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Carrie UnderwoodCry Pretty
Carrie Underwood's life was reading straight from the storybooks: one of the few American Idol Winners with ongoing success; a professional athlete for a husband; a beautiful baby boy. The string of great fortune turned sharply in 2017, when Underwood began the unfathomable experience of three consecutive lost pregnancies. This was atop a frightening fall at her home that ended with her face in nearly 50 stitches. Sharing these moments with her fans makes the beamingly-beautiful singer... »»»
Willie NelsonMy Way
Not one to rest on his laurels, Willie Nelson's second studio release of the calendar year finds the artist dipping back into the Great American Songbook. Previous collections, including 1978's stellar Stardust, 2009's "American Classic" and 2016's "Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin," established Nelson as one of the finest modern interpreters of American standards. So, it is only fitting that he now pays tribute to the man widely recognized as the... »»»
Steve ForbertThe Magic Tree
Particularly if you've been listening to Steve Forbert's music for many years, you're bound to have some fun with his new memoir, "Big City Cat." The book, which lifts its title from that of a track on "Alive on Arrival," his 1978 debut LP, offers lots of commentary on the inspiration for Forbert's songs and the making of his albums. You'll also discover mentions of many of the artists he admires-some predictable (assorted folkies), some rather... »»»
Elise DavisCactus
Elise Davis tells stories and brings relatable, realistic lyrics rather overly relying on imagery, metaphors and symbolism. That was the general take on her widely acclaimed 2016 "The Token." Some of that assessment holds true again here on "Cactus," but let's step back just a bit because she's slyly clever too. Davis chose the album title from the plant that symbolizes independence. It doesn't need much water. It can be beautiful, but don't get too close... »»»
The Stray BirdsLet It Pass
This is the swan song for The Stray Birds unfortunately, but at least they are parting with another musical triumph. This record barely got made as founding members, fiddler/guitarist/banjoist/vocalist Maya de Vitry and fiddle/guitarist/mandolist/vocalist Oliver Craven fought through an ending romantic relationship while deciding to collaborate musically. That decision was enough to get "Let It Pass" done, but recently the band announced that they were calling it quits... »»»
Kathy MatteaPretty Bird
"Pretty Bird" is Kathy Mattea's first studio album in six years, following 2012's "Follow Me Home." The major reason for this gap was Mattea's realization that her voice was changing so much, she felt as if she was losing it altogether. Through vocal coaching and dedicated perseverance she has emerged, singing in a lower, albeit richer voice, for a strong album of interpretative covers. Keep in mind that Mattea has won two Grammys, four CMA Awards, has... »»»
New ReveilleThe Keep
New Reveille, a talented quintet from North Carolina, can boast the finest harmonies that any kind of music can offer. On their debut, New Reveille mine the early American sounds and make them sound fresh. It's a unique sound that embraces bluegrass, Americana and classical from talented individual musicians. Yet, it's the three-part female harmonies that caress and soar to surprising heights, taking your breath away. Band members include Amy Kamm on lead vocals, Daniel Cook on banjo... »»»
This expansive tribute to Roger Miller features a multitude of fine performances, including plenty of country stars singing Miller songs. As good as these performances are, though, the true stars are Miller's songs. With a whopping 37 tracks, the listener is overwhelmed by Miller's obvious skills. Miller was so smart and witty. He's best known for his strangely funny song about homelessness, "King of The Road," but he also wrote some of country music's most heartbreaking love songs... »»»
Listening to a concert album can never completely replicate experiencing an artist in person, but Aaron Watson's "Live at The World's Biggest Rodeo Show" comes close. Watson performs these 14 songs with such enthusiasm, it's tough to avoid getting caught up in his jubilant celebration. He covers a lot of lyrical ground, expressing patriotism with both "Raise Your Bottle" and "They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To," love of family with... »»»
Cole SwindellAll of It
Cole Swindell's" All Of It" is a little different from many of contemporary artists' current releases in that there is a whole lot of country - thematically anyway - in it. The 40-plus minutes are all about drinking, regret, appreciation of people who matter and breakups. It starts off with a bang with the up-tempo rocker "Love You Too Late." The best track is its most poignant song penned by Jessi Alexander and Chase McGill, "Dad's Old Number,"... »»»
Buck OwensCountry Singer's Prayer
