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Turnpike TroubadoursA Long Way From Your Heart
The name Turnpike Troubadours suggests traveling music. Strap yourself in and get ready for an exhilarating ride. This Oklahoma-based roots-rock unit soars on its fourth release. Not to diminish the strong songwriting from leader Evan Felker, it's the band's pulsating musicianship with an array of electric instruments combined with fiddle and pedal steel that makes the sound so arresting. Felker writes mostly about resilience during difficult circumstances. The opener, "The... »»»
Chris YoungLosing Sleep
Chris Young has one of the best country voices, and it's always a pleasure to hear him sing. But it's disappointing when the title cut sounds more like the groove to a Justin Bieber song than anything truly country. When, say, someone like Jason Aldean performs music with barely any resemblance to real country music, it's not that big a deal; he's not a great natural singer to begin with. However, Young's voice is just too good to waste on mere pop... »»»
Darius RuckerWhen Was the Last Time
Darius Rucker is so darn likeable, he likely gets away with creating subpar music more than most. However, "When Was the Last Time" is a consistently good album, which is as respectable as it is likeable. Rucker knows how to sing crowd pleasers, like the fun and funny "Count the Beers" and the all-star collaboration "Straight to Hell," which also features Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley. He shines brightest, though, on the more serious songs... »»»
Willie NelsonWillie's Stash Volume 2
 
The "boys" referenced in the title of Willie Nelson's "Willie's Stash Vol. 2," are his sons, Lukas and Micah Nelson. This second archival selection, following "December Day" (recorded with his sister/pianist Bobbie Nelson), was tracked in 2011 with producer Buddy Cannon at the helm. The album is mostly Hank Williams Sr. songs, along with a few other 'Hanks' (Cochran, Locklin and Snow), an Alyssa Miller number and one by the elder Nelson... »»»
Travis MeadowsFirst Cigarette
The stunning vocal of Travis Meadows on the opening track, "Sideways," brims with honesty, pain and hard-earned wisdom as he offers a blend of confession and advice, stimulated by an experience at an adolescent addiction treatment center. Meadows, like many, is one of those Nashville songwriters ("Riser" for Dierks Bentley and "What We Ain't Got" for Jake Owen), but is finding his own voice relatively late in life. Having conquered substance abuse and doing... »»»
Bill CarterBill Carter
If, after making his bow a decade or so ago, Bill Carter's decision to title his new album "Bill Carter" seems a somewhat humble retreat as far as his own modesty is concerned, it only takes a listen to understand why it was dubbed appropriately. Carter's stripped down approach in keeps things simple, offering all indication that he is indeed going back to basics. Indeed, that's evident at the outset. Carter turns this new effort into a one-man show, playing all the... »»»
Gina ClowesTrue Colors
Gina Clowes is a product of the mountain tradition, and her solo CD, "True Colors," allows her to plumb it with her own voicings. Clowes is an accomplished banjo player and has been a member of Chris Jones' touring band, the Nightdrivers, since the beginning of 2016. Despite her roots, there's more than mountain music going on here. In fact, gypsy tempo and phrasings are just a likely to emerge from Clowes' banjo (the opening cuts "Puppet Show" and... »»»
Chris HillmanBidin' My Time
With all the memorable music Chris Hillman created with The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and Desert Rose Band, he has nothing left to prove. He's a both a bona fide rock and country icon. Tom Petty, who owes an obvious debt to Hillman's Byrds (the Heartbreakers would never have brought the jangle hard and heavy, had The Byrds not first created the original template, and Tom Petty produced) appropriately produced this wonderful new country-rock collection. The album opens with a... »»»
Jon Langford's Four Lost SoulsJon Langford's Four Lost Souls
Jon Langford shifts musical gears as effortlessly as a European race car driver on a Grand Prix course. Looking at the totality of his career (The Mekons, Waco Brothers, Skull Orchard, the Three Johns, Wee Hairy Beasties, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Bad Luck Jonathan, God knows what else), it hardly seems as though one peg could have fit into all those oddly shaped holes, and yet Langford has managed to make each entity unique based on his own singular input and the influences of the people joining... »»»
MidlandOn the Rocks
 
