Porkchop

Porkchop’s Catch of the Week

 

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January 25, 2023

 

This week I am reviewing an album that features songs that you will recognize. No, it is not a tribute album. Well, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead of paying tribute to a particular artist, the four singers that make up Brothers of the Heart pay tribute to some of their favorite songs. The group consists of Jimmy Fortune (The Statler Brothers), Bradley Walker, Mike Rogers (Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder), and Ben Issacs (The Issacs), and their latest album is Listen to the Music.

This 12-song offering defies genre. You will hear country, rock, pop, and gospel songs. The artists associated with the songs on this album are eclectic: The Doobie Brothers, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Jackson Browne, The Statler Brothers, Wings, Eagles, The Everly Brothers, and Vince Gill. Here is the song list for Brothers of the Heart’s Listen to the Music:

1) Listen To The Music

2) Gentle On My Mind

3) Ring Of Fire

4) These Days

5) I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You

6) Let ’em In

7) Just As I Am

8) Precious Memories

9) Desperado

10) Bye Bye Love

11) God Bless America/America The Beautiful

12) Liza Jane

 

I must admit, this is normally not the type of album I would review. I try to look for projects that feature primarily new songs, with the exception of the aforementioned artists tribute albums. However, there is something about this album that feels comfortable, like putting on your favorite sweater, and invites you to sit back and sing along. It is not just because the songs are familiar; rather it is the way the songs are delivered by Fortune, Walker, Rogers, and Issacs. You can feel the fondness they hold for each tune. The harmonies these four men showcase on this album is outstanding, as is the musical performances, and Ben Issacs’ production prowess. I recommend giving Brothers of the Heart’s Listen to the Music a listen today.

 

 

 

January 18, 2023

Volume Five is one of the most outstanding bands in bluegrass music today. Their string of albums have turned the heads of many bluegrass aficionados, and gained many fans in the process. Volume Five has a history of excellent musicianship, singing, songwriting, and song selection that places them in the top tier of current bluegrass groups. In recent years, Volume Five has gone through some personnel changes, many which may have flown under the radar during the dreaded pandemic shutdown. Resophonic guitarist and bass player Jeff Partin left the group to back Rhonda Vincent as a member of The Rage. In early 2021, banjo player Patton Wages suffered a stroke and at this time is not able to return to the stage.  However, Volume Five already had an album recorded and ready for release. That album, Karma, has just been released.

The Volume Five lineup on Karma is Glen Harrell on lead vocals and fiddle; Jacob Burleson on guitar and harmony vocals; Aaron Ramsey on mandolin, bass, and harmony vocals; Jeff Partin on resophonic guitar, bass and harmony vocals; and Patton Wages on banjo. As you come to expect from a Volume Five project, the song selection is outstanding. There are 11 tracks on Karma, and each song is strong. It is worth noting this album’s guest appearances. You will hear harmony vocals Russell Moore (IIIrd Tyme Out) on “My Love Will Never Fade”, Shawn Lane (Blue Highway) on “Walk Beside Me”, and Josh Shilling (Mountain Heart) on “Losing My Religion”.

With the lineup changes for Volume Five, you do not have to worry about their continuation as a bluegrass music force. Jacob Eller has stepped in as the bass player, and Chris Wade has taken over the banjo duties. I have seen videos of Volume Five’s current lineup and they sound great. I cannot wait to hear what album from this configuration sounds like. I recommend giving this new album, Karma, featuring the Volume Five lineup of Glen Harrell, Jacob Burleson, Aaron Ramsey, Jeff Partin, and Patton Wages, a listen today.

 

 

January 11, 2023

It is time to take a look back at my favorite 2022 Catches of the Week (Part 2: July-December 2022). These are listed in order in which they were reviewed. The full reviews can be seen further down on this page:

 

 

Dan Tyminski – One More Time Before You Go: A Tribute to Tony Rice (reviewed on July 27, 2022)

Dan Tyminski nailed this tribute to Tony Rice. Although there are only five songs on the EP, the Rice songs, plus the original song, that are included seem to be perfect picks. Kudos to Dan and all the special guests for providing a musical tribute worthy of the great Tony Rice. Also, there is a nice tip of the hat, or flash of the wrist watch, if you will, on the cover of this EP, with a picture of an Accutron watch, a passion of Tony’s, front and center.

 

 

Wade Bowen – Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth (reviewed on August 24, 2022)

Wade Bowen includes so many different styles on Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth. From the modern sound of “Everything Has Your Memory” to the barroom burner “Honky Tonk Roll”, Bowen’s songs offer such variety that you are bound to find something that is to your liking.

 

 

Bri Bagwell – Corazón y Cabeza (reviewed on September 7, 2022)

Listening to this album, from the first track to the last,  is like walking through an art exhibit, stopping to admire each painting, taking in its’ mood and meaning, before moving on to the next offering and starting the wonderful process all over again.

 

Dailey & Vincent – Let’s Sing Some Country! (reviewed on September 28, 2022)

Dailey & Vincent have done it again! Each project they release is outstanding. When you listen to a Dailey & Vincent project you get the complete package. The song selection is outstanding, the singing is superb, and the musical performances are excellent. In addition, the production quality is always top shelf.

 

 

Drake Milligan – Dallas/Fort Worth (reviewed on October 12, 2022)

This album’s 14 songs were written or co-written by Milligan. The album has a ‘90s country vibe, completely with fiddles and steel guitars. I enjoyed all the songs on this album. Some of my favorites include, “Sounds Like Something I’d Do”, “Over Drinkin’, Under Thinkin’”, the western swing “Goin’ Down Swingin’” featuring Vince Gill, and “Long Haul” featuring James Burton’s killer guitar licks.

 

Gabe Lee – The Hometown Kid (reviewed on November 9, 2022)

Gabe Lee offers songwriting that is beyond his years. Lee has a good singing voice, but there is something about his delivery that almost makes me forget he is singing. It is as if I am sitting in a cafe, drinking a cup of coffee, across from someone telling me a story, and I can’t wait to hear what happened next.

 

 

Billy Strings – Me/And/Dad (reviewed on November 23, 2022)

Billy and his dad Terry Barber, make it feel like you are listening to a jam session, and what a jam session it is. Joining Billy and Terry on this 14 song album are Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), Rob McCoury (banjo), Mike Bub (bass), Jason Carter (fiddle), Michael Cleveland (fiddle), and Jerry Douglas (dobro). You will recognize songs, like  “Long Journey Home”, “Way Downtown”, “Dig a Little Deeper (In the Well)”, and the Larry Sparks classic, “John Deere Tractor”. Billy and Terry sound phenomenal. Hearing them reminds me of listening to the great recordings of Doc & Merle Watson picking and singing together.

 

Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver (reviewed November 30, 2022)

 

This album will be a hit with Billy Joe Shaver’s fans. However, I hope that for those that are not familiar with his music will use this project as an introduction to great songwriting of Shaver. The artists featured on this album in all-star lineup: Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, Miranda Lambert, Edie Brickell, Nathaniel Rateliff, George Strait, Amanda Shires, Steve Earle, Margo Price, Joshua Hedley, Allison Russell,  Ryan Bingham, and Nikki Lane.

 

 

 

 

Willie Nelson – Willie Nelson Live At Budokan (reviewed on December 21, 2022)

The album, recorded February 23, 1984 in Tokyo, Japan, was officially released in Japan on LaserDisc, and has been available for years. However, it was not commercially available in the U.S. Now the recording is available digitally, as a  2 CD/1 DVD configuration. The album captures Willie and The Family Band in their full power and glory. In addition to Willie, the band’s configuration that night his sister Bobbie Nelson on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Paul English on drums, Grady Martin on guitar, Bee Spears on bass, and Jody Payne on vocals and guitar.

 

 

 

January 4, 2023

 

It is time to take a look back at my favorite 2022 Catches of the Week (Part 1: January-June 2022). These are listed in order in which they were reviewed. The full reviews can be seen further down on this page:

 

 

Brent Cobb –  And Now, Let’s Turn to Page… (reviewed on February 9, 2022)

 

Although a gospel album is not what I expected from Brent Cobb, it is a pleasant surprise. He puts his own stamp on gospel standards, but it is done with a reverence that can be felt through Cobb’s delivery. Even if you are not a gospel music fan, if you appreciate the music of Brent Cobb, I recommend giving a listen to And Now, Let’s Turn to Page…

 

 

 

Texas Hill – Heaven Down Here (reviewed on February 16, 2022)

 

The group members are Adam Wakefield, Craig Wayne Boyd, and Casey James. You may know their names as solo artists. Wakefield and Boyd were contestants on The Voice, and Casey James was an American Idol finalist. It is not a given that musical magic will happen when you put talented artists together. There has to be natural chemistry, and that cannot be forced. When singers and musicians click, the end results are amazing. Wakefield, Boyd, and James vocals tightly fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that makes a complete picture.

 

 

 

Bob Minner – From Sulphur Springs to Rising Fawn: The Songs of Norman Blake (reviewed on March 9, 2022)

 

Bob Minner has done an outstanding job in tipping his hat to the music of Norman Blake. You can sense the love and care that Minner has for the songs. It goes without saying that Norman Blake’s songs are very deserving of the adoration. However, I want to tip my hat to Minner for paying tribute to Norman Blake with some of the best picking and singing you will hear this side of heaven.

 

 

 

ERNEST – Flower Shops (reviewed March 16, 2022)

 

ERNEST is a great singer and songwriter, and those talents are on display. Mix that with the musical choices on the album, especially steel guitar, and you have a project that would seem to be in a category that very few find. That category is one in which older and younger country fans will find music that they both enjoy.

 

 

 

Randall King – Shot Glass (reviewed March 23, 2022)

 

This is Randall King’s first major label album release. I do not believe it will be his last. If you need a traditional country music fix, I recommend giving Randall King’s Shot Glass a listen today.

 

 

 

Ned LeDoux – Buckskin (reviewed March 30, 2022)

 

I know that anytime Ned LeDoux’s name is brought up, folks mention his father, Chris. However, I do not believe that he is just imitating his father. Rather, Ned seems to be unapologetically comfortable in his own skin. Ned LeDoux’s Buckskin is country music about cowboys, rodeos, and real life with an honest delivery, sometimes singing, and at others offering a bit of spoken word-like poetry.

 

 

 

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway – Crooked Tree (reviewed April 6, 2022)

 

Many fans of traditional bluegrass music have been clamoring for Molly Tuttle to release a completely bluegrass style album. Well, the wait is over! Along with her outstanding band, there are guest performances from Margo Price (“Flatland Girl”), Billy Strings (“Dooley’s Farm), Sierra Hull (“Over the Line”), Dan Tyminski (“San Francisco Blues”), and Gillian Welch (“Side Saddle”). I have always enjoyed Molly Tuttle’s projects, and I am sure I will enjoy her future albums. However, this new album is one of my favorites.

 

 

 

Joshua Hedley – Neon Blue (reviewed May 18, 2022)

 

Although many were speculating that Joshua Hedley’s new album would be full of 1950s and 1960s style songs, Neon Blue features songs that are rooted in ‘90s country music. If you did not know better, you would think that he was covering songs from that era. However, all but one of the twelve songs on the album are originals, co-written by Hedley. In addition to the great songwriting, Hedley does an outstanding job of performing these songs as his own, while at the same time bringing to mind the style of the 1990s, with shades and hues of Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Joe Diffie, and Mark Chesnutt.

 

 

 

Brennen Leigh featuring Asleep at the Wheel – Obsessed With the West (reviewed June 1, 2022)

 

Asleep at the Wheel’s legacy is already cemented as a purveyor of western swing. You can add that descriptor to Brennen Leigh. There have been many artists that cover Bob Wills’ tunes. It is a much harder thing to create new music in Wills’ style, but Leigh has done just that. The new album is made up of twelve original songs, all written or co-written by Brennen Leigh.

 

 

 

American Aquarium – Chicamacomico (reviewed June 15, 2022)

 

BJ Barham’s lyrics will definitely hit home with the listeners. He wrote or co-wrote all ten songs. The words of each song are powerful and real. There are no wasted words or phrases. Barham’s singing and the musical performances of American Aquarium are outstanding on this new album.

 

 

 

Mary Gauthier – Dark Enough to See the Stars (reviewed June 22, 2022)

 

Mary Gauthier has a way with words that is seldom matched. She is able to paint a picture that is more than clear. Gauthier is able to make it seem that you are in the picture, either as an observer, or as the subject. The deep feelings that she is able to convey with her lyrics is a songwriting masterwork.

 

 

 

December 21, 2022

 

Since it is the final review before Christmas, I thought I would offer a gift idea for the country music fan on your list, especially if they are fans of Willie Nelson. The red headed stranger has released a plethora of albums in his long, illustrious career. A few of those releases have been recorded live at Willie’s legendary concerts. Willie and Family Live is probably my favorite. However, this new album, Willie Nelson Live At Budokan, features music from a live recording that was not available in the U.S. until recently.

Willie Nelson Live At Budokan was recorded February 23, 1984 in Tokyo, Japan. The recording was officially released in Japan on LaserDisc, and has been available for years. Bootleg VHS copies surfaced in the U.S., but were not commercially available. Now the recording is available digitally, as a  2 CD/1 DVD configuration. It was also released on LP on National Record Store Day in November, and you may be able to find a copy on vinyl. The album captures Willie and The Family Band in their full power and glory. In addition to Willie, the band’s configuration that night his sister Bobbie Nelson on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Paul English on drums, Grady Martin on guitar, Bee Spears on bass, and Jody Payne on vocals and guitar. Here’s the track list for the album:

 

Willie Nelson Live At Budokan

Disc 1

  1. Whiskey River
  2. Mona Lisa
  3. Good Hearted Woman
  4. Down Yonder
  5. If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time
  6. Workin’ Man Blues
  7. Help Me Make It Through The Night
  8. Me and Bobby McGee
  9. Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain
  10. Under The Double Eagle
  11. Blue Skies
  12. Georgia On My Mind
  13. All Of Me
  14. Stardust

 

Disc 2

  1. My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
  2. Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
  3. Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground
  4. On The Road Again
  5. Always On My Mind
  6. Will The Circle Be Unbroken
  7. Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line
  8. Who’ll Buy My Memories
  9. Till I Gain Control Again
  10. Without A Song
  11. Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)
  12. Whiskey River
  13. Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line

 

As I mentioned earlier, this would make a great gift for the country music fan on your Christmas list. However, as always, be sure somehow check to make sure they do not already have this new release of Willie Nelson Live At Budokan. If not, this is a great gift for the music lover, especially if they are fans of Willie Nelson. You might even want to get a copy for yourself. I recommend giving Willie Nelson Live At Budokan a listen today.

 

 

 

December 14, 2022

Each year as Christmas rolls around, I review at least one new holiday album. This year I have chosen a new EP from Thomas Rhett, Merry Christmas, Y’all. Generally, I look for a project that includes at least a few new Christmas songs. However, Rhett’s new EP doesn’t include any new songs, but the songs that are included are excellent renditions. Thomas Rhett’s new project feature four holiday favorites that will have you singing along as soon as you hear them: “Winter Wonderland”, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”. The arrangements are outstanding, and Rhett sounds like he is having the time of his life singing these Christmas tunes. The inclusion of horns, strings, and piano give this EP the sound of Yuletide records from years past. I could not help smiling, tapping my toes, and singing along to this EP. I recommend giving Thomas Rhett’s Merry Christmas, Y’all a listen today.

 

 

 

November 30, 2022

The outlaw movement of the 1970s featured a lot of interesting characters. Out front were names like Waylon and Willie, but there was a whole host of other songwriters and singers that were fueling the fire. One of those characters was Billy Joe Shaver. Almost all of the songs from Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes were written or co-written by Shaver. That album is one that many music historians point to as the beginning of the outlaw movement. With the attention that Jennings’ album received, people started to recognize the songwriting talent of Billy Joe Shaver. He was not only a songwriter, but a performer, too. Shaver released many records before his death in 2020. There is a new album featuring an all-star lineup tipping their hats to the music of Billy Joe. It is called Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver.

 

When I tell you it is an all-star lineup, I think the track listing is the best way to prove my point:

Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver

  1. Willie Nelson w/ Lucinda Williams – “Live Forever”
  2. Ryan Bingham w/ Nikki Lane – “Ride Me Down Easy”
  3. Rodney Crowell – “Old Five And Dimers Like Me”
  4. Miranda Lambert – “I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be A Diamond Someday)”
  1. Edie Brickell – “I Couldn’t Be Me Without You”
  2. Nathaniel Rateliff – “You Asked Me To”
  3. George Strait – “Willy The Wandering Gypsy And Me”
  4. Amanda Shires – “Honky Tonk Heroes”
  5. Steve Earle – “Ain’t No God In Mexico”
  6. Margo Price w/ Joshua Hedley – “Ragged Old Truck”
  7. Willie Nelson – “Georgia On A Fast Train”
  8. Allison Russell – “Tramp On Your Street”

You can find an all-star lineup on any tribute album, but the thing that sets this project apart is the fact that you can feel the love and respect each artist has for Billy Joe Shaver’s music. There is not a track that sounds like a performer showed up to just collect a check. I applaud everyone that contributed to this album.

This album will be a hit with Billy Joe Shaver’s fans. However, I hope that for those that are not familiar with his music will use this project as an introduction to great songwriting of Shaver. Then, an exploration of the extensive catalog of Billy Joe Shaver should ensue. I am a huge fan of Billy Joe Shaver. Although his music is held in high regard by fellow singers and songwriters, it is wonderful to have this album a way to acknowledge Shaver’s talents, and shine a spotlight on his music for a younger generation to see. I recommend giving  Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver a listen today.

 

 

November 23, 2022

When it comes to introducing younger listeners to bluegrass music, a good place to start is with Billy Strings. The 30-year old guitar phenom has taken the music world by storm. He is steeped in the guitar style of Doc Watson and Tony Rice, and the traditional vocals songs of The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, and Flatt & Scruggs. However, he is well versed in many other artists, too. He is as likely to play bluegrass standards as to offering a set of Grateful Dead songs. He has shared the stage with a plethora of artists, including Dierks Bentley, Widespread Panic, The Marcus King Band, and Sam Bush, just to name a few. Strings has also appeared on the stage of The Grand Ole Opry. He has caught the attention of many music fans for his wealth of talent and eclectic musical tastes, but one thing remains as a base throughout his albums…..bluegrass.  Billy Strings won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards for his album, Home. His latest album, Me/And/Dad, is a heavy dose of bluegrass standards with Billy’s dad, Terry Barber, serving as his musical partner.

Terry is the person that nurtured Billy’s musical talents, and he did so through the songs that are featured on Me/And/Dad. If you are a picker or enjoy going to jam sessions, you will recognize these songs. There are fourteen tracks in all, and they include “Long Journey Home”, “Way Downtown”, “Dig a Little Deeper (In the Well)”, and the Larry Sparks classic, “John Deere Tractor”. Billy and Terry sound phenomenal. Hearing them reminds me of listening to the great recordings of Doc & Merle Watson picking and singing together. Although Billy and Terry are in the spotlight, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the rest of the performers on this album: Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), Rob McCoury (banjo), Mike Bub (bass), Jason Carter (fiddle), Michael Cleveland (fiddle), and Jerry Douglas (dobro).

Many people know Billy Strings through his successful recent records, but instead of just putting out the next album to capitalize on the gained momentum, he took a moment to introduce his fans to the man that got him started on this musical journey that we are all enjoying. On behalf of all of the Billy Strings fans, I give you our sincere thanks.  Billy Strings and his dad, Terry Barber, sound great on this new album. I recommend giving Me/And/Dad a listen today. I believe you will enjoy, and, if you are a picker, you may be inspired to pull out your 6-string and pick along.

 

 

 

November 16, 2022

John Hartford is one of the most revered artists in American music. He made an impression with his songwriting (Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind”) and his performances. Hartford was a vocalist and multiple instrumentalist, and he seemed to be a bridge to various branches of American music. John Hartford connected the folk movement of the 1960s, and the hippies that supported it, to traditional bluegrass fans. He then reached back to earlier folk songs, including songs that had lived along U.S. riverboats, and resurrected the tunes for ears that had never heard them before. John Hartford’s unique career has inspired countless artists, and one of those artists is Sam Bush.

The latest album from Sam Bush, Radio John: Songs of John Hartford, is a 10 song tribute to Hartford. Of those, 9 of the 10 songs are Hartford tunes. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I am glad that Sam Bush did not include “Gentle on My Mind” or “Steam Powered AereoPlane”. I love those songs, but they have been covered by everybody and their brother. The songs that Bush selected are a great introduction to the uninitiated to the music of John Hartford. The only new song on the album, “Radio John”, co-written by Sam Bush, really is a nice bow to tie up the album, but also paints a picture of one of the most unique artists in American music history, John Hartford.

