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Maddie & TaeStart Here
Maddie & Tae (aka Madison Marlow and Taylor Dye) start their biggest song "Girl in a Country Song" with a warning, "No country music was harmed in the making of this song." That warning also applies to the remaining 10 songs, which is about as country sounding as music seems to get these days for most artists. "Girl in a Country Song" is an answer song, of course, to the bro country going on all around them with faceless women being depicted as objects while riding... »»»
Chris JonesRun Away Tonight
The ongoing, if pyrrhic, battle for the soul of bluegrass, rages among newgrass, traditional, jamgrass, browngrass and flavors in between. Chris Jones and the Night Drivers are neo-traditionalists: they follow the Monroe bluegrass form (two instrumentals per album, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass and banjo), but infuse it with a current Nashville sensibility that strikes a clever balance. Calling Chris Jones and The Night Drivers neo-traditionalist is not damning with faint praise; rather, it... »»»
Kip MooreWild Ones
Kip Moore's sophomore release has been a long time in coming - 3 1/2 years - a surprise considering how well he did with his debut, "Up All Night," and its big hits ("Somethin' 'Bout a Truck," "Beer Money"). Moore has said he spent time expanding his sound - and he surely has done that - although two failed singles doubtlessly didn't help. While "Up All Night" veered towards the rootsier side and would not have been confused with... »»»
Rod PicottFortune
Rod Picott was born and raised in the Northeast, but these days he is all about the road. Now based in Nashville, Picott has carved up a tasty slice of Americana for himself, and his appetites display starkly on "Fortune." The music is honest, solid and, at its best, speaks to the heart. Picott's troubadour road is oft-travelled, and he is a card-carrying member of the nation of Three Chords and The Truth. Most of the pieces on the new release are effective, a few affected... »»»
Angela EasterlingCommon Law Wife
Slipping into the spot vacated by Nanci Griffith, South Carolinian Angela Easterling provides her perspective on modern country music, motherhood, the state of her nation, lost love, hometown shut downs and matrimony. Backed by stellar musicians and vocalists - among them Dave Jacques (bass), Joe Pisapia (pedal steel and bass), Paul Griffith (drums) and co-producer and partner Brandon Turner (guitars, vocals and other stuff) - Easterling throws nothing but strikes on her fifth release... »»»
Michael RayMichael Ray
The big single from Michael Ray's self-titled album, "Kiss You in the Morning," is one of the most annoying songs of the summer. It's an unbridled lust lyric that describes one man's pursuit of a girl in a country song. Ray is better on the driving song, "Drivin' All Night," though. Maybe it's the fact that Ray name-drops both Steve Earle and Tom Petty on it. If only Ray's music were more like either Earle or Petty. The both of these men create... »»»
Brent BestYour Dog, Champ
Way back in the hallowed '90s, Slobberbone roared out of Denton, Texas with the visceral head kick of The Replacements and the boozy wisdom of Hank Williams. The band unleashed a quartet of brilliant albums (1994's "Crow Pot Pie," 1997's "Barrel Chested," 2000's "Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today," 2002's "Slippage") that were rightly lionized for their gritty take on alternative country/roots rock and for front... »»»
Kasey ChambersBittersweet
Australian songwriter Kasey Chambers has never managed to gain the profile elsewhere that she has Down Under, despite consistently releasing great albums as a solo artist and as a duo with her ex-husband. Almost a full year after initially releasing "Bittersweet," Chambers is giving the strong album an official U.S. release. Since her debut in 1999, Chambers has always maintained a fiercely independent spirit. Over nine albums, she has explored folk, pop and blues music in addition to... »»»
Old Man LuedeckeDomestic Eccentric
With multiple nominations for Canadian Folk Music Awards in his rucksack, along with a pair of Juno figurines for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year: Solo on his mantle, Nova Scotia's Chris Luedecke is among the most prominent acoustic roots musicians Canada boasts. A line from "The Girl With the Pearl Earring" may serve as this album's thesis: "You can't fake a work of heart." With the subtle, shaded beauty of Jan Vermeer paintings as its core, Old Man... »»»
Ashley MonroeThe Blade
Ashley Monroe gains more acclaim for other projects than she does for her own solo efforts. Monroe is one third of side group Pistol Annies. She sang with Blake Shelton on his hit "Lonely Tonight." She received praise for her first proper solo album (her ill-fated Satisfied" was released three years after its completion by her former label, Sony), "Like a Rose," in 2013, although that was a release that stood on the strength of the songs because three singles produced zero hits... »»»
