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Sam BushStoryman
It's been seven years since Sam Bush released a collection of songs (2009's "Circles Around Me"), but Bush has never left the bluegrass/jamgrass consciousness. He tours, mostly festivals, with his first-rate Sam Bush Band and has popped up as instrumental collaborator with Frank Solivan, Taylor Swift, Bela Fleck, David Grisman and countless others over the years. "Storyman" is a throwback in the sense that it is an album to be listened to and considered as a whole,... »»»
Clint MorganScofflaw
Clint Morgan, known for his serious blues and boogie woogie piano chops, delivers up a 19-song set full of Americana-flavored blues, boogie woogie and country with healthy doses of old school rock and roll. It's a sound that recalls bits of pieces of artists like Paul Thorn and Watermelon Slim while still allowing plenty of Morgan's ample personality to shine through. The record draws on themes of sin, crime and wrongdoing, harnessing the bluesy notes therein, while also hinting at bits... »»»
Sarah JaroszUndercurrent
No longer just a startlingly talented young bluegrass musician, on her latest, Sarah Jarosz shows her growth both as a person and an artist. This is her first recording done while she wasn't in either high school or college, the first since her move to New York City three years ago, and the first time she has included only new original material. It may be the middle one of those firsts that had the most influence on the end results; there is little to no traditional bluegrass material here... »»»
Brandy ClarkBig Day in a Small Town
There are two components to Brandy Clark. First is her songwriting, which gained her much street cred, penning songs for the likes of Miranda Lambert ("Mama's Broken Heart" with Kacey Musgraves and Shane McAnally), The Band Perry ("Better Dig Two"), Keith Urban, Reba McEntire and a slew for Musgraves and Jennifer Nettles. And then there's her own artistic career with her major label debut finally coming close to three years after her extremely well-received (with... »»»
Colvin & EarleColvin & Earle
Colvin & Earle aren't George Jones and Tammy Wynette, nor are they Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. No, they're not a classic duet partnership, where two voices come together in perfect harmony, like a choir in a Coca-Cola commercial. Instead, they're two fiercely independent singer/songwriters and also a few of the last hardcore troubadours. Produced by fellow troubadour Buddy Miller, "Colvin & Earle" is about three-quarters singer/songwriter songs and a quarter much-loved covers... »»»
Frankie BallardEI Rio
The rough-edged, soulful vocalist Frankie Ballard certainly receives some high-powered songwriting help on "El Rio." Chris Stapleton, considered country music's savior by some, contributes to a couple of songs, and hit makers Chris Janson and Kip Moore also each have co-writing credits on the release. Perhaps most telling inclusion of all, however, is Ballard's cover of Bob Seger's love song, "You'll Accomp'ny Me." Much like Seger before him, Ballard... »»»
Tara ThompsonSomeone to Take Your Place EP
Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark and Miranda Lambert have demonstrated that country music is loaded with smart, talented female singer/songwriters who aren't afraid to get a little risqué with their lyrics. Add Tara Thompson to that list, if the five songs from her debut "Someone to Take Your Place" EP are any indication. In under 20 minutes, she sings about teen pregnancy, a doomed marriage and the most creative use of a washing machine in country music history... »»»
The Lonely Heartstring BandDeep Waters
The Lonely Heartstring Band offers traditional instrumentation, a jamgrass vibe, tight arrangements and a lot of heart. The band, a five-piece acoustic/bluegrass ensemble, is yet another product of the American Roots Music Program at Berklee College of Music in Boston. "Deep Waters," the band's first release, makes their presence known. For bluegrass music listeners, there's nothing more appealing and evocative than a strong tenor vocal. In 2016, one look no further than... »»»
Maren MorrisHero
Maren Morris scored a hit out of the box with "My Church," the best of 11 songs on her major label full-length debut. The Texan infuses the song she wrote with uber producer busbee (he's worked with everyone from Keith Urban on "Ripcord" to 5 Seconds of Summer and Shakira and is one of three producers here including Morris) with mighty vocals powering a midtempo, soulful reading extolling the redemptive powers of playing music with the windows rolled down... »»»
Cornflower BlueInvincible
Recent musical evolution has inspired a question that rivals musing about the sounds of one hand clapping or falling trees in the absence of human perception; what exactly does one call Americana created by Canadians? In the case of Cornflower Blue, the answer is less about identifying a sonic definition and more about enjoying the circuitous yet coherent ride that vocalists/guitarists Trevor May and Theresa McInerney and their assembled friends provide on "Invincible," their third outing together... »»»
Dan + ShayObssessed
Dan Myers and James Shay Mooney came from different parts of the country (Allegheny County, Pa. and Arkansas, respectively) and met in Nashville where each was tracking the well-worn path to country music success. They began writing songs together a little over three years ago, already have a hit album ("Where It All Began") and now have another tiger by the tail. Dan + Shay know a hook, can write songs and have identified a sweet spot in the formula of country music success... »»»
Sister SadieSister Sadie
