Review: Eleven Hundred Springs "Eight The Hard Way"

The music business is tough, and any artist or group that manages to write, record, market and tour with eight albums has to be taken seriously. With "Eight The Hard Way," the Texas country supergroup Eleven Hundred Sprngs acknowledges this musical milestone with all the heart and soul that makes number eight - well, great.
"This Ain't The First Time" starts the album off on a winning note with a strong melody and interesting lyrics. However, it is the upbeat love song "Heartstrings" that really gets the band's eighth album off to a powerful start.

The most surprising track on the album is the slightly mysterious cut "Stuff You Can't Refuse," but the best song on the set is the passionate "Nobody Loves You Like Me," which deserves careful attention from radio program directors in multiple genres.

"Hardcore Honytonk" will also please both fans and radio DJs across the country, and this track promises to be a concert favorite. However, the song with the biggest potential to be a breakout radio hit is the anthem "We're From Texas." This well-written musical masterpiece will be hummed and chanted in all corners of the Lone Star State and beyond.

Eleven Hundred Springs have definitely not taken any shortcuts in the band's musical career. Indeed, "Eight The Hard Way" will leave fans hoping for at least eight more albums from this hardworking group of Texas originals.

Review: Stacy Grubb "Hurricane"

Rising artist Stacy Grubb released her debut album "Hurricane" many months ago. Lucky for us, a copy managed to turn up at the Country Chart office, because this accomplished debut by Grubb is a pleasant surprise that includes backing from some of the finest musicians America has to offer.
The album begins with the bluegrass-infused "Hurricane" featuring harmonies from the famed Dailey & Vincent plus Ron Block's always perfect banjo talent. Grubb has a clear bluegrass voice, and the track's production is superb.

The album is not entirely bluegrass and features music country fans will enjoy as well. However, Grubb's style seems to be heavily influenced by mountain music, which leads to reflective tracks such as "Baby Dear" and the tender "Appalachian Rain."

Grubb's home state gets a major shout out with "West Virginia Wildflower," which is sung with passion and features a sparkling melody. However, the artist's best moment is the contemporary country track "Time Hasn't Changed Everything." The carefully nuanced performance is unusual for an artist's debut album.

"Once Upon A Cross" ends the album with a beautiful Christian message that provides adequate evidence that Grubb's future may lie in gospel music. Her powerful testimony in song would definitely receive airplay on hundreds of gospel stations, whose DJs and program directors might convince her to record  a full gospel project.

"Hurricane" is a well-produced and capable effort from a new artist who has the potential to be a successful singer-songwriter. Here's hoping Stacy Grubb will continue to share her God given talents no matter what obstacles - or hurricanes - present themselves in the rough and tumble music industry of the 2010s.

Review: Kevin Deal "Seven"

A clear, authentic Texas country voice and hard-driving lyrics are the most important factors that make Kevin Deal's new album "Seven" such an unqualified success.
The album begins with the outlaw country track "200 Cops" which has a dark storyline and superb instrumentation. Kevin Deal's music speaks most sincerely to the blue collar crowd - hard working men and women who know what it's like to struggle to make ends meet. The melodic "Behind The Shield" is a poignant tribute to some of our hardest working public servants.

The hard-rockin' "Cactus Flower" mixes Red Dirt and southern rock with great success, but it is the Americana cut "Guard My Heart" that is the album's biggest surprise. Deal showcases his tender side in a cut with a memorable melody and pitch-perfect vocals. Americana and roots radio program managers should take notice of "Guard My Heart." The current single "If You Hurt The Ones You Love" has much of the same charm.

Produced by famed Texas country veteran Lloyd Maines, the production of the album "Seven" is stellar. Deal offers a more gritty vocal style with "The King Has No Clothes," and the artist wisely decides to return to the theme of working men and women with the album's best cut "Working Man," which has a cool Chris Knight meets Kris Kristofferson vibe.

"Seven" is an album that any red blooded Texan can find a reason to like, and Kevin Deal doesn't need the luck of the number seven for this album to become a new Red Dirt classic.

Review: Jeff Talmadge "Kind Of Everything"

Folk and Americana music maestro Jess Talmadge is back with "Kind Of Everything," which is an apt description of an album that successfully manages to address everything from weather to love to the solitude of the Holiday Season. To borrow a phrase from the project's second song, this album  is "a hell of a ride."
"Kind Of Everything" begins with the carefully-paced "If It Wasn't For The Wind," which has a country rock, Tom Petty-esque vibe that works. However, the star of this album is the second cut "Hamburg Violin," which is country music gold. Talbridge's simple melody and powerful lyrics will play over and over in the heads of listeners. The memorable track deserves a serious look by radio program directors from country and Americana stations.

The title track "Kind Of Everything" is a reflective story-in-song with a compelling melody, and the folk cut "One Spectacular Moon" is the album's most theatrical song.

Talmadge also shines on "Summer Road." Indeed, there can be no doubt that this is the style of music the artist was born to make. The superb instrumentation and careful vocal performance is perfectly tailored to a song that is pleasing to the ear and challenging to the mind. "He'll Give Her Back This Town Tonight" and "Step By Step (As Long As)" also have much of the same charm.

"Kind Of Everything" is a surprisingly fresh musical project that exceeds the already high expectations fans have from a new Jeff Talmadge album. During the album's penultimate song, Talmadge performs a song titled "Sometimes You Choose Love." However, listeners will have no such choice, because you cannot help but fall in love with the 13 tracks presented here.

Review: Louisa Branscomb "I'll Take Love"

Bluegrass songwriting diva Louisa Branscomb has a smokin' pen that has fired off more than 90 recorded bluegrass and acoustic songs. Indeed, Branscomb's unique gift is once again on full display with her 9th project "I'll Take Over," which showcases the world's best bluegrass singers and musicians taking on Branscomb's powerful songs.
The album begins with Claire Lynch and Jim Hurst's rendition of "I'm Gonna Love You." Branscomb's lyrics sparkle, and Lynch has never sounded better. However, the album's best track is the upbeat "Wearin' The Blues" from Josh Williams with Dave Peterson. The accomplished instrumentation and confident vocals will fill the heart with joy.

