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Dierks BentleyBlack
Dierks Bentley seems intent on expanding his musical boundaries, but he may have overreached too much in eschewing where he came from. That most evident by the dominating textured beats. Producer Ross Copperman and Bentley seem hell bent on injecting odd meters and sounds, sharp detours from past efforts. Unfortunately, the atmospheric beats muddy up the vocal delivery on "Freedom," a song that stretches far too long at almost four minutes. Bentley also channels U2 with its... »»»
The HighwaymenAmerican Outlaw
Wikipedia lists more than 200 rock supergroups from Cream to the Hollywood Vampires, but Google "Country music supergroup," and you'll be scrolling for a long long time before you find any other name but The Highwaymen. (Seriously, try it.) It's not that there haven't been other country superstars who banded together to make music - like the Old Dogs with Bobby Bare, Mel Tillis, Jerry Reed and Highwayman Waylon Jennings, whose presence is probably the only reason this... »»»
Blake SheltonIf I'm Honest
Blake Shelton makes it abundantly clear that this is not going to be a light-hearted listen, despite his public demeanor. "I have never recorded a more personal or reflective album in my career," Shelton wrote on the cover insert. He said the 15-song release "touches both the highs and low of past year of my life." And that would first and foremost include his very public split with Miranda Lambert, which happened quickly and suddenly. Shelton forlornly looks back at a... »»»
Al ScorchCircle Round the Signs
Credit the new wave of populist nu-folk/newgrass talent and troubadours for having made a profound impression on today's Americana legions. Bands like The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons have influenced any number of artists that have followed in their wake, mostly banjo-thumping, rhythm-ready ensembles that are ready to raise a ruckus and coax their audiences to come along for the ride. Chicago's Al Scorch is the newest disciple of that pervasive sound, and while his... »»»
Darrell ScottCouchville Sessions
For those who remain unaware of Darrell Scott, "The Couchville Sessions" is an ideal starting place. Long one of "rock, folk, country (and) blues" (to misquote the lead track, "Down to the River") most esteemed sidemen (Robert Plant's Band of Joy, Guy Clark, Steve Earle), collaborators (Tim O'Brien) and songwriters ("Long Time Gone," "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," "It's A Great Day to Be Alive," "Hank... »»»
Jennifer NettlesPlaying With Fire
If you happened to hear Jennifer Nettles' debut solo record, "That Girl," you may have come away thinking that she was a frustrated torch singer. That effort was chock full of emotive ballads, which, while heartfelt, sure was missing a certain element of F-U-N. Problem solved. From the opening sustain of gospel organ, Nettles storms out of the gate in a sensational tour-de-force. Everything about the record screams fearlessness, whether it's in the sweet abandon of the music... »»»
After four seasons, ABC pulled the plug on its hit series "Nashville." The reaction from fans was swift and intense. It almost felt like their favorite band broke up, and that is true in many ways. The triple Exes, The Avery Barkley Band and Maddie Conrad felt as real as actual country stars to millions of fans. That's probably because the cast has legitimate talent and some have street cred. Johnathan Jackson (Avery Barkley on the show) formed E Nation in 2002, tours... »»»
Rob BairdWrong Side of the River
Some artists seem to have a natural affinity for the music they make, one that's devoid of posturing, pretence or any of the other affectations that often accompany a life in the limelight. Based on the success he attained early on, Rob Baird seems to have struck the perfect balance between confidence and credibility, with a sound that appeals to mainstream country fans and those that lean towards its Americana offspring. Having written songs for Rick Brantley, Will Hoge and Gary... »»»
Cyndi LauperDetour
There is an element of Pee-Wee's Playhouse running through Cyndi Lauper's country album, "Detour." Maybe it's just the way she speaks during certain song segments, with that girly Jersey girl-like voice of hers, which causes the listener to expect Cowboy Carl to suddenly show up. It's also due to Lauper's love of musical kitsch. She sings "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly" with Vince Gill, and yodels with Jewel during "I Want to Be a... »»»
Evie Ladin BandJump the Fire
Though not a majority, probably not even all that many of them, a segment of the counterculture of the Sixties who couldn't abide the coming of disco in the next decade fueled a revival in the 1970s of the "old time" music of the American heartlands: the string band music based on the Scots-Irish fiddle and banjo tunes of the early colonial settlers, the a cappella ballads and shape note singing found in the Primitive Baptist churches, the ramblin' and gamblin' songs... »»»
Keith UrbanRipcord
