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John AndersonBayou Boys
Unlike some country music stars have when they reached a certain age, John Anderson chooses to not rest on his laurels. Instead the 60-year-old member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame continues to release new recordings - although not as frequently as in his chart-topping heyday of 1980-1995 - featuring largely original numbers. While radio airplay may not be as once plentiful - 5 number ones, and over 20 top 20 single appearances - Anderson continues to produce songs that sound like they... »»»
Eilen JewellSundown Over Ghost Town
It's not an overstatement to say that Eilen Jewell is Johnny Cash reincarnate - at least, that's the sound she puts forth on her seventh album, "Sundown Over Ghost Town." Jewell's melancholy vocals and simplistic instrumentation betray just enough to show each song's depth and autobiographical roots. The 12 tracks range from lullabies to laments and from toe-tappers to tear-jerkers. Some of it is clearly autobiographical - "Songbird" is a sweet song... »»»
It takes a certain raw instinct to make music that's as unhinged and unruly as that purveyed by Banditos. Originally from Alabama and now ensconced in Nashville, this scruffy looking bunch of 20-somethings makes a sound that's wholly raw, raucous and unrefined, a perfect anecdote to the polite, plaintive melodies that defines much of what's typecast as Americana these days. That said, Banditos take their cue from any number precedents - the Southern swagger of Lynyrd Skynrd, the... »»»
The Milk Carton KidsMonterey
The Milk Carton Kids may be one of the most unlikely Americana contenders of the past few years. Relying solely on dual acoustic guitars and close-knit harmonies, they look and sound like an introspective folk duo circa the mid '60s - think Simon and Garfunkel, Peter and Gordon, or Chad and Jeremy - while their ability to randomly toss off a wisecrack or a self-deprecating aside just as easily brings the Smothers Brothers to mind. Yet, in the two years since their sophomore set, "The Ash... »»»
The Malpass BrothersThe Malpass Brothers
The North Carolina-based Malpass Brothers' passion for the classic country of past decades is nicely displayed on their latest self-titled release. Christopher and Taylor Malpass are most effective when they tackle brotherly harmonies as with covers of the Wilburn Brothers' "Which One Is To Blame" and the Louvin Brothers' "Satan and the Saint," as well as the original tale of unrequited love "I Found Someone to Love." Christopher supplies the... »»»
Della MaeDella Mae
The time has come to drop the label "female bluegrass band" as applied to Della Mae. With their second, self-titled, Rounder Records release, Della Mae is simply one of the most accomplished bluegrass acts on the circuit. The four Dellas (they are down to a quartet with Mark Schatz standing on bass) have total command of their instruments (vocal and otherwise). They are skilled performers with a growing resume, including emerging IBMA Artist of the Year in 2013 and a Grammy nomination... »»»
Lord HuronStrange Trails
It's tough sometimes to get a handle on Lord Huron, the western-y alternative rock band led by Ben Schneider. The act's latest full-length, "Strange Trails," includes plenty of enjoyable musical references. For instance, the track "La Belle Fleur Sauvage" has a Luther Perkins-like guitar rhythm driving it, while "Until The Night Turns" finds Schneider singing like a breathless Buddy Holly. But as good as all these memory triggers are, it's sometimes... »»»
What made the music on ABC's Nashville effective for two seasons was that it felt like a lead character. The cat fighting between the two lead women made for some catchy arena ready revenge anthems and lost love ballads. This year, the music takes a back seat and does not pull its weight standing alone in the musical landscape. Several of the previous four soundtracks have charted, some hitting the top spot. The cast's Ryman shows sold out in less than an hour... »»»
Jimmy LaFaveThe Night Tribe
After releasing 2 albums in 2014, one might think singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave would still be touring in support of "Trail 2" and "Trail 3." But he's off on another trail this year with his latest effort "The Night Tribe." And like a great deal of his prior work, LaFave balances that combination of polished prose and delivery while still being a little rough around the edges. Such a duality makes for a very endearing album. While the record contains covers... »»»
Emmylou Harris and Rodney CrowellThe Traveling Kind
Listening to Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell sing together on "The Traveling Kind," their second recent duet album together, is like visiting with old friends. Crowell is a seasoned songwriter, while Harris is relatively new - but nevertheless a quick study - to the writing game, and the songwriting is strong on this album, from start to finish. The moods range from weepy country ballads, like "No Memories Hanging Round," to more upbeat tracks, such as the chugging... »»»