Watkins Family HourWatkins Family Hour
"Watkins Family Hour" is an immensely entertaining new release from siblings Sean and Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame) and their musical compadres, collectively known as the Watkins Family Hour. Esteemed participants include vocalist Fiona Apple, Benmont Tench on keyboards, Don Heffington on drums, Greg Leisz on Dobro and pedal steel and Sebastian Steinberg on drums. The result is a refreshing romp with all of the participants taking a turn at lead vocals at least once... »»»
Alan JacksonAngels and Alcohol
Alan Jackson, circa 2015, now might be, unfortunately, considered a retro artist. Jackson, thankfully, does not veer from his traditional country beat on his first new studio disc in three years. It's the traditional sound that makes him a throwback today. In an age of rock and rap meshing with country, Jackson will have none of that on this meat-and-potatoes rendering. Jackson's viewpoint has always been about the simple truths of life. He makes that clear in the leadoff track,... »»»
Jason IsbellSomething More Than Free
Americana guitarist and singer-songwriter Jason Isbell started as part of Drive-By Truckers and is now a drive-by revolutionary. "Something More Than Free" is his sixth release outside of the band and a follow-up to his 2013 award-winning album, "Southeastern." Isbell carries his group roots with him as he also makes a voice for himself, exploring his southern origins with a progressive nostalgia that's in-touch with audiences of all generations. His sound might be... »»»
The BattlefieldTipping Point
Debut albums normally are fresh and exciting affairs, packed with delightful energy that often surprises with each new cut. While there is a fresh feel about Americana trio The Battlefield, the Los Angeles-based band's debut largely lacks spark and ingenuity. Unfortunate, because the band's name infers a challenge to listeners that they're about to charge into a record of take-no-prisoners music. Rather than galloping across the landscape slinging a crisp blend of West Coast folk... »»»
Tiffany Huggins GrantJonquil Child
Prepare for another album about change and self-discovery - but unlike the late-career retrospectives that have come before it, Americana singer Tiffany Huggins Grant's "Jonquil Child" delivers a youthful look at a life still being lived. The album name and titular song refer to Grant's transition from small Smyrna, Ga., a town known as the "Jonquil City" for its abundance of the flowers, to the adult world of Nashville's music scene. But it also sums up the... »»»
Easton CorbinAbout to Get Real
Seeing Easton Corbin sporting a skinny tie on the cover notwithstanding, from the first track "Kiss Me One More Time," Corbin gives notice that this is no "bro country" album. He is singing to the women. Next, "Guys and Girls," could've easily fallen prey to the "...since there's a banjo, it must be country" vibe, but it is a country song too! "Clockwork" relates how lovers risk reaping the same rewards or punishment over and over... »»»
Canaan SmithBronco
Canaan Smith closes his new album with the title track, a tribute to his brother who recently passed away in a car crash. Smith sings its words over a hushed, reverent musical backing as the song's words seemingly praise the vehicle, rather than dwelling too much on the gory details of Nathaniel's death. But once Smith sings, "It was a hell of a ride," you realize immediately he's singing about his beloved brother, not merely a motor vehicle. It's the kind of strong... »»»
Larry Campbell and Teresa WilliamsLarry Campbell and Teresa Williams
After serving as a sideman to some of the most distinguished luminaries in the biz - Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Levon Helm and Mavis Staples among them- it seems well past time that guitarist/producer Larry Campbell would step out on his own and spotlight his skills as both a singer and songwriter. It's to his credit however that he opts to share the spotlight with his wife and collaborator Teresa Williams, who more than holds her own as his vocal foil on this set of backwoods ballads and... »»»
Kacey MusgravesPageant Material
Kacey Musgraves is a welcome throwback in these bro and modern country times. That means you're going to hear sharp lyrics with more than a touch of humor, story songs and even instrumentation that recalls traditional country, like pedal steel, mandolin and a Johnny Cash drumbeat. Musgraves' tour de force is her uncanny ability to turn a phrase. She does employ fellow producers Luke Laird and Shane McAnally plus Brandy Clark and Josh Osborne, among others, for lyrical help... »»»
Corey SmithWhile the Gettin' Is Good
