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Caroline CotterHome on the River
Caroline Cotter doesn't have to depend on anything more than her sweetly pervasive vocals to make an emphatic impression. That's evident at the outset and becomes consistently clear throughout the entirety of "Home On The River," Cotter's sweetly beguiling sophomore set. A collection of songs that convey a wistful yet wilful sense of wanderlust, the music sweeps the listener along on the strength of her inherent folk finesse, a delicate delivery that combines quiet... »»»
Lynn Taylor & The Bar FliesStaggered
East Nashville may be known as "the" Americana hotbed these days, but some of the talent there is very much verging on rock 'n roll. This is the case with Lynn Taylor & the BarFlies on their third release, a collection of personal tunes by the front man. Taylor wrote most of these tunes with his cohort, Larry O'Brien. It's a narrative of emotions surrounding grief, but there's a lively feel to the album which was immensely cathartic for Taylor... »»»
Various ArtistsAmerican Folk soundtrack
The soundtrack for the independent film, "American Folk," stars two real-life singer-songwriters played by Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth, who also contribute the bulk of the material on the soundtrack. Understanding the plot of the film helps explain both the sequence and content of the track list. The movie, which was filmed over 3,500 miles in 14 states, follows Elliott (Purdy) and Joni (Rubarth) - two strangers, both folk musicians - who are serendipitously brought together after their... »»»
Ben Miller BandChoke Cherry Tree
First impressions can be deceiving. And given the fact that certain members of the Ben Miller Band resemble extras from a newer version of a "Mad Max" movie, that impression is all the more striking. Nevertheless, it's the music that provides the most indelible image, and indeed, the Ben Miller Band's fifth album is as diverse as it is distinctive. With a revamped line-up and several tricks up their collective sleeve, "Choke Cherry Tree" finds the Joplin, Mo... »»»
Mary GauthierRifles and Rosary Beads
Mary Gauthier has built her career on honest, sometimes brutally and achingly self-confessional songs. This is the first time that she has focused on experiences other than her own, and it could become not only the strongest album of her career but, in its own way, a landmark album. "Rifles and Rosary Beads" was co-written over the period of a few years with U.S. veterans and their families, revealing untold and powerful stories that veterans faced abroad, returning home and that their... »»»
Laura Benitez and the HeartacheWith All Its Thorns
Amidst the hybrid country, commercial country and roots-country it's refreshing to hear that classic country sound, which we do not hear nearly enough today. Bring on Laura Benitez and the Heartache with "With All Its Thorns." This is her third album, and while the previous two were basically no-frills country, she and the band have added Cajun and Mexican influences by adding fiddle and upright bass as well as accordion. They alternate between electric and acoustic, depending on... »»»
LANCOHallelujah Nights
LANCO's "Greatest Love Story" is a radio single saturated in undeniable warmth and sweetness. But then, the attitude in "We Do" reeks of Florida Georgia Line and the chorus to "Singin' at The Stars" also brings country music's most annoying duo to mind. LANCO is a new act, and the jury's still on just which direction this five-piece will go. Will this group follow Midland as another truly legitimate country music collective, or could they follow... »»»
First Aid KitRuins
With their stunning new album "Ruins," First Aid Kit further ascend to unexpected heights of superstardom, a status a few knowing pundits have been predicting for the Swedish sisters since the beginning. Nevertheless, to those that encountered them early on, it may seem an unlikely progression to be sure, one which takes them from their origins as an innocent sounding sisterly duo in a decidedly wistful folk noir, to a mainstream entity in the good graces of major label backing... »»»
Matt HectorneWork
Matt Hectorne's new album - his third solo effort - offers another example of the rewards that can come through the joy of discovery. While Hectorne makes no attempt to bend the boundaries as far as a patented Americana sound is concerned, the success he achieves here is the result of him doing quite the opposite, that is, sounding like a revered veteran who mastered the form quite quickly in his career. Indeed, Hectorne has a vintage approach that suggests his talent emerged fully formed... »»»
Few bands epitomize restlessness as much as Calexico. And, fortunately, that restlessness and desire to constantly tweak and even radically alter their sound is one of several traits that make them one of the most consistently creative and enduring bands treading that line between pop and Americana. Calexico brings variety, unpredictability and cinematic imagery, punctuating their songs with social commentary and environmental themes. That's true on "The Thread That Keeps Us,"... »»»
