Review: Austin Allsup "Cryin' Out Loud"

Austin Allsup is a rugged musician whose dry wit and passionate musicality are present on every note of his sensational new alt-country album titled "Cryin' Out Loud" from Smith Music. Allsup is a country star in the making, and he offers intense, multi-dimentional lyrics and strong vocals that can only be described as a perfect mixture of a Texas country-style Eddie Vedder with the lyrical prose of Lucinda Williams.
The similarities to Lucinda Williams don't end there, because both artists have famous fathers that loom large over their music. Williams learned the importance of lyrics from Miller Williams, one of America's greatest contemporary poets. Likewise, Tommy Allsup, famed lead guitarist for Buddy Holly and the Crickets, taught his son, Austin, everything he knew about music. But Austin Allsup wisely chose not to rest on his family name, and he carefully honed his craft. Allsup slowly strengthened his songwriting, vocals and live performance by traveling the long American highways with his friend, Mike McClure, who produced the album. In fact, Austin Allsup's tenacity and hard work during these years are clearly evident and paid off in a big way with "Cryin' Out Loud."

The album's cover photo features a picture of a confident Allsup taking a long stride - almost daring the listener to walk along with him and plunge into the first track. Indeed, "Patience Of A Pearl" has a Red Dirt edge with lyrics reminiscent of Chris Knight. Allsup's superb, emotion-filled vocal performance also gives vital clues to his seemingly complex personality. The second self-penned cut, "Blows Away," is even better and is filled with passion and exceptional instrumentation. However, the best song on the album is "Sweet Love." This tune is successful because it mixes all of the aforementioned key elements that make Austin Allsup a great country music artist. Plus, this song has a casual elegance and easy-going mood that will make it a top country chart hit.

The biggest surprise of the album is the title track "Crying Out Loud." The cut starts out strong with a low-key melodic vibe, but the tune slowly builds to a rousing crescendo. "Cryin' Out Loud" is a meaty, country music triumph that belongs on the iPod of every true fan of country music. "Cocaine Rodeo" also deserves special notice for it's rockin' beat, and it should be a live concert favorite with it's unforgetable lyric: "Wake me up and get me high."

Austin Allsup, who was born in Fort Worth but grew up in Little Rock, displays significant musical versatility on the country rock tune, "Free Ride," and the bluesy "Take Me With You." But the album "Cryin' Out Loud" really hits it stride with laid-back songs like the "Briley," the engaging "Walking" and the country anthem "Heaven Holds My Road." There's good reason Austin Allsup has shared the stage with a diverse group of artists such as Jason Boland, John Mellencamp, Blake Shelton, Cody Canada, Van Zandt, Lee Ann Womack, Randy Rogers and Stoney LaRue.

The 10 songs on Austin Allsup's "Cryin' Out Loud" showcase a music professional who is bold but not brash and confident without being cocky. This is a rare combination in the alt-country genre, and the album "Cryin' Out Loud" leaves no question that Austin Allsup is ready to rock the country charts for the next couple of decades or so.

Review: The Belleville Outfit "Time To Stand"

The six members of The Belleville Outfit are a curious, hard-working group of five young men and one young woman with a stellar new album titled "Time To Stand."  It's no wonder the group has already shared the stage with Lyle Lovett and Ricky Skaggs. And, oh yeah, The Belleville Outfit are the most talented newcomers to Americana music in the last few years.
The Belleville Outfit features a keen sense of musicality and near-perfect harmonic blends that veteran country, bluegrass and Americana bands would envy. Coming off a successful, self-released debut titled '"Wanderin'," the new album "Time To Stand" announces to the music world that The Belleville Outfit has arrived. And they are touring America to provide proof positive of their exceptional musical skills to adoring music festival audiences. Forget American Idol, because fans of country and Americana music are quickly discovering that six of the most talented musicians in the country are members of The Belleville Outfit.

Lead vocalist Phoebe Hunt provides pitch perfect vocals on the title track "Time To Stand" with a performance that is part Dixie Chick Natalie Maines mixed with the best elements of top female folk and bluegrass artists of days gone by. Moreover, the band deserves praise for dedicating the title track to journalist and musician Daniel Pearl.

The second cut "Sunday Morning," features the band's other lead vocalist, Rob Teter, and it is a major success. "Sunday Morning" deserves to be a big radio hit, and the track showcases the band's unique blend of jazz and blues mixed with a little country styling. The instrumentation provided by the musicians combined with the exceptional vocals is truly groundbreaking and unique. It's no wonder that vocalist Phoebe Hunt said: "The only music that hasn't influenced us is the music we haven't heard." Every track on "Time To Stand" proves the truth in her statement.

