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The Drugstore GypsiesThe Drugstore Gypsies
In a time when good old fashioned electric guitar rock has grown a bit stagnant, a fresh new quintet from Texas is stepping up to provide a jolt courtesy of a concise and confident debut that makes a case for the genre by adding touches of blues, country and southern rock to muscular classic rock riffs. The Drugstore Gypsies makes its intentions clear with the biographical opener, "Drugstore Gypsy." Following a guttural blues lick, the band launches into a hard-charging song about... »»»
Danny BarnesStove Up
Whether causing a rabble with The Bad Livers decades back, making his own esoteric recordings, or receiving accolades as the 'Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass' recipient in 2015, Danny Barnes has been a formidable force for much of the past quarter century in bluegrass. "Stove Up" is both a distillation of Barnes' 45 years on the banjo path and an expansion of his journey. Identified as a tribute to the legacy of banjo-stalwart Don Stover, this... »»»
"The Best Of The Dualtone Years," a collection of Guy Clark's later recordings, finds the late respected singer/songwriter aging particularly well. He sings these songs with that familiar gruff voice of his and keeps arrangements relatively simple. However, never let such apparent simplicity fool you into believing this is also simple music. The way he digs deeply into the one woman's complicated motives during "Rain in Durango" quickly puts that notion to rest... »»»
Noam PikelnyUniversal Favorite
Noam Pikelny is the most ingratiating musical iconoclast you're likely to come across. He has deep roots in the Americana genre, and his playing, on banjo in most contexts, is precise and brilliant. Pikelny has produced a string of outstanding solo records, most recently "Universal Favorite." Despite the success of these solo efforts ("Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe" was an IBMA Album of the Year and received a Grammy nomination), Pikelny is best known for his... »»»
Rhiannon GiddensFreedom Highay
Rhiannon Gidden's "Freedom Highway" takes an expansive look at the Black experience in America. "Better Get It Right the First Time" utilizes a gospel-y call and response format to tell the tragic story of a Black life that mattered. However, Giddens goes all the way back to slavery days for the lyrics to "At the Purchaser's Option." In between, "Birmingham Sunday" hearkens back to the Civil Rights movement and that relatively recent fight for freedom... »»»
Old 97'sGraveyard Whistle
Old 97s' "Graveyard Whistling" is a slight return to form after 2014's "Most Messed Up," which was heavy on profanity, but far too light on charming country songs. "Graveyard Whistling" is a little more innocent and a lot more fun than its predecessor. "Bad Luck Charm," for instance, finds lead vocalist Rhett Miller playing a familiar role - that of lovable loser. "I'm just another black cat crossing your street," Miller warns, in... »»»
Scott H. BiramThe Bad Testament
Country is a relative term to Scott H. Biram. Over his 20-plus year career, the famously self-proclaimed Dirty Old One Man Band has opened for a dizzying array of artists across the musical spectrum - Willie Nelson, G. Love and Special Sauce, Pinetop Perkins, Social Distortion, The Dwarves and Clutch, among others - and been an appropriate fit for every one of the them. Biram doesn't acknowledge genre; he just goes where the next song takes him and inhabits it instinctively, like water taking... »»»
Little Big TownThe Breaker
Anyone who missed Little Big Town's remarkable 2012 Unplugged performance on CMT should seek it out online. When they sing their monster hit "Pontoon," four hypnotic voices combine to harmonic perfection with no studio tricks - pick from any of the microphones, and it works as the song's lead vocal. But now that the group has ascended to the upper rung of stardom, different challenges arise. How do you compete with yourself fresh from a Grammy for Best Country Song... »»»
Aaron WatsonVaquero
Independent singer/songwriter Aaron Watson's "Vaquero" is an ambitious 16-song mix of Texas country and mainstream Nashville with mostly good results. The strongest tracks are those that embrace the Tex Mex style of the title track, which imparts some sound advice delivered by an "old Mexican cowboy" the singer meets in a bar ("He said don't leave your beer in the hot Texas Sun/ Don't argue with a woman while she's holding a gun" and... »»»
The Gibson BrothersIn the Ground
The family band is a longstanding conceit of bluegrass and mountain music, including the Carters, the Osbornes, the McReynolds, the Whites, The Stanleys and even the progenitors of bluegrass Bill and Charlie Monroe. The trope continues to the present with The Gibson Brothers carrying on this tradition admirably. The Gibson Brothers, Leigh and Eric, exemplify the power and depth of this music tradition. "In The Ground" cements their position in the bluegrass world... »»»
Son VoltNotes of Blue