Abbie GardnerWishes on a Neon Sign
Abbie Gardner is the Dobro player and the animated leader of the acoustic folk/bluegrass female trio Red Molly. She's an accomplished songwriter who has done the solo trip once before, for 2011's "Hope." But, while that one stayed close to her Red Molly sound, "Wishes on a Neon Sign" is a genre crossing, bigger sounding effort, replete with swirling keyboards, background singers and electric guitars. Produced by Michael Bellar, who also plays a myriad of keyboards... »»»
Walker HayesBoom
Walker Hayes has a lot of Sam Hunt in his music, in that he mixes a lot of hip-hop in with his country. Traditionalists will have trouble with his unorthodox approach. Kids, though, raised on just as much Drake as Paisley, will likely eat it up. A few years back, it was Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers (mixed with a touch of AC/DC) influencing country sounds. It only makes sense rap and R&B are now impacting country recordings. But also like Hunt, there's good to be found in Haye's... »»»
Luke BryanWhat Makes You Country
Luke Bryan aims to please often, and that rarely goes unpunished. The Georgia native has a strong voice, some songwriting skill and even legitimate farming cred. But Bryan still gets pegged as the face of corporate country - that pandering beast packaging artists for mass consumption. The label can be unfair, but not wholly undeserved - Bryan has a long track record, for instance, of records about chasing girls and Bud Lights. In truth, he married his college sweetheart and they share a quiet,... »»»
Chris StapletonFrom A Room: Volume 2
There is no bigger artist in country music today, perhaps even in American music, than Chris Stapleton. His appeal reaches beyond just the commercial country fans for his gritty bluesy approach. 2015's "Traveller" set a high bar, which was met by this year's release of "From A Room: Volume 1," which won Album of the Year in the 51st CMA Awards. Stapleton also garnered the Male Vocalist of the Year for his second time. Now seven months after that release, "From... »»»
Grayson CappsScarlett Roses
Grayson Capps is blessed with a soulful voice, a gift for songwriting, parents from a literary background and a wife that's a Grammy-winning producer/engineer, Trina Shoemaker. That would appear to be a winning formula, but the singer-songwriter life is uncommonly challenging, especially when one puts lots of self-induced pressure on himself as Capps did for almost a decade. He needed to step away to find some inner peace and deliver his first solo album in six years. Capps built a writing... »»»
The Minus 5Dear December
The Minus 5's holiday offering should be subtitled "A Melancholy Christmas" because so much of the music on this 11-song band outing, which includes help from a strong cast of guest performers, is just so darn sad. None is sadder than "When Christmas Hurts This Way," though, as it grapples with how to 'celebrate' the holiday after a bad romantic breakup. Mike Mills may be singing about the Hanukkah miracle with "Festival of Lights (Hanukkah Song)," yet... »»»
Cole SwindellDown Home Sessions EP
Upon first glance at the track list of Cole Swindell's fourth installment of the "Down Home Sessions" series, one may get the impression that it is a covers EP. It features several chart toppers from other artists, including Luke Bryan's "Roller Coaster" and Thomas Rhett's "Get Me Some Of That." Swindell has 10 number 1 singles as a songwriter to his name had a hand in penning both all five songs, so technically, it's original material... »»»
Label holiday albums can sometimes be like office white elephant gift exchanges because there's a little bit of everything on the table. Some stuff you like, while other things may have been better left unwrapped. Nothing is particularly embarrassing on "Bloodshot Records' 13 Days of Xmas," but a few of these pieces are clearly on a higher plane than others. The project kicks off on a high note with Murder By Death's straight and sincere reading of "O Holy Night... »»»
Tim McGraw and Faith HillThe Rest of Our Lives
The first full album from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill is an inspired effort, even though some of its songwriters may surprise you. The title cut, for instance, features pop ginger Ed Sheeran on its credits, while Meghan Trainor contributed to "Roll the Dice." With that said, though, there's some mighty fine country instrumental elements on the propulsive "Telluride." In fact, this first Hill studio album in a long time, is also the most country she's sounded in quite a while... »»»
Case GarrettAurora
To the newbies learning the tropes of country music, it must seem quite the paradox. First, the singer praises the joys of drinking and raising hell. Then - sometimes on the next track - they bemoan the hangovers and ask for help to live out their days with a clear head. It's that short time, but long way, from Saturday night to Sunday morning. Case Garrett has seen both sides. The bottle took the lives of two siblings, and he was well on his way to being the next family casualty... »»»
