Porkchop’s Catch of the Week
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:
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
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 to 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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