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Downtown, Saturday... (Undertow)
Nadine is a threesome from St. Louis, MO, the same neck of the woods from which Uncle Tupelo emerged.  Although they have a sonis style that is probably closer to Wilco or Son Volt. Their first self-released album was quite popular in Europe and with good reason...'cause they're a talented band.  Lead vocalist Adam Reichmann cites Neil Young as a major influence, and comparisons to his vocal style are obvious, (hold the whine).  Their lyrics are insightful and literate while their sound goes from dense and atmospheric to simple and acoustic.  They rock out a little, but mostly it's mid-tempo roots-rock  with  the tiniest bit o' twang.
Best tracks:  Closer, Out On A Limb, Shelter, Twilight, So That I Don't Miss You, Ready To Go.  The band's site,, has RA & MP3 samples, lyrics and tour info.  The CD is on Glitterhouse in Europe. Order from Amazon. Released Aug. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Been Here Done This... (self-released)
Despite the band's neat name, the music on this CD has very little to do with Nashville. Devoid of all of the "accepted" country touches, this music sounds like more of an early '80s power pop sort of thing than anything the Nashville country scene would turn out. Think more like a rustic Dwight Twilley or maybe Marshall Crenshaw with more of a roots focus, even a Greg Kihn-type thing  with less speed and more swagger and you've got what this group is shooting for. Plenty of melody, grinding guitars and excellent songs, but precious little of the pedal steel and country twang most people are checking out. Use this album to feed your power pop jones instead and don't be afraid to broaden your horizons and check it out. It really is quite good.
Band bio and ordering info. Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

Jimson Weed... (Nettwerk America)

This remarkable band from Winnipeg, Canada, features music written and performed by Keri McTighe and Shelley Marshall as part of the core of the band Nathan. The plains of Winnipeg get cold in winter, encouraging lots of ‘round the hearth picking and writing and playing with friends, all of which has given us Nathan. I came at this CD completely cold and I didn't find a bad song on it. Plucky banjo, lovely harmonies, smart songwriting and surprising melodic twists kept my interest throughout. In addition to Mctighe and Marshall, the CD features Devin Latimer, bass, Daniel Roy, percussion and Burke Carroll, pedal steel and dobro. Hail Canada!

Nathan's homepage. Order from amazon. Released Sept. '04, reviewed by Kay Clements.

Welcome to Utopia... (Western Famine)
Quick, someone check the water over in Canada. Must be something in it for all of that country's roots bands to come up with so many strong songs. First Blue Rodeo, and now a ton of them, including National Dust, all sounding as if they studied melody with the Beatles and lyrical storytelling with Dylan. This CD kicks off with the blistering "Tragedy Ann" and never stops kicking my butt with their incisive, catchy, ragged and rollicking roots rock. Various guests help the core band with pedal steel, B-3 and background vocals but this great sophomore release is all about the fine work of National Dust. Note to future roots rock wannabes: check out the Great White North - it's in the water!
Order the CD from amazon.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

The Last Hurrah...(Freedom)
Beaver is a young Austin-based singer-songwriter with a gruff voice and an imaginative way with words.  He claims that he wrote many of these songs after attending Townes Van Zandt's funeral in early '97.  Musically, the CD is pretty rough and tumble with a sound that sometimes reminds me of the Faces, (remember them).  His voice is very
Best songs: Company of Kings, Too Much Moonlight, Forget Thinking, Things Get Shaky 'Round Midnight, All Over. Check out Freedom Record's web site. Released Oct. '98, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Little Brother... (Louisiana Red Hot)
Beaver is pictured on the CD cover staring at the camera as if daring you to see beyond his uncanny resemblance to the Doonsbury comic character Zonker. Musically, he's one of the few Texas singer-songwriters not obviously influenced by Jerry Jeff Walker, Joe Ely or Robert Earl Keen. I wish his great confessional songs had a little more "twang" and a little less "modern rock" elements to them. I loved his first CD but this one doesn't grab me the same way. 
Release date: Oct. '00. Order from Miles of Music  Beaver's website.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Wasted... (Tone Tide)

