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Ryan BinghamFear & Saturday Night
Ryan Bingham's roughened voice gives added authenticity to the cowboy ballad "Island in the Sky" off his new "Saturday Night album." The project's title, "Saturday Night," suggests party music, but the accordion-colored "Adventures of You and Me" is one of only a few party anthems on this album. Even so, Bingham sure sounds happy singing to its Tex-Mex accordion groove. Bingham may be singing the words, "It's Saturday night, I'm... »»»
Ralph StanleyMan of Constant Sorrow (2015)
Dr. Ralph Stanley can't sit still; he tried to retire in 2013 and even went out on a farewell tour, but the three-time Grammy winner just wasn't ready to say farewell, yet. Making music for well over half a century, Stanley has been re-shaping music his entire career, riding firmly in the path of bluegrass tradition while helping shape that tradition with his iconic high lonesome sound. After his brother Carter's death in 1964, he refashioned the Clinch Mountain Boys, focusing on... »»»
Justin Townes EarleAbsent Fathers
Fans of the early Justin Townes Earle might be disappointed in the work that fills "Absent Fathers," his 2015 album that shows the once reckless outlaw-wannabe has grown up past the anger and found a home in therapeutic songwriting. For the rest of listeners, however, it's a cathartic and thought-provoking journey through his atonement, not with his muddy past, but instead with his own pain. Earle's voice hints of the same grittiness found in Black Keys front man Dan... »»»
Rob Ickes & Trey HensleyBefore the Sun Goes Down
The first great album of 2015 has arrived, and it comes from a duo comprising a bluegrass master and an up-and-coming county vocalist. Dobro innovator Rob Ickes - 15 time IBMA Dobro Player of the Year and mainstay in Blue Highway, one of bluegrass music's venerable outfits - has paired his talents with the powerful voice of Trey Hensley, a relative unknown commodity who first came to notice when he appeared as a guest vocalist on Blue Highway's album of last year, "The Game... »»»
Trace AdkinsLive Country DVD
"Live Country" is a concert film featuring Trace Adkins performing his biggest hits at The Paramount in Huntington, N.Y. Anticipation was high for this one because Adkins, along with Josh Turner, is one of our very best low-voiced singers. Perhaps poor audio quality is to blame, but Adkins' singing isn't nearly as powerful in this live setting as it is on CD. From the cheesy stage props to the casually dressed backing singers (one even has a headband that leaves her looking... »»»
Victor KrummenacherHard to See Trouble Coming
Remarkably prolific, even by most modern multi-tasker standards, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Victor Krummenacher has played a critical role in the Camper Van Beethoven hierarchy, not only as a crucial member of that essential combo, but also its various offshoots, Monks of Doom, Camper Van Chadbourne and the current incarnation of the new mother ship, Cracker. Moreover, he can claim a prodigious solo career that numbers 10 individual albums, numerous guest appearances, and a pair of prestigious... »»»
As the winter finale of ABC's "Nashville" draws closer, the plot lines grow thinner and this scant 10-song soundtrack follows suit. Domestic turmoil is the major theme this season as diva Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) becomes unexpectedly pregnant before the filming of a Patsy Cline biopic. Unfortunately, Panettiere's excellent rendition of "Crazy" is omitted on the album. In a tumultuous love triangle, Charles "Chip" Esten (Deacon Claybourne)... »»»
Willie Nelson and Sister BobbieDecember Day (Willie's Stash Vol. 1)
A multi-tasker by nature - at age 81, Willie Nelson's constant output and frequent touring schedule puts any number of younger performers to shame - "December Day" offers another example of his ability to reinvent himself while shifting into the same melodic mode that made his original standards set "Stardust" so tempting and timeless. Consequently, most will celebrate this as a welcome return. While there's few genres Willie hasn't dabbled in throughout his five... »»»
Sundy BestSalvation City
Sundy Best is a duo from Lexington, Ky., and you can hear the Kentucky in their blood from the opening bell of "Count On Me," which incorporates a little bluegrass acoustic picking into its mix. The album "Bring Up The Sun," may contain the first notes many have heard from this duo, but "Home," "Lily" and "These Days" are all remakes from the group's actual debut, "Tales, Lies and Exaggerations." The group consists of... »»»
The Sweet LowdownChasing the Sun
You have to hand it to The Sweet Lowdown. They certainly know a thing or two about truth in advertising. On their lovely new album - their third to date - this Canadian trio live up to their collective handle by presenting a set of songs that's so sweet, so lovely and so enticing, it's akin to love at first listen. Making do with little more than their collective harmonies, guitar, fiddle and banjo, they create an enticing and intoxicating blend of bluegrass and old world melodies... »»»
