Best of FTB
| HACIENDA BROTHERS
The Hacienda Brothers… (Koch)
| This is a new “band” featuring Chris Gaffney who has put out a few solo albums and has been touring with Dave Alvin lately, and Dave Gonzalez, leader of the Paladins. They both look good in cowboy hats on the cover. “Gaff”, as he's nicknamed, handles most of the lead vocals, and although he ain't no George Jones, his deep baritone does the trick, especially on the slower tunes. Memphis soul veteran Dan Penn produced it and even wrote a nice ballad ("The Years That Got Away”) that also features Spooner Oldham on piano. The “brothers” bounce from great Bakersfield honky tonk to some soothing southern soul. MVP honors must go to David Berzansky with some stellar pedal steel work. The whole album's a comfortable loose-fitting affair. I hope they tour or least make it a regular band rather than a one-shot thing like so many other similar efforts. These guys are too good for that.
| The "Brothers" website. Order from Amazon. Released Feb. '05, reviewed
by Bill Frater.
What's Wrong With Right… (Proper American)
| The Hacienda Brothers label their music Western Soul, and on this, their second release, they definitely wear their soul on the sleeves of their shirts (western style, of course). Soul legend Dan Penn is back as producer and sometimes co-writer and the Bros sound more settled in on this one. The first 5 or 6 tunes are mostly stone soul songs, but with pedal steel replacing the horn section (supplied by steel whiz and band member David Berzansky). Chris Gaffney does a fine job on lead vocals, especially on the classic “Cowboys to Girls”. Co- leader Dave Gonzalez steps in to sing the twang rocker “Different Today” and shows his rockabilly roots on “Rebound”. The covers are well chosen, the originals well worked over and the album is a pleasurable listen through and through.
|Order from Amazon. Released June, '06, reviewed by Michael Meehan.
It's amazing how many great
bands have been led by 2 brothers. Perhaps it's their common vision, mutual
support or subtle competition. Fred and Greg Wickham have each written
half of the songs on this solid CD of roots-rock music. I think Fred handles
most of the lead vocals and adds some killer guitar fills, but Greg has a humorous
knack for lyrics. The band hails from Kansas City and The Skeleton's Lou
Whitney helped with the recording. These guys exhibit remarkable depth for
a debut album both in their songwriting and with their chops . I'm
sure they're a tear-it-up live band too. Not a lot of flash, but their sound
literally defines what alt.country is. And like most "brothers"
bands, they sing pretty well together.
|CHARLIE HADEN FAMILY & FRIENDS
Rambling Boy... (Verve)
|Legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden has played with everyone from Ornette Coleman to Pat Metheny. But as a child he performed country music on the radio with his family's band, and he revisits those days on this fine album of mostly traditional country tunes. The next generation is here in the form of Haden's triplet daughters Petra, Rachel and Tanya, who's vocal harmonies are exquisite. Adding a few famous musical friends like Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas helps bring some authentic chops to the affair. There are many musical highlights and surprises including Bruce Hornsby's spare "20/20 Vision," Elvis Costello nailin' "You Win Again" and the triplets delightful take on Bill Monroe's "A Voice From On High." Even Charlie's son-in-law, actor Jack Black take a crack at "Old Joe Clark" without embarrassing himself. It was a life long dream of Haden's to do a traditional country album, hats off to him for putting together such a tasty collection.
|Charlie's offical jazz site, and the Family & Friends site. Order from Amazon. Released Sept. '08, reviewed by Bill
| MERLE HAGGARD
Chicago Wind... (Liberty/Sony)
| Thanks to dental work, Haggard's articulation and vocal command have returned to form. He surrounds himself with stellar players. The title cut is mature, easy on the ears. Seven originals here and four covers, including both a Roger Miller and a Willie Nelson song. Where's All The Freedom and America First are of a political bent; in the former he sings, “Our country is like a prisoner of war / where's all the freedom that we're fightin' for?” and in the latter, “Let's get out of Iraq and get back on the track / And let's rebuild America first.” This from the man who gave us Okie From Muskogee and The Fightin' Side Of Me , and who, on the closer, duets with Toby Keith. For those who are still discovering this American country music legend, there are better starting places. For those who've long loved Haggard's genius, Chicago Wind belongs in the collection. Uneven though it may be - and at 38 minutes a little short - by its maturity alone Chicago Wind lays to waste most of what passes for country these days.
|Order from Amazon. Released Oct. '05, reviewed by Doug Lang.
The Bluegrass Sessions... (McCoury Music)
| At 70, Country Music Hall of Famer Merle Haggard still has some pretty good curves, in his voice, that is. Like most of Hag's caliber, there's not much he can't handle. Take The Bluegrass Sessions on which he deftly demonstrates he's at home with the music Bill Monroe created as he is honky tonk, Western swing, and Dixieland jazz. Given his stature, the quality cast accompanying him - Marty Stuart, Rob Ickes, Carl Jackson, Alison Krauss - isn't surprising and it helps place this low key affair right there with the finest bluegrass albums of 2007.
The Hag's official site. Buy from amazon. Released Oct. '07. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.
HALFORD & THE HEALERS |
Simply phenomenal. An engaging blend of Bob Dylan, Robert Earl Keen and Guy Clark,
Halford and his band have crafted a fantastic album that fans of great story-telling
songs are sure to love. Halford's voice seemingly oozes from the speakers as if
he's inside your soul, singing your thoughts, hopes and fears with an uncanny
eye and heart that makes you gasp for air as you listen. The arrangements are
filled with nuance and an ear for dynamics while the productions is as good as
any I have heard. This hasn't left my player since I got it and, right now, it's
my number one CD this year. |
JeffreyHalford.com has tour and other
info. Order the CD from
Miles Of Music. Reviewed by Scott
|JEFFREY HALFORD & THE HEALERS
| Railbirds is the third release from Frisco's Halford, and I'm happy to report that he's still got what it takes. His previous release, Hunkpapa, was a winner, and this one is also. Being three years in the making, it is confirmation of the inherent advantages of working for a smaller label, as opposed to the “Big Guys”, who far too often pressure their artists to capitalize on current success at the expense of future credibility. The smart folks at Shoeless Records had/have the great good sense to let their people set their own agendas, and we can be thankful for that. Railbirds is an engaging blend of country and blues, with some good rock ‘n roll punch driving it along, sort of like John Hiatt, when he's wound up. The opening track, “Denial”, gives you a good intro into what this disc is all about, dynamite slide work, perceptive lyrics, and solid backing from the Healers to showcase Halford's vocals. This one doesn't cruise over that ‘third release hump', it clears it effortlessly.
|Jeffrey's site. Order from Miles Of Music. Released April, '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
HALL & THE WOODPECKERS
Lucky Too... (Blue Rose)
From the tumblin' dice pictured on the cover to the music itself (including a
telling song entitled Sometimes I Wish I'd Never Heard The Rolling Stones) Hall
and his band seek to capture an Exile On Main Street Stones vibe on this
CD and manage to succeed. The rockers rock as if Charlie Watts was drumming and
Mick Taylor was adding his elegantly textural guitar work to the mix. The ballads
have the same piano-heavy sound that Jagger found so enchanting. Is this a slavish
copy? No. More like a tribute that an artist gives when manifesting his influences.
This is the same as the Stones injecting their own music with the influences of
Chess Records' blues artists. These songs and the performances hold up on their
own and are very good. Not as landmark as Exile was, but what is? Hall and his
band have created a delightful roots rock excursion back to the '70's, grabbing
everything that is good about the music and sound of that time and mixing it with
their own modern ideas. Great stuff. Someone tell Liz Phair that this is how a
tribute to the roots rock power of the Stones should be done. |
Web Site. Released April, 2002. Reviewed by
Sleeping On Roads... (4AD)
If Gram Parsons idolized Nick Cave instead of Keith Richards, Parsons might have
made an album like this. Moody and atmospheric pop that sounds outdoorsy and raw.
Not raw as in ragged but raw as in barebones, acoustic-instrument oriented and
honest. Halstead takes a leisurely busman's holiday from his band Mojave 3. This
is music for a Nova Scotia farm at night, a Fall evening in Oklahoma, or my house
anytime. Halstead's calming voice and understated songs work like musical
Prozac to lull me to a place where there are no worries, just the birds flying
by, the leaves blowing in the wind and the sun setting. Enough of this. I'm going
back there right now! If you're smart, you'll get this album and do the same.
See you there. |
| The label's
page on Neil.
Released Jan. 2002. Reviewed by Scott
Tuscola... (Steppin' Stone)
Texas singer-songwriter Nathan Hamilton has produced a debut CD of 10 original
and exceptionally well-crafted songs. So many CD's are loaded with undifferentiated
tracks that make you feel you've been listening far longer than you have.
Tuscola, by contrast, finished far too quickly for me. Each track
is very individual yet complements the one following, keeping the listener's interest.
This is a steady work of thoughtful songwriting sung with a warm and resonate
voice and mostly acoustic backing. |
The label Steppin'
Stone has a site. You can order the CD from
Miles Of Music. Released Feb. 2000, reviewed by Kay
He swings, he rocks, he waltzes, he wears
his jeans proudly with 6-inch rolled-up "booty cuffs". He's an aberration
with a twangy voice and a style of songwriting that makes you think that the songs
were written year ago. Hancock is the real deal, whatever he decides the deal
is on each particular tune, anyway. He has a crackerjack band that can play anything,
Rockabilly, Western-Swing or Blues. Not surprisingly, the CD was recorded live
in only 3 days. new to Wayne "The Train's" voice may take a couple of
listens to adjust to it. Also, this time around, (it's his 2nd release), he throws
in some horns here and there. Don't ask, it just works, take my word for it, as
does the whole CD.
