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Do You Think About Me?
These guys from Chicago have perfected their "Cash meets Clash" sound so well that I hardly notice how unique this band really is. The songs are solid and catchy with a good combination of the serious and the sarcastic. The fun cover uses the term "Militant Honky Tonk", which isn't a bad way to define the Waco's. Whatever they do, they do it well. The cover also says, "end of Phase One". We'll have to see what that means, and where they're headed next.
Buy from amazon Released Sept. '97. Reviewed by Bill Frater. Best Tracks: Do You Think About Me?, Arizona Rose, You Know Who, Hard Times.

Waco World...(Bloodshot)
This is the fourth release for the Waco's and I think it's their best yet.  This band is so powerful live,  but their studio albums don't always hold up to repeated listenings. This time they got it right, both in the heavy subject matters, (death, god, politics) and in the well thought-out melodies and arrangements.  I also think that ex-Mekon Jonboy Langford is finally fully committed to this band as opposed to his various other musical projects.  Great stuff from the only Alt.Country band that matters.
Buy from amazon Best tunes: Pigsville, Hello To Everybody, Fire Down Below, Red Brick  Wall, Train back In Time, Good For Me. Check out Bloodshot's site, with ordering and tour info.  Released Feb. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

New Deal... (Bloodshot)
Rarely does an album come along that's this much fun. Whatever New Deal the Waco's have signed, it has definitely been worth it. While this CD offers much of the same Waco's charm and rollicking country sound, this album is just so THERE that I haven't been able to stop listening to it since I first put it in the player. If you like rollicking, rocking, swaggering, staggering country music that makes so-called rowdy country stars like Hank Jr. sound like big pussies, this is your CD. It's definitely their best yet and one of the best uptempo country CDs I've heard in a long while.
Buy from amazon   Bloodshot's site. Released Oct. 2002. Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

Freedom And Weep... (Bloodshot)

These guys would be pretty good, if they could just shake off their tendency to wander back into Sandanista territory. They can steamroll along with the best alt bands out there, and then, for some perverse reason, they will jar the listener back to a Seventies Clash atmosphere, as in “Chosen One” or “How Fast the Time”. It's incongruous and disconcerting. Perhaps you can take the boys out of London, but taking London out the boys is a different matter. And yet, they can still come up with bona-fide country songs such as “Lincoln Town Car” and “On the Sly”? Come on guys, make up your minds; the uncertainty is killing us.

Buy from amazon. Released August 16, 2005, reviewed by Don Grant.

Goodnight Charlotte... (self released)
The cello entered popular music with the Beatles, and took up permanent residence in roots music within Lyle Lovett’s Large Band. A powerful and persuasive voice, it stirs up a strong and melancholy pang in the breast. Classically trained folk singer-songwriter Cara Jean Wahlers found a brilliant cello co-conspirator in Grover Parido. His lines weave through her personal, almost confessional songs, through the throb and pluck of her acoustic guitar, in clear, persistent arrangements. Her voice, pitch-perfect, may remind some of Judy Collins, and Parido has an impressive ability to echo her timbre in spots. Look, this is beautiful music, and for some that may be the issue. Like an orchid show, it’s one lovely bloom after another. In a summer hammock, or by the winter fire, with the headphones on, it may be just right—ambient music with flashes of Ms. Wahlers’ verbal imagery and grown-up comments. Others may find it overly consonant, and long for some twang, a blue note, a surprising harmony, the blip-bop of timbales. Your pick.
Cara Jean's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Nov. '10, reviewed by Jeep Rosenberg.

A Brief History... (Jarrah/Compass)
This is a live double-CD with a generous 140 minutes of music, and I'm guessing a good portion of the songs they know. And live is where the Waifs really shine; of course it's never quite as good as being there especially when the band's as interactive and energetic as these guys. Most of their folk-pop songs feature the 2 talented sisters, Vikki and Donna Simpson and the fine guitar work of Josh Cunningham. The Waifs tour a lot, hitting festivals all over the world, but these live shows are all from their native Australia.  All of the material in original except for a Dylan tune and a great rendition of the Patsy Cline classic, "Crazy".  This is a must for fans of the Waifs and a great introduction to their sound if you don't have one of their 4 earlier releases.

The Waif's official website. Buy from amazon. Released Jan. '05, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Firecracker… (Red House)

It seems like everywhere you turn there's another talented young folk-pop group from Canada featuring 2 or 3 ladies, and they're all quite good too: the Be Good Tanyas, the Duhks, and now the Wailin' Jenny's from Winnipeg. The Jennys are Annabelle Chvostek, Nicky Mehra and Ruth Moody. They all write their own songs; four by each member are included on this album (very democratic). Every song feature their rich harmonies, which are their strongest assets, and sure to give you goosebumps. Perhaps a few of the songs are not up to the level of the others but with time they'll get better; I'd even propose they collaborate on some songs on future albums. This is only their second release and if they stay together, (and they gotta with such a cool name), they'll only get better.

The Jenny's site. Order from amazon. Released June, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Little Ship...(Virgin)
Well, after some 15 albums in over 25 years, Loudon is still at it. The confessional songs delivered with that sardonic voice, and that way of making you laugh and cry during the course of a dozen different delightful melodies.This time he has the help of just-Grammy-ed producer John Leventhal who doesn't mess with Loudon too much, no one could really mess up Loudon anyway. The funny and honest themes run from sex to ambivalence, to answering machines, to fatherhood. There are very few guys like this left, and God bless him for keeping at it, and not losing that sick sense of humor. This is one of his better recent releases.
Virgin Records site If you like...Steve Goodman, John Prine, Loudon Wainwright III.  Best songs: Breakfast In Bed, Mr. Ambivalent, OGM, So Damn Happy, The World. Released Feb. '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Here Come The Choppers... (Sovereign Artists)
The first thing that strikes me about the latest offering from this veteran songwriter is the production (by Lee Townsend) Shimmering, beautiful guitar tones are everywhere, courtesy of Bill Frisell (who seems to be everywhere these days) and Greg Leisz (on lap steel, as well as other instruments). Add in Jim Keltner's drumming and David Piltch on bass and III (as he calls himself) dispatches his idiosyncratic songs with the benefit of a dream team band. It reminds me of John Hiatt's breakthrough recording "Bring the Family" when that veteran songwriter was put in a room with Keltner, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe and just let it rip. And "The Family" would be a suitable title for Wainwright's collection of songs, including tunes about his ex- wife, kids (who are well known musicians themselves), grandmother, grandfather, etc. As usual, III brings pathos and humor to his tunes, never more so than in the opener "My Biggest Fan", a classic addition to his canon with keen observation, great lyrics and hysterical humanity. The label's Loudon page. Buy from amazon. Released May, '05, reviewed by Michael Meehan.

Ironwood... (self-released)
This CD constitutes Wakefield’s fourth release in eleven years, so one couldn’t describe her output as being prolific. What one can say with confidence is that she obviously prefers quality to quantity. Her style encompasses many aspects, from the contemporary honk of the rollicking “Enough Bad Love” featuring Dave Isaac’s guitar lines to the smoky blues feel of “Together Alone”. Since teaming up with Nomad Ovunc, producer, engineer, guitarist, etc. etc., (oh yeah: he’s also her husband), Wakefield’s music has taken a bit of an introspective and pensive turn, which shouldn’t be mistaken for morosity, rather, call it maturity, the ability to observe and describe life without any angst-driven self-absorption.
Mare's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Nov. '08, reviewed by Don Grant.

Hillbilly Heights.... Texas Round-Up Records
Roger Wallace... it's true his voice brings to mind Dale Watson but I find the soulful texture of Wallace's voice to be more appealing. More spare, easygoing arrangements allowing his relaxed delivery of some good, well-written classic country tunes to be right up front.  I feel like it's just me and Roger hanging out with the music, so effortless is his delivery... effortless yet with conviction which is really what anchors a country tune. If you don't believe it, it's just Nashville trash and while there's plenty of that around, you won't find it on this album.  Back-up is provided by an assortment of respected Austin musicians who seem only to happy to give Wallace the spotlight.  Sounds like the real thing to me.
Best tracks: Wishful Drinking, Nobody Loving Me, Don't Nobody Love Me (Like My Baby), Crazy Love. Texas Music Round-Up Records site. Released Sept. '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).

