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Andrew CombsAll These Dreams
The sophomore slump is no match for Andrew Combs. Somehow the Texas-born, Nashville-residing singer-songwriter packs it all into his second full-length, "All These Dreams," in a way that every track stands out on its own and no listener can go without finding at least one tune that fits their preference. Rock, country and folk meld together in a simple, but satisfying way, and lyrics straddle the line between artful and catchy. If anything's missing, it's the commercial... »»»
The Gibson BrothersBrotherhood
Over the more than 20 years since upstate (way, way upstate) New York natives Eric and Leigh Gibson debuted on the bluegrass scene, it has been more or less de rigueur for the journalists and reviewers who write about them to link them to the long and proud tradition - especially in country music in all its forms - of siblings whose voices combine in mystical ways for some of the most enduring sounds going back more than a century. And while there have been superlative sister acts, from the Carter... »»»
James McMurtryComplicated Game
The first album by James McMurtry in six years proves that some simply get better with age. And it opens with a gorgeous, deliberate performance, "Copper Canteen," and a line about cleaning his gun before hunting season comes to a close. From there, McMurtry looks back at his youth and the changing world today "before the pension kicks in." Thankfully, the singer never falters from that high standard he set for himself on the leadoff tune. "You Got To Me" sounds as... »»»
Jorma KaukonenAin't in No Hurry
Although Jorma Kaukonen will forever be bound to the enormous legacy of Jefferson Airplane, it's important to remember the gifted guitarist's tenure in the band was a mere seven years. He and bassist Jack Casady exceeded that total with Hot Tuna - which they'd started two years before leaving the Airplane - by 1978 when they released the live "Double Dose" album. But perhaps the most important year in Kaukonen's history is 1974, when he launched his solo career... »»»
Wrinkle Neck MulesI Never Thought It Would Go This Far
The Wrinkle Neck Mules seemed surprised that they're still around after 15 years, 6 full length albums and 1 public dissing from radio bully Don Imus. That's obvious from the title. But they're not anywhere near the end of their road. Commenting on their fourth album (2012's "Let The Lead Fly"), vocalist and primary song co-writer Chase Heard said that many of the tracks from their older records seemed celebratory, about drinking and partying, but the new ones were... »»»
The MavericksMono
The Mavericks returned in 2013 with an acclaimed new album and much touring after nearly a decade's absence. Here they are back again in 2015, minus one of their founding members, but with another dynamite new effort. The group announced in December 2014 that it had kicked out bassist Robert Reynolds from the band because he had developed an opiate addiction and was allegedly soliciting money from fans to support his habit. Reynolds is not listed as a contributor in the liner notes for... »»»
Darin & Brooke AldridgeSnapshots
It's something of a surprise to find that this latest release is the sixth by the husband-and-wife team of Darin and Brooke Aldridge going back to their 2010 self-titled debut. Since marrying and beginning their careers together, they've had a tendency to fly a little bit under the radar as far as national exposure on the bluegrass scene goes. Darin Aldridge gained some visibility through a stint of nine years with the Country Gentlemen, a truly legendary band of more than a half-century standing... »»»
Steve EarleTerraplane
In the Instagram era where people use apps to turn digital snapshots into sepia-toned portraits, Steve Earle's 16th studio release finds its place with an old-school sound. It's a Polaroid of rural country, blues and bluegrass frozen in time. But instead of outdated, it plays on the nostalgia of its modern audience. Named for the 1930s Hudson muscle car model, "Terraplane," the cover is a cacophony of vintage graphics hinting to the fun times that lie beneath... »»»
The Farm HandsBetter Than I Deserve
The Farm Hands is a fairly new band (four years old) comprised of bluegrass veterans. Guitarist Keith Tew played in Rhonda Vincent's band, toured with Vassar Clements, and his songs have been recorded by Lou Reid and the Lonesome River Band. Daryl Mosely (bass) has written several number one songs and been nominated for SPBGMA's Entertainer, Male Vocalist and Songwriter of the Year awards. His friend, Tim Graves, is an eight-time winner of SPBGMA's Dobro Player of the Year award,... »»»
Gretchen PetersBlackbirds
Like many artists, Gretchen Peters turned to music in a time of pain for her eighth studio release, "Blackbirds." This 11-track collection is a graceful, yet unsubtle take on aging and mortality that is often dark and even unsettling. Black crows witness a murder amidst kerosene and fire in the title cut, and elsewhere, there are odes to the BP oil spill and the Nashville flood. During the summer of 2013, when Peters began writing songs for "Blackbirds, I attended three... »»»