Best Tracks: That's What Daddy Wants,
Johnson City, Knocked Out Rhythm, Life On The Road. ARK
21's site on Wayne
with Bio, tour info, etc. Released Jan, '99, reviewed
by Bill Frater
| WAYNE "The Train" HANCOCK
| Wayne has been traveling around the country in a van for over 10 years now, with an assortment of musicians. Always staying true to his vision of hillbilly swing with doses of blues and rockabilly. Wayne sounds like he fell off a truck 50 years ago and never heard of Elvis or any music since. Tulsa finds Wayne with three lead guitars and one steel player and the added bonus of clarinet and trombone on a few tracks. His Hank Sr. nasal whine of a voice has actually gotten better after so many miles. Other than Asleep At The Wheel, he's the closest we have to the tradition of Bob Wills. Like Wills, he can't keep himself from calling out the soloist's name when their turn comes up. It's all Wayne originals and he's writing about what he knows, life on the road, playing music, and heading home to Texas to sleep a few days ‘til the next road trip. Get out of the way, “The Train” knows just where he's going.
|The Train's site. Bloodshot. Buy from amazon Released Oct. '06. Reviewed by Bill Frater.
Viper of Melody... (Bloodshot)
|Stylistically speaking, Wayne "The Train" Hancock records may not vary much from album to album but you can always count on plenty of hot picking oft-times in the improvisational style and an old school honky tonk beat, without drums. Hancock's hallmark, aside from his Hank-ish cron, has always been to let his players play and that they do to the nines on the new Viper of Melody. Like Bob Wills with his Texas Playboys band, Wayne like to shout out the solist's name before they jump into their instrumental breaks. The menu is stellar juke joint mix of snappy Western swing tunes, smooth hillbilly blues, and hot stepping honkabilly rockers. At least, with Wayne, you know what you're getting.
|Wayne's site. Buy from amazon. Released April, 2009. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.
Evil Things... (Cold Spring)
These days Country doesn't get much more Country then this. Hand has that
little tired quiver in his voice like Hank Sr. without the inflection or the added
dimension of excellence. It's all straight down the middle... simple 2-3
minute Honky Tonk songs, simple arrangements, simple band. David Leroy Biller
produced and does most of the guitar work except for a few songs where Dale Watson
plays lead. This may not be to taste for your average Wilco fan but if you're
looking for the Country in Country, Evil Things could be just the ticket.
| The label,
Cold Spring, Released Feb. 2000, reviewed by Bill
Frater with Kay Clements.|
Wrong Rite of Passage... (Freefalls)
Apparently Haney recently quit his job pumping gas at a station in Bowling Green,
KY. That right there is enough to make me love this guy without hearing a note.
Happily, this is a fine CD full of confessional ballads and upbeat rockers. His
songs are so honest and personal, comparisons to guys like Robert Earl Keen and
Jack Ingram come to mind both in vocal and songwriting style. One-time member
of the New Grass Revival, Curtis Burch, adds tasty Dobro and guitar. A few years
ago, another new kid, Chris Knight, released an excellent debut on a major label,
but they dropped him and he hasn't been heard from since. Here's hopin' Pat Haney
doesn't suffer the same fate and end up back at the gas station. It'd be a great
loss to us all. |
| New website,
PatHaney.net. Release date: Oct, '00.
Reviewed by Bill Frater.
Beware Of Dog... (Shanachie)
There was a time, (not too many years ago), when great melodic roots-rock bands
like the Hangdogs would be heard on commercial radio alongside bands like Gin
Blossoms and The BoDeans. The Hangdogs, from New York City, share that city's
rawness and no-frills attitude when they pull out their loud yet twangy guitars.
Singer/songwriter Matthew Grimm's voice is perfectly suited to his intelligent
songs which frequently feature a sense of humor or some social commentary. Fans
of the Bottle Rockets will love these guys. Great stuff all the way through! |
| Released Aug, 00. Reviewed by
Eleven Months... (MAPL)
|Along comes another great singer/songwriter from Canada who makes you wonder why you’ve never hear of her or why there isn’t a Canadiana bin in your local record store (right next to Americana). “Eleven Months” is Lynne Hanson’s second recording, following her Things I Miss debut CD. Eleven Months strikes out on a high note with the title song that shows off Hanson’s exceptional songwriting and vocal grace. She is backed by a group of stellar musicians, led by Chris Barkley’s outstanding dobro playing. She is plainspoken in the way that Kate Wolf was — she can tell a story that reaches beyond the words themselves. Her voice also recalls Wolf’s, a slightly husky sweetness. This is a CD that you find yourself starting over once it reaches the end. Like Wolf, Hanson’s songs speak to the mystery and beauty of life — pain, sadness, grit and all.
|Lynne's site, and MySpace, and even Facebook. Ordering and song samples
from CD Baby
Released Sept. '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan.
Tips and Compliments... (Berkalin)
|Matt Harlan’s writing style takes me back to a time when songwriters shared insightful stories of toil and triumph. I remember spending countless youthful hours listening spellbound to great storytellers like, Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, Kris Kristofferson, Nanci Griffith and being moved emotionally by what I was hearing. I challenge anyone to listen to Matt Harlan and tell me they are not moved emotionally by his stories. Matt Harlan’s debut entitled Tips & Compliments will surely be spun countless times on my CD player as I am sure others will succumb to this compulsive practice. The CD debuted at #1 on the Euro Americana Charts and features thirteen awesome tracks, each a hit in my opinion. From the emotionally touching story of bad news from “Elizabethtown” to “Walter” a recollection of childhood hours spent frolicking with his grandfathers dog, Matt Harlan digs deep and shares himself with those fortunate enough to discover his music.
|Harlan's site. Buy
from amazon Released Jan. '10, review by Chris Harkness for MM55productions
Eyes On Fire and Knuckles Sore... (Lopie)
Hate to say it this way, but if you can get past this guy's voice, this isn't
such a bad disc. With a warbling sound reminiscent of a baritone Tiny Tim, Harrington
does his best with what God gave him, God Bless him. The songs are decent, very
melodic and more towards the Robert Earl Keen side of country than a Buck Owens
traditionalist and the production is kind of compressed, but lo-fi production
is to be expected on indie releases and adds to the charm most times. My thinking
is that his voice will be a grower, like Hiatt, Dylan and many others who have
distinctive voices. Right now, though, it's just off-putting. Good songs, though.
| Ordering and song samples
from CD Baby
Reviewed by Scott Homewood.
Ghost In The Choir... (Lopie)
to The Orange County Register (June 20-27 2003), Fletcher Harrington was picked
#41 on the list of all time great Orange County musicians, placing him just south
of Jackson Browne, Dick Dale, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, and Social Distortion.
This CD is unlikely to move him up to #40, but not for lack of talent on Fletcher's
part. The more I listened to this, the more I thought of Neil Young and Bob Dylan's
less commercial work. Fletcher Harrington isn't just a musician - he's an artist
in the true sense of the word. He shamelessly puts his soul into his work and
shows the kind of courage some will find disconcertingly authentic and sincere.
Some may find his vocal style jarring, but the same was said of Bruce Springsteen
and Bob Dylan. It's the songcraft that makes this a CD worth buying and listening
to. The highlight of the CD is "And It Strikes Me Like." A duet that starts with
a great steel riff, it's one of those songs that truly bring the heartbreak back
to country music. I suspect that in 10 years when a new crop of bands choose great
songs to cover, you'll see Fletcher Harrington's name getting songwriter credit
on a lot of them.|
Lopie site. Ordering and song samples from
CD Baby. Reviewed by Clint Weathers.
Under the Shadow of the San Gabriel... (Lopie)
Every so often one comes down the pipe that is, for lack of a better word, enigmatic. There are elusive wisps of extraneous influences, but I'll be damned if I can nail them down. Equally elusive is the rationale for the disc's being split in to two parts, Cold Blood & Hot Love and Zimm's Canyon . Harrington has his own blend of country/rock/folk, and indie(?), that genuinely defies pigeon-holing. Hailing from California, it's probably possible to draw some correlation with that state's familiar luminaries, but why bother? Supported by Brit Collins on guitar and keyboards, Timothy Mullin on bass, and percussionist Tim Haydu, Harrington presents fourteen originals, plus Bowie's “Always Crashing In The Same Car”, as a cohesive ensemble that will keep you riveted., even if I don't know to what. You got me this time Fletch; thankfully, sometimes it's not necessary to get ‘it'; enjoying ‘it' is sufficient enough.
|Order from CD Baby. Released May, 2007. Reviewed by Don Grant.
| These two albums
originally came out in the early 80's during the height of Emmylou's Nashville
popularity and never did come out on CD. She has always had excellent bands
and impeccable song selection and that hold true on these remastered CD's.
Both are packed with insightful new liner notes, photos and a few inconsequential
bonus tracks but the two are not equal. Cimarron, her 10th CD, is
represented by great songwriters but it was not one of her best. It's very
ballad-heavy and sounds pretty tame compared to either her earlier stuff or her
more recent CD's. Last Date, on the other hand, holds up much better.