The quiet "Your Amazing Grace" from Claire Lynch with Jim Hurst has a quiet intensity that slowly simmers to a melodic chorus. The retro-cool "State Line" from Dave Peterson with John Cowan is also a toe tapping delight.

The gospel-tinged "This Side Of Heaven" from Sharon White with Cheryl White and Buck White is better than peach pie at the church picnic, and the Whites also have a sterling musical moment on "That's What Texas Was For."

"I'll Take Love" proves that the "Steel Rails" songwriter is in top form. In fact, any betting man or woman would be smart to believe that the best music of Louisa Branscomb is still to come.

Review: Susan Gibson "Tightrope"

Singer-songwriter Susan Gibson may be a name that is unfamiliar, but you have definitely heard her music ("Wide Open Spaces" performed by the Dixie Chicks). However, Gibson makes the job of music critic very difficult on her terrific new album "Tightrope," which is a surprisingly heartfelt trip through the life of Susan Gibson.
The album begins with the beautiful "Evergreen" that is performed with a quiet intensity by Gibson and sparse instrumentation that perfectly suits the track. The chorus of "Hope Diamond" hits the musical sweet spot, and "It's Raining Outside Today, Horray!" shows a more soulful side of Gibson.

However, Gibson's true talent shines through most on songs like the title track "Tightrope," which is performed with confidence and ease. The song's lyrics are both thought provoking and accessible. No easy feat.

The best song on the album is "Lonely When You Cry" which mixes nuanced vocal elements reminiscent of Carly Simon and Stevie Nicks with a cool country vibe. The seemingly simple lyrics and pitch-perfect performance should excite a diverse array of  radio program directors from Sirius-XM's The Coffee House to the tiniest country stations in the Carolinas. Other tracks, including "The Wood Wouldn't Burn" and "Passin' Thru" also have chart potential on Americana and Roots radio.

"Tightrope" is a perfect showcase for Susan Gibson's ability to write and perform songs that touch elements in your heart that are often hard to reach. If you're lucky, this talented songstress might someday be walking a tightrope near your hometown.

Review: Tejas Brothers "Rich Man"

Middle class men, dirt poor men and, yes, even the top one-percent can't help but love the new release "Rich Man" from the artistic and always entertaining quartet called the Tejas Brothers. The Tex-Mex masters showcase their full range of emotions in an album that will make you blissfully happy from start to finish.
The CD begins with the easy-going "Say It Again" and is followed by the equally pleasing Randy Newman-esque cut "Diamond In The Rough." The latter track is musical perfection with terrific instrumental interludes.

The Tex-Mex quotient rises with the upbeat "This Little Feeling" and the passionately-performed cut titled "The Castle." However, it is the immensely hummable "Wiggle" that offers the fun that the Tejas Brothers are known for most.

The bluesy "Long Way To Texas" is a winner, but the track "How I've Been" is the album's best musical moment. This heartfelt story in song fires on all cylinders. Likewise, the title track "Rich Man" is a quiet cut with sparkling lyrics and a perfectly nuanced vocal performance.

"Rich Man" takes listeners on a well-rounded journey of shifting emotions, and with music this powerful, the Tejas Brothers deserve to be very rich men, indeed.

Review: Jackson Taylor & The Sinners "Let The Bad Times Roll"

If Red Dirt music had a "Storyteller-in-Chief" the most obvious candidate would be rule-breaking singer-songwriter Jackson Taylor, who along with his friends The Sinners are happy to "Let The Bad Times Roll" on their new album of the same name. However, listeners will soon discover that there are actually many good times to be had on this hard rockin' album which comes complete with a parental advisory sticker that is somewhat of a rarity in the Texas music genre.
The ten songs on "Let The Bad Times Roll" start off with the uncompromising track "Old Henry Rifle," which highlights the frustrations of hard working country men and women across the country who are directly affected by the economic downturn and distrust bankers and politicians. The next track "No Show" offers an updated take on traditional country for which Jackson Taylor is well-renowned.

No doubt Jackson Taylor & The Sinners have experience with women who like "The Boys In The Band." This cut is destined to be a concert favorite as is the punk and southern rock-influenced track "Ain't No God In Mexico." The cut "Better Life" is a hummable anthem that could become a radio chart hit.

The title track "Let The Bad Times Roll" oozes country music charm, and the song is a sublime mixture of the best elements of traditional country and Red Dirt. The final track "Almost Persuaded" is a live cut that is the best advertisement for a Jackson Taylor & The Sinners concert that could ever be imagined.

"Let The Bad Times Roll" is a well-rounded country music gem that deserves a place in the music collection of any fan of authentic American music. Bad times have never sounded so good.

Review: Emory Quinn "See You At The Next Light"

Creating a unique sound is easier said than done, but Texas country band Emory Quinn has managed to make it look simple. In fact, Emory Quinn's inventive amalgamation of blues, southern rock, Texas country and Americana is perfectly showcased on the band's new album "See You At The Next Light."
EQ's remarkable third studio album begins with "Hand In Hand," which offers a laid-back vibe along with an anthemic chorus. Indeed, the band's growth is illustrated in its melodic improvement over the band's 2008 effort titled "The Road Company" and 2006's "Letting Go."

However, the album truly comes into its own with the rapturous guitar work on the cut "Moving On," which also features charming lyrics and a pitch-perfect vocal performance. "Heart In Your Mind" shows the softer side of Emory Quinn (EQ), but it is the "country-licious" cut titled "Finds Danger" which is the album's biggest surprise. The syrupy sweet melody is deliciously enchanting.

"Holes Through The Windows" is a near perfect bar sing-a-long song that offers elements of Red Dirt and honky tonk mixed with tinges of Britpop vocal interludes. The Texas country track "Tear Down The Walls" is a Chris Knight-esque track that is the best song on the entire album. The mysterious and slightly dark lyrics are deeply satisfying. "When I Dream" shares much of the same charm, except with a faster beat and more uplifting lyrics. Likewise, the last song "Falling Down Again" is immensely hummable, and radio program managers should consider the track for their playlists for a song that could be a multi-genre radio chart  hit.