Many people download music nowadays. It is convenient and makes it easier to take your music with you. However, I recommend a copy of the CD because the liner notes are worth reading. The love and respect that Sam Bush has for John Hartford is evident in the liner notes. But you can’t go wrong if you download the album. Bush’s sentiments for his musical mentor and friend shines through on each song. I recommend giving Sam Bush’s Radio John: Songs of John Hartford a listen today.

 

 

November 9, 2022

Gabe Lee’s name may sound familiar. We reviewed his 2020 album, Honky Tonk Hell. The Nashville based singer-songwriter has the rare distinction of not only being based there, but he can also say that he was born and raised in the Music City. Lee’s songwriting skills and vocal delivery amazed me, especially for someone under the age of 30. Gabe Lee has just released a new album, The Hometown Kid, and he continues to showcase his amazing talents.

Gabe Lee wrote or co-wrote every song on The Hometown Kid. The lyrics on all the songs seemed to be picked with a surgical precision. Some songwriters are so surgical that the songs are sterile. Not so on The Hometown Kid. Every phrase seems to be just the perfect selection of words to paint a picture. Lee’s delivery of the lyrics from page to microphone is special, too. Not everyone can convey the songwriter’s intended feelings, and that sometime includes the songwriters’ themselves. However, Gabe Lee’s songwriting and vocal delivery are a perfect match.

With the release of his third album, Gabe Lee has started to show up on the musical radar. He offers songwriting that is beyond his years. Lee has a good singing voice, but there is something about his delivery that almost makes me forget he is singing. It is as if I am sitting in a cafe, drinking a cup of coffee, across from someone telling me a story, and I can’t wait to hear what happened next. I recommend giving Gabe Lee’s The Hometown Kid a listen today.

 

 

October 26, 2022

This Catch of the Week will feature a new album from Alex Williams. You may recognize that name. His debut album, Better Than Myself, was released in 2017. For his rookie release, Williams received positive reviews. Many noted his vocal delivery and musical style as a refreshing change from the country music sounds that were dominating the airwaves. Something I did not realize at the time of the first album’s release is that Alex Williams had done little to no touring before recording his first project. It has been five years since Better Than Myself was released. That is five years of living, singing, touring, and songwriting that he has under his belt. With those gained experiences, it was time for Alex Williams to release a new project. His new album is Waging Peace.

Alex Williams wrote or co-wrote all twelve songs on Waging Peace. He gets some songwriting help from the likes of Mickey Raphael, Tennessee Jet, Mando Saenz, and Ben Jarrell. It would be hard for me to pick a favorite song from this project. I could listen to these twelve songs over and over again, and I will.  However, if you want a sample of the different styles and moods that are included on Waging Peace, listen to “Old Before My Time”, “Confession”, “The Best Thing”, and “The Struggle”.

Alex Williams’ Waging Peace is a thoroughly enjoyable album.  The songwriting is rock solid. Williams’ voice is unique and recognizable, which is something I love to hear. Nothing kills my listening experience more than hearing an artist sing, and then forgetting who I am listening to because they sound like another artist. The music is outstanding, in a style that embodies the Outlaw sound. I hate categorizing music, but I use it as a signpost to decide if you want to listen to the album. By the way, I think you will want to listen to Waging Peace.

 

 

 

October 12, 2022

If you are a fan of the TV show America’s Got Talent, you might recognize the name Drake Milligan. He came in third on the popular television talent show. It might actually be a good thing that Milligan did not win. There are only a handful of winners of those types of shows that go on to have successful singing careers (i.e. Carrie Underwood, Scotty McCreery, and Kelly Clarkson). Drake Milligan definitely got a boost with his appearance on AGT. However, Milligan is free to pursue his musical career in whatever way he wants. Drake Milligan has done just that with the release of his new album,  Dallas/Fort Worth.

Drake Milligan’s new album includes 5 songs from his 2021 EP. It is not uncommon to see songs from an EP added to full-length album. By the way, adding those 5 songs to the collection of 14 that make up Dallas/Fort Worth was a good choice because they are excellent tunes. All the songs on this album were written or co-written by Milligan. The album has a ‘90s country vibe, completely with fiddles and steel guitars. I enjoyed all the songs on this album. Some of my favorites include, “Sounds Like Something I’d Do”, “Over Drinkin’, Under Thinkin’”, the western swing “Goin’ Down Swingin’” featuring Vince Gill, and “Long Haul” featuring James Burton’s killer guitar licks.

Drake Milligan’s Dallas/Fort Worth is thoroughly enjoyable. The songwriting is great, the musicianship is outstanding, and Milligan’s baritone voice is wonderful. This album and Drake Milligan is radio ready. Sometimes when it is said that an album is radio ready, it can mean you need to brace yourself for cookie cutter music in which it can be hard to determine which artists is singing. Not so with Drake Milligan. Dallas/Fort Worth is one hundred percent country, and, most importantly, it is one hundred percent Drake Milligan. I  recommend giving Dallas/Fort Worth a listen today.

 

September 28, 2022

When you mention the musical act Dailey & Vincent, you think of bluegrass music. Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent became known for their time as part of legendary bluegrass bands. Dailey was a longtime member of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, while Vincent had a long tenure with Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. When Dailey & Vincent was formed in 2007, it was a no-brainer that they would make great bluegrass music. Although that is the basis of all of their projects, the Grand Ole Opry members have shown their musical versatility with projects that show their love of southern gospel music and country music with their tribute albums to the music of the Statler Brothers. On their  latest project, Let’s Sing Some Country!, Dailey and Vincent venture further down the country roads.

Let’s Sing Some Country! Includes eleven songs, and some of them you may recognize. Dailey & Vincent went to the Vince Gill well for three songs on this project. They cover Gill’s “Colder Than Winter” and “Young Man’s Town”. Dailey & Vincent’s recording of “If I Die Drinkin’”, co-written by Gill and Ashley Monroe, might be my favorite on the album. “I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee”, designated as an official song of the Volunteer State, is another outstanding song from this project. Dailey & Vincent also do a great job on Steve Earle’s “Hillbilly Highway” and the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Dig a Little Deeper in the Well”.

Dailey & Vincent have done it again! Each project they release is outstanding. When you listen to a Dailey & Vincent project you get the complete package. The song selection is outstanding, the singing is superb, and the musical performances are excellent. In addition, the production quality is always top shelf. I highly recommend giving Dailey & Vincent’s Let’s Sing Some Country! a listen today.

 

 

 

September 14, 2022

Jon Pardi started out as an artist on the fringes of stardom, making music in a style that is akin to ‘90s country. It was respected and appreciated, but he received nominal national airplay. However, Pardi slowly started to gain a following among country fans, and soon his music was receiving more and more spins. Eventually, he broke through with Top Ten hits like “Head Over Boots”, “Dirt on My Boots”, “Heartache on the Dance Floor”, and “Ain’t Always the Cowboy”. With Pardi’s chart success and growing popularity, many anticipated his next album. The wait is over because Jon Pardi’s Mr. Saturday Night is here.

The album consists of 14 songs, and you get a full dose of fiddle and steel guitar. You will recognize a couple of the songs that have already been released as singles (“Last Night Lonely” and “Longneck Way to Go” featuring Midland). If you enjoy those songs, there are 12 more that will tickle your fancy. A couple of my favorites include “Hung the Moon”, “New Place to Drink”, and the title track. Some of Pardi’s songs on this album include clever wordplay that country music is known for, “Reverse Cowgirl” being the prime example.

Since I was introduced to Jon Pardi’s music, I have been a big fan. Mr. Saturday Night does nothing but bolster my fandom. Pardi delivers music that will continue to please younger country music fans, but also find allies in older fans who enjoy the sound of ‘90s country. In a recent interview, Pardi talked about touring with Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn. He said that they told him to , “keep doin’ what you’re doin’.” I have to agree with both of those Country Music Hall of Fame acts. I recommend giving Jon Pardi’s Mr. Saturday Night a listen today.

 

 

 

September 7, 2022

This week we turn again to the leader in the production of great music, Texas. I will not go through my normal explanation of how great the Lone Star State is for music (see about half of my 2022 reviews). I will point out that I don’t intentionally look for Texas artists when choosing which albums to review. I listen to new projects, and, if I like an album, look up the artist’s biographical information. Regardless, this Catch of the Week is from a Texas artist named Bri Bagwell, and her latest album is Corazón y Cabeza.

If you do not speak Spanish, or have not since taking Spanish II in high school, the album’s title translates to “Heart & Head”. Bri Bagwell wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs on the album, and she is an expert songwriter. The musical underpinning of each song highlights the lyrics. Speaking of the music, Bagwell offers a wide variety of styles on this album. From rocking songs like “Free Man” to the country ballad “Old Together”, there is a little bit of everything on this album. Some of my favorite songs on Corazón y Cabeza include “Cowboy Cold”, “The Dust”,  “Hello Highway”, and the heartbreaking “Happy New Year”. She also addresses domestic violence through the story told in “Josefina”. Those are a few of my favorites, but this album does not have a bad song.

Many times when I have reviewed a singer-songwriter’s new album, it is a stripped down, mostly acoustic project. There is nothing wrong with that. I think it is one of the most effective ways to put the lyrics and storytelling front and center. However, there are other methods in which to present the songs other than with a minimalist approach. On Bri Bagwell’s  Corazón y Cabeza, there is a wide variety of fully fleshed out musical arrangements that help to color the pictures that the lyrics present. Listening to this album, from the first track to the last,  is like walking through an art exhibit, stopping to admire each painting, taking in its’ mood and meaning, before moving on to the next offering and starting the wonderful process all over again. I highly recommend giving Bri Bagwell’s Corazón y Cabeza a listen today.

 

 

August 31, 2022

My musical tastes are eclectic. Whether it is country, bluegrass, gospel, R & B, soul, rock, or pop, if the music is good, I like it. That is one of the reasons I like Jim Lauderdale’s music. He has released more than thirty albums in his career, and he has covered a lot of musical genres on those projects. Most importantly, Lauderdale’s music is always excellent. He is known not only for his varied musical catalog, but for his outstanding songwriting, with his songs being covered by numerous artists, including George Strait (“We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This”) and Mark Chesnutt (“Gonna Get a Life”). Well, Jim Lauderdale has just released a new album, Game Changer, and it is country to the core.

There are so many different musical moods you will find on Game Changer. From the upbeat “That Kind of Life (That Kind of Day)” to the ballad “Our Happy Hour”, Jim Lauderdale has every emotion covered. Some of my favorite songs on the album include the title track. It has a sound that is reminiscent of country music of the 1960s. Another of my favorites is “Keep it Real”, a beautiful love song that sounds like it came from Ray Price’s catalog. I am also a big fan of “You’re Hoggin’ My Mind” has funny lyrics over a funky, swampy country sound.

If you are a fan of the traditional country styles, you will love Game Changer. Jim Lauderdale wrote all twelve songs on the album. Each song is another example at the exemplary songwriting talent that he possesses. From album to album, you may never know what style Jim Lauderdale is going to present. However, the one thing you can count on is that, whatever the style, the music will be outstanding. I recommend giving Jim Lauderdale’s Game Changer a listen today.

 

 

 

August 24, 2022

Texas artists have provided many of the albums that I have reviewed during my time with the Catch of the Week. One of those artists that I have reviewed in the past is Wade Bowen. Whether as a solo artist or in tandem with Randy Rogers, Bowen has released some great projects. Most recently, in December 2021, I reviewed his EP Where Phones Don’t Work. It was full of great performances and songwriting. Now, we have a full length album from Wade Bowen to talk about. His latest project is Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth.

Wade Bowen includes so many different styles on Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth. From the modern sound of “Everything Has Your Memory” to the barroom burner “Honky Tonk Roll”, Bowen’s songs offer such variety that you are bound to find something that is to your liking. Some of my favorites on the album includes the cry in your beer tune “Burnin’ Both Ends of the Bar” and the rocking “She’s Driving Me Crazy”. A couple of other favorites from the album feature special guests. Lori McKenna duets with Bowen on “A Beautiful World”, a song co-written by the two performers. Also, Vince Gill makes an appearance on “A Guitar, A Singer, and A Song”. The song, another Bowen-McKenna co-write, will strike a chord with anyone who is a fan of singer-songwriters.

Wade Bowen is one in a long line of talented Texas singers-songwriters. He is building up quite a reputation of releasing projects that I can listen to from beginning to end without ever skipping a track. I am a fan of the music coming out of Texas. However, of all the current independent artists from the Lone Star state, Bowen’s music has the best chance of breaking into the mainstream. I hope that I am right about that because if just one of those artists gains national attention, it may draw attention to the entire rich, thriving scene. Bowen’s album features outstanding singing, playing, songwriting, and production. You cannot ask for more. I recommend giving Wade Bowen’s  Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth a listen today.

 

 

August 17, 2022

One of my favorite country music singers of the 1980s & 1990s is John Anderson. There are a few things about Anderson’s music that made me a fan. First, his voice is recognizable. Every era has people that make a big splash, and they are followed by sound-alikes that every record label puts out there, hoping to ride on the first artist’s success. Good luck trying to find someone that sounds like John Anderson, and that is not a knock on Anderson’s voice. Another reason that I love John Anderson’s music is his song selection. They ranged from humor to heartbreak, and he is comfortable singing the songs, no matter the subject matter. With that being said, I was excited to see that a new album paying homage to his songs was being released.

Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson is a collection of 13 songs from the John Anderson catalog, performed by an amazing group of artists. This album has been in the works for several years now, and that is evident by the album’s first track, “1959”, performed by the late John Prine. I think that song gets overlooked when folks refer to John Anderson’s great songs. I have always thought the song is one of his best, and John Prine does a great turn on “1959”. Some of my other favorites on this project include Tyler Childers’ bluegrassified “Shoot Low Sherriff”, Sturgill Simpson’s “When It Comes to You”, Brent Cobb’s “Wild and Blue”, Ashley McBryde’s “Straight Tequila Night” and Jamey Johnson’s “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day)”. However, there is not a clunker on the album. Other artists that pay tribute to John Anderson include, Nathaniel Rateliff, Eric Church, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Luke Combs, Brothers Osborne, and Del McCoury & Sierra Hull.

One of the glaring omissions is “Swingin’”. I am glad that producer Dan Auerbach did not include a version of John Anderson’s signature song. Can you imagine the wrangling that would have occurred when trying to decide which artist was going to record the song? Speaking of Auerbach, he did a wonderful job of spearheading this project, and kudos to each artist that put their individual touch on John Anderson’s songs. This is one of my favorite tribute albums in recent memory. I recommend giving Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson a listen today.

 

 

August 3, 2022

Ronnie Dunn is one half of one of the most successful duos in country music history, Brooks & Dunn. The duo’s success led to their 2019 induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Ronnie Dunn has recorded several solo projects in recent years. Whether with Brooks & Dunn or as a solo artist, Dunn’s unique voice has always made him easy to identify on country music radio. You can hear his recognizable voice on his latest solo project, 100 Proof Neon.

Ronnie Dunn’s vocal delivery is great, as always, on 100 Proof Neon. When an album has a title like that, you get what you would expect…a lot of honky tonk music. That is not a complaint at all. There is plenty of steel guitar, lead electric guitar, and fiddle throughout the album. It is reminiscent of not only ‘90s Brooks & Dunn, but a lot of other country artists from that era. The entire album is a good listen, but a few songs stand out. The opening track, “Broken Neon Hearts”, is a great way to start a honky tonk style album. It features some outstanding steel guitar work. “Road To Abilene” featuring Parker McCollum is a song about a guy chasing his musical dreams while still dreaming about the girl he left behind. Another standout track is “The Blade”. You might remember this song as the title track from Ashley Monroe’s 2015 album, which I reviewed back then and thoroughly enjoyed. Ronnie Dunn’s take on “The Blade” is wonderful!

Ronnie Dunn has never strayed far away from the Brooks & Dunn sound. Yet, somehow, on 100 Proof Neon  it seems to be a throwback to the earlier ‘90’s Brooks & Dunn style. That statement may sound crazy, but take a listen to the album and I believe you will understand what I am talking about. The song selection, vocal delivery, and  musical performances make this a highly enjoyable listening experience. I recommend giving Ronnie Dunn’s 100 Proof Neon a spin today.

 

 

July 27, 2022

Dan Tyminski has been a fixture in bluegrass music since the 1990s, playing with the Lonesome River Band before joining Alison Krauss & Union Station in 1994. He went on to critical and commercial success for his recording of the classic “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” for the ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ movie soundtrack, and his collaboration with DJ Avicii on the song “Hey, Brother”. Tyminski has also released several solo albums, and created the Dan Tyminski Band to tour in support of his solo projects when AKUS is on hiatus. His incredible vocals and strong rhythm guitar work is emulated by bluegrassers everywhere.

Dan Tyminski’s latest project is a tribute to a giant in the bluegrass world, Tony Rice. Known for his outstanding guitar style, Rice also recorded some of the most popular and endearing songs in modern bluegrass history. Rice passed away on Christmas Day 2020, and with his passing many musicians paid tribute to him. Barry Waldrep and Friends and The Punch Brothers both released albums in tribute to Tony Rice. Dan Tyminski is the latest artist to honor Rice. Tyminski’s latest EP, One More Time Before You Go: A Tribute to Tony Rice, features his take on 4 of Rice’s iconic songs, plus an original song co-written by Tyminski.

The EP starts with the classic Norman Blake composition “Church Street Blues”. Joining Dan Tyminski is guitarist and singer Molly Tuttle. “One More Time Before You Go”, the title track, features Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Todd Phillips, and Josh Williams, who co-wrote the song with Tyminski. Williams, one of many artists to share a stage with Tony Rice, wrote the song with Tyminski as a way to deal with Tony Rice’s death. Dailey & Vincent join Tyminski on the Gordon Lightfoot penned “10 Degrees and Getting Colder”, a song that Rice first recorded as part of J.D. Crowe & The New South’s legendary Rounder 0044 album. Billy Strings joins with Dan Tyminski on “Where the Soul of Man Never Dies”, a song that Tony Rice and Ricky Skaggs recorded on their famous duet album. Billy and Dan should look into recording a similar duet album. The final song on the project is “Why You Been Gone So Long”, featuring dobro master Gaven Largent. The entire project is outstanding, but this song is my favorite from the project.

Dan Tyminski nailed this tribute to Tony Rice. Although there are only five songs on the EP, the Rice songs, plus the original song, that are included seem to be perfect picks. Kudos to Dan and all the special guests for providing a musical tribute worthy of the great Tony Rice. Also, there is a nice tip of the hat, or flash of the wrist watch, if you will, on the cover of this EP, with a picture of an Accutron watch, a passion of Tony’s, front and center. By the way, the Dan Tyminski Band will be releasing a new album in 2023, and I cannot wait to hear it. Until then, sit back and enjoy Dan Tyminski’s One More Time Before You Go: A Tribute to Tony Rice.

 

 

 

July 13, 2022

I was searching for my next Catch of the Week, and I found an album that was somehow overlooked earlier this year. The artist is Matt Daniel, a Texas singer-songwriter that I feel like I should be familiar with. However, after scouring the memory banks of my brain and computer, I could not find anything on Daniel. So, I went to the internet to find anything I could, and there is not much, save for his Facebook page. He is a true independent artist, working at his craft on the road and on his new album All I’ll Ever Need.

The album features eight songs, all written or co-written by Matt Daniel, and the lyrics are laid out in excellent fashion, drawing you into the story that each song tells. Daniel’s voice is outstanding, too. It will draw comparisons to Jamie Johnson and Chris Stapleton. However, he is no copycat. Daniel has a timbre that is all his own. You get a full range of emotions on this album, all the way from love to heartbreak. Some of my favorite songs on All I’ll Ever Need include, “Trailer Truck”, “Weatherman”, “Better Place”, and “Homeless in Heaven”.

I have always been attracted to authentic music. I want music that has some substance in the lyrics and grit in the performances. I feel like Matt Daniel is the real deal. He is a gifted songwriter and talented songwriter. I hope that we hear more from him in the future. I recommend giving Matt Daniel’s All I’ll Ever Need a listen today.