Remington RydeA Storyteller's Memory
Remington Ryde made a promise to James King to keep his music alive, and with the release of "A Storyteller's Memory," the group kept its word. The band's first recording with Pinecastle Records is a tribute to the late King that includes some of his most memorable stories and songs. Remington Ryde puts forth great effort in capturing the emotion that made King famous, but was thoughtful enough not to overshadow the original. "A Storyteller's Memory" gives... »»»
Amanda CookDeep Water
Amanda Cook's label debut put her in "Deep Water," and the water is fine with fantastic musicianship and good songwriting. The Florida native is no stranger to bluegrass, having fallen in love with the sound as a child. On her second album overall, Cook delivers an emotional and passionate, yet angelic vocal style that seems almost effortless, and when joined in harmony, it sounds as though the angels really are singing. Carolyne VanLierop (banjo), Scotty French (guitar) and Jeff... »»»
Scott MillerLadies Auxiliary
Scott Miller is far removed from his seminal alt.-country bands, the Knoxville, Tenn.-based V-Roys and his home-state band, The Commonwealth. This time out, his first recording in four years, Miller is acoustically backed by a complete band of females. Although the rock n' roll fire may have diminished some, Miller still has plenty of lyrical power about life's troubles, love and the current sorry state of politics and class divide. It's refreshing to have his voice back... »»»
Lee BriceLee Brice
Lee Brice's self-titled album is the kind we wish Zac Brown was still making. Granted, it doesn't include the faux reggae and jam band tendencies. It does, however, feature a bevy of heartfelt songs about the things that matter most in life. Best of all, its fine content is matched to high quality songs and performances. "What Keeps You Up at Night," which reads like a dirty laundry list of every insomniac's nightmare, opens the disc. The single "Boy" is a... »»»
Shannon SlaughterNever Standing Still
The cover shows Shannon Slaughter, carrying a guitar case, walking down the centerline of an old country road. To the casual observer this may seem like a traditional shot coming from a country boy, and it is, but really it is much more than that. The picture is a representation of the line the Alabama artist walks between bluegrass and country music. Slaughter, formerly a member of the Lonesome River Band, often toes the centerline, keeping a fine balance between country and bluegrass sounds,... »»»
Brad HudsonNext New Heartbreak
Meet Brad Hudson. If you haven't yet heard of him, "Next New Heartbreak," his first solo release, is a solid first impression. A North Carolina native, Hudson is no newcomer. He has worked alongside veteran musicians, such as Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road and the great Dolly Parton, while currently a member of Sideline. As a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Hudson stands shoulder to shoulder with the best whether on guitar, bass or Dobro. "Next New Heartbreak" is a... »»»
Kid RockSweet Southern Sugar
Kid Rock ended his association with Warner Brothers Records and moved to the Nashville-based BBR Records (a division of BMG), home of stars like Jason Aldean and Trace Adkins, and the name of the album certainly evokes Dixie, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's morphing into Kid Country. After all, his lengthy Wikipedia page lists several eras in the man's career - the hip-hop era, the rap-rock era, the heartland rock era, et cetera - and there's no reason to think that this... »»»
Blake SheltonTexoma Shore
Blake Shelton's 11th studio album finds The Voice advisor in a contented, one might even say homey, frame of mind. The opening track and first single "I'll Name the Dogs" sets the tone. It's a rollicking ode to domesticity that manages to make household chore distribution ("You find the spot and I'll find the money / You be the pretty and I'll be the funny") both romantic and amusing. The beat switches to hip-hop on "Money," but the sentiment... »»»
Kelsea BalleriniUnapologetically
It already seems like Kelsea Ballerini is a fixture on the scene, but America's barely had time to blink since her debut, "The First Time." Four major singles, a headlining tour and an armful of awards are just some of the harvest that followed. Some of that star power exceeds musical gifts - Ballerini has that insta-charm that makes her a ready TV guest or host. She's from Tennessee and smiles for miles. But she also gives off a wiser, worldlier vibe than many others of her... »»»
Balsam RangeIt's Christmas Time