When news broke three years ago that there was yet another bluegrass supergroup on the horizon - joining the ranks of Flashback, Band of Ruhks, Sideline, The Earls of Leicester and all the rest - one's interest was piqued with the mention that all members were female. Yes, bluegrass has been around for 70 years now, and there have been any number of prominent female pickers and singers who have made their mark on the music. It remains rare, however, for an all-female outfit featuring... »»»
Cassadee PopeSummer EP
Cassadee Pope's new release is officially called "Summer EP." But upon a full listen, one wonders if the working title may have been "The Road More Often Traveled." To say that the third season "The Voice" winner played it safe is a bit of an understatement. She penned three of the songs, including the obvious title track and the more impactful, autobiographical "Alien." Elsewhere, the songs are about a summer fling, mean people and appreciating your loved ones... »»»
Bryan SuttonThe More I Learn
Over the past two decades, Bryan Sutton has justly earned his reputation as the finest flatpick guitarist of his generation, carrying on in the traditions of Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Charles Sawtelle and Tony Rice, all of whom Sutton counts as inspirations and mentors. Over the course of his previous solo releases, numerous studio sessions and his ongoing work with Hot Rize, Sutton's playing has often echoed with salutes to them, yet he continues to present an overall style that is... »»»
Various ArtistsTo Emmylou
Perhaps "To Emmylou," a collection of Emmylou Harris songs performed by a group of Los Angeles artists, will further reveal this beloved singer's sometimes little known songwriting talents. Until relatively recently, Harris was best known as an extraordinary interpreter of others' songs. However, her "Red Dirt Girl" album from 2000, especially, showcased Harris' songwriting skills. Maybe it was her keen eye for choosing songs and bringing them to vivid life over... »»»
The Small GloriesWondrous Traveler
Given the fact that the duo known as The Small Glories boasts a main member with substantial name recognition, anticipation for what follows is already a forgone conclusion. Cara Luft, a founding member of The Wailin' Jennys and a solo artist in her own right, can bank on a respectable reputation that guarantees inherent interest right from the start. Her partner in this endeavour - singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist JD Edwards - isn't as well known, but he brings a certain... »»»
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... »»»
As the launching point for Tom Petty's career - as well as that of Heartbreaker lynchpins Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell - Mudcrutch's role in that trio's trajectory ought not be underestimated. Although the band recorded and released only one single prior to the leap from Gainesville Fla. to the world at large, Mudcrutch provided the essential training that Petty and the Heartbreakers would mine so successfully when fame and fortune came calling. Forty years on, what... »»»
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... »»»
Mountain HeartBlue Skies
It has been five years since a new album from Mountain Heart, and much has changed both in the band's lineup and their sound. Josh Shilling and Aaron Ramsey are the core of the original group, with everyone else added since the last recording. Notably, fiddler and vocalist Molly Cherryholmes of Cherryholmes fame makes her mark here after joining up right before the new sessions, lending both gorgeous violin fills and a feminine touch on the vocal front. Musically, the smooth contemporary... »»»
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... »»»
Cole SwindellYou Should Be Here
Good ole Georgia boy Cole Swindell, whose debut yielded three chart toppers, doesn't suffer from the soph slump here, but that's mainly because Swindell doesn't stray all that far from the formula that yielded "Hey Y'all" and "Chillin' It" and "Hope You Get Lonely Tonight." If looking for Swindell to go deep, don't. Not with songs like "Party Wasn't Over" or the opener with Dierks Bentley aboard on "Flatliner"... »»»
Jared Hard10,000 Hydrogen Bombs
Jared Hard describes his imposingly titled six-song EP "10,000 Hydrogen Bombs" as an exploration of moments in life, both big and small, "that serve to shape, destroy, rebuild, and change." Admittedly, that's a rather dramatic description, but it still serves him well. A serious and cerebral songwriter, Hard is adept at conveying compelling story lines, whether describing the effect of war on a soldier that's returned home ("Brother"), his own final... »»»
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,... »»»
LonestarNever Enders
For a band with as much success, Lonestar has never made it feel easy. There was a spurt at the end of the last century where they rattled off five Number Ones in a row - trademark songs like "Amazed," "What About Now" and "I'm Already There." Beyond that golden streak, there's a story of four different record labels, a Richie McDonald solo departure in 2007 and a whole lot of swings and misses. Part of their problem is one of identity, torn between wanting... »»»
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... »»»
John DoeThe Westerner
Throughout his career, John Doe's maintained a dour disposition, indicative of the fact that he's gone from a punk provocateur with his band X to a solo route as a journeyman rocker. With "The Westerner," Doe manages to mix it up, turning that gloomy perspective towards songs that allow him to both rock out and cast his sights on innuendo and observation in equal measure. The stealth-like stare that accompanies "Get On Board" is an ideal example; a rallying cry of... »»»
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... »»»
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