For a bunch of country boys from Texas A&M who managed to move from dorms and houses to start a band, "See You At The Next Light" is a major musical accomplishment. In fact, even a Julliard grad would be proud to have created such a nuanced album filled with an array of musical influences. So EQ, when you finally get to the next light, we hope you'll remember to deliver a new album along with another dollop of Lone Star charm.

Review: Old Californio "Sundrunk Angels"

Old Californio is a band that defies generic musical labels. Indeed, with "Sundrunk Angels" the Pasadena, California band has meticulously crafted a melodic and hard driving album with spiffed-up lyrics and dazzling art-pop beats that will be surprisingly appealing to Americana, folk and country music audiences while also finding fans in other genres as well.
For about six years, the kaleidoscopic band of old friends has been making music in various forms, and the 10 song "Sundrunk Angels" was mastered and mixed by praised engineer Alfonso Rodenas and recorded live as a five piece band at a home studio.

The album begins with the easy-going "Learn To Cheat," which features bouncy lyrics and stellar production. The next track "A Cool Place In The Light" will delight fans of roots and Americana music. Country fans will also find much to love about the melodic "Better Yet."

"Dark Fire" begins with a cool New Orleans vibe that offers a superb musical hook, but it is the atmospheric title track "Sundrunk Angels" that provides a heartfelt vocal performance and achingly authentic lyrics.

The best chance for an Americana or country chart hit is "Jewels And The Dross" with an upbeat tempo and playful, witty lyrics. However, the best cut on the album is "Just  A Matter Of Time." This track is deeply satisfying and has a solid melodic payoff in the hummable chorus. This song should be carefully examined by radio program directors from a wide variety of musical genres.

The final track "Come Tomorrow" has much of the same charm and provides a pitch-perfect hopeful bookend to the 10-track album.

Old Californio's "Sundrunk Angel" is remarkable for its tight production, lyrical charm and nuanced vocal performances. However, the musicality and breadth of talent on display here is proof positive that California won't be able to keep this band to themselves for too much longer.

Review: Bart Crow Band "Brewster Street Live"

Corpus Christi, Texas' Brewster Street Ice House played host to one of the best live Texas country albums ever recorded when the Bart Crow Band stormed the stage for "Brester Street Live." The mesmerizing and confident vocal and instrumental performances exude sweet country goodness.
The album begins with the upbeat and melodic "Driftin' In The Wind" and is followed by the hard-driving current hit single "She's The Only Reason." However, the concert album showcases its musical mastery most on the reflective "Run With The Devil," which offers sublime musical styling.

However, the best track is the passionately-performed "Hollywood" which builds to a rousing crescendo. Heartache has never sounded so appealing. The Bart Crow Band channels its nonchalant charisma on "Say'n Goodbye."

The final four songs continue to impress. "I Still Think About Her" is a confidently performed track that mixes nuanced elements of the Randy Rogers Band with hints of the musical styling of the Barenaked Ladies. The final track "Not Going Crazy" gives one additional reason for fans of Texas country music to believe that the Bart Crow Band is destined for mainstream country music chart success.

"Brewster Street Live" is a collection of songs that even people who don't particularly like concert albums can't help but enjoy. With 17 tracks this good, the album should help sell a heck of a lot of concert tickets for these hard-working Texas country boys.

Review: Hayes Carll "Kmag Yoyo (& Other American Stories)"

No one can accuse Hayes Carll of being a shrinking violet as his notorious video and radio single "She Left Me for Jesus" proved. The brash country boy's new album drives home the point even further with the interestingly titled "KMAG YOYO," which, in case you don't already know, stands for: Kiss My Ass Goodbye. You're On Your Own. Not exactly Sunday morning fare.
The album begins with the retro-cool, toe-tapping cut "Stomp And Holler" The feisty country rocker follows with the more laid-back "Hard Out Here," which more adequately shows the artist's substantial country charm.

However, the best track on the album is the sparse and haunting "Chances Are." This formidable track pulls at the heartstrings. The casually confident "Grand Parade" is buttery smooth and could be a major summer radio chart hit. The title track KMAG YOYO channels Elvis in the best possible way and is followed by the terrific duet (with Cary Ann Hearst) titled "Another Like You."

However, the album's best song is "Bye Bye Baby," which offers seemingly simple lyrics that take on new meaning with Carll's nuanced vocal performance. The next best cut is the honky tonk "Bottle In My Hand," where Hayes Carll is joined by friends Corb Lund and Todd Snider. Any person absent of a smile at the end of this song is void of human emotion.

During the final two songs of the album, Hayes Carll the storyteller emerges in top form with "Grateful For Christmas" and the gospel-tinged final track "Hide Me."

"KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories)" is a musical masterwork from Americana music's boldest bad boy. However, Hayes Carll is more complex than his flamboyance might suggest, because his brutal honesty sometimes masks the humanity that is so evident in his more subdued and quiet songs which make this project a well-rounded feast for the ears.

Review: Andy Friedman "Laserbeams And Dreams"

Andy Friedman's sparse vocals and quiet guitar hit the heart like a silver bullet on his intellectually stimulating new release "Laserbeams And Dreams."
The unassuming musical muscleman carefully ponders life's questions with "It's Time For Church," which helps the album to mosey out of the barn on  a winning note. Friedman is no post-iPad musician, and this is a compliment of the highest order. His quiet reverence for his craft is best observed on the soulful "Motel On The Lake," which provides vivid lyrical imagery.

The quiet "Nothing With My Time" provides insight into Friedman's calculations of infinity in a supersized song that causes listeners to deeply ponder life. However, the singer-songwriter picks up the pace with the melodic and fun "Old Pennsylvania" which oozes folksy charm and should be immediately released to Americana and Roots radio stations.

The most surprising song on the album is "Roll On, John Herald" which mixes elements of rock, punk and soul to create a rousing musical brew that is shocking in its intensity. Even more surprising is the gentle "Quiet Blues" that follows "Roll On," and this juxstoposition only serves to increase the impact of the the laid-back blues cut. However, the best song on the album is the crusty "Going  Home (Drifter's Blessing)" which is a melodic folk masterpiece.

