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Renee Wahl & the Sworn SecretsCut to the Bone
Nashville-based singer/songwriter Renee Wahl cites The Beatles as her musical inspiration but it is the sound of Rosanne Cash that permeates her second full-length release. There is a recurring theme of persevering through adversity as with "Me Before You" in which self absorption in the past ("Always thinking 'bout myself/No thought of anybody else") transitions to motherly devotion ("Never thought I'd see a time/Five tiny fingers holding on to one of mine")... »»»
Over the RhineLove and Revelation
Some might say all you need to know about Over The Rhine is its primary lead vocalist, Karin Bergquist. And that's true; her angelic singing - alone throughout "Love & Revelation" - makes the album well worth your ear time. Although he doesn't sing as much as his wife, Linford Detweiler's presence - particularly as a songwriter - is also beautifully conspicuous here. It's a strong album, from start to finish. The sonic tone is mostly quiet and acoustic... »»»
Ted Russell KampWalkin' Shoes
Ted Russell Kamp is an impressive multi-taker. Consider the fact that he has a dozen solo albums while also maintaining a dual career as bassist for Shooter Jennings' band, That said, he boasts a consistent sound regardless of whatever banner he happens to be operating under - a rich and rugged alt.-country delivery that he plies with dedicated determination. "Walkin' Shoes" expresses that attitude with his usual flair and finesse. The sass and spunk that ricochet through... »»»
Maren MorrisGIRL
Maren Morris, who had a huge pop hit with "The Middle," is never going to be anybody's ideal traditional country singer. Although, thankfully, there isn't anything that mind-numbingly beat-driven on her "GIRL" album, this is a full-length that will likely appeal as much to Morris' pop fans, as her country followers. The first great song, "A Song For Everything," addresses that mysterious intersection between one's favorite songs and significant life events... »»»
As a genre, Americana has become a massive umbrella, and yet, the actual definition remains elusive at best. Still, for those that relate to its former manifestation as "roots rock" or "country crossover," the Vandoliers come remarkably close to identifying with a definitive sound. As a result, "Forever" finds them parlaying a series of insurgent anthems into an album that's flush with dedicated defiance and rebellious rockers, all ringing with unabashed frenzy and fury... »»»
The Way Down WanderersIllusions
The Way Down Wanderers are another band that's breaking the mold with traditional bluegrass, using it as a foundation to meld in an array of genres. "Illusions" is the second album from the Peoria, Ill.-based quintet following a pair of EPs and "Live at the Old Rock House." Like the best of the bluegrass bands though, these youthful musicians have a flair for melody and harmonies. The band's two chief songwriters and lead singers are Austin Krause-Thompson (guitar... »»»
Ryan BinghamAmerican Love Song
It seems like Ryan Bingham has only fallen up over the course of his 15-year career. A roommate's brother turned out to be a hobbyist drummer and became the foundation for Bingham's band, the Dead Horses. At an early gig, one of the few patrons at a nearly deserted bar was Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford, who offered to record Bingham, ultimately leading to a contract with Lost Highway and Ford's production on his first two albums for the label, 2007's "Mescalito"... »»»
Carsie BlantonBuck Up
Carsie Blanton stands shoulder to shoulder with the current crop of female singer/songwriters, including Nikki Lane, Kacey Musgraves, Elle King, Patti Rothberg and Elizabeth Cook, who have no discernible interest in adhering to genre restrictions and industry expectations, blazing fresh musical trails with material that exists in its own brilliantly unique pigeonhole. And for those just hearing her name, that's on you; Blanton has released five full length studio albums over the past 15... »»»
Dale WatsonCall Me Lucky
2018 was a transitional year for Dale Watson. For decades, Watson has been both a pillar of the Austin music scene and one of Texas's most visible and passionate musical ambassadors. Given his Lone Star State roots, it was surprising when Watson recently sold two of his Texas bars and decided to split time between Texas and Tennessee after buying a home and a bar in Memphis. This change of scenery is reflected in the songs on "Call Me Lucky," which finds Watson augmenting the... »»»
Kalyn FayGood Company
It's Kalyn Fay's weary, gentle, and oft-ethereal voice that's so totally captivating on her second release, "Good Company." She's a Cherokee singer-songwriter exploring her unique relationship to her home state. She writes about its values, the people, the land and the dichotomy of its presence and the distance she needs to keep from it, given her ancestry. Although there are no outright mentions of her indigenous background, her music and lyrics are different from a... »»»
Michael McDermottOrphans
