New Reviews
Review Archives
Best of FTB
About FTB

Time (Live Oak)
Kathy Kallick has a long history of releasing enormously satisfying CD's of California bluegrass, and this newest offering is no exception. Indeed, this splendid collection of songs and tunes may well be her best. Kathy has always leaned heavily into traditional Monroe-style bluegrass while, at the same time, bringing something fresh and modern sounding to the genre. This CD demonstrates perfectly that balanced sensibility. Drawing material from the deep well of Big Mon, the Delmore Brothers, fiddling Arthur Smith and other trad sources, she and the band also contribute beautifully written originals that fit seamlessly with the classics. There are a couple other factors that contribute to the success of this recording. One is that voice. Part country, part bluegrass, part something entirely her own. She simply has one of the most convincing and emotionally expressive voices in bluegrass music today. The other piece is to note her ability to assemble a kick ass band! She always had capable band mates to support the music but this particular version of "the band" is the best to date. Each player is a master of his or her respective instruments. Greg Booth moves easily between banjo and dobro bringing the drive or perfect finesse needed for each song. Brother Dan Booth on bass provides solid tone and timing. Annie Stannic has been dazzling audiences for a good many of her young years and Kathy gives her lots of room to shine as both a singer and fiddle player extraordinaire. Tom Bekeny, perhaps the longest on-going band member, is an exquisite mandolinist with a knack for gorgeous solos and an unerring sense of time. Folks, this is a top-notch band with a top-notch singer. If you love modern bluegrass steeped in tradition, you're gonna love this one. I know I do.
Kathy's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Oct. '12.  Review By Kevin Russell.

Get Back To The Land.. (Dualtone)
Ted Russell Kamp is perhaps most visible as the bassist for Shooter Jennings, but his solo work proves him to be a smart and captivating singer and songwriter. Get Back To The Land is a rocking album in the '70s California Country tradition filled with ragged twang, punchy horns and liberal B3 supporting his urgent, rough-edged vocals. Kamp's versatility is evident throughout; "California Wildflower" kicks off the party with 12-string jangle and a satisfying, big pop chorus. "If I Had A Dollar" is almost Buck Owens doing Southern Rock while "Ace & Eights" is a fun, sax-driven R&B romp worthy of Little Feat. Kamp plays most of the instruments himself while his compatriots turn in great work to boot, making Get Back To The Land a real contender.
Ted's web site. Buy from amazon. Released May, 2011. Reviewed by Brad Price.

Night Owl... (PoMo)

Ted Russell Kamp continues his run of solid songcraft on Night Owl, a  Kickstarter funded project coming on the heels of 2011's terrific Get Back To The Land. Kamp's loose, self-effacing lyrics and in-the-pocket grooves give the album an obvious authority, the sort that only real experience can grant. The album starts on sure footing with "Smile Alone", a song that only works once you've done a lap or two:

"You're not the girl you were the day I fell for you
I'm not the blue-eyed boy who walked you home
We're never gonna be those kids we used to know 
But I wanna try with you 'cause I'd rather cry with you than smile alone"

The arrangements are spare throughout, at times being only one guitar - or two basses, as in the sweet "Whole Lotta You and Me": "In the whole wide world there's not a lot that I need, Just a little bit of time for a whole lot of you and me"

Kamp's many years as a sideman allow him to swing hard with only a slender frame in place. The result is a delight, a mature album with a great libretto and tasteful drive. I think this one will age well.
Ted's web site. Buy from amazon. Released Jan., 2013. Reviewed by Brad Price.

The Blue Chair... (Dead Reckoning)
Kieran Kane is a true country music artist, and his new CD only reinforces this in spades. The Blue Chair, his fourth solo CD since leaving the successful O'Kanes duo of the early nineties, proves again that his deft writing, soulful singing, fully realized arrangements and production are among the best sounds coming out of Nashville. Kane synthesizes elements of folk, pop, soul, jazz, and country into something familiar, yet new. I love this record. Imagine the mellow of Don Williams, the sweet melancholy of Jesse Winchester, the smooth sophistication of James Taylor and the gut-wrenching honesty of Buddy Miller all mixed together and you get some idea of Kieran Kane. In The Blue Chair we hear an artist at the top of his game. This is the best "urban" country music being made. Period. For another take on Kane's material checkout the, also recently released, raw, live CD with label-mate Kevin Welch, 11/12/13. Less refined but gutsy and beautiful.
Dead Reckoning Records.  Release date: Oct, '00.  Review By Kevin Russell.

Shadows On The Ground… (Dead Reckoning/ Compendia)
Dead Reckoning Records was one of the first artist-run record labels, and Kane has been one of the founding members of the singer-songwriter collective known as The Dead Reckoners. He was half of The O’Kanes in the 90’s, and has a number of solo albums, but this is the best thing he’s ever done. He has a casual easy-going vocal style and his songs are simple, slightly spiritual in nature. The arrangements are mostly acoustic and the players have a comfortable groove going through every tune, whether it’s a bluesy shuffle or a fiddle-driven bluegrass classic. I’m thinking if half the people who bought the O’ Brother CD picked up on this one, it’d win a Grammy for sure and Dead Reckoning Records in the black for awhile. Buy from amazon. Released Oct, 2002. Reviewed by Bill Frater

Kane Welch Kaplin... (Compass)

