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Gillian Welch's album "Revival" was a revelation. The fact that T Bone Burnett - the ultimate roots rock curator - produced it, gave good reason to give it immediate attention, and insightful songs like "Barroom Girls" and "By the Mark" cemented the news that Welch was truly something special. With "Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg," Welch has expanded the original 10-track album into a 21-song opus. And while this extensive collection of... »»»
Garth BrooksGunslinger
If naming your release "Gunslinger," you'd better let it rip and go for a harder country sound, especially if donning a black cowboy hat on the cover. The reality does not exactly match that sentiment for Garth Brooks, but at times he comes mighty close. The high points for Brooks are the three most traditional country songs - a couple of honky tonkers ("Honky-Tonk Somewhere" and "Cowboys and Friends") and a ballad ("Whiskey to Wine")... »»»
Garth Brooks and Trisha YearwoodChristmas Together
Listening to Garth Brooks' and Trisha Yearwood's new holiday album of (mostly) duets, one is once again reminded how Yearwood is one of the most underrated country artists, whereas - if we're being honest -Brooks is a little on the overrated side. For instance, Brooks almost seems to be punching the clock with his vocal on the throwaway "Ugly Christmas Sweater" and then dusting off a retread with "Feliz Navidad," Yearwood sounds like a truly sexy hotty during "Santa Baby... »»»
SidelineColors & Crossroads
Sideline features three familiar faces for bluegrass lovers. Steve Dilling played banjo for IIIrd Tyme Out for over two decades while his son-in-law, Skip Cherryholmes, played for over a decade with his family in Cherryholmes. Jason Moore started with the late, great James King and has played on more than 100 projects to date. Dilling drives the intro of "You Don't Know What You Got Till It's Gone" while Nathan Aldridge takes a break on fiddle, and Brad Hudson does the same on Dobro... »»»
Balsam RangeMountain Voodoo
Balsam Range has been at the heart of mainstream bluegrass music since its debut in 2007. "Mountain Voodoo" is an ambitious, and successful, summation of the first decade. Vocal harmonies provide the core of Balsam Range's music. It's mountain music, to be sure, with lots of vocal range. Lead singer Buddy Melton controls his tenor range with power and effect, and is joined, in varying degrees by mandolinist Darren Nicholson, bassist Tim Surrett and guitarist Caleb Smith... »»»
Perhaps no artist is so ingrained in the very fibre of modern Americana more than Emmylou Harris. Her presence is everywhere - in the music she makes on her own, in the music she shares with others, in the music that feature finds her simply settled in the background sharing supporting vocals or merely lending inspiration. On Jan. 10, 2015, a distinguished group of her peers - a list of notables that included Rodney Crowell, Buddy Miller, Chris Hillman, Lee Ann Womack, Steve Earle, Mary Chapin... »»»
Kenny ChesneyCosmic Hallelujah
The gospel, per Kenny Chesney's pseudo-spiritually-titled album, "Cosmic Hallelujah," is that the world is too crazy to make any sense of, and the only logical response is to drink more alcohol. (So, don't be surprised if there are more arrests for public intoxication at the performer's upcoming concert dates). Nearly every song includes lines about drinking alcohol - and not merely for the taste. This content will please many of his hard-partying fans... »»»
Cole SwindellDown Home Sessions III
Cole Swindell's third installment of the "Down Home Sessions" EP series is a relatable five-track thread that feels like bro country light; There's plenty of beer and bars, but only one truck song ("Chevrolet DJ"), and the narrative thread including failed pickup lines, first date jitters and jealousy can be interpreted as applicable to one girl and the early stages of a relationship rather than the gaggle. That being said, the overall texture is pop laden,... »»»
Brett EldredgeGlow
If things ever go south for Brett Eldredge in the country music field, he should have no problem transitioning into the world of contemporary crooners like Michael Buble and Harry Connick, Jr. For on his debut holiday outing, "Glow," Eldredge takes off his hat and puts on his tuxedo as he delivers a pitch perfect, old-school dose of Christmas cheer. Across a swath of 10 (or 13 for those springing for the deluxe edition) traditional favorites and 1 original, Eldredge taps into a nostalgic... »»»
Adam Carroll doesn't boast anywhere near the recognition factor of, say, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt or any of the other far more famous singer/songwriters that astute insiders frequently compare him to. However in the opinion of most insiders, Carroll's acknowledged as one Texas' true treasures, an artist who's earned the respect of his peers and secured a place amongst the best regarded musicians the Lone Star State has to offer. It's indicative of that admiration... »»»