When the hits stop coming, country labels move on; loyalty is fleeting, never mind 19 number 1 hits (14 consecutive), more than 40 Top 10 songs, and 15 years with a label. Buck Owens found that out in the mid-'70s as his contract with Capitol was coming to an end, and the label shelved his final album of new material. Unheard since that time except through the expansive Bear Family box-set "Tall Dark Stranger," these recordings hold interest for those who appreciate encountering... »»»
Folk Soul RevivalFolk Soul Revival
Folk Soul Revival has built a reputation for wild energetic live shows. This recording proves they can do well in the studio environment too. The band now makes their home in Bristol, Tenn., the birthplace of country. Make no mistake, FSR has already arrived, but they've had to deal with shifting personnel. Now, regrouped with two new members, they're just honing their craft of amped up Americana. Frontman and chief songwriter Daniel Davis seems so natural as the lead vocalist... »»»
When you hear some artists' early demos, a phrase that might come to mind is, 'Well, they had great potential.' You won't say that, though, when you hear Joe Ely's demos for his first album, and some songs that later appeared on his third album. No, with "The Lubbock Tapes: Full Circle," you hear an artist that arrived fully formed and in his prime. You can hear Ely's struggle to graduate from talented Texan, to Nashville (star hopeful) with the downhearted... »»»
Jason EadyI Travel On
Independent singer/songwriter Jason Eady has long been revered for his poetic lyrical style and his ability to observe and document life through his songs. While those elements are still abundant on "I Travel On," there is something new in the air - a musical spirit and vitality not present on previous Eady releases. This energy is attributed to a new recording approach that found Eady and his touring band, along with hotshot pickers Rob Ickes (Dobro) and Trey Hensley (acoustic lead... »»»
Morgan EvansMorgan Evans
There's been a window in Morgan Evans' life where he has had the unusual experience of living in the shadow of his own personal life. If Nashville had a Homecoming Court, Kelsea Ballerini would surely be in it. And Evans must have disappointed legions of men by marrying her in 2017. But while the groom had some buzz as a singer/songwriter in his own right, much of the familiarity with his work stayed on the shores of his native Australia. He finally took the plunge in 2017 to pursue... »»»
Shooter JenningsShooter
Shooter Jennings is the latest to link to Dave Cobb for production on the simply titled "Shooter." As one of today's leading outlaw country voices, Jennings is adept at marrying traditional country with fierce rock n' roll. When you're born into musical royalty, the bar is always set remarkably high, but Jennings has been a constant explorer, who has formed his own signature style. This time out, though, Jennings puts aside the eclecticism he is known for, deciding instead... »»»
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail LewisWild! Wild! Wild!
Throughout her five-decade-plus career, Linda Gail Lewis, younger sister of Jerry Lee Lewis, has shone brightest when collaborating with other artists, whether it be her brother, Van Morrison or her daughters. That formula certainly holds true on her new collaboration with acclaimed songwriter and singer Robbie Fulks. In Fulks, Lewis finds a partner who excels at writing, curating and performing songs that bring out the best in her voice - rock, country and rockabilly tunes either from or... »»»
Hot Rize40th Anniversary Bash
Hot Rize celebrated its 40th year with this live set, recorded at the Boulder Theater, Boulder, Col. in January, 2018. Doubtless, Hot Rize would agree that it has been a long, rewarding trip, and listeners are able to share the journey with this collection. Not that there haven't been detours. Founding member Charles Sawtelle passed in 1999, long after the band disbanded in 1990. Tim' O'Brien released a series of awe-inspiring solo releases. Pete Wernick dove deeper into... »»»
High FidelityHills and Home
No matter the genre, it's a familiar experience through the ages to listen to an album that contains a couple of "hits" or "classics" and discover that there are usually a couple or three songs among the "filler" that are as good or better than the "showcased" tracks. Over the course of their four years - so far - as a working bluegrass band, that's more or less been the approach of the High Fidelity quintet (Jeremy Stephens, banjo and guitar;... »»»
Jim Lauderdale and Roland WhiteJim Lauderdale & Roland White
Today one of Americana's most revered and prolific songwriters and singers, Jim Lauderdale's path toward Nashville success was fairly tortuous. While pursuing publishing deals and songwriting gigs, Lauderdale recorded at least two unreleased albums with those finding release beset by label uncertainty; from 1991-2001, he rarely recorded for the same label twice. He is now regarded as a songwriter's songwriter and, along with Lucinda Williams, Alejandro Escovedo and Buddy Miller,... »»»
