated with "On Down the Line." Only co-producer Jeff White has been with Michael Cleveland since the 2002 Rounder Records debut that gave Cleveland's band its name. "On Down the Line's" personnel reflects an evolving band that has solidified over three years. Glenn Gibson (banjo and reso) has been with Cleveland for three years, while both Tyler Griffith (bass) and Nathan Livers... »»»
John HiattTerms of My Surrender
As he has for decades now, John Hiatt keeps churning out quality live tours based around quality albums and songs that are hard not to love. On his latest, his seventh with his current label and his follow-up to 2012's "Mystic Pinball," Hiatt sounds like he's finally aged into his wise-beyond-his-years voice. "Are you rolling?" Hiatt is heard asking before "Face Of God" kicks in, a ramshackle crawl that sounds like it was swept off the recording floor... »»»
Trampled by TurtlesWild Animals
Trampled By Turtles, the five-piece band from Duluth, Minn., combines bluegrass, folk and country into an enjoyable mixture. This act, which has been known to cover such unexpected artists as the extremely somber Radiohead in concert, is gradually moving away from its speedy bluegrass leanings and incorporating much more moody instrumental blends into its music. "Wild Animals'" title track, for instance, opens up this 11-song album with a slow, dirge-y piece... »»»
Mary SarahBridges
Every artist has that dream duet they'd love to perform. They're fans too and long to share the stage with the very artists who helped to inspire their dreams and while it happens for some, it's surely not enough. And with that being the case, newcomer Mary Sarah needs to count her blessings as her debut record, "Bridges," finds the artist trading duets with a virtual "who's who" of country music greats. She's no stranger to performing, having been... »»»
Dale WatsonTruckin' Sessions Trilogy
Completing a trilogy originally begun with the first "Truckin' Sessions" album in 1998, Dale Watson wraps up the series with "The Truckin' Sessions 3," a robust 14-song set that details the daily travels and travails of the modern road warrior. Watson's affinity for these unsung highway heroes is both admirable and authentic, sung from the perspective of those who tirelessly drive those big rigs day and night, often with little sleep, scant personal comforts... »»»
David OlneyWhen the Deal Goes Down
Few would ever conceptualize plot lines like these, much less know how to integrate it all together. So suffice it to say that only an artist as inspired as David Olney might possess the singular savvy that envisions the Greek god Sisyphus as a poor Indiana farmer back in the 1930s. Likewise, not too many songwriters go so far out on a limb as to write a tune voicing the observations of a fly on the wall whose witnessing a dialogue between the God and Satan during a poker game no less... »»»
Corb LundCounterfeit Blues
Corb Lund is a Canadian artist, whose gritty blend of country, blues, folk, jazz and more made him a surprise success on the musically conservative national country landscape. After rising to the top of the Canadian scene, Lund set his sights south of the border to the notoriously tough American roots music scene. He released his debut in 1995, while still a part of the underground punk/metal group The Smalls of Edmonton. But it wasn't until late 2009 when he released "Losin' Lately... »»»
Jim LauderdaleI'm A Song
In promoting "I'm a Song," Jim Lauderdale put out a satirical video with his band in which he dons a trucker's cap and celebrates the creation of "bro-grass." The good-natured video served to show how Lauderdale doesn't fit in with what's most popular in Nashville these days, but listen to his latest - a wonderful, 20-song album - and you know the in-demand songwriter certainly can't be that unpopular. Lauderdale had a hand in writing each song here... »»»
The JayhawksRainy Day Music
With its rerelease, The Jayhawks' best album, "Rainy Day Music," has not really been expanded, as it was also originally 20 songs when you added in the bonus CD. It merely features different extra songs. It's still the band's best because there are just so many top-tier songs, starting with the jingle-jangle of "Stumbling Through The Dark" (which Gary Louris co-wrote with power-pop master Matthew Sweet), and continuing on with "Tailspin... »»»
Old Crow Medicine ShowRemedy
Old Crow Medicine Show returned with "Carry Me Back" in 2012 after a brief hiatus and lineup changes. The album was a predictable collection from the group, hearkening back to their earlier releases and stepping away from the dark undertones of the highlight "Tennessee Pusher" album. It was a welcome recording for long time fans of the group, but blended in with much of their discography. "Remedy" is easily recognizable as an OCMS recording, but this time around,... »»»
The JayhawksSmile