First off, this was originally a five star disc, but fate intervened. Living out here on the edge of the Twilight Zone it's not very often that a band shows up in conjunction with its latest release but, thanks to the Dream Café, (our musical oasis), small miracles do happen. OK, mea culpa , the performance influences this review, but that's how it should be; music was made for live first, recordings came later. Kane Welch Kaplin is twelve sparsely instrumented songs, eleven original plus one traditional; sparse in this instance means that if they can't lug it around comfortably on the road, an instrument doesn't get played. What we've got here is three master craftsmen, joined by Kane's son Lucas on percussion, at the top of their collective form. The writing is top-notch, the execution flawless, like one of your mother's recipes: all of the ingredients in measured amounts creating a folk/roots audio perfection. As good as this disc is, the real McCoy is even better. The inter-action between Kane and Welch is fascinating to see and hear, and the multi-faceted Kaplin, well, he puts the icing on the cake. When they call him Fats, they're referring to his talent, not his physique. Buy this one by all means, but by even more means catch them in person; that's worth five stars any day of the week.

Buy from amazon. Released Sept. 2007. Reviewed by Don Grant.

Common Senses... (Record Cellar)
It's amazing to me how much the genre has broadened since Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco after Jay Farrar left him in the lurch while both were in Uncle Tupelo. Once Tweedy (and John Crooke of Jolene, truth be told) started embracing pop nuances and touches in their music and broadened their scope, so many other musicians have finally felt free to open up that part of their music it's been revelatory. So few new bands release CDs without these same pop affectations, it's hard to find the country anymore. That's both good and bad, but that's another story. This album goes down the pop road as well. Featuring Kaufmann's heartland-sounding voice, the music itself shows touches of lounge, Beach Boy and Beatle touches all retaining a country tinge that's hard to place sometimes but always unmistakably there. The song "The All Fools Dance" is as great a mix of pop and country as I've ever heard. It's an exciting time for country. The palette has been expanded and the sound will never be the same. Artists like Kaufmann make this one of the most exciting times in music. The blending of pop and country into one great musical hybrid. This album does it. Check it out. It's Common Sense(s).
Record Cellar's site. Released Mar. 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

River of Time... (Red House)
Jorma's roots go all the way back to the original Jefferson Airplane and that first live Hot Tuna album where we learned that he was a master of fingerstyle blues guitar in the tradition of Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt, both represented here. He traveled to Levon Helm's studio for this one and enlisted the production and amazing instrumental skills of Larry Campbell. Everything is acoustic for Jorma these days and he has a gentle easy going style. The delightful take on Ron "Pigpen" McKernan's "Operator" is a standout as well as Merle Haggard's "More Than My Old Guitar." He's still writing great songs with interesting chord changes beyond the blues stuff. He even include a few original instrumentals, shades of "Embryonic Journey." He still tours and runs a yearly well respected guitar camp called Fur Peace Ranch. I'll be damned if I can think of any other artist from those days who's still as active and still creating new and vital music as he is. Long may he run.. this is a fine album and one of Jorma's best.
Jorma's web site, and Fur Peace Ranch. Buy from amazon. Released Feb. 2009. Reviewed by Bill Frater

Walking Distance.......(Arista)
It took me awhile to warm up to this record and I think that's because I was expecting something closer to the power and force of Picnic, Keen's 1997 release also on Arista. On Walking Distance however, Keen and producer Gurf Morlix go for a more spare production where the focus is on what Keen does best which is to tell a story. Simple musical arrangements, pleasant melodies...while the record is not initially compelling, I was pleased and surprised to find it slowly moving in on me and getting comfortable. Walking Distance is a satisfying stroll through another collection of Keen's wonderful stories.
Buy from amazon. Preferred Tracks...Feelin' Good Again, That Buckin' Song, I'll Be Here, Road To No Return. Earl has a pretty flashy website, where you can order his music, hear a couple of song samples, read a bio and link to tour info.  Released Oct, '98, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).

Farm Fresh Onions… (Audium/Koch)
3 or 4 years ago I saw Robert Earl Keen for the first time in Austin and I was amazed by the huge contingent of big beer-swillin’ college kids at the show. All of them were talking loud and laughing, only occasionally looking up to acknowledge a few of Keen’s better known songs. Since then, his rowdy fan base has grown to rival Jimmy Buffett’s older-yet equally "willing to party" fans. And between his frequent tours, Robert Earl has put out many fine albums, and Farm Fresh Onions is definitely one of his better. I get the impression that songs come easily to him, with out a lot of thought or effort. Yet under close inspection, they’re mostly excellent tunes. He balances story songs, witty musings and introspective ballads. His finely tuned band will most certainly head back on the road with him and I’m sure a few of these songs will become future concert staples. My mony’s on songs like "All I Have Is Today" and "Let the Music Play" and possibly the rockin’ "Train Trek". At least the Texas kids had good musical taste, despite their oblivious attitude and I hope they stop talking long enough to listen to the words of some of these songs, ‘cause they’re mighty good., Audium's site. Buy from amazon. Released Oct, 2003. Reviewed by Bill Frater

The Rose Hotel... (Lost Highway)
It was mid-1990s albums like Bigger Piece of Sky and Gringo Honeymoon that established Robert Earl Keen as a leader of the modern Texas troubadour set. This decade's output has been uneven at best. Favoring the rocking side of country and folk, Keen's new The Rose Hotel is a return to that ‘90s form. It finds him nimbly walking the line between the serious and humorous sides of his writing. Add in a few well-chosen covers from Townes Van Zandt & Greg Brown and the result is an album as close as Keen has come to scaling those early heights., Lost Hwy's REK site. Buy from amazon. Released Sept. 09. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

