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As the winter finale of ABC's "Nashville" draws closer, the plot lines grow thinner and this scant 10-song soundtrack follows suit. Domestic turmoil is the major theme this season as diva Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) becomes unexpectedly pregnant before the filming of a Patsy Cline biopic. Unfortunately, Panettiere's excellent rendition of "Crazy" is omitted on the album. In a tumultuous love triangle, Charles "Chip" Esten (Deacon Claybourne)... »»»
Willie Nelson and Sister BobbieDecember Day (Willie's Stash Vol. 1)
A multi-tasker by nature - at age 81, Willie Nelson's constant output and frequent touring schedule puts any number of younger performers to shame - "December Day" offers another example of his ability to reinvent himself while shifting into the same melodic mode that made his original standards set "Stardust" so tempting and timeless. Consequently, most will celebrate this as a welcome return. While there's few genres Willie hasn't dabbled in throughout his five... »»»
The Sweet LowdownChasing the Sun
You have to hand it to The Sweet Lowdown. They certainly know a thing or two about truth in advertising. On their lovely new album - their third to date - this Canadian trio live up to their collective handle by presenting a set of songs that's so sweet, so lovely and so enticing, it's akin to love at first listen. Making do with little more than their collective harmonies, guitar, fiddle and banjo, they create an enticing and intoxicating blend of bluegrass and old world melodies... »»»
Are the Old 97's country? Zydeco? Irish pub rock? Blues? The bad news is that the 20th anniversary rerelease of the band's 1994 debut album "Hitchhike to Rhome" doesn't do anything to answer that question. The good news is that the rerelease is a fun listen nonetheless. The reissue comes with bonus demo recordings and cassette versions of the original release, just in case fans of the group didn't feel old enough realizing that its debut is two decades old (the... »»»
It's a magnanimous record company indeed that celebrates its own 20th anniversary by inviting artists from other labels to join in the festivities. Then again, this is Chicago's Bloodshot Records after all, the insurgent outfit out of Chicago that's made its mark by booting tradition up the backside. Consequently, the 2-disc, 38-song set "While No One Was Watching: Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records" puts a new spin on the usual catalogue compilation by inviting a... »»»
Gene ClarkTwo Sides to Every Story
Gene Clark is likely best known as the fragile voice in many of those great old Byrds songs. But after leaving The Byrds, Clark continued to create wonderful music. One such example is "Two Sides to Every Story," rereleased with 17 bonus tracks after being first out in 1977. It reveals Clark's deep passion for bluegrass-accented country music. One of the songs that may throw you off for a minute is Clark's upbeat take on the old traditional "In the Pines... »»»
JohnnyswimA JOHNNYSWIM Christmas
With a seven-song EP, the singer-songwriter duo, Johnnyswim, comprised of Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez, proves how sometimes the best things really do come in small packages. The project opens with an acoustic, acoustic guitar-colored original called "Christmas Day," which gently lists quite a number of good things about Christmas day. Most of this album is secular, lyrically, with an exception with the devout "O Come All Ye Faithful." Along the way, there's a nice... »»»
Garth BrooksMan Against Machine
After releasing his debut album in 1989, Garth Brooks released music almost every year until he announced his retirement in 2000. Since then, he has released repackaged hit collections, new music on "Scarecrow" and "The Lost Sessions" and last year's cover song collection "Blame it All on My Roots." Over the years, there have been live recordings, concert and music video collections. The country songwriter became a pop culture icon, transcending genre to become... »»»
Over the RhineBlood Oranges in the Snow
Over The Rhine has never been lumped in with the alt.-country scene, even though many Americana fans have embraced the act. However, Eric Heywood's pedal steel guitar work - particularly on this album's title track, ought to be mighty appealing to country music fans. Also, the group's reverent cover of Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December," one of the best and saddest Christmas songs of all time, will also win the Ohio act points with country fans... »»»
Various ArtistsChristmas With Nashville
Back when the show Nashville first hit the airwaves, tastemakers like Buddy Miller and T Bone Burnett were heavily involved in the show's music. When you look at the credits to this new Christmas music offering, however, neither one of those names are listed. And it shows. Like a lot of the winter weather during December, this music mostly leaves the listener cold. These renditions of holiday songs mainly sound by-the-book. Perhaps worst of all, Jonathan Jackson slavishly imitates... »»»