 

 

July 6, 2022

It is time to take a look back at my favorite Catches of the Week from the first half of 2022 (January-June 2022). These are listed in order in which they were reviewed. The full reviews can be seen further down on this page:

 

Brent Cobb –  And Now, Let’s Turn to Page… (reviewed on February 9, 2022)

Although a gospel album is not what I expected from Brent Cobb, it is a pleasant surprise. He puts his own stamp on gospel standards, but it is done with a reverence that can be felt through Cobb’s delivery. Even if you are not a gospel music fan, if you appreciate the music of Brent Cobb, I recommend giving a listen to And Now, Let’s Turn to Page

 

Texas Hill – Heaven Down Here (reviewed on February 16, 2022)

The group members are Adam Wakefield, Craig Wayne Boyd, and Casey James. You may know their names as solo artists. Wakefield and Boyd were contestants on The Voice, and Casey James was an American Idol finalist. It is not a given that musical magic will happen when you put talented artists together. There has to be natural chemistry, and that cannot be forced. When singers and musicians click, the end results are amazing. Wakefield, Boyd, and James vocals tightly fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that makes a complete picture.

 

Bob Minner – From Sulphur Springs to Rising Fawn: The Songs of Norman Blake (reviewed on March 9, 2022)

Bob Minner has done an outstanding job in tipping his hat to the music of Norman Blake. You can sense the love and care that Minner has for the songs. It goes without saying that Norman Blake’s songs are very deserving of the adoration. However, I want to tip my hat to Minner for paying tribute to Norman Blake with some of the best picking and singing you will hear this side of heaven.

 

ERNEST – Flower Shops (reviewed March 16, 2022)

ERNEST is a great singer and songwriter, and those talents are on display. Mix that with the musical choices on the album, especially steel guitar, and you have a project that would seem to be in a category that very few find. That category is one in which older and younger country fans will find music that they both enjoy.

 

Randall King – Shot Glass (reviewed March 23, 2022)

This is Randall King’s first major label album release. I do not believe it will be his last. If you need a traditional country music fix, I recommend giving Randall King’s Shot Glass a listen today.

 

Ned LeDoux – Buckskin (reviewed March 30, 2022)

I know that anytime Ned LeDoux’s name is brought up, folks mention his father, Chris. However, I do not believe that he is just imitating his father. Rather, Ned seems to be unapologetically comfortable in his own skin. Ned LeDoux’s Buckskin is country music about cowboys, rodeos, and real life with an honest delivery, sometimes singing, and at others offering a bit of spoken word-like poetry.

 

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway – Crooked Tree (reviewed April 6, 2022)

Many fans of traditional bluegrass music have been clamoring for Molly Tuttle to release a completely bluegrass style album. Well, the wait is over! Along with her outstanding band, there are guest performances from Margo Price (“Flatland Girl”), Billy Strings (“Dooley’s Farm), Sierra Hull (“Over the Line”), Dan Tyminski (“San Francisco Blues”), and Gillian Welch (“Side Saddle”). I have always enjoyed Molly Tuttle’s projects, and I am sure I will enjoy her future albums. However, this new album is one of my favorites.

 

Joshua Hedley – Neon Blue (reviewed May 18, 2022)

Although many were speculating that Joshua Hedley’s new album would be full of 1950s and 1960s style songs, Neon Blue features songs that are rooted in ‘90s country music. If you did not know better, you would think that he was covering songs from that era. However, all but one of the twelve songs on the album are originals, co-written by Hedley. In addition to the great songwriting, Hedley does an outstanding job of performing these songs as his own, while at the same time bringing to mind the style of the 1990s, with shades and hues of Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Joe Diffie, and Mark Chesnutt.

 

Brennen Leigh featuring Asleep at the Wheel – Obsessed With the West (reviewed June 1, 2022)

Asleep at the Wheel’s legacy is already cemented as a purveyor of western swing. You can add that descriptor to Brennen Leigh. There have been many artists that cover Bob Wills’ tunes. It is a much harder thing to create new music in Wills’ style, but Leigh has done just that. The new album is made up of twelve original songs, all written or co-written by Brennen Leigh.

 

American Aquarium – Chicamacomico (reviewed June 15, 2022)

BJ Barham’s lyrics will definitely hit home with the listeners. He wrote or co-wrote all ten songs. The words of each song are powerful and real. There are no wasted words or phrases. Barham’s singing and the musical performances of American Aquarium are outstanding on this new album.

 

Mary Gauthier – Dark Enough to See the Stars (reviewed June 22, 2022)

Mary Gauthier has a way with words that is seldom matched. She is able to paint a picture that is more than clear. Gauthier is able to make it seem that you are in the picture, either as an observer, or as the subject. The deep feelings that she is able to convey with her lyrics is a songwriting masterwork.

 

 

 

June 29, 2022

Whisperin’ Bill Anderson has been a fixture in Nashville since the late 1950s. Whenever someone lists the great country music songwriters, Bill Anderson’s name is mentioned, and rightfully so. He has had a hand in writing more than 100 charted country songs. His career has been long and successful. Anderson’s songs have been recorded from the 1950s, by artists like Ray Price & Lefty Frizzell, all the way into the twenty first century, by artists like George Strait, Kenny Chesney, and Brad Paisley. That success led the South Carolina born, Georgia raised Anderson to entry to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He made a mark as a performer in the 1960s, when his songs landed inside the Top Ten, including Number 1 hits, like “Still” and “Mama Sang a Song”. Whisperin’ Bill has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1961, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. After giving you the Cliff Notes version of Bill Anderson’s career, which, by the way, is still going, it is my pleasure to let you know that he has released a new album, As Far As I Can See: The Best Of.

The new album is a collection of some of Bill Anderson’s biggest hits. The previously released hits that are included on the album include, “City Lights”, “Walk Out Backwards”, “Three AM”, “Still”, “The Tip of My Fingers”, “I Love You Drops”, “I Get The Fever”, “Po’ Folks”, “Wild Week-End”, “Happy State Of Mind”, “My Life (Throw It Away If I Want To)”, “Sometimes” featuring Mary Lou Turner,  “If You Can Live With It (I Can Live Without It),  and “The Corner Of My Life”. In addition to those songs, there is a recently discovered demo of “If It Is All The Same To You”. The 1964 recording is a duet between Anderson and Dolly Parton. The song was later recorded by Bill Anderson & Jan Howard, and was released as part of his 1969 album of the same name. There is one new recording on the album. It is another duet, “Someday It’ll All Make Sense”, from Bill Anderson & Dolly Parton.

With such a long and successful career, Bill Anderson’s discography is massive. Trying to dive into his catalog can be a daunting task. This album is a great sample of his songs from 1961-1973, and is a wonderful introduction for a younger country music fan to Bill Anderson. The final song on the album, the new duet with Dolly Parton, is a great bow to top off this album. I highly recommend giving Bill Anderson’s As Far As I Can See: The Best Of a listen today.

 

 

June 22, 2022

Mary Gauthier is one of the preeminent songwriters of our time. Her ability to write songs that capture the emotions of a moment is at an expert level. Her songs have been recorded by many artists, including Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Jimmy Buffett, Dolly Parton, Kathy Mattea, and Bobby Bare. Gauthier’s albums have received critical acclaim, including Grammy nominations. Her songs have been included on the soundtracks of various TV shows, most recently Yellowstone, which has added to her fan base. Mary Gauthier’s latest masterpiece is Dark Enough to See the Stars.

The majority of Mary Gauthier’s albums could be classified as folk or singer-songwriter. Dark Enough to See the Stars also earns that same classification. With that musical approach, your attention is drawn to lyrics. The songs on this album deal with love, loss, and the cost, not monetary, of being a human being. I enjoyed each of this album’s ten songs, but some of my favorites are “Thank God For You”, a song that has a gospel feel, complete with an organ, “Truckers and Troubadours”, and “How Could You Be Gone”.

Mary Gauthier has a way with words that is seldom matched. She is able to paint a picture that is more than clear. Gauthier is able to make it seem that you are in the picture, either as an observer, or as the subject. The deep feelings that she is able to convey with her lyrics is a songwriting masterwork. I recommend giving Mary Gauthier’s Dark Enough to See the Stars a listen today.

 

 

 

June 15, 2022

American Aquarium has been around for over fifteen years. Bandleader BJ Barham has been the driving force behind the band, both singing and writing the majority of the songs American Aquarium’s repertoire. Although they have been performing for years, many discovered the group through their 2020 album, Lamentations. On the strength of that album and the song “The Luckier You Get”, American Aquarium started to gain critical and commercial success, expanding their audiences, including playing The Grand Ole Opry. American Aquarium released Slappers, Bangers, and Certified Twangers, Vol. 1 & 2. last year. It was a collection of country songs from the 1990s. American Aquarium have gotten back to releasing original material with their new album, Chicamacomico.

BJ Barham’s singing and songwriting is front and center on the new album. He wrote or co-wrote all ten songs. The majority of the songs deal with real life situations, from love and family life to dealing with the death of a loved one. Some of my favorite songs on the album include “The First Year”, “Wildfire”, “Just Close Enough” (co-written with Lori McKenna), “The Hardest Thing” (co-written with Hayes Carll), and “All I Needed” (co-written with Carl Anderson). The lyrics of each song are powerful and real. There are no wasted words or phrases. I have to take a moment to compliment to the music on Chicamacomico. The band’s performance dovetails the lyrics perfectly.

I am happy to see the success that American Aquarium have had in recent years. I always cheer when songwriters are able to offer their songs to the world and see the impact it has on the listening audience. BJ Barham’s lyrics will definitely hit home with the listeners. Barham’s singing and the musical performances of American Aquarium are outstanding on this new album. I recommend giving Chicamacomico a listen today.

 

 

June 8, 2022

It is a safe bet that country music fans of a certain age were introduced to the music of Bob Dylan when he made an appearance in 1969 on The Johnny Cash Show. Bob Dylan’s association with Music City, USA, where the show was filmed, was cemented with the appearance along with the three albums he recorded in Nashville (Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline). Although Dylan’s music has never been classified as country, his impact on the artists and songwriters within the genre is huge. Now we get a tip of hat to Bob Dylan on behalf of country music fans and artists with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s latest album, Dirt Does Dylan.

With a catalog as large as Bob Dylan’s, it would be hard to narrow down the list of songs to include on a tribute album. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band did a great job creating a project that captures the many lyrical styles of Dylan, while staying true to their own sound. Some of my favorite tracks on the album include, “I Shall Be Released”, which sees Larkin Poe join the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The harmonies will give you goosebumps. “Forever Young” is a perfect pairing of Dylan’s lyrics and the NGDB’s music. The stripped down “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” will have you singing along and tapping your toes. In my opinion, one of the most powerful songs ever penned by Dylan is “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. Jason Isbell, Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle, and The War and Treat join the band for a stirring rendition of this Bob Dylan classic.

If you grew up enjoying the music and lyrics of Bob Dylan, you will enjoy Dirt Does Dylan. I fear that as we move further away from the time when he was releasing what would become classic songs, Dylan’s music will not be enjoyed or studied by future generations. I am afraid his name will become nothing more than the answer to a game show trivia question. If you have a young music fan in your family, I suggest you introduce them to Bob Dylan’s music. A good way to start is with Dirt Does Dylan. Once that seed is planted, maybe you can point them in the direction of the source of the songs, the original recordings by Bob Dylan. I recommend giving Dirt Does Dylan a listen today.

 

 

June 1, 2022

When you think of western swing, the names that usually come to mind are Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and Asleep at the Wheel, and rightfully so. However, it seems that any country artist that was born in or lives in Texas or Oklahoma is influenced by western swing. However, influence is about as far as it goes. There are not many artists that embrace the style of Bob Wills with the intention of making a new western swing album. That is why this Catch of the Week is so unusual.

Brennen Leigh is a respected singer-songwriter that was born in North Dakota. She was raised in Minnesota, starting to tour at 14 years old.  Leigh moved to Austin, TX at the age of 19. That is where she met Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson. They talked about working together on a western swing album, but Leigh eventually left the Lone Star State to pursue songwriting opportunities in Nashville. She achieved success as a songwriter, with songs having been recorded by Lee Ann Womack, Rodney Crowell, and Sunny Sweeney. In the past few years, Leigh and Benson revisited the idea of making a western swing album. The stars aligned and now we have a new record from Brennen Leigh featuring Asleep at the Wheel.

The new album, Obsessed With the West, twelve original songs, all written or co-written by Brennen Leigh. The songs are so well crafted in the western swing style that you could swear you have heard the Bob Wills’ version before. Leigh’s vocal style instantly draws comparisons to that of Cindy Walker’s delivery, while Asleep at the Wheel plays the role of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. There is also appearances from Emily Gimble (“If I Treated You Like You Treat Me”) and Katie Shore (“Tell Him I’m Dead”). I have no favorite song on this project. Each song is equally pleasurable.

Asleep at the Wheel’s legacy is already cemented as a purveyor of western swing. You can add that descriptor to Brennen Leigh. There have been many artists that cover Bob Wills’ tunes. It is a much harder thing to create new music in Wills’ style, but Leigh has done just that. I recommend giving Brennen Leigh featuring Asleep at the Wheel’s Obsessed With the West a listen.

 

 

May 25, 2022

Since Midland broke on the national scene in 2017 with “Drinkin’ Problem'”, I have been a fan. Their sound is modern while paying tribute to the sounds of country music from years past. They embrace not only the earlier sounds, but their attire is also a bit of a throwback, with Nudie suits and cowboy hats. Their music struck a chord with me and many others around the country. Midland released an EP, The Last Resort, last year with the promise of a LP this year. They have kept their promise with the release of The Last Resort: Greetings From.

Midland’s new project consists of the five songs (“And Then Some”, “Two To Two Step”, “Take Her Off Your Hands”, “Sunrise Tells The Story” and “Adios Cowboy”), from the previously mentioned EP. I loved all five of those songs. The seven new songs on the LP continue in their tradition of using traditional country music as the foundation of their sound. You will find plenty of steel guitar mixed with Mark Wystach’s lead vocals, the solid bass of Cam Duddy, and guitar work of Jess Carson. Some of my favorites from the new batch of songs include “The Last Resort”. It has sort of a Kenny Chesney or Bellamy Brothers vibe, completely with sand, the ocean, strong drinks, and strong regrets. I also enjoyed the collaboration between Midland and Jon Pardi on “Longneck Way to Go”. There is not a bad song on the album, and it would be a great addition to your summertime playlist.

Since making themselves known to the world on country music, Midland has done nothing, but gain momentum with each passing day. With each released albums, EPs, videos, and concert appearances, the ranks of Midland’s fan base grows. With the release of the new LP, I am sure the ranks will grow even more. Midland is one of the few acts that appeals to the younger and older country music fans. I recommend giving Midland’s The Last Resort: Greetings From a listen today.

 

 

 

May 18, 2022

As country music has expanded in recent years to include many new sounds and influences, many fans of a particular style congregate with like-minded people: modern country in one corner, and traditionalist in another.  Because the styles are so disparate, it can be hard, though not impossible, to find a middle ground. We were introduced to Joshua Hedley with his 2018 release Mr. Jukebox. That album was directly from the country music sounds of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. We have not had a new project from him since then, but that does not mean that Hedley has been taking it easy. He has been performing regularly at Robert’s Western World, a famous honky tonk in Nashville. Those that did not find their way to Nashville to see Hedley perform have been clamoring for another album from the Mayor of Lower Broadway. Well, the wait is over! Joshua Hedley’s new album, Neon Blue, is now available.

Although many were speculating that Joshua Hedley’s new album would be full of 1950s and 1960s style songs, Neon Blue features songs that are rooted in ‘90s country music. If you did not know better, you would think that he was covering songs from that era. However, all but one of the twelve songs on the album are originals, co-written by Hedley.  Some of my favorite tunes on Neon Blue include “Down to My Last Lie”, “Bury Me With My Boots On”, “Free (One Heart)”, the cover of Roger Miller’s “River in the Rain”, and the title track. In addition to the great songwriting, Hedley does an outstanding job of performing these songs as his own, while at the same time bringing to mind the style of the 1990s, with shades and hues of Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Joe Diffie, and Mark Chesnutt.

If you are looking for something to cleanse the musical palate, I recommend giving Joshua Hedley’s Neon Blue a listen. Although he is extremely talented, one cannot tell if Hedley’s recording and performing older style songs will further his career. The main difference between Mr. Jukebox and Neon Blue is the era the songs are styled in. There seems to a be a growing feeling of nostalgia for the music on the 1990s, and I believe enough people are fans of the sound provided with Neon Blue that Joshua Hedley will find and keep an audience. I recommend giving Joshua Hedley’s Neon Blue a listen today.

 

 

 

May 11, 2022

Legend is a word that is thrown around too flippantly these days. There are not that many true legends. The greatness of legends is often only fully realized after a person has passed away. A living legend is a rare category reserved for a person that has had such an impact in their particular fields that their status is heralded in their lifetime. One of those that soar in such rarefied air is Willie Nelson. His singing and songwriting have been influencing other artists for over six decades. Willie has released an unbelievable number of albums during his career. However, I will never take for granted the announcement of a new Willie Nelson album. I understand this unique situation. It is almost unheard of to have a singer releasing quality albums at the age of 89. Willie is somehow still making albums that hold up against earlier projects. Willie Nelson latest album is A Beautiful Time.

Willie Nelson teams up with longtime collaborator Buddy Cannon on A Beautiful Time. Cannon co-wrote six new songs on this album, five of which were co-written with Nelson. Cannon, as he has done on many of Willie’s recent albums, served as the producer of A Beautiful Time. With the exception of two cover songs (Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” and The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends”) almost all the other songs are originals, including two songs written by Shawn Camp (“A Beautiful Time” and “We’re Not Happy (Till You’re Not Happy)”. I enjoyed the entire album, but I want to mention two songs that I am especially fond of. The first is “I Don’t Go to Funerals”, co-written by Nelson and Cannon. It is a bit of dark humor, but also a small dose of reality. The second song is “I’ll Love You Till the Day I Die”, written by Rodney Crowell and Chris Stapleton. The song sounds like it could have been on one of Willie’s albums from the ‘70s or ‘80s.

Willie Nelson’s ability to continue to tour and make new albums is amazing. The “Red Headed Stranger”, now 89 years old, is an anomaly. Performers are not supposed to be able to sing and play into their 80’s, much less be expected to. However, I am not complaining. I am ready for any music that Willie feels the need to release. I realize the uniqueness of this situation, and will enjoy it for as long as Willie is willing and able to produce new albums. I recommend giving Willie Nelson’s A Beautiful Time a listen today.

 

 

 

April 27, 2022

This week’s Catch finds us staying close to home. Anderson County, SC is where you will find Andrew Crawford. If you have followed the local music scene in the past fifteen years, you have probably seen and heard Andrew’s guitar. He has played with local bands, like the Heaven’s Echoes, Last Road, and the Jake Bartley Band. He worked professionally as a member of  Randy Kohrs’ band for several years. Crawford has been building his resume, recording and sharing the stage with the likes of Vince Gill, Rhonda Vincent, and Jim Lauderdale. In addition, he has found time to teach guitar, hone his songwriting skills, and add producer to a growing list of accomplishments. He has decided to return to his bluegrass roots with his latest album, The Lonesome Season.

The album features ten tracks, and Crawford assembled an all-star cast to help shape the album. The guests includes Aaron Ramsey, Tim Crouch, Patton Wages, Jason Moore, Jeff Partin, Josh Shilling, Shawn Lane, Glen Harrell, Brian Stephens, Maggie Stephens, Daniel Slayer, Curtis Bumgarner, Scott Hawkins, and Stephen Hudson. Of the ten tracks, two are instrumentals (“Land of Giants” and “Fear of the Mountain”). Even with all the added firepower, Andrew Crawford’s talent is front and center. Many people know about his outstanding guitar skills. However, he played several other instruments on this album. Crawford also shows off his singing skills, including the title track, “The Lonesome Season”. His songwriting prowess is also in the spotlight. He co-wrote my favorite song on this project, “Big Montana”, with songwriter Trey Ward.

Even though Andrew Crawford is from SC, The Lonesome Season has gained national attention, with several songs landing on the Bluegrass Today charts. I feel like we may see more of Crawford’s songs in the charts. I feel like the success of this album is due to several factors. First, Crawford’s musicianship is top notch. Second, his songwriting and song selection is excellent. Third, Crawford stepping from the role as sideman and putting himself front and center to sing connects with the listening audience. You can hear that Crawford understands this style of music, and he delivers it with a sincerity that cannot be faked. I recommend giving Andrew Crawford’s The Lonesome Season a listen today.

