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The Harmed BrothersThe Harmed Brothers
Let's put it succinctly. The Harmed Brothers may be the best band no one has ever heard of. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration. They do have their ardent admirers, so let's not discount their following entirely. Still, for those who are unaware, the band's new eponymous effort ought to make it clear that this is a group with a wealth of resources at their command. It's a sound that epitomizes the best elements of Americana, from reflection to revelry, all in the space of... »»»
Chris ShiflettWest Coast Town
Chris Shiflett is best known as a guitarist in Foo Fighters, but he's also has some authentic traditional country in his bones. Inspired, in part, by much of the fine vintage country music created in California, "West Coast Town" lets Shiflett show off his country music skills. Dave Cobb, who has notably produced Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, helps Shiflett achieve a musical portrait all his own. In fact, the title cut recalls Shiflett's formative years in Santa Barbara... »»»
The Wild ReedsThe World We Built
Following on the heels of their earlier EP, 2015's "Best Wishes," The Wild Reeds' debut, "The World We Built," finds the band again implementing an ability to create a celebratory sound built from euphoric harmonies and an uplifting form of expression. With three singers (Kinsey Lee, Sharon Silva and Mackenzie Howe) at the fore, the enthusiasm is obvious in practically every note and nuance, whether it's the good natured bounce of "Only Songs," the... »»»
Doyle Lawson and Paul WilliamsChapter 3
Any list of the masters of bluegrass should surely include Paul Williams and Doyle Lawson. They were there in the early years, members of Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys, and they have carved their own paths on the thousands of stages where they have entertained audiences over the decades. Recent years have found them performing together again, and this CD comes after Williams' retirement from touring. They made use of the skills of Joe Mullins, a great entertainer in his own right... »»»
Rodney CrowellClose Ties
One song on Rodney Crowell's "Close Ties" album is called "I Don't Care Anymore." It's a song when a person comes to term with aging, where what others think of you simply doesn't really matter much in the grand scheme of things. However, if Crowell truly didn't care about others' opinions, he wouldn't have created such a fine album. He cared enough to give us the very best, to borrow an advertising slogan, and we should especially thankful... »»»
Dailey & VincentPatriots & Poets
From time to time an album comes along with exactly the right message and meaning at exactly the right time - "Patriots & Poets" is one of those albums. Dailey and Vincent initially set out to create a project full of songs they had written independently, together and with close friends. While succeeding mightily in that regard, they also created a beautiful love letter to America and her people in a time when many need to be reminded, that while perhaps flawed, we are all still one... »»»
Trace AdkinsSomething's Going On
Trace Adkins' wonderful low singing voice can be a little deceptive because he could easily sing utter crap and still somehow sound great. It's why the critical ear must pay close attention to specifically what he's saying in his songs whenever evaluating his work. Adkins doesn't write his own songs, so he's entirely dependent upon stellar writers. Thankfully, "Something's Going On" is a better than average collection of songs, especially good for Adkins, as... »»»
Ned LubereckiTake Five
An interesting question was posed online recently. It went like this: 'What is the one phrase that means nothing to the outside world, but everybody in your field will know exactly what it means?" In bluegrass, one immediately comes to mind: "The way Earl did it." Nothing more need be said, and everyone reading this knows the reference to Earl Scruggs' transformational banjo style. As a central element of traditional bluegrass instrumentation, the banjo probably should... »»»
Reviewed by Greg Yost The 15th solo release from the highly regarded multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer Tim O'Brien is similar to the 1998 double album "Step Inside This House" by Lyle Lovett. While Lovett's unique take on a covers collection highlighted the music of lesser-known songwriters from his home state of Texas that helped influence his career, O'Brien's approach focuses on painting a picture of his native West Virginia by highlighting the... »»»
RaeLynnWildHorse
Someone needs to inform karma that Raelynn is not getting what she deserves. It takes a lot of work to mess this equation up: national TV exposure (from "The Voice"), a monster hit (2014's "God Made Girls") and famous friends who've practically adopted you (like Blake Shelton). This is all atop her twangy Texan charm and very capable singer/songwriter chops. But somehow Raelynn's overseers made headshaking decisions. Last time out, they strategically released two... »»»