Ronnie FaussBuilt to Break
With his debut album, "I Am the Man You Know I'm Not," Ronnie Fauss showed strong songwriting skills that could elicit a smile as easy as break your heart. Clearly, he'd been taking notes while listening to his songwriting heroes like John Prine. With his new release, Fauss has cranked up the volume, morphing into a full-blown country-rock sound. "Built to Break" may be a bit louder than its predecessor, but it's still filled with well-written gems... »»»
Maddie & TaeMaddie & Tae
Most casual listeners will be wondering if singing duo Maddie & Tae have another attention-getter in them like "Girl In A Country Song" when it comes to the act's debut EP. Although there's nothing that rivals the bro-country answer song of "Girl," the other three tracks on this initial release show great promise. "Sierra" takes aim at high horse women, rather than lusting men. So much so, in fact, their thoughts nearly verge on making them lose their Christianity... »»»
Darius RuckerHome for the Holidays
When it came time for Darius Rucker to throw his hat into the holiday album ring, he was clearly aiming for the old school, traditional realm of such things. The heavy orchestration for these 12 songs hearkens back to the days when crooners like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra tracked Christmas projects, rather than anything that might pass for country. With that said, though, Rucker represents himself quite well with this traditional album of (mostly) familiar Christmas songs... »»»
LeAnn RimesOne Christmas Chapter 1
LeAnn Rimes hasn't always been the most consistent album maker over the years, but there's no questioning the quality of her singing. Here gospel-y version of "Silent Night" on this Christmas EP, "One Christmas: Chapter," is truly a thing of beauty. Then when she sings a slow, soulful "Blue Christmas," which features that beautiful yodel in her voice, it should remind you of that wonderful Patsy Cline quality in her early recordings... »»»
Little Big TownPain Killer
For some, listening to Little Big Town will be an act of searching for something at least half as catchy as "Pontoon," yet without success. Whenever a group creates such a fantastically memorable single, the prospect of following it up successfully can be a bit of a handicap. With that said, though, "Pain Killer" is a pretty good pop-country album, as pop-country albums go. Although Little Big Town has never been known to be rockers, the rollicking "Save Your Sin"... »»»
Jerry Lee LewisRock & Roll Time
One of the seminal figures in the development - some would say, the assault - of early rock 'n' roll, Jerry Lewis always possessed pure country credence as well. His initial outings mined the full spectrum of his rural Louisiana roots, bringing them to bear in a daring, often outrageous display of unrepentant madness and machismo that rivalled Little Richard and even Elvis himself in terms of sheer bravado. Consequently, it's a credit to Lewis' sheer tenacity that as he... »»»
Stoney LaRueAviator
Oklahoma singer-songwriter Stoney LaRue's latest is a mix of country, rock and pop with touches of jazz and blues. Some songs have an interesting blend of styles, such as the title track, which is a country tune that features jazzy keyboard solos. Similarly "Till I'm Moving On" shifts quickly from mellow country blues to an effectively distorted rocking guitar solo, while the country rocker "Golden Shackles" has a couple of fiddle breaks that recall the Glen Campbell... »»»
Home FreeFull of Cheer
A cappella country act Home Free has spent the past several years making a name for itself thanks most notably for winning The Sing-Off in 2013, moving from being an all-purpose a cappella group to covering classic and contemporary country songs with their signature soulful harmonies and smooth tones. Now, for the third time in the group's career, the vocal group is setting it's sights on the wonders of Christmas with "Full of Cheer," which combines plenty of cheer alongside... »»»
Sam HuntMontevallo
It's no secret that the genre of country music has been growing and expanding in definition over the past several years, from the bombastic arena rocking fury of early Garth Brooks to more recent days and acts like Florida Georgia Line, further blurring the lines of country and other genres. Finding traditional country themes and vibes to merge along the rivers of hip-hop, R&B and pop, the picking is ripe for rising artists like Sam Hunt and his debut recording, "Montevallo... »»»
The Stray BirdsBest Medicine
"Best Medicine," the opening song and title track to The Stray Birds' album, is a beautiful, touching ode to music and the record stores that still survive in this digital age. With a few sly musical references in the lyrics ("Doctor tells me he can hear the beetles in my bones...") and some gorgeous three-part harmonies, it's one of the best and most heartfelt songs of the year. Even after leading off with that kind of highlight, the rest does not disappoint... »»»
Eliot BronsonEliot Bronson