"On the Rocks" proves there's more to Midland than just vintage western wear and Spaghetti Western-extra good lucks. Don't be deterred by the fact that bassist Cameron Duddy won an MTV Video Music Award for directing Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven" video because this is an album of solid and distinctly traditional, country music. The single, "Drinkin' Problem," hearkens back to the good old days of drinking songs, before all these types of... »»»
Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon RangersThe Long Awaited Album
When last we visited a new album from Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, 2011's "Rare Bird Alert," we found a cohesive, focused collection of bluegrass; it was an expansive, artistic creation that only benefited the bluegrass community. A subsequent live album (strikingly entitled "Live") presented a continued refinement of this pairing's chemistry. Interestingly, Martin's albums with Edie Brickell moved him away from the bluegrass sound he had so... »»»
Billy StringsTurmoil & Tinfoil
Billy Strings. It takes a lot of nerve to adopt such a nom de plume (in this case nom de guerre might be more appropriate) in the bluegrass world, but Billy Strings is up to the challenge, and more. Strings (real name William Apostol) grew up in Michigan, surrounded by musicians. A fourth-generation picker, he lives up to his name. Preternaturally talented, Strings embraces bluegrass instrumentation, but brings a powerful energy to his music. He's one of those musicians who packs a fuse and... »»»
Various ArtistsA Tribute to John D. Loudermilk
Unless you're a music historian or someone who tends to peruse the credits of album sleeves - the few there are these days - it's likely that the name John D Loudermilk might not mean much to you. However those who have followed the trajectory of modern music over the past fifty years or so are probably aware of Loudermilk's reputation as one of the great songwriters of his generation, a man whose music transcended genres and provided a cache of material for artists on both sides... »»»
Larry Campbell and Teresa WilliamsContraband Love
Larry Campbell and Teresa Campbell could have been content to retain their status as musicians on call, given the fact that they've loaned their services to any number of high profile employers -- Bob Dylan, Rosanne Cash, Mavis Staples, Levon Helm, Little Feat, Shawn Colvin and Phil Lesh among them. Instead, they've built themselves a solid reputation, one that qualifies them as one of contemporary country's most resourceful and respected musical duos. While some of those... »»»
Willie WatsonFolksinger, Vol. 2
Offering up an entire album of traditional folk songs is nothing new, of course. Once Dylan and Springsteen tapped into that template, the standard was set for the future. Still, given Watson's pedigree - first as an original member of Old Crow Medicine Show and later as a hired hand and integral part of the Dave Rawlings Machine -- he has an appropriate resume that allows him to nicely fit into the role of perpetual troubadour. Likewise, with one volume of journeyman ballads behind him, a... »»»
Deer TickVol. 1
John McCauley's earliest explorations as Deer Tick found him with one foot firmly planted in his punk rock past and the other in his newly minted conversion to folk and country by way of an introduction to Hank Williams. His dual personalities were separated into his studio Jekyll and his stage Hyde, the former using the solemnity of recording to craft quiet folk gems, the latter presenting them to an audience with adrenalized, amps-to-11 abandon. It wasn't until 2011's "Divine... »»»
Deer TickVol. 2
John McCauley's earliest explorations as Deer Tick found him with one foot firmly planted in his punk rock past and the other in his newly minted conversion to folk and country by way of an introduction to Hank Williams. His dual personalities were separated into his studio Jekyll and his stage Hyde, the former using the solemnity of recording to craft quiet folk gems, the latter presenting them to an audience with adrenalized, amps-to-11 abandon. It wasn't until 2011's "Divine... »»»
Dustin LynchCurrent Mood
 
Like a lot of 'country' releases these days, Dustin Lynch's "Current Mood" includes a few songs that - if their quality had been duplicated throughout - would have made for one fine album. The ballad, "Love Me or Leave Me Alone," which also features Karen Fairchild (of Little Big Town), is a powerfully memorable song. It's followed by "Back on It" which, with its love/addiction analogy (although already done many times before) is nevertheless... »»»
Tom RussellFolk Hotel
Tom Russell may well be America's most prolific, relatively unknown songwriter with over 40 albums. Yet, his recent string of albums, most notably his 2015 epic masterpiece "Rose of Roscrae," had many take notice, posing the question of what he'd do for an encore. So, this year Russell turned out the acclaimed "Play On More - The Songs of Ian and Sylvia" and this, which Russell feels is the best of his career. Most of the album was written and initially recorded in... »»»
Thomas RhettLife Changes
 
Thomas Rhett references mangoritas, Coldplay and verified Instagram accounts on his third album, and for some, that may be a deal-breaker. His ultra-contemporary style and pop culture smarts may be anathema for fans of traditional country. However, writing Rhett off by stamping a cowboy boot and hollering "That ain't country!" writes off some truly standout songs - created by combining the best elements of country and pop music. Take the sophisticated songwriting of country and the... »»»
Kip MooreSlowheart
 