"Laserbeams And Dreams" is a uniquely wonderful collection of songs that actually lives up to the album's very intriguing title. Indeed, the stark album cover is also an honest portrayal of the music provided, because the artistry of Andy Friedman is all about one man and one guitar. Sometimes simpler is better.

Review: Hudson Moore "Fireworks"

The title of Hudson Moore's new album "Fireworks" is entirely fitting, because this artist's career is starting to light up like a firecracker. Indeed, the twenty-something Fort Worth singer-songwriter should be applauded for creating such an accomplished 11 song album.
The project begins with the laid-back title track "Fireworks," which offers a story-in-song reminiscent of the best work of current young country artists. However, Moore really hits the musical sweet spot with the terrific "When I'm With You" which has a cool Mat Kearney meets the Randy Rogers Band vibe. "Not Giving Up" has much of the same charm.

Moore offers his most confident vocal performance on "Keep On Moving" where he delivers a sharp sound with emotional impact that includes gospel-style backing vocals. The biggest surprise of the album is Moore's move into Jason Mraz territory with the bluesy "My Baby." However, his voice is better suited to the sprightly "Life's Lullably," which is a musical feast for the ears.

The best track on the album is the Red Dirt anthem "Blind," which offers an emphatic vocal performance that is pitch perfect. This is the type of music Hudson Moore was born to make and would have been a great choice for the album's first cut.

Moore's current hit single "Cloudy Day" is another contemporary country/pop track that showcases Moore's easy-going personality and strong songwriting talent. The final track "Take You Home" is a radio ready treat that has a sparkling melody and charming lyrics.

Hudson Moore is definitely ready for prime time, and the University of Texas radio, television and film student has proved it in a big way with "Fireworks."

Review: Ted Russell Kamp "Get Back To The Land"

Some musicians have the ability to transform seemingly simple lyrics into a powerful force that sends heartache packing. Ted Russell Kamp is one such artist that manages to channel his working class roots into his new project "Get Back To The Land."
The album begins with the radio-ready "California Wildflower" that is immensely memorable, and the charismatic artist sells the song with every ounce of his being while maintaining his laid-back demeanor. The pace increases on the old-school, rock inspired "If I Had A Dollar."

However, Kamp manages to successfully marry the best elements of rock and country on the melodic "Lonelytown," which should draw excitement from radio program directors in multiple genres. The most surprising track on the album is the hard-edged "God's Little Acre" and the quiet "(Down At The) 7th Heaven," which allows Ted Russell Kamp to showcase a pitch-perfect vocal performance.

"Georgia Blue" shows another side of Kamp and puts his clear, soulful voice on full display with piercing lyrics and a memorable vocal performance. The rousing "Right Has Rain" has much of the same charm. However, the best chance for a country radio chart hit is the toe-tapping "Half-Hearted," which should be released as a single to Red Dirt and mainstream country radio. The achingly beautiful final track "Bottles On The Table" might also find some willing takers on radio playlists as well.

"Get Back To The Land" showcases the oddly endearing coarseness of artist Ted Russell Kamp that challenges listeners to carefully examine both the musicality and lyrical flourishes of each song. Indeed, Kamp seems to understand that musical passion is just as essential as great songs and a beautiful vocal instrument. Lucky for us that Ted Russell Kamp has all three.

Review: Jesse And Noah "Landfall"

Country and rock mix together better than Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola on the completely self-produced album "Landfall" from country rockers Jesse And Noah.
Brothers Jesse and Noah Bellamy (yes, their dad, David, is one of those Bellamys) were born and bred on a ranch in the South that formed both their work ethic and their love of music. The brothers' craft was more firmly cemented when they converted a hay-barn into a music studio.

The album begins with the rock-infused "Tow Truck" and is followed by the charming country cut "Tryin' To Keep It Real." This song has the potential for radio chart success as does the grittier "Waiting On An Echo."

The song "Buried In Blue Jeans" penned by Jesse Bellamy screams for a new arrangement. With the right instrumentation and vocals, this cut could be a major country chart hit. An artist like Trace Adkins or Blake Shelton could take this song to Number One. However, the musical arrangement of "Crackerjack Heart" is simply perfect and fits the Bellamy boys "to a tee" as the idiom goes.

The title track "Landfall" is a song that offers elements reminiscent of a mixture of traditional and modern country. "Dirty With A Southern Drawl" offers the harder-edge instrumentation and vocal performance that would have benefited "Buried In Blue Jeans." However, Jesse And Noah are most successful on songs that illustrate their melodic brotherly harmony, such as "Sunny Weather With You." This is a radio-ready track that program directors should carefully examine. "Won't Give In" has much of the same charm and slowly builds to a powerful and moving chorus.

"Landfall" is a creative and wonderful representation of the hard work of two intellectually interested artists with considerable talent. Jesse And Noah may not know it yet, but their paring is musical gold when they mix their golden instruments as one. If they manage to warmly embrace this element, Jesse and Noah could easily become a chart-topping and potent musical force of nature.

Review: Shelly Rann "Afterwords"

Life isn't fair. That's what competing female country singers must think when they see and hear Shelly Rann perform for the first time. The talented singer-songwriter has a pure country voice that other singers can only dream about, and she puts her talent on full display with the new album "Afterwords."
The first cut "Lotta Love" is both sultry and smooth and showcases Rann's amazing voice. However, the title track "Afterwords" is even better, and the ballad is a beautiful representation of contemporary country music that can be enjoyed by hardcore country fans and mainstream audiences as well.

The upbeat "I'm All Over That" may be Rann's best chance for country radio chart hit, and the melodic chorus is both memorable and hummable. By far the best song on the album is the pleading "Unloved," which offers an authentic vocal performance by Shelly Rann and is later revisited at the end of the album.

The traditional country track "Like There's No Yesterday" is no doubt a popular live concert favorite, but it is the soulful "Somebody Else's Business" which is the album's biggest surprise and shows the artist's playful side. This barn burner is a smile-inducing charmer.

The 12 tracks that make up "Afterwords" show an artist that has the talent to make it to the top of the country music business. The key to success for Shelly Rann is finding the perfect song that will take her to the top, and the evidence presented here suggests that this is one artist who just might do it.