Lukas Nelson is thinking big. Big songs, big arrangements, big emotions. He sings, writes, and plays guitar with drive and passion, leading his band The Promise of the Real through an epic that incorporates classic country, southern rock, jam band explorations and stoner extravaganzas. It's a real American stew, anchored with a voice that is inescapably, perhaps eerily, similar that of his famous father, icon Wille Nelson. The force and thoughtfulness of the songwriting says that the younger Mr. Nelson isn't taking any shortcuts to make his mark. Peel away the rock trimmings to see solid song craft that leans heavily on the classic American forms that made the family name. From "Frame of Mind":

Take me off the mantle, babe
Put me in a frame of mind
I don't need nobody,
I just need a place I can spend my time
I have all I want
And I give all I can
A drink and a smile
And the ghost of a man
Take me off the mantle, babe
Put me in a frame of mind

While Nelson sometimes overshoots his mark, "Wasted" is a surprising and rewarding listen from a very young man who embodies well Gram Parson's notion of a Cosmic American music, grounded in country but reaching for the stars. He's only going to get better.
Promise of the Real website. Order from Amazon. Released April, '12. Reviewed by Brad Price 

Danial Lanois' production sound is so distinctive, it can even make Willie Nelson sound different, well sorta different. Willie is still Willie, especially when he's doing some of his old songs. The difference between this Lanois production and Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball is in the song choices. There is some nice latin/samba stylings here that work nice. Most of the CD is nice, especially with Ms. Harris singing harmony on almost every song. I'm just not sure if the whole package really works. My first reaction is Willie probably won't gain many new fans and he may alienate some of his old ones.
Order from Amazon. Released Sept. '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

You Don't Know Me:The Songs of Cindy Walker… (Lost Highway)

Willie seems to put out a new CD every few months and I'm afraid that it dilutes his talent. Thankfully, due to the recent death of the songwriter Cindy Walker, this CD has been getting more attention than the usual Willie release. This is the best thing he's done in years. His seventy-year-old pipes have never sounded better and it's refreshing that there's not a hint of his trademark gut-string guitar or Mickey Raphael's harp. The whole album sounds lively and uplifting, whether doing swing classics or lush ballads. Producer Fred Foster brought some of Nashville's finest session musicians like Bob Wills veteran Johnny Gimble and Buddy Emmons and Charlie McCoy and they nail every song. Walker wrote great, simple country songs that either tell a story and have a catchy melody. She wrote many songs for Wills' movies back in the 40's and she wrote hit songs for Ray Charles and Roy Orbison. This could've been a double album and I wouldn't complain. Skip the other stuff Willie and get to work on volume two! Order from amazon. Released March, '06. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Neon Cactus... (Birdman/Orchard)
Neon Cactus come from Pennsylvania and feature the strong and deep vocals of Ms. Robin McNett. The album starts off reasonably enough with upbeat tunes, tasty playing and good production.  I'm starting to remember how much I love Emmylou Harris' first three albums.  That's a good musical reference to have but the original is still much better then...  Somewhere along the way the album loses some of it's uniqueness and you realize this isn't much different then a hundred other country bands in a hundred other cities.  I tried lending it to my resident "New Country" music fan and she liked it even less them me. Nothing horrible here, just not very exciting.  Pull out Emmylou's Elite Hotel instead.
Neon Cactus site. Released June, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Cheating At Solitaire...(Time Bomb)
Ness is the leader of Social Distortion, a punk band that has always had roots respectability, much like X or  Morphine.  On his first solo outing he embraces a much more twangy sound while not letting go of his rock edge.  For the most part it works.  He's a gifted songwriter with a very raspy yet compassionate voice.  He slips in a few well known cover songs to pay homage to people like Dylan, Cash and Hank Sr.  A highlight is the pedal steel work of Chris Lawrence from Cisco's band.  Fans of the Waco's or maybe Dave Alvin should check this out.  Just be forewarned, this not soft Folk music,  it's Folk music that really rocks and should be played with the volume cranked up accordingly.  Here's hoping this CD opens up the minds of a few punk fans  to not be afraid of the word Country.
Best tracks: The Devil In Miss Jones, Don't Think Twice, Rest Of Our Lives, Cheating At Solitaire, Ballad Of A Lonely Man, I'm In Love With My Car, Long Black Veil, Send Her Back. There is a, which has tour info and a MP3 downloadable song, and the label Time Bomb, has a site. Released April '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Heathens Like Me... (self released)
The New Heathens are a NYC based roots rock band making a splash on the east coast Americana scene, and they're one to watch. The first thing you notice is the first rate vocals from front man and main songwriter Nate Schweber. He's has a classic rootsy swagger, not unlike Graham Parker or Steve Marriott, but tastefully under plays his vocal gifts (as opposed to say the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson.) Many young bands have a few good songs to frontload on their debut, but the Heathens have more than that to offer and this disc unfolds nicely. Armed with a straight ahead rock attack (similar to Eric Ambel, whose studio the band recorded in) they also have songs with a classic country rock feel. “Doomed Generation”, inspired of course, by the late Hunter S. Thompson, has a nice psychedelic groove on. So seek this one out for simple rocking pleasure and you'll come back to it for the well written tunes.
The band's website, and My Space page has songs. Order from CD Baby. Released May, '06, reviewed by Michael Meehan.