Sara EvansAt Christmas
Sara Evans is straight-up one of the best singers in country music, and when she performs "Go Tell It On The Mountain" backed by a supportive choir on her new holiday offering, "At Christmas," the girl is squarely in her element. She has the kind of strong voice that gives this lyric the spiritual declarative quality it requires. And yet, she can switch to the acoustic guitar-backed "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" and sing ever so prettily and quietly... »»»
Are the Old 97's country? Zydeco? Irish pub rock? Blues? The bad news is that the 20th anniversary rerelease of the band's 1994 debut album "Hitchhike to Rhome" doesn't do anything to answer that question. The good news is that the rerelease is a fun listen nonetheless. The reissue comes with bonus demo recordings and cassette versions of the original release, just in case fans of the group didn't feel old enough realizing that its debut is two decades old (the... »»»
It's a magnanimous record company indeed that celebrates its own 20th anniversary by inviting artists from other labels to join in the festivities. Then again, this is Chicago's Bloodshot Records after all, the insurgent outfit out of Chicago that's made its mark by booting tradition up the backside. Consequently, the 2-disc, 38-song set "While No One Was Watching: Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records" puts a new spin on the usual catalogue compilation by inviting a... »»»
Gene ClarkTwo Sides to Every Story
Gene Clark is likely best known as the fragile voice in many of those great old Byrds songs. But after leaving The Byrds, Clark continued to create wonderful music. One such example is "Two Sides to Every Story," rereleased with 17 bonus tracks after being first out in 1977. It reveals Clark's deep passion for bluegrass-accented country music. One of the songs that may throw you off for a minute is Clark's upbeat take on the old traditional "In the Pines... »»»
JohnnyswimA JOHNNYSWIM Christmas
With a seven-song EP, the singer-songwriter duo, Johnnyswim, comprised of Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez, proves how sometimes the best things really do come in small packages. The project opens with an acoustic, acoustic guitar-colored original called "Christmas Day," which gently lists quite a number of good things about Christmas day. Most of this album is secular, lyrically, with an exception with the devout "O Come All Ye Faithful." Along the way, there's a nice... »»»
Garth BrooksMan Against Machine
After releasing his debut album in 1989, Garth Brooks released music almost every year until he announced his retirement in 2000. Since then, he has released repackaged hit collections, new music on "Scarecrow" and "The Lost Sessions" and last year's cover song collection "Blame it All on My Roots." Over the years, there have been live recordings, concert and music video collections. The country songwriter became a pop culture icon, transcending genre to become... »»»
Over the RhineBlood Oranges in the Snow
Over The Rhine has never been lumped in with the alt.-country scene, even though many Americana fans have embraced the act. However, Eric Heywood's pedal steel guitar work - particularly on this album's title track, ought to be mighty appealing to country music fans. Also, the group's reverent cover of Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December," one of the best and saddest Christmas songs of all time, will also win the Ohio act points with country fans... »»»
Various ArtistsChristmas With Nashville
Back when the show Nashville first hit the airwaves, tastemakers like Buddy Miller and T Bone Burnett were heavily involved in the show's music. When you look at the credits to this new Christmas music offering, however, neither one of those names are listed. And it shows. Like a lot of the winter weather during December, this music mostly leaves the listener cold. These renditions of holiday songs mainly sound by-the-book. Perhaps worst of all, Jonathan Jackson slavishly imitates... »»»
Ronnie FaussBuilt to Break
With his debut album, "I Am the Man You Know I'm Not," Ronnie Fauss showed strong songwriting skills that could elicit a smile as easy as break your heart. Clearly, he'd been taking notes while listening to his songwriting heroes like John Prine. With his new release, Fauss has cranked up the volume, morphing into a full-blown country-rock sound. "Built to Break" may be a bit louder than its predecessor, but it's still filled with well-written gems... »»»
Maddie & TaeMaddie & Tae
Most casual listeners will be wondering if singing duo Maddie & Tae have another attention-getter in them like "Girl In A Country Song" when it comes to the act's debut EP. Although there's nothing that rivals the bro-country answer song of "Girl," the other three tracks on this initial release show great promise. "Sierra" takes aim at high horse women, rather than lusting men. So much so, in fact, their thoughts nearly verge on making them lose their Christianity... »»»