Greg WickhamIf I Left This World
It's an apt title. After all, it's been some 15 years since Greg Wickham was last heard from, an eternity in most entertainment realms, but especially lengthy as far as making music is concerned. If he had in fact left this world, none but family and friends would be the wiser. Happily then, Wickham's return becomes something to celebrate, an album of Americana originals that recalls his previous work with the short-lived Hadacol, the band he co-founded with his guitarist... »»»
Conor OberstSalutations
Conor Oberst's "Salutations" mainly draws upon songs from his prior "Ruminations" release, only this time the singer/songwriter has added help from a few famous musical friends, including veteran drummer Jim Keltner, as well as Gillian Welch, M. Ward, Jim James and Maria Taylor. And where "Ruminations" was stripped bare, "Salutations" features a full band sound. To say "Salutations" is Dylan-esque would be a severe understatement... »»»
Breaking GrassWarning Signs
For many bluegrass fans banjo is the centerpiece of the music. Breaking Grass' Jody Elmore falls in line with the great tradition of bluegrass banjo players, providing a clean, percussive attack on his rolls. "Cold Rain" may not speak to mountains and mama, but it's good bluegrass from the Mississippi band. Guitar player Cody Farrar composed all the songs and sometimes using only songs from a band member is less than a blessing because the band loses objectivity when picking their music... »»»
The Drugstore GypsiesThe Drugstore Gypsies
In a time when good old fashioned electric guitar rock has grown a bit stagnant, a fresh new quintet from Texas is stepping up to provide a jolt courtesy of a concise and confident debut that makes a case for the genre by adding touches of blues, country and southern rock to muscular classic rock riffs. The Drugstore Gypsies makes its intentions clear with the biographical opener, "Drugstore Gypsy." Following a guttural blues lick, the band launches into a hard-charging song about... »»»
Marty StuartWay Out West
Marty Stuart's "Way Out West" is, in part, his tribute to the music of California. The title cut gets straight to the point with a psychedelic journey song, which is as much a warning against drug abuse as it is a physical trip to the golden state. "Time Don't Wait" alludes to much of the garage rock that came out of California '60s, and more specifically points back to The Byrds' heyday with its glorious jangling Rickenbacker guitar part... »»»
The KernalLight Country
Don't call him Colonel. Kernal will do just fine, thank you. Despite the fact that "Light Country" is his first solo outing, this Tennessee native earned his stripes playing alongside folks like Andrew Combs and Jonny Fritz. He also learned his craft firsthand, following in the footsteps of his dad, whose own career included playing with Del Reeves on the stage of Grand Ole Opry. That said, The Kernal clearly has his own take on traditional country, one which suggests both... »»»
Danny BarnesStove Up
Whether causing a rabble with The Bad Livers decades back, making his own esoteric recordings, or receiving accolades as the 'Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass' recipient in 2015, Danny Barnes has been a formidable force for much of the past quarter century in bluegrass. "Stove Up" is both a distillation of Barnes' 45 years on the banjo path and an expansion of his journey. Identified as a tribute to the legacy of banjo-stalwart Don Stover, this... »»»
"The Best Of The Dualtone Years," a collection of Guy Clark's later recordings, finds the late respected singer/songwriter aging particularly well. He sings these songs with that familiar gruff voice of his and keeps arrangements relatively simple. However, never let such apparent simplicity fool you into believing this is also simple music. The way he digs deeply into the one woman's complicated motives during "Rain in Durango" quickly puts that notion to rest... »»»
Noam PikelnyUniversal Favorite
Noam Pikelny is the most ingratiating musical iconoclast you're likely to come across. He has deep roots in the Americana genre, and his playing, on banjo in most contexts, is precise and brilliant. Pikelny has produced a string of outstanding solo records, most recently "Universal Favorite." Despite the success of these solo efforts ("Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe" was an IBMA Album of the Year and received a Grammy nomination), Pikelny is best known for his... »»»
PawnShop kingsGive Love, Vol. 1
Sometimes it suddenly dawns on you - many times straight out of the clear blue -- that the best recorded music simply sounds natural and nearly inevitable. In contrast, if it comes off overly labored and overwrought, it can arrive strangely forced and unwelcome. Joel and Scott Owens, the brotherly duo under the name PawnShop Kings, have - as natural as rain - created the appropriately titled "Give Love, Vol. 1." It's one unpretentious collection of love-giving songs... »»»