There's a certain laid back vibe that colors in the lines of Corey Smith's latest release, making it the perfect record for summer. Featuring a heartfelt dose of Americana both musically and lyrically, Smith weaves a classic country tale of hometown heroes and family pride alongside more racy elements that tackle naughty women and drinking obsessions. Still, whether he's singing about his kind of woman or his father's heartfelt advice, Smith makes each and every one of these songs his own... »»»
Yonder Mountain String BandBlack Sheep
Anyone wondering if the 2014 departure of founding member and mandolinist Jeff Austin would alter the successful formula that Yonder Mountain String Band has used since their first album back in 1999 can rest easy after hearing what the new lineup has done with this new studio effort. Touring with the band since Austin's exit, newly minted Yonder members fiddler Allie Krall and mandolinst Jake Joliff make an immediate impact here on several levels. Krall's fiddle may be the best thing... »»»
You wouldn't know it today, judging by the rabid cross-fertilization between rock, pop and Americana, but up until the end of the '60s, the divide between rock on the one hand and country music on the other couldn't be more pronounced. Each side looked at the other suspiciously, a relationship exacerbated in no small measure by Merle Haggard's "Okee from Muskogee," a barbed putdown of the counter culture that set up the battle lines between the hippies and the... »»»
The Lonesome TrioThe Lonesome Trio
The Lonesome Trio make their recording debut with a self-titled, old-timey effort that recalls wide-ranging influences of Chris Thile, the Greenbriar Boys, the Seldom Scene and the Steep Canyon Rangers. Playing bluegrass music with a 'middle of the road' flavor, the Lonesome Trio doesn't get too fired up; their music isn't necessarily staid, but also doesn't possess much drive. Rather, they tend to coax clean, polished tones from their instruments while singing within a... »»»
The SteelDriversThe Muscle Shoals Recordings
The SteelDrivers are a dynamic, driving bluegrass band, a five-piece with a sound and an approach completely their own. "The Muscle Shoals Recordings" is their fourth album and second featuring expressive lead vocalist Gary Nichols and mandolinist Brent Truitt alongside group founders Tammy Rodgers (fiddle), Richard Bailey (five-string banjo), and Mike Fleming (bass). Given Nichols' roots in the Alabama community, it is hardly a surprise that The SteelDrivers chose to record at... »»»
Laura Bell BundyAnother Piece of Me
It's been five years since Laura Bell Bundy's last album, "Achin' and Shakin'." Her latest, "Another Piece of Me," was finished two years ago. But after a spat with Universal, she signed with Big Machine to get this one out. LBB seems determined to make up for the lost time. She comes out swinging on the first two tracks with the rocking opener, "Love Me Like A Lady" followed by a sassy, hip hop duet with Colt Ford ("Two Step")... »»»
Dale WatsonCall Me Insane
Dale Watson continually finds new ways to express old suspicions, judgments and wishes, but always stays comfortably within his self-coined Ameripolitan wheelhouse. Not that there is anything safe or staid about Watson's approach on "Call Me Insane." Since signing with Red House a few years back, Watson has been on a true high; one didn't realize the elevation Watson was capable of achieving when surrounded by the right, supportive people. Watson's take on Tony Joe... »»»
Big Country BluegrassCountry Livin'
Big Country Bluegrass' new release poses a metaphysical question: Does the world really need another straight-ahead, high-lonesome compilation of country-flavored bluegrass songs? Probably not. With all the texture and depth of modern bluegrass, even as performed by longstanding artists, there's not much of an audience for a band that is covering (literally and figuratively) old ground. "Country Livin'" represents Big Country Bluegrass' 18th recording... »»»
Montgomery GentryFolks Like Us
Where once Garth Brooks was criticized for not being country enough, today we have hip hop artists making cameos and artists like Sam Hunt topping the country charts with EDM songs. With no release since 2011's "Rebels on the Run," we see Montgomery Gentry return to a radically different country music scene than the one they were a part of at the turn of the century. Bro country has enjoyed a large amount of success in recent years, and it is arguable that this duo is one of the... »»»
A Thousand HorsesSouthernality
If you hadn't bothered to look at the album jacket and know that it was A Thousand Horses putting its stamp on the music, you'd think Keith Richards was handling the guitar riffs of the opening "First Time." Not to mention the wailing female backing vocals several minutes in. While it's not the first (or last) time, anyone has heard these riffs, at least A Thousand Horses has the musical chops. And speaking of influences, Chris Robinson and Black Crowes rank near the top... »»»
