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Tim McGrawSundown Heaven Town
The banjo comes first out of the speakers, the opening strains of "Overrated," the lead-off song on Tim McGraw's latest. But with a "1-2-3-4" count, the mood changes and goes for a more modern country approach. McGraw does about the same on the follow-up "City Lights" with Michael Landau's steely, but rocking lead guitar taking over near the conclusion as it does later hard on "Sick of Me" where the protagonist contemplates a need to turn his life around... »»»
George Strait has been one of the most dependable country music stars for three decades. In this day and age, the Texan is a certifiable throwback. He's low key, not a self-promoter. All's he has done is churn out hit after hit for decade after decade. He has not been the kind of artist who put his finger up in the air either or trading his cowboy hat for a baseball cap. When looking up the definition of traditional country, George Strait sits at the top. Strait tackles 20 songs on... »»»
The Earls of LeicesterThe Earls of Leicester
In 1946, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were integral parts of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys when they recorded a series of singles that most historians of the music consider the "birth of bluegrass" as we know it, though the term "bluegrass" would not come into widespread use for another decade or so. Upon leaving to form their own band, The Foggy Mountain Boys (much to Monroe's consternation), they spent most of the 1950s recording one landmark single after another... »»»
Jerry Douglas, Mike Auldridge and Rob IckesThree Bells
It must be frustrating to resophonic artists of the stature of these three that even they still have to on occasion answer the question "What is that thing you're playing?" The number of well-known Dobro players has always seemed to lag behind even the banjo, and even in the "Golden Years" of '50s and '60s country music, the only widely known names were Josh Graves and Pete "Brother Oswald" Kirby. That began to change in the late 1960s when Mike... »»»
Lee BriceI Don't Dance
The cover of "I Don't Dance" features a glam shot of Lee Brice standing in a spotlight, looking more like a pop artist than a country singer. Listeners who prefer their country on the gritty side might be scared off by the pretty cover shot. The music matches the image: pop influenced mainstream country music, in the vein of contemporaries Jake Owen and Kip Moore. The success of his sophomore release emboldened Lee Brice. His first two albums introduced the country scene to his... »»»
Dustin LynchWhere It's At
Dustin Lynch is a throwback on his sophomore release thanks to the good-looking Tennessee native sporting a straw cowboy hat, Now that's something you don't see these days unless you happen to be King George Strait. Instead, the hat acts of yesteryear - the moniker, in reality, was a dig at those who were part of the same milk toast country sounds that were being put out in the '90s - traded them in for baseball caps. Lynch is yet another in the seemingly endless line these days,... »»»
The threads of faith and family are intrinsically woven throughout the fibers of country music, but the results of such albums are not always successful, with some records feeling dry and inspired while others take the bull by the horns and really engage the material. Alabama's latest offering, "Angels Among Us: Hymns & Gospel Favorites," falls into the latter category. That's not to say that Alabama reinvents the wheel here, but, rather, that they tackle the source material... »»»
Phillip Fox BandHeartland
The debut full length from the Phillip Fox Band from Ohio was helped along by a successful crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign. They played their excess of newly written songs for fans over multiple live shows and allowed them to have a hand in voting for the tracks that would make the cut, whittling down to 12 tracks of self-described "country-fried rock n' roll." Their fan friendly approach to their art complements their music well. On record, their sound is a little bit rough... »»»
Joel CrouseEven The River Runs
The title of Joel Crouse's debut may seem like an obvious statement, but what was not so clear was when his debut would finally happen. Since signing with Toby Keith's label in 2011, the Massachusetts native released three singles plus one other promoted by his label. He has not exactly set the charts on fire, although he did benefit from opening for Taylor Swift on her "Red" tour. Crouse's very smooth, soulful delivery suits the 10 songs just fine, although you're... »»»
Michael-AnnHeavy Load
You would think Michael-Ann's back story would be more substantial. Although the L.A. resident has shared the stage with several A-list artists - Ricky Skaggs, Blake Shelton and Kenny Rogers included - she has little to show in terms of any previous endeavor except an EP. That makes "Heavy Load" such a surprise. It offers all indication that she's arrived intact, possessing a singular savvy and astute ability to transpose her influences and emit an effortless attitude all her own... »»»