Up Popped Pancho... (So Fish)
While I wasn't able to learn much about the New Matics other than what is listed on their CD booklet, I have come to several conclusions about their music. One: I am impressed by it. Despite their cobbling together this album from a batch of original songs spanning over two decades the songs all sound fresh and the CD holds up as a cohesive work. Nothing sounds out of place here or dated song or sound-wise. Two: While each member of this four-piece band contributes at least a song or two to the CD (save the drummer, who just drums his ass off) the obvious standout and leader is Patterson Barrett who contributes five songs, sings, plays just about every instrument known to man on the CD and produced it as well. Three: Barrett's production is stellar. Not only sounding extremely radio-ready, the squeaky-clean sound gives the music an unadorned, un-messed with honesty I've always felt made country music sound best. Overall, this is a very good CD that fans of pure country music will find appealing.
Their  website. Order the CD for CD BabyReviewed by Scott Homewood

Texas Songbook ... (Bismeaux)
Being Texan can mean being unabashedly chauvinistic, and if any Texan simply must heap it deeper and deeper, let it be an ace Texas songwriter like Gary Nicholson. This charming thematic release boasts a lot of Harlan Howard level cleverness—the good kind—and a couple of stunning songs. The Texas attitude prevails throughout, and the classic Texas musical styles—honky-tonk, Western swing, and norteño—are executed in fine style by a who’s who of Austin’s finest, with such as Marcia Ball on piano, Ray Benson and his Wheel compadres twin-fiddlin’ away, Joel Guzman driving the proceedings on accordion, and backup vocalists and co-writers like Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Kevin Welch, the late Stephen Bruton, Jon Randall Stewart…the list goes on…Delbert McClinton AND Mickey Raphael on harmonica, and there’s folks I’ve missed. Even the couple of throwaway songs have something that will make you grin. The stunners are “Fallin’ & Flyin’”, a musically more satisfying version than Jeff Bridges’ iconic performance in Crazy Heart and a shoe-in for the honky-tonk canon, and “Somedays You Write the Song,” the Guy Clark and Jon Randall Stewart haunting co-write on the creative process. Notable cuts include “Lone Star Blues,” a funky tune with a wry gag every line that’s been covered by George Strait and Delbert, and “Messin’ with My Woman,” an instant classic in jump blues style that the Asleeep at the Wheel personnel just tear up. Songs, musicianship, and production…plenty to like here.
Gary's website. Order from amazon. Released June '11, reviewed by Jeep Rosenberg.

Nickel Creek... (Sugar Hill)
Nickel Creek's debut CD will satisfy fans of both "hot pickin" and tasteful progressive bluegrass.  On the strength of this first release they emerge as leading edge purveyors of the newgrass terrain established in recent years by artists like the Cox Family, Tim O'Brien, and Alison Krause. Indeed, Alison Krause serves as producer and musical mentor of sorts to this band comprised of mostly young musicians.  Krauses' impact is felt in the clean crisp production, the material selection, even the breathy vocal stylings of the two primary vocalists, Chris Thile and Sara Watkins.  Chris Thile, with two previous solo CD's to his credit and who is easily one of the most talented and graceful mandolin players to come along in a long time, also emerges here as an impressive singer who conveys a maturity that belies his mere nineteen years.  Sara Watkins, also nineteen, is already a powerful and affecting singer who also coaxes the sweetest tone out of a fiddle that you are ever likely to hear.  This CD has it all: gorgeous instrumentals, beautiful and expressive vocals, sweet harmonies, mostly original material with a few cover tunes, folk and pop music given a newgrass/bluegrass treatment. Check this one out. It's a definite "YES".
Sugar Hill has a nice website...  Released March, 2000, reviewed by Kevin Russell