Ready For Confetti... (Lost Highway)
Mr. Keen has been putting out good albums for over 25 years now and he tours more than any other top-level singer-songwriter I can think of, especially outside of his native Texas. So why doesn’t he get the respect of similar artists like Lyle Lovett or John Prine? I think it’s partly because he keeps his songwriting on the surface, never getting too deep.  He defies that asuumption here on a few tracks and his sense of humor is still present. He takes some serious looks at mortality on “I’ve Gotta Go” and the traditional "Soul Of Man." This is one of his better albums, perhaps my favorite since 1998’s Walking Distance. He takes a direct shot at Toby Keith on “The Road Goes On And On”.  Keen believes he stole the melody and story from his song "Road Goes on Forever" for Keith's "Bullets in the Gun,"  and I think he’s right. When the day is done, REK will keep touring and putting out albums and entertaining his loyal fans and I can’t find any fault in that.
REK's site. Buy from amazon. Released Sept. '11. Reviewed by Bill Frater

Bread On The Waters... (self released)

So, I'm in Nashville at the big Americana soirée getting my afternoon fix of coffee and I start talking to a guy named Bill from New York. After asking what I do he hands me his CD, not an uncommon occurrence at a music conference full of musicians and radio people. I took the CD home and it went into the “pile”. When I finally got around to listening to it, whoa, was I was pleasantly surprised. This is a great CD, finely crafted songs with memorable melodies about love and life. The amazing Larry Campbell, who's been sitting in with lots of folks since leaving Dylan's endless tour, joins Kelly, playin' everything with strings while bassist/producer Lincoln Schleiferkeeps keeps things flowing with taste and wisdom. Kelly has a gentle voice and a way with lyrics that makes me think he's lived some of the songs. “Knock Knock Joke” is a fun fiddle knock-down and the lovely “Seraphima” will give you an earworm that'll last for days. Thanks to Starbucks, I have a new favorite independent artist.

Bill's site is called Order from CD Baby. Released late, '07, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Ranch Road 12... (Armadillo Music)
Ray Wylie Hubbard produced this debut from his long time bass player and it's easy to hear why Hubbard was impressed with the songs he heard. Mid tempo melodic tunes, intelligent lyrics and a touch of Texas Hill country blues make this disc a companion piece to Ray Wylie's excellent "Delirium Tremolos" release. I've listened to this disc several times through and it unfolds nicely and grows more essential every time.  Kennard's vocals split the difference between Ray Wylie and Bob Dylan and his song writing evokes both in a positive way. Highlights include the John Hurt -style country blues "Hummingbird" and dylanesque "Totterdown".     
Guthrie's page on Armadillo. Buy from amazon. Released July, 2005. Reviewed by Michael Meehan.

Domestic Blues....(E-Squared)
First off, let me just say that I love this CD. When I first heard it, I'm thinking, who is this unknown guy with the warm yet rough voice, sounding so confident and loose. Not to mention, he's produced by Steve Earle and backed by a group of the best acoustic musicians around. Well, thanks, to good ol' search engines, I find out this guy is from Belfast, Ireland, and he led a rock band called Energy Orchard, who are responsible for five albums. So he's been around, and the maturity of his heartfelt songs of love make that apparent. He's got help from Earle and Nanci Griffith on vocals plus Peter Rowan, Jerry Douglas and the late Roy Huskey Jr., among others. This is a wonderful collection of music and I hear that this is just a one-time thing for Kennedy, I hope he reconsiders, we need more CD's like this!
Best cuts: Long Time A Comin', Domestic Blues, The Ghosts Of Belfast, My Money. E-Squared's siteEnergy Orchard and Bap site Fan site from the UK. Released May, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Bones In The Backyard... (self released)
Down a country road we go, shoes tapping on the opener. Steve Ketchen and the Kensington Hillbillys have been fixtures for a decade in and around Toronto, rolling out spirited traditional and roots country sounds. Ketchen's voice has a shade of Lee Clayton in it, its melodic reach polished with just enough grit to grey the silver of its shine. There are eleven originals here, a fine cover of The Clash's "Straight To Hell", and guest work from Clive MacNutt, Burke Carroll and James Gray. Bones In The Backyard has good energy and musicianship, and enough adventurous spirit to make it fishtail just a little in the turns. Funny, for all its driving rhythms, it's that last song, "The Spirit And The Will", that pulls over to the side of the road and hits me as hard as any, short and to the ribs.

The Hillbillys' site. Released Sept. '05, reviewed by Doug Lang.