Son Volt's "Notes of Blue" is said to be influenced by the blues (among other musical styles), and the blues is most at the fore during "Cherokee St.," a stomping, electric guitar-driven blues rocker. The song has the stripped-down sound of a Blind Willie Johnson sermon, although lead vocalist Jay Farrar is by no means the gravelly singer Johnson was. Still, it has that vibe. Farrar and band mates are just as effective with "The Storm," a more acoustic approach to the blues... »»»
A good country outlaw sings about more than whiskey and Waylon (Still, they must sing about whiskey and Waylon). Newcomer A.J. Hobbs has already picked up on this. He calls what he does "Outlaw Soul". While Hobbs was weaned in California (think Joshua trees, not LA), Texas has become a second home. His tunes celebrate the freedom that comes from scraping by, doing what one loves. Maybe it's playing late at some roadhouse, or maybe a one-night love affair... »»»
Brett YoungBrett Young
Brett Young had a hit out of the box with "Sleep Without You," as ear candy of a song. His soulful vocals carry the percolating song that seemed designed with airplay in mind. If Young were a band, this is the type of song that Rascal Flatts might cover. In fact, the airplay bent could be said of most of the dozen songs on the Californian's major label debut after five indie releases. "Close Enough" has a funky side, trying to get the singalong going with the opening... »»»
Darin & Brooke AldridgeFaster and Farther
Over five previous recordings, Darin and Brooke Aldridge have shown themselves as mainstream bluegrass's most capable duo. When exploring traditional themes, blending stunning harmony arrangements and extending praise through gospel numbers, the Aldridges have demonstrated that their mature, professional approach to their craft is second-to-none. With "Faster and Farther," the Aldridges branch off just a little from the bluegrass tree, encompassing elements not apparent on previous... »»»
Nikki LaneHighway Queen
It's lonely out there for listeners these days - a lot of country music wants to be pop, while Americana's gone alternative. Is there anybody out there who still wants to write accessible songs with real instruments, ideally without boring or depressing us? Fortunately, Nikki Lane has been applying for this job for some time. "Highway Queen" is her third release following "All or Nothin'," produced by Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and a high watermark that... »»»
Darrell Webb BandLover's Leap
The first thing you notice when you hold "Lover's Leap" from The Darrell Webb Band is the cover photograph. Unusual for bluegrass, the cover doesn't feature the band nor does it picture a generic illustration of fog-shrouded hills or a lonely country lane. "Lover's Leap" is a bold, formidable presentation of contemporary bluegrass. Like the tree-topped, rocky edifice pictured alongside a skyscape hinting at trouble on the horizon, the music included features a... »»»
Chris JonesMade to Move
There's a low-key elegance to the music of Chris Jones, which sometimes takes his bluegrass tunes to unexpected places while remaining firmly in the wheelhouse of his chosen genre. Jones and the Night Drivers explore folk and blues directions alongside more traditional tones. As a songwriter and singer, Jones' forte is quiet, contemplative songcraft such as "Raindrops Fell," a story of destinies entwined and the Civil War era tale of sacrifice and community in "Old Bell... »»»
The SadiesNorthern Passages
In some ways, The Sadies' "Northern Passages" album explores what may have happened had The Byrds had taken country-rock to its ultimate extreme point. But the country part of this equation is in short supply, for the most part. It isn't until the hot-picking "Through Strange Eyes" that this music sounds truly country. "God Bless the Infidels" is even more traditional, with its mostly acoustic sound. This lesser-country-ness is because psychedelic rock is... »»»
LeAnn RimesRemnants
LeAnn Rimes' "Remnants" album sounds inspired by contemporary times. The title track takes on almost an apocalyptic quality. Lyrically, a lot of these songs - many of which Rimes had a hand in writing - address a dire need for love. We do live in a world where love oftentimes seems to be in short supply. Therefore, three of these songs have "love" in their titles, with one repeating the word three times for good measure. Although Rimes began her career as a young, Patsy... »»»
So, you say you don't have enough Reba McEntire spiritual music in your collection, eh? With "Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope," you can fill that catalogue hole right quick. At two discs full, this ambitious set will scratch that itch, assuming you have such an itch in need of scratching. This double album is broken down into two distinct sets. The first 10 songs are traditional ones. You almost cannot have a country gospel CD without "I'll Fly Away, " therefore,... »»»
WIlson FairchildSongs Our Dads Wrote