Texas songwriter Robert Earl Keen may be known for his storytelling style and rowdy country-folk, but with this new album he reveals his fondness for bluegrass jams while bringing along his usual band and adding special guests Danny Barnes, Sara Watkins, Lyle Lovett, Peter Rowan and Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks. If you're a contemporary bluegrass fan, prepare to be disappointed. Keen's voice isn't the typical smooth instrument of most genre stars, and the set list includes... »»»
Blackberry SmokeHolding All the Roses
With a new label backing them, Blackberry Smoke have distilled their sound to produce an album of songs that reflect the image that they have so carefully cultivated. When they were on Zac Brown's Southern Ground label, they released an exciting album full of country rock anthems that explored the depths of Southern Rock, mainstream rock, folk and even hints of soul music, much like the music of Brown himself. After a gap filler live release, they have returned with a collection of original tracks... »»»
Screen Door PorchModern Settlers
It's safe to guess that any band that calls itself Screen Door Porch is going to be of the down home variety. And given the fact that they hail from Wyoming, one of the country's last unspoiled environs, it's fairly reassuring to find that they do indeed maintain that mantra, at least to a certain degree. Identified mainly by the male/female ying-yang dynamic established by its two singer/songwriters, Aaron Davis and Seadar Rose, and backed by the sturdy rhythm section of... »»»
6 String DragRoots Rock 'N' Roll
Band reunions can be joyful, fist-pumping celebrations or dismal funeral services for long deceased entities that should never have been exhumed. If you're scoring at home, make sure you place "Roots Rock 'N' Roll," the first new 6 String Drag album in 18 years, solidly and deliriously in the first category. For those who need a refresher, 6 String Drag (the name was a riff on the Stanley Brothers' "Five String Drag") was a variously populated North... »»»
Jeff AustinThe Simple Truth
Jeff Austin is best known as a founding member of the genre-bending Yonder Mountain String Band, a group that has been blurring the lines between bluegrass and jam band rock since 1998. With his solo debut after leaving YMSB last year, the singer, songwriter and mandolin player shows that he is still very much interested in exploring different directions in which he can take his bluegrass roots. Austin comes roaring out of the gates with "What The Night Brings," a perfectly-formed... »»»
Rhiannon GiddensTomorrow is My Turn
Rhiannon Giddens is best known for her role in Carolina Chocolate Drops, and the album "Tomorrow Is My Turn" gives the soulful singer ample opportunity to stretch out on a wide range of cover songs. Produced by T Bone Burnett, a man that knows his way around Americana music, this album is a wonderful showcase for Giddens' talent. To state the obvious, Giddens has a flexible singing voice. She shows this off by going from the soulful "Last Kind Words" to the thumping... »»»
A Boston-area super-sideman-group that combines players such as Charlie Rose, Mark Erelli, and Zach Hickman who have worked with Josh Ritter, Ray Lamontagne, Lori McKenna, Aoife O'Donovan and more, Barnstar! Is like the house band at the club all the musicians go to after their regular nightly gigs are done. So tight they're loose and less concerned with showing off than showing up, the ad hoc group's second album dips deeper into original songs while continuing the adventurous... »»»
American AquariumWolves
After a near break up, American Aquarium regrouped and returned stronger than ever. Their supposed swan song was so well received that they postponed their dissolution, continuing their near constant tour schedules and recorded "Wolves." While front man BJ Barham is sole songwriter, "Wolves" is the first release from the group to fully incorporate the other members. The loosening of the creative reigns by Barham allows for a fresh dose of musical creativity, which... »»»
Doyle Lawson and QuicksilverIn Session
The phrase "sounds like a broken record" probably doesn't mean much to anyone too young to have experienced the skips and pops of a 33 1/3 rpm record that's been left out too long, and while the connotation is inherently negative, it can have its positive aspects. Doyle Lawson has been turning out albums for more than four decades, and reviewers have tended to get a "stuck in the groove" feeling in trying to describe over and over again why he continues to be just... »»»
Jim White Vs. the Packway Handle BandTake It Like a Man
Including the forthcoming bluegrassification of The Who's "Tommy," this new collaborative album from alt.-Americana mainstay Jim White - think David Byrne with banjo - and Athens, Ga. band The Packway Handle Band will most likely be the strangest and most challenging bluegrass release of 2015. Folk-poet, filmmaker, musician, and philosopher, Jim White's "Wrong-Eyed Jesus" is a classic twisted noir-country album, and despite itself is actually pretty darned listenable... »»»