With a number of prestigious awards to his credit so far (including Creative Loafing's Songwriter of the Year honors in this year's "Best of Atlanta" competition, top ranking in the Songwriting Contest at MerleFest, finalist status at the Kerrville Folk Festival, finalist status at the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest Songwriting Contest, and judicial recognition from the New Song Contest held at Lincoln Center), Eliot Bronson clearly seems ready to take center stage... »»»
Many times when tracking holiday albums, artists will include either a funny or overtly religious Christmas tune, right along with the usual familiar aural wrappings. Christmas Jug Band, however, has taken the Weird Al approach to tracking their seasonal album, as all of these songs are either fun or funny. The disc is mainly a collection of previous released holiday tunes plus two previously unreleased songs. A dead giveaway about this album's fast and frivolous tone is the presence of Dan Hicks... »»»
Various ArtistsAn Americana Christmas
This various artist holiday album kills the proverbial two birds with one stone as it provides musical holiday cheer along with a fairly extensive overview of what's best about the music termed 'Americana.' The collection includes selections from The Band, which was Americana before the term was cool, with "Christmas Must Be Tonight," and their former famous collaborator Bob Dylan, who sings the peppy, accordion-driven "Must Be Santa." Dylan's song comes... »»»
Florida Georgia LineAnything Goes
The title of Florida Georgia Line's second full length is accurate. For the duo of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelly, that means girls, girls and more girls plus an ultra dose of partying. That is evident from the refrain of the title track, which, of course, focuses on Friday night activities. "I brought the songs and you brought the party/ Only one way to do it up right/Everybody goes where eveybody knows/That anything goes on a Friday Night/Get your party right/It's a Friday night... »»»
The Xmas-MenSanta Is Real
The Xmas-Men is actually Robert Earl Keen's backing band, and "Santa Is Real" is a (mostly) instrumental Christmas album. It's a four-piece act, and the album was executive produced by Keen. Guitarist Rich Brotherton is the only one that takes vocal lead when necessary (which only happens briefly, as on "Merry Xmas from the Family)." Although much of this album takes on an upbeat, western swing feel, the quartet quiets it down significantly for an acoustic,... »»»
Maggie BjorklundShaken
As soon as the first track of pedal steel guitarist Maggie Bjorkland's "Shaken" begins, listeners are invited to a spectral ballet that does little to prepare them for the eclectic and emotional sounds ahead. Alternating between instrumentals and lyrical songs, Bjorkland's album plays like the eerie soundtrack to an indie film - plot-driven, but with a keen investment in the humanity behind it. Elements of horror, redemption and sadness carry through the melodies and poetry of the album... »»»
Chip TaylorThe Little Prayers Trilogy
If Chip Taylor had done nothing more than simply pen two of the biggest songs of his generation - "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning" - his place in musical history would be well assured. So, it's to his credit that he's managed to reinvent himself several times over the course of his career, both as a gambler and as a man whose later career has found him traipsing through the darker tributaries of Americana as a singer and songwriter. Still, "The Little... »»»
Phil LeadbetterThe Next Move
Phil Leadbetter is one of the best resophonic guitar players in bluegrass and country music. He's played with Grandpa Jones, Vern Gosdin, JD Crowe, Wildfire, Grasstowne and, most recently, Dale Ann Bradley. He was the 2005 IBMA Dobro Player of the Year. Sidelined for over two years by cancer, and now fighting a second battle with its return, he managed to record a CD between bouts of illness that was a dream project for him: recording with a list of some of the best in bluegrass and country... »»»
The Swon BrothersThe Swon Brothers
If all you know about The Swon Brothers is their self-titled album's first single, "Later On," which sounds like a bad Florida Georgia Line imitation, you haven't truly met the brotherly act at their best. Although they won't give the Everly Brothers a run for their money (at least not sibling harmony-wise), this nevertheless contains some memorable songs. For starters, the second single, "Pray for You," is a song that reminds us how whiskey and even friendly... »»»
Lonesome River BandTurn on a Dime
Sammy Shelor's banjo playing is just one facet of another great CD from the Lonesome River Band. Shelor is one of the top banjo players on the circuit, and he always has a great band. Brandon Rickman plays guitar and sings half the leads. He also co-wrote three of the songs. "Lila Mae" and "Hurting With My Broken Heart" are love gone wrong songs while "If The Moon Never Sees the Light of Day" celebrates a good love affair. Mandolinist Randy Jones shares the... »»»