Soul... (Audium)
Over the past couple of years or so, thanks to artists like former-popster-now-crooner Nick Lowe and re-energized soul preacher Solomon Burke, music fans in general and country performers in particular are re-discovering soul music. Not just the citified James Brown stuff and popular Motown hits, but the obscure stuff smaller labels like Stax, Hi and Goldband (among many, many others) used to release in the ‘60s. Just like a few years ago when hip bands like Wilco discovered 60's pop and Brian Wilson, today, even hipper artists are looking back and discovering Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Dan Penn. Enter the Kentucky Headhunters, who have always been way different. Think I'm kidding? Name another country act who, after having a huge hit album, would decide to grab Chuck Berry's piano player and do a whole album based on his style. Think about it. White, scruffy, farmboy country-rock dudes doing an album with a jazz piano player who happens to be black. In the blues market, maybe. But I don't think I'd be wrong if I guessed many country radio execs (white dudes) didn't exactly "like" that pairing. While the resulting album was probably the best roots record released that year, it totally destroyed their momentum. Not that it bothered these mavericks one bit. Today's current crop of artists talk about all of the envelopes their music is pushing. The Headhunters run their own special post office. It's been this way for over a decade, doing everything "wrong" but making music so brilliant and "right" it defies any description. But we will try our best. Take Wilson Pickett or Otis, put him in front of a country band, and this is what the Headhunter's new CD, Soul, sounds like. What, isn't that what they did in the ‘60s anyway? Damn. That's the reason it sounds so authentic. Suffice to say, this is one fantastic album filled with some of the greasiest guitar playing since Steve Cropper and some of the most soulful vocals since Otis, Don Covay and James Carr plied their trade. Plenty of B-3? You betcha. Funk drums like Bernard Purdie and Al Jackson? Yep. For me, the country CD of the year so far. I love this stuff, especially when it's done right, and the Headhunters do such a great job keeping it real and not pastiche that it's just a wonderful, wonderful thing. I can't gush about this CD enough. Oh yeah, Chuck Berry's piano player guests on this CD too. Some people never learn! Buy this, by God, buy this now.
Buy from amazon. Released May, 2003. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Big Boss Man... (RCR/Cbuj)

Say what you will about the Headhunters, you have to give them credit for not being afraid to experiment. In 2003 they released Soul , a generally well-received foray in rhythm and blues inflected country, and Big Boss Man follows in those footsteps, sort of. culled from the archival catalogues of Sony and Acuff/Rose, it's a re-working of a dozen songs that everyone will be familiar with, if they haven't had their heads in cardboard boxes for the last few decades. The results are mixed. The opening, and title cut, harks back to a young and raunchy Elvis doing Jimmy Reed's original. Roger Miller's “Chug-a-Lug” doesn't fare nearly as well, but it is hard to make a silk purse from a sow's ear. Mindless drinking songs are puerile at best. “Like A Rolling Stone” works, as does “Don't It Make You Wanna Go Home”, and “Walking After Midnight” has an interesting malevolence that you'd never find in Patsy. The disc closes with a barn burning rendition of Lennon and McCartney's “I'm Down”, thanks to Greg Martin's ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead' style on his lead guitar, which is the one constant on Big Boss Man .

Buy from amazon. Released June, 2005. Reviewed by Don Grant.

Father Time... (Curb)
Hal Ketchum is a fascinating juxtapostion of musical sensibilities. He had a few country radio hits way back in the 90's, but he's always had a lot more soul and spiritual intelligence than your average Nashville artist. I put him on the same shelf as Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark or John Hiatt. He's a member of the Opry thanks to those hits but he's got tattoos covers a Tom Waits tune here, ("Jersey Girl," for his wife). He writes brilliant, sensitive songs and he sings with that smoky-smooth voice. There is a nice variety of song styles here, from the jazzy "Down Along The Guadalupe" to the soulful "Millionaire's Wife." Father Time was done in just 2 days and recorded directly to 2 track, which is virtually unprecedented in this day and age, even with some of the best session guys around Nashville. It's not only one of his best albums, but one of the best I've heard this year. I hope it gets heard beyond the normal country crowd and gets the recognition that it deserves.
Hal's official site. Buy from amazon. Released Sept. '08, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Dale Keys... (self released)
Shades of honky-tonk, blended with an Americana base, is how I'd have to describe Dale Keys, with the emphasis being on the Americana side. Originally from Kentucky via Idaho, he now hangs out in Nashville, (gotta be the original part of town, where the real stuff still happens), attracting the positive attention of luminaries such as Barry and Holly Tashian and Mary Gauthier, which says a lot about this guy's talent. He's got some good musicians backing him up on steel, fiddle, and mandolin, and the overall result is a pretty darn good product. If I have to carp about anything, (apologies to the beast in question), I have to carp about "He's My Dog", which actually isn't that bad of a song, it's just way out of place in the context of this recording. It no doubt works well with the performer-audience empathy inherent in a live scenario, but, here, it just doesn't integrate. Otherwise, Keys has produced a solid and honest exploration of the themes that make the foundation of good country tunes.
Dale's site has CD ordering and a nice bio about musical adventures in Nashville. Or order the CD from CD BabyReviewed by Don Grant.

'Blindside View' track listing, sound clips and ordering.THE KICKBACKS
Blindside View... (Sodapop)
There's not much in the way of pure country on this CD but if you're a fan of twang pop, then you'll just love it. Sounding like a poppier, sprightlier version of The Wallflowers, The Kickbacks score big with a bunch of melodic songs perfect for driving. Tad Overbaugh and Shawn Byrne (the co-lead singers and guitarists of the band) wrote all of the songs save an excellent cover of the John Fogerty chestnut Almost Saturday Night that beats the hell out of the Dave Edmunds version as well as Fogerty's own, to these ears. Overbaugh and Byrne have a great sense of melody and bridge the gap between pop and country without going overboard like Wilco and Marah have done. There are no orchestrations or overdone glam moments here smacking of huge, unneeded effort. There's just some clever, melodic songwriting with some meaningful lyrics sure to get you feeling good. It may fall under the classification of pop, but there's not an abundance of "power" and plenty of roots rock touches to keep country fans happy. Think of the Rembrandts fronting the Wallflowers. If that sounds as good to you as it does on this CD, then get this as soon as possible.
Their website. Order the CD for CD BabyReviewed by Scott Homewood.