Although featuring lesser-known (though no less talented) players, this live album
is a nice collection of honky tonk and singer-songwriter cover tunes. I'd
say pass on the former and pick up on the live one. |
Eminent Records has
a nice site. Released May 2000, reviewed by Bill
Red Dirt Girl... (Nonesuch)
Emmylou's new one doesn't stray far from the thick, swooshy, (and overdone), production
sound of her last studio album, Wrecking Ball. Heavy on heavy
ballads, Emmylou wrote all the songs (except one) herself, which is
unusual for her. I read somewhere that she hasn't written much before because
she was afraid of the thought of writing a bad song. Although there are no really
bad songs here, very few really grab me. I also think she tries too hard for the
big profound statement rather then simplicity. She is such a great selector and
interpreter of other people's songs that I can respectfully forgive her for this
Stone review. Release date: Sept. 00, reviewed by Bill
This live album is an extension of Emmylou's
last release, the haunting Wrecking Ball. This CD is in many ways
a further departure from her core country/folk sound, but I think this is a brilliant
album, in it's own way. The key element here is the awesome contributions
of guitarist Buddy Miller. I'm guessing that as co-producer, he had some
influence in the selection of a couple of very early Emmylou songs. Not
only does Miller sing beautiful duets with Emmy, but his guitar playing is
truly phenomenal, whether he's pickin' like Albert Lee or The Edge. Her
old fans may have a hard time with some of the wilder songs. I love her
old stuff too, and I find the new versions of her early songs to be refreshing
and exciting to listen to. This band is one of her best, and I'm glad they
put a live account of yet another side of Emmylou. Although her voice is a little
hoarser, she continues to grow and stretch the boundries of "country"
Her new label, Eminent Records, has
the beginnings of a website. There is also a nice
fan site. Released Oct. 98, reviewed by Bill
Into Grace… (Nonesuch)
|Having just seen
Emmylou recently live, I noticed how everyone (including myself) got more excited
and responsive when she played the "old stuff" like "Sin City" or "Ain’t Livin’
Long Like This". Then they would settle down again when she did some of her newer
songs, like the ones from this CD. Although I certainly understand and respect
her desire to write her own songs and to grow as an artist, it can be challenging
to sit through another drowsy echo-laden dirge.What’s more, I’m really over the
whole atmospheric Daniel Lanois/Malcolm Burn sound that Emmylou first adopted
on Wrecking Ball. I will say, this one is better and more interesting than her
last CD, Red Dirt Girl. There's a couple of very nice tunes here ("Little
Bird" and "Here I Am" come to mind). Her voice, while still perhaps getting frailer,
is still is a marvelous instrument. And while I know better then to expect her
to go back to the Elite Hotel-era Emmylou, I still need a little bit of twang
in there to keep my interest. So there you have it, I won’t listen to Stumble
Into Grace much, but I still love Emmylou and have to be honest about my reaction
to this album.|
| Emmylou.net is a fan site. Buy
from amazon Released Sept, 2003. Reviewed by Bill
All I Intended To Be… (Nonesuch)
|After a long CD hiatus Emmylou returns with her most Americana-sounding album in years. It's a nice balance between cover tunes and fine originals. There is no one better at choosing other writer's songs to sing and Emmy has become a much better songwriter. It reunites her with producer/ex-husband Brian Ahern as well as members of the Seldom Scene, who go all the way back to her pre-Gram Parsons days. The title comes from the Billy Joe Shaver classic “Old Five And Dimers Like Me”. Now that she's a “senior”, one can't help thinking that when she started out that she never dreamed or “Intended To Be” a legend and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Although I could stand a few more upbeat tunes this is an excellent tip-of-the-hat to her early days while still moving her vision forward.
|Emmy's site has videos and more. Buy
from amazon Released June, '08. Reviewed by Bill
|J.P. HARRIS & THE TOUGH CHOICES
I’ll Keep Calling... (Cow Island)
|Based in Nashville, J.P. Harris gave up on country radio years ago. The motto to his approach to music is simple: Keep it country, and keep it simple. Harris plays country music even more hard core than Marty Stuart. I’ll Keep Calling is he and his band The Tough Choices’ debut for Northampton, MA-based roots music label Cow Island Music. A roster that includes rockabilly country acts like The Starline Rhythm Boys and Li’l Mo & the Monicats, Harris is form-fit for the Cow Island corral. An imposing presence on stage standing tall with a long and bushy beard, his music points towards the neon lights and hard-drivin’ side of the country spectrum, with a side of 18-wheeler pathos. Think cats like Red Simpson and Dave Dudley from the past and Dale Watson in the contemporary. Harris has been plying his trade as a no-frills country artist since his mid-teens. Suffice to say that nearing 30, he’s pretty much a vet of the genre. Harris lives it as he sings it and it shows in his songwriting, all originals on I’ll Keep Calling, and his overall seasoned performance which spans tracks ready made for shuffling on the honky tonk hardwood floor to the hard-bitten, bottom of the bottle variety. If you dig your country hardcore, J.P. Harris is your man.
|JP's site is ILoveHonkyTonk.com! Visit Cow Island Music. Buy from amazon Released Apr. 2012. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.
Part Of Your History:
The Songs Of John Hartford... (New Sheriff Creative)
I hold John Hartford up there with Foster, Newbury, Kristofferson, Dylan, Van Zandt, Prine and a handful of others as among the finest writers in the American song tradition. John's son, Jamie Hartford, has chosen a resonant dozen of his dad's compositions – eleven songs, one instrumental – and channeled them. Jamie's voice is close enough to his dad's to raise goosebumps. It's also softer at the center, disarming in the new colors it finds in these melodies. The instrumentation is acoustic, tasteful and appropriate, with many old friends of the Hartfords chiming in. "Old Time River Man", "Today", "Wish We Had Our Time Again" and the title song stop time, reveal a son whose heart is big enough to carry his father's heartbeat forward. Few albums have had as powerful an effect on me upon first listen. Many listens later, I'm still lifted up. This music is part of our history.
The album web site. Buy from amazon Released Nov. 2005. Reviewed by Doug Lang.
A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC... (DualTone)
The guys at my local record store tell me that they still sell about 5 AC/DC albums
a week. Personally, I've never been a big fan. This CD is more of a parody than
a tribute. An anonymous bunch of session guys got together and played AC/DC's
best-known hits with the singer sounding like he's mocking country singers. I
suppose if you're a fan of the originals, you might get a kick out of this, or
else pull out your old AC/DC albums. For me, the novelty wore off after the first
few songs. |
has a swanky site. Released April, 2001.
Reviewed by Bill Frater. |
This young band from New Mexico, who have
only one earlier CD, have released a fine album of cover songs. Their choice of
songs exhibit their musical tastes and influences. You got some Mekons and
some Genesis, Hank Cochran and Radiohead, closing with a gorgeous remake
of a Gram Parsons song. They all end up being Hazeldine songs after they
stamp them with their choice folk-country arrangements. Featured on most of the
songs are the fine harmonies of Shawn Barton and Tonya Lamm, who sing both sweet
and ragged. Comparisons to Freakwater are obvious, but these songs are a little
more upbeat and interesting. Apparently, this album is just a quickie fill-in
till their major label debut early in '99. If they write songs as well as they
pick cover songs, then it'll be great one.
| The band has a great website,
where you can order their music, also reviews, bios and tour info. Released Nov,
'98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.|
1/2 ACRE |
Under A Whiskey Moon ... (self released)
four parts Louisville twang, one part big-time producer, mix liberally with serious
musical chops, fun songwriting, and serve hot. What you get is Hells 1/2 Acre's
new CD, Under A Wiskey Moon. Ranging from the Beatles influenced "Sun Comes Up"
to the irony of "Kindness of Strangers" to straight-up existential twang on songs
like "Big Black Car," Hells 1/2 Acre shows a breadth and depth in their songwriting
that really shines. They clearly have a single in "Silver Dollar" and maybe a
few more past that. The production work of Mike Wanchic, who has played with and
produced for Mellencamp, is really wonderful. Wanchic could be the fairy godmother
who turns Hells 1/2 Acre from a fun, talented regional touring act into a group
we get to hear on our car stereos. If for nothing else, this CD is wonderful for
the ironic and perky death-row song "Kindness of Strangers" about a bad man who
can't see that he's bad, and "One Lonely Night" where the protagonist tries to
win his love by comparing her to Eva Braun and a hooker in an alleyway. If country
radio had any cojones or sense of humor, they'd play this CD. Get the CD, enjoy
it as much as I have, and help stick it to The Man. |
site has MP3 song samples. Ordering and song samples from
CD Baby. Reviewed by Clint Weathers.
Electric Dirt… (Vanguard)
|Aging like fine wine is one way to describe Levon Helm in the twilight of his career. The new Electric Dirt follows Helm's impressive 2007 offering Dirt Farmer and finds him in a voice not far removed from The Band days. When it comes to songs, Helm has always known how to pick ‘em. He effectively applies that unmistakable backwoods yelp to tomes from the likes of Muddy Waters, Pops Staples, Carter Stanley, Randy Newman and the Garcia-Hunter duo ("Tennessee Jed" which ignites the album and is readymade for Mr. Helm). Once again, produced by Larry Campbell, as the title suggest, this collection is a little more "electric" but still very "folksy".
|Levon's site, Buy from amazon. Released June, 09. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.
