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Tucker BeathardFight Like Hell
Not to put too much pressure on the kid, but Tucker Beathard's dad is Casey Beathard, one of Nashville's most respected songwriters. Although his single "Rock On" - which speaks to a guy's regret over not taking Beyoncé's advice to "put a ring on it" - rocks as hard as many of those songs his dad co-wrote with Eric Church, it also suggests Beathard has inherited some of his old man's skill at clever wordplay. Football also runs in... »»»
Jackie BristowShot of Gold
In her native New Zealand, Jackie Bristow is considered a country singer, but her storytelling, genre-crossing style places her more in the realm of Holly Williams or Nanci Griffith as an artist more at home in the singer-songwriter world. That doesn't mean there is a lack of twang in certain places; see "Rollin' Stone" for a saucy independent woman rant not out of Kacey Musgraves' range. More often, however, Bristow is in a mellower acoustic mood made less lethargic via... »»»
Loretta LynnWhite Christmas Blue
There are some "country" stars that can't seem to make true country music. Then there are artists like Loretta Lynn that can't not create pure country music. Lynn's "White Christmas Blue" album may feel like a Christmas miracle to many traditional country fans. Take Lynn's version of "Away in a Manger," for which Lynn is listed as arranger, for example. It features a lovely Paul Franklin steel guitar solo. "Blue Christmas" is best... »»»
Mandolin OrangeBlindfaller
Mandolin Orange's Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin have steadily traveled the country, building a following and delivering a spare, but true, sound with great melodic appeal. Since Mandolin Orange's debut in 2010, the band has done a lot with their bare arrangements. Marlin carries the vocal load, with admirable support from Frantz from time to time. True to their name, they feature Marlin's mandolin, along with banjo and guitar work from both. "Blindfaller" is a beautiful... »»»
Bob WeirBlue Mountain
Bob Weir's "Blue Mountain" opens with a song titled "Only a River," which borrows liberally from the old folk song "Shenandoah." In fact, much of this album, which Weir wrote with producer Josh Kaufman and singer Josh Ritter takes its inspiration from timelessly meditative Americana folk songs. The aforementioned album opener's lyric finds Weir repeating the line, "Only a river gonna make things right." It's almost as though proven aims and... »»»
John PrineFor Better, Or Worse
With "For Better or Worse," John Prine follows up his "In Spite of Ourselves" album with more male/female duets. And this one is a true A-list effort, as it finds Prine trading lines with the likes of Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Alison Krauss. Once again, though, Iris DeMent steals the show with the angry and sarcastic "Who's Gonna Take the Garbage Out," the same way she did with the prior album's title cut. She's a worthy sparring partner,... »»»
Jim LauderdaleThis Changes Everything
Jim Lauderdale's bona fides in both country music and the more recently anointed Americana/roots music scenes are hard to top; his Wagonmaster Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 Americana Music Awards is just the icing on a career cake that's included dozens of hit songs cut by the likes of George Strait and many more, and a personal discography including country, bluegrass and roots music of all stripes. This CD is a tribute to Texas songwriters, performers and the legendary dance... »»»
Luke Bryan has been in that "hardware" phase of his career for the last few years. There have been several armloads of awards, many on the strength of the high-caliber singles from 2013's "Crash My Party." It might present a challenge to stay grounded. But Bryan has kept himself busy with work for charities (he's embarking on a traditional tour of farms to benefit his scholarship fund), and the use of the EP - this marks his eighth. Many artists use the EP format... »»»
Reckless KellySunset Motel
With "Buckaroo" off Reckless Kelly's "Sunset Motel" the band gives us one of the best hurtin' songs in recent memory. "You were my angel/I was your buckaroo," they tell us with deep regret. And after all the booze has worn off, the cold, harsh facts of life come clearly into view. "Now that I'm sober/I wish you were home." "Sunset Motel" is like a sturdy truck, strong and dependable. It also contains plenty of creative charm... »»»
Amanda ShiresMy Piece of Land
After four albums on her own and one with her frequent touring/recording partner Rod Picott, it seems safe to assume that Amanda Shires would have a fairly secure handle on the process. But when the time came to begin writing material for a new album, Shires was well into her first pregnancy and housebound while husband Jason Isbell was on the road. Rather than reflecting marital security and maternal contentment, the songs that flowed from Shires' creative consciousness focused on doubt,... »»»
The Devil Makes ThreeRedemption & Ruin