Rhiannon GiddensFreedom Highay
Rhiannon Gidden's "Freedom Highway" takes an expansive look at the Black experience in America. "Better Get It Right the First Time" utilizes a gospel-y call and response format to tell the tragic story of a Black life that mattered. However, Giddens goes all the way back to slavery days for the lyrics to "At the Purchaser's Option." In between, "Birmingham Sunday" hearkens back to the Civil Rights movement and that relatively recent fight for freedom... »»»
Old 97'sGraveyard Whistle
Old 97s' "Graveyard Whistling" is a slight return to form after 2014's "Most Messed Up," which was heavy on profanity, but far too light on charming country songs. "Graveyard Whistling" is a little more innocent and a lot more fun than its predecessor. "Bad Luck Charm," for instance, finds lead vocalist Rhett Miller playing a familiar role - that of lovable loser. "I'm just another black cat crossing your street," Miller warns, in... »»»
Terry McBrideHotels & Highways
Though he's not exactly synonymous with '90s country, Terry McBride experienced his share of success as the front man of McBride & The Ride. The trio landed 8 Top 40 singles from 1990-1994. After a long hiatus from the mic where he honed his songwriting skills for the likes of Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire, and with encouragement from friend Delbert McClinton, he resurfaced with a 6-song EP. When reflecting on the changes in the industry since his band's heyday over 20 years... »»»
Scott H. BiramThe Bad Testament
Country is a relative term to Scott H. Biram. Over his 20-plus year career, the famously self-proclaimed Dirty Old One Man Band has opened for a dizzying array of artists across the musical spectrum - Willie Nelson, G. Love and Special Sauce, Pinetop Perkins, Social Distortion, The Dwarves and Clutch, among others - and been an appropriate fit for every one of the them. Biram doesn't acknowledge genre; he just goes where the next song takes him and inhabits it instinctively, like water taking... »»»
Little Big TownThe Breaker
Anyone who missed Little Big Town's remarkable 2012 Unplugged performance on CMT should seek it out online. When they sing their monster hit "Pontoon," four hypnotic voices combine to harmonic perfection with no studio tricks - pick from any of the microphones, and it works as the song's lead vocal. But now that the group has ascended to the upper rung of stardom, different challenges arise. How do you compete with yourself fresh from a Grammy for Best Country Song... »»»
Aaron WatsonVaquero
Independent singer/songwriter Aaron Watson's "Vaquero" is an ambitious 16-song mix of Texas country and mainstream Nashville with mostly good results. The strongest tracks are those that embrace the Tex Mex style of the title track, which imparts some sound advice delivered by an "old Mexican cowboy" the singer meets in a bar ("He said don't leave your beer in the hot Texas Sun/ Don't argue with a woman while she's holding a gun" and... »»»
The Gibson BrothersIn the Ground
The family band is a longstanding conceit of bluegrass and mountain music, including the Carters, the Osbornes, the McReynolds, the Whites, The Stanleys and even the progenitors of bluegrass Bill and Charlie Monroe. The trope continues to the present with The Gibson Brothers carrying on this tradition admirably. The Gibson Brothers, Leigh and Eric, exemplify the power and depth of this music tradition. "In The Ground" cements their position in the bluegrass world... »»»
Son VoltNotes of Blue
Son Volt's "Notes of Blue" is said to be influenced by the blues (among other musical styles), and the blues is most at the fore during "Cherokee St.," a stomping, electric guitar-driven blues rocker. The song has the stripped-down sound of a Blind Willie Johnson sermon, although lead vocalist Jay Farrar is by no means the gravelly singer Johnson was. Still, it has that vibe. Farrar and band mates are just as effective with "The Storm," a more acoustic approach to the blues... »»»
A good country outlaw sings about more than whiskey and Waylon (Still, they must sing about whiskey and Waylon). Newcomer A.J. Hobbs has already picked up on this. He calls what he does "Outlaw Soul". While Hobbs was weaned in California (think Joshua trees, not LA), Texas has become a second home. His tunes celebrate the freedom that comes from scraping by, doing what one loves. Maybe it's playing late at some roadhouse, or maybe a one-night love affair... »»»
Brett YoungBrett Young
Brett Young had a hit out of the box with "Sleep Without You," as ear candy of a song. His soulful vocals carry the percolating song that seemed designed with airplay in mind. If Young were a band, this is the type of song that Rascal Flatts might cover. In fact, the airplay bent could be said of most of the dozen songs on the Californian's major label debut after five indie releases. "Close Enough" has a funky side, trying to get the singalong going with the opening... »»»