Even though Keith Urban's single, "Wasted Time," borrows more than a little sonic sensibility from electronic music, there's still an upfront banjo solo. And this is how it's always been with Urban. He may play the part of the guitar hero at times, and even revealed his eclectic musical knowledge as a judge on American Idol, but Urban will always be a country boy at heart. And boyish good looks and talent have taken this country boy far, too. The wonderfully titled... »»»
AJ CroixAmerican Idols
Don't be confused by the title of A.J. Croix's solo release. He is not a refugee from the Fox reality show. The New Jersey singer/songwriter mixes country, folk and rock in a collection of mostly dark themed compositions. The opening title track is particularly scathing in its condemnation of current social ills as Croix calls out "bankers, lawyers and pedophiles," as well as taking an all encompassing shot at society ("Anything for a minute of fame, break all the rules,... »»»
The JayhawksPaging Mr. Proust
The Minneapolis-based alt.-country/roots rock stalwart The Jayhawks is back at it again in the wake of the most recent split between founding members Gary Louris and Mark Olson. If longtime devotees had any reservations about the band's first studio album in nearly half a decade and the first without Olson since 2003, the sunny acoustic rock sound and trademark harmony vocals of "Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces," the lead track on "Paging Mr. Proust," should put them at ease... »»»
Martina McBrideReckless
Stephen King tells us "Talent is cheaper than table salt." And what a shaker-full is contained on Martina McBride's latest. Songwriters? Hillary Lindsey, Sarah Buxton and Liz Rose are amongst the world's finest. For a producer, how about Faith Hill's or Taylor Swift's? And lest we forget - McBride herself possesses the best, hemi-powered soprano of any working singer today. This is gaudy, Dream Team level stuff. So, why isn't it better? It's been... »»»
Jason WilberEchoes
Jason Wilber comes with quite a resume. Aside from the nine albums he's put out on his own, his credits include instrumental contributions to efforts undertaken by John Prine, Hal Ketchum, Greg Brown, Iris Dement, Todd Snider, Greg Trooper, Cary Newcomer, Tom Russell and Over the Rhine. Prine in particular has used him on numerous occasions, affirming Wilbur's status as the guitarist to call upon when some exceptionally tasty licks are called for. It's notable then that on... »»»
Michael Martin MurpheyHigh Stakes Cowboy Songs VII
Michael Martin Murphey's career has taken several turns. His first brush with success came when his friend Michael Nesmith cut his country-rock tune "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round" with The Monkees in 1967. Murphey had a major pop hit in 1975 with "Wildfire" and became a popular country crooner in the '80s with hits like "What's Forever For." On "High Stakes," Murphey renews his commitment to western music that began with the 1990 album... »»»
Derek HokeSouthern Moon
There's always been a fine line between rockabilly and mainstream country music, and the roster of legendary artists who have walked that line certainly includes Johnny Cash - pun fully intended - as well as Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course, Elvis. South Carolina-born Derek Hoke may or may not end up being spoken of in the same reverent terms as they, but "Southern Moon", his first new release in four years, is a nicely crafted effort that touches a lot of the same bases... »»»
Ashleigh FlynnThe Low Arc of the Sun
Ashleigh Flynn's trajectory as been mighty impressive so far. So whether one calls it an exceptional stopgap measure or an able introduction, either way Ashleigh Flynn's "The Low Arc of the Sun," demonstrates both her vibrance and versatility when it comes to exercising the vast arc of her musical sphere. Flynn's albums have always found her probing the wider depth of Americana, but here, in an seven-song set recorded live before an appreciative audience in 2014, she runs... »»»
Sturgill SimpsonA Soldier's Guide to Earth
If scratching your head about the sounds emanating from Sturgill Simpson's third release, then "It Ain't All Flowers" from his last release, the excellent "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music," ought to serve as a reference point. In a disc filled with traditional country sounds, "Flowers" was about as far away as one could get with the electronics sounding so completely disjointed from everything else on the release. Put it this way - " Islands"... »»»
The Hackensaw BoysCharismo
In the halcyon days post-"O Brother," the explosion of hybrid bluegrass, old-time and string bands was inspiring; as musicians explored traditions, an abundance of oft-neglected musical history was revealed. Of these bands, the Hackensaw Boys distinguished themselves by instilling within their seemingly tossed-off contributions an awareness of the populist aspect of this type of music: it appeals to a wide cross-section of the population. Propelled by the percussive forces of Brian... »»»
Del McCouryDel and Woody
