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By Blood and Marriage....(OBT Records)
This sextet from Minnesota trample that delightful trail where you find bands like BR5-49, Big Sandy and Bad Livers. It's that Hillbilly/Honky Tonkin' Swingin' kinda thing complete with washboard, doghouse bass and witty humor. They even stretch the boundries some to rock 'n roll and other diverse genres. Nothing too serious here, just good musicianship and fun songs.
Best songs: In Heaven There Is No Beer, H-E-L-L Bound, Do You Like The Hula?, Train Song, Cannibal Man, Griddle-Cake Joey. The band has a wonderful website which includes audio samples, other reviews, bio and tour info.   You can order the CD from Miles of Music. Released April, '99 by Bill Frater

Terra Firma... (Sugar Hill)
Imagine instead of jazz that Bela Fleck and the Flecktones did a cover album of Dave Matthews material, then you’ll have some idea of where the Acoustic Syndicate fits in the musical landscape. This is lively, energetic music that combines elements of bluegrass, pop, rock, and world music. And I think the vocals are far superior to Dave Matthews, but that's a personal taste thing. There may be bluegrass instruments here but the song forms are like nothing you’d find at a bluegrass festival. And then there’s the drums, like the banjo, present on every track. Neither bluegrass, nor jam grass, nor jazz grass, nor re-cycled New Grass (Revival). Acoustic Syndicate is an entity all it’s own; boundary pushing, engaging and fun. Worth checking out.
Sugar Hill Records Buy from Released April, 2003. Reviewed by Kevin Russell.

Heartbreaker... (Bloodshot)
As a longtime Whiskeytown fan, I have come to appreciate on a very deep level Mr. Adams' incredible vocal talents. I have also come to feel that his great talent is for ballads.  Somehow he captures what beauty there is in lying face down in a gutter of remorse and drunkenness. Somehow he can transform the loneliness and grittiness of the country sensibility into a hymn of celebration of the human soul.  Only his choirboy voice can pause in the middle of a song like "To Be Young" to lift a rousing rockabilly ditty into something ethereal. Yes, all of those parts are the sentimental, the dejected, the lonely, but this is the kind of album that you have to sit down to, to take every song as it comes. He does Rockabilly as well as Dwight Yoakam, and brings to it a seriousness that bands like the Old 97s (and even Wilco, if you ask me) have never been able to conjure up. That is when I close my eyes, lift my face to heaven, and thank God for country music. That is medicine, not just music.   
Bloodshot Records  Ryan Adams' site Buy from amazon Released Sept. 2000, reviewed by D. Klinghard

Gold... (Lost Highway)
Well, here it is. The CD that seemingly the whole music business has been waiting for. Adams has been hailed as a genius songwriter and now that he's pretty much abandoned his band (he never seemed comfortable in a band format anyway and led the combo with a iron fist and often turned on a whim) he will succeed or fail on his own devices from now on. I must say the title is apt. This album is pure gold. Lush, often piano-based music that can only be compared to classic '70's rock, Adams' breaking away from Whiskeytown has opened him up to also break away from alt. country. With a vocal style that reminds one of David Gates (from the band Bread) or Neil Young (especially on the song Somehow, Someday) Adams' music is an amalgam of bands like Bread and CSNY that added a lot of folkier, softer touches to their rock. Sure, Adams rocks out on quite a few songs here, but it is not the modern rock we're used to hearing circa post-grunge. These songs could come off of Elton John's first few albums or Young's first tenure with Crazy Horse. Those expecting country will be disappointed while we those open to a classic style of pop will be overjoyed at Adams' new artistic freedoms and gambles. This would be all over the radio in 1973........too bad radio sucks right now. Buy this anyway.
Ryan's site is up to date and well done. Lost Highway's site. Buy from amazon   Released Sept. '01.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