Shelby LynneI Can't Imagine
Shelby Lynne really needs to figure out who she is if she ever wants to be something more than the answer to the trivia question "What artist won a Grammy for best new artist after releasing 6 albums over 12 years?" Is she a country singer? Blues? Is she Dusty Springfield reincarnated? Why can't she find a style and stick with it?" That's what they say anyway, but maybe they're wrong. Maybe Shelby figured out a long time ago who she was and how she wanted to sing... »»»
Chris StapletonTraveler
Chris Stapleton is one of those artists you've heard without ever realizing it. That's because of his acclaim as a songwriter with such hits as Luke Bryan's "Drink a Beer," Josh Turner's "Your Man," Darius Rucker's "Come Back Song" and Kenny Chesney's "Never Wanted Nothing More." He also had a successful stint as lead singer of the driving bluegrass band The SteelDrivers (Adele recorded one of their songs, which he co-wrote as... »»»
Zac Brown BandJekyll + Hyde
Fans looking for the Zac Brown Band of 2005 won't find it in "Jekyll + Hyde" - there's nothing but an aftertaste of the Georgia group's chicken-fried origins. That might be why the album's name is so appropriate. Fans have gotten to know the country-folk band, but a deviant creeps in on all 16 tracks of its fourth album. And, like the classic story, Hyde stands out as more interesting. It hits hard, too. The opener, "Beautiful Drug," has an electric-pop... »»»
Tyler FarrSuffer in Peace
Sometimes, you have to start at the top before you can get real. Tyler Farr's 2013 debut, "Redneck Crazy," spawned two hits and landed in the Top Five. Colt Ford had him take ""Dirt Road Anthem" for a spin before Jason Aldean cut it. His sophomore effort, "Suffer in Silence," is more introspective. Producers Jim Catino and Julian King showcase an 11-song collection here (3 of which Farr had a hand in writing) that has a much different feel from the full... »»»
Dean BrodyGypsy Road
Dean Brody is currently one of Canada's hottest country stars. His music rests somewhere in the middle of contemporary country; more authentic than the bro country sounds of fellow Canuck Dallas Smith, yet more mainstream than Canadian traditionalist Gord Bamford. His latest is a good introduction for new fans, as it effectively blends the varied sounds that he has explored in his career. First single and lead "Upside Down" is a catchy summer jam complete with whistles and a surf... »»»
John MorelandHigh on Tulsa Heat
Here is a strong songwriter scene which focuses more on poetic lyrics and beautiful music than charts. It is the difference between East Nashville coffeehouses and downtown's tourist row of cover bands. Artists like Sturgill Simpson and Cory Branan provide an escape from the mainstream chart toppers. From this stubbornly resilient anti-scene comes John Moreland, the latest deep songwriter with a punk pedigree. On his latest full length, Moreland, an Okie, pens a dark collection of heart... »»»
Randy Rogers and Wade BowenHold My Beer: Vol. 1
Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are best known for their Texas music roots, but their first effort as a duo is largely a throwback to an earlier wave of musical outlaws with a healthy dose of traditional country. The opening "In the Next Life" reflects on the two meeting "some 15 years ago" by noting some of the pitfalls ("Broke and damn near homeless/Lost and stumbling around" and "Had nobody at our shows/And nights we didn't get paid") along with the... »»»
There's likely nobody better to create a tribute album to the great Roy Rogers than Riders In The Sky. After all, Riders In The Sky's very existence is a kind of tribute to Rogers, as well as others like him. But this act - and this album in particular - is no nostalgic trip. Just listen to the enthusiasm, and musical swing, given to "Don't Fence Me In." This music comes off lively because Riders In The Sky infuse it with energy. Although you wouldn't guess it from... »»»
Songs from the Road BandTraveling Show
Being an assemblage of musicians who get together when their "other" bands aren't otherwise occupying their time and attention, it would exceed available space to go into detail about all 11 of the credited folks on this third release by the Songs From The Road Band and what they've done. The inescapable central figure, though, is Charles Humphrey III, bass player and founding member of the Steep Canyon Rangers, not so much because he's the executive producer of the disc... »»»
Reba McEntireLove Somebody
It's been five years since her last album - 2010's "All the Women That I Am" - but the Queen of Country Music's crown hasn't lost its luster. On her 27th album, Oklahoma native McEntire adds another jewel to her tiara - she's already garnered 35 number singles and sold 56 million albums worldwide - with her new album that covers familiar territory: strong women, the heartbreak of breakup, the determination of a broken lover starting over and the destructive and... »»»
Dwight YoakamSecond Hand Heart