Darius RuckerHome for the Holidays
When it came time for Darius Rucker to throw his hat into the holiday album ring, he was clearly aiming for the old school, traditional realm of such things. The heavy orchestration for these 12 songs hearkens back to the days when crooners like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra tracked Christmas projects, rather than anything that might pass for country. With that said, though, Rucker represents himself quite well with this traditional album of (mostly) familiar Christmas songs... »»»
LeAnn RimesOne Christmas Chapter 1
LeAnn Rimes hasn't always been the most consistent album maker over the years, but there's no questioning the quality of her singing. Here gospel-y version of "Silent Night" on this Christmas EP, "One Christmas: Chapter," is truly a thing of beauty. Then when she sings a slow, soulful "Blue Christmas," which features that beautiful yodel in her voice, it should remind you of that wonderful Patsy Cline quality in her early recordings... »»»
Little Big TownPain Killer
For some, listening to Little Big Town will be an act of searching for something at least half as catchy as "Pontoon," yet without success. Whenever a group creates such a fantastically memorable single, the prospect of following it up successfully can be a bit of a handicap. With that said, though, "Pain Killer" is a pretty good pop-country album, as pop-country albums go. Although Little Big Town has never been known to be rockers, the rollicking "Save Your Sin"... »»»
Jerry Lee LewisRock & Roll Time
One of the seminal figures in the development - some would say, the assault - of early rock 'n' roll, Jerry Lewis always possessed pure country credence as well. His initial outings mined the full spectrum of his rural Louisiana roots, bringing them to bear in a daring, often outrageous display of unrepentant madness and machismo that rivalled Little Richard and even Elvis himself in terms of sheer bravado. Consequently, it's a credit to Lewis' sheer tenacity that as he... »»»
Stoney LaRueAviator
Oklahoma singer-songwriter Stoney LaRue's latest is a mix of country, rock and pop with touches of jazz and blues. Some songs have an interesting blend of styles, such as the title track, which is a country tune that features jazzy keyboard solos. Similarly "Till I'm Moving On" shifts quickly from mellow country blues to an effectively distorted rocking guitar solo, while the country rocker "Golden Shackles" has a couple of fiddle breaks that recall the Glen Campbell... »»»
With their dedication to traditional country sounds, you may be a little surprised by Joey + Rory's song choices on the covers album, "Country Classics: A Tapestry Of Our Musical Heritage." There isn't a George Jones or Merle Haggard tune in the bunch! Although all these songs are fine ones, many of them were also big hits. For instance, the pair sing Crystal Gayle's big hit, "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," as well as John Denver's "Back Home Again... »»»
Home FreeFull of Cheer
A cappella country act Home Free has spent the past several years making a name for itself thanks most notably for winning The Sing-Off in 2013, moving from being an all-purpose a cappella group to covering classic and contemporary country songs with their signature soulful harmonies and smooth tones. Now, for the third time in the group's career, the vocal group is setting it's sights on the wonders of Christmas with "Full of Cheer," which combines plenty of cheer alongside... »»»
Sam HuntMontevallo
It's no secret that the genre of country music has been growing and expanding in definition over the past several years, from the bombastic arena rocking fury of early Garth Brooks to more recent days and acts like Florida Georgia Line, further blurring the lines of country and other genres. Finding traditional country themes and vibes to merge along the rivers of hip-hop, R&B and pop, the picking is ripe for rising artists like Sam Hunt and his debut recording, "Montevallo... »»»
The Show PoniesRun For Your Life
This five-song EP from the Los Angeles-based quintet The Show Ponies is a mix of bluegrass, swing, folk and rock delivered with touches of dark humor. The title track is a folk rocker that compares the hazards encountered in earlier times ("Our ancestors ran from predators and their enemies wielding arrows") to the challenges of modern life ("I've seldom had to run to preserve my own existence/Ain't it sad to lose your breath after only a short distance")... »»»
The Stray BirdsBest Medicine
"Best Medicine," the opening song and title track to The Stray Birds' album, is a beautiful, touching ode to music and the record stores that still survive in this digital age. With a few sly musical references in the lyrics ("Doctor tells me he can hear the beetles in my bones...") and some gorgeous three-part harmonies, it's one of the best and most heartfelt songs of the year. Even after leading off with that kind of highlight, the rest does not disappoint... »»»
Eliot BronsonEliot Bronson