Demolition... (Lost Highway)
While most music fans may call me a heretic, I find a lot curious parallels in the music and personalities of Neil Young and Adams. While both have passionate and mercurial temperaments, both have made some astoundingly beautiful (Harvest for Young, Heartbreaker for Adams) and amazingly horrible (Trans for Young, Gold for Adams) music in their careers. Both have come from much-loved, much-lamented bands (Young - Buffalo Springfield/CSN&Y, Adams - Whiskeytown) to try to make a go of it as solo artists. While we already know Young has pretty much eclipsed all of the bands and associations he has been a part of, Adams is still taking his baby steps right now, searching for his muse and his way, trying to connect his message, his format for communicating his message and his audience. While Young has succeeded, Adams has, so far, fallen short. Still searching, he's a chameleon, altering his music from country to pop to rough-edged rock and back again, alienating more people than he has converted. Former fans seem puzzled by his rock star posture, dress and friends, wishing he would just go back to the twang sound done flawlessly when he was leading roots band Whiskeytown. But, like Young, he is steadfastly independent, challenging his remaining listeners to keep up with whatever musical flights of fancy he decides to follow. In this case, Adams marks time by releasing a passel of demos from various stages of his current post-Whiskeytown career. While the CD lacks cohesion in sound and focus, the songs seem solid, although a few too many seem like ideas still waiting to be fleshed out. Those keeping score take note these songs fall squarely in the rockier post-Heartbreaker mode Adams tried on Gold. Country fans need not apply. Like Young, Adams is indeed talented, despite whatever his last few CDs have shown. Again, like Young (who also has committed a lot of half-baked, not-fully-formed ideas to vinyl and shiny-disc) what Adams needs most is a good editor, someone to tell him what works and what doesn't, without kowtowing to his whim. Like a lot of auteurs (Young, Prince) Adams has the talent to take his message to any audience, in any genre. He must first gain maturity and taste, though. That can only come with time and honesty with one's self. Right now, Adams is lacking in this element.
Lost Highway's site, Adam's site done by Lost Highway. Buy from amazon  Released Sept, 2002. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.  

Cold Roses… (Lost Highway)

It has been almost 9 years since Whiskeytown released their alt-country classic Strangers Almanac and although Adams has done some great stuff since, nothing with as much soul and twang as the work with his former band. This new double CD features a band with Cindy Cashdollar on steel guitar so I was hoping for at least a little bit of roots on Cold Roses. Alas, Cindy is mostly buried in the mix and frankly, Ryan sounds like he's bored. He's still a talented wordsmith and has a good ear for a catchy melody but theres not enough on the first CD to warrant listening to the second. In' fact it would make a good single CD if you took out 5 or 6 of the songs that really seem to drag. The bottom line is, there's some good songs here but it ain't Whiskeytown or even his first solo CD Heartbreaker. Perhaps we'll have to wait till Ryan gets clean and sober and moves back to North Carolina till he gets humble and brilliant again.
Lost Highway Records. Buy from amazon.   Released May, '05. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

29... (Lost Highway)
At his most compelling, Ryan Adams shows a gift. It appears to be accessed spontaneously, often leaving discipline in limbo. After a more integrated Jacksonville City Nights, 29 , his third release in a year, is a buffet breakfast at three in the afternoon, all you can eat, if you're really that hungry. There are some likeable songs here – Strawberry Wine and Nightbirds are two. The title cut takes Jerry Garcia on a late night, reverb-drenched ride “mixing liquor and mystery pills.” Adams sounds at times like he's still rehearsing a melody, noodling in the wee hours. Diehard fans may want to add 29 to the rack, but life is short and there are choices. “Cripes, only the mediocre are always at their best,” the man in the black coat said, switching stations to listen to Heartbreaker on the long drive back to Whiskeytown.
Buy from amazon  Released Dec. 2005. Reviewed by Doug Lang.

Hits and Exit Wounds... (One Little Indian)
If you, like me, have never heard of this band, try looking under A3 in your local North American music store. It was a bit surprising to receive a greatest hits disc, or as they call it, a retrospective, from an unknown band that’s pretty damn entertaining, and the reason for this borders on the sublimely ridiculous. Apparently there’s another band called Alabama that feels that these guys are infringing upon their turf with the name similarity, thus the A3 handle. It should be the other way around, because these “usurpers” are everything, and more, that the ‘originals’ are not, and could never be. Alabama3 is an assemblage of nine artists from Britain that is clever, caustic, creative and a lot of fun to listen to, and listen closely, (or repeatedly), one must to catch the full message in each song. The styles range from contemporary rhythm and blues, “Monday Don’t Mean Anything”, flat out country, “Hello… I’m Johnny Cash”, satirical social commentary, “Mao Tse Tung Said”, and even a spot of gospel funk, “Too Sick To Pray”. This release has been a mainstay of summer entertainment in these parts for several weeks now as each listen reveals a previously hidden hook; ennui is not an option with this crew.
The band's official UK site. Buy from amazon Released July, 2008, reviewed by Don Grant.