Chase RiceIgnite the Night
Chase Rice lets listeners know exactly what to expect on his debut right from the opening sounds of first single and opener, the hit "Ready Set Roll." Electronic beats and a robotic voice start off a bro country track with plenty of hip hop flourishes and simplistic lyrics like "ready set let's ride, get your little fine ass on the step, shimmy up inside." Rice was a co-writer on Florida Georgia Line's smash hit "Cruise," which is also a fine indicator of... »»»
Half a century after the release of "Bitter Tears: Ballads Of The American Indian," a landmark protest album by the late Johnny Cash, a star-studded ensemble has revisited the record. And with various protests taking place across North America regarding territorial rights, fracking and oil exploration, it seems as relevant today as it did back in 1964. Singer-songwriter Norman Blake's timbre strikes the right balance on the gentle, toe-tapper "Drums," which reflects... »»»
If you're expecting down home, countrified versions of metal band Motley Crue songs from "Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Motley Crue," you probably don't listen to a whole lot of mainstream "country" music. Most likely, this album's original conception was a rather crass attempt to capitalize on the large contingent of classic rock fans that also listen to and enjoy older rock's continuing influence on contemporary country music. And for the most part,... »»»
Crowe Lawson WilliamsStanding Tall and Tough
The common thread and touchstone of the long friendship of these three bluegrass icons is the years they each (though not concurrently) played in the Sunny Mountain Boys, the band of the legendary Jimmy Martin. Renowned (and sometimes notorious) for his perfectionism, Martin was not always an easy person to work for, but if you paid attention and played the music the way he wanted it to be played, a few years in his band amounted to something like a master's degree in bluegrass. Banjo icon J. D... »»»
Cory BrananThe No-Hit Wonder
After only four albums in a dozen years, there's a certain truthfulness that comes with a title like "The No-Hit Wonder." On the other hand, Cory Branan's apparent attempt at modesty belies a talent that deserves to garner notice, thanks to a wry yet infectious songwriting style that takes pains to share its strengths without ever requiring a second listen. If Branan is reticent to show he's worthy of chart placement, it's certainly not evident here... »»»
Frank Solivan & Dirty KitchenCold Spell
Washington, D.C. bandleader Frank Solivan appears to be very aware of the gradual vagaries of his bluegrass world. "Cold Spell" is a clean sounding, polished modern bluegrass album. It goes a bit far out on the branches, but maintains the energy and woody tones of more traditional bluegrass. "Cold Spell" has at its core strong songwriting ideally balanced with exceptional instrumentation, powerful lead vocals and precise and uplifting vocal harmony. A cover of Pure Prairie... »»»
Sam HuntX2C
Sam Hunt is riding the country charts with "Leave the Night On," a rather surprising occurrence considering that the Georgia native has extremely little to do with what remotely constitutes country music on this four song EP. Hunt has gained some acclaim as a song writer, having penned Kenny Chesney's "Come Over," Keith Urban's "Cop Car" and Billy Currington's "We Are Tonight." Hunt fits in perhaps only because of the crossover sounds... »»»
Shooter JenningsDon't Wait Up (For George)
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. This is not a tribute album. For one thing there are only five songs on it. But it's not a tribute EP either. Only three of the five were ever recorded by Jones. Whatever you call it, this is the first of two recordings celebrating two very different musical icons. The second, due in January, will fete another George - Giorgio Moroder, an influential producer who worked with Donna Summer and paved the way for electronic dance music... »»»
Laurie Lewis and Kathy KallickLaurie & Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray
Vern Williams and Ray Park were both Arkansas natives, and like many young Southern men in the 1940s and 50s, they emigrated to California in search of better opportunities. Though raised only a few miles apart, they did not meet until joining the country and bluegrass scene in Stockton and within a few years had become the standard-bearers for the brand of uncompromising, hard-core traditional bluegrass of their Ozark homeland. The list of young West Coast musicians who fell under their... »»»
Larry SparksLonesome and Then Some
Through 50 years, Larry Sparks has honed a full-bodied, soulful approach to singing bluegrass. He has a wonderful right hand, maintaining unbreakable rhythm while contributing leads that lend a bluesy country resonance to his songs. Sparks and his band form the consistent instrumental core with The Lonesome Ramblers appearing throughout. Tyler Mullins handles the banjo duties and Larry D. Sparks takes care of bass. Jackie Kincaid's tenor is recognizable on most songs... »»»