 

 

April 20, 2022

When you think of country music hot beds, you usually think of Nashville or the Red Dirt Music scene in Texas. This week we venture to a new location, the state of Illinois. That is the home of singer-songwriter David Quinn. To note the different origin point of his music, Quinn calls his music Black Dirt Music. As with many albums we have heard in the past few months, Quinn’s latest project was written and constructed during the pandemic. He found his way away from the city life in Illinois to the Indiana countryside to write the songs for his latest project. By the way, Quinn wrote all twelve songs on the new album. He also served as the album’s producer. David Quinn’s new album is called Country Fresh.

When I am introducing a new artist, many listeners want to know what they are getting into musically. They want something to compare it to. I do not like to draw comparisons, but I understand the apprehension of the unknown. So, David Quinn’s music is definitely in the classic country vein with some songs having a Waylonesque tendencies. His vocal delivery is also very country with a hint of John Prine. I wonder if there is a similarity to Prine in the pronunciation of words because they are both from Illinois. There is also a complete range of emotions through the album, as the good Lord and Hank Williams intended. You get fun, upbeat songs like “Boy From Illinois”, “Easy Like a Breeze”, and the title track. Quinn also offers much heavier lyrics on  “I Came Back to You (To Say Goodbye)” and “I Just Want to Feel Alright”. I want to mention some of the great instrumentalist on Country Fresh, including guitar player Laur Joamets (Drivin N Cryin’, formerly with Sturgill Simpson), Fats Kaplin (John Prine) on dobro, fiddle, banjo & harmonica, Brett Resnick (Kacey Musgraves) on pedal steel, and drummer Miles Miller (Sturgill Simpson). The combination of the music with Quinn’s lyrics and vocals are a perfect fit.

The great thing about the music industry today is how easy it is to find music from artists that suit your tastes. With the click of a mouse you can discover new artists, give them a listen, and decide if you will add it to your playlist. There is such a wide variety of styles to enjoy in today’s music that you are bound to find one that suits you. If you are a fan of straight forward classic country sounds, you need to check out David Quinn. Give a listen to his previous album, but, first, give Country Fresh a listen today.

 

 

April 13, 2022

From there start playing at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery to gracing the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and securing a Grammy nomination, the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys have been building a reputation as one of the top up and coming traditional bluegrass bands. For the majority of their existence the band has been made up of CJ Lewandowski (mandolin), Jereme Brown (banjo), Josh Rinkel (guitar), and Jasper Lorentzen (bass). Recently, the boys have added a female to their ranks in the way of seasoned fiddle player and vocalist, Laura Orshaw. With the new addition to the band, the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys have released a new album, Never Slow Down.
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys present eleven tracks on Never Slow Down. The album continues in the traditional style that the group is known for. Some of my favorite tracks on the album are cover songs, “Little Glass of Wine” (The Stanley Brothers), “Lonesome” (Ralph Stanley), and “Ramblin’ Woman” (Hazel Dickens), the latter featuring Orshaw on lead vocals. Some of my other favorites on this project include, the Jim Lauderdale penned “Old Time Angels” and “Take My Ashes to the River”. The song selection and performances, both musical and vocal, are outstanding
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys (and one Ramblin’ Girl) are in their element on Never Slow Down. They build on the rich bluegrass musical tradition that is the foundation of the genre. Their previous albums are might enjoyable, too. I recommend that you check those out. However, the addition of Laura Orshaw to the band seems to have given the group another musical gear. I recommend giving the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys Never Slow Down a listen today.

 

 

April 6, 2022

 

Molly Tuttle has been playing guitar since she was 8 years old, and she quickly became recognized for her extraordinary talent on the acoustic guitar, performing on stage for the first time at the age of 11 with her father, Jack. Tuttle’s songwriting skills were evident at an early age, winning the Chris Young songwriting competition at MerleFest.  She also received a scholarship in 2012 to Berklee School of Music. Tuttle also has the distinction of being the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association Guitar Player of the Year Award in 2017. For an encore, she repeated as the 2018 award winner. She has just released several solo albums and appeared as a guest artist on numerous other recordings. Most of Tuttle’s albums are a mixture of pop with acoustic instruments. However, she has appeared on stage with many artists in recent years to play traditional bluegrass songs. That is why many fans of traditional bluegrass music have been clamoring to have her release a completely bluegrass style album. Well, the wait is over! Her latest project is a bluegrass album called Crooked Tree.

Before I go any further, I have to mention that the album is credited to Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway. The band is made up of Bronwyn Keith-Hines on fiddle, Kyle Tuttle (no relation) on banjo, Dom Leslie on mandolin, Shelby Means on bass, and Molly Tuttle on guitar. Their sound is outstanding! I also need to mention that Molly co-wrote all of the thirteen songs on Crooked Tree. Molly’s singing is wonderful on this album. She gets some help from several guest vocalists, including Margo Price (“Flatland Girl”), Billy Strings (“Dooley’s Farm), Sierra Hull (“Over the Line”), Dan Tyminski (“San Francisco Blues”), and Gillian Welch (“Side Saddle”). It is truly difficult for me to choose a favorite track. I genuinely enjoy each of the songs on Crooked Tree.

Although Crooked Tree is a bluegrass album, I do not expect to see Molly Tuttle turning out just bluegrass albums. Rather, I think Molly will continue to put out music that interests her, regardless of genre. There are already artists that have done this, including Billy Strings and Sturgill Simpson. I think we will see more artists follow this path. I have always enjoyed Molly Tuttle’s projects, and I am sure I will enjoy her future albums. However, this new album is one of my favorites. I recommend giving Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway’s Crooked Tree a listen today.

 

March 30, 2022

 

With the recent popularity of the TV shows Yellowstone and 1883, there seems to be a growing interest in cowboys, rodeos, and ranches. With that interest there comes a desire to find music that celebrates the western way of life. If you count yourself as one of those that has that interest, let me point you in the direction of Ned LeDoux. His music carries on a musical tradition started by his father, Chris LeDoux. If you are not familiar with Chris LeDoux, let me give you the Cliff Notes version of his life: he was a real cowboy, competed in rodeo, and wrote and sang songs about cowboys and rodeos, even being name dropped by Garth Brooks in “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)”. Drawing from that lineage, Ned LeDoux, who bears a striking resemblance to his late father in both looks and singing, continues the legacy of singing and writing songs about the west, not looking back to yesteryear, but celebrating the here and now.

Ned LeDoux’s latest album is Buckskin. The album includes twelve tracks, seven of which he wrote or co-wrote, and one of his father’s songs, “He Rides The Wild Horses”. Some of my favorite songs on Buckskin include “This Ain’t My First Rodeo”, “Only Need One”, “Cards in San Antone”, “Rodeo Dreams”, and “Damn Good Cowboy”. I liked all of Ned’s previous projects, but this is the first one that I think finds him cemented in a sound and style throughout, and it fits him like a glove.  I want to take a moment to tip my Resistol to producer Mac McAnally for a job well done on Buckskin. I’ll tip it again to Ned LeDoux for a great “rodeo country” album.

I know that anytime Ned LeDoux’s name is brought up, folks mention his father, Chris. In fact, I have done it myself in this review quite a few times. However, I do not believe that Ned is just imitating his father. He is definitely influenced by DNA and example, but who isn’t? Rather, Ned seems to be unapologetically comfortable in his own skin. Ned LeDoux’s Buckskin is country music about cowboys, rodeos, and real life with an honest delivery, sometimes singing, and at others offering a bit of spoken word-like poetry. I recommend giving Buckskin a listen today.

 

 

March 23, 2022

There have been signs in country music of a turn to more traditional elements: steel guitar, fiddles, and emotional lyrics. Those elements can be heard on music from modern artists like Cody Johnson, Midland, Jon Pardi, and ERNEST. Fans that have been starved for anything that sounds traditional are gobbling up  everything they can find that has the least little bit of twang. However, I would not call this a traditional country music revival. The review for this week is of an album from an artist that does not just add traditional elements to his music, but his entire style is that of a more traditional style. This week we are reviewing Randall King’s Shot Glass.

The first thing to point out is the distinctive sound of Randall King’s voice. It has drawn comparisons to those of George Strait and Alan Jackson. I believe that many of those that draw those parallels are confusing the traditional country music that is found in the music of Strait, Jackson, and King. However, in a time where so many artists sound similar, I believe Randall King’s voice is clearly recognizable. Shot Glass features 11 tracks, and you get a little bit of everything: honk tonks, heartbreak, humor, and even King’s take of the gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away”. My favorite tracks on Shot Glass include “Hard Way to Make it Rain”, “Roger, Miller Lite and Me”, “Record High”, and “Middle of Nowhere Church”.

This is Randall King’s first major label album release. I do not believe it will be his last. Time will tell how hungry country music fans are for a new artist whose sound is completely traditional. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, I hope that the operators of the Nashville music machine continue to diversify their music offerings, making country music a real sound smorgasbord. If you need a traditional country music fix, I recommend giving Randall King’s Shot Glass a listen today.

 

 

 

March 16, 2022

 

 

You may just have started hearing the name of ERNEST on country radio. His latest single “Flower Shops”, featuring Morgan Wallen, is receiving significant airplay. With the exception of the aforementioned song, you might not know much about ERNEST. However, you might be familiar with #1 songs that he has penned: “Big, Big Plans” (Chris Lane), “More Than My Hometown” (Morgan Wallen), “I Love My Country” (Florida Georgia Line), and “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90’s” (Sam Hunt). With those hits that he penned under his belt, along with his own “Flower Shops”, ERNEST is ready to make an even bigger mark on country music with the release of his album, Flower Shops.

The songs on Flower Shops cover a range of emotions, mainly love and loss. It is good to see songwriters not avoiding the tough realities of life. I have to say that I did not expect this album to have so much steel guitar. I am not complaining. I think that steel guitar, along with fiddle, remains one of the primary ways to underpin emotional lyrics in country music. It sounds like the albums features mostly instrumentalists instead of relying on electronic substitutes. I do not want anyone to misunderstand that last observation. I am not against the various styles of music that we hear in modern country music. There is so much variety that I compare it to an all you can eat buffet. There is so much to choose from, but I have my favorite flavors, and the musical choices on Flower Shops are more in line with my tastes. There are eleven tracks, ten songs on the album (one of the tracks is an acoustic version of the title track). Some of my favorite tracks include, “Sucker for Small Towns” “Tennessee Queen” “Comfortable When I’m Crazy”, “Feet Wanna Run” and the title track.

I feel like we need more albums like Flower Shops. ERNEST is a great singer and songwriter, and those talents are on display. Mix that with the musical choices on the album, especially steel guitar, and you have a project that would seem to be in a category that very few find. That category is one in which older and younger country fans will find music that they both enjoy. I recommend giving ERNEST’s Flower Shops a listen today.

 

 

 

March 9, 2022

I usually wait to review an album until it is released. I am making an exception with this review and jumping the gun by just a few days. This week’s catch will be released on Friday, March 11th. It is from Bob Minner. He is a guitarist and songwriter that has been a fixture for almost thirty years as the guitarist for Tim McGraw. Although he is known as a member of McGraw’s band, Bob Minner is a bluegrasser at heart. As a songwriter, the Missouri native’s songs have been recorded by the likes of Blue Highway, Volume Five, and Dailey & Vincent. Minner has also released several solo projects highlighting not only his songwriting, but also his expert guitar work. Just by listening to his songs, it is easy to hear the influences of various guitarists. One of those pickers that left a big impression on Minner was Norman Blake. If you are not familiar with Norman Blake, let me give you a brief overview. Although he toured and recorded with the likes of Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and John Hartford, Blake is known for playing traditional fiddle tunes, note for note, on the acoustic guitar. Because of this he is compared to Doc Watson. However, Norman Blake also wrote and recorded many of his own songs, and that is what separates him from Watson and fellow guitar picker, Tony Rice. Bob Minner pays tribute to Blake on his latest project, From Sulphur Springs to Rising Fawn: The Songs of Norman Blake.

The album’s title is a reference to the town where Norman Blake grew up (Sulphur Springs) and where he now resides (Rising Fawn). With so many tunes from Blake’s catalog to choose from, it must have been a daunting task to decide which ones to include on the album, but Bob Minner’s song selection on this project is superb. There are fifteen tracks on this project (14 songs and 1 poem). You will find a mixture of instrumental tunes and songs with vocals. The instrumental tunes include “Widow’s Creek” with Kenny Smith (guitar), “Macon Rag”, “Hangin’ Dog” with Mike Compton (mandolin), “Year of the Locust (Farewell to Old Rufus)” featuring Bob Minner on mandolin and guitar, and “Fiddler’s Dram/Whiskey Before Breakfast”. There are plenty of guest vocalist including Vince Gill (“Church Street Blues”), Tim Stafford (“Last Train From Poor Valley”), Ron Block (“Ginseng Sullivan”), Jeremy Stephens & Corrina Rose Logston (“On & On & On”), Ronnie Bowman (“Green Light on the Southern”), Chris Eldridge (“Ridge Road Gravel” – Dedicated to Tony Rice From Norman Blake), and Trey Hensley (“Randall Collins”). Two of my favorite songs on the album include “Lonesome Jenny” featuring Dale Ann Bradley and “Slow Train Through Georgia” featuring Shawn Camp. I enjoyed all the tunes on this project, but the vocal delivery on those two songs create an emotion and paint a picture that is hard to duplicate.

Bob Minner has done an outstanding job in tipping his hat to the music of Norman Blake. You can sense the love and care that Minner has for the songs. It goes without saying that Norman Blake’s songs are very deserving of the adoration. However, I want to tip my hat to Minner for paying tribute to Norman Blake with some of the best picking and singing you will hear this side of heaven. I recommend giving  Bob Minner’s From Sulphur Springs to Rising Fawn: The Songs of Norman Blake a listen.

 

 

 

February 23, 2022

 

Del McCoury is one of the most respected, and recognizable figures in bluegrass music. The 83-year old singer’s list of accomplishments warrants the praise he receives. He was a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, he has recorded with a plethora of artists, including Doc Watson, Mac Wiseman, and Steve Earle. McCoury has recorded more than 30 albums, is a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, and has won multiple Grammy and IBMA awards. With all of those accolades, Del could very easily sit back and relax. However, he continues to tour and record new music. The Del McCoury Band’s latest album is Almost Proud.

In addition to Del’s voice and guitar, the rest of the band consists of Jason Carter (fiddle), Alan Bartram (bass), and Del’s son,  Ronnie McCoury (mandolin) and Rob McCoury (banjo). Almost Proud  contains 12 songs, and each one is a perfect fit for Del. Some of the outstanding tracks on the album includes, the title track, penned by Eric Gibson and Mike Barber of The Gibson Brothers. It is a perfect kickoff track for the album. Del and the boys put their touch on Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”, and it sounds as if the song was wrote specifically for the bluegrass genre. Vince Gill makes a guest appearance on “Honky Tonk Nights”, reminding everyone that he can sing just about any style of music. Pianist Josh Shilling guests on “Once Again”, a song that he wrote. Putting the piano with the bluegrass instruments gives the song a jazzy, New Orleans style that works so well with Del’s vocals. I have to mention two songs written by Del McCoury. ‘The Misery You’ve Earned’ and ‘Running Wild’ are excellent songs that showcase Del’s songwriting skills.

The Del McCoury Band is one of the bands that seems to be respected and enjoyed by multiple generations of people that have interest in many genres other than bluegrass. From playing the stage of the Grand Ole Opry to electrifying the crowd at Bonnaroo, the Del McCoury Band always delivers. Del and the boys deliver again on this new project. The musical and vocal performances, the songwriting, song selection, and production are outstanding. I recommend giving the Del McCoury Band’s Almost Proud a listen today.

 

 

 

February 16, 2022

This week we will take a look at a new group and their new album. The group is called Texas Hill. The group members are Adam Wakefield, Craig Wayne Boyd, and Casey James. You may know their names as solo artists. Wakefield and Boyd were contestants on The Voice, and Casey James was an American Idol finalist. They have been moving forward with their own solo careers, but once they bumped into each other a few years ago, and discovered that they had much in common, Wakefield, Boyd, and James decided to join forces and create the group Texas Hill. Their latest album is called Heaven Down Here.

Having seen them individually on the respective singing competition shows in which they competed, we know that the members of Texas Hill can sing. After searching the web, it is worth noting that Wakefield, Boyd, and James are also songwriters as well. They wrote or co-wrote the majority of the 11 songs on Heaven Down Here. Texas Hill presents many different musical flavors on this album, but it’s all rooted in the country genre. The songs feature a splash of blues, a pinch of rock, a dose of rock, and, on “Where the Lonely Goes”, a smidgen of mariachi horns. However, the thing that is the main thread that runs through the album is the outstanding vocals. The members swap lead vocals while the others provide strong harmonies. The vocal arrangements remind me of groups like Blackhawk and Restless Heart, but, make no mistake, Texas Hill is doing their own thing. Some of my favorite tracks on Heaven Down Here include “Four Roses”, “Sugar Cane”, “Love Me When I’m Leaving”, “Where the Lonely Goes”, “Love is a River”, and the title track.

It is not a given that musical magic will happen when you put talented artists together. There has to be natural chemistry, and that cannot be forced. When singers and musicians click, the end results are amazing. Wakefield, Boyd, and James vocals tightly fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that makes a complete picture. I recommend giving Texas Hill’s Heaven Down Here a listen today.

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February 9, 2022

Brent Cobb is one of my favorite artists that I have discovered during my never ending search for great music to review on Porkchop’s Catch of the Week. With albums like Keep ‘Em On They Toes,  Shine On Rainy Day and Providence Canyon, the Georgia born singer-songwriter has not only won me over, but he has gained many new fans and critical acclaim. His laid back vocal style is a refreshing change from the Nashville norm. With the aforementioned projects under his belt, many were anxiously waiting for Cobb’s new project. The wait is over, and it may surprise you to learn that Brent Cobb’s new album, And Now, Let’s Turn to Page…, is an all gospel album.

Although a gospel album is not what I expected from Brent Cobb, it is a pleasant surprise. If you have spent much time leafing through a hymnal, trying to find the correct number, and rising to sing with the congregation on a Sunday morning, you will recognize eight of the nine tracks on this project. Some of the songs are very close to the traditional versions. However, each one has Cobb’s musical fingerprints on them. The songs you will recognize include, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”, “In the Garden”, “Are You Washed in the Blood”, “Softly and Tenderly”, “Old Rugged Cross”, “We Shall Rise”, “Old Country Church”, and “Blessed Be the Ties That Bind”. The one all new song is “When It’s My Time”. The song, co-written by Brent Cobb, is a song about not fearing death because of the great promise of walking through the pearly gates. I have to give a quick tip of the cap to Brent’s cousin, Dave, on producing this album. The performances paired with the production make And Now, Let’s Turn to Page… a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The idea that a secular artist would release a gospel project is not a new one. It used to be expected that a country artist, especially in the 1950s through the 1970s, would release a religious record. It became less frequent through the 1990s into the current day. It should not be expected of an artist to offer a gospel album. The album should be an endeavor in which an artist is interested. The songs should mean something to the artists. When gospel songs hold a special place in an artist’s heart, the result is a collection that can move the listening audience.  That is the case with Brent Cobb’s new album. He puts his own stamp on gospel standards, but it is done with a reverence that can be felt through Cobb’s delivery. Even if you are not a gospel music fan, if you appreciate the music of Brent Cobb, I recommend giving  And Now, Let’s Turn to Page… a listen today.

 

 

February 2, 2022

Preparing for the onslaught of new albums scheduled for 2022, I have been looking forward to the new project from Tammy Rogers and Thomm Jutz, Surely Will Be Singing. Rogers, Grammy award winner, is a member of the SteelDrivers and Jutz is a highly regarded, Grammy nominated singer and songwriter. Their songwriting collaborations through the years have produced over 100 songs. Therefore, it was no surprise that all of the songs on this new album were written by Rogers and Jutz.

Surely Will Be Singing features 12 original songs. Although the songs are new, they have a familiar sound, harkening back to tunes from yesteryear. I think it is extremely difficult to write new songs that have an older sound. Many people try, and a lot of those attempts sound corny and forced. However, Rogers and Jutz hit the nail on the head with their new songs. I love each track on the album, but some of my favorites include, “A Writer’s Tear”, “Long Gone”, “The Door”, and the title track.

In addition to Tammy Rogers vocals, she adds multiple instruments to this album (fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and viola). Jutz is featured on vocals and guitar. There are a few other instrumentalists that round out the recording, including Justin Moses (banjo and dobro), Mark Fain (upright bass), and Lynn Williams (drums and percussion). Tammy Rogers and Thomm Jutz shine on Surely Will Be Singing. Their songwriting, singing, and along with the musical performances make this a thoroughly enjoyable project. I recommend giving Tammy Rogers & Thomm Jutz’ Surely Will Be Singing a listen today.