Americanitis… (Daphne/Emergent)

Kimbrough has been playing lead guitar with Todd Snider and Rodney Crowell and the talent has obviously rubbed off on him. In fact, on Americanitis he balances Snider's sarcastic humor with Crowell's straightforward political statements to create something both poignant and fun to listen to. Whether he's combining witty wordplay with rootsy acoustic flavorings on songs like “Grown Up Now” and “Warring Ways” or slipping in some power pop on “Less Polite”. I think it's encouraging that so many artists are speaking up about the state of our world today. Will is especially amused and outraged by corporate greed and corruption. Perhaps he says it best when he states that he's not ashamed to sing about Peace in the land on “Brand New Song”. Don't be timid about buying this CD if you're apolitical either. Will has a sensitive heart and a mischievous sense of humor and he writes catchy tunes.

Will's site. Buy from amazon. Released July, '06. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

(EP)… (Daphne/Thirty Tigers)

Kimbrough's latest release is predominantly an acoustic foray into folk and bluegrass, (thanks to some arm-twisting by Adrienne?), and it's one of the better things he's done on his own. Most of his genius, like that of Gurf Morlix, seems to surface when he's working with other artists, such as Rodney Crowell or the Willy Clay Band. The tone is set right up front with the Delta-bluegrassy “Eden Prairie”, followed by seven more unassuming little gems that are, in a nutshell, damn fine tunes. As a rule, EP's are not all that well received in this quarter, but, just like laws, rules are made for fools to obey and wise men to be guided by. At less than ten bucks a pop, this rule should be broken.

Will's site. Buy from amazon Released Sept. '07, reviewed by Don Grant.

Wings... (Daphne)
He's probably best known as Rodney Crowell's right hand man, to the point Crowell won't play a date if guitarist Will Kimbrough is unavailable. An esteemed Nashville-based sideman, Kimbrough has also forged a solo career as singer and songwriter. His new release Wings is right up there with the best of his work. The common denominator is its groove, some subtle like the bluegrassy "Three Angels" and others downright soulful like "Big Big Love." Kimbrough calls it Country & Eastern. Sounds right, not to mention real good to these ears.
Will's site. Buy from amazon Released Feb. '10, reviewed by Dan Ferguson

Come on in from the Cold... (self-released)

This one has been spinning in the player for quite some time because it's, well, enigmatic. The opening title cut is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel's sprawling theatrical style sans his wall of sound and the next track, “I Won't Give Up”, echoes Paul Simon musically and lyrically? Third up, with a nod to Nebraska , Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, is the ballad “Johnny McPhee”. If this is starting to sound a bit all over the musical map, it is, and that ain't derogatory. Predictable is not an adjective for Come on in from the Cold , pleasantly surprising, particularly considering the number of instruments employed, is more apropos. Even after repeated plays new and different nuances emanate from the speakers and that's a good thing, because the boring ones quickly become Frisbee impersonators. This one is unique; it deserves a listen.

Mr. King's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Sept. '07, reviewed by Don Grant.

Low Country Suite… (Zoe/Rounder)

In 2004, King Wilkie put out an excellent CD of straight-ahead bluegrass called Broke. Most bluegrass bands stay bluegrass bands, that's just how it is. But now they've thrown off the constraints of the standard 3-chord progression and opened things up considerably. Like bands like Dillard & Clark and New Grass Revival from many years ago they've kept the instrumentation but they're not playing bluegrass. In fact, their well crafted original songs remind me of the Jayhawks' early albums and even The Band comes to mind, although their songwriting has a ways to go. They're taking chances and stretching out, and mostly it really works well. The members all in their 20's so if they stay together for another 5 years or so I think they'll be making some amazing music.

King Wilkie's site. Buy from amazon. Released June, '07. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Raise A Ruckus...(HighTone)
Bill is the only veteran of the legendary Lost Planet Airmen to still have an active career. This is his 4th solo CD, and although he has a limited voice, he has a loyal following thanks to his great live performances and regular touring.  And, of course, it helps that he's an excellent and versatile Telecaster twanger.  As usual, Bill throws in a little bit of everything, Rockabilly, Swamp Rock, Western Swing, R & B and just plain  ol' Rock 'n Rock.  Most of the songs are originals, including a few written by his wife Louise. Personally, I don't think it's his best but it's still a nice CD.  I like some of Bill's earlier albums a little better, perhaps it's because of his well-chosen mix of cover tunes.
Buy from amazon. Released April, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Tied to the Wheel... (HighTone)
Thank heavens! The King of Twang, the Duke of Dieselbilly, Bill Kirchen by-god has returned to grace us with another album full of the truck drivin' twang and bang he does so well. While the former Commander Cody guitarist's last album was a scattershot affair, this one is a total twangfest with a capital T that stands for truck-drivin' and finds him devoting just about the entire disc to the much-loved country sub-genre of the truck drivin' song. In my opinion, this is Kirchen's tour de force and the album that could define his career. A moratorium: No one else should be allowed to handle this form of country now that Kirchen has made it his own. Ably assisted by his band, Kirchen makes more out of a trio than anyone I've heard since Brian Setzer and if the title track ballad Tied To The Wheel doesn't sound like a hit, you can tie ME to the wheels! A great album and well worth your money. Dave Dudley should be proud.
Released Aug, '01.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Hammer Of The Honky-Tonk Gods… (Proper)