Chicago FarmerQuarter Past Tonight
Chicago Farmer (aka Cody Diekhoff) has the novelist's gift of building a suspenseful story to a surprising conclusion. He's clever, insightful, and witty with his between songs banter, making the stories often every bit as good and memorable as his songs. That's why his loyal fans have been demanding that he make live album for years. So, he doubled the ante and is releasing "Quarter Past Tonight," culled from two sold out solo shows at the Apollo Theater in Peoria, Ill. in December 2017... »»»
Jim LauderdaleTime Flies
Americana's most prolific artist has delivered another strong set of performances. Jim Lauderdale's signature singing manner, distinctively unhurried with elongated phrasing emphasized in nearly every song, may turn-off some - but if you haven't come under his spell by now, there isn't much chance of conversion as we head toward the 30th anniversary of "Planet Of Love." For the rest of us, "Time Flies" causes...well time to fly. "The road is a river,... »»»
Amanda ShiresTo the Sunset
You have to give Amanda Shires credit. Raising a child, playing with husband Jason Isbell's band the 400 Unit and still maintaining a solo career is no easy task. Simply keeping the family bond when both partners go their separate ways on tour is hard enough, but for Shires, who has successfully pried herself out from under the shadow of her famous husband, it was likely even harder still. Nevertheless, Shires has reaped her rewards on her own terms. Accorded kudos as Emerging Artist of... »»»
Cody JinksLifers
The cover art of Cody Jinks' latest album shows an elderly man who has been down many a road in his life. That or it's a rendering of Oak Ridge Boys' singer William Lee Golden! Regardless, Jinks doesn't come off as some retro-sounding country artist, but keeps enough sonic Opry-ish meat to make things shine. Jinks excels at letting the songs lead him along while avoiding tinkering things to death. "Must Be The Whiskey" strolls along without any... »»»
One of Native Howl's prior albums is titled "Thrash Grass," and that title alone will give you a clue about what you're in for with the spiritually-titled "Out of The Garden and Into the Darkness." This is a band skilled to transition from sounding like The Pogues of bluegrass with "Into the Darkness," to a progressive rock act for "Withikaw." Or, to put it more simply, this band's genre description has great potential to be poly-hyphenated... »»»
Kenny ChesneySongs for the Saints
Kenny Chesney's "Song for the Saints" is a step in the right direction for the popular country star. Inspired by the Hurricane Irma disaster, which hit Chesney personally as it destroyed a house he owned in the U.S. Virgin Islands, these songs are more serious and heartfelt than typical Chesney music. Best of all is "Love for Love City," a reggae duet with Ziggy Marley incorporating steel drums into an inviting island mix. It's followed by a cover of Lord... »»»
Mason RamseyFamous
When considering Mason Ramsey, one is reminded of the idea that big things come in small packages. At 11, the Golconda, Ill. native has gained a far bigger audience than the nearby WalMart where a video of him singing and yodeling through Hank Sr. "Lovesick Blues" went viral big time. He parlayed that into a six-song EP with a heavy emphasis on Williams. Typically decked out in a cowboy hat (that sets him apart right there from most other country acts today), Ramsey sounds about his age... »»»
Hot Buttered RumLonesome Panoramic
It's 95 hot sweaty humid degrees, and we're thinking about Hot Buttered Rum (HBR). In any case, you need refreshing, breezy music in moments like these, and this band does not disappoint. The Bay Area-based band decided to self-produce their sixth album for which much of the inspiration is drawn from local landmarks and favorite places. "Lonesome Panoramic," takes its name from the recording studio, Panoramic House Studio in Stinson Beach, Cal. along the Panoramic Highway... »»»
Lori McKennaThe Tree
It's difficult to know where to start when praising Lori McKenna's "The Tree." It's so good in so many ways. Artists like Little Big Town and Tim McGraw have benefited greatly from recording McKenna songs, yet it's unlikely many mainstream country music fans recognize her name. Fans of Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, two women that consistently and effectively write straight from the heart, would love McKenna's songs -- if only given the chance... »»»
Kevin GordonTilt and Shine
Kevin Gordon is a heartland troubadour of the most authentic variety, the kind that sings songs of actual happenstance without regard to however challenging or chilling the listener might find them. Rustic and rambling, his music conveys the impression that they were borne from a different age, given the quiet rumination and vivid imagery that have always been Gordon's more essential additives. The quickest comparison would be to John Prine, an artist whose dry reflections pry open the deep... »»»