Why Should the Fire Die?... (Sugar Hill)
This is a pristine sounding, dynamic offering from these young titans of acoustic music. No more than an echo of bluegrass remains and what is in place is a contemporary, at times angst filled, indie- rock style of songwriting played out on acoustic instruments. My favorite songs convey a sense of maturity and craft ("Doubting Thomas") and at least two slices of glorious, radio friendly pop (the title track and the Gary Louris co- write "Jealous of the Moon") Add to that three fetching instrumentals, one well treated Dylan cover and a few shoe gazing relationship songs that folks in their twenties will appreciate and you have a strong statement from musicians who are forging their own path.  So pick this one up and add a star of you're under thirty

Sugar Hill Records Order from amazon. Released Aug. '05, reviewed by Michael Meehan.

Welcome To Woody Creek... (Dualtone)
Although once seen as outsiders and interlopers to the Nashville country music scene, the Dirt Band is actually more comfortable in the middle of the road. With positive message songs such as "It's Morning"," It's a New Day" and "Walking in Sunshine" this is a recording for polite company and friendly country radio programmers. The instrumental prowess shown on the "Circle" series is present on this warm sounding recording produced in the Colorado Rockies. Highlights include a soulful cover of Gram Parson's "She" and a rollicking bluegrass take on the Beatles "Get Back' Fans of the band's softer take on country rock may find much to like here. But while the influence of the first Will The Circle Be Unbroken sessions (1971) can't be overstated, I've always found this band on their own less appealing. I highly recommend Will the Circle Be Unbroken Volume III released last year which contains several very fine Dirt band originals as well as a strong showing of traditional and contemporary roots artists., Dualtone's site. Order from amazon. Released Sept. '04, reviewed by Michael Meehan.

Keys to the Kingdom... (Songs of the South)

NMA’s title speaks to mortality, and this project commemorates the 2009 loss of Luther and Cody Dickenson’s father Jim, the great producer and savant of Southern music. But theirs, too, are the keys to a world of roots sounds and an extended family of old friends that show up to enrich the effort: Ry Cooder, freshly Grammy-ed Mavis Staples, the incomparable Spooner Oldham, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Gordie Johnson, Jack Ashford, and Jim Spake. The immensely appealing result is a soulful, exhilarating tour of blues/rock with lots of church, front porch boogie, second-line,, no little fuzz, a taste of hill country string band, and even punk-with-grits. Standout cuts abound, including “This A’Way,” “The Meeting,” “Ain’t No Grave,” and “Hear The Hills,” but you won’t be fast-forwarding past anything on this CD. Take it on a road trip: you’ll be rocking behind the wheel while it touches your heart.

Allstars site. Order from Amazon. Released Feb. '11, reviewed by Jeep Rosenberg.

Ten Valley... (Wander)

Another product of the Pacific Northwest, Matt Novak is a singer/songwriter who is worthy of your attention. He's also a member of Quickdraw String Band, an acoustic outfit, and Ten Valley marks his solo debut. Three years in the making, it's an album of nine Novak originals, and “Hobo”, the words of Robert Service put to Novak's tune. It's a testament to his songwriting skills that the lines of Service, no slouch of a poet, do not stand out in contrast with the rest of the CD. The attention to artistic detail shows throughout this sparsely produced little solitaire, (no wonder it took a year to record), and the effort pays off in spades. There's just the right amount of stringed instruments to embellish, without overpowering, Novak's delivery, and there's some nice pairing with the vocals of Kati Claborn. This one sort of snuck up on me, and it was a very good snuck.

Check out Matt's site.Order from amazon Released November, 2004, reviewed by Don Grant.

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