Dwight Yoakam appears to be a many of mystery on the cover. With two side-by-side images of himself, the Kentucky honky tonker dons a trademark cowboy hat, jeans jacket and jacket and plucking his electric, legs spread and head pointed down. But there really is no mystery about Yoakam, who has been making music longer than some of the contemporary country acts have been alive. And Yoakam has a thing or two to show these young turks what country music used to be - and based on this sterling,... »»»
The KennedysWest
The latest from the husband and wife team of Pete and Maura Kennedy is a mix of folk, pop, country, '50s rock and a touch of '60s psychedelia. For the most part, Pete supports Maura's strong vocals, taking the lead on only The Byrds-flavored "Jubilee Time" in which his effectively raspy delivery is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen. The Byrds influence is in evidence as well on the opening title track and "Southern Jumbo," both featuring the duo's folksy harmonies... »»»
Will HogeSmall Town Dreams
Much like Springsteen and Mellencamp, Will Hoge recognizes that even the most sweeping epics are essentially borne from an individual's ordeals. Indeed, the title tells it all; "Small Town Dreams" is essentially a look at a rapidly fading pastiche, that of life in middle America, where for all the touting of an economic recovery, the struggle for survival still persists. Hoge documents these tales from a knowing, first-person point of view, giving each scenario the credibility -... »»»
Pokey LaFargeSomething in the Water
Whether Pokey LaFarge's seventh album, "Something in the Water," could be called more than "retro" is a stretch. The St. Louis musician's 21st century talent shows through his performance, compositions and writing, but some things work against him in his fight to make the album timeless. LaFarge covers a handful of genres that make him seem unsettled rather than well-rounded - like he can't pick just one. Jazzy numbers like "Underground" and... »»»
The BoxmastersSomewhere Down the Road
phase, some pertinent facts are in order, namely, a) he's done four solo albums to date, b) the Boxmasters, his band since 2007, are now on their fourth album, "Somewhere Down the Road," but with three double discs, it's actually seven, c) his bio on the Boxmasters website talks exclusively about his musical accomplishments, choosing to highlight his stint as a roadie in the late '70s over his Oscar-nominated role and Oscar-winning screenplay for his 1996 film Sling Blade... »»»
Kristian BushSouthern Gravity
With a tragic stage collapse prior to a Sugarland show and a failed marriage in his rearview mirror, one might expect Kristian Bush's solo debut to be peppered with tales of regret and heartbreak. Yet "Southern Gravity" is surprisingly anything but for the other half of Sugarland, offering up a solid dose of positive vibes, heartfelt love and strong mainstream country appeal. Lead single "Trailer Hitch" sets the tone with a laidback appeal that colors the whole of the... »»»
Jon WolfeNatural Man
Jon Wolfe is a straightforward country singer who has built a strong following in the Texas music scene. His likable twang and traditional Red Dirt sound set him apart from the modern country coming from Nashville today, but he his music is more accessible than much of the grittier side of the Texas scene as heard from artists like Hayes Carll. He manages to find a comfortable balance between honoring his roots and adding a modern accessibility to his songs. "Natural Man" is a 13-song... »»»
Darius RuckerSouthern Style
Although opener "Homegrown Honey" has a few hip-hip sonic elements fueling it, "Southern Style" is a fairly traditional - well, as traditional as Darius Rucker can get - album. "Homegrown Honey," along with the title cut and "Half Full Dixie Cup," make a play for Rucker's Southern credentials, and for the most part support these claims. Rucker is an easygoing vocalist, and this latest effort goes down smoothly. It's still taboo for country... »»»
Rani Arbo and Daisy MayhemViolets Are Blue
Two decades ago, Rani Arbo was fronting New England-based Salamander Crossing, a band that at the time was among the more progressive on the bluegrass circuit due in no small part to her spirited, unrestrained vocals, innovative and stylish fiddling, and provocative songwriting. After that band broke up at the turn of the century, she moved on to form daisy mayhem, and while there are still lingering hints of bluegrass on this latest release (their sixth, all on Signature Sounds), the dozen... »»»
Following the legacy of other notable songwriters that have gone before her, Cam is stepping out from behind the shadows of the curtain where she's penned songs for artists like Miley Cyrus and Maggie Rose and is taking on the spotlight herself with her debut EP, "Welcome to Cam Country." And it's that fusion of pop sentiment, Southern California charm and real country sensibility that makes up the whole of the budding artist's sound. "My Mistake" leads things... »»»
Trout Steak RevivalBrighter Every Day