The Lowdown... (Texas Music Group)
It seems that every so often there is a changing of the country music guard. A time when older hitmakers fade into the background and become relative obscurities or become legends (with their works much loved but seldom bought) while younger stars take over the charts and the public's attention. For example, it happened in the ‘80's when young traditional-country-steeped turks like Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakam and George Strait took over from Johnny Cash, Bobby Bare, Johnny Paycheck, and Willie Nelson and knocked them off the charts for good. It happened again in the ‘90's when frustrated popsters Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and the rest of the hat acts and female mannequins knocked Crowell and his contemporaries off of the charts, never to return (except for Strait, who has lived up to his name and chugged straight ahead, carving out a low-key, hit-making money-earning career for himself). Judging by the rate of attrition, it seems to be the time for another changing of the guard (towards traditional country music) to take place. While most of us have our own list of acts we would love to see played on the radio and making large amounts of cash, I nominate Roger Wallace as one of the next bunch of new stars that are ready to assert themselves upon the marketplace. I say this because his new CD, The Lowdown, is definitely a killer album, one that deserves a ton of notice and a few million in sales, thank you very much. Like Strait, Wallace is a traditionalist whose original songs sound both old and new at the same time. Old, because they don't stray too far from traditional Bakersfield/Texas country music lines and the arrangements fall squarely into the ‘50's and ‘60's style of country. Not to mention Wallace's classic-country voice. New, because the songs themselves are lyrically universal and because stark honesty and passion is impossible to date and never becomes passé. His well-chosen covers of songs from classic songwriters like Harlan Howard are also exquisitely done. If you are interested in a great country album that blends the best of the past with the best of what's good about today's scene, this is the album for you. And quite possibly that album that brings Wallace the attention his rich voice and well-written songs deserve.
Buy from amazon   Released June, 2002. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.  

That Kind Of Lonely... (Texas Round-Up)
And lonely has never sounded so good, believe me. This second offering from this Texas hillbilly honky tonker extraordinaire is one of those you just want too keep playing...and I have. From the toe-tappin' "Ain't' Gonna Waste My Time" to the "stop it you're killin' me" strains of  "The Last Word in Lonesome is Me", Wallace has a complete lock on this sound. I thought his first album was stellar (it was) but with That Kind of Lonely, he's dropped right into guts of it and given us the kind of country that makes me want to rat my hair. 
Order from Texas Music Round-Up.   Released March, '01, reviewed by Kay Clements.

It's About Time... (Natchez Street)
What with it five years since his last longplayer, the title of under-the-radar honky tonker Roger Wallace's new album is quite appropriate. Listening to the crafty songs comprising this latest, his fourth overall, it appears to have been time well spent. Wallace traverses familiar thematic territory on It's About Time working his bourbon smooth baritone to perfection. It's all complimented by some of Austin's finest from the C&W side of the tracks who provide stellar accompaniment. Looking for a solid, straightahead country record? Search no further than It's About Time.

Roger's site. Buy from Texas Music Round-up Released Oct. '07. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

Forbidden Road... (Appaloosa Records)

This debut by Peter Walsh is one of those true solo efforts in its entirety. He wrote all of the songs, does all of the vocals and instrumentation, production and engineering. He even sent the CD out here himself. Geographically speaking, Cardiff, Wales is a long way from the American heartland, but good music acknowledges no time or space constraints. Musically speaking, in this instance, it's right next door. Physically resembling a young Tony Joe White, Walsh writes and sounds similar to an earlier John Prine or, say, Jimmy Buffett, in a country folk fashion. His songs are at times wistful, at times introspective, but they all have in common a quiet confidence that leaves the listener in a state of serenity. Walsh hasn't set out to save the world here, but to accept and celebrate those oases of sanity left therein, even in the dark “The Storm May Cover Me”, with its Steve Earle influenced mandolin.

Peter Walsh Music. Buy from CD Baby. Released 2007, reviewed by Don Grant.

A Stranger To Me Now...(Asylum)
Monte Warden has paid his dues since he was a teenager in Austin and through some promising albums  with The Wagoneers. Unfortunately, Nashville over-production  has filled this CD with too many sappy ballads for me to appreciate the few nice tunes. Like Roy Orbison, Chris Issak and Raul Malo from The Mavericks, Warden has a smooth-yet-strong voice that works well with the slow songs. There is some of the old rockabilly spirit here and there, but it's pretty watered down. Song subjects are mostly of the broken heart variety, understandable since his marriage broke up recently. This is Warden's first major label shot, and maybe he'll break through to the Country radio crowd, they could do a lot worse, but he could do better.
Best songs: Your Heart Will Come Around, It's Only Love, I Take Your Love, Someday, Another Try. Asylum has a page on Warden. Released March, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Don't Take It Easy... (Natural Disaster)
While the accompanying bio touts this as sounding like Tom Petty (and it does, actually. The first three Petty albums, though, when the band was tougher and a tad more punk, before Jeff Lynne ruined 'em.) I also find a big Kevin Salem influence, the man behind the band Dumptruck and producer of many cool roots rock albums. But what impresses me the most about this album is the songwriting. Like Petty and Salem, main songwriter and lead singer Matt Hebert manages to burst on the scene and conquer the formidable task of conveying a lot while saying a little. He has seemingly mastered the art of the nuance like only the best songwriters have. While his voice does have the Petty, Dylan, Salem twang, his rootsy songs and grinding guitar riffs are completely his own and fans of Petty and Jason and the Scorchers will no doubt love the hell out of this CD. Keep an eye on this guy and join the Ware River Club! You'll thank me when you do.
The band has their own web site,, where they have audio AND video streaming.  Order the CD from Miles Of MusicRelease date: July, '01. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Floating Shift… (Heise Hill)
Andrew Walker comes from Toronto and spent many years playing in rock bands before Floating Shift, his first solo endeavor. There’s a humble maturity that seems to pervade his songs. The sound alternates between tender folk songs and some jangly power pop gems. Tim Drummond (Neil Young) and Kim Deschamps (Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies) are the only familiar name on the credits, but god player and arrangements throughout. He’s got all the stuff, just no one’s heard of him in the states. Of course, Fred Eaglesmith started out that way too. Worth looking for!
Andrew's site. CD ordering from Maple Music (Canadian) Reviewed by Bill Frater

City of Refuge... (Rounder)
When I first heard this album, I was frankly stunned. Old time country and folk were colliding with some very modern songwriting and production for a result that is both arresting and earthily familiar, just as it is a bit uneven. City of Refuge is Abigail Washburn's third album, and while she has ample Nashville pedigree (she is married to Bela Fleck) this world-weary project of songs about leaving home and finding places to be bears the strong stamp of Portland producer/wunderkind Tucker Martine, whose work with the Decemberists and Laura Viers is echoed here. Washburn brings her frailing and clawhammer banjo to nearly every song, most of which she co-wrote with musical partner Kai Welch. While this imparts an echo of Appalachia, that echo is soon dominated by Martine's thoughtful and organic production, building a thoroughly imagined landscape into each track. The title song kicks things off in high gear and is followed by the outstanding ballad of the album, the haunting "Bring Me My Queen." "Chains" makes an abrupt but stirring shift into a modern pop universe, recalling k.d. lang's Ingenue album. From this point forward the album becomes less focused but still delivers the goods. "Burn Thru" could be a great tune for Bruce and the E-Street band - really! The collection gets a little lost in the weeds on slower songs like "Ballad of Treason" and "Corner Girl", both which lack strong choruses and bring to mind the meandering songs of Joanna Newsom. The album closes with 2 strikingly traditional numbers, "Divine Bell" and "Bright Morning Stars", bringing the listener suddenly back to earth. Overall a very strong collection that is sure to make many "best" lists in 2011.
Abigail's website. Buy from Amazon. Released Jan. '11, reviewed by Brad Price.

Dial ‘W' For Watkins … (Bluefive/Yep Roc)

I assume that Geraint Watkins is English because I've noticed his name on Nick Lowe's CD's in the last 10 years or so, and also because Americans don't give kids names like “Geraint”. It turns out he's Welsh, which is fine and dandy too. But the point is, this is really incredible stuff! It's not exactly roots music, although he seems to favor upbeat shuffle beats, it ain't very twangy either. I hear vague bits of Ray Charles, J.J. Cale, Howlin' Wolf, Donny Hathaway on this album. Confused? Good. While his music is hard to describe, it always ends up back in my CD player despite the dozens of other new releases that I should be listening to. His principle axe is the Hammond B-3, and there's plenty of that here, but he's one of those guys who plays everything and does multi-track vocal harmonies. He writes all his own songs, lots of simple little odes to being in love. Oh yeah, there is one cover tune, Brian Wilson's “Heroes and Villains”, only it's done as if Louis Prima wrote it! Trust me on this one… if it sounds like something you'd be willing to take a chance on, then do it. You won't be disappointed or bored.