Chicago-based Michael McDermott's vocals and songwriting style easily invite comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. His wordplay lets you know he's listened to plenty of Dylan and The Boss, but he's got his own well-established place among those that appreciate terrific songwriting. Sometimes, even for a writer like McDermott, good songs need to hang around for some time, remaining as orphans before finding home on an album. Thus, the aptly named album title. McDermott says these aren't outtakes... »»»
Vicky EmersonSteady Heart
Hailing from the Minneapolis area, evolving singer-songwriter Vicky Emerson is increasingly taking things into own hands. For "Steady Heart" her fourth release, she is the producer, arranger, mixer and promoter. These are mostly originals penned alone or with a co-writer, along with a scintillating cover of Crystal Gayle's classic "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue." Emerson has a similar pure breathy alto like Gayle too. The title track is a love song written for her husband... »»»
Hayes CarllWhat It Is
After 2016's uncharacteristically dour "Lovers and Leavers," Hayes Carll is back with his senses of humor and hope intact on this, his sixth album. A lot of that change in attitude probably has to do with his burgeoning relationship with fiancée Allison Moorer, which seems to be paying dividends both personally and professionally.(Although it probably precludes any type of great friendship with Steve Earle, who recently said of his ex, "She traded me in for a younger,... »»»
Robbie Walden BandWhen the Rooster Crows
That classic country, Texas-influenced sound roaring out of the Northwest, now with their third release, is The Robbie Walden Band. They write their own material, record live in a jamming way and deliver a special kind of emotion and earned wisdom. They deliver the requisite subjects: love, drinking and hard days of work. Deep personal threads run through this concept album as Walden chronicles divorce bitterness and self-destruction before midway through we get the title track and the following... »»»
Amy McCarleyMeco
There's no doubt that Amy McCarley has one of the more interesting singer-songwriter backgrounds. Her third album is NASA's acronym for Main Engine Cut Off, serving here as a metaphor for McCarley leaving the world of NASA contracting to pursue a career in music. Quite a segue, right? She did have success with her 2014 debut "Jet Engines" and successfully ups the ante in the process with this recording. Not only can McCarley write songs, sing them and play a mean acoustic... »»»
Kaz MurphyRide Out the Storm
Kaz Murphy is a well-traveled singer-songwriter and published author with a knack for melody and catchy songs. On "Ride Out the Storm," his fourth solo effort, and first since 2007's "Home for Misfits," he effortlessly pays homage to classic rock and pop with country underpinnings on topics ranging from family breakdowns, love, addiction and calls for unity. If his deep, rough voice doesn't grab you, his songcraft should. Murphy has plenty of experience to draw on... »»»
Jason RingenbergStand Tall
Jason Ringenberg remains a vibrant, seminal cornerstone for modern Americana. Exploding out of Nashville in the early 1980s as front-man for the Scorchers, Ringenberg and his colleagues - full of fire and fervor - released a series of albums of roots-rock that influenced a generation. Jason & the Scorchers were the alt.-country Velvet Underground: not many bought the albums, but those who did started a band. A series of solo releases along with an occasional Scorchers reunion kept Ringenberg... »»»
Reed FoehlLucky Enough
Reed Foehl may not be well known but he's been active for over three decades, moving his band Acoustic Junction across the country from Boston to Boulder where they made a sizable reputation for themselves on the Colorado circuit. After the band's late '90s dissolution, Foehl went the solo route, occasionally sitting in with his pals in Leftover Salmon and shifting gears from college rock band to alt.folk balladeer, his early songs tinted dark by his divorce and his father's death... »»»
Eric Brace Peter Cooper and Thomm JutzRiverland
Eric Brace and Peter Cooper have a history of creating carefully crafted concept album. With guitarist Thomm Jutz again aboard, the acoustic triumvirate are on a roll. "C & O Canal" was terrific. "Riverland" may be even a little better. The lineup is a little larger too. Mark Fain (upright bass), Lyn Williams (drums), Mike Compton (mandolin) and Tammy Rogers (fiddle) join as well as banjoists Terry Baucom and Justin Moses on two tracks each. The subject is not only the... »»»
The Lonely Heartstring BandSmoke & Ashes
The Lonely Heartstring Band's debut, "Deep Waters," was uneven. Certain tracks lacked vitality, but the positive qualities - the keen instrumental interplay between the musicians, and George Clements' lead vocals - impressed. "Smoke & Ashes" surpasses its predecessor by a significant margin. The opening "Reverie" sets the tone: tasteful, somewhat mysterious and abounding with an appealing tension. The tension comes from LHsB increasing the... »»»