Musicians Jeff Brown, Jonathan Konya, Connor Forsyth and Marshall Hood do some heavy lifting on the album, and the success of the project is due in large part to their skill. However, the real surprise is that the superb combination of the six talents has created one unbreakable, sturdy musical unit that is virtually unmatched by new artists in the Americana, bluegrass or country music scene.
The toe-tapping "Nothing's Too Good For My Baby" and "Once And For All" are country music gems. Likewise, the bluesy "Let Me Go" and the retro "Good As It Gets" are sure to be crowd favorites. But the best song on the album is the heartfelt "Two Days Of Darkness As." This track equally showcases all six members of The Belleville Outfit, and it illustrates that the band is at the top of their musical game in seamlessly blending a large group of talented individuals.

The best chance for a country music chart hit is "Safe" which offers an upbeat, radio friendly love song. "Safe" should immediately be released to Texas country radio. Likewise, fans of traditional country will be thrilled by "Outside Looking Out," and the album ends on an upbeat note with a little jazz in "Love Me Like I Love You."

The Belleville Outfit have charted new territory with "Time To Stand" while looking back with reverence to diverse talents of different genres. It is the blend of old and new combined with the rock solid, tight-knit sound of six musicians that have become one that will send shivers down the spines of musicians who have to follow The Belleville Outfit at music festivals and concerts. Indeed, the band certainly chose the right title for the album. When The Belleville Outfit takes the stage, there's no way you can stay in your seat. It's time to stand.

Review: Clint Osmus And The Bushmills "Clint Osmus And The Bushmills"

Stillwater, Oklahoma is a flag-waving, Apple-pie eating, all-American town that now has a new claim to fame with the debut project of native son Clint Osmus. The self-titled album "Clint Osmus And The Bushmills" is a little bit rock 'n roll and a whole lot of country, which is the way the hard-working men and women of Stillwater like it. By the way, Clint Osmus And The Bushmills have crafted a darn good country rock project that the rest of the world will enjoy, too.
The ten tracks of "Clint Osmus And The Bushmills" show that the members of the band have truly harnessed their artistry and know their identity as musicians. The music impresses without trying to impress. Indeed, the album' s back cover photo features Clint with an full beard and mustache, glasses and arms folded over a well-worn western with a serious stare. His two bandmates, Darcy McKee and Jeremy Clark, are in similar attire. These country boys know who they are as individuals and musicians - take it or leave it. By the way, we'll take it.

Produced by Red Dirt stars Mike McClure and Jerry Payne (from the band No Justice), the album "Clint Osmus And The Bushmills" starts out strong with "There You Are," which has a winning Eli Young Band meets Lynyrd Skynyrd style. Clint Osmus penned all of the songs on the album except the final cut, "Sam Stone," which was written by John Prine. Clint Osmus And The Bushmill's crafted a sparse, sincere cover of "Sam Stone" that is both reverential to Prine and ground breaking at the same time. The song is careful to never over-reach and still manages to connect on all levels. This is also true of two other tunes: the melodic "Stranger" and the second cut, "Sweet Alicia," which is an intriguing love song with potent lyrics.

Clint Osmus And The Bushmills kick up the rock quotient with the terrific tracks "Passing You By," "See You Around" and "When She Runs Back Into Me." Likewise, "Never Met You" is a near-perfect traditional country track mixed with elements of new country and Red Dirt. However, the Texas country cut "Stay With Me" has a good chance of topping the Texas Music Chart with its hummable tune and straightforward lyrics. But the award for best song on the album goes to the powerful track "Someday" which showcases the band's bold vocal and instrumental passion. This crowd-pleaser is unmatched on the album.

As a debut project, "Clint Osmus And The Bushmills" is a revelation of southern rock style and old fashioned country charm. The success of the album is due in large measure to the skill of the band members who carefully portray who they are as country music artists. They are laid-back, good ole boys who value small-town ideals and expertly performed music that appeals to like-minded men and women. In a world where country pop has gone mainstream, Clint Osmus And The Bushmills have clearly rejected bubble-gum country and fashioned their own unique sound. Yes, the aforementioned back cover photo of the band is true to the music contained on the album: It's real. And, if you ask the boys of Clint Osmus And The Bushmills, that's probably the greatest compliment of all.

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