You can have your silver bells for Christmas time in the city, but if you're looking to experience a mountain Christmas, look no further than Balsam Range. "It's Christmas Time" opens with the moody "Christmas Lullaby," and ends on an instrumental note, with a bluegrass-y "Jingle Bells." This six-song EP is heavy on familiar holiday songs, including "The First Noel," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Hark! The Harold Angeles Sing... »»»
Wailin' JennysFifteen
There's nothing lovelier in this world than the sound of human voices huddled in harmony. That's immediately apparent when listening to the close knit collaboration that's rooted in the Wailin' Jennys, a well-versed folk trio whose three members - Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse - have celebrated a special kinship for the better part of the past 15 years. Although each can claim a solo career, different habitats and individual family responsibilities, it's... »»»
Emily HerringGliding
Emily Herring is a classic country singer in the vein of Rosie Flores and Heather Myles. Unlike those Californians, though, Herring is from Austin and her music has the dancehall feel of authentic Texas honky-tonks. This, her fourth record, was produced by instrumentalist Steve Fishell (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and prominently features his pedal steel and Dobro chops alongside those of twang master Redd Volkaert. Seven of the 10 crisply rendered tunes are Herring originals, with equal... »»»
Kenny Chesney's "Live in No Shoes Nation" accurately recreates an experience of seeing the diminutive party animal live. Chesney has found an extremely lucrative niche as country music's Jimmy Buffett (although much of Buffett's island-y pop music appeals to many of today's non-discerning country music listeners). Also, with songs like "Pirate Flag," Chesney has even borrowed a few of Buffett's sea-related lyrical themes. This live CD could have been... »»»
Mile TwleveOnwards
To some, the term "Boston Bluegrass" may seem to be a malaprop, a suggestion that tradition must get lost on the byzantine cityscape of the Northeast city, far away from mountain hollers and high meadows. But as Mile 12 demonstrates, Boston bluegrass music is alive and well, arguably driving modern bluegrass music and certainly contributing rich threads to its texture. Mile 12 is the latest to spring from the melting pot of traditional music fostered at Boston's Berklee School... »»»
A tribute record to an artist who is still active, alive and with us can be a scary proposition in any number of ways. For starters, it insinuates that his or her best days are behind them. Even worse, it hints that their days may be numbered and that the intent to honor the artist is being done to avoid it becoming a final requiem. In this case, those scenarios could be coming close. Kris Kristofferson's been rumored to have health issues, and at age 81, there's only so much time for... »»»
Having made the transition from hit-maker to casual country chanteuse, and finally, to Americana minstrel, Lee Ann Womack offers up her most engaging effort yet, "The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone," an album whose evocative title effectively sums up the sentiments of each of the songs it shares. Womack may not have written all the material contained herein, but she's responsible for a fair percentage, and even those she didn't pen feel as personal as they are poignant... »»»
The Infamous StringdustersUndercover Vol. 2
The Infamous Stringdusters are keeping busy. Their third release of 2017, "Undercover Vol. 2," the second-half follow-up to 2015's "Vol. 1" is a five-track adventure that pays respect to a few of the band's favorite artists. From Marvin Gaye to The Cure, the 'Dusters once again push the limit of bluegrass. Long considered a progressive bluegrass band, The Infamous Stringdusters may have stumbled into something new, alternative bluegrass perhaps... »»»
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... »»»
Bela Fleck and Abigail WashburnEcho in the Valley
With decades of experience between them, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn could be forgiven for putting together a simple collection of traditional songs for their second collaboration. But, nobody has ever accused Fleck and Washburn of standing pat, so it should not surprise that this new album of (mostly) original songs is fresh and satisfying. "Echoes In The Valley" is spare, yet complex. Each cut (save for an instrumental medley midway through that anchored by Fleck's... »»»
The Salty DogsGoodnight
In just six songs, the Little Rock, Ark.-based The Salty Dogs proves its mastery of several classic and contemporary country styles. Following a 60-second scratchy acoustic intro, a recording made on the 1947 Voice-o-Graph machine at Jack White's Third Man Records in Nashville, which serves as a preview for the album-closing title track, the band breaks out the twang with a high-energy rendition of The Louvin Brothers's classic "The Christian Life." Eschewing the laid-back... »»»
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