Yep Roc's Geraint page. Buy from amazon. Released Aug. '04, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Sara Watkins... (Nonesuch)
As the fiddler in Nickel Creek, a very popular acoustic trio that has been on an extended hiatus, it seems that Sarah was frequently overshadowed by the (admittedly enormously talented) other two members of the band. With this, she is the last to put out a solo release, and it is a confident and subtle masterpiece. From her plaintive opening ballad, "All This Time," through to "Where Will You Be," this just may be my favorite album of the year, and it's only April!  Her original songs, including a couple of fiddle tunes, are superior, her choice of songs and artists to cover, from John Hartford to Tom Waits to Jimmie Rodgers, couldn't be better, and an all-star collection of players helps to pull it all together. I don't know how much or this was Sara's vision and how much was producer John Paul Jones's, but I lean towards the former (just what is the deal with Led Zep members and female American fiddlers anyway? The combination just seems to work! Perhaps Jimmy Page should seek out Carrie Rodriguez for a collaboration).  Nevertheless, this is an excellent album that keeps getting better with each listen.
Sara's site. Buy from amazon. Released Apr. '09, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Every Song I Write Is For You... (Audium)
How does one critique an album full of songs written about the heartbreak one feels when a fiancée is killed in a car accident? Watson wrote the tortured love songs on this record after that horrible fate befell the woman he was soon to marry. This album is a testament of his love for her, and contains the most personal pouring of his heart that Watson has ever shown in his work, and that is saying something. Always a great songwriter, Watson and his deep baritone voice ably distills the poignancy of loving and losing that same love with a starkness, depth  and tenderness that, sadly, only comes from being on a first name basis with pain. I can't critique this fairly, but I will tell you it's well worth buying and definitely the best album Watson has ever done.
Check Dale's site, it's pretty cool.  Released July, '01.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Devolver... (Fiddling Cricket)
They call their music "Acoustic Mayhem" and that's one way to put it.  The Waybacks play hot acoustic music, Bluegrass mostly mixed with some swing, an Irish tune and an odd electric take on the traditional Cluck Old Hen.  The band is from San Francisco and while they sing well, the CD leans hard on instrumentals.  Fortunately, they are excellent players with special nods to the fiddle player and lead guitarist.  They cover everyone from John Fahey to Charlie Parker to Kenny Baker. Any music fans (like myself) who miss the earlier versions of the David Grisman Quartet would probably enjoy The Waybacks. 
The band's website... has press, tour and bio info as well as CD ordering.  Released early 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Burger After Church... (Fiddling Cricket Music)
With this, their sophomore effort, the Waybacks confirm that they are one of the most exciting, inventive and fun acoustic bands on the planet!  Mixing interesting instrumentals, played with taste and hot licks, and effective folky vocals, these guys are a bit like what would happen if New Grass Revival played Chinese fire drill with the Austin Lounge Lizards. It's no wonder that these bay area favorites are catching fire across the country: they are stellar instrumentalists adept in multiple musical genre's (folk, swing, bluegrass, Celtic) who have taken the acoustic string band to a whole new level. Much of the CD is original material, and the writing is consistently good, but even the covers are rendered in such a way so as to make them sound new. Throughout the entire CD I had the distinct impression these guys were having a ball in the studio. That kind of infectious fun is present on every cut. Acoustic mayhem rules! 
Check out their website,  for CD ordering info. Reviewed by Kevin Russell.

From The Pasture To The Future… (Compass)
The Waybacks have been around for 6 years now, mixing witty pop songs with jazzy acoustic instrumentals. They seem to tour extensively and have even been playing with Bob Wier (Wierbacks anyone?). This new one was produced by Lloyd Maines but there's not a hint of Texas here, it's all the band's California. It was recorded during a time when the band was between fiddlers so Gabe Witcher, Darol Anger and Evan Price fill in admirably. Austin's Warren Hood has since become their permanent fiddle player. James Nash leads the charge instrumentally with his swift and clean guitar and mando picking. Stevie Coyle sings some lead and provides the comic side, most likely choosing to cover the obscure Kinks song “Motorway”, a song about the joys of eating on the road. They also throw a curve with the traditional "The Blacksmith" which sounds like the English folk of the Pentangle, (does anyone else remember them?) Their humor is what makes 'em unique, and while I think they include one too many instrumentals, this CD is a nice ride.
Buy from amazon.Be sure to subscribe to the Waybacks' newsletter, it's truly hilarious! Released April, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Big Thinkin' ... (HighTone)
Dallas Wayne is a big guy with a very big voice as deep and country-sounding as say, Randy Travis. Hard Country is the operating adjective here, this ain't the CD you wanna play for friends who are squeamish about the word Country. Robbie Fulks co-produces, co-writes and sings harmonies and his subtle sarcasm keeps thing from sounding too "Strait". Backed by The Skeletons with the great Tom Brumley on steel. Although this is an impressive hard-core honky-tonk debut, there's something lacking in his songs or delivery that should improve on subsequent releases.
HighTone Records.  Release date: Sept. '00. Reviewed by Bill Frater

I'm Your Biggest Fan... (Koch) 
The Big Boy is back in town with a fun packed CD full of honky tonking that is long overdue. Relocated from Northern California to Austin,Texas, and recording for Koch Records, a label that loves and respects country music, Wayne hasn't lost any of his sense of humor. With twelve original songs and a cast of musicians who know what country music sounds like, Wayne and his deep, rich voice are like old friends you want to make sure you invite to your party. A good indication of the road traveled can be heard in song titles like "3:30 in the Afternoon", "Tell it to the Jukebox", "It's All Over, All Over Town" and "Tex-Tosterone", the signature great-goodtime tunes that Wayne is so good at delivering. I'm particularly fond of the title track, a somewhat sinister take on what happens when fans go bad called, "I'm Your Biggest Fan". The thing is, Wayne loves this music, you can hear it in his voice, he loves playing for you, he's good at it and that feeling is all over this CD.

Dallas's web site. Buy from amazon. Released Feb. '05, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).

Madeline... (HighTone)
Randy Weeks was the co-lead singer of an unsung L.A. "rock 'n' country" band called the Lonesome Strangers. This is his first solo effort and he takes his roots base and stretches it from the outskirts of Nashville to downtown Memphis. Not only Sun Records Memphis but also Stax/Volt Memphis. It makes for a fine Roots Rock album, whatever "roots music" means.  I suppose the first Stones album would be considered roots music if it came out today! L.A. utility guitarist Tony Gilkyson complements Weeks' guitar work, I believe they both share lead guitar roles. Randy has one of those unique, almost-whiney voices that takes getting used to if you haven't heard his earlier work. The songs are fine from start to finish: some blues, some pop, some swamp...well, I guess that's what Roots music is! Give the CD an extra spin if you're not sure if you like it at first... it'll grab ya.  
HighTone has a website...   Released March, 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Time (The Revelator)... (Acony)
This third outing by Welch and longtime musical cohort David Rawlings shows why she is perhaps one of the most daring and original songwriters on the scene today. And like all true originals she borrows from, then transcends, the various musical traditions she loves. Listen closely and you will hear a seamless melding of folk, blues, jazz, country, even rock n roll. At times dark or moody, each song is a finely hewn emotional landscape rendered in stark brilliance by the simplicity of two voices and two guitars. Many will miss the subtle genius of this record but if you liked the first two offerings by Welch and Rawlings you'll surely love this one too. This one is already on my top five list for 2001.
Her label's site, Acony Records, has tour info and some pictures. Released July, 2001.  Reviewed by Kevin Russell. 

