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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,... »»»
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... »»»
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... »»»
The Hackensaw BoysCharismo
In the halcyon days post-"O Brother," the explosion of hybrid bluegrass, old-time and string bands was inspiring; as musicians explored traditions, an abundance of oft-neglected musical history was revealed. Of these bands, the Hackensaw Boys distinguished themselves by instilling within their seemingly tossed-off contributions an awareness of the populist aspect of this type of music: it appeals to a wide cross-section of the population. Propelled by the percussive forces of Brian... »»»
Del McCouryDel and Woody
For two years we've been hearing of this recording, a project where original lyrics from Woody Guthrie were to be reinvented as bluegrass songs by the legendary Del McCoury. Like previous sets from Billy Bragg & Wilco (3 volumes of "Mermaid Avenue" released between 1998-2012), Jay Farrar, et al ("New Multitudes," 2012) and The Klezmatics (a pair of 2006 releases), lyrics stored within the Woody Guthrie Archives were turned over to McCoury to be repurposed... »»»
Reagan BoggsEmpty Glasses
Coming on the heels of her last album, the tellingly titled "Quicksand," Reagan Boggs' latest continues to affirm her reputation as a master of emotion, a performer whose sound and delivery leave no sentiment unturned. Consequently, "Empty Glasses" becomes an equally expressive handle, given that much of the album bears a deliberately downcast disposition. That can also be discerned by reading the names of certain songs -- "Honey I'm Lost" and... »»»
Sammy WalkerBrown Eyed Georgia Darlin'
Chances are, you could scan any number of history books detailing the development of modern folk music, from its heyday in the late '50s until the present, and you'd find little, if any mention of Sammy Walker. A native of Georgia and current resident of North Carolina, Walker recorded for Folkways Records prior to signing to Warner at the behest of label head Mo Ostin, while reaping the praise of no less an icon than Phil Ochs in the process. Singing of the trouble and strife that was... »»»
Hayes CarllLovers and Leavers
A style and sound can be deceptive. So it's little surprise that with his parched vocals, weary demeanor and songs that bear a sense of worn, ragged reflection, Hayes Carll doesn't come across like a man with an ample list of accomplishments. A recent Grammy nomination, a number of chart triumphs and some highly impressive accolades from the public and pundits alike suggest that Carll might be doing far better than he lets on. Nevertheless, the dourly named "Lovers and Leavers"... »»»
Kristy CoxPart of Me
Honored in 2015 with an Australian Golden Guitar for Bluegrass Recording of the Year, "Part of Me" proves that Kristy Cox is surrounded by a team focused on her success. Recorded in Tennessee with Jerry Salley producing, Cox's extensive experience as a vocalist is evident on heart-worn material including "The Part of Me (That's Still in Love With You.)" Sentimental perhaps, but not overwrought. Like Rhonda Vincent, Cox is most successful with upbeat, driving material... »»»
Ashleigh CaudillLooney Bird
Ashleigh Caudill's instrument - her voice - rings clear and true on her self-released CD. Caudill's material, all of which he had a hand in composing, admirably displays her talent. The vibe conveys lazy high mountain summer days and endless possibilities of love and adventure. Not a bad place to be. "Sugarloaf Mountain" the second cut,exemplifies this: a sweet fiddle line, light banjo counterpoint and Caudill's inviting but powerful vocals. True to the bluegrass... »»»
Matthew Barber & Jill BarberThe Family Album
Two siblings joining forces for an album project. For every precious collaboration from Stacey Earle on a Steve Earle tune, you can end up with other tandems whose work is pure schmaltz. Thankfully for those familiar with Canadian singer-songwriters Matthew Barber and Jill Barber, their playful, innocent sibling rivalry has been set aside for "The Family Album," an extremely sweet, stellar result. With roughly a dozen solo albums between them, the Barbers opted for select covers... »»»
Robbie FulksUpland Stories
Twenty years ago, Robbie Fulks became a beloved alt.-country figure by writing modern honky tonk and country songs that rose above the work of many other contemporary traditionalists thanks to a combination of sharp wit and engaging storytelling. In 2013, Fulks gained critical acclaim for "Gone Away Backward," an album that took a deeper dive into history by embracing the traditional Appalachian folk music that proved to be country music's bedrock. That exploration continues with... »»»