Turning Dorian Gray... (self released)
Since the soundtrack from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? continues to roll on, racking up more and more sales and unreleasing it's death grip on the charts, an increasing number of artists are seeking to hop on the folksy/bluegrass music trend. Bands are breaking out their banjos and fiddles, trying to capitalize on what may be the biggest thing to hit folk and old-timey music since Ralph Stanley. While I don't know if Alkalay is simply hopping on the bandwagon or is deeply committed to this style of music, his new CD is entering the marketplace at just the right time to take advantage of all this roots music fervor going around. I say this because Alkalay's CD is filled with the kind of music fans of old-timey country are sure to love. It's not bluegrass by any means although Alkalay does wield a mean banjo. It's more an amalgam of bluegrass and folk music with the by-product being one of singer/songwriter style country with added depth. Modern, electric instruments are featured (like keyboards) but these are balanced out with some lap steel touches and other gee-gaws that separate this from the glossy pablum that still comes out of the sad, sorry suckfest known as mainstream country radio. What has turned people on to the music of our past is the simplicity, honesty and soul. Alkalay's new CD has all of these and this is what makes it so good. It is a down-home, organic creation that is real and heartfelt. That's why I like it and why I am sure most roots music fans will like it as well. Simply said, this is great. has the usual stuff.  Released Nov. 2001. Buy from amazon  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Straight Time.... (Prime-CD)
Straight Time is a nice departure from the generic, predictable singer-songwriters I've been hearing of late.  Allen is not bound by one style but roams the Americana landscape like the troubadour he is, as easy writing country as blues as folk. I immediately liked his deep, resonant voice, his melodies and arrangements. There's a simplicity of structure to it that keeps it basic yet interesting and I think that's not as easy as it seems. It's a record that made me feel I was hearing something new and just a little different and that makes it worth checking out.
Jim's Prime CD page.  Released Sept '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).   

Last of the Great Singing Cowboys... (Soundies/ Bloodshot)
I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised by the good quality of these radio transcriptions.   When I see a record heralding "Never Before Released Recordings", I usually  hrrumph and think, "with good reason" but this batch of upbeat tunes sung by the "Voice of the West"  carry you pleasantly along the sagebrush  trail.  Each tune was cut live-to-disc in a single take with backing by the fine musicians of the WLS Barn Dance where Allen played a prominent role from 1945 till he left for Hollywood in 1949.  Allen and his crew yodel, harmonize and give us great instrumental action in the 22 never released recordings.  As Rex himself says, "These western tunes never do go out of style, and if I do say so myself, the singing holds up too!"
Buy from amazon Fav Tunes: I Won't Need My Six Gun In Heaven, Dude Ranch Polka, Raggin'On, Gonna Marry Me a Cowboy. Bloodshot has a fun site, including CD ordering info. Released March, '99, reviewed by Kay Clements

Low Country Blues... (Rounder)

Gregg Allman's last album was a mere 14 years ago so you could say he's overdue for a new album. He's of course been touring most every summer with the Allman Brothers Band.  I would imagine it gets challenging to find the inspiration to sing "Whipping Post" one more night.  Despite his vocal talents and the high caliber of musicians in the ABB, they're still living off the Fillmore East songs. What brings attention to this new release is the producer, Mr T Bone Burnett. T Bone has been a very busy boy in the last five years but his name is not a guarantee of success or a seat at the Grammy Awards. Witness last year's Ryan Bingham and Elton John/Leon Russell releases, both good albums but not great nor were they big sellers.  On these LA sessions we've got a core band of Doyle Bramhall II (who's quite good), Dr. John on piano and Burnett's latest favorite rhythm section, Dennis Crouch on acoustic bass, and Jay Bellerose on drums.  When Gregg digs deep and lets out his lion's roar, it's a powerful thing and you'd better listen up. He's recently recovered from a liver transplant and a cancer scare so my thinking is the experience has made him a more grateful and perhaps a bit humble.  There's nothing like some humility to bring out that authenticity. Frankly, I have a hard time sitting through most contemporary blues albums unless it's live where you can feel the music and see the sweat and the stretching of the strings.  Low Country Blues is not your usual blues set and I gotta give the producer a nod on this one.  This is a fine collection of songs, and I find the variety of styles to be an asset, from a couple of rural acoustic songs to the Little Milton, B.B. King and Lightnin' Hopkins titles.
Allman's web site. Buy from amazon.  Released Jan. 2010, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Pearl Harbor... (Aquamarine)
Hard to make out if this is a band or a collective of like minded musicians as about fifteen participants are listed and in alphabetical order making it hard to distinguish who's more involved than the rest. One thing  for sure - this is not Americana or country in the least. This is sprightly new wave pop circa the late '80's and is bouncy and clever as hell. While this might confuse more country-oriented consumers those interested in quirky pop are recommended to give this a listen. Those interested in fiddles and pedal steel are invited to look elsewhere. Pretty good album though, with some great lyrical twists and very compelling music.
The band's website, has bios, t-shirts, and CD ordering. Buy from amazon Released Oct. '01. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Blackjack David....(Hightone)
Back when the original Blasters were still together, Phil Alvin was the distinctive voice of the band while it was brother Dave who silently wrote poignant songs about little lives in little towns. Dave is still writing great observational lyrics that frequently reveal the dark souls of people living on the underbelly of society. "Abilene", from Dave's sixth CD is so true-to-life that you'd swear that Dave has been reading this girl's mail. The song also has a great chorus and is one of the best songs Alvin's ever written. Most of the songs here are acoustic, which suits his deep, conversational voice. Many people cite King of California as his best album, but I think this one stands even taller because of the strength and growth of his songwriting. As a matter of fact, this CD should make many top 10 lists for the year. I know it'll be on my list. If you know Alvin's work, you probably already have this, if not, pick up on a brilliant artist at his best.
Best tracks: Blackjack David, Abilene, Evening Blues, Laurel Lynn, Tall Trees. HighTone Records has a pretty nice sight with tour info, bios etc. Buy from amazon. Released June, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Public Domain... (HighTone)
Public Domain is about Dave Alvin's fascination with the traditional folk and blues songs that so strongly influenced and inspired he and his brother when they were teens.  As far as Alvin is concerned, the only difference between rockabilly, R & B, Cajun, urban blues and bluegrass is that they are all just different styles of folk music...  And as Dave says, there is loud folk music and there is quiet folk music.  In this record, he reworks some of the traditional music seminal to his development as a musician.  He takes the old Carter Family song "East Virginia Blues" and turns it into an early Elvis-style rockabilly tune, then he uses his exquisite guitar work to bring out the Southern soul of the folk chestnut "Shenandoah".  It's a genuine pleasure to witness an American  artist in his prime, humbly paying homage to songs so timeless and classic.
HighTone Records, Dave Alvin's websiteBuy from amazon.  Released August, 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Ashgrove… (Yep Roc)
According to Yep Roc, (his new label), this is Alvin’s definitive album. Dave says "if there’s one that you’ve got to have, this is the one." That’s pretty tall talk from a guy who has some brilliant collections to his name. There are some great tunes here, mostly electric and blues based without a fiddle or mandolin to be found anywhere but there are also those that cover the same ground. While Ashgrove rocks almost as much as a good ol’ Blasters album, I'll be curious to see how many of these songs Alvin is still doing in five years. Time will tell if Dave's prediction is accurate. In my opinon, I don’t think it is.
Yep Roc's site. Buy from amazon.  Released June, 2004, reviewed by Bill Frater.