Soul Journey… (Acony)
This is Ms. Welch’s fourth album, and they’ve (I automatically include partner David Rawlings when referring to Gillian because he’s so essential to the music) make an ambitious leap into the nearer present. For the first time they’ve included other instruments (fiddle, drums, Dobro, organ!) on many of the tracks. Don’t be alarmed they still have the same somber, loping style going on here. I think this is a wise move as they’d just about done everything they could within the constraints of the previous 2 acoustic guitar arrangements. There has always been the unspoken assumption the Gillian and David are more clever and hip then their ultra-retro arrangements and simple lyrics would lead you to believe. Like their last one, Time (The Revelator), a few of the songs sound like they’re a little short on inspiration. Still, that’s what’s great about these guys, you’re not sure if they’re trying to be cool and understated, or do they throw together these songs in 15 minutes, or are they just trying to write new Carter Family songs. They’re probably all true. has tour and CD ordering info or order from amazon. Released June, 2003. Reviewed by Bill Frater

The Harrow & The Harvest… (Acony)
Has it really been so long? The last official Gillian Welch album, Soul Journey, was released in 2003. She and her songs appeared sporadically in other projects while she grappled with a crippling writer's block, not sure if the muse that fueled her legendary songwriting status would visit again. This painful process gave birth to The Harrow and the Harvest, an album that traces the arc of her despair and renewal. This is a slow, beautiful recording that adheres strictly to the acoustic duo format that she and partner David Rawlings favor at live shows; the musicianship is patient and superb. The album opens with the foreboding "Scarlet Town" full of gorgeous spidery guitar work, all darkness and doom. From there begins a slow ascent into light, passing the signposts of old Americana - Dixie, six white horses, a silver dagger and sweet heaven when I die. "Hard Times", she declares, ain't gonna rule her mind no more. She has once again created something beautiful and new from something old and recast old-time folk music as high art, intense and demanding.
Gillian's site, Order from Amazon. Released June, 2011.  Reviewed by Brad Price.

Beneath My Wheels...(Dead Reckoning)
This is Kevin's 4th CD, and he has finally put it all together.  I've always considered Welch kind of a Nashville Folkie, but on this release he picks up the pace and volume quite a bit, while still including some fine tender ballads.  His slow songs really are his strength, but  the other songs help to give the album some edge especially the ones with fellow Dead Reckoner Mike Henderson.   He brilliantly weaves in Gospel and Native American  grooves to accentuate his potent melodies and his smooth, smoky voice is sounding better then ever.  Kevin takes his time between each new CD,
Best tracks:  Everybody's Gotta Walk, Anne Lise Please, Fold Your Wings, Beneath My Wheels, Every Little Lie, Full Moon Over Christina, While I Was Loving You. Dead Reckoning's site. Released June, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

The Gospel Truth... (Sleeve Dog)

“You ask too many questions, dear / and I said, You ask too few / that's why I still don't know quite what to do / on Sunday mornings…” An album of original agnostic gospel songs that pokes fun at religion and the church, and asks what the hell we're doing here… what could be more timely? Susan Werner has traveled the country with these songs, gathered praise, weathered fire, and come up smiling. Werner even bought a Bible for reference while composing these songs (a Catholic one because it has extra books, “like bonus tracks” she says). There's an intelligent, gently funky folk-gospel feel to the album, and the production suits the songs. Werner's purpose and inspiration hold their edge and humor throughout, yet there's a surprising depth of feeling. Her singing has just enough vulnerability in it to, oddly, give the lyrics an added punch. A relevant outing, a joy to listen to, The Gospel Truth is one of the more thoughtful and cohesive albums of 2007.

Werner's web site. Buy from amazon. Released April, '07, reviewed by Doug Lang.

Second Sight... (Make Records)

How do you compete/follow up against a spectacular first release? If your name is Corinne, the answer's simple: release something titled Second Sight . A couple of years in the making, the wait was worth it. That dynamic voice is even better this go round: this girl can sing! Mainstays Mike Marshall on mandolin and Todd Phillips on bass are incomparable; add a guy that fiddles like Darol Anger, rope in Jerry Douglas for some dobro work and there's a combination that's hard to beat. Listening to the instrumental interplay of the breaks on these tunes is about as close to heaven as a bluegrass aficionado can get. The only thing that I could carp about here is that the disc is too short. Bluegrass is not my forte , but I could listen to music of this quality for hours.

Corinne's site has CD ordering. Her MySpace. Released Oct. '07, reviewed by Don Grant.

South Dakota Hairdo... (Frogville)
You'll want to fasten your seat-belts for this one, because South Dakota Hairdo is one hell of a ride down the incredible highway of Joe West's imagination. Wonderfully literate and musically impeccable, West and his band present a high-energy vision of that other life that exists somewhere on the fringes. They say that true artists look at life through a different lens than the rest of us, and that must be true; how else can a song titled "South Dakota Hairdo" be accounted for? And that's only the first song; trust me, it gets better. I can't shake the notion that this guy was an English major at some point, because his lyrics contain so much more than initially meets the ear. Listen to "Reprimand", for instance, and figure out who he's really singing about. Is it his love life, or is it Jesus? Your choice. Behind the cutting guitars of West, Derek Zelenko, and Ben Wright, there's the irresistible bottom end of Jennifer West and Jim Palmer, bass and drums respectively. Embellish that with some fine piano, pedal steel and dobro work, (I can't make out some of the names, because Joe scrawled the info in black pen across an old black and white photo?!!??), and you've got a Ten Best candidate, for sure. Do yourself a favor, check his schedule at his site, and catch the show. I know I will, if he ever heads North.
Joe West's web site. Available at Frogville Records, thay have a few song samples too.Order from CD Baby. Released early 2004, reviewed by Don Grant.

The Human Cannonball... (Frogville)

Well, here we go on another magical mystery tour, with the inscrutable Joe West as our conductor. Lordy, from whence does this man draw his inspiration? I've been to Santa Fe, and I swear that I've never seen the people there that he tends to encounter and write about; it must be that artistic vision thing that most people are not gifted with. This time around, West has pared his band down to bass, banjo, lead, drums, and some brass. A lot of the electricity of South Dakota Hairdo has been replaced with a more acoustic flavour, but that's not to say it's mellow, far from it. There's an undercurrent of desperation, and almost menace, that threads across the tracks. There's combines comin', the title track character who blows himself aloft, Trotsky cruisin' Bert's Burger Bowl in his new SUV with an axe in his head, doing a pretty fair impersonation of Chuck Berry on Johnny B. Goode, and, to make the incongruity complete, there's a straight guy in a gay world. West has always populated his songs with the misfits and oddballs of the world, but Cannonball is a definite hard-a-port, even for him, hence the magical mystery tour reference. You listen to this one several times, and it still has the capacity to surprise, and, it goes without saying, to entertain. It's almost as if the songs subtly evolve with each subsequent spin. Eerie? Yes, and that's not a bad adjective to apply in this instance.

Joe's web site. Order from CD Baby. Released Autumn 2005, reviewed by Don Grant.

Burnt Tongues & Blue Truths… (Barreltown)
Canada’s Eric Westbury has a unique philosophical outlook on life and it comes across in his insightful songwriting. Whether he’s writing about God or the Devil or politics or the addictive aspects of satellite TV. He was very wise to enlist the great Gurf Morlix to produce the CD, because with Gurf onboard you also get a tasteful lead, rhythm and bass guitarist. Westbury sings with an expressive "sandpaper rough" voice that is somewhat limited in range. It actually works quite well with his roots rock sound. The album closes with my favorite song about "Knockin’ The Big Man Down" and then watching as he tumbles down the longest stair. Good stuff!
Eric's website. Order from Miles Of Music. Reviewed by Bill Frater

West Coast Grand... (self released)

Rocking with a country sensibility, West Coast Grand is a story of friends banding together in Los Angeles. Big chords, tasteful harmonies, sustained guitar waves, a pinch of desert dust in the singing – WCG's eponymously titled debut maintains a good pace and variety throughout its eleven band-penned tracks. Back To School is an energizing opener, and the majesty of Last Train Home is reminiscent of Alejandro Escovedo in its balladry. A warm California feel permeates the entire recording and production, and the electric guitar is at the heart of it.

The WCG site. Order from CD Baby. Released '05, reviewed by Doug Lang.