The Jayhawks' "Back Roads and Abandoned Motels" is an album mostly made up of songs front man Gary Louris wrote or co-wrote for other projects, ranging from the Dixie Chicks to Jakob Dylan. For the most part, these songs just sound like great Jayhawks songs because that Louris vocal quiver is one of Americana music's most recognizable and heart-tugging sonic signatures. Therefore, it's momentarily off-putting when Karen Grotberg takes the lead on album-opener "Come... »»»
Love CanonCover Story
As the album title clearly indicates, these are cover songs from what the subhead says is "Music's Greatest Decade." Many would argue with the '80s as "the best," but nonetheless Love Canon, a hybrid acoustic bluegrass/jam band from Charlottesville, Va., has chosen some interesting artists to cover in these nine selections. One does not equate electronic tunes of Peter Gabriel, REM, Billy Joel, Depeche Mode and Paul Simon with bluegrass. And, rather surprisingly, for... »»»
Jimmy LaFavePeacetown
Whether it's the ticking of a clock or the turning over a new calendar month, time is a precious commodity most routinely take for granted. However for anyone (or their families) battling a terminal illness, those ticks somehow sound louder. Musician and critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave is no longer with us after passing away in May 2017 from cancer. But knowing time was fleeting, LaFave hunkered down and recorded some original songs as well as covers which seem to convey... »»»
Eliza GilkysonSecularia
A singular songwriter well regarded in the wider folk community, Eliza Gilkyson has built a career on crafting alluring albums that reflect her soul and sensitivity. "Secularia" is no exception, and if the title implies a certain kinship with more earthly matters, the songs themselves share spiritual sentiments that often conflict with the wider view of religion and the fanaticism that can drive its followers to extremes. In a recent interview, Gilkyson made it clear that she... »»»
Jason IsbellSirens of the Ditch reissue
One of the four new tracks on this rerelease of Jason Isbell's "Sirens of the Ditch" is "The Assassin," and it features the same country/alternative rock hybrid sonic that characterizes Drive-By Truckers songs. Such an association is to be expected, though, as the album was Isbell's first solo release after leaving DBT. Furthermore, Patterson Hood and Shonna Tucker - each of DBT - played on the album. Much like George Harrison, just after leaving The Beatles, Isbell... »»»
Kinky FriedmanCircus of Life
"Circus of Life," the title of Kinky Friedman's album, is a little misleading. It conjures up images of carnival barkers and circus freaks and songs as odd as its cigar-manufacturing, politically-astute novelist author/songwriter. The album is far more sensitive than that title suggests, though. In fact, it's a welcome respite from modern day circus-like life. The album opens with "Autographs in the Rain" where Friedman uses a song to say 'thank you' to a fellow musician... »»»
Many mainstream country artists will point to their Southern roots as proof of their country music credentials. These roots seemingly give them liberty to stray just as far from typical country music instrumentation as they like. However, how does this rule apply to Santa Barbara, Cal.'s DevilDriver, which applies its hard-rocking groove metal chops to a set of outlaw country music? One imagines it's the 'outlaw' in this equation alone that's attracted these rockers to these songs... »»»
Speedbuggy USAKick Out the Twang
The cliché goes "They live and breathe music." Consider the case of Speedbuggy front man Timbo, who led the band back from a seven year hiatus after he survived and healed from a brain aneurysm only to endure a major house fire five week before the band departed on a European tour. It's no surprise that the album is full of hard luck songs and that even the title itself conjures up unbridled energy. Speedbuggy lives up to it. The band is legendary in L.A... »»»
The Milk Carton Kids - Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale - have developed a solid following through the years, and "All The Things I Did and All The Things I Didn't Do" will feed the appetite of their followers just fine. MCK have been compared to harmony-driven duos such as The Louvin Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers. But this misses the mark; Ryan and Pattengale have easy harmonies, to be sure, and they seem to carry the vocals as one, not unlike those... »»»
The Wild FeathersGreetings From The Neon Frontier
The Wild Feathers' third outing should solidify its position as one of the guideposts of where country is heading right now. With Ricky Young, Taylor Burns and Joel King laying down exquisite harmonies guitars and bass and Ben Dumas on drums, these guys are at the top of their game. If you are looking for something different, better and a sign that bro country may be heading for the exit, take a listen. Make no mistake, this is a modern country album, but it could have been at home on... »»»
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