The Statler Brothers left their indelible mark on country music after they transitioned from southern Gospel. Whether recorded music, public appearances or television, they are one of the top quartets in the history of the genre. Cousins Wilson (Wil) Reid (Harold Reid's son) and Langdon Reid (Don Reid's son) are Wilson Fairchild. Their songs have been recorded by Dailey & Vincent, the Statlers and others. Only one of the cuts from the new CD is from their pens. "The Statler Brothers... »»»
Gurf MorlixThe Soul & The Heal
Back in the '80s, Gurf Morlix turned his itinerant singer/songwriter/session ninja role into a 15-year gig with Lucinda Williams, playing guitar in her band and producing her third and fourth albums. After breaking with Williams over the endless production of "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," Morlix became an in-demand producer, manning the board for Robert Earl Keen, Mary Gautiher, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Ian McLagan, among many others. After nearly three decades of writing songs and... »»»
Dead Man WinterFurnace
Some people pursue solo projects, others have solo projects thrust upon them. For Trampled by Turtles front man Dave Simonett, the cerebral decision to end his marriage and the real-life consequences of explaining it to his two children, physically moving out and fracturing his family unit resulted in a flurry of songwriting that was too personal to present in the context of his longtime band. To document this beautifully scarred set of soul-searching/soul-searing songs, Simonett invented the... »»»
Brigitte Demeyer/Will KimbroughMockingbird Soul
Singer/songwriters Brigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough have known each other for at least half a dozen years and worked together on several projects since. Nevertheless, "Mockingbird Soul" marks their debut as a duo. In retrospect, it seems strange that the two haven't opted for co-billing before, given the fact that they create such a supple blend when they join their voices in harmony - opening track "Everything" and the sweet and serene "I Can Hear Your... »»»
Lauren AlainaRoad Less Traveled
It's been six years since Lauren Aliana tasted mega success as runner up on American Idol. She was anxious to get out her first full-length effort since 2011's "Wildflower." She reflected, "I wrote for it for three and a half years. I've grown so much as a person, a songwriter and an artist in that time. These songs are a true representation of who I am, where I've been and where I'm going. This album has pushed me to accept who I am and be 100% honest about it... »»»
Whitney RoseSouth Texas Suite
Whitney Rose firmly establishes herself as a worthy member of the Margo Price and Kacey Musgraves School of Country. There is far more to the connection than Rose sporting a bouffant on the cover. What you're going to hear is what some folks refer to as "real country," aka traditional country. If looking for blaring guitars, drums pounding and singalong anthems, Rose is not going to cut it for you. That's certainly not what this Canadian-born , Austin-based singer is about... »»»
Tift MerrittStitch of the World
Tift Merritt's gets off to a rip-roaring start by opening "Stitch of the World" with a song called "Dusty Old Man." If you can imagine it, the song sounds like Emmylou Harris fronting John Mellencamp's "Uh-huh" band from 1983. The album gets a little softer after this, although it's no less passionate throughout. Merritt may sing like a gentle soul, but she's the dedicated, persistent sort. Merritt follow's the gospel-tinged "Heartache... »»»
Brantley GilbertThe Devil Don't Sleep
For those fans worrying over the potential demise of bro country, rest easy; Brantley Gilbert is here to keep that flag flying high. Comprised of a solid set of radio ready rockers alongside a few tamer numbers, Gilbert sets out to prove the establishment wrong, rolling his way through 16 tales of hard living and partying. Yet, while Gilbert holds strong to the "bro country" stance, he's also very much his own man, allowing his faith and values to pull front and center as well... »»»
Mac WisemanI Sang the Song
Mac Wiseman's album is one of the most unique collaborative efforts in recent memory. While many music figures have released late-career albums made in partnership with producers and musicians best-known for their work in other genres in an effort to either reinvent themselves or to bring their music to a new audience, bluegrass great Wiseman opted to partner with songwriters in order to turn stories from his life into new songs. "I Sang The Song (Life Of The Voice With A Heart)"... »»»
SUSTO& I'm Fine Today
SUSTO's "& I'm Fine Today" finds the band struggling to stay feeling fine. The rocking single "Waves," for example, asks: "Way so much trouble?/We're living in such a remarkable place." In other words, shouldn't those living in a veritable paradise be relatively trouble free? (We all know the sad answer to that question). Singer Justin Osborne, vocalizes these troubled songs with a scratchy, yearning voice. And these songs many times address troublesome issues... »»»
Saints ElevenComing Back Around