Jonathan ByrdYou Can't Outrun the Radio
Accidents happen; sometimes the results are bad, sometimes good. For North Carolina country-folk songwriter Jonathan Byrd, one of the good kind resulted in this new album with people he barely knew. A Canadian tour date introduced Byrd to northern soul singers Alexa Dirks and Andrina Turenne of Chic Gamine, two years later he returned to a north of the border studio for a session including the pair plus a batch of Canadian session players including Corb Lund guitarist Grant Siemens, drummer Joanna... »»»
Bela Fleck and Abigail WashburnBela Fleck and Abigail Washburn
It's almost a joke in search of a punchline: what happens when two banjo players get married? One thing you get is the indescribably cute kid pictured on the inside jacket of this first studio collaboration between banjo legend Bela Fleck and his wife Abigail Washburn, their son Juno. At the time of their marriage, fiddler and longtime friend Casey Driessen famously joked that their first male offspring would be destined to become Holy Banjo Emperor, and in fact at the age of just over a year... »»»
Doug SeegersGoing Down to the River
You have to feel a pang of pride when you hear the story of Doug Seegers. In fact, it's not a stretch to say you could have seen him live and didn't even know it. At 62, he's a guy who basically opened his guitar case and played the street corners of Nashville, New York, Austin and probably most every city he's traveled through. Seegers also is now the darling of Sweden's country music crowd and gaining recognition in his home country following this much-ballyhooed debut... »»»
The ironies surrounding Shelby Lynne's sixth album, 1999's "I Am Shelby Lynne," were as thick as mutant kudzu at the time. After a quintet of albums that garnered Lynne a ton of peer respect and negligible sales, the singer/songwriter extricated herself from a Nashville star machine that seemed determined to sculpt her talent in its witless image. Lynne moved to California, reinvented herself as herself, enlisted the talents of producer Bill Bottrell... »»»
Hal KetchumI'm the Troubadour
Hal Ketchum has rarely ventured out of traditional country realms, and for good reason. With 10 previous albums to his credit, a career that stretches back nearly 30 years, and no less than 17 singles on the country charts - and a half dozen of those reaching well into the Top Ten -- his country credentials are exceedingly well established. Nevertheless, Ketchum's career got started in a somewhat unlikely locale, that being Greenwich Village, where he was born and began drumming in a band... »»»
Chris JonesLive at the Old Feed Store
What is a band to do between studio recordings? If you are Chris Jones & the Nightdrivers, you return to a comfortable haunt-in this case, The Old Feed Store in Cobden, Ill., and just let the (digital) tape roll. You include audience favorites - mandolinist Mark Stoffel's rendition of "Edelweiss," paired with "Forked Deer" and banjoist Ned Luberecki's 'perfect bluegrass song' "Cabin of Death" - and some songs recorded long ago - "I'm... »»»
Jason AldeanOld Boots, New Dirt
Arguing whether or not Jason Aldean's kinda (country) party is, in fact, anything remotely related to true country music is pointless. Aldean is so entrenched in the mainstream country marketplace now, we just need to accept him as he is, the same way we reluctantly accept Taylor Swift as "country." It's mighty tempting to subtitle a review of Aldean's new "Old Boots, New Dirt" release as 'Pickup Trucks & Pickup Lines,' as Aldean spends a little time... »»»
Old DominionOld Dominion EP
In 1970, Conway Twitty opened a song with the immortal lines, "Hello Darlin'/Nice to see you." In 2014, Old Dominion opened a song with the not-yet-immortal lines, "Hey girl/Wassup?" Such is the evolution of country. Based out of Nashville, Old Dominion has released its debut EP right when the lines between country and every other musical genre are at their blurriest. The band takes advantage, mixing in a dose of rap, pop and Southern rock over the course of the six songs... »»»
"Christmas on the Farm" is Farmer Jason's fan-funded, agricultural-centric holiday release. These songs perfectly match Jason's unique musical personality. The farmer side of his personality is addressed with "Santa Drove a Big John Deere," which replaces St. Nick's usual sleigh with a familiar green and gold tractor. Ringenberg's past as leader for the cow-punk band Jason & the Scorchers is referenced with the rocking "All I Want for Christmas (Is a... »»»
Blake SheltonBringing Back the Sunshine
It's impossible to get away from the fact that one's perception of Blake Shelton's music has changed significantly since he began his role as a judge on The Voice. His music hasn't been altered all that much after he became a TV star, but we now know him as the affable, yet extremely competitive, judge on the popular NBC singing show. His likeability simply makes us more likely to enjoy his music a little more, and with "Bringing Back the Sunshine," Shelton has... »»»
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