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John BaumannCountry Shade
John Baumann's third album, "Country Shade," is the kind of album we could all use right now. He paints nostalgic pictures of rural landscapes, the values inherent in hard work and reminds us to love the places and people that really matter. It's a unified view that we don't usually hear these days, except in a utopian sense. Baumann, a member of The Panhandlers with fellow Texans Josh Abbot, William Clark Green and Cleto Cordero, makes it seem completely tangible and... »»»
Jaime WyattNeon Cross
Many records are touted as inspiring, but few albums actually live up to that billing by actually striking sentiments worthy of universal appeal. In Jaime Wyatt's case, there's never any doubt, given a knowing attitude expressed through drive, defiance and determination. "Neon Cross" clearly makes the case that she is indeed a force to be reckoned with, lyrically and melodically as well. Then again, Wyatt's one of those rare artists that's actually lived the... »»»
Steve Earle & The DukesGhosts of West Virginia
In a time when political views are pushing us further apart as a society, Steve Earle is one of the few artists reaching across that divide to seek common ground. In the case of his album, "Ghosts of West Virginia," Earle finds that common ground in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mining explosion that took the live of 29 miners in West Virginia, a state generally separated from Earle's political leanings by a divide larger than the massive Appalachian Mountain Range that defines the region... »»»
Jarrod DickensonReady for the Horses
"It ain't for the faint of heart," Jarrod Dickenson croons on the lead-off track on "Ready the Horses," a rallying cry meant to inspire the reticent among us in this era of distrust and division we find ourselves living through. With his second full-length offering, Dickinson comes into his own after nearly of decade of traveling the country, shifting his base of operations and finding the will and determination to sing songs that resonate from both tradition and current happenstance... »»»
Tessy Lou WilliamsTessy Lou Williams
Welcome country traditionalist Tessy Lou Williams who hails from Montana, the daughter of two musicians who emigrated from Nashville to Willow Creek, Mont. (population:210). Her parents toured with their three children, so Williams grew up surrounded by talented musicians and songwriters. Now, she finds herself making the reverse trip to Nashville to record this self-titled debut as a solo artist after two albums as Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars. Williams, who has spent almost a decade in the... »»»
Travis DenningBeer's Better Cold
Travis Denning is in love with beer. The Georgia native makes that abundantly clear on his six-song EP debut. Two have beer in the title, and the single hit "After a Few" incorporates downing a few more. The opener, "Where That Beer's Been," may demonstrate the writing prowess of Denning to show that he just may be capable of writing a song about anything. Not many chuggers are going to delve into the finer points of beer transportation. But hey, a good lyric is a... »»»
Special ConsensusChicago Barn Dance
We've come to expect quality from Special Consensus. Grammy nominees and frequent IBMA award nominees and winners, Special C has ascended to the top of their bluegrass world. In their 45th year, banjoist Greg Cahill has shepherded the group to increasingly impressive levels. "Chicago Barn Dance" is no exception. A concept album, "Chicago Barn Dance" celebrates not only Special C's sapphire anniversary, but also Cahill's hometown's connections to roots music... »»»
Sara EvansCopy That
Nine songs in, Sara Evans finally unleashes a country song that she wanted to cover. And it's one of the most copied songs at that - Hank's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." The cut is a decided left turn from the rest of "Copy That," songs that Evans adored "plain and simple." Overcovered though it may be, Evans' version resonates. Let's face it, her vocals remain a powerful thing of beauty, power and emotion. And it helps that she is backed by... »»»
Jason Isbell and the 400 UnitReunions
"It gets easier, but it never gets easy," Jason Isbell reminds us on the song "It Gets Easier." It's a simple couplet, utilizing small words, yet it expresses a big truth. Then, with the song's first verse, Isbell - a recovering alcoholic - relays a dream that finds him drinking again. "I woke up feeling fine/That's how I knew it was a dream," he explains, sounding both afraid and relieved. Yes, these words are personal for Isbell, but his message is... »»»
Marshall Chapman Songs I Can't Live Without
After a seven-year hiatus, Marshall Chapman is back with "Songs I Can't Live Without," her 14th release and eighth on her own label. The 71-year-old singer-songwriter-author-actress had intended to retire from music five years ago and stepped into a film role in 2015's "Mississippi's Grind" where she played a blues-singing mother of gambler-drifter Ryan Reynolds. Before the filming began, the producers asked her to record the Dan Penn/Donnie Fritts classic... »»»