Charles Baudelaire and Verbal Kint separately and astutely noted that the devil's greatest trick is in convincing the world that he doesn't exist. There could be a corollary concerning the reality of The Devil Makes Three; the trio exists in so many different musical forms that they may well have talked us into believing they're a dozen distinct bands when they are in fact just one single, extraordinarily talented unit. Over the past 14 years, The Devil Makes Three has released... »»»
Aaron LewisSinner
You hear all the time these days how politicians are 'evolving' on particular issues. They may have felt one way about a topic many years ago, but - nearly miraculously - they've since evolved. Aaron Lewis is the former singer for Staind, a noisy, pained hard rock band. But it's been a while since Lewis created alternative rock and roll. With "Sinner," he's truly evolved, musically. This is not some cynical, Alan Jackson gone country moment, either... »»»
The Handsome FamilyUnseen
With "Back in my Day," off The Handsome Family's "Unseen" album, Brett Sparks sings Rennie Sparks' remembrances of how life was so much better back when she was a kid. It's an odd and unusual instance of nostalgia from this country-folk husband and wife duo because - much like Flannery O'Connor once accomplished through her vivid short stories - this pair usually gives us tragic Southern gothic tales in song. "Unseen," then, is not so much happier... »»»
Blue HighwayOriginal Traditional
For more than 20 years now, Blue Highway has combined a love for pure bluegrass sounds with adventurous songwriting from a core trio who are both writers and singers. Add the stellar musicianship they're known for, and it's no wonder they are one of the most original groups in their genre. The title sums up its combination of traditional sounds with original compositions from Tim Stafford, Wayne Taylor and Shawn Lane. The latter's "Don't Weep For Me" is a worthy... »»»
While we should celebrate the flawless beauty of this collection, there's a sad reality that Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris will never sing together again because of Ronstadt's battle with Parkinson's disease. Rather than dwell on what will never be the re-release of the trio's 1987 stunning debut and the 1999 followup, "Trio II," gives us that third album - essentially a trio of records now - a collection of 20 songs that did not make the original... »»»
Billy Ray CyrusThin Line
Originally conceived of as a project to honor his favorite songwriters and artists, Billy Ray Cyrus found his latest outing taking on a life of its own. Infused with plenty of classic country sentiments and songs written and made popular by artists like Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings, among many others, the record shimmers with the impact and influence of those same artists as Cyrus showcases the music that he loves while making it his own. Joining Cyrus in this... »»»
Florida Georgia LineDig Your Roots
From the ribbits and Dobro on "Smooth," the lead-off song, one might think that Florida Georgia Line is eschewing its rap rock meets country past for something completely different. While at times that is true - "Smooth" has a swampy beat - Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard haven't veered so far from what brought them to the dance. That is evident with the title track where the thwack of drum programming from long-time producer Joey Moi meets the soulful, somewhat shiny vocals... »»»
Jack IngramMidnight Motel
Jack Ingram tells a crazy story about the inspiration for "Blaine's Ferris Wheel" at the end of another song, "I Feel Like Drinking Tonight." It's one of a few places where Ingram can be heard just talking. In part, this story concerns a time when Ingram was asked to open for the late Merle Haggard. But as great a storyteller Ingram is, he's even a better songwriter and "I Feel Like Drinking Tonight" ranks right up there with all those great Haggard drinking songs... »»»
Mickey Galyean & Cullen's RidgeMy Daddy's Grass
Mickey Galyean & Cullen's Bridge come up with excellent, excellent traditional bluegrass from a group that's been together five years, but has roots that go back decades. Cullen Galyean was a respected bluegrass musician, singer and songwriter in the Appalachians, and his son wanted to follow in his footsteps. He's doing a good job of that with a sound that is on par with a number of well-known traditional bluegrass artists, including James King, Danny Paisley and the Stanley Brothers... »»»
Charlie DanielsNight Hawk
If anyone has any idea why it took Charlie Daniels so long to get mainstream respect from the country establishment, please speak now. By the time he was invited as a member of the Grand Old Opry, in 2007, he had been in the business nearly 50 years. 2016 - the year in which he turns 80 - saw Daniels finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Yet few country artists have managed the crossover success of a "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (way back in 1979)... »»»
The Price SistersThe Price Sisters