I tend to enjoy Blues music
better as a live experience then on an album. These days I have trouble
lasting through a whole CD unless it's really stimulating and different.
This 2nd Bluebloods release is Blues, no doubt about it, but I like it alot.
It's gritty and greasy stuff with lots of slide guitar and harp, both brilliantly
handled by Henderson. Perhaps because of his close association with Dead
Reckoners and his Nashville studio work, I give him the benefit of the doubt.
Perhaps it's the great mix of originals and not-overdone cover songs that makes
it. Or maybe John Jarvis' always interesting piano work. What is refreshing
about Mike's vocals is that I don't get the impression that he's trying
copy or sound like all the black Blues legends. These guys are just having
a good time, tearing it up, playing the Blues. And no, the FTB will not
start reviewing every damn Blues album that comes out! Just the noteworthy
ones that might appeal to Roots fans.
Dead Reckoning Records has a nice
web site which has ordering and tour info, and even MP3 songs. Released
Jan. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.
Live In San Marcos... (Wilory Farms)
As a Terri Hendrix admirer, Im not sure why she chose to release this CD
on the heels of her best work to date Places in Between. It is produced
by long-time Hendrix cohort and Tejas uber-producer Lloyd Maines, but I guess
he just didnt have much to work with. The whole thing has a slapped-together
homemade feel that some might find charming. I found it a disappointing follow-up.
If youre not familiar with the work of this talented Texas songwriter/musician,
pick up her earlier Terri Hendrix Live, or better yet, go buy Places.
has song samples, tour info, lyrics and guitar chords. You can order her CD's
(Autographed by Terri if you like) from the Wilory Records section of her site,
($15) Released May, '01 Reviewed by Marty
Places In Between... (Wilory)
I liked this album from the first cut to the last. Terri Hendrix has a firm
but fanciful way of laying down a song, impressing me as much with her lyrics
as her innovative melodies. I have the sense of a performer who not only
loves her job, she loves her audience and shows it by including them in her music.
Her band is impeccable and they work beautifully together keeping the music as
interesting and fun as the vocals which are in no way predictable. Production
by Lloyd Maines (does this guy ever sleep?) giving the project a professional
polish without losing a drop if its heart and soul. Exceptionally satisfying.
| Terri has her own fine
with CD ordering info, song samples, tour and bio stuff. Released May,
2000. Reviewed by Kay Clements.
The Ring... (Wilory)
| On her new
CD, country songstress Hendrix finally matures into the consistent songwriter
she's always hinted at becoming. Not that her other releases were sub-par by any
means, just that this one is so excellent and fully realized, it makes her other
work seem like stepping stones to this point. Her partner in music making on this
album is Lloyd Maines, who co-writes, co-produces and lays down some of the tastiest
country guitar licks this side of James Burton and Buddy Miller. While it's grand
hearing those great guitar licks, Hendrix' Rickie Lee Jones-esque vocals are the
definite star of the show and are a complete joy to hear. She doesn't as much
sing a song as caress it with her lovely voice, bringing a timbre and quality
to these songs that most singers couldn't. It could just be because she wrote
most of them, but there's more to it than that. Hendrix' voice is an exceptional
instrument, and she brings a passion and tenderness to these songs that brings
them to life. Great stuff. The next Emmylou, in my opinion. |
song samples, tour info, lyrics and guitar chords. You can order her CD's (Autographed
by Terri if you like) from the Wilory Records section of her site. Buy
from amazon Reviewed by Scott
Homewood . |
The Spiritual Kind... (Wilory)
It has been difficult to put Terri Hendrix into a musical genre box over the course of her career, and this one, her ninth release, doesn't make it any easier. The disc starts off on a deceptively bare and laid-back note with John Hadley's “Life's a Song”, followed by her own “Bottom of a Hill”. By track four, Woody Guthrie's “Pastures of Plenty”, the lady hits her stride. As relevant today as it was a couple of generations ago, this ode to the migrant worker features some of Hendrix' damn fine harp playing. There doesn't seem to be a format this lady is uncomfortable with: folk doesn't faze her; social commentary fits like a glove; Stacey Earle's style of homespun introspection finds a niche in “Soul of My Soul”; want some bluesy honky?, see “No Love in Texas”. A Cajun accordion drives “Jim Thorpe's Blues”, and the closer “Mood Swing” does just that, moving from a jazz vein through a scat tempo into a fifties swing. Does the adjective versatile come to mind? Quotable quote: “I wish it was mandatory that before you could hold public office you had to learn how to play guitar and learn a Woody Guthrie song”. Right on Terri, no argument here.
|Terri's site. Her MySpace. Buy from CD Baby. Released Aug. '07. Reviewed by Don Grant.
Open Lanes... (Blue Rose)
This band features two singer-songwriting guitarists out of Columbus, Ohio named
Barry Hensley and Jason Sturgis, thus the odd name. Hensley was in a band called
Big Back Forty who put out a great album a couple of years ago called Bested.
Sturgis was in a band called Train Meets Truck. On this release, the two
alternate lead vocals delivering fine love or lost love songs via rootsy pop with
a dash of 60's jangle. I think either one of 'em could've put out a decent
album but joining forces creates something quite outstanding. It all comes
down to the songs and in this case they're all good. |
Blue Rose is a German label... but you can order the CD from Miles
The Other Side Of Kindness... (Phantom)
Pick a spot mid-way between the old Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams today, and you've pretty much found the turf that Collin Herring has staked out here in his second release. Based in Fort Worth, Herring's songs are fine examples of that unique blend of alt/country and country/rock that define a large part of the Texas music scene. The opener, “Back Of Your Mind”, sets the tone with its driving guitar lines, and, by the end of the third track, “Sinkhole Of Love”, with the really nice violin of Eleanor Whitmore, it's self-evident that this guy knows how to splice an intelligent set of lyrics to an engaging tune. The addition of Herring's father, Ben Roi, in the band, on steel, keyboards, and accordion, is further proof that there's no such thing as a generation gap in Americana, only the results matter. Could you picture Jagger's father, or, shudder, rap fathers, on stage with their progeny? Somehow, methinks, not likely. Already a fixture in his home state, this release deserves to broaden his exposure.
|Colin's website. Buy from amazon. Reviewed by Don Grant.
Lantana... (Signature Sounds)
Hang on to your hats ‘cause here comes a word that is fairly foreign in these parts: this one is sweet. Like wow, this girl is good. Ok, admittedly not a very dissertating assessment, but when a release gets this good, words have a tendency to become superfluous. Herring's antecedents lie in bluegrass, and her vision has been termed American Gothic but neither term gives her what she's due. She's a songwriter par excellence, (e.g “Fair and Tender Ladies” rates another wow), got a voice that could charm the balls off a brass monkey, (nothing vulgar there, reference Royal Navy lore), and the cred to rope in backup musicians too stellar and numerous to recount here. Did I mention that she's also the co-producer? Lantana is forty minutes, (too damn short by half!), of unadulterated listening pleasure.
|Caroline's web site, and MySpace page. Signature Sounds's site. Buy from amazon or CD Baby. Released March, '08. Reviewed by Don Grant.
Waiting For The Moment ... (Senior Face)
is a pretty impressive first offering from this California girl. The opening cut,
"Be More Right", grabs you right off the bat. It's a song that explores a classic
country vein, expecting greater things, and wasting opportunities, without realizing
that what's going down today isn't really that all bad. Her voice can shift effortlessly
from one octave to another without a seam, just like them good ole' country girls'
did, and, throughout the CD, Tom Freund, on guitars, bass, and, whatever, you
name it, provides some quality embellishment. The second track is a bit of a contradiction,
mating an upbeat, Cajun style rhythm, with a lyric about losing a friend in an
aircraft accident. Surprisingly, it comes off really well. This is where her forte
lies, she turns some pretty neat phrases: "what if things never change, do I want
to spend my whole life this way, staring at the gate, rusting in my prime?". Waiting
For The Moment is a nice collection of musings from a talented artist; if
the mainstream doesn't grab her and screw up the works, (and she's got some attributes
that would attract them), this lady has some good work ahead for us.|
web site. Order from CD
Baby. Reviewed by Don Grant. |
The Last Country Album...
|The one stop shop in Austin on a Sunday evening for some authentic C&W? Search no further than the esteemed venue The Continental Club for all-star band Heybale. In the slot for six years running, veryone from promenaders to two-steppers to those with a hankering to just sit, drink and listen all make it their weekend closer. The Last Country Album represents Heybale’s’s first attempt at an audience beyond A-Town lines. The dozen songs are a stellar mix of originals and covers ably showcasing the band’s highly talented ranks (guiatrist Redd Volkaert, piano man Earle Poole Ball, bassist Kevin Smith, singer Gary Claxton and drummer Tom Lewis form the core) moving smoothly from tear-in-the-beer honky tonkers to country swing.
|The band's site. Buy from amazon. Released June, '08, reviewed by Dan Ferguson.
Crossing Muddy Waters... (Vanguard)
Afster a three-year hiatus John Hiatt, one of America's premier singer-songwriters,
returns with one of his best CD's since his high-water mark of the mid-80's. Hiatt
has toured solo frequently throughout his career and his soulful voice and stage
persona are so strong that he's usually better then with a band. This is his first
all-acoustic album though and the simple stripped-down folk-blues arrangements
are perfectly suited to his intelligent and sensitive songs. Much like Peter Case
has proven, less can be more when it comes to Rock 'n' Roll instrumentation. Hiatt
has been a roots rocker since before the term was invented and those who gave
up on him will be pleasantly surprised by Crossing Muddy Waters. |
Records has Hiatt's personal comments on the songs and up-to-date tour info.