Punch BrothersThe Phosphorescent Blues
The Punch Brothers don't feint; they want to stun and amaze you on this deeply rich and textured work. "Phosphorescent Blues" is a master class in instrumentalization, structure and melody. It's not bluegrass, but it is. It's not jazz, but then again... To categorize this music is to diminish it. The Punch Brothers are at once laid back, but frenetic, and world class players. Their vision and adventurousness, exemplified by "Phosphorescent Blues" more... »»»
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... »»»
Jim Ed BrownIn Style Again
Jim Ed Brown never went out of style, and he proves it emphatically on this new album. Although this is his first solo album in 30 years, he's never been out of the spotlight, making frequent appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and reminding audiences with his smooth style of classic country music and his immediately recognizable voice that he's a master stylist. Produced by Brown's old friend Don Cusic, who wrote 6 of the 13 songs, "In Style Again" ranges over almost... »»»
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... »»»
Norman BlakeWood, Wire & Words
Norman Blake is a premier artist in the world of acoustic, folk, roots, Americana, bluegrass and country music. While multi-genre, he has enjoyed over four decades of association with bluegrass and country. He toured with June Carter and worked with Johnny Cash. He's toured with Kris Kristofferson and recorded with Bob Dylan. He teamed with Tut Taylor, John Hartford and Vassar Clements to record "Aereo Plain." He's worked with Tony Rice and penned "Ginseng Sullivan,"... »»»
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... »»»
Cody Canada & The DepartedHippieLovePunk
In his previous post-Cross Canadian Ragweed efforts, Cody Canada has not done a lot of writing. The 2014 solo acoustic "Some Old, Some New and a Cover or Two" and the 2011 debut from The Departed "This Is Indian Land" were mostly covers, while on 2012's "Adventus," guitarist and vocalist Seth James (who has since left) was the primary songwriter. Canada reasserts himself as a prolific singer/songwriter on "HippieLovePunk" with many compositions in... »»»
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... »»»
Darrell GoldmanThe Bed I've Made
Houston native Darrell Goldman spent his college years collecting songwriting honors at Berklee College of Music in Boston before returning to the Lone Star State, where he attended Dallas Theological Seminary and earned a master's degree. Before settling into his first album, Goldman performed at festivals around Texas and worked as a worship leader in various churches, all the while honing his songwriting craft and sharpening his musical talent. Goldman's first full-length album... »»»
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... »»»
Leftover SalmonHigh Country
Not much can be done with leftover salmon unless extra ingredients and spice turn it into something new. Similarly, Boulder, Col., jam band Leftover Salmon doesn't deliver anything listeners haven't tasted before in "High Country," but they do it in a way much fresher than their name would suggest. That's quite an achievement for a band started more than 20 years ago. The group's 11th album begins with a call to action - or a call to wonder, rather - that carries... »»»
Carrie UnderwoodGreatest Hits: Decade #1
Greatest hits albums are often derided as creative placeholders, or worse yet, contractual obligations. In Carrie Underwood's case, the album subtitled "Decade #1" is a chance to take a somewhat awe inspired look at what a successful career this American Idol alumnus has already had to date. One of its two new songs, the single "Something in the Water," is a wonderfully gutsy move on Underwood's part. Country is one of the rare genres where a Christian can sing of... »»»
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... »»»
Buffalo Nickel Band416 North Stonestreet
This compilation of recordings from 1989 to 1991 showcases the D.C. area Buffalo Nickel Band's pure western swing sound, with nicely chosen covers of standards as well as some relatively obscure tunes. Two of the strongest cuts are the Tex-Mex flavored "Compadres in the Old Sierra Madres," a cover of the Riders in the Sky tune from 1981, and the frequently covered 1941 Louise Massey classic "My Adobe Hacienda." Bob Wills is predictably well represented, with covers of... »»»
The VagabandMedicine for the Soul
It's evident by now that Americana isn't limited to... well, America. For decades now, artists from such far flung environs as Europe, Australia and the U.K. have demonstrated their affinity and appreciation for the traditional roots rock regimen, a sound which had its origins in the late '60s and early '70s echoes of Southern California. One such outfit is the British eight-piece ensemble The Vagaband. Based in Norfolk England, the band released their debut "Town &... »»»
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... »»»
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