 

 

 

January 19, 2022

 

We start the year with a great album from Jamestown Revival. The group’s new album, Young Man, features ten songs featuring the wonderful harmonies of Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance, drawing comparisons to groups like the Everly Brothers and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I want to point out they may draw influence from other artists, but there presentation is completely their own. This is not the first album from Jamestown Revival. However, it is their first project without electric guitars. An almost all acoustic album, except for the expertly placed steel guitar, Young Man not only featuring the aforementioned harmonies, but it also features expert songwriting. The lyrics along with the musical performances set a landscape that the listener can exist in for this ten song journey. I also have to tip my hat to producer Robert Ellis for his work on this album. Ellis is a Texan, just as Clay and Chance are. The album was recorded in Texas. I do not want to beat a dead horse, but there is something special about the music that comes out of the Lone Star State. There always has been, and there always will be.  Again, great songwriting, singing, musical performances, and production is what you will find on Jamestown Revival’s Young Man. I recommend giving it a listen today.

 

 

 

January 5, 2022

It is time to take a look back at my favorite 2021 Catches of the Week (Part 2: July-December 2021). These are listed in order in which they were reviewed. The full reviews can be seen further down on this page:

 

Midland – The Last Resort (reviewed on July 21, 2021)
Midland’s new project consists of five songs, and it continues in their tradition of using traditional country music as the foundation of their sound. You will find plenty of steel guitar mixed with Mark Wystach’s lead vocals, the solid bass of Cam Duddy, and guitar work of Jess Carson. It is impossible for me to choose a favorite song from The Last Resort. I tried to pick one, and I like each song equally.

 

Vincent Neil Emerson – Vincent Neil Emerson (reviewed on August 4, 2021)
From the album’s opening track, “Texas Moon”, to the final fading notes of the final track, “Saddled up and Tamed”, Vincent Neil Emerson will have your full attention. It is great to see the singer-songwriter tradition continuing in such an outstanding way. Vincent Neil Emerson carries the tradition of Texas songwriters forward into modern times. It is also a pleasure to see Rodney Crowell lending his expertise to the album as the producer.

 

Merle Monroe – Songs of a Simple Life (reviewed on August 11, 2021)
Merle Monroe has done it again. They have knocked it out of the park with Songs of a Simple Life. The playing, singing, and songwriting is outstanding. I believe Merle Monroe’s namesakes, Bill Monroe and Merle Haggard, would be proud of the band’s top notch albums.

 

Flatland Cavalry – Welcome to Countryland (reviewed on August 18, 2021)
You will find songs that will get your toes to tapping, and, maybe, even lead you to the dance floor. Also, there are songs about heartbreak and lost love. In my opinion, the emotional ride is what makes a good country album. The group’s musical and vocal performances are great. Add to the equation the aforementioned songwriting, and you have a fun, enjoyable album.

 

Sturgill Simpson – The Ballad of Dood & Juanita (reviewed on August 25, 2021)
For many years I have stated that concept albums fall into one of two camps: very good or really bad. The Ballad of Dood & Juanita is very good. The storytelling from one track to the next is complete. Set in Kentucky in 1862, the album follows the story of a tough mountain man (Dood) jumping on his mule (Shamrock) with his hound (Sam) leading the way as they look for Dood’s wife (Juanita), who has been abducted by a bandit.

 

Mike and the Moonpies – One to Grow On (reviewed on September 1, 2021)
Mike and the Moonpies are smoking on One to Grow On. The songwriting is outstanding, the musicianship is superb, and the lead vocals are country drenched in soul. Mike and the Moonpies have put out some great albums thus far, but I think One to Grow On might be their best.

 

Jon Randall – Jon Randall (reviewed on September 29, 2021)
Randall is a premiere songwriter. This album consists of nine songs that are an example of his songwriting expertise. Also, the instrumental tune, “Ranchero”, is a bold reminder that Jon Randall knows his way around the fretboard. It has been over fifteen years between Randall’s solo albums. Who knows how long it will be before we get his next one. I hope it is not fifteen years. If it does take that long, I can assure you that it will be worth the wait.

 

Billy Strings – Renewal (reviewed on October 13, 2021)
Renewal is a heavy dose of bluegrass with all of the other elements that we have come to expect from a Billy Strings album. Although Billy Strings is front and center, it is worth noting that his new album is a band project. The guys that make up the group include, Billy Failing (banjo), Jarrod Walker (mandolin), and Royal Masat (bass). Along with Strings, the group works like a well-oiled machine on Renewal.

 

Erin Enderlin – Barroom Mirrors (reviewed on October 20, 2021)
Erin Enderlin is one of my favorite singer-songwriters today. She is an excellent lyricist, and her storytelling ability is outstanding. Enderlin is also able to write humorous songs, a trait that is not as prevalent in today’s crop of songwriters. The music industry in Nashville is very aware of her talents, as her songs have been recorded by country music stars. It is time everyone else, including country radio, discovers Erin Enderlin.

 

Cody Jinks – Mercy (reviewed on November 13, 2021)
Have you ever wondered what people mean when they complain that an album is too slick and overproduced. Well, Mercy is just the opposite. It sounds like what you would hear if you went to a Cody Jinks concert. I love when an artist is able to capture that feeling and sound.

Lori McKenna – Christmas is Right Here (reviewed on November 24, 2021)
It is refreshing to hear new Christmas songs instead of the same old rerecorded classics. This project should be an inspiration to songwriters everywhere to not shy away from writing Christmas songs. When artists are heading to the studio to begin a new album they turn to Lori McKenna. I would suggest that any artist that is thinking of making a Christmas album should give her a call.

 

Wade Bowen – Where Phones Don’t Work (reviewed on December 1, 2021)
This EP is proof that it does not matter if he records in Texas or Tennessee, Wade Bowen’s projects are a cut above the rest. Where Phones Don’t Work has outstanding singing, playing, songwriting, and production. You cannot ask for more.

 

 

December 29, 2021

It is time to take a look back at my favorite 2021 Catches of the Week (Part 1: January-June 2021). These are listed in order in which they were reviewed. The full reviews can be seen further down on this page:

 

Barry Gibb – Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook, Vol. 1 (reviewed on January 13, 2021)

Some country music fans may scratch their heads when they see country artists lining up to record an album of Bee Gees material with Barry Gibb. I think it makes perfect sense. The Bee Gees music has something that a lot of music, regardless of genre, is lacking today, and that is soul. Their lyrics touch people deep in their soul. That is something that the Gibb’s songs have in common with country music. It is a music that moves the people from the first moment they hear it, and it sticks with them long after the initial spin.

 

Justin Moses – Fall Like Rain (reviewed on January 27, 2021)

The song selection, vocals, and, of course, instrumental performances are top notch. I must commend the order of songs on the album. It alternates from a lyrical song to an instrumental tune. The project flows so smoothly because of this choice. I am always pleased to see world-class sideman step from the shadows into the spotlight.

 

Pony Bradshaw – Calico Jim (reviewed on February 10, 2021)

Bradshaw’s attention to detail in the lyrics is like an artist’s brush strokes that make up a larger picture. “Dope Mountain”, “Hillbilly Possessed”, “Sawtooth Jericho” and the title track are my favorite tracks on this project.

 

Mickey Lamantia – Honky Tonk Confessions: The Final Chapter (reviewed on April 7, 2021)

If you are craving country music that has hints of Waylon Jennings, Vern Gosdin, George Jones, and Jamey Johnson, then you will like this album. It is full of quality songwriting, singing, and playing.

 

Amanda Cook – Narrowing the Gap (reviewed on April 14, 2021)

Her vocals are outstanding, the songwriting superb, and the musicianship is top shelf. No disrespect to Amanda Cook’s previous projects, but I think that Narrowing the Gap is her best to date.

 

 

Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall, and Jack Ingram – The Marfa Tapes (reviewed on June 9, 2021)

Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall, and Jack Ingram have captured the joy of songwriters sitting around and singing their songs for each other. Even if you are not a music nerd, like me, I recommend giving a listen to understand better where songs start: from someone singing lyrics, freshly written on a sheet of paper, and being accompanied by just an acoustic guitar. It is almost like watching a child take its first steps.

 

 

December 22, 2021

It is said that America is a melting pot. Doc Watson’s performances were a musical representation of that saying. He played fiddle tunes note for note on his guitar. I am sure it had been done before, but not with the accuracy and speed of Doc. In addition, blues influenced his playing and song selection. On top of that, Doc Watson could play the banjo and harmonica. So, with the elements of fiddle tunes, blues, gospel, and country, Doc Watson’s music is a melting pot of American music, and you can hear evidence of that on the recently released, Life’s Work: A Retrospective.

This collection features 101 songs documenting Doc Watson’s career. There are songs from Doc’s solo works, as well as tunes with his son, Merle, and grandson, Richard. There are also collaborations with Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Chet Atkins, Alison Krauss, and Ricky Skaggs, just to name a few. You will also find selections from Doc’s work on The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken, including “Tennessee Stud”. In addition to the songs, this collection comes with an 88-page booklet that delves into Doc Watson’s life and music.

If you are looking for a gift for the music lover on your Christmas list, I want to point you to Doc Watson’s Life’s Work: A Retrospective. With the exception of a few songs, all of the recordings have been previously released. However, to have all of this music in one collection, along with booklet, makes this a must have for Doc Watson fans. If you have never experienced the music of Doc Watson, this is the place to start. Doc includes so many styles in his music that you are bound to like some of them. I recommend giving Doc Watson’s Life’s Work: A Retrospective a listen today.

 

 

December 15, 2021

I wanted to review one more Christmas album before the season is past us. If you are looking to add some new tracks to your holiday playlist, give Steve Wariner’s Feels Like Christmas Time a try. Although Wariner is a winner of multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM awards, I feel like his talent is not recognized today as much as it should be. He has one of the smoothest voices in Nashville. Plus, Wariner is a C.G.P. (Certified Guitar Player), a designation that guitar master Chet Atkins bestowed upon only four guitarists. Wariner’s Feels Like Christmas Time includes eleven songs that displays all of his aforementioned talents. He sounds great on Christmas standards “Silent Night” and “The First Noel”. There are some original songs included on this project, all written or co-written by Wariner. Some of my favorites include, the title track (co-written with Rick Carnes), “Christmas Morning” (co-written with Lisa Silver), and “Christmas in Your Arms” (co-written with Bill Anderson). There are also several instrumentals, including “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, a medley (“Away in a Manger”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, & “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”), and the Wariner composition “Tennessee Snowfall”.  So, if your holiday schedule has been a little too hectic and you need to unwind, grab a mug of your favorite hot beverage (coffee, cocoa, or cider),  put on Steve Wariner’s Feels Like Christmas Time, kick back, and enjoy.

 

 

 

December 1, 2021

One of my favorite places to look for current country music is Texas. Really, the Lone Star State has been a hotbed of music for as long as I can remember. From Bob Wills to Willie Nelson, Texas seems to provide the perfect conditions for musicians and songwriters to flourish. In recent times, the Red Dirt music scene has provided me with plenty of music to review. One of the artists that I have reviewed in the past is Wade Bowen. Whether as a solo artist or in tandem with Randy Rogers, Bowen has released some great projects. His latest project, a solo effort, is the EP Where Phones Don’t Work.

Although I spent much of the last paragraph singing the praises of Texas, Wade Bowen’s latest project was recorded in Nashville. Each song on the six song EP are outstanding. Some of my favorites include, the title track, co-written by Bowen , Aaron Raitiere and Rhett Akins is a perfect choice for the first track on the EP. “The Last Town in Texas” co-written by Bowen, Heather Morgan and Eric Paslay, if you twist my arm, might be my favorite track. The same songwriting collaboration wrote the fun track,  “When Love Comes Around”.  Wade Bowen co-wrote the heartbreaking song “Trouble Is” with songwriting legend, Steve Earle. You can feel every word of this song.

I am happy to have new material from Wade Bowen to review. If you are fan of his, you will also be happy to know that Bowen is planning on releasing a full length album in the 2022. Wade Bowen is one in a long line of talented Texas singers-songwriters. This EP is proof that it does not matter if he records in Texas or Tennessee, Wade Bowen’s projects are a cut above the rest. Where Phones Don’t Work has outstanding singing, playing, songwriting, and production. You cannot ask for more. I recommend giving Wade Bowen’s  Where Phones Don’t Work a listen today.

 

 

November 24, 2021

Lori McKenna is a well-known, and respected, as a songwriter. She has written hit songs for many artists, becoming the first woman ever to win the CMA Song of the Year Award two years in a row (2015’s Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and 2016’s Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind”). In 2017, McKenna also was the first female to be awarded the ACM Songwriter of the year. She has now turned her attention and talents to Christmas music. Lori McKenna’s latest EP is Christmas is Right Here.

The project starts with McKenna’s take on the Paul McCartney holiday classic “Wonderful Christmastime”. The remainder of the album is filled with songs that Lori McKenna wrote or co-wrote. “Christmas Without Crying” and “North Pole” are full of a longing, nostalgic look back through the Christmas memories of yesterday. The songs will bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye as you turn the pages of your mind’s Christmas scrapbook. “Still Christmas in Nashville” is one of my favorite songs on this EP. It is a tip of the hat to the musicians, songwriters, waiters, waitresses, and others that keep the wheels of Music City moving, even during the holidays. She even references the patron saint of songwriters, John Prine. “Hail Mary” puts the spotlight on the mother of Jesus, and wonders what Mary must have felt leading up to the birth of her son. She closes the project with “Grateful”, a song that should make all of us take a moment to note the good things in our lives and be thankful for them.

Lori McKenna is one of my favorite current singer-songwriters. She is one of Nashville’s favorites, too.  When artists are heading to the studio to begin a new album they turn to Lori McKenna. I would suggest that any artist that is thinking of making a Christmas album should give her a call. It is refreshing to hear new Christmas songs instead of the same old rerecorded classics. This project should be an inspiration to songwriters everywhere to not shy away from writing Christmas songs. I recommend giving Lori McKenna’s Christmas is Right Here a listen today.

 

 

November 17, 2021

There is a great number of Cody Jinks fans in the Lake Hartwell Radio listening area. I remember the phone calls I received from listeners when Cody Jinks 2015 release Adobe Sessions was released. They wanted to make sure I listened to Jinks’ music. I not only listened, but I have been playing his songs ever since. He has released some great projects since my introduction to his music in 2015. Jinks’ albums I’m Not The Devil, Lifers, After the Fire, and The Wanting have shown his talents as a singer and songwriter. Now he has added another project to that streak of great albums. His latest is called Mercy.

Cody Jinks wrote or co-wrote every song on Mercy. As expected, the songwriting is excellent. Speaking of excellent, the musicians on this album are outstanding. Have you ever wondered what people mean when they complain that an album is too slick and overproduced. Well, Mercy is just the opposite. It sounds like what you would hear if you went to a Cody Jinks concert. I love when an artist is able to capture that feeling and sound. Some of my favorite songs on Mercy includes, “I Don’t Trust My Memories Anymore”, “Like a Hurricane”, “Shoulders”, “Dying Isn’t Cheap”, and “When Whiskey Calls the Shots”. The entire album is very enjoyable. I know that we have listeners of varying levels of sensibilities, so I want to mention that there are a few songs that have some adult language. It is not excessive, but I wanted to make sure to alert you in case you have sensitive ears or normally listen to music around young children. So, if the kiddos are out of the house, crank it up!

Cody Jinks has established himself as a fan favorite among independent country artists. It is amazing of the following he has developed, all while not being signed to a major label. I believe once people give Jinks’ music a listen, they enlist into the growing ranks of the Cody Jinks army. Do not feel bad if you are just discovering the music of Cody Jinks. Now that you know, take a listen to his new album, but give his previous albums a spin, too. I recommend giving Cody Jinks’ Mercy a listen today.

 

 

November 10, 2021

I reviewed Asleep at the Wheel’s EP Better Times earlier this year. It is a great project. You can read my review of that project by scrolling down this page. However, with the release of the EP came news that a full album would be coming out later this year. Well, I have some good news for Asleep at the Wheel and Western Swing fans. Asleep at the Wheel’s new album, Half a Hundred Years, is here!

Asleep at the Wheel is celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year. This new album, Half a Hundred Years, is part of that celebration. If you are a fan of Asleep at the Wheel, you will recognize many of the songs on this 19-track offering, but, if you are like me, you do not mind in the least.  Some of my favorite tracks on the project include, “Take Me Back to Tulsa” featuring George Strait and Willie Nelson, “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read” featuring Lee Ann Womack, and “Bump Bounce Boogie” featuring Chris O’Connell, Elizabeth Brown, and Katie Shore. Of course, I can never hear “Miles and Miles of Texas” too much.

Asleep at the Wheel have been waving the banner for Western Swing music for decades. There are other artists that perform in the style of music that made Bob Wills famous, but Asleep at the Wheel has been the face of Western Swing. The band has had over 100 members in it’s existence, and, no, that is not an exaggeration. The one constant through the years has been Ray Benson. As the bandleader, Benson has helped to keep the band moving forward, waving the banner of Western Swing. Here’s to AATW waving the banner for another fifty years. I recommend giving Asleep at the Wheel’s Half a Hundred Years a listen today.

 

 

November 3, 2021

John Prine is one of my favorite songwriters. His ability to produce lines that could make me laugh out loud and others that could bring a tear to a glass eye was amazing. His death in 2020 due to complications of COVID-19 sent the singer/songwriter world reeling. However, the catalog of songs and his willingness to add new, young songwriters to his tours means that the music loving public is in good hands. Some of the folks that he influenced show up on a new tribute album, Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, Vol. 2. The previous volume was released in 2010. That first album had artists interpret Prine’s song in various styles. It is a very good album, and a good indicator of his influence. Vol. 2 is in more of the folk style of Prine’s own recordings.

There are twelve songs on Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, Vol. 2. The album’s title is from the lyrics on Prine’s “Souvenirs”, my favorite song from his catalog, which is covered on this project by Jason Isbell. Some of the other artists that show up on this album include Brandi Carlile  (“I Remember Everything”), Nathaniel Rateliff (“Pretty Good”), Tyler Childers (“Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You”), Iris DeMent (“One Red Rose”), Margo Price (“Sweet Revenge”), John Paul White (“Sam Stone”), and Sturgill Simpson (“Paradise”). Bonnie Raitt revisits “Angel From Montgomery”, a Prine composition that she originally recorded in 1974. This version is more akin to John’s recording. Emmylou Harris  is outstanding on “Hello In There”.

If you are a fan of John Prine, you will love this album. If you are an aspiring songwriter, listen to this album. Pay attention to the phrases and lines that Prine wrote. It is like a master class in songwriting. Then, explore the rest of his songs, rinse, and repeat.  Since we now have a second volume, I am hoping that we will get future releases in this series of tribute albums. I recommend giving Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, Vol. 2 a listen today.

 

 

 

October 20, 2021

Erin Enderlin is a name you have heard me mention numerous times on The Breakfast with Porkchop Show. We reviewed and played music from her album Faulkner County. I am especially fond of the song “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”. Enderlin is also an outstanding songwriter, with her songs having been recorded by the likes of Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, and Luke Bryan. Her songwriting skills are on display on her latest EP, Barroom Mirrors, having written or co-written all six tracks.

The first three tracks on Barroom Mirrors have already been released as singles. “Somebody’s Shot of Whiskey” and “If I’m Not in Hell” have struck a chord with WLHR listeners, with the humorous “If There Weren’t So Many Damn Songs” (featuring Terri Clark) gaining momentum. “Cut Through Me” (featuring Rosanne Cash) is a prime example of a country song that hits the listener directly in the soul. The title track is my favorite song on the EP. Most people have had the feeling described in “Barroom Mirrors”.

Erin Enderlin is one of my favorite singer-songwriters today. She is an excellent lyricist, and her storytelling ability is outstanding. Enderlin is also able to write humorous songs, a trait that is not as prevalent in today’s crop of songwriters. The music industry in Nashville  is very aware of her talents, as her songs have been recorded by country music stars. It is time everyone else, including country radio, discovers Erin Enderlin. I recommend giving Barroom Mirrors a listen today.