Release date: Sept. '00. Reviewed by Bill
|Johnny Hickman has released an ambitious album that lives up to it's aspirations. Armed with killer guitar tones and a powerful batch of songs, Palmhenge is one strong piece of work. As a long time Cracker fan I had high hopes for this release that were tempered by the fact that David Lowery writes and sings much of that band's material while Hickman takes a lesser but substantial role as co writer/guitarist. However, Hickman's solo release is up to the high standard Cracker has set and offers a fresh perspective, coached in a theme of modern day Californians struggling to be real and longing for a pre-modern world before strip malls and dominant corporate culture.
|Johnny's Site. Buy from amazon Release date: April. '05, reviewed by Michael Meehan.
HICKS AND THE HOT LICKS |
Beatin' The Heat... (Surfdog)
Back when the rest of San Francisco was playing psychedelic rock, Dan Hicks had
an acoustic hip-jazz band including two backup singers called the Lickettes that
played fast, witty songs. Now Hicks returns with a slightly updated version
of the Hot Licks. Fiddler Sid Page returns from the original band but the
new Lickettes while keeping the attitude intact, just aren't packing the same
punch. As with other recent "comeback" albums, Hicks invited
a number of notable guests who compliment the sound rather then overwhelm it.
Rickie Lee Jones helps update the classic "I Scare Myself"; Tom Waits,
Elvis Costello and the band does a terrific upbeat remake of Waits' "The
Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)". All in all, this is a welcome return
to form for Dan Hicks combining some new material and style without sacrificing
his unique beat-swing brand of music.
Surfdog Records.Dan's site, Hicksville is great! Buy from amazon
Release date: Aug, 00, reviewed by Bill
|DAN HICKS AND THE HOT LICKS
Selected Shorts... (Surfdog)
| Way back in the early 70's when radio was much more daring, hearing Dan Hick's music on the radio alongside the rock music of the day was unique and exciting. Not only was his “Django Reinhardt meets the Cats In The Fiddle” acoustic-swing style refreshing but his sarcastic sense of humor and deadpan vocals were like no other band on earth. Nowadays, we've had everyone from the Asylum Street Spankers to the Hot Club of Cowtown doing a version of hip acoustic swing so it's use unusual. Like his last Surf Dog release (the superior Beatin' the Heat), he's joined by a few guests, in this case Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffett, but neither of those songs are notable. In fact, there are only a few songs here that really stick to your ribs. Yes, Dan's voice are still fun and his sarcastic attitude is there but he sounds a bit tired. My CD didn't even include artist credits so I'm not sure who the Hot Licks are these days. Although this is not his best effort but Dan is such a one-of-a-kind character that ya gotta love him anyway.
|Surfdog Records. Hicksville. Buy from amazon Release date: Nov. '04, reviewed by Bill Frater.
The Whiskey Tango Sessions... (Big Bender/Den)
Considering their Southern California roots, it's not too surprising that this quartet tends to sound a lot like the Eagles in their early days, when they were going up the musical gears instead of cruising along on four cylinders, as of late. Formerly known as Whiskey Tango, their debut CD features some good writing, as in the opening track, “Don't Try & Love Me”, blended with an ear for a tune with a hook. Having four vocalists is a bonus when it comes to versatility, from a wistful “Long Dark Road”, to a whiskey cruise down the “El Centro County Line” or the “Badlands”-ish “Picture Of Lonely”. For a first kick at the cat, this is a pretty good boot.
|Their hidewaway online. Buy from amazon. Released Oct. '06. Reviewed by Don Grant.
OR HELLWATER |
High or Hellwater... (self released)
positive thing right off the bat is their moniker. It has to be one of the best
band names in music right now. Killer. Second but not secondary is the music itself.
While many alt.country bands are betraying their roots to explore Brian Wilson-style
pop meanderings disguised as songs, High or Hellwater convey an infinitely better
understanding of songwriting and production techniques than most but don't betray
their homegrown country sound at all. What we have here is the album Ryan Adams
wishes he could make. An album filled with rock and roll swagger, down home emotion,
and enough grit for a mountain of sandpaper while still containing excellently
crafted country-tinged songs that don't sound at all the same, conveying an element
of experimentation without the disappearance up one's own asshole as Adams, Wilco
and Marah have done recently. This is an excellent debut that will appeal to fans
of traditional country and roots rock. Dan Baird of the Georgia Satellites guests
on this as well so you know this band is hot!|
band's site. Buy the CD from
Reviewed by Scott Homewood.
Harold Hill... (self-released)
liner notes to this CD, Hill goes on and on about his passion for music and his
lifelong devotion to it and repeatedly thanks everyone who has ever encouraged
him and supported his dreams of succeeding in the music business. It's so sad
he has given them this excuse of a thank-you present. Filled with the kind of
'80's country slickness that even Nashville is afraid to give consumers anymore,
this has enough polish in it to make your coffee table shine. He does say this
is his first album, so maybe it's just beginner's mistakes. Hill does have a fine
voice in a smoky, woodsy Randy Travis/Vern Gosdin sort of way. He just puts to
much studio slickness on this CD to make any sort of impact other than fitting
into a cookie-cutter '80's country singer mold that we've heard too much of in
the past. His songwriting is adequate as well, if not exceptional, and could be
framed a lot better if used differently stylewise. I have mixed blessings about
this because I believe Hill's voice could really sound excellent with some better
material and less Nashville polish. As it is, I can't recommend it. |
web site. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.
The Other Side (Sovereign Artists)
“Funny How The Circle is a Wheel”, (1973). Way back in '65, the Byrds first caught our attention with their electrification and rockification, (is there such a word?.. no matter, there is now), of some of Dylan's writings, which, in my estimation, was the insemination of country rock. The opening track of the other side, brings the wheel full circle with the country/bluegrassification, (another new word), of one of the quintessential rock songs of the psychedelic era, “Eight Miles High”. Instead of McGuinn's soaring Rickenbacker 12 string, the lead lines are handled in the main by mandolin, banjo, and fiddle, and it is very nice indeed. Hillman has assembled a fine collection of ‘the usual suspects' of bluegrass musicians herein, starting with the redoubtable Herb Petersen on rhythm, banjo, and harmony, and including a pretty flash dobro player, Sally Van Meter. The majority of the songs might appear overly reliant upon gospel and spiritual foundations to some listeners, but, last time I looked, those were the hallmarks of bluegrass music, and, really, who should give a rat's ass when the product is as good as Hillman does it? I've admired the various incarnations that this man has gone through over the last four decades, and this release gives me no reason not to continue doing so.
|Chris' web site. Order from Amazon. Released June, '05. Reviewed by Don Grant.
Now here's a man who can write a song, twelve of them, to be specific. To call him literate would be an understatement, his lyrics have such graceful turns to them. His subjects range from caustic observations upon politics, in “Giants”, and the sardonic take on that shudder-inducing phrase, “Shock and Awe”, to a Don McLeanish slant on the current, profit-driven, state of the music industry, and that's just the first three tracks. Hinely's writing ability earns him a place alongside other Texas luminaries such as Earle, Van Zandt, Keen, et cetera, and that's pretty stellar company. Songs about an artist's progeny do not normally find much sufferance here, but “You and Me” is an articulate summation of the big left turn that appears in one's personal highway when gametes go beyond cozy. The instrumentation is sparse, just the right touch that enhances rather than obliterates, and, yet again, we get to hear some more of Will Kimbrough's guitar. An all-around good deal.
|Hinely's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Aug. '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
Blue State Boy... (Scuffletown)
|Donal Hinely’s first exposure on these pages was his 2005 release of Giants, and it was impressive to say the least. It was a hard act to follow, but follow it he has and Blue State Boy is a keeper. His knack for turning a phrase has gotten even better, as the first track demonstrates. “Song for Bob”, shows that his wit is as acerbic as ever, especially so when he tackles a subject that pisses him off. Hinely finds his inspirations both internally and externally, “Mona Mona”, “Shattered Glass”, and “Amerigo Vespucci” and the title track being respective examples. As per the standard established with Giants, the instrumentation is flawless, again featuring Will Kimbrough’s stringed strength, (who seems to reserve a large chunk of his best work for others’ music), producer David Henry on mandolin and the exquisite subtle touches of Fats Kaplin on pedal steel and violin to name but a few. This one is a start to finish listen that you will do repeatedly; it will be in the runnin’s for the 2008 list.
|Hinely's site. Order from CD Baby. Released July, '08, reviewed by Don Grant.
The Famous Rocket Cage... (Scuffletown)
| Donal Hinely writes plain spoken songs about plain spoken lives, and he sticks to his message, taking each song's singular metaphor or theme and riding it out all the way with no detours. The Famous Rocket Cage kicks off with the titular composition, framing life as a frightening (and enlightening) carnival ride - and yes, it is, check. On "Man of Consequence" the double meaning is stretched and repeated to tell the familiar story of a man's redemption in the love of a woman, while "Five Bucks" is clever and cute, echoing Lefty Frizell's "If You've Got The Money, I've Got The Time" to paint a picture of an enthusiastic but broke Romeo. The results are thoroughly competent but alas unsurprising.