West Of The West… (Yep Roc)

If roots music were a monarchy then Dave Alvin would certainly be one of the first to be knighted. He does everything with dignity, taste and humility and he looks very cool in cowboy boots. He's been doing tributes going all the way back to the classic Tulare Dust from 1994. This time around, he pays tribute to songs and songwriters specifically from California. What songs they chose and the unique re-arrangements are what make this a remarkable collection. Whether it's turning Jackson Browne's “Redneck Friend” into a blues shuffle or making Los Lobos' “Down on the Riverbed” into an acoustic, banjo-flavored ballad. Or perhaps it's reviving some forgotten gems like Creedence's “Don't Look Now”, Kate Wolf's “Here in California” or John Stewart's “California Bloodlines”. I love how he took a song that everybody knows, “Surfer Girl” and slows it way down and adds some pre-surf doo-wop harmonies to make an entirely new song. Really, I could go on about each track, there's too many to mention. Let's just give a little credit to producer and string wizard Greg Leisz and all hail another masterpiece from “Sir” Dave. Yep Roc's site. Buy from amazon.  Released May, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Chock Full Of Country Goodness... (Breaker/Valley) 
The Amazing Rhythm Aces came out of Memphis in the '70's with a few hits (most notably "Third Rate Romance"), before radio tightened their formats and squeezed out these eclectic kinds of bands. The Aces strong suit has always been the way they effortlessly combine rock, blues, country and R&B.  They split up for awhile but they've been back together for a few years and they've still got it. Led by the gifted songwriting and deep, soulful voice of Russell Smith and pianist James Hooker, (at least when he's not leading Nanci Griffith's Blue Moon Orchestra).  The CD is dedicated to drummer Butch McDade who just died of cancer last year.  They lean a little closer towards Nashville then their native Memphis on this one, and there's a few token novelty songs that I could do without. While I wish they'd stick to what they're best at, Country-Soul, it's still great to have them back. This band is a treasure and they deserve to be heard by more people.
Buy from amazon. Best tracks: Yippe Yi Yo Yo, Dancin' With The Ones You Love, Fake It 'Til I Make It, If I Could Call You Mine, A Heart To Come Home To. The band's official site has a bio, discography, and tour info.  Released Aug. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Streets of NYC... (Hayden's Ferry)