Cassadee PopeStages
Although Cassadee Pope's "Stage" album includes a few too many pop-country songs for comfort, it closes with a true winner. The ballad "I've Been Good," which turns a customary greeting response on its head, is a true show-stopper. She's been 'good,' yes; good at drinkin' whiskey and nearly everything except getting over a breakup. With its drinking song lyrical reference and sincere vocal sadness, Pope earns her wings as a fine country singer... »»»
Mandolin OrangeTides of a Teardrop
Mandolin Orange seldom disappoint. The duo's spare, but fulsome songwriting captures a tone of rich tradition coupled with sensibilities of this century. "Tides Of A Teardrop," the latest release from Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, fulfills the promise of their earlier work. The songs and their singers take center stage. The playing is crisp and evocative, but the core of Mandolin Orange's music is revealed in the lyrics. Marlin captures sadness and longing, but drops... »»»
Amelia WhiteRhythm of the Rain
At this point in her career, Amelia White could be considered one of the preeminent voices in the Americana world. Both an assured singer and superior songwriter, the music she makes comes across like the stuff of standards, even on first hearing. For those unawares, it ought to be known that White's recorded several exceptional albums. Nevertheless, "Rhythm of the Rain" ranks as one of her best, a compelling collection that boasts everything necessary to elevate her profile and... »»»
Lacy J. DaltonScarecrow
Even while Lacy J. Dalton was making hit songs in the '80s, her bluesy voice stood out. She was a vocalist with undeniable soul, so when she sang about "Hard Times," for example, you believed she knew what she was singing about. Dalton has now released a four-song EP. With two of its songs clocking in at over five minutes long, though, it ends up sounding much longer than a mere extended play. Dalton is still in fine voice, and time has only added character to her singing over time... »»»
Cody JohnsonAin't Nothin' To It
It's not always easy to put your finger on why a particular artist moves you emotionally. It can be due to smart, Elvis Costello-like wordplay, or Vince Gill-esque instrumental greatness. Cody Johnson's "Ain't Nothin' To It" doesn't always shine with exemplary poetic couplets, nor striking musicianship. This is not to say the lyrics and music aren't bad, either. No, it's just that Johnson's authentic country voice is ultimately what makes the first... »»»
Greensky BluegrassAll for the Money
About two-and-a-half minutes into "All For Money," the title track of Greensky Bluegrass's album, things slow down considerably and goes all spacy. It's an approach one might expect if Bill Monroe had ever dropped acid. It's also at this moment we realize we're not in solely bluegrass country any longer. Not everything here sounds like a Grateful Dead psych-out, though. "Courage for the Road" is a relatively traditional track, driven by bright banjo and Dobro... »»»
Alice WallaceInto the Blue
California country singer-songwriter Alice Wallace is back with her fourth album, as "Into the Blue" marks her debut for the female-owned Rebelle Road label, a group intent on giving women a stronger platform in music. Wallace has a deeply emotive voice that conveys the imagery of California on several songs, notably "Santa Ana Winds," where her soaring soprano captures the intensity and drama of the wild fires with driving guitars, pulsating rhythms and a flute to symbolize the wind... »»»
Danny BurnsNorth Country
Two decades of writing and performing music in America and the friendships forged as an active member of the Americana community during those years pay huge dividends for Danny Burns on his debut album. Burns, a native of Ireland's County Donegal, amassed a killer cohort of the genre's top players to bring his songs to life, including acoustic luminaries like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien and Dan Tyminski, who are all featured prominently throughout the 10-song set... »»»
The Steel WoodsOld News
It sort of seems odd, on the surface anyway, that the Steel Woods would name their sophomore set "Old News," especially given the fact that they're relatively new as far as any senior status is concerned. Their 2017 full length debut, "Straw in the Wind," was released less than two years ago, while their 2016 eponymous EP that marked their debut only a short time before that. Old news? They haven't aged sufficiently enough to indicate that's the case at all... »»»
Ronnie MilsapRonnie Milsap: The Duets
Is Ronnie Milsap proud of his age? For a clue, look no further than the name of his "76 for 76" Tour. There are some other numbers the North Carolina native is probably fond of, such as 40 number 1 records or 6 Grammys. Milsap's qualifications for the Country Music Hall of Fame were such a no-brainer they left electors with no brains. The injustice was rectified when Milsap was finally inducted in 2014. The primary hitmaking days are now a distant memory, but the blind piano man... »»»