As a songwriter, Mr. Hinely has not yet found a unique voice, though it is clear that he is influenced by composers who have taken that gamble and won - Robert Earl Keen, John Prine and Jimmie Dale Gilmore come quickly to mind. The more he risks his characters' earnest and singleminded stories, the better.
|Hinely's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Sept. '11, reviewed by Brad Price.
Never Could Walk The Line... (Stockade)
very fine roots rock record, the second solo CD from the lead guitarist of country
rock band Blue Diamond Shine (who also released a very good sophomore album last
year), proves a new generation of country rockers are picking up where bands like
Jason and the Scorchers, The Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo left off. The "No
Depression" scene and everything it has spawned (magazines, chat lists, radio
programs) have had their scenesters wondering who will be coming up to continue
the path. With classic country legends ill and dying off and the first wave of
newcomers heading to greener (read: money), poppier pastures, vital, engaging
artists like Hisaw and his various projects are what will keep today's alt.country
fans interested in the music. While Hisaw's sound isn't pure country, you can
tell he listened to it as a kid, probably between his Beatles, Stones and Kiss
records. Don't forget Skynyrd, either, as there is plenty of Southern good ol'
boy rock in his music as well. All of these influences show mightily in Hisaw's
CD. Even the rockier tunes have a down home edge, not Southern rock but definitely
rock made by someone Southern, someone who has spent a lot of time listening to
country music and soaking it in. Hisaw's powerful, gruff vocals add to the rootsiness
of the music, and give great emotional weight to the songs. The songs are all
written by Hisaw and he also contributes guitar and vocals and production. While
this sounds like a one-man-band affair, he pulled in great musicians like Ron
Flynt (bass and various keyboards) and Scrappy Jud Newcomb (guitar) to add some
different textures. Hisaw's talent and ability to contribute something special
to each of his musical projects says a lot for his future. The talk around alt.country
circles always references the names Tweedy, Louris, Adams and Farrar. Give it
a few years and you'll probably hear the name Hisaw right in there with them.|
homepage. Order from amazon
or from CD Baby. Reviewed
by Scott Homewood . |
HOBART & THE MISERY BOYS
Your Favorite Fool... (Bloodshot)
My many years of being a music geek have taught me many things. One of the most
important is the classification of music artists. No, not in genre, but in outlook
and vision. There are three kinds: the artist that looks to the future (prog rock,
art-pop, electronica), the artist that looks to the past (country, blues anything
rootsy by definition) and the artist trying to come up with something new by combining
elements of the two. Even though I admire all three groups of artists, I have
to say the most interesting group is the one that looks to the past for its' sound
and inspiration. Not only do these artists have to overcome the traditions that
sometimes strangle the creativity of their chosen form, they have to make their
music sound interesting enough that fans of the genre don't just stick with the
tried-and-true artists but listen to their music as well. It is this quality that
Rex Hobart and his Misery Boys excel in. Let's face it, what they do is pretty
much Bakersfield country: plenty of twang and a lot of energy. Some other regional
styles are there as well but it's generally a twangy, traditional country form
that many artists old and new (especially new, it seems) are good at. What makes
Hobart sound better is his lack of pretense. It sounds natural coming from him.
Hobart and his band just get in there and play the best damn vintage country better
than just about anyone else out there. That's all I ever ask for and, at least
the way Hobart plays it, it's damn sure good enough for me. I have a hunch you'll
like it as well. |
web site. Buy
from amazon or from Miles of Music.
Released Sept, 2002. Reviewed by Scott
Because It Feel Good...(Bloodshot)
No, there's not a grammatical mistake that we've made in the title. This is what
the long-time country thrush and former singer of the Rock-A-Teens has decided
to call her newest disc. Fitting that she remains on Bloodshot as she used to
work there as the publicity flack before returning to her performing career full-time
about three years ago. While Hogan's last album, Beneath The Country Underdog
muted the excitement she generates live, this album manages to convey scads more
of the immediacy and energy that she brings to the table, despite the songs being
more on the slower side. Like Nick Lowe's recent output, Hogan has seemingly chosen
to record songs she can sink her teeth into, choosing substance over speed without
sacrificing heart or edge. There is not a bad song in the bunch, and despite not
writing many of them herself, hew powerful voice and delivery make them unequivocally
hers. She has always had great taste in others' songs as well, and the classic
she chooses by Charlie Rich and Randy Newman, among others, only prove that fact.
Another great album by Hogan. |
Released Oct, 2001. Reviewed by Scott
HOGAN & THE PINE VALLEY COSMONAUTS |
Beneath The Country Underdog... (Bloodshot)
Kelly Hogan's name has shown up on many of Bloodshot's recent compilation albums
but this is her first solo release for them. She has a distinctive torch
vocal style that lends itself nicely to the Country Soul selections contained
here. Credit must go to producer "Waco" Jon Langford for the great
song selection because when you get down to it, it's the songs that count... from
the great Conway & Loretta song ("Wild Mountain Berries") to a wonderful
take of The Band's "Whispering Pines. There is a magical place where
Country and Soul meet that fascinates me and they hit it on the original "I
Don't Believe In You" where a horn section plays behind a pedal steel guitar
solo and again covering Percy Sledge's "Sudden Stop". Bloodshot
has been on quite a roll lately with the recent releases of the Knitters
Tribute, Robbie Fulks and Neko Case. Rack up another winner with Kelly Hogan.
Records has cleaned up their website... they have up to date tour info, bios,
and CD ordering. Released April 2000, reviewed by
Draw the Curtains... (Rykodisc)
It's a pretty safe bet that Will Hoge doesn't own any rose-coloured glasses, black maybe, grey definitely. Overall, there's a brooding, slightly ominous quality hinting suggestively at the darker side of human nature and life in general. Draw the Curtains recreates an atmosphere identical to that of Tim Burton's vision of Gotham City in the first Batman movie. You just know something's going to happen that's not going to be particularly buoyant. Hoge's third studio release since 2001, (there's also a number of live performances available; that's where most of his time is spent, on the road), echoes Springsteen's first two releases. There's regret, wistfulness, and more than a hint of desperation herein. Even an up tempo number like “Midnight Parade” conjures up New Jersey. It's certainly a different perspective.
Will's official site, and MySpace. Buy from amazon. Released Oct. '07, reviewed by Don Grant.
Waiting All Night... (Electric Western)
If you are looking for country music with a streak of individuality that is minus all the trappings and frills of releases from the mega-stars, Nashville still leads the pack. Under the radar talents in Music City dabbling in the more maverick, independent country music ranks are still a larger group than just about anywhere else. Derek Hoke is one such independent. A relative unknown on the national scene, it’s difficult to resist the tug and pull of his appealing new album called Waiting All Night. The 11-track affair features a wide array of guest artists from the world of folk, rock, and Americana, many of whom like Hoke, also fly under the country music radar. Hoke’s likeable tenor voice and easy-going delivery is the initial lure. A little bit swing, a little bit rock & roll, but country all the way, a good quick and dirty comparison is a cross between a no frills Vince Gill on crooner side and hipster alt.country cat Paul Burch on the indie front. Hoke’s songs, particularly the ones dealing with the love side of the equation, tend to strike a nerve. In comparison to his first release called Goodbye Rock & Roll, Waiting All Night demonstrates an artist who has honed his craft as a singer and songwriter and comes off as completely comfortable in the country setting. Frankly speaking, there’s not a bad song in the bunch on Waiting All Night and for a sophomore release, that’s pretty darn impressive.
|Derek's web site. Order from Amazon. Released August, '12, reviewed by Dan Ferguson.
I Never Heard You Knockin'... (self-released)
| Malcolm Holcombe is a native of North Carolina who bears a passing resemblance to Neil Young in his “Gold Rush” days, and he sounds and writes like Alberta's Diamond Joe White. (See if you can find some of his music!) Self-described as a country/folk artist, he's been lauded by, amongst others, Lucinda Williams, and I think that particular lady knows whereof she speaks: she's picked a few good ones before. Aside from sharing one co-writing credit with Steve Heller on “Doin' His Job”, this is a bona fide one man show, just Holcombe and his flat top. He's possessed on one of those gravelly voices that exude passion, anguish, and empathy. I can't believe that he's singing of experiences that he read about in a book somewhere along the line; far too authentic for that to be a possibility. Country/folk, for sure, but there lots of Appalachian blues, e.g. “Mama Told Me So”, “Cathy's Creek”, to name a few. Pathos with impeccable acoustic stylings is how I sum this one up.
| Malcombe's web site has MP3's samples. Order from Village Records. Released April, '05, reviewed by Don Grant.
| There's something truly wonderful
about country-jazz, and Jolie Holland wants you to know about it. With Escondida,
her first CD since leaving the Be Good Tanyas, Jolie Holland picks and chooses
from the very best of Americana. She pieces these together into a quilt that becomes
-- if not exactly unique - much, much greater than the sum of their parts. Holland
evokes, and reaches the level of the great Leon Redbone and Dan Hicks, and brings
Billie Holliday back for one last round. Her compositions are laid back and airy,
her voice - while often overrun with an affected accent - is breathy and drop
dead sexy, and her songs are sad, funny, witty, and poignant, often at the same
time. In "Old Fashioned Morphine" she takes the old gospel song "Old Time Religion"
and makes an opiate addiction seem like just another family tradition - assuming
that William Burroughs is in your lineage, of course. Easily the best track on
the CD is "Poor Girl's Blues." She uses a bastardized form of Piedmont Fingerstyle,
brushes on a snare drum, and that voice of hers. That's all you need to picture
a breezy summer evening out picking with your best friends on the front porch.