If you're one of those people who read CD inserts before listening to the music, Kip Moore starts out with one at least one strike against him on his third album. In the two pages of acknowledgements and thank yous (two pages!) there's this mixed metaphor on thank you number one, which goes out to Jesus: "You continually pull me from the sinking sand. . . I'm out of the woods because of your love." Um, not a lot of sand in the woods, Kip. Thankfully, things get better as... »»»
Toby KeithThe Bus Songs
 
People of a certain age can recall a time in America when a polyester-clad party host would reward late-night diehards with a "blue" record. These vinyl gems (or bootleg tapes) would be funny and frank, both in their language and adult subject matter. They paired well with alcohol, and just owning them could make someone a little cooler by association. Such a concept might mystify millennials who can punch up any song they imagine. But Toby Keith remembers. This collection of... »»»
The GrascalsBefore Breakfast
The Grascals woke up early, well "Before Breakfast" to serve up a generous 12-course meal of hearty bluegrass with a little bit of gospel mixed in for spice. The result is tasty, another recipe that shows why the band has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards. New radio single "Sleeping With the Reaper" opens the release with a strong vocal performance from John Bryan. He handles nearly half of the lead vocal responsibilities including, "Delia" and gospel tune... »»»
Old DominionHappy Endings
Right off the bat, the title of Old Dominion's album "Happy Endings" is far better than "Meat and Candy," its prior effort. ("Meat" in an album title? Really?) But also on an artistic level, OD's follow-up shows signs of growth. With that said, though, there's nothing on this new release as immediately catchy as "Snapback." Nevertheless, the vocal-only harmonies introducing "Not Everything's About You," are a beautiful thing... »»»
The Cadillac ThreeLegacy
The Cadillac Three's bio is stacked with amazing bullet points that partially explains their mutant rockabilly-heavy-on-the-rock cocktail. The born-and-raised Nashville trio - drummer/vocalist Neil Mason, bassist/dobroist/vocalist Kelby Ray Caldwell and guitarist/lead vocalist Jaren Johnston - have extensive indie-rock-and-beyond resumes, including their previous incarnation as Bang Bang Bang which morphed into the sadly overlooked American Bang. Johnston, Caldwell and Mason remained... »»»
Doyle Lawson and QuicksilverLife is a Story
Life really is just a story, a collection of memories we share to remember moments, circumstances, life lessons, heartache, friends and family, the good times and the bad. Over 40 years in the music business has certainly given Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver plenty of stories to share, remember and pass on, making "Life Is A Story" essentially a book on tape, albeit set to Lawson's high standard of powerful and polished instrumentation. "Life Is A Story" kicks off with a... »»»
Blake SheltonLive EP
This six-song "Blake Shelton Live EP" seems a little odd. It's not as though Shelton had an especially noteworthy tour to document. Besides, at only six songs long, it's a relatively short document, anyhow. While it may be little more than a post-it note of a project, though, it also packs a powerful punch. You recognize right away the large amount of enthusiasm the act of singing to an audience brings out of Shelton. When compared to the recorded versions of these hits,... »»»
EmiSunshineRagged Dreams
EmiSunshine is a preternaturally talented singer and songwriter with expressive gifts belying her years. "Ragged Dreams," her third studio album, features her vocal power on a range of songs that draw from the country and mountain tradition. "Ragged Dreams" is a beautiful set of songs, which benefit from her pitch, power, and phrasing from Emilie Sunshine Hamilton, who hails from East Tennessee and gained traction through social media exposure (notably YouTube)... »»»
Dale Ann BradleyDale Ann Bradley
Dale Anne Bradley is sui generis, a rare talent that imprints her own sound whilst adapting to the traditional bluegrass form. Bradley has a rich tone, a breathless Southern phrasing and a gift for telling a story in her songs. "Dale Ann Bradley" features but two songs ("Southern Memories" and "Now and Then (Dreams Do Come True)," co-written with Jon Weisberger) written by Bradley herself, but her choice of material is flawless, matching her voice with the... »»»
Although he'd no doubt reject as pretentious the title of theologian, ecclesiastical matters are never far from Ray Wylie Hubbard's mind. You can tell from the titles of his albums - "A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C)", "The Grifter's Hymnal" - and the tracks therein, where he's either planning his celestial footwear ("Barefoot in Heaven") or escaping from hell by blowing smoke up the devil's derrierre ("Conversation... »»»
Kacy & ClaytonThe Siren's Song