For two years we've been hearing of this recording, a project where original lyrics from Woody Guthrie were to be reinvented as bluegrass songs by the legendary Del McCoury. Like previous sets from Billy Bragg & Wilco (3 volumes of "Mermaid Avenue" released between 1998-2012), Jay Farrar, et al ("New Multitudes," 2012) and The Klezmatics (a pair of 2006 releases), lyrics stored within the Woody Guthrie Archives were turned over to McCoury to be repurposed... »»»
Reagan BoggsEmpty Glasses
Coming on the heels of her last album, the tellingly titled "Quicksand," Reagan Boggs' latest continues to affirm her reputation as a master of emotion, a performer whose sound and delivery leave no sentiment unturned. Consequently, "Empty Glasses" becomes an equally expressive handle, given that much of the album bears a deliberately downcast disposition. That can also be discerned by reading the names of certain songs -- "Honey I'm Lost" and... »»»
Lizanne KnottExcellent Day
Better known for her folk leanings, Lizanne Knott's sophomore release, "Excellent Day," takes things back to her roots, exploring the wide Americana soundscape with hints of blues, gospel and jazz. And while that diversity may bog down some artists, Knott manages it with ease, letting her smooth, smoky vocals and sublime songwriting do the heavy lifting with added support from Grammy Award-winning producer Glenn Barratt. The title track stands as cornerstone and inspiration here,... »»»
Sammy WalkerBrown Eyed Georgia Darlin'
Chances are, you could scan any number of history books detailing the development of modern folk music, from its heyday in the late '50s until the present, and you'd find little, if any mention of Sammy Walker. A native of Georgia and current resident of North Carolina, Walker recorded for Folkways Records prior to signing to Warner at the behest of label head Mo Ostin, while reaping the praise of no less an icon than Phil Ochs in the process. Singing of the trouble and strife that was... »»»
Hayes CarllLovers and Leavers
A style and sound can be deceptive. So it's little surprise that with his parched vocals, weary demeanor and songs that bear a sense of worn, ragged reflection, Hayes Carll doesn't come across like a man with an ample list of accomplishments. A recent Grammy nomination, a number of chart triumphs and some highly impressive accolades from the public and pundits alike suggest that Carll might be doing far better than he lets on. Nevertheless, the dourly named "Lovers and Leavers"... »»»
Kristy CoxPart of Me
Honored in 2015 with an Australian Golden Guitar for Bluegrass Recording of the Year, "Part of Me" proves that Kristy Cox is surrounded by a team focused on her success. Recorded in Tennessee with Jerry Salley producing, Cox's extensive experience as a vocalist is evident on heart-worn material including "The Part of Me (That's Still in Love With You.)" Sentimental perhaps, but not overwrought. Like Rhonda Vincent, Cox is most successful with upbeat, driving material... »»»
Kelley McRaeThe Wayside
Kelley McRae and her husband, Matt Castelein are vagabond Americana musicians, traveling the highways with their music full time since 2011. This latest CD, all from her pen, explores a variety of emotions. This is quiet, contemplative music, suggesting you close your eyes to listen and digest the phrases she sings. "I don't know how to reach you anymore, too many years of keeping score." If love has ever turned sour in your life those words will ring true. Listen to McRae, with an... »»»
Ashleigh CaudillLooney Bird
Ashleigh Caudill's instrument - her voice - rings clear and true on her self-released CD. Caudill's material, all of which he had a hand in composing, admirably displays her talent. The vibe conveys lazy high mountain summer days and endless possibilities of love and adventure. Not a bad place to be. "Sugarloaf Mountain" the second cut,exemplifies this: a sweet fiddle line, light banjo counterpoint and Caudill's inviting but powerful vocals. True to the bluegrass... »»»
Elephant RevivalPetals
There are many bands aiming for 'string band' folk status or using that format as a vehicle for authenticity; Elephant Revival may have the instrumentation to claim modern jug band lineage, but it's what they do with it that sets them into a different category. With little more than some light percussion and various stringed instruments, the songs cover a breathtaking amount of musical territory. Opening song "Hello You Who" is a jazzy soul meditation, Lake Street Dive... »»»
Town MountainSouthern Crescent
Town Mountain offers a bluegrass album you can sink your teeth into. Leave aside the time-worn battle between bluegrass and newgrass. Town Mountain presents a straightforward case for respect in bluegrass, the odd piano and percussive effect notwithstanding. The CD starts out with a modest-appearing, "St. Augustine" (clocking in at one minute) that is anything but slight. A clever fiddle hesitation bowing is followed by a hard-fought instrumental track that announces that the Town... »»»
Matthew Barber & Jill BarberThe Family Album