Review: Hunter McKithan & The Offenders "Not Broken Yet"

As the saying goes... if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Red Dirt music's best brain-for-hire Hunter McKithan and his friends The Offenders have chosen to do just that with their pulsating new album "Not Broken Yet."
The album begins with the title track "Not Broken Yet" that mixes Texas country with subtle rock elements reminiscent of Maroon 5 that surprisingly work. It is followed by the bluesy "Haight Street Blues" which offers a pitch-perfect vocal performance and tight lyrics.

The deliciously slinky "Dirty Little War" is a radio-ready country gem that deserves to be released as a single to country radio. The slow-burning "Wasted Day" is a satisfying musical treat that will please concertgoers, but it is the hard rockin' "Elevator" that surprises the most. Hunter McKithan & The Offenders have emerged as a musical force on the Red Dirt scene, and this cut conclusively proves it to any doubters.

The stripped-down "Dynamite" showcases McKithan's raw vocal talent, and the best song on the entire 13 song album is saved for last with the passionately-performed "Quarters."

"Not Broken Yet" is a triumph of the highest order for Hunter McKithan and The Offenders. So, country men and women, get out your duct tape and wrap these country boys up so tightly that this perfectly formed musical marriage will be around for another six albums or so.

Review: Red Dog Ash "Red Dog Ash"

A surprisingly fresh and exciting bluegrass band named Red Dog Ash from central California has crafted a well-rounded, self-titled album that has a touch of old-soul country mixed with classic mountain music. The band has produced all original tracks, and vocalist and guitarist Jason Winfree said Red Dog Ash was inspired by uncontrolled coal fires.
The album begins on a winning note with the toe-tapping "Rambler's Mind" and is followed by the terrific "Hey Little Boy" which features blissful bluegrass harmonies.

The cut "Clock On The Wall" features laid-back country charm, but the biggest surprise of the album is the upbeat "Long Shot Girl" that features superb instrumentation and sharp vocals.

"Once Is Good As Never" begins with a beautiful acappella intro, and the quietly confident "Sweet Rain Redemption" ends the album on a reflective note. This hushed track slowly burns and continues to build intensity leading to lush instrumentation that works on all levels.

"Red Dog Ash" is a successful effort that deserves both the respect and affection of bluegrass aficionados. Indeed, Red Dog Ash is a band to watch as a future entrant onto the Billboard Bluegrass music chart.

Review: J. Collins "Green Means Go"

Country musicians don't come more authentic than J Collins, who looks and sounds every bit like a country star for the 2010s. However, there's nothing pretentious or subtle about his new album "Green Means Go," and that's a major compliment.
As a singer-songwriter, J Collins is top notch, and he proves it with the terrific "Party Our Hats Off," which deserves to find airplay from radio program directors in multiple country genres. The title track "Green Means Go" is a rollicking good time that illustrates J Collins' raw vocal talent. This cut also serves as a convincing showcase of Collins' songwriting talent.

The laid-back "Dying From Livin'" is a well-produced musical gem that could also excite country radio. A perky and memorable chorus that slowly builds to a pulsating crescendo along with pleasing female guest vocals from Loriann adds to the pleasurable experience.

"Outta My League" is a classic country track about guys and girls that is highly marketable in country music. The final track "Still Young" illustrates a more traditional country sound that is authentic and entertaining.

With J Collins, what you see is what you get - except for the fact that you actually have to unwrap his CD  to see an actual picture of Collins and read his heartfelt biography in the form of a letter to fans. But "Green Means Go" should be a calling card that should jump-start the career of the aspiring country musician who is a radio ready country music star in the making.

J Collins looks like a country star, sounds like a country star and writes songs about topics relevant to country men and women of today. If there's any fairness left in Nashville, this album should green-light his career to 'go.'

Review: Zane Williams "Ride With Me"

Zane Williams excavates his past in the terrific album "Ride With Me," which offers indelible melodies and satisfying lyrics.
The album begins with the immensely hummable "'87 Chevy 4x4" and is followed by the equally pleasing title track "Ride With Me." The story in song "What You Do With What You Got" is a treat, but the album really comes into its own with the remarkably tender "Born Into Love." Zane Williams offers a Grammy-worthy performance on the heart-wrenching cut that hits every mark.

The uptempo "Fall In Love Tonight" is also a musical delight, and Zane Williams proves his traditional country credentials with the retro "High Hopes And Low Expectations."

The bluesy and confident "Livin' In The City" oozes the type of country charm made famous by John Anderson, and the album ends with the contemporary country track "The Long Way Around."

Put simply, "Ride With Me" is a slap-your-grandma country music hit. In fact, anyone would be a fool to not take a ride with Zane Williams.

Review: Jim Anthony "Good To Be Me"

With charmingly self-incriminating lyrics and a melodic country sound, Jim Anthony has a cool Phil Vassar meets Josh Gracin sound that deserves a spot on the country music charts. Indeed, this southern Minnesota country boy offers ten heartfelt (and sometimes rockin') songs on his new album "Good To Be Me."
Anthony begins the album with the radio-ready "Harding Avenue" with a powerful melody and an intense vocal performance. With more than fifteen years in the music business, Jim Anthony is a man overstuffed with talent and five albums to prove it.

The Texas country anthem "With You" shows the more sensitive side of Jim Anthony, but it is the title track that steals the show. The cut begins at a slow pace and builds to a rousing crescendo that oozes authenticity.

"Blue Skies" is a Wade Bowen-esque song that fires on all cylinders, and "Like No One Ever Has" reinforces Anthony's reputation as a musical storyteller. "Scarred Up History" is a personal country rock anthem that is appropriately followed by the final track "Time Heals."

Jim Anthony has created a terrific album with "Good To Be Me." In fact, any one of the first three songs on the album could be a Number One album on the Texas country chart and all three should be considered on mainstream country and Red Dirt radio playlists. There's nothing precocious or audacious about Jim Anthony, and that's part of the charm of this gifted artist.

Review: Jackie Bristow "Freedom"

New Zealand native Jackie Bristow has a uniquely wonderful country music voice, and her album "Freedom" proves that while she was not born in her new home of Austin, Texas - she definitely belongs in the Lone Star state.
The title track "Freedom" leads off the album with a superb vocal performance by Bristow. However, the backing vocals get a bit tiresome with the background singers' too loud and seemingly endless chant of "freedom."