Aaron Lee TasjanSilver Tears
Guitarist/vocalist Aaron Lee Tasjan has the kind of musical resume that seems like an implausible invention from the mind of an unhinged Hollywood screenwriter. From band membership in Semi Precious Weapons and the Madison Square Gardeners to sideman stints with Peter Yarrow, Drivin' N' Cryin', Sean Lennon and the New York Dolls to his own wildly diverse solo career, Tasjan has effectively defined the word eclectic. Over the past decade, Tasjan has released a pair of excellent... »»»
Jennifer NettlesTo Celebrate Christmas
Christmas is a season that calls into view that old adage that "bigger is always better." Bigger trees, bigger light displays, and bigger presents are, if we're being totally honest, always welcome. When it comes to the music, it's very much the same. While the quiet, jazz-tinged standards of Crosby or Cole go well over a hot cup of cocoa, few things get our holiday juices flowing like a big, joyous Christmas favorite. And who better to deliver those songs from her big... »»»
Kip MooreUnderground
Claiming to have too many songs to choose from, Kip Moore's solution to his surplus was to release "Underground," an EP. "Everywhere we go the fans keep asking for the recordings of these underground songs that they've been hearing for the last few years," he said. "They're a passionate fan base so I decided to ask my label if I could record these songs live and give them the raw recordings." Moore co-wrote all five tracks, which include two studio... »»»
Kacey MusgravesVery Kacey Christmas
Sometimes it's not about what you play, but the way you play it, and with "A Very Kacey Christmas," Kacey Musgraves sacrifices a little surprise for a relatively pleasantly predictable holiday offering. For instance, Musgraves' duet with Willie Nelson plays on (surprise surprise) the iconic singer's propensity to smoke weed when they wish the world "A Willie Nice Christmas." Although there are some sad country songs, like "Christmas Makes Me Cry" and... »»»
Rascal FlattsThe Greatest Gift of All
It's the big things - and sometimes the little things - that make Rascal Flatts' Christmas album "The Greatest Gift of All" stand out. On the macro level, the country vocal trio put a little funk - well, as much funk as three Nashville guys can muster - into "Go Tell It on The Mountain." And then, the cool little bass line introducing "Let It Snow" helps differentiate this act's version from possibly millions of other versions. Much of "The... »»»
In the 50 years of Exile's existence, they've recorded pop albums and country albums, amassing their fair share of hits with tracks like "Kiss You All Over," "Woke Up In Love," and "Give Me One More Chance," yet they've never recorded a Christmas album. With the release of "Wrapped Up In Your Arms For Christmas," the band adds that to their resume, delivering a collection of Christmas favorites sprinkled with a few original presents of their own... »»»
"Christmas on the Lam and Other Songs from the Season" is one of the best holiday album titles since 1996's "Christmas on Death Row," the gangsta rap album of the same name that featured the likes of Snoop Doggy Dogg (which was how he was known at the time) and other tough guys of rap. This release, though, features no rap music. Instead, it's a collection of loose and (mostly) bluesy holiday-themed tunes. Almost everything on this collection is new... »»»
"Feel Like Going Home: The Songs of Charlie Rich" will be a revelation - and one reveal of the best possible variety - to anybody whose only exposure to Rich's music may have been his MOR balladry of the '70s. Therefore, this album doesn't include a cover of "Behind Closed Doors" or anything else from that period in The Silver Fox's career. This is a tribute to Rich's Memphis, rockabilly-inspired period. "Break Up," for example, is... »»»
Chris YoungIt Must Be Christmas
Song selection can sometimes seem fairly inessential whenever chosen by a master singer. Such is the case with "It Must Be Christmas," Chris Young's new holiday collection. He sounds as perfectly comfortable with the jazzy "I'll Be Home for Christmas," where its supper club vibe takes a little of the edge off one seriously sad song, as he does with the Phil Spector rock nugget "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Young is also helped out by a few special guests... »»»
Blackberry SmokeLike An Arrow
Blackberry Smoke may never fit into any country music traditionalist's definition of true country music. The guitars are too loud and the there's far more boogie than twang in the act's sound. Nevertheless, this act fits squarely into the description of fine Southern rock. "Like an Arrow" hits all the right stylistic marks. "The Good Life," for instance, doesn't align itself with many of the usual sonic elements of a country song, but its lyric - all about... »»»
Larry StephensonWeep Little Willow