The DeslondesThe Deslondes
It's not hard to draw a laser straight line between The Deslondes' New Orleans home base and the quintet's twangy, tangy R&B/Soul gumbo on their eponymous debut. Just press play and marvel at the loping authenticity of the opening track and first single (how very Motown), the Fats Domino-flavored "Fought the Blues and Won." But subsequent listens reveal that The Deslondes aren't content to rely solely on the Crescent City's spice rack for their sonic stew; hints... »»»
The Mike + Ruthy BandBright As You Can
It's a good thing that Americana is such a wide-open genre, because if it wasn't, The Mike + Ruthy Band wouldn't have a home for their new album, "Bright as You Can." Sure, there are plenty of folk elements - "Word on the Street" can serve as the band's mission statement by including the line, "We kick ass together in this folky band." From there, however, fiddles and banjos share time with electric guitars and a horn section, as rock and R&B... »»»
Willie Nelson and Merle HaggardDjango and Jimmie
There's nothing quite so affecting as witnessing the reunion of two old friends. It's been over 20 years since road warriors Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard joined forces for their epic collaboration "Pancho & Lefty" and set the standard for several all-star pairings to come. This time around, the two pay homage to some of the musicians that preceded them - jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and the whistling railway man, country musician Jimmie Rogers - as well as old pal,... »»»
Greg TrooperLive at the Rock Room
It never ceases to amaze how an artist as skilled and credible as Greg Trooper continues to elude public attention. He can claim his fans of course, but considering the fact he has a dozen albums to his credit and nearly 30 years of making music behind him, that lack of wider awareness is not only baffling, but downright depressing. Not that he's avoided notoriety altogether; with songs recorded by Steve Earle, Billy Bragg and Vince Gill, and projects produced by Gary Tallent and Buddy... »»»
Claire HolleyTime in the MIddle
L.A.-based, Mississippi born singer/songwriter Claire Holley's latest is a pleasant mix of folk, pop and rock. She kicks it off with an effectively melancholic acoustic take of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," followed by the equally moody "Travelling Saints" inspired by a visit to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in which Holley observed the resilience of the people amidst the devastation ("Bring your sorrows bring your joy/Dance like you never have before")... »»»
The HillbendersTommy A Bluegrass Opry
Six months ago, few had heard of The Hillbenders, a rather non-descript bluegrass band from Springfield, Mo. Today, they are garnering more press for their new release than most bluegrass bands attract in a decade. Working with SXSX co-founder and producer Louis Jay Meyers, who also conceived the concept, The Hillbenders have done the inexplicable. They have turned the still eminently listenable (as long as you ignore gaping holes within the plot), but obvious rock excess of The Who's... »»»
Woody PinesWoody Pines
There's an instant burst of bright energy that captures you right from the very first playful acoustic strains of "Anything For Love," the first track from rising Americana folk troubadour Woody Pines' self-titled debut. And that whimsical charm doesn't let up for the duration of the 11 tracks as Pines takes listeners on a musical journey that explores the roots of jump blues and hillbilly boogie while infusing them with something new and contemporary... »»»
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... »»»
Mickey GuytonMickey Guyton
Mickey Guyton, a Dallas native, follows in the footsteps of female singers like Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride on this 4-song, 16-minute CD that's probably meant as more of an introduction for those who never heard her 2014 very much under the radar EP, "Unbreakable." That translates into a powerful set of vocal chords that dominate. Guyton brings a sense of authenticity to the opening "Why Baby Why." She doesn't need to go full-blown vocally all the time, but... »»»
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... »»»
The RailsplittersThe Faster It Goes
Boulder, Col. isn't often mistaken as a hotbed of Appalachian or Americana music, but the city's darlings known as The Railsplitters might be making a case for that city holding that moniker. In fact, the group in time could give Alison Krauss and Union Station a run for their money judging by this impressive latest release. On the punchy opening track "Tilt-A-Whirl," lead singer Lauren Stovall and her stellar band mates sound as if they're in a half-circle around one old microphone... »»»
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