Big City Brian WrightHonkytonkitis
Big City Brian Wright (not to be confused with Texas singer/songwriter and Sugar Hill artist Brian Wright) earned his ironic nickname due to his small town roots, but the Nashville-based Wright has big time connections as the nephew of Alan Jackson. This debut has a retro '80s and '90s feel with a touch of outlaw country to mostly good results. Wright is at his best on country ballads, most notably "The Gone" (written by his brother Adam Wright and Jay Knowles) and a cover... »»»
Jason PaulsonCrow River Ramble
Minnesota-based singer/songwriter Jason Paulson's "Crow River Ramble" is a mix of country, blues, rock and folk with mostly good results. Paulson is at his best on uptempo country rockers that allow him to display his lead guitar prowess such as "Cold In California" and the closing "Love That You Leave Behind," the latter ending in a disappointing fade out of Paulson's smoking solo. The country influence is most evident on the Johnny Cash flavored... »»»
The GrahamsGlory Bound Deluxe edition
Whatever The Grahams claim as their back story matters little compared to what they've achieved on the strength of "Glory Bound." Indeed their pedigree points to an authenticity seemingly ploughed from the very roots of Americana - honest to God country, bluegrass, folk and an ample dose of hoedown holler. The musical pool they draw from seems to agree - producer David Gaza, the Watkins Family, Kenneth Pattengale of the Milk Carton Kids and John Fullbright all contribute their... »»»
British actor Tom Hiddleston is probably best known for playing Loki in the first Avengers film. Which seems fitting, since it would take super powers to take up the mantle of the Hillbilly Shakespeare in a new big budget biopic. (Although come to think of it, George Hamilton didn't set the bar particularly high in the last one, 1964's "Your Cheatin' Heart."). Hiddleston refused to take the easy way out and lip sync to Hank's songs. He worked hard to learn both vocals... »»»
Josh WilliamsModern Man
Deeply influenced by those who shaded the lines between bluegrass and country - Keith Whitley, Tony Rice, J. D. Crowe - Josh Williams has been, since 1993, one of the 'next' generation of bluegrass artists to watch. "Modern Day Man" is his third adult release, sixth overall. Currently guitar player and featured vocalist with Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Williams has a long bluegrass resume including experiences leading his own outfit, Special Consensus, Rice, and Crowe... »»»
Terry Binion is an expressive singer and uncommonly revealing songwriter, who makes the kind of music that easily gets under the skin. Yes, she'll likely be compared to other women with a similarly suggestive style, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Shawn Colvin among them. Still, there could be far worse things said about an artist than a comparison to the best. And in Binion's case, those similarities not only make sense, but they clearly demonstrate the kind of authority and... »»»
Lonesome River BandBridging the Tradition
There aren't a lot of bluegrass bands that can boast that they've lasted more than a quarter-century on the national scene, but the history of the Lonesome River Band as one of the most competent and dependable bands in the business goes back to the late 1980s. Banjo player Sammy Shelor's tenure doesn't go back quite that far, having joined "only" in 1990, but for the past 15 years, he's been the leader and front man. If the title of their newest release sounds a... »»»
Kane BrownChapter 1
Kane Brown is the latest singer to wear the "Future of Country" mantel. With ridiculous social media statistics for a 22-year-old singer and hit songs on iTunes, the buzz about Brown was so loud that Nashville had to take notice. Brown's "Chapter One" EP marks his major-label debut, and it demonstrates that he does have talent, even if the songs don't always show it. As a new artist stretching his wings, Brown tries to do too much vocally. Frequently, he dips his... »»»
The BoxcarsFamiliar With The Ground
The Boxcars underwent their first major personnel change in the summer of 2014 when founding member John Bowman departed to devote more time to his expanding ministry. Over the course of the band's first three releases, Bowman's vocals, fiddle and guitar work had been a major cornerstone of their immediate success. For their fourth release, the four remaining founding members are still on hand - Adam Steffey on mandolin, Ron Stewart on banjo (though he is also a fine fiddler), Keith... »»»
Bobby Bones and the Raging IdiotsThe Critics Give It 5 Stars