It never ceases to fascinate me, the remarkable places in which one finds the practitioners of the varied forms of Americana music. Hailing from the hard-scrabble streets of Brooklyn, this quartet delivers an urban form of country-rock, with the accent heavily on the rock component. AmAm is essentially the brainchild of Pete Cenedella, singer/composer, and guitarist Scotty Aldrich, supported by Robb Gottstein on bass, and Joe Dessereau on drums, and this is their third release in as many years. Prolific? Undoubtedly. You wouldn't think that New York could provide the inspiration for good country-rock, but the evidence is right there at your ears. Their sound is predominantly reminiscent of Seventies Stones, heavy guitar, and raw and rasping vocals layered over a solid bass/drum foundation. Then, just to keep their country legitimacy, they'll throw in a standard swing tune like “First One Of A One-Too-Many Night”. I think it's time for another new word, so I going to call their sound concrete-country.

Their web site. Buy from amazon Released June, 2005, reviewed by Don Grant.

Western Sides... (Gangplank)
This is a dynamic and studied work from Detroit-based American Mars with first rate songs from the band and exceptional production from multi-instrumentalist David Feeny. Cinematic soundscapes such as Long Walk Home and "Better Angels" feature lush pedal steel and mix it up with an alt rock guitar style that reminds one of the Cure. Sort of shoe-gazers Cowboy Junkies meet alt.brit shoe-gazers my Bloody Valentine, with intriguing effect. "Democracity" rocks out in a David Bowie/Lou Reed fashion while "Marionette" is a classic folk rockish cautionary tale. The jacket with this CD offers sincere thanks for finding this “endangered species of recorded music” but besides the musician's gratitude the reward is in the listening.
The band and the label's sites. Buy from amazon Released Jan. '08, reviewed by Michael Meehan.

Dogs In Heaven....(Little Dog)
Pete is not only the producer and dynamic guitarist with Dwight Yoakam, but he's also puts out his own CDs on his own record label. Yes, he does it all, and his vocal seem more confidant on this 2nd release, which, surprisingly, he did not produce. The added horns here and there give it a real "Stax" kinda sound, he even covers Ain't That Peculiar, and doesn't do too bad on a song that has Marvin Gaye's formidable original to compare to. He's got 3 instrumentals here, and why not, he's a great and tasteful guitar player, and the usual "Little Dog" suspects back him up excellently. This CD is worth the search, for both guitar geeks, and "country-soul" fans.
Buy from amazon Best Tracks: Better Way, Feels Like Mississippi, Charlene, For You.  Little Dog Records site.  You can still get the CD at the Little Dog General Store  They also have some internet-only releases. Released April, '97, reviewed by Bill Frater.

I'll Drink To That... (Not Lame)
Although most people may only recognize his name from a few songwriting credits for '80's band Georgia Satellites (he wrote 'Battleship Chains' among others) Anderson released two very fine solo CDs on now-defunct roots label ESD in the mid '90's that were blueprints for drunken red-neck bar rock! Consider this release a return to form! Like a cross between a drunk Ron Wood and a pissed-off (and drunk) Hank Williams Jr., Anderson's music isn't deep or thought-provoking. It's just loud, rowdy, "smash a-beer bottle over your buddy' head then hug him", Stones-y, Chuck Berry-ish three or four chord smash-'em-ups! In fact, although Anderson does write a catchy tune, it surprises me that a power-pop label was the outlet for this. Seems a more rootsy label would have been a more logical choice. Whatever. The liner notes say Anderson got the inspiration for these songs after listening to an old Dave Edmunds CD and then deciding to write nothing but fast songs! This, after leaving Nashville in disgust over the songwriting "system". That's enough for me! I'm buying twenty of these jokers and I suggest you buy at least one! has ordering info for many other CD's as well as their own releases. Buy from Released Jan, 2001.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Shoulda Lied About That … (Ringo)
Nancy Apple comes from Memphis and she also is a public radio DJ (WEVL). She has a Southern girl voice not unlike Stacey Earle, but Apple applies a little more swagger to her songs. The style is twangy/rootsy pop mostly with a hint of soul and country here and there. She wrote most of the songs herself and that’s the only area that needs a little more work. The CD was produced by Nancy and Keith Sykes, who wrote some great witty songs in his day. Perhaps a little songwriting wood shedding will help on her next one. Don’t get me wrong, I like the CD, but I look for even better things on her next one. Buy from amazon Released August, 2002.  Reviewed by Bill Frater

Tom Armstrong Sings Heart Songs... (Carswell)
Wow, who is this guy? He's channeling the classic country sounds of the early 60's with such ease and simplicity that it's hard to believe they're all his own songs. This guy has spent time in the thrift stores buying all those old, frayed albums with the ugly cover art. In fact, he has essentially replicated Ray Price's first album cover.  He's done his homework on the great singers from the days before my time; people like Wynn Stewart, Lefty Frizzell and some of the lesser known artists like Frankie Miller and Tibby Edwards. What's refreshing with this recording is that although they used vintage microphones along with steel guitar and fiddle, he doesn't sound like some hokey imitator. It's obvious Armstrong has been listening with his heart as well as with his ears and he's created something brand new and very special.
Buy from amazon  Released April, 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater and Kay Clements.

