ALBUM REVIEW: Rebecca Linda Smith "Hope"

There are some music artists that have a special something that stands out - some people call it "star quality" or the "it factor." Whatever words you use, Rebecca Linda Smith has "it" in spades, and her new album "Hope" is a thoughtful and passionate album that will be a winning addition to any music collection.
The success of the first song and title track "Hope" is simple: Rebecca Linda Smith offers an earnest self-penned song that is obviously heartfelt, and the sincere vocal performance could soften the hardest of hearts. Smith sings: "Never, never should they give up their hope for some child out there needs help to cope." The cut is also praise-worthy because it provides a seamless mixture of traditional country, Tejano and country gospel. This is no easy feat. While the title track is a meaty 5 minutes in length, the album "Hope" does not skimp on content either - with 15 tracks totaling over 57 minutes of music.

The second cut "Going To Nashville" is a biographical track of the musical journey of Rebecca Linda Smith and her husband, Dr. Robert Frank Smith (who wrote the song.) This track is a wonderful celebration that tells a powerful story, but the element that truly stands out is the potent hook. The chorus of "Going To Nashville" is insanely memorable and begs for a release to traditional country and Christian country radio. "Going To Nashville" deserves to be a chart hit for Rebecca Linda Smith and songwriter Robert Frank Smith.

"The Least, Last, And The Lost" is a slow, story-in-song that offers a sober examination of all levels of humanity. Once again, the chorus is memorable, and the track offers a valuable teaching moment for listeners of all ages. "Fast White Plane" has much of the same charm.

The biggest surprise on the album is the high energy "Texas And Tennessee," which was also written by Robert Frank Smith. The vocal performance by Rebecca Linda Smith is a worthy showcase for the autobiographical nature of the song, and it highlights both Smiths as a team whose love of country music has given them appreciation for their home state of Texas and their adopted home of Tennessee.

The theme of the album "Hope" is extended with the cut "There's Still Hope," which is performed in a contemporary Christian style reminiscent of the best work of Bob Carlisle (who topped the Billboard 200 with his hit album "Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace)."  No joke, this song is a must download, and the song is so powerful that it should be a required purchase for any person suffering from depression or going through grief. While the song (written by Adam Wheeler) is powerful by itself, it is the nuanced and reassuring vocal performance of Rebecca Linda Smith that really sells the song and allows the listener to truly believe that, yes, there really is hope. "There's Still Hope" deserves a place in several iMixes on iTunes, and it could prove to be an anthem for any person facing the hard knocks of life.

"That Living Water" showcases Rebecca Linda Smith's radio-friendly vocals, and every Christian country radio DJ should give this track a spin. The album ends with the stirring "Freedom's Never Been Free," which was written by both Robert Frank Smith and Rebecca Linda Smith. Knowing that both Smiths are veterans will enhance listeners' appreciation for this song, especially when a headline in today's news said: "American public numbed to drumbeat of troop deaths." Smith's song should be a reminder to all Americans when she sings: "When you've been at war, you realize much more - that freedom has never been free. Sometimes you must fight with all your might, because freedom's never been free." Bravo.

"Hope" is a diverse and interesting album with stellar production and solid material. While the project could have faltered in less steady hands, Rebecca Linda Smith's unashamed, rock solid faith in America and Christianity gives the album a sense of purpose. Moreover, it is that extra "it" she possesses that allows the listener to imagine they are hearing beautifully wise and comforting words that only a mother or a best friend could share.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Atteberry Station "Nights At Spillman Ranch"

History is important to the five good ole' boys from Wellington, Texas who named their band Atteberry Station. With small town sensibilities and a knack for killer harmonies, Atteberry Station gives a noticeable nod of respect to the past while firmly looking to the future on the new album "Nights At Spillman Ranch."
Atteberry Station's respect for the past begins with a 6-second intro of a crackling record album that was a familiar hallmark of vinyl albums from artists seared in the memories of the band, such as Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings. Indeed, the first full song on the album "Dr. Hugh" offers some Holly-esque moments that have been carefully fused with southern rock and Red Dirt. The result is a satisfying cut offering exceptional instrumental interludes.

The band's Texas country roots shine through on the stellar "A Girl Like Her,"  a well written song that could easily find a home on a Wade Bowen album. That's a high compliment indeed. While the elements of instrumentation were the star on the previous track, "A Girl Like Her" showcases the band's hallmark, easy-going sound that will leave country girls swooning in the rafters. Songs like this cut could make a major mark on several country radio formats and fast fame for band members Kyle Stegall, Justin Mixon, Ed Campbell, Dickie Johnson and Kyle McDonald.

Atteberry Stations's first single, "Fools Game" appears twice on the album - as a radio edit and and a full album cut. The four-minute radio edit is a full-bodied, mid-tempo feast for the ears that shows a diverse group of musical influences - from Bonnie Raitt to Reckless Kelly. The latter influence should be of no surprise as Reckless Kelly's Cody Braun took the producer's chair on "Nights At Spillman Ranch" and offers the band some valuable Red Dirt street cred.

"Tannin' In The Moonlight" is a retro-cool throwback song that has an interesting Mickey Gilley meets the Bo Phillips Band vibe. However, the album's major triumph comes in the form of a quiet cut titled "Give In," which has a rich, anthemic quality that is both soul stirring and thought provoking. Atteberry Station is somewhat unique in the male-dominated Texas country genre for its willingness to use female harmony vocals. The blend of male and female vocals is most effective on "Give In," which allows the track to have a current, on-trend sound reminiscent of The Civil Wars.
The next cut "My Way" offers exactly no similarities to the Frank Sinatra classic. This is a jammin', southern rock country track that red-blooded, beer-drinking concertgoers will pay good money to hear. However, the mood changes with another slow track, the love song "Lonely Goes." This Tejano-influenced song offers an extremely interesting arrangement. For the record, "Lonely Goes" will also prove to be a popular concert song which will no doubt inspire thousands upon thousands of slow dances.

The biggest surprise on "Nights At Spillman Ranch" is the up-tempo "Hangin' On" which includes elements of southern rock and bluegrass. Surprisingly, it works. The next track "Over Your Goodbye" is a slow burner that effortlessly builds. This well-written cut offers the most passionate vocal performance on the album which leads to the album's final new song titled "The Shape I'm In." With this song, you will find a toe-tappin' barn burner that will provide the perfect relief for an afternoon driving down the highway. In addition, this song deserves a full roll-out to country radio. "The Shape I'm In" could (and should) be a Texas country chart number one song, and it could also have success in the mainstream country market as well. Cody Braun's excellent production skills are fully evident on the song, and the chorus has a memorable hook that will draw in listeners faster than mosquitoes to standing water.

"Nights At Spillman Ranch" is an unqualified success from a band that is sending up a flare and marking its territory. No doubt, this album will make other Texas country artists want to raise their game rather than coasting on past successes. Indeed, Spillman Ranch may find itself pretty crowded by musicians wanting to drink the same well water that inspired Atteberry Station to craft an album this darn good.

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