There have been a few country disc jockeys who have gone onto have successful careers as country singers - Bill Anderson and John Conlee being probably the most famous examples - but judging by this CD, Bobby Bones is unlikely to join that contingent. That doesn't mean this album is a failure. It just means that this feels more like a vanity project or an extended prank on his syndicated radio show rather than a shot at stardom, even the marginalized stardom of humorous or parodic country... »»»
A while back, in the days of physical records and CD's, a bright entrepreneur (Jac Holzman) decided there was a need to collect some obscure singles from the psychedelic era of the West Coast rock sound. The collection "Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968" was released on Elektra Records (later iterations came on Rhino records) and featured some artists that, however briefly, had penetrated the miasmic consciousness of music lovers of a certain... »»»
Sean WatkinsWhat to Fear
A veteran of numerous collaborative combos - most famously, Nickel Creek, Fiction Family, the Watkins Family and WPA - Sean Watkins' solo excursions have often been overshadowed by his work with others. That said, "What To Fear" is the kind of album that can change those assertions once and forever. It forms an instant connection, flush with melodic tunes delivered in intimate settings and with minimal accompaniment. Several special guests make appearances - most notably, sister... »»»
There's something about a band knowing when to call it a day before their fan base, personal conflicts or extenuating circumstances make the decision for said band. After a 20-year run of critically-acclaimed but often under-appreciated albums, songs and shows, Richmond Fontaine are putting the exclamation point on their career with one final studio album. And it's everything you'd come to expect from the group: thoughtful, heart-tugging and consistent. Following the sweet... »»»
Randy HouserFired Up
A brand of neo-traditional country music has entered the mainstream scene in response to the hip hop beats of bro country and smooth EDM of metro country. Artists like Aaron Watson and Randy Houser are providing a strong alternative on the charts for fans who prefer their country closer to its roots. The challenge for a country artist today is to find a balance between the fans and their business. A small handful of writers are responsible for most of the mainstream chart toppers, resulting in a... »»»
Ted Russell KampFlying Solo
Considering Ted Russell Kamp's wide range of expertise - as a songwriter, session player and, of course, solo performer - it's somewhat shocking to find him paring down his efforts for thee unadorned acoustic performances, all recorded sans any flourish or accompaniment. Indeed, aside from occasional added harmonies and extra incidental guitars, "Flying Solo" is exactly what it's billed to be, Kamp alone handling vocals, guitar, Dobro, bass and mandolin... »»»
The Brothers ComatoseCity Painted Gold
The Brothers Comatose have a branding problem. The band name conjures sleepy, deep jams. Their music is anything but. Rather, The Brothers Comatose is a romp of rock-infused bluegrass instrumentation. Their songwriting is clever, and its imagery conveys a northern California sensibility with straight-ahead musicianship. Each song tells a story, which is richly evocative, displaying a removed sentimentality. Northern California is a polyglot of music tastes. Country music or bluegrass is not... »»»
Frank SolivanFamily, Friends and Heroes
Imagine yourself on a grassy bank, or in a camp chair, settling in on a steamy summer day, with a group of friends playing bluegrass music. Frank Solivan's "Family, Friends and Heroes" transports the listener to that place. Solivan's world of bluegrass is high and lonesome, but with powerful technical chops. His mandolin playing is stout, but uplifting, and provides the core to the CD. As the title suggests, Solivan is joined by many collaborators, and the result is an... »»»
Loretta LynnFull Circle
Loretta Lynn shows no signs of slowing down at 83. "Full Circle" is her first album since her extremely well-received Jack White-produced "Van Lear Rose," a 2004 masterpiece. Some of the 14 songs on "Full Circle" are new recordings, while a few ("Fist City," "Secret Love" and "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven") are new versions. Others are old songs ("Black Jack David, "Always On My Mind," "In the Pines") that Lynn... »»»
Sarah BorgesGood and Dirty
Sarah Borges spent a good many years road dogging with her longtime band, the Broken Singles - a brilliantly effective display vehicle for her tough-but-tender songcraft - before taking a much needed hiatus to start a family and reflect on her journey to date. With the Broken Singles shelved after a game but ultimately unsuccessful run for the brass ring, Borges went the solo route in every conceivable way; she separated from her husband, Singles guitarist Lyle Brewer, and released the sedate but... »»»