With a number of prestigious awards to his credit so far (including Creative Loafing's Songwriter of the Year honors in this year's "Best of Atlanta" competition, top ranking in the Songwriting Contest at MerleFest, finalist status at the Kerrville Folk Festival, finalist status at the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest Songwriting Contest, and judicial recognition from the New Song Contest held at Lincoln Center), Eliot Bronson clearly seems ready to take center stage... »»»
Many times when tracking holiday albums, artists will include either a funny or overtly religious Christmas tune, right along with the usual familiar aural wrappings. Christmas Jug Band, however, has taken the Weird Al approach to tracking their seasonal album, as all of these songs are either fun or funny. The disc is mainly a collection of previous released holiday tunes plus two previously unreleased songs. A dead giveaway about this album's fast and frivolous tone is the presence of Dan Hicks... »»»
Larry StephensonPull Your Savior In
Gospel music is not for everyone. Nor, let's face it, is bluegrass. So, a bluegrass gospel album is slicing things rather thin. Yet, bluegrass has a long tradition of incorporating and embracing its gospel side, starting with Bill Monroe himself. As historian Neil V. Rosenberg has written "Bluegrass gospel is a form of discourse about the sacred which occurs in the secular context." Enter "Pull Your Savior In" by The Larry Stephenson Band. The Band has been going strong... »»»
Jon ByrdRoute 41
"Quirky. Enigmatic. Interesting. Good." That's the way "Down at the Well of Wishes," Byrd's 2011 CD, described. He hasn't changed, though on this outing he's not the composer. He's performing numbers written and previously performed by his friends - a tribute to long-lasting friendships. This is alt-country. It's not the in-your-face jabberwocky played on country radio these days, nor the crooning of Marty Robbins or Ray Price... »»»
Various ArtistsAn Americana Christmas
This various artist holiday album kills the proverbial two birds with one stone as it provides musical holiday cheer along with a fairly extensive overview of what's best about the music termed 'Americana.' The collection includes selections from The Band, which was Americana before the term was cool, with "Christmas Must Be Tonight," and their former famous collaborator Bob Dylan, who sings the peppy, accordion-driven "Must Be Santa." Dylan's song comes... »»»
Florida Georgia LineAnything Goes
The title of Florida Georgia Line's second full length is accurate. For the duo of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelly, that means girls, girls and more girls plus an ultra dose of partying. That is evident from the refrain of the title track, which, of course, focuses on Friday night activities. "I brought the songs and you brought the party/ Only one way to do it up right/Everybody goes where eveybody knows/That anything goes on a Friday Night/Get your party right/It's a Friday night... »»»
The Xmas-MenSanta Is Real
The Xmas-Men is actually Robert Earl Keen's backing band, and "Santa Is Real" is a (mostly) instrumental Christmas album. It's a four-piece act, and the album was executive produced by Keen. Guitarist Rich Brotherton is the only one that takes vocal lead when necessary (which only happens briefly, as on "Merry Xmas from the Family)." Although much of this album takes on an upbeat, western swing feel, the quartet quiets it down significantly for an acoustic,... »»»
Maggie BjorklundShaken
As soon as the first track of pedal steel guitarist Maggie Bjorkland's "Shaken" begins, listeners are invited to a spectral ballet that does little to prepare them for the eclectic and emotional sounds ahead. Alternating between instrumentals and lyrical songs, Bjorkland's album plays like the eerie soundtrack to an indie film - plot-driven, but with a keen investment in the humanity behind it. Elements of horror, redemption and sadness carry through the melodies and poetry of the album... »»»
James HandStormclouds in Heaven
It's not necessary to have stepped foot in a church recently to find true pleasure in James "Slim" Hand's latest effort, a 14-song gospel album on which he wrote or co-wrote everything. There is delight to be found in the ease of Hand's vocals, which slide capably between joy and mournfulness, and his words, charged by the Holy Spirit and the ghost of Hank Williams. Just as with his secular work, Hand writes vivid, deceptively simple songs that quickly have their way... »»»
The Dirty River BoysThe Dirty River Boys
The Dirty River Boys latest self-titled release is a mix of country, folk and rock. Several tracks recall the work of Mumford & Sons, particularly the folk-rocker "Thought I'd Let You Know" and the Irish-tinged "Sailed Away." Another strong folk track is the haunting ballad "So Far Away" ("Secrets untold are lies that unfold/Invading the soul like a cancer"). Amongst the strongest country tunes are "Didn't Make the Cut," reminiscent of... »»»
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