Trout Steak Revival has found its voice. A group of Midwest transplants now firmly rooted in the Colorado High Country bluegrass scene, this five-piece band brings real songwriting craft to its third full-length release where TSR goes for the brass ring. TSR went the Kickstarter route to fund, produce and distribute "Brighter Every Day." And, they wisely engaged Chris Pandolfi, el Presidente and banjo player of The Infamous Stringdusters, to produce. The songwriting is... »»»
Canaan SmithCanaan Smith EP
Virginia-native, Belmont educated, Canaan Smith was deemed as "One to Watch in 2012" after his debut single "We Got Us" charted that year. Still, it was nearly three years before his next single "Love You Like That" dropped this past summer. With more than 200,000 downloads, it went number 1 on Sirius XM, but fans have been forced to wait until now for an EP release. The lead off, "Love You Like That" is a tale of a self-proclaimed "nitty-gritty... »»»
Striking MatchesNothing But the Silence
The concept of female/male country duos is not new exactly, but it's a rare breed these days. There's Thompson Square, and there was the far too short-lived The Civil Wars. And now Striking Matches are out with their debut full-length, which skews far closer to Joy Williams and John Paul White than the Thompsons. Striking Matches is Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis, who met as students at Belmont University in Nashville in 2007. They had a hand writing all 11 songs here, 3 of them on their own... »»»
Anna & ElizabethAnna & Elizabeth
Traditional mountain singing isn't for everyone. Some of the most authentic voices, captured on long ago compilation albums, are difficult for modern ears to accustom themselves. Even renowned and popular vocalists like Jean Ritchie, Ola Belle Reed and Alice Gerrard have been known to raise an eyebrow when encountered for the first time. There remain those who appreciate rough hewn voices unfettered by mainstream considerations. Powerful voices that project above accompaniment, singing... »»»
The Pine Hill ProjectTomorrow You're Going
Folksinger Richard Shindell has been making records since 1992, Lucy Kaplansky almost as long, and that entire time they have shared harmonies on each others' albums. Except for a sublime, one-off with Dar Williams ("Cry, Cry, Cry"), "Tomorrow You're Going" marks their first foray across an entire release. The Pine Hill Project isn't going to attract the clamor a new album from Emmylou and Rodney Crowell will, but it is every bit as attractive musically and vocally... »»»
Snyder Family BandWherever I Wander
Bluegrass and its associated branches and brambles certainly have an affinity toward family groups. From the Stonemans and the Lewises through to the Vincent, Isaacs and Cherryholmes clans, on through to the Bankesters, Robertsons and 347 regional Missouri, there has never been a shortage of families performing on stage together. The Snyder Family Band has been recording together as a trio since 2010 while the entire family frequently appears together -augmented by mom and little brother - on... »»»
Blue MafiaPray for Rain
An Indiana-based bluegrass outfit, Blue Mafia returns with their sophomore album. Their stealthy, self-produced debut "My Cold Heart" was a bluegrass highlight of 2013, notable for its creative song writing, strong vocal execution, clear production values and fine instrumental balance. Those elements remain within "Pray For Rain," and this album meets the rising expectations that come with a second release. Dara Wray, who wrote the majority of the material on the debut, has... »»»
Tom PaxtonRedemption Road
One of America's most iconic folk singers - and singer of songs, period - Tom Paxton can point with pride to a career that dates back to the folk boom of the late '50s and '60s. On his new album, "Redemption Road," Paxton pays tribute to that seminal era in a song entitled "The Mayor of Macdougal Street," in which he recalls the hallowed days of the Greenwich Village music scene, hanging out in the fabled Gaslight Cafe and watching the legendary Dave Von Ronk hold court... »»»
The funky keyboard line that introduces the song "Checkin' Out," with its Ray Charles soulful feel, fills the listener with false promise that "Spring Break...Checkin' Out," the latest and last in Luke Bryan's spring break EP series, might mark a more innovative direction in the bro country star's music. The song even includes a wonderful acoustic guitar solo that gives it a loose, freewheeling feel. Unfortunately, this singer is far too aware of which side... »»»
Eli Young BandTurn It On
With the release of "Turn It On," the Eli Young Band brings new music about girls, love, and...disco. Singer Mike Eli, who co-wrote all four songs, is in fine voice, solidifying the EYB sound. The title cut, written with co-founder James Young, with its strong beat and up-front vocals, is tailor-made for listening while driving fast. With its "driving" beat and sing-along chorus, speeding tickets may increase. "Plastic" is about appreciating a girl who is... »»»
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