Chase RiceThe Album Part II
Chase Rice has embraced Nashville's new business model of releasing music more frequently. Rice's EP "The Album Part II" will combine with the surprise seven-song January release of "Part I." Rice said, "The Album Part II only has four songs, so it's really easy for people to go check out all four songs. They're all very different." The issue with incrementally releasing music, especially in the EP format, is a lack of cohesion... »»»
Gretchen Peters' tribute to Mickey Newbury is a 12-song labor of love, which makes the strong case to never forget the works of this songwriting master. Peters, who has said her mother initially turned her on to Newbury's music, dedicates this album to her mom because she "loved Mickey's sad songs almost more than mine." With that said, though, not all these songs are particularly sad. One of Newbury's most famous songs is "Just Dropped In (To See What... »»»
Randy Rogers and Wade BowenHold My Beer, Vol. 2
As its title suggests, this 12-song Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen duet album is a mostly lighthearted affair. Whether the pair is only slightly concerned about unhealthy behaviors with "Habits" or jesting about the world's ever-changing culture on "Let Merle Be Merle," these country singers consistently come off like good old boys having a casual conversation over beers. Even friendship - an inarguable human essential - is covered with the breezy, western swing number "Mi Amigo... »»»
CJ SolarComing My Way
CJ Solar majored in songwriting at Nashville's Belmont University, which led to a plum internship at (Brad Paisley's co-founded) publishing house. Half the trick of life is getting in the door - so when the company asked Solar if he had any songs, his demo tape was ready. He continued to move up the company ladder from a house songwriter to a solo artist. A casual listener might recognize "Tall Boy" or "Airplane" from the 2016-17 era - if not, it's a much... »»»
Kenny ChesneyHere and Now
For many years now, Kenny Chesney has been the number one yacht country artist; one never spotted far from an ocean or without an adult beverage in his hand. However, this album's title track expresses a much deeper perspective on life. "I must've sat on a dozen islands/Watched the sun sink into the sea." Previously, island living was the reason for life. Now, life's purpose is described as much more internal than external. Call it trading that pirate flag for a little more mindfulness... »»»
American AquariumLamentations
American Aquarium have always been an important band, but the widespread recognition afforded groups like Wilco or Son Volt or Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit has often been underwhelming at best. Part of the fault may lie in the fact that American Aquarium has never bothered to reach into other realms, instead remaining true to a sound that embraces both attitude and authenticity. That's not a negative by any means. In fact, chief songsmith, singer and guitarist BJ Barham is not only a superb... »»»
Hot Country KnightsThe K is Silent
"Hot Country Knights" is Dierks Bentley as you've never experienced him before. At least when it comes to the lyrics. Hot Country Knights - the alter ego of Bentley (aka Douglas "Doug" Douglason - he's one in the middle of the hair raising cover) and his regular band - is a country hair act that supposedly pays homage to country from the '90s. But that would be selling this 10-song collection of some of the best straight-ahead country music you might hear... »»»
Lucinda WilliamsGood Souls Better Angels
"You can't rule me," Lucinda Williams declares on the song of the same name, the defiant lead-off song on her blistering new album "Good Souls Better Angels," her most archly determined effort yet. That says a lot, given the fact that Williams has practically defined the very notion of an insurgent artist since the very beginning. Her swagger and sway often brings to mind a drunken sailor who staggers unsteadily down the street, spitting piss and vinegar at random passerbys... »»»
Pam TillisLooking for a Feeling
Pam Tillis was all over the charts in the early-to mid '90s, with 13 top 10 hits, three platinum albums, two golds, a Grammy and a Female Vocalist of the Year Award from the CMA. But she hasn't released a solo non-holiday album since "Rhinestoned" 13 long years ago. On the cover of this comeback album Ms. Tillis is in what appears to be a bathtub, with a chocolate cookie in her mouth and a cocktail in her hand. That's certainly one way to go about it... »»»
Ana Cristina CashShine
Yes, the surname is familiar. Ana Cristina Cash is the daughter-in-law of Johnny Cash, having married his son, John Carter Cash, four years ago. This is the second English-speaking full-length recording for the Miami-born, bilingual Cash of Cuban descent, who began her professional musical career at age six. On "Shine," excepting two covers, she had a hand in writing every song. Cash fuses several genres, including rockabilly, country soul, jazz and blues.. Naturally, her producer husband produced... »»»