Canadian cousins Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum build upon the success and artistic latitude their previous "Strange Country" brought them and teamed with Jeff Tweedy to craft a folk-rock explosion that is positively astonishing. Building on the trad. arr folk tradition, crafting sweeping originals that build on British and North American folk traditions, "The Siren's Song" is a too-brief album of grace and beauty. One should not be faulted for thinking renditions of... »»»
Josh Abbott BandUntil My Voice Goes Out
Josh Abbott Band opens its album "Until My Voice Goes Out" with the title track, which features the unique combination of stately strings along with plucked banjo. In one respect, it's a love song about the desire for a specific woman. Couched within this plea, though, is a sincere wish for a life lived to the fullest. Abbott also sings "Ain't My Daddy's Down" at album's end, which explains the meditative nature of the record's opener... »»»
Kashena SampsonWild Heart
The debut release from Las Vegas native and currently Nashville-based singer/songwriter Kashena Sampson is a mix of country, folk, rock and blues driven by Sampson's powerful vocals. The strongest country tunes are "Don't Sit Too Well," a tale of a relationship gone sour ("Heard you been real busy undermining my good name/Claiming that I done you wrong and I should be ashamed") in the mode of Loretta Lynn, and the semi-autobiographical "Greasy Spoon,"... »»»
Ron PopeWork
Four albums on, Ron Pope seems well positioned to garner the commercial acclaim that's somehow eluded him up until now. Although critics have begun taking notice, Pope's still in search of that big breakout that's decidedly his due. Given the upbeat entries that initially establish this latest outing, the definitively titled "Work," Pope appears to have taken a decided stance that leans towards those very ends. Indeed, "Bad For Your Health," "Let's Get... »»»
Shelby Lynne and Allison MoorerNot Dark Yet
Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer are two fiercely independent artists, so the eclectic song list on the sisters' collaborative album, "Not Dark Yet," should not shock or surprise anybody. However, the length these siblings have gone to prove their eclectic streak still may cause listeners to double check the album's writer credits. Yes, there are country songs on this 10-song set, including Merle Haggard's evergreen "Silver Wings" and Townes Van Zandt's "Lungs... »»»
Eric Brace Peter Cooper and Thomm JutzProfiles in Courage, Frailty, & Discomfort
Though not a super group in the strictest sense - at least as fast as marquee names are concerned - the union of Eric Brace, Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz is a formidable combination regardless. The outgrowth of informal collaborations undertaken over the past several years, this first formal billing allows equal input from each of the individuals involved. First, a bit of background. Brace, owner of Red Beet Records, once led the alt.-country outfit Last Train Home. Cooper, a musician,... »»»
Will HogeAnchors
There's no dispute that Will Hoge has survived the troubadour's life over the course of his nearly 20-year career. He self-released his early albums, scored and extricated himself from a major label contract and moved into the indie system. He's funded and toured with a full band before economic reality forced him down a solo road path. He's scored a couple of hits by way of his songs being covered by Lady Antebellum and the Eli Young Band; he's gotten a song placed in a... »»»
Alex WilliamsBetter Than Myself
If you don't mind a little salty language mixed into your country music, Alex Williams' "Better Than Myself" will hit your traditional country spot like a dart in the barroom bullseye. He sings with a wonderfully resonant voice that sometimes brings Waylon Jennings to mind. He also wrote - or helped to write - all 12 songs. The title cut suggests Williams' songs present a better image of the man than the actual man does. It's an unusual opener, as the track's... »»»
Buck OwensLive from Austin, TX
 
It was hard to find a more significant country artist through the 1960s than Buck Owens. With 21 number ones from 1963 ("Act Naturally," included here) and 1972, including a stretch of 14 in a row, Buck Owens was one of country music's biggest stars, bringing his slant on the Bakersfield Sound to stages, radio and television around the world. In this 1988 Austin City Limits program and nearing 60 years old, Owens appears comfortable with his stature as a torchbearer... »»»
Dwight YoakamLive from Austin, TX;
In this 1988 Austin City Limits program and nearing 32 years old, Dwight Yoakam was approaching his commercial zenith. His third album, "Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room," had just been released, bringing him his only number one country singles "Streets of Bakersfield" (included here in duet with Buck Owens along with Flaco Jimenez) and "I Sang Dixie," also included. His second ACL appearance, Yoakam delivers a generous, 14-song reminder of how freakin' unusual... »»»
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