Bill Kirchen pops up every few years with a new effort, always featuring a tasteful mix of originals and covers. What he lacks in wordplay he more than makes up for in hot guitar chops. The title song— a celebration of the Fender Telecaster guitar— names all the greats through the years who have played one; the cover photo features Bill's own well-worn Tele. His guitar playing is a marvel throughout the disc, each solo expertly crafted with just the right tone. Recorded in England, he's backed by Nick Lowe, Austin DeLone and, on one track, the Hacienda Brothers. The original song “One More Day” is a stand-out for its sweet vintage sound and for Bill's amazing solo; "Heart Of Gold" rocks like classic Jerry Lee Lewis; and he transforms "Devil With The Blue Dress" into a slow soul burner. Kirchen is an artist who deserves to be honored as a master of the Telecaster and a Honky-Tonk god in his own way.

Kirchen's site. Buy from amazon. Released January, '07, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Seeds & Stems... (Proper)
I've seen Bill Kirchen at least a half-dozen times since he left Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, where Cody had his own name as the leader of the band but it was Kirchen who sang lead, wrote, or co-wrote (with Billy C. Farlow) many of the hits and played that amazing Telecaster guitar. Over the years he's released many Cds under his own name. Some worked for me while others didn't mainly because he's such a great live act and some of the studio sessions were missing the feeling of Bill's live shows. But this is the CD that longtime fans have been waiting for, there's not a miss anywhere on the 13 tracks on this 57-minute album. In fact, there are lots of "hits" reinvented to make them seem like new. A few of the songs go back to his Cody days ("Too Much Fun", a name he used for his backing band for a while, and the hilarious "Semi-Truck" known to his fans as "I Took Three Bennies and my Semi-Truck Won't Start") while others have always been part of his shows ( "Womb To The Tomb"). The recording was made in a studio in London, England during the band's downtime on a two-week tour. Most tracks were done in one-take to give it a fresh sound. (Heck, Kirchen has been playing these songs for 40+ years!). Of course no Kirchen concert is complete without an expanded version of the Cody hit "Hot Rod Lincoln" and- even though I must have it on at least three Kirchen CDs, the 7 ½ minute version here takes the song in new directions. If you know the song - with its tributes to the "Kings" (Freddie, B.B., and Albert) be prepared as Kirchen adds not only more Kings but a bunch of "piano men", thanks to his keyboard player Austin de Lone. I've already played this CD through three times in just a day or so and it still rocks! Kirchen fans will want this and hopefully it'll find new ones as well.
Kirchen's site. Buy from amazon. Released June, '13, reviewed by Steve Ramm.

Western Country... (self released)
Caleb Klauder has been a fixture in the Portland old time revival scene as a member of Foghorn String Band, performing traditional tunes in purely acoustic settings. On "Western Country" he continues his parallel journey into the world of electric honky-tonk circa 1948-1955 first exhibited on 2007s "Dangerous Mes and Poisonous Yous", and the results are charming and rousingly authentic. A deft mixture of covers and original tunes are delivered with a grizzled earnestness that belies both his age and geography, sounding completely at home alongside recordings by the Louvin Brothers and Hank Sr. The recording is beautifully captured with a live room sound courtesy of Billy Oskay, bringing the listener right into the saloon with standout harmony vocals from Sophie Wells and Nadine Landry and time-machine perfect guitar, steel and fiddle. Highly recommended for those who take their country straight up.
Caleb's website. Buy from CD Baby. Released August, '10, reviewed by Brad Price.

Draw Them Near... (Rykodisc)
She came from Boston's young and hip folk crowd. She wrote a nice batch of honest confessional songs and Ryko picked her up. George Howard, who also produced Peter Bruntnell's excellent album, drapes her songs with a little too much pop flourish for my taste. Backed by Wilco's drummer Ken Croomer and Will Kimbrough (Kim Richey, Todd Snider). Her voice reminds me of Stevie Nicks or sometimes Emmylou Harris.  Some very nice well-crafted folk and pop songs.
Released Aug, 00 Reviewed by Bill Frater.

The Northeast Kingdom....(E-Squared)
Cheri played bass and sang with Blood Oranges, who's music I like, so I had very high expectations for her collaboration with the "twangtrust" boys. This CD has many different "textures", not unlike co-producer Steve Earle's last effort. I don't feel that this mixture works as well as El Corazon, although I like this CD alot. She has written some excellent songs and the arrangements are always interesting, including great guitar work throughout the CD from fellow ex-Orange Mark Spencer. I find that some of the softer songs and some of the harder ones, which are pretty rockin', just aren't as strong melody-wise. I hate to nit-pick because I think Cheri has a great voice. The CD is just a few songs short of a home run, but I can still recommend it wholeheartedly.
Best songs: Rose In The Vine, If Wishes Were Horses, The Hatfield Side, White Lies, All Blue. E-Squared's site.  Released Feb. '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Chris Knight....(Decca/MCA)
It appears that there's a new kid in town, following in the footsteps of Earle, Prine and maybe even Springsteen. This young Kentuckian writes honest, sometimes dark tales about real live people; farmers, cops, truckers, and losers in love. The acoustic ballad that closes the CD, "William", was so brutally honest and familiar that it gave me the chills the first time I heard it. The music has a great roots-rock sound, featuring some of the best players in the business, including excellent guitar work by David Grissom. Knight's voice may remind you a little of Steve Earle. It's the songs that really make it though, the melodies and words exhibit a lot of maturity for a debut CD. If this guy has more songs like this at home, I can't wait to hear what he does next.
Best tracks: It Ain't Easy Being Me, Something Changed, House & 90 Acres, The Hammer Going Down, William. Released Feb, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

