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Lori McKennaThe Bird & The Rifle
Lori McKenna's back story is a country song brought to vivid yet unaffected life. Married with five children, the Massachusetts native began exploring her longstanding musical gifts - she wrote her first song at 13 - by playing for family and friends, who then forced her to attend a regional coffee house open mic. After two years of regular gigging with her poignant songs of everyday life and becoming a favorite among Boston folk fans, McKenna self-released her debut, "Paper Wings and... »»»
John GorkaBefore Beginning
John Gorka travelled the indie route when it was a clearer path to success in a musical landscape untainted by piracy, digital downloads ad paltry songwriting royalties. He came up playing coffeehouses in eastern Pennsylvania where he rose from a basement resident and house MC to performer. Rolling Stone dubbed him "the preeminent male singer-songwriter of the New Folk Movement." Having worked with Shawn Colvin and Lucy Kaplansky, he already had industry cred by the time Red House... »»»
The Earls of LeicesterRattle & Roar
In the spirit of "if it was a good idea the first time around, it's got to be worth trying again," Jerry Douglas and his collaborators in the Earls Of Leicester return with a follow-up to their self-titled Grammy-winning debut of two years ago. On the off chance that you missed it the first time around, Douglas pulled the band together, not as just another "tribute" band, but to try and capture the full spirit and exceptional musicianship of the Flatt and Scruggs shows... »»»
David NailThe Fighter
A singer's believability is essential to the success of any album, and David Nail has a way of persuading us that every word he sings on his "Fighter" comes straight from the heart. And it doesn't hurt that the songwriting contained within is topnotch throughout. Two songs, in particular, go straight to the heart in addition to being heartfelt. "Home," which Lori McKenna both sings on and co-wrote, is the first song on this record that will absolutely stop you in your tracks... »»»
It's a difficult proposition for a band member to go solo after a longstanding highly successful career and try to forge a musical identity that not only isn't all that similar to what's come before, but is also able to stand on its own as musically viable. And despite some false starts in launching his solo career commercially on the country charts, Steven Tyler has managed to make a statement on both counts. Tyler, of course, is the lead singer for the hard charging, sometimes... »»»
NewtownHarlan Road
Lexington, Ky.-based bluegrass outfit NewTown is back with "Harlan Road," featuring the band doing what a good bluegrass band is supposed to do: singing good songs about real life that are made even better by good vocals and hot playing. If there's one thing that Dr. Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe injected into their songs, it was a strong sense of the realities of life that are faced by all classes of people, not just folks who work in coal mines. NewTown, whose members don't... »»»
Edgar LoudermilkGeorgia Maple
Pinecastle Edgar Loudermilk began his national professional career with Rhonda Vincent, soon moving to Marty Raybon's band and then to IIIrd Tyme Out. Along the way he had two solo projects, then partnered with Dave Adkins for one CD before deciding to go it alone with his own band. He composed or co-composed eight of the tracks here. Loudermilk positions himself as a bluegrass artist and people have been cussing and discussing what "bluegrass" means for years... »»»
Sara WatkinsYoung in All the Wrong Ways
Sara Watkins' voice is powerful. "Young In All The Wrong Ways" showcases her instrument admirably. Watkins burst upon the music scene in 1989, as part of Nickel Creek, teaming with her brother Sean and mandolinist Chris Thile. Nickel Creek had a solid run of recording and live music performances for a couple of decades before the members spread out into other collaborations (Nickel Creek has played a few festival dates most years, alongside their other projects)... »»»
Tommy WomackNamaste
Although little known among the masses, Tommy Womack has a storied career that encompasses any number of solo excursions as well as work with earlier bands like the Government Cheese, Bis-Quits and Daddy. "Namaste," however, is clearly his best work by far, not only due to its supple sway and Dylan-eque delivery (check out "It's Been All Over Before," a song that not only sounds eerily like the Bobster, but which, on first hearing - and subsequent listens as well -... »»»
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,... »»»
The Avett BrothersTrue Sadness
The Avett Brothers shows oftentimes offer some of the best bluegrass-inspired instrumental music around as brothers Seth and Scott surround themselves with highly skilled players. Albums, on the other hand, can sometimes be a significantly different matter. Songs on the new "True Sadness," for instance, reveal this act's well-developed introspective side. Sonically, "True Sadness" finds the group exploring beyond its rootsy, Americana expectations... »»»
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... »»»
Kris KristoffersonThe Cedar Creek Sessions
Picture Kris Kristofferson in your mind, and he's likely not a young man. There's probably a salt-and-pepper beard and a wizened look on a lined face that's seen its share of tavern punches. But it's hard to wrap one's head around the concept of the actor/songwriter today at 80. Slowing down has never been in the Texas troubadour's blood, though. And so we come to this 2016 double-album recording of a frantic, mostly-live recording session in Austin from 20214... »»»
Irene KelleyThese Hills
Irene Kelley has created a bluegrass record, which seems just right - well-conceived with outstanding songwriting and singing and powerful musicianship. From the trickle down banjo run which introduces "Carolina Wind" to the soulful mountain vibe which exemplifies the final cut, "Before You Call Me Home," Kelly makes a case for the currency and relevance of bluegrass music in 2016. Kelly's voice is true and the song-writing never falters. She has written songs for... »»»
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... »»»
The Farm HandsDig in the Dirt
The Farm Hands are an experienced band that make for good bluegrass. Led by Daryl Mosley (vocals and bass) and Tim Graves (vocals and Dobro), they mix bluegrass, near-country and gospel. They have won multiple awards and, at the 2016 SPGMA music awards, Mosley was named songwriter of the year, Graves was Dobro player of the year and the band took the awards for Bluegrass Gospel Group and Bluegrass Vocal Group. That raised expectations, and listeners won't be disappointed... »»»
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... »»»
Western CenturiesWeight of the World
There's a sense of gravitas that weighs heavy with a name like Western Centuries and an album with an overbearing title like "Weight of the World." Yet for all the heavy handed intent those references imply, this is a surprisingly unaffected effort, where classic influences like honky tonk and barroom bravado weigh on the proceedings, and simple celebration becomes the overriding concern. The title track is the most obvious concession to modern convention, but the rowdy and raucous... »»»
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... »»»
If you're just discovering the startling talents of Austin Lucas, you've got a little catching up to do. The son of Alison Krauss producer Bob Lucas, Austin has a music resume dating back nearly 20 years with band stints from the late '90s into the new millennium. Lucas launched his largely folk/punk solo career with 2006's "The Common Cold," followed by recording and touring with Hot Water Music front man Chuck Ragan and a series of under-the-radar indie folk releases... »»»
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... »»»
Daniel RomanoMosey
With "Mosey," Ontario-based singer/songwriter Daniel Romano reveals himself to be something of a musical chameleon. Even Romano's appearance has transformed from the rhinestone suit and cowboy hat of 2013's "Come Cry With Me" to a hipster Bob Dylan/Art Garfunkel look on the cover of this release. On previous efforts, Romano displayed his reverence and aptitude for traditional country. Here the retro '60s sound is based primarily in the country/pop of Lee... »»»
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... »»»
The Haunted WindchimesRattle Your Bones
The only complaint about The Haunted Windchimes' "Rattle Your Bones" is its brevity. With 8 songs clocking in at just over 27 minutes, it has more the feel of an EP than a full LP, but in that fleeting span the Pueblo, Col.-based quartet display an impressive versatility that includes elements of folk, country, bluegrass, rockabilly and psychedelia. Folk is the strongest influence with an authentic vintage feel to such tracks as Chela Lujan's "River Song" and Desirae... »»»
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