Woman's Work... (Hard Eight)
The Pinups are a group of six young-looking musicians from San Diego who have that "cowboy hat 'n earring" retro-cowboy-punk look.  They've really done some serious homework in the schools of Nashville classic country and Bakersfield honky tonk.  The album's title probably refers to lead singer Cella Blue, who sings with the power and sass of a Wanda Jackson.  Everybody else in the band plays great and all take a turn writing songs, some more memorable then others. All in all, they seem to be having fun while not straying too far from the old stuff.
The band has a great site with bio, tour and ordering info. Released in June, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Western Electric... (Gadfly)
The Long Ryders were one of the best bands to come out of the early 80's L.A. Country Rock scene.  They put out some great albums and I believe there's a CD compilation available now.  The band's vocalist and guitarist, Sid Griffin, now leads this new band, Western Electric.  Because of Griffin's history, I really want to like this CD but unfortunately, it just doesn't excite me.  There's a few good songs, but there are also some really sleepy ballads that just don't make it.  They do some twanging and some 12-string chiming and the steel player is great... but I'm gonna dig up some of my old Long Ryders LP's instead.
Western Electric websiteGadfly's site. Released March 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Sylvia Hotel ....(Philo/Rounder)
Well, I've been listening to this record quite a lot recently and I find myself loving it more.  And loving is truly what happens when you allow these thoughtful, somewhat painful ballads to move your heart.  By her own admission, many of the songs on this New England folk singer-songwriter's fourth album were written after a long-term break-up. She counters these with some wickedly funny tunes that never fail to give us a good look at ourselves. Between the cats, James the dog, ex-lovers, Fascist bank clerks and a moratorium on violence, there is plenty to laugh and cry about.  With Cheryl Wheeler, you may end up crying with a smile on your face, but that always worked really well for me.  One of my favorite tracks is a no-sugarcoating-it take on the's a hidden track at the end of the CD so be sure and check it out.
Favorite songs: But The Days And Nights Are Long, Unworthy, Who Am I Foolin', All The Live Long Day. Of course, Rounder has a huge site with the usual stuff, and there's a nice Cheryl fan site. Released Jan. '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).

Ten Day Bender... (Shut Eye)

Seeming to come out of the Deep South by way of Anchorage, Ten Day Bender is a true alt.-country rocker in the vein of Lynard Skynard, certain phases of Neil Young's career, or today's Drive-by Truckers. The boys call this one a ten chapter novel, and it in that regard, with its themes of skag, codeine, bar flies, and premature marriage, it could be considered a country “Heart of Darkness”, with a huge latitudinal difference. With references to places such as Cache Creek and Dawson City, there's no mistaking the setting of this narrative; it's all about living at the northern end of the continent and dealing with the same issues that confront, perhaps beset is a better word, those of us in the lower half. As is becoming increasingly common these days, the Europeans have latched on to this one way before North America has, but it's wagered here that when these guys start touring down here, that's going to change. Apparently the live gigs are not to be missed.

The Whipsaws' site. Order from CD Baby. Released Jan. '06, reviewed by Don Grant.

60 Watt Avenue... (Shuteye)

Even before noticing that the The Whipsaws' latest CD was dedicated to Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the unmistakable influences of Buffalo Springfield and Mr. Young were evident. But this band from Anchorage doesn't contain itself to the sway of the indomitable Young on its new 60 Watt Avenue CD. The band, formed in 2002, has worked hard to forge a style of their own, a blend of Americana, roots rock, twangy and crunchy guitars, which they call Alaskan Rock n' Roll. On “Jessi Jayne” they cut loose with a honky-tonk number, replete with a jangly pedal steel and fuzzy lead guitar. On the next song, “Coming Home,” steel guitar, acoustic guitar and banjo mix with the soulful voice and somber lyrics of Evan Phillips to evoke the sound of early Son Volt. Other times, the band sounds like the Bottle Rockets playing at the corner bar having a high time or singing a plain-spoken, whiskey-soaked confessional. The songs are compelling stories of heartbreak, loss and the rough-and-tumble life in a land that has more dark than light for many months of the year. Given that, it's no wonder they've picked Neil Young as their patron saint. The instrumental, “Ode to Shakey,” pays homage to the solo from “Cowgirl in the Sand,” albeit mercifully shorter at 2:14.

The Whipsaws' site They even have MySpace in Alaska! Order from CD Baby. Released Jan. '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan.

Pneumonia... (Lost Highway)
This album, originally set for release in '98, has finally come out and it's pretty close to a masterpiece in my book. Ryan Adams sometimes comes across like a self-centered punk, but the kid can really write a beautiful song when he wants to, especially when he's writing about being in love, like on this album. He has this uncanny ability to write straight-forward, memorable lyrics that hold together with "stick to the roof of your brain" melodies. Big credit must also go to Caitlin Cary for her beautiful harmonies and subtle violin fills.   Ethan Johns magnificent production flourishes bring back memories of his father's work with the Flowers-era Rolling Stones. At times, both production and songs flirt with pop sappiness only to be coaxed back to sanity with the right touch of twang. This is Whiskeytown's swan song, although they are reported to have more tracks in the can", this is their best yet. So far, this is the album that I've listened to the most this year, it's a gem. has tour info, is the label's site. Released May, '01.  Reviewed by Bill Frater

Stranger's Almanac
I like this CD a whole lot, in fact, it was my choice for the 2nd best CD of '97. Leader/songwriter David Ryan Adams has the kind of plaintive voice that would make Gram Parsons proud, and the songs are brilliantly descriptive and catchy too. Violinist Caitlin Carry throws in some fine harmonies, the only sad thing is these two fired the rest of the band, so I wonder if they will be able to follow up this fine release. I like the different style textures these guys throw at ya. If the Replacements came from Raleigh, NC, they might sound like Whiskeytown. This is where the best of the young independent alternative country is coming from. Give Whiskeytown a listen and see what I'm talking about.
Best tracks: Inn Town, Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight, 16 Days, Dancing with the Women at the Bar, and more! Outpost's Whiskeytown site Nice site with bio, tour info, etc. Released Dec. '97 by Bill Frater.

Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See... (V2/LuakaBop)
This music is like opening a bottle of liquid mercury and letting it carry you away into the otherworldly landscape of Jim White. Interesting stories spinning out of seductive arrangements synthesized from banjo, pedal steel, snare, guitar, trumpet and assorted sounds and instruments that are a part of Jim's world It's a sometimes bizarre ride through the imagination of a musician following his muse into the stratosphere. The back of the CD asserts that "these songs rise up like ghosts, they haunt you, they know where you live". Well, yes... Not a lot of tempo variation but your mind feels like it takes a big time out, while your body expands to take in the music. Not a bad trip.
Buy from amazon. Released June '04, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).

The Broken Road....(Rounder)
I've been looking forward to Jeff White's new recording and here it is.  The Broken Road gathers the same crew of Vince Gill, Jeff Guernsey, Pete Wernick, Mike Bub, Jerrry Douglas and Alison Krauss. They added a few other friends and just started playing, sounding like they've been been together all their lives... Which is actually one of the charms of this group. They play so easily together that the music flows effortlessly from one well-crafted traditional-sounding tune to the next. While White shares songwriting with a number of folks, the particular melodic sweetness of his storytelling  drives this record along with his impeccable guitar.  It's also a great pleasure to hear Vince Gill playing mandolin and lending his high lonesome sound in harmony with Whites'.   As expected from this group of seasoned professionals, this is a smooth and well produced effort.
Of course, Rounder has a great site with bios and tour info. Released Feb. '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).

The Lucky Few
...(Little Dog)
This lady has a strong alto voice, and thanks to Pete Anderson and the other usual Little Dog suspects, has put together a fine CD that "Nashville Radio" will probably never hear. This is unfortunate, but not surprising, it's their loss, not ours. She covers 2 songs each from So. Cal's best "unknown" writers, Jim Lauderdale and Lucinda Williams, and Joy helps write a few of the songs as well. And the songs are really the thing, good melodies, great band, that's all you need. If you keep an ear on the Nashville "sound" then I think you'll enjoy this CD.
Best tracks: Too Big For This Town, It's About Me, It's Better This Way, Life's Just Too Short. Buy from amazon. Released April, '97. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

One More Time… (Thorch)

After '97's popular The Lucky Few Joy Lynn White took some “personal time” to collect herself and this welcome return has writing most of the songs herself. She's lived in Nashville long enough to have seen ‘em come and go and her “Girls With Apartments In Nashville” is a dead-on observation about coming to town with dreams of stardom. In fact many of the songs deal with being a “girl” including gender-switching the Allan Toussaint classic to “A Certain Boy” and Phil Lee's delightful “Just Some Girl”. She's been singing backup on albums by people like Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller and Iris DeMent for many years but her own over-dubbed harmonies to her lead vocals are truly a thing of beauty. Produced by Kyle Lehning (Randy Travis, Waylon Jennings) and featuring the under-appreciated Duane Jarvis on guitar, One More Time isn't all country, but the twang songs seem to stand out above the rest and make One More Time worth the wait.