Mt. Pleasant... (Spectra)

At first listen, this fourth release by New York-based former South Carolinian Arnau came off as appearing a bit on the over produced country pop-ish side, as if it was trying too hard to make those all important mainstream radio playlists. Well, ‘Blaaat, wrong answer', no cigar for that one, not even close. Further investigation reveals that she's not over produced, she actually does sound the same/that good live, without all of the studio tweaks and fiddling around that can make a mediocre performer sound impressive. This time it's all the real McCoy. She's got an impressive set of pipes that can adapt to a multitude of styles, from a soaring anthem to determination and grit, “You're Not Alone”, to the neat jazz/blues fusion of “Holidays”. Drawing inspiration from personal experience, her songs have that flavour that can only be described as “real”, and her backing band does exactly as a good backing band will: they provide the musical loom upon which Arnau weaves her lyrical tapestries, embellishing without overpowering. This one deserves a real-time live listen.

Jennie's site, My Space. Order from CD Baby. Released June, '07, reviewed by Don Grant.

Ride With Bob: A Tribute to Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys... (DreamWorks)
Ray Benson and his ever changing band have almost single-handedly carried the torch of the amazing and joyful music of Bob Wills. It's heartwarming to learn from the excellent liner notes that Ray did meet Wills back in 1973 just before his stroke. Bob would be happy to know that his music is still being enjoyed and danced to today. Benson has become a contemporary Bob Wills by being the guy who introduces the soloists and pushes and encourages the music with his whoops and hollers. There have been other great Wills tributes, but they don't quite equal the spirit of these faithful renderings. Benson enlisted guest vocalists for each song, including Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, Don Walser and the Dixie Chicks among others. All of them turn in excellent readings, even the popular young country stars can't mess up these classic tunes with The Wheel behind them. The only non-Wills number is Waylon Jennings' "Bob Wills is Still The King" which is given a delightful Western Swing arrangement that'll make you forget the original. And 25 years later, the song is still as true as ever. Music doesn't get much more fun and danceable then the music of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys!
 AATW's site has a great bio and tour info, DreamWorks' site is pretty slick.Buy from amazon. Released Aug, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

The Very Best Of... (Madacy/ Relentless)
Finally, a real Best of Asleep At The Wheel! 30 years ago, when the Wheel was formed, no band had ever covered both Bob Wills and Louis Jordan, and there is still no other band doing it. Wheel boss Ray Benson has gone back and re-recorded some of the band's best songs, many of them still live show favorites. Some of these songs were associated with the original Wheel, (with Leroy Preston and Chris O'Connell), and they are faithfully redone with Ray on lead vocals.  Liner notes include commentary on each song by Ray. This is an excellent collection by the best Boogie Woogie, Western Swing band working today. A must have! 
AATW's website with tour info and lots of merchandise. Buy from amazon. Released June, '01, reviewed by Bill Frater.

(Checkered Past)
The Ass Ponys are old enough to know who “Donald Sutherland” is, and appreciate that “Kung Fu Reference” as well.  Head Ass Pony Chuck Cleaver may be feeling “Dried Up”, “Only” about as manly as a “Butterfly”.  He might pay you a “Dollar a Day” to hold your “Baby in a Jar”, or to say “(Baby) I Love You (Baby)”.  But, even though “Last Night it Snowed”, well, Chuck knows that “Nothing Starts Today”.  In fact, you can mark your “Calendar Days” with a “Black Dot”; these guys still have a “Fire in the Hole”…
Checkered Past's Ass Ponys bioBuy from Released June, 2001. Reviewed by Marty Harper.

Hot Lunch....(Cold Springs)
This is the first studio album from this untamed Austin 10-piece acoustic stringband that is known for performing live without any amplification whatsoever. No less then 5 talented singers are featured in the band, the standouts being the irreverent songwriting of Wammo and the glorious vocals of Miss Christina Marrs. Their most obvious influences are probably Django Reinhardt, Dan Hicks, Cheap Suit Serenaders and Laurel and Hardy. Unique and fun stuff, catch them live if they come to your town.
Cold Spring has a site, and so does the band, complete with RA samples and bios and tour info. Buy from Released Feb. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Lady Liberty...(Steppin' Stone)
Austin, Texas continues to amaze me with the wealth of musical talent living and working there.  Twenty-five years ago, Atherton would be working on a major label, her soft, soulful voice gaining fans by good-ol' word-of-mouth. Like Bonnie Raitt's best early albums Atherton is comfortable singing country, blues, and well, country-blues.  Rich Brotherton, from Robert Earl Keen's band handles the production and the lead guitar.  A kid from San Antonio named Mike Stevenson wrote all the songs, he's a killer songwriter who must either be awful humble or have a horrible voice. The tempos and arrangements are varied and make for an very enjoyable and easy-going CD.  It's all here... search this one out.