Granger SmithRemington
On the surface, Granger Smith seems like the type of artist who would be regularly topping modern country charts. Instead, he has existed in the underground, never quite getting his break on country radio until now. "Remington" is full of radio friendly country music complete with elements of hip hop beats and Auto Tuned vocals, the same sound that Jason Aldean frequently tops the charts with. Smith's recent signing to Aldean's Broken Bow Records imprint, Wheelhouse, suggests... »»»
8 Ball Aitken8 Ball Aitken
It's a neat trick to have your debut record be a greatest hits, but Australia's 8-Ball Aitken aims to be different. He's got wild red hair out of a bottle and plays just as mean a cigar-box guitar as a standard slide. Check out his videos online, and you'll meet an army of sidemen and women with personality to spare. Tattooed gals, decked in vintage pinup garb, mesh well with the guy in the occasional chicken suit. These songs have been making the rounds for years, but... »»»
Dave AdkinsDave Adkins
Dave Adkins has been establishing himself for the past few years, both fronting his own band (once Republik Steele, now The Dave Adkins Band) and as part of Dave Adkins & Edgar Loudermilk, a group that received an IBMA nomination in 2015. Despite having his finger in a pair of outfits, Adkins manages to maintain a consistent sound - deeply voiced, his style of music swings comfortably between hard country and Stanley-inspired bluegrass. "Dave Adkins" checks several seemingly... »»»
The Waco BrothersGoing Down in History
Everything that Jon Langford does outside The Mekons represents a part of his creative identity that isn't addressed in the group he founded in Leeds, England four decades ago. With the Waco Brothers, Langford and his deliberately motley crew (guitarist Dean Schlabowske, bassist Alan Doughty, mandolinist Tracy Dear and drummer Joe Camarillo) have explored the nexus of punk and country, cross pollinating the qualities they don't have in common and amplifying the things they share... »»»
Gene WatsonReal. Country. Music.
Gene Watson's "Real. Country. Music." serves as a companion piece to his 2014 release "My Heroes Have Always Been Country" as he again pays tribute to the songs and songwriters that have influenced him in his more than 40-year career. Watson again focuses on relatively obscure material, including covers of "Ashes to Ashes" from his own 1987 album "Honky Tonk Crazy" and the title track from 1981's "Old Loves Never Die." Larry Gatlin is... »»»
Willie Nelson is arguably the greatest living interpreter of American standards. His 1978 album "Stardust," which may very well be his greatest studio recording, came out of nowhere and wowed fans and critics alike with its unique and respectful take on classic American tunes. Nelson proved the formula still worked with the 2009 album "American Classic," and his live performances for decades have been peppered with songs from the great American songbook... »»»
After releasing a pair of critically acclaimed albums in the '90s that led to comparisons to Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakam, Bob Woodruff's career and personal life spiraled downward. With "The Year We Tried To Kill The Pain," released in Europe in 2013, Woodruff returns with a sound that still has plenty of twang now infused with rock, soul and rhythm and blues. Woodruff revisits some of his earlier tunes with mixed results. The pop leaning arrangements of the... »»»
Jen LaneThis Life of Mine
Now five albums into a wide-ranging roots career, Saskatchewan, Canada's Jen Lane has found her comfort spot. "This Life of Mine," an album that goes from roots and country to rockin' grass touches, serves as a lively and inspired introduction to an artist unfamiliar to most. Recorded in rural British Columbia environs, surrounded by meadows and alpacas, "This Life of Mine" is rooted in the Canadian folk-rock tradition that has its foundation in the likes of Bruce... »»»
Chuck WicksTurning Point
Talk about a long break. Chuck Wicks' "Stealing Cinderella" cracked the Top Ten and entered the daddy/daughter dance pantheon forever, way back in 2007. That single was from Wicks' debut record, "Starting Now." Now here we are, and the pride of Smyrna, Del. is ready at last to deliver his sophomore effort. It's true that Wicks has kept busy, moonlighting as a TV host, dancer, actor and general pinup pretty boy. But the years have not been entirely kind... »»»
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