 

 

October 13, 2021

When it comes to introducing younger listeners to bluegrass music, a good place to start is with Billy Strings. The 29-year old guitar phenom has taken the music world by storm. He is steeped in the guitar style of Doc Watson and Tony Rice, and the traditional vocals songs of The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, and Flatt & Scruggs. However, he is well versed in many other artists, too. He is as likely to play a bluegrass standard as he is to offer a set of Grateful Dead songs. He has shared the stage with a plethora of artists, including Dierks Bentley, Widespread Panic, The Marcus King Band, and Sam Bush, just to name a few. Strings has also appeared on the stage of The Grand Ole Opry. He has caught the attention of many music fans for his wealth of talent and eclectic musical tastes, but one thing remains as a base throughout his albums…..bluegrass.  Billy Strings won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards for his album, Home. His latest album, Renewal,  is a heavy dose of bluegrass with all of the other elements that we have come to expect from a Billy Strings album.

Although Billy Strings is front and center, it is worth noting that his new album is a band project. The guys that make up the group includes, Billy Failing (banjo), Jarrod Walker (mandolin), and Royal Masat (bass). Along with Strings, the group works like a well-oiled machine on Renewal.  Even though I mentioned Billy Strings impressive guitar skills earlier, this album is a reminder at how good he is at delivering vocal songs, too. If you want more straightforward bluegrass, check out “Know It All”, “Red Daisy”, “Secrets”, “Hellbender”, “This Old World”, “The Fire On My Tongue”, and the instrumental tune, “Running the Route”. Strings covers spreads out, as he often does, incorporating other styles on “Fire Line”, “Heartbeat of America”, “Love and Regret”, “Nothing’s Working”, “Hide and Seek”, and “Ice Bridges”. Two of my favorites on the album are “In the Morning Light” and “Show Me the Door”.

So many times when someone makes a musical recommendation, we want to know what type of music it is. Well, Billy Strings is based in bluegrass, but he is not defined by a genre. He is a musical free agent, going wherever his pen, voice, and guitar takes him. As the old saying goes, there are only two types of music: good and bad. Billy Strings offerings fall into the previous category. His singing is great and the musical performances of Billy Strings and his band are expert. He already has one Grammy under his belt. It wouldn’t surprise me if Renewal brings him another one. I recommend giving it a listen today.

 

 

September 29, 2021

If you follow Porkchop’s Catch of the Week, Jon Randall’s name may sound familiar to you. He teamed with Miranda Lambert and Jack Ingram on The Marfa Tapes, an album that I reviewed earlier this year. That album is one of my favorites to be released this year. Besides that project, you may not be familiar with Jon Randall. However, if you are a music nerd like me, you recognize Randall’s mark on country music. He is a former member of Emmylou Harris’ backing band, the Nash Ramblers. Randall has also penned songs for many artists, including co-writing the award winning “Tin Man” and “Whiskey Lullaby”. He has also produced numerous albums for artists, including Dierks Bentley,  Dwight Yoakam, Jack Ingram, Pat Green, and the  Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Randall has released his own projects over the years, but it has been over fifteen years since his last solo project. That is why many are excited about the release of Jon Randall’s new, self-titled solo project.

As we know from Jon Randall’s previously penned songs, he is a premiere songwriter. This album consists of nine songs that are an example of his songwriting expertise. Some of my favorite tracks include, “Keep on Moving”, a perfect song to listen and relax  while cruising down a country road. “Acapulco Blue” is a perfect example of a singer-songwriter in action, flipping through the pages of the mind’s scrapbook. “Streets of Dallas” is another acoustic number that should inspire any aspiring songwriter. Jack Ingram joins Randall on “Girls From Texas”. The song is a polite rebuttal of The Beach Boys’ “California Girls”, insisting that the Lone Star lovelies are at the top of the list. Also, the instrumental tune, “Ranchero”, is a bold reminder that Jon Randall knows his way around the fretboard.

Jon Randall is a busy man. Between writing songs and producing albums for other artists, it can be difficult for Randall to find the time to work on his own project. It has been over fifteen years between Randall’s solo albums. Who knows how long it will be before we get his next one. I hope it is not fifteen years. If it does take that long, I can assure you that it will be worth the wait. I recommend giving Jon Randall’s new album a listen today.

 

September 15, 2021

It’s hard to believe that The Grascals have been around for over fifteen years! It seems like just yesterday that I was introduced to their music. However, checking the calendar and tallying the years, The Grascals have released ten albums over seventeen years, to be exact. There projects have been a steady dose of some of the best bluegrass you can find these days. They continue the legacy of quality albums with their latest release, Up All Night.

The album consists of twelve tracks. There are many types of song styles on Up All Night. You will hear traditional bluegrass, ballads, and gospel styles on this album. Some of my favorite tracks on the album include, “You Put Me First”, “Maybelle”, “Sleepy Little Town”, “Low Down Blues”, and “Traveling the Highway Home”. I also really enjoyed the instrumental tune, “It’s a String Thing”. There are some great songwriters that contributed to Up All Night, including Shawn Lane, Milan Miller, Jon Weisberger, Ray Edwards, and Rick Lang.

The Grascals continue to amaze me. Their albums are at such a high quality that you want to play them over and over again. This new album can be added to the list of albums to listen to multiple times. Danny Roberts (mandolin), Terry Smith (bass), Kristin Scott Benson (banjo), John Bryan (guitar), Chris Davis (guitar), and Adam Haynes (fiddle) are outstanding instrumentalist, and their vocal harmonies are top notch. I recommend giving Up All Night a listen today.

 

 

 

September 8, 2021

There are many kinds of songwriters. Some write a good party song. Those songs do not have a lot of substance, but usually have a beat that is perfect to open beers to. There are writers that have lived a lot in their time, and pour their personal experiences into their songs. Those songs are cathartic and thought provoking for both the artist and listener. Then, there are songwriters who are more akin to authors. Their songs are like short stories set to music. One of the best songwriters in the latter group is James McMurtry.

Before I go any further, I want to get something out of the way. James McMurtry’s father is famed novelist Larry McMurtry. The only reason I bring it up is because when I have recommended James McMurtry’s music to friends in the past, they invariably ask, “Is he any kin to Larry McMurtry?” Now that I have that out of the way, let me tell you about James McMurtry’s latest album, The Horses and the Hounds. As I mentioned before, McMurtry is a storyteller. There are ten stories that he shares on his new project. His ability to describe the characters in each song is at a level that is unmatched. You can picture everyone and everything he chronicles. The attention to detail will draw you in, and make you connect to each line. Some of my favorite songs on The Horses and the Hounds include, “Canola Fields”, “Decent Man”, and “Ft. Walton Wake-Up Call”.

James McMurtry wrote or co-wrote every song on The Horses and the Hounds. Again, the songwriting is at a level that others will strive to attain, but few, if any, will ever reach. McMurtry’s vocals are perfect to deliver each of the project’s ten stories.  If you have ever wondered what it would be like to have one of your favorite authors sing one of their short stories to you, try James McMurtry’s The Horses and the Hounds. I recommend giving it a listen today.

 

 

September 1, 2021

During my many years of reviewing album for “Porkchop’s Catch of the Week”, my favorite band name that I have come across is Mike and the Moonpies. I know I am a well-rounded, some would say fat, individual, but my fondness of the southern snack has nothing to do with my appreciation of the group’s name. It is always important to have a memorable band name that will grab the public’s attention and get them to listen. Once they take a listen, the songs need to be good enough to keep the listeners coming back to give the music another spin. Mike and the Moonpies have met both requirements. The Austin, TX based group have been making great music and albums from more than a decade. Their latest album, One to Grow On, will definitely keep listeners coming back.

One to Grow On is an album that almost serves as a tribute to the working man. The album is a concept album, of sorts. You can follow the daily routine, struggles, and victories of an unnamed central character. Frontman Mike Harmeier said, “I developed a narrative and a central character. It’s a guy who’s working hard to make ends meet, all while living in the moment and hoping to stay appreciative of the things he has. A guy who takes pride in what he does but is still searching for a balance in his life. There are a lot of similarities between him and me.” Mike had to put a lot of thought into the songwriting to make the album flow and follow the central character’s story. Unlike some concept albums which require a lot of deep thinking and listening to tracks in order to follow the story, One to Grow On is an album you can turn on, put on shuffle, crank up your truck, and enjoy it going down the road.

There are nine total tracks on One to Grown On, and there is not one that I wanted to skip. Each song is as strong as the next. If you twisted my arm and made me choose a favorite, I would have to pick “Rainy Day”. A close second would be “Social Drinkers”. I could almost feel the neon, smell the beer, and see the scenes unfolding in front of my eyes. I want to take a moment to mention all of the members of Mike and the Moonpies: Mike And The Moonpies are: Mike Harmeier (guitar, vocals), Zach Moulton (steel guitar), Omar Oyoque (bass), Kyle Ponder (drums) and Catlin Rutherford (guitar). It feels as if every move they make on the album is together. That cannot be said of some bands. Sometimes it feels like it is the lead singer and these unnamed guys behind him. Although Mike is out front, it seems that every member is as important as the others.

Mike and the Moonpies are smoking on One to Grow On. The songwriting is outstanding. Lead singer Micheal Harmeier and producer Adam Odor co-wrote every song on the album. The one exception being  “Paycheck To Paycheck”,  written by Harmeier, Odor, and bassist Omar Oyoque. In addition, the musicianship is superb. The album is solidly country, including a  heavy dose of Zach Moulton’s steel guitar, with the twin lead guitar work adding a southern rocking blues feel to some of the songs. Mike’s lead vocals are country drenched in soul. Mike and the Moonpies have put out some great albums thus far, but I think One to Grow On might be their best. I recommend giving it a listen today.

 

 

August 25, 2021

Sturgill Simpson is one of the most interesting artists of our time. It is almost impossible to put a label on his music. Simpson has put a wide variety of styles and sounds in his previous albums: High Top Mountain, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music , A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, and Sound and Fury. You will hear everything from country and gospel to bluegrass, rock, psychedelic rock, strings, and horns. Simpson had previously stated that he was only going to make five original albums before calling it quits as a solo artist. His Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 1 & 2 are not included in the album total because those albums consist primarily of bluegrass versions of his previously recorded material. When he announced earlier this year that he was going to release his fifth album before the end of 2021, every Sturgill Simpson fan waited in anticipation for what the final solo project would bring. Well, the wait is over. Sturgill Simpson’s new album, The Ballad of Dood & Juanita, has been released.

The Ballad of Dood & Juanita is a concept album set in Kentucky in 1862. It follows the story of a tough mountain man (Dood) jumping on his mule (Shamrock) with his hound (Sam) leading the way as they look for Dood’s wife (Juanita), who has been abducted by a bandit. This may sound like a lot of ground to cover, but Simpson covers it quickly, with the album coming in at just under thirty minutes. This album is not exactly a bluegrass album, although there is plenty of fiddle and banjo. It is more in the line of Appalachian folk music. There are a few exceptions to that style. “Shamrock” sounds like it is the theme song to a 1950s western TV show. This is not a knock on the song because it furthers the story. The song “Sam” almost sounds like an acapella gospel song that is a tribute to man’s best friend. Another is “Juanita”. The song, featuring Willie Nelson on lead guitar, sounds like a song from the catalog of Marty Robbins. In fact, that song added to the other songs on the album led my friend, Brad Felty, great American, to say of Sturgill Simpson’s new album, “It’s like Johnny Horton meets Marty Robbins on the set of The High Chaparral.” 

For many years I have stated that concept albums fall into one of two camps: very good or really bad. The Ballad of Dood & Juanita is very good. The storytelling from one track to the next is complete. You can picture the people, animals, and events that Simpson sings about. Being as it is Simpson’s final solo album, some fans may be disappointed in the album’s length of just under thirty minutes. However, I do not believe the length of a project should detract from its effectiveness. As an example, Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger is only a few minutes longer than The Ballad of Dood & Juanita. Sturgill Simpson is always challenging himself with the projects that he undertakes. He has hinted that after this solo run, he may form a band to fulfill his musical desires. As of late, he has dabbled in acting as well. Whatever direction he goes, I feel sure that Simpson will put everything he has into it. I recommend listening to Sturgill Simpson’s The Ballad of Dood & Juanita.

 

 

August 18, 2021

Texas has a long history of great singers, songwriters, and performers. This rich tradition continues to nourish the current music scene. I find myself returning to the Lone Star State quite frequently for the Catch of the Week. This week’s review calls for a return trip across the Red River. Our spotlight shines on a group called Flatland Cavalry. The group formed in 2012, and they have previously released one EP and two albums. Flatland Cavalry has just released a new album, Welcome to Countryland.

Flatland Cavalry has always been classified as a country band. However, Welcome to Countryland is the most country sounding effort to date. You will find songs that will get your toes to tapping, and, maybe, even lead you to the dance floor. Also, there are songs about heartbreak and lost love. In my opinion, the emotional ride is what makes a good country album. The instrumentation is outstanding, too. A good dose of fiddle and steel guitar leads the way on this musical excursion. The majority of the songs were written or co-written by the band members, with one notable exception. “A Cowboy Knows How” was written by Dan Isbell,  Jonathan Singleton, and Luke Combs. It is worth mentioning that Flatland Cavalry and Luke Combs have a connection besides the song. The group has toured with Combs in the past. There is also guest appearances from Hailey Whitters (“…Meantime”) and Kaitlin Butts (“Life Without You”).

I must take a moment to introduce Flatland Cavalry: Cleto Cordero (lead vocals, guitar), Reid Dillion (electric guitar), Wesley Hall (fiddle), Jonathan Saenz (bass), Jason Albers (percussion), and Adam Gallegos (utility). The group’s musical and vocal performances are great. Add to the equation the aforementioned songwriting, and you have a fun, enjoyable album. I recommend giving Flatland Cavalry’s Welcome to Countryland a listen today.

 

 

August 11, 2021

If you have been following Porkchop’s Catch of the Week for a while, you might be able to recall August of 2019 when I shared my thoughts on an album from a group that I had stumbled across. The album was Back to the Country, and the group was Merle Monroe. When I reviewed that album, I told you how blown away I was at how easily Merle Monroe combined country and bluegrass music. The album was a home run. Now, the guys are back up to the plate and swinging for the fences with their new album, Songs of a Simple Life.

Merle Monroe is comprised of singer/songwriter Tim Raybon and banjoist Daniel Grindstaff. Raybon is proving to be one of the premiere bluegrass songwriters, with his pen producing three Number One Merle Monroe single from Songs of a Simple Life: “God’s Still In Control”, “Hello Sunshine”, and “I’m Leaving Town Tonight”. In addition to those hit singles, the album contains a total of seven Raybon penned songs. Merle Monroe also has a knack for picking just the right songs to cover. That list includes the Lefty Frizzell hit, “Saginaw Michigan” (written by Bill Anderson and Don Wayne), the Ronnie Milsap Number One “(I’d Be) A Legend in My Time” (written by Don Gibson), “Goodbye Marie” (written by Dennis Linde and Mel McDaniel), and “Roll On Muddy River” (written by Vern and Rex Gosdin). Merle Monroe also does a fine job on the Tim Stafford and Bobby Starnes penned song, “Harlan Darlin’”.

Before going any further, I must sing the praises of the musicians that helped to make this gem of an album. Merle Monroe’s Daniel Grindstaff played banjo and provided vocals, and Tim Raybon sang and played guitar and bass. Additional personnel on Songs of a Simple Life include Stephen Burwell & Derek Deakins (fiddle), Kent Blanton (bass), Andy Leftwich & Harry Clark (mandolin), Harry Stinson (percussion), Trey Hensley & Kevin Richardson (guitar), and Gaven Largent & Josh Swift (resophonic guitar).

Merle Monroe has done it again. They have knocked it out of the park with Songs of a Simple Life. The playing, singing, and songwriting is outstanding. I believe Merle Monroe’s namesakes, Bill Monroe and Merle Haggard, would be proud of the band’s top notch albums. I recommend giving Merle Monroe’s Songs of a Simple Life a listen today.

 

August 4, 2021

I am a huge fan of singer-songwriters.  There is something magical about a singer holding court with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and some well written lyrics. Texas has produced more than it’s fair share of legendary songwriters. There must be something in the soil, the water, or the air in the Lone Star State that helps keep the crop of singer-songwriters growing year after year. Vincent Neil Emerson continues in the tradition of Texas storytellers that includes Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell with his latest, self-titled album, produced by the aforementioned Rodney Crowell. Crowell’s name is enough to grab the attention of music fans and make them take a listen, and it is well worth the listen.

Vincent Neil Emerson wrote all ten songs on his new album. In this day and time, it is rare to see only one person’s name as the writer of a song. Don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with having a co-writer. There have been some wonderful songs that were the result of a co-write. However, I find that much of today’s hits are the result of too many cooks in the kitchen. From the album’s opening track, “Texas Moon”, to the final fading notes of the final track, “Saddled up and Tamed”, Vincent Neil Emerson will have your full attention.

It is great to see the singer-songwriter tradition continuing in such an outstanding way. Vincent Neil Emerson carries the tradition of Texas songwriters forward into modern times. It is also a pleasure to see Rodney Crowell lending his expertise to the album as the producer. I cannot recommend enough to give Vincent Neil Emerson’s latest album a listen today.

 

 

July 28, 2021

The Lonesome River Band has been one of the premier acts in bluegrass music for decades. Their lofty status has remained despite the band seeing many different iterations. Past band members is a bluegrass who’s who: Dan Tyminski, Ronnie Bowman, Tim Austin, Don Rigsby, Dale Perry, and Kenny Smith, just to name a few. No matter the lineup, The Lonesome River Band have always pushed bluegrass to new heights while still paying tribute to the genre’s trailblazers. The Lonesome River Band, led by Sammy Shelor (banjo),  tips their hat to a trailblazing gospel bluegrass group, The Easter Brothers,  on the new album, Singing Up There: A Tribute to the Easter Brothers.  

When you mention bluegrass icons, the names of Monroe, Flatt, Scruggs, Martin, and Stanley are the ones that are usually mentioned. However, the sub genre of bluegrass gospel is often overlooked. Artists like Carl Story, The Lewis Family, and The Easter Brothers are a few of the legendary names in bluegrass gospel. It is great to see The Lonesome River Band paying tribute to the impact of one of those bluegrass gospel artists on their latest album. From Mt. Airy, NC, the Easter Brothers were staples in the region, including Sammy Shelor’s home area, Patrick County, VA. The version of the Lonesome River Band that made this album includes Shelor (banjo), Mike Hartgrove (fiddle), Brandon Rickman (guitar), Jesse Smathers (mandolin), and  Barry Reed (bass). The LRB really captures the spirit of the songs on this 10 song offering. The singing and playing will surely have you tapping your toes and will bring a smile to your face.

As we are going through some very tough times, many folks are looking for a bit of nostalgia to help them get through each day. If you grew up listening to gospel music, I believe this album will bring a smile to your face. If you are not familiar with the Easter Brothers, I recommend looking up their music. Then, take a listen to the Lonesome River Band’s album, Singing Up There: A Tribute to the Easter Brothers. 

 

 

July 21, 2021

Since Midland broke on the national scene in 2017 with “Drinkin’ Problem'”, I have been a fan. Their sound is modern while paying tribute to the sounds of country music from years past. They embrace not only the earlier sounds, but their attire is also a bit of a throwback, with Nudie suits and cowboy hats. Their music struck a chord with me and many others around the country. Midland has just released a new EP, The Last Resort.

Midland’s new project consists of five songs, and it continues in their tradition of using traditional country music as the foundation of their sound. You will find plenty of steel guitar mixed with Mark Wystach’s lead vocals, the solid bass of Cam Duddy, and guitar work of Jess Carson. The five song set includes, “And Then Some”, “Two To Two Step”, “Take Her Off Your Hands”, “Sunrise Tells The Story” and “Adios Cowboy”. It is impossible for me to choose a favorite song from The Last Resort. I tried to pick one, and I like each song equally.

Since making themselves known to the world on country music, Midland has done nothing, but gain momentum with each passing day. With each released albums, EPs, videos, and concert appearances, the ranks of Midland’s fanbase grows. With the release of the new EP, I am sure the ranks will grow even more. Midland is one of the few acts that appeals to the younger and older country music fans. I recommend giving Midland’s The Last Resort a listen today.

 

 

July 7, 2021

Most listeners know LANCO through their Number 1 song, “Greatest Love Story”. The song was a minor crossover hit, reaching Number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It has also been certified gold by the RIAA. Since hitting the top of the charts, fans have been buzzing anytime a new LANCO single or album was released. The LANCO fans have plenty to buzz about with the release of the new EP, Honky-Tonk Hippies.