Whitney RoseWe Still Go to Rodeos
Until recently, Whitney Rose's life has been one of transition, beginning in the idyllic environs of Canada's Prince Edward Island, and continuing through her move to Toronto and eventually Nashville where she found her true purpose. Following on the heels of a pair of well-received releases - her 2017 EP "South Texas Suite," which found her working with Raul Malo and The Mavericks, and, later that year, "Rule 62," which also featured Malo as her co-producer and... »»»
Ben BostickAmong the Faceless Crowd
This is the antidote to Ben Bostick's raging 2018's "Hellfire," which had such unrelenting energy that it made frequent listening challenging. This is the more listenable, pensive side of many of those same characters, its "sad cousin," Bostick calls it. This is the calm after a few wild nights, maybe the hangover, and the loneliness that sets in for the desperate working class represented in the title by the 'faceless crowd.' That starkness is reflected in... »»»
In many ways, revered country singer, multiple Grammy nominee and Country Music Hall of Fame member Bobby Bare and author and songwriter Shel Silverstein can claim a shared legacy. Bare established himself as a determined insurgent, who, over the course of a nearly 60 year career, set the stage for the outlaw country crowd that followed. Silverstein wrote any number of quirky and comical songs that became hits for a disparate number of popular artists, from Dr. Hook to Johnny Cash, and Belinda... »»»
Paul Burch & WPA BallclubLight Sensitive
The last time we heard Paul Burch, he was singing about a re-imagined Jimmie Rodgers on his extraordinary 2016 "Meridian Rising," easily one of the best, if not the best roots album of that year. So, with the bar set high, Burch returns with his 11th studio album "Light Sensitive." Not only does he have his long-time band, the WPA Ballclub aboard, but notable guests Luther Dickinson, Robyn Hitchcock, Amy Rigby and Aaron Lee Tasjan. And, he returns to the South he knows... »»»
Shelby LynneShelby Lynne
Shelby Lynne has always been ahead of her time. The cover for this eponymous album, her 13th solo album and first since 2015's "I Can't Imagine," appears to be another example of her prescience. Though it had to be put together long before the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, it shows her wearing a facial mask and a look of fear. Coincidence, no doubt, but an eerie one. Don't worry though, this is not a collection of songs about social distancing and searching for Charmin... »»»
Watkins Family HourBrother Sister
Sean Watkins is the brother, while Sara Watkins is the sister in this Watkins Family sibling act. Both are also members of Nickel Creek, with Sean playing guitar and Sara playing fiddle. Both are strong musicians, and their collaboration will likely please fans of Nickel Creek's youthful, enthusiastic take on bluegrass. Mike Viola (Jenny Lewis, Mandy Moore) produced and mostly keeps the duo's acoustic instincts intact. In fact, this album shines brightest whenever there are no vocals... »»»
Webb WilderNight Without Love
Mississippi veteran Webb Wilder presents a unique blend of rockabilly, outlaw country, rock n' roll, a little blues and, most importantly, an approach where he doesn't take himself too seriously. Wilder delivers his 11 tunes on his 11th album with a small cast of musicians, recording in George Bradfute's studio near Nashville, with Bradfute co-producing, recording and mixing. Wilder's influences come not only from the South, but from English pub bands, writers of soul songs,... »»»
Steep Canyon RangersNorth Carolina Songbook
The mandolin and fiddle instrumental break during "Stand By Me," exemplifies what makes Steep Canyon Rangers' "Songbook" something special. "Stand By Me" has likely already been covered to death. You may say that until you reach this instrumental insertion, which - for a moment - may make you believe this supportive lyric was always part of a bluegrass song. Steep Canyon Rangers plays an album of all covers, recorded live at MerleFest 2019, and it's... »»»
Pokey LaFargeRock Bottom Rhapsody
Pokey La Farge is best described as a musical archivist in every sense of the term. He and his band were described by one source as "artfully dodgy ambassadors for old-time music, presenting and representing the glories of hot swing, early jazz and ragtime blues" who have "made riverboat chic cool again," and indeed, they live up to that description. They recreate the kind of aural imagery that takes their listeners back in time to an earlier era of decades past when... »»»
John AndersonYears
John Anderson has one of the best, and one of the most recognizable singing voices in country music, and he's in top form on "Years." It's expertly produced by Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) and David "Fergie" Ferguson, and Anderson and Auerbach wrote all of the songs, sometimes with the help of noteworthy songwriters like Pat McLaughlin and Larry Cordle. It's a nearly perfect, 10-song album, too. A few of its songs address aging head-on, opening with... »»»