Joy's web site. Buy from amazon Released Sept. '05. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

... (Swamp)

A long time ago in a society far away Tony Joe White had somewhat of a hit on AM radio titled “Polk Salad Annie”. Thankfully those days are where they belong, in the dustbin of musical history. It really wasn't all that bad, considering the era, but one would sure never guess that the same guy now gives us Uncovered. Steeped in the swamps and bayous, this CD reeks of their darkness and latent potential menace. It's not a screamer, rather, it's almost disconcertingly quiet, thanks to White's voice, an instrument with which he wrings out more emotion per decibel than would seem possible. This is one quiet, low-key guy, but so is a shotgun quiet until somebody pops a cap, proof positive that it's smarter to ignore the barking dog, and concentrate upon the unruffled one. That's the direction that the bite will come from. Guest appearances by Mark Knopfler, J.J. Cale, Eric Clapton, and the late Waylon contribute to a pretty impressive release, around number 24, if memory serves me well. There's even Michael McDonald here, but fear not, there's no trace of the schmaltz that led to the Doobies' demise. Tony Joe White is improving with age, just like a good wine or an old Chevrolet.

Official TJW site. Buy from amazon Released Sept. '06, reviewed by Don Grant.

Behind The Midway... (Flat Earth)
Jason Wilber has toured as a lead guitarist with such fine artists as John Prine, Iris DeMent and Hal Ketchum. Not surprisingly, he has absorbed their talent for finely crafted songs and observations. His voice is a little thin for the ballads but fits the rockin' songs just fine. His tribute to an old Chuck Berry greatest hits album (The Great 28) is flat out rocker with wonderful wry references to Berry's entire song catalogue. John Prine helps out on a tune. All in all, a pretty solid album and worth looking for.
Release date: Sept. '00.   Reviewed by Bill Frater

Summer Teeth....(Reprise)
So much has been made about this release being Wilco's great departure from the chains of Alt.Country. Their last CD, Being There, was leaning away from that sound, and let's face it Uncle Tupelo were primarily a rock band. I guess it's that there's been so much talk about the "No Depression" sound that people were surprised that one of the main bands have chosen to grow and follow their own muse seemed appalling to some.  Now about the music. There is a lot of 60's-inspired pop music on this CD.  Adventurous orchestrations,  sound effects and other weird stuff.  It's like the band has been listening to Pet Sounds, The Village Green Preservation Society, or even Sgt. Peppers. A lot of it is quite puzzling to me, at least so far.  Jeff Tweedy still has a great voice and he writes some brilliant if sometimes perplexing lyrics. He's dealing with some dark, inner demons, and the band is taking some big chances, trying to make a grand statement. So many of us Alt.Country fans are jaded.
 Best tracks: Can't Stand It, She's A Jar, I'm Always In Love, ELT, Summer Teeth. WilcoWeb is a great "official" site, or Reprise has RA and the usual stuff.  Released March, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Cover ImageWILCO
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot... (Nonesuch)
It's finally here, the most talked about CD release of the year, in any format. This record was initially handed to Wilco's old label Reprise last year. The label balked because the suits couldn't hear a single and the fun began. Tweedy and Wilco, pissed at their old label, bought the album back and released it on the web for their fans, creating a huge word of mouth reaction and starting a bidding war between labels as to who would sign Wilco and release the record. Things got funny when Reprise re-entered the fray and asked if they could buy the album back. While Tweedy and the band got a huge kick out of saying no and signing with Nonesuch, after listening to this album I think I agree more with Reprise's earlier opinion on the disc. If Wilco had not been one of the most promising bands of the '90's thanks to their enthusiastic blend of and punk energy (later tempered with a heavy dollop of Brian Wilson-esque pop) this would not be such a shock. But it is, and they are not the same great band anymore, musically or membership-wise. They fired drummer Ken Coomer as the album was beginning and Jay Bennett left shortly after the album was completed, leaving the remnants of the band with this muddled mess of a disc with more sqeaks and squonks than Phillip Glass on crank. Songs are seemingly not finished and the whole project doesn't tie together at all. The band that brought us their Summerteeth has shown us that all of their sweet pop excursions have rotted out the best of what was left of their original country sound. Crash and burn, anyone?
The band's official websiteBuy from amazon  Released April, 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Thrown Down… (Rural Grit)

The Wilders are a lively old-timey band from Kansas who sound like no other band I know of. For an acoustic quartet they play with a reckless urgency and abandon that rivals the Ramones. Really. Led by the remarkably fiery fiddle work of Betse Ellis, she tears into a tune so fast that you can hear the horsehair comin' off her bow. But these guys really shine when they lean heavy on an urgent honky tonk song. They cover, no transform, “Drivin' Nails In My Coffin” into a lesson in extreme tempo shifts, and it kills! A few lesser-known Hank Sr. numbers get honored. One Ike Sheldon handles the lead vocals smartly and the “tonk” sound is anchored by the dobro playing of Phil Wade, he solos like a 50's-era steel guitar player. Bassist Nate Gawron gets a nod for his solid bottom and for having written one of the best originals on the CD, “Honky Tonk Habit”. My only real complaint is that five fiddle tunes is one too many for my ears. Otherwise, magnificent and wild indeed!

Their website has CD ordering. Released April, '06. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Someone's Got To Pay... (Free Dirt)
The Wilders, that old-timey, hillbilly, honky tonk band from KC, get serious, (sort of), with a “concept” album. It seems that bass player Phil Wade served on the jury for a real life murder trial He saw the similarities to the stories behind good ol' country murder ballads. Many of the songs are loosely based around the trial and the lives that were affected by it. It ain't exactly Tommy, but it's a bit of a stretch for a band that is primarily traditional. Music-wise they've just as wild if not, well, wilder. They've brought in the drummer from The Red Stick Ramblers and they really rock like a house on fire on many of the songs. The whole thing is a bit of a mixed bag but it grows on you. I gotta give 'em credit for stretching beyond the usual boundaries of trad music successfully. has CD ordering, or buy from amazon. Released April, '08, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Fire, Honey & Angels... (GrooveTone)
Fire, Honey and Angels by Walt Wilkins is the debut release from GrooveTone, the new internet label partnered with Dead Reckoning Records.  Wilkins, a young Texan with a smooth, warm voice, shares the same singer-songwriter- with- intelligent- lyrics characteristics with the Reckoners.  Add to that backing by a talented band who goes country without being too twangy and what you end up with is an excellent and highly listenable album. Like Robert Earl Keen, Guy Clark and a dozen more great Texas artists, this guy is the real deal, and he'll only get better with time.
The label, GrooveTone, has a nice site with audio samplesReleased Feb. '00, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Diamonds In The Sun... (Palo Duro)

The Lone Star State strikes again here with an amalgam of alternate country and what can pass for these days as traditional. Nelson and Jennings would probably have a fit if they read this, but they've been around so long, with such impact, that they are their own traditions, and they do have an influence. Apparently, deducing from the credits, Wilkins gets to fly his flag at the top of the pole due to his writing contributions, but this CD sounds like a collaboration of equals. At any rate, Diamonds In The Sun flows effortlessly from the rocking roll of “Trains I Missed” to the ‘traditional' lament of the title track, love lost and regretted. Homage is paid to the late Hank Williams in “Just Like Hank”, and The Band, an Americana pathfinder, with a honky-tonkin' rendition of “The Shape I'm In”. Rounding out the package is the Delta blues-ish “Stand Up Seven”. Preceded by three earlier ones, this is Wilkins first release with the Mystiqueros, and it's a pretty darn good fit.

Wilkin's site. Palo Duro's site. Buy from amazon. Released July, '07, reviewed by Don Grant.