The five song EP was recorded in Muscle Shoals at the world renowned FAME Studio. The studio has been the location of recordings by legendary artists of every musical genre, including The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Jerry Reed, Shenandoah, and Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit. The studio was the perfect place for this new EP from LANCO. The five songs were tracked live, with the band playing together in the same room at the same time. The title track kicks off the project with a sound that is gritty and full of energy. I do not know what the next LANCO single will be, but “I Need a Beer” would be a good choice. It is a high energy, party song that is perfect for heading into the weekend. My favorite song on the EP is “Price to Pay”. This acoustic guitar driven song is bound to be a concert favorite. The chorus is catchy, memorable, and you can’t help but sing along. As an added bonus, LANCO features a mandolin on “Price to Pay”. YES!

LANCO has hit a home run with Honky-Tonk Hippies. Recording live at FAME Studios was a great choice to capture the band’s energy. The sound and style of country music has changed through the years, but one thing that has always been there has been the soul of the music.  Some of the music that has come out of Nashville recently is so polished that it loses the soulfulness that is an integral part of country music. I believe we need more projects like Honky-Tonk Hippies. If more artists recorded as much of the album live as possible, it would capture musical energy that an artist has, and I think it could be a bridge between generations of country music fans. I recommend giving LANCO’s Honky-Tonk Hippies a listen today.

 

June 30, 2021

The Oak Ridge Boys have had quite a career: 31 studio albums, 17 Number One hits, and being members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. With those accomplishments to their credit the Oaks could coast through the remainder of their career. However, they have continued to maintain a busy touring schedule and release new albums. With a loyal legion of fans, the only thing that could slow down the Oak Ridge Boys was the COVID-19 pandemic. During that break from touring, they decided to team up with producer Dave Cobb to make a new album, Front Porch Singin’.

The Oak Ridge Boys and Dave Cobb have worked together before (17th Avenue Revival), and the results have been outstanding. Their collaboration on this new project once again shows that Cobb understands the artists that he is working with. Front Porch Singin’ features some songs that you will know and be able to sing along with. Those songs include, “Life’s Railway to Heaven”, “Red River Valley”, “Unclouded Day”, and “Swing Down Chariot”. There are also some new songs on the album like, “Life is Beautiful”, “Old Ways”,  “Rock My Soul”, and “Love, Light and Healing”. Once you listen to the new songs a few times, I have no doubt that you will be singing along to those, too.

The Oak Ridge Boys don’t have to prove their greatness. They have a long, award winning career that attests to their legendary status. However, the Oaks prove that they know not only what fans want, but in this case, what we need. Front Porch Singin’ is a great album for the times we are living in. With all the stress of a pandemic and political tensions that are ever present, maybe it’s time we all head out to the front porch, take a deep breath, and do a little singin’. It will make you forget about your troubles for a while, and it is good for the soul. I recommend giving the Oak Ridge Boys’ Front Porch Singin’ a listen today.

 

 

June 23, 2021

Asleep At The Wheel have been waving the banner for Western Swing music for decades. There are other artists that perform in the style of music that made Bob Willis famous, but Asleep At The Wheel has been the face of Western Swing. The band has had over 100 members in its’ existence, and, no, that is not an exaggeration. The one constant through the years has been Ray Benson. As the bandleader, Benson has helped to keep the band moving forward, waving the banner of Western Swing. Asleep At The Wheel is celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year.

2020 was a difficult year for everyone, including Asleep At The Wheel. There was no touring, and Ray Benson caught COVID-19. However, during the shutdown and his recovery, Benson started writing songs for a new album. That album is scheduled for release this October, but music fans are waking from the shutdown slumber, hungry for new music. Not to worry! Ray Benson and Asleep At The Wheel have served up a musical appetizer before the LP main course with a new three song EP, Better Times. The EP features the songs “All I’m Asking”, the classic “Columbus Stockade Blues”, and the title track.

I thoroughly enjoyed each of the songs on Better Times. The title track was written during the pandemic, and songwriters Ray Benson and Katie Shore really tapped into what we were all feeling during the yearlong hiccup of the shutdown. “All I’m Asking” is a swinging song about patching things up with that special someone. Their cover of “Columbus Stockade Blues” is about good as you can get when it comes to Western Swing. I recommend whetting your appetite for Asleep At The Wheel’s new LP (scheduled for release later this year) with their new EP, Better Times.

 

 

 

June 9, 2021

This review starts with a bit of a geography lesson. Do you know where Marfa, TX is? Don’t feel bad. I didn’t either. It is small desert town in West Texas. When I say small, I mean there is only around 2,000 residents. Also, when I say West Texas, Marfa is in  Presidio County, on the far western side of the state. The county borders Mexico. You are probably wondering why I am giving you all of this information. Well, Marfa, TX is where the new album by Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall was recorded. The three singer-songwriters have been collaborating for several years now, including co-writing “Tin Man” (2018 ACM Song of the Year). Since the album was recorded in the aforementioned Texas location, it is appropriate that the album is called The Marfa Tapes.

For many fans, they only listen to music that has been recorded in a professional studio. Those songs have been polished to a shine before being offered to the public. I venture to guess that the majority of listeners do not think about all the steps of making a song that brings it to radio, especially the songwriting process. If you have never thought about what a song sounds like before acquiring the studio sheen, The Marfa Tapes gives a peak behind the curtain.  Recorded with only two microphones and two acoustic guitars, The Marfa Tapes captures Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in a relaxed atmosphere, complete with the sounds of rustling papers, scratching guitar strings, what sounds like a campfire, and interactions between the artists. There are fifteen songs on the album, and each song is co-written by Lambert, Randall, and Ingram. The set list includes two that Lambert fans will recognize: “Tin Man” and “Tequila Does”. Here is the complete list of songs on The Marfa Tapes:

1)            “In His Arms”

2)            “I Don’t Like It”

3)            “The Wind’s Just Gonna Blow”

4)            “Am I Right or Amarillo”

5)            “Waxahachie”

6)            “Homegrown Tomatoes”

7)            “Breaking a Heart”

8)            “Ghost”

9)            “Geraldene”

10)          “We Always Have the Blues”

11)          “Tin Man”

12)          “Two-Step Down to Texas”

13)          “Anchor”

14)          “Tequila Does”

15)          “Amazing Grace – West Texas”

 

Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall, and Jack Ingram have captured the joy of songwriters sitting around and singing their songs for each other. Some people have compared this album to a demo tape. I understand that comparison. However, I think it is more akin to what used to be called a guitar pull. I have heard Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and other country legends talk about gathering with other singers and songwriters to try out their new songs on each other. I know this album will not be for everybody. Some people only like the finished, shiny product. Even if you are not a music nerd, like me, I recommend giving a listen to understand better where songs start: from someone singing lyrics, freshly written on a sheet of paper, and being accompanied by just an acoustic guitar. It is almost like watching a child take its first steps.  I recommend giving The Marfa Tapes a listen today.

 

 

 

June 2, 2021

Tina Adair’s name may sound familiar to you. I have mentioned her name as a member of the group Sister Sadie when I have reviewed their albums. Her vocals and mandolin playing have been an integral part of the bands success. Although known recently for the Sister Sadie projects, Adair has been releasing solo records since 1997. Whether with a group or as a solo artist, her artistry always shines. Tina Adair has just released a self-titled album on EMG (Engelhardt Music Group).

Tina’s new album features eleven songs, and you will recognize some of the titles. She cover’s Kathy Mattea’s “Eighteen Wheels and Dozen Roses”, Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Get You Off My Mind”, and the Mickey Newbury penned “Why You Been Gone So Long”, made famous in bluegrass circles by Tony Rice. Adair also includes “Room 404”, written by Tammy Rogers (The SteelDrivers), Peter Cooper, and Thomm Jutz, and “Still Got a Long Way to Go”, written by Ronnie Bowman and Ryan Fleener. Producer Glen Duncan co-wrote “God Will Make a Way” with Kevin Grant, and Adair’s bluesy gospel performance on the song is outstanding. She teamed with Sister Sadie her Sister Sadie bandmate, Deanie Richardson, to write “Let Each Other Go”. Adair looked to the Sister Sadie roster again on my favorite song on this project, “Won’t Be Crying Over You”, written with Gena Britt.

Anytime Tina Adair’s name is attached to an album, you know it is going to be great project. It is even better when you add producers Glen Duncan and Adam Engelhardt to the mix. The icing on the cake is the list of players and singers that perform on Adair’s project: Cody Kilby & Pat McGrath (guitar), Scott Vestal (banjo), Rob Ickes (dobro), Dennis Crouch (bass), Tim Crouch (fiddle), Casey Campbell & Tina Adair (mandolin), and Garnet & Ronnie Bowman, Vickie Hampton, Robert Baily, and Wes Hightower (harmony vocals). The song selection, production, and performances are outstanding. I recommend given Tina Adair’s new self-titled album on EMG a listen today.

 

 

May 26, 2021

It has been thirty years since Alan Jackson’s “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” stormed across the country music airwaves. He has been a country music stalwart ever since. Thus far, Jackson has had thirty five #1 singles, over seventy five million in album sales, mulitple Grammy, CMA and ACM awards. His success has led to him being a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Jackson has never seemed to slow down. He continues to tour and release quality albums. His latest release, Where Have You Gone, is another in that long line of great albums.

Alan Jackson teams up with producer Keith Stegall on Where Have You Gone. Jackson flexes his songwriting muscle on this album, penning fifteen songs on this twenty one song offering. It is very rare to look at the credits on a modern album and see one name listed as a songwriter. There is nothing in the world wrong with co-writing, but it really hammers home just talented Alan Jackson is as a songwriter. Some of my favorite songs on the album include, “The Older I Get”, “Beer:10”, “Wishful Drinkin'”, “Way Down in My Whiskey”, “You’ll Always Be My Baby” & “I Do” (both written for his daughters’ weddings), and “Where Her Heart Has Always Been” (a tribute to his mother). He also pays homage to Merle Haggard on “That’s the Way Love Goes”. Although those are some of my favorites on the album, I want to be sure to state that I thoroughly enjoyed every track on Where Have You Gone.

In the ever changing world of country music, Alan Jackson is one of the few that has not changed his sound in order to try and fit modern musical tastes, and can still find touring and album sales success. He is comfortable with who he is as a singer, and is confident that there is still an audience that is hungry for his country music style. If your music diet has been lacking in steel guitar and fiddle, you can supplement it with a dose of Alan Jackson. I recommend giving his latest album, Where Have You Gone, a listen today.

 

 

May 19, 2021

Ronnie Milsap is a country music legend. His 40 number 1 hits, 6 Grammys, and his membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame are proof of his legendary status. It has been many years since he has had a hit. However, Milsap has continued to tour and release records that showcase his immense talent. He has just released a new album, A Better Word For Love, the followup to his star studded album, Ronnie Milsap: The Duets.

Ronnie Milsap returned to the Nashville studio that he helped design years ago, Ronnie’s Place, to record with producer Rob Galbraith. The studio, producer, and Milsap was a formula that resulted in many hits. The combination works again on A Better Word For Love. There are ten songs on this new project, and there is not a weak song anywhere to be found. Some of my favorites include, “Wild Honey”, “Too Bad For My Own Good”, “Almost Mine”, “Big Bertha”, and the title track. “Big Bertha”, featuring Vince Gill, was written by the legendary Carl Perkins. For the first 2:30 of the song, I thought this tune was about a former girlfriend. However, the titular Big Bertha is a golf club. It is a great twist that Perkins penned, and the Country Music Hall of Famers, Milsap and Gill, sound like the song was custom made for them.

As much as I love Ronnie Milsap: The Duets, his new album finds Milsap back in a form that is on par with his earlier hits. The song selection, as it always is on a Milsap album, is superb. Producer Rob Galbraith working with Ronnie Milsap have but together another outstanding album. It is a perfect mixture of country, R&B, and soul. I recommend giving Ronnie Milsap’s A Better Word For Love a listen today.

 

 

May 12, 2021

 

Travis Tritt broke into the national spotlight as part of what has become known as The Class of ’89. Along with Tritt, the group of country artists that had their big breaks occur in 1989 includes Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and Clint Black. Their impact on country music is still being felt to this day, as they influenced scores of current artists.  It would be easy to spot Travis Tritt in a lineup of The Class of ’89; he was ususally wearing a fringed jacket, and his long hair was visible because he was the only one not wearing a cowboy hat . Tritt still does not wear a cowboy hat, but his hair is shorter today than back then. He is still touring  and recording  music to please his fans. Tritt’s latest offering, his first entirely new album since The Storm (2007), is Set in Stone.

Travis Tritt offers 11 songs on Set in Stone. He has teamed with producer Dave Cobb, and great songwriters to create the new project. He teams up with Brent Cobb on “Open Line”  and Cobb and Adam Hood on “Set In Stone”. Cobb and Hood also wrote “Ain’t Who I Was”. Tritt teamed up with Ashley Monroe on “Leave This World” and Dillon Carmichael with “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That No More”. There are many other songwriters that contributed to the album, and each song fits Tritt perfectly. All of the songs are from the prospective of a rebel. Some show his unwillingness to compromise with changing time, instead choosing to be true to one’s self. Others are the thoughts of an introspective rebel. Many people want to paint people with a broad brush. This album, as many of his previous albums, shows a multifaceted person at the center of everything.

Travis Tritt’s musical career has seen him play music that is true to who he is. There is no pretense in Tritt’s songs. Some would say that is a sign of stubbornness, a sign of being stuck in your ways, unwilling to change with the times. Others would say it is a sign of honesty, singing and playing what you truly believe. I tend to agree with the latter. Producer Dave Cobb, as he has done with so many other artists, captures Tritt as he is without many embellishments, much like a expert photographer captures a landscape. The partnership between singer and producer can be the key to a solid record. Each can be great in their own right, but without the two sides working in harmony the project can be lackluster. The relationship between Travis Tritt and Dave Cobb is one that works well, and the results are bound to please Tritt fans everywhere. I recommend giving Travis Tritt’s Set in Stone a listen today.

 

 

April 28, 2021

It used to be that every aspiring artist wanted to get a record deal. They wanted to make a big impression on a big label executive, get signed, and become a star. That formula used to work. Things have changed in recent years. More and more singers have turned to a DIY approach. With the accessibility of quality recording equipment and using the internet as a tool, artists have been able to make albums that they can market directly to the listeners, cutting out the big record label middle man. With this plan the artists not only get things to the consumers quicker, but they also control the album’s content. One artist that has used this new approach is Sara Petite.

Petite’s latest album, Rare Bird, is the sixth studio album. This project offers a wide variety of sounds, but all fit Petite like a glove. Songs like “Runnin'” have a rockin’ country, folk sound. One of my favorite songs on the album, “Scars”, transitions from acoustic singer/songwriter style to country, and then to rock guitar solos. The intensity of the music matches the lyrics perfectly. “Misfits” is a tribute to everyone that does not fit in, whether forced by society or by choice. “Crash, Boom, Bang” is bound to be an upbeat crowd pleaser. “Medicine Man” is a funky song with a heavy dose of organ that will have you tapping your toes. “Missing You Tonight” is equal parts soul and country, like Muscle Shoals meets Nashville. The title track is a country song that will bring a tear to your eye.

I know it is not popular to put musical labels on artists nowadays, but the base of each of the songs is country music. All the other sounds added on top are like spice added to a recipe to make a tasty dish. However, with the base the end result would not hold together as well. Sara Petite’s voice has bits of Lucinda Williams and Nanci Griffith, and her music is shaded with the honky tonk of Loretta Lynn, the ethereal heartbreak of Emmylou Harris, with a dash of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. All of those influences added to Sara Petite’s own experiences and talent result in a great album. I recommend giving Rare Bird a listen today.

 

 

April 21, 2021

Trying to gather the right songs to make an album can be an overwhelming task. Some artists  that are gluttons for punishment will attempt to make a double album. Eric Church decided to release three projects within a week, Heart & Soul. To be fair, there is a total of twenty four tracks between the albums. That is still the equivalent of a double album. At the time of this review, Heart  has been released, & is available to members of  Eric’s fan club, The Church Choir, and Soul will be released on Friday, April 23rd.

Heart has a total of nine songs, and all but one, the Grammy nominated “Stick That in Your Country Song”, were written or co-written by Church. He wrote and recorded the bulk of the songs for all three albums on a 28 day trip to the North Carolina mountains during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Stick That in Your Country Song” might be the most powerful song on the album. There are some other great songs on the albums, including “Heart of the Night”, a song about a couple leaving town, with the destination being anywhere but here. The song has some serious syncopated accents and tempo changes that add to the story’s drama. Also, “Heart on Fire” is a good cruising song that celebrates memories of carefree youthful times. It is a great arrangement with a rocking guitar, vibrant piano accompaniment, and powerful backing vocals. “People Break” is a straight forward heartbreak song.  “Russian Roulette” is about the gamble of radio channel surfing when your emotions are on the line.

One of the main complaints about country music radio in the last decade, or more, is that many of the artists sound so similar to each other. When an Eric Church song comes on, you know who is singing. He marches to the beat of his own drum, and not just for the sake of being a rebel. He is being himself. The idea to release three projects so close together is not the norm in Nashville, or, for that matter, any other music town. I feel sure that we will be reviewing the Soul album in upcoming weeks. I am a fan of Eric Church’s music, but I am not a member of The Church Choir. So, it may be a while before I review the & album. With that being said, Heart is available now. I recommend giving it a listen today.

 

 

April 14, 2021

 

Amanda Cook is making quite a name for herself. Her first two albums with Mountain Fever Records, Deep Water (2017) and Point of No Return (2019), landed her songs on many bluegrass airplay charts. With that radio exposure, she has gained many new fans. Cook looks to add to the fan base with the release of her latest album, Narrowing the Gap.

The new project features ten songs, and they offer a wide range of subject matter and emotions, as you would expect on a bluegrass album. Narrowing the Gap kicks off with a great train song, “Get on Board”, written by Darrell Hayes and Vida Wakeman , with great interplay between the lightning fast banjo and soaring fiddle. Some of my other favorite songs on the album include, “Lonesome Leaving Train”, written by Cook and Thomm Jutz, which paints a sad picture of a jilted bride. “My Used to Be Blue Ridge Mountain Home”, written by Cook and Carolyne Van Lierop-Boone, is full of thoughts of the old home place. “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”, written by Craig Market and Thomm Jutz, is about as good of an example of heartbroken lyrics you will find. “Burning Down the Mountain”, written by Mark Brinkman and Steve Wilson, is a moonshine drenched Appalachian ballad. “West Virginia Coal”, written by the husband and wife team of Troy Boone and Carolyne Van Lierop-Boone, is a song about the worst fears of every coal mining family. Carolyne Van Lierop-Boone also wrote a great gospel tune that is included on this album, “Light in This World”.

Amanda Cook has delivered another great album. Her vocals are outstanding, the songwriting superb, and the musicianship is top notch. Speaking of the musicians, the players on this album include, Carolyne Van Lierop-Boone (banjo), George Mason (fiddle), Josh Faul (bass), and the late Aaron “Frosty” Foster (guitar). Jeff Partin (dobro) and Aaron Ramsey (mandolin, guitar, bass) show up on selected tracks. No disrespect to Amanda Cook’s previous projects, but I think that Narrowing the Gap is her best to date. I recommend giving it a listen today.

 

 

April 7, 2021

Country music has a long history with the correctional system. From Johnny Cash’s albums at San Quinton and Folsom Prison, to Merle Haggard’s detour to prison in his young adult life, country music has told the stories of prisoners and the experiences that led them to their troubles. This Catch of the Week comes to us from someone that has had more than twenty years behind prison walls. Mickey Lamantia has worked for two decades as a Rhode Island state correctional officer. In addition to his regular job, Lamantia is a singer and songwriter, delivering stone cold country tunes.

Mickey Lamantia’s latest project is Honky Tonk Confessions: The Final Chapter. The eight song EP features seven new songs. The only cover is Waylon Jennings’ “Ladies Love Outlaws”. Jamey Johnson shows up to help on that tune. The other songs were co-written by Lamanatia. The other co-writers include well-known producer Buddy Cannon (Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney), Marla Cannon Goodman (Buddy’s daughter), Larry Shell, and Kyle Reagan. Buddy Cannon and his other daughter, Melonie, help with background vocals. Melonie duets with Lamantia on “If I Don’t Die Before I’m Dead”. You can almost see the neon signs with the first guitar licks of “Honky Tonk Confessions”. There is even a gospel song, “Let Go and Let God”, that will inject your soul with the peace to face life’s hard situations.

People have different tastes. I’ve heard it said that is the reason Baskin-Robbins offers 31 ice cream flavors. So, if you are craving country music that has hints of Waylon Jennings, Vern Gosdin, George Jones, and Jamey Johnson, then you will like this album. It is full of quality songwriting, singing and playing. I recommend giving Mickey Lamantia’s Honky Tonk Confessions: The Final Chapter a listen today.