Saints Eleven are unapologetic in their ramshackle stance, and given the tattered approach they take here, it comes as little surprise. Despite a defiant delivery at times, the music is weary yet determined, devoid of sweetening, but never less than honest. Produced by Walt Wilkins, the third effort by the Dallas trio features a rugged combination of hard scrapple blues, country and Americana, eschewing any sense that they may be seeking redemption or remorse. In a sense, this is the real deal -... »»»
Dale & RayDale & Ray
The teaming of Dale Watson and Ray Benson is a natural union of two of the strongest champions of country music's heritage, with Watson in particular often going on the offensive against the country music industry. There is a touch of that defiance in the opening "The Ballad of Dale and Ray" ("Today's country music don't move us that way/We like Hank Williams Senior/We're Dale and Ray"), but for the most part Watson and Benson focus on displaying their... »»»
Blackie and the Rodeo KingsKings and Kings
Five years ago, Canadian country rockers Blackie and the Rodeo Kings released "Kings and Queens," a well-received set made with some of Americana's finest female voices. They return with the companion volume "Kings and Kings." Colin Linden (the blues component,) Tom Wilson (the rock element,) and Stephen Fearing (the folkie) have recorded more than 30 albums individually in addition to a previous eight as BARK. Veterans by any measure, as artists and producers they have... »»»
The Infamous StringdustersLaws of Gravity
The Infamous Stringdusters have always been difficult to categorize. That's part of their charm. Part traditional bluegrass (leaning on sound bluegrass instrumentation, namely guitar, Dobro, banjo, fiddle and standup bass), part jam band (extended sets of songs in their live shows in which one song triggers another), and wholly original with a signature sound and energy that goes on without cease. In the last year, The Infamous Stringdusters have released an album of duets with female... »»»
Girls Guns and GloryLove and protest
When, exactly, did rock and roll die? There are bands (for example, J. Roddy Walston and The Business, JJ Grey and Mofro, The Felice Brothers) fighting the good fight, but in large part the Three Chords and The Truth philosophy of popular music has been co-opted by country music, then poured into its own mold: trucks, hats, getting lit, girls and not giving a damn. So, what's a band like Girls, Guns & Glory to do? Fundamentally, they are a roadhouse band. A bunch of guys that can take a... »»»
Ray CardwellTennessee Moon
Like fellow Missouri native Rhonda Vincent, Ray Cardwell grew up singing and performing in his family's bluegrass band. Unlike Vincent, he left the Nashville scene behind him for several years to, among other things, raise a family and teach music. His return to the recording studio and the touring grind (the album's title is also the name of his new band) offers a dozen tracks of mostly contemporary bluegrass, and if it sounds more than a little inspired by the records put out 30 years... »»»
Wildfire "Rented Room on Broadway" Pinecastle Records Reviewed by Donald Teplyske Emerging from a latter version of The New South, over the past 16 years, Wildfire has quietly established themselves as a consistent bluegrass outfit. With original members Robert Hale (guitar) and Curtis Chapman (bass) leading the way, Wildfire returns with "Rented Room on Broadway," their fifth album. John Lewis remains on banjo while bluegrass vagabonds Greg Luck (fiddle and guitar, and another J. D... »»»
Blue MafiaThe Hanging Tree
Since emerging with one of the strongest debuts of 2013, Blue Mafia have done the work necessary - touring, writing and wood-shedding - to gain a measure of recognition within the crowded bluegrass field. "Hanging Tree," their third album, continues the group's ascension within the marketplace. Emphasizing the importance of balance, Blue Mafia combine to be dynamic and distinctive. Featuring multiple lead voices, strong original songs as well as the ability to locate good new ones... »»»
Trent HarmonTrent Harmon
"American Idol" has earned its place in history as a star making factory, and voting viewers have enjoyed their early investor pride in the superstar success of winners like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. But by the 15th lap, the TV competition was gasping. In America Idol's 2016 final show, a 25-year-old Mississippi native named Trent Harmon was chosen for the top prize. With his leprechaun features and aw-shucks delivery, he seemed like another in the yawn parade... »»»
Heidi & RyanHeidi & Ryan
There's a strong taste of Dolly Parton in the music of Heidi and Ryan Greer, formerly known as the Kentucky Mountain Trio before downsizing to a duo. From singer Heidi Greer's voice, which can swing from full-throated to a delicate warble, to the down home stories of family and faith in the duo's songs, that Tennessee mountain home style is never far. Nominally a bluegrass act, the arrangements are more light acoustic fare with bluegrass instrumentation, never quite rising to the... »»»
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