Everything's Fine... (Slowriver/Ryko)
WGC is a loose aggregation of musicians from the Boston area who specialize in mysterious low-fi stark arrangements. Sounds as if their influences lean more towards Eno or Giant Sand than Hank Williams and Gram Parsons. This is their 4 CD and they definitely have a consistent and unique sound. Lead singer Robert Fisher has a deep, expressive voice like Lloyd Cole or Lou Reed. If that doesn't confuse you enough. I actually like them. They provide an interesting bridge between Rock and Americana.
Check out Ryko's WGC pages and the band's site (made in The Netherlands, I think).  Released Feb. '01, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Regard The End... (Kimchee)
There is a strong dark and gothic streak that runs through Americana these days. Regard The End, the 5th CD from Willard Grant Conspiracy continues that trend and does it as well as anyone else. Starting with the tragic love song "River In The Pines" to the creepy "Ghost Of The Girl In The Well" and "The Suffering Song" it just gets darker and darker. Every facet of human suffering gets treated on this CD and every track is great. Willard Grant Conspiracy also stands out as another Americana band that isn't just American. The musicians in this band come from Europe, the Balkans, the US, and the UK. They all blend beautifully under the leadership of Robert Fisher, and the result is a sweet, sad CD full of authenticity and courage. This CD goes on my Best Of list for 2004.
Buy from amazon. Released Feb. '04. Reviewed by Clint Weathers.

Tex-Mex Gumbo... (Bismeaux/ Lazy SOB)
The button accordion is the "authentic" kind of accordion, like Flaco Jimenez and many of the Zydeco players play.  It's sounds more fuller to me then the keyboard-based accordions, and I'm guessing that they're more difficult to play.  Although Bradley Jaye Williams is from Michigan, he plays the button accordion like he was born a Cajun or is of Hispanic descent.  As the title implies, this CD jumps all around the musical map from Country waltzes to Tejano polkas to Cajun two-steps.  His fine accordion playing holds it all together along with his decent vocals, both in English and Spanish.  Both of the Austin band's that he plays with... LOS PINKYS and THE GULF COAST PLAYBOYS back Williams in various configurations.  This is the first release on Ray Benson's (Asleep At The Wheel) new label.
Check out Lazy S.O.B's site.  Released Nov. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater

Car Wheels On A Gravel Road...(Mercury)
I have been looking forward to this CD, after a change in record companies, and other delays, I was afraid that my high expectations might fall short. But, no, this is indeed a great album. Lucinda has done it again. Her lyrics are so brilliantly simple, just the right words to put you in the song's location, which is usually a town in the South somewhere. Her voice has that lazy nonchalance to it, as if to say, "I'm singing these songs for myself, not for you, and if you like 'em, then that's fine." All the players are excellent, Roy Bittan has done a great job by not dressing the songs up too much. This just might be the year's best CD in a year that has already had a lot of great releases. Thanks Lucinda, it's certainly been worth the wait!
Best songs: Right On Time, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, Lake Charles, Can't Let Go, Metal Firecracker, Greenville,...and all the rest!The label's site, Mercury Records has a nice bio. Released June, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Essence... (Lost Highway)
The expectations in the music world for this album are amazing. After waiting over five years for her last disc "Car Wheels..." and then watching it bust through to the mainstream and go gold has given the world reason to hope that Williams can be the standard bearer for the whole movement. Now, hot on its heels (almost a first for Lucinda to follow up this quick) is her latest, a release bound to polarize her fans and music business watchers. Did she follow up too quickly? The answer is no! Although Car Wheels seemed so complete and well-realized, I believe it was only because fans had been salivating and expecting that disc for years. These songs are as good, if not better, than the songs on her last disc. And Williams and her co-producer Charlie Sexton have managed to give the disc an excitingly spooky feel, almost like a Daniel Lanois production. Emmylou's Wrecking Ball comes to mind....A lot of buzz is going around  that this album is a disappointment. It is sad that the world behaves like the rest of the biz: knocking their artists for being themselves. This album is a definite winner!
There's and  Released June, '01.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

World Without Tears… (Lost Highway)
After the success and critical acclaim of 1998's Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, I find myself expecting Lucinda's subsequent CD's to be at least as good and accessible. I wonder if Alt.Country's best known woman also worries about comparisons to Car Wheels, or if she just does her thing and let the public and critics be damned. Although this one's much better than her last CD Essence, which sounded somewhat unfinished and dragged like an anchor, World definitely rocks more. She even drifts into a sort of roots-hip-hop sound on a few tunes, and I find it a strange yet welcome change for Lucinda. Her sense of poetry is intact, and she gets brutally bitter and honest and even lustful. She also has another different band, featuring Dwight Yoakam’s rhythm section and the excellent and versatile new guitarist named Doug Pettibone. So maybe I’m expecting more, or I’ve grown complacent and jaded in my old age… or maybe I’m just one more listen away from being blown away… time will tell. May Ms. Williams have a long and prosperous career, and I’ll still buy all her albums. Although there are some great songs here, I don’t think this will be my favorite.
Buy from amazon Lucinda's Lost Highway site. Released April, 2003. Reviewed by Bill Frater

West… (Lost Highway)

Was it Shakespeare who said “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? No matter, but I personally wouldn't want to scorn Ms. Lucinda, at least for fear of having her write a song about it; referring to his member with “out pops your little party favor” cannot be a good thing. Yes, she writes with strikingly brutal honesty and open sexuality, but Lu still loves her slow, melancholy ballads with repeating lines over and over. Bringing in producer Hal Wilner was a wise choice; on slower songs like “Rescue” and “Unsuffer Me,” Wilner brings in some grinding guitars or inspired string arrangements to liven the songs up. I get the sense that she's more relaxed, not trying so hard to surpass her watermark Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. The CD concludes with “West,” a song of promised love and redemption. Her writing inspiration may suffer, but I hope she finds a lover who treats her right.

Buy from amazon Released Feb. '07. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Musings of a Creekdipper...(Atlantic)
Ms. Williams is known for her battle with MS and for the Sweet Relief tribute CD that came out to help her with her medical bills. That release brought her fine songs to the "masses", thanks to an all-star lineup of artists. Since then, she seems to be surviving alright, thankfully, and has married ex-Jayhawks Mark Olsen and they have settled down in the California desert. Victoria has her own unique view of the world, and it's kind of an odd, innocent, almost child-like view. She has an equally unique outlook on song arrangements, a trumpet here, a banjo there, some folk, some fun, some cabaret-sounding stuff and even some funk thrown make this a varied and enjoyable album. Then you have that voice that is somewhat untrained and almost "warbly", if that's a word. Amazingly, she pulls all of this together with this youthful confidence that makes you not only accept her vision, but you eventually embrace her words and music. No, it's not for everybody, but it's real and from the heart, and it needs to be heard by the open minded and adventurous.
If you like...Rickie Lee Jones, Jewel.  Best Songs: Rainmaker, Train Song, Let it Be So, Humming Bird, Blackbirds Rise.Atlantic's site A slick site, but not much on Victoria, other than some tour info. The Creekdipper site   Released Jan. '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Willie Sugarcapps
... (Royal Potato Family)
Willie Sugarcapps gets triple duty on this album. It's the name of the band, the name of the album and the title of the lead-off track on this album which I've had on nearly constant rotation since I saw the band at the Americana Music Conference in Nashville this year. The "man behind the band" is Nashville-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Will Kimbrough who wrote the majority of the songs here. (You may also know him as half of the duo Daddy with Tommy Womack). Kimbrough was jamming with other musicians at a music gathering in Alabama and met the others (Grayson Capps, Corky Hughes, Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford; the latter two known as the duo Sugarcane Jane). They had such fun that they decided to make this album. I'm glad they did. I've got a bunch of favorite tracks besides the title one. "Oh Colorado" and "Mud Bottom" are just two. Kimbrough is listed as playing six different instruments on the album and all the others are multi-instrumentalists as well. This a blend of bluegrass and "Americana" and, if you like either I think you'll like this one too.
The band's website. Order from Amazon. Released Aug. '13, reviewed by Steve Ramm.