 

 

 

March 31, 2021

 

The majority of the albums I review are from artists that are still touring and recording new music. However, this week’s review will be of a recently released album from Tex Williams. He is probably most well remembered for his 1947 hit “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)”, which was number one on the Billboard charts for sixteen weeks. Although not as well-known as his contemporaries Bob Wills, and the Maddox Brothers, Tex Williams was an important, and popular figure in Western swing. A new album of Williams’ previously unreleased recordings is now available, Smokin’ Country Swing – The Lost Tracks.

The album includes tunes you have heard before, from Williams and elsewhere, but these are takes that have never been released. The album’s co-producers Aaron Dethrage and Rex Allen Jr. with Thomas Gramuglia as Executive Producer decided to add modern instruments to the original recordings, and weave them together for a vibrant end product. Here’s the set list for Tex Williams’ Smokin’ Country Swing – The Lost Tracks:
1. Alimony
2. Every Night
3. Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette)
4. Just A Bummin’ Around
5. Long John
6. White Silver Sands
7. Let’s Go Rockabilly
8. Roll On Buddy (Nine Pound Hammer)
9. Roses and Revolvers
10. Sidetracked
11. You’re Cold, So Cold
12. Talkin’ To The Blues
13. Castle Of My Dreams
14. Worried Mind
15. When I Call The Roll

 

Fans of Western swing will enjoy hearing Tex Williams baritone voice singing and smoothly delivering talking blues accompanied by fiddles and steel guitar. If you are not familiar with the music of Tex Williams, this album is a great entry to his entire catalog. I recommend giving Tex William’s Smokin’ Country Swing – The Lost Tracks a listen today.

 

 

March 24, 2021

 

When you talk about country music icons, Loretta Lynn is listed near the top of the list. The Country Music Hall of Famer has been recording music since 1960. The catalog of songs and albums that followed are legendary. From “Fist City” to “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, Lynn used her own experiences to craft songs that were able to reach the masses. They tapped into the emotions of the listening audience in a way that very few have been able to accomplish. At 88 years of age, Loretta Lynn is still able to reach the audience with an authenticity that cannot be manufactured, rather just documented. Her latest release, the 46th studio album of her illustrious career, Still Woman Enough, has just been released.

Still Woman Enough features new recordings of songs that you will recognize. Some of the songs are from Loretta Lynn’s catalog, including “Honky Tonk Girl”, “One’s on the Way” (featuring Margo Price), “I Wanna Be Free”, “You Ain’t Woman Enough” (featuring Tanya Tucker), “My Love”, the gospel song “Where No One Stands Alone”, and her signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. The latter is a far different take from the original, featuring Lynn giving a recitation of the lyrics with the tune played at a slower tempo on traditional Appalachian instruments. Lynn also covers “I Don’t Feel at Home Anymore”, the Hank Williams classic “I Saw the Light”, “My Old Kentucky Home” (the state song of her native state), and two Carter Family songs (“Keep on the Sunny Side” and “I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight”). Loretta Lynn also adds one new song to the mix, “Still Woman Enough” (featuring Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood).

Still Woman Enough was co-produced by John Carter Cash, the son of Johnny Cash,   and Loretta Lynn’s daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell. It is the fourth of five planned Loretta Lynn albums recorded at Cash Cabin Studios, the previous releases being Full Circle, White Christmas Blue, and Wouldn’t It Be Great. Do not let the list of cover songs included on Still Woman Enough be a discouragement from trying the album. The 88-year old Lynn’s voice sounds great, and it is a pleasure to hear her take on these songs. I recommend giving Loretta Lynn’s Still Woman Enough a listen today.

 

 

March 17, 2021

If you have read any of my previous reviews, you know that I am as big a fan of songwriting as I am singing and playing ability. Many times songwriters are overlooked by the listening public. However, I have always been an admirer of wordsmiths that are able to paint a picture inspired by experience and imagination. When you discover a great songwriter that also has a wonderful singing voice, well, then you have a truly special find. One of those aforementioned unique creatures is Hailey Whitters. She has co-written songs that have been covered by the likes of Little Big Town (“Happy People”) and Alan Jackson (“The Older I Get”).  Whitters second solo project, 2020’s The Dream, was ranked as one of the year’s best by many different publications and reviewers. She has released an updated deluxe edition of that album, titled Living the Dream.

The songs originally included on The Dream are outstanding. Some of my favorites include one that Whitters co-wrote with Brandy Clark, “Ten Year Town”. The song is about Nashville, where people work assorted jobs, in addition to taking music gigs, for years to try and become an overnight success. Another favorite is “Janice at the Hotel Bar”, a writing collaboration between Whitters and Lori McKenna. The song is about a wise sage that shares the knowledge that she has learned through her life,”Make good love, good company/Drink good wine, make good coffee/Make a life so good that you ain’t gotta live it twice”. There is also her version of “Happy People”. The new, deluxe album, Living the Dream, adds five new songs, each one a vocal collaboration: “Fillin’ My Cup” (featuring Little Big Town),  “Glad to Be Here” (featuring Brent Cobb), “How To Break A Heart” (featuring Lori McKenna & Hillary Lindsey),  “How Far Can It Go?” (featuring Trisha Yearwood), and “The Ride” (featuring  Jordan Davis).

If you are not familiar with Hailey Whitters, get used to the name. I believe that her name will become more well known as she continues to write great songs. I hope that she will start to gain traction as a performer, too. Her performances have drawn comparisons to Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves. It is really unfair to compare artists to each other, but if your are going to be compared to others, Lambert and Musgraves are not bad company. Hailey Whitters’ songwriting and singing are outstanding. Give her album, Living the Dream, a listen today.

 

 

March 10, 2021

Brandy Clark is respected in Nashville for her songwriting ability. Her name may not be known among mainstream country fans, but they know the songs she has written: “Mama’s Broken Heart” (Miranda Lambert), “Better Dig Two” (The Band Perry),  “Follow Your Arrow” and “Biscuits” (Kacey Musgraves). Her songwriting and vocal skills cannot only be found in the aforementioned hits, but also in Clark’s previous albums, 12 Stories and Big Day in a Small Town, and Your Life Is a Record. In celebration of the one-year anniversary of the latter, Brandy Clark has released a deluxe edition, Your Life is a Record (Deluxe).

This album includes expertly placed string and horn arrangements. The sound is a unique addition to a country album, adding layers of musical emotion to further the stories being told without distracting from Clark’s vocals and lyrics. Some of my favorite tracks on Your Life Is a Record (Deluxe), include the sassy “I’ll Be the Sad Song”. It is a beautiful, yet sad, breakup song. “Long Walk” is a sassy song that gives someone that you are fed up with directions of where they can go. “Pawn Shop” is a sad song that uses the title location as the backdrop of where the mementos of a lost love are laid to rest. There are a couple of guest appearances on Your Life Is a Record. Randy Newman duets with Clark on “Bigger Boat”. Although Newman did not write the song, it was written by Clark and Jason Saenz, it sounds like a classic Randy Newman tune. “Bad Car” features Joan Osborne, and they sound great together. The deluxe version has six bonus tracks including “Remember Me Beautiful”, “Like Mine”, two live renditions of two album tracks (“Pawn Shop” and “Who You Thought I Was”), and collaborations with Brandi Carlile (“Same Devil”) and Lindsey Buckingham (“The Past is the Past”).

Your Life is a Record has garnered Brandy Clark two Grammy nominations this year: Best Country Solo Performance (“Who You Thought I Was”) and Best Country Album. The additional six tracks on the deluxe edition is an amazing way to update an album that was already outstanding. Although Clark’s songwriting has found a place on country radio, her voice, for some reason, has not found the same spotlight. That is a crying shame. With each project that Brandy Clark releases, we are reminded that Clark has all the tools to be a superstar. It is very seldom you find such a complete talent package. It is time that country radio opens the package and enjoys  the gifts that Brandy Clark has to offer. Give Brandy Clark’s Your Life Is a Record (Deluxe) a listen today.

 

 

March 3, 2021

Legend is a word that is thrown around too flippantly these days. There are not that many true legends. The greatness of legends are often only fully realized after a person has passed away. A living legend is a rare category reserved for a person that has had such an impact in their particular fields that their status is heralded in their lifetime. One of the people that soars in such rarefied air is Willie Nelson. His singing and songwriting have been influencing other artists for over six decades. Willie’s discography is vast, including recordings of not only his songs, but his take on the songs of others, including other legends. One of the legends that Willie has covered in the past is Frank Sinatra. Nelson’s 2018 album, My Way, was a tribute to Old Blue Eyes. Willie continues his homage to Frank Sinatra on his latest album, That’s Life.

Willie Nelson offers up eleven songs from Sinatra’s songbook on That’s Life. The arrangements are true to the original, complete with full band arrangements. Some of my favorite tracks on this album include ,” I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”, and “Luck Be a Lady”. “Lonesome Road” and “Learnin’ the Blues” are also outstanding songs. There is a nice duet with Diana Krall duets on “I Won’t Dance”. Willie Nelson teams up with producers Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings to present this tribute to Frank Sinatra’s songs.

One day Willie Nelson will stop touring and recording. That day is not here yet. Including That’s Life, the 87 year-old Country Music Hall of Famer has released eight albums since 2016. As concerts are beginning to happen again after the big shutdown during the 2020 pandemic, Willie has dates scheduled later this year. I hope that he includes a song or two from Old Blue Eyes in his sets. I recommend giving Willie Nelson’s That’s Life a listen today.

 

 

 

February 24, 2021

Dale Ann Bradley is one of the foremost female vocalists in bluegrass music today, and she has been for many years. Whether as a solo artist or as a member of Sister Sadie, Bradley’s talent shines. She has been nominated for two Grammys, received five IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards, and is a member of the Kentucky Hall of Fame. Last year, Dale Ann Bradley left the group, Sister Sadie, to focus on new solo work. She has just released a new solo album, Things She Couldn’t Get Over.

Bradley’s new album features ten tracks, including three songs that she wrote or co-wrote (“Living on the Edge”, “Things She Couldn’t Get Over”, and “Lynwood”). There are also a couple of cover songs. “L.A. International Airport”, a 1971 hit for Susan Raye, and John Anderson’s song about the Trail of Tears, “Yellow Creek”. Each song on the album, like all of her other projects, shows the care that Bradley takes in selecting songs that suits her voice perfectly. I think she has one of the best voices for singing storytelling songs. That is why it is nearly impossible for me to pick a favorite song from Things She Couldn’t Get Over.

I want to take a moment to mention the musicians on Things She Couldn’t Get Over. Her touring band, Moon Runner, consisting of Matt Leadbetter, Kim Fox, Ethan Burkhardt, and Mike Sumner, are excellent. There are also guest appearances from Michael Cleveland, Ronnie Bowman, Jim Hurst, Aaron Bibelhauser and Ashby Frank. Dale Ann Bradley has done it again! She has released an album that you can enjoy from beginning to end. The singing, playing, songwriting, song selection, and production is outstanding. I recommend giving Dale Ann Bradley’s new album, Things She Couldn’t Get Over, a listen today.

 

 

February 17, 2021

 

Talent contest TV shows have always struck a chord with US viewing audience. From shows like Star Search to America’s Got Talent, these type of shows have a proven track record for drawing ratings. Some of the most popular talent contest shows focus solely on singing, with American Idol and The Voice leading the way. This week I will focus on a new release from a recent winner of season 17 of The Voice, Jake Hoot. His first major release is the EP Love Out of Time.

Before winning The Voice, Jake Hoot has had an interesting, exciting life. Born in Texas, he moved with his family to the Dominican Republic, where his parents were Christian missionaries. By the way, during his stay there, Hoot learned to fluently speak Spanish. He lived there from 1988-2008. After returning to the US, Hoot attended and played football at Tennessee Tech University. After graduating, he got a job, and in his spare time Hoot polished his musical skills. He got his big break when he appeared on The Voice, and convinced judge Kelly Clarkson to turn around her chair during the blind auditions after hearing Hoot’s rendition of Luke Combs’ “When It Rains It Pours”.

Jake Hoot’s Love Out of Time is a great way to expand upon the talent he displayed on The Voice. The EP has 5 tracks, including a duet with Kelly Clarkson (“I Would’ve Loved You”). He also shows off his aforementioned Spanish language skills on a cover of the Ritchie Valens classic, “La Bamba”. My favorite song on this project is “Somethin’ We Can Slow Dance To”. Hoot’s voice has a tone and quality that is unique. If his voice is allowed to shine, front and center, and not covered up with overproduced musical tracks, Hoot could become a very successful country artist. We get a small glimpse of that potential on Love Out of Time. I recommend giving it a listen today.

 

 

February 10, 2021

 

Some of America’s greatest storytellers are from the south. Many scholars debate the reasons, but the fact cannot be denied. When storytellers are lauded, songwriters are sometimes overlooked with authors receiving most of the accolades. I am not here to take away from writers of novels and short stories. I just want to make sure some of the spotlight is on songwriters, who paint portraits with lyrics set to music in just around three and half minutes. This week I look to North Georgia and a songwriter that carries on the long tradition of southern songwriters. His name is Pony Bradshaw, and his latest album is Calico Jim.

Pony Bradshaw is a fairly new arrival to the national music scene. He released his first album in 2019 at the age of 38. You may think that is a late start for a singer-songwriter. I think it means he has more life experiences to draw from. Bradshaw sketches characters that you feel like you know, that might even be kin. In the hands of a lesser songwriter, the subjects of Calico Jim could be seen as a caricature of hillbillies. However, these are more like snapshots. What you see is what you get. They are proud of who they are, the life they live, and are not looking to get away. It is just people surviving the best way they know how and carrying on in a tradition that has been passed down through the generations, from the guys stealing copper in “Dope Mountain” to the snake-handling preacher in “Hillbilly Possessed”. I enjoyed each track, but, in addition to those already mentioned, “Sawtooth Jericho” and the title track are my favorites.

There seems to be a resurgence in singer-songwriters that are able to write about the world around them. Songwriters like Jason Isbell and Tyler Childers are among the leaders in this movement. You can add Pony Bradshaw to their ranks. His attention to detail in the lyrics are like an artist’s brush strokes that make up a larger picture. I recommend giving Pony Bradshaw’s Calico Jim a listen today.

 

 

February 3, 2021

I normally do not review instrumental albums. I appreciate the musicianship that is displayed on those albums. However, I generally gravitate toward projects that showcase great songwriting, singing, production, and playing. This week I will make an exception. I have always been a fan of the music of Doc & Merle Watson. I have enjoyed their albums, most of which feature lyrical songs, throughout the years. Their playing ability was also featured as much as the singing. Doc & Merle are no longer with us (Merle passed away after a tractor accident in 1985, and Doc died in 2012), but their music lives on. There is a new collection of songs, all instrumental, that I will be reviewing, Doc & Merle Watson’s Songs Doc Didn’t Sing.

There are fifteen songs on the album, all recorded in the early 1980s. In addition to the expert playing of Doc and Merle, other artists make appearances on Songs Doc Didn’t Sing. The guests include Mark O’Connor, Byron Berline, Sam Bush, Tom Scott, T. Michael Coleman, Hank “Bones” Kahn, and Ron Tutt. You will recognize some of the songs from the repertoire of Doc & Merle: “Windy & Warm”, “Carroll County Blues”, “Black Mountain Rag”, and “Talking to Casey”.

This album is a reminder of just how good Doc & Merle were. Whether picking old fiddle tunes, original tunes (“Below Freezing”), or having Merle pick up his slide (“Talking to Casey”), the duo were an acoustic powerhouse. Even though I have recordings of some of the songs featured on this new project, I will be adding Songs Doc Didn’t Sing to my collection. I recommend giving this album a listen today.

 

January 27, 2021

There are many musical sidemen that never stand in the spotlight. They make up the bands that support the star singers that stand front and center and are known worldwide. Without those instrumentalist and background singers, the stars’ hits would sound much different. Even in a musical style like bluegrass, in which more attention is paid to each instrumentalist as they take musical breaks that highlight their superb talent, most are known as members of a group that backs up a renowned bandleader. It is always great to see these musicians step out and release their own project. Justin Moses has done just that with his latest album, Fall Like Rain.

Justin Moses is a multi-instrumentalist, and has worked as a sideman with Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder(banjo), and with Blue Highway (dobro). He has shared the stage with artists like, Alison Krauss, Del McCoury, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, and Marty Stuart. His latest album, Fall Like Rain, finds Moses front and center. The album features 10 songs, and is a mixture of lyrical songs and instrumentals. He called on some of his bluegrass friends to help on this project, including Sierra Hull (Moses’ wife), Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton, Cody Kilby, Barry Bales, Michael Cleveland, Jason Carter, and Jerry Douglas. Some of the songs that stand out on the project include the title track, an Eric Clapton tune which features Moses on lead vocals, “Between the Lightning and the Thunder” featuring Dan Tyminski, “Looking for a Place” featuring Shawn Lane (Blue Highway) and Jerry Douglas on dobro. “My Baby’s Gone” featuring Del McCoury, and the instrumental “Taxland” featuring Sierra Hull.

I enjoyed each track on Fall Like Rain. The song selection, vocals, and, of course, instrumental performances are top notch. I must commend the order of songs on the album. It alternates from a lyrical song to an instrumental tune. The project flows so smoothly because of this choice. I am always pleased to see world-class sideman step from the shadows into the spotlight. Justin Moses’ Fall Like Rain proves that he deserves to be standing front and center in the spotlight.

 

 

January 20, 2021

Aaron Watson is one of the most successful independent country music artists today. He is the first solo male performer to have a Number One album on the charts without being signed to a major label. He gained a lot of attention with that album, Underdog, but Watson was no stranger to making albums. In fact, his first project was released in 1999. He has released over 16 projects in his career, and his latest is called American Soul.

Even if you did not know about his DIY approach to becoming a country star, you can sense his independent spirit through his music. There is no doubt that Aaron Watson is country. This project features a good dose of fiddle behind Aaron Watson’s excellent vocals. The majority of the songs on American Soul are upbeat, and not too serious. However, these songs are not just fluff. We know that Watson can hit you with some thought provoking songs. It seems that Watson will be releasing another album later this year. Perhaps we will get the deeper lyrics on that album. However, that is not a knock on this album. It is a fun listen, and a welcome change from the doom and gloom of 2020. Some of my favorite songs on this album include, “Long Live Cowboys”, “Boots”, and his tribute to the military members, “Dog Tags”.

I tend to gravitate towards songs that have a serious message. Aaron Watson has proven with his previous albums that he can make songs that fit that bill. However, it is good to be reminded that sometimes you need to forget about all of your troubles and cares, and just let your hair down and enjoy life. I appreciate Aaron Watson releasing this album during such a troubling time. Perhaps it will help us forget about the pandemic, political strife, and social unrest that we have recently experienced. I recommend kicking back and giving Aaron Watson’s American Soul a listen today.

 

January 13, 2021

 

Barry Gibb is mainly known for the songs he created and performed with his brother in the group the Bee Gees. They made songs that have endured for more than five decades. Many people only know them for those songs. However, they also wrote many songs for other artists, including “Islands in the Stream”, a huge hit for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Nashville has always shown a lot of respect for the talent of the Bee Gees. Barry Gibb, the lone remaining brother from the group, has been seen in Nashville in recent years. He was a guest on the Grand Ole Opry, appearing with Ricky Skaggs, and, at one time, owned the former home of Johnny Cash. I mention that differentiate Gibb from artists from other genres that use Nashville as a pit stop to boost their struggling career. He gets country music and the country music community. That is why it was no surprise to see Barry Gibb team up with producer Dave Cobb to record an album of Bee Gees material with a who’s who of country stars.

Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook (Vol. 1)features 12 songs from the pen of the Brothers Gibb. Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, Dolly Parton, Little Big Town, Brandi Carlile, and Sheryl Crow are among the artists that show up to duet with Barry Gibb. I enjoyed each song on this album. Some of my favorites from this project include, Jason Isbell on “Words of a Fool”, Alison Krauss on “Too Much Heaven”, Dolly Parton on “Words”, and David Rawlings & Gillian Welch on “Butterfly”.

Some country music fans may scratch their heads when they see country artists lining up to record an album of Bee Gees material with Barry Gibb. I think it makes perfect sense. The Bee Gees music has something that a lot of music, regardless of genre, is lacking today, and that is soul. Their lyrics touch people deep in their soul. That is something that the Gibb’s songs have in common with country music. It is a music that moves the people from the first moment they hear it, and it sticks with them long after the initial spin. I recommend giving Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook (Vol. 1) a listen today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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