The passionate "Running" showcases the best elements of Jackie Bristow with the song's sultry chorus and instrumentation. "Pray For Love" slightly more effectively uses background vocals in a track that has all the elements for a radio chart hit.

However, it is the quiet "River" which provides Bristow's best musical moment and is the album's best song. Everything about it is perfect - except for the slightly too prominent backing vocals that distract from Bristow's clear country sound.

The melodic "Rebel In My Soul" provides a memorable chorus and compelling lyrics, and Jackie Bristow seems most authentic with the intense cut "Broken Girl" that deserves to be released as a single to Texas country and Red Dirt radio.

The biggest surprise of the album is the gospel-tinged "Aotearoa." Bristow's nuanced vocal performance will win over any doubters. The cover art of "Freedom" also deserves special mention for its perfect artistic styling and photography.

"Freedom" is a wonderful album that deserves to be enjoyed and savored by country music fans worldwide until the next Jackie Bristow album is released. By then, hopefully, Bristow will  have won her own 'freedom' from the overpowering background vocalists that almost threatened the success of this project. A voice as good as hers can stand on its own.

Review: Neil Getz "Factory Second"

Debut albums rarely sound as sweet as "Factory Seconds" from the feisty and down-home Neil Getz, who has a natural musical gift mixed with perky charisma. Indeed, this is one top quality 'second' filled with folksy musical treats.
The album begins with "Bad Case Of Passion," which offers Queen-like harmonies mixed with intriguing lyrics. The title track "Factory Second" is a top-notch folk/Americana track that fires on all cylinders, and the song's melody hits the musical sweet spot.

The laid-back "Heart So Steady" provides a winning musical moment, but it is the country cut "Not In Love, Just Falling" that is the most smile-inducing track on the album. Radio program directors should also take notice.

Discussion of women is prominent on the album, and "Jenny Lee" is probably the album's biggest surprise. Getz offers a nuanced vocal performance that works. Likewise, the artist sings with unbridled passion on "Oh, Delilah."

However, the best two songs on the album are saved for last. The darkly intense "Flock Of Demons" builds to a rousing chorus amid tempo changes that provide both texture and substance to the track. The final song "Nelly Blye" is a triumph of the highest order and has the best chance for folk, country and Americana radio chart success.

"Factory Second" from Neil Getz is a remarkably well-intentioned album that blends musical influences acquired over a lifetime. Any fan of American music should run - not walk - to purchase the CD, which also boasts beautiful packaging and cover art that provides the perfect frame for a debut album of the highest quality. Forget what the title says, there are definitely no seconds in this factory.

Review: Jed Dunkin "Dixie To Detroit City"

If suave seduction and subtle melodies are your favorite country music elements, then stay far, far away from the first two tracks of Jed Dunkin's new album "Dixie To Detroit City." You see, the imposing, never-bashful Dunkin is a brash bucket of country music fun that is destined to delight fans of Waylon and Willie while disappointing supporters of Gloriana and Jewel. That's a good thing.
The 8-song album begins with the hard-driving "Dixie To Detroit City" that is passionately performed. The more traditional sing-a-long track "Family BBQ" is like mustard potato salad at a church picnic - a little bit tart at first but smooth and sweet going down.

Jed Dunkin manages to show his gospel side with the terrific "Waltz Across Heaven." Likewise, "Daddy's Song" and Come On Home" should be favorites with country gospel fans as well. The final track "Wouldn't Change This" shows another side of Jed Dunkin and proves that the singer could find a home on mainstream country radio.

"Dixie To Detroit City" shows an artist who is only beginning to come to terms with his considerable talent. Certainly, Dunkin's strength is his rough and ready music which starts the album, and if his next album can channel all of his energy and songwriting talents to create 10 or 12 songs like the first two, Jed Dunkin has a real chance for a Top 10 record on the country chart.

Review: Baron Lewis "Long Overdue"

British singer-songwriter Baron Lewis has a rich voice reminiscent of a curious mixture of the soulful Michael McDonald and country impresario Phil Vassar. With a little help from friend and Spiritualized (Britpop supergroup) guitarist Tony "Doggen" Foster, Baron Lewis has created a masterful album that is never predictable and immensely entertaining with the appropriately titled "Long Overdue."
The album begins with the comfortable "Inspiration," which offers laid-back charm. However, the country quotient rises considerably with the passionate "Fortune Game" that should receive a rapturous response from radio program directors.

The biggest surprise of the album is the bold and smart "Something To Prove," which ratchets up the rock. The haunting "Ghost" shows Baron Lewis in top form, but it is the sparse "Did What I Had To" which provides the album's best musical moment. Lewis delivers an award-worthy vocal performance. "Stolen Soul" has much of the same charm.

The melodic "Destiny" also gives Lewis a moment of vocal shimmer, but the album's best chance for a radio hit might be the reflective "Frustrated Future." Lewis sings: "Destiny you've got nothing to fear." Indeed, this song seems to represent the true basis of the music of Baron Lewis, and the heartfelt and emotional vocal performance has a pensive sensibility that is both classic and classy.

"Long Overdue" showcases an artist who is only just discovering the full range of his talents. Baron Lewis may hail from across the Atlantic, but the hopes and dreams fully encompassing songs such as "Fortune Game" and "Frustrated Future" will be well accepted by Lewis' new friends in North America.

Review: Maurice Tani/Jenn Courtney & 77 El Deora "The Crown & The Crow's Confession"

Finding the right cover art is never easy, and sometimes it just goes horribly wrong. Unfortunately, that's the case of Maurice Tani/Jenn Courtney & 77 El Deora "The Crown & The Crows Confession." There's too many visual elements, too much nudity, and, oh yeah, too many names (including a forward slash?). At first glance, the front cover appears to be a 90s remix CD or a repackaged foreign album. But the bad news ends there, because the music is superb. And, by the way, so are the beautiful photographs of the musicians inside the CD packaging that should have been utilized as cover art. However, it's the music that matters, and it's great.
The album begins with the terrific "I Just Dodged A Bullet, and Tani and Courtney have a uniquely wonderful musical chemistry that bursts out of the speakers and is pleasing on all levels. The retro-cool vocals couldn't help but bring a smile to even a person with the hardest of hearts. The bluesy "Push Me Away" showcases Jenn Courtney's sultry vocals to great effect. "Dancing With The Devil" has much of the same charm.