This CD is just shy of perfect and already on my Best Of list for 2004. |
from amazon. Released April, 2004. Reviewed
Sweet Inspiration... (HighTone)
The Hollisters specialize in Texas Honky Tonk music and they do it quite well.
Featuring the deep baritone of Mike Barfield and the big guitar of Eric Danheim
you might imagine them as a 90's version of Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two.
These guys come on strong with the Cajun-flavored opener "Fishin' Man"
through the rest of the mostly original collection of roots rockers. My
only complaint is the album seem to run out of steam about 3/4 of the way through.
Still, The Hollisters are the kind of band that can tear up any bar in the world
on a Saturday night. |
out HighTone's site.
Released Feb, '00, reviewed by Bill
TONK CONFIDENTIAL |
Your Trailer Or Mine?... (Too Many Dogs)
Rarely has red-neck country music been as fun as it is on this CD. The cover takes
off on the title, showing an old beat-up trailer with the standard pink flamingoes
on the lawn while the music inside recalls the humor of Robbie Fulks and the Texas/Bakersfield
country swing of Buck Owens or Asleep At The Wheel. Each song is very, very humorous
in a Hee Haw sort of way, but still done with a touch of straight-faced seriousness
that helps the song connect. If it doesn't sound like Fulks running The Wheel,
it has a country Squirrel Nut Zippers feel. Either way is fine by me and a very
welcome addition to my music collection. I don't own a trailer, but if I did,
this music would be welcome inside anytime. |
The band has a nice website
with bio, gigs, audio samples, and CD ordering. Or order it from Miles
Of Music. Reviewed by Scott
CLUB OF COWTOWN
Dev'lish Mary... (HighTone)
The third CD in as many years from the Hot Club features a new bass player Matt
Weiner. The trio continues to mine the vaults of Western Swing, Country and Tin
Pan Alley obscurities. Their 2nd CD, Tall Tales found them writing some of their
own tunes while this one features only 2 originals. Their busy touring schedule
has only made the band that much tighter. Elana Fremerman has really matured
into a dynamic fiddle player and is highlighted on a number of fiery instrumentals.
Produced by Lloyd Maines this time around. |
HighTone Records website.
Release date: Sept. ' 00 Reviewed by Bill
CLUB OF COWTOWN |
Ghost Train... (HighTone)
| On this
new release from the Hot Club you’ll fine the same hot guitar picking, swinging
fiddle and solid bass as on the previous three records. But unlike past efforts
more than half of the songs are originals. Turns out these guys are not only great
players but great writers. Whit Smith especially offers up some surprisingly moody
but effective songs. The cover tunes, and the new material as well, all convey
that familiar infectious blend of western swing and gypsy jazz you’d expect from
a band with a name like this. With this added dimension of newly composed material
the band hasn’t strayed from the success of their original approach as much as
they’ve deepened. They’re still the best young band making western swing music
today and I’ll stand on Ray Benson’s coffee table in my sneakers shouting that.
from amazon Released Sept. 2002.
Reviewed by Kevin Russell.
The subtitle of this
great new Austin band's CD is "Playing Hot Jazz & Western Swing",
and that pretty much sums it up. It's like the best elements of Django
Reinhardt and Bob Wills, played by a young swinging trio. Fiddler Elana
Fremerman is equally excellent at swing and hoedowns, and she even sings a couple
of tunes. Whit Smith's guitar playing is just plain brilliant throughout
the CD, and he does a fine job singing the rest of the songs amongst the instrumentals.
All the songs are non-originals, but they are not over-done. Any fan of
the music of the Hot Club of France or the Texas Playboys should be listening
to this CD every morning!
Best tracks: I Had Someone Else,
Sombody Loves Me, End of the Line, You Can't Break My Heart, Red Bird. HighTone
has a site. Released Sept, 98, reviewed by Bill
Austin's brilliant hot jazz and western swing
trio take their music a step further with their second release in as many years.
This time they have added four of their own tunes, a few with cornet and piano,
giving them a Tin Pan Alley feel. Elana Fremerman's fiddle playing displays
more confidence and drive and she is singing better too, while upright bassist
Billy Horton pulls out a couple a tunes from his 78 collection and nails them.
Whit Smith is excellent as always, his guitar and vocals both clean and precise.
Their regular touring has given them a tight and exciting vintage sound
that is true to it's roots without being camp.
| HighTone Best tunes: Emily, I Can't Tame Wild
Women, When I Lost You, Wildcat, Always And Always, Red Hot Mama, Polkadots And
Moonbeams. Released Aug, '99, reviewed by Bill
CLUB OF COWTOWN |
|Carrying on in the
grand old tradition of western swing, the Hot Club of Cowtown seamlessly merge
gypsy and big band jazz, fiddle tunes, Tin Pan Alley and more. This new live record
is flat out great! And even though the band consists of but three (bass, guitar,
fiddle) they manage to generate a tornado’s worth of sound and energy. This is
a great selection of songs (some new, some from previous studio recordings) delivered
with an infectious enthusiasm that will have you dancing or smiling, or both,
by the end of the first track. Whit Smith’s guitar work rides the edge of sublime
calamity; just when you think he’s about to crash, his exquisite timing and melodic
phrasing saves the day. Elana Fremerman, besides being drop-dead gorgeous, seems
to channel the ebullient spirit of Stephane Grappelli. Both sing in an unaffected
but effective style that could easily be mistaken for simple. Jake Erwin’s energetic
slap-happy bass drives the whole thing, and makes me want to re-name him “the
human metronome”. Life’s a party, and when the Hot Club of Cowtown plays, the
|The Hot Club web site. Buy
from Amazon Released Oct. 2003. Reviewed by Kevin
CLUB OF COWTOWN
Rendezvous in Rhythm... (Gold Strike)
|I'll start out by saying that I love the trio Hot Club of Cowtown and have since I first saw their showcase at the Americana Music Conference in 2009 and a later one at the International Folk Alliance Conference in 2011. They are a must-see band live. Each of the three musicians is proficient on their instrument - Elana on fiddle, Jake on upright bass and Whit on guitar - and their solos are wonderful. I've loved their previous CDs and I really like this one as well though it's - well - different as they have moved from the "variety" of musical styles that made the previous albums a buffet of cultures (western swing, Americana and "gypsy jazz") to just one style here: that gypsy swing sound of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. There are Reinhardt standards like "Minor Swing" - the 49-minute CD's highlight for me -and pop tunes of the 20s and 30s like "Crazy Rhythm" and "Back in Your Own Backyard". All get the same "gypsy swing" treatment in the arrangements with vocals by Elana and Whit. Yes, they play well - VERY WELL! - but I missed the uniqueness of their own compositions and new arrangements from the earlier CD.
I'm giving this album 5 stars because the band is so good and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. But it's really 4.5 stars when compared with their previous releases, which I do urge you to check out.
|The HCoC web site. Buy
from Amazon Released May, 2013. Reviewed by Steve Ramm.
|JOHN HOWIE JR & THE ROSEWOOD BLUFF
Leavin' Yesterday... (Hands Up)
|Going back to the late 1990s and straight through to the first decade of this century, a Raleigh-based band called Two Dollar Pistols was finding that happy medium between hardcore honky tonk and Big Star-styled pop. At its helm was the curvy baritone of front man John Howie, Jr., a voice form fit for those who like their C&W straight up (and we're not talking that kind of Strait!). If you were lucky enough to discover one or more of the band's half dozen releases, you know what I mean. The hooks were plenty, the melodies catchy as flypaper, and the songwriting of Howie a drinking glass full of country pathos. Whereas Two Dollar Pistols are no more, Howie continues his intoxicating mix of the pedal steel-driven hard stuff with its pop-ish nods with his new band The Rosewood Bluff and debut recording called Leavin' Yesterday. It's an album that kicks hard and is some of the most real-deal twang pop these ears have heard during the last year.
|Howie's ReverbNation page. Order from CD Baby. Released late '11. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.
has been saddled with both the blessing and the curse of writing "Up Against
the Wall Redneck Mother", the Cosmic Cowboy anthem made famous by Jerry Jeff
Walker. This new release reveals a solid, sober and fully-developed songwriting
talent. His easygoing voice and blues-tinged country-folk arrangements are
the foundation for this set of songs that have many spiritual references.