Randy HouserMagnolia
Randy Houser is no stranger to commercial success. He has had three number one hits on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. But he became fed up with how he was expected to perform them live: especially the various computerized bells and whistles that were meant to help him compete with his peers and their outsized live shows. He wanted to get back to songs that meant something and that he was invested in. Fearing blowback of not making another country radio effort, Houser was weary to... »»»
Balsam RangeAeonic
Formed in 2007, Balsam Range already earned many international Bluegrass Music Association Awards across six albums. On their seventh, the acoustic quintet features four-part harmonies on most tunes, while the prevailing instruments are fiddle, mandolin, banjo, upright bass and guitar. Balsam Range is Buddy Melton (fiddle, vocals), Darren Nicholson (mandolin, vocals), Dr. Marc Pruett (banjo), Tim Surrett (bass, Dobro, Weissenborn, vocals) and Caleb Smith (guitar, vocals). The curious... »»»
Mitchell TenpennyTelling All My Secrets
Mitchell Tenpenny is yet one more artist stretching the definition of country music - nearly to the breaking point. While he sings with a distinctly enjoyable, Otis Redding-like soulful voice, the arrangements to these songs on his second album feature far more pop than twang. Steve Earle famously commented how contemporary country music is "hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people," but some of it - including this album's songs - sounds like pop music that doesn't... »»»
Dolly Parton's soundtrack to the movie "Dumplin'" includes a whole lot of Dolly music, both old and new. This movie tells character Sillowdean "Dumplin'" Dickson's story of participating in a local beauty pageant. The catch to this adaptation of Julie Murphy's young adult book is that Dickson is a weight-challenged girl and not the usually slender pageant participant. Parton's music is essential to the film because Dolly is Dickson's musical idol... »»»
Lone JusticeThe Western Tapes, 1983
"The Western Tapes, 1983" captures Lone Justice just before they became Los Angeles' cowpunk darlings with their 1985 self-titled debut. This was so early in their artistic development, in fact, that producer Marvin Etzioni wasn't even a band member yet. There's a freshness and innocence about these six recordings that will remind you just how special Lone Justice was at their inception and an example of what made Los Angeles' roots music scene in the '80s so memorable... »»»
Old 97'sLove the Holidays
"Love the Holidays" may read like one of those old timey Christmas album titles. You know, those sanitized, safe for the whole family song sets. Granted, there's nothing particularly family unfriendly on this seasonal collection; however, it's still a fairly typical Old 97's album. Vocalist Rhett Miller is just too angsty to ever make completely overjoyed, celebratory music. This album is typical Old 97's music, in the best sense of the term. "Christmas Is... »»»
Kip Moore's greatest musical selling point is his raspy singing voice. Much like Bob Seger long before him, his is a vocal tone that gets your immediate attention every time you hear it. This EP-length project presents Moore in a quieter setting than usual. That distinctive voice is unavoidable, though, whether revved up or tamped down. The song that stands out most is "It Ain't California," which is introduced with a beautifully twangy electric guitar riff... »»»
Glen CampbellSings for the King
At first glance it may seem an unlikely connection, that which tied Glen Campbell, the so-called Rhinestone Cowboy, with the undisputed King of Rock & Roll, Elvis Presley. Nevertheless, it was a relationship that spawned several years, mostly during Elvis' lean period in the mid '60s and Campbell's tenure as part of that famed studio ensemble, the Wrecking Crew. As the decade wore on, both men accelerated in prominence, Elvis via his 1968 televised comeback special and Campbell as... »»»
Taylor MartinSong Dogs
Among the many musical treasures from Asheville, N.C. is one of its best, already veteran, and still growing songwriters, Taylor Martin. The Richmond-raised, 14-year resident of Asheville has tapped into the local music scene in a major way, but also brings the spirit of the West, having spent five years in Utah and influences of southern rock and R&B to his eclectic sound. On "Song Dogs" Martin enlists the support of The Honeycutters' Amanda Anne Platt for producing and... »»»
Kane BrownExperiment
There's not a lot of room for argument to say that men singing country music today are different than the stars on the old Porter Wagoner show. Many have ditched the cowboy hat. They're hip-hop fans, video game junkies and spent most of their teenage money on tattoos. Kane Brown checks all these boxes and more. He's biracial, for example, subverting a country culture that seemed a little too exclusive for this century. And he built his following via the internet, not in clubs (a... »»»
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