Darin & Brooke AldridgeFaster and Farther
Over five previous recordings, Darin and Brooke Aldridge have shown themselves as mainstream bluegrass's most capable duo. When exploring traditional themes, blending stunning harmony arrangements and extending praise through gospel numbers, the Aldridges have demonstrated that their mature, professional approach to their craft is second-to-none. With "Faster and Farther," the Aldridges branch off just a little from the bluegrass tree, encompassing elements not apparent on previous... »»»
The MerlesHate to Say Goodbye
The Merles' debut is an authentic mix of classic country, western swing and rockabilly. Frontman Todd Deatherage wrote or co-wrote all 14 tracks on the Austin-band's effort with good results. The honky tonk tune "Six Pack of Heartache" seems to allude to a pair of country classics as the title recalls Hank Thompson's "Six Pack to Go" while the line "the memories start falling so I pop another top" gives a nod to Jim Ed Brown's "Pop A Top... »»»
Nikki LaneHighway Queen
It's lonely out there for listeners these days - a lot of country music wants to be pop, while Americana's gone alternative. Is there anybody out there who still wants to write accessible songs with real instruments, ideally without boring or depressing us? Fortunately, Nikki Lane has been applying for this job for some time. "Highway Queen" is her third release following "All or Nothin'," produced by Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and a high watermark that... »»»
Darrell Webb BandLover's Leap
The first thing you notice when you hold "Lover's Leap" from The Darrell Webb Band is the cover photograph. Unusual for bluegrass, the cover doesn't feature the band nor does it picture a generic illustration of fog-shrouded hills or a lonely country lane. "Lover's Leap" is a bold, formidable presentation of contemporary bluegrass. Like the tree-topped, rocky edifice pictured alongside a skyscape hinting at trouble on the horizon, the music included features a... »»»
Chris JonesMade to Move
There's a low-key elegance to the music of Chris Jones, which sometimes takes his bluegrass tunes to unexpected places while remaining firmly in the wheelhouse of his chosen genre. Jones and the Night Drivers explore folk and blues directions alongside more traditional tones. As a songwriter and singer, Jones' forte is quiet, contemplative songcraft such as "Raindrops Fell," a story of destinies entwined and the Civil War era tale of sacrifice and community in "Old Bell... »»»
The SadiesNorthern Passages
In some ways, The Sadies' "Northern Passages" album explores what may have happened had The Byrds had taken country-rock to its ultimate extreme point. But the country part of this equation is in short supply, for the most part. It isn't until the hot-picking "Through Strange Eyes" that this music sounds truly country. "God Bless the Infidels" is even more traditional, with its mostly acoustic sound. This lesser-country-ness is because psychedelic rock is... »»»
Bap KennedyReckless Heart
"Reckless Heart" is delivered with a bubbly joy, filled with optimism and love and delivered with a wink and a sense of humor. It's not the album you would expect from someone diagnosed with cancer during its recording. But for Bap Kennedy, who died on Nov. 1, 2016, it's a fitting close to a stellar singing and songwriting career. Kennedy has written his share of heartbreakers in the past. His songs like "The Mighty Ocean Alcohol" and "Hank's Last... »»»
Lowland HumThin
As a husband and wife duo, Daniel and Lauren Goans are naturally in sync. Their hushed harmonies and low-lit melodies boast an unmistakable folk finesse, one so pure and natural it seems like second nature. As their handle suggests, theirs' is hardly the boldest sound around, but it's compelling and convincing all the same. Indeed, after a trio of earlier releases, that's all too evident, and if titling "Thin" was the result of a desire to affirm that fact, then suffice... »»»
LeAnn RimesRemnants
LeAnn Rimes' "Remnants" album sounds inspired by contemporary times. The title track takes on almost an apocalyptic quality. Lyrically, a lot of these songs - many of which Rimes had a hand in writing - address a dire need for love. We do live in a world where love oftentimes seems to be in short supply. Therefore, three of these songs have "love" in their titles, with one repeating the word three times for good measure. Although Rimes began her career as a young, Patsy... »»»
So, you say you don't have enough Reba McEntire spiritual music in your collection, eh? With "Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope," you can fill that catalogue hole right quick. At two discs full, this ambitious set will scratch that itch, assuming you have such an itch in need of scratching. This double album is broken down into two distinct sets. The first 10 songs are traditional ones. You almost cannot have a country gospel CD without "I'll Fly Away, " therefore,... »»»
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