When The Jayhawks "Smile"first came out in 2000, the snobbier elements in the alt.-country underground were calling the Minnesota band Judas for selling out their Americana roots. Bob Ezrin produced it, and wasn't he a guy famous for producing Lou Reed, Alice Coop, Kiss and many other totally twang-less acts? While this album has plenty of pop elements, you could make the case that "What Led Me To This Town" also has very strong county elements - particularly the echoing... »»»
The JayhawksSound of Lies
Time has been kind to The Jayhawks' "Sound of Lies," originally released in 1997. The album was also the first one recorded after Mark Olson (one half of the original songwriting partnership with Gary Louris) had left the group. Nevertheless, these many years later, songs like "It's Up To you" are pleasing still with their country goodness - especially in contrast to the annoying Southern rock influence upon today's omnipresent mainstream bro-country scene -... »»»
Colt FordThanks for Listening
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups notwithstanding, two great tastes don't always taste great together. Take, for instance, country music and rap. Hick hop, if you will. Even the name sounds like an affliction of the diaphragm. Wikipedia says this sub genre really took shape with Bubba Sparxxx in 2001, but those of us with longer memories know artists have been trying to wed these antithetical styles since the Bellamy Brothers "Country Rap" in 1987. Back then, it was known as c-rap, a... »»»
Robert GordonI'm Coming Home
It was clear at the outset that Robert Gordon belonged to one particular age and era, specifically, the late '50s and early '60s when rockabilly was all the rage and retro was in full flourish way before the term was ever imagined. Admittedly though, it's hard to fashion an entire career on such a singular sound, especially when it's considered something of a novelty to begin with. So credit Gordon with pursuing his niche as far as he did, particularly during his heyday in the... »»»
Sarah BorgesRadio Sweetheart
It's popular on social media to bash anything that becomes too popular, so you often see people who have problems with music crowdsourcing. Lame, greedy, not very artistic, not rock-n-roll, "digital panhandling," sad, etc. But if an artist in need has more resources in terms of fans than funds, and delivers on their promises, what exactly is the problem? For her first album since 2009 and first since the breakup of her band the Broken Singles, Sarah Borges seems to have put the more... »»»
The LoudermilksThe Loudermilks
Named after a pair of brothers legendary for their sweet harmonizing - the Louvin Brothers - the Loudermilks are led by a pair of brothers well-known (at least down Carolina way and in alt.-country circles) for their, surprise, sweet harmonizing. Charlotte-by-way-of-Cartersville, Ga.'s Alan and Chad Edwards, along with bassist Shawn Lynch, previously did business as Lou Ford, which put out two well-regarded albums around the turn of the century before regrouping briefly for a final album in 2007... »»»
Willie NelsonBand of Brothers
Willie Nelson has been routinely busy since 1996 with touring, recording, writing books and more touring. Yet his latest offering is a rarity of sorts in that it's his first true studio album of primarily new material since 1996. And like so much of his material beforehand, Nelson mines very little new ground with this record. That doesn't mean it's not stellar however! The first song "Bring It On" contains all the hallmarks of a classic Nelson tune, from the... »»»
Jason D. WilliamsHillbillies and Holy Rollers
In the liner notes to his latest release, Jason D. Williams, with good-natured swagger, refers to rock-n-roll in terms of "spirit" and "soul" and the fact that he's got a lot of it, but he's worried kids today wouldn't know it if it jumped out of their Xbox and bit them in the behind. It should be noted, however, that as the son of Jerry Lee Lewis, Williams was born with a leg up (and ready to kick over a piano stool) when spirit and soul were handed out... »»»
As suggested by the title, Gene Watson's latest project is a collection of cover tunes written and recorded by some of his musical heroes. After more than four decades in the business, Watson remains a strong performer of country ballads and pure honky tonk. Watson is at his best on ballads such as the George Jones hit "Walk Through This World with Me" and the Hank Cochran tune "Make the World Go Away" made famous by Eddie Arnold. On Nat Stuckey's "Don't... »»»
Mary GauthierTrouble & Love
Mary Gauthier is an artist who will never be accused of not telling the truth and the artist's latest collection of songs, "Trouble and Love," is no exception. Inspired by Gauthier's real life heartbreak, the eight-track record follows the artist through the process of grieving over a lost relationship, highlighting with fine lyricism and rich, moody Americana soundscapes the good, the bad and the ugly. Gauthier brought some method acting principles to the recording process,... »»»
