Review: Shawn Colvin "Live (Yoshi's San Francisco)"

It's not just luck that Shawn Colvin is a music star around the world. In fact, Colvin's new album titled "Live (Yoshi's San Francisco)" provides proof positive that Shawn Colvin is still at the very top of her profession. Indeed, Shawn Colvin's "Live" is the best concert recording of the year.
Shawn Colvin is one of the stars of the "new folk" movement that began in the late 1980s, but Colvin herself only began receiving mass attention from the music press and fans since the release of 1996's "A Few Small Repairs" and its 1997 hit single "Sunny Came Home." On the album "Live," Colvin presents a new and fresh version of the murder ballad that is thrilling in its quiet intensity.

The album, recorded at the famed San Francisco jazz club Yoshi's, begins with the announcer saying: "Please welcome to the stage...Shawn Colvin." Colvin begins playing guitar for the first song "Polaroids" which is classic Shawn Colvin with lovely quiet but confident vocals, an exceptional guitar performance and piercing lyrics. However, the best song on the album is the beautiful ballad "Twilight." This is a song that deserved more attention when it was first released on Colvin's "Cover Girl" album, and it should find a new audience with the release of "Live."

The biggest surprise on "Live" is Shawn Colvin's brilliant cover version of the Talking Heads' hit "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)." The brilliance of Shawn Colvin's interpretation cannot be overstated. Colvin truly makes the Talking Heads classic her own and provides a new cultural resonance for the track's terrific lyrics. The second biggest surprise on "Live" is the cover version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." Colvin turns what seemed to be a breezy pop hit into a compelling folk tour de force.

By the time Shawn Colvin says "goodnight" at the close of "This Must Be The Place," you can hear the concertgoers desperate for more music. That's the same way listeners of Colvin's "Live" album feel, too. You see, Shawn Colvin knows to give her audience just enough. Colvin succeeds in her goal because listeners of her stellar live album will feel extraordinarily satisfied, but in the back of their minds will still want just a little bit more.

Review: Ben Smith “Pendulum”

Ben Smith's new album "Pendulum" is a feel-good, laid-back, toe-tapping, Texas country triumph that deserves the ear of any country music fan looking for a musician that is destined to become the next big thing. This country boy offers a refreshing break from new country artists who take themselves too seriously, because it's clear Ben Smith loves to have a good time. And, by the way, with songs like "Shuck N' Jive" and "Country Summer Days," it's clear he wants you to have fun, too.
Ben Smith is a man who might have been six feet under right now instead of sharing stages with Walt Wilkins and Stoney LaRue. You see, this Dallas, Texas singer-songwriter was almost killed in a farming accident at age 16 when he was pinned underneath a three-ton tractor that flipped. But this talented Texan took the near-miss as a sign that life is short, and he set his sights on a career based on his own brand of alt-country and acoustic pop music.

Smith's sound is unusual on the Texas music scene. With the track "The Other Side," Ben Smith is part Jack Johnson and part Jack Ingram. This song showcases the major appeal of Smith, a man who is an upbeat musical troubadour who has the heart of an everyman. Indeed, he really is good ole boy.

The album's first song "Doin' Alright" provides a great start to the album and offers a memorable chorus. Another standout track from the album is the Texas road song titled "Miles Of Texas," which should be at the top of the Texas Music Charts. However, the best song on "Pendulum" is the sparse and beautiful tune "Lullaby" which showcases an engaging, softer side of the singer-songwriter and is followed by the almost equally powerful "Through The Dark."

The tracks presented on "Pendulum" show that Ben Smith has a broad repertoire that might win fans on the college music and pop scene as well as country. Whatever happens for Smith in the future, we already know from his personal life that he's a survivor. And in the music business, that take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred attitude is one of the key ingredients to success. Combine that with his considerable musical skills and a compelling personality, the new album "Pendulum" proves that Ben Smith is geared up for music success over the next couple of decades or so.

Review: Moonshine Bandits “Divebars And Truckstops”

Nobody should accuse the Moonshine Bandits of being subtle. And that's a good thing, because "Divebars And Truckstops" is one of the best country rap-rock albums ever. No kidding - the boys of the Moonshine Bandits have cooked up a musical feast that any blue-collar, red-blooded American male will eat up like an ant at a picnic.
The album begins with the stellar "Big Tex" and followed by "I'm Still Here" which offers bold, confident lyrics. The first single "Whiskey River" is a rockin' tune that can best be described as Big & Rich meets Bubba Sparxxx. In "Back Home," the Moonshine Bandits describe their music as rockabilly hip-hop, and it's the country rock edge that gives "Divebars And Truckstops" its infectious sound.