A Pretty Good Guy... (DualTone)
The label just should have titled this A Pretty Good Album because it certainly is. One of the best I have heard this year, in fact. Produced by Dan Baird (he guests on guitar as well) who is a talented artist in his own right that many may recognize from his stints in the Georgia Satellites, great solo albums on American, member of the Yayhoos (check out their review below), and as a burgeoning producer. Like Yayhoo buddy Eric Ambel, Baird often ends up playing guitar on his productions and favors a roots-rock approach more than straight-ahead twangy country. Knight's album fits that roots-rocky bill. Full of the kind of bluesy bar-stomp rock that John Mellencamp and Springsteen do so well with the songwriting chops of Robert Earl Keen, Knight gives listeners a great look at his talent while keeping things accessible and fun. His songwriting is top-notch and heartfelt, while funny enough to almost hit you from behind with its' inner honesty. A great record that is keeping me salivating for the next one.
DualTone's site.  Released Sept. '01.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Enough Rope... (Emergent / 92e)
Knight writes from a working class/country boy perspective this is so direct and right on that it makes me wanna move to the South. Musically, he defines Americana, rootsy loud guitar rockers to fiddle and banjo country ballads, His voice is gritty yet expressive. His songs are powerful statements, so powerful that if he had a terrible voice he'd still get to your heart. “Dirt” is a favorite about selling his grandfather's farm and cutting down more trees to build a factory. You can hear the anger in his voice as he shouts “treatin' my grandpa's land like dirt”. There nothing ambiguous about his songwriting, it's right there in plain Southern English. More great songs about low life's, partying and even one about the not-so-glorious life of being a touring musician. This is his best yet.

Knight's site. Buy from amazon. Released July, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.

the trailer tapes... (Drifter’s Church/Thirty Tigers)
With apologies to James Joyce, Chris Knight’s long-rumored early recording might as well have been subtitled: “Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man.” This is the edgy and somber Kentucky songwriter at his starkest. It's just the minstrel and his guitar, recorded in a single-wide trailer outside a small Kentucky mining town. Released last year, the trailer tapes were recorded a decade earlier before Knight’s first four acclaimed albums were released. While less polished, they contain all the power and emotion of his other recordings. The stripped-down sound adds an element of roughness that makes the songs even edgier. This is an essential recording for any fan of this poet/songwriter who deftly chronicles life in the mining country of Kentucky.
Order from Amazon. Released Apr. '07, reviewed by Barry Dugan.

Heart of Stone... (Drifter’s Church)
Critics have been saying this about every one of Chris Knight’s releases, but this very well could be his best yet. Heart of Stone is another hefty slice of the dark side of life. It’s raucous and jangly and just loose enough around the edges at times, conveying the powering and desperation of Steve Earle and The Dukes. But it also has the deep sadness that dominates Knight’s world. The dark hollows, a miner’s life filled with violence, drunkenness and the inescapable tragedy of life — it’s all there. In “Crooked Road,” he sums it all up: "Damn these hard times/Damn the coal mine/Damn the good dreams gone cold/And while I’m at it, damn this crooked road.” Knight is first and foremost a storyteller, and one of the great ones writing today.
Order from Amazon. Released Aug. '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan.

Trailer II... (Drifter’s Church/Thirty Tigers)
Essence - the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing”. That, in a nutshell is what Trailer II, and its antecedent, the trailer tapes, are both all about. This is the essence of Chris Knight, just the man, his songs, his guitar, and a microphone. Comprising a dozen songs, many of which appear on his subsequent studio recordings, Trailer II is an affirmation of that paradoxical saying that less is more. The CD exudes a quiet and visceral power that multi-tracking and all of the extra bells and whistles can’t replicate. It’s raw and emotional, no holds barred here. The ‘unplugged’ genre doesn’t get much better than this.
Buy from amazon Released Sept. '09. Reviewed by Don Grant.

The Modern Sounds Of… (Zoe/Rounder)

First off, I'll assume that you know who and what the Knitters are. This is actually more polished than their first album from a mere 20 years ago, and it is a mix of “public domain” country tunes and a few new originals. They also “folk-up” some old X hits and even take on Steppenwolf's “Born To Be Wild”, which turns out to be quite entertaining. Dave Alvin holds it all together musically with his confident energy and a lot of twangy vibrato-laden guitar solos. John Doe has a fine country voice and while singing has never been Exene's strong suit, when they come together in their trademark odd harmony, it brings back memories of olden days when we were oh so innocent. The whole thing is surprisingly listenable, that is if you're an old X fan. And, ya know, if it wasn't for The Knitters there wouldn't be any of a hundred Bloodshot-type bands and maybe no “Alt .” In Country at all!