Billy Joe ShaverLong in the Tooth
Billy Joe Shaver does a lot of looking back on life and the travails of love on his first release since 2008's "Everybody's Brother." That's understandable given the rough-and-tumble life of Shaver, who lived up to the outlaw country moniker of his music. Shaver continues in the long line of ace Texas singer/songwriter types like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Shaver puts his cards on the table on the opening "Hard to Be an Outlaw." With help from Willie... »»»
Sunny SweeneyProvoked
When we last heard from Sunny Sweeney in 2011 with "Concrete," her major label debut on Big Machine showed a very different side of Sweeney, whose album 5 years earlier was appropriately titled "Heartbreakers Hall of Fame." Texas honky tonk and traditional country songs blanketed her debut, but the same could not be said for "Concrete," which was the kind of disc that those bemoaning slicked up country had reason to be right. Sweeney is back and in excellent form on... »»»
Flatt LonesomeToo
The current darlings of the bluegrass world, Flatt Lonesome returns with its second album; "Too" is a considerable improvement over last year's inconsistent debut. The strength of this family-based band, centered about the Robertson siblings, remains the passion for vocal performance. Whether considering Buddy's straightforward approach on "Dangerous Dan," (reminiscent of song co-writer Tim Stafford) or the sweet back-and-forth of sisters Charli and Kelsi (as on... »»»
The CarmonasThe Carmonas
Inoffensive is nice, right? Pleasant is pleasing, no? While descriptions such as these may seem innocuous at best, be assured that The Carmonas are anything but. Having staked themselves out at Nashville's famed Bluebird Café, these army brats (brothers Aaron and Chad and sister Alison Carmona) absorbed the influences of a vagabond childhood that found their family journeying from coast to coast and up and down the Appalachians. With added members Eben Cathey (banjo), Daniel Heacock... »»»
Every male country singer worth his salt has been influenced by George Jones who died in April 2013; if not vocally, at the very least because of respect for country traditions and love of a fine song. Few, however, have the skills to sing as much like Jones as Sammy Kershaw can. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Kershaw has that whole sincerity thing down pat. For the most part, Kershaw mainly sticks to the most familiar Jones songs. He even has the guts to cover "He Stopped... »»»
Balsam RangeFive
There exists a palatable line separating premier, contemporary bluegrass bands - the Blue Highways, Union Stations and the McCourys - and other truly great bands, and that line takes years to approach. But once traversed, the affect is aurally apparent: the playing is just a notch crisper, the harmonies a stitch cleaner, the interpretation a sliver more innovative. With their previous album "Papertown," Balsam Range edged a significant step toward to that destination; with... »»»
Michael Cleveland and FlamekeeperOn Down the Line
Unlike previous Flamekeeper releases, there are few bluegrass household names associated with "On Down the Line." Only co-producer Jeff White has been with Michael Cleveland since the 2002 Rounder Records debut that gave Cleveland's band its name. "On Down the Line's" personnel reflects an evolving band that has solidified over three years. Glenn Gibson (banjo and reso) has been with Cleveland for three years, while both Tyler Griffith (bass) and Nathan Livers... »»»
Doyle Lawson and QuicksilverOpen Carefully, Message Inside
"Open Carefully, Message Inside" seems a fitting title for Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver's latest, for the band's faith-filled message has long been at the forefront. With more than 36 albums under their belt, this marks their 20th gospel-based album, a key component throughout their 35-year run. Of course, it doesn't hurt that in the course of that same career they've framed those messages in award winning musicianship and vocals, something that's only gotten better with age... »»»
John HiattTerms of My Surrender
As he has for decades now, John Hiatt keeps churning out quality live tours based around quality albums and songs that are hard not to love. On his latest, his seventh with his current label and his follow-up to 2012's "Mystic Pinball," Hiatt sounds like he's finally aged into his wise-beyond-his-years voice. "Are you rolling?" Hiatt is heard asking before "Face Of God" kicks in, a ramshackle crawl that sounds like it was swept off the recording floor... »»»
Trampled by TurtlesWild Animals
Trampled By Turtles, the five-piece band from Duluth, Minn., combines bluegrass, folk and country into an enjoyable mixture. This act, which has been known to cover such unexpected artists as the extremely somber Radiohead in concert, is gradually moving away from its speedy bluegrass leanings and incorporating much more moody instrumental blends into its music. "Wild Animals'" title track, for instance, opens up this 11-song album with a slow, dirge-y piece... »»»