The biggest surprise of the album and best chance for major chart success is the breezy, Uncle Kracker-esque tune titled "Saturday Afternoon," which deserves to become a huge radio hit. The outlaw country and crowd pleasing track "Blame It On Texas" is another big surprise, and this is one country drinking song that should be on the jukebox at every honky tonk in Texas and beyond. It's a feel-good track that also has chart potential.

Years from now, many of us will still be enjoying songs like "Take Her To The Country" and "Fists & Jager" because the Moonshine Bandits' take no prisoners, hard rockin' style is the type of music that makes us remember the best days of our life. And in today's world of foreclosures, layoffs and corporate bailouts, there's no higher praise for an album than that.

Review: porterdavis "porter davis" (Self-Titled)

The new, self-titled album from porterdavis is a Roots music masterpiece with pitch-perfect three-part harmonies and engaging, thoughtful lyrics. Fans of Blues and Roots music should run - not walk - to their favorite music dealer to buy "porterdavis."
The best song on the project is the superb "Grass Growing On Concrete" which showcases the band's stripped-down instrumentation and penetrating vocals. Other standouts include "Strange Way To Grieve," "Jack" and the new Americana classic track titled "Carter's Tune" featuring Eliza Gilkyson.

The band members, Daniel Barrett, Mike Meadows and Simon Wallace, crafted nine original songs (and one cover - "Can't Be Satisfied" by Muddy Waters) with the help of famed producer Gurf Morlix. By the way, porterdavis' unique name is a tribute to Boston's Porter Square and Davis Square subway stations where Daniel Barrett and Mike Meadows got their start by busking for busy Boston commuters. The band now makes its home in Austin, Texas.

From this modest start, the band's pure, raw vocals and sparse musicianship combined with an old-fashioned work ethic have resulted in a landmark music release. You see, the members of porterdavis are not interested in fancy computer sound engineering or clever recording techniques. Their goal is to record passionate Roots and Blues that delivers the sound of a live concert. And with the album "porterdavis," these good ole boys have succeeded mightily.

Review: Pine Leaf Boys “Homage Au Passe” (Homage To The Past)

The young Louisiana band members of the The Pine Leaf Boys offer a masterful tribute to their Cajun music heroes in the appropriately titled "Homage Au Passe" (Homage To The Pass). This album deservedly received a  2009 Grammy nomination in the new Cajun/Zydeco album category based solely on its digital debut on iTunes, and now the project is available in record stores everywhere. It is not to be missed.
The band formed in Lafayette, Louisiana, a city which has taken a lead in producing exceptional new Cajun/Creole music talent. However, it is safe to say that there is no greater band on the Cajun scene today than The Pine Leaf Boys. From the lead track titled "Festival Acadiens Two Step" to the final moments of the superb final song, "I'll Always Take Care Of You," The Pine Leaf Boys never falter in providing riveting, rockin' and groundbreaking performances.

Indeed, the Pine Leaf Boys new album "Homage Au Passe" is proof positive that this is a Cajun band that will be around for many decades to come. And this stellar album is destined to become a Cajun music classic.

Review: R.W. Hampton “Oklahoma... Where The West Remains: A Centennial Journey In Story And Song 1907-2007”

R.W. Hampton is probably the most authentic and talented cowboy country musician in the United States today. So it is really no surprise that Hampton has hit a new career high with the release of "Oklahoma...Where The West Remains: A Centennial Journey In Story And Song 1907-2007."

The key to RW Hampton's amazing success on "Oklahoma... Where The West Remains" lies in his uniquely rich western voice, which is featured in richly textured songs and spoken interludes. Plus, Hampton is truly a cowboy. He's the real deal, and it shows in every lyric on this stellar album.
R.W. Hampton lives and breathes the heritage of the West. Indeed, RW Hampton has created a stunning masterpiece with "Oklahoma... Where The West Remains," and this album is destined to set the standard in cowboy country for many years to come.

*Track Listing of songs: Where the West Remains; Intro to the Story; Where the West Remains; Before the Journey; The Journey; Run of the Cherokee Outlet; Native People; Words On Talking Leaves; Keeper of the Plains; Up the Trail to Kansas; A Cowboy I Will Stay; Wick Doss; Wish I'd Stayed in Jail; Cowboys; 101 Ranch Cowboy; Always the Weather; Dusty Skies; What a Beautiful Country; Oklahoma Hills; Faith; On Jordan's Stomy Banks; It's Worth Coming Home; Oklahoma Towns; Bob Wills; We've Taken Bob Back to Tulsa; Legends & Icons; Will Rogers' Last Flight; The Beauty of the State; The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma; Freedom Isn't Free; For The Freedom;Where The West Remains - Finale; Where The West Remains - Soliloquy.

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