With much of bluegrass music setting off in more adventurous or mainstream directions, it's always reassuring to know that there are artists such as Larry Stephenson out there who can bring great talent to the more traditional side of things and make it sound brand new. Stephenson breaks no new ground, but provides solid evidence of his firm position in the legacy of bluegrass. One of the most lauded singers in his genre and a five time SPBGMA Vocalist of the Year, Stephenson's nasal... »»»
Mo PitneyBehind This Guitar
Mo Pitney's breakthrough single, "Country," features a lyric about some of the more positive distinctive attributes in the Southern lifestyle. However, with the 12 songs on his "Behind This Guitar" debut, Pitney demonstrates many of the admirable factors found in traditional country music. Artists do these things in the country music, if they're doing it right, and Pitney sure enough does it right. Even something that could have come off overly corny, if messed up,... »»»
Michael ClevelandFiddler's Dream
"Solo" albums often turn out to be the result of a standout musician (bandleader or member) recruiting a few "special guests" to augment his regular band mates to record material that, in the end, doesn't seem all that "solo." In the case of fiddler extraordinaire Michael Cleveland, however, his first "solo" release in several years features nary a member of his longtime band Flamekeeper, opting instead for a cast of the leading lights of many of the... »»»
Tucker BeathardFight Like Hell
Not to put too much pressure on the kid, but Tucker Beathard's dad is Casey Beathard, one of Nashville's most respected songwriters. Although his single "Rock On" - which speaks to a guy's regret over not taking Beyoncé's advice to "put a ring on it" - rocks as hard as many of those songs his dad co-wrote with Eric Church, it also suggests Beathard has inherited some of his old man's skill at clever wordplay. Football also runs in... »»»
Caleb Klauder and Reeb WillmsInnnocent Road
Imagine that country music didn't take a heavy countrypolitan swerve in the '60s. Pedal steel guitar remains prominent, but things didn't go schmaltzy. Strings are for parcels and syrup is for pancakes, not country songs. Emotion remains paramount, love is challenged and lost, frustrations are voiced. Had things gone just a little differently decades ago and country remained more Louisiana Hayride and less Urban Cowboy, there is a fine chance that country music today may more... »»»
Miranda Lambert's seven-time run nothwithstanding, winning an ACM Vocalist of the Year award is a not a lifetime appointment. Consider Sylvia Hutton (the winner in 1982), who legions of fans knew best on a first-name basis. Her smash "Nobody" that year was inescapable. Listening to it now, it's surprising how very '80s pop it was, chock full of synthesizer and Sheena Easton delivery. (Plus, who sees the Other Woman as a challenge to defeat anymore? The guy in the song... »»»
Shovels and RopeLittle Seeds
Shovels & Rope have made quite an imprint in wider circles since receiving honors as best new band from the Americana Music Association for their formal debut "O' Be Joyful" in 2013. Not content to rest on those kudos, the duo - multi-instrumentalists Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, who are husband and wife - showed their determination to move forward beyond the rustic regimen they established early on. Two more albums - "Swimmn' Time" and a covers collection,... »»»
Brent CobbShine on Rainy Day
Brent Cobb is an unpretentious sort of guy, and that in itself makes him an unusual entity in an entertainment arena built on flash and sparkle. That at least is the attitude he purveys on "Shine on Rainy Day," an album that takes its cues from everyday aspirations. The songs center on the simpler things that affect us all, whether the solace of living life in the country or the everyday challenges that all too often take a toll. It's that ying and yang that that's most... »»»
Jackie BristowShot of Gold
In her native New Zealand, Jackie Bristow is considered a country singer, but her storytelling, genre-crossing style places her more in the realm of Holly Williams or Nanci Griffith as an artist more at home in the singer-songwriter world. That doesn't mean there is a lack of twang in certain places; see "Rollin' Stone" for a saucy independent woman rant not out of Kacey Musgraves' range. More often, however, Bristow is in a mellower acoustic mood made less lethargic via... »»»
Loretta LynnWhite Christmas Blue
There are some "country" stars that can't seem to make true country music. Then there are artists like Loretta Lynn that can't not create pure country music. Lynn's "White Christmas Blue" album may feel like a Christmas miracle to many traditional country fans. Take Lynn's version of "Away in a Manger," for which Lynn is listed as arranger, for example. It features a lovely Paul Franklin steel guitar solo. "Blue Christmas" is best... »»»
Karl Shiflett & Big Country ShowSho Nuff Country!