As natural as the idea seems, it took a guy named Reese to cram a smear of peanut butter into a hollowed out chunk of chocolate. Similarly, the concept of unleashing the brothers Alvin on the songbook of their earliest blues hero, Big Bill Broonzy, seems so completely right, it's almost tragic that it required Phil's near death experience from an abscessed tooth for a fence-mending reconciliation between him and Dave for their first recording together since The Blasters' "Hard... »»»
Willie WatsonFolk Singer Vol. 1
When we last heard much from Willie Watson, he was a member of Old Crow Medicine Show. But Watson left in 2011 to blaze his own musical path. Sort of. What Watson, who displays his acoustic guitar and banjo skills throughout, does is cover 10 folk songs with some on the ultra obscure side. While many of the songs have been recorded by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, they are not on the tips of everyone's tongues. Watson, who has an imposing vocal... »»»
Miranda LambertPlatinum
Cynics might think that Miranda Lambert is presumptuous in entitling her fifth disc "Platinum" and, in effect, assuming she'll get her plaque for selling 1 million units. But Lambert says that isn't the case, but more a matter of style, looks and feel. Lambert also wrote and discovered a lot of excellent songs that fit her quite well in an album in which she exposes her inner self as she matures. That may never more apparent than in the country rocker Lambert wrote... »»»
Lucy HaleRoad Between
It's fascinating to hear how much more country Lucy Hale sounds once Joe Nichols sings along with her during their duet, "Red Dress." For the most part, though, actress/singer Hale sounds like countless other mainstream female artists, which is mainstream country generic. Listening to "Road Between" makes one especially appreciate female singers like Miranda Lambert and Reba - ones that can't ever quite get the twang out of their singing voices... »»»
Jamie O'NealEternal
Jamie O'Neal's latest disc, only her third, is a surprise. First and most important is the music itself, which is comprised of country classics except for the closing song. One would not have expected that from a singer considered part of the pop country school. Second, O'Neal is one of those singers who seemingly disappeared for good after early success. She scored two number ones right out of the chute in 2000 with the poppy "There is No Arizona" and "When I Think About Angels... »»»
Bruce Robison and Kelly WillisOur Year
Just like Gram and Emmylou, Johnny and June, Dolly Parton and Porter Waggoner, Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison have secured a perfect partnership. Touching on topics sown from forlorn circumstance, the duo's second album melds a tender touch with down home designs. Choice covers affirm a commitment to craft, with fiddles, mandolin, harp and harmonies, bringing a low-lit ambience, which serves to elevate the charm. Both artists are, of course, successful on their own, but taken in tandem, they... »»»
Jen StarsinicThe Flood and the Fire
The studied yet soulful sound of Jen Starsinic makes more sense when one realizes that she not only learned the folk and old-time sound in rural West Virginia at its source, she attended the prestigious music program at Berklee in Boston. That combination of education and experience serves Starsinic well on this notable debut. A transplant to Nashville, Starsinic employed the services of several Music City luminaries for various parts, including David Mayfield on vocals... »»»
John FlynnPoor Man's Diamonds
Eleven albums on, John Flynn's trajectory has become a well-travelled road, thanks in large part to an unblinking commitment to underplaying any sort of overt sentiment in favor of a weary yet resolute view of the world that spins around him. Flynn is clearly well versed when it comes to turning his own personal perspectives and observations into lessons that can easily resonate with the public at large, and yet he's still in need of capturing a larger audience. Whether it's the... »»»
Danny RobertsNighthawk
 
For the past decade or so, Danny Roberts has been well-known to bluegrass fans as the mandolin player for (and a founding member of) The Grascals, unquestionably one of the most successful bluegrass bands on the planet. That alone should establish his instrumental creds, and since he leaves the singing for the most part to his band mates, it would be a pretty good guess that his second solo effort, "Nighthawk" would be primarily an instrumental affair. Correct so far... »»»
Joseph LeMaySeventeen Acres
Some artists seem to appear wholly formed, not needing to rely on any previous pedigree or aural introduction to set the stage. Joseph LeMay seems to be one of those, a singer/songwriter who sounds for all the world like an artist who's already achieved venerable stature or at very least, been making music for quite some time. And yet, none of those qualifications apply, a mark that if anything, LeMay simply has a well-tuned ear and the capacity for shaping a sound that's timeless and inspired... »»»
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