Two siblings joining forces for an album project. For every precious collaboration from Stacey Earle on a Steve Earle tune, you can end up with other tandems whose work is pure schmaltz. Thankfully for those familiar with Canadian singer-songwriters Matthew Barber and Jill Barber, their playful, innocent sibling rivalry has been set aside for "The Family Album," an extremely sweet, stellar result. With roughly a dozen solo albums between them, the Barbers opted for select covers... »»»
Robbie FulksUpland Stories
Twenty years ago, Robbie Fulks became a beloved alt.-country figure by writing modern honky tonk and country songs that rose above the work of many other contemporary traditionalists thanks to a combination of sharp wit and engaging storytelling. In 2013, Fulks gained critical acclaim for "Gone Away Backward," an album that took a deeper dive into history by embracing the traditional Appalachian folk music that proved to be country music's bedrock. That exploration continues with... »»»
Big City Brian WrightHonkytonkitis
Big City Brian Wright (not to be confused with Texas singer/songwriter and Sugar Hill artist Brian Wright) earned his ironic nickname due to his small town roots, but the Nashville-based Wright has big time connections as the nephew of Alan Jackson. This debut has a retro '80s and '90s feel with a touch of outlaw country to mostly good results. Wright is at his best on country ballads, most notably "The Gone" (written by his brother Adam Wright and Jay Knowles) and a cover... »»»
Peter WolfA Cure for Loneliness
Peter Wolf is a bit of a changeling, or, better put, perhaps, a wolf in sheep's clothing. Where once he specialized in blues and bluster at the helm of the J Geils Band, his solo career's found him altering course, ploughing the fertile fields of Americana as a journeyman and troubadour, singing songs not about bitchy women and betrayed intents, but rather about hard luck happenstance in general, not the least of which is lost love. "A Cure For Loneliness" is no exception,... »»»
Jason PaulsonCrow River Ramble
Minnesota-based singer/songwriter Jason Paulson's "Crow River Ramble" is a mix of country, blues, rock and folk with mostly good results. Paulson is at his best on uptempo country rockers that allow him to display his lead guitar prowess such as "Cold In California" and the closing "Love That You Leave Behind," the latter ending in a disappointing fade out of Paulson's smoking solo. The country influence is most evident on the Johnny Cash flavored... »»»
The GrahamsGlory Bound Deluxe edition
Whatever The Grahams claim as their back story matters little compared to what they've achieved on the strength of "Glory Bound." Indeed their pedigree points to an authenticity seemingly ploughed from the very roots of Americana - honest to God country, bluegrass, folk and an ample dose of hoedown holler. The musical pool they draw from seems to agree - producer David Gaza, the Watkins Family, Kenneth Pattengale of the Milk Carton Kids and John Fullbright all contribute their... »»»
British actor Tom Hiddleston is probably best known for playing Loki in the first Avengers film. Which seems fitting, since it would take super powers to take up the mantle of the Hillbilly Shakespeare in a new big budget biopic. (Although come to think of it, George Hamilton didn't set the bar particularly high in the last one, 1964's "Your Cheatin' Heart."). Hiddleston refused to take the easy way out and lip sync to Hank's songs. He worked hard to learn both vocals... »»»
Margo PriceMidwest Farmer's Daughter
You don't hear much from singers like Margo Price any more. When she's singing of the farm in the leadoff "Hands of Time," she's not singing some type of stultifying, reverse bro country song. Nope, she's talking about losing the family farm, her father having to work second shift in a prison and buying back the farm. To say that Price is an anomaly would be a profound understatement. Fortunate to have friends in high places (that would be one Jack White, owner of... »»»
Josh WilliamsModern Man
Deeply influenced by those who shaded the lines between bluegrass and country - Keith Whitley, Tony Rice, J. D. Crowe - Josh Williams has been, since 1993, one of the 'next' generation of bluegrass artists to watch. "Modern Day Man" is his third adult release, sixth overall. Currently guitar player and featured vocalist with Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Williams has a long bluegrass resume including experiences leading his own outfit, Special Consensus, Rice, and Crowe... »»»
Terry Binion is an expressive singer and uncommonly revealing songwriter, who makes the kind of music that easily gets under the skin. Yes, she'll likely be compared to other women with a similarly suggestive style, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Shawn Colvin among them. Still, there could be far worse things said about an artist than a comparison to the best. And in Binion's case, those similarities not only make sense, but they clearly demonstrate the kind of authority and... »»»
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