Eliza Gilkyson2020
Eliza Gilkyson hasn't ascended to the upper ranks of todays's foremost singer/songwriters purely on happenstance alone. Her albums affirm a belief in music as an essential salve, especially in times of dire distress and turmoil. So considering the paralysis induced by the coronavirus, the state of the nation's political dysfunction and the distrust that's pervaded society in general, Gilkyson's soothing tones are needed more than ever. Granted, Gilkyson had no way of... »»»
Western CenturiesCall the Captain
Hailing from the Seattle-area is a talented, multi-instrumentalist, harmonizing trio, Western Centuries, a triumvirate in the true sense as they choose not to elect a bandleader. This is the third release for Calahen Morrison (Eli West), Ethan Lawton (Zoe Muth and the High Rollers) and Jim Miller (Donna The Buffalo). Three-part harmonies abound in the spirit of a bluegrass band that's more electric roots and country oriented. They are so democratic that each is evenly sequenced with lead... »»»
Ashley McBrydeNever Will
One of Ashley McBryde's breakthrough hits was the autobiographical "Girl Goin' Nowhere," about people who had cruelly cast doubts upon her music career aspirations. Now, in an act akin to paying it forward, McBryde opens with "Hang In There Girl," which admonishes a woman to keep on fighting the good fight because - eventually - it gets better. These 11 new songs prove McBryde is still going places, fascinating places. The tattooed McBryde may appear like a rebel, at... »»»
Sam HuntSouthside
There are some interesting moments on Sam Hunt's "Southside" album, but interesting doesn't always equal good. The single "Hard To Forget" samples Webb Pierce's "There Stands The Glass," one of country music's best and most enduring drinking songs. It's ironic, though, how Hunt needed to sample an old country song in order to incorporate any hint of actual country music into his album. Interesting, yes, but it may make you reach back for a... »»»
It's not uncommon for artists to tour and play complete records during album anniversary years, but Kim Richey has taken the extra (and much appreciated) step of rerecording "Glimmer," and giving it the title, "A Long Way Back: The Songs of Glimmer." This new take is a collection of stripped-down versions of these 1999 songs, produced by Doug Lancio in his basement studio. Although Lancio plays most of the instruments, he also had a little help - most notably, drummer... »»»
Mark ErelliBlindsided
It's appropriate that singer/songwriter Mark Erelli takes a different tack with the aptly named "Blindsided," an album exploring the inner sanctums of the soul and the conflicts that inevitably shake one's perceptions of those relationships to which they're bound. It centers on the dynamic that binds faith and family, conscience and commitment. Granted, that sounds like heady stuff, and certainly like nothing that would contribute the hooks and happenstance... »»»
Ingrid AndressLady Like
When it comes to the love department, life seemingly has not very kind at all to Ingrid Andress. That's more than apparent for Andress on her eight-song EP debut. She sure thinks a lot about love and its associated problems, but nothing quite seems to go right when it comes to affairs of the heart. What does go right, however, are the songs. Andress is unsure of a relationship's "blurred lines" ("Both") or just looking to rekindle a faded relationship and maybe... »»»
Saints ElevenThis Town
The fourth release from the Dallas-based Saints Eleven is a six-song EP with a potent mix of country, folk and rock. Lead singer/lyricist Jeff Grossman kicks off the set with a pair of tunes about strained relationships. "My Home Is" deals with the difficulty of a touring musician missing milestones in his child's life ("I've been on the road so long I ain't seen my son since I don't know when/Watching you grow up on the phone in the pictures your mom... »»»
Fans of Eric Brace and Peter Cooper are certainly familiar with the guitarist and singer-songwriter, Thomm Jutz, who has become the third member of that trio over the past few recordings. Jutz is increasingly stepping out his own songs on those albums as well as on Brace's most recent Last Train Home album. Now we are about to indulge in two albums of Jutz's songs, this being the first installment. Every song is a co-write, usually with one of the stellar musicians - Mark Fain (upright... »»»
Jim LauderdaleWhen Carolina Comes Homes Again
Jim Lauderdale is one of those artists who's pretty renowned amongst the famous, but not widely known to the public. In a never-say-die career (this is his 33rd album!), he did bag two Grammys and probably logged enough road miles to get to the moon. This is the "homecoming" record for the North Carolina native. He's enlisted other Tar Heel talent like Steep Canyon Rangers and Balsam Range to assist with the proceedings. And it's always a treat (first single "As A... »»»
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