For a flicker in the early 2000s, there appeared on the national bluegrass scene a band that melded traditional bluegrass and country honky tonk sounds in a manner seldom heard since the heyday of Jim & Jesse and The Osborne Brothers. The Karl Shiflett and Big County Show appeared as a popular draw receiving solid notices, and the group released at least one stellar bluegrass album, 2001's "In Full Color." The follow-up "Worries On My Mind" had its moments... »»»
Mandolin OrangeBlindfaller
Mandolin Orange's Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin have steadily traveled the country, building a following and delivering a spare, but true, sound with great melodic appeal. Since Mandolin Orange's debut in 2010, the band has done a lot with their bare arrangements. Marlin carries the vocal load, with admirable support from Frantz from time to time. True to their name, they feature Marlin's mandolin, along with banjo and guitar work from both. "Blindfaller" is a beautiful... »»»
Bob WeirBlue Mountain
Bob Weir's "Blue Mountain" opens with a song titled "Only a River," which borrows liberally from the old folk song "Shenandoah." In fact, much of this album, which Weir wrote with producer Josh Kaufman and singer Josh Ritter takes its inspiration from timelessly meditative Americana folk songs. The aforementioned album opener's lyric finds Weir repeating the line, "Only a river gonna make things right." It's almost as though proven aims and... »»»
Dex RomweberCarrboro
Dex Romweber has never confined himself to one particular genre or sound in his career, but whether he's done blues, surf rock, standards or something different, there have been a few hallmarks - his electric guitar and his voice, which is reminiscent of an angry god shouting lyrics down from a mountain top. It seems odd, then, that the word that first comes to mind after listening to Carrboro is "mellow." "Subdued" and "reflective" would also be applicable - not... »»»
The Nitty Gritty Dirt BandCirclin' Back: Celebrating 50 Years
Fifty years is a long time to do anything, much less keep a band together, but the various lineups of the Dirt Band/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have managed to reach that milestone as one of the most influential and respected acts in country. To celebrate, the band performed a live concert at the Ryman in Nashville with special guests and former band members present. Highlights from the concert and subsequent DVD release are collected on this enjoyable 18-song set. There are enough other hits albums... »»»
John PrineFor Better, Or Worse
With "For Better or Worse," John Prine follows up his "In Spite of Ourselves" album with more male/female duets. And this one is a true A-list effort, as it finds Prine trading lines with the likes of Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Alison Krauss. Once again, though, Iris DeMent steals the show with the angry and sarcastic "Who's Gonna Take the Garbage Out," the same way she did with the prior album's title cut. She's a worthy sparring partner,... »»»
Luke Winslow-KingI'm Glad Trouble Don't Last Always
If Ray Lamontagne was a little less pretentious and a lot more hip he'd echo the multi-threat, blues-country-rock stylings of Luke Winslow-King. With a little gravel in his voice, some poison and playfulness in his pen and a mean slide guitar at his fingertips, the Delta blues influence he honed during his time in New Orleans is clearly evident. But a deeper peek is like a trip from the upper Midwest south to the Gulf of Mexico. Winslow-King crafts a tasty blend of his Cadillac, Mich... »»»
John McEuenMade in Brooklyn
John McEuen played an integral role as a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in the making of 1971's landmark 3-record album, "Circle Be Unbroken," arguably the greatest country music album ever. While McEuen's latest release may not have the groundbreaking impact that "Circle" did in blending old and new country sounds as well as convincing traditional performers like Roy Acuff, Merle Travis and Mother Maybelle Carter to sit in with a bunch of young hippie singers... »»»
Jim LauderdaleThis Changes Everything
Jim Lauderdale's bona fides in both country music and the more recently anointed Americana/roots music scenes are hard to top; his Wagonmaster Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 Americana Music Awards is just the icing on a career cake that's included dozens of hit songs cut by the likes of George Strait and many more, and a personal discography including country, bluegrass and roots music of all stripes. This CD is a tribute to Texas songwriters, performers and the legendary dance... »»»
Luke Bryan has been in that "hardware" phase of his career for the last few years. There have been several armloads of awards, many on the strength of the high-caliber singles from 2013's "Crash My Party." It might present a challenge to stay grounded. But Bryan has kept himself busy with work for charities (he's embarking on a traditional tour of farms to benefit his scholarship fund), and the use of the EP - this marks his eighth. Many artists use the EP format... »»»
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