The best chance for a country radio chart hit on the album is the rockin' "Get Up!" which offers a unique blend of musical styles that mixes country and rock in equal measure. The biggest surprise of the project is the bluegrass-tinged "Fire On The Mountain," which also highlights hints of southern gospel flavor.

By far the best cut on the entire project is the sublime "County Fair," which offers an award-worthy performance of the Bruce Springsteen track from Tani and Courtney. Concertgoers will appreciate "The Outside To The In," which has a polished and hummable melody. The album ends on the perfect note with the instrumental cut "Cowboy," which showcases full-bodied musical mastery.

The  music of "The Crown & The Crow's Confession" is a triumph, even though the cover art is not. Indeed, this reviewer would not even care to criticize the cover art if the music was sub-par. In fact, there is a simple fix. Take out the front and back cover art and turn them both over to the pictures of Tani and Courtney. That way, you will have both musical...and visual bliss.

Review: Bill Bachmann "Folk-N-Roller"

Unafraid and uncompromising are the best terms to describe the perky new album from folk rocker Bill Bachmann with the intriguing title "Folk-N-Roller." However, the 14 track album proves a rollicking good time that lives up to its name a hundred times over.
The title track "Folk-N-Roller" starts off the project with a bit of quirky fun and is followed by the intriguing "The New Hip Song." However the album really picks up with the melodic and weirdly wonderful "B-A-C-H-M-A-N-N," which is an urgent plea by the artist to spell his name correctly. Yes, this really is the subject of the song, and the biggest shock is that the cut offers a really great melody.

A more reflective Bill Bachmann appears on "Your Old Man," and the folk singer offers a passionate vocal performance. The retro-flavored "These Are The Days" is a toe-tapping delight.

The finest upbeat song on the album is the eclectic track "Kill That Other Beer" which mixes elements of folk, punk, rock and country. However, the best song overall is the quiet "Too Late," which has a mesmerizing lullaby quality that works. The best chance for a radio chart hit on the album is "Candy Man," which could find a willing radio audience with program directors from country, Americana and folk radio.

The 14 songs on "Folk-N-Roller" encompass a full range of emotion from slapstick silliness to deep despair in a laid-back style that few artists can convincingly pull off. However, Bill Bachmann may have manged to encapsulate this quality in his self-proclaimed "Folk-N-Roller" monicker. Likewise, you have to give credit to a man who manages to criticize people for misspelling his name in such a charming and memorable way.

Review: Amanda Nagurney "So Full Of Country"

Full of life, confidence, and country charm is the best way to describe Buffalo, New York native Amanda Nagurney on her sophomore album "So Full Of Country." And this is one country girl who knows how to market her music after having opened for Sara Evans, Gretchen Wilson, Jason Michael Carroll, Travis Tritt and Justin Moore all in the space of 12 months.
"So Full Of Country" was actually released in early 2010, but the album is getting a renewed push because of the attention the aspiring country star has recently received, and the project begins with the Sara Evans-esque "Just Me & The Road." Nagurney has raw vocal talent, and the melody is sung with ease.

"Gone Fishin'" showcases the best elements of  Amanda Nagurney, and her powerful vocals are well-suited for the hummable melody, but the biggest surprise is the synth-styling found on "White Dress." Nagurney has a powerful musical moment on this track that mixes pop and country, and the singer-songwriter co-wrote the song. This is the style of music Amanda Nagurney should be making and would appeal to the Taylor Swift generation. "Across The USA" also provides the artist with another proud musical moment.

The self-penned tracks "I'm A Country Girl" and "Gettin' Out Of This Town" are terrific songs that scream for new arrangements. The lyrics of both songs are solid country radio gold, but the retro-country arrangements let the lyrics and melody down. With a bold new contemporary country arrangement (think Carrie Underwood) and maybe a slightly more melodic chorus for each, the songs could be mainstream country top 10 hits for either Nagurney or another up-and coming-artist.

Amanda Nagurney is a talented singer-songwriter who has a beautiful voice and an even more impressive gift for songwriting that is on full display in "So Full Of Country." With just a little bit more hard work, the songs of Amanda Nagurney will most certainly be riding high in the country music charts.

Review: Flat River Band "High Roller"

Brotherly love is mandated by The Good Book, but it is easier said than done. However, the Sitze brothers (Chad, Dennijo and Andy) have managed to make it work in the formation of the Flat River Band. Indeed, the brothers' new album "High Roller" is a testament to the beautiful harmonies that usually only family members can successfully produce.
The album begins with retro-cool "I'm Alright I'm OK," but the band really proves that it has the chops to compete in the rough and tumble country music industry with "Without Love," which should have been the album's first song. The melodies are terrific and mix the best elements of Alabama and Rascal Flatts. This cut shows that these musical upstarts have a future in country music.

"Lovely" mixes some Bee Gee-esque melodies with a country sound to great success, and the band proves its country rock credentials with the synthed-up "Blow My Mind." Another successful track is "Shine Down Upon Me," which carefully utilizes the brothers tremendous harmonies. The story-in-song "Things I Remember" also slowly reveals the band's melodic charm

"High Roller" is a mix of musical styles and genres that is not surprising considering the band has been touring around the country performing at various festivals, churches and fairs since 2006. However, the key to their future success is plainly evident on the album, because the most satisfying parts are the soaring vocal moments that showcase the beautiful blending voices of the Sitze brothers. If these high rollers would take a gamble on creating an album completely showcasing their uniquely wonderful harmonies, this band could break the bank.

Review: Diana Jones "High Atmosphere"

Musician and portrait artist Diana Jones has a unique voice that could pierce the hardest of hearts. Indeed, the singer-songwriter's new album "High Atmosphere" offers a soulful jolt of folk that beautifully showcases her masterful lyrics.
The album begins with the bluegrass-tinged "High Atmosphere" and is followed by the project's best cut "I Don't Know." This song offers sincere lyrics and lush instrumentation that encapsulates the listener in musical bliss.