Mary SarahBridges
Every artist has that dream duet they'd love to perform. They're fans too and long to share the stage with the very artists who helped to inspire their dreams and while it happens for some, it's surely not enough. And with that being the case, newcomer Mary Sarah needs to count her blessings as her debut record, "Bridges," finds the artist trading duets with a virtual "who's who" of country music greats. She's no stranger to performing, having been... »»»
Dale WatsonTruckin' Sessions Trilogy
Completing a trilogy originally begun with the first "Truckin' Sessions" album in 1998, Dale Watson wraps up the series with "The Truckin' Sessions 3," a robust 14-song set that details the daily travels and travails of the modern road warrior. Watson's affinity for these unsung highway heroes is both admirable and authentic, sung from the perspective of those who tirelessly drive those big rigs day and night, often with little sleep, scant personal comforts... »»»
David OlneyWhen the Deal Goes Down
Few would ever conceptualize plot lines like these, much less know how to integrate it all together. So suffice it to say that only an artist as inspired as David Olney might possess the singular savvy that envisions the Greek god Sisyphus as a poor Indiana farmer back in the 1930s. Likewise, not too many songwriters go so far out on a limb as to write a tune voicing the observations of a fly on the wall whose witnessing a dialogue between the God and Satan during a poker game no less... »»»
Corb LundCounterfeit Blues
Corb Lund is a Canadian artist, whose gritty blend of country, blues, folk, jazz and more made him a surprise success on the musically conservative national country landscape. After rising to the top of the Canadian scene, Lund set his sights south of the border to the notoriously tough American roots music scene. He released his debut in 1995, while still a part of the underground punk/metal group The Smalls of Edmonton. But it wasn't until late 2009 when he released "Losin' Lately... »»»
Jim LauderdaleI'm A Song
In promoting "I'm a Song," Jim Lauderdale put out a satirical video with his band in which he dons a trucker's cap and celebrates the creation of "bro-grass." The good-natured video served to show how Lauderdale doesn't fit in with what's most popular in Nashville these days, but listen to his latest - a wonderful, 20-song album - and you know the in-demand songwriter certainly can't be that unpopular. Lauderdale had a hand in writing each song here... »»»
The JayhawksRainy Day Music
With its rerelease, The Jayhawks' best album, "Rainy Day Music," has not really been expanded, as it was also originally 20 songs when you added in the bonus CD. It merely features different extra songs. It's still the band's best because there are just so many top-tier songs, starting with the jingle-jangle of "Stumbling Through The Dark" (which Gary Louris co-wrote with power-pop master Matthew Sweet), and continuing on with "Tailspin... »»»
Old Crow Medicine ShowRemedy
Old Crow Medicine Show returned with "Carry Me Back" in 2012 after a brief hiatus and lineup changes. The album was a predictable collection from the group, hearkening back to their earlier releases and stepping away from the dark undertones of the highlight "Tennessee Pusher" album. It was a welcome recording for long time fans of the group, but blended in with much of their discography. "Remedy" is easily recognizable as an OCMS recording, but this time around,... »»»
The JayhawksSmile
When The Jayhawks "Smile"first came out in 2000, the snobbier elements in the alt.-country underground were calling the Minnesota band Judas for selling out their Americana roots. Bob Ezrin produced it, and wasn't he a guy famous for producing Lou Reed, Alice Coop, Kiss and many other totally twang-less acts? While this album has plenty of pop elements, you could make the case that "What Led Me To This Town" also has very strong county elements - particularly the echoing... »»»
The JayhawksSound of Lies
Time has been kind to The Jayhawks' "Sound of Lies," originally released in 1997. The album was also the first one recorded after Mark Olson (one half of the original songwriting partnership with Gary Louris) had left the group. Nevertheless, these many years later, songs like "It's Up To you" are pleasing still with their country goodness - especially in contrast to the annoying Southern rock influence upon today's omnipresent mainstream bro-country scene -... »»»
Colt FordThanks for Listening
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups notwithstanding, two great tastes don't always taste great together. Take, for instance, country music and rap. Hick hop, if you will. Even the name sounds like an affliction of the diaphragm. Wikipedia says this sub genre really took shape with Bubba Sparxxx in 2001, but those of us with longer memories know artists have been trying to wed these antithetical styles since the Bellamy Brothers "Country Rap" in 1987. Back then, it was known as c-rap, a... »»»
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