What I Deserve....(Rykodisc)
First off, I should tell you that I'm a huge fan of Kelly's sultry baritone voice and I love all three of her previous albums.  She is finally on a good record label that will let her do what she does best and not try to make her the next country "Queen for a Day".   She had a hand in writing most of the better songs on this CD, which makes it more personal and from the heart.  The backing musicians are all tasteful, including Mark Spencer (Blood Oranges), Chuck Prophet  and her husband Bruce Robison, who also contributes two songs.  This is a well thought-out album and Kelly's singing sounds more confident then ever.  The whole thing's polished up pretty shiny, but there's just enough twang to remind us she's from Texas.  I think I have a new favorite Kelly Willis album.
Best songs:  What I Deserve, Heaven Bound, Not Forgotten You, Cradle Of Love, Got a Feelin' For Ya, Time has Told Me, They're Blind. There's, and Rykodisc has a site. Released Feb. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Translated From Love... (Rykodisc)

Several years back, in a breathtakingly stupid move, some whiz-bang at MCA decided to drop Kelly Willis from the roster. (Ten bucks here says it's because she wouldn't fit the mould, refusing to be a round peg amongst square holes). Their loss is Rykodisc's and our gain. Her first release in five years, not counting last year's Happy Holidays, (sappy music of ‘the season' never gets counted here), Translated From Love is a breathtakingly good piece of alt/country country rock. Producer Chuck Prophet is the perfect foil for Willis' talent, doing a bit of co-writing and more than a bit of the guitar work, and, most importantly, giving her a free rein in expressing her craft. Overall this release leaves an impression of being more up tempo than her earlier work, but in actuality the tunes are a fairly even mix between rock and introspection. The favourite cuts will vary with listener's tastes for sure, but there are no throw aways here., Buy from amazon. Released June, '07, reviewed by Don Grant.

Grade A Country Music… (self released)
Well if this ain’t a fine little band! They sound so good that I'm wanna jump on a bus and head to their home turf of Denver ‘cause I doubt if they get out of town much. The best way I can describe their sound is straight ahead swingin’ honky tonkin’ rockabillyin’ "real" country music. Lead singer Wofford possesses a great twangy tenor voice that could only sing this kind of music, and he’s written a bunch of damn great tunes too! Sure, they’re not too far different from Big Sandy or BR-549, but these bands are all celebrating a style and attitude that I can’t hear enough of. Support these guys by buying the CD and maybe they’ll come to your town (and mine) sometime soon!
You can order the CD directly from   Released June, 2003.  Reviewed by Bill Frater

World of The Satisfy'n Place... (Blue Jordan)
Over the past ten years there have been so many sub-genres of country emerging that musicologists must be having a field day after all of the dormancy that hit the form after Chet Atkins developed the Nashville Sound. Wolfenberger adds his own distinctive twist on this album. Wolfenberger decides to mix a decidedly folky take on country with a smooth poppy California sound of the early '70s. While at first I thought it gave his songs too much sheen and gloss, I have revised my opinion after repeated listens and decided that the similarities to latter-day Beach Boys (Holland) and the band America were too cool to ignore. Wolfenberger is definitely on to something, as the mix of sparse pop and country elements make for an engaging sound. Too good to ignore.
David has a page on Blue Jordan's site with CD ordering info. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Circus Town... (Sideburn)
This new CD from Tommy Womack proves that if there WAS a place by the name of Circus Town, Womack would definitely be it's mayor/ringmaster. Filled with stories about crazy people doing crazy things while traveling through crazy places (and that's just ONE song) Womack's persona as storyteller on this CD reminds me of the old Tom Petty video where Petty plays a demented Mad Hatter. While no little girls are being eaten like birthday cake, there is a lot of madness going on. Song titles like "Fake It Til You Make It" and "My Name Is Mud" give an idea of the strangeness one can find on this CD. Among the slightly warped story-songs is the beautiful ballad "Nancy Dunn" and a funny song about a great rock and roll band called The Replacements. Through it all, Womack impresses as much as he shocks and amuses thanks to his often-brilliant songwriting and his wonderful guitar work.Guitarist extraordinaire Will Kimbrough makes appearances on several songs as well. Be sure to keep an ear peeled for the hidden track, a song about a certain bodily fluid that's definitely one of the funniest songs I've heard in many a moon. A deliriously good CD.
Tommy's website, Sideburn's site.  Released March 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

Loaded... (Blue Note)
A great CD, but hard to categorize with mere words. Real brothers here, featuring the lackadaisical yet endearing vocals and inventive guitar of Oliver Wood. The other brother is Chris, who plays bass with jazz/jam band Medeski, Martin & Wood. Although Loaded was produced by organist John Medeski, the sound is more edgy folk-blues music with a sprinkling of garage band. Witty lyrics and slide guitar abound. Guests include Amos Lee and Pieta Brown on vocals and they cover Hendrix, Dylan and “trad.”. There's something quite lovable about these guys. It ain't twangy but it's definitely Americana.
The Wood's site and MySpace. Buy from amazon (Mp3 only $8.99). Released April, '08, reviewed by Bill Frater

Up With The Sun... (Woodshack Music)

This, Woodard's fourth full-length release, is one nice piece of work. Don't be put of by misinformed opinions that describe his music as “power pop”; that's a load of crap. He does write some damn catchy tunes and couples them with intelligent and insightful lyrics, which sure as hell doesn't qualify for the inane label of “power pop”. Produced in association with John Would, who plays anything with strings, and some things without, i.e. accordion, and recorded mainly in and around his Southern California haunts, up with the sun is an evenly paced offering that strikes a beautiful balance between his slower writings, such as “Lift”, “ I Thought I'd Be There By Now”, and his rockier work, “I Saw You Here” and “Way Down There”. Listening to a good CD can be akin to paddling an interesting stream: there's some peaceful and quiet back eddys interspersed with some stronger currents to keep one alert. Although he lives on the ocean north of San Diego, Alex Woodard understands the importance of that flow.

Alex's site. Buy from amazon, or order from CD Baby. Released Aug. '06, reviewed by Don Grant.

Reason and Dream... (self released)
Despite having a name that sounds like a softball team formed by a bunch of carpenters, the Woodpickers have created a nice, if not groundbreaking, CD for fans of bluegrass and mountain music. Lead singer and guitarist Kevin Bennett has a pleasing enough voice with an authentic "high lonesome" sound to it sure to make you feel as if you were set down on someone's back porch in the mountains of North Carolina somewhere, sippin' sweet tea and getting ready to take your turn at the guitar pull. The songs are written by bassist/guitarist/producer John Murphy and have a rustic vibe and subject matter that screams "rural" and I can imagine Louis L'Amour writing books with titles just like the titles of the songs. While some might find the sound and subject matter a little contrived, when listening to the CD I find all the preconceived notions falling away and I end up just grooving to the authentic and emotionally stirring music. While country fans should check this out, I feel bluegrass and mountain music fans will love this the most.
Order from Best Prices. Released April, '05, reviewed by Scott Homewood

21st Century Pioneer... (self-released)
Hidden on this CD full of psuedo-jam band-style country music is a pretty much constantly reoccurring message to follow God and Christianity. While there is certainly nothing wrong with having these beliefs, it kind of caught me off guard as a music journalist. I have never reviewed a Christian album or dissected one musically before. While some of the songs do sound preachy in certain respects and their beliefs are kind of just disguised enough to be easily found, the music itself holds up. I am floundering on who to compare them to, but the female lead singer has a very good voice and the music itself is a meld between bluegrass, rock and regular country, as I would imagine Blues Traveler would sound if they grew up listening to bluegrass. Very good stuff, as long as you don't mind the message. is a nicely done website with gigs, bio and CD ordering.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Seconds... (self released)
If country radio was really interested in playing real country music, country music that doesn't bow down to today's fads, it would be playing a Wrenfields song every hour. For their second CD, The Wrenfields improve mightily over their first, and that's not to say their first CD was bad, just a little unfocused and unrealized. You could hear the band was onto something, they just hadn't found a way to fully flesh out what they were going after. On this CD all the parts are in place and everything is just clicking along fine. To my ears, what makes the Wrenfields music so special is their mix of ancient and modern touches. Not only do they excel at bringing old-timey vocal elements and arrangements into their songs, they also succeed at bringing anough of the modern in to make it seem like a perfect hybrid of the two. If I were to make a comparison I would pick the bluegrass style band Nickel Creek. The same way Nickel Creek fuses the old and the new is the same way the Wrenfields do it, though with a more mountain music style touch than bluegrass. The mix of male and female vocals makes a nice blend as well. A little rock attitude is also there, setting off the old-timey elements just fine. Fans of all styles of country should find plenty to like here.
Their web site. Order from Reviewed by Scott Homewood

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