Best tracks: Disappear, Drift On (duet w/ Toni Price), Mean And Ugly, Real Life, Smilin' Devil, Homers. She has her own homepage, plus Steppin' Stone has their own Leeann Atherton pages, with tour info.  Order the CD from CD Baby. Released late '98, by Bill Frater.

My True Love... (Cool Cat Productions)
This is a fine little CD of swingin' honky tonk tunes from a band out of Salt Lake City, Utah.  They have a nice sound that mostly features the strong, sometimes screaming vocals of Lara Jones.  She writes many of the tunes with guitarist Paul "Shorty" Kreutz who also sings a few and adds a little rockabilly influence to the mix.  The steel guitar work of Dan Salini is strong addition to the band on this their 3rd album . Try to imagine the voice of Maria McKee fronting Big Sandy's Fly-Rite Boys and you get the picture. It's fun stuff and the CD artwork has a nice retro feeling too.
The band's site,, has tour and bio info.  Released May, '99, and reviewed by Bill Frater.

Broadsides... (self released)
“How can a poor man stand such times and live?” asked Blind Alfred Reed back in 1929. Well into another economic slump, the Atomic Duo is answering the call for a new working man’s blues with a rough and ready blend that is one part bluegrass and another part Woody Guthrie. There isn’t much in the way of a coded message here; former Bad Livers guitarist Mark Rubin and mandolin whiz Silas Lowe feel that the collapse of the social contract is a genuine calamity, and they offer a fistful of hard scrabble laments as evidence. True to the Guthrie tradition, the songs are direct appeals to social justice, told with a Texas drawl and hard country snap. Songs like “Trickle Down” and “Company Man Is Not Our Friend” are anecdotes of blue-collar lives fraught with foreclosures, medical bills and layoffs, in which the 1% get no sympathy. The musicianship is sharp and tasty, the mandolin work particularily nice, especially on “Scott Joplin’s New Rag”. The overtly political tone is well aligned with the classics of folk protest, and Phil Ochs would probably be a fan. It isn’t a “feel good” album, but it’s one you might take to your next rally.
The Duo's web site. Order from CD Baby. Released March, '12, reviewed by Brad Price.

The Fallen... (Reckless)
Following right on the heels of Kasey Chambers' excellent CD comes another young Australian country singer, Audrey Auld. Turns out Kasey's father, Bill Chambers, recorded a great album of country duets with Audrey. He also plays and sings harmony on most of this CD so it's no surprise that there are some similarities. The Fallen is actually more straight-ahead country then Kasey's album. Real Country, some would say, including a duet of "Jackson" with Texas honky tonker, Dale Watson. Audrey wrote almost every song and produced the whole dang thing. Other then the very un-country cover photo, this is a great CD and she sounds like she's having a lot of fun.
Reckless Records site has a few song samples. Buy from  Released: Nov, 2000.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Songs from the Tin Shed... (Frog Pad)
Some artists can write and sing about the mundane things of life, and make them fascinating, albeit familiar, experiences. Others attempt the same, and they produce, well, mundane experiences. A well enough played CD instrumentally, Songs from the Tin Shed just doesn't have that 'grab you by the ears and pay attention' quality that separates the run-of-the-mill from the exceptional. Austin is from Yonder Mountain Sting Ban andCastino is from The Big Wu, which I will assume is another Colorado acoustic jam band. It's good background music that doesn't demand much of the listener, and that's damning it with faint praise. There's no edge here, just pleasant, nice tunes that won't ingratiate their way into your subconscious and find you humming them in idle moments. I think that there's potential, and I don't doubt their sincerity, but these boys need a hook. Mellow and wholesome is OK, but even mellow and wholesome have to have something that proclaims loudly, "This is us, this is what we're saying!", if it would hold the listener's attention. Tina Turner once sang that she tries not to do anything too nice, guys, and I think that you should, too.
Frog Pad's Tin Shed page. Buy from Amazon. Released March, '04, reviewed by Don Grant.