The Price Sisters display some positive points, one being the mandolin playing of Lauren Price. She does an excellent job on their version of Bill Monroe's "Get Up John." Sister Leanna Price doesn't meet the same level of musicianship. When she takes her break on "Get Up John," you feel like she's just behind the beat, struggling to get all her notes played, and they run together, not the crisp distinction you'd expect from, say, Kenny Baker... »»»
Bill Kirchen and Austin DeLoneTransatlanticana
Bill Kirchen & Austin de Lone open their collaborative album with "Hounds of the Bakersfield," a cheeky play on words with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective story, "The Hounds of the Baskervilles." But rather than looking for perpetrators of crime, Kirchen and de Lone walk in the footsteps of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and the other Bakersfield greats in search of Central California country music fame. Kirchen even shouts out to The Hag during the song by announcing,... »»»
For years, the Texas-based country music traditionalist Dale Watson and his ace backing band, the Lonestars, have hosted Chicken Shit Bingo Sunday performances - shows that get their name from a game of chance featuring a caged hen, chicken feed and a grid with numbers. At these legendary local shows, patrons buy tickets for spaces on the grid, and the recently-fed chicken determines the winner when nature calls. Chicken Shit Bingo Sundays got their start at Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon... »»»
The Stray BirdsMagic Fire
The difference between current successful Americana road veterans like Mandolin Orange and Mipso, on the one hand, and lamented, late bands like Joy Kills Sorrow and The Deadly Gentlemen, on the other, is razor-thin. "Magic Fire" amply supports The Stray Birds' bid to be an act in for the long haul. "Magic Fire" is a sharp-tongued lyrical success with harmonies and clever arrangements in abundance from the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania band, which has spent the last few... »»»
Dolly PartonPure & Simple
Dolly Parton is no stranger to flash. Even before our modern country era, where many of the most successful artists rival contemporary pop stars for high profile image manipulation, Parton had the city girl look down pat (alas, without ever denying her Appalachian roots). However, this master songwriter has simply given us an album about as close to purity as one can get. The incredibly bright Parton is far from simple, however, so the "simple" in this album's title solely refers... »»»
The Coal MenPushed to the Side
After more than a dozen years, The Coal Men (Dave Coleman and Dave Ray, with Paul Slivka) have steadily if somewhat quietly developed a reputation as a Nashville combo of exceptional talent and fortitude, even while residing under the radar screen. "Pushed to the Side" may reflect the trio's sentiments about not achieving wider recognition, but its grit and confidence suggest they're ready to seize some sort of notoriety whenever the public finally catches up... »»»
Lydia LovelessReal
There are certain parallels between Lydia Loveless and kd lang; brilliantly and beautifully expressive voices, great writers and performers and just enough twang to be considered country, but far enough outside the mainstream to be largely rejected by the genre's star making machinery. But where lang made her country bones by shifting from cow punk to a traditionally torchy gear and working with icon Owen Bradley and then succeeded on her own terms, Loveless has evolved within the indie... »»»
BJ BarhamRockingham
Profound tragedy affects everyone in vastly different ways. For American Aquarium front man BJ Barham, the outpouring of concern for his band when they were touring Belgium during the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks sparked a collection of quietly intense songs. As these compositions - largely inspired and set in places resembling Barham's tiny hometown of Reidsville, N.C. - presented themselves and evolved, Barham understood they were philosophically removed from the rootsy anthemics that fuel... »»»
Drake WhiteSpark
Drake White is one of those artists who hasn't found the express elevator to fame, but signs show he'll get there gradually nonetheless. Opening for Eric Church and Zac Brown has helped spread the word for the Northern Alabama native. His breezy "Living The Dream" single gives the city folk a nice survey of down-home life (the narrator has a spot picked for next year's deer on the wall). The "Spark" record overall wins a TKO. There's more than enough... »»»
Hymn for HerDrive Til U Die
Hymn for Her is a duo that traded in land for wheels. "Drive Til U Die," isn't the first album Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing have partially recorded in their '61 Bambi Airstream trailer, and it likely won't be the last. Hymn for Her has been called "Hells Angels meet the Amish," and they live up to the promise. Their country rock sound hints at the Eagles, while Tight's vocals can range from Stevie Nicks ethereal to down-and-gravel Bonnie Raitt... »»»