Hubbard is accompanied by top notch Lone Star sidemen Lloyd Maines and Stephen
Bruton with Patty Griffin adding excellent vocal harmonies. I've often felt
that Ray Wylie Hubbard was unfairly labeled for the "Redneck Mother" tune. This CD shows that he's moved way above and beyond that.
| Best tunes: Crows, The Lovers in Your Dreams, Conversation with
the Devil, Red Dress, This River Runs Red, The Messenger. RayWylie.com
has bio, lyrics, tour and other info. Released July, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.|
|RAY WYLIE HUBBARD
Delirium Tremolos... (Philo/Rounder)
| Ol' Ray Wylie has such a distinctive voice, his lazy Texas drawl makes even upbeat songs sound laid-back. His vocals are a perfect match for his intelligent songwriting and bluesy, folky style. Ya gotta love the guy, he's been on a prolific streak ever since he got sober 10 or 12 years ago. It seem like he's been putting out at least one CD a year. On this one he features mostly songs by fellow songwriters who wrote songs that Ray “wish'd he'd wrote”. In addition, he has most of the same artists helpin' him out. So you have everything from Eliza Gilkyson adding harmony to her gorgeous “The Beauty Way” to James McMurtry playing lead on his less-than-gorgeous “Choctaw Bingo”. It all comes together splendidly when Slaid Cleaves, Patty Griffin, Eliza and others join Ray for a gospel acapella take on Woody Guthrie's “This Mornin' I Was Born Again”. Once again, Gurf Morlix holds it all together playing nearly every instrument and producing as well. There are a few clunkers here but mostly it's a great ride. Speaking of which, their choosing to revive David Wiffen's forgotten 70's classic “Drivin' Wheel” is worth the price of this CD alone.
Buy from Amazon Released Jan. '05, reviewed by Bill Frater.
|RAY WYLIE HUBBARD
A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is No C)... (Bordello)
|There seems to be a trend among so-called "folk singers," as they get older (Tom Russell, David Olney, and now RWH come to mind), to get a little scruffy in their singing style and, in the case of Ray Wylie, their songwriting style. You could start with one of the most strange album titles ever and continue on through the songs. There's not a bit of ambiguity here; Ray writes about the songs themselves in "Pots And Pans" and "Down Home Country Blues." I guess this is all OK; he can do what ever he wants after over 30 years in the business and becoming a Texas troubadour icon right up there with Robert Earl Keen and Butch Hancock, even if that means making up his own words ("endarkment"?). In conclusion, I don't think this is his best album, but he does get extra credit for including a Rumi quote on the back cover.
|Buy from Amazon Released Jan. '10, reviewed by Bill Frater.
The Phoenix... (Black Dog)
Not since the breakup of Uncle Tupelo in 1994 has the break-up of an alt.country
band generated the same amount of sadness and hand-wringing as did Blue Mountain's
break-up last year. After years of label hassles and internal problems, the band
finally imploded, leaving a ton of saddened fans who rightfully felt cheated that
the bands' glorious music never quite got the mainstream attention it deserved.
That band held a lot of potential and promise that was never realized but Cary
Hudson, the first to come out with a CD since the break-up, doesn't seem to have
let the turmoil hold him up creatively. Perfectly titled, Hudson's new CD The
Phoenix catches him rising out of the ashes of Blue Mountain and moving on, creating
more wonderful music. This time, a lot of the emphasis is on the bedrock music
of blues, which Hudson mixes with his usual dollop of countrified mountain music
to create something a little more edgy and rocky than the Mountains last few efforts
but still retaining the country roots sound. Blue Mountain's regular fans may
think of this as a departure into a blues-rock Grateful Dead territory but the
connection is there and there is still a lot for the country fan to get excited
over. I'd say welcome back but thankfully Cary Hudson, himself and his music,
never left. |
Dog Records. Released April, 2002. Reviewed
by Scott Homewood.
|THE HUNGER MOUNTAIN BOYS
Blue Ribbon Waltz….. (Old-Fi)
With the amount of music being released, it's the rare CD that gets a second listen, let alone played for pleasure. Such a winner is the latest from the Hunger Mountain Boys. This album is a treat for those who like it stripped down and real. The Hunger Mountain Boys bring guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro, fiddle and pure harmony singing to Blue Ribbon Waltz, playing with the ease and familiarity of being on the front porch. It's hard to tell the original songs from the covers on this excellent CD. The Boys know how to play and their duo singing holds up against any duo you care to name, past or present but they'd just be a great cover band if it weren't for the songwriting – pitch perfect and guaranteed to put you in a time warp. Both Teddy Weber and Kip Beacco write with a sound and in a voice that again, it's hard to date, it's just good country. From the solo mandolin of the title track to the tight harmonies of "Cry Away the Years", this is a must-have for fans of the down home.
|The "Boys' website, Order from CD Baby. Released March, '04. Reviewed by Kay Clements.
|ANDREW T. HUNT
Broken Wheel... (Hayden's Ferry/Rustic)
| This New York City based Iowa native is not afraid to tackle big issues in his country songs, whether it's religious tolerance and fanaticism ("In My Blood") or militarism ("Soldier's Song"). But he's even more resonant singing about commonplace subjects such as long- term relationships, as in The Sweetest Thing. (Not surprisingly, his wife Nancy provides harmony as well as some lead vocals throughout) And the all too true Honky Tonks laments the state of modern country music from the viewpoint of an unrepentant, grizzled troubadour, stating “this crowds a little too beautiful for a country boy like me”. Hunt is a songsmith with an acoustic guitar but the arrangements sometimes rock with a Steve Earle/Lucinda Williams feel, as on the opener "Momma's Crazy". And to drop another name (as reviewers are bound to do), fellow New Yorker Chip Taylor is not a bad comparison for Hunt's brand of back porch sophistication.
|Andrew's site. Buy from amazon Released Nov. '05. Reviewed by Michael Meehan.
The Hard Way... (GO/Hear Music)
|When I heard a James Hunter song on the radio a few years ago, my first thought was that someone had unearthed an unknown Sam Cooke recording. Hunter was knocking around his native England as a relative unknown, playing the R&B of the 50s and 60s that he loves and pays homage to in his second major record, “The Hard Way.” He does more than recreate the sounds of Cooke or Jackie Wilson. Hunter creates his own imprint on the genre, while staying true to the cool, soul-tinged spirit of rhythm and blues. His fan club includes the likes of Van Morrison (who went to see a show on the advice of a fan and promptly hired Hunter to sing in his band) and Allen Toussaint. If you’re a fan of either of those giants, it should be all the incentive you need to check out James Hunter.
|Hunter's site. Order from Amazon, they have mp3's and even vinyl!. Released JUne, '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan.
HURD BAND |
A Stagecoach Named Desire... (Behemoth)
Cornell Hurd has been leading bands for over 25 years now, starting in San Jose,
CA, and settling in Austin, Texas. He's released a bunch of albums during that
time, consistently eclectic, laced with humor and true to country music. This
time out Hurd has a wild and talented 10-piece band plus a host of guests and
hangers-on. It all makes for a fun collection of Texas swing and a dozen more
musical sub-genres. What Hurd sometimes lacks in vocal talents, he more than makes
up for in enthusiasm and wit. No less then 22 songs make for a long and enjoyable
stagecoach ride. |
out their site, CornellHurdBand.com.
Release date: Jan, 2001. Reviewed by Bill
HURD BAND |
| God knows what
will happen to Texas dancehalls if The Cornell Hurd Band ever retire. Cen-Tex
Serenade is their newest release on Behemoth Records and in keeping with tradition,
it is jam-packed with 23 cuts and 5 bonus tracks. Talk about good value. This
is a band that clearly loves the music, the dancers, their fans - their records
always exude the "C'mon, get up and have some fun" feeling as well as having world
class musicians on board - sometimes almost as many as the tracks they offer.
This one features in addition to the band: Dee Lannon, Justin Trevino, Conni Hancock,
Raoul Hurd and fantastic sax player Del Puschert. There are always a few novelty
songs, a few tearjerkers and a lot of dancing numbers on a CHB CD and this one
is no different. See 'em live, Buy the cd, just get dancin - that seems to be
the message. |
site has CD ordering with PayPal. Released March, '04. Reviewed by Kay
Second Son... (Pinecastle)
| Jim Hurst’s
new CD is a marvel. Mixing finely wrought instrumentals and superb vocals Hurst
conveys both his respect for bluegrass music and his boundry-pushing attempts
to enlarge the field. Voted the IBMA’s guitarist of the year for 2001 he amply
demonstrates on this CD the wisdom of that choice. Imagine Doc Watson and Jerry
Reed playing the same guitar at the same time and you get some idea of what
he’s up to. But beyond this, he’s a marvelous vocalist. Hurst pulls from the traditional
bluegrass repertoire, as well as, taking new songs or songs not generally associated
with bluegrass and transforms them into gold. He can even take a chestnut like
“Danny Boy” and interpret it in such a way as to leave you asking: have I ever
really heard this song before? (This one song is worth the price of the CD. Really.).
Jim Hurst is a triple threat: great songwriter, great vocalist, great guitar player.
His approach to music making will win him many new fans, and bring new fans to
his particular brand of bluegrass-informed acoustic music. It just doesn’t get
any better than this. |
Pinecastle Records. Buy
from amazon Released Feb. 2002.
Reviewed by Kevin Russell.|
HYLAND BAND |
Place I Call Home... (Records Al Pastor)
First , I check out the band photo on the rear cover and it looks like these guys
are barely out of high school. When I put the CD on and hear a great Steve Earle-ish
Texas drawl backed by a rockin' honky tonk beat,. I figure I better look inside
the CD booklet and find out more about this kid. He's from Austin, no surprise
there, and the CD was recorded at Bruce Robison's home studio. James Hyland (he's
24 years old), has some great friends playing with him, including Rick Brotherton,
Lloyd Maines, Butch Hancock and Toni Price. He writes songs with twangy melodies
and a satiric wit with lots of Texas references. If you think it sounds like something
you'd like, It's because you recognize this as one of the better debut CD's I've
heard in a long time. |
Order from LoneStarMusic.com
Reviewed by Bill Frater.|