Buy from amazon Released July, '05. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Shame Train and the Devil's Square Kilt... (self-released)
This CD could be the answer to the musical question "What happens when a talented musician sets the blender on 'roots puree' and hits the button?". Knutson conjures up a Blue Rodeo "compressed country" (very tight arrangements and hint of organ with that unmistakable Blue Rodeo-type production) sound on the first cut "Go2". He then moves to a Richard-Thompson-in-New-Orleans sound for the third cut "Sweet Sweet Love" and continues on in this vein, hitting different light pop and country elements as he goes. Usually artists who hit a bunch of different styles sound like their reaching, but not Knutson. While his songs sound different, they still sound as if they belong together. His inventiveness and good songwriting doesn't hurt either. Decent album. I'd like to see what he could do with a bigger budget.......
Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Beans Taste Fine... (Wampus Kat)
You folk blues fans are sure to love this one! Originally released in 1975, this is a live recording of Kolstad and Turk doing their thing in front of a very appreciative audience. That's one thing good about the current Americana trend - not only are people rediscovering old forms of music but also under appreciated recordings and musicians from that era are getting a much-deserved second glance. While most songs are covers of old country and blues chestnuts, for anyone who remembers the folk boom in the '60's, this stuff is gonna be the Holy Grail. It helps that Kolstad and Turk add a generous helping of humor to the proceedings. Not that I am a folk music scholar or anything, but this stuff is pretty good to me.
Order from amazon  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

New Favorite... (Rounder)
What a flat out gorgeous record this is! Unlike last years effort, "Forget About It", this new record is equal parts acoustic pop and contemporary bluegrass. And what a successful blending of those genre's! Krauss wisely gives ample room for Jerry Douglas and Dan Tyminski to strut their stuff. And the result? The bluegrass is powerful and edgy, the pop catchy and beautiful. I can't stop playing this one. Krauss, more than anyone else, creates acoustic bluegrass-informed pop music. And this is her most successful joining of those worlds to date, as well as her most satisfying release since hitting it big with "I've Got That Old Feeling". This is an artist at the top of her game and, frankly, it just doesn't get any better than this.
Rounder's site Released Aug, 2001.  Reviewed by Kevin Russell.

Halfway House… (Hollow Body)
Kwartler is the lead singer with the NYC-based band Foundry. I get the idea that he's one of those guys who either has lots of time for creative endeavors such a this, or perhaps he just is real good at time management, or perhaps he just doesn't sleep. Whatever is his secret, I greatly envy him, because this is a wonderful CD, full of great fine well thought out songs and arrangements, naturally, 'cause he's got unlimited time. The sound ranges from simple acoustic tunes to full-out power pop rockers. This is an ambitious and eclectic work that hits the mark on most every song. His vocal sound is good if not the most unique, but that's what he's got and he knows how to use it to his advantage. Apparently Foundry have a new CD coming soon too. But if he doesn't sleep, where does he get the inspiration for so many great songs?
Doug's website. Order from CD Baby. Released Nov, 2002.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Silver Meteor… (Hollow Body)

I think that Doug Kwartler is on a roll here. The tapestry of the Americana landscape that he started to weave in Halfway House is expanded in this, his second solo outing. This New Yorker reminds me of John Mellencamp in his country moments, a bit of early Dylan, (lyrically, not vocally!), and, when his subject matter is the road and movement, as in the Mex-flavoured title track, it's an emotional combination of Simon & Garfunkel's “America” and Matt Minglewood's “Swing Low Sweet Cadillac”. You can't judge a book by its cover, and you can't judge an artist by the age evidenced by his/her photograph. Kwartler's depth of perception and knack for getting ‘inside' the mundane and the everyday amazes me in one who looks so young. That capacity usually only arrives after kicking one's ass around the block several times. He has been compared to Ryan Adams, and on the bonus live track, “Mars”, I can see the correlation, but, I think his observations run a mite deeper than Adams' do. Who says you can't find good Americana in the megapolitan sprawl of urban America? It's not a state of geography so much as a state of mind.

Doug's site. Order from CD Baby. Reviewed by Don Grant.

all sides… (Hollow Body)

There has to be more than a little bit of Rear Admiral David Farragut in Doug Kwartler. After two well-received earlier recordings, assembling the third can present a bit of a stumbling block that a lot of artists stub their creative toes upon. Well, none of that for Kwartler : what does he do? he takes the bull by the horns and releases a double disc set. Not recommended for the faint of heart. The first CD, titled Just About to Die , resonates with echoes of Dixieland, folk, mountain bluegrass, (“Just Walk Away” features some great fiddle sawin'), and some whimsical moments, as in “Closest New York Friend”. As in his previous work, Kwartler handles the lion's share of the instrumentation, with some assistance from a few judiciously chosen sidemen. Aficionados of Kwartler's more aggressive persona will find their fix on Strong , the second disc, with its anthemed title track being a personal favourite. There's definitely more roll herein, but the same intelligence and detail that has always marked Kwartler's songwriting is evident in abundance. There's not a superfluous song to be found. Way to go Doug, “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”.

Doug's site. Order from CD Baby. Reviewed by Don Grant.

Changing Horses
... (ATO)
Growing up outside Dallas in the 1980s and ‘90s, country music on the FM band was unavoidable for soon-to-be pop rocker Ben Kweller. Classify Changing Horses as a case of subliminal seduction fulfilled on which Kweller swaps his trademark sound for steel guitar and rhinestones creating an album aligned more with the cosmic country leanings of Gram Parsons than mainstream Nashville. Most importantly, the changed soundscape does nothing to detract from Kweller's ability to craft catchy songs.
Ben's site. Buy from amazon Released Feb. '09, reviewed by Dan Ferguson.


Home | News | Radio | New Reviews | Review Archives | Links | Best of FTB | About FTB