Donovan WoodsHard Settle, Ain't Troubled
Ontario, Canada songwriter and singer Donovan Woods' fourth album "Hard Settle, Ain't Troubled" receives a deluxe edition upon its stateside release. As on his previous recordings, this northern troubadour paints country-flavored word portraits in a non-abrasive manner that reminds one a little of countrymen Ron Sexsmith and Hayden. Having placed co-writes with Tim McGraw ("Portland, Maine,") Billy Currington ("Sweet Love") and Charles Kelley... »»»
Justin MooreKinda Don't Care
The title track on Justin Moore's "Kinda Don't Care" album is so good it almost makes you wish the rest of the tracks were this fine. But they're not. Nevertheless, the song's Waylon Jennings thump-thump groove, its steel guitar-electric guitar interplay and lyric about how a broken heart can tempt even a good man to give into available vices - all on account of induced apathy - transforms it into one memorable country song. Although "Goodbye Back" gives... »»»
Boo RaySea of Lights
Boo Ray knows how to lay down a country groove. It goes long and deep, filled with guitar licks, back beat and the detritus of long nights at honky tonks. Ray is a country-rock artist with a flair for clever lyrics and phrasings. "Sea Of Lights" displays this in abundance. The 10 tracks were cut in 2 days in a live to tape recording session, and the grit and immediacy of the recording environment is apparent. Ray is a veteran of the Southern-rock roadhouse circuit, and his songs... »»»
Chelle RoseBlue Ridge Blood
Granted, "Blue Ridge Blood" isn't a particularly soothing listen. Chelle Rose's somber vocal and harrowing melodies suggest the sound of dark clouds hovering just above the horizon, a scenario that's not about to disperse any time soon. Then again, she had her own hazards to deal with, most particularly a thyroid disease that went undiagnosed for an extended period of time. There were also family troubles she came to grips with, specifically relationships that had long... »»»
The Cadillac ThreeBury Me In My Boots
The Cadillac Three may not be much more country than Florida Georgia Line, who help the group out on the track "The South," but they are certainly a better Southern rock band than that hack act. This group incorporates some blues influence from The Black Crowes, mixed in some of The Georgia Satellites' winking sense of humor, to create the enjoyable Southern summer party that is "Bury Me in My Boots." The group reveals its funny side through "Ship Faced," a... »»»
The O'Connor BandComing Home
Mark O'Connor has covered a lot of ground in his musical career; starting as a prodigy on the fiddle, with such disparate mentors as Benny Thomassen and Stephane Grappelli. Back in the '90s, he had a six-year run as CMA's Musician of the Year. In addition to his fiddle prowess, he's won national titles playing flat picking guitar and mandolin. Now, O'Connor has put together the O'Connor Band, which features Mark on strings and vocals, wife Maggie on fiddle, son... »»»
Chris LaneGirl Problems
Chris Lane sounds like he's been addicted to The Voice or at least Adam Levine because his vocals and sometimes his sonics bear a resemblance along with Panic! at the Disco's "Brendon Urie. The leadoff song and country hit "Fix" has the focal dynamics often displayed by Levine with a falsetto, something he resorts to often. Lane also milks the chugging big beats with his breathiness. "Let Me Love You," a cover of R&B artist Mario's 2004 hit, is dotted with... »»»
Kent RoseAll That American Night
Chicago resident Kent Rose goes for a post-classic country sound on the title track - after Ernest Tubb but before hot, new country. It features an unimaginative drum beat (John McTigue), but some interesting touches of steel guitar (Paul Niehaus) and good guitar backing from Chris Casello. It tells an interesting story of bad luck ("The promoter took the cash box and split for Vegas") that somehow morphs into a fond memory a ("Technicolor sunset turns to black and white")... »»»
Jake OwenAmerican Love
Most everyone has made up their mind on bro-country music. Maybe you love the breezy images of the beach dippin' and sippin' lifestyle, or you write it off as empty headed and repetitive. Either way, Florida native Jake Owen was a torchbearer for the genre, and it's rewarded him well - four albums and five Number One singles (remember "Beachin"?). His career has been on a more-or-less upward arc, with higher-profile tours and bigger hits each time out... »»»
Hillary Scott & the Scott FamilyLove Remains
Hillary Scott spends most of her time known as being one-third of Lady Antebellum. With the group on a bit of a hiatus, Scott took a sharp left turn with a spiritual album recorded with her mother, Linda Davis, father, Lang Scott and younger sister, Rylee. The release grew out of the death of Scott's grandfather in 2011, which drew the family together to grieve through religious songs. Here, they merge country ("Safe Heaven" with lots of pedal steel from Dan Dugmore), pop country... »»»
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