The easy-going "Sister" shows that Diana Jones is comfortable in her skin, and the sparse "Little Lamb" showcases the artist's considerable charm. The biggest surprise of the album is the bouncy and witty "Poverty," which deserves to be an Americana and Roots radio chart hit.

The hauntingly beautiful "My Love Is Gone" tugs at the heartstrings along with "Don't Forget Me" and "Funeral Singer." Like the track "Poverty," Jones adds an upbeat tempo to focus attention on a serious issue with "Motherless Children," and she does it with great success that is especially poignant in these serious times of tsunamis, tornadoes, starvation and war.

Nashville singer-songwriter Diana Jones soars to new heights with her third album "High Atmosphere." Part of the success of the project is due to the careful vocal performance of Jones combined with lyrics that challenge the mind and fully inhabit the soul. Bravo, folk princess, bravo.

Review: Amy Speace "Land Like a Bird"

Television hasn't exactly been kind to the image outsiders have of New Jersey. Indeed the Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of New Jersey and news reports about former Gov. Jim McGreevey give an uneven  impression. However, singer songwriter Amy Speace wrote an album that included gentle goodbyes to New Jersey people and places in her new project titled "Land Like A Bird" as she prepared to move to Nashville. These songs give a more balanced and accurate portrayal of the hard working men and women that make up the Garden State and the gifted artist New Jersey lost to Tennessee.
Speace's husky vocals are put on full display with the first cut "Drive All Night," which offers an intense performance and earthy lyrics. The title track "Land Like A Bird" slowly sizzles with a minute long intro that builds to folk lyrical gold. Speace's musical interpretation during moments that feature her higher register are especially powerful and satisfying.

However, the best song on the album is the story-in-song "Ghost." Amy Speace carefully paints a vivid picture as she explains people that move in and out our lives. The upbeat "Change For Me" is the album's biggest surprise, and Speace has a cool Stevie Nicks meets Sheryl Crow sound that works.

The beautiful "Battened Hatches" sparkles with layers of emotion, but it is "Had To Lose" which might be the album's greatest chance for a radio chart hit. The carefully constructed melody and memorable lyrics envelope the listener. "Vertigo" could also be a chart hit, and this contemplative song improves with each listen.

Artists are too often compared with fine wines. However, in Amy Speace's case it's true. "Land Like A Bird" is a full-bodied project that tugs at the heart and challenges the mind. It is hard to ask for more than that.

Review: Rebecca Linda Smith "True Love"

Approaching the new album "True Love" by Rebecca Linda Smith is like stepping back in time to the days when the women of country music boldly and expressively mixed country and gospel to form a blessed union of musical bliss that is sorely lacking in most of the music of today.
The album begins with the title track "True Love" which showcases Smith's hearty country vocals. The opening lyrics build to a rousing melodic and memorable chorus that fires on all cylinders. However, the album's best track by a mile is the masterpiece duet with country music star Marty Raybon titled "Not Knowing Anymore" which is reminiscent of power ballads from the worlds of country music (Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers) and contemporary Christian music (Sandi Patty/Larnelle Harris). The combined voices of Smith and Raybon are musical perfection.

Smith, whose maiden name is Garcia, joined the military to become a linguist but eventually became a Heavy Vehicle Mechanical Maintenance Officer. Rebecca Linda (Garcia) Smith grew up in a military household as well, and this experience shaped her world view and is evident in her passionate vocal performance of songs like "Walk Of Faith" and the terrific "Love You More Now."

She pays tribute to her Lone Star heritage with "Texas State Of Mind" and offers an inspired gospel performance on the reverent cut "Come As You Are." The pace picks up with "Body Language" which is Tex-Mex musical gold. The same is true of "Old El Paso." The song "Easy Loving You" showcases a more nuanced and softer side of Smith. The reflective song would be an easy fit on both country and easy listening radio formats.

The country rock side of Smith is put forth on "Because Of Your Love." The tracks "Change Your Mind"  and "Always, Always" hearken back to the country music of years gone by. "Jesus Rock Of Love" is uptempo gospel perfection. However, the best is saved for last with the patriotic gospel anthem "America, America."

Rebecca Linda Smith's new album from Renewed Records is an amazing musical tribute to God and country that deserves a prominent place in the music collection of any fan of country or gospel music. Indeed, Rebecca Linda Smith's "True Love" is a recording that will be cherished and truly loved by music fans of all ages.

Review: Outshyne "Country Boy In Me"

Playing 180 shows in 2010 helped cement the already sterling musical marriage of five young men from Laurens, South Carolina who are doing their level best to outshine musical competitors like Reckless Kelly and the Randy Rogers Band. The band - called Outshyne - make a credible case for future Texas country stardom with their surprisingly tight 10-song album "Country Boy In Me."
A ridiculously memorable track "Ought To Be A Country Song" will excite any new listener of Outshyne - such as this reviewer. The band more than exceeds expectations with excellent instrumentation and talented lead singer Waylon Owings, whose late father, Kennie, encouraged his musical pursuits. Kennie would be mighty proud of his son and his talented friends Josh Coleman, Jayson Paxton, David McCall and Matt "Smiley" Norris.

Waylon Owings penned the second track "Reckless" which has a great hook and proves that the band can create solid Red Dirt music. The hard rockin' "Love To Watch Her Leave" will obviously be a crowd favorite at Outshyne concerts.

The album's biggest surprise is the retro-country "Carolina Shyne" that is performed with style and soul. Traditional country radio stations would slurp this song up faster than sweet tea on a hot Charleston day. "County Jail" has much of the same charm. The aspirational "Make It Big" is performed with passion and provides pitch-perfect harmonies. This track also has radio potential.

The Red Dirt title track "Country Boy In Me" is successful on all levels, and the blue-collar cut "Working My Life Away" is another musical treat from the pen of Waylon Owings. The final track "Jeans" will excite live audiences.

"Country Boy In Me" is an accomplished album by a band that is a serious contender for success in both the Red Dirt and  mainstream country music scene. Reckless Kelly and the Randy Rogers Band would be wise to start looking over their shoulder for the Outshyne boys from Laurens, SC.

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