Drive-By Romance... (Barking Topiary)
Despite Austin's car references and beyond-gutsy attitude, her voice resembles a more plaintive Kathy Mattea than any old blues mama down at the roadhouse. Still, Austin's stance as a been-there-survived-that songwriter should ring true to anyone who's been out in the world for more than a year. Longstanding jokes about country music's clichéd lyrical subject matter (my wife left me, the truck broke down, my dog's dead) aside, that stuff rings true because it is. All that crap has really happened to people. Austin knows the power of singing about real life and she does so with confidence and a certain amount of humor as well. While Austin's own songwriting is good, she also shows good taste in outside material, choosing songs like "455 Rocket" by Gillian Welch and "105" by Fred Eaglesmith for covers. Other covers on the CD include "Broke Down" by Slaid Cleaves and Rod Picott and "Love's A Word I Never Throw Around" by Robert Earl Keen Jr. All are done well and sounding great. While the vocals could maybe use some fire, the CD as a whole stands out as quality work, and Austin definitely bears watching. Good stuff.
Sherry's website. Order from CD Baby. Released June, 2003.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood  

Drive On Back... (Barking Topiary)
Austin is a singer-songwriter from Santa Cruz who has a strong deep voice that unadorned, would fall into the folk music genre. Sherry writes sensitive and well thought-out compositions with fine melodies, and she has impeccable taste in selecting songs by other songwriters to cover. Tim O'Brien's “Less And Less” sounds made for her, as does Dylan's “Wagon Wheel”. The other strong point is the intelligent arrangements, adding fiddle, steel guitar and cello where it fits, and surrounding herself with great musicians and singers. Her original "I Wouldn't Lie To You " is a direct plea to our president with a taste of irony. It all comes together on the marvelous “Hallelujah”, written by Martha Scanlan, (due for her first solo CD next year), which opens with some tasty dobro and winds up with a rousing Dixieland-style ending. It's pretty close to perfection and is one of the best songs I've heard all year. A tip of the hat must also go to Jim Norris, who produced Drive On Back with Austin. This is a well-balanced album that just gets better with each listen. Order from CD Baby. Released June, '06.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Strange Noises in the Dark… (Blue Corn)
Country music has always had a few fringe comedy artists. Going back to Minnie Pearl, Homer & Jethro, through the Geesinslaws and Kinky Freidman and who knows who else. (Does anybody else remember Country Porn?) Anyway, the Austin Lounge Lizards have (to my amazement) been around for over 20 years. Although I support their politics and their valiant attempt at social commentary, I just don't find them that funny. Most of the songs are like based on a single joke or parody subject. Not only that, their bluegrass-influenced playing and vocal arrangements don't do a lot for me either. I find it just to derivative, like I've heard it all before. There is however one mock-country song that features the wonderful Kelly Willis on duet vocals, "We Always Fight When We Drink Gin". That song alone is almost worth the price of the CD. Even if it is produced by Lloyd Maines, it doesn't do it for me, and I do have a pretty good sense of humor.
Buy from amazon. Released: Oct, 2003.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Mignonette ... (Ramseur)
Everyone who produces a recording should get a dispassionate and objective third party to preview the work several times before it goes to pressing. If you're going to do a live recording, do it live. Attempts to capture the essence and vitality present onstage, in the studio, don't very often work. Unless one has experienced the live version, including between-track chatter and banter inevitably result in the initiate searching for the remote to skip the banalities; after a few playings, it's just boring. Now that I've got that off my chest, this North Carolina bluegrass trio does make some pretty darn good hill country/jug band music in their second outing. Standouts amongst the 20 cuts are "Swept Away", both versions, "Signs", "Please Pardon Yourself", and "A Gift For Melody Ann". The vocals harmonize nicely within the traditional acoustic instrumentation; there's no electrification here folks, it's pretty pure stuff. The boys can write, they can sing, and they can play. Where they've fallen down is in the production of what could have been a good CD.

The band's site. Buy from amazon. Released July, '04. reviewed by Don Grant.

Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions… (Ramseur)

The Avetts are a young trio who despite limited vocal abilities and spare instrumental backing manage to pull it off at their live shows due to shear rowdy enthusiasm. They follow a ragged linage of acoustic trios that runs from the Holy Model Rounders through the Violent Femmes and some Bloodshot bands. This is their third CD and the boys rely mostly on their usual guitar and banjo with the occasional piano or harmonica thrown in. The weird thing is on this release they sound like they're trying to get all serious all of the sudden. The guys seem to be barely out of high school yet they've got a bunch of tender love songs. It's like they've given up their screaming thrash-grass and gotten all Lionel Richie-mushy on us. Well, it's not quite that bad but the lyrics aren't even that brilliant despite some nice melodies. I dunno, perhaps I just don't get the joke, but I wish the boys will regain their insanity soon and get back to what they do best.

The band's site. Buy